Category Archives: Leadership

Coming up for air…lessons about change

ChangeIt’s been eight weeks now, since my big change — moving to Southern California — and I finally have my head above water.

The most frequently used word in my vocabulary these last weeks has been “change.” Moving to another state meant changing literally everything.

From my software to my social life. From my health insurance to my hair stylist (miss you Gary!). From my writing schedule (obviously, since this is my first post in eight weeks!) to my wardrobe (don’t need those heavy sweaters now).

The entire rhythm of my life changed. Familiar things are gone. Most things are new and different.

There’s an old saying, “When nothing changes, nothing changes. When something changes, everything changes.” I definitely found the truth in that statement.

Reflections on navigating change

Change has both positive and negative ramifications.

The downside? I no longer know where to find things in my own home (still haven’t found my collection of olive oils and balsamic vinegars from my travels). I don’t know how to find places I need to be. I don’t know who to call for frequently used services.

So things that were automatic take more time than they did before. And more money. Change temporarily slows you down and change is expensive.

The upside? I love where I live now. I love the climate and the views. I love the intellectual stimulation of new business connections. I’m energized by new conversations and new opportunities. The benefits far outweigh the costs.

Change is both healthy and revitalizing. But more than that, it’s necessary. A business that doesn’t change with the times or with the market grows irrelevant. A person who doesn’t change grows stale and uninteresting.

What changes do you need to make?

As you look to the brand new year of 2015, consider all the changes you may need to make.

Five lessons learned

Consider these five lessons I learned from my big change:

1) Get help. I absolutely couldn’t have made this move without the help of friends on both ends of the move. Friends who helped me pack and unpack. Friends who helped me figure out logistics, listened to me think out loud about the hundreds of decisions this change required. Friends who took care of things and took care of me, both emotionally and physically. Professional like my attorney and my bookkeeper who provided expert wisdom. Enlist all the help you can.

2) Break the process of change into themes. You’ll feel less fragmented (therefore less crazy!) if you tackle areas with a common denominator. Consider all areas of your business or your life and try to anticipate the consequences of each area. How will this change affect your financial plans and institutions, your technology, your people, your logistics, your vendors, your family? As much as possible, have conversations with everyone involved and ask them for their input. They will likely think of things to consider that haven’t occurred to you. Your plan for change will be greatly improved by their input.

3) Make a budget — then double it. Be realistic about the financial cost of change. There can be hidden costs that are difficult to see. While I planned well for the big moving expenses, I incurred plenty that I hadn’t anticipated. Small things (like needing to buy new storage organizing gadgets and paying fees to change legal documents) eventually add up. Anticipate as much as you can, but build in a cushion for those unexpected expenses.

4) Have Plan A and Plan B.  I love it when Plan A works out, but realistically it’s usually Plan B that becomes a reality. Think through all the “What if’s” and be as prepared as you can for the time when what you think is going to happen doesn’t.

5) Create space. The change process itself takes on a life of its own. You have to manage that process in addition to all the regular stuff. So create as much space as you can. Get as much off your plate as possible so that you have the margin to deal with the inevitable new tasks and decisions.

Personally, I like change – but mostly when it’s my idea! Change can feel scary for those who aren’t in charge of it. So you’ll need to do some hand-holding.

And even when you’re the one driving the change, there may come a point when you ask yourself, “What made me think this was a good idea?” Recognize up front that while the change will create wonderfully positive outcomes, while you’re in the middle of it, you will likely feel uncomfortable. Life feels foreign and strange. So you have to resist boomeranging back to what feels familiar. Trust yourself, and create new habits.

Once you do, you’ll emerge from the change process re-energized and ready for a new adventure!

Put eight gorillas in a room (or how corporate culture is created)

812Imagine this…you’ve got eight gorillas in a room with a bunch of bananas hanging from the ceiling and a ladder under the bananas.

The gorillas will race to climb the ladder to get the bananas, right?

Now imagine this: every time a gorilla starts up the ladder, you spray him with a fire hose. The gorillas learn pretty quickly to quit trying to reach those bananas!

Then, remove one of the original gorillas and replace him with a new gorilla.

The first thing the new gorilla will do is head up the ladder for those bananas. The next thing that will happen is the seven veteran gorillas will grab him and drag him down.

