Unless Someone Cares

I came across an interesting piece of research the other day in the International Journal of Manpower that I just cannot stop thinking about.

Carolyn Wiley is a researcher and professor of management at Roosevelt University. In 1995 she repeated a study that had been conducted in 1946, 1980, 1986, and then again in 1992. 

Over 40 years of survey data were analyzed to learn what factors really motivate people to do their best work.

I know what some of you analytical types are saying right now…Scott, that data is at least 25 years old…shouldn’t you write about something a little more current?

Before you stop reading, I would ask you to ponder for yourself; how much has your motivation to do your best work really changed?

Sure, we are all a bit different. The things happening in society when the data was collected was different. But when you look at the data as an aggregate, are things really all that different?

Some popular responses to the motivation question from the survey are:

  • Full appreciation of work done

  • Help with personal problems

  • Job security

  • Good wages

  • Interesting work

  • Personal or company loyalty

  • Promotion and growth in the company

  • Good working conditions

  • Tactful discipline

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When studying the 1992 data overall, there are a lot of differences between different groups:

  • Part-time workers placed more emphasis on interesting work, while full-time workers placed more value on personal loyalty.

  • Women placed greater importance on appreciation for work done, while men placed more value on interesting work.

  • There were no statistical differences in motivation by age group. All groups decided on good wages as their first choice.

What I found most interesting is that across the 40 years measured by the study, only one factor made the top two motivators when all of the data is combined. Take a look at the list at some of the top vote getters again and see if you can figure out which one matters most.

Here is the list for you to study:

  • Full appreciation of work done

  • Help with personal problems

  • Job security

  • Good wages

  • Interesting work

  • Personal or company loyalty

  • Promotion and growth in the company

  • Good working conditions

  • Tactful discipline

If you guessed “full appreciation of work done” then you either read the International Journal of Manpower or you are really in tune with what people in organizations want.

I guess that is why the picture in this post really caught my attention.

If I am not valuing and appreciating the folks that I interact with on a routine basis then I am leaving one of the two top motivators for those I work with out of the equation for obtaining whatever business objective I have in front of me.

It is so easy to say to yourself, “of course I do this,” but do you really? Do you really tell those in your organization “thank you" enough?

Perhaps and even better question is, do they feel it? Do they feel it to the point where it is a motivation for them to give their very best?

I will leave you to ponder this for yourself.  Let me know what you think by dropping a comment below.

Invest In Your Future Today

I received a call from a client the other day, let’s call him Steve, who I have not worked with in a couple years.  He had moved on to a new job with a new company and one of his assignments is to identify and prepare leaders for the growth his organization is planning over the next five to seven years.

As I listened to Steve talk about the challenges the organization will face, it became clear to both of us that the leadership talent needed for the future does not currently exist in the organization. 

At the end of the conversation, Steve said something that really stuck with me, “Sure, we can go out and get talent when we need it, but then we waste 12 to 18 months of them figuring things out and learning our culture. We need to grow our talent so that we can harvest it when we need it most!”

I hung up the phone from talking with Steve and my next call was with an old friend who I talk with once a month or so, we’ll call him Sam. Sam and I will usually spend some time talking about our IRA’s and retirement. What is interesting is that Sam and I had both spoken to our financial advisors the week prior regarding how nervous we are about the stock market moving up and down. Both of our advisors told us that the only way for us to reach our financial goals was to stay in the market.  

Both Sam and I heard loud and clear from two different sources that the only way for us to hit our financial goals was to stay invested. The reason for this is because of the value of investing and compound interest. You really do not see the value of compound interest for a few years, but once it kicks in the growth is quite substantial.


Then it hit me.

The conversation I had with Steve and the conversation I had with Sam were really the same conversation. 

One was about growing financial resources to achieve a goal, and the other was about growing human resources to achieve a goal.

Both of them require an initial investment. Both of them require some rides up and down the growth curve. This takes patience, impulse control, and a lot of putting fear in its proper place.

The question I am asking myself these days is how many senior executives have their retirement portfolio totally stashed in a money market account that is drawing 1% interest? My guess is zero of them. 

So, why are we not investing in talent in the same strategic way that we are investing for our retirement?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a comment below or shoot me an email.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Henry Kissinger is famous for saying that one of the most difficult things for a young leader to do is to “speak truth to power;' to go up the power gradient with information that is contrary to what the hierarchical, authoritative, and referent position believes to be true.

There is inherent organizational danger when communicating things to a leader that they may not be seeing:

  • You could be rejected, which leads to embarrassment.

  • You could be dismissed, which leads to self-doubt.

  • You could be humiliated, which leads to isolation.

  • You could be discounted, which leads to demoralization.

Alternately, there is huge upside in communicating to a leader what they are not seeing in the moment:

  • You could be celebrated for the input.

  • You could be included in the decision-making process.

  • You could be honored for your courage.

  • You could be valued for your contribution.

Whether a reality or a figment of our imagination as a young leader, “speaking truth to power” can be overwhelming. This is the risk tension that the young leader must face.

Receptivity of the Leader

No matter the current stage of our leadership journey, we have all been there at some point and can relate to emotion of the young leader when faced with the risky decision to “speak truth to power.”

However, it could be argued that the senior leader has even more at stake.

Unless they create a safe environment in which others feel the freedom to share, the senior leader runs the risk of missing key information that may never find its way to them. With that in mind, much of the burden falls on the senior leader to create an atmosphere that mitigates the risk for the young leader.

How are you doing in this area?


Here are my top 5 tips for leaders who want to improve their chances of hearing the information they need in order to make informed decisions and lead well:

  • Slow down your cadence.

    Most of the leadership mistakes I have made were because my world was moving too fast and I did not slow down in order to see more possibilities. The faster I went the more convinced I became that I was right, and the further away I got from the truth. Take a deep breath, count to 10, sip a warm beverage, pray, do whatever you need to do in order to slow your pace.

  • Become curious.

    Suspend your need to be right and work really hard to understand an alternate position. Before you jump to a conclusion or shoot down an opposing opinion, spend some time to discern the message they are bringing to you.

  • Always say thank you.

    You would be surprised how often I observe leaders who turn and walk away from an interaction without expressing gratitude. Very rarely, if ever, is their intent to be unkind or degrading, however, the pressure of the moment takes the brain to the next thing rather than allowing them to focus on being fully present in their current interaction, with awareness and sensitivity to the needs of the relationship. Researchers at USC found that simple acts of gratitude provide benefits ranging from feelings of reward and satisfaction to simply helping people to hold on to their humanity. Try the simple act of saying “thank you” more often and see how it might contribute to more open communication.

  • Spend time reflecting.

    At the end of your day, take the time to review. Play back the interactions you had with others, resisting the temptation to become defensive. Ask yourself questions such as, I wonder what they were really trying to ask me? Why did I feel such a strong need to defend myself? Why did I feel such a strong need to exert power in the moment? What unintended consequences could my actions have? Be honest with yourself as you learn and grow from the challenges and successes.

  • Do the inner work of developing your soul.

    Psychology data says you are as intelligent right now as you will ever be. Your personality is fully formed, so you know if you are extroverted or introverted. You have most of the skill you will ever need. With that in mind, what is your next step in development? Could it be that you need to work on developing the soul of your leadership?


Pick one of the 5 tips above and work on it every day for a week. For example, in every personal interaction and every email you send, say “thank you." Work on making your attitude heartfelt, and let me know what outcomes you see. I’d love to know how these tips contribute to more open communication within your team or organization.

5 Steps Toward Sustainable Change

This is a very busy time of year for many of us.  In the U.S. we just celebrated Thanksgiving, which means the ever-looming Christmas craziness is just around the corner.

For many of you, that can only mean one thing...

It is performance review time.

That time when you will sit down with your supervisor and go over the goals you set for the year and measure your performance against those standards. Or, at least that is how it is supposed to work in theory.

For all of you over-achievers out there, this can be an anxious time. Most of us who work in organizations get up every morning and our self-created goal is to do the very best we can every day. Sometimes what we are supposed to do isn’t very clear. Sometimes what we are supposed to do changes, it seems, on an hourly basis. Most times what we know is important to do gets hijacked by the tyranny of someone else's agenda. And sometimes what we were hired to do is not what we end up doing at all.  

No matter what your individual circumstance, I am confident that most of you show up wanting to do the very best that you can with the time you have available. You feel like you have exceeded your goals and far surpassed expectations. Yet you will sit down with your supervisor at some point and the reality is that only so many of you can get that top performance ranking in any given year.  The rules of statistics say that most of you will get an average performance rating every year even though you feel like you deserve much more.

The dilemma you face is that you had what you considered to be an excellent year. Your boss agrees but ranks you as having an average year and then challenges you to “step up your game” to get that top ranking.

I think when most of us get this kind of feedback, it makes us a little defensive, so for now, I want you to proactively be thinking about what it is that you need to change to get that top performance ranking next year. 

