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.

Reasons Why Your Goal Setting Isn't Working

Does training impact the ability for us as leaders to attain our goals?

Consider an inexperienced leader named Charlie. He shows up to work early, and stays late. He’s motivated to move from an individual contributor into his first front-line leader role, but he’s not sure how to make that happen. He’s getting grief from his wife for working weekends, and his heavy workload doesn’t ever seem to ease up. How can he move into a leadership role if he’s buried in his current role?

Charlie’s organization is offering a course on Leading with Emotional Intelligence and his boss is encouraging him to attend the class. Charlie feels conflicted. According to research, if Charlie puts this training in the form of a goal that has a useful future orientation, he is more likely to get the results he is looking for, rather than to put the goal in some prevention connotation.


New research that has just been published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies (Sadler, T., Gibson, S., Reysen, S. (2017), reports the effect of a leadership training program on consideration of future consequences. (Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 10(4), 35-42.)

To operationalize this a bit, let’s say that you have a team of leaders who are all functional experts; Human Resources, Engineering, Information Technology, Sales, Manufacturing, Marketing, Finance and so on. This team, in the past, while getting along personally has conformed to operating in silos. Each person does a great job of representing their own function to the face of the organization, but as a team they struggled to get the synergy that would propel them to the next level.

The sales leader in this case was always trying to maximize sales, and didn’t understand why Marketing couldn’t supply the customer segmentation data fast enough. And why did it take Engineering so long to get the prototype built and delivered to the client?  Engineering, on the other hand, was frustrated with Supply Chain who just couldn’t get realistic estimates on how much materials were actually going to cost.

The president of the organization, realizing the leaders were all doing a great job of representing their individual role, needed to function better as a team. She was encouraged by a colleague to explore the idea of a training program that would focus on team building.  

But would it be successful? Would the organization get synergy from the team development so that the return on the investment would be positive for shareholders?   A good question. A fair question.

Turns out the data is a little mixed on what should be expected.

A Little Background

It is no secret that organizations spend billions of dollars every year on training people in their organizations.  Everything from skill-based training, like how to weld two pieces of metal together, or how to write computer code. From more leadership oriented topics like Leading with Emotional Intelligence or Writing Your Own Leadership Story, to team building events.

Whether the training is skill based, or cultivating leadership in our organizations, the question always surfaces as to what is the return on investment.  Especially when you consider over $34 billion was spent in the United States in 2011 alone!

While it is impossible to calculate what the return is on the $34 billion, there is research that can help us determine if leadership type training is effective in helping leaders meet their goals. But it depends…

Goal Type

It turns out that when it comes to goals, leaders pursue attainment using one of two strategies:

  1. Promotion: concentrating the efforts of achievement on positive proactive and productive results.

  2. Prevention: targeting efforts on avoiding negative outcomes.

Let’s revisit our friend, Charlie. If his orientation is more to prevent something bad from happening or toward thwarting a negative future response, then his success in the training and as a future leader is in question.

How can Charlie (or his boss) orientate the training to as to get a more successful outcome for him as a leader? If Charlie says to himself, “I want to take this leadership training because it will help me be a better coach and mentor to others in the organization someday,” then the aspect to his goal attainment has shifted. He’s moving from individual contributor to organizational leader and that is what is going to help him get what he wants.

How are you orienting the goals of folks in your organization?  Are you creating a positive, futuristic orientation of hope for the future, or are you trying to prevent a failure?

Orientation of our thinking matters!

To Thine Own Self Be...Authentic?

To Thine Own Self Be...Authentic?

Self-expression is an element of emotional intelligence that is often misunderstood.

Are You Having This Kind of Fun as You Lead?

Spoiler Alert…There is a free offer at the end of this blog so if you like free stuff make sure you read through it. Hey, who doesn’t like free stuff?

I am traveling home after a great day yesterday with a very energetic group of young leaders. We spent the day discovering how our core values influence how we show up as leaders, how they inform our fundamental leadership principles, and ultimately how we want to be viewed as a leader by those we have impacted over the course of our career.

 It was a really impactful day!I know the course really had an impact on those who attended because of the comments they shared at the end of the day. However, I was personally impacted by the beginning of the day.

As is pretty common when a group of people doesn’t know each other, the leader of the organization asked each participant to take a moment and share their name role in the organization, where they live, and the most fun thing they did the past 7 days. It was really cool hearing 30 people introduce themselves and share what was fun for them. The stories were as diverse as the people in the room. Some went mountain biking, others went on dates with their kids, still, others had been to a concert or civic event. I wish I had space to list all 30 of them because I was just thinking what fascinating lives these folks live.

How about you? What is the most fun thing you have done in the last 7 days?

I have to admit it was fun just thinking about it. So, then, after about 15 minutes, everyone in the room had shared, and the leader introduced me as the facilitator for the day’s program, “Developing Your Leadership Story”.

I stood there smiling at them all, and before I said a word, I tried to make eye contact with each one of them. After about a 5 second pause I said,

“So what do you need to know about me that will help make your learning safe?”

Immediately someone in the audience responds, “Scott, what did you do fun in the past 7 days?” I thought, Yes! I am so glad they asked me that first instead of my education background or something boring like that. But then I had a choice to make because I had done two really cool things over the past 7 days!

  • My wife and I completed our first Dri-Tri at our Orange Theory Gym. It is a “Triathlon” of sorts where a team of three people compete in three events and then the total time to complete it is recorded.  My wife Kim took the toughest segment, completing a total of 300-floor exercises (40 pushups,40 squat taps, 20 Burpees, 80 step-ups, 40 crunches, 80 running man exercises.) Our friend Alecia did a 5K on the treadmill, and my contribution was a 2000 meter row.  It was fun to compete against 9 other teams, most of whom were at least 20 years younger than us. Kim and I really enjoy interacting with these folks at our gym and learning about their lives. 
  • My second choice was nothing but pure joy as well.  After the Dri-Tri, Kim and I went to Walmart (trust me that isn’t the fun part) to go Easter basket shopping for our granddaughter. We had a ball going through and picking out items, thinking about her, and what she likes to do. She is only 18 months old but already likes to color and use stickers, and loves Minnie Mouse. Kim and I must have spent at least an hour in Walmart just thinking about our precious granddaughter and what might make her happy. The experience was pure joy…and I really don’t like Walmart all that much.

What a choice! No bad option, but I had to pick one. I chose the Dri-Tri and had a lot of fun telling them about the experience.

But that meant the other great experience got left on the proverbial “editing floor,”

Until now.

So, since I didn’t get to tell the “Shopping For Easter Basket” story until now, I would like to do to make up for that loss. But how? I called my team, and my assistant, Brandi, said,“Why don’t we let our readers hunt for an Easter Basket on our new website?” I thought it was a great idea.

So, we are giving away TWO $25 Amazon cards for you to put in your Easter Basket!


Our Rationale

We are launching 3 new leadership assessment certification courses that I have been blogging about over the last 3 weeks.

Using Leadership Assessments with a Virtual Team

What Do Leaders Want From Their Followers?

What is Your Change Style?

We’re launching our new website to celebrate these new certification opportunities. This new site will contain all of our services, including the new assessment certifications.

How Do You Win?

  • Go to
  • Click around the site and search for the Easter Basket icons. There are two of them.
  • Once you find one, click on it and give us some basic information (Name and email)
  • We will randomly select one winner from each Easter Basket and send you an email so we can get your prize to you!

Leadership Link

By now some of you might be saying, “So Scott, what does this have to do with leadership?” I read your blog to get an insight or tidbit regarding some aspect of leadership and this blog seems to be talking about nothing but having fun and giving prizes.

And that’s the point.

Let’s put some fun back into leadership.

Happy Easter!

What is Your Change Style?

Stop and think for a minute. No really, slow down…take a deep breath...and think for an entire minute on this question:

As a leader, what is the single most important thing you are trying to change in your organization?

Okay. Do you have that ONE thing in mind? Now write it down.

In my work as an organizational consultant and executive coach I often work with leaders who have several things they are trying to change at the same time. They are trying to make their organization more efficient, more focused, to think in a new or different way.

It would be fairly easy to lead if you only had to make one change at a time, and you could do this in a linear and synchronous fashion. No one I know in leadership has this luxury. Change is all around you, coming at you from every side:

  • Budgets change
  • People change
  • Expectations change
  • Visions change
  • Customers change
  • Products change
  • Regulations change
  • Bosses’ minds change

And often all these types of change happen at the same time. Sometimes you are in complete control of these changes, and other times you feel like you are in more of a reactionary position.

No matter the type or the position you find yourself in, as a leader one thing is clear: Part of your calling is change! No one these days is interested in people who can lead the status quo.

Style Preferences

One of the things I have been thinking more about over the past several months is not necessarily the types of changes or even my level of control, but more so about how my team members and customers approach change. In our organization we have a lot of change going on:

  • We have added 2 new team members.
  • We are launching a new website the first week of April
  • We have taken on more organizational consulting projects (mostly team culture work)
  • We have added a new Stress Management course to our teaching repertoire.
  • We are doing executive coaching in new industries and with new clients.

Change is everywhere!

But I have been trying to focus less on the “what” that is changing and more on the “how” each person on my team responds to change.

Let’s face it. Some of you are change junkies. Change gives your brains a huge dopamine rush and you get an overwhelmingly positive feeling when things are changing. Some of you like to move so fast that you end up getting several steps ahead of everyone else and you are forced to slow down or lose others completely. Others of you realize change is eminent, but have more of a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race-approach.

Experts on change agree that while there is no “one-style-fits-all," each of us has an approach or style that we are more comfortable with when it comes to change.

Changes Style Indicator

A new tool that I have been using to better understand the change styles of the folks on my team is the Change Style Indicator. This is a simple and easy-to-use assessment that gives people a glimpse into their style preferences when they are faced with change. The assessment takes less than 10 minutes to complete, then you are scored on a change style continuum of three styles that represent distinct approaches when responding to change. The continuum ranges from Conserver Style to an Originator Style, with a Pragmatists Style occupying the middle range of the continuum.

