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Surround Yourself With Great Leaders

Cynthia Murray, Post September 9, 2020

(Photo UVA Rotunda, 2000) From left to right: UVA President John T. Casteen (1990-2000), Cynthia Murray, Cynthia Murray Enterprises (CEO), Rear Admiral Mariann Stratton (Navy, Ret.), Professor David T. Gies (Dept. of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, Ret. Chair)

I hope that your day is going well! I found this amazing gem of a picture of me with people who directly and indirectly had an major positive impact on my life and career. The memories that this photo evoked inspired me to write to you about surrounding yourself with great leaders. I look up to each one of these individuals to this very day, albeit for different reasons. You see, in this photo I am surrounded by amazing leaders with different strengths, impact and perspectives on what would later be my life and career.

In this picture taken in the year 2000 we were at the Distinguished Alumnae Dinner sponsored by the UVA Women's Center for which I had the privilege of serving on the Advisory Board as a very young professional with a lot to learn from these folks! 

President John Casteen was not only the UVA President while I was a student there, but he was an example of a leader who genuinely cared about his students. If memory serves me correctly, he previously taught English at UVA and he never lost that love for the students that he served when he rose to the position of President, a position he would hold for 20 years. He stayed connected and showed calm compassion and a desire to see us all succeed. I learned servant leadership in part from this great role model.

Retired Read Admiral Stratton was (and is) someone to whom I could look up to and admire for her amazing role as a leader in the United States Navy - a world where there are very few women who had risen to that level of leadership command. She was smart, well-respected, and had a strong sense of identity and confidence. To me she epitomized executive presence. Her leadership inspired me to take the limits off of my own future career and see that the possibilities were indeed endless.

Professor Gies was not only my teacher, but my friend and later, my colleague as we served together on the Advisory Board of the Women's Center. To be honest, I've never felt comfortable calling him "David" because I hold him in such high regard as one of the mentors in my life as a young woman with the world before her eyes, full of hope and a bit of trepidation. I respected him greatly and still do. He encouraged me to explore the world and spread my wings. He encouraged me, corrected me and sharpened me. I could not have chosen a better undergraduate advisor then Mr. Gies...I mean, David! Old habits die hard!

I learned so much from these three individuals in totally different ways, but all in ways that left an indelible impact on my life and career as I would develop into a leader who trains other leaders. I owe them a debt of gratitude that I will always try to repay as I finish this race and life's assignment that I've been given. I want to make a commitment today. Please help keep me accountable to it.

I will serve others as I lead them.

I will be a role model of integrity and tenacity.

I will encourage and mentor others to live life to the fullest and be their best.

I will lead with integrity and passion. I will stand for what is right.

I will never forget to surround myself with other great leaders so that I can strive daily to become better myself. What about you? To whom can you look for leadership inspiration? Find them and learn all you can from them. Their lessons will be more valuable than gold!

Plan Your Day to Plan Your Life

Cynthia Murray August 20, 2020

Today's world is busier than ever and we we have a lot of things to accomplish to stay current, relevant and to achieve our own personal goals. I find that the busier I become, the more I need to have a plan to stay on track and meet my goals. I work with executives in many different industries and help them to achieve their big goals too. What I help them to see is that you cannot conquer their major goals and plans in your life if you cannot plan out your day. Days become weeks, which become months and, eventually, years. It is a cumulative effort and time really counts!

I coach many executives who are successful in their careers, but struggle with balancing all of the things that hey have to do, especially when we need to add on extra assignments to get them to their next level or achieve a longer term goal.  I find that what usually suffers is their personal life due to a gap in their daily routine such as lack of exercise, no time for prayer and meditation or missing out on family time with their spouse and kids.  You are a total package and these things are so vital to your overall happiness and success.  So, you owe it to yourself to actually schedule that time in so as not to miss doing these things on a daily basis.  Think of these items as brushing your teeth before bed.  You could miss doing it one or two times without noticing much of a difference, but over time, a consistent failure to tend to your oral hygiene will have a negative effect that can be very painful.  So it is with the fundamental things that you want to tend to in your personal life.

