Are You Ensuring This Happens After People Are Trained?

I have recently been working my way through a very interesting book by Ben Horowitz called The Hard Thing About Hard Things. It is a very interesting perspective on founding, buying, selling, running, and investing in technology companies. The book is not really steeped in a lot of sound leadership theory, but is more about his own practical wisdom in working and leading in the technology space. 

One of the things that caught my eye was in a small section he wrote about employee retention. According to Ben, during his tenure at one of the tech companies he founded he decided to read all of the exit interviews for the entire company. He was amazed at the amount of money they were spending on talent recruiting, hiring, and on-boarding only to see this open drain on the back end of the company. It seemed they were losing people as fast as they could hire them.

According to Horowitz, when you put the economics aside (I assume he means people who say they are leaving for higher paying jobs that his organization couldn’t compete with) there were two primary reasons why people left:

  1. They hated their direct manager. They often cited things like:

    • Lack of guidance

    • No career development

    • Feedback they received

  2. They were not learning anything. 

He then goes on to make a case for the importance of training new employees to resolve some of these turnover issues.


Insert Coaching Here

While I am all for making sure that all employees get adequate training in their role, my experience is that training is just not enough. You can’t simply send employees to a training program and expect that your turnover numbers are going to go down. 

Horowitz quotes Andy Grove, the legendary CEO at Intel, who makes the economic case for training by saying that if a manager did a series of 4 lectures for their department, assuming 3 hours of prep for each hour of material, that is 12 hours of work in total. Say you have a department of 10 folks and next year they will work about 20,000 hours for the organization. If you get a 1 percent improvement in performance, the company gains about 200 hours of work as a result. It is easy to see the ROI by inserting a salary for the department and subtracting the managers salary-time.

I would like to take Grove’s ROI calculation one step further and insert coaching after the completion of training. 

Let’s assume that a manager then does two one-one one meetings each month with each of the employees on the team. Half of the time for these meetings is dedicated to coaching the employees after the training.

The manager has had plenty of time to observe the employees, evaluating their use of the training delivered. The manager can now use the observed behaviors to coach any little improvements that will help the employee become more productive.  

Let’s assume that this manager is really not that good of a coach, but is able to eke out another 1% of productivity from each of the employees as a result of the coaching. This becomes another 12 hours of work on the part of the manager (2hrs/month/employee + 10 minutes of prep on what coaching is needed).  Now another 200 hours of work improvement has just occurred as a result. 

Now we see that 4 hours of training (a one hour training session per quarter) and one hour of dedicated coaching to the training results in a net increase in 400 hours of productivity for the organization!

No Time for Training or Coaching

I had a client tell me one time that he just really didn’t have time to train or do one on one meetings with his team. The team had way too many tasks and priorities to take a break from their work to do any of this kind of development.  

The interesting thing to me was that I was hired as an executive coach to work with this person because the turnover rate in his organization was so high that those who were left were forced to take on the projects of the folks who were exiting.

This manager was symptomatically trying to solve his productivity issues by moving projects around on some kind of organizational chess board.

Instead of making the investment in the people to reduce the turn-over rate, the manager just wanted the folks who were left to work longer and harder. 

When I did an interview 360 and talked to this manager’s peers and the folks on his team, he was not very well liked or respected. One person I interviewed told me the manager was often quoted as stating “The workload will stay high until the teams performance improves.”

There was no coaching, no positive feedback, and no feeling of being developed. 

My job as this manager’s coach was to help him see that his unwillingness to invest in coaching the team was the productivity drag on the department. 

How about you?

Do you have 1 hour per quarter to provide a training for your team and 3 hours of follow-up after the training to get a 400% increase in your team’s productivity? 

Or does your team have so much to do that there is no time for training and coaching? 

Stay tuned for next week’s post where I am going to take on the topic of Good Coach/Bad Coach. I think this is a really important topic for those of you who buy into the importance of training and coaching and think you are good at it... Just because you do it, does that mean you are skilled?

Spoiler Alert: Valentines Day Is in 3 Days

Hey, I know you are busy! We all are busy! My mom is 82 years old and when I call her even she will often say to me how busy she is. But being busy is no excuse for not letting the most important relationships in your life know how important they are to you.

The thing I love about this day set aside to celebrate love is the intentionality of it all. 

