The Unexpected Benefit

Ellis FC.jpgSometimes, the unexpected benefit is the most meaningful.

When you write a book, people want to know why. What is your goal? What do you hope to gain? Some seek fame and recognition. For others, it is credibility. And others have a message they want to convey to the world. For me, it was a combination of the need to explore another form of creative expression and the desire to share my hard-won lessons of leadership with more people who could benefit from them.

I had the great good fortune to work with an extraordinary editor, Justin Spizman. He pushed me and challenged me every step of the way. By encouraging me to dig deeper, he helped me to find the insight and the meaning that I gained from my experiences and observations, as well as from my teachers. This allowed me to go beyond “reporting” what I had learned to share the wisdom I had gained from it with others.  To say he helped me find my voice is an understatement.

Recently, while discussing the benefits of working with Justin with a prospective new writer, I realized that much more had come out of that experience. By helping me to take what were seemingly unrelated life experiences and weave them into a coherent message, Justin also helped me to be a better teacher, trainer, facilitator and keynote speaker.

As a result of our collaboration, I am more organized in my thinking, more focused on working backward from the outcome I want to achieve and therefore, better able to deliver a cohesive, memorable and valuable message to my audience. Having always described myself as a serial student and lifelong learner, I was thrilled with this discovery.

If you are considering writing a book, I highly encourage you to do so. People told me that new doors and opportunities would open that I didn’t expect and I have certainly seen that. And some of those will be opportunities for even more personal growth. Wow. As I said, sometimes, the unexpected benefit is the most meaningful.

My book, Becoming Deliberate: Changing The Game Of Leadership From the Inside Out, is now available for pre-order at your favorite online bookstore.


Three Steps To Improve Organizational Leadership

Originally published in The Business Edge; A Publication of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce

Three Steps To Improve Organizational Leadership

by Cheryl Bonini Ellis

Among the lessons I’ve learned from more than 40 years of varied leadership experiences is this one: There is no style of leadership that works in every situation. The best leaders are those who can adapt to the circumstances and bring forward the knowledge, skills and abilities required by them.

This is neither easy nor common. Many organizational leaders lead with a “my way or the highway” philosophy, expecting everyone around them to make the necessary adjustments. This style may work in some situations but is not particularly effective over the long run and with the constantly changing landscape of business today. I found it very different to lead when the organization was experiencing rapid growth versus when it was in downsizing, cost-cutting mode. I also found that the requirements changed when I led in a line role versus a staff role. Additionally, I’ve observed leaders who are very effective while things are running smoothly and not so when there are multiple challenges.

In order to build the leadership in your organization, three important steps should be taken – minimally on an annual basis but also whenever the environment is changing. Today, of course, this is a virtually continuous state in the world of business.

Step One: Assess the situation. What are the trends impacting your industry currently and/or likely to do so in the near future? What are the current circumstances relative to competition and how is that changing? What are the emerging needs in terms of organizational capabilities? What skills, knowledge and abilities will be required to meet those needs? And, importantly, where are the gaps?

Step Two: Assess your own leadership. How well prepared are you to lead your organization or team through the upcoming challenges? How solid is your vision for the future? What skills do you need to develop to excel in the changing environment? How good are you at aligning the team around common goals and gaining cooperation and collaboration toward flawless execution?

Step Three: Assess your team. Given the results that will be expected, what new skills will your team members need in order to excel? How cohesive is the team? What is the level of trust and collaboration? How well do they engage in constructive conflict? How much creativity and innovation exists? To what degree are team members committed and accountable? Where are the biggest gaps?

These three steps will help prepare you, your team and your organization to move forward with a higher degree of clarity. In a world of constant change, uncertainty and ambiguity, clarity is power and it builds confidence. Spending time to ask these questions, reflect on and discuss the answers is time well spent.

Consider the use of assessment tools to help in assessing individuals’ strengths, blind spots and opportunities. Multi-rater assessments can be particularly helpful in quantifying areas of greatest need and creating a targeted action plan.

Once you’ve gathered the information, be sure to take action. This process can be overwhelming if you are undertaking it for the first time and especially if there are
significant issues. I recommend utilizing an experienced facilitator to guide you through the steps. Remember, this knowledge is only useful if you use it proactively. Set priorities and follow through, then be sure to reassess. Celebrate your progress.

Implementing this practice in your organization will enable growth and lead to better results. Whenever you are deliberate, intentional and strategic about growth and development, everything around you also improves. This is an investment of time, energy and attention worth making.

