photo by Manuel de Tillesse via Flickr

I do think some people are born entrepreneurs. I’ve met them, and am fascinated by them. These are the people who, as kids, were using their allowance to buy stickers in bulk to sell at a premium to friends in the playground, when the rest of us were merely trading “smellies” for “shinies”. (Forgive me if the girly ‘80’s reference leaves you scratching your head.)
Different from the business brain always on the lookout for the money-making opportunity, many of today’s entrepreneurs are simply people who find themselves drawn to customizing their career in a way that can’t be satisfied by any employer. A desire for the freedom to design their own path. Which brings me to my need to clarify what’s really required- and what’s not- when it comes to hanging out a shingle of your own.

To do your own thing…..


  • An understanding of the difference between a “lifestyle business” and a true “start up”. In this world of a-new-app-a-minute, some think that entrepreneurship means being the next Twitter. That’s one way to go. These businesses are true “start ups”, complete with a vision to scale it to the moon and a willingness to put in virtually unlimited effort to do so. A “lifestyle business”, on the other hand, is one in which you of course make money – hopefully a whole bunch of money – but your aim is to hit a healthy target, pay off your mortgage (or buy your boat) and enjoy life. At some point you won’t want to work more for more dollars. Both types of business can be extremely satisfying.
  • A willingness to meet new people. When on your own, no matter what kind of business you’re in, you’ll have to be a people person (or be good at faking it!) Whether your targets are investors, clients or strategic partners, I don’t know any successful entrepreneurs who hide out at their desk. That said, you don’t have to be a bubbly extrovert; it’s more about getting comfortable with your own style of relating to others. If this part makes you nervous, you might benefit from this from these tips for entrepreneurial introverts from Entrepreneur magazine.
  • A healthy target market. Someone’s gotta buy your goods or services. Make sure what you’re offering brings a benefit to a good chunk of people, and that it’s something they can’t – or don’t want to – do themselves.
  • A willingness to ask for help. Be prepared to reach out to your network and industry experts. Starting a business can be invigorating, but it can also be a slog at times. Learning from others can keep you from making those times harder on yourself than they have to be. Hiring a coach can also keep you focused, accountable and positive.
  • Personal support. Emotional backing is so important. Make sure you have one (or many) people who can encourage you and be a listening ear. If you live with a partner and/or have a family, it’s also important to understand what financial implication is tied to your venture and come to agreements about how money will be managed as you ramp up, and where the limits are. Literally, talk real dollars and timelines.
  • Resilience. Do you believe in the mantras “you get out of it what you put into it” and “failure is rich with learning”? If so, you probably have the natural resilience you need. And if you’re running low, check out the initiative, F***Up Nights (FUN): presentations from brave entrepreneurs who share failure stories and the associated learning for which they’re grateful. Or, just Google “failure stories”! You’ve had the right dose of inspiration when you can say to yourself (in the words of my coaching client on the cusp of taking the leap), “the worst that can happen is I’ll earn a badge of courage for trying.”


  • A never-been-done-before idea, invention, or something “disruptive”. The world needs innovation, that’s for sure. But it’s not the only way to think about going out on your own. You can take something that works and make it better (which is, frankly, also innovation), you can jump into a market that has space for another player, or you can piggyback on something awesome that someone else has already started. (Also referred to as the first follower, described amusingly by Derek Sivers in his TED talk, How to start a movement.)
  • A huge appetite for risk. “Go big or go home” is not the only way. You can start something while still at your current job, or launch a service business with very little overhead. Michael Katchen, the 20-something founder of the wildly successful online financial robo-advisor Wealthsimple, started with only an Excel-based investment template for a few people in his personal network. From there, the seeds took root, and proved something worthwhile to put more in to.
  • A desire to work alone. Working alone doesn’t have to be lonely. You’ll be networking, perhaps collaborating on projects, taking courses, etc. You may opt to build a team around you. And if it’s not enough, create more opportunities to surround yourself with people. Recently, two entrepreneurial friends and I took our laptops to the lake, to enjoy a productive and social workday at the cottage. (Shout out to brilliant founders Amy Laski of Felicity PR and Nadia Sapiro of Throughline Strategy!)
  • A 20-page strategy. Sure, you need some sort of plan. And the more money you’re investing, the more detailed it should be. That said, you can get off the ground by identifying a “best case scenario”, what you think that would take, and where to start. Then you go from there. The bulk of the planning can be done once you’ve worked in the business for a few months and you can see how it might really play out. Don’t get stuck in solidifying every detail before you take action.

