Regards for Regrets

March 29, 2022

Do you have regrets? Perhaps your immediate reaction might be no, but—if you’re completely honest with yourself—you probably regret at least some things you’ve done or haven’t done. It’s part of being human and having free will.  

Like all emotions, regret can be extremely helpful if we are able to learn what it reveals to us. There is wisdom when we reflect on what this regret means on a deeper level.

Regret can occur when you believe your past action or behavior, if changed, may have produced a better outcome. We all have regrets about something at some point in our lives and it’s best not to deny feeling it. Regret can often be closely associated with feeling guilt or shame and can then be expressed to others in an apology.

According to Daniel H. Pink, author of The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward, there are three options for responding to regret. Acknowledge that 1) feeling is for ignoring, which results in delusion; 2) feeling is for feeling, which results in despair; or 3) feeling is for thinking, which results in better decisions, improved performance, and deeper meaning.  

This third option is all about emotional intelligence and welcoming the information derived from your feelings without dismissing or getting overwhelmed by them. It means recognizing and responding to what you’re feeling in a way that helps you navigate your life, particularly when regret surfaces.

Pink says the deep structure of regret can be about the human need for stability, growth, goodness, or love. For example:

If you find yourself saying things like “if only I’d done the work,” this is likely a foundation regret that reveals your need for stability. Or when you find yourself thinking “if only I’d taken the risk,” this is about boldness where you are perhaps concerned about growth. When you think “if only I’d done the right thing,” this is likely a moral issue where you are concerned with goodness. And when you think “if only I’d reached out,” this is very likely a connection issue where you are missing the love that passed you by.  

To learn what regret is telling you, it helps to write about it or talk about it with others. Pink suggests that you relive and relieve regret to reduce some of the burden and begin to make sense of it.

“Writing about regret or revealing a regret to another person moves the experience from the realm of emotion into the realm of cognition,” says Pink. “Instead of those unpleasant feelings fluttering around uncontrollably, language helps us capture them in our net, pin them down, and begin analyzing them.”

This ability to analyze your regret means you can learn what the feeling is trying to tell you. Perhaps you need to apologize to someone who you’ve offended. Or maybe you need to reach out to someone with whom you’ve lost touch. You could act now to relieve your regret and likely unburden you with the weight you may be carrying as a result.

Other regrets such as not choosing a different career path may be difficult to reconcile, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be learned from what you’re feeling. You could certainly choose to look at it differently. That is, you may believe that a different career path would have been better, but how do you know? Rather than ruminate on what might have been, maybe you could celebrate all that you have, which may not have been possible with another career.  

So often it is only after the passage of time that we can see the thread that connects the events and people in our lives. If you embrace the feeling of regret and learn what it can teach, you are more likely to regard it as meaningful and move it from a debilitating feeling into meaningful action.

Say Yes to Office Politics

February 14, 2022

Early in my career I worked for a rapidly growing mid-size company and experienced negative aspects of office politics firsthand. I saw men and women who regularly interrupted others, elbowed their way into interactions with senior leaders, pushed themselves into important discussions, and generally got promoted more quickly than the rest of us.

I convinced myself that I’d rather let my work speak for itself and while these people were playing office politics to get promoted more quickly, I’m better than that. I assumed there could be no integrity in office politics and therefore I wanted nothing to do with it.

Eventually I came to understand that being politically savvy is essential to rising into leadership positions and integrity is what separates those who are truly politically skilled. While those who are disingenuous may fool some people in the workplace, the art of being politically or organizationally savvy requires the authentic use of political skills.   

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, politically skilled leaders are masters at:

  • Social astuteness
  • Interpersonal influence
  • Networking ability
  • Thinking before speaking
  • Managing up
  • Apparent sincerity

Being politically savvy means you can maintain a positive image while driving your individual, team, and organization’s performance.

In a white paper titled Using Political Skill to Maximize and Leverage Work Relationships, the Center for Creative Leadership identified four distinct practices leaders can use to demonstrate political skill:

  • Social Awareness – This has to do with an ability to observe others well enough to understand their behaviors and motives.
  • Interpersonal Influence – The ability to influence and engage with others is paramount to successful leadership.  
  • Networking – Building one’s own team is merely a beginning as reaching across the organization is required to strengthen one’s political skillset.
  • Sincerity – This where integrity comes in and the ability to be open, honest, and genuine with others is the difference in those who are sincere and those who are not.

Navigating office politics is about being authentic and understanding that there will be ambiguity in work relationships. Both are required to build alliances, which is what provides you with political skills you need to succeed.

It’s vital to manage up well. This is not only about your boss but also other senior leaders who are gatekeepers for your career growth. These are the people who need to see you demonstrating all your political savvy skills.

Rejecting office politics means you won’t rise into senior leadership. Make peace with office politics and recognize that although it may in fact be a game, it’s a game you need to learn to play it well.

Don’t reject office politics because some people don’t play fair. While any game can include unfair players, engaging in office politics and playing with integrity, enables you to grow your leadership and advance your career. Say yes to office politics.

Milestone: 300 Blog Posts

December 26, 2021

During the past 12 years, I’ve written and posted articles about leadership, workplace communication, managing employees, executive coaching, organization development and other workplace topics. This blog post marks my 300th since I began writing them in 2009.

From my first post Operational Inefficiencies are Hurting Your Business regarding a trip to Denver that highlighted deficiencies with an airline and car rental company to my most recent Civility in the Workplace, these blog posts are primarily related to what I’m experiencing in my personal and professional life as well as what I’m reading or thinking about. I don’t follow an editorial calendar but instead write about whatever is present in my life at the time.

Though I receive no compensation, there are many benefits for this bi-weekly practice. These include providing potential clients the opportunity to better understand who I am and my expertise. Perhaps more importantly, this encourages my continual learning. (Full disclosure: About half the books I read and reference in these posts are sent free from publishers and publicists hoping I will write something positive.) Every year I read about 25-30 books related to these topics and, by writing about them, feel I am better able to retain the information and pass along to others what I’ve learned.

I wrote about leadership most often as this was tagged 178 times followed by employee engagement (79), organization development (79), workplace communication (75), and lower down was emotional intelligence (39), trust (38), and collaboration (34). The post where I received the most views and comments was Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership written in the summer of 2019. It seemed to strike a chord during and after the Trump presidency.

Over these past 12 years, I see that I frequently discussed the topic of intentionality as well as listening when it comes to effective communication. This was first explored in Turn Signals and Talk Signals where I compared not using turn signals to not being clear in our communication, and in Leader as Listener among others.

Last year, I was able to leverage the work I do on this blog by expanding upon a particular topic into a full book. I wrote Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace in December 2020 and I’m thrilled to see it has found a larger audience.

This month I self-published a collection of my short fiction, something I’ve worked on for more than 20 years. I Remember Clifford and Other Stories is about exploring identity, the loss of a father, finding one’s voice, and feeling and processing emotions, especially around grief.

Here’s an example of something I’ve learned in just putting this post together. It turns out 300 is the sum of a pair of twin primes (149 + 151) as well as the sum of ten consecutive primes (13 + 17 + 19 + 23 + 29 + 31 + 37 + 41 + 43 + 47). Perhaps only my daughter and a few others might find this of interest. Regardless, writing 300 posts feels like a big milestone for me.

I am extremely grateful to my clients and the many authors and thought leaders who continually inspire me. To my regular readers, I truly appreciate your continued interest, and I welcome your comments and feedback. Happy New Year!

Making the Most of Feedback

March 9, 2021

[This is an excerpt from my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is currently available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Leading others in the workplace requires a combination of successfully receiving and giving feedback. At a very basic level, receiving feedback is about learning what you are perceived as doing well and should continue doing; understanding what you should not do and stop doing; and learning what you don’t currently do, but should begin doing.

Similarly, to give feedback effectively, you need to state what the other person is doing well and encourage them to continue; inform them of what they should not be doing and redirect as necessary; and communicate what they need to begin doing in order to be more effective in their role. Effectively receiving and giving feedback are essential in every career, but especially when seeking to lead by example.

It’s important to look at the feedback you receive as a gift by valuing the perspectives others have for how they see you showing up in the workplace. Ideally, this would come in the form of a 360-degree feedback appraisal, so you can learn how you are perceived by people up, down and across the organization. This collective perspective provides an overall picture in how you show up. It may differ from how you perceive yourself, yet this helps you gain an external perspective to increase your overall self-awareness.

When a comment is from one individual, you should see it as an opinion; when it is from two, you should treat it as a trend; and when it is from three or more people, you should view it as factual and especially important to consider.