Click here to download the complete May 2015 issue of The Business Edge; A Publication of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce

Speak Easy: Ellis Wows Banking Crowd With Her 5 C’s For Success

By Meg Fry

SpeakEasy is a running feature in NJBIZ in which we recap presentations given by key business leaders around the state at one of New Jersey’s many conferences and events. This report is based on a keynote speech delivered by Cheryl Bonini Ellis, principal of Ellis Business Enterprises in Madison, on April 22 at an event hosted by the New Jersey Bankers Association for an audience of more than 400 banking professionals.

It was easy to see Cheryl Bonini Ellis’ high level of confidence as she danced her way across the stage at the New Jersey Bankers Association’s “Knowledge, Leadership, Mentorship” women in business event last Wednesday.

Good thing, as that is exactly what she was there to teach.

After having spent 30 years at Fleet Bank progressing from entry level to senior positions, Ellis founded Ellis Business Enterprises in Madison to advise business owners and executives on how best to achieve greater bottom-line results by developing companywide leadership abilities.

But it wasn’t always so easy to get through to people, she said. “I remember the first time that I was invited to a meeting with the big boys,” Ellis said. “I remember sitting there thinking, ‘I’m here. I made it.’ I was just young and naïve at the time.”

At lunchtime, she said, her team was instructed to grab some food and return. “When one of my new colleagues looked right at me and said, ‘Where we come from, the ladies get the lunch.’ I looked right back at him and said, ‘Well, then, we’re in some trouble here because there don’t seem to be any ladies here.’ Then I excused myself to the women’s room.”

That wasn’t the only story she could have shared — as was the case for many of the women in attendance at last Wednesday’s conference. “I can tell you dozens of stories like that one that made me feel underestimated, unappreciated and underutilized,” she said.

Many of those stories left her considering legal action.

“But I’m grateful for those experiences because I believe that, if you’re paying attention, each and every experience that you have can contribute to who you become as a leader and as a person,” Ellis said.

But only if one doesn’t simply just work hard and wait for opportunities — positive or negative — to come to them.

“If hope is the main strategy that you employ for moving forward, you better have a lot of patience for when that next opportunity might come around,” Ellis said. “Maybe you’ll get lucky. Or maybe you’ll win the lottery and never have to work a day again in your life.”

Instead, Ellis offered up five pillars (or “the five C’s”) on which to build clear development strategies:

The first, she said, is clarity. “What is it that you want, and more importantly, why do you want it? What’s your motivation? What need is it really satisfying for you?” Ellis said. She recalled learning that a job she had applied for — one she thought she had really wanted due to the money, title and prestige — had been awarded to a less-qualified man.
That’s when she found herself sitting in front of the bank president.

“He said, ‘Cheryl, I’d like you to know that you’re going to have a lot of opportunities in this company, despite the fact that you’re an attractive female.’” Shocking, yes, but she wasn’t too upset. Six months later, she was offered an even better position — and that less-qualified man would then be reporting to her.

“The reality was, I would have hated that (other) job,” Ellis said. Finding better clarity, Ellis said, enables one to make better-guided choices. “You’re clear on what you should do next and how to shift priorities and make tradeoffs,” Ellis said.

Like the time she had to make the choice to accept a job everyone told her she was “crazy” for considering. “How could I turn down an opportunity like that? Even if I failed, I’d learn so much in the process that it would have been worth it,” Ellis said. “It ended up being the best career decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

Confidence and courage, she said, were also key pillars — but she cautioned executives on how to best instill those qualities in their employees. “If you focus so much attention on fixing what’s broken at the expense of taking what your strengths are and developing those, that’s a big mistake.”

The last pillar, she said, is clout — a subject on which she’s about to publish a book about entitled “Becoming Deliberate: Changing the Game of Leadership from the Inside Out,” and the focus of her women’s leadership retreat entitled “Leading with Impact and Intention.”

“Influence is the currency of leadership,” Ellis said. “When you have personal influence, that goes with you wherever you go. You want to learn to lead from the inside out.”

Strength in Numbers

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, more women leaders were losing their jobs than men, according to research from the New Jersey Bankers Association.

And according to a 2012 study by the Rutgers Institute for Women’s Leadership, New Jersey women made up nearly 60 percent of all employees in commercial banking, but only about 30 percent of executive and senior officers.

The numbers at the top grew even smaller: According to the New Jersey Bankers Association, women in New Jersey were barely 3 percent of all CEOs in the state; 10 percent of CFOs; and 4 percent of COOs.

So the New Jersey Bankers Association created the women in banking conference to ensure women had an active forum in which to share their experiences and knowledge to better prepare for leadership opportunities and periods of change.

Since its inception five years ago, attendance has nearly doubled, to 414 from 223.

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