Then, one by one, remove another veteran gorilla and replace him with a new gorilla.

Here’s what you’ll end up with — eight gorillas that have never been sprayed with a fire hose, yet they’ll make no attempt to go near the bananas. But the real issue is that they don’t even know why!

So why am I talking about gorillas and bananas? Because this little parable shows you how corporate culture is created and passed on over time.


The first thing to know is that your company has a corporate culture whether you have intentionally articulated it or not. Your business has a personality, just like every individual has a personality.

Corporate culture is not what YOU say it is…it’s a minestrone soup made from what OTHERS say about your business.

It’s what employees say to each other in the parking lot or over a beer. It’s what they say to friends and family. It’s what customers say when they talk ABOUT your business, not just TO you. It’s what vendors say about how it is to do business with you.

Your corporate culture is shaped by your values and your own behavior. You might say you want a culture of teamwork, initiative and respect. But are your actions consistently congruent with those values? You can write anything you want on a piece of paper and call it your values, but your true values are what you live.


So when you think about your corporate culture, the first place to look is in the mirror. Take a good look at yourself, then take 100% responsibility for the corporate culture you are creating.

There are no right and wrong values that make up your culture. (Well…I take that back. Aspiring to a culture of deception or dishonesty wouldn’t be very smart, would it?)

What I mean is that each business is different. Let’s say you run a marketing firm. Creativity and imagination would be important. But let’s say you run a pharmacy. I’m not sure I’d want to shop at a pharmacy that got creative with my prescriptions! But accuracy and precision would be important.

As a consultant and coach, it’s not up to me to decide or advise what your corporate culture SHOULD be. I have one client who is an absolute perfectionist. Perfection gives her a competitive advantage in her industry. I support that. I have another client who wants a culture of fun. I support that too.

However, I do suggest that you think very deeply about your corporate culture and what you’d like it to be. Once it’s established it’s very difficult to change. When you get clear on the culture you’d like to create, then make sure you live that out in your words and actions.

If you want a company with ambitious gorillas who reach for those bananas, then think twice before you spray them with a fire hose.

I’d love to learn more about your corporate culture. Tell me in the Comments section about the culture in your business, and how you created it.

Leadership for women entrepreneurs

leadership for women entrepreneursIn my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have thought that Sean Connery could be the source of any insight for me, relevant to leadership for women entrepreneurs. After all, he’s got a quite reputation as a misogynist, right?

So I surprised myself when I saw a learning opportunity through his role in the movie The Untouchables.

The movie tells the story (somewhat fictionalized) of how treasury agent Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner, assembles a hand-picked team to bring Chicago crime boss Al Capone to justice. In a city consumed by corruption, Ness is determined, but idealistic.

That’s where Sean Connery comes in. He’s a wise, older cop with the street smarts that Ness lacks.

Ness will rant and rave about what Capone is getting away with and how the corruption within the police force itself is making it impossible to catch him. Each time he vents his frustrations about Capone being so elusive, Sean Connery looks him in the eye and says, “So what are you prepared to do about it?”

His words are tough and intended to provoke.

There were no easy answers in 1920’s Chicago. Ness was blocked at every turn and had to make tough choices and take risks. Connery was simply confronting him with one simple reality: you can keep complaining or you can do something about it. But you can’t do both.

What are you prepared to do about it?

I had to ask myself that question recently. I’d been ruminating on a business challenge that had me…well…stuck. One thought led to another, which led to another. There were too many moving parts and I found myself going in circles.

But more than that, I found myself complaining about it every time I got together with my closest friends. I was like a broken record. When I look back on it, I’m surprised they were even willing to have dinner with me!

Then I remembered Connery’s character, the crusty old street cop, saying bluntly to Elliot Ness, “What are you prepared to do about it?”

That memory propelled me into action. I still don’t have the issue resolved one hundred percent, but at least I have forward movement.

I’ve seen and heard plenty of business problems and complaints in my work with women entrepreneurs.

  • I can’t afford to hire good people.
  • I never seem to have time to do what’s important.
  • My employees just aren’t motivated.
  • I just can’t seem to get organized.
  • My employees won’t work as a team.
  • I want my business to grow but the marketing people aren’t effective.