Don’t dismiss the positive comments as these represent your strengths that helped you reach where you are today. Embrace this positive feedback and own it as part of your overall reputation and personal brand. Receiving feedback effectively means you are able to hear and accept both positive and critical information without dismissing, overreacting or becoming defensive. Developing self-awareness is based not only on how well you can accurately see yourself, but also on how aware you are of how others see you. This can come only through feedback from others. And it’s vital you are able to receive it well, determine what it means for you, and choose to act where appropriate in order to bring about any necessary changes to help you grow.

Getting feedback can be difficult in many workplaces because it may not be embedded into a performance evaluation process. Many companies that deploy annual performance appraisals find them dreaded by both supervisors and employees, which further undermines the potential for success in receiving useful feedback.

The best organizations deliver feedback as often as quarterly in order to course correct and pivot more quickly. This enables tighter communication, so employees can more immediately take corrective action and continually improve. The 360-degree feedback method can be especially helpful, but may not be used throughout your organization or used consistently. Regardless, top-performing leaders are those who regularly seek out feedback on their performance, according to Tasha Eurich in her book Insight.

“If anything, we are socially and professionally rewarded for seeking critical feedback,” says Eurich. “Leaders who do are seen as more effective, not just by their bosses, but by their peers and employees.” It’s important that you get the feedback you need in order to succeed in your role and throughout your career. Just as importantly, you need to receive it with a growth mindset so you can take appropriate action on what you get.

“If we can receive feedback with grace, reflect on it with courage, and respond to it with purpose, we are capable of unearthing unimaginable insights from the most unlikely of places,” says Eurich.

The 3R Model

She developed the 3R Model on how to best stay in control regarding surprising or difficult feedback. Using this 3R Model enables you to receive, reflect upon and respond to such feedback effectively.

  • Receive – Mine the insight potential by seeking specificity on where the particular behavior shows up and examples of when it was seen.
  • Reflect – How well do you understand the feedback? How will it affect your well-being? What affect will it have on your long-term workplace success?
  • Respond – Do you want to act on this feedback, and if so, how? Can you develop and communicate a plan for how you will go about this action?

Feedback should not be taken as judgment, but only as information that can be helpful to your growth.

“When faced with feedback in an area that plays into our self-limiting beliefs,” says Eurich, “merely taking a few minutes to remind ourselves of another important aspect of our identity than the one being threatened shores up our ‘psychological immune system.’” Using the 3R Model will help you make the most of the critical feedback you receive.

If you can be courageous enough to seek feedback, be sure you are also capable of receiving it well, reflecting on what it means, and responding in a way that helps you to grow.

Leading by Example

February 11, 2021

[This is an excerpt from my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is currently available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Isaac was a senior account executive at a commercial real estate firm and consistently recognized for his sales expertise. He regularly exceeded quotas and, as a result, was given greater responsibility to manage a team of junior salespeople.

However, in this new role Isaac was challenged to shine. When his direct reports struggled to meet their numbers, Isaac failed to provide appropriate feedback to inspire and motivate them. Isaac was also unable to hear and accept constructive feedback from his supervisor concerning how to effectively manage his team. By the end of the year, when it was clear his team was in jeopardy of meeting quota and putting Isaac’s reputation at risk, he became more aggressive and threatened his people with consequences. Isaac used fear and intimidation that backfired and resulted not only in his team missing the sales forecast, but also losing several outstanding salespeople who had been performing well in spite of Isaac’s behavior. His inability to give and receive feedback well along with struggling while under stress exposed his low level of the social competencies in emotional intelligence.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Mia had recently been hired to take on managing a dysfunctional group of construction workers. Her predecessor had been ineffective regulating conflict, which resulted in missed deadlines and an unmotivated workforce. The group was dominated by men, many of whom were dubious and dismissive when they heard a woman was coming on board to lead them. In her first week on the job, rather than simply accept what her boss had told her regarding why the group struggled, she inquired and listened carefully to what each of the workers had to say. Mia took the time to build rapport with them. She learned that most of the conflict was related to bullying behavior by two men in particular, who were using intimidation and sarcasm to keep the group from performing optimally. Both men had been with the company longer than anyone and were generally considered high performers that she didn’t want to lose.

Mia decided to meet with the two men and deliver her findings in a direct manner making it clear that their bullying behavior needed to stop. Both men listened patiently as she told them how their behavior was undermining the project. Before they could become defensive and deny what she was saying, Mia requested their help. She asked that they each take on a leadership role in two separate teams that would work on vital parts of the project. She told them that they would need to inspire and motivate their team members to work collaboratively in order to meet the upcoming deadline. Mia made it clear that without their full cooperation, the entire project was at stake and this would put the company’s financial position in jeopardy. The men looked at each other then back at Mia, and both agreed to her proposal.

Before long, after clear and consistent communication along with appropriate coaching, Mia found that the two men became more engaged in focusing on the people in their teams and were rising to the challenge. Their bullying behavior had ceased as they were now inspired to succeed. What Mia was able to achieve demonstrated the social competencies of emotional intelligence, including the ability to regulate conflict and influence others effectively.

Leading is not limited to those in executive level positions. Leadership can be demonstrated by anyone, no matter their position because it is more of a mindset than a designation in an organizational chart. Real leadership is earned rather than appointed. It is modeled in how well you execute your role and the behavior you demonstrate doing so. Leaders are those who inspire others to do more than they thought they were capable of doing. People follow the best leaders not because they have to, but because they want to. And the best leaders lead by example. To do this, they are able to effectively influence others, give and receive feedback, perform well under stress and manage conflict.

Adapting Work Habits That Demonstrate EQ

January 27, 2021

[This is an excerpt from my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is currently available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

The behavior you demonstrate at work speaks volumes with regard to your overall emotional intelligence, and this behavior shows up directly in your habits. A habit—good or bad—is simply routine behavior repeated continually and without thinking. And because habits are automatic, you may not necessarily be aware of the impact they have on you or on others.

If you’re not clear which of your habits may be holding you back, you could scan past performance reviews for clues. There may be an indication of some habits that were identified as inappropriate and they may need to shift. You can also learn which habits are holding you back by directly asking your supervisor or a colleague you trust. Just remember to control your reaction, so that they feel comfortable fully sharing what they observe.

For example, let’s say a colleague says you have a tendency to look away when people are talking to you and this makes them feel you are not trustworthy. Knowing this habit is undermining your need to connect with others, you could try to keep longer eye contact with others instead of looking away.

Of course, if you’ve ever tried to break a habit or create a new one, you know it can be difficult to do. This can be due to a lack of self-discipline, but it is also likely that you haven’t broken the habit down small enough, so you can see incremental progress to keep you motivated and moving forward. Take the example of not looking people directly in the eye. This could be broken down so that you can work on looking just one person in the eye when he or she speaks to you. Get comfortable with that single interaction before attempting to do it with everyone.

“Habits should be small and easy do,” says James Clear, author of the book Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results. “If you make changes that are small and easy to do, and layer them on top of each other like units in a fundamental system, you can get powerful results.” Clear calls habits the compound interest of self-improvement because over time these incremental steps compound and help you end up in a very different place.

Three important lessons Clear has found to help break bad habits and form new ones:

  1. When you perform a habit, you execute a four-step pattern: cue, craving, response, reward.
  2. If you want to form a new habit, you should make it obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying.
  3. You can use a habit tracker to measure your progress and maintain your motivation.

It can also be very helpful to recruit someone to observe your efforts and provide support as you make progress on your habits. Perhaps you can find someone at work who is also looking to break a habit or create a new one. You may want to partner with that person to keep you both motivated.

There are many estimates for how long it takes to develop a new habit. I’ve heard claims of 21 days to 30 days to 66 days to 254 days. The fact is that it’s going to take as long as it’s going to take. Rather than pinpoint a specific date on the calendar when you are done, look at habit forming or habit breaking as a continual process. If you embrace a growth mindset, you’ll recognize that you are never really finished with the learning involved.

By focusing on your habit daily, it will become ingrained and begin to lock in. Stay at it, acknowledge gradual progress, and don’t give up because of the inevitable setbacks you’ll encounter along the way. Before long, you won’t even be thinking about it because it will have become automatic. That’s when the habit becomes, well, habitual.

Your overall level of emotional intelligence in the workplace is demonstrated through your habits. The behavior expressed in these habits either enable or prevent others from connecting, trusting and working with you effectively. Habits are foundational to the personal and social competencies of emotional intelligence.

2020: A Stoic Adventure

December 28, 2020

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
― Viktor E. Frankl

Here at the end of a very challenging year due to a global pandemic, it may be difficult to see the bright side. One lesson we might take away from this year is that it’s not the situation, but how we respond to it that matters most.