I have found that working with my team in light of this assessment has really helped us to manage all the change we are facing in a more productive way. While this tool does not give any indication of whether or not we are good at change, or even if our styles are effective for the type of changes we are facing, what it does for me as a leader is:

  • Allows me to approach everyone on my team as an individual in the ways THEY like to approach change.
  • Get a much better feel for the underlying emotion and anxieties associated with the change.
  • Better understand some of the natural conflicts that arise between team members based on the changes they are facing.
  • Get better at responding, helping to enhance collaboration and even encourage the team to innovate.

But hey, don’t just take my word for it. I asked Michelle, who is new to my team, to answer a few questions on her perspective on the Change Style Indicator.

Michelle, how easy was this assessment to take and how long did it take you to complete it? The Change Style Indicator assessment was simple to take and only took me about 15 minutes, including the time to read the instructions. The questions are straightforward and ask you for the response that immediately comes to mind. There are no "right" or "wrong" answers, you are just asked to be candid in your responses.

What is one thing that you learned about yourself from the assessment that you didn’t already know? I have utilized several personality and communication style assessments, but I've never taken one directly related to dealing with change. I enjoyed reading the detailed results report, which indicated I am a "Pragmatist" with a "Conserver" orientation. This means that I prefer the kind of change that happens for practical reasons, and I want to make sure any change is a group effort, keeping in mind what is best for the team.

How do you see using this assessment as you Influence others on our team? The results report provided a useful outline of my strengths and weaknesses when dealing with change. This is a helpful for my work in the future as it gives me tools to explain to other team members how I can best contribute to change within our organization. If everyone on my team utilizes the Change Style Indicator, it can help us when planning our work so the assignments and expectations are tailored to suit the strengths and weaknesses of each team member.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be more influential as a leader in their organization? Self-awareness is an essential skill for any leader. When working with a team, you not only have to understand yourself, but also be able to adapt your style when necessary to get the best results with your group. The Change Style Indicator is a useful key to self-awareness in managing organizational change.

Thanks, Michelle! As you can see, simple tools like this can be quite effective in helping us as leaders to assess our teams and what the best approaches might be to maximize our change-opportunities.


I want you to go back to that change that you wrote down initially. Now think about all the people on your team who are affected by that change. What words would you use to describe the way they approach changes. I think really taking some time and assessing how people respond to change can make all the difference in how effective we are, as leaders, in making change happen.

If you want to know more about how you can become certified in this simple instrument to use with your team send me an email at and we will get some information your way.

What Do Followers Want From Their Leaders?

I have been thinking a lot recently about the dynamic relationship between leaders and followers. Primarily, my thoughts have centered around the fundamental concept of what it means for someone to lead me and what words best describe me as a follower, what I want a leader to contribute to my life. I don’t expect that what I am about to share will rock your world in any way. In fact, prior to reading on. why don’t you answer these questions for yourself, and then compare your thoughts to mine?

  • What does it mean for someone to lead me?
  • What word or words best describe what I want a leader to contribute to my life?

Let me tackle the second question first:


As I spent some time contemplating what I want a leader to contribute to my life, these four things came to mind:

  • Trust in the vision they are creating. I think there is an inherent assumption that if I am going to allow someone to lead me in some way, then I am going to invest my time, talent, and/or my resources working toward whatever picture of the future they have. For me, if I am allowing someone to have influence over my life in any substantial way, I have to have some assurance that they are credible and have access to the knowledge and skill to get us moving toward our desired future state.
  • Hope that the future is safe and abundant. While risk is inherent in any leader-follower relationship, I do think the Hippocratic Oath has merit not only in medicine but in leadership: First, do no harm. Resilience and optimism are both integral parts of the faith that we all put in leaders that have influence over us. We do not expect them to be perfect. It is reassuring that as we journey we will do it together and watch out for each other.
  • Love me for who I am and how I was created. I am not talking about romantic love, but a brotherly love. A kind of love that recognizes the influence a leader has over me and yet respects my value and recognizes how I fit into the organization. No matter what happens this leader will have my back and I have theirs. This love values my strengths and accepts my weaknesses, a love that shows compassion.

How about you? What words did you come up with that you want a leader to contribute to your life?

As I reflected and examined the question above I noticed that in each of the descriptions I wrote another word kept surfacing that is a perfect one-word description of what it means for someone to lead me:


Influence is the sum of positive (I choose to focus on positive rather than coercive) behaviors that you as a leader exhibit that have an impact on the choices I have as a follower.

As a leader, you have a vision you are trying to implement, and an idea for how to get there. As a follower of yours, I recognize that you have some kind of authority over me. You don’t need to flaunt it. You have some idea about the direction you want all of us to go. You recognize that we have choices and hence you must be adept at getting your vision clearly articulated. You must be skilled at getting your thoughts and ideas integrated and communicated into the social structure of the organization. Influence is the idea that I “buy in” to your thoughts and ideas and am choosing to come along with you. As time moves on you continue to have some degree of power over my choices in the form of increasing my faith, knowledge, experience, and my integration into the community you are leading. As leaders, we must never forget that while it may seem desperate at times for some followers, they do have a choice whether to remain under your leadership or not.

Influence is the idea that I “buy in” to your thoughts and ideas and am choosing to come along with you. As time moves on you continue to have some degree of power over my choices in the form of increasing my faith, knowledge, experience, and my integration into the community you are leading. As leaders, we must never forget that while it may seem desperate at times for some followers, they do have a choice whether to remain under your leadership or not. As a follower of yours, I really desire to align myself with the social norms you create. You don’t need to degrade me in public. As your follower, I know you are going to do things for me and expect things in return. Share what you expect and then work with me to see if I can hit your expectation.

What Is Your Influencing Style?

As you might have guessed, psychologists have been studying this idea of influence for almost 100 years. While some of the terms have evolved, the ideas supporting the original make-up of what it means to influence have remained fairly constant.

Using an Influencing Styles Inventory Assessment leaders can discover the style they prefer to use most often, the benefits of that style, and some of the traps that overuse or misuse can cause.

Click here to download a free example of an Influencing Style Assessment

This Influencing Style Assessment gives leaders the opportunity to obtain a certification to use with followers in their organization. This certification gives leaders and coaches a tool to find ideas and strategies for those in those in their sphere of influence to make them more effective.

Using The Influence Style Indicator

Angela is a new member of my team who is responsible for our marketing and social media efforts (you are reading this article, thanks to the hard work of Angela to get it out over many different media platforms.)  I asked Angela to take the assessment and answer some questions about the Influence Style Indicator so you could learn more about it

Angela, How easy was this assessment to take and how long did it take you to complete it?

It was very easy, I received an email with a link directly to the assessment, and I completed it in about 15 minutes.

What is one thing that you learned about yourself from the assessment that you didn’t already know?

I learned that it does not come naturally to inspire others when I am trying to influence, and I actually learned that I was wrong about what I thought it meant to inspire others with my influence.

How do you see using this assessment as you influence others on our team?

I want to be more inspiring when influencing our team. The assessment showed me what it means to inspire with influence, which brings unity to a team. I was given many practical examples for how to inspire in a constructive way that moves things forward. I learned that even though the style of influence I most often tend to use is in making rational appeals for why my leadership should be followed, I really feel that inspiration is something I'd like to work into my influence style. I would love to be someone who leads others in ways that make them feel hopeful about not only my leadership but also their personal well-being.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be more influential as a leader in their organization?

After taking this assessment, I would tell someone who wants to be more influential that they should really listen to themselves more closely when they are presenting their opinion on anything, not just in the workplace. Good influence is not just self-aware but requires a thoughtful care that often comes out through our words. There are many ways to influence, negative and positive, and when we are trying to influence others to go along with our plans, we can get so caught up in wanting to get our way that we do not stop to think about the best way to go about making that happen, and how to behave if that does not happen.

If you are interested in learning more about this assessment and how it can be valuable to your organization or your practice as a coach we would love to connect with you. 

Using Leadership Assessments with a Virtual Team

This article is the first in a four-part series for those who develop leaders to have more confidence and credibility.

Over the past 9 months at Livingston Consulting Group, we have been working on something pretty cool that I think many of you might find interesting, and possibly applicable to the leadership work that you do.

Here is Our Story

It all started with some conversations I was having with both my coaching clients and a few of the university students I teach in leadership development and executive coaching. At the end of my classes, I would get at least 3 emails from students saying something like, “I am getting a great education and will have a firm foundation for the direction I want my life to go. However, I feel like I am lacking the tools and resources to be successful.”

After having many phone conversations with these students about coaching, which often involved questions of process and procedure, coaching skill, sales and marketing, and practical development tools, I quickly saw needs and desires for leaders of all types:

  • those who coach others
  • those who shepherd others
  • those who counsel others
  • those who train others
  • those who consult with others
  • those who facilitate groups of others

The main message I heard as I talked with students and clients alike is that they desire to increase their credibility with those they serve. However, budgets are tightening, travel is becoming more restricted, virtual meetings are becoming a reality, and yet the leaders I talk with still lack quality tools to develop their followers.

Fast-forward to October of 2016: I am meeting with my virtual team (Brandi lives in Tampa, Angela lives in NYC, Michelle lives in Grand Rapids, Gretchen lives in Madrid, and Madison lives in Indianapolis,) and we are discussing Clayton Christensen’s book Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice. In the book, Christensen outlines his "theory of jobs" that details how organizations should decipher what job it is that they actually do for their customers.

As we are discussing this book, someone on the team asked, "So, what job are our customers really asking us to do?"

This was an easier question to answer in regards to the training and executive coaching that I do. But when it came to providing tools and resources to those who develop others we felt like…we were missing the boat.

So we worked on it.

And we decided that our mission and the job we perform is: to provide confidence and credibility to those who develop others.

The Next Step

I will not bore you will the details of launching this new endeavor, but the real highlight is that we will be offering certification in 4 new leadership assessments starting in April of 2017! Over the next few weeks, I will be giving you a peak into what these tools can do for you as a leader, as someone who develops leaders, or someone who is interested in becoming a leader.

Emerging Leader Profile 360

This week I will be highlighting an assessment called Emerging Leader Profile 360 Feedback (ELP 360.)

This assessment is an electronic 360-degree assessment for those in an organization who are showing leadership promise and want a development plan that takes them toward this vision. This tool allows their superiors, peers, and subordinates to give the emerging leader competency-based quantitative and qualitative feedback.

Click here to download a free sample of the Emerging Leader 360 Report!


