5 Things Irma is Teaching Me About Self-Awareness

By the time you read these words, Hurricane Irma will have put her stamp on my home state of Florida. We are currently preparing for the worst while hoping and praying for the best.  I thought it might be fun to put myself to a test. I talk with my coaching clients all the time about the leadership skill of self-awareness. So here are some things I noticed about myself as we prepare for this monster storm. 

Our first experience with one of these spinning giants was last year. Matthew went whirling past and the winds were about 80mph, but the storm stayed far enough off the east coast of Florida that in Orlando, where we live, property damage was minimal. Since so much devastation was predicted, and we only lost power for an hour or two, my thoughts were completely biased with bad information. Even as I saw the destruction of Harvey on the news, my thought was we won’t ever see a storm like that. 

My thoughts have changed. As I write this post, I am realizing how faulty my thinking actually has been. Only God knows what Irma will bring with her or even where she will go, as I write to you on this Thursday morning, about 3 days prior to the storm's impact.

I will be honest with you, I really didn’t think much about this storm until yesterday (Wednesday) when I got a text from my brother asking if we were prepared and what our plans are for the storm. We were in the middle of enjoying a relaxing Labor Day weekend with our boys in Columbus Ohio and spending quality time with our granddaughter.

In that moment, I turned to my wife, Kim and said, “Did you know there was a storm coming?” Up until this point, I was completely unaware that Irma was even in existence. How could I have possibly missed news of this magnitude? I knew that my granddaughter was cute, but I had no idea that enjoying my time with her so much had disconnected me from the rest of the world.

Point One About Self-Awareness: Pay Attention

By definition, it is incredibly difficult to know something that you are not aware of. Most of us just cruise through our day focused on our own agenda and the tasks that we have to complete that day. We just don’t take the time to see how we are showing up when we go about doing what we do. 

In order to be more self-aware of what is going on around you, it is imperative that you stop what you are doing and observe how you are doing it. When you are in a meeting with someone and they are not doing what you want them to do. Take notice of how you are talking to them. What is the tone of your voice like? Can you feel the emotion and then describe the feeling? The more aware of how you are showing up, the more control you will have over the choices you can make in how you show up.

Back to the story….

So my wife Kim pulls up the weather app on her iPad and sure enough, there is a Category 5 Hurricane in the Atlantic and all of the spaghetti maps show that Florida is in the bulls-eye of the storm. 


"What do you think we should do?” Kim asked. 

Point Two About Self-Awareness: Stay Humble

When Kim asked the question, I had no idea what we should do…but I felt like she was looking to me for an answer. She needed some reassurance from me that I had an idea of what would be best for us as this crisis came upon us. 

While I actually didn’t know what to do, my knee jerk reaction was to do something. My wife was looking for me to answer her safety and security needs. At that particular time, she had me in a position of large-and-in-charge. The feeling can be overwhelming and dangerous. 

 In the moment it didn’t really matter to me what I said, I just felt like I needed to say something in response to her, like she needed some definitive expert knowledge from me on how to predict what a category 5 hurricane was going to do and how I should respond to it five days in advance of the event.  I had this overwhelming feeling of power come over me and that a decision was needed from me at the moment.  Very strange! 

Back to the story...

What I did was resist the temptation to be “all knowing expert” and said, “I don’t know, let's talk not about what we should do, but what we could do.”

Point Three About Self-Awareness:  Create Options

So we made a list of options. Action steps that could be taken some 5 days ahead of the crisis. I think the most important thing about creating options is to make sure you are using what is called divergent thinking. Most of us like to think in a convergent style: our preference is to focus in on a solution of what needs to be done at the moment. Leaders who are self-aware can resist being seen as the “all knowing” and practice thinking in a divergent manner. These leaders can start with the problem instead of focusing on what they see as the solution. If you start by focusing on the problem, then you can create options on how to solve the problem. If you focus on the solution, you might miss the core of the problem that you are solving.

Back to the story...