In addition, it is important to note that even long term goals can be affected by small movement in the right direction, so never underestimate the power of adding small to do items to your daily schedule.  You will see the cumulative effect of your actions, but in order to remember them it can be very helpful to pen them into your calendar.

Here's to your future achievement and reaching your big goals and plans one daily plan at a time!

Get In Focus to Fulfill Your Goals & Dreams 

Cynthia Murray Published August 6, 2020

FOCUS is something that is so valuable and can be easily lost in times of turmoil, confusion just - busyness.  That's the world in which we are all living right now as a result of COVID-19.  The pandemic has created an existence in which we are trying to put out many fires, adjust to "new normals" and still produce and perform in our careers and work environment.  All of that can lead to a lack of focus on your goals and dreams that have not gone away, but perhaps are just sleeping.

I want to encourage you to do two quintessential things 1) Reassess your goals that might be on pause or perhaps pounding on the door to be let back into your mind.  Make sure that those goals are still what you want for your life and career.     That's because goals and dreams can and do sometimes change over time as life happens and people come in and go out of our lives and priorities shift.  This article is designed to help you get back on track if, after assessing everything, you still have and want to pursue the same goals.  To do that will require focus.

To do that, look at three fundamental steps:

1.  Determine a timeline by which you want to achieve your goal or mini goals along the way.  Keep in mind that you may have to be more lenient on yourself for your deadlines due to factors outside of your control.  It's okay.  The key is to keep going in the right direction!

2.  Be honest about all of the obligations that you have and put them in priority in relation to your goals(s).  Understand that there may be some good and even enjoyable things that may need to be eliminated or at least take a back seat to working toward your goal.  Ask yourself if you're willing to make those sacrifices, and if not, why not?

3.  It can be very helpful to carve out a specific time in your day or week that is dedicated solely to the pursuit of your goal.  You'll have to be a bit militant about this time and guard it so that you don't succumb to the million interruptions that can steal your attention and focus away.  Sometimes I even go so far as to put that time on my works schedule as though it were a meeting.  That way, when something arises to attract my time and attention it cannot interfere with my previously scheduled assignment with my own project!  

Focus is one of the topics in our Blue ribbon Leadership Academy because of how important this is to the achievement of not only your personal goals, but for your team goals as a leader in your organization.  

So, if you've lost focus lately, but are still motivated to achieve your goals, don't give up or be discouraged.  You can do this!  Your dreams are counting on you!  

The Benefits of Having a Coach

Cynthia Murray: Posted July 14, 2020

When you hear the word "coach" your mind probably goes back to your high school varsity team or little league experience or to the likes of famous coaches such as NFL legends Don Shula, Tom Landry or college basketball Coach Tony Bennett.  I still remember by high school volleyball coach and reminisced fondly when reading the recent newspaper article that he had retired from coaching.  We tend to have these fond memories and think so highly of the men and women on the sidelines because they have the amazing ability to inspire discipline and greatness in the athletes who they coach, both on and off the field.  If you're like me, our coaches did not just teach us how to handle a ball or a racket, but how to handle life with dignity, integrity and a goal-driven attitude.  The same is true for professional coaches.  When you have a good one, you have a great thing!

However, many people and companies still don't readily see the value in hiring a coach.  They make the mistake of assuming that coaches typically help with "soft skills" that there is not an ROI on the money spent.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Coaching done right has enormous benefits to both the bottom-line and to the sustainability of the company or organization.  Let's take a look at a few major benefits of professional coaching:

1. Better productivity and efficiency:  A person or employee with a coach gets the benefit of having someone with a trained eye to watch and observe them from the outside looking in to identify what I call "blind spots" - areas or habits  that we cannot see which are causing problems in performance or at least create inefficiencies in our work.  The person being coached will greatly benefit from that coach on the sidelines who consistently watches the person's plays and helps them to auto-correct, thereby enhancing skills that lead them to professional success.  This not only feels amazing to the coachee/employee, but actually causes them to work more efficiently.

2.  Retention: So, when you have a happy and productive employee (even if you work for yourself) you have a valuable asset.  The person will be able to reach goals and perform better because they are no longer going in circles unable to ascertain why they cannot overcome certain specific problems like poor inter-personal relationships with clients, customers or colleagues, consistent failure to get promoted or win contracts.  Once these obstacles are overcome, the individual feels confident to stay on in their organization and to even push higher and produce more for the company or organization.  They may even become a cheerleader inspiring other colleagues.