Brandi’s Experience

Brandi has been on my team for about 18 months now. She is responsible for all of our internal operations. While she has been in leadership roles in the past, the experience she had was not as positive as one would hope. So we decided to provide her with the ELP 360 as she is quickly emerging as a real leader on our team.

I asked Brandi a few questions that I thought you might enjoy her response to:

What was your overall impression of the Emerging Leader Profile 360?

I was pleasantly surprised by the comprehensive evaluation of my leadership that the Emerging Leader Profile 360 provided. Not only was the feedback I received from my manager, peers, and direct reports insightful and helpful, but I also found the self-evaluation to be incredibly valuable as it forced me to slow down and really think about how I interact with my work responsibilities, my colleagues, our clients, etc.

How did you initially feel when I approached you about taking the Emerging Leader Profile 360?

When I was approached about taking the Emerging Leader Profile 360 I was both excited and a bit nervous. Self-evaluation of my leadership is one thing, but to open myself up to the evaluation of others on my team was a bit intimidating. Feedback is often the catalyst for growth, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn about my leadership from the perspective of those who work closely with me on a day to day basis.

What is the most significant thing you learned about yourself from this feedback?

The most significant thing I learned about myself from this feedback has to do with my confidence as a leader. Both my self-evaluation and the feedback I received showed that I tend to “panic” when confronted or challenged by others. In the workplace, there will inevitably be times of unavoidable confrontation. As a leader, it is important that I develop the confidence necessary to express my thoughts in a healthy way, even in challenging times, rather than shutting down or avoiding the conflict entirely.

How do you see this feedback accelerating your leadership abilities?

The insight from the 360 feedback has given me clarity around a few key areas where I can focus on maximizing my strengths as well as developing areas where improvement is needed. The feedback I received has given me a fresh and energized perspective and I look forward to the ways I will grow and develop my leadership as a result of this experience.

Brandi, thank you for your transparency in sharing what you learned about yourself and this process.

How about you, leader?

Do you need to have confidence and credibility with those you develop? If so stay tuned, we have more stories coming over the next few weeks, and in April you will be able to register to get certified in these exciting leader development tools!

When Negative Self-Talk Creeps In

A good friend of mine (and an avid reader and commenter on this blog,) Ken, submitted my name as a speaker for an organization he is affiliated with. He emailed me asking if I would consider giving a talk and facilitating a dialogue on the value of emotional intelligence (EI). I am always humbled when anyone thinks that I might have something valuable to say when it comes to EI. It is one of my favorite subjects to talk about, and I often use the EQi 2.0 in training programs I do and with almost every coaching client I work with does a self-assessment that shows them what their leadership habits may appear like to others.

Now, here is what you need to know about Ken. His job is to serve as a hospice chaplain in Polk County Florida. His request was for me to come and speak to a group of his peers and his boss on the subject of how EI can be of value to a hospital chaplain.

Gulp! I have to admit, the email produced mixed feelings in me. Like I said above, I was humbled for sure, but scared out of my pants as well. Hospice chaplains...really?! While I might know something about EI, my immediate “knee-jerk” reaction was, I don’t know anything about hospice chaplains!

Then the negative self-talk started to creep in:

  • You’re no expert in hospice care.
  • What do you know about how to fit EI into their world?
  • You have never even studied EI in this context, what if there is no data?
  • Your not a very good public speaker.
  • Maybe you should call him up and back out.

Now, am I the only one this happens too? When you are hit with a complex, tension-filled situation what do you do? Do you immediately become filled with fear, anxiety, and self-doubt? How do you stop the negative self-talk from creeping in and taking over your thinking?

Here is a quick and easy method that I use when this happens to me: I use an acronym I call "STOP." It is a four step method that helps me turn my negative thinking into a more positive and constructive use of my time and energy.


Stop: Do something to interrupt the cycle of negative thinking.

Take a deep breath: Breathing relaxes your tension, releases dopamine, and calms you down to think more clearly.

Other focused: Exercise empathy and become curious about what it is like to be in the other person's shoes.

Purpose a question: Asking questions can have a calming effect and bring you more into a zone of safety than one of fear.

Here is how the model helped me get rid of the negative thinking and increase my confidence in this situation:

When I first noticed the negative thinking creeping into my mind with the thought, you’re no expert in hospice, I should have taken the time to put this model into effect. Unfortunately, even though I teach this stuff, I got all the way down to, maybe you should call him and back out before I put this into practice.

Stop: Psychologists call this pattern interrupt. I noticed the negative thinking and I did something physical to draw attention away from the negative thought. In this case, I was sitting down when I read the email. When I finally noticed the negativity, I stood up. I concentrated on doing something different. Distract yourself away from the source of negativity.

Take a deep breath: When I stood up, I took several yoga style breaths. Focused on bringing my belly button to my spine. I actually could feel myself starting to calm down. This is often when I will also say a prayer, asking God for wisdom as I navigate these treacherous negative waters. I distracted myself from the negativity for a moment. That is the goal with this step.

Other Focused: I tried to take the thoughts off of myself and my shortcomings. I put my thoughts onto Ken and his team instead. I began to think, what might they need from a model like emotional intelligence? What value could it bring them? Notice the questions starting to form when I start to turn my thinking from self-referential to other-focused.

Purpose a question: I crafted an email back to Ken asking him, what are some common situations that hospital chaplains find themselves in where they need more EI? What had other speakers done that the chaplains found valuable? How had he used EI in his work as a hospice chaplain?

I noticed, then, that my fear and anxiety were dissipating into curiosity. I was moving from a lack of self-consciousness into a state of confidence by focusing on the value I could bring to this group of dedicated servants.

Self-Actualization and Optimism

According to authors Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book, EI always exists in balance. This is pretty easy to see when we think about a leader who is very self-confident but lacks any empathy or interpersonal ability. We often put a label on a leader who has this balance of qualities as being someone who is arrogant at best, and a real narcissist on the more clinical side of the psychology

In my case, I am usually a fairly self-perceptive person. This means that in part, I get a lot of meaning and purpose out of my life and the work I do. This is a real strength for me.

Most of the time I am optimistic, which means I have a positive outlook on the future and am fairly resilient in the face of setbacks. However, this ability can come into question, especially when fear or anxiety enter the stage. My optimism can turn into a negative downward spiral of self-critical thinking.

What I need when I am faced with these fears and anxieties is to balance my self-actualization and my waning level of optimism.

The STOP model helps me to put the brakes on the negative thinking, so I can use all the meaning and purpose I get in my life to teach and coach emotional intelligence, regaining my level of optimism.

I am happy to report that Ken and I have a call scheduled to talk through what value EI can bring to the hospice chaplains and the talk is scheduled for mid-April.

Homework: Where do fear and anxiety creep into your leadership? Can you anticipate when these events occur? When you feel your thoughts going negative, try using the STOP model to see if it can bring you back into emotional balance.

Leader: Spend Time Here as You Grow

"Who are you really, wanderer?” - William Stafford Reading more poetry lately has taught me that poets, gifted with this unique communication style, ask really penetrating questions. Stafford, an Oregon Poet Laureate, sends a penetrating question to us all in this quote: Wanderer, who are you? Really, who are you? This question begs a leader to self-examine, which is work that so many leaders just don’t want to spend the time to do.

Outer Life

So much of leadership development work is focused on the outer life these days, including things like goals to accomplish, skills to develop, or problems to be solved. The objective of this kind of work often seems to be gaining credibility and marketability.

We try to define who we are by what we do.

This includes the goals we have set, the objective measures we strive to meet, the problems we are able to solve. What item do I need to check off my list to give me that feeling of accomplishment and show others what I have done? How can I continue to justify my existence and the work I've been doing?

Now, those of you who read this column on any regular basis know that I am not opposed to outer work: development of skills and talents, the 'doing' part of who we are, the observable economy of leadership, the accomplishment of tasks, the progression of the agenda.

All of this kind of work is very important. I don’t want to minimize that.

I do not argue against improving on one's outer life, but want to point out that to focus only on this part of development is shallow and does not engage the entire person. My point is to challenge the leader to become more intentional about developing their inner life.

My motivation for this post comes from my own research on the subject of wisdom that I did a few years ago. I surveyed 185 executive coaches and asked them to validate 10 different parts of a wisdom model. They were to think about their work as an executive coach and were then asked if they thought the development of things like knowledge, experience, community, and courage were areas they would work to develop wisdom in organizational leaders. For most of the 10 aspects of wisdom we tested, roughly 70% of those surveyed said they did work to develop that attribute...except one.


Of the executive coaches I surveyed, 70% said that if the situation presented itself, they WOULD NOT work with a leader to develop this component of wisdom.

Stop and think about that for a moment: executive coaches who get paid to develop leaders said that if some topic of spirituality presented itself, they would turn themselves away from helping develop the leader in that area.

Spiritual inner work is so needed by leaders at all levels in organizations.

Why is Wisdom Spiritual?

When our 3 kids were in grade school, every morning as they were going out the door my wife would say to them, "remember who you belong to!"

On the surface, this quote could have many meanings. But for those of you who actually know my wife and have spent any time with her, those words could only have one meaning: "Hey, kids! Do not forget you are children of the King."

And those of you who know my wife also know she was not referencing me in her royal reminder to the kids of their position in life. She was telling the kids as they went out into the world that they are children of God.

In Stafford's poem he writes:

"Who are you really, wanderer?" and the answer you have to give no matter how dark and cold the world around you is: "Maybe I'm a king."

While to my knowledge my wife never met William Stafford, they are in some ways united souls declaring that each of us is indeed royal. We are all kings and queens.

So, wanderer, if you are a king, then you have the inner work of wisdom to do.

Inner Work of Wisdom: Developing the Spirituality of the Leader

I spent about an hour researching what workplace spirituality even means. Turns out there is a quite immense body of literature on the subject.

Generally, spirituality is seen as being comprised of two components. The first is a search for a connection with some transcendent force in the universe, and often that there is a being or force that most religious dogmas call God who calls the human soul back to himself after the death of the physical body.

The second is that humans have a spirit. This spirit of man is involved in finding meaning and purpose in life. This means that as human beings, one of the royal quests we are on is to grow into our full potential.

