leadership tool

Quiz Yourself: Are You Using this Important Coaching Skill?

I am blessed in my coaching practice to be able to work with a lot of coaches. Everything from students who are learning the craft to executive leaders who use coaching as a leadership tool. 

I Have an Observation

The skill of observation is underdeveloped.  Here is what I mean.

This morning I am sitting having some quiet time of meditation and prayer.  As I was sitting in contemplation I noticed the breeze that was whisking through the trees in the conservation area behind my house at varying rates of force.  At times the leaves in the trees were hardly moving, and then, with no warning, the speed would increase to a gust force. After a minute or so the air would return to a more moderate flow.

This is the skill of observation. Blocking out all other inputs and paying attention to this one thing, and then not making any judgment about it. Don’t turn it into a metaphor, or think about how to explain it. Just observe it and practice describing it.  

This skill is harder to do than it is to read about, I can assure you. As leaders, we are constantly making cause and effect assumptions.  We become skilled at what is rewarded, making decisions or explaining things so that others can understand them.  All very important skills. I am not trying to say that your decision-making is not important, it for sure is. In fact, I often tell young leaders what they get paid to do is make judgments.  However, if we believe that quality inputs are critical to good judgment then perhaps observation trumps outcome.

Give It A Try

The next meeting you go to, or one-on-one interaction you have with a colleague, write down 10 things you observe from the interaction. Just make the observation and pay attention. Dial out all the distractions that might come your way and observe behavior. Notice things like tone of voice and inflection. Notice body language. Become aware of the “presence” the person exudes. 

The better we become at the skill of observation, the better coaches we will be.  We will notice things such as hurt or pain in people. We will notice when they are not on their “A” game. We might notice the exuberant joy that is written all over their face. The better we are at observing, the more skilled we will be at connecting with others emotionally.

Take a Quiz

One of the reasons I like to use assessments in my practice is that they help me, as a coach, make observations.  Sure, the person gets great feedback around important competencies. For example, in the EQi 2.0 assessment that I use, leaders get feedback on stress management. According to Dr. Henry Thompson, author of The Stress Effect, emotional intelligence is critical in determining the likelihood of the success of a leader. 

While the EQi 2.0 can give leaders feedback on competencies like stress management, often times it is the observation of the leader in the moment that can give the information that will allow the leader to make necessary judgments. If leaders don’t observe what their followers are feeling in the moment then they are more liable to react poorly. For example, an associate comes into your office and explains they have just made a mistake that could be costly in terms of dollars and customer satisfaction.  Are you able to manage your own emotion in the moment and observe what is going on with the person?  Are they anxious? Is there body language closed and distant?  Are they sweating? 

So let's play this out. What happens if:

A. You don't observe any of the associates “presence” in the moment

B. You do observe the stress the associate is under

Answer A: It is possible you will go right into fact-finding mode. Try to find out what happened, and then your natural next step is to go into problem-solving mode and to start giving orders you want the associate to execute with precision, clarity, and focus.

What is the problem with Answer A?  It isn’t physically possible when stress has hi-jacked the associate for them to focus on anything. In fact, there is a really good chance that they will walk out of your office and not remember a thing you said.

Answer B: You see the associate is stressed out, so you have them sit down. You go get them a bottle of water. You have them take a few deep breaths and perhaps you tell them a story that has a bit of self-deprecating humor. The goal here is to get the associate to relax so that you can trouble shoot and problem solve together.

What is the real skill in Answer B? You took the time to observe the situation. You notice the wind in the trees. You know the end result you need to get to but you also know you need your associate to have a clear mind when you need information.

Take Another Quiz

For this quiz, you are going to need to think about a recent interaction that you have had with an associate where there was some stress or tension in the situation. Keep this interaction in mind as you take this quiz. Use the quiz and your memory to reconstruct the events. 

This quiz is not meant at all to be diagnostic.  We are not trying to make you clinical psychologists. The purpose of this quiz is to help you dial in your skills of observation so that you notice more how your associates are showing up in your interactions.

I hope you enjoy the quiz. If you know others who might like to work on the skill of observation, why not forward this to them.

What Great Leaders Do When Bad Things Happen

Recently, one of our blog readers reached out to me on Facebook (which I love, so feel free to comment on anything we write) expressing appreciation for my post on “Quick and Easy Ways to Enhance your Leadership." Along with his comment, he also inquired that I write about a topic relevant to a big change happening in his organization. He concluded by saying, “Sure, it is easy to use the tools you mention when things are going well... what happens when things go bad?” Great Question!

Close up blank checkbox

These 6 words led me to reflect on several situations that could be categorized as difficult for leaders to work through: Downsizing, merging, restructuring, relocating, new leadership, project failure, ethical and moral failure, just to name a few.

Basically, anything involving a change that does not give you a positive feeling. These situations don't have to be awful, but they encompass any kind of change that takes you out of your normal routine, which can make them difficult. With all this in mind, I want to do something I have never done before.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at some specific difficult situations and learn how to maintain emotional balance through each situation. You see, just because there is change that affects your position, it does NOT require that it affects your emotions in a negative way.

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the situation

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

Hear from Others

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

Eliminate Negativity

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

Create a plan (organize and carry out)

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

Keep Your Head Up - Stay consistent, present, and motivated

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


Think about this acronym and how you can apply to a difficult situation you are facing. Write CHECK on a post-it note and stick it somewhere you can see it as a reminder of this process and how you can apply it to anything going on in your life that is causing tension for you and your organization.

Stay tuned in the weeks to come as we use our CHECK list in some specific situations that will help you better apply it to your leadership life.