Maybe you need to add a skill to your toolbox. Maybe you need to be more assertive with your peers or show a little more empathy with your direct reports. Whatever the case, for most of you the problem isn’t finding what it is you need to change, the question is how to sustain the change you want to make.

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The issue of sustaining change is not a new concept. Kurt Lewen observed in the 1940s that making a change was often very short lived. It's like drinking a Monster energy drink. Sure, you are moving faster or have more focus, but so often, once the caffeine is out of your system, the energy level decreases back to its original level. Lewen noted that something more was needed than a shot-in-the-arm type of boost. Sure, changes can be made in the short-run, but how do you translate that change to long-term outcomes?

5 Steps Toward Sustainable Change

  1. Create a long-term value proposition. The coaching client has to see relevant longterm value in making any change that has been identified. Focusing on a value proposition will often cause the client to wrestle with their own belief system. Without changing what the person believes to be true, old behavioral habits return insidiously. In my health example, I have to associate overeating or eating the wrong foods as being bad for me ten years from now. It is too easy to succumb to temptation if you are focused on getting your short-term needs met. For my client from last week, who was always interrupting, he had to believe that his behavior was rude and that his intention was not to be seen this way. His need to be respected had to triumph over his need to be heard.

  2. Experiment with new behaviors to find a fit. So often I hear coaches talk about practicing new behaviors before they even know if the new behavior will work or not. I like for my clients to experiment with several options to see what will work for them. The fear I have is if this step is skipped then we could end up practicing the wrong behavior and have to go through the process of unlearning and relearning. For me, I had to experiment with reducing the size of my protein choice at dinner, giving up a snack before bed, working out an extra day a week and completely eliminating fried foods. I played with all of these and finally found that what I wanted to practice was reducing my protein size at dinner. I went from eating an entire chicken breast to only eating a portion size equal to the size of my fist.

  3. Practice the new behavior in a number of contexts. Then, I practiced this new behavior. When my wife and I grill, we split a chicken breast. When I go out to eat I ask for smaller sizes. When I travel I am conscious not to just go ahead and order the largest meal on the menu because I forgot to have an afternoon snack. To gain sustainability it is important to practice the new behavior across contexts. My client had to practice not interrupting his boss, his peers, his direct reports. He had to practice not interrupting during presentations, and one-on-ones, and on conference calls.

  4. Identify relational feedback loops. No change can happen in isolation. We all need constant feedback. We need safe places to see if people notice the changes we are making. This is where it can help to share your development goals across a broad number of relationships. This constant feedback loop is critical to making that new behavior a sticky habit. My client would actually say to his direct reports during one-on-one meetings, "My goal is not to interrupt you and finish your sentences during our meeting today. If I do this would you please just get up and put a tick mark on my whiteboard.” Feedback is a gift, all the way through the development process.

  5. Celebrate the noted change. Let the dopamine in your brain flow. You have worked long and hard to gain this change. Likely somewhere between 2 and 3 months at a minimum. Why not have a party? Why not let the good feeling of accomplishment and a job well-done flow through to those who have been with you on your development journey.

I would be really interested in knowing if you have other coaching sustainability tips. Why not leave a comment or share an experience below? I would love to hear from you!

Should Turkeys Decide on Thanksgiving Dessert?

What came to mind when you read the title of today’s post?

Actually, what I am more curious about is whether you understand what I mean when I write “Should turkeys decide on Thanksgiving dessert?”

As we in the United States begin to think about our Thanksgiving tradition, much of our communication seems to get lost in our ability (or inability) to create shared meaning. This has really been on my mind a lot because I have been asked by 4 separate groups recently if I would facilitate a Stop/Start/Continue session for cross functional teams who are struggling as they work together.

If you are not familiar with the concept of Stop/Start/Continue sessions, click here to learn about it.


As I think about teams creating shared meaning together, I really like what Chip and Dan Heath write about in their book The Power of Moments. They have some interesting research showing that for groups of people, creating shared meaning is about "highlighting the mission that binds the members together and supersedes our differences.”

When thinking about organizations, many teams could benefit from time to focus on the greater mission that they are on together.

As we in the United States look forward to our Thanksgiving celebration with family and friends, the same focus might be needed.

The question I think we would all do well to consider this Thanksgiving is:

When is the last time you laughed together as a group?

Your knee jerk reaction to that question might be simply the last time someone said or did something funny. Turns out, this answer is mostly wrong.

According to Robert Povine, a neuroscience researcher at the University of Maryland, laughter has more to do with relationships than with the actual joke. Povine’s research shows that people are 30 times more likely to laugh in social settings than when they are alone.

Laughter, it seems, is more about relationships than humor.

As you read the title of the blog post today, you might not have laughed out loud, but if you asked this question at your Thanksgiving meal, what might happen amongst the group?

Could something as simple as a silly question create a positive shared experience that results in deeper connection, and perhaps even the awareness that we are part of something bigger than ourselves?

You might not have a joke or a funny story to share around your table (although you could see what kind of reaction the question from the title of this post might get), but I want to share my top 10 thoughts on Thanksgiving from some research (albeit, internet, not scholarly journals) I have been doing on the topic.

Please feel free to borrow one of two of these thoughts as you engage your colleagues or family this week. In fact, why not turn the TV off for an hour and just talk about the holiday?

Who knows, you just might create some shared meaning and connection in the process.

Without further adieu, here are my Top 10 thoughts about Thanksgiving:

  1. Most people will enjoy a 40% shorter work week in celebration of the holiday.

  2. 42 million of you will travel at least 50 miles or more this weekend. (American Automobile Association)

  3. 4,500 Calories will be consumed by the average American on Thanksgiving Day. (Calorie Control Council)

  4. Over 100 million of you will gather with you family and friends and watch as many as 15 hours of television.. Approximately 75% of this viewing will be watching the triple header of NFL football.

  5. 91% of Americans will eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day. (And, if you are like my family, for days and days after.)

  6. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in turkey meat that is often blamed for the drowsiness after a Thanksgiving Meal. However, turkey contains the same amount of tryptophan as most other meats, so the drowsiness is likely from all the carbohydrates causing an increase in melatonin in your brain. When this happens, you get a bit sleepy.

  7. Abraham Lincoln is credited with proclaiming the first Thanksgiving Day.

  8. An overabundance of turkey (about 260 tons) is the inspiration for TV dinners. To get rid of all the turkey, a salesman at Swanson Company filled 5,000 aluminum trays with turkey, corn bread dressing, gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes. In their first year of production, the 98 cent dinner sold 10 million units. 

  9. 50 million pumpkin pies will be eaten on Thanksgiving Day.

  10. Black Friday is not only a busiest shopping day of the year, but according to Roto-Rooter, it is also the busiest day for plumbers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Who Would You Call in the Middle of the Night If You Were Sick or Afraid?

It is my experience over many years of working with leaders that they do not like to think about topics that could be perceived as weak or powerless.

There is often a pervasive air of self-confidence and self-assurance that is required to lead others. Any crack in this proverbial leadership armor can be viewed as having an inability to lead.

Back in the 1940’s, several researchers independently described the relationship between personality and leadership behavior. One of the factors they noted was that individuals who scored highly on a factor known as neuroticism, or emotional instability, were not as effective at making good decisions or having the confidence needed to build strong relationships. 

On one end of the neuroticism leadership personality dimension are leaders who are very temperamental. They are flippant in the expression of emotion, often not caring at all how they come across to others. Theses leaders see ordinary situations as threatening and even the smallest of irritations can set them off.

The other end of this spectrum are leaders who have emotional stability. They have a higher tolerance for stressful situations. Most things simply do not bother them, and if something does get under their skin they do not hold the frustration for long. Leaders who rate low on neuroticism are very optimistic in the face of setbacks and have a high level of hope for the future. 

Leaders who score low on neuroticism are what we call in today’s positive psychology terminology, happy.  Happiness, in the emotional intelligence world, is known as well-being.

My Story

I was walking through the Denver airport today waiting on a flight back to Orlando. I have about an hour before boarding the plane so I decided to take a walk around the terminal to get a little exercise and stretch my legs. As I was walking I noticed a little book store.

Since I am such a sucker for books (I actually have to put myself on a book budget as I could become book poor very quickly) I walked into the store telling myself I would just browse while I wait for my flight.

As I walked around, the book rack below was directly in my path. At first I did not pay any attention to the rack, but then something caught my eye. There was a mini-series from HBR press on emotional intelligence. I am a bit shocked that the shelf is relatively full with  titles such as What Makes An Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, and the HBR business classic, Managing Oneself, based on the HBR best selling article.


The one title that is not full is the little book in the HBR series on emotional intelligence called Happiness.

Could it be that leaders are clamoring to figure out what it means to be happy? Could it be that they are wondering things like “What am I really doing with my life? What meaning or purpose am I deriving from my work?”  

