Is your ego a problem?

Leadership at the top is a tough gig. To meet shareholders’ or other important stakeholders’ expectations,leaders are expected to take bold action and still protect the organization’s vital interests.

Though forceful, enterprising leaders are admired, they are also often criticized for being self-focused, even narcissistic. Margaret Heffernan defines narcissism in her blog on CBS Moneywatch:

“1. A sense of entitlement: I’m special and should get special attention.

2. Attention: I like, even need, to be the center of attention.

3. Superiority: I am better or smarter than others.

4. Self-absorption: I spend a lot of time contemplating my extraordinary qualities.”

Even if you aren’t a classic narcissist, your ego may be a problem. Leaders need self-confidence, to be sure. However, an over-sized ego can keep you from learning and changing – requirements for addressing the shortcomings we all possess.

John Baldoni posted Three Ways to Keep Your Ego in Check on Harvard Business Review’s Blog Network. His suggestions for reigning in your ego:

Accept praise, but never believe it totally.  Baldoni quotes an interview David Caldwell did on The Larry King Show. Quoting his surgeon father, he said: “It’s okay if other people think you’re God, but you’re in trouble if you start believing it.”

Listen to your best friend. That would be the person who tells the truth, not the one who is your blindest fan.

Reflect on your shortcomings. Be honest with yourself about your behavior, decisions and relationships, understanding that even you reap what you sow.

We’d add another: Use success as a way of showcasing others, reinforcing the fact that these achievements are due at least in part to the amazing people around you.

Healthy self-esteem means you have a strong ego, not one whose maintenance takes precedence over the organization and its people’s needs.

Need to keep your ego in line? Contact Humanergy.

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Communicating when emotions run high

Carla and Timothy were part of the team working on a crucial project. Timothy was tasked with completing all aspects of the design. Unfortunately, he missed a deadline by several days, and Carla was miffed.

Truth: People don’t always live up to our expectations. It can be all to easy to go from, “He didn’t submit his part of the project on time” to “He doesn’t care about this work.”

Snap judgments may have been a necessity in primitive times. It was all well and good for Cavewoman Carla to conclude that the large, noisy beast was the enemy and quickly react. Unfortunately, modern day humans still jump to “instant conclusions” based on limited information – even when it isn’t a life-or-death situation.

We really like to think we’ve got people figured out, and we know why they did this or that. When our emotions come into play, we interpret the other person’s behavior based on our own “story” about what happened. This happens so quickly that the story seems factual. “Of course he isn’t invested in the project. Otherwise, he would have met the deadline.”

The story is amplified when we complain to others, who confirm that our story is true. “Yea, he’s always late. What a slacker.”

The authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High studied how top performers communicate when emotions run high. One insight is that great leaders don’t make the leap from behavior to implication. They stick to the facts when giving feedback.

“Your part came in three days late. It caused several people to scramble at the last minute. We did not have time to review your portion before completion.”

Stick to the facts when you need to confront someone. Ask questions about what happened and why. Remember the goal – to understand and correct the situation, not to prove that your story is right!


Need to learn skills for communicating? Contact Humanergy.

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Name your leadership genius

Should you spend more time leveraging your strengths or fixing your weaknesses? Evidence suggests that leaders are more effective when they focus on maximizing their natural capabilities. Stories abound of people who failed when they jumped into positions that did not align with their core areas of competence.

You probably have a pretty good idea of what you do well and could list your strengths. A somewhat tougher question is, “What is your unique, distinguishing ability as a leader?”

That area of competence is the quality that you should be zeroing in on to accomplish your goals. Bob Rothman, co-chief operating officer at Gap International, says this is your genius – your best thinking that leads to outstanding performance.

Your leadership genius might be articulating the vision for the organization or helping employees grow and develop. If you’re not sure, ask a few trusted colleagues. To make the most of your capabilities, figure out “What is my leadership genius and how can I leverage this extreme competence?”


Need to make the most of what you do best? Contact Humanergy.