Here are the options we came up with:

  1. Keep our current plan of flying home on Thursday. Once we got home:
    1. Stay home and ride the storm out.
    2. Drive to Atlanta and stay where I have a program to do next Wednesday
  2. Stay in Ohio with our son and daughter-in-law and get to spend more time with that granddaughter
  3. Rent a car and drive 6 hours to see my mom in Central Illinois
  4. Stay in Ohio for the weekend and then rent a car and drive to Atlanta next week

Point Four About Self-Awareness: Calm is better than anxious

As we discussed the pros and cons of each of our options I tried to maintain focus on staying calm. In the emotional intelligence courses I teach, we make a big point about how stimulated emotion can affect the decisions we make. While all of the options we had were viable, the decision became clear as we calmly talked through what we needed to do. It was very easy to let anxiety creep into the moment and over the course of our discussion I could palpably feel the tension. Then I would take a deep breath, stand up and walk around and try to get curious about our discussion. What I have noticed over the years is that anxiety wants to rush me into the decision, but I know I make the best decisions when I am calm and have a level head to think.

Point Five About Self-Awareness: Learning is as important as judgment

We decided to keep our current plans, and are at the moment 25,000 feet in the air somewhere over the state of Florida. We are going to ride this storm out. Our desire was to be there for our friends and neighbors and if we can lend a hand to those who need we want to do that. 

I will try and give you an update this week on what we learned about category 5 hurricanes.

Some of you are reading this and might have made a different decision. In fact, the police officer at the Columbus airport we were talking with before going through security encouraged us to evacuate. He gave us some solid reasons, but we have our reasons to stay and they are solid reasons. 

In leadership, I think it is important to be open to learning. Many of you get paid to make judgments and decisions and I really value this as part of your role. As a leader, people are looking to you for insight and wisdom to run your business. 

Leadership is also about learning. Rarely are two situations or contexts are ever the same. So many variables go into good decision-making. My hope is that you will pay attention, stay humble, create options, stay calm, and learn as you go.

See you on the other side of Irma.

Have You Ever Made this Emotionally UNINTELLIGENT Response?

Last week I wrote an open letter to a “friend” in Clarksville Tennessee. If you missed that post you can see it by clicking here.  In that post, I wrote about a guy I came across recently who totally lacked self-awareness.

I have a confession to make. 

In less than a week, I became like that same guy. Not at all proud of it.  But it did happen. Here is the story:

My wife and I were flying home from a wonderful Memorial Day weekend in Columbus Ohio. We were able to spend the weekend with our granddaughter, who, just for the record, is perfect in every way. My son dropped us off at the airport, we checked our bags and headed to the TSA screening area. I often say in the classes that I teach that the best place to observe what poor emotional intelligence looks like is in an airport.

I put my backpack on the conveyor belt to be screened like I do several times a week, almost every week. In my pack, I have a couple of books, my laptop, business cards--nothing unusual. 

The agent at the computer looks into my bag, shouting, "Whose black bag is this?” I look over and my backpack has been rerouted for physical inspection. I hear the agent tell one of his partners, “There is liquid in that bag." I thought to myself, “There is no liquid in that bag. I don’t carry liquids.”

A bit puzzled, I walk over with the agent to his station. He takes a black stick and rubs it over the outside of my bag and then on the inside. I am thinking, oh, this is just a routine screen for gunpowder or drugs or whatever it is that TSA uses that little black stick for. The agent asks me, “Do you have anything sharp in this bag?”  Again, pretty routine. I say, “no."

So he opens the bag, reaches in and pulls out a jar of peanut butter. I remembered that as we were on our way out the door this morning my wife asked me to put the jar in our suitcase. I stuck it in my backpack, thinking, no big deal people take peanut butter on planes all the time.  Since 50% of my flights are to Orlando, I see kids at the airport quite often; they eat PB&J all the time.

The agent then said to me, “This is a liquid and you will have to take it out and either check it or throw it away.”  

This is the point when I became like my friend in Clarksville.

I instantly reacted to the TSA agent by saying, “Peanut butter is not a liquid, it's a solid!" I feel pretty confident I am right about this. My reasoning is:

  1. Mr. Volosio, my 8th-grade chemistry teacher, was excellent and taught us the difference between solids, liquids, and gasses. I paid really close attention in that class and am reasonably sure I grasped the concept.
  2. My Inorganic Chemistry class took Mr. Volosio’s lesson even further and I passed that class too.

And if those aren’t enough then I ask you this: when is the last time you sat down to have an ice cold, refreshing glass of peanut butter?

The next thing I hear is, “Peanut butter is considered a liquid and you can check it or throw it away." So my statement and all of my logic are being challenged and I can feel myself triggering, which is where this story differs from the one about my friend in Clarksville.

