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What kind of leader do you want to be?


You, like most leaders, spend a lot of time on what you need to “do”. Long lists of action items, email and text messages waiting in que, phone calls to make and meetings to go to are enticing you. Being busy and feeling needed is seductive and addictive; crossing “to do’s” off a list feels really good, giving an impression that you’re moving forward.

You’ve forgotten something. In the midst of your adrenaline-addicted pace of doing, have you stopped to consider who you want to be as a leader?

I know – thinking can feel unproductive. It doesn’t feel like you’re getting anything done. Yet the kind of leader you want to be is one of the most important areas to reflect on; it will set the tone for your future successes.

This is a significant because the truth is that leadership is not about managing things, it’s about influencing people. And to influence people you have to form relationships with them. To successfully form relationships, you have to be true to who you are in your leadership (have you ever known someone who “does” leadership, you’ll know the difference). And those relationships are the engine that powers your ability to lead others.

Even if you’ve been a leader for a long time, you should still revisit the kind of leader you want to be, since leadership is an ongoing journey, and there are always adjustments to be made along the way.

So settle in, pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, close the door and ask yourself these questions to help understand what kind of leader you want to be (P.S. for many, capturing the answers in writing helps to solidify any forward action to be taken):


  • What qualities do I aspire to exemplify in my leadership? What makes them important to me? What makes them important to others?


  • When I move on to whatever is next, what do I want to leave behind? How will people remember me as a human being and leader?


  • What will it take for me to truly stand out as a leader?


  • What actions will I commit to in moving my leadership to the next level?


  • What is the first step I can take to be the leader I want to be?


  • Who can help me?


  • What other questions need to be asked to help me to be the kind of leader I want to be?


(That last one is a trick question, but I really want to know what you would ask!).


If you are driven to be a better leader, you won’t let these questions rest. Move forward! Find someone to support you, create an action plan and practice demonstrating and refining your new behaviors in your leadership and your life. Don’t stop learning and getting better! There is always more to do in becoming the kind of leader you want to be.



Leading people you don’t like


It’s happened to you, as it happens to all of us at some point. You have an employee (or more) that you manage who is challenging you. When you’re honest with yourself, you just don’t like them and this bothers you. They are “average” at their work yet you sense that they have the potential to be even better.

If you look closely at how your dislike for this person impacts how you interact with them, you notice that you avoid having the kind of conversations you need to have, and you don’t give them the feedback and encouragement you give to others.

Perhaps they deserve more from you.

In other words you just can’t see your way through to thinking clearly about the potential they might have to be better at what they do because you don’t like them. If you changed your thinking about them, what might happen for the better?

This requires you to rethink how you view this person and it takes work on yourself. This is hard work because it may surface some pretty unpleasant personal beliefs you have. You can start here:

Set aside time to reflect on your judgments. Turn the mirror back to yourself and ask:

  • What biases or judgments do I cling to about this person?


  • What stories do I tell myself that cause me to cling to those biases or judgements?


  • How might my personal beliefs be impacting their ability to perform at their best?


  • What potential am I willing to see in them?


You might find it helpful to write down your responses to these questions, and to reflect on them again later. Next:

Consider the actions you might want to take now. What value might there be in changing your behaviors toward them? Assuming you can see that you may be complicit in the average performance of this person you don’t like, what do you want to do about it? Remember, you are working on yourself, not them. Maybe you are questioning your beliefs now, and thinking that there is some new way you can show up with this person. What new behaviors do you need to take on?

Be patient. Be patient with yourself and your new actions toward the other person. You may notice the old feelings of dislike toward them coming up. When that happens, return to your new ways of thinking about them and the potential they have.

Your personal beliefs, biases and judgments about others can get in the way of your ability to engage, motivate, and lead them to be at their best. When you recognize and change your thoughts about those you don’t like, their hidden potential can be unleashed.


The opposite of good leadership


The following is not meant to be a political commentary – I’ve made a conscious decision not to wave any political flag in this space. Yet I couldn’t miss the opportunity to point out some disconcerting observable behaviors in a public leader that demonstrate what good leaders shouldn’t do.

Sometimes you can learn how to be a better leader by noticing other leaders who do things that you find objectionable. The leader featured here is everywhere in the news; bigger than life, demonstrating many things you might dislike in workplace managers and leaders. I often hear that people like him because he “tells it like it is”.