Valentines day is a day where I can celebrate the women who are important to me: my wife, my daughter, my daughters-in-law, my mom, my mother-in-law, and my granddaughter. These are all very special relationships to me and I want them to know how much I cherish the relationship I have with each of them.

While I have not decided at the time I am writing this what I am going to intentionally do for each of them, I guarantee there will be something for each of them that lets them know on this special day of celebration that they are on my mind and in my heart.


Being Intentional

One thing I have really noticed over the last few years is the value of my relationships. I am a bit ashamed to admit that in the past I have put the idea of money or commerce above relationship. Thankfully, I can honestly say that I no longer do this. Not that making a living in my work is not important, because it is! However, money is simply no longer the thing I want to be intentional about.  

For me, beyond the giving of a gift like flowers or chocolate, this Valentines Day I will intentionally focus on ensuring my relationships are well formed and intact.

Being intentional requires being meaningful and purposeful. It requires aligning my goals and my choices so that what am I doing reflects that which is important to me.

Valentines Day is a great way that I can bring meaning and purpose into both my life and the lives of the relationships that are most important to me by practicing intentionality in the area of emotional connection.

Emotional Communication

One way to show your significant other that you care is to purchase them something that is a token expression of your love. This is probably the easiest for most of us to do and in the end probably communicates the least how we really feel about the other person.

By no means am I saying that you should stiff your loved one on this day, but why not consider taking an additional step toward deeper emotional connection with your loved one?

A great way to show your significant other how much you care is to do something for them. In addition to buying something, why not actually create something? There are not many things that say “I love you” more than the other person knowing you spent time on something, thinking of them the entire time you are doing it.

Maybe you could sit for an hour and write them a poem? Or, if you are so inclined, maybe you could step in and take care of a task that they would normally do themselves.

The big idea around emotional connection is that you are noticing them and thinking about them.

Perhaps the best way to connect with someone emotionally is to simply spend time with them.

Try engaging in some conversation about a subject they enjoy but that you might not know so much about. Maybe there is a TV show that your partner really enjoys or a sports team that they follow. The idea around small talk is that you become inquisitive about all aspects of their lives. Psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan developed an approach that he called “detailed inquiry,” where you get curious with others about all aspects of their lives.

What research is showing is that these small insignificant conversations actually create more of an emotional connection than the deeper conversations about life most significant issues. Even something as simple as making a grocery list together or going over in detail all the movies playing at the theater before deciding which one to see can draw you closer to another person.  

Once you have talked about these small insignificant experiences, then go out and share them together!

For example, sit with your significant other and create some small talk around what a great valentine dinner might look like for the two of you. Things like what the meal will consist of, what kind of candles should there be, do you want a table cloth or a runner, cloth or paper napkins? Just get curious together about the insignificant details. Then on the 13th of February go to the store together and buy all the things you talked about. Buy the napkins, the steaks, the candles, etc. On Valentine’s Day, put the entire dinner on the table together. Fix the meal together. Pour each other a glass of wine. Just be together in the same moment.

These are the things of deep emotional connections.

Too many times we think these types of connections require deep topics that are serious in nature, but if you want to connect with another person on an emotional level try to spend some time just chatting about the small stuff and then create an experience around the small conversation.

You will be glad you did.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Coaching Was a Turning Point for Me as a Leader

A few days ago I was on a video conference beginning a new coaching engagement with a client, Robert. In this initial meeting I walk the client through my typical coaching expectations; what Robert can expect from me as well as what I am expecting from him.  

In addition to myself and Robert, his supervisor is on the call, along with someone from Human Resources. It is really important that all of these parties are engaged in Robert’s development so that there is clarity of expectations and organizational support for Robert’s development.

When we had finished aligning expectations I asked Robert if he had any questions. He did not.

I asked if the HR rep had any questions. She did not.

Last, I asked Robert’s supervisor, Sam, if he had any questions. He did not, but he did have something powerful to say: ”I went through some coaching several years back and it was a turning point for me as a leader…” 

I couldn’t wait for Sam to finish the story and tell us all why the coaching he had received was so impactful, but there was dead silence on the phone.  In true coaching form, I waited through the silence, suppressing every urge inside of me to fill the air with noise just so the silence didn’t feel so lonely. 