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Can you fix people?

We have heard it before. “You can’t change people.” Yet we persist with the idea that if we just use the right words at the right time, the other person will “get it.”

In “Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host” Margaret Wheatley (no relation to Humanergy’s co-founder, David Wheatley) talks about the myth of the heroic leader. One thing the heroic leader believes is that people will do what they are told, if they are given good enough instructions.

The problem here is the illusion that leaders control what they cannot, like what others do, think or feel. What you can control is your own actions.

Rather than jumping in to correct what’s wrong with their people, leaders can be a positive influence and provide support. They can:

Articulate a vision for the future

Be specific about expectations

Ask great questions

Give feedback on behaviors

Protect people from bureaucracy, politics and other distractions

Celebrate wins

When you feel the urge to jump in and fix a person, say, “I want to help. How can I best do that?”

Want to help your people navigate choppy waters? Contact Humanergy.

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Leadership examined

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

Life seems to move at the speed of light, and most leaders don’t feel they have the luxury of stepping back to reflect. Yes, you may do a project debrief when you finish a chunk of work. But when was the last time you took the time to reflect on your organization or your leadership as a whole?

The downside of examining our work in bits and pieces is that we don’t see patterns of thinking, behavior and results. We miss the interconnections between the success of Project A with the missteps with Client B.

How do you focus on the bigger picture without the luxury of lots of time?

Journal. I used to dismiss the benefits of journaling, until I tried it. I know I struggle with doing something every day, so I don’t hold myself to that rigid standard. Regular journaling, however, has helped me see connections that I would have otherwise missed. I recognized patterns in my behavior that worked and some that didn’t. I also was able to see progress over time by re-reading entries from months earlier. Quite motivating!

Use words and pictures. While I tend to be a word person, I find that visualizing problems and solutions in pictures unleashes new thinking and insights. It isn’t easy for me, and that is why the payoff is so great.

Get away. A change of space often frees the mind. Even something as simple as relocating to the coffee shop for 20 minutes can unleash your creativity. Just stay focused on asking your “why?” questions, rather than chatting with your fellow caffeine imbibers.

You don’t have to escape to a mountain retreat to find some space for contemplation. Turn off your media for ten minutes and tune into the big picture. You may be amazed at what your “examined life” produces.

Want some help discovering connections and patterns? Contact Humanergy.

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Assume the best

You get to work and read an email from a coworker:

Christi – the side door was left unlocked between 2 and 3 pm again. Have you thought of creating a checklist that will help you remember?


You think:

  • What a jerk
  • Thanks for the helpful suggestion. I’ll try it!
  • She seems to have good ideas, so maybe she can help me figure out what to do

Your answer to this question says a lot about what you believe to be true about people. If you sometimes think the worst of people, you can change and more often give people the benefit of the doubt. Try these tips:

Slow things down. A frenetic pace can promote reactivity and impatience. Take a moment to stop, think and choose your behavior.

Train yourself to think from others’ point of view. Remember that people bring a diversity of culture, learning and experience to every life situation. Practice thinking, “I wonder why she feels that way” and respond based upon genuine curiosity. Learn why they take the actions they take. Ask about what you don’t understand.

Give yourself cues. Display a picture or quote that reminds you of people’s positive qualities. Light a scented candle or play relaxing music to set a laid-back tone.

Treat yourself with respect. People who are critical of others are often their own worst critic. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and it will be easier to lighten up with others as well.

Remember that giving others a break is really doing you a favor. When you assume the best, you experience less stress. It doesn’t mean you won’t confront truly inappropriate behavior. You just don’t assume that every possible slight is real or intentional. By choosing your battles, you have more productive energy for addressing the issues that matter most.

People are fallible and everyone makes mistakes. You might assume that some of these mistakes are directed at you. In reality, most often, the behavior is a result of ignorance or a different frame of reference. Or, said less kindly in the phrase known as Hanlon’s Razor, “Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.”



