Leadership skills

Tools Don’t Work. You Do.

“Now I don’t know but I been told
It’s hard to run with the weight of gold
Other hand I have heard it said
It’s just as hard with the weight of lead.”

-Grateful Dead, New Speedway Boogie

How many tools are in your tool belt?

Why did you get them in the first place?

What problem were you trying to solve at the time?

How well do you use them today?

How many are gathering dust? Why?

Most people and organizations who become overburdened by tools have followed this path; (more…)

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How To Avoid These Five Costly Firing Mistakes

A few years ago I was asked to coach a manager through firing four employees in one afternoon. Going into it the manager was anxious and afraid. Four hours later, she left work completely exhausted, but with her dignity intact, and the dignity of her four ex-employees intact. A month later she met one of them in the grocery store. The ex-employee approached her, gave her a hug, and thanked her for how she conducted the firing.

Employers inevitably need to let employees go. Many employers approach this situation in a way that shows empathy and respect to the employee. But when terminations aren’t approached the right way, former employees end up bitter and hurt the company’s employer brand.

Five Common Mistakes Leaders Make when firing an employee

(more…)

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Four Signs Your Boss is Toxic, And How to Handle It

A toxic boss can ruin a great work environment and leave a wake of drama. You can let it take you down, or take initiative to stay out of the drama and be a positive influence.

Four signs your boss is toxic:

  1. Questions motives instead of asking curious questions. Toxic bosses regularly jump to conclusions and assume nefarious intentions. If they would ask curious questions instead, they’d find out that most people are doing their best and trying to do the right thing.
  2. Motivates with intimidation. Toxic bosses are willing to undermine dignity to get what they want. They believe they are OK and others are not-OK, which enables them to sleep at night even when they abuse their people during the day.
  3. Lacks awareness. Toxic bosses lack insight into their own behavior, motivations, or impact on others. They are clueless about how ineffective they are.
  4. Low emotional intelligence. Toxic bosses have a toxic relationship with their own emotions. They don’t know how to express them in healthy ways, and they don’t know how to deal effectively with other people’s emotions.

Four tips for handling a toxic boss: (more…)

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Three Hidden Fears That Will Compromise Your Leadership Credibility

When I can’t sleep at night it’s usually because I am trying to solve a problem. On the surface the problem appears pretty basic, like responding to a dissatisfied client, finding a more efficient way to reach our target market, or discerning which vendor to use for our CRM. These aren’t my real problems, though. These are just daily tactical challenges relating to something deeper. Down deep, I have two basic fears; being incompetent or unworthy.

At the end of the day, what I worry about the most is that if I disappoint the customer, can’t find more business, or pick the wrong vendor, I will be seen as incompetent or unworthy.

Please don’t think that I am racked with anxiety or depression. I sleep pretty darn good most of the time. When I do worry, though, this is what it’s about. And, I have little or no data to back it up. My team supports me, believes in me, and recognizes my contribution on a daily basis. I generally get positive feedback from customers. Even when I don’t deliver in spades, they accept me for who I am and forgive my failings.

There are three basic fears that all humans have. Some of us are pre-disposed to one or two of them more than the others.

  • Fear of being unworthy
  • Fear of being incompetent
  • Fear of being weak

The problem is that when I start to worry about how others see me, I stop focusing on what I can control; bringing my best self every day. And, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Giving energy to these fears undermines my credibility in several ways:

  • I second-guess myself, which leads to herky-jerky decisions and waffling
  • I become more needy of affirmation and try to steer focus to me and my ideas instead of the best ideas
  • I compromise my own needs and boundaries to keep the peace or keep people happy rather than taking good care of myself
  • I overcompensate and get involved where I shouldn’t
  • I get defensive quicker, and it’s confusing to my team because I don’t disclose my hidden fear
  • I don’t ask for help because that would appear weak
  • Humility is replaced with arrogance or self-deprecation depending on the situation
  • I’m more distracted and less productive

At a recent staff meeting, Sandy on our team disclosed feeling anxious and afraid about the status of a project she was managing. The project had dragged out too long and she felt it was time to bring closure. Her fear was that by doing so, she may have missed something that would come back to bite us later and then she would be perceived as incompetent and unworthy. Instead of giving in to that fear, she shared it, asked for support and asked for a commitment to move forward and accept the uncertainty without fear of recrimination.

It was an empowering moment for the team and for Sandy. Instead of seeing her as incompetent, we saw her courage and self-awareness. And as a team we had the opportunity to face our fears, support each other, and make a new commitment to move forward in unison. I can’t even imagine the time and energy that Sandy saved herself and the rest of us in the long run. She could have continued to second-guess, strive for perfection, check and re-check with little or no return.

