On Managing Loss and Grief

For many, this is the time of year when we pause, reflect, and express our gratitude. But this year, we are experiencing significant loss and grief. For some, this grief is complicated.

According to the Mayo Clinic, complicated grief is “an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing.” Stressors, including social isolation, financial hardships, and myths about the grieving process increase our risk for complicated grief.

And, it’s not necessarily a response to the loss of a loved one. Loss of income, status, or identity; loss of what we considered normalcy; unmet expectations; any significant change or loss can trigger a grief response.

Getting stuck in grief is a very real problem. It can affect you physically, mentally, socially, and professionally. Fortunately, it can be corrected, and even prevented. We need a better understanding about the process of grief, techniques to manage our experience, and the time required for healing.

A Brief Review of Grief

In the late 1960’s, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the stages of dying which she published in On Death and Dying. In 2005, David Kessler expanded on her hypothesis in their collaborative work, On Grief and Grieving, identifying five stages of grief:

  • Denial: shock and disbelief that the loss has occurred
  • Anger: that someone we love is no longer here
  • Bargaining: all the what-ifs and regrets
  • Depression: sadness from the loss
  • Acceptance: acknowledging the reality of the loss

According to Kessler, the stages “were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.”  In other words, these five stages “don’t prescribe, they describe.” Have you found this to be true for you?

Although we grieve in our own unique way, we may experience these responses in the process. None of the stages are easy, including the acceptance stage, and we may move through each one more than once throughout our grieving process.

In his newest book, Finding Meaning: the Sixth Stage of Grief (Scribner, 2019), Kessler points to a crucial sixth stage to the healing process: meaning. This is the stage that allows us to transform our grief and find a path forward. Although the grief may never end, it does lessen, and through meaning we can make sense of our grief. We can stay hopeful, strong, resilient, and resistant.

A New Model for Loss and Grief

At some point in our life, we will experience a process of grieving. It may be individual, collective, or even anticipatory. Our grief may lead us to ask, “What’s it really all about, anyway?” Debunking the myths of grief can help us manage the process, for ourselves, and others.

Critics argue that there is no sound scientific basis for Kübler-Ross’s stage theory. Placing expectations on yourself or others about needing to experience stages of grief can be harmful. Grieving is not a sequential, orderly, predictable process across time. It is not a set pattern of specific reactions. Most bereaved people adjust to their loss in their own manner (i.e. not through stages) over the course of time, while others experience some of the described stages.

One thing we do know with certainty is that while there are different patterns of “normal” grieving, experiencing loss can involve complex, fluctuating, emotions. Researchers have found that patterns vary greatly in terms of specific reactions, time-related changes, and duration of acute grieving period.

The Course of Grieving

The aim of theoretical models is to understand (and try to explain) the grieving process, not to be prescriptive about what people have to go through.

There are alternative scientific perspectives that better represent the course of grief and grieving. Chronologically, these include:

  • Trajectories approach (Bonanno, 2004)
  • Cognitive stress theory (Folkman, 2001)
  • Meaning making approach (Neimeyer, 2001)
  • Dual process model (Schut & Stroebe, 1999)
  • New model of grief (Walter, 1996)
  • Task model (Worden, 1982)
  • Two-track model (Rubin, 1981)
  • Psychosocial transition model (Parkes, 1971)

The search for meaning (meaning making approach) is a common response when we encounter loss, face challenges, and work through our grief. For many, it is the best model to understand their grief.

Acceptance: Where the Power Lies

Grief is extremely powerful…there is even more power in acceptance.” – David Kessler

2020 has been a year of change. Sure, we know that life is about impermanence. But the changes many of us have experienced this year have been a real loss, and we are truly grieving. How do we keep moving forward?

While there is no one-size-fits all prescription for the grieving process, we know it takes energy, time, and reflection. Finding meaning in the process fuels our focus, direction, passion and perseverance. Meaning becomes more powerful as it moves from being negative to positive, external to intrinsic, and from self to others. How?

In a Harvard Business Review article (March 2020), Kessler offered four practical tips: 

  • Find balance in the things you’re thinking. Recognize catastrophizing, rumination, denial, anesthetizing, etc.
  • Come into the present. If you haven’t already, practice mindfulness and/or meditation. State a feeling, identify an object, but don’t attach yourself to either. For example, rather than say, “I am angry”, say, “there is anger.”
  • Let go of what you can’t control. Focus on what you can.
  • Stock up on compassion. If you find yourself judging the behavior of someone else, add the word “yet” to the story you are telling yourself about their behavior. For example, “They are taking a huge risk by ___. I have never ___, yet.”

Ask for help when you need it. You’ll know you’ve moved into a state of acceptance when you can acknowledge what has/is happening and take steps to move forward.

Regenerate Your Power

Only you can make meaning for yourself. When you are ready:

  • Practice compassion for self and others: your loss is not a test/lesson, or a gift/blessing, rather, it is a loss. Making meaning is your response to a loss.
  • Allow your meaning to be personal and relative to your unique experience; understanding “why” is not necessary.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to make meaning: months, or even years.
  • Understand that making meaning is not the same as obtaining justice; there will still be loss after meaning is found. But meaningful connections can heal painful memories.

A Legacy that Endures

As a leader, how will your legacy measure up?

Your leadership legacy matters. It motivates people in the way they think and behave, today, and in the future. A lasting legacy sets a course: it adds value, creates positive meaning, and empowers others to carry on—with or without you.

Thousands of entrepreneurs have taken early retirement over the last year, many without a clear succession plan. Some of the vacancies have been temporarily filled by former employees or next-generation relatives, while others remain open.

History reveals it is not uncommon for crisis to create or accelerate significant changes at the top. During the 2008-2009 financial crisis, more than 2,000 CEOs of publicly-traded companies were replaced, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Legacies at Risk

Based on the succession planning research of Yo-Jud Cheng , Boris Groysberg and Paul Healy, Harvard Business Review (May 2020):

  • 63% of private companies do not have a CEO succession contingency plan in place
  • 69% of companies with less than $50 million in annual revenues lack a plan
  • The need for a succession plan is often more acute in small firms, especially start-ups

According to the researchers, 45% of all the U.S. companies they surveyed do not have a contingency plan for CEO succession, and 46% do not have an effective plan process for CEO succession. The industries most at risk include Health care (61% without a CEO succession contingency plan), Media (61%) IT and telecom (59%), and Consumer staples (53%).

Creating a lasting legacy is no easy feat. Those who succeed develop other executives: they understand what it takes for a successful leader to develop the capabilities to take a complex organization into the future, even in times of uncertainty.

The Makings of a Great Legacy

Your leadership legacy is how people remember you. It’s what they think and feel about you when you leave the room—today, and tomorrow. A great legacy is comprised of five elements:

  • Vision: a leadership vision is a testimony to the leader’s core values and sets the tone for direction and company operations. Leaders who are able to address issues conceptually, think strategically and creatively, and translate complex concepts into reality create a legacy vision.
  • Self-awareness: leaders who are self-aware are sensitive to their blind spots and bias. Great leaders are curious and able to gain new skills and knowledge to address challenges.
  • Relationships: leaders who have the desire and ability to understand others—not just what they say, but the meaning and feelings behind the words—enhance relationships, creativity, and collaboration. When we feel connected to others, especially in a work environment, we experience greater security, are more willing to share confidences, feel encouraged to take risks, and can support one another freely.
  • Perseverance: with the right knowledge (wisdom) and attitude (emotional resilience, realistic optimism, commitment and celebration of small wins), great leaders persevere to achieve positive results.
  • Leadership pipeline: great leaders take responsibility for building their organization’s leadership pipeline. They hold themselves accountable in the process of growing leaders, and recognize and support their developmental needs.

To be sure, employees, managers, and leaders are facing pressure and challenges like never before seen in our lifetime. They must maintain a steady balance between big-picture, long-term thinking with daily demands and problem solving. Building a strong leadership pipeline is important, but it often falls into the category of non-urgent.

Succession Planning in Large Organizations

In larger organizations, a lasting leadership legacy is funneled by line, department, or operating managers. After all, they are in prime position to identify potential, recognize developmental needs, and mentor emerging leaders. They encourage rising stars to take on new responsibilities, even if it means moving onto other lines, departments, or business units.

These front-line managers also support senior executives in defining and creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership development system for the entire company.  They identify challenges, issues, and practical solutions, passing on important knowledge and information.

Succession Planning in Small Businesses

In small business, a lasting leadership legacy is one of the biggest challenges.