After what seemed to me to be an eternity, Sam continued in a rather subdued tone that the coaching he received had uncovered that his strength had a dark side to it. 


Sam shared that his strength had always been in understanding and interpreting data. He possessed very strong analytical skills and a belief that the numbers told the story of the situation. He was a very rational thinker and an excellent long-term planner.  In addition to the scientific approach that he brought to his work, he was very self-confident - sure of himself with a strong ability to keep his composure.

Robert chimed in at this point and said, “I can see all of these things in you today. I have never worked with anyone whose analytical skills were as sharp as yours. In fact, there are times where I triple check things before I bring them to you because I want to make sure they are right.”

Sam replied, “And that is a good thing. We want to make sure the data is correct. However, for me, these strong analytical skills also came with a dark side. I was very skeptical of other people on the leadership team. I was distrustful of them and very cynical if they had an idea or wanted to change something without data to support their rationale. My focus on the negative became a real distraction to the point that people would stop coming to me with problems I could help them solve.”

At this point, the call seemed like a conversation between Robert and Sam. A conversation maybe they should have had a long time ago, but this coaching kick-off was giving them the safe space to talk. 

Robert said, “Sam, I don’t sense that in you at all. I do not see you as negative. I see people coming to you all the time to help them solve issues.”

To that, with a bit of pride in his voice, Said said, “Coaching was a turning point for me as a leader.”

What a powerful moment I had just witnessed. 

Sam’s coach was able to help him see how his strengths, while for sure personality assets, had also been holding him back in ways that he just didn’t see.

His coach helped him identify this dark side, or blind spot, then helped him put together a plan to take advantage of his strength while not over playing it to the point of dysfunction.

I am sure most of you can self-identify with Sam in this story. Like Sam, we all have strengths and weaknesses. You may be really confident in what you are good at, but can you identify some places where your strengths are not serving you? Are you overplaying them?

Perhaps you are really good at relationship building, but there are times you are overly cooperative and say yes when you should say no.

Perhaps you are a real risk taker, but there are times where your thrill seeking has landed you in a bad place.

Perhaps you are very colorful and the life of the party, but you walk away from conversations not having heard what the others in the room have even said. (And that is if you even consider there were other people in the room at all.)

One of the great things coaching can do for you is to help you focus on your strengths so that you use them to the best of your ability, but not over play them. I hope you are able to use your coach in this manner. It is one of the true values that coaching can bring to any relationship.

Does Your Organization Implement All Three of These Ideas in Developing Leaders?

Even as a guy who loves to read and write about the topic of leadership development, I have some real empathetic understanding for those who do not think the investment in leaders is worth the return on the investment (ROI). While I do not totally agree, I am open to listening to their perspective.

Barbara Kellerman, leadership guru out of Harvard University, has entered into the discussion on the value of leadership development. In her new book, Professionalizing Leadership., she takes issue with the leadership development industry because of the message that it sends; “Take my course, or come to my workshop, or take my executive program, and you too can learn to be a leader.” Kellerman’s main beef with the leadership development industry is that other professions take the task of learning or mastering a field and a particular set of skills much more seriously and much more thoroughly. The main concern as I understand Kellerman’s point is that leadership development is packaged as an event rather than a discipline.

I agree with this summation.


Those of us in leadership development have to get away from positioning our value proposition as an event and start thinking more about how we approach leadership as a life long discipline.

For example, a training course in personality or emotional intelligence can give a leader a self-awareness tool. Nothing more. It is up to the leader to take this information and become a student of how it informs their understanding and approach to the practice of leadership.  

If you are going to lead, you can not just wake up and say “Today I think I will try to instill some vision into the group I am with.” Leadership is a discipline, just like chemistry, finance, or project management. According to Donald Schon in his book The Reflective Practitioner, these professions are “essential to the very functioning of our society.”

No person in any organization can be a leader without some other set of skills. If you want to be a sales leader, then you have to become skillful at sales and at leadership. If you want to be a leader in finance, then you must learn both disciplines, leadership and finance.

Interestingly, what I find in most organizations is that we take those who are most successful in a functional discipline, like finance, and once they show proficiency and skill at financial reporting and the inner workings of EBITA then the discussion turns to giving that person a team to lead. Most often, there is no thought of what the leadership experience or knowledge or education of that person is.

