Choose your words

labyrinth_speech_bubble_eps8I cringed when I read this post by Karin Hurt of Let’s Grow Leaders. It reminded me of many times when I’ve spoken without carefully choosing my words. Most often, the results weren’t awful, like the loss of credibility Hurt examines. However, I know that I am at risk of miscommunication or offending someone by engaging my mouth before my brain.

Part of the problem is that I am more of a “talk to think” person (rather than a “think to talk” one). I have the basic outline of an idea in my head, and I use talking as a way to sort it out. Problem is, if you listen to the beginning of my communication, it’s fuzzy. And since I don’t give you a clue (“I’m thinking out loud now!”), listeners can be pretty confuzzled.*

The lesson here is twofold: 1. Take a moment to think before speaking, and 2. Give people a heads-up when I really need to talk an idea into some semblance of order.

* My daughter Maggie’s brilliant, made-up word combining “confused” and “fuzzy.”


Let’s think and talk.

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Stop saying you are sorry

RejectionLeaders have been encouraged to stop making excuses and simply apologize when they make mistakes. Good advice, but it isn’t enough to say you’re sorry.

It really isn’t that hard to apologize. What is really hard is changing your behavior, so that you don’t mess up again.

Think about the last time you had to apologize at work. Ask yourself:

Do you understand the root cause of the problem?

Have you taken steps to correct it?

Does the wronged party know about your efforts to make a real change? 

Leadership means saying you’re sorry and then doing something about it. If you can’t do the second step, you’d better practice your heart-felt apology. You’ll need to say it again soon.


Change is easier with a partner.

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Yay, me!

iStock_000015873034SmallWhat have you accomplished this week/month/year? If you can’t answer that question, your contributions may not be on your boss’ radar either. That could spell trouble when it comes to career advancement – or in some cases, keeping your job.

There is a big difference between bragging and making the status of your work known. Some people (especially many women) fail to communicate accomplishments for fear of sounding too boastful. In some cultures, drawing attention to your positive attributes is considered ill-mannered at best. For every professional, self-promotion must be handled sensitively.

Allison Jones writes at

The important thing to consider when sharing any accomplishment is to focus on celebrating your success in the context of your company, career, and professional growth, rather than making it sound like you think you’re better than others.

Jones suggests beginning by tracking your successes. Look at your job description and figure out how you’re accomplishing each item. Keep a journal that is focused on your results. Compare those to what’s required for the job you have and the position you want next.

Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune interviewed Peggy Klaus, author of “BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It.” Klaus says that we too often share our capabilities and success in job interviews, then stop completely when we’re hired. She advises people to share successes intermittently, and understand that bosses need and want to hear about what’s going well.

Keep your ego in check as you share your successes, or you’ll be perceived as a boastful jerk. Remember John Mooney’s caution: Some folks brag because they like to hear the patter of their little feats.


Yep, you’re awesome. We can help you talk about it.

Photo from iStockphoto.


Focus your wandering mind

Young handsome man workingAt the beginning of Humanergy’s meetings, our mindfulness expert, Launda Wheatley, helps us focus. She takes us through a series of breathing and centering activities that clear our minds and prepare us to engage in the meeting with concentration and purpose.

I was surprised recently when she asked us to actively notice the distractions in our minds – the next meeting that needed prep, how to get dinner going before soccer practice…

I often feel guilty about my struggle to stay fully present, so my impulse is to get rid of distractions. I usually try to get those thoughts out of my brain through brute force – dragging myself back to the task at hand, feeling frustrated at my lack of self-discipline.

Launda encourages a more gentle embracing of our many commitments. No judgment. Just noticing those other things there without closing them off or pushing them down.

Here’s Launda’s refocus strategy: Sit up tall, inhaling for a count of 4, holding the breath for 1 count and exhaling for 5-6 counts. Do this up to 5 times to regain clarity. If distractions pull you away from this breathing, place your hand on your heart and acknowledge the distraction with compassionate awareness. Then begin again.

The amazing thing is that when we simply notice that they are there, distracting thoughts tend to fade away. Focus returns, without brute force or recriminations.

If you find yourself flitting from one thought or activity to another, take a break. Focus on your breathing for a couple of minutes, noticing the ideas that creep in. Watch them disappear into the background, allowing you to hone in on what’s important. You’ll still have lots to do, but you’ll approach each task with renewed energy.


We can’t wait to hear about what mindfulness is helping you accomplish. Talk to us.

Photo from iStockphoto.

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.

Photo from iStockphoto.


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.

Photo from iStockphoto.


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.

Photo from iStockphoto.

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.

Photo from istockphoto.



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.

Photo courtesy of istockphoto


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).