Considering these very broad thoughts, we then turn to the question of how to develop the spirituality of a leader. Are there important components to spirituality that affect us as leaders? If so, then we need to work on our spiritual inner life to be more effective and authentic at this thing we call leadership. Here are four items I pulled from the literature that may resonate with you on your inner life and spirituality:


This constructs a leader's thoughts and feelings. It is what the leader believes in regards to the most important things in life. Worldview recognizes that our speech is one thing, but our actions may be something entirely different, and often more important. For example, a devout Christian may talk about love on a Sunday morning but then act like the devil the other 6 days in the week. This will cause outside observers like Gandhi to make claims like, “I like their Christ, but not their Christian.”

For leaders, a worldview is more than just thoughts or a collection of ideas. A worldview is encapsulated in the vision set forth by the leader, one that has been simmering for years of learning and experience. This vision is not based on the scientific method or model, instead, the worldview of the leader answers questions about spirituality, the world, life paradox’s, human nature, social relationships, relationship to self. It is the very essence and core of who the leader is, and ultimately it is what the leader is constantly trying to reconcile actions with. For most it is so subtle we don’t even recognize it is there, but it is consciously calling our actions to align with it.

Leader-Follower Relationship

While humans live in social communities of about 150 individuals, we have deep and abiding relationships with very few members of our tribe. Doctors Steve Stein and Howard Book, in their book EQ Edge, define interpersonal relationships as those that are mutually satisfying for both parties. If a relationship is going to meet the needs of both individuals, a connection must be established beyond the physical realm. It is easy to recognize that when we connect with the closest relationships in our community there is, what is often described as, a spiritual connection. We have a deeper, almost transcendent connection with some close friends that includes a level of understanding between both parties that we can form with no other creatures on this earth.


Dr. Vern Ludden, in his groundbreaking research on wisdom in organizational leadership, claims that most religions and cultures recognize that wisdom is not developed individually, but in community with others. Dr. Mathew Lieberman, in his book Social, gives physiologic support for the importance of community by comparing the size of the human's brain to the size of other animals' brains. Most animals on earth have a brain just large enough to support the body it is confined with. Not so with humans; they have a brain 10 times larger than needed. Current thought is that this extra capacity, found primarily in the neocortex, is for humans to manage the complexity of the diverse relationships that exist in the communities we are a part of.

Acknowledging Imperfection

Some call this humanity. Who among us doesn’t realize that we all make mistakes? And yet who among us gives that benefit of the doubt to others? I, for one, am quick to want others to say "Don't worry, no one is perfect," when I do wrong, but you best hope you are not the person who cuts me off in traffic or tries to get into the 10-items-or-less checkout line with an extra jar of peanut butter. The spirituality of the leader needs to move beyond humanity and into exploring humility. As a leader, do you actually have the ability to humble yourself? Can you raise the status of others highly enough that they can be seen instead of you? What does it take for you to admit that you might be leading your team in the wrong direction? How easy is it for you to ask and listen instead of command and control?

Homework: Do any of the four elements above strike a nerve with you? Which one would you say you need to spend time reflecting on to grow your own leadership ability?

Reality Check: the Secret of Self-Reflection

I recently had a conversation with a young man interested in applying for his first leadership role. This young soul recounted all of his accomplishments to me: bonuses earned, awards won, and recognition given to him by his organization for his outstanding performance.

As he continued to try and convince me that he was ready to take this next step, I sat back and thought, why are you trying to persuade me?

The conversation was quite one-sided and seemed self-aggrandizing.

As I continued to reflect during the conversation, my thought turned, he's not trying to convince me, he's trying to convince himself! Even though he had received all of the reward and recognition, he knew in his heart of hearts he was not ready. His peers were being promoted around him, causing him to take on their call as his own.

My role as a coach is not to judge whether he is ready, my role is to help him explore his reality so that he can make informed decisions about his own life. After he stopped talking, we ate in silence. A long and very uncomfortable pause ensued, and I could tell he was starting to get uncomfortable. “You're not ready,” I said. My intention was not to judge him, but rather to shock his ignition and get him thinking.

He immediately became defensive. "What do you mean I am not ready? I have done this and this...." He started to give me his list of accomplishments again. I let him go on until it seemed he was out of breath. When he finished I said, “You have all the WHAT you need. You have the individual contributions. You have shown your skill and capability. I think you might be missing the HOW.”

“HOW? What do you mean by HOW?" he asked.

I turned to one of my favorite modern day philosophers, Parker J. Palmer, who wrote, “I now know myself to be a person of weakness and strength, liability and giftedness, darkness and light. I now know that to be whole means to reject none of it but to embrace all of it.”

My young friend was still trying to embrace all of his strengths as an individual contributor. He was still selling to himself the idea that these attributes were enough for him to lead others. He was also not being completely honest with himself or in his description of his accomplishments. He was grandstanding, and frankly, it made me uncomfortable just listening to it.

So I asked him, “Tell me about a time when you worked on a project that did not succeed."

Long, long silence again. I could tell he was stuck. The thinking in his head must have been like a game of chance: “If I tell him about an unsuccessful project then I admit failure and that looks bad, but if I don’t tell him then I look arrogant and that looks bad, too.” I could see the thoughts rolling around in his head like a pair of dice being shaken just before being jettisoned in a game of Craps. So I broke the feeling of awkward stillness…"You see, what Palmer is saying is that you have to know your whole self. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. Until you are ready to embrace your weaknesses, I don’t think you are ready to lead.” My message to him was that he needs to get really honest with himself.

“You need to think about HOW you accomplished your work, and frame your story around that, not the WHAT you had done in your career to that point."

My Morning Reflection

Many of you know that I try to spend my mornings in quiet reflection and meditation prior to starting my day. Many days I will do some type of Scripture reading to accompany this reflection. I love it when the topic of my reflection shows up later in my day. The day of the above conversation was such a day.

Prior to my talk with this young leader, my quiet meditation had been with the biblical character Moses. When I think of Moses I cannot help but think of the Charleston Heston caricature in the movie The 10 Commandments. In my mental picture, Moses is standing on the rock, staff held overhead, as the wind and clouds swirl around him and the Red Sea in front of him splits open like a zipper separating two sides of a jacket. Powerful, in control, strong, mighty….Moses.

But my study that morning showed a different side of the biblical character. God is having a conversation with Moses trying to convince him that he is the guy to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery. Moses, who had been raised as the son of an Egyptian Pharaoh, felt self-righteous enough as a young man to kill an Egyptian and vindicate a fellow Hebrew. Rather than face the conflict of what he had done, he ran from that life to be a shepherd and a bit of a nomad in the wilderness. Then, forty years later Moses encounters God in a burning bush. God says he wants Moses to go and lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt.

Moses reply is just classic, “Who am I?"

According to Dr. Ken Boa, this question revealed a radical change in Moses. From radical impulsive youth to a middle age man feeling inadequate for the task.

Moses had come to grips with the totality of his humanity. From knowledge of his strengths to understanding the depth of his weakness. This level of self-knowledge is what Palmer calls “embracing one's wholeness." It is this wholeness that allows a leader to balance their strengths and weaknesses, their confidence and self-assurance, with empathy and compassion.

Emotional Intelligence*

What I love about using emotional intelligence as a leadership model is that it allows leaders to see inside themselves so that no strength is overplayed and no weakness is swept under a rug. If we are going to lead, then our followers deserve to know us as leaders, including what our dreams and visions entail for those we will lead. Any employer who is going to pay you for your service deserves to know the entire story of what they are getting. If they don’t align with your vision or story, then the role just is not the right one for you. Move on. The right role will come about and you will be much happier.

It is not only prudent but also critical that any candidate for leadership understand this emotional intelligence leadership model and the value it can bring for self-reflection and communication of HOW one goes about leading others. Current research suggests that between 15% and 45% of work success can be attributed to emotional intelligence. If such a large proportion of how a person is going to perform in a role is dependent upon their emotional intelligence traits, then candidates for leadership need a working knowledge of these attributes.

In a study of 4,888 people in various occupations, researchers were able to identify key emotional intelligence attributes in various job functions such as general sales, marketing, senior managers, and human resource personnel. These key traits come together like ingredients in a cake recipe to give the interviewer a better idea of how a candidate might perform in the future.

As I studied this research there were two emotional intelligence competencies that stood out to me as vital for roles in leadership across organizational types (non-profit, business, government, education) and job functions: self-actualization and self-regard. Realize this is a broad, meta-stroke across data. Every role will have emotional intelligence competencies that lend themselves to more successful outcomes.

Self-actualization, the ability to realize your potential capacities.

Lewis Carroll writes in Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Self-actualization is about being involved in pursuits that lead to a meaningful, rich, and full life. Leaders who self-actualize let go of things that are not important and can focus on what brings meaning, purpose, and fulfillment to themselves. Friends who have in career counseling often tell me that people they coach dwell far too much about how much money they will make.

I have to admit, I just had this conversation with my own coach. I am in the research stages of writing another book and I shared with him that I wasn’t sure the work was going to provide enough revenue to even break even with my time. “So what?” he replied. "Do you need to write it? Does the information have to be shared? Then write it and stop worrying about who will read it or what they will pay for it.” Sage advice!

I am now giving the same to you, young and experienced leaders alike. Follow your dream, follow your heart, follow your passion. Money may or may not follow, but happiness will. Isn’t that what you want to make all that money for anyway?

Reflection Question: What are you doing to develop enjoyable and meaningful activities that reflect a lifelong effort and an enthusiastic commitment to long-term goals?

Self-regard is seen as the ability to respect and accept yourself.

Essentially, liking yourself the way you are. This competency ensures the leader has enough self-confidence that others would want to follow. That his/her self-worth is balanced with enough empathy that the leader is going to be able to get through good times and bad.

Elanor Roosevelt is famous for saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

People who have positive self-regard have a real sense of identity and work to overcome feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. In order to lead others, you must have enough confidence to lead yourself. Then, you must have enough empathy to realize that leadership is not about your identity, but your relationships with your followers that matter.

Appreciate your positive qualities and accept your limitations. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and still like yourself, “warts and all.” If you don’t, why should they?

Reflection Question: What value would it provide for you to understand your strengths, and what would it feel like for you to embrace your weaknesses?

Homework. Spend some time in quiet reflection using the two questions posed above. What impact will a reality check on your self-actualization and self-regard have on your ability to lead or obtain your first leadership position?