Got what you need? What’s stopping you?
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
– Chinese Proverb





Photo by: Michael Summers via Flickr

Even A+ professionals face times in their career where they just can’t stomach putting their all into work. It usually happens when something personal demands significant energy. And by “demands”, I mean, “jumps up and down and yells”- in order to break the trance of the hyper-focused over-achiever.

I’m reading a book called Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World after hearing the author, Joann Lublin, speak last week at the University of Toronto. I walked away from the event totally pumped, willing to be the Coach that launches her clients to their dreams. But I was reminded earlier this week that depending on your state of mind, Ms. Lublin’s message could be inspiring or exhausting. As a seasoned Wall Street Journal writer and editor, she spoke of persistence, innovative action and resilience as common characteristics of exceptionally successful women. I agree! Sometimes, though, we (men and women) just don’t have it in us.

The reminder came from a client, who told me a story about ending up in the hospital emergency room with her dear Mother, who was in the late stages of fighting cancer. After her Mother was admitted, this doting-daughter-ambitious-professional was undeniably distracted by the fact that she was a presenter in a Town Hall meeting the next day at work. Well prepared for it, she phoned a friend to get her thoughts on whether she should pop into the office to do her piece, and was met with “Are you crazy!?!” – a sentiment that matched her conscience exactly. It was sobering: she realized that her career was inconsequential in that moment. Caring for her Mother was her number one job.

We all appreciate that family, health and emotional wellbeing is paramount, but we sometimes forget. When faced with something that forces us to remember, be it illness, divorce, burnout, a new baby or an ultimatum from a neglected someone we love, it’s shocked into focus. Greedily, work has trouble sharing a top spot on a priority list. Some periods in our life, therefore, necessitate us demoting it. Not just for an evening, but more like a few months. The most dedicated of us would call this “slacking off”, while the majority would call it “more than good enough right now.”

Here’s an action plan for embarking on some short-term, justified slacking. (Because a go-getter always needs a plan!)



Putting [yourself/relevant loved one] first

Noticing feelings of guilt and consciously choosing a different way of thinking (Self-compassion? Responsibility? Pride?)

Breathing more deeply


Giving away your recovery and recharging time

Worrying about where you’re getting to 


Delivering good work

Relating to, and communicating with, your team


Sounds a little scary, I know. But not as scary as ignoring your instincts. Perhaps there’s a reason you came across this post today. 😉

photo by Fitz Gerard Villafuerte via Flickr

photo by Fitz Gerard Villafuerte via Flickr

Pro-actively advertising what’s great about yourself is often referenced as a tip to get ahead in business.

Does the idea of self-promotion make you want to throw up?

For many people, the answer is “Yes, it does. It feels that horrible.”

It’s a common feeling. You might be shy to toot your own horn, feel scummy playing politics or consider it unseemly to be self-interested. It would be many people’s worst nightmare to be labelled as a braggart, fake, or all-about-me, and therefore not a practice they would consider.

But what if…say, by magic… your accomplishments, ideas, effort and natural talents were widely known? How would that feel? How would it impact you? Maybe you’d be more appreciated, less frustrated, more invested. Perhaps you’ll get more of the work you love, influence important changes or be asked to lead more significantly.