I recognized my trigger. I stop, take a deep breath, and ask the agent just to go ahead and dispose of the peanut butter. I guess some of my training in emotional intelligence kicked in, and my mind told me to not let my emotion get the best of me. There is no way I am going to win an argument with a TSA agent who is convinced that peanut butter is a liquid. Not because he is right, but because he has the power. 

In that moment I had to decide if it was more important for me to be right than to end up on a no-fly list.  I decided it was much more important to fly again and so the peanut butter went into the trash and my wife and I went and had a bite to eat at the Chili’s restaurant in the airport....where I sat down and ordered a tall glass of peanut butter on the rocks with extra ice.

The waitress just looked at me with a puzzled look. I said,“Didn’t you know that peanut butter is a liquid, and so could you pour me a glass?"

My wife said to the poor girl, who was just there trying to make a living, “Just ignore him, he just got his feelings hurt. We will both have water with lemon.” The waitress left with our drink order, and my wife said, “I thought you taught emotional intelligence, you're  not showing any right now.” The truth hurts!

Embarrassed, I looked at her and said, “You're right. That waitress probably didn’t have Mr. Volosio for Chemistry so she might not know the difference between a liquid and a solid.” 

I can’t tell you my wife's response to that. Sometimes what happens in a marriage, stays in a marriage.

So, a trigger for me is when I know I am right and what I perceive to be an injustice occurs.  

How about you? Do you know your triggers? Are you aware of what sets you off? Can you control your emotion, or does your emotion get the best of you and you end up making poor decisions because of some strong need you have to be right, or be heard, or be seen?

Having good emotional intelligence requires both self-awareness and self-management. 

Having good character is knowing when you are wrong and being able to apologize. I did. To my wife, the waitress, and the TSA agent.

PS. The next time you are in Orlando, send me an email because my wife and I would love to have you over to our house for an ice cold glass of…. your favorite liquid beverage.

An Open Letter to my Friend at the Fairfield Inn, Clarksville Tennessee

So, I am sitting eating breakfast this morning at a Fairfield Inn in Clarksville Tennessee with my lovely wife Kim. I am having my usual powdered eggs and overcooked bacon and Kim has chosen her much healthier granola and Chobani Greek Yogurt. The place is packed with people who have that look of road exhaustion even though they just woke up.

The tables are so close together in this dining space that sardines would have been envious. Kim and I can’t carry on a conversation because of all the chatter around us. So as we sit and try to enjoy the meal that comes with the price of our room, we also become observant of the conversations around us.  Not evesdropping you understand, just unable to avoid the sound waves bouncing around the room.

The first conversation is coming from a couple who seems to be traveling with the man's mother. The guy is a know-it-all. I mean, you know the type: has an uninformed opinion about everything. Mind you, we only sat at our table for about ten minutes, but this guy has commented on everything, including how bad a president Donald Trump has been versus the eight great years under "Barack." He actually just used the former President's first name. My first thought was how disrespectful we have become as Americans. How have our freedoms have been taken so for granted that respect is something only recognized when Aretha Franklin is singing?

Mr. Know-it-all then goes on to solve the healthcare crisis by telling his mom, “I know exactly what we should do. We need to tax the rich and take away…. Hold on, Hold on," he says, "I have a call coming in." He presses a button on his smart watch and tells the person on the other end of the line they are at breakfast, then turns to his mom and starts telling her why his Google watch is better than her Apple watch when it comes to the phone app.

I was actually beaming a bit nauseous just listening to this guy when I heard a little chirp from the table behind us.  A young family sat down and the mom was busy pouring milk over Cheerios when her little girl says, “Thank you, Mommy." I mean, my heart just melted like butter in a microwave. 

Then it hit me. Each of these two scenarios had main characters. Each of the main characters had a choice as to how they are going to show up for breakfast. The little girl sure could have told her mom that the kind of milk she had wasn’t right or that she didn’t need anyone to pour her milk for her. There were probably dozens of responses the little girl could have made, but she chose to be thankful.

To my know-it-all friend I just have to say: I don’t think that many people at the Fairfield Inn in Clarksville Tennessee care about your opinion. Even if you are 100% right about whatever it is you are pontificating on, your opinion just doesn’t matter that much.  

Perhaps being a little bit more like the Cheerios girl would make this world more like the place we all really want it to be.

Leader Challenge

Leaders, I know you have opinions and I know you have problems to solve and decisions to make. 

People are not doing things exactly as you think they need to be done. I know you would never say that you are the center of the universe, but sometimes, as leaders, we don’t we act like it.  It is all about our vision, our agenda, our goals, our, our, our.