Need to make a commitment to assume positive intent? Contact Humanergy.

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5 tips for thriving on the receiving end of change

Most advice about change is directed at leaders, often dealing with managing employees’ reactions to change. There are far fewer books and articles written from an employee-facing-change perspective.

To roll with change in your organization, start with these tips:

1. Recognize your starting point as it relates to change. In general, do you go with the flow and adapt quickly? If yes, hurray for you! However, if change or ambiguity throw you for a loop, you need to prepare for change more carefully by attending to the following tips.

2. Be honest about your concerns and feelings. Admit (at least to yourself) if the impending change creates anxiety, fear or even anger. The only way to move past these emotions is to acknowledge them first. Take some time to examine your reaction to the upcoming change. Seek the counsel of a trusted mentor to help you formulate a plan to manage your feelings while you make the necessary adjustments.

3. Learn about the context for change. Talk with your boss about why the change is important to the organization. If you get the business case for the change – and the negative impact of not changing – you’ll find it easier to buy in.

4. Ask lots of questions, but don’t expect all the answers right away. Your leaders don’t have a fool-proof crystal ball. There will be unanticipated events, modifications and impact. Some ambiguity is to be expected.

5. Choose your behavior. You could join the vocal opposition or an underground movement for the status quo. While that may delay the change, your reputation will be damaged. If you can’t be an early adopter, strive to be at least a neutral-to-positive force for change. Above all, don’t feed the gossip mill, and confront peers whose behavior is inappropriate.

Some changes may so profoundly affect the organization or your role that staying on the job is difficult, even impossible. As with any unknown, expect the best AND prepare for the worst. As Charles R. Swindoll said, “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”


Struggling with change? Contact Humanergy

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Nobody will tell you that you are unapproachable

Intimidating, standoffish, mean and aloof. These are not words you want people to use when they describe you. The sad reality is that people who create this perception in others are often not aware of it.

Think about it. Would you approach a snarly coworker to have a conversation about how she is perceived? Not unless you’re forced to do so.

Even if you pick up on clues along the way that people have problems with you, it’s easier to blame them. Or too much work. Or your boss. Or anything other than your own behavior.

Some people embrace their crusty, bad-humored demeanor. They falsely assume that this will help them gain respect. In fact, all it does is ensure that people won’t ask them questions, seek their input or give much credence to their opinions.

Want to find out if people think you’re unapproachable? Put on your most inviting smile, use a soothing voice, and ask a candid coworker (or two). Listen and don’t react. Above all, don’t get defensive. Just say “thanks” and get to work on a plan to change both your thinking and behavior. (This is one situation where a coach is extremely beneficial.)

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly” (Jim Rohn).





How to respond to offensive remarks

How many times have you heard a comment that struck you as disrespectful or offensive, and you didn’t respond? Maybe you didn’t know the other person, and felt too awkward to comment. Maybe you just weren’t sure you wanted to wade into the issue. Many of us (myself included) have opted not to comment, because we are afraid of the consequences or are unsure of what to say.

You don’t have to confront every piece of communication with which you don’t agree. When should you engage, having heard what you feel is a demeaning remark?

When it offends you. This may be obvious, but sometimes we think, “maybe I’m being too sensitive.” That’s usually just a way of avoiding the issue. If you find the remark offensive, that’s grounds enough to comment on it. You don’t need a panel of experts backing you up.

When the comment is made within your conversation. Overhearing a rude outburst from afar might give you a free pass. However, if someone makes an offensive remark in the context of your discussion, you can and should respond. Even if the words weren’t directed at you, it is still important to weigh in.

When you know the person. Strangers behaving badly may benefit from some type of intervention. Friends and colleagues definitely would. The difference here is your ability to influence their thinking and behavior. You owe it to the other person to bring the matter to their attention.

When you have the power. Let’s face it. There are some people who are in a much better position to confront distasteful speech. Leaders must role model the standards of the organization and confront those who disregard those standards. The implicit message when you say nothing is to approve.