As for Sandy’s credibility; it just went up a notch in my book.


Leadership is a personal, messy, vulnerable, and uncertain journey. If you’d like to explore your capabilities as a leader in a safe, curious, and accountable space, give us a call.

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Eliminate These 3 Toxins For A Healthier Work Environment

I was recently in China for four days launching our Leading Out of Drama program. On the flight from Chicago to Bejing I noticed a lot of people wearing masks. In recent years, poor air quality in Beijing has closed schools and caused farmers in the region to panic over the lack of sunlight. Protective face masks have become a common day-to-day sight, helping to protect people from the toxins in the air.

Work cultures have toxins as well. Toxic habits cloud the air so people can’t see clearly through issues of accountability, and choke out morale and productivity. Here are three behavioral toxins that make it hard for people to breathe around you, and what you can do to improve the quality of your workplace environment.

Toxin #1: Giving In

Compromising to keep the peace has dangerous long-term consequences. It undermines your credibility, keeps important issues hidden, and erodes your sense of self-worth.

  • Remove this toxin by sharing your feelings and asking for what you want. Doing so doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it, but it sends the message that you, your feelings, and your ideas are worthwhile.

Toxin #2: Giving Unsolicited Advice

Nothing is more cancerous to morale and self-confidence than nonconsensual helping. Just because you see a solution for someone else doesn’t mean they want your help.

  • Remove this toxin by letting people know you are available as a resource if needed. If you really feel compelled to offer a suggestion, check your ego at the door and ask permission first. Let go of your need to rescue others. Focus instead on helping them find their own solutions.

Toxin #3: Giving Ultimatums

In China they call this “the final warning,” and it means you are laying down the gauntlet. Usually ultimatums involve threats and attempt to instill fear in another person to motivate behavior. Ultimatums are great if you want to be like the substitute teacher whom everybody hates.

  • Remove this toxin by sharing your boundaries and principles in an assertive way, without threats. It’s OK, and possible, to remind your teammates and employees about deadlines, ask them for commitments, and enforce consequences without resorting to Orwellian tactics.

Do you want cleaner air where you work? Replace your toxic behaviors with compassionate accountability and watch people thrive!


Get training to end drama in your workplace. 

Get certified to train others in our powerful positive conflict curriculum 

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How Do You Wring Out Your Sponge?

I’m pleased to share this guest post from Adam Barlow-Thompson, a good friend and colleague. I have great respect for Adam as a PCM and LOD trainer, minister, husband, an innovator and friend. I always appreciate his wisdom and down-to-earth perspective. When he shared this story with me at a recent training we were co-facilitating, I asked if I could share it with my audience.


When I first started in ministry a mentor asked me a cryptic question.

“How do you wring out your sponge?”

My response: “Huh?”

He went on. (more…)

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Beware of Hiring Responsible and Dedicated People

What qualities do you look for in and applicant? Which of these are attractive to you?

  • Self starter
  • Takes initiative
  • Responsible
  • Organized
  • Dependable
  • Dedicated
  • Conscientious
  • Persistent
  • Attention to quality and detail

These are the upsides of two Personality Types most likely to be promoted to leadership positions (Thinkers and Persisters). They are promoted because of these very qualities. They are hard workers, care about quality and are task oriented. They want things done right. And they are proud of it.

The downsides: When these same people are in distress, it’s a whole different story. (more…)

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How To Lead When Dealing With A Personal Crisis

You can’t plan for major crises, like a family member’s cancer diagnosis, a personal lawsuit, or your fiancé calling off the wedding, but there are steps you can take to help ease the coping process when crisis hits.

How a person handles crisis largely depends on his or her personality. Three of the six Kahler Personality Types tend to be more common among top leadership: (more…)

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Five Strategies for Bridging The Communication Gap Between Generations

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the year 2020 there will be five generations active in the workforce. As organizations get increasingly age-diverse, they need to understand the communication and development strains this diversity can create, and how to overcome them.

Historically, workers have been able to start collecting full retirement benefits from the government at the age of 65. That number has been raised to 67 recently, forcing many workers to stay in the workforce longer than expected. As life expectancy continues to rise, more people have continued to do some sort of work after retirement than ever before.

A 2015 Career Builder survey found that 54 percent of senior workers will rejoin the labor force after retiring from their current careers.

With so many people of different ages being asked to work together, there are bound to be a few bumps in the road. A lack of respect between generations often can flare up if individuals focus on each other’s differences rather than the strengths and skills each generation brings. (more…)

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