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (May 2020), “The Key to Successful Succession Planning for Family Businesses,” most family firms fail to remain a family business past the second generation. For those that do, gaining support of non-family employees for the next generation of leadership is a key challenge. However, research indicates that family successors are often preferred, as long as they support the existing culture and are well-equipped for leadership.

Preparation, transparency, and accountability are critical for success. When prospective employees understand any foreseen limits in their opportunities for advancement, they won’t feel blind-sided when family members are appointed in leadership positions. Plus, next generation family members who work side-by-side with non-family members can benefit from their experience through training and mentoring. This also allows the next generation family members to demonstrate their competence and accountability.

Develop Your Future Leaders

Great leaders are very mindful and intentional about leadership development. They understand that while financial results define where a company has been, leadership is a key indicator of a company’s future.

The quality of leadership—at every level—has a huge impact on everyday operations, and it determines every employee’s level of engagement. That’s why the best leaders invest in their own development. They:

  • Practice self-awareness. Understand your impact, limits, and challenge yourself to grow.
  • Balance here/now with there/future. Know what got you here. Be fully present.
  • Put people first. Practice compassion and encourage and equip others to succeed.
  • Listen more than they speak. Practice humility: seek to understand, rather than to be understood.

Great leaders also invest in the development of future leaders. They understand how managers grow. You see, they know that training alone is not the key to development; it is job experiences, coupled with coaching, feedback, and mentoring.

Build a Legacy Model

Here is a simple five-step model you can adapt for your organization, regardless of size:

  • Review your methods (and criteria) to identify leadership talent.
  • Identify pathways to leadership: sequences of responsibilities that build capabilities and meet daily operational needs.
  • Recognize each future leader in ways that highlights their strengths, personality, and contributions.
  • Track and assess results, provide feedback and coaching, and when necessary, adjust for changes.
  • Provide future leaders with opportunities to build relationships. When applicable, introduce future leaders to board members.

Line/department/business unit managers should be an integral part of the process. Clear assignment, roles, and responsibilities are key to success. However, it’s not unusual for managers to feel uneasy with the emotional and personal involvement effective talent development requires. Being a good coach or mentor requires knowing and discussing people’s talents and potential in ways that may seem intrusive. A qualified coach can help.

Great leaders exist in every generation. It’s just a matter of finding—and keeping—them. Preparation is the key to filling the leadership pipeline and creating a legacy that endures.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Because Better is Better

How does your organization approach diversity, equity, and inclusion?

While many leaders believe they have taken adequate steps to correct or avoid inequalities in the workplace with policies, promotion, and training, all too often we hear about employees who experience some form of exclusion or inequity, including lack of promotion, outright harassment, and even worse.

Being excluded at work is not fun. Even in times when most people are working remotely, being left out can intensify a sense of alienation, which impacts our happiness and performance. This is even more critical for small businesses: according to a 2019 survey, 52% of small businesses report labor quality as their biggest challenge.

Imagine, then, the impact when co-workers and leaders ignore an ongoing problem.

What if the exclusion(s) were due to your ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation? How do you address diversity, equity and inclusion problems in your organization?

Social psychologist and researcher Robert Livingston, author of The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth About Racism Can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations, (Random House 2021) writes in the September-October 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review that the real challenge is not figuring out what to do, it’s our willingness. We’re able, but unwilling. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Trickle-Up Diversity

The concept that diversity will trickle up to the C-level suites is fundamentally flawed.

According to research conducted between September and November 2019 by Mercer, Caucasians fill 64% of entry level positions and 85% of top executive positions, demonstrating a promotion and equity gap. “The representation of people of color (both men and women) decreases incrementally as career levels rise.” Let’s Get Real About Equality (2020, p 22.)

Without equity and inclusion, diversity falls short. According to new research published by Columbia Business School, people need a sense of belonging. Given today’s challenges with an ongoing pandemic, and a polarizing political climate, is this even possible?

The biggest obstacle to hope and change is cynicism and apathy. Don’t let that happen in your organization. We can do better, and better is better.

We need to become aware of the problems, analyze the root-cause(s), practice empathy, and sometimes, make hard choices to the point of sacrifice. But in the long run, when we invest our time and effort in real strategies that work, the return on investment is worth it.

Increase Accountability and Transparency

We are making some progress when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.

As Harvard University psychologists Tessa E.S. Charlesworth and Mahzarin R. Banaji found in their research and published in What Works, “New data from nearly 6 million respondents shows that implicit (and explicit) attitudes/beliefs about minority groups can and do improve over the long-term (sexuality, race, skin tone, and gender roles).” They found that over a 10-year period, a widespread change occurred across most demographic groups.

What’s going on in your organization? Track your diversity and increase accountability and transparency with these steps:

  • Complete a SWOT analysis:
    • Collect data over time, including personnel transitions , discrimination complaints and outcomes, and employee surveys:
      • Create a template of questions to be answered anonymously; offer a range of answer choices, as well as an opportunity for a comment.
      • Ensure the survey reaches all employees and that they have adequate instructions and time to complete it.
      • Tabulate the results to establish your baseline.
      • Periodically, re-survey all employees with the same questions.
    • Analyze trends.
      • Compare your data over time, and compare it to other organizations.
      • Where are you seeing improvement in recruitment, hiring, promotion, pay, and retention?
      • Where do you need to improve?
  • Create goals. This is a critical step in the process: it lays the foundation for accountability and transparency.
    • Share your anonymous results with all employees.
    • Celebrate trends as they improve.
    • Establish SMART goals for areas needing improvement.
    • Educate all employees on how their attitudes and actions contribute to results, especially matters regarding inclusion.

Uncover Hidden Hiring Bias

While human bias can change over time, employee surveys often reveal slow progress, especially when it comes to promotion and equity. Here are a few suggestions that work in any organization, regardless of size:

  • Post the position in a broad range of forums, networks, or organizations, including those that work with the under-represented.
  • Don’t discriminate by asking for classification-specific applicants or referrals, rather, include a mission statement and/or diversity statement in your post.
  • Create a diverse interviewer panel, a consistent set of interview questions, and scoring criteria relevant to an accurate job description and essential qualifications.
  • Ask every applicant for their definition of diversity. As a follow-up, ask how they have promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion through their previous work experiences.
  • Document your recruiting, hiring, and promotion process. Retain notes from interviews or decisions on promotions.

If you haven’t already, identify a diversity officer or diversity task force to create hiring and promotion plans, and to review outcomes and disparities. Look to your managers, at all levels, as potential participants in the task force.

What You Need to Know about Hiring Technology

Hiring technology must be carefully designed in order to avoid pitfalls and achieve fair hiring: absent of disparate treatment and disparate impact. In assessing technology, look for:

  • Data that demonstrates fairness throughout all demographics
  • Candidate assessments and selections that are relevant to job requirements
  • Disparate impact testing prior to deployment
  • Ability to conceal demographic indicators from decision makers to enable objective human assessment
  • Tools that mitigate the risk of human bias in decision making
  • Tools that audit for disparate impact

Two important notes: beware of small samplings or group sizes in data sets, and review algorithms. This is critical to demonstrate fairness, objectivity, and relevancy, especially in terms of predicting outcomes and success.

Share your employment composition data and processes with all stakeholders. This includes the criteria for hiring, promotion, salary, bias/discrimination complaints, and how it compares to other businesses in your segment and geography.

Create Safe Reporting Alternatives

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, over 39,000 retaliation-based discrimination charges were filed in 2019. Unfortunately, many of our complaint systems are not working.

In What Works, researchers Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev report that formal grievance procedures actually slow progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion of minority men and women in management. Instead, organizations and leaders can offer alternatives, including:

  • A neutral party to receive confidential complaints, such as an ombudsperson. Their role is to listen and provide guidance to resolve issues. Developing a pool of well trained and skilled ombudpersons can improve potential conflict of interest risk.
  • An external, third party mediator. Their role is to listen and advise. Mediators are commonly available through an employee assistance program.
  • A dispute resolution department, either internal or external. Their role is to represent—or arbitrate for—both parties in mediation on a variety of issues. However, when there is a power difference between parties, or when termination is the remedy, complaints may go unresolved in a satisfactory manner.
  • A transformative dispute resolution model designed to change the workplace. At its core, this model is designed to change the workplace by improving self-awareness, skills, and accountability through training, and sometimes, in policies and processes.

Of course, equity and inclusion ultimately depend on leadership attitudes. When leaders perceive complaints as threats, they miss the opportunity to gain valuable insights. By balancing speed with quality in finding solutions, they gain insights. 