There’s an ancient Chinese story about a man who raised horses for a living, and one day he lost one of his prized horses. Hearing of the misfortune, his neighbor felt sorry for the rancher and came to comfort him. The rancher simply asked, “How could we know it is not a good thing for me?” After a while, the lost horse returned with another beautiful horse. The neighbor came over and congratulated the rancher on his good fortune. But the rancher simply asked, “How could we know it is not a bad thing for me?” The next day his son went out for a ride with the new horse and was violently thrown from the horse and broke his leg. The neighbor again expressed his condolences to the rancher, but he simply said, “How could we know it is not a good thing for me?” One year later, the Emperor’s army arrived at the village to recruit all able-bodied men to fight in the war. Because of his injury, the rancher’s son could not go off to war, and was spared from certain death.

The ending of this story suggests that every misfortune comes with a silver lining. Or what first appears to be good luck can come with misfortune.

Similarly, the Stoic ancient philosophers, which included Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, took the perspective that if you want to have a happy life, you need to take responsibility for it. When bad things happen, it is not the event itself but your reaction to it that can do the most harm.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment,” according to Marcus Aurelius.

William B. Irvine, author of The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer and More Resilient, says that much of our suffering is due to the response we have to life. “When someone says something disparaging to you, it is just words, but how you respond to them can continually harm you. The response is usually worse than the event itself.”

When you think of the word stoic, you may be thinking of some unemotional Spock-like character devoid of feeling. However, while stoicism refers to a person who takes whatever life throws at them without expressing emotions in the process, Stoics (with a capital S) don’t suppress emotions but try to avoid expressing negative emotions. Ancient Stoics were actually considered to be cheerful individuals.

Anchoring & Framing

How would Stoics suggest we respond to this COVID experience? According to Irvine, you could practice a concept called anchoring, which involves comparing this situation with one that could be much worse. For example, whether you experienced it or not, you could envision being stuck in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, which would obviously be much worse.

Or you might try framing to provide a different perspective. Think of the hypothetical situation of your doctor saying you have a serious illness and a choice between two procedures: One has a one-month survival rate of 90 percent, while the other has a 10 percent mortality rate in the first month. Many will choose the first option due to its high survival rate, however, the perfectly rational person would see the two as equally attractive. As humans, we are not perfectly rational and we are influenced by how the exact same situation is framed.

Irvine also sees it important to develop your “emotional immune system” in the same way you boost your physical immune system. This means deliberately exposing yourself to things that would make you emotionally uncomfortable, so that you are more likely to overcome future setbacks. This ultimately makes you more emotionally resilient to handle whatever you encounter. The social isolation of the past year has certainly been an emotional challenge for many of us.

This is not to suggest that you resist all negativity, but only that you don’t let your response to challenges and setbacks make things worse. Choose to see the bright side. Be optimistic. And seek to respond in ways that bring you closer to getting what you want.

Here’s to a brighter, healthier and more resilient 2021!

Emotional Intelligence & Stress

December 13, 2020

[This is part two of an excerpt from my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Raising your level of emotional intelligence enables you to better manage the stress you may experience in workplace relationships. This is because EQ helps you adapt to change, be flexible and more resilient while working with others. You are better able to be a cooperative teammate and enhance your leadership capacity.

It’s especially important in a VUCA environment. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In today’s workplace, organizational complexity is rapidly increasing as we work across time zones and international borders as well as with multiple languages and cultures. The pace of change is accelerating with greater focus on optimizing productivity. We need to make faster decisions without complete information. Leaders are increasingly looking to motivate others to do more with fewer resources. All of these can greatly impact your level of stress and demand the ability to work well with colleagues. A high level of emotional intelligence is of great importance whether you are in a leadership position, simply working with others in teams, or managing others.

Jeannine Acantilado, principal of Elan Consulting Services, has deployed more than 600 emotional intelligence assessments to healthcare professionals. She’s found that the more she focuses her clients on building their individual self-awareness, the more they become aware of how others view the world differently. Simply focusing on your own understanding of who you are enables you to see and understand others in contrast to yourself.

Acantilado also reports that clients who focus on increasing their EQ benefit significantly not only professionally, but also in their personal lives. That’s the power of emotional intelligence in that it applies both inside and outside of the workplace. The work you do developing your EQ competencies will strengthen all your relationships. When Acantilado first deployed EQ assessments in a healthcare facility, she says she deliberately asked for 12 people who measured particularly low on workplace engagement. After debriefing the assessments and coaching these individuals monthly over the course of an entire year, two had left the organization for unrelated reasons and all 10 of the others dramatically improved not only their own engagement scores but also those of their teams.

Engagement is an important indicator for how satisfied employees are with their jobs and workplace. And engagement can directly impact levels of productivity, innovation, and turnover. According to a 2018 Gallup study of workplace engagement in the United States, 34 percent of employees reported themselves as “engaged” at work. These employees said they were involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. Additionally, 13 percent were “actively disengaged” or claimed miserable work experiences. That was actually the best ratio of engaged to actively disengaged since Gallup began polling in the year 2000. The remaining 54 percent were in the “not engaged” category, which means they were generally satisfied, but not connected to the work either cognitively or emotionally.

When only a third of employees are considered engaged, there is a problem; part of the responsibility for this problem is the employer’s and part of it belongs to employees. This lack of engagement is also an opportunity for raising emotional intelligence because it can help encourage people to connect who they are with what they do. When people feel engaged at work, they report feeling passion for the work and more collegiality, and they express loyalty to the company. Their engagement is linked directly to emotions based on their personal values aligning with the organization’s values.

“Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant,” according to Jim Harter of the Gallup Research Center. “They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”

[You can read more in my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

The Importance of Strong Working Relationships

November 30, 2020

[The following is an excerpt from my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is now available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Today’s technology enables you to meet face-to-face far less often. However, this can actually make it harder for you to communicate in an effective manner. Connecting virtually—even through video conferencing—means you are missing essential elements of truly effective communication. That’s because it can be difficult to pick up nonverbal clues in body language, such as posture, micro-expressions, and eye movement. It’s also more challenging to establish rapport and build trust when you are not in the same physical space.

When you are in the same room, you should therefore make the most of these opportunities because it will pay off when you are not. Investing time to intentionally get to know others and allow them to get to know you will strengthen your relationships at work in the same way it does in your personal life. In addition to building rapport and trust, you’ll also be better prepared to communicate, collaborate, manage conflict, and influence others. All of these components of emotional intelligence enable you to strengthen your work relationships.

CEOs from a variety of industries understand the benefits of building strong relationships in business. Take for example:

  • Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, who engenders intense loyalty with a relationship-driven focus. “Success in investing doesn’t correlate with IQ once you’re above the level of 25,” says Buffett. “Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble investing.”
  • PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi bonded with the members of her executive team by sending letters to their parents and telling them what their “child” was doing at PepsiCo. In a discussion with the Boston Consulting Group, Nooyi said, “You need to look at the employee and say, ‘I value you as a person. I know that you have a life beyond PepsiCo, and I’m going to respect you for your entire life, not just treat you as employee number 4,567.’”
  • Or Alan Mulally of Ford who sends employees hand-written, personalized notes praising their work. He is well respected for his interpersonal skills and making those he’s in conversation with feel special.
  • And Microsoft’s Satya Nadella has brought the company back to prominence while revamping their corporate culture to encourage employees to learn from failure and remain motivated to continue giving their best.

The importance of strengthening work relationships is not only for leaders. It’s important for all of us because the more connected we are to others, the better we all perform, whether we are part of a basketball team or jazz ensemble or work in distribution centers, retail stores, construction sites, law firms, hospitals, consultancies, business offices, or other workplaces. We rarely work in isolation; therefore, it’s paramount to build strong working relationships. Teamwork makes the team work. The more capable you are at working well with others, the better the overall performance from you and the group.

Judy Riege, principal of Connected Leaders based in Calgary, Canada, successfully deployed emotional intelligence training to nearly 200 leaders in a large chemical company in North America. In addition, 15 of the company’s HR professionals were later certified to deliver that same EQ training beyond the leaders, further down in the organization. Because the company is made up primarily of engineers, scientists, and other technical people, Riege says it was especially important for them to see the value of emotional intelligence by tying the brain science directly to the behaviors that play out in the workplace. For example, when they learned how their ability to stay curious was compromised when they were under stress or in conflict, they could better see directly the benefits of emotional intelligence. EQ helped them learn how to stay curious and connected in spite of the stress.

“We need to shift our thinking of the word ‘trust’ as a verb instead of a noun,” says Riege. “Everything we do in relationship influences whether we improve or take away trust. It’s about the connection to curiosity. Trust is an act of grace.” Riege says the best leaders are confident and connected. “You cannot build either in isolation. If you’re not building trust and a network who can tell you when you’re doing well or not, you can’t build confidence. EQ is going to be significantly more important than IQ because of this.”

[A continuation of this discussion will appear in my next blog post.]