Although I can’t offer you a magic spell, I’ll suggest the next best thing: self-promotion actions so simple and natural, it’ll feel like a trick. These no excuses self-promotion activities are little more than taking opportunities to mention your work that are handed to you on a silver platter.

So without further ado….

Your [anti-nausea] no-excuses self-promotion opportunities

Opportunity #1 : Waiting for food/drink in the kitchen.

 I promise, while you zap your chilli or brew your pod coffee, anyone in your presence will ask, “How are you?”.

The trick: Answer the question with real information about what you’re doing (and why it’s important, if they’re not familiar with what you’re referring to.)

I might suggest something like:

“Great. Working hard on abc project. It’ll determine the funding we get for next year.”

“Busy! Gearing up to lead a big meeting with Jack for approval of the next stage of our project.

“Lots going on. We’re moving full speed ahead after my team’s win last week”


Opportunity #2:
The elevator

It’s totally okay in an elevator to just smile and utter a hardly-audible “hi”, even if you know the person. But choose to do just a little more with the captive audience, and it could have big benefits.

The trick: If you step into an elevator with someone you know, enter with a “how’s it going?” and you’ll surely get one back. Then, not different from the aforementioned kitchen scenario, you simply answer the question in a descriptive sentence about the substance your work. (Do feel free to return the favour by asking some specific questions of your fellow rider so that they can share more with you.)

Opportunity #3:
An office visitor

Whenever you host someone, there’s that few minutes of small talk that needs to happen as you lead up to the primary subject matter. Make it count every time, whether you’re speaking with a senior leader visiting from another office, a client, a vendor or the IT guy. Here, you have more time than in an elevator, but a comfortable escape route because ultimately you must get down to business.

The trick: Answer the catch-up version of the “how’s it going” question with “Busy!” Followed by some info about something you’re working on that promises to have impact instead of ending there. (To whatever extent you can, depending on your audience and confidentiality.) Now another person knows what’s really going on behind your closed door. You never know who’s going to spread the word.

Opportunity #4:
The scheduled update

Whether it’s a team meeting or a one-on-one with your Manager, here you’re being asked to let people in on what you’re doing. I really can’t think of a more obvious place to take full advantage.

The trick: Don’t give in to the temptation to review your to-do list out loud. Instead, highlight:

  • what’s going well in the process of your work (Maybe you’re ahead of schedule? You’ve figured out a better way? You got buy-in from a key person?),
  • your dedication to long-term strategic projects, even if just at the beginning stages, and
  • the (wonderful) results of things already completed.

Opportunity #5:
 A LinkedIn update

You don’t have to speak to anyone at all to look accomplished online!

The trick: Every year at performance evaluation time, use your written review as a prompt to add the year’s key accomplishments to your LinkedIn profile. There’s a place on LinkedIn for awards and publications, too, if applicable. For this annual exercise, if you switch on your “Sharing Profile Edits” in your privacy settings, your contacts will be notified of certain updates, such as a title change.


What do you wish people “just knew” about what you do?

Photo by: Pioneer Library System via Flickr

Photo by: Pioneer Library System via Flickr

In coaching, we speak often about perspectives: the concept that there’s more than one way to look at something; more than one truth. In working through an issue, being strategic in one’s work or planning for the future, we can turn to mentors, peers, friends and partners to uncover new ways to look at things.

I encourage my clients to consider various perspectives on their own, too, by looking at something through someone else’s eyes or from the point of view of themselves in 20 years, for example.

This blog will focus on the oft-mulled-over concept of career success, and my aim is to offer you an entirely fresh perspective: that of my nine-year-old daughter. Even if you have one of your own at home, you probably wouldn’t turn to her for guidance on this topic. However, in reading the interview below, I invite you to take it as seriously as you would any other advice from a trusted source. That is, rather than skim the words for entertainment value, or get stuck sympathizing with her naïveté, challenge yourself to consider that, just maybe, there’s something important for you to hear.
“Out of the mouths of babes…”, as they say.


Hi M.

Hi Mom.