Balance Speed with Proven Strategies

Leaders can create a culture of equality and inclusivity with best practices and proven methods that can be quickly and successfully implemented with little or no customization and at low cost.

  • Diagnostics: Assess the local context. Your diagnostics should include research on your own business, as well as the local, or relevant, geographic demographics and statistics, including pay scales. This is important for equality comparisons and goal setting.
  • Engage influencers:  Invite willing and able actors, especially managers, in the design process. Ask your managers to conduct reality checks: how does this impact current systems, processes, and ways of doing business?
  • Create your model of change: Take local context into account and identify a target of change. Understand the experiences of specific groups of underrepresented minorities, that one-size-does-not-fit-all, and that minority voices are not heard until they reach 30% critical mass.
  • Build momentum: Begin with the most engaged departments, teams, or individuals. Incorporate bystander training to equip and empower everyone. Celebrate accomplishments as progress is made.

The Key to Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are not the same. While companies can mandate diversity, leaders have to cultivate inclusion. This begins with a genuine interest in, and for, other individuals.

People instinctively yearn for inclusion; belonging is a part of our hierarchical needs to achieve our potential and peak performance. Our sense of belonging is relative to our sense of security and safety. Leaders who support diversity, equality, and inclusion provide a safe and equitable work environment.

Great leaders get to know individuals. They learn about their unique strengths, experiences, and needs. The best leaders demonstrate their understanding and care by recognizing individuals with respect.

Managers play a key role in this. As Michael Slepian writes for Harvard Business Review (August 2020), “Managers should not only signal that a social identity is valued, but also that the individual is valued, as a person, not just on the basis of the social group they represent.”

Most individuals don’t want to be asked to speak on behalf of their social group; they don’t want to be singled out in this manner. Instead, get to know the individual, and ask them to share their thoughts based on their strengths and unique experiences. People want their social group to be included and their individual self to belong. 

Great Leadership in Times of Crisis

The men and women in charge of our organizations are now faced with unchartered challenges: leading their organization through a global pandemic. In this time of crisis, most leaders are doing their best to step up and inspire people to do their best. And they’re doing a great job.

One of the challenges is the evolving new normal. Rapidly changing guidelines, mandates, and infrastructure require continual monitoring and adjustments. Leaders are in a constant state of discovery, decision making, designing, and implementation. This requires resilience, collaboration, and great communication.

Those who are able to adapt quickly and wisely are best positioned to lead their organization, and in many cases, their entire nation, in novel ways. Great leadership in a time of crisis will see us through to the other side.

Business continuity management is more important than ever. Based on the conversations I’ve had with leaders, developing, refining, and implementing contingency plans is well underway. With careful attention to employee safety and preparedness, leaders can minimize risk, and in some cases, position themselves for post-crisis growth. Below are a few leadership best practices. Are you taking these steps?  

Legal Obligations

First, and foremost, focus on employee safety. Review policies, and then identify actual practices. (What happens in the field may not be the actual procedures management recommends.) Ensure you have adequate communicable-illness plans and practices in place.

Credible Authorities and Resources

Depending on the size and reach of your organization, these may need to be local, regional, national, and global, and could include CDC, WHO, EUCDPC, Singapore and UK.

Contingency Plans

If you haven’t mapped out or developed contingency plans, take a look at the tools and resources developed by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), here. While they are designed for Red Cross organizations and volunteers, they offer any leader elements to consider in a pandemic.

Identify a crisis management team with the authority and autonomy to work through bottlenecks. Identify cross-functional alternates in different scenarios to: stabilize supply chain, monitor and test financials, protect the workforce, engage customers, and coordinate communication.

  • Review your absence policies, including when/how employees can return to work. Some employers have been forced to reduce their work force. Review your benefits policies.
  • Empower and equip remote/telecommute work. A member of your crisis-management team should work closely with IT, HR, communications, and facilities to identify resources and requirements for remote workers. If you haven’t already, ask every team leader and manager to identify tasks that can be completed remotely, and who is capable of completing the tasks.
  • Determine measurable performance metrics to improve efficiencies and enhance future change.
  • Identify data-security issues and resolutions.
  • Establish communication protocol. Ensure that employee contact information is up to date, and the crisis-management team has the current information.

Companies in China can teach us a great deal about leadership in a time of crisis. Smart policies, the anticipation and mitigation of operational roadblocks, and most importantly, the care of our employees and clients will help us through.

Communications

Rumors, misinformation, and fear can spread as quickly as a virus. Clear, factual, and reliable communication is vital. A key role for your crisis-management team is the oversight of communications. At a minimum, messages should be reviewed and verified by the team to ensure that they are consistent with policies. Test your process to verify that they will reach all employees, and that all employees are able to have questions answered.

Develop messaging for different scenarios to inform coworkers or third parties about increased risks or exposure, along with a current phone and email contact list by location for health reporting.

Designate a person(s) to promptly notify local public health authorities about confirmed as well as suspected cases of the coronavirus. Ensure your designee is properly trained: while employees may be obligated to disclose contraction of Covid-19, personal health data is protected under HIPAA.

Thoughtful, intentional, and honest communication is a vital strategy to navigate a fast-moving crisis. Avoiding or burying bad news serves no one in the long run. Transparency requires preparation for the “worse before better” reality.

When internal and external clients—your stakeholders—have confidence in your motives and commitment, they’ll respond in kind. The most important catalyst in a time of crisis is a trust in the word of the leader and the actions they take.

As Harvard Novartis Professor Amy C. Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth (Wiley, 2019) says, “Transparency doesn’t happen without psychological safety: a climate in which people can raise questions, concerns, and ideas without fear of personal repercussion.” Ensure you have a strong, two-way communication system in place as we navigate through this time of crisis.

Virtual Meetings

Virtual meetings are a great tool, even to have those difficult or controversial conversations. As a leader, all participants will look to you to set expectations and boundaries. Model the behavior you would like to see.

  • Prepare, practice, and test.
  • Whenever possible, meet via video, with an option of audio/dial-in for slower bandwidth. Consider having a virtual meeting assistant or facilitator.
  • Send an agenda before the meeting, with all needed materials and instructions. Be clear on the meeting objective, and monitor time and focus.
  • Allow for instruction and if needed, practice time. Include reminders about disabling interrupters, i.e. cell phones, alerts, IMs/pop-ups, and closing any programs or tabs on their computer with sensitive or private information. For any meeting lasting more than 50 minutes, build in breaks.
  • For smaller groups (<20) have all participants introduce themselves by name, role, geographic location (town/city) and surrounding (my home office). During the meeting, ask people by name to contribute. For larger groups (20+), use polls and voting (raise your hand) to encourage engagement. Of course, polling with smaller groups is effective, too, and the data can be captured for later use.
  • Just like your in-person meetings, allow adequate time for questions, and discussion on next-steps: deadlines, roles, and when to expect updates.

Manage Stress and Build Resilience

Building mental resilience requires intention and practice. It’s a skill of noticing our thoughts, un-hooking from those that are unhelpful, and refraining from punishing ourselves for less than helpful thinking (which also begins with noticing). Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a great method to practice this. UMass Memorial Medical Center is just one organization who offers an 8-week online live course.

Guided meditation is also a great option, and there are many Apps available to help. Two of these include Insight Timer, where you can access >25K guided meditations led by some of the most renown leaders, (including Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, and Sharon Salzberg), and see how many people around the world were also meditating with you; and UCLA Mindful, which offers English and Spanish meditations ranging from 3-19 minutes and work with difficult emotions.  

Some Buddhist communities are also offering virtual, online “sits” to support others with their practice, and remind us of our human connectedness. Trike Daily, The Buddhist Review Tricycle.org, offers a great exercise for leaders: relax the problem solver.

Make Better Decisions

Threats to our well-being, uncertainties, and awareness of our lack of control elevate anxiety, stress, and lead us to make short-sighted decisions. Unwittingly, many of us feed uncertainty by consuming more negative news and rushing to action. Here are three techniques you can use to slow down:

  • Calm your mind. Use a four second breathing technique. Slowly breathe in for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Slowly exhale for four seconds. Pause for four seconds. Repeat.
  • Rest your eyes; if possible, gently gaze out a window. Give your mind space to unhook from screens, images, and headlines.
  • Find new ways to connect with others. Meaningful connection begins with compassion. The practice of compassion starts by asking, “how can I help this person?” The great paradox is that by opening ourselves with this one question, we actually build mental resilience and manage stress.

Leaders who slow down, deliberate with data and reason, make better decisions. Take the time to read, verify, reflect, and check before making personal and business decisions. A qualified executive coach can help.