Does EQ Matter in the Workplace?

November 9, 2020

[This is an excerpt from my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is now available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

The burly, barrel-chested vice president of operations entered the meeting room and the mood quickly dropped from jovial to somber. Earlier in the week Jonathon had reprimanded two meeting attendees, lashed out at a third, and mocked another. His frequent use of sarcasm, although greeted encouragingly by one team member, made him hard to read. No one knew exactly what they were going to get in their interactions with Jonathon, but they were always on guard. Though he was respected due to his subject matter expertise and his executive position, Jonathon’s peers, direct-reports, and external vendors all found it difficult to work with him effectively.

Jonathon had little self-awareness, an inability to control his reactions, was unable to read or care about what others were feeling, and had lost the trust of those he worked with. Jonathon had very low emotional intelligence, and this was undermining his effectiveness and would ultimately jeopardize his career.

All humans are emotional beings, and emotions are not something you can ignore or leave at home when you go to work. Feeling emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, love, surprise, disgust, and shame provides you with valuable information. As with any other data, your emotions can enable you to make better decisions in how you work and how you live.

The information emotions provide can be appreciated or discounted, but emotions cannot be ignored. When emotions are ignored, they can show up negatively within your behavior. These behaviors show up in your interactions with others where they can undermine your intentions and result in friction. Such behaviors could include overreacting to feedback or an offhand comment, “flying off the handle,” or becoming unhinged. You may be unable to control your anger, disappointment, or jealousy and have it show up as rage, defensiveness, or spite. Emotions can be revealed in less dramatic ways such as in passive-aggressive behavior, where the external expression is not consistent with the underlying emotion. Passive-aggressive behavior can result when you avoid responsibility or refuse to directly express your concerns or needs. Emotions can also be suppressed or not intentionally expressed, but this often leads to them leaking out in unintended and potentially consequential ways. Your emotions have great power to help or hurt you. The good news is that you can choose how to harness that power.

Since the 1995 publication of Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, a great deal of energy and excitement has been generated around understanding emotional intelligence. Individuals and organizations around the world have sought to learn and embrace ways of improving emotional intelligence, or “EQ.” It has also become a major component of many leadership development programs and an important part of executive coaching. In the workplace, it is critical to be aware of your emotions because they are revealed in your behavior. This behavior can either support or undermine your overall effectiveness.

Not long ago, 30 percent of all work was collaborative and 70 percent was the result of individual contributions. That has since been reversed as the majority of work now requires collaboration and effective interaction with other people. Even when jobs are conducted remotely, it has become increasingly common for them to be performed in teams. When such interaction is face-to-face, it’s critical that you are in touch with your emotions and are able to read the emotions of others. When the interaction is compromised because it is done via phone calls, video conferences, email, Slack messages, or text, it is even more critical that you are able to effectively connect because you are missing the essential nonverbal feedback of being in another person’s physical presence. And although some jobs require little interaction with other people, all of us will need to interact with others—even if it is only our direct supervisor. Managing that relationship effectively is extremely important. In most organizations, your advancement opportunities typically require not only working with others, but often supervising others as a manager or director. In fact, the higher you rise in an organization, the more you will be interacting with others rather than primarily staring at a spreadsheet or writing emails. Working effectively with others requires EQ.

Emotional intelligence is an excellent indicator of success in the workplace and is often used to identify team players and good leaders as well as people who are better suited to working alone. Increasingly, when it comes to gauging job candidates, companies are viewing emotional intelligence as an integral factor, once technical skills and work experience are considered.

Daniel Goleman makes a strong case for a direct link between emotional intelligence and workplace performance in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence. Goleman presents data showing that 67 percent of competencies deemed as essential for high performance within one’s work career are grounded in one’s emotional intelligence. In fact, one’s emotional intelligence is believed to matter nearly twice as much as one’s technical knowledge or IQ, where high performance within one’s career is concerned. Perhaps not surprisingly, EQ was also found to be of the greatest advantage at the highest levels of leadership.

[Learn more about Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace.]

Emotions in Decision-Making

October 15, 2020

Emotions impact our decision-making whether we admit it or not. These emotions are actually available to assist in evaluating an experience and then propel us to take some action upon it. We are informed through felt sensations in our body resulting in feelings that ultimately shape our views and perspectives.

While the US Senate is currently in the process of confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, many are trying to determine how Barrett’s personal views will impact her decision-making as a judge on the highest court in the land. Judge Barrett has been very careful to state that she will rule based on the law and not on her personal views.

However, if we can agree emotions impact our decision-making ultimately leading to better decisions and that emotions help shape our personal views, won’t this mean that Judge Barrett and in fact all judges make rulings that are indeed influenced by the emotions they feel? Afterall, none of us are Spock-like characters devoid of feeling. 

Total objectivity was the goal yet impossible to achieve, I was taught as a journalism student. I suspect total impartiality for a judge is equally impossible to achieve. Experienced criminal lawyers say the outcome of a case is largely determined by the judge one gets. Exercising complete impartiality is a worthy goal, but should we really believe it’s possible to achieve and realistic to find?

According to American Nobel Laureate scientist Herbert Simon, emotions influence, skew or sometimes completely determine the outcome of a large number of decisions we make each day.

We shouldn’t rely solely on our gut instinct to make important decisions, nor should we deny the emotions we feel while deliberating with only rational thinking. Emotions, when correctly interpreted, can actually assist in making the best decisions. Trust your gut, but back it up with facts and data to support it.

Psychologists differentiate between integral (e.g., envy and regret) emotions and incidental (e.g., sadness and anger) emotions. Integral emotions are those caused by the decision, such as thinking about the implications of a decision causes anxiety. This anxiety is actually very useful information for you to consider and you may need to be more cautious.

On the other hand, incidental emotions should have nothing to do with your decision-making. For example, it you’re about to make a financial transaction, being sad or angry should play no role in this very rational decision and yet it often does.  When you are angry, it’s extremely important to take a breath and pause because you are probably not in a good space for making a rational decision and could very well result in a costly mistake.  

Because of the many ways our emotions can affect us, it’s important to be aware of them and take them into consideration whenever we are in a deliberative frame of mind. Emotions are there to assist or undermine us, but they can’t be ignored.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with the creatures of emotion,” said American writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie. Use the information your emotions provide to help you make the best decisions.

Unmasking Emotions: EQ During a Pandemic

May 18, 2020

Demonstrating one’s emotional intelligence at work can be very beneficial, but also challenging—especially when trying to read another’s emotions hidden behind a mask. When workplaces open up again and we’re working in the same physical space as others, many of us will likely to be wearing masks. How well will you be able to read the emotions of others?

Emotional intelligence includes personal and social competencies in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. These competencies can be extremely valuable in navigating relationships in the workplace. Social awareness is about the ability to accurately recognize another’s emotions and demonstrate empathy. It is about discerning what may be unsaid, but communicated in more subtle ways.

The best protective mask fully covers both the nose and mouth, thus blocking what can help reveal emotions. We rely a great deal on recognizing whether someone is happy, sad, angry, disappointed or surprised by whether the corners of the mouth are turning up or down, a tightening of the jaw, flaring of the nostrils and other facial features.

So how can you recognize the emotions of others when shielded by a mask? Without being able to see the nose or mouth, you’ll need to rely more on what is revealed in their tone of voice and what you can determine from the other person’s eyes.

You’ll need to work harder to understand their intent, seek information from their body language and continually check your assumptions in order to fully understand.

According to researcher Albert Mehrabian regarding communication, he determined that 55% is revealed through body language, 38% through tone of voice and 7% through the actual words that are spoken. While this breakdown is not absolute and can’t be applied to every situation, it is helpful to see the importance of communication beyond the words spoken.

Since nearly 40% of communication can potentially be understood from one’s tone of voice, we should be able to pick up useful information regarding the other’s emotions from this alone. A tone of voice that is perceived as confident and more direct may lead you to respond very differently than when it is softer and more subtle. A deeper tone is often associated with more confidence and trustworthiness. A tone that is lower in volume could indicate inexperience or inhibition.

It can be challenging to determine what a person’s eyes reveal from an emotional standpoint, but these so-called “windows of the soul” can be helpful if you know what to look for.

For example, people blink a lot more when they are surprised, angry or annoyed. When someone’s pupils dilate, it could be because they are feeling stimulated, or it could simply be due to their being in a dimly lit area. Those who fail to maintain eye contact or look from side-to-side could be lying or it could mean they are merely timid. Certainly, this will take further discernment on your part to take everything into account.

One’s eyes can reveal a great deal of social and emotional information. A quick glance or an extended gaze can be interpreted differently by the receiver. The quick glance could mean simply checking to see your reaction and emotional state to what’s been said. Or it could mean an inability to stay locked in when interacting with you. But is this due to a lack of confidence or shiftiness? Again, you’ll need to take other factors into account.