Maybe this week as leaders we spend less time on our own personal agenda and we become more appreciative of those who are on our teams and really make things happen for us in our organizations.

How about this Memorial Day Weekend, instead of complaining that the Affordable Care Act isn’t that affordable for people anymore, or that your Facebook news feed just isn’t loading fast enough, just be thankful.

Be thankful that:

  • You don’t have to work on Monday
  • You have a job and get to work on Monday
  • You have a family
  • You have friends
  • At some point in history a soldier cared enough to die for you so you could have a profile on Facebook.

Just watch yourself today. Practice some self-awareness, and if you find yourself starting to complain, or pontificate about a subject, show some impulse control and turn your self-aggrandizement into gratitude.

Perhaps we can all use the Memorial Day for its true purpose: to remember those who have died so that we can complain if we choose to. 

Now, I don’t want to come off too heavy or seem like I am preaching. That really isn’t my intention. So, after you have really thought about your choice, and being thankful for all you have, then by all means do something frivolous.  Have a BBQ with your family, go play 18 holes, take your kids or grand kids to the park, or join me in watching the Greatest Spectacle in Racing…."Gentlemen start your engines."

To Thine Own Self Be...Authentic?

To Thine Own Self Be...Authentic?

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

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. 

How You Can Win in the Role You're In

[callout]This week I am happy to share this blog space with Gretchen Holcomb. Gretchen is spending a few months fine-tuning some things in our organization before going off to Spain for a year to teach English as a second language. I am excited for her to share with you about her last two months working with our team and learning our organization's culture.[/callout] I love to travel and have been blessed with opportunities to spend time in multiple countries around the world.

In just the last few years, I've enjoyed curry cuisines in India and exploring historical cathedrals throughout Germany and Switzerland. One of the reasons that I travel so often is because I enjoy learning about other cultures. I've experienced different cultures in each country, all unique due to their location, language, history, agriculture, and so much more.

Being so passionate about travel, imagine my excitement when Scott shared with our team that he wanted to discuss the topic of culture on the blog this month! Yet after reading last week's blog, I began to think about how there are many more layers to culture than merely those we generally categorize by country or state. We each belong to overarching cultures, yet we also fit into subcultures that make up who we are and what we believe. These subcultures may be determined by your religion, gender, generation, upbringing, etc., all of which have influenced your behaviors and values.

As our team engaged in conversation about the cultures of organizations, I reflected on my first team meeting with Livingston Consulting Group and the organizational tension "culture shock" that I experienced.

You see, it was a very productive meeting where each team member shared what they were working on, brainstormed collectively what to do moving forward, and each identified our action steps for a project. As the meeting was wrapping up, my mind had already shifted gears towards what I needed to work on and how I would do that. Yet instead of just ending the meeting with assigned tasks to each member, Scott asked each of us to share one thing we learned from the meeting. I was not prepared and felt uncomfortable by what he asked us to do. I simply wasn't adapted to the organization's culture that was deeply invested in the development of the individuals on the team. Talk about a team that practices what they preach!

To overcome this cultural difference that I felt, I did a self-assessment of my emotions that Scott talked me through. Here are some questions I answered for this assessment:

What do I know about myself and my values?

Personally, I am very task oriented and focused. I value punctuality and deadlines for projects as a way to be organized and efficient. I feel that I am at my best and most productive when I complete several tasks and quality projects in a certain time frame.

What do I already know about the culture of my organization?

Each time our team meets, we spend some time sharing our thoughts, ideas, and opinions that may not necessarily be related to our projects and daily tasks. Although LCG appreciates work completion and meeting deadlines, our organization cares about the well-being and development of its employees and clients. There is an overarching vision of working on yourself and your emotional intelligence to be the best you can be.

What can I appreciate about the new culture I find myself in? How will it help me grow?

LCG recognizes work will always be there and will always get done, but the effectiveness and passion behind it is largely dependent upon our attitude and approach toward it. Spending time to reflect on what I'm learning and invest in my development will help me not only improve in my current role, but also position me to take on more leadership responsibilities in the future.

How can I use my strengths and skills to help me adapt to this new culture?

Since I am task oriented, I've challenged myself to write in a journal as a weekly assignment. This allows me to personally spend some focused time of reflection on my development. Sometimes I use Scott's questions as a writing prompt, or write a reflection based on our projects just like this blog post. This practice has helped me feel more comfortable when we share in our meetings, and has even stretched my thought process while I work.