Mitigate Anxiety

While it’s important to be transparent in communications, be mindful that anxiety and fear are contagious. When anxiety is elevated for a period of time, it becomes chronic. Fortunately, there are actions leaders can take to mitigate this.

  • Prepare yourself. Before you speak, write, or hit send, take a minute to center yourself. Pause, and breathe.
  • Imagine. What has been the experience of others? What are their challenges and needs? Acknowledge this in your message.
  • Validate. Share information that is credible. Be mindful and clear with your word choices. When you don’t know, say so.
  • Act. Identify the next action step for you and your audience. This provides an opportunity to unite, contribute, and take action, all supportive to a sense of purpose, meaning, and control. Be prepared to answer questions through this process, acknowledging their feelings.

Be Present and Focus on the Now

We are in the midst of the most disruptive crisis since World War II. At that time, rationing, 24-hour manufacturing, and strong supply chains proved to be most effective to “get through.” Today, we rely on business leaders, in the private and non-profit sectors, to set the vision and lead us to the other side.

Even under the best of circumstances, it’s not an easy task. We know from research that stress narrows our focus and compromises decision-making capacity. We act conservatively (which is a good thing), but stress diverts our energy, attention, and creative thinking.

To focus on the now, ask your team:

  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • What did we do yesterday that worked well?
  • What do we need to do today, based on any new information?
  • What do you need from me to accomplish this?

Plan for Later: Think Ahead

Leaders who are able to think ten steps ahead collaborate, partner, and foster innovative solutions. They utilize modularity diversification to protect and insulate units within the larger organization. As circumstances continue to evolve, they remain flexible. Crowdsource designing is the next level of modularity, diversification, and innovate solutions.

Think of the wide range of innovators who recently mobilized to address the serious shortage of critical equipment needed to treat the coronavirus. These designers, engineers, manufacturers, students, doctors and leaders found each other through online messaging platforms, and worked together to build innovative protective gear and ventilators.

Seven Business Models for the Future, And Today

In The Future is Faster Than You Think (Simon & Schuster, 2020), Dr. Peter Diamondis and Steven Kotler predict seven business models that will rule the decade:

  • The Crowd Economy: Developments that leverage the billions of people already online and the billions coming online with 5G expansion. Existing developments include crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, ICOs, leveraged assets, and staff-on-demand. An example of this economy is Airbnb, which doesn’t own the real estate it lists.
  • The Free/Data Economy: In exchange for data about yourself, you are given access to a tool or toy. An example of this is Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
  • The Smartness Economy: Many of these goods and services are referred to as the internet of things, or IoT, which are in essence, existing tools which have become “smart.” For example, smartphones, smart speakers, and autonomous vehicles.
  • Closed-Loop Economy: These waste free systems are also referred to as biomimicry or cradle-to-cradle. An example of this model is The Plastic Bank, where anyone can collect and drop off plastic for compensation, and Plastic Bank sells the plastic for reuse.
  • Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs): Operations are carried out by a set of preprogrammed rules and machinery. For example, a fleet of autonomous taxis with a blockchain-backed smart contracts layer, could run itself 24-7, including driving to the repair shop for maintenance, without any human involved.
  • Multiple World Models: With the growth in augmented and virtual reality, avatars for work and/or play offer increasing opportunities for new businesses. An example of this is Second Life, where players paid for the design of digital clothes and digital houses for their digital avatars.
  • Transformation Economy: This is the next step in an experience economy, where people pay to have their life transformed. Examples of this are Burning Man and CrossFit, where the experience may not be pleasant, but transformative.

While some of these models may seem frivolous during this time of crisis, there are opportunities here. They can address the challenges of prolonged social distancing (multiple world model, transformation economy), the need for sterile delivery (decentralized autonomous organizations) and the strain on our healthcare (crowd economy.)

As a leader, what is your vision for the future? What new behaviors (processes) can/should be implemented in the future? What business models will support your vision? What are you doing, just for today, while simultaneously thinking ten steps ahead?

We will get through this together. Let me know how I can help.

When Your Values Shift

Everyone knows how important it is to “know yourself,” yet how often do we reflect on why we do what we do? (Or for that matter, what we did?) Do we really understand our motives and values?

Before we even graduate from high school, most of us have participated in interest inventories and career aptitude tests. By the time we graduate from college, our interests, studies, and skills have aligned. We anticipate we’re on a path best suited for our personality, talents, and education.

And yet…most of us don’t recognize the extent of our complexity. Our personal preferences and unique sense of values are buried under layers of expectations and demands. To add to the complexity, our values shift over time.

When we identify as, or claim to be, a specific type of person (kind, caring, and genuine), but our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors indicate otherwise (we are resentful, rude, and just want other people to fall into line), we may be unaware of our true values.   

Of course, we are quick to notice when we see this happen in others. Our perception may be that they are inauthentic, manipulative, or fake; maybe even a hypocrite.

When our own behaviors are incongruent with what we claim to value, many of us have a physical reaction: a twinge, cringe, or moment when our body says, “no!”

But just as common, we learn to ignore these uncomfortable feelings. Eventually, we stop paying attention. We become mistaken about our own identity, unaware of the shift in our values.

This can manifest in a mid-career crisis. Our careers are moving along at a satisfactory pace, and one day we wonder, “How did I end up here?”

How Your Values Shift

In reality, our values are dynamic. With enough time or experience the hierarchy of our values can change. Typically, the shifts occur as a result of:

  • New knowledge
  • Social values and attitudes
  • Personal experience

In a 2015 study, researchers Valdiney V. Gouveia, Kátia C. Vione, Taciano L. Milfont, Ronald Fischer studied more than 36,000 individuals across five geo-social regions and found that regardless of gender, values substantially change through-out our life span.  

Why This Matters

Your values are the underlying foundation of your inspiration, vision, and motivation. They help you set a course to what you believe truly matters; they guide you to purpose and fulfillment. Understanding when and how they shift will help you make adjustments and improvements—in performance, satisfaction, and happiness.

Understand What Drives You

Our ideas of self are molded at a very early age. Parents, care givers, and teachers encourage certain behaviors that help us integrate with our peers. We are encouraged to go-along, to get-along.

Unfortunately, even well intentioned adults can send messages counter to our actual nature or personality type. “You are so good at following the rules,” doesn’t acknowledge your ability (and desire) to question arbitrary or unfair rules.  We develop a limited, if not warped, sense of self.

In reality, we are remarkably complex. Our environment and social context contribute to the actions we take; they influence our values and motivations.  

According to Johnmarshall Reeve, PsyD, in “Understanding Motivation and Emotion,” (Wiley, 2018), “Through our unique experiences, exposures to particular role models, and awareness of cultural expectations, we acquire different goals, values, attitudes, expectations, aspirations, and views of self.”  

What Is Driving You?

All humans have four basic drives that are embedded in our genetic DNA and remain active in us today:

  1. The drive to acquire
  2. The drive to bond
  3. The drive to learn
  4. The drive to defend

These basic drives have helped in our survival as a species. But, what drives us beyond mere survival? How do we go from survive to thrive?

Hierarchy of Values

Based on their research, Drs. Eduard Spranger and Gordon Allport identified a hierarchy of values, when in certain combinations shape our interests and level of satisfaction:

  • Aesthetic:  A drive for balance, harmony, and form
  • Altruistic:  A drive to help others; for humanitarian efforts
  • Economic:  A drive for economic or practical returns
  • Individualistic: A drive to stand out as independent and unique
  • Political: A drive to have influence; to be in control
  • Regulatory:  A drive to establish order, routine, and structure
  • Theoretical:  A drive for knowledge, learning and understanding

Understanding your individual hierarchy of values—how you rate each value, and how they combine—can help you understand what drives you, and how you can go from survive to thrive.

What Are Your Values Today?

At some time in our life, most of us feel the need to assess our values: what is truly important to us. Unfortunately, we often avoid this task; it’s much easier to keep doing what we’re doing. But then something happens that jolts us out of our complacency.

It could be the loss of something (a promotion or position), or someone (a loved one, or respect of a colleague). Or, a more minor event that illuminated something was just not right: new knowledge, understanding, or perspective. It’s time to examine your values.