Effectively working with others is greatly enhanced with high emotional intelligence. However, during this time of COVID-19 when you are likely to encounter others wearing masks, it will be more difficult for social awareness. It will be especially important to focus on tone of voice and the look in one’s eyes in order to understand their emotional state. Don’t let the presence of a physical mask prevent you from seeing what’s behind it.

Empathy in Leadership

May 1, 2020

Leaders who demonstrate empathy are more effective than those who don’t. This is because empathy can help leaders raise engagement, increase loyalty, and ultimately convey their humanity, which makes them more approachable and able to be influenced.

Empathy helps convey that you are able to identify the feeling another has, touch that feeling yourself, and offer to help the other person deal with that feeling or situation. Empathy enables connection like nothing else because it provides the receiver of this empathetic response to feel truly heard.

Unlike sympathy, which is about sharing the feelings of another, empathy is about being able imagine what it might be like to have those feelings. It is about understanding and putting oneself into the other’s position. This helps people connect far more than sympathy.

In politics we’ve witnessed many examples of previous Presidents expressing empathy. For example, President Reagan capture the emotions of the country with his eulogy to the crew of the space shuttle Challenger after it exploded. President Clinton channeled the country’s grief after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. President G. W. Bush shed tears and hugs with families of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001. President Obama openly wept after the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. It’s hard to think of an example for President Trump, who I have yet to witness demonstrate empathy.

In business there is great opportunity for leaders to demonstrate empathy during this Covid-19 pandemic. It can be done by finding creative ways to serve customers more compassionately. It can be demonstrated through the shared sacrifice a company chooses in reducing the number of layoffs by cutting back salaries for senior executives and removing some benefits for every employee. It can be done in the way they conduct their business to employees, customers, shareholders and the surrounding community.  

Business leaders who demonstrate empathy:

  • Enable people to feel safe with failures as they are not simply blamed for them
  • Look to understand the root cause behind poor performance
  • Help struggling employees improve themselves
  • Enable the opportunity to influence and be influenced by others
  • Build and develop relationships with those they lead

Empathy should also be viewed as a data gathering tool to help you understand the human environment in which you operate your business. This data can then enable you to make better predictions, determine appropriate tactics, inspire loyalty and communicate clearly.

It can play a powerful role in how well you are able to influence others. This begins with warmth you project in your interactions as a way to help build rapport and trust. Empathy means you choose to actively listen, so others feel heard based on the behavior they see you demonstrate. And the compassion you convey through your empathy brings about a deep and lasting connection. Embracing and demonstrating empathy towards others greatly enhances your ability to influence them effectively. And this is absolutely necessary in order to lead others.

The best leaders are those who lead with empathy. This is needed more than ever during this pandemic and in the challenging months ahead.

Building Self-Awareness in Teams

August 9, 2019

Qualities critical for workplace success include emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication and collaboration. All of which stem from self-awareness. And self-awareness in teams can make them more efficient, effective, innovative and rewarding to be a part of.

As I’ve written previously, this highly developable skill is perhaps the most important element for leadership. Research has shown that knowing who we are and how others see us is foundational to strong leadership, smart decisions and lasting relationships. However, it seems the higher one rises in leadership, the less likely they are to be self-aware.

And becoming self-aware yourself is essential before you can build self-awareness in your team.

“If being individually self-aware means understanding who you are and how others see you, a self-aware team commits to that same understanding at a collective level,” says Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist and author of the excellent book Insight: the surprising truth about how others see us, how we see ourselves, and why the answers matter more than we think.

“With the right approach and a true ongoing commitment, you can foster a culture that encourages communication and feedback at all levels,” says Eurich. “One where honesty trumps hierarchy and even the lowest-ranking member feels safe putting problems on the table.”

To build self-awareness in your team, Eurich points to what she calls the three building blocks a leader must put in place. Prior to this, the team must already have a clear and compelling direction. “If a team doesn’t know where it’s headed, they are missing the ‘because’ of self-awareness,” explains Eurich.

The three building blocks are:

A Leader Who Models the Way

  • Make a commitment to your team’s self-awareness by starting with your own. When you as a leader demonstrate authenticity, team members learn to follow along in their interactions as well.
  • Engage in a leader feedback process to provide insight into your leadership, communication and well-being. This vulnerable exercise truly demonstrates to the team your commitment to transparency and own growth.

The Safety and Expectation to Tell the Truth

  • Provide the psychological safety to enable everyone the acceptance to ask one another for help, admit mistakes and raise tough issues. This requires not only trust, but also vulnerability.
  • Create clear set of norms. For example: What behaviors will help you achieve your strategy? What do you need to do to make this a safe and supportive team?

An Ongoing Commitment and Process to Stay Self-Aware

  • Candor challenge. Begin with team feedback exchange where every member gives and gets peer feedback. This is done by providing strictly behavioral feedback based on what they said, how they said it, or what they did. The kicker is that it is done publicly in front of the entire group.
  • Accountability conversations. This process assists the team in remaining self-aware by deliberately re-evaluating and regular intervals to ensure team members remain accountable for their commitments.

Teams are capable of doing great things. In fact, the most important developments throughout history have been accomplished not by individuals by people in groups. People working together effectively can be truly greater than those of individuals working independently.

In the same way self-aware leaders are more effective, so too are self-aware teams. Using the three building blocks as a model for how to strengthen the self-awareness of your team can lead to a stronger, more effective and more fulfilling group to be a part of.  

Self-Awareness in Leadership

April 25, 2019

The best leaders are self-aware. Are you?

Most of us tend to over-estimate how self-aware we actually are. In the same way 80% of drivers think of themselves as above average, 95% of people say they are self-aware. Yet, according to a five-year research program, only 10% to 15% of people are considered self-aware.

When it comes to leaders and self-awareness, some research suggests that the higher you ascend, the less self-aware you become. This means it’s very important to monitor how self-aware you are as you progress throughout your career.

How do you know whether you or someone you know is self-aware? Here are the consistent behaviors of people who are not self-aware:

  • They won’t listen to, or accept, critical feedback.
  • They cannot empathize with, or take the perspective of, others.
  • They have difficulty “reading a room” and tailoring their message to their audience.
  • They possess an inflated opinion of their contributions and performance.
  • They are hurtful to others without realizing it.
  • They take credit for successes and blame others for failures.

Self-awareness means you have a sound understanding of who you are as a person and how you relate to the world in which you live. You know your strengths and weaknesses, and you know how to manage them in the workplace. You can manage your emotions, and the more you pay attention to them, the better you understand why you do the things the way you do. This is critical to self-leadership.

According to organizational psychologist and executive coach Dr. Tasha Eurich, research has found that when we are able to see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and creative, able to make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. All of which are important to effective leadership.

Of course, most of us are not entirely self-aware or unself-aware, but somewhere in the middle. This means we are likely to be more developed internally or externally. To find out, you can take a self-awareness Insight Quiz here.

Internal and External Self-Awareness

Eurich separates self-awareness into two broad categories: internal and external. Internal self-awareness is how clear we can see our values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment and reactions—including our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths and weaknesses. It also represents the impact we have on others. This internal perspective is associated with higher satisfaction in both our relationships, on the job and overall happiness.

External self-awareness is how other people view us in terms of those same factors. Research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives. When leaders are able see themselves as their employees do, the employees tend to have a better relationship with them, feel more satisfied with them, and see them as more effective in general.

Eurich’s research reveals that there is basically no relationship between internal and external self-awareness—just because you may be high on one doesn’t mean you will be high on the other. Developing both your internal and external self-awareness are equally important.

Increasing your self-awareness requires that you accurately see yourself for who you are, and this requires breaking through preconceived notions of what may be your aspirational self to reveal your imperfect self. It means identifying what you see and accepting it. With this knowledge and acceptance then comes the ability to leverage it and propel your leadership growth.

Seeing ourselves for who we really are requires humility and vulnerability. Accepting what we see and choosing to increase our self-awareness takes courage and discipline. And the effort will pay off as you increase your overall leadership capacity.

The Gift of Being Heard

March 1, 2018

In this age of extraordinary technological advances and accelerating change, our ability to effectively communicate has diminished severely. This is partly because we are not equally focused on sending and receiving messages. And we don’t listen in a way that demonstrates that the other is being heard.

Despite the many powerful ways we have to connect, our ability to do this well has suffered. Think about how often you text when you really should talk. Or you choose email when you should call because your message requires some back and forth discussion.

Every new technology has to find its ideal purpose and this usually takes some trial and error. Remember when people faxed in their pizza orders? Just because we can text or email, doesn’t mean we should use them constantly and expect success in our communication.