So, what about you? Have you ever assessed yourself and your organization's culture to see how they align or where there is tension? How would you answer the questions above and take action yourself?


Find some time this week to answer the questions above in your journal. Ask someone else in your organization how they would answer these questions and start a conversation about culture at your workplace. You might be surprised by others perspective and what you can learn about your team.

What Does Being Self-Aware Cost You?

I had a client recently who said he received feedback that he needed to become more self-aware of the impact of his behavior on others. man-reflection-in-mirror

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

Paying attention. An interesting phrase...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me illustrate:

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Make This Leadership Mistake?

I received an email from one of my coaching clients the other day. He asked me to provide him some context on a situation he found interesting. I love interacting with my clients in this way and so I thought I would share the scenario with you and get your perspective, because I would love to know your thoughts on the subject.


The Email goes something like this:

Hi Scott, I met with a leader in our organization yesterday to interview her for a position we have coming available. This person has many of the attributes and attitudes that we look for in leaders on our team.  She was confident, articulate, driven, has a good background, and answered most questions quite well. She was a skilled interviewer in many respects.

However, when I asked her - in 3 different ways - for a "personal development opportunity" or "critical feedback you've received" she had no answer at all and couldn't come up with anything.  I even gave her an example of one that I've worked on to try to prompt her.  No answer still.

I'm kinda curious now - what's your read on someone who can't come up with a personal weakness or area for development?

Here are some ideas I gave to my client on what could be going on:

  1. Lack of  self-awareness.  This means that she doesn't know herself well enough to know when she has been given feedback, or how to process the information. A lack of self-awareness is actually quite common in leadership development. The Handbook of Leadership Development states that this is a key aspect of understanding ones strengths and weaknesses, what one does well and not so well, what one is comfortable and not comfortable with, what situations bring out the best and worst in us all, and the “whys” behind all of these. Self-awareness means understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the leader and the effect these have on others in different situations and contexts.
  2. Poor listener.  Even though you asked in 3 different ways, it is possible that she didn't understand your question, or she didn't understand the feedback when people gave it to her. In my book, 7 Secrets of an Emotionally Intelligent Coach I describe how this poor listening can happen.  CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF THE CHAPTER WHERE THIS IS DESCRIBED.  In any conversation there are three actually happing. The first is between the two participants. The next two conversations are the ones that each participant is having with themselves. If the conversation you are having with yourself has a “higher volume” than the one you are having with the other person, you are not listening to them, only preparing what to say next when they stop talking.
  3. Arrogance. It is common for the leadership literature to call this narcissism. Another common description is pride, or being so self-absorbed that the feedback that she has been given in the past just washed over her like water splashing on a rock. In this case she heard the feedback and rejects it.
  4. Omniscience. A high level of knowing is often seen as a positive quality in a leader. Both knowledge and experience can be  very valuable commodities to a leader. Robert Sternberg, when writing in the area of foolishness in A Handbook of Wisdom, describes that a leader who has expertise, power, or a great deal of knowledge, runs a risk of falling into the trap of believing they are all knowing. If a leader falls into this trap input from outside sources begins to lose value compared to the information they already have.
  5. Lack of  self-regard. Self-regard is an ability to be able to accept yourself for who you are and have an appreciation for your positive attributes and your perceived negative traits, while still feeling good about yourself. This means all of the external confidence that had been observed by this leader in the interview was just window dressing.  It is possible that her view of self was so low or distorted that she was afraid that admitting a fault would show such weakness that her ability to get the job would be in jeopardy. Steve Stein and Howard Book, in The EQ Edge state that leaders who fail because of difficulties with self-regard can not tolerate to have their “warts” visible publicly.

At this point many of you are trying to see if you can come up with another attribute that I may have missed. Let’s resist the temptation (using a heightened level of Impulse Control) to be organizational psychologists, and instead turn our thoughts more to ourselves.

How are YOU doing on being able to answer the question, “What is your personal development opportunity”? I am sure you all could mail this one in... you know, just write something down so that HR and your boss are satisfied. But why not stretch yourself a bit? Get honest with yourself and ask, "what is it that I really need to work on that is going to make me a more effective leader?"

If you ever want to talk about that sometime, let me know. In the mean time I would really value your thoughts on other leadership mistakes you have made, or that you have seen made. I would like to compile a list of these and do a post someday so that we can learn from each other.