The most current version of Drs. Allport, Vernon, and Lindzey’s instrument to measure value hierarchy  (IMX Values Index, or VI profile) has been updated with seven dimensions:

  • Aesthetic: Each experience is judged from the standpoint of grace, symmetry, or fit. Contrary to the theoretical dimension, life is seen as a procession of events; each enjoyed for its own sake. Chief interest is in the beauty of life.
  • Altruistic: prizes other persons as ends, and is therefore kind, sympathetic, and unselfish. Contrary to the political dimension, love is itself the only suitable form of human relationship.
  • Economic: interested in what is useful and practical; focused on security and bottom-line results. In some instances he may have regard for the regulatory dimension, but frequently conflicts with other values.
  • Individualistic: seeks to express uniqueness and be granted freedom over actions. Contrary to the political dimension, seeks neither power nor control of others or the environment in general, but rails against subjugation by any external force.
  • Political: interested primarily in power and control, whatever the vocation, and is the most universal and most fundamental of motives. Prizes personal power, influence, and renown.
  • Regulatory: seeks unity. Often described as mystical, yet directed towards achieving structure, order and to be one with they system.
  • Theoretical: interested in the discovery of truth. Divests itself of judgments regarding the beauty or utility of objects, and seeks only to observe, reason, understand and systematize knowledge.

The two highest dimensions are the most inspirational. The middle three are situational: in certain circumstances they might be a factor. The two lowest scoring dimensions are actually de-motivational, and important to note.

A qualified executive coach can help you rate these seven dimensions, and identify the 21 combinations that influence interests and drive behavior.

For example: if you score high for the altruistic dimension, but are average in the economic dimension, you may be inclined to give away your expertise or products, or even compromise on your salary requirements. Knowing this about yourself can help you plan how and when to say “yes.”

And this is just one example. Identifying your values today will help you understand what drives you, what motivates you, and what inspires you. It will help you become more effective in everything you do.

Visionary Vulnerabilities

We live in an age of remarkable products and services from inventive thinkers with lofty ideas. These visionary leaders, who don’t think or work like anyone else, have started businesses based on novel concepts, and those whose achievements greatly impact society are afforded special status.

Employees often flock to these visionaries’ companies, hoping the future will offer prosperity within a corporate culture that promotes free thought, excitement and cutting-edge innovations. But some visionary leaders can be difficult bosses whose brainstorming and idealistic tendencies frustrate employees and create career obstacles.

As the term implies, “visionary” leaders like to walk among the clouds, devoting themselves to the future, the impossible and the things that could be. Unfortunately, businesses must be run with both a widescreen view and in-the-trenches focus, so pure visionaries with only big-picture mindsets are vulnerable to losing track of their enterprises.

While everyone admires visionary thinking, too much of it creates a dangerous imbalance. Fortunately, visionaries can learn effective ways to keep their companies healthy and productive.

Forwardly Focused

Visionary leaders are bent on taking things to the next level, solving the unsolvable problem, and developing something unprecedented or revolutionary. They passionately blaze uncharted trails. While such ambition is worthy, pure visionaries tend to be interested only in conceptualizing business ideas, and they often fail to involve themselves in the execution stages. Their brains are fast-thinking, idea-generating machines, with each concept analogous to a sheet of paper quickly torn from a thick pad.

Is your mind camped on the “what ifs?” of your business, while other issues are pushed aside? Do you wish you could devote all your time to brainstorming activities while someone else handles the other major responsibilities on your plate?

If you’re a visionary leader, you have many ideas racing through your mind at the same time, each in a different stage of incompletion. One idea may progress to a certain point, only to be superseded by another. Some ideas will be abandoned after a few primary thoughts, while others will morph into concrete descriptions for your staff to pursue.

Visionary leaders are the conceptualizers. They rely on their tactical thinkers—the ones with practical know-how of processes, procedures, policies and planning—to turn ideas into reality. Can you relate to this scenario?

Noted psychotherapist and leadership consultant Dr. Beatrice Chestnut describes visionary leaders’ idealistic tendencies in The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017). Visionaries enjoy thinking about what might be and how companies can improve. They’re excited by new ideas—primarily those that come from their own mind so they can maintain control.

Visionaries are strictly future oriented. The present isn’t interesting unless there’s room for improvement. They find their optimism and hope in the next chapter, and they see their role as enhancing lives by creating new possibilities. They love to think outside the box and push the envelope of what’s considered feasible.

Visionary leaders view circumstances through a cup-half-full filter, where negative thoughts are avoided and only positive outlooks are permitted. This helps feed their creative juices and blocks negative emotions that hinder them. Negativity deters the creativity visionaries need to feel purposeful and happy.

If you recognize some of these tendencies in yourself, you may be a visionary leader. And while you may greatly benefit your organization, your focus on future possibilities may distract you from critical responsibilities. This jeopardizes your operation and makes life harder for your staff because you’re likely neglecting the tactical aspects of business. A qualified leadership coach can help you assess your visionary tendencies and guide you toward a more balanced, healthy leadership style. The goal is not to quash your visionary approach, but to bring it into balance with your other responsibilities.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Visionary leaders have a positive impact on their organizations because they:

  • Dream optimistically, encouraging and supporting their people’s inventive activities.
  • Are always working on “the next big thing,” as Dr. Chestnut puts it. They want their organization to be a leader in its field, setting the pace for others to try and catch.
  • Develop great brainstorming skills that overcome challenges most leaders would deem infeasible.
  • Turn negatives into positives. More is always accomplished with a can-do approach, which lifts morale and feeds the visionary culture.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt, looking toward a positive outcome.
  • Are often sought after to create solutions, bringing notoriety and opportunity to their organization.

From a negative standpoint, visionary leaders can be overly idealistic and creative. Their focus on the future draws them away from important tasks. They:

  • Have too many ideas going at one time to properly prioritize, manage or execute.
  • Brush off negative concerns from their staff, avoid problematic issues and overlook warning signs or mistakes.
  • Find ways around roadblocks that impede their visionary process, often breaking the rules. Employees may then feel resentful and frustrated.
  • Lose interest in non-creative tasks and duties. They ignore everyday responsibilities when their ideas seem more compelling.
  • Prioritize activities based on what’s most fun for them.
  • Have blind spots that lead them away from the actions required to understand and address serious issues.
  • Are so unfocused that they fail to grasp current trends or the business climate, thereby hurting the company.
  • Have vague conceptual ideas that management cannot understand or appreciate.
  • Aren’t detail oriented and have difficulty performing accurate work, meeting commitments or completing assignments.
  • Think and speak so rapidly, caught up in their own little world, that they stop listening to others.
  • Have such a strong emotional need to dream that they take their company in the wrong direction. They unconsciously feed their personal needs more than those of the company.
  • Seek quick wins and disassociate from anyone who slows their creative process (with facts).
  • Fail to address problems they deem insignificant.

Strong visionary tendencies can render leaders inefficient and cause pain to those around them. While companies certainly need visionary thinkers, everyone must maintain the proper balance. The best leaders successfully juggle the present and future, focusing on the organization’s urgent needs and prioritizing them over tempting pie-in-the-sky ideas.

What Makes a Visionary Tick?

Understanding the visionary personality helps us forge productive business relationships.

The visionary’s mind runs far and fast. Ideas come naturally; the more unique, the better. The most active visionaries fashion ideas that interconnect and form a clever master plan.

Visionary leaders find joy in dreaming big. They’re drawn to considerable challenges, huge potential and foreseeable payoffs. They have “bright shiny object” syndrome, as Dr. Chestnut explains, and are distracted by the latest, greatest idea to come along. (More mundane ideas are shoved aside.) They become curators of unfinished ideas and plans.

Visionaries love learning and the freedom to use acquired knowledge. Corporate systems, procedures and processes that slow them down or interfere with their creativity are regarded as roadblocks. Visionary leaders resist limiting forces like rules, management decisions or protocol because creativity “requires” boundless autonomy. They see brainstorming as an imperative privilege, one that outweighs all others. It gives them a strong sense of fulfillment and purpose.

Visionaries require positivity to foster creativity. They actively avoid difficult or unpleasant experiences, sometimes at any cost. Past problems are overlooked or put behind them to maintain a rosy future picture. Current problems may never reach their radar screen. To the visionary, creation is the primary good that eclipses most corporate problems.

Leaders with visionary tendencies enjoy living in their imagination, where they can vividly see their dreams while remaining sheltered from the hardships of daily issues. They choose to see a world that reflects their hopes without real-world disappointments intruding.

Visionaries typically disrespect members of the management team who raise problems. Negative feelings make it difficult to cope on a daily basis, and they may feel ganged up on when management presses issues that require tough decisions. Tactical decisions, especially in tense situations, are not a visionary’s strong suit.

The idea phase is much more desirable than the processing phase, where resources are assigned, schedules and deadlines are issued, and implementation tasks are identified, Dr. Chestnut explains. Visionaries want to start the ball rolling and have others take it from there. Implementation plans are grueling for them, as the freedom to think and create seems stifled. The visionary feels imprisoned under these conditions.