Questions like these are profound and impactful, yet they are not often thought about by those in leadership.

Perhaps one of the reasons the book shelf I ran into only had one copy of the book on happiness is because leaders are starting to become more curious about what happiness really means for them.

Something For You To Think About

According to Revue Bar-On, the father of the most popular model for trait emotional intelligence, one of the factors that impacts our ability as humans to be happy is our interpersonal relationships. 

It goes without saying that leadership cannot exist without strong relationships.

A leader who has mutually satisfying relationships is able to get things done with other people by establishing trust and gaining commitments.  The ability to maintain a strong rapport with others is both motivating and inspirational, which allows others to work hard and maintain a desire to meet challenging goals. 

Leaders who are effective have an ability to maintain mutually satisfying relationships in both good times and not so good times. 

The best leaders I observe have an ability to build these relationships with all kinds of people, even the most difficult. Regardless of how the leader feels personally about the person, really effective leaders are able to put differences aside and navigate the political landscape of any organization.

Great leaders can navigate any relational complexity to get things done.

How are you doing?

The leadership question I’d like you to reflect on this week is how are your interpersonal relationships?

Are your relationships allowing you to maximize your happiness, or are they holding you back?

Are your relationships mutually satisfying, meaning those you are in contact with feel they get as much out of the relationship as you do?

I want to affirm you as a leader today. Go out there and build the relationships you need to lead.

Will Removing These Leadership Lids Help You?

Not too long ago it was Taco Tuesday at the Livingston home. My wife, Kim, and I were assembling all the ingredients for our tacos: tortillas, ground beef, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, etc. I noticed my wife was struggling to take the lid off of the salsa jar, so I gently gestured for her to give me the jar and proudly assumed the position in heroically twisting the lid off the jar.

It wouldn't budge.

I put forth a little more effort, twisting harder this time. Nothing. I resorted to running it under hot water for a while, then took a towel to dry it before I tried again. Sure enough, the lid finally gave way and the jar was open for salsa to be enjoyed.

Earlier that day, I was talking with a good friend about leadership LIDS. During our conversation, the idea of the lid intrigued me. Yes, the lid is there as a cover, or protection, for what's inside, but it is also a cover, or barrier, keeping you away from what needs to be shared or utilized. Many times it's our own emotions and mentality that hold us back.

I want to focus on four of these potential barriers and consider how we can remove them: Loneliness, Indecisiveness, Defensiveness, and Selfishness.

As you read, think about your own leadership and which LIDS you need to remove. Which of these LIDS is holding you back from sharing what you have to offer?


This could be something you are experiencing in the workplace, or in your personal life. It can creep up when you've physically spent too much time on your own or you feel as if no one can relate to what you are going through or processing. Feeling alone is difficult, and doing alone is even more challenging. As humans, we are designed for relationships. Although alone time can be rejuvenating, we aren't meant to remain there in order to progress or thrive.

Remove this lid: Invite people into your world. Whether it's including them on a project you are working on or asking someone to coffee. If the loneliness doesn't subside and you are having trouble processing or expressing your thoughts, consider talking to a mentor, counselor, or coach.


You may say that being indecisive comes from the inability to make a decision because there's seems to be no wrong or right way to go. While that's true, I also see a lot of fear behind decision making. What if I make is the wrong choice? Making a decision is going to keep you moving while indecisiveness keeps you stagnant. How can you lead people if you aren't really going anywhere yourself?

Remove this Lid: Make a decision. Don't let the fear of failure keep you from moving forward. Making a mistake or taking a wrong turn doesn't mean you failed, instead, it's an opportunity to learn and grow.


In the great American sport of football, the defensive line has a responsibility to keep the other team's offense and quarterback from advancing the field with the ball. They push. They fight. This creates struggle and tension, not to mention it is exhausting as they keep it up until the other team scores or it is their turn to play offense. I bring up this example because we tend to think of defense as protecting, yet the defensive line isn't protecting anything. They are pushing back and preventing advancement. We can often be defensive in our own lives, having the mindset that we are protecting something. This could be our job, our reputation, or more often than not, our pride. In this case, protection is a fallacy and our defensiveness creates a barrier and tension that prevents the advancement of our goals or our team.

Remove this lid: It takes some intentional awareness of your emotions to see when you may be acting defensively. Your heart might start beating faster, your body temperature may rise, you may feel your lips tighten, or you may unconsciously cross your arms. Try to identify what happens when you start to feel defensive, why you are feeling it, and what you might think you're "protecting." How is your defensiveness holding you and/or your team back?


Putting your needs and desires before others is the easiest way to explain selfishness. It is even easier, unfortunately, to get caught up in selfishness if we don't stop to think about what we are doing or behaving. Consider what your priorities are right now. Are you focusing on your own advancements and needs? What about those of your team and followers? Don't get me wrong, self-care is important, as long as it's not at the expense of another person.

Remove this lid: Think about your goals, priorities, and needs. What would it look like if you included your team in those goals, changing "I" statements to "we." Call on your team and followers to find our what their goals and priorities are, then think about how you can help them achieve their goals. Practice humility by stepping back, letting them take lead on a project, and praising them publicly for a job well done. Trust me, their success will be your success.


Think about our LIDS analogy above and identify one of them that you need to remove. What action steps or conversations do you need to have in order to remove them? What benefits will come to you and your followers when you remove the lid?

How to Create Excitement In Hiring

I had a quick meeting with a very good friend of mine the other day and the upbeat tone my friend shared really made me stop and think. I was inspired to write down what I was observing and I’m wondering if perhaps you might feel the same way I did by the end of this post.

I saw my friend at the end of a very long day for both of us. I asked a quite boring question, “How did your day go today? Did you do anything interesting?”

Her response was so enthusiastic it actually took me back a bit!

I knew she had delivered an important presentation to her leadership team because she had talked about it the day before. 

“So the presentation must have gone really well,” I said. 

“Oh, the presentation…” there was some hesitation in her voice. “Sure, it went just fine,” she said, but that was almost 9 hours ago! I’m excited because I just got out of the most amazing interview with a candidate we are thinking about hiring. I was asked to sit in on the interview sort of at the last minute so I did not even get the person’s resume beforehand. I was feeling a bit unprepared, and frankly, it was the end of the day and I was feeling a bit tired.”


“Well that doesn’t sound all that exciting,” I interrupted.

“But it was!” she said. “When the young lady walked into the room she had such an air of confidence about her. She stepped right up, shook my hand, and presented me with a copy of her resume. During the next hour she talked about her education and her experiences, which were an exact match for what we needed.”

Then, my friend said those magic words that I love to hear when a leader is making a hiring decision…

“My only regret is that I know she won’t be in the position long. She is just too good! People will quickly see in her what I see and within 18 months she will be promoted!”

I know what my friend is talking about when she says regret.

Not the kind of feeling you get when your dinner companion orders something off the menu that turns out to be way better than what you ordered. 

This kind of regret is a result of knowing that the person will do so well in the role will not have the opportunity to work with them long enough to learn what you could from them. 

I do hope as you read this post you are thinking of a particular person you have hired in the past that has moved on to a higher level. Organizations are like that sometimes. They take away from us some of the best relationships we have ever had and it seems like things will never be the same.

I have two folks in mind that I have worked with over the years and I am going to jump on LinkedIn later today to send them each a message and tell them what a joy it was to work with them.

How about you? Maybe simply sending a note to someone will make their day!

I am so happy for my friend as she hires a person she is so excited about. Is it possible that is really the standard we need to shoot for in hiring?

There are likely many people who can do a job, but if you are hope to form a high performing team, maybe there is more to it than just a competent person. That connection where you know they are the exact right person for the job ought to be considered as well.

For those of us who do some hiring but also have other career aspirations, what do we need to do to be that person who creates such excitement?

If you have thoughts on that, I would love to hear from you!

Focus on BOTH Performance AND Mastery: A Development Suggestion for Leaders

It happened to me again.

I cannot believe it caught me off guard, but it did…again.

A student I have been teaching in an executive coaching program asked for some time to talk with me. This student has been doing quite well in the course, but wanted to discuss an issue they were facing.

Usually when this happens the student has one of two types of concerns.

The first is that the work they are doing is not up to expectation and they want to know what to do about it.

The second is that they have told people they are in this coaching program and have received an inquiry about doing some work for a potential client.

This call was not one of the usual scenarios, and so it caught me a bit off guard.

“Dr. Livingston, I have never been a CEO or even led a team of more than five people. Why would anyone ever hire me as an executive coach? I have been doing very well in all my coursework and I really understand the concepts and the value that executive coaching can bring to an organization. However, I just do not feel qualified to do coaching at an executive level.”


I Am Curious

Have you ever received this type of question from folks in your organization?

It might not sound exactly the same, but the more I think about it the more prevalent I believe it is.

The basic root of the question is this:

“I am here and performed really well, and now I want to be there; how do I do it?