As I wrote in a previous post, these “asynchronous communication vehicles have become the default way for far too many of us to interact with others.” Texting, emailing, and tweeting are all very effective for sending information. But when it comes to topics that are sensitive, require establishing trust or back-and-forth discussion, using the phone or meeting face-to-face is best.

We have become so focused on sending our perspectives, thoughts, feelings, selfies and the latest emojis that we are no longer as receptive to the other side of the communication equation: receiving. While we may feel confident that the content of our message was received, perhaps not the full sentiment.

However, when we can equally focus on the receiving end of a message, we can begin to engage in meaningful dialogue. We can enable true reciprocity. We can immediately see and/or hear the impact our message had on the receiver. And we can immediately respond in a way that effectively continues to move the conversation forward.

When you experience a communication breakdown in a message you initiate, it could be due to the receiver being confused or misunderstanding your intention because you’ve chosen the incorrect medium. If the receiver of your message can’t accurately interpret what you intended, the communication can fail—often miserably.

One reason is that we make a lot of assumptions in our interactions with others, and these assumptions often get in the way of successful communication. With texting and emailing, assumptions are more challenging to combat due to the fact that verifying them requires more back and forth that can seem to slow down the conversation. The nuance of effective communication—even for the most gifted writers—is often missing in text-only communication.

Being a good receiver in communication means you provide the sender with the gift of being heard—very difficult to do via text and email.  And this gift is all too rare these days. If you are able to give it to others, you will be appreciated and likely gain respect from your colleagues and affection from your family and friends.

One of the benefits of calling or talking face-to-face is you can immediately check on assumptions in order to eliminate any anxiety or confusion. You are also likely to pick up non-verbal clues based on tone of voice, facial expressions and body language that can help you determine whether there is congruence between what is being said and how they look and act when saying it.

Don’t underestimate your intuitive power of reading the sender of the message. You are able to pick up many things above and beyond the words. And this is missing in your texts and emails—no matter how many emojis and photo attachments may be included.

Communicating better requires you to become a better listener. This means really focusing on what the other person is trying to communicate. Whenever possible, ensure discussions that warrant it are face-to-face or by phone, and then provide the other person the gift of being heard.

Success in Difficult Conversations

February 8, 2018

In our work lives as in our personal lives we encounter situations that demand initiating difficult conversations. These conversations are not easy, but shouldn’t be avoided because that can often make things worse.

As much as the conflict avoider in us may want to run in the other direction, those who are able to courageously confront the situation are likely to push through the discomfort and grow from it. In addition, the relationship that is demanding the difficult conversation will most likely move forward.

A difficult conversation results when two or more people have: 1) a difference of opinion, perspective, needs or wants; 2) feelings or emotions are strong; 3) consequences or the stakes are high for at least one person. When you’re in a difficult conversation, you may find:

  • There is little safety between participants
  • Emotions are defining the conversation
  • Very little listening is taking place
  • Participants are aiming for a win/lose scenario
  • Participants may be playing a role: victim, aggressor, martyr, etc.

Obviously, this can result in a highly stressful environment. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Use the following steps to be at your best when initiating a difficult conversation:

Stay Calm
Breathe. Try to be present of what you are feeling and what it is you want. If possible, try to determine what the other person may be feeling and wanting. And when you begin the conversation, be certain to communicate your intent up front in order to provide safety for the other person.

Shift Your Perspective
Rather than focus on how difficult the conversation is going to be, try to think of it as a constructive conversation. By initiating this constructive conversation, you are demonstrating the value the relationship has for you. Keep in mind that this is an investment of your time and emotional energy that will benefit you as well as the relationship.

Make a Plan
Have a clear idea of the points you want to make, but don’t write out a script. You should be able to summarize both your perspective as well as the other’s. If you are uncertain of the former, you need to figure it out before initiating the conversation. If you are uncertain of the latter, you should provide ample opportunity at the beginning of the conversation to better understand this. Be careful of assumptions you are making as these can so often derail any conversation, and are especially dangerous when emotions are high.

Prepare to Actively Listen
This means listening to the other person in a way that ensures he or she feels heard. Being an active listener means you make a conscious effort to truly hear what the other person is saying—in their words as well as their body language. Practice holding off thinking about how to respond or interrupting until you have thoroughly heard what they are saying.

Be Compassionate and Demonstrate Empathy
Consider how it may feel to be on the other end of this conversation. Be respectful while they take in what may be very difficult for them to hear. Convey in your words, tone and body language that you truly care for how the other person feels about what it is you are saying. Try to get comfortable with the awkward silence that may result.

Seek a Win-Win Conclusion When Possible
In most cases a successful difficult conversation doesn’t result in a winner and a loser. Therefore, seek out an amicable resolution to the conflict in a way that is satisfying to both parties. This is not always possible, of course, but even when you have to convey bad news such as a job dismissal, see if there is a way to soften the news. Perhaps it is simply providing information about out-placement services, severance package, a solid reference, etc.

Reflect & Learn
When the conversation is over, take a moment to reflect on what went well and what not so well. What could you have said better or differently? There are certainly things outside of your control in a heated conversation and you will need to maintain your boundaries. Don’t take on guilt for the other person’s negative reaction to your news. This requires courage and you will likely be fortified the next time you need to have a difficult conversation.

In order to have a constructive difficult conversation, the steps above should help you navigate them more successfully. In most cases, your efforts are likely to improve the relationship and build your skill at navigating future difficult conversations.

“Twenty years of research involving more than 100,000 people reveals that the key skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues,” according to the authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.

Start by rethinking your difficult conversation as more of a constructive conversation. Remember that whether it is with your family members, friends or co-workers you are directly confronting an issue that has stifled the relationship. Though it is not easy to do, the result of your efforts—in most cases—will move the relationship forward and build-up a powerful skill in you as a leader.

An Attitude of Gratitude

November 21, 2017

Beyond football, eating a big meal, and gathering with extended family, Thanksgiving should be a time of, well, giving thanks. In that spirit, I want to express my gratitude for all that I am thankful for in my life.

First and foremost, I am grateful for my family, and the love and devotion they provide to help me be the best husband and father I can be. My wife and three children are the most important people in my life and, though I sometimes struggle to maintain the boundaries to honor this, I want them to know that I never forget they are my number one priority. I am also grateful to my mother, and my brothers and sisters—though we are scattered across the globe and span the political spectrum from Libertarian to Green Party—we share a common history and remain close in spirit if not in geography.

I am grateful for my friends, many of whom I have been lucky to count as such for more than thirty years. Though we are not always in sync in finding face time, I know I can count on them to keep me from falling out of touch and becoming mere “Facebook friends.” In particular, The 728 Club has been especially meaningful to me as our tradition of semi-annual adventures have sustained and fortified our steadfast friendship. I hope all my friends understand that, although I am not regularly in touch, I am grateful for the continued love and companionship they provide me.

I am grateful for my clients, who continually astound me in the growth they achieve by courageously taking behavioral risks to reach their professional goals. The satisfaction in my work is derived entirely by the level I can help them grow to reach their full potential. As an independent leadership coach and consultant, I measure my success not only by the amount of revenue I generate, but by the level of success I have in moving my clients forward. I am thankful for choosing to work with me, choosing to trust in me, and choosing to take the hard steps necessary to move forward in the growth of themselves and their teams.

I am also grateful for my failures. I know that I would not be the person I am today were I not to have failed and learned by the process. In my previous career, I was once fired from a job and was devastated. I felt the debilitating shame of not being good enough. This was the culmination of previous smaller failures, which ultimately led to some deep soul-searching with regard to who I was and who I wanted to be. In the end, I redirected my focus and embraced the messages I was given in order to redirect my career. The result is I moved beyond career and into what I consider to be my calling, which is so much more satisfying. According to author Eloise Ristad, “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.”

I am grateful for my persistence and my patience. I am grateful for my resilience. And for following writer Anais Nin’s advice that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

I am grateful for learning to focus on abundance rather than scarcity. Grateful in embracing the somewhat paradoxical concept that true leadership requires the ability to be vulnerable. And learning that the three essentials of leadership are courage, clarity and humility.

Finally, I am grateful for you, my readers. I truly appreciate you reading these posts and hope you find value in them. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

Positive Morning Routine: Why it Matters

September 1, 2017

How do you start your day? It may very well determine whether you reach your goals.

Maybe because it’s back to school time, but I’m seeing a lot of articles, blog posts and podcasts related to “what successful people do every morning.”

All of us currently have a morning routine and most of us follow it without questioning whether it is helping or hampering our efforts to reach our goals. Those who start each day with deliberate, disciplined and mindful practice could very well be more successful in life.

So if you want to realize your dreams, perhaps it’s worth the effort to begin each day with the right physical regimen, mental discipline and emotional attitude. But what should it be?