This leader, who is running for President, demonstrates some opposing qualities that are important for good leaders to observe (for what not to do). If you pay attention, you may notice that:

He doesn’t listen: This leader continually interrupts others, talking over them before they are done speaking. Although many (most?) politicians dodge a question, this one interrupts before the speaker is done asking it. Learn to listen for understanding – it will go a long way toward making you a better leader. The hardest thing to do is to listen to those who have different opinions than you, but it’s also the most important.

He doesn’t demonstrate respect and civility: Disrespecting and demeaning other people seems to have increased everywhere. That doesn’t make it acceptable. This leader’s hurtful speech directed at individuals can cause suffering. Yes, he is often fighting fire with fire, a strategy that rarely works to develop relationships. Leaders take the high road even when they are under fire. Learn to choose that road while drawing others in and engaging them in the work that needs to be done.

He doesn’t explain his reasoning: This leader may “tell it like it is”, yet much of his speech is peppered with his opinions, deflections, and blaming others. Yes, he’s direct (as a leader should be) in what he says. There are few, if any facts or reasons to back up his opinions. Do your homework and back up your decisions and opinions with facts and reasons so others have a good foundation in how you think.

He doesn’t accept personal responsibility: This leader has the uncanny ability to deflect responsibility for his demeaning comments about others, often putting the blame on the people he hurts (they deserved it after all). This takes a human toll on many people, especially when done in a public forum. Don’t excuse away your actions and words. Have the courage to apologize for hurting others and work to gain their trust again.

Being direct by telling it like it is can be a great quality for a leader. Today we also need leaders who can connect and develop the kind of inclusive, trusting relationships that foster a sense of commitment and teamwork. That kind of leader is one who listens, respects others, explains their reasons and accepts personal responsibility for their behavior.


The top 10 things you’re resisting that will make you a better leader


There are certain patterns of resistance I’ve noticed in the leaders I’ve worked with that are really good at their craft – but have the potential to be great. These behaviors that leaders resist can increase their potential to lead at the top of their game. Perhaps as you read through the list, you’ll notice some of your own resistance poking through as you tell yourself:

  • “I don’t have time.”
  • “It’s not as important as meeting our goals.”
  • “What will they (my boss, my employees, my peers) think?”
  • “Tried that once, and it didn’t help me.”

Listen to those inner voices of resistance. They might be telling you that it’s time to stop resisting and start doing something different. So without further ado, Here are the top 10 things you may have been resisting that can help you to become a better leader (in no particular order):


  1. Making time to think: Most leaders spend their days “doing”. You’ll be a better leader if you delegate some of the doing and make time to think about your organizational vision, values, decisions, what’s going well, and what could go even better. Block out regular time to stop “doing” and start “being” a better leader!


  2. Developing relationships: I have worked with a great leader who told me he spent almost all of his time developing relationships with his stakeholders. He set the bar for his own staff to realize just how important relationships were to their ability to lead others. Start now to be intentional about reaching out to your stakeholders!


  3. Having actual conversations: When was the last time you slowed down enough to have a real conversation with your team, your boss, or your peers? This conversation is the kind where you aren’t doing all the talking and you’re listening to what matters to them. Ask what others think and listen to them!


  4. Taking a break: Breaks from your daily work need to be varied: short, long, at work, away from work. Take a 10 minute walk in the middle of the day. Take ALL of your vacation time. Join a local organization. Help to feed the poor. Hang out with people you like and love. Breaks away from work will rejuvenate you!


  5. Coaching and developing the team: You need to do this because it’s part of your job, even if it’s not written in your job description. Every one-on-one status meeting you have with your direct reports should include some intentional coaching and development. This not only helps your team members, it helps you and your organization!


  6. Exercising, eating better, sleeping more: I know you might not see how these things will make you a better leader, but when you exercise, eat well and get enough sleep you’ll have more energy for your day and for the long haul. Leading people takes a lot energy!


  7. Turning off devices: Seriously, do you really think that the world will come to end if you turn off your cell phone when you’re having dinner with your family? When you’re watching your kid’s soccer game? When you’re deep in conversation with someone? Your distraction is annoying and harmful to your relationships!


  8. Developing a personal vision and plan: What kind of leader do you want to be a year from now or five years from now? What do you want your followers to say about you when you step out the door? What do you need to start doing to get there? Spend some time making a plan for being a better leader!


  9. Praising employees: Don’t worry about your employees getting “too big for their britches” – they need to know what’s going right every bit (maybe more) than what’s going wrong. Be intentional and be specific and expressing your thanks for what they’re doing well. They can’t function on criticism alone!


  10. Delegating more: You’re not the only person who can do whatever you’re doing. Every leader I know who has people reporting to them can delegate more. When done well, it frees up time to do almost everything on the list above!