Some examples I have heard recently from clients I work with might be helpful:

  1. "I am in sales and have performed really well, what do I need to do to get promoted?”

  2. "I am a high performing charge nursel, what do I need to do to become a supervisor?”

  3. "I am a youth minister and performed really well, what do I need to do to get my own church?”

  4. “I am a production manager and performed really well, what do I need to do to become a plant manager?”

As I am listening to my student, it occurs to me that my clients have been talking about some very similar types of issues. What does a leader do when someone is performing really well and they deserve other opportunities in the organization?

I have found over the years that telling someone to just “keep up the good work” and good things will happen is both lame on my end and not very helpful to them.

Before I give a suggestion on how to work with someone who presents to you in this manner, I think there are some important assumptions to put on the table:

  • The person really has performed really well. If they have not, then they need to hear this from you and to get your thoughts on how they can improve performance.

  • There is opportunity to move the person now or in the future. If there is a new opportunity for them, then it is up to you to get them there and set them up for success.

  • The individual not only displays appropriate performance at the current role, but they have the necessary leadership ability to be successful at the next level. My preference here is that they have a perceived ability to perform two levels higher than their current level.

If all of these assumptions are true and the person is ready and deserving for new leadership opportunities, how will you help them focus on their development?

A Simple Suggestion

One thing that has helped me is to get them to focus on the idea of mastery in addition to performance.

Those who have a performance orientation tend to focus on that what is good enough to compete with others as the goal. In our society, performance is indicative of very short term thinking and the result can be either positive or negative. You are either better than others at what you do, which feels satisfying, or you are not, which feels discouraging.

Alternately, those with a mastery orientation take a longer term view of development. Learning, rather than competence, becomes the goal. Those with a mastery orientation focus on what is possible in their development. They think more about what they don’t know rather than showing others what they do know. A mastery development focus takes the person on a journey through their chosen field rather than to a destination of any particular organizational role.

Give It A Try

How can you help someone in your organization change the focus of their development from performance to mastery?

Notice I am not saying here to not focus on performance. Ensuring the person stays on task and accomplishes the goals is still important. Do not lose sight of  performance excellence.

The intention is to shift the thinking and the focus a bit from being competent to becoming an expert in their field.

What could they learn that they do not already know?

How could they innovate their current role?

Is there anything they could experiment with to try something a little different?

Having a mastery mindset often means asking an entirely different set of questions than those that are merely focused on performance.

If you give this a try with some folks on your team, I would love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below or send me an email. I am really interested in what this distinction looks like in your world.

5 Actions For Speaking Truth to Power

Every leader needs a voice who will speak truth and help them see things that are not obvious. Henry Kissinger is famous for saying that one of the most difficult things for a young leader to do is to “speak truth to power;” to go up the power gradient with information that is contrary to what the hierarchical, authoritative, and referent, position believes to be true. We have all been there at points and felt the emotion of that moment. There is inherent organizational danger in communicating things to a leader that they are not seeing in the moment:

  • You could be rejected which leads to embarrassment

  • You could be dismissed which leads to self-doubt

  • You could be humiliated which leads to isolation

  • You could be discounted which leads to demoralization

The young leader has information that someone in a decision-making position needs to hear, and is frozen in the moment by these potentially negative outcomes.

The other side of the proposition is, all things being equal, there is a huge upside in communicating to a leader what they are not seeing in the moment:

  • You could be celebrated for the input

  • You could be included in the decision-making process

  • You could be honored for your courage

  • You could be valued for your contribution


Whether a part of reality or a figment of our imagination as a young leader “speaking truth to power” can seem overwhelming. This is the risk tension that the young leader faces. Some of the mediators that go into the “speak truth to power" equation are:

  • Culture of the organization-What is the level of freedom that truly exists for information sharing?

  • Young leaders' personal-risk tolerance-Where do they fall on a spectrum between “wary” and “adventurous”?

  • Receptivity of the leader to feedback-What is the historical behavior elicited when contrary opinions have been shared?


I think we can all pretty easily agree that the young leader when faced with a decision to speak truth to power, has a burden that can feel like wearing a shirt made of lead.

However, as more senior leaders in organizations, how much of the burden falls on us to create an atmosphere where much of the risk is mediated for a young leader? How much of the responsibility is ours to create the environment in which others feel a freedom to be able to share?

I argue that much of the speaking-truth-to-power-dichotomy rests not in the hands of the deliverer but the receiver. And yet the senior leader is the one who often times has the most to lose by missing key information that was never brought to them. In the fast-paced, get it done now, microwave culture that organizations exist in today many of us cave into our survival reptilian brain that tells us to do whatever we can to survive.

Many times these environmental and personal factors are not acting in our favor. As leaders, we have to put effort into creating a persona and a culture so that the voice we need to be able to hear in our organization comes through.


Here are my top 5 tips for leaders who want to improve their chances of hearing all the information they need to hear to be able to make an informed decision:

  • Slow down your cadence-Most of the leadership mistakes I have made were because my world was moving fast and I did not slow down to see more possibilities. The faster I went, the more convinced I became that I was right, and the further away I got from the truth. Take a deep breath, count to 10, silently sing a familiar tune very slowly (I like; “Row, row, row, your boat), pray, do whatever you need to do to slow your reality down.

  • Become curious-The practice is to suspend your need to be right or heard and to work really hard to understand the other person's position. Before you jump to conclusion or shoot them down because of what you know that they don’t, spend some time to really discern the message they are bringing to you.

  • Always say thank you-So before it feels like I am your mom or kindergarten teacher, just hear me out. You would be surprised at how often I observe leaders in interactions where they turn and walk away without expressing gratitude. I don’t think it is an intent to be mean or degrading, the pressure of the moment takes the brain to the next thing rather than finishing the relationship with the current interaction. Researchers at USC found that simple acts of gratitude provide benefits ranging from feelings of reward and satisfaction to just helping people to hold on to their humanity.

  • Spend time reflecting- At the end of your day take the time to review the day. Play back the interactions you had with others. Resist the temptation to become defensive and ask yourself questions like:  I wonder what they were really trying to ask me?  Why did I feel such a strong need to defend myself?  Why did I feel such a strong need to exert power in the moment?  What unintended consequences could the action I took cause?

  • Do the inner work of developing your soul- The psychology data says you are as intelligent right now as you will ever be. Your personality is fully formed, so you know if you are extroverted or introverted. You have most of the skill you will ever need. So what is your next step in development? Do you need to work on developing the soul of your leadership?


Pick one of the 5 Actions above and work on it every day for a week. For example, in every personal interaction and every email you send, say “thank you." Work on making your attitude heartfelt and not rote. If you try any of these let me know how they go for you, I would love to hear.

How to Maintain Emotional Balance When Things Go Bad

In every organization, there are sometimes big changes and it can be hard to maintain emotional balance through each situation.You may be thinking, “Sure, it is easy to use the tools you mention when things are going well, but what happens when things go bad?” Just because there are changes that may affect your position, it does NOT require that it affects your emotions in a negative way.

Several situations could be categorized as difficult for leaders to work through: downsizing, merging, restructuring, relocating, new leadership, project failure, ethical and moral failure, just to name a few. Basically, any situation involving a change that does not give you a positive feeling. These situations don't have to be awful, but they encompass any kind of change that takes you out of your normal routine, which can make them difficult.

When there has been a breakdown in your company, it doesn’t feel good. Tensions are high and people are on edge emotionally. Realizing the emotion exists and not allowing the negativity to drag you down is the skill. This is emotional resilience. Bad things are going to happen.


How can you as a leader work on your own resilience to be able to lead others to see a brighter day ahead?

The first step in being a resilient leader in times of tension and complexity is to be aware of and manage your emotion. In an issue of Leadership Quarterly, Laura Little, Janaki Gooty, and Michelle Williams take on the topic of "the role of leader emotional management." The authors studied 163 leaders and their followers and concluded that when followers perceive that the leader was managing emotion, focusing on meeting expectations, and creating a future, followers felt better about the leadership being provided. Conversely, when followers perceive that leaders modulate or suppress their emotion, there is a lack of leadership and job satisfaction on the part of the follower.

What can you do as a leader to create better leadership in times of tension and complexity? How can you focus on meeting expectations while creating hope and a future for your followers when times are tough?

Here is a simple acronym that can help you stay in CHECK during difficult situations:

Consider the Situation

Take note of what's going on and how it is affecting you, your relationships, and your team. Can you describe the situation clearly and objectively, then identify the emotion it brings up and why? Are your emotions creating false expectations that need to be managed?

Hear from Others

Who are two or three people you trust that can speak into the situation? Identify individuals inside and outside of what's going on that can help you think and act productively as you figure out what to do. Don't spend too much time doing this, or else you become subject to the opinions of too many people and fall into a pit of gossip and negativity, which brings us to our “E."