3.  Reaching S.M.A.R.T. Goals:  Coaches help an individual to identify and reach their goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.  Whether you work for yourself or another, there are few things more satisfying that reaching these goals and enjoying the fruit of doing so!

4.  Profitability: With a professional coach, you can create a top performer in yourself or someone else that brings home the bacon!  When the individual works more efficiently and stays on at the organization meeting and exceeding goals, profit is sure to follow!  It becomes a win-win situation that increases the bottom line in business.  It's so much better to spend money on improvement through a coach than to waste money on lost profits, endless remedial efforts or worse, lawsuits that could have been avoided with some professional proactive measures up front.

Trust me, I've seen it first-hand with the doctors, business executives, military personnel and employees that I have coached over the years.  I really enjoy this aspect of my job and would be honored to help any of you too as your personal professional coach or as a coach to members of your team.  You'll be glad you made the investment!

Cynthia Murray is the CEO of Cynthia Murray Enterprises LLC and has more than 20 years experience leading in local government, corporate America and with her own international non-profit organization of which she is founder and Executive Director. She is a published author and sought-after keynote speaker. Cynthia teaches, trains and speaks globally and is expert in leadership development and team-building.

Being the Only Minority in the Room​ 

Cynthia Murray: Posted Wednesday, June 3, 2020

(Deep topic, long post that's worth the read)

In the wake of the turmoil and sadness surrounding the death of George Floyd in 2020 every American is thinking about racial disparity and how they may be impacted and how they may be part of the problem or part of the solution. Good. We all should take a long pause and reflect on how we can make this world a better place, indeed a more just, free and equitable place. That equity being sought for minorities (and frequently women) is in every area of life and community, including the workplace.

If you are part of a minority group and a professional, then you (like many others) may find yourself being the only representative of that minority in the room or at the table in a company, organization or other professional groups, like local bar associations. Perhaps, if you are female, Black, Latino, from a different nationality or ethnically diverse from the majority in your workplace, you may have experienced this professional challenge first-hand.

Yes, you or someone close to you may know exactly what it feels like to be one-of-a-kind or at least a member of a small group in a prep school, organization or field of practice in your community. It can be uncomfortable, unsettling, even intimidating. However, with education, intentionality and sensitivity, it doesn't have to be a bad experience. Truth is that it is the painful reality for so many minorities and women. I'll admit that I am an eternal optimist and I truly believe that things can and will get better, but first let's take a look at some specific circumstances, data and solutions. Please keep in mind that this article is NOT an attempt to bash or shame anyone, but rather to identify a real sociological challenge and find best practices and attitudes to overcome it.

The Current Condition:

So often, the higher minority professionals go in any organization or company, the more this "being the only one in the room" occurs. In fact, this is even more true if you may fall into multiple minority categories at the same time. That was my case. I personally know what that's like as a black female. You see, I was the first Black Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney for the County of Albemarle which is in (Photo cred: Wikipedia) my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia - an area with a storied past (a mix of both good and bad history) and the place of the awful white supremacist Unite the Right rally that took the life of local resident Heather Heyer on August 12, 2017. That was an event which our entire community still mourns and laments, but by which we refuse to be defined.

In over a decade of public service as a prosecutor there were never more than about five or six actively practicing African American attorneys in our entire legal community with me, which is quite large, (as lawyers seem to love Charlottesville)!

I transitioned from the courtroom to the boardroom in a career change that took me to Northrop Grumman as a Senior Business Management professional in the military defense industry. The absence of diversity relative to Black females was even more noticeable in the field of military defense which mostly male dominated. I am compelled to say that I rarely felt looked over, undervalued or ostracized because of my race or gender, but that was in large part due to the fact that I am intentional about being bold and confident so as to been seen, heard and given opportunities to perform and obtain upward mobility. I definitely had to learn when to fight for such opportunities and when to simply let things go for one reason or another.