The best leaders pay attention to the things they’ve been resisting and courageously make them daily habits. Choose one or two of the above to begin with , get started, and pay attention to the difference it makes for your leadership.


Model and encourage well-being


Flat organizations, new technology, increased competition, and greater complexity define workplaces today. These are only a few of the things that have made your life and the lives of your employees difficult.

You work inhumane hours, receive hundreds of emails a day, and strive to make your quarterly goals while leading others. Work is only a part of your life, yet you sacrifice for it, and may expect your employees to sacrifice too.

So what are you and your employees giving up to make your goals and at what cost? Do you – and your organization – respect the sacrifice employees make to meet the bottom line without a thought to the importance that they stay whole, integrated, and balanced?

Everyone has a life beyond work, and this non-work life often gets sacrificed in service to organizational goals. This can be unhealthy for you, your staff, and your organization.

What if you made an effort to show your respect for the life-affirming balance that keeps you and your employees healthy, whole, and human? Is it possible that when you and your team are balanced, you might just see an increase in the quality and quantity of the work output?

Some thoughts:

Be a model for your own well-being: Take all the vacation time provided to you, put someone else in charge and unplug. Long hours in short bursts are sometimes necessary, but demonstrate that it isn’t essential to work long hours all year – stay away from the office on weekends, have dinner with your family and attend to your outside-of-work interests; you’ll be a better leader and a model to your employees when you do.

Encourage time with family, friends and community: Discuss the importance with your staff of staying balanced by spending time doing what fulfills them outside of work and connecting with their families, friends, and community. When your employees stay balanced in fulfilling ways, they bring more energy to work; they can be focused without feeling pulled away from other parts of their lives.

Be generous in allowing time off for unforeseen events: Respect your employee’s needs to take time off to care for sick family members and aging parents or for other unplanned events. You might be surprised at the gratitude and loyalty that results. When they return, they’ll be more focused and ready to put their best efforts into the work that needs to be done.

Urge your employees to have one well-being goal each year: Everyone has something they need to improve in their life outside of work. Healthier eating, more sleep, more time with their family, and regular exercise are examples of these types of goals. Why wouldn’t you support them in that? Hold employees accountable to well-being goals just as you would any work goal because it shows you care (not to mention the benefits it has for the work they do).

This isn’t pie-in-the-sky stuff; you, your employees, and your organization will benefit when balance is respected. What are you doing to model and encourage well-being in your organization?





12 Leadership Services You Should Be Providing Your Team


Great leaders get the best out of their teams by providing 12 core leadership “services”. The best leaders provide these services in an efficient and effective way.


Today’s guest post is by Mike Figliuolo, co-author of the new book Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results.


Every leader wants to give their team all the help they need. That help can come in many forms. How do leaders help their team members grow and become more autonomous? Are leaders serving their teams in the most efficient and effective way?

In our new book, Victor Prince and I describe the 12 “leadership services” that leaders must provide to their teams:


  • Planning: Leaders translate their vision for the organization into team goals and individual goals.
  • Prioritizing: Leaders prioritize the individual goals into team priorities.
  • Coordinating: Leaders use their higher seat on the org chart to provide their team members with broader organizational perspectives and make connections for them.


  • Deciding: Leaders make decisions that can’t be or shouldn’t be made by their team members.
  • Motivating: Leaders motivate people to do things, particularly when those tasks are difficult.
  • Clearing: Leaders help people overcome the roadblocks they face at work.


  • Monitoring: Leaders are accountable for delivering team goals, so they track team progress against set metrics and milestones.
  • Correcting: Leaders help correct their team members’ work.
  • Repairing: When errors occur, leaders help repair the damage.


  • Training: Leaders teach team members new skills and ensure they receive the training they need to perform their jobs effectively.
  • Coaching: Leaders help build their team members’ confidence and capabilities.
  • Promoting: Leaders advance their team members’ careers by positioning them for growth.

If you’re a team leader, think about whether you are providing all of these services to every member of your team. If you aren’t, why not? If it’s an issue of “not having enough time” you might want to reconsider how you’re spending the limited time you have.

One reason you may spend too little time and energy with some team members is because you spend too much time and energy with some other team members. Our new book offers an assessment tool to help you understand where you’re investing your time and energy across your individual team members now, and a framework to show you how you should shift your efforts in the future.

Getting the best out of your team is your primary responsibility. Making better and more efficient use of your limited time is the key to delivering those better results.


Mike Figliuolo is the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results and the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC – a leadership development training firm. An Honor Graduate from West Point, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.