Colleagues and executive coaches who understand visionary leaders’ propensities can help them recognize the difficulties they cause and work with them to adjust behavioral patterns. Healthy doses of perspective, concern and determination are vital.

Coaching Promotes Balance

Visionaries can inspire an entire organization to new heights and compel people to accomplish the seemingly impossible. But when taken to extremes, the negatives overshadow the positives. When too little attention is paid to daily business needs, all the bright ideas in the world cannot keep the ship from sinking. Executive coaches, supervisors and mentors must emphasize the consequences in ways that preserve enthusiasm.

Qualified executive coaches will help visionaries forge a healthier balance between creating and leading. Visionaries must come face to face with their blind spots and recognize how their obsession with envisioning is impeding organizational performance.

Time management is one of the primary areas requiring adjustment. Visionaries must understand that tactical leadership skills are equally as important as their visionary abilities. Coaching teaches them how to partition time and effort. Successful visionary leaders learn to ration dream time so other responsibilities are met. Limited time assigned to visionary work can be sufficiently rewarding.

Visionaries must also learn that others may not think as quickly as they do, Dr. Chestnut explains. Slowing the pace to accommodate others is an adjustment worth making. Creative ideas should be prioritized before investing staff time. Asking people to tackle multiple brainstorms is too overwhelming. Only selective ideas—not all—will be processed. Direct reports with tactical expertise can determine which ideas can be implemented; leaders should accept their reasoning.

Living up in the clouds robs visionaries of life experiences and rewards on the ground, Dr. Chestnut adds. They miss out on the relationships and adventures involved in running the company. True, tactical leadership can be painful, frustrating and wearisome. But instead of avoiding these feelings, out of fear or insecurity, visionary leaders should face them, grow professionally, and build character, skill and confidence. Great leaders are forged out of adversity, not pure pleasure. Ideas are implemented through relationships and engagement.

How to Work for a Visionary Leader

Visionaries are often distant and disconnected, so employees may wonder if their boss knows what’s going on. Employees should reach out and find ways to make a connection.

Employees who speak positively and confidently will find it easier to gain a visionary leader’s respect. Instead of citing problems, describe opportunities with solutions. Visionaries shun critical personalities. Consistently bringing problems to your boss will worsen conditions.

Showing appreciation for the visionary’s brainstorming skills builds trust. Leaders will respond with mutual appreciation and a willingness to listen to helpful ideas. Trusted employees can help visionary leaders see the things they need to see. Support leaders’ efforts to handle tactical duties.

Engaging leaders about their ideas further enhances the relationship. Express interest in the vision and help explain it in ways the staff can follow. Ask questions about specifics, applications and how the idea supports company activities. Visionaries will be better able to distinguish the more promising ideas from the mediocre. Help visionaries pick their battles.

Offer to assist with research, setting up meetings, or introductions to other experts. Stay close to brainstorming sessions to monitor excessiveness, and divert leaders to the tactical side, when needed.

Help visionary leaders form new habits relating to time management, operational skills and relationship-building. A well-rounded leader takes care of the business while dreaming about the future.

The Benefits of Vulnerability

The traditional definition of vulnerability is to be capable of, or susceptible to being wounded or hurt; being open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc. Most people in business understand these definitions and avoid vulnerability at all costs. Nowhere does this have more impact than in leadership circles.

However, recent research in leadership has exposed many old ways of thinking as outdated, ineffective and damaging. With today’s emphasis on human relations, employee engagement and softer leadership skills, greater emphasis is being placed on interpersonal connection and consideration for people.

Why? Because we’ve learned that employee satisfaction is paramount to organizational success. People simply shut down or leave if they don’t feel appreciated. The focus is transitioning from leaders to employees, although this has yet to make deep inroads into every organization.

Autocratic leadership styles are yielding to democratic ones, where people are individualized and supported. Harsh, impersonal treatment is changing to accountable, considerate acts of empowerment. Cold, impenetrable leaders are learning humility and vulnerability.

Definitions are changing with the times, and these behaviors are recognized for their benefits— for employees and leaders alike. The transformations are not easy. It’s difficult to overcome engrained paradigms. But if leaders can do this, the rewards are unlimited.

Perhaps the most challenging soft skill many leaders still have trouble grasping is vulnerability.

False Notions of Vulnerability

The word vulnerability generates negative impressions for leaders because of past experiences of their own or people they know. Generally, vulnerable situations don’t go well, so leaders do what they can to avoid them. They see vulnerability as having their weaknesses or mistakes exposed, which leads to criticism of their abilities or character.

When leaders believe that criticism reflects negatively on them, a number of possible fears come to mind. Their worth in the organization feels devalued, which ultimately means that they are devalued. They sense they are appreciated less, trusted less, and likely not to be viewed as capable of handling challenges. In other words, their careers are handicapped. This can be a big blow to a leader’s world.

As Emma Seppälä describes in her 2014 article for HBR, What Bosses Gain by Being Vulnerable, vulnerability tends to be accepted as a weakness. Leaders can be seen as being unknowledgeable or incapable, unconfident, soft or ineffective. Typical scenarios of vulnerability for leaders include:

  • Promoting a new project that doesn’t succeed because of inaccurate assumptions.
  • Misjudging someone’s proposal and realizing the error.
  • Needing help from a colleague when the relationship is damaged or strained.
  • Trusting the unproven skills of a key team member on an important project.
  • Applying principles learned in a prior field that don’t really work in a new field.

The most successful leaders have learned that these kinds of seemingly vulnerable situations don’t need to portray weakness at all. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is a strong character that is willing to own up to them. Expressing need and being honest and up-front about mistakes reflects an inner strength that doesn’t rely on the approval of others, but rather confidence in oneself. Advances in soft leadership skills are overturning negative thinking about vulnerability and finding ways to make it a positive.

The Positive Side of Vulnerability

When leaders admit their mistakes and show that they want to learn from them, the negative aspects of vulnerability can be minimized. People see this as taking responsibility, being accountable or transparent. These are admirable traits that display relational skills. Employees want leaders who can relate with them and behave more like “regular people”. This dispenses with traditional pretenses of being better or more important, which are resented by subordinates.

Human connectedness is the new attribute that engages people and draws them to a leader. Admitting and apologizing for being wrong prompts a relational restoration that builds trust. Honesty and authenticity signify a leader who cares about relationships and the strength that they afford. Deeper relationships draw out the best in people, and this enhances attitudes, productivity and loyalty.

As Seppälä points out, people can sense what their leader is feeling, and this influences their response. When employees see their leader as genuine and willingly vulnerable they feel good about it, and respond favorably with admiration and respect. Pretenses of superiority or infallibility, which are old-school vulnerability missteps, often work against a leader causing damaged relationships and disunity.

A leader who is willing to be open and vulnerable shows courage. They prioritize team unity and effectiveness above personal image, choosing to sacrifice for everyone’s benefit. This is the image of a person receiving inner strength from their belief in themselves rather than being dependent on the opinions of others. People are open to being influenced by a leader with this kind of character and are often inspired to be more like them.

A leader who asks for feedback, help or advice can use vulnerability to an advantage. Leaders demonstrate they want to learn and be the best they can be by expressing need. Who doesn’t want to follow someone like that? Their drive for improvement is contagious. Everyone wants in on it.

Acquiring a Willingness to be Vulnerable

Most leaders find comfort with the knowledge that vulnerability is a skill that takes time to develop; after all, it is contrary to our human nature to protect and defend. When expressed in a constructive way, vulnerability is a leadership strength, and draws more respect than if you pretended not to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability can be demonstrated in unfortunate ways, which are equally damaging. Doing it for show draws attention to yourself, as David Williams asserts in The Best Leaders Are Vulnerable. This is a false humility designed to impress people with an overly-relational air, hoping to gain favor. Being humorously critical of yourself may be effective on occasion, but when done regularly its fakeness is detected.

Instead, be honest. Sincerely owning up to mistakes is the most effective way to show vulnerability. Doing this in a spirit of humility is very effective. A leader who accounts for their actions well enough to take the heat turns vulnerability to an advantage.

Asking someone for forgiveness can feel like an extremely vulnerable act, but its benefits can be great. Showing the desire to restore a relationship, and taking the lead, is an honorable, trustworthy behavior that draws people. Likewise, offering forgiveness to someone who’s hurt you doesn’t mean you are weak. It means you are above the discord and strong enough to initiate its repair.