Can I interview you for my blog?


I think grown-ups can sometimes learn things from kids.

I think so too.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

An anthropologist or a mechanic. Or maybe both.

It’s an unusual pair. How did you pick?

Different people and the places they come from and that history is really cool, and then I also like to learn about fixing things.

So how should other people choose their careers?

If you think something’s interesting, go try it!

My teacher said he was working for an advertising place and he just didn’t like it so much. Another teacher introduced him to teaching and when Mr. K helped as a teacher, he liked it. Then he went back to school to learn more and now he’s been at my school for 8 years.

That’s a good lesson. So once you pick, how do you know it’s a good fit?

You’d sorta just feel it. If you feel like you’re schlepping everyday to work, you know you don’t love it so much. If you’re excited to go to work – and you’re just like, “yippee”, then I think it’s a good fit.

Do you have to be like that everyday?

Sometimes it might start off like a bad day. But if you have a great job once you get working it can turn that upside down!

How does a grown-up know if they’re successful in their career?

People comment on your good work and you know you tried your best.

What is the best thing about being an adult with a career?

You feel good because you can support your family with money.
And if you’re doing a job you love, it’s fun to go to work everyday.
And if you have nice co-workers it’s fun to see them everyday.

What do you think is the most stressful thing about adults working?

Waking up!

If you do a good job working for someone else, sometimes they give you more responsibility and more money. It’s called a promotion.

I’m not stupid.

Sorry. What’s the most important thing to do to get promoted?

Work your hardest and stay on task. Then they’ll see you’re getting everything done and give you a promotion. It’s kind of like sitting in the classroom and if you work, work, work then you’ll get a star on the board.

What makes a good boss?

Somebody who encourages you, somebody who teaches you if you have trouble, someone who compliments you and goes easy when you make a mistake. He pairs you up with people who have experience and can help you if you don’t know how to do something.  And he finds a way to solve problems.

Why “he”?

It can be a “she”!

Just checking.

Most people have a boss and also have others they work with. What’s important about working well with people?

At school we call it collaborating.

Good word.

At school we collaborate in table groups to get work done faster. But it’s hard if you don’t get along. You can’t get work done.

So what if you don’t like the people you work with?

Just try to bond with them. Find things in common. That’s what we do. ‘Cause if we all work together it’s more fun.

What else do you think makes a grown up have a great day at work?

Everything all together: they feel like they tried their best, they got work done, they stayed on task, worked together well with their co-workers and had fun in the process. And they just feel great about what they do as a job. 

What do you think makes someone have a lousy day at work?

Maybe feeling under pressure with too much work. Then your desk gets messy and it’s stressful. Or maybe if something is frustrating you like your computer isn’t working or someone isn’t there that you need, or someone showed up late to a meeting.

Then what should you do?

I guess just do one thing at a time. Just breathe.

Have you heard of the term “work/life balance”?


It’s how we refer to –

Oh yeah! We talked about this in school. It’s about balancing play and work. We have Wellness Wednesdays and I love it. If you just play, play, play you’re not going to work and learn stuff. But if you only work, you won’t have time to play and you’ll get grumpy. You need to balance it out. Sometimes you need to clear your mind.

How do you think adults can achieve a good balance?

Meditating, yoga, telling people how you feel. You can play with your kids if you have kids, or you can just, like, snuggle and read in your bed. You can try to complete lots of stuff in your workday so that you can play at home.

What should you do if your boss gives you too much work?

Just try to finish as much as you can and then go home.

What’s the best advice you have for my clients working hard at their careers?

If you’re working hard, you’ll probably succeed. Don’t overthink things. Just do your work and look it over it and finish it. Then go and play.


 How would it serve you to take on M’s perspective – even just sometimes?

What would your inner 9-year-old say about your career?




Jonathan Mueller via flickr

photo by Jonathan Mueller via flickr

“Executive presence” sounds impressive. Every leader should covet it and be proud of their abilities if they’re praised for it, right? The issue is, for as many times the term is referenced in performance reviews and coaching mandates, there are an equal number of definitions of this elusive quality.