Eliminate Negativity

This is easier said than done but necessary. Pessimism indicates that there's absolutely no hope or no solution to what's going on, and that's just simply not true. Whether it's coming from yourself or from others, be sure that what you are hearing and thinking will be constructive and productive. Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association tells us we need to develop a “positive explanatory style." This is not “The Power of Positive Thinking” we all have heard about. It is much deeper than this. Seligman says, “What you think when you fail is crucial.“ How you explain things to yourself when they don’t go your way is the difference between helplessness and being energized.

Create a Plan - Organize and Carry Out

You've thought about it and talked about it, now it's time to decide what you will do about it. Start with the outcome you hope to have and work backward, documenting the steps you need to take to reach that outcome. The key here is to describe what success looks like to you before you implement the plan.

Keep Your Head Up - Stay Consistent, Present, and Motivated

We know it's not going to be easy, but no matter what happens you have the ability to take a deep breath, stay positive, and keep going. What are some things you can do to remove yourself from what's going on, clear your head, and rejuvenate yourself to stay in the game?


Think about this acronym and how you can apply to a difficult situation you are facing. Write CHECK on a note and stick it somewhere you can see it as a reminder of this process. When you see it, think about how you can apply it to the things causing tension for you and your organization.

Is it Too Late to Restart My Goals for the Year?

How are you doing with the goals you set earlier in the year? Have you accomplished them or have you gotten off track? It’s not uncommon for people to not want to review their goals, especially if they know they have not made the progress they hoped for. The feeling of discouragement can become overwhelming when we see a lack of progress and know we aren't where we had hoped to be by now when the goal was originally set.

In January, you set your goals for the new year. Let's say you wanted to exercise three days a week for an hour. This goal is like getting on an airplane. You are all buckled in your seat and ready for take-off. You know the goal. It is written down and you feel comfortable with where you are going.

The plane starts down the runway, shakes, and surges as it gains speed. All of a sudden, it is February. You likely have taken a couple of steps toward goal attainment. You are gaining speed and you can feel the inertia of the plane starting to lift off. In regard to your goal, maybe you called around to see what gym would best fit your needs. You went out and bought new exercise clothes and maybe some shoes. The feeling and speed of the change feels good.


Then comes March. The plane reaches 30,000 feet, the seatbelt sign comes off, and the plane levels out, and the exercise doldrums set in. You no longer feel the rush of take-off. You no longer can sense the speed of the plane. This is when goal attainment becomes difficult. When it feels like you are not making any progress at all.


The interesting thing to me is the lie our emotions give us in this context. While the positive “dopamine” feeling of starting something new may be gone, the important thing to realize is that the plane is still going 450 miles an hour, even though you can’t feel it. You are still moving. You are still experiencing progress. Even though Q2 is gone and we have said goodbye to May, June, and July YOU are still flying. Realize your plane is in the air. You have not crashed. YOU HAVE NOT FAILED!

Instead of assuming that you're way off track and that you've already failed, step back and look at your goal objectively. Think about when you set the goal, were they SMART goals? Most likely you've heard this acronym, and even used them when setting goals, but it is a helpful tool to check up on your goals or even get back on track.

  • Was it Specific? When getting specific with your goal, consider why and how you want to achieve it and not merely the definition of your goal. Perhaps you want to work on developing young leaders. Your why might be because your want to prepare them for more responsibility in the future and your how will be through professional development workshops or one-on-one mentoring sessions.

  • Was it Measurable? Are you able to see where you are right now and where you'll end up? If you are not able to track the progress of obtaining the goal along the way, you'll have a hard time seeing if you succeeded in the end or stay motivated along the way.

  • Was it Achievable and Realistic? The A and R in our acronym go hand in hand. When you figure out your goal, how to do it, and its deadline, you have to think about the parameters and circumstances that will make it possible. At this point, something may have come up in the last 6 months that have changed your circumstance and deterred your goal. That's okay. Life happens. Instead of seeing it as a failure or no longer attainable, just think about what changes need to be made to your goal, the plan, or the timeline. Don't be tempted to start from scratch, instead, make less work for yourself by simply re-evaluating and tweaking what's already in progress and steer it back on track.

  • Was it Time-bound? Some of you may have set goals that you've already completed. Others might feel the pressure of the time ticking away. Use the time as positive pressure to get the work done, not to stress you out. If you feel constrained, give yourself a break and allow yourself more time. If it's a project with a deadline, reach out to your team or manager and see how you can work together to get it completed. Also, consider how you are using your time and what could be distracting you from focusing on your goal. What do you need to implement personally to give yourself time and focus to achieve this goal?

Most importantly, remember the why behind your goal and the reasons that motivated you to set the goal in the first place. Visualize what it will look like for you and your team when that goal is accomplished. Grab a coach or mentor and share with them your SMART goal. Listen to any advice they have for you.

Be encouraged by the progress you have made so far. Keep yourself in the air and land that goal safely on the ground.

The Cost of Paying Attention

Recently, a client who received feedback from his organization, said that he needed to become more self-aware of the impact of his behavior on others.

When I probed for what behavior seemed out of line, he told me that he had been rewarded his entire career for being a critical thinker and deliberate in decision-making. The organization needed to undergo changes to be more responsive in the marketplace and his caution was now being viewed as inflexibility. The feedback he was receiving from the organization was that he needed to be more self-aware of his inability to see things in other ways. He told me, “I need to pay attention to when I am being overly cautious and evaluate if I really am being inflexible or if my caution is warranted."

Paying attention. An interesting phrase…

Paying attention, as it relates to being self-aware, implies that there is a cost involved. When you sharpen your focus on something, you will inherently need to give something up in exchange.  In the example above, if my client is to be self-aware and pay attention to a behavior to elicit change, he will have to give up something in exchange for the attention he is going to give the new behavior.


Here is a simple example, if I go to the grocery store to pick up a banana, a transaction takes place. I give the clerk something of value to me, in this case, money, before receiving the product I desire more than the money I possess, the banana. Pretty simple.

When leaders are told they need to be self-aware of their actions or behaviors, it seems to get a bit more complicated than buying a banana. The process of becoming a self-aware leader requires that we give something up in order to draw attention to what we desire to change or better understand. This change in behavior must have more value to us than what we need to give up in order to obtain it.

When purchasing a banana, I know what I need to give up to own the fruit. In the same way, if I need to pay attention in order to become more self-aware of what is seen as inflexibility. For example, what must I give up in order to obtain this behavior change? To pay attention to this kind of behavior change will require humility to even get the process started. You have to recognize that you desire the banana more than you desire money and be willing to give up one in exchange for the other.

What does it take for you to humble yourself as a leader?

In this context, to be humble is really about having a clear perspective of your place in the context of your situation.  My client had to get to a point where he could be objective when situations arose. It is quite probable that because he had been rewarded (or at least had the feeling of such reward) in the past for his display of caution, that he installed it as a permanent successful behavior. After all, who does not like a positive feeling?

His first step in becoming self-aware had already occurred. He recognized the spectrum of behavior he was trying to distinguish. He had described the poles as being deliberate on one end and inflexible on the other. He gave up the freedom to just behave as he had been rewarded. He had to pay, in this case, his normal feeling of being cautious to precipitate a desired change or even recognize the spectrum that he was asked to change along.

Now he must understand the strength of his deliberateness and the weakness of his inflexibility.

Let me illustrate:

To stay in shape, I like to jog. I started having some knee pain. Once a week I work out with a personal trainer for 30 minutes, so I was telling him about the pain I was having in my knee. One of his thoughts was that I had some muscle imbalance, meaning one of the muscles in my leg had become stronger than another. The tension, caused by one muscle being stronger than another, caused a pulling at the joint and, therefore, the pain.

According to my trainer, this weakness causes an imbalance and puts stress on other muscles to become stronger and overcompensate for the weakness.  According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine there are many reasons that one muscle might be stronger than another, such as past trauma, repetitive movements, lack of core strength, poor training technique, emotional duress, and poor posture. He said, “Scott, you have to pay attention to strengthening all your muscle groups so that you don’t have knee pain."

There it was again, pay attention. What was I going to have to give up in order to relieve the pain? The same is true for my client, and for you.

What do you need to give up when you are working with those who follow your leadership so that you “pay attention” to them? If you are trying to listen better to what your followers are telling you, what is the cost to you? What do you need to give up to become a better listener? Have you identified the cost that may be involved for the change to occur?

Feel free to comment on this question. I would love to know what you are thinking.

Are You Emotionally Agile?

Change is really hard!

I am experiencing this reality for myself and it is tough. Here is a bit of what change is looking like in my leadership development practice.

Let me start by writing that I am blessed beyond measure to work personally with many of you who read this post every week. You are so patient with me as I lament stories and try and apply good leadership theory to practice. I count it a real privilege to be invited into, what I consider to be, the sacred space of helping you develop into the leader you want to be.

This is a blessing I do not take lightly or for granted.