Stop helping and start listening


As I walked into the leader’s office, I noticed that something was off. He seemed upset. This man was a phenomenal leader; normally upbeat, beloved, respected, professional and smart. He was almost always calm and composed – but not today.

As I listened, a story unfolded of a situation that he handled (as he always did) with dignity and great integrity. But others who had supported him in the past betrayed him on his current efforts. He said he was angry and confused. I asked him what he would like to achieve in our time together. He rolled right past the question and continued with his story, a message to me that I may have missed.

My great urge now was to help him. Soothing words of comfort came to my lips, begging to be released. A wave of thoughts on the advice I could give him that might help ease his discomfort swirled about in my brain.

I recognized my usual pattern of wanting to fix what seemed broken, took a deep breath and just listened. I know that sometimes, just listening is the right thing to do but I don’t always do it. This time I did.

Did I provide value for him? Yes indeed. At the end of the hour, I asked if he got what he needed, and heard a resounding “Yes, I just needed you to listen”. I wasn’t a perfect listener but I caught myself and self-corrected to do what he needed in those moments.

The lessons for leaders are:

Knowing yourself is essential. Workplaces are microcosms of life with all of its drama. Knowing how you react to emotion is important because you’ll be exposed to it. Observe your natural tendency when emotions are high. Do you want to flee, get angry or clam up? We all have our hardwired habits that may show up in excess when someone becomes emotional.

Meet people where they are. It’s all too easy to get caught up in what you want, especially in emotional conversations. In this scenario, I wanted to soothe and to fix. These are my normal “go to” hard-wired behaviors when someone is hurting, but they may only serve my own discomfort. Providing value in the way that you normally do may not be the key. You can ask others what they want from you and you may get an answer, but you may not; your fallback position of just listening may be the best thing you can do.

Listening can be of value. You can’t fix people. In emotional situations, soothing is often not what they want. Your advice and problem-solving may not be heard or appreciated. Surprisingly, one of the simplest and most valuable things you can do is to just listen. It’s difficult, but it’s the right thing in many emotionally-charged conversations.

Knowing your habitual reactions and choosing an alternative one that’s more appropriate (like listening) may not be what you want, but it may be just the right solution for others in emotional moments.




A message of freedom from Dr. Seuss


Every year when Independence Day is upon us, it can be the beginning of thinking not only about the freedom we enjoy in our country, but the freedom that is possible in our workplaces. Freedom is something we all desire, and when it’s present in our workplaces, it opens up all kinds of creativity and joy that can lead to real bottom line results. As a leader, you can set the tone for workplace freedom.

In 1990, I bought a copy of a now classic book (for adults as well as children) called “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Seuss Geisel) for my four-year-old daughter Kelly. My gift to her turned out to be a gift to myself as well as many of my clients. The message of freedom of choice is very clear, and it includes cautions that the choices we make will not always be easy.


“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself

any direction you choose.”




“I’m so sorry to say so

but, sadly, it’s true

that Bang-ups

and Hang-ups

can happen to you.”


Dr. Seuss’ messages are humorously realistic ones you should take to heart for how you manage yourself and how you lead others. What you can learn for yourself and how you can apply it to leading others may just change your life. The advice is time-tested and has the power to reduce the suffering you can experience as you (attempt to) live your life and work in the spirit of freedom:

For yourself:

Choose freedom over fear. If fear of failure is driving your choices, it will reflect negatively on your leadership. Make sure you have firm personal values and an organizational vision to fall back on to make your choices, and although they may not be easy or perfect, they will be the right ones for you. Let

go of the need to please others in the choices you make. Some of your choices will result in bang-ups and hang-ups, but if you have the support of others behind you, you’ll get through the tough times with grace and your dignity intact as long as you don’t dwell in the “should haves”.

For others:

The people who work for you are smart adults and wonderfully capable of doing more than you – or they – believe is possible. Don’t be fooled into thinking they need you to keep a tight rein on the work they do. Give them the freedom to think and act for themselves. Guide them gently. They will thrive and so will your organization. Sometimes making the choice to extend freedom will be hard, but giving yourself the gift of choice to free others up to be the intelligent, creative, and wholesome people that they are will have extensive positive consequences for your leadership and the goals you can achieve or exceed.


Make every day a day of freedom.


“And will you succeed?

Yes! You will indeed!

(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)



5 leadership behaviors to move up on your priority list


Many leaders drive others harder than they need to. What results is constant push for their team to achieve those goals. Meetings consist of checking the lists of things to be fixed and get done NOW.