Leaders resistant to expressing vulnerability are often concerned that they will be taken advantage of. Displaying genuine vulnerability will show you that this is not the case. It takes courage to head down this path, but it’s a journey that can enhance your leadership more than adopting any other trait.

A leader who identifies their weaknesses can develop the ability to reveal them in the proper setting and manner. The skills of a qualified leadership coach can be of great benefit in this area. Self-awareness leads to greater comfort in being transparent about your vulnerabilities. A keen focus on being relatable with your people lets you expand your comfort zone. Turn your vulnerabilities into strengths!

Essential Communication Skills for Leaders

Leaders continue to assume greater responsibilities and pressures as markets and technologies call for increasingly faster commerce, responses and results. Information overload and business volatility have become the norm, requiring nimble management and staff interconnection. Leadership success depends on a most essential professional skill: strategic communication.

Task completion and organizational achievement demand peak-level communication. A leader’s fundamental role is to be an excellent communicator and a proponent for a communication-based culture. Organizations led by great communicators are far more likely to prosper, especially when faced with onerous challenges.

Unfortunately, too many organizations are hampered by leaders who fail to grasp the power of good communication (or discount its importance). Some leaders consider information to be communication in and of itself, but it’s really just data. Communication is the ability to convey information strategically—the very core of leadership, affirms executive coach Dianna Booher in Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2017).

Leaders develop and use communication—a soft skill—to work with others, recognizing that success relies on unity and collaboration. When combined with the traditional hard skills of quantitative analysis and decision-making, communication rounds out a leader’s ability to bring people together and achieve high performance. A lack of communication causes multiple obstructions, debilitations and failures, as Booher notes:

In survey after survey, managers report that their team understands organizational goals and initiatives. Yet team members themselves say they do not. In a recent worldwide Gallup poll among 550 organizations and 2.2 million employees, only 50 percent of employees "strongly agreed" that they knew what was expected of them at work. Obviously, there’s a disconnection here.

Leaders must therefore master three essential skills to avoid these disconnects:

  • Communicating deliberately
  • Communicating interpersonally
  • Communicating by adding value

Communicating Deliberately

Giving your people the information they need to complete their tasks and contribute to your organization requires thoughtful and appropriate communication. Assuming that people are getting the information they need or can figure things out for themselves yields unpleasant surprises. Information left unmanaged does irreparable harm. Misunderstandings, confusion, misrepresentation and assumption distort information.

Without accurate and timely information, your people will end up doing the wrong things at the wrong times for the wrong reasons, notes communication expert Dean Brenner in "The True Cost of Poor Communication" (Forbes, November 2017). Good communication requires a deliberate and thorough approach, coupled with significant forethought and diligence.

Communication’s foundation is built on three components:

  • Clarity
  • Specificity
  • Relevancy

Clarity. Information—be it instruction, updates, plans, orders or analysis—benefits everyone only if it’s clear and concise. Asking questions and seeking feedback affirm understanding. Use language geared for your audience to enhance clarity. Present information in a decipherable order and tempo so people can grasp it immediately and avoid confusion. Be clear about expectations and requirements. Set a well-defined, purposeful standard that points everyone in the right direction.

Specificity. Information should be specific enough to be understood, but not over-explained or expressed condescendingly. Convey challenging topics with unambiguous descriptions and explanations. Avoid using generalities on detailed subjects to prevent assumptions and misunderstandings. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes to see if information makes sense and will be meaningful later.

Relevancy. Leaders must be relevant communicators, Booher confirms. Give people information that pertains to them and what they’re being asked to do. Impertinent data may be interesting, but it dilutes the mission and makes staff question your priorities. Timeliness is critical, so share information as soon as your people can benefit from it. Don’t hold it to benefit yourself.

Also keep the following in mind:

  • Forthright and truthful leaders convey information their people can count on, carrying weight and reliability.
  • When leaders hedge or dance around a topic, people question information’s validity and their boss’s intentions.
  • When people know their leaders have integrity, they respond commensurately. A leader’s honest communication is rewarded with attention and allegiance.

Communicating Interpersonally

Employees crave more than basic information; they want to feel valued enough to receive it. They respond optimally when they know their leaders appreciate their engagement, involvement and commitment. When leaders communicate interpersonally, workers feel cared for and connectedness increases.

Practice considerate communication by attempting to understand others’ perspectives. Use honoring and appreciative language, and avoid accusatory or resentful approaches. Strive for face-to-face communication that builds relationships. Indirect connections like the telephone, email or social media are often necessary, but none can compete with an in-person dialogue. Let people see how much you care when you talk with them.

Active listening is a vital communication skill. Many leaders focus only on what they want to say and deprioritize what others say to them. This damages communication and the trust leaders need to build with their people. Good communicators show they want to understand what others have to say. They ask questions and repeat back what they’ve heard for confirmation. Leaders who show transparency by admitting they may not initially grasp something gain trust and make greater relational progress.

Good communicators also want to confirm their audience understands the information they’re given. Ask open-ended questions to ensure you’ve succeeded, Booher suggests. Simply asking if you were understood isn’t always adequate. Ask listeners for specific feedback: what they think about your information or the chance to voice alternative ideas.

Tell stories to communicate ideas and connect with people. Everyone loves to hear personal experiences, which you can use to illustrate concepts or offer analogies. Perhaps the best way to personalize your connections and enhance your communications is to be thankful for people’s attention—or as Booher puts it, give people kudos whenever possible. Thank them out of habit, and show them how much you value communicating with them.

Communicating by Adding Value

Transferring job-related information is a key leadership responsibility. While content is certainly important, the manner in which you convey it is equally critical. Our communications should enrich relationships by making people feel more valued and able to contribute.

Leaders who provide information with confidence enhance trust and promote self-assurance. They achieve a sense of accountability and believability, which boosts people’s trust and improves communication efforts. Successful leaders can build a culture of trust, where communication is central to operations and heightens accountability.

  • Demonstrate that you value your people by communicating with appropriate timing. Determine the best time to have difficult conversations, and anticipate how people will receive them.
  • Always account for your audience’s perspective to ensure effective communication. Your people should sense that you’re fair and considerate, which ultimately strengthens relationships.
  • Never overlook an opportunity to learn what people think or how they feel. People feel valued and appreciated when they’re encouraged to share their personal positions on issues. Inclusive discussions help them rethink their views and forge deeper understandings.
  • Ask open-ended questions that call for thoughtful responses—a technique that builds trust and sets the stage for clarifying expectations, delineating action items and achieving goals.
  • Measure communication success by examining whether follow-up activities match fair and reasonable expectations. Achieved goals give people a greater sense of ownership, purpose and value, which positively impacts your culture.

Your degree of positivity is perhaps the most vital value-adding aspect of communication. As you look for ways to inspire your people, remember that encouragement is a great motivator, and positivity is contagious.

How Leaders Conquer Anger

One of the most prevalent problems employees say they face in the workplace is a leader prone to anger. Of the many possible emotions exhibited by leaders, anger is the most destructive. Each year, millions of employees either disengage from their jobs or leave them entirely due to their inability to endure their leader’s anger.

Anger at the leadership level is an age-old issue, one that has improved little despite a greater focus in recent years on self-assessment, workplace behavior and anger management. Leaders who have learned to control their anger have experienced amazing responses from their people, as efficiencies, morale and engagement climb significantly. The key is to understand the various aspects of anger.

Sources of Anger

Noted sociologist Dr. Millard Bienvenu claimed that anger is prompted by a perceived threat that has a personal impact of some kind. Anger is a response to the threat, and can be observable or hidden, sudden or delayed.

Threats can represent various levels of impact, influencing the degree of response. On the extreme scale, threats can pose physical danger, either personally or to someone you care about. An intermediate level of threat might be an imposition or setback; something troubling or gravely disappointing. This could involve a ruined plan or a denial of something felt deserved. A lower level of threat might be manifested in an inconvenience or annoyance. Waiting longer than expected in a line, or an untimely traffic jam would fit into this category.

Threats can also be subdued or subtle, where the recipient feels unfairly treated. These situations can instill a sense of not being valued or appreciated. Threats like these cut deeply, affecting one’s self-esteem, perhaps the most potent threat of all. We typically respond with anger when people indicate we have little value.

The first step to conquer anger is to recognize its source each time it raises its ugly head. Try to make the connection between the prompt and your response, so you can identify what kinds of events trip your wire.