The Statistics:

In July 2011 Diversity Inc published an article which emphasized the fact that there are very few Black, Latino, Asian and female CEO's of Fortune 500 companies in the United States. At that time, Blacks comprised only 1.2%, Asians 1.4%, Latinos occupied 1.2% of the top corporate roles and women topped the list at 4.2%. The article also highlighted some of the top 50 companies that have a strong showing overall in diversity in the CEO position. A few of the companies and CEO's were:

Black CEO's:

Kenneth Chenault of American Express (whom I have personally met)

Kenneth Frazier of Merck & Co

Don Thompson of McDonald's (Wikipedia photo right)

and Ursula Burns of Xerox

There were and are now others, but the list remains short, even though there is no shortage of talent to fill the positions.

The Challenge:

Being a senior or high level minority professional in your company or field creates unique challenges. By the time you are the CEO of the company those challenges are perhaps completely overcome, however, they likely still exist within the industry at various levels beneath the C-Suite level. When you have not quite risen all the way to the top there are probably still obstacles to overcome.

Work as a minority professional is somewhat of a sociological experiment for each person. Since people naturally tend to associate with others like themselves in appearance, background or beliefs, when someone who is different for whatever reason shows up on the scene, there can be an unspoken chasm between that individual and the rest of the majority group. In today's environment this isolation tends not to be as overt as in decades past (think of the movie Hidden Figures) and may in fact be unintentional. Nonetheless, this separation is a natural social phenomenon that is harmful at work.

The good news is that this silent division can be overcome in most cases, and must be overcome in the workplace to foster unity, productivity, innovation and a happy, healthy "home away from home" where every employee feels welcome and valued. Creating an inclusive work environment is not always easy, but it's definitely worth the effort!

5 Unspoken Do's and Don'ts of Diversity and Inclusion: These keys will help to make your professional experience easier a minority professional. And, oh yes, if you're not part of a minority group and you took the time to read this post and/or talk about it with your work team - Thank you. Bravo for reading and for caring about your amazing minority coworkers whom you can help to feel welcome at work!

1. Confidence counts. As a minority in the workforce, don't lose your confidence or think less of yourself in comparison to others in the group simply because you look different and are not a carbon copy of the culture of the majority. You must recognize that you are in the room because you are value-added. You would not even be there if you did not bring skill, talent and expertise to your team. They need you there.

2. Be open. Try not to take the initial feeling of separation so personally. Remember that everyone involved must adjust to working with people who do not look, sound or perceive the same way that they do. The good news is that over time with the right attitudes of and strategies employed, you and your coworkers can grow to develop trust, friendship, mutual respect and admiration.

3. There are no cookie-cutter fixes. Don't feel the need to always be defensive or to overemphasize your differences thereby antagonizing other coworkers in your group. By allowing yourself to let your guard down a bit, you just might see that you have more in common than first meets the eye. If you do encounter instances of prejudice and discrimination, decide what you are comfortable with in terms of the best way to handle the situation for redress. Sometimes you might choose to have a candid talk with the individual offending colleague, but at other times you may need to raise the issue to higher levels of leadership and/or Human Resources. Do what you feel is best for you. Not every circumstance will be the same. As with most challenges in life, you'll need to choose your battles and remember that every conflict is not always about race. You may just work with an "equal opportunity jerk!"

4. Break stereotypes. Do not settle for being "the best in your minority group." Instead, set your goal to simply be the best. Period! I like the statement of Danica Patrick, the female race car driver who in the last few years became the first woman in history to obtain the top spot at NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series race having qualified at the Daytona 500 International Speedway and topping speeds of 196 MPH! In a statement to the press Danica stated, "I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl."

5. To quote legendary singer Billy Joel, "Don't go changin'!

Never, never, never try to change to be like anyone else in order to fit in. Sure, there is organizational and corporate culture and there is nothing wrong with embracing that so long as in doing so you do not sacrifice the essence of who you are as a person. That includes standing by your values, and to a certain extent, your own personal culture - the very thing that makes you so unique, awesome and a diversity gem on your team! Do celebrate both your similarities and differences between you and your colleagues. Above all, just be who you are and bring all of your wonderful talents to the table each and every day.