The mistake that is made is in the thinking that because this person has excelled in a particular skill, or because they were number one in their class at an Ivy League School, they must be a leader.

While I am not saying it is impossible for this person who has proven mastery of a skill to be a leader, the mistake is one Robert Sternberg ,in his chapter on foolishness in The Handbook of Wisdom, calls “fallacies of relevance.”

These errors are committed when the premise of an argument has no bearing on its conclusion. For example, just because Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever play the sport does not mean he can coach. 

Sternberg would call this all too common behavior in organizations: foolishness. It means that intelligence is no protection agains bad decisions. 

Let’s say you had an opening in your organization for a financial analyst. A resume comes across your desk for a person  with no education in finance, no knowledge of terms or how financial data fits together, and zero experience in finance. Would you hire this person for your opening and expect them to meet organizational expectations?

No, of course you wouldn’t!

You would be looking for resumes of people who went to school for a number of years to learn the academic ins and outs of finance, then got a job in the field, had some people in an organization show them the ropes, maybe even was assigned a mentor. At the very least, they had the ability to learn from the “school of hard knocks” about what works and what doesn’t work.

Let’s think of it another way. Would you ever hire someone for a finance role who was an organizational leadership major? Let them lead the team and say, “No worries, they will just learn the finance piece.” Outside of an introductory sales or administrative role, I have never heard of this happening!

The Reason for Wrong Thinking In Leadership Development

There are three things I believe those who want to be effective organizational leaders need to focus on when making decisions about who is in a leadership role in an organization:

  1. Leadership Education.

    Education is about gathering general knowledge as part of facilitating the learning process. It comprises important elements such as grounded theory, core values, accepted beliefs, socially acceptable habits, and proven skills.  A leader should know the difference between transactional and servant leadership and how followers react to each. Basic education is a necessity prior to someone going into training. If you try to train someone without some knowledge they may be able to learn the skill, but will not be able to transfer that learning to complex situations that arise.

  2. Leadership Training.

    Training is about acquiring skills and behaviors with the goal of improving performance. A leader might go to a training class to learn about personality types and be trained in how to use personality to improve communication. Without some education on what personality theory is, the leader is armed with a tool they do not understand and, therefore, cannot use to the benefit of themselves or the organization.

  3. Leadership Development.

    Leadership Development is the ongoing use of leadership education and training that is building and expanding the persons capacity to lead. This idea of development starts with the individual and then must expand to the broader organization to ensure healthy organizational growth.

These three very distinct aspects of leadership are all critical to growing leaders in organizations.

Back to the “Is it worth It” Question

While ROI is pretty easy to calculate on an investment like a stock, the calculation gets messy when we start to try and calculate the complexity of human behavior.

While many have offered formulas, the deterministic approach often leaves readers scratching their heads as a small investment in leadership development ends up showing 600% returns. It is so unbelievable that most people just dismiss the numbers out of hand. 

Maybe instead of being so deterministically calculating we ought to rely on another mathematic discipline to determine value of developing our leaders; statistics. More specifically, probability. 

What are the chances that without investing fully in developing leaders that our business will succeed? Before you start developing assumptions to generate your answer, why don’t we turn to logic to answer the question for us?

What are the chances that without investing in the education, training, and development of our finance department that our business will succeed?

I think you have your answer.

Do You Have Enough Relational Empathy?

Last week’s blog post was really cathartic for me. I wrote a reflection on 2018 from the work I had done with clients and the kinds of big picture things I was noticing. If you haven’t seen it yet you can take a look here.

One of the things I have been observing is how important relational empathy is becoming in organizations.

Clarifying Question

After that post, I got an email from a reader that pushed back on the idea of needing more relational empathy. The point this person was making was that they had a job to do, and it was their job to “stay in their lane” and represent sales. That if marketing had a problem, well, that was up to them to solve.

I have to admit, I used to think this way as well. When our organizations were silos of departments and functional expertise was valued over anything else, this “stay in your lane” mentality ruled.

But I would argue that our world is changing too fast to keep this line of thinking. 

I am finishing a book now by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Thomas Friedman, titled Thank You For Being Late. Friedman spends a lot of time unpacking the idea of Moore’s Law, which is really more of an observation from the technology world-the expectation that the power of microchips would double roughly every two years-giving exponential growth to computing power. 