Recently I listened with awe as leaders described a change of heart following my Coaching for Breakthrough Performance workshop, where we spent significant time on skills that build relationships. Many described their new-found recognition of moving relationship-building with their stakeholders higher on their priority list.

One poignant example came from a retail leader who told how her days are filled with meetings with store managers. Her normal way of operating is to walk into each store and make lists of problems and then spend her time with the managers telling them what they needed to fix. After the workshop, she committed to spending time in the following week just listening to the store managers.

Many leaders need to move these relationship-building behaviors up to the top of their priority list:

Listening: When I ask a leader’s stakeholders (especially direct reports) about opportunities for the leader’s improvement, I often hear “I don’t feel heard” – even (especially) about well-respected seasoned leaders! Many leaders feel compelled to let people know how much they know. The truth is that relationships are built by listening to others.

Asking: Instead of telling your stakeholders everything you know, the catalyst to helping them feel heard is inquiry. I know that you’re skilled at telling people things but it doesn’t do a lot to help others grow and develop. Becoming skilled at asking curious questions that you and your stakeholders don’t know the answers to is a great way for everyone to learn.

Developing: Helping others to develop is part of your job. Yes, you still need to get results – but you’ll discover as you mentor, coach, teach, and train others, the results will follow. And what follows that is significant satisfaction as they become skilled and you find you don’t need you to “push” them to meet goals; they’ll know how to get there.

Encouraging: Another common theme I hear when I speak to stakeholders is that the leader’s way of operating is to find “what’s wrong”. Criticism and problem solving are the default communication tool. What if you looked for the things that people are doing right and encouraged them by letting them know what you noticed instead?

Thanking: Don’t wait until the work is completed to say thank you. Find ways to appreciate your stakeholders along the way. A brief email, a handwritten card, or a conversation about what you’ve noticed will go a long way toward helping others to feel good about what they’re doing and repeat it.

I’ve observed first-hand what’s possible leaders take the time to put a higher priority on relationships. You may believe this is unproductive at first. If you stick with it, you’ll notice the commitment, motivation, and engagement in your organization that can result in bottom line impact.


Welcoming the messenger


When two apparently drunk Secret Service agents crashed into a barrier while driving in front of the White House recently (later reported to be more of a “bump” than a crash), the agency’s director Joseph Clancy was not told about the incident until five days after it happened via an anonymous email. The incident created a feeding frenzy in the press that further undermined an agency that was already under scrutiny for a string of bad behaviors amongst its agents.

Similarly, a private sector leader wasn’t told about something he should have known from inside of his organization until it became public and unpleasant in the press. Employees feared telling him bad news due to his well-known unrestrained negative reactions. This leader lost his job over the situation.

Had these leaders been informed earlier of the negative news they needed to know they may have prevented the fallout that happened afterwards.

Although there may be very different reasons why these leaders weren’t informed until it was too late, their chances of getting crucial news would have increased if they welcomed the messenger. If you are prone to being surprised about information you should know, first make sure your stakeholders are clear about the type of news you want to hear. Then:

Listen well. Listening to others when they have bad news is a way to welcome them. Be inviting. Talk less. Open yourself to what you hear and ask questions to understand the situation. When you do these things, you make it safe for someone to disclose something that they may be uncomfortable telling you.

Know your triggers so you can choose your reaction. What sets you off? What do you sense or notice in yourself before you go ballistic? Beginning to notice how and where your reaction begins is a first step toward choosing how you want to respond to it. Then choose to stay calm because when you explode, you distance yourself from people; they begin to fear your reaction and stop informing you of the things you need to deal with.

Thank them for bringing whatever they brought to your attention because it’s a gift that they didn’t have to give. Even though you may not like what you hear, it’s important that you express gratitude. Follow up with them later and thank them again.

Manage your stress: Stress that causes dramatic reactions isn’t a result of what’s in the external environment – it comes from inside you. Learn to control what you can and let go of the rest. Focus on your priorities. Make sure that you take care of your life outside of work so you can lead well at work. Exercise, rest, eat healthy, get sleep, spend time with those who are important to you, and do whatever else you need to do to feel fulfilled.

When you welcome the messenger, you open the doors for those who support you to feel safe enough to say what they need to say. It might make a big difference to you and your leadership.



Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo
A former executive in a Fortune 100 company, I own and operate a leadership solutions firm called Aspire Collaborative Services. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. I am married, have two daughters, and a dog named Edgar the Leadership Pug who exemplifies the importance of relationships to great leadership.
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