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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If only others were perfect

Nobody’s perfect. That seems like a pretty simple and well-accepted notion. However, when dealing with people at work, you need (or at least want) them to do the right things. The fact that others don’t always do what they “should” can leave you feeling surprised and frustrated.

What are some fundamentals for dealing with less-than-perfect human beings (AKA, everyone)?

Acknowledge each person’s humanity. Even the boss will have flaws, but often we find these to be unforgivable. Get over it. “God knows I’ve got so many frailties myself, I ought to be able to understand and forgive them in others. But I don’t.” (Ava Gardner)

Don’t stop doing your job. You send the weekly report out for review and key stakeholders don’t look at it. Communicate the consequences of that choice; then realign on expectations and keep sending the report. Just because some aren’t holding up their end of the deal doesn’t mean you are off the hook.

Pay attention to your expectations. Don’t expect others to know what you think or react as you would. Your expectations of others must be realistic, fair and transparent. You may want to gather your team to engage in a dialogue about mutual expectations. It could be that there are justifications for their choices you hadn’t considered.

Figure out what’s really important. Instead of nit-picking about every single thing the person does wrong, target the behavior that impedes necessary results. Along with discussing the impact, share what needs to start happening and what needs to stop.

Speak up. Seething inwardly won’t help, and people will eventually notice. When the issue is important, share your feedback directly with the person, in the spirit of care for the greater good. Stay focused on behaviors without making judgments.

While you should not expect perfection, don’t give up on high standards. Karen O’Hara, president of HR to Go, wrote “Thirty-five Great Expectations to Have of your Coworkers.” One expectation: “Accept criticism in stride.” Likely, your imperfections are  not going unnoticed as well, so be ready to be on the receiving end. Listen and learn when someone cares enough to point out your flaws.


Need help giving feedback or receiving it? Contact Humanergy.

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Listen when you do not want to hear

On a couple of occasions recently, I’ve been challenged to listen to feedback that I did not welcome. In one case, it was a long-term member of an organization in which I hold a volunteer leadership role. This person was upset about a number of issues, and was airing some long-held grievances.

In the second example, we got some feedback at work that something we’d done wasn’t particularly helpful. A colleague and I had to figure out how to respond, even though our first reaction was, “What could he possibly mean?!”

When an idea is hard to hear, that’s when we need to work the hardest to tune in. Yes, feedback is a gift. But if we are to be truthful, sometimes we don’t want it, or we want to “spin” it to minimize its impact and keep ourselves comfortable.

How can you respond productively when your first impulse is to dismiss it or get angry?

Just listen. Resist the urge to respond right away. Think of yourself as a sponge, absorbing the message without judgment.

Seek to understand. Again, without assessing its validity, seek to understand the issue from the other’s perspective. Ask questions with the intent of learning more and seeing the issue from another viewpoint.

See the whole picture. MindTool’s Feedback Matrix is a great tool to help you break down the feedback into what was expected/unexpected and positive/negative. While unexpected negative feedback can be difficult to process, recognize we’re all on a path of continuous improvement. So, there’s something you need to work on….that’s OK. Understand that the feedback is not an indictment of your overall performance. Keep perspective and respond appropriately.

Take a break. When you are caught off guard by feedback, sometimes it’s best to take some time before responding. Say, “Thank you for telling me. I’m trying to absorb what you’ve said. Can we get back together tomorrow?”

Consider the source. If your feedback is from someone whose intentions are not constructive, seek a second opinion from someone who can give you an unbiased evaluation. Don’t go to a friend who will match your indignation and help you feel better. You may find that the “spiteful critic’s” feedback really was a gift.

Most feedback contains at least a kernel of truth, even if you find the majority of it to be inaccurate or unfair. Make it your responsibility to find some value in the message and take action to improve.


Got some “ouchy” feedback and don’t know where to proceed? 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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Are you nuts?

Do you have to be boring or serious to be a great leader? The responsibilities may be challenging and even daunting some days. That doesn’t mean you have to turn into a somber, bland person.

In fact, it’s okay to be a little over-the-top, unique, zany or even a little nuts. Some of the best leaders in the world have been non-traditional and even a bit unhinged (Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, for example).

Experts on organizational success advise businesses to infuse their personality into everything they do. If businesses can be a little nuts, can’t their leaders be the same?

How can you express your individuality more fully in your leadership role?

Revel in and share your hobbies and interests, your culture or past experiences. Have you jumped from a plane? Do you sing opera? Can you whip up some amazing food?

Ask crazy, “what-if” questions about your work. What if we want to expand to Hawaii? What would we do differently if we decided to be the best in the world?

Laugh (mostly at yourself).

Allow your creative side to show. Jazz up your workspace in a way that fuels your thinking. Dress for success, with a bit of personality, so that you stand out from the crowd in a positive way.

Above all, enjoy each day’s moments by doing work that is meaningful to you. As Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.”

Need some help connecting with the real you? 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).





Empathy: Not just for the touchy-feely

I worked for a boss once who was profoundly uncomfortable with feelings. He was a likeable guy who preferred to keep his distance when things got personal or emotional. It wasn’t unusual for him to miss meetings where contentious issues were going to be discussed.

My boss’ lack of empathy allowed him to deal with the facts at hand, without the complication of wading into various perspectives or attitudes. What he lost, however, was the ability to maximize our emotional intelligence, an important factor in team success.