The silo organization is dead. Individuals working in teams is the only way to achieve success.

Last week in my blog I wrote this about Relational Empathy:

I don’t know if this is a symptom of our political climate or not, but people have become so polar. They have an idea or a framework for how the world should be and they stick to it no matter how silly it makes them look. Maybe this is a natural outcome of divisions of labor, where those trained in finance wear finance glasses and only see the world through finance. Or, how those who are trained and educated in marketing only see the world through a marketing lens.  As leaders we seem to have lost the skill of trying to understand where the other person is coming from, and, even more important, what it is like to be them. We are so concerned with our own selfish ambition and desires that we have lost sight of the perspective of other ways of seeing and doing.


Let me unpack the relational part of this concept. 

Maureen O’Hara from the Center for Studies of the Person writes of two distinct frameworks for thinking about the self. There is the Western view that sees the self as ego-centric. This is an individualistic, self-centered perspective. 

There is also a pre-European (i.e. India or Mexico) view that sees the self as socio-centric. The person is seen as participating in the world around them.

O’Hara gives a great example by observing the family.

Those from the West, when they speak of family, will often say that they “have a family”. Note the possessiveness.

Those from the pre-European perspective say that they “belong to a family.” Notice the inclusiveness.

Most of the readers of this blog are from a Western perspective of the self. So, when it comes to relationships, we think in terms of possessing or “having friends” as opposed to “belonging to” a friend group.

To be relational, leaders need to have the ability to establish and maintain mutually satisfying relationships that have both “give” and “take” where compassion and trust are expressed in both word and deed.


According to American psychologist Carl Rogers, "The state of empathy or being empathetic is to perceive the internal from of reference of another with accuracy, and with the emotional components and meaning which pertain thereto, as if one were the other person, but without ever losing the “as if” condition.” 

This means that as a leader you are aware of and sense the emotion (disappointment, hurt, rejection) of someone on your team AND you perceive this emotion just like they do without losing the awareness that it is “AS IF” you were disappointed, hurt, or rejected. This is what differentiates empathy and sympathy.

Relational Empathy

Relational empathy is about establishing and maintaining mutually satisfying relationships “AS IF” you were the other person.  One of the best examples of a leader having relational empathy that I have seen in a long time is in a book by Ben Horowitz titled The Hard Thing About Hard Things. The story is on page 47 if you get a copy of the book. 

Allow me to paraphrase:

Ben is the CEO of a tech company in Silicon Valley and had bought a small technology company in North Carolina, Tangram. During the deal, the CEO of Tangram, John, started experiencing headaches. In addition, as part of the purchase, John would not be joining Ben’s company. Turns out, John had brain cancer and since he was not joining the new company would not have health insurance, as it was ruled a pre-existing condition. Ben did not owe John anything and the cost to the company for COBRA was over $200,000. Ben’s company was in no financial shape to be merciful. Bottom line, this was not Ben’s problem.

Ben’s company was in a fight for its life, but then, Ben realized, so was John.

So Ben decided to pay for John’s health cost. “We will find the money elsewhere in the budget,” he said.

John died 15 months later.

Ben reflects, “I guess I did it because i knew what desperation felt like.”

Now that is relational empathy!

Do You Share These Observations Regarding Leadership Momentum?

There are not many folks from about mid-December through mid-January who are wanting to engage in new coaching or training opportunities, so each year I use those weeks for reflection and planning. 

In addition the clients I am currently working with, I am regularly adding new coaching clients into my practice throughout the year. With that in mind, an important area to reflect on as one year ends a new one begins is the future of my coaching practice. How many new clients will I engage this year? Who will they be? What will my coaching practice look like in the coming months? It is important to thoughtfully reflect on these questions in order to determine how I can proactively plan for a successful year for both myself and my clients.

Another area of my professional life that I reflect on is the work my clients have asked me to do with them. I begin by looking at my calendar to observe all the work I did in the past 12 months. I look at all the times I spent teaching, training, facilitating, coaching, creating content, etc. Then, I ask myself a really hard question: Is the work I am doing still relevant? Is it meaningful for those who call on me to work with leaders in their organization?

Finally, I spend time in personal reflection and journaling. Perhaps most importantly, reflecting on how I spend my time, then comparing this data with what I really enjoy doing in my work life.