*Full disclosure. I am a certified master trainer using the EQi 2.0 published by Multi-Health Systems. This is the emotional intelligence model I use in all of my coaching and leadership development work. All definitions I use come from this model.

Are You Listening to This Voice In Your Leadership?

Every leader needs a voice who will speak truth to 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 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?

Receptivity of the Leader

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.

5 Actions you can work on today

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?

If any of you would be interested in joining a group on what it means to develop the soul of the leader send an email to My assistant will coordinate a time for us to talk about your interest and what a group like this will look like.


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 Undo Your Stinking Thinking

I have to thank my younger brother Eric for sharing the term “Stinking Thinking” with me. To me,  Stinking Thinking is that place we all get to from time to time that cannot quite be called foolishness, but you can sure see it from there. You can actually feel that your logic is off, but you have been too loud or too insistent, and now you are stuck in your line of thinking. Those times when folks might say to you, “have you been drinking?” and you haven’t had a libation in weeks. Stinking Thinking is when others are trying to get through to us that our line of reasoning just isn’t resonating. Have you ever been there?  I know I sure have.  I can remember years ago when I really wanted a sports car. I talked it up at work and convinced my wife we could afford it. I looked and looked for just the right car that made just the right statement.  I finally found a jet black, low miles, 5 speed Mazda RX7 that I could not live without.One Saturday my wife took our minivan and left me at home with our 3 adorable children, which mean that when I had to leave the house I needed to get myself and all three kids in the 2-seat sports car….I think you get the picture.

WHAT WAS I THINKING? A relatively intelligent, socially functional, hard working person just made a decision to buy a car that didn’t fit into his lifestyle at the time…this is Stinking Thinking.

Since our thinking has such a profound effect on our judgment, I researched how many decisions the average person makes in a day. The popular number on the internet is 35,000. This number is quoted by sources like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Stanford University.  I couldn’t validate that number from any recent study that was peer reviewed. Since I can not support the number 35,000 from the literature, can we agree, for argument's sake, leaders make lots of decisions every day?

The actual number of decisions we make in a day is not nearly as important as the quality of the important ones.

Regardless of the decision-making model you use (there are hundreds of them), they all begin with some input. Decision-making processes are active and continually evolving.  Since leadership brings with it both responsibility and accountability, there is no one better than you, the leader, to assess and clarify the kind of data you want to bring into your process.

“It is possible to obtain a high score on an intelligence test and then turn to astrology or palm reading when making decision” -Diane Halpern

The time to really assess if a decision is good or not is at the beginning of the process. Decision making should not turn into PowerBall Lottery where you just pull in some random data points and check your numbers in the morning. And yet in my work with leaders, I see this all too often. Really smart, highly educated, likable folks do really silly things. Often times the quote I hear behind closed doors is, “I can’t believe I really did that." While the assessment is of the decision result, as we dig deep into the situation we find that at the core of the misjudgment are often faulty input assumptions.

Since we all succumb to this irrationality from time to time, I wonder what your Stinking Thinking usually looks like.

Take this Decision Making Quiz

Which of these Stinking Thinking traps do you fall into most often?
  1. I am good at predicting the future
  2. My opinion matters more
  3. I have an excellent memory
  4. I am reacting to a single data point
  5. I am being completely rational

Here are some of the more common pitfalls I observe from the quiz above.

I Can Predict the Future

In the book The Undoing Project author Michael Lewis does a masterful job of describing the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.  In the first chapter of the book, he tells the story of Daryl Morley whose job it was in 2006 to predict how a 19 year old  basketball player would perform in the NBA. Morley equated this to predicting where the price of oil will be in 10 years. Even though Morley had a statistical mind and the tools of an expert, his boss would want certainty from him for the decisions he was making on the team's draft choices. “I have to tell him certainty ain’t coming."

So many leaders, who have had so much success can fall into the trap that based upon past experiences when they got it right.

My Opinion Matters More

The person with the most ____________ (money, experience, knowledge, positional power, authority, credibility) knows the best.  You start to think that since you are the most influential your opinion carries more weight. Bringing biases to the input part of the decision-making process is where it gets off track. While on the surface few leaders would ever make any of these self-proclamations, the evidence to support this kind of thinking is all around.

The same result can occur in groups. The psychological term is “enclave deliberation.” What happens during enclave deliberation is that as a group of like-minded people discuss opinions with each other, the conversation becomes more extreme. I recently entered into a climate change discussion with a small group of folks where a vocal supporter of the issue started the discussion with “anyone who disagrees with the evidence that science brings is just a fool.” How is that for starting an open dialogue with a team?

Experts suffer from this pitfall as well. Noted psychologist Amos Tversky (of Prospect Theory fame) said, “whenever there is a simple error that most laymen fall for, there is always a slightly more sophisticated version of the same problem that experts fall for.”

My Memory is Perfect

This one probably speaks for itself.

Ten years after the brutal attacks on the twin towers on September 11, 2001 researchers asked people what they remembered about the events of that day. While the details of the memories were better than on an “ordinary” day, they were not completely accurate. Turns out humans fill in missing information with what fits their own belief system.

The Issue Has Become My Identity

Research has shown that people are more confident about being right when the events are highly emotional. People believe that their memory for highly emotional events is better than it is. As the issue at hand becomes more personal, the emotion increases, people start to identify with their issue. I think we are seeing this as a dividing factor in our own country right now. Rather than stepping back and thinking they are becoming emotionally attached to a single issue that is defining them, the thought now is that if you attack the issue, you are attacking me personally. This causes polarity.

I Am Being Completely Rational

"It's not how smart you are that matters, what really counts is how you are smart." -Howard Gardner When our thinking has evolved to the point that we have become so prideful that there is no space to be wrong, we rationalize to support a preferred conclusion.  As leaders, when we get to thinking that there is no possible way we wrong, all sorts of warning lights should flash in our heads.

It turns out that rationalization is not always deliberate. People don’t intend to do it, but it is insidious and can creep up on you. Thinking we have omniscience is a dangerous human fallacy that can quickly lead to foolishness.

Undoing your Stinking Thinking

Here are 5 methods that you can use to undo your Stinking Thinking

  1. Let go of the past - Just because you were successful in doing something 15 years ago doesn’t mean that the world stopped turning. Use your experience to inform your decision about what is different in the situation and circumstance from your past achievement.
  2. Identify the real problem - My friend Dr. Patricia Scott wrote a great book called, “Getting a Squirrel to Focus." It is way too easy for us to become distracted on ancillary issues that we forget what the real thing is we are deciding.
  3. Stop and ask - Barbara Kingsolver says, “Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin." Practice the art of humble inquiry. Stop and ask others if the way you are remembering events is the way they remember it. It probably won’t be exact, but it might be one step closer.
  4. Separate yourself - Psychologists call this dissociation. Try this. Take the point of view opposite of yours. Create arguments for it. Research it. Study it. Separate the emotion from the information. Now come back to the issue. Do you still feel as strongly as you did before?
  5. Practice humble listening - When you feel that you are at the end of your rope with someone, murder is not an option, and you can’t avoid the relationship, humbly set your ego and pridefulness aside and try to gain the other person's perspective.

How about you? Do you have any successful methods to share that you use to undo your Stinking Thinking?

Is This Leadership Question on Your Mind?

It happens every year. Around the second week in January, just when I am recovering from my holiday vacation, my lovely wife of 32 years will ask me a very pointed question. It is a question that comes from her desire to know me and connect more deeply with me. Her question is:

“Scott, what is your word for the year?”

The answer gives her peace about where I am in life. I do not see it as a nagging question. Her intention is not meanness, nor is it meant to put me on the spot, although, it is direct. Her intention is to to get me to focus. To be honest, I like the question, it is deeply reflective of where I am at the moment, and what I am thinking about our future.

If you read this column with any regularity, you know I like to talk and write on a number of leadership-oriented topics. I am interested in many things. I love sports, reading,  running and walking, and sitting around. I like sushi and steak (hamburgers are my favorite!) I listen to smooth jazz and “that Old Time Rock and Roll.” I love God, and people who screw up all the time. I guess you could say I am a classic Jack of all Trades, Master of None. I tend to bounce around a lot.

That said, it is totally fair that my wife wants to focus my attention. She deserves to know a single avenue I am going to go down in any given year. What am I going to concentrate on? What can she ask me about from time to time to see how I am doing?

In years past I have had words like:

Family Vacation Perform Read Persevere Wisdom

Last year my word was commit. I had a lot of business opportunities, and I really needed to focus on the next step to take in growing my business. The biggest need I had to meet as a leader was to commit to something and stick with the plan. I am the kind of guy who has an idea for a new book about twice a day, but who gets bored easily so that the book I thought about writing in the morning doesn’t seem nearly as interesting as the book I thought about writing in the afternoon.

2016 was a year I needed to commit to something and see it through to the end.

Powerful Leadership Question:

Why is having a Word For The Year such a powerful concept?

Perhaps the idea is best summed up by something I read recently about presidential inauguration speeches. After analyzing all the inauguration speeches given by the 44 U.S. presidents, researchers found an inverse correlation between the length of the speech given and the historical success of the president. In simple terms, the shorter the inaugural speech, the better the president. For example, Washington’s second speech came in at just 135 words. Jefferson, Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson all are credited with short speeches. After a quick Google search, I found that the longest speech belongs to William Henry Harrison who spoke for 1 hour and 45 minutes using over 9,000 words. He also delivered the address in a snowstorm, came down with pneumonia, and died a week later.

Brevity Has its Benefits

A Word of the Year can be a pin-pointed theme for your year. These attributes are what I look for when I am choosing my Word of the Year.

  • Focused. This word keeps me grounded and centered. Since I have such an ability to stray off topic and chase rabbits down trails, The Word For the Year gives me a central point to return to often.
  • Measurable. I can easily set goals around my word of the year. This allows me to be intentional and look for examples of how I am displaying my commitment in my life.
  • Simple. Since it is only one word, I do not get distracted by complicated plot twists. It is easy for me to remember what I am trying to focus on in that given year.
  • Memorable. While I am not completely losing my mind (some on my staff might disagree with this,) I find that it is easier and more efficient to search my mind for one word I want to remember than for some phrase or quip.
  • Communicable. My word of the year is easy for me to communicate to others. The message is much less likely to get lost in translation if I keep my thoughts to one word.