Cynthia Murray is the CEO of Cynthia Murray Enterprises LLC and has more than 20 years of experience leading in local government, corporate America and with her own international non-profit organization of which she is founder and Executive Director. She is a published author and sought-after keynote speaker. Cynthia teaches, trains and speaks globally and is expert in leadership development and team-building.

Can We Talk? Workplace Conversations and Current Events

Cynthia Murray: Posted Wednesday, June 17, 2020

There is a lot going on in the world right now and it's impossible to escape being in the middle of it all even at work. COVID-19, race riots, a teetering economy...Everywhere you turn there is a breaking news report on TV in the lunch room, a protest sign or even an actual protest on your way to work.

You might see an inflammatory political headline on the newspaper in your office waiting room or a group of coworkers could be huddled together to watch the latest conspiracy theory video in the kitchenette.

Indeed, there are probably topics that you would rather not discuss at work which are the proverbial "bear in the room", but the conversations about those things loom all around. So, unless you work alone from home you, like so many others, work with people who are experiencing and witnessing the same things that you are, but perhaps from a different perspective


It's not hard to understand that those in your circle of colleagues may hold vastly differing opinions about current events than you. How you choose to handle those conversations in your workspace will likely make the difference between working in an environment of peace and unity or chaos and division.

Not only that, you might have clients, patients or customers that walk through your doors who will hear your conversations or just feel the atmosphere that has been created. Their experience may mean the difference between keeping or losing their valued business.

Of course, personal interaction is good, but in stressful times like the ones in which we are living we need to know how to handle these topics of conversation appropriately. Let's talk today about some ways that you can best handle these issues in your office or in your work space with tact, professionalism and compassion.

1. If you are the boss or office manager, you might have a blanket policy that such discussions are off limits at work, but that will be very hard to do with feelings, opinions and emotions running high. I'm not an expert in employment law, but I am not even sure that would be legal. Of course you can require conversations at work to be about work only, but what about break times? You should consult with Human Resources to be sure.

So, you don't have to enforce an absolute "No Discussion" policy, but you certainly want to set expectations of all staff to maintain an atmosphere of professionalism. For example, it might be appropriate to avoid all conversation about such sensitive topics in front of clients and customers. If a client or customer actually initiates the conversation, a helpful strategy could be to tactfully steer the conversation in a different direction, being careful to always express your appreciation for them by thanking them for their patronage and wishing them to stay safe and well.

Further, a reminder to employees to avoid the use of profanity, name-calling or raised voices (even when not directed at any particular individual) may be necessary due to the high emotions around such topics. I recently experienced such a situation at a local home and garden store. The employee's voice was raised as he was just speaking to another employee about an issue. This caused the tension in the area to be tremendous! You could have cut it with a knife. Patrons shopping were uncomfortable and wanted to just check out and leave. I certainly did!

2. Depending upon the situation and environment at work, it may not only be appropriate, but healthy and compassionate to formally address the issues with your staff and reassure your team that they are valued and welcome. Let them all know how sorry you are that the community is going through these storms, but you are there for them. They will appreciate it. Some of your staff may even need to take time off or leave work a bit early to process, avoid an anxiety attack and just regroup to be their best selves. Be sensitive to that and fair in the application of such policies. The point is, be aware of your employees' needs and be sensitive to their suffering in these challenging times.

3. As a co-worker, you are under no obligation to engage in any conversation that is brought to your desk or to answer when asked what your opinion is. You have the right NOT to talk about certain things. In most instances, people will respect your right to say, "I respect you (all) and your opinions, but I really do not want to talk about it." You could also say, "I hope we can turn things around for the good for everyone, but I don't want to share my opinions at work." Such phrases are non-confrontational, but clear and direct.

If you do not want to be that direct, then perhaps you can just change the course of the conversation. This will not always be received well though, as some people will try to insist that you communicate about it or interpret your wanting to talk about something else as being callous and insensitive. That is not fair to you, but you cannot control how people think. You can only control the way that you act toward and treat others. Hopefully, that will always be with professionalism, genuine care and respect. That's the key to peace and harmony in the workplace.

Here's believing with you for better days ahead. Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better, but I believe that together and with the right attitude of mutual respect, we will supersede and rise above this adversity.