One way to look at whether or not I am relevant is by using the idea of momentum. This is a concept that I borrow from the world of personal investing and finance.

One of the personal finance newsletters I read on a very regular basis is Sound Mind Investing. (You can learn more about them at

In the January 2019 newsletter, Matt Bell writes about the concept of momentum. According to Matt:

“A fundamental mistake many investors make is to move too quickly in choosing investments. They read about a hot stock or this year’s best performing mutual fund and jump in. It’s all very ad hoc and reactive.”

Matt goes on to write that “Momentum is the idea that the recent past performance tends to persist-that is, it tends to continue, at least into the near term future.”

This means that what has happened in the recent past is likely to continue into the near future. It is what we know to be true from the world of physics; that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, while an object at rest stays at rest.

Momentum in the financial world becomes an objective measure of what is going on in the marketplace so that the investor can build a strategy based on real data and not just turn on the TV and be moved to buy a stock by some talking head in the moment.

Momentum Analysis

As I analyzed my journaling from this past year, here are 4 things I noticed:

  1. Emotional Intelligence remains an important leadership construct. This is true for both the training work I do as well as the coaching. Most of the time when leaders hire me there is some growth desired in this area. I think Dan Goleman got it right when he wrote, “What really matters for success, character, happiness, and life long achievements is a definite set of emotional skills - your EQ - not just purely cognitive abilities…” Organizations put so much emphasis on how smart and skillful people are that they often miss this other very important dynamic of the “how” they work with others.

  2. Relational empathy. I don’t know if this is a symptom of our political climate or not, but people have become so polar. They have an idea or a framework for how the world should be and they stick to it no matter how silly it makes them look. Maybe this is a natural outcome of divisions of labor, where those trained in finance wear finance glasses and only see the world through finance. Or, how those who are trained and educated in marketing only see the world through a marketing lens.  As leaders we seem to have lost the skill of trying to understand where the other person is coming from, and, even more important, what it is like to be them. We are so concerned with our own selfish ambition and desires that we have lost sight of the perspective of other ways of seeing and doing.

  3. Being flexible in ambiguous times. I was on a call with a potential client toward the end of the year whose organization has been turned upside down. Half of the people have either been laid off or reassigned new roles. There is a tremendous amount of ambiguity about what certain jobs actually are and what people are supposed to do everyday. I was asked to talk with the team about the impact of emotions during times of tension and what to watch for as leaders when working with others. I was interrupted with a question in the middle of my presentation when one well meaning soul said, “Dr. Livingston, enough already about helping people process the loss they have experienced, can you just help us get to a place where things are normal and we can all just get back to work?” My response? “This is your new normal. Learning to be emotionally flexible and helping people deal with where they are in the moment is a new calling for leaders.”

  4. Connecting with talent. The December stock market slide, not withstanding the economic outlook and, more specifically, the jobs outlook, is really robust. Senior leaders need to make sure they are connecting with talent, because my sense is that talent is itching for new opportunities. I think senior leaders need to get much better at proactively scheduling time to connect and care about the talent in the organization. Take them for coffee. Schedule a lunch. Learn what is on their mind. You do not need to do another ROI calculation on some process. What you really need to do is ensure you have the talent on your team to turn the future you are planning for into a reality.

How about you? Do you agree with these 4 observations? Leave a comment or send an email. I would love to connect with you to talk about these observations, or your unique observations regarding your organization.

Best hopes for the coming year,


Do Not Forget to Do This When You Turn to Setting Your 2019 Goals

Now that the Christmas season is behind us, many leaders will be turning their sights to goal setting for 2019.

A noble cause, to be sure.

Goals can help leaders:

  1. Stay focused on priorities.

  2. Ensure they are challenging themselves.

  3. Set milestones to measure progress.

And, according to the literature on goal setting theory:

  1. Give the leader a great deal of self-confidence in accomplishing the objectives.

If you are in need of some deep thinking time to better understand what your goals should be, you can download my Minimalist’s Guide to a 4-Hour Personal Leadership Retreat by clicking here. This guide is intended to give you some structure for a creative thinking process as you consider what you want to put the emphasis on in your life this year.


A Quick Story

A past client called me recently after being “downsized” from his organization. As we talked about his situation, he told me “Last time I took a job it was because it was convenient. I didn’t have to move and I knew I could do the work. I was not passionate about the work, but I knew I could do it.”