Leadership for women entrepreneurs

We can all benefit from talking over the problems and challenges we face; getting input and fresh perspectives is smart. But as women entrepreneurs, in the end, we have to act.

It’s tough to face the reality that we do have choices. Even if all our choices are ugly, frightening or risky, we do have choices.

If what we have been doing (which might be nothing!) isn’t working, making excuses won’t help. It’s time to get out of the rut and do something different. And that likely means coming out of our comfort zone.

The authors of The Oz Principle (a great book about accountability) have a powerful line. “Success comes down to one simple principle. You can either get stuck or get results. Period. Case closed.”

Are you stuck in your business? Your life? A relationship?  Do you face tough choices?

Take a cue from Sean Connery.

What are you prepared to do about it?

Take care,

Darcie Harris



Thrive: Leadership for Women EntrepreneursP.S. How much can your revenues increase in just one year if you can get unstuck and grow your business?

  • I bet that very likely you didn’t get special training in “how to be a woman entrepreneur.”
  • I bet that despite the “marketing smile” you wear in public, you don’t feel as confident as you look.
  • I bet you have dreams for your business, that you want it to grow. But sometimes you just feel stuck. And alone.

So I created a 7-session e-course specifically designed to help women get unstuck. Think of it like “The owners’ manual for women entrepreneurs.”

THRIVE! How to Get Unstuck and Grow Your Business

This e-course can help you close the gap between your dreams and your results.

It’s not sexy. It’s not glamorous. It’s the real stuff. It’s step-by-step learning to help you to learn the tools and the process to:

  • bring out the best in others,
  • get effective execution and
  • create a culture of accountability.

Tell me more...

In defense of perfectionism

My son Tate has always had wisdom beyond his years.

perfectionismOne Christmas, when he was about six, he watched me struggle as I was wrapping a gift. I was using ribbon with velvet on one side, satin on the other. I tried my best to get all the loops and tails to come out with the velvet side up.

That slippery little ribbon wasn’t cooperating.

I don’t think I spewed profanity (surely not in front of a six year old!), but Tate could tell I was getting pretty frustrated. I was on my fourth try, when Tate looked at me – puzzled — and calmly said, “Mom, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t you know all that energy you use trying to be perfect could be used just to have fun?”

Well, uh…I’d never really thought about life like that.

I’ve remembered his wise words ever since and I do attempt to find that delicate balance between perfectionism and knowing when “good enough” is good enough.

And yet…I’m a big fan of perfectionism.

All you have to do is watch the documentary “This Is It” about Michael Jackson to see perfectionism in motion. Watch him bring forth the absolute best from every singer, dancer and musician.

Just listen to k.d. lang sing Hallelujah at the Winter Olympics and you’ll know what perfection sounds like. (If this isn’t perfect, I don’t know what is!)

Daniel Day Lewis is a perfectionist – when he takes on a role, he stays “in character” the entire time the movie is being shot. Yes, he embodied President Lincoln for months, never sliding back and forth from Abe to Daniel. See that movie and you’ll see perfectionism at its best.

Steven Jobs was a perfectionist, and the beauty of his Apple products (not to mention animated movies) are a testimony to his constant quest for innovation.

The Ritz Carlton hotels, Nordstrom’s shopping experience, Valentino gowns are all premium brands that shoot for perfection.

I admire the effort, the dedication, the sense of mission it takes to create these performances, these products, these brands.

Yet it looks to me like we’re declining into a culture that shrugs when things go wrong and says, “Whatever.” We’ve made it fashionable to be wrinkled, rumpled and ragged. We work so hard to protect our own self esteem (and that of our children) that we tell ourselves it’s fine to settle for ordinary, mediocre or even second-rate.

Now before you start throwing things at me, you can definitely make an argument that being an all-out perfectionist is unhealthy. Without a doubt, taken too far, perfectionism burdens our lives with compulsion, anxiety and shame.

At its worst, perfectionistic thoughts can include, “If I make a mistake, there’s something wrong with me,” or “I’m never good enough.” Trying to be perfect at everything, all the time interferes with relationships and stifles creativity.

But I’m not talking about basing your entire self-worth as a person on being a perfect human being. I’m saying, Let’s embrace the pursuit of perfection in our endeavors. Let’s quit accepting mediocrity and keep shooting for the stars.