My Word for 2017

This year the focus of my leadership life is contentment.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear this word? Lazy? Complacent? Comfortable? Peaceful?

For some, this word probably sends shivers up your spine. You may be saying something like, “interesting word for a guy who runs his own business!”

However, when I was researching this word I started with its definition. Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and satisfaction. This does not mean that I stop trying, it does not mean I won't try my very best. In our company, we have adopted a verse from the Bible that says, “Whatever you do, work at it as for the Lord and not for men.” It reminds us that we need to have an attitude that reflects the work we do, which has an element of spirituality to it.

So, in no way does the word contentment mean complacent, or indifferent, or even comfortable!

What it does mean to me is that at the end of the day, when I finish the work I set out to do, or even if I don't get everything done that I hope to….I will be content. When I really want to meet with someone for an hour, but who only has 15 minutes instead, I will be content with the time I get. If I put a bid in on a project I really want to do and I don’t get the work, I will be content.

My real goal here is to put my very best effort in, knowing that I can be happy knowing I did my best. I don’t think contentment excludes self-examining where I could do better, nor does it mean accepting mediocrity. That is not my best. I will NOT be content if I do something without giving it my all.

The reason I chose contentment as my word of the year is to remind me that if I have done a good job, finished the race, and done the best I could with the talent and effort I have, then I should be content.


What is your word of the year? Have you ever thought through something like this? What kind of focus would this bring to your leadership life if you committed yourself to defining your year by one thing? Comment with your word and definition below so that we can connect throughout the year about how our words of the year are shaping us in 2017!

Do You Make These Mistakes in Leadership?

I was having a conversation with a really close friend the other day. This person is a high-level leader who has a lot of autonomy in his role. He can make many decisions that can affect many lives. His board of directors gives him a lot of latitude to direct the vision and mission of his organization. His team loves working with him.

He knows leadership. He not only articulates this in the way he speaks, but I can see the actions of his life. He is:

  • Self-aware and others-aware.He knows his strengths and weaknesses, and is not afraid to admit when he doesn't know something. He is keenly aware of how others are presenting themselves.
  • Communicates vision. He repeats the vision for his organization over and over and over. I mean, if you are part of his group and cannot articulate what the organization is about, then you must be trying not to understand. You might not like it, You might not agree with it, But there is one thing for sure…You HAVE HEARD IT!
  • Displays cognitive and emotional intelligence. He is smart enough to be in his role and knows when his emotions are in play and how to manage them.
  • Balances task and relationship. He realizes that leadership is about both Leaders have followers and they need to work together to create the organization's vision.
  • Understands positives and negatives of culture. He knows that culture has both cool stuff about it and warts, and that is all just part of the cultural paradox.
  • Change Matters. He moves his team forward because he knows if he stands still, they become irrelevant. He is keenly aware of dynamics of change like conflict, stress, and speed.
  • Strategic and systematic thinker. He has a strong ability to know what the root issue is that needs to be addressed. He listens compassionately to all concerns and can keep his team focused on what the whole organization needs.
  • Spiritually connected. He interacts with people showing both grace and mercy at appropriate times and has a strong moral compass.

He both knows leadership and acts as a leader. As you can tell, I am a fan. I am not in any way saying he is perfect, just that when it comes to leadership he really gets the core essence.

The Conversation

Our dialogue was actually quite short. Neither of us had much time that day, but the conversation was about something very important to both of us. We both are members of an organization that is struggling. Its current leadership has been in place for a few years.

Leading this organization is in no way easy. What is easy is to sit back (like I am doing) and be critical.

My intention is not to be negative or critical but to turn some of our observations of this organization into a learning moment for all of us.

Here are 5 leadership mistakes we quickly identified. Perhaps you could use this list as a reflection of where you are in your own leadership.

The Mistakes

  • Personal Agenda. The leader has become emotionally attached to his initial vision and doesn’t seem to be allowing himself the capacity to learn.
  • Incremental Change. The leadership team has gotten into the weeds of the change that is needed. They are too focused on the tactics of making the change happen rather than staying strategic and delegating. This is causing the change to be micromanaged and blame is starting to occur.
  • Spirit of Defensiveness. When strategy gets questions and an answer is given confidently. When people want more depth, the same answers are given only louder and with more extraversion. This behavior is turf-protection rather than a spirit of openness and curiosity.
  • Vision possibility. While the vision for the organization is inspirational, it is one that is hard to relate to the practical. While inspiration carries with it emotion and cultural comfort, a vision has to do more than give a feeling of eating “Momma’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes." George Bernard Shaw gets attributed with one of my favorite vision quotes that makes the distinction between inspiration and possibility: “you see things; and you say, ‘why'. But I dream things that never were; and say 'why not!’.”
  • Lack of personal awareness. Perhaps the biggest issue is that many people tell this leader he is great all the time. I think he has started to believe it. While I am sure he feels some pressure in the role, my concern for him is that he is falling prey to the invulnerability fallacy.
  • The invulnerability fallacy. Because he has risen to the top, and many in the organization were excited he took the role, nothing can go wrong for him.


It is good for all of us to get really honest with ourselves from time to time. If you are sitting there telling yourself, “Well none of this happens to me so I am doing well," then perhaps you are suffering from the fallacy of thinking that you are all-knowing. I think as leaders we need to constantly be challenging ourselves across a number of leadership domains.

I think as leaders we need to constantly be challenging ourselves across a number of leadership domains. This is one of the reasons that coaching is so important. Every leader needs to have a voice who will speak truth to them. Who can help them see things that are not obvious. It is very difficult for someone who is internal to the organization and wants to stay, to deliver meaningful, long-term feedback. Once in awhile, someone will speak one word of truth, but very few will have the intestinal fortitude to continue on. This is one of the real values that coaching can bring. Hopefully, you are working with a coach, and this coach is providing you the challenge you need in your leadership life.

Every leader needs someone in their life who will keep them honest and humble, who doesn’t have much to lose in delivering bad news, a trusted voice who can lead the leader out of the wilderness, someone you can put your faith in because you know they have your best interest in mind.


I have given you 8 positive leadership dimensions and 5 things that can go wrong in leadership. Do a reflective assessment of your own leadership. Not that these two lists are in any way definitive, but use them to think, reflect, and assess what your leadership looks like. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. 

5 Research-Based Tips for Meeting Your 2017 Goals

By now most of you will have set some goals that you want to achieve in 2017. The problem for most of us is not setting goals, but maintaining the inertia we need to keep moving toward reaching them. The idea for this blog actually comes from a goal I set in December that I did NOT achieve. Reflecting on that disappointment, I wondered what research shows about failing versus reaching the goals we set.

Here is my story and the top 5 tips I came up with. I would love to hear from you if you have any experience using any of these or have any more to share.

My Story

Many of you who know me, or have followed these musings for any amount of time, know that I believe the leader's spiritual and physical health is vital to overall leadership success. As a part of my own physical health plan I try to exercise every day during the week, and if I am in training for a race (usually a half-marathon) I will do a longer run on the weekend. One of my exercise outlets is a gym called Orange Theory. I really like this gym because it is a one-hour intense workout that combines cardiovascular and strength workout in a cross-training and muscle-confusion format. The other thing I really like about this company is that they provide me with my personal data for every workout.

I am a research and data junky. I always want to see things from a scientific and rational perspective. In the attached photo, you can see the kind of email report I get from every workout I do at Orange Theory. This particular workout was my last of the year and was a little unusual in that it was 90 minutes instead of my normal 60-minute sweat fest.

After getting an email like this one towards the end of November, I noticed that I had burned 12,000 calories that month. Pretty cool! I decided I would love to burn 15,000 calories in the month of December. I thought, "I don’t have a lot of travel in December, so I can get to the gym more often, so let's see if I can do it." As you can see in this graphic, I fell 320 calories short of my goal.

Needless to say I was disappointed. I really like winning, and I like hitting goals. I was actually kind of disappointed. I know several of you would say things like, “look on the bright side you worked out X number of times in December and burned 22% more calories than November. Scott, reframe this as a win!" I know that if I were coaching YOU, this is what I would do.

However, that wasn't helping me. I didn’t hit the goal! So, I decided to do some reflecting and look into the literature for some guidance. Here is what I came up with.

5 Tips

1.Beware of Over-Certainty. Make Your Goal Doable. When I set my goal of 15,000 calories I was sure I could do it. My workout on November 30th was about 895 calories and I thought I could workout about 17 days in December based on my schedule, giving me a total burn of 15,215 calories. That seemed like no problem because I thought I might even be able to get 18 or 19 workouts in.

I am finishing a fantastic book right now called UnDoing Project by Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Blind Side, The Big Short, Liars Poker.) In it, Lewis recounts the relationship between Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow) and Amos Tversky who wrote some remarkable studies on the human decision-making process. Lewis reminded me that one of my mind's best tricks is to make me feel too certain about things that are actually uncertain. The key to making a good goal is understanding all the variables that go into the goal and what your past history has been. Because according to Kahneman and Tversky data will tend to regress toward the mean. In this instance, the average number of workouts I usually do a month, 12, and the average number of calories I burn, around 825. My certainty was off about both how often I could workout, and how many calories I could burn. A more realistic goal for me would have been around 11,000 calories, which would have been roughly a 10% increase in calorie burn.

The lesson I learned from this is that when setting a goal, I must make sure I am using data that is a true representation of what I usually do and then project a reasonable increase from this. If I start with extreme that I may only have reached one time, then I will be setting unrealistic and unattainable matter how badly I want to reach them.

2. Coaching Matters. In his book Social, Matthew Lieberman makes a convincing argument that the human brain is much bigger than it needs to be to sustain the body it drives. Most animals have brains that are equipped just enough to drive the body to which they are attached. Lieberman calls this study of brain size encephalization. The claim is that the human brain is for much more than just sustaining its body. The research is showing that this extra capacity is for things like intellect and socialization. You were built for relationship, so doing things like pooling resources (cooperation,) and spurring one another along (encouragement) are all functions of our advanced neuro-anatomy.

Now my gym, Orange Theory, does this well by having a coach at every workout class. They are motivating, instructional, and inspirational. The problem I see in the way I set my calorie-burning goal is that I did not sit down and articulate my goal out loud to a coach who could have worked with me, tracked my performance, given me encouragement along the way. I tried to go it alone.