My Change Story

My leadership development work seems like it is changing. The feeling is palpable for me. For the last eight or nine years, I would say that 50% of my work has been in some aspect of training leaders in the area of emotional intelligence in live workshop formats. The other half of the work has been focused on one-on-one coaching to develop leaders using multi-rater feedback or as a thinking partner. For solo practitioners such as myself, this is a fairly common mix.

What has driven this 50/50 mix has been based primarily upon the work that my clients have had available. And as I have been in discussion with most of my clients around what 2019 is going to bring there is a lot of ambiguity, which is not at all comforting. For anyone! Not for me, nor for the clients that I serve.

This change is really hard. Any change that feels like you are losing something is what psychologists call Ambiguous Loss. According to Pauline Boss, author of Ambiguous Loss, “those confronted with such ambiguous loss fluctuate between hope and hopelessness. Suffered too long, these emotions can deaden feeling and make it impossible for people to move on with their lives.” However what I am experiencing in my own personal change is that all is not lost.

And I think this is true for most of us. We need to see the hope that change can bring.

Emotional Agility

So, as I have been thinking about these changes over the past few weeks a range of feelings have swept over me.

Being emotionally agile starts with recognition of this range.

Here is what I experienced:

1) Rejection. My first thought was to ignore or dismiss the change, to pretend it was not real and to just sit back and see what would happen. This idea of rejecting reality is like being frozen in time. If I do nothing and just sit here, then maybe things will go back to the way they were in the past.  

The emotional intelligence competency to pay attention to is Reality Testing. This emotional competency challenges us, as leaders, to remain objective by seeing things as they really are. This challenges leaders to recognize when emotions or personal bias can cause one to be less than objective.

As I have been thinking through my current situation, to reject the change is to not see it as really happening, I realized this first stage is not serving me as a leader at all.

Time to move on…

2) Understanding. This step in becoming emotionally agile is really about intellectualizing that the change is happening and trying to understand the reason behind all of the change dynamics. Folks who are in this phase of emotional agility thirst for information like a heat-seeking missile. The fallacy in this phase is that if I just have more information and understand the change better then it will all be ok. Those stuck in this phase may feel a sense of false security as they gain information, but are not doing anything with it. The information is intellectualized but the receiver of the change stays right where they are, not doing anything with the information they have learned.

The emotional intelligence competency to pay attention to is Problem Solving. This emotional competency challenges leaders to find solutions to problems where emotions are involved. Notice that the skill here is to find the solution, not to sit and think about the problem or to make sure you understand all of the inputs into the change progress. The capacity of problem solving is to understand how emotions impact decision making and then move toward a solution for the problem.

3) Moving. This step in becoming emotionally agile is about finding clarity in the change you are experiencing and trying something new. I think clarity is huge in this stage. It is so hard to move toward something that is not clear to you. The other day I went for a run in the rain and for the first few miles it was great. Then I hit such a downpour that I could not see even a few feet in front of me. I had to slow down to a walk because the path was not clear. The same becomes true for those of us who are ready to move to a new reality. We have to have some clarity of vision so that we feel safe moving forward.

The emotional intelligence competency to pay attention to here is Optimism. This emotional competency challenges leaders to keep a positive outlook on life. The main idea is to remain hopeful and resilient despite the occasional setbacks experienced during change. Optimism becomes critical because of the ambiguity during change. We are going to have setbacks that we didn’t experience in our old reality. For me, business just kept rolling in from my clients year after year. That is now changing, so I am going to have to change with it and there will be setbacks along the way. The goal is to remain optimistic for the future.

4) Integration. The final step in becoming emotionally agile is to make the change a part of you. To accept the change, revise your beliefs and assumptions that you make about how you will proceed moving forward. Difficult change really is not about the choices you have in front of you. It is more about your values and how you want them expressed in the new reality.

The emotional intelligence competency to pay attention to here is Self-Regard. The idea here is to keep your self-respect while understanding your strengths and weaknesses. As the change is happening, you are still the same gifted and talented person you were prior to the change. It is really fundamental to come to grips with the idea that while your circumstance has changed, your giftedness has not.


I have realized these four steps in my own life about becoming more emotionally agile. How about you? What is your experience? Could focusing on emotional intelligence help you or your organization become more agile with the change you are experiencing? If so drop me a line, I would love a chance to talk with you about your current change.

Emotional Agility

I ran an interesting experiment last week with a group. I was training them on being emotionally intelligent leaders. Before I tell you about the experiment, a little context might be in order.

The organization, a group of twenty folks, has been working while undergoing massive change. By massive, I mean not only the quantity of change processes going on at once but the entire cultural core of leadership requirements as well. For example, managers are being asked to shift from a “command and control” culture, where directives are pushed down the chain of command, to one of solving issues as they present by the people closest to the event.


This type of change has as a reorganization component. Teams are being dissolved and new teams are forming that did not exist three months ago. People are being herded into unclear roles that have no guidelines or strategies for success.

This kind of change is hard on people. As humans, we naturally seek safety and comfort. Even if things are not ideal if we feel comfortable and safe and like the way we have it, why would we ever want to change?

It is like trying to get your parents to move into assisted living and out of the house they have been in for over forty years. Even though everyone knows it is best, they just feel better in their environment. Change from the known to the unknown can be deeply challenging.


So back to my training experiment.

When the group of twenty came in for the 9:00 AM program, the first question I asked them, is the question I ask every group at the beginning of a session, “What do you need to know about me to feel safe in your learning?”

I know the more safe people feel, the more likely they are to absorb content, listen, and hence hopefully learn something that benefits them as future leaders.

I received typical questions like, “Tell us your education and work background,” and, “Tell us where you are from.” Even from time to time people want to know about my family. Once I have built psychological trust, I usually ask them what they want to learn during our time together. Even though I have an agenda, I always want to know what they need. This helps me to empathize throughout the day and link my content to their needs.

The Experimental Question

The group of twenty are all sitting in pods of five people at four different sets of rectangular tables. I then ask the experimental question to the group stating, “I just got some information from senior management that they feel this group is not sitting in a position that is conducive to learning, and they would like them to learn as much as they can from the day.”

Silence. Seriously, like for ninety seconds. Then someone said, “So, are you asking us to move around?”

I said, “I am not asking you to do anything. Is there anything you would like to do with the information you received?”

Then someone said, “You are the expert, tell us how you want us to sit.”

I said, “Thank you for the compliment but that is not my job here. You received information and I need to know if you are going to do anything with it. If not, I will just move on.”

Finally, some discussion started.

“Maybe we should change seats.”

“I think we should sit in a ‘U’ shape.”

“Then we would have to move tables.”

“I am comfortable right here where I am. I like my seat and really don’t want to move.”

This went on for about three minutes and I interjected, “You all are spending a lot of time talking but what I am observing is no one is moving to meet the expectation.”

After about six minutes, or so, the group got up, moved tables and formed a ‘U’ shape. Once they got into position, I asked if this was more conducive to learning, and they came up with some good reasons as to why it might be.

Then I asked, “So, why did it take you so long to respond to the feedback you received?”

One of the group members sat back and said, “Okay, I see what you just did here. You put us in a place we were comfortable and settled in and then presented us with an opportunity to do better and we hesitated and dragged our feet. That is exactly what a lot of very talented people are doing here at our company. We all know we have to change, but even those who say they are excited about the change are experiencing some emotion around the loss of the way things used to be. So we are just sitting and talking about it without much movement.”

Emotional Agility

As we continued to debrief the experiment, and what was happening in the organization, the discussion quickly centered around the change events they were experiencing and their individual responses to those changes. They came up with many reasons for the change: new leadership, market dynamics, product changes, and cultural inefficiencies. All relevant reasons, and from my perspective, accurate.

My mission for the day then became clear, from an emotional intelligence perspective, to help them develop actions and responses to become emotional agile.

“No matter the circumstance, I am responsible for my reaction”, became the mantra of the group.

For example, when people get angry or upset they almost always blame the person, the object, or God for being responsible for the change. This group came to the realization that when they are faced with change, it is up to them to recognize the emotion, label it, and then ask what it is really telling them.

The reality is, life situations happen. It is not debating “if” change is going to happen but “when,” and the question becomes how are you going to respond.

This is emotional agility. How you choose to respond in your life when change is thrust upon you.

This is Too funny

So, I am sitting on an airplane flying home writing this post and the flight attendant has the snack box. The choices are: Belvita Breakfast Bar, Pretzels, Plane Cookies, and Fritos. Now I always, I mean always ask for, and get, Plane Cookies and Fritos.

The flight attendant says to me, “Which one?”

And I say, “I always get the Fritos and the Plane Cookies.”

He says, “I can give you one, which one would you like?”

My knee-jerk thought is, what a jerk! What is his problem? They always have extras of this stuff. Why is he being such a stickler? I want my snack and I want it my way!”

Then I realized I was not acting with much emotional agility.

So, I reread what I just wrote about being emotionally agile and decided to apply my thoughts to my own behavior.