Striving for perfection doesn’t mean you never make a mistake, it means that you look at every opportunity for improvement.

I’d like to think there’s such a thing as healthy perfectionism (I wonder how many mental health professionals will disagree with me).

Perhaps the determining factor between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism depends on where the desire for perfection comes from. Does it come from fear, from shame, or the constant need for approval? Not healthy. Does it lead to being critical of everyone or everything? Not good.

But what if the genesis of pursuing perfection is a temperament for excellence? Or an eye for the most delightful aesthetics? Or an ear for beautiful music? Or appreciation for impeccable skills? Or the desire to create the highest level of customer service?

If the perfectionistic drive comes from a true desire to be committed to your endeavor, your work or your craft – to do and be the best you can be – then I think perfectionism is a worthy goal.

Like any other strength, perfectionism overused becomes a weakness. When the root of perfectionism is conditional acceptance, we’ve got a problem.

So while I strive to give my best to every worthy endeavor, I still remember my son’s words: Some of that energy I’m using to find perfection I now use just to have fun! I hope you’ll do both too.

Take care, d

Darcie Harris



P.S.  I’m not a therapist, so if being a perfectionist is ruining your life, seek professional help please!

What’s your success formula?

Success for women entrepreneursSuccess.  We all want it, right?  Even if our definitions are different, we all want to achieve our own version of success.

And I’m seeing a lot of oversimplified clichés (especially on social media!) that imply all we need to do is “think successful thoughts” and success will be delivered to our doorsteps, wrapped up in a big bow.


Whether you’re a sports fan or not, just listen to this…

John Wooden was one of the most successful basketball coaches that ever lived.  He turned the UCLA men’s team into a winning machine.  He earned 10 NCAA titles in 12 years, racked up an 88-game winning streak, and won 38 straight tournament games.

Wow!  Whether you’re a basketball fan or not, you’ve gotta admire that impressive winning record!

But here’s what’s fascinating to me:  none of his coaching or locker room talks with his players focused on winning. 

Don’t get me wrong, John Wooden was very competitive and loved to win.

But instead of focusing his players on winning, he taught his students two things:

  • How to execute the skills that led to scoring points (because scoring points leads to winning)
  • Working and practicing to achieve their personal best

In other words, John Wooden focused on input, not output.


Coach Wooden’s philosophy is a great lesson for business success too.  I mean, think about it.  How useful is it if you say, “I want to be successful!” without focusing on the individual skills and steps that lead to success?

You have to break success down into bite size pieces.

For basketball players, that’s accurate shooting, jumping high to get rebounds, quick reflexes, and having the stamina to run up and down that court.  (I’m making this up, you understand, I know very little about basketball.)

But I do know about business.  And I know you need to ask yourself, “What are the specific skills my company needs to execute that will lead to putting points on the board in this business?” 


Imagine you run a restaurant, and you have an outstanding chef.  The food you offer is amazing.  But if your hostess, your bartender and your wait staff aren’t warm and friendly, aren’t attentive, aren’t timely, then it’s not going to matter much how great your food is.  Your customers will be disappointed and won’t return.

So let’s break this down and look at the INPUT it takes to have a successful restaurant.  Great food, great service, great marketing, great profit margins.

Now let’s get more specific.  You have to define “great.”  What does it mean?

Get very specific with your staff and train them.  Teach them exactly with “being warm and friendly” looks and sounds like.  Set standards for speed and service.  Focus your team on practicing the individual steps it takes to consistently create great food and great service.

Does your business depend on referrals?  Then focus on being the best you can be at getting referrals.  Put a system in place to get those referrals.  Set a goal for how many referrals you want each week.  Test several ways of asking for referrals and find the top three most effective ways.  Then practice using those top three methods until you become the absolute best you can be at getting referrals.

That’s what focusing on the input and achieving your personal best looks like.  You have to get specific.


So I want you to take two minutes, right now, and ask yourself these “input” questions:

  • What causes sales in my company?  (i.e., referrals, cold calls, needs assessments?)
  • What causes great service?   (i.e., speed, accuracy, creativity, hospitality, reliability?)
  • What causes wasted money? (i.e., inefficiency, wasted materials, ineffective marketing?)