Have you ever tried to keep a goal a secret while trying to reach it? I find this very difficult. Next time I will say my goals out loud and have my coach hold me accountable.

3. Perseverance. Most goals are exciting to go after at the beginning, and when you get toward the end and can see the finish line we can find our way to the end even if we are exhausted. But it is in the middle where most goals are won or lost.

In her book Grit, psychologist Angela Duckworth makes an absolutely brilliant observation about this.

Effort counts twice. It seems like we are all gifted with some talents and when we apply some effort to this we obtain skills. It makes sense but that is only half of the equation. It is the skill we obtain applied with more effort that equals achievement.We all know people with a lot of talent who just don’t work hard enough, for whatever reason, at hitting their goals. It is this perseverance that seems to matter twice as much as the talent we are born with. Duckworth uses the same quote from Fredrich Nietzsche that I use with my doctoral students.

Do not talk about giftedness or inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness, became ‘geniuses’…they all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.

I needed to a better job in the middle of December. When I go back and look at my workouts, I see that there are a few of them where I didn’t give enough effort. I fell about 50 to 75 calories short. As I reflect on the lackadaisical performances I recall what I said to myself, “No worries, I will make it up next time.” Well, if I string together 3 or 4 of those it becomes an entire workout that I'm short, and then I am seriously behind

Stay strong in the middle. Persevere (This is a great place for a coach to help hold you accountable.)

4. Create a Fresh Start Effect-The fancy name for this in the psychology world is "temporal landmark." The basic idea is that the human brain has a hard time keeping a lot of detail straight over a long period of time. Temporal landmarks take complex relationships and associate what must happen and when in order to achieve the outcome.

In the world of goal setting, temporal landmarks become mini-goals or check-in points. You set your big goal, and then break it down into smaller steps you will take along the way. You document what to do and when for each small step. Then you use each of these way-points as a fresh start toward your new goal. Perhaps you have a small celebration for what you have accomplished. You assess where you are, and strive as hard as you can to the next waypoint.

When I set my very aggressive calorie goal I needed to set weekly calorie burn check-ins. Rather than just get my data report and then not think much more about it, I needed to use this data, celebrate my success and then set my eyes on my waypoint for the next week. Each week then becomes a Fresh Start as I work toward completing a long goal that can get overwhelming, especially in the middle.

5. Hope As a Strategy. I know many of you will disagree with this point. You see hope as some whimsical illusion. A fantasy that is devoid of structure and process. If this is your definition of hope then I understand why you disagree.

Let me offer another definition, though. The leadership literature defines hope as “a cognitive set that is based on a reciprocally derived sense of successful goal-directed determination and pathways [planning]" (Adams et al, Applied Theory In Workplace Spirituality, p. 367). So in this definition hope, hope is the way that we think about goals and how to reach them.

The research by Schulmann and others has found that a person's ability and motivation are not always enough to achieve desired performance. Positive expectations, especially in situations where persistence is required to overcome adversity, are a requisite.

It seems that a positive mental stat is a vital component of hope, one in which motivation provides the energy for persistence toward goal achievement.

So, while hope may not be a good strategy by itself, it seems it is vital to have in order to engage in the strategy set before them. I think it is fair to say that even if you have the best strategy in the world, but no hope, lack of performance is predictable.

One of my favorite quotes from the bible is found in Proverbs the 29th chapter in verse 18; “Without a vision, people perish." Any vision crafted by a leader or organization must include a sense of purpose and hope. Without hope being a part of your strategy the people will fade away. Oh, they may collect their paycheck, but the likelihood they will hit their goals is greatly diminished.

As I reflect on missing my goal of 15,000 calories in the month of December, I wish I had included more positive thinking about my goal. I know I had a lot of determination, but I was not as focused on the positive benefit of the goal, only grinding it out for the sake of reaching it. I think I could have used a dose of hope to support my journey.


Why not examine a goal or two you have set this year. Can you learn anything from the mistakes that I made in the past and give yourself a better chance for a positive outcome?

How to Predict Success in 2017

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season! I know I sure did.  My time was spent with family and catching up with some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. One of the conversations I had over the holidays was with a friend from graduate school who is sensing some transition in his life. He asked a question during our coffee that I actually get asked by a lot by folks who are desiring a change in their life:

“Scott, when you first got started, what are 3 things you think allowed you to be successful?”

First, I want you to know that I am humbled to be put in a category where others see me as successful. It is truly an honor that the clients I work with (or have worked with in the past) would continue to hire me to develop the leadership in themselves or others within their organizations. I don’t take this responsibility lightly or for granted…ever!

Second, I think attempting to replicate another person's experience is dangerous. Models are built upon data and a number of assumptions. The assumptions I used and the situation I was in when I first started this business 15 years or so ago could not possibly be duplicated by others today. Although I can provide some information that is directionally helpful, trying to replicate my experience would be quite frustrating.

Clayton Christensen echo’s this point in his book Competing Against Luck. He tells the story of how Google attempted to use analytics to predict influenza outbreaks. By creating search engine algorithms, engineers tried to predict when people were searching for items related to influenza. It turns out that the link between specific search terms and the algorithm was too complex and the tool became unreliable as a predictive.

Reframe the Question

While it is always an honor and fun to share my story, I don’t think my story is really what people want to know! I get asked a lot about my experience, but what people are really asking has nothing to do with me!

So, what is the question the person is really asking?

Any “coach” (whether formal or informal, external or internal, paid or volunteer, executive or life or organizational) must have the skill of listening then reframing questions. Reframing a question provides a different perspective on the issue at hand.

Here is what I have come up with when I reframe the question my friend asked me initially:

Scott, based on your experience what are the 3 things I need to do to be successful?

Don’t you think this is what most people really want to know when they ask about translating your success into their story?


Consider these questions you might get asked within your role, and what is the question the people might really be asking:

Question: As an HR Vice President, what does leadership development look like? Real Question: What do I need to do to get promoted to my next role in the company?

Question: As a Sales Leader, how did you balance work and family? Real Question: If I sacrifice time with my family will it be worth it financially?

Question: As a Church Plant Pastor, what are you doing to grow your congregation? Real Question: What should I be doing to grow my church? I am doing everything the books say I should do, but it isn't working!

Please don’t misunderstand my point. I do think that people want to know how you approach things, how you set goals, how you solve problems, how you prioritize resources, how you assess risk.

But… mostly what they want to know is what about them!

Enter the world of what psychologist call self-efficacy.

Research On Self-Efficacy

Self-Efficacy is a fancy term for belief in yourself; confidence in the capabilities and talents you have been given and developed. Studies have shown that the confidence you have in your capabilities affects your performance and is linked to happiness, satisfaction, and well-being. All of these attributes in one way or another link to success.

In some fascinating new research published in the December 2016 issue of the Consulting Psychology Journal it turns out that you can help those you “coach” to be more successful by following 3 simple ideas:

  • Invest the Time The confidence of the person increased as the coaching relationship evolved over time. As you coach others over the course of your conversation, notice how their confidence increases toward the coaching objective. When it does, make them aware that you are seeing this increase in confidence.
  • Say it Out Loud Turns out that the more the client verbally articulates their confidence, the higher the achievement to the goal actually becomes. “I am going to do this” type statements show confidence in the client's ability. The more they make commitments out loud, the increased likelihood of belief in themselves.
  • Ask the Right Question at the Right Time In this study questions coaches asked fell into three categories: Open-ended - “What do you want to do?" Proposing Solutions - “You could search for other companies that offer better possibilities.” Provide Support - “That sounds like a great idea."

Turns out that proposing solutions was only effective in triggering self-efficacy statements in the very first coaching session. While the other two methods enhanced the confidence of the other person throughout the coaching engagement.

2017 and Beyond

As you work with and coach others on your team, especially if you have more of a long-term relationship, focus on asking open-ended questions and providing support for the ideas they bring. Too many of us fall into the trap of proposing solutions because it makes us feel better about ourselves, like we added real value. I would argue that the value you bring is the investment of time and belief in the person you are coaching. The research says that the value of you proposing solutions beyond early in a coaching relationship does little to improve the confidence or belief in the mind of the person you are working with.

I predict if you focus on building the confidence of others in your organization, you will have a very successful 2017. Let me know throughout your year how this prediction is coming true for you!


When you are coaching others, resist the temptation to make the coaching about you by offering advice and providing them solutions. Really focus this year on practicing open-ended questions and providing your client the support they need.

The 5 Books I Plan to Re-read in 2017

Happy New Year!  I hope that you are having a wonderful holiday season. In last week's blog post I shared some of my top reads for 2016.

Every year I re-read a few of my favorite books that have really engaged me over the years. I hope you discover something you might find interesting and/or useful in developing yourself as a leader this year.

  1. Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein Schein’s motivation for writing this short (123 pages) yet powerful book is both personal and professional. The first paragraph of the book sets the entire tone. The bottom line is that those who possess a “telling” and “aggressive” tone destroy relationships. We all know the value of positive relationships in organizations and in this little gem Schein gives some very practical tips on how to be both humble and a leader. I think it was my most recommended book of 2016 to my clients.
  2. Dear and Glorious Physician by Taylor Caldwell This is an account of the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of Saint Luke. The vivid imagery and the subtle, yet powerful situations really give testimony that what is in the Bible could indeed be true. The writing gives a perspective that is original and creative. One of my all time favorites.
  3. Running By The Book by Corinne Bauer These pages contain the training plan that I used to run my first half-marathon. I followed the plan very closely and was able to exceed the goal I set for myself. In races that I ran subsequently, I was not as diligent in following the plan and my performance has born this out. I have a goal in 2017 to run a Personal Best for 13.1 miles, and I am going to dust off these pages to make it happen.
  4. Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Thompson   This is a classic that every coach needs to read both for themselves and for the clients they interact with. Cloud and Thompson come at the topic of boundaries from a distinct and overtly Christian worldview, which lends a very interesting perspective on “when to say yes and how to say no" so that you as a leader can take control of your life. Professionally, my business is growing and I am going to have to start saying NO to some things I have enjoyed in the past. Personally, I have made a lot of sacrifices so the business can grow and I am going to start saying YES to more things in life.
  5. Executive Presence by Sylvia Ann Hewlett While Hewlett wrote this book primarily with females in mind, there are great lessons in it for all of us. I have a real interest in this topic for both males and females and would love to write on this subject as it pertains to those in leadership and young people who desire leadership responsibilities. I am hoping a re-read of this important work gets me thinking and writing in this area.