Cynthia Murray is the CEO of Cynthia Murray Enterprises LLC and has more than 20 years of experience leading in local government, corporate America and with her own international non-profit organization of which she is founder and Executive Director. She is a published author and sought-after keynote speaker. Cynthia teaches, trains and speaks globally and is expert in leadership development and team-building.

Small Business Matters

Cynthia Murray: Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2020 1:07 PM

Hi CME friends!

I hope that you are all safe and well as we try to navigate the new conditions and parameters as a result of COVID-19. Our thoughts and prayers have definitely been with you all! It's been a long while since I've sent you a blog and I'm super excited to connect with you all again. I want to know how you're doing. I'm pulling for you...

We know that the economy has taken a hit, but some of the hardest hit have been small businesses in the US and around the globe.These businesses are the foundation of our economies and they are owned and operated by our parents, siblings, friends and many of you. I understand. I'm in this with you and your businesses matter to me and my team.

I'm always thinking about how we can help and support our friends and colleagues out there and we got the idea to roll out a new CME series supporting amazing small businesses called “Small Biz Shout Outs!”

Each week we intend to feature a great small business that operates in excellence and integrity and always goes the extra mile for clients and customers.

Today we're featuring Femi Adun, a certified leadership facilitator, author and publisher with Grace House Publishing. Femi is the founder of Eagle World Outreach and PactLeadership where he teaches and trains on effective leadership principles. Grace House Publishing published my last book and it will soon be released in Spanish. They’re awesome!

You can connect with Femi on Facebook and Instagram following @PactLeadership CME offers some of the same services, but there’s no competition here, just respect!

If you’d like to nominate a business in your area, please contact us with your recommendation as to how they meet the criteria and provide their contact information and a photo.

Thank you and keep being awesome!

Surviving in the Midst of Change

Cynthia Murray: Posted Sunday, March 15, 2020

If you are one of our local readers, you may have noticed what happened here in Charlottesville, Virginia only about two weekends ago. It was a lovely Saturday morning in the upper 70's F, which was ridiculously warm for these parts. Folks were out in shorts and T-shirts enjoying the summer-like weather. Then, around 2:00 pm the sky became ominously dark and a strange sound was heard outside. Loud thumps battered the cars and the ground as small, perfectly round balls of hail came through in a storm. Heat one minute and ice the next!

The climate has still been up, down and all around in the last few weeks, causing one to turn on the air conditioner in the car one day and put salt on the ground for ice the next day. Ah, spring! This wacky season brings a lot of change and, at times, frustration. It's the same in the professional world right now.

There are many things that are in flux in the United States at this very moment. Those things have many business people scratching their heads wondering which direction to go or what action to take as the country adjusts to a new federal administration. The economy is also changing and unpredictable. This makes for what some might call a "wild ride" until things normalize.

So, how do you, as a leader or as an entrepreneur hold on, survive and hopefully, continue to thrive during this volatile season? There are a few principles that can help you to succeed even during times of unpredictability and rapid change:

1. Remind yourself and your team of your core values. Core values help you to maintain true to your goals and principles when having to make decision about the future. It's best to stay true to your values in every decision-making process.

2. Remain steady and consistent as much as possible. Like most people, your customers, clients and staff will find great comfort in relying on your same excellent products, services and policies when so many other things are changing around them. They will appreciate the stability and be more likely to stick around as a loyal partner with you and your company.

3. Avoid making knee-jerk reactions. As is true in so many situations requiring change, it's best not to react to a changing situation too quickly, but to take time to adequately analyze and review the situation and then to take the best appropriate action based on all the relevant information. This will avoid making decisions that are too drastic, causing unnecessary loss or damage.

4. Be proactive. If you can identify reasonable possible changes that could affect you or your business, your leadership team can analyze what protective measures might be put in place to be prepared for some eventuality. Perhaps that are cost effective measures that could be put into place now that will minimize loss and adequately manage risk. Think of it this way, it may not rain during your trip , but it's not a big burden to carry a small umbrella when you travel!

Following these simple tips can help you to keep your business running smoothly with minimal interruption, damage or loss while the political and economic climate is changing daily.

Thanks and happy Spring!

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