When you know you should weigh in, how can you do so in a way that is maximally constructive?

Be brief. There is no need to launch into a protracted speech on the distasteful statement. Get to the point. “I found the term “fairy” to be offensive,” for example.

Stay focused on observable behavior. Resist the urge to extrapolate and comment on the person’s attitude or beliefs. “You used the word “girl” to refer to a grown woman.” Leave out your personal opinion that the person is a sexist.

Be willing to educate. Often people are operating out of ignorance and do not intend to be disrespectful. Assume that this is the case, until proven otherwise. A comment like, “that term has negative connotation you may not be aware of,” may pave the way to increased awareness.

State your feelings. After you’ve named the behavior, it is more than appropriate to state how you felt about it. “I felt offended [hurt] [angry].” This will help the other individual understand your true perspective and the impact of his behavior.

Be respectful and loving. It might seem strange to respond with care to a person who has said something you found repugnant. However, don’t give in to your urge to demean the speaker. Doing so would only inflame the situation, and may cause the other person to shut down and stop listening. Remember that your goal is to promote and model respectful communication; you won’t do that if you respond angrily.

Remain firm in your feedback. “Hey, lighten up,” can be a common response to being confronted. Simply stated, offensive speech is not trivial. At work, it can be illegal or at least highly disruptive. Your feedback is valid, regardless of the other person’s receptivity (or lack thereof).

Report abuse or discrimination. Persons who are verbally abusive or practice discrimination have no place in your organization. Take action, either yourself or by reporting such behavior to the person’s boss.

Part of our responsibility as human beings is to preserve the dignity of others. Caring enough to speak the truth is not always easy. It is, however, one of the most important things we can do. It may not feel that way at the time, but refuting objectionable comments is a courtesy we extend to the speaker. Giving difficult feedback means, “I care about you too much to let this go.”


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Navigating feedback to peers

Some organizational cultures embrace and even insist upon regular peer-to-peer feedback. In other companies, if you give a peer a suggestion, it may be perceived as odd or even “none of your business.” (It is your business, of course, if your success is dependent upon the other person’s effectiveness.)

When and how should you give feedback to a peer?

When you have a relationship of trust.  You don’t need to be best friends, but some level of comfort is required.  If your relationship is new or uncertain, tread with caution. If you aren’t certain that you have the other person’s best interest at heart, don’t give the feedback. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.” Don’t just convince him; be the friend.

When you are relaxed and prepared.  If you are hurried or distracted, reschedule.  Your peer will pick up on your mental state, and this will cloud the valuable feedback to be given.

When you’re just as likely to give positive feedback as negative.  People need to hear about what they do well as well as what they could improve upon.  Be sure to praise, reinforce and inspire the people around you, before you share an area of potential growth.

After you ask permission. Some people realize the advantages of peer-to-peer feedback, both professionally and personally.  Some do not welcome feedback, or it may be coming at an inconvenient time. Show the other person the courtesy of asking to share your insight, and make sure it’s a good time to do so.

Based on visible behaviors. Stay clear of feedback about a person’s attitude or personality. Likewise, never share others’ perspectives or impressions that you’ve heard. A comment like, “some people have said…” is easily misunderstood and potentially toxic. Represent your own perspective, based on tangible behaviors you’ve witnessed.

With limited advice.  Offer advice only as a last resort, and only if you’re asked to do so. Remember that your approach and experience may be different and not transferable to this person’s reality.

If you’re able to take it as well as give it.  Make sure you’re not resistant to feedback, before you share some with another person. Sure, you may struggle when you hear something negative, but you need to be able to hear and act upon the input. If you’re not there yet, you really aren’t in a position to tell others what they need to improve.

Remember that it is not your job to fix others. It is your job to fix you, first and foremost. As Aldous Huxley said, “There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” That said, giving feedback to others is a gift, provided it’s offered with a genuine spirit of care.


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Want more information on the dos and don’ts of giving feedback? Contact us!

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