I sat back and thought, he just wants to make sure everyone gets a snack. This is actually a pretty noble gesture on his part. What a nice guy. If I was sitting in the back I would appreciate getting to have a snack choice like the people up front.

The teacher is always a student.

Becoming Agile with Your Emotion

When change is thrust upon us as humans, we have a tendency to look for blame outside of ourselves for how the action has landed on us.

The central thought behind emotional agility is; no matter the circumstance, you are responsible for your reaction.

According to Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, "You cannot always choose what happens to you. But you can choose how you respond to what happens to you.”  

What emotion do you have to manage to be able to be open to think about something outside of yourself?

Can you catch yourself today having some change thrust upon you, and rather than justify with blame, seek contribution on how you can be responsible for your actions?

2 Additional Tips on How to Have a Productive Feedback Conversation

Last week we talked about a 1 Question Quiz on Productive Feedback. If you missed it, click HERE, but in summary, I asked you to consider the following three items in making your feedback conversation more productive.

  1. Become Biased for Action

  2. Consider the Relationship

  3. Appreciate what is Possible

What order do you think they should be in? I suggested Considering the Relationship as the first vital component to productive feedback. This week I want to break down the two additional tips.

Appreciate What is Possible

A conversation that includes possibility assumes a relationship. If someone is going to enter into considering a change by exploring what might be, they first have to be able to trust that you have their best interest in mind. This is a really important point. It is not a good idea to have an appreciative conversation with someone if they do not trust you. You may trust them implicitly, but if the feeling is not mutual then you do not have a relationship, so do not proceed.


Possibility starts with curiosity. Perhaps asking something like, “What could they mean when they say you are direct?” or “How could you approach your work so others feel valued?” would spur your team member toward thinking about what is possible.

Possibility is all about giving the person who receives the feedback hope for the future. As the receiver of feedback, I need your optimism that this criticism is temporary and if I work on it I can overcome the challenge. It is very likely that the person receiving the feedback has been very successful using this behavior in the past. If you consider the story above, it is likely this person has been rewarded for her technical expertise and that working in teams might be very new for her. Showing her a way out of her dilemma is what possibility conversations are all about.

In the end, it is really critical for the person receiving the feedback to own what is possible. You, as the giver of feedback, are helping them get to the place where they can see what is possible and that they can own it. As the giver of feedback, you cannot become the owner of the possible. You have to possess a keen awareness if what the person comes up with as possible will close any gap that exists, but the person receiving the feedback is always the owner and in charge of the possibility dream.

Become Biased For Action

Ahh. We are finally here. Helping the person put the plan together that closes the gap between how they have been showing up and how they desire to show up.

First, it is really critical to stop and ask yourself how the relationship is going and if the person is owning the possibility for change. If not, you are not ready for creating action. Go back and find the issue in the first two steps and correct this before moving forward. According to James Flaherty, too many conversations break down here because of power gradients. People are more committed to change if they trust the supervisor and if they are included in what the change might look like.

This next step is where you will be helping the person take possible into reality. This step is important so you do not stop at dreaming about what might be. You have to help them put a plan into place around what will be.

Commitment to action is what both parties are ultimately after. It is key to keep the plan simple and in the form of a few measurable items. These simple things have to be in the form of behaviors that are observable and not values or character traits. For example, in the story above, the person receiving feedback could ask more questions about why people on the team do things a certain way and then validate that the idea is a good one. This is both behavioral and actionable. Saying that the person needs to become more humble in working with teammates, while potentially true, is not helpful as humility is a character trait and needs to have behavioral actions put with it so that the person can act upon the plan.


So, as I had this conversation with my old friend about productive feedback conversations (Read the conversation here) the phone grew silent on the other end.

“You still there?” I asked.

“Yes, I am just reflecting on these three elements and where I am getting this all wrong.”

"You are giving yourself some feedback,” I said.

“Maybe so”, was his reply. “I am thinking I need to go back to the beginning and consider where the relationships with everyone on my team are really at. Do they trust me enough for me to even provide them with feedback? It doesn’t matter that the organization declares me the supervisor, I am only going to get necessary change if they buy into me.”

Spoken like a true leader.

Out of the three tips to consider, where do you see your greatest potential for growth?

Would you be willing to give ME some feedback? If so, I have a few questions I would like to ask you.

If you are willing to be contacted regarding the subject of receiving feedback, please enter your name and email address below.

Take This 1 Question Quiz on How to Have a Productive Feedback Conversation

An old colleague called me the other day. He was having some trouble getting someone on his team to accept some feedback he was giving.

“I keep telling her that she needs to stop and build relationships with folks on the team. She is just so direct and to the point that no one wants to work with her. She is technically the most skilled person on the team but she doesn’t realize that it is ok if others do things differently. It is at the point that no one wants to work with her on anything. One person even told me,’She needs to approach her work with an attitude that everyone is doing their best and that we all have good intention. Sure she is really smart, but what good is that if no one wants to be around her.’”

My friend then said to me, “I even did the old feedback sandwich technique, where I give her a positive comment, and then give her the criticism, and followed this by what a good person she is.”


Ever been in a space like this? Where you are trying to give someone feedback but it is like you are talking to a wall. Or maybe the person seems open and friendly but you cannot move the conversation past your relationship.  


Maybe you had someone try some technique on you like the CrapFeedback Sandwich where they build you up to tear you down and then try and save the day with some meaningless positivism that is more therapeutic for them than it is for you?

“Ok, just stop,” I told my friend. “Let’s talk about productive feedback and how really to have a productive conversation.”

Take This 1 Question Quiz on Productive Feedback

Here are three things to consider to make your feedback conversation more productive.

  1. Become Biased for Action

  2. Consider the Relationship

  3. Appreciate what is Possible

Now put them in the proper order for effective feedback.

Did you find that you had an “aha” moment as you tried to figure out the order? Reflect on your thoughts for a moment.

Perhaps you find yourself saying that feedback is all about being Biased for Action. After all, the reason you are giving the person feedback is so that they can have the information they need to make the changes that others see are needed. You are not having a feedback conversation for your own health or to just hear yourself talk (although it does seem that way sometimes to some people).

According to James Flaherty who writes on effective coaching conversations these three conversations all need to happen if someone is going to change a behavior, but the order they happen in is critical. For example, if you do not have a firm enough foundational relationship, getting a person to act on feedback is futile. You could pay them all the compliments you can think of but when the criticism comes, they go immediately into a protective defensive posture.

From the list of three things to consider for productive feedback, let’s consider the most important of these three which is the relationship.

Consider the Relationship

In order for any feedback to resonate with the receiver, the relationship with the provider of the feedback is critical. Good interpersonal relationships have some core elements to them which are often taken for granted.

  • First, they are mutual. This means that both parties derive satisfaction from being together. This relationship cannot be forced. Even if we do not get to choose who we have on our team, or the boss we work for, we have to freely decide of our own will that we are going to be in the relationship.

  • Second, the reason the relationship exists is due to some foundational core commitments. The commitments we make to each other are critical because all relationships are going to have ambiguity and misunderstanding and without solid core commitments it is hard to maintain a relationship.

  • Third, the relationship must contain trust and compassion. For feedback to be absorbed by the receiver trust must be present. For trust to flourish compassion must be present. Having compassion means you are with me in my suffering. That you understand me and will not abandon me when I am down.

Next week we’ll dissect the remaining two factors that play a big role in productive feedback: Becoming Biased for Action and Appreciating what’s Possible. But until then, how do you think Considering the Relationship affects productive feedback? I’d love to hear your comments below.

4 Additional Considerations for Giving and Receiving Tough Feedback

Last week we talked about a case study between Toni and Mia. Toni had some tough feedback for Mia and unfortunately, their conversation did not go well. Click here if you missed the blog post, but in summary, the one thing to remember in giving and receiving feedback is recognizing who is in the power seat during the conversation.

To add to our dialogue, here are 4 Additional Considerations for Giving and Receiving Tough Feedback.

  1. Expect Defensiveness - People are people and when we feel attacked one of our natural responses is to defend ourselves. We do this by justifying our actions, discounting the process, and questioning the procedures.

    • If you find yourself on either side of the feedback process. Recognize when you are being defensive and say, “I am feeling a bit defensive right now and that is not how I want to be perceived. Can we reconvene tomorrow so I am more open to what you are saying?”

  2. The Speaking Reveals the Speaker - Those providing feedback are in the hot seat. Even if you are just playing the role of the reporter who is bringing objective facts to the conversation, you are choosing the subset of facts you think matter most.

    • When you are receiving feedback, assume positive intent from the giver. Assume they have information that is going to be helpful for you to perform better.

  3. The Rule of 3 Conversations - Anytime we are delivering feedback there are 3 conversations happening. First, the conversation between the speaker and the listener; second, the conversation the listener is having with herself, and third, the conversation the speaker is having with herself. The job of the speaker is to understand the conversation that the listener is having with herself.