Recognize the Anger

As you pinpoint the types of issues that trigger anger, stop and assess the effects they have on you. Anger always has an effect. Anger that isn’t resolved can cause resentment, anxiety, bitterness, depression, stress, fatigue, health issues or a general coldness to people. All of these are detrimental to your productivity and leadership. Peter Bregman, in his 2014 Harvard Business Review article entitled, What to Do When Anger Takes Hold, advises leaders to sense the negative feelings, and work through them. Better choices are possible when the causes and effects of feelings are understood.

Your relationships are damaged by the way anger changes you. It also effects everyone else in a negative way. People try to avoid angry coworkers, which strains communication and collaboration. Work is challenging enough without walls between people. Employees wondering when the next outburst will come from their leader will take no risks, make no extra efforts or be willing to make decisions. They will play it safe and avoid any wrath they can.

A leader prone to anger will find their reputation and security threatening. With a staff leery of their leader’s mood, the productivity of the team suffers. People are not engaged with their work. Some of them will look for other jobs, creating a turnover problem. When an anger-prone leader drives people away, everyone notices, including higher executives.

Thoughtful reflection is helpful in recognizing any of these trends. Comparing your responses today to those of the past may shed light on the transformation. Be honest with yourself. The first step to improve is to see the need. Get feedback from a trusted colleague or family member. Your anger issue is certainly noticed. Be an accepting listener and make it a safe conversation for them to have.

An Effective Approach to Dealing with Anger

The most powerful step in conquering anger is admitting the problem. Only an acknowledgement of the issue’s seriousness and its detrimental effects will determine you to overcome them. Part of the honesty you have with yourself is to avoid blaming others. No one has the power to make you angry. It’s a choice you make. No other people, objects or circumstances are responsible.

A good step following admission is to try to determine the reasons you choose anger as a response. Ask yourself if you had a role to play in the situation. Did the incident originate with your behavior or words? Assess the way you treat people. The trigger for your anger may originate with your actions, but all you can see is the actions of others.

Looking at the threats themselves can provide insight. Try to evaluate why you feel threatened enough to express anger. Think through the circumstances and apply reasoning. You will likely conclude that the threats aren’t severe enough to warrant an angry response. In the grand scheme of things, what upsets you is probably relatively minor in nature. Looking through this relative lens may offer a more stable perspective for your mind. What could be the worst outcome? Mentally preparing for it takes the edge off when difficulty strikes. These steps help you shake off more issues and recover on a higher road.

When you consider the things you find annoying and anger-inducing, are they that unusual or are they fairly typical occurrences? Lines at checkouts grow all the time. Traffic jams are a part of life. Expect them and don’t let them get to you. The world is full of difficulties. Lowering your expectations of a hassle-free life will allow you to handle the frustrations and disappointments with less tension. A greater sense of peace diminishes the tendency for anger.

These are the steps you can take to adjust to setbacks, measure your responses, consider others and conquer your anger. As a leader, you owe your people the best environment possible.

Building a Culture on Strengths

Much has been documented on the advantages leaders have when they strive to discover their employees’ strengths and make the best use of them. According to Gallup surveys, 67% of employees who feel that their strengths are used and appreciated by their leaders are engaged in their work. This compares to a general engagement rate of 15% in the workplace as a whole.

Employees who are permitted to use their strengths are more interested in what they’re doing and apply themselves more fully. They are more productive, inspired, and loyal. It has been long shown that when organizations lead people through their strengths, they benefit in many ways: higher sales and profits, lower turnover and absenteeism, and better customer reviews.

Clearly, it’s to your advantage to maximize the use of your peoples’ strengths. The strength of the organization depends on the applied strength its employees. But this is more than just assessing peoples’ skills. Leaders who establish a culture of strength-mindedness instill a collective focus on and value in the strengths of people. It’s a focus that must be engrained into everything and everyone.

Discover People’s Strengths

For you to know the strengths of your people, you first need to know your people. Focusing on strengths is inherently a focus on people: their abilities, interests, knowledge, and aspirations. Technical strengths are only a portion of the picture. Strengths are also measured in the softer skills: character, courage, confidence, and communication. Leaders who spend time with their people, getting to know them, have the greatest ability to assess these kinds of strengths and know how they can be applied in the workplace.

Many personal strengths are revealed through one-on-one conversations. Another way to discover character strengths is to observe how your people handle themselves, how they behave, respond, and make decisions. Getting insights from coworkers or other leaders adds to the collection of information on a person’s strengths.

Technical strengths are often more straightforward to judge by reviewing a person’s work: its thoroughness, accuracy and inventiveness. You can see peoples’ strengths by how well they tackle challenges and find solutions to problems. Their values are revealed in how they take on their responsibilities. Making note of these things gives you a good sense for the strengths of your people.

Channeling Skills into Teams

In today’s dynamic environment, leaders get great benefits by grouping their people into multidiscipline teams to make the most of their strengths. Structuring teams with a diverse set of skills and personalities feeds synergy and motivation. When paired with other skillsets, people inspire one another and learn from each other. The sense of unity reduces barriers and creates a collective drive to solve problems with creative solutions. Leaders are better able to forge a focus on goals rather than specific work assignments, leading to a higher rate of productivity.

With teams, empowerment is more viable, where authority is pushed down to the lowest level possible. People develop a greater spirit of self-sufficiency and decision making, providing higher levels of ownership, pride and interest in their work. They share their strengths and develop new ones from their teammates. They use their strengths to embrace challenges and have a more positive outlook when they’re given these freedoms.

You can utilize peoples’ strengths even more by creating workplace layouts that maximize collaboration and communication within each team. A combination of private and common spaces, with appropriate noise abatement and elbow room yields maximum engagement. Team members are naturally led to combine strengths with the different disciplines and backgrounds of their teammates, letting them get to know, trust, and influence each other. The power of interaction can compensate for a lacking in certain strengths.

Matching Projects to People

Leaders who select projects for the strengths of their people have a far greater success rate than those who simply dole out work without strength considerations. Intentionally crafting projects that specifically challenge the strengths of a person or team are also more successful. People are more inspired and inventive when forced to use their strengths, especially when they are pushed to their limits.

Projects come is varying degrees of complexity and difficulty. Leaders who want to maximize their peoples’ strengths will assign projects toward the lowest level of capability that can pull off results. This creates a challenge that causes people to lift their game, grow, and find fulfillment in ways they never thought they could.

Growing Peoples’ Strengths

Gallup and other survey takers have shown that one of the aspects people value in their jobs the most is the opportunity to learn and grow, specifically through additional learning and training. People want to get better at what they do, to be stronger contributors, and more qualified to advance to greater responsibilities. Leaders who provide their people with these opportunities see them not only advancing their current strengths, but developing new ones. As a leader you have no better ability to succeed than when your people are continuously raising their capabilities and the desire to use them.

Another significant way people can grow is to take on the role of trainer or instructor, and share what they know. Establishing in-house training programs is a great way to grow strengths in everyone. It also raises the candidacy of people for potential advancement or involvement in more complex projects.

Developing the strengths of your people is beneficial through the reputation they develop, both within and outside your organization. Internal expertise is obviously beneficial for organizations that rely on winning projects from the business community. It also pays dividends internally, when other employees seek out your team experts to learn and grow additional strengths. Forget the politics of keeping your peoples’ strengths to yourself. Everyone wins when you enhance your entire organization by sharing what you have.

The Strength-Based Philosophy

The most productive and effective organizations, the ones that have the most engaged and creative people, are the ones that have a culture focused on the strengths of their employees. The emphasis is on what people can do, not on what they can’t do. None of this happens by itself, but only through the living example and specific direction of the primary leader. These are leaders who have the philosophy that strengths are the primary focus of everything their organization attempts to do.

Such a culture invests heavily in its people, encouraging and rewarding the use of strengths. Create programs to discover and track the strengths of your employees. Offer training and teaching experiences continuously. Establishing a team structure allows people to maximize and share their strengths. Trusting people to apply themselves and be stretched beyond their comfort zone causes them to meet challenges and find new solutions.

Leaders in strength-based cultures assess their people’s performance not just on quantifiable results, but on the effectiveness of their personal development. How well do they use their strengths, and how do they maximize them or develop new ones? Leaders who are focused on strengths often coach their people directly, cultivating more talents and strengths. Setting up a system of internal coaching is also a powerful way to enhance and develop strengths, build networks, and increase collaboration.

Your strength-based culture must teach communication skills, where strengths get enhanced and used to connect people and forge a spirit of unity. Leaders who instill a mindset of helping one another get the greatest benefits from the strengths of their people, where they feel fulfilled and valued. Applying a collective focus on peoples’ strengths can fashion a culture that will boost your business better than any other approach.