As a cheeky undergraduate student, I used to play Buzz Word Bingo with my business school friends whereby, unbeknownst to the prof, (oh, who am I kidding?) we would use hidden bingo boards full of fancy-sounding business words – like synergies or operationalize – to make dry class discussions into a hilarious competition as we worked to slip the words into our comments on the case study. If I were issuing a current version of the game board, I would surely put “executive presence” on it, as it’s a vague management competency one could easily toss into conversation.

Most people have a sense of what the term is getting at. Remarks on “executive presence” are intended to critique one’s aptitude in certain leadership skills; specifically those that fall into what I call the ‘getting the promotion’ category. The message is something like, “to be a higher-level leader in this organization, you should be more leader-like.” You can see how this would be a frustrating comment to receive.

Let me try to decode the remarks of this professional pep talk.

You hear:

“You should work on your executive presence.”

It means:

“You’ve got to convince people of stuff in a way that doesn’t tick them off.”

Or….“Work more on relating to big-wigs at the company. Try to be one of them.”

Or….“You need to act more confident so people trust that you know what you’re talking about.”

Or….“Find a way to keep cool under pressure and stay above the drama.”

Or….“You’ll get further if you turn up the charm. Be more likeable.”

Or….“Pay more attention to looking, dressing, shaking hands, sitting and moving around like an important person.”

Or…. “You’ve got to get better at thinking on your feet.”

Clearly, there are a lot of intended meanings. But if you don’t know which one is intended, the phrase is useless.

To figure out which critique is coming your way, ask: “How exactly do you define ‘executive presence’?” and “can you give me examples of what it looks like to you?” or, “Who around here does it really well?” You should also clarify the intention of the feedback, as in, “What effect do you think better executive presence would have on my work and my team?” It’ll allow you to get to the heart of the conversation more quickly so you can set specific goals around improving your leadership style in the way that’s been suggested, if you so choose. (Because – don’t forget – you always have a choice as to what to do with feedback.)

If you’re the feedback-giver, the one who wants someone on your team to be more executive-y, I hope the point’s been made that jargon only makes things harder. Respect your employee for the future executive they are by telling it like it is.

Now just so we’re clear, the concept of acting like a leader if you want to be a successful one is actually extremely important. “Executive presence” is a thing. But we mustn’t talk about it like a leader’s je ne sais quoi. Instead, identify exactly what’s missing and design actions accordingly.

There are thousands of possibilities, but I’ll set out some examples to illustrate the point.

If you want to work on:

Convincing people of stuff in a way that doesn’t tick them off…
Try: Validating questions and resistance instead of debating, ie: “I understand your hesitation, as this is a big change from what we’ve been doing. We’re considering that by….”

Relating to big-wigs at the company…
Try: Being where the senior folks are, be it key meetings or networking events. Everyone feels closer to people they are more familiar with.

Speaking more confidently…
Try: Closing your eyes and picturing the wise and wonderful person you will be in 20 years. (Yes, actually do that.) Before your meetings, take on the persona of your future self as you present your thoughts.

Keeping cool under pressure and staying above the drama…
Try: Committing to never, ever speaking about anyone in your organization behind their back, outside of official HR conversations.

Being more likeable…
Try: Expressing gratitude, asking questions and listening sincerely: “Thanks for your work on this report. How did you find the experience of putting it together?”

Looking, dressing, shaking hands, sitting and moving around like an important person…
Try: Asking a friend (preferably in a related industry) to give you the most honest feedback they can on your work look and impression. If their feedback doesn’t match the brand you’re going for, change something and try it out on the job.

Thinking on your feet…
Try: Putting yourself in situations more often where this will be demanded of you. It may go against your instinct, but no amount of role-playing can replace real life practice.

How do you define and practice “executive presence”? Let me know!