    • As the listener, your job is to comprehend what is being said. The quieter you can make the conversation within yourself will enable you to appreciate and receive what is being communicated.

  4. It’s All About The Relationship - Never, ever underestimate the power of relationship.  As the giver of feedback, the more mutually satisfying the relationship, the better your feedback will land. This is not just about having common interests but has to do with the level of shared commitments you make to each other. The only way to do this is to spend both quality and quantity of time together. The stronger the mutual commitments that people have the better the relationships. I have noticed in my coaching work that many people do not have anyone to call and share struggles with when they feel like they are in emotional confusion. There is no substitute for genuine time and compassion to strengthen relationships.

    • As the receiver of feedback, you have to take the relationship where it is at the moment, so here are some tips for you to absorb the feedback:

      • Stay present and attentive in the conversation. Resist the temptation to explain “why” you did something.

      • Find commonality in what is being said. It is critical to find something in the feedback you can own and act on.

      • Don’t shoot the messenger. Refrain from becoming judgmental of the person who is giving you feedback. Focus on the content of the message and not who is saying it.

Reflect on the Case

Go back over the case study from last week (read here) and see where you think Mia and Toni could have gotten a better outcome by applying these 5 total suggestions (from this week and last week’s blog) to their feedback conversation.

Better yet, why not study these 5 items before you go into your next feedback session.

I would love to hear from you as to how these 5 items resonate with you. Drop me an email at scott@drscottlivingston.com and I would be happy to connect.

Would you be willing to give ME some feedback? If so, I have a few questions I would like to ask you.

Would you be comfortable if Scott or someone from his team contacted you to interview you on the subject of receiving feedback? *
If you are willing to be contacted regarding the subject of receiving feedback, please enter your name and email address below.

The One Thing To Remember in Giving and Receiving Feedback

I think one of the most difficult things to do in organizational life is to receive tough feedback.

Most of us go into our jobs wanting to be seen at best as a top performer and at the very least a valuable contributor to the organization.


So when someone sits you down to give you some feedback, how you receive this message can make a big difference as to the perception others will have of you.

Organizations spend lots of money on teaching managers and leaders how to give good feedback. Most “giving feedback” models include some type of framework that mandates at least 3 steps: (1) Provide context for the situation, (2) Give an assessment of a behavior, and (3) Declare the results of that behavior. The goal then is to enter into a conversation about what the person could do differently in that situation to get a different outcome. While there are probably some improvements to be made, the model in my estimation is directionally correct. It gets a conversation started, and is an attempt to help someone improve.

At the same time, there are some assumptions that get made inside of any feedback model that need to be addressed.

Case Study: Toni and Mia

Let’s consider a situation where Toni is Mia’s supervisor.  

Mia has been part of Toni’s team for about 8 months so Mia has had adequate time to observe how Toni is integrating her into the team. Mia has noticed that Toni is a bit more relationally distant from her than other members of the team, but she shrugs this off since Mia is still the newest team member.

Mia really loves the company and wishes she could say the same about working for Toni. She cannot pinpoint why she feels this way, but Toni seems to treat her differently from other team members. For example, Toni will often get into detailed conversations with other team members about hobbies or things going on in their personal lives, but everything with Mia seems to be about her projects at work. Flat out, Toni just spends more time with other members of the team. Maybe it is just a quantity of time thing, but the perception to Mia is that Toni just knows them better. One thing that Mia would say about herself is that she loves her work and others have even commented to her they wished they could care as deeply about their projects as Mia does.

The Feedback Process

As part of a routine organizational feedback process, Toni is tasked with gathering some feedback for each member of her team. For Mia, Toni will ask two or three team members what it is like to work with Mia. Simple, straightforward, open-ended, and as unbiased as possible on the part of Toni; just what is it like to work with Mia. Toni will then take her assessment of Mia’s performance and put it with the other feedback.

Once all of the data is collected Toni will develop one or two things that each person on her team could improve upon. The intention of the exercise is so that everyone is providing input and is able to make any behavioral course corrections if needed.

Toni’s Feedback for Mia

Toni’s challenge in preparing for her conversation with Mia became one of only focusing on two things. While she had some idea that Mia was struggling to integrate into the team she did not realize it was so evident to everyone else. Toni was grateful that the organization had a feedback model and even invested in a half-day of training to teach supervisors how to use it. She would need all that skill in her conversation with Mia.

The day came for the two to meet to discuss the feedback. Toni had decided on two talking points:

  1. Grandstanding- People on the team thought that Mia was not sensitive to other projects the team had and that hers, by far, was the most important.

  2. Constant Comparison-Toni had noticed in almost every conversation that Mia would compare how she was working on projects versus others on the team and this always came with how her way was better

Needless to say, when the two sat down the conversation did not go well. Even though Toni executed the feedback model with flawless accuracy she could tell Mia was both stunned by the feedback and hurt that people on the team actually felt this way. One of her comments to Toni was, “Who comes to work and tries to belittle others by doing these things. What is this 4th grade? Maybe folks around here are just a little too nice to each other and need to grow some thicker skin.” She finished the conversation with Toni by saying that the process needed to have a name change from Team Feedback to Shark Attack.

The one thing to remember in giving and receiving feedback

  1. Recognize who is in the Power Seat. Most would assume, because of the power gradient that exists in organizations that the manager, in this case, Toni, is in the power seat. But studies actually show that it is the receiver of the feedback who is in control. The receiver gets to decide what is heard, what is reflected upon, and what ultimately will be acted upon. You may be saying, well yes, but if Mia doesn’t change her behavior she will get fired. And yes, this might be true, Toni is merely a messenger and Mia has the power to decide what her actions will be.

As the receiver of the feedback, realize your power position. Be as open as you can to what is being said. Ask good clarifying questions so you have all the information you need to decide if you are going to make any changes or not.

Next week I will add 4 additional considerations to giving and receiving tough feedback. In the meantime, what do you think Mia and Toni could have done differently to get a better outcome? I’d love to hear your comments.

If Workload Is Not the Culprit For Stress...What Is?

A relatively new area to hit the leadership literature is the concept of job crafting. Many organizations are leaning more on the individual worker to “craft” their job by changing everything from accomplishing tasks, to strategizing important relationships, and mapping business goals. This idea of “job crafting” actually has been cited in leadership studies as being aspirational and motivational, allowing the individual to self-actualize and find meaning and purpose in work.

Job crafting has been cited as increasing work productivity, employee engagement, effective problem solving, and overall employee performance. Before I even knew it was called “job crafting” I always thought of it as “just do what you need to do to get the job done." Be responsible. Be accountable.


An article in The Leadership Quarterly (the Bible of Leadership Studies) by Elizabeth Solberg and Sut Wong took on the question of what employees perceived as their ability to craft their job in the context of work overload.


In English: If I have work overload, do I feel I can do what I need to do to get my job done?

Job crafting is often classified as a proactive behavior and reflects traits such as self-initiation to bring about any needed change. However, it turns out that job crafting is not necessarily anticipatory. Most scholars view job crafting as a behavioral response to one's current work situation. Rather than being future-oriented and strategic about what work we have, most of us will just react to the load we currently face. It really is the “tyranny of the moment” that is a key factor in our ability to be able to craft the job into what we need it to be.


There are two important findings that come out of this study as it relates to job demand and role crafting. When employees are feeling the overload of work, their anticipation for a positive resolution and their leader’s need for structure are two very important factors.

As always in leadership studies, there is more than one variable that must be considered. When studying the leader one must also study the follower. When thinking about employee performance and work overload, the literature will support this idea.


It is a good idea to ensure you have people on your team who can be proactive in adapting and initiate change in order to relieve the work overload.

The follower needs to have some skill or trait in their overall ability to be able to manage change. There is an accountability and expectation that rests on the shoulder of the follower that when work overload is occurring they can cope, manage, and make proactive changes.

Point taken. Followers need to be accountable.


However, follower accountability is only half of the story. The other half of the story is how much control the leader exudes.

According to Dragoni and Kuenzi (2012), leaders engage in leadership behavior consistent with their own goal orientations, producing a work climate that influences their employees to adopt aligned goal perceptions. This research also shows that the more controlling the leader, the less willing the follower will be to exhibit autonomy and make changes that are needed to alleviate work overload.


If team members in your organization are overworked and feeling stressed, maybe it isn’t the workload to blame. Maybe it isn’t all of the quarterly tasks. Perhaps it is your need to control as a leader. If our need for structure across all time and circumstance is consistent, then in times of heavy workload, your workload is going to increase even more. Why? Because in order to get things right, the followers are going to need you to think for them. If, as leaders, we want to feel less stress or have more time to think and create, then perhaps letting go of control might be just the gift to give yourself and those on your team.

What can you as a leader do to loosen your control reigns? What value would giving your team more autonomy have on the overall effectiveness of your team?