As we talked about what he wanted to do in this next transition he was much more clear and principled. “I want something where I can use my skills as a leader, doing what I am most passionate about. It really doesn’t matter where it it is or necessarily what industry it is in. If it is something I love getting up to do, that is what I am looking for.”

As I hung up the phone from talking to him I could really tell the difference between his first transition and this one. 

He was following his heart and he was principled in his quest.

Consider examining your principles prior to goal setting

One of my favorite leadership quotes of all time is from the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland:

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”

I think many leaders adopt this philosophy as a reason for goal setting, to give themselves some priorities on what they want to accomplish in a given year.

The problem is that we as leaders can often set goals that will get things done, but are not goals we truly believe in or are not important to us at all.

For example, I can set a goal to shoot an 80 for 18 holes in golf, but if I do not believe it is possible because I currently shoot 95, then what good is having the goal? Sure, it is a goal, but it is not principled.

What is a principle?

As I researched this question a few years ago for a leadership workshop I led, here is what the literature said about principles.  Most definitions include aspects of the following:

  • An accepted or professed rule of action, or a doctrine for conduct.

  • A truth that can be followed.

  • A guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct.

In summary, a principle is some type of relevant, moral, accepted standard that the leader believes in which guides their underlying behavior.

Your principles inform your development goals

If this idea of having a principle inform a goal is new to you, let me give you some steps you can use to create a principle that supports a behavior that you can then set a goal around.

  1. Find agreement and define the dimension you are setting a goal around.

    For example, if I want to improve my coaching skills as a goal, I would make sure that coaching is a leadership behavior and then give myself a definition for what coaching means to me.

    Coaching: An interaction between a coach and a coachee that unlocks the full potential of the person being coached. In a coaching relationships, the coachee is transformed in both belief and behavior in an encouraging, supportive manner.

  2. The next step in the process is to think about the Dominant Ideas that surround the leadership dimension. Ask yourself questions like:

    1. What are the important skills that support this behavior?

    2. How do I want my followers to feel when I am using this leadership dimension?

    3. Why is this dimension important to me as a leader?

  3. After you have answered these question then ask yourself:

    What does being a “good” coach (in this case) look like and how is that different from being a “great” coach?

    The idea is to let go of any outcomes here and to focus on quality inputs.  Resist the temptation to say that a great coach obtains a maximum bonus payout at the end of the year; or that a great coach wins championships. Instead, focus more on the behaviors of what a great coach actually does. Things like building rapport, attuning, and listening skill.

  4. Finally, go back and review these three steps and just sit and think about them. Meditate on them so that the primary ideas become really clear to you. After some time, write a single sentence that describes the principle so that it represents what your idea or belief is in coaching.

    Example: Create a safe environment for discussions where the coachee feels valued and heard, supported and challenged, and knows I have their best interest in mind.

The challenge I have for you as you are thinking about your goals for 2019 is to not only think about what you want to get done, but also why this goal is so important to you and how you want to go about reaching it.

As you think about the why and the how, I do hope you will become a principle centered leader as you set and attain your goals.

A Prescription for Being A Wise Leader

Because it is Christmas Eve I am fairly confident that if you are reading this post at all, you are in one of three places:

  1. At work regretting not saving one more vacation day this year.

  2. Others assume you are working, but that you have scheduled yourself at an “offsite meeting” of undisclosed location.

  3. On vacation, but just couldn’t help yourself and had to check your email because it is a Monday morning.

No matter where these thoughts find you this day, I want to note that this post is a little different than my usual organizational leadership musings. So, you have been warned.

Perhaps this is because as I am writing this my own heart and mind are turning to the Christmas holiday and the precious time my wife Kim and I will get to spend with our kids, their spouses, and my adorable granddaughter. However, our time with our family will not start until later on Christmas Day when our daughter and her husband arrive at our home in Florida.

This means that today, on Christmas Eve, if you are opening this post early, Kim and I will be at the gym for our morning workout. If you are reading midmorning I then will be having a brunch meeting with my good friends Bob and Pat who serve in ministry at Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU). Or, if you decided to sleep in and are reading this later in the day, I will likely be off to a matinee with Kim before we head to our Christmas Eve service at church.