In a widely circulated video on social media, US Navy Admiral William H. McRaven says if you want to change the world, start off each day by making your bed. This little task provides you with the motivation throughout the day for accomplishing other tasks. And, even when your day doesn’t go so well, he says you will always have the satisfaction of at least going to sleep in a well-made bed.

Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, recommends the following tweaks to your morning routine in order to be more productive throughout the day:

  • Drink lemon water
  • Exercise or mediate before eating
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Set realistic and achievable goals for the day

On this last one, Bradberry says research has shown that having concrete goals is directly correlated with huge increases in confidence and feelings of being in control. And it’s important that these goals are not vague, but specific to each day as it puts everything into motion.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, practices these five items that help him win the day:

  • Make your bed
  • Mediate (10 – 20 minutes)
  • Do 5 to 10 reps of something (less than 60 seconds)
  • Prepare and drink Titanium Tea
  • Write Morning Pages or 5-minute journal

In these Morning Pages, Ferriss suggests responding to the following prompts: “I am grateful for . . . , What would make today great?, and Daily Affirmations: I am . . .“ In the evening, he suggests answering the following: “3 amazing things happened today and How could I have made today better?” This intentional practice can help you focus in the morning and reflect at the end of each day.

Whether you are prepared to switch from coffee to lemon water or Titanium Tea is really beside the point. What’s vital is that you embrace the importance of your approach to each morning in order to facilitate just how productive you’ll be the rest of the day. And you can choose to embrace a discipline that will help you reach your goals.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect is to ensure you are getting a good night’s rest. This cannot be emphasized enough. If you are not getting enough sleep, you will not be motivated to stick to any routine and you will likely be depleted of the vital energy you need no matter how much caffeine you consume.

Healthy Breakfast

The next should be a given: the most important meal of the day. You must fuel your body with appropriate nutrition to sustain your body until your next meal. You may protest that you don’t have time to prepare and eat a healthy breakfast, and therefore are able to rationalize that at least that Starbucks organic scone is much better than a Crispy Crème glazed donut. The reality is some foods will lift you up and sustain you while others only give you a quick dopamine hit and then leave you flat. Making the time for and choosing the healthier option is your choice.

Exercise/Meditation

Though I don’t feel like exercising in the morning, I’m a strong believer that exercise needs to be routine in order for it to become a habit. Putting it first in the morning ensures it doesn’t get put off or neglected. And by getting your blood pumping in the morning, you will have the vital energy and positive attitude you need to be most productive throughout the day. Gentle yoga or meditation can provide a similar boost without the physical exhilaration you find with a more rigorous workout.

Mindfulness

This could be simply acknowledging what you are truly grateful for at this particular time. Rather than rushing into organizing your brain around your responsibilities and tasks for the day, take the time to acknowledge and, if at all possible, express your gratitude to those to whom you are grateful. Then contemplate how you would approach this day if you knew it was the last day of your life. How can you live more deliberately and mindfully?

When you first wake up you set the tone for how you will approach the day. The more this becomes a positive routine, the more likely you are to maintain it. You may not feel the full effects of it for weeks, but eventually you will begin to notice that your body feels better and your overall disposition is working in your favor rather than against you.

And it may be as simple as making your bed.

Leader as Listener

June 21, 2017

Boilerplate copy on resumes typically include the phrase “excellent communication skills.” But how many people really have them?

Communication is so often thought of as speaking and writing well. While these are certainly important, it is not only the clear dissemination of thoughts and ideas, but also the receptivity and complete understanding of other people’s thoughts and ideas.

Excellent communication skills include the ability to listen really well, and leaders need to do this is order to be successful.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of connective listening. In their book Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen describe this as listening with the intention to fully understand the speaker and strengthen the connection. Connective listening is about listening from their there instead of your here.

Listening is a lot more than hearing the words that are spoken. Body language, tone of voice, inflection and other factors can either amplify, distract or totally contradict the words that are spoken and this needs to be incorporated into effective listening. To become an excellent listener means being able to go to different levels in order to fully understand.

In their book Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence, authors Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins write that in order to improve the ability to listen and engage, a leader needs to master three levels of listening: surface, issues-based and emotions-based.

Level One: Surface Listening

This is listening to hear what is actually being said and taking the words at face value. You do this by making eye contact, nodding your head, and repeating back what you hear. The speaker is then confident that you are following along and engaged in a way that enables the effective transfer of thoughts and ideas.

Level Two: Issues-based Listening

This is the ability to focus intentionally on what really matters. Rather than listening only to the basic facts, you are looking for the underlying message. Reading between the lines, so to speak. This may require asking clarifying questions to get the speaker to expand his or her thinking and say more. The underlying issues are what you are seeking to fully understand.

Level Three: Emotions-based Listening

This is the deepest level of listening that enables you to uncover the real agenda at play. Leaders who listen at this level are able to sense the underlying emotions and motivation behind the issues. They listen to the nonverbal cues, such as the speaker’s body language, tone of voice, and overall mood. You discover the assumptions the speaker is making. Once you understand what’s going on under the surface, you are then able to name and acknowledge it. You can paraphrase what you hear and perhaps add what you sense the speaker is feeling as well. This type of listening requires you to be objective, open and curious. It takes a great deal of effort to be this present. And it takes the courage to name and say aloud the emotions being felt.

Each of these levels is essential for leaders to be effective listeners. The important thing is to practice each so that you can deploy the appropriate level when the situation requires it.

With social media’s focus on “selfies,” “likes” and “followers,” your leadership will stand out if you are able to make the most of interpersonal one-on-one, real-time communications. This means truly engaging by listening more effectively using these three levels.

STEM Alone Won’t Be Enough

May 21, 2017

In education today there is a focus to deliver qualified graduates to take on careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Not only is this where the opportunities are today and likely in the future, but there is a tremendous shortage of qualified Americans to fill the number of STEM jobs currently available.

But a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a STEM field alone may not be enough. That’s because the ability to thrive in the workplace is more often dependent on interpersonal skills that have nothing to do with STEM. These soft skills may include things like cooperation, collaboration, communication, flexibility and empathy.

“Most good middle-class jobs today—the ones that cannot be outsourced, automated, roboticized, or digitized—are likely to be what I would call stempathy jobs,” writes Thomas L. Friedman in his book Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in a World of Accelerations. “These are jobs that require and reward the ability to leverage technical and interpersonal skills—to blend calculus with human (or animal) psychology, to hold a conversation with Watson to make a cancer diagnosis and hold the hand of a patient to deliver it, to have a robot milk your cows but also to properly care for those cows in need of extra care with a gentle touch.”

These social skills may have been taught or modeled at home, yet are sorely missing in many workers with STEM careers. Whether people have forgotten these skills or simply choose to no longer demonstrate them in the workplace, it is a problem.

As a consultant and coach working with a variety of people in STEM organizations, I can attest that it is not technical competency or business aptitude that is often missing in many workers. In fact, it is the interpersonal skills that are often frustrating directs, coworkers and supervisors, and hampering the careers of these professionals.

According to a 2013 research study by Oxford’s Martin School, 47 percent of American jobs are at high risk of being taken by computers within the next two decades.

“Nobody cares what you know, because the Google machine knows everything,” Friedman said. The future, he argues, is about what we can do with what we know. It is our humanity and our empathy that make us uniquely different from computers.

This humanity is something we should embrace and use to our advantage rather than downplay as insignificant. It is also the very best way to protect your livelihood from being shortcut by a computer taking over your job.

Showing up in the workplace not only with our technical expertise, but also with compassion for one another is important in order to thrive individually and collectively. This means actively demonstrating cooperation, collaboration, communication, flexibility and empathy. Only in this way can STEM professionals truly reach their full potential.

Managing Conflict in the Workplace

September 14, 2016

Conflict occurs in all relationships. It is natural and it can be detrimental only when it is ignored or not dealt with appropriately.

When handled well at work, conflict can strengthen relationships, and lead to more energy, innovation and greater outcomes. However, when conflict is inappropriately handled in the workplace, it can lead to dysfunction in the form of increased stress, lower productivity and reduced revenue.

One in four employees are so upset by the idea of facing workplace conflict that they call in sick or are otherwise absent from work. That’s the finding from the CPP Global Human Capital Report. In addition, 10 percent of those surveyed stated that a project failed as a direct result of negative conflict, and another third said this negative conflict resulted in someone leaving the company.

Employees in American businesses say they spend on average 2.8 hours each week dealing with conflict, which collectively amounts to $359 billion lost annually to organizations!

Half of all employees surveyed see personality clashes and warring egos as the primary cause of this workplace conflict.

Conflict is unavoidable and therefore we need to learn how to appropriately deal with it if we want to be more effective and productive at work.