Well, that is it for me. How about you? Any of these titles grab you as a re-read or even a first time through? Hey, if you are re-reading something I would love to hear it and why you are choosing to spend your time with the work again.

Here is to a successful 2017!

My Top 5 Reads of 2016

Many of you wind down a bit and focus on your family this time of year (and I am so proud of you for doing that), so you don’t want any heavy leadership stuff. However, more than one of you, now that Christmas is over, will sneak an hour or two just to catch up on email or see if anything happened over the last two days while you were off.  The other thing you are probably starting to do is plan your development activities for 2017. With that in mind, I thought I would give you something quick to read that might be relevant for your 2017 development plan.

Here are the top 5 books I read this last year and a very brief synopsis of what I learned:

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David Duncan

A very convincing argument is made about what the authors call "The Theory of Jobs." Basically what they are saying is that people hire companies and products to do a job for them. If you can figure out what people hire you for, then you have a unique advantage on how to market and position yourself.

Personal Application: I am asking myself "Why do people hire me as a coach? What job are they asking me to do for them?" My answer for this right now is that my clients desire an honest assessment of what their leadership looks like. I provide both that honest assessment they are seeking, as well as a compassionate response.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

In this New York Times bestseller, a very powerful argument is made for what successful people really possess. So much emphasis is put on talent in our culture that we often overlook what allowed that talent to develop and thrive. Using both psychological research and powerful example, a very strong case is made for being passionate about a goal and then sticking with that goal over time. This combination is what leads to success.

Personal Application: I am using this book to write some high-level, mid-level, and low-level related goals. I have some things in both my professional and personal life that I want to still achieve. If I do not start moving on them, time will find a way of passing by. I need to write these goals down and have my coach hold me accountable to them.

A Man Called Ove. by Fredrik Backman

This is a brilliantly written piece of fiction that weaves the story of a man that I could have grown up next door to. Ove possess many quirky, yet admirable traits I kept finding myself saying, “Now, that is a really neat perspective! I wonder how I would show up in that situation?” For those of you who don’t usually read fiction, this is one that I really think you will enjoy. The best fiction story I have read in many years!

Personal Application: Since this is a book of fiction, it is hard to find application directly. I will say that this book has caused me to want to read more stories from Backman. If the rest of his work is as good as this, he for sure is a certifiable genius.

A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design by Frank Wiczek 

Unlike A Man Called Ove, this book is deep and quite thick, not only in page number (over 400) but in content as well. Wickek is a Nobel Prize winner in physics, but don’t let this warning scare you away. This book speaks to one central question, “Does the world we live in embody beautiful ideas?” This book is more of a scientific and philosophical musing on what entails beauty. Since I love all three of these; science, philosophy, and the idea of beauty, this was a real winner for me. It is all I can do to resist myself and share with you the conclusion. If you like books that will make you think and challenge your current worldview, then this one is for you.

Personal Application: I am working hard at finding beauty in the world I live in. By searching for and recognizing beauty, I am more aware of the pain, suffering, and strife in the world, and what I am called to do about turning those things into beauty.

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippet

As I start this review I want to enforce that I am a happily married man. My wife, Kim and I, have been together for 32 years and neither of us would change that. Period. However, I do have a confession to make; I have a PROFESSIONAL crush on Krista Tippet. She is actually one of the top 5 people who I would love to meet and spend time with. The opening sentence of the book Krista writes states this, “I’m a person who listens for a living." Some of the people she has interviewed are those who have shaped the very fiber of our world's culture. This book is a distillation of the wisdom she has gleaned from her 30 years or so of interviewing scientists, poets, theologians, activists, who have in many ways shaped the culture of our world.

Personal Application: In reading this book I realize I need to be more open to what I do not know rather than only focusing on what I do know. I am working on becoming more comfortable with questions than answers. With paradox over position. With listening rather than convincing.

If you have any money on your Amazon gift card left or your Grandma gave you a crisp $20 for Christmas, you can’t go wrong with any of these. I guarantee it.

Homework: You really want to know what your homework is? Go buy one of these great reads and see what application you can make to your own leadership life! If you do this assignment, I would love to hear about it. why not post a comment or two. I love to discuss books and how they impact our leadership journies.

Try Giving Less of This to Improve Team Performance

Maybe it is the Christmas season? Maybe it is the end of the year? Maybe folks I communicate with are just feeling burned out? Whatever the reason, I sure have noticed a lot of people this year saying things like:

“Let's take that up next year, I just don’t have any more capacity this year.”

“Our people are really feeling stressed with everything going on right now.”

“There are just a lot of priorities on people's plates at this point in time.”

“I am feeling a little under-valued with everything going on right now, there just is not a lot of recognition for the simple things, like no one says thank you anymore.”

I am not sure how the people under your leadership are feeling right now as you read this, but are you? Are they feeling:

  • Overwhelmed?
  • Under-appreciated?
  • Stressed (for whatever reason)?

New Term/Old Concept

A relatively new area to hit the leadership literature is the concept of job crafting. In addition to top-down, hierarchical job expectations, many organizations are leaning more on the individual worker to “craft” their job by changing everything from the tasks they accomplish to mapping the important relationships they need to accomplish the goals they need to meet to be successful. This idea of “job crafting” actually has been cited in leadership studies as being aspirational, motivational, and 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. The folks at Nike would say, “just do it.”

The Research

An article in the most recent publication of 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?

Turns out, job crafting is often classified as a proactive behavior and reflects traits such as self-initiation to bring about any needed change. However, it also turns out that job crafting is not necessarily anticipative. 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.

The Findings

There are two really important points that come out of this study as it relates to job demand and role crafting. When employees are feeling the overload of work, their perception of the chances 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 it usually goes without saying that studying the follower is critical. When thinking about employee performance and work overload, the literature will support this idea.

The Employee

If your organization is going to face work overload from time to time it is a good idea to ensure you have people on your team who can both adapt to and initiate change. It turns out that proactivity in times of work overload requires both adapting to and initiating change that is needed to relieve the work overload.

The follower does have 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 with it, manage it, and change what needs to be changed.

Point taken. Followers need to be accountable.

The Leader

Turns out that 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. The research by Solberg and Wong shows that the more controlling the leader is, the less willing the follower will be to exhibit autonomy and make changes that are needed to alleviate work overload.

The Lesson

If folks in your organization are overworked and feeling stressed, maybe it isn’t the holidays to blame. Maybe it isn’t all of the end of the year 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 this holiday season.


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?

How to Energize Your Leadership Life

The coolest thing happened to me last night! My wife had a meeting and rather than sit at home in my office, she dropped me off at the local Starbucks. So I am sitting outside (a benefit of living in Florida) having a hot chai tea latte (my personal favorite), grading some papers for an Executive Coaching class I am teaching. I had graded about 12 papers and my eyes were starting to cross when an older gentleman sat down at the table next to mine.

I know better than to make eye contact. When you make eye contact, that is when they start talking. Even thought I had completed what I needed to get done, I had a chance to get ahead in the class. I had work to do. Just stay focused, Scott, you can do it. Just don’t look up.

But the words of my pastor’s sermon jumped into my mind at that very moment “the gift of Christmas is found in the margins." The point of his sermon last Sunday morning was that even when it looks like all is lost and you have no power of your own to provide, God is in the margins. Christmas is a time for hope because 2000 years ago the Romans had such powerful rule over all the people they had lost hope.  Then, in the middle of the night, in a Bethlehem stable, HOPE showed up in the margins. God acted because he cared. I was thinking to myself, “Scott, how much do you care?"

…And as I was having this thought, you guessed it...

I looked up!

“You live around here?" the old-timer asked.

That was it. I was done for the night. Turns out he was a real talker. We spent the next 45 minutes together of which I asked 3 questions and he talked the entire time. And what a glorious night it turned out to be! Turns out he was a football coach from central Ohio down in Florida for Christmas with his daughter. He started in the high school ranks and worked his way up the coaching ladder. He has spent time with and coached for some of the all-time greats: Bo Schembechler, Tommy Tuberville, and even spent some time in the Canadian professional league.

I honestly could have listened to him all night. He had such a neat perspective on both football, coaching, and life.

Leadership Lessons

Here are my three big take-a-ways from my conversation with the old coach.

  1. There is only one letter difference between "hire" and "fire." No matter which you are experiencing, there is probably some “ire” in each. Do the very best job you can with the job you have today. Hold everything loosely, because you never know when you could lose your job, even when you have a winning record. If you get a new job, there are others who wanted it and some of them might still be on the team.
  2. Professionals don’t need your advice. At the end of the day, the professional (football player or insert whatever noun you wish) gets paid for how they perform. Period. They are ultimately responsible for the decisions they make that affect their overall performance. There is too much victim mentality today. Too many people think they are entitled to something they haven’t put an ounce of effort into. Professionals might want you to help them think through something, or get some perspective, but don’t ever be fooled into thinking they want your advice.
  3. The end will come. One of my questions for him was, “In hindsight, would you do it again?” Without flinching or even much thinking, he said, “Without question!" He said, “I have this tablet thing at home (and I am dying laughing on the inside), and I get messages from other coaches, from past players, even from kids in my English class. They say, "Hey coach, good to see you are still alive. Did you see that game last night between Clemson and Virginia Tech?”

Then came one of the only pauses in roughly 45 minutes of conversation …

“Do it again…I would not have done anything else.”

In rather dramatic fashion, my wife pulls up in the old Kia Sorento to pick me up.

As I thanked him for the lively conversation and started to walk back to the car it hit me right between the eyes: God had shown up in the margin, but not as I had originally intended it.

My original idea was to show up and be some margin in this guys life. After all, he was older and all alone.

Turns out, I could not have been more wrong. Turns out I was the one who needed the blessing of someone else's company.

I don’t even know the old coach's name. For all I know maybe he wasn’t even a football coach. But I am really thankful he took the time to show up and provide some light into the margins of my life.


Maybe you know someone in your organization who is feeling marginalized. Maybe there is someone who needs a 45 minute Starbucks conversation. Even though you don’t have time, maybe what you need to do is stop and recognize that they are human too. Who knows, maybe you will be the one who ends up with the blessing. Merry Christmas!