Then choose ONE THING you can improve in each area and get amazingly good at that one thing.  Define it; get specific about what it takes to really excel in that area.  Teach and train your staff exactly what that looks like.  When you have mastered that skill, then move on to the next one.

John Wooden believed that little things make big things happen.  Little things in your business are what will make big things happen too.

Yes, we need to have a success attitude, a success mindset.  But putting points on the board is what adds up to a winning score.  (I’m starting to sound like a guy right about now, aren’t I?)

Focus on defining your success formula and mastering your input.  That’s when you’ll see success!

Take care,

Darcie Harris



What my grand-dog Sammi taught me about strategic planning

Strategic PlanningMy grand-dog Sammi, a happy black Lab, loved to greet me at the door when I came home.  She also loved carrying around sticks in her mouth.

One day, a heavy wind blessed her with plenty of long tree limbs to choose from.  That evening, when she saw me open the door, she rushed up to greet me – limb and all.

Her tail was wagging, her eyes were bright and she couldn’t wait to get her neck scratched.

Unfortunately, the limb she had in her mouth was so long that she couldn’t fit through the door.

I could see the dilemma on her face — the tough choice of knowing that she’d have to drop her precious stick to get through the door and get her neck scratched.

That’s what it’s like for most of us, knowing that we can get more of what we really want, but we’ll have to let go of something else to get there. 

We have to face that reality:  everything isn’t equally worth doing.  For Sammi, getting her neck scratched trumped carrying around the stick.  (I was pretty happy about that!)

The time comes, as a business owner or leader, when we have to take a deep breath and let go.

We have to train others to take over tasks, responsibilities and authority for things we’ve done well.  We have to learn to trust that others will do them just as well, hopefully even better.

Easier Said Than Done

If you’ve reached that turning point, putting together a strategic plan can help you make that transition.

Here are a few clues that time may have come.  Are you:

  • Feeling overwhelmed?
  • Going in too many directions?
  • Unclear about your priorities?
  • Don’t know what to do next (or first!)?
  • Trying to accomplish big dreams with a shoestring budget?
  • Unable to achieve the results you really want?
  • Unprepared to capitalize on all the opportunities you see?

It’s a proven fact that creating (and using!) a strategic plan will help you master those challenges.  You’ll

  • Gain clarity
  • Get focused
  • Decide priorities (including what to STOP doing!)
  • Achieve better results
  • Inspire the full engagement of your team

 Don’t let Strategic Planning Scare You

 It’s not rocket science, I promise!  Strategic planning is a step by step process of:

  • Painting a picture of your desired future
  • Choosing the ideas you believe will give you an advantage
  • Deciding what is worth doing
  • Knowing exactly what you want people to do
  • Choosing how to do it in the best way
  • Using your resources wisely
  • Making better decisions

Simply put, strategic planning takes you from being reactive to the “crisis of the day” to focusing on the future and becoming proactive.

The Reality of Cost

I know that sometimes the expense of hiring a consultant to facilitate strategic planning keeps small business owners from taking action.

That’s why I’ve designed an affordable and convenient way to accomplish strategic planning.

Strategic Planning Made Simple A one-hour e-course, complete with three planning templates

(to help you organize your goals, your priorities and know who is accountable for what).

The benefits of strategic planning are remarkable!  You’ll learn how to:

  • Define a clear vision, understood and embraced by all employees
  • Set clear goals
  • Focus on your priorities (daily decisions become easier then!)
  • Prevent wasting precious time and money
  • Focus on what differentiates you from your competition
  • Energize and inspire your employees to deliver their very best effort
  • Define what people are accountable for (not just tasks – results!)
  • Turn strategic plans into action plans

Breathe New Life Into Your Business

Is it time to “drop the stick” you are holding and embrace the reality that everything isn’t equally worth doing?

Learn how to do a strategic plan and your life will become more focused, more organized and you’ll achieve better results. 

So join us:

Strategic Planning Made Simple

Thursday, March 27th

12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. (Central Time)

The course is just $199, and it’s yours for life.  View it as often as you like and download fresh templates whenever you need.

You have my word that the benefits will last you a lifetime!

 Take care,

Darcie Harris



P.S.  As with all my training, I want you to be completely satisfied.  That’s why I promise a money-back guarantee if you’re not.  No hassles, no risk!