We are predisposed to dealing with conflict in one of five different ways, according to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. These ways are: competing, accommodating, avoiding, compromising and collaborating. Each is appropriate for a given situation, but most of us are stuck—often unconsciously—using the same one or two in all situations. And this means very often ineffectively dealing with the conflict at hand.

Each conflict strategy has its time and place, and using the right one at the right time can make all the difference.

  1. Competing is assertive and uncooperative. In this mode you try to satisfy your own concerns at the other’s expense. Competing may be appropriate when you are standing up for your rights or defending your position.
  2. Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative. This is when you attempt to satisfy the other’s concerns at the expense of your own. Accommodating can be appropriate when you need to obey an order or choose to yield to another’s point of view.
  3. Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative. In this mode you are sidestepping the conflict without solving either your concern or the other’s. Avoiding can be used when it may be better not to engage in the conflict at that particular time and place. But it can be especially destructive if you don’t go back and address the issue once you do have the time.
  4. Compromising is intermediate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. Here is where you search for middle ground that partially satisfies each person’s concerns. Compromising may be an appropriate strategy when there isn’t time to explore concerns more thoroughly.
  5. Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative. In this strategy you are seeking a solution that fully satisfies the concerns of each person. This requires the courage to stay engaged with the other person in order to really understand all concerns and perspectives, and to learn from each other’s insights to find an agreeable conclusion to the conflict.

“Each of these four strategies for dealing with conflict can have some success,” writes author Don Yaeger in his book Great Teams: 16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently. “But Great Teams set a standard above the rest by choosing the fifth option—collaborating. This means they do their best to listen actively, consider all points of view, and stress the common purpose and shared values of the organization.”

Understanding which of the five strategies we are predisposed to using most often is key, and then learning the value of the other four and putting them into practice at the right times. In this way, we can better navigate the conflict that will occur with our colleagues.

The collaborating option has huge benefits and it pays to begin using this strategy more often when conflict occurs in your workplace.  This assertive and cooperative strategy enables you to be fully engaged, without fighting, and remain in the arena when it may be easier to flee or capitulate. While it may slow things down initially, it will ultimately result in higher engagement and trust, and, more than likely, fewer conflicts moving forward.

Lifelong (Workplace) Learning

August 25, 2016

It’s nearing the end of summer and time for the kids to go back to school. September should also remind us that lifelong learning is vital in order for each of us to stay relevant at work and vibrant in life.

Whether you are just beginning your career, a mid-level manager or a seasoned leader, everyone should embrace lifelong learning—through formal continuing education, independent study, or deliberate behavioral adjustments. This will keep you moving forward at work and elsewhere.

A Fast Company article a couple years ago titled You’re Probably Making These Five Mistakes at Work pointed out the commonality found in people who may be limiting themselves in their careers. These mistakes are:

  1. Handling upsets poorly
  2. Failing to self-promote
  3. Thinking “me” instead of “we”
  4. Not asking for feedback
  5. Declining to take on new roles

It’s interesting to note how each of these may seem insignificant or you may even feel it contradicts how to be successful in your particular workplace, but for me, they all resonate with wisdom. Each has an element of maturity in them. Each of them points to a particular skill set such as emotional intelligence, courage, humility or communication.

The good news is that all of them can be corrected with a little bit of practice and discipline. This correction is certainly not rocket science, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take significant attention and focus. It can be especially helpful to have a mentor, supervisor, HR partner or colleague to help keep you on track and measure your progress.

Meanwhile, Marcel Schwantes conducted a LinkedIn survey last year prior to writing an article for Inc. Magazine titled 8 Mistakes Managers Make, According to Their Employees. He compiled the list after posting the question: “What is the one mistake leaders make more frequently than others?” The results came in from around the world where he states many employees felt distressed and disengaged. These eight mistakes represent how they “suck the life out of their teams.”

  1. Micromanaging
  2. Leading from a position of power or ego
  3. Not listening
  4. Not valuing followers
  5. Failing to grow themselves as leaders
  6. Lacking boundaries
  7. Not providing or receiving feedback
  8. Not sharing leadership

A great deal of avoiding these mistakes begins with self-awareness and understanding how your behavior is impacting employees. Learning the “soft skills” mentioned above can also be especially helpful.

Sometimes a leader can receive candid 360-feedback that is highly instructive in highlighting concerns. Corrective action can then be taken either independently or with the help of an executive coach. Other times it may take the form of a more heavy-handed directive from another senior leader, superior or HR representative in order to elevate the importance of correcting these mistakes.

Regardless of how you learn about your own mistakes, the importance is in whether or not you choose to change. Changing one’s behavior is not necessarily easy as it takes effort and constant attention.  Much can be learned through articles and books, mentoring and coaching, as well as trial and error with continual adjustments. The change may come about very slowly, but I am certain correcting these mistakes will help you in your career.

Learning begins with awareness and accepting that there is room for improvement. Once you can identify what may be holding you back from being most effective, it is time to identify an achievable goal towards the desired change and build a plan for achieving it.

Lifelong learning means you will never truly graduate, but only continue on your quest toward personal and professional excellence.

Telling the Truth to Yourself & Your Boss

July 29, 2016

Sometimes the most difficult part of being fully present and connected in the workplace requires simply speaking the truth: to yourself and to others.

Because we are often reluctant to be emotionally vulnerable by expressing our thoughts, wants and feelings in the workplace, we sacrifice our ability to fully connect and be most productive. This authenticity requires that we tell the truth, even when it is easier to stay silent.

Speaking Truth to Power

Truth telling is currently in short supply throughout our society, but perhaps most destructively in our workplace. It takes courage and is essential to becoming a strong leader.

This is not to suggest we wear our emotions on our sleeve, but it does mean we should express—in an appropriate and professional manner—when we feel angry, disappointed or treated unfairly. We should be fully honest with ourselves and others in service of improving all our workplace relationships.

In The Courage Solution: The Power of Truth Telling with Your Boss, Peers, and Team, author Mindy Mackenzie offers a formula on how to courageously speak the truth in the workplace. She offers practical steps that require vulnerability and courage to improve your impact on the job and increase your happiness. It basically comes down to the only thing you can reliably change or control in any situation: yourself.

Mackenzie, an HR and organizational development veteran in senior leadership roles at Beam, Inc., Campbell Soup Co., and Wal-Mart, recommends four key areas to focus on beginning with yourself, followed by your boss, peers and team.

Taking Ownership & Accountability

The techniques she offers require that you first take ownership and accountability for creating a work life AND personal life you love. This is a life that brings you increased fulfillment, greater sense of purpose, and more joy and energy to every day. It is your responsibility, and cannot be outsourced or provided by someone else. Accepting and owning this is vital.

“Changing the one thing you can change at will—your own habits, ways of thinking, attitudes and behaviors—will begin to positively transform your experience on the job and the results you achieve,” says Mackenzie. “But it’s not easy and will require you to be courageous. It will require you to tell the truth to yourself first. And that can be uncomfortable, but the upside is definitely worth it.”

Leading Your Boss

You also need to lead your boss, which might be the most daunting part of the solution as this may require a mindset you’re not used to having with your boss. Because you likely report to a boss who may be the most instrumental in your advancement, it is very important that you manage this relationship well. And Mackenzie goes a step further in suggesting you lead rather than manage your boss. This leading requires that you:

  • Intensely study your boss to get to know the human being behind the mask. Be curious and establish a dialogue where you can better know how they operate.
  • Understand the company you work for: the business you are in, how the firm makes money, who the end customer is and how what you do fits into the company’s strategy.
  • Get the boss-employee relationship basics right. Always strive to keep your boss informed and when you make a mistake, be sure to own up to it and provide a plan for fixing it.
  • Make a concerted effort to elevate your thinking to an enterprise-wide perspective. Frame your ideas with a focus beyond your own domain, which will make you appear more like a leader and your ideas more likely to be implemented.
  • Get in tune with your boss by knowing exactly what he or she is wrestling with on a weekly basis. By knowing what your boss is working on, you are more likely to be an asset while doing your own work.
  • Provide honest, positive praise and affirmation to your boss. Be on the lookout for behavior or traits you admire and express that to him or her. Like any good relationship, you need to regularly make positive deposits in your relationship bank account.
  • Be smart by preparing your boss for your pushback, challenges and disagreements. Use the LCS (Like, Concern, Suggest) method to frame your differences so your boss can hear them and positively respond to you.

Throughout all of these it is essential that you tell the truth. Without being truthful, you will undermine their effectiveness and may ultimately sabotage the relationship with your boss.

Showing up and telling the truth in the workplace is not easy. It is certainly not common. If you choose to do so, you will stand out in a good way. You will ultimately be respected. And you will become more of a leader.