Empathy was defined by Daniel Goleman in the HBR article, What Makes a Leader, as “the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people” and “skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.”

If you’re thinking that empathy is an unnecessary distraction, consider its benefits to leaders:

Empathy gives you insight. You will gain a richer understanding of your organization’s people, competitors and customers – and therefore make better decisions.

Empathy enhances influence. You will not be able to sway your peers or boss without understanding their perspectives and attitudes. Your attempts at persuasion will fall on deaf ears if you do not connect with what is important to them.

Empathy helps you leverage diversity. Your team is composed of people with skills, experiences and cultural backgrounds that are different from yours. Asking genuine questions and not making assumptions will help you not only “get them” as people, it will also allow you to tap into their interests and utilize their unique abilities.

How to enhance empathy?

Start with humility. You haven’t got it all figured out. Recognize that you need all of your people’s capabilities – tangible and intangible – to succeed.

Be curious. Listen more and talk less. Ask questions about what people are thinking and feeling. Don’t assume you already know.

Ask for feedback and input, and really mean it. Use the ideas and innovations that your team shares. This will encourage people to share more over time.

Empathy isn’t a magic bullet, as noted by Steve Tobak in a recent post. It is an important tool for your leadership toolbox that should be regularly used.

“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” (Atticus Finch, a fictitious character in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird).


To find out more about how you can beef up your empathy, contact Humanergy.

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Curiosity: A leadership superpower

We are hard-wired to be critical of new ideas. Maybe it’s our Stone-Age brains in the forefront, avoiding risk in order to survive. Sometimes the urge to appear intelligent and decisive can result in too-swift judgment of something novel.

Art Markman’s blog on promoting a culture of smart thinking includes a tip on staying open to ideas. He recommends that you allow fresh information some “soak” time and try them out before you pass judgment.

Staying open to different viewpoints can only happen when we are willing to be wrong sometimes. We may also need to wrestle with some powerful emotions, such as anger or hurt. In these moments of vulnerability, curiosity is both difficult and much-needed.

If you’re like me, you may be programmed to quickly ask, “What’s her problem?” or “Is he nuts?”

To boost curiosity, try some new questions: “I wonder why he said that?” “What would that look like?” “How would that work?” “What do I like best about it?”

You may find that these questions will not only open your mind…it will unblock those of the people around you as well.

Need some help staying open-minded? Contact Humanergy.

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Are you listening to yourself?

In honor of our 150th blog post, Humanergy is giving you a little present – our shortest post yet.

It’s a simple idea, really. Just for today, listen to yourself.

It’s easy to move and think and speak so fast that you aren’t aware of what you say or how you say it. (Okay, it’s me. I do that. But maybe you do, too.)

You may find that your words or tone get in the way of your best intentions. In the final analysis, you are what you do.

So, speak carefully and perhaps less often.

Thanks for receiving our blog each week. If you’d like to suggest a topic, write it in the comment box below. Or, talk to Humanergy about what’s on your mind. Contact us.

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Life is always better on the high road

Imagine how the world would be different if everyone made choices that were 100% aligned with the greater good. Humanergy calls these transformative choices. Transformative choices ensure that everyone is successful and has the power to renew relationships, teams and results. We not only encourage our clients to make transformative choices; we hold ourselves to that standard.

Making transformative choices is about values, your knowledge of reality (the good, bad and ugly), your understanding of the people involved and self-care. Remember: Self-sacrifice isn’t transformative and does nothing to promote the greater good.

The short- and long-term benefits of sticking to this high road are:

It takes less energy. It may seem like factoring in the greater good might take more time and energy. In fact, transformative choices often simplify the equation. Instead of calculating the myriad of political implications of a decision, you ask how each option serves the greater good. When you make transformative decisions, you spend less time cleaning up the messy impact of destructive decisions.  You don’t need to engage in “spin” to justify transformative decisions. You don’t have to remember which version of the truth you gave to Person A versus Person B. As Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

You don’t keep score. Because you’re always working toward the greater good, you don’t engage in “I must win” thinking. By upholding the greater good, you are part of that positive impact as well. When people around you make self-centered choices, you don’t get even; you figure out if you can help them choose differently next time. Transformative leaders understand the power structures around them, yet do not become slaves to power or use it recklessly.

You reap what you sow. Staying on the high road doesn’t guarantee an easy life, AND consistently striving for the greater good brings you peace of mind, a priceless gift. The biggest driver of this contentment is the quality of your relationships, based on authenticity and mutual respect. Those connections with others are more resilient when times get tough.

You focus on the stuff that matters. Transformative people don’t worry about the things they cannot impact. They concern themselves with what they can control or manage, such as their own daily choices and the quality of their interactions with others.

You live with fewer regrets. Nobody’s perfect, and you won’t always make the best choices. Striving for transformative choices gives you the comfort of knowing that you operated within your best self – not allowing selfishness, bitterness or anger to take root, even if you occasionally indulge in petty thinking or behavior.

A commitment to the greater good is the best way to make the right decisions. Making transformative choices does not require saintly virtue or anything approaching perfection. It requires humility, thoughtful reflection about what is important and goodwill toward others. These are the foundations that provide a compass to guide you, even in the midst of chaos. While there may not seem to be as much traffic, the high road is always a better place to be.

Have a question about this topic or want some input from Humanergy? Contact us!

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