Leadership Tip of the Week

Have you ever felt like you just needed to get away and think? If so, why not take a Personal Leadership Retreat? You can do it in about 4 hours, and I guarantee if you do it right you will come away from it with at least one of five things (maybe all five):

  • A feeling of being relaxed
  • A clear sense of purpose
  • A better idea of who you are as a leader
  • A new idea on how to solve a problem
  • A renewed motivation to achieve a goal

When you feel overwhelmed, tired, unfocused, or in a rut, there really is no substitute for getting away by yourself. Why not open your calendar right now, and before the end of this month block off 4 hours when you can get away?

In fact, here is an agenda you can follow that comes straight out of my “Minimalist Guide to a 4 hour Personal Leadership Retreat:"

Pre-work: Set ONE goal that you would like to accomplish at the end of the time.

8am - Arrive 8-9am - Bible Reading and Reflection 9-10am - Reflections on Leadership 10-11am - Nature Walk 11-11:45am - Leadership Issues that need to be resolved 11:45-noon - Final Reflection

For those of you who may need more structure, click here to download the step-by-step guide.

If you want some additional reasons to take a Personal Leadership Retreat, I have put together a short 2-minute video for you to watch.  You may view the video below.

If you do take a personal leadership retreat let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email.


PS. You might know someone who is in need of a personal leadership retreat. Why not forward the link to them? You may be the person they thank for helping them get unstuck.

Have You Ever Felt Overwhelmed?

Recently, I felt overwhelmed. When I think of it now it seems a little silly. Here's the story:

I was running on all cylinders. Many of you know that in addition to writing this blog, I:

  • Teach and train emotional intelligence for corporate clients.
  • Speak at conferences on leadership topics.
  • Maintain an active executive coaching practice.
  • Am adjunct faculty at Indiana Wesleyan University.

I love it all, but I was beginning to feel overwhelmed with all the travel I was doing, which comes along with these responsibilities. Like many of you, when I show up to any of these responsibilities my goal is to do it with excellence. When I get tired and stressed I have to make sure that I can deliver what my clients need, no matter what the circumstances are in my life.


I was describing my overwhelmed feeling to a very good friend who suggested I take a retreat.

Where I live we have a beautiful national historic landmark, Bok Tower, which bills itself as a contemplative garden. My friend suggested I go spend half a day there. Here is part of that conversation:

“Retreat! What do you mean?" I asked him. “Just get away and clear your head for a few hours," is what I heard in reply. "I don’t have time” was my response to him.

                                 Big Fat Lie.

Really what was traversing my mind were thoughts like:

“What would I do?“ "How would I do it? “I don’t know what to do." “What would I do?” I actually remember thinking this one twice.

It is funny I said that I didn’t have time, but time isn’t really the issue.  I just didn’t know what to do, but I really didn’t want to admit that to my friend.

Here's what I've discovered since then...

When I get that overwhelmed feeling it means that I have so much going on in my mind that I can’t really think clearly about anything. The pressure of all that I have to get done starts to close in around me. My emotions really start to take over and I feel the stress in my shoulders and a shortening of my breath in addition to being overwhelmed.

Dr. Henry L. Thompson, an award-winning organizational psychologist, in his book The Stress Effect, emphasizes that an emotionally intelligent leader must be aware of emotion to be able to “choose when, where, and how to use emotion." According to Thompson, “Anything that interferes with this ability, such as stress, will tend to degrade the application of emotional intelligence." The feeling of being overwhelmed will trigger stress and could lead to outcomes where I may not deliver excellence for my clients.

The overwhelmed feeling I had, along with the stress it produced, meant that my thinking was actually inhibited. I was at risk for making poor decisions, not because of my intelligence or lack of information, but because I needed to step away so that I could be objective.

Retreat Is A Power Position

I didn’t need to step away, or retreat, as a sign of weakness. Actually, retreat is a powerful tool for positioning yourself for strength.

The state of being overwhelmed was causing me to not be able to provide excellence. I had two choices:

  • Slug through it and hope that no one noticed
  • Retreat. Take a step back so that I could re-engage into the circumstance more powerfully.

I chose retreat. And am I glad I did.

So what does this mean to you & me?

The next time you get that overwhelmed feeling, why not take a Personal Leadership Retreat?

A Personal Leadership Retreat is where you carve out a small amount of time (I did 4 hours) and gather your thoughts about the impact your leadership is having.

As a result of the conversation with my friend, I finished a Personal Leadership Retreat a few weeks ago and came out with much clearer thinking. I felt really good about how I spent my time. The benefits for me were:

  • I felt better about my relationship with God.
  • I was clear on what I had accomplished in the first half of the year.
  • I have clarity around things I want to get done in the second half of the year.
  • I have more focus around my core business moving forward.
  • I felt relaxed so that I was making better decisions.

If you are interested in doing a Personal Leadership Retreat, here is the agenda I followed:

8am - Arrive 8-9am - Bible Reading and Reflection 9-10am - Reflections on Leadership 10-11am - Nature Walk 11-11:45am - Leadership Issues that need to be resolved 11:45-noon - Final Reflection

The next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, why not take a few hours and do a Personal Leadership Retreat? Once you do, I think you will feel more focused, relaxed, and perhaps even improve your outcomes.

Hey Mike, thanks for recommending this to me. I owe you.

Let me know how this works for you, Scott

P.S. Are you interested in a Personal Leadership Retreat but still feeling like still don’t know what to do? Here is the step by step guide I developed from my own Personal Leadership Retreat. Click here to download the guide and start your own Personal Leadership Retreat. In this guide you will get hour by hour instructions on what to do during your retreat. You will get questions to answer to stimulate thought. You will get a list of resources to take with you on your retreat and much, much, more. I would love your feedback on the guide, so if you do take a Personal Leadership Retreat be sure and let us know how it went for you.