I have to admit that one of my favorite church services all year is Christmas Eve. 

One thing I really I love about the Christmas Eve service at almost any church I have ever attended is that it is almost guaranteed that the song “O Holy Night” will be sung.

There is just something about this song that sends a chill down my spine. I get this huge adrenaline rush as the song begins slowly;

 “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of the dear saviors birth.”

Even as the song begins I find myself lost in the lyrics. Then the song builds in intensity as it moves along until it hits the crescendo verse still remembering that special night;

“O night divine,” the verse repeats softly and slowly, “O night divine.” 

What I love about this song is that it implores us to remember that night, and not only to acknowledge it but to remember it as something really unique in the history of the world: a savior was born for man to come back into relationship with God.

I have been thinking a lot recently about why that song is so impactful for me, and I think it is because the song takes me to a place in my mind that I do not go to enough…my imagination.


I am so evidence and fact based in my approach to leadership development (and life) that I often miss that creative, imaginative side of who I am.

So, why am I writing this to you as practitioners and gurus in the field of organizational leadership?

Because I don’t want you to miss this very important aspect in leadership that just does not get enough press these days…wisdom in leadership. 

We put so much focus on effective leadership I often wonder if we are missing the boat in doing so. I would argue that perhaps we need to be less concerned with how effective our leaders are and put more emphasis on how wise they are!

So, how do we evaluate wisdom in ourselves as leaders and in those we lead? Here are five things you can use from the wisdom leadership literature as a checklist:

  1.  Wise leaders use careful observations and reason to reach better decisions.

  2. Wise leaders take into account not only rational and factual evidence, but also non-rational aspects such as emotional intelligence, foresight, and imagination. 

  3. Wise leaders value humane and virtuous outcome. 

  4. Wise leaders make decisions that are practical and oriented towards everyday life.

  5. Wise leaders understand the aesthetic dimensions of their work, are articulate when communicating, and believe in contributing to the good life of all.

Perhaps the most notable in this list is number two, so don’t miss it -- wise leaders take into account both the rational and the imagination.

My hope for you this Christmas season is that you will be awestruck not only by the evidence that you can see, but also that you are amazed this season by your own imagination. And, in doing so, that you would find yourself growing in wisdom as a leader.

Take in every moment this holiday season and let your heart be filled with gratitude and wonder.

Be blessed.

Invest In Your Future Today

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

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

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

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

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


Then it hit me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Hear What I Hear?

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

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

  • You could be rejected, which leads to embarrassment.

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

  • You could be humiliated, which leads to isolation.

  • You could be discounted, which leads to demoralization.

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

  • You could be celebrated for the input.

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

  • You could be honored for your courage.

  • You could be valued for your contribution.

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

Receptivity of the Leader

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

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

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

How are you doing in this area?


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

  • Slow down your cadence.

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

  • Become curious.

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

  • Always say thank you.

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

  • Spend time reflecting.

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

  • Do the inner work of developing your soul.

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


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

5 Steps Toward Sustainable Change

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

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

It is performance review time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Steps Toward Sustainable Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Turkeys Decide on Thanksgiving Dessert?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Story

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Something For You To Think About

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you doing?

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

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

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

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

Will Removing These Leadership Lids Help You?

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

It wouldn't budge.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

How to Create Excitement In Hiring

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It happened to me again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I Am Curious

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

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

The basic root of the question is this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Simple Suggestion

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

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

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

Give It A Try

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

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

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

What could they learn that they do not already know?

How could they innovate their current role?

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

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

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

5 Actions For Speaking Truth to Power

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

  • You could be rejected which leads to embarrassment

  • You could be dismissed which leads to self-doubt

  • You could be humiliated which leads to isolation

  • You could be discounted which leads to demoralization

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

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

  • You could be celebrated for the input

  • You could be included in the decision-making process

  • You could be honored for your courage

  • You could be valued for your contribution


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

How to Maintain Emotional Balance When Things Go Bad

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Consider the Situation

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

Hear from Others

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

Eliminate Negativity

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

Create a Plan - Organize and Carry Out

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Emotionally Agile?

Change is really hard!

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

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

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

My Change Story

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

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

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

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

Emotional Agility

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

Being emotionally agile starts with recognition of this range.

Here is what I experienced:

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

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

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

Time to move on…

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

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

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

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

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

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


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