It's All About The Relationship
Get our free e-book, “Working With Your
Executive Coach” when you subscribe
to our leadership newsletter.
Enter Your Email Address
Contact Us

All Top


Ask First

Leadership Digital

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.



Creating harmony – a teamwork lesson from a cappella groups


Driving along the highway with the radio tuned to the Here & Now show, I was just “sort of” listening. But then…..Deke Sharon (producer for The Sing Off and both Pitch Perfect movies) came on to be interviewed about the resurgence of interest in a cappella music. I pumped my fist and shouted YEAH! when Sharon mentioned that part of his job requires him to smooth over rough patches in the relationships amongst group members because:

“You can’t create harmony unless you have harmony within the group.”

One definition of “harmony” (Merriam Webster) is “a pleasing combination or arrangement of different things”. Harmony is what happens when relationships in the group are intentionally built. Sharon’s statement is also true of leadership teams and groups of employees who have to work together; harmony amongst the team can create great results.

This is the work you need to do to create harmony on your team:

Be clear about the vision that you want to achieve. Working together with your team on the vision can be an exercise in working toward harmony in itself. Masterful a cappella groups spend a lot of time defining their vision: the BHAG’s they see themselves achieving in the future. They’ll work together on what they want to be known for, how they’ll stand out from the crowd, and how they’ll be working together to achieve their vision. Engage your team in an inspiring dialog about the vision, and you’re shaping the future together and setting the stage for harmony.

Capitalize on the unique gifts of each team member. In the finest a cappella groups the singers who are naturals at singing within a certain range (soprano, contralto, tenor, bass, etc.) normally sing the role meant for their voice. These groups blend their differences of range to create a unique, pleasing, and very complex sound. Your team members should work within their talents when possible, and blend their usual gifts with those of other team members to create a team that capitalizes on the strengths and minimizes the weaknesses of each member.

Embrace conflict and address disrespect. In the movie Pitch Perfect, a female a cappella “underdog” group was only able to reach their potential when they addressed the behavioral issues that were holding them back. Work with your team to set some norms about what’s acceptable and what isn’t in terms of behavior. Conflict of ideas can foster creativity, but behavior that is disrespectful kills new ideas. What are the behaviors are acceptable when conflict arises? How will the team address someone who isn’t doing their part?

A cappella groups and work teams harmonize well when they have built the kind of relationships that can create extraordinary results. Harmony requires a lot of work behind the scenes. Be as intentional about facilitating harmony with your team as you are with the work that needs to be done, and you’ll have the potential to achieve more than you thought possible.


The most important part of your day


I know what you’re dealing with: a need to move faster than lightening, get results now, and get them right. And did I mention all the corporate paperwork and processes you have to follow while still delivering on time and under budget?

But wait – in all of this rush, you’ve forgotten something – or someone and maybe many “someones”. The fact of the matter is that you can’t lead without others, and people need you. They take time. They take effort. They take relationship-building. Last but not least they take conversation. Sometimes they need conversations that are emotional because work can be emotional or because they have something going in their outside-of-work life that is impacting them and their work.

This time with someone may be the most important part of your day, and it just might be less awful than you think, because you have everything you need to have that emotional conversation that can come unexpectedly. Welcome it. Stop what you are doing and turn to the person who needs you. Let them have all of your attention, because sometimes all that conversation requires is your presence.

It’s this easy and this hard:

Listen because when someone is distraught, that’s often all you need to do. Do it with all of your mind and heart. Shut off the chatter and turn to the person in front of you as if they and their problem were the only thing you have to do at this moment (even when it isn’t). Listen to understand their situation, and when you get a chance, summarize what you think you heard and don’t be upset if you got it wrong. You did your best.

Ask what they need. A very simple question, “What do you need?” can work miracles. Don’t assume they need anything, because chances are they’ll surprise you when they say they just need to be heard. If they need something more, let them tell them tell you. You don’t have to say yes – compromise if you need to. Don’t jump into the fire with “doing” because right now you just need to “be” there.

Don’t judge their story. That may be the first place your mind goes, but it’s not what’s best for them or for you. Don’t judge with your words or your thoughts. Instead, you might find some common ground to be able to say simply, “That sucks, and I’ve been there too”. Beware of telling your own stories because at this moment, they just need to feel heard.

Stay with them and stay present as long as you can. Focus on their situation and their story. If you’ve promised to do something that they need, then either follow through or get back to them with a darned good reason why you can’t (and apologize profusely for being caught up in their emotional situation and vowing to do something you cannot do).

Now you can let them go on with their life. If they need to be heard again, they’ll let you know.

It might not seem true at this very moment, but this just may be the most important part of your day.



Lead responsibly


Ken and I were in the yard yesterday planting gardens when a police car drove into the driveway. We’ve lived in this sparsely populated location for almost two decades and although there has been an occasional car accident on the road in front of the house that requires police presence, we’ve never had a cop come up to the house out of the blue.

The policeman had a handful of letters in his hand. He said that someone had opened every mailbox along the roadside the previous evening throughout the township and he’d been picking up mail that was scattered along the ground. He just wanted us to know in case we we’d left mail in the mailbox overnight (we didn’t).

We chatted with him and promised to let our closest neighbors know. He said he was going to pick up every piece of mail he could find, sort it out and make sure it was delivered. I was impressed. There were likely a myriad of other things he’d prefer to do than search for mail along the roads.

He was being responsible. He couldn’t do much about what had happened, but he could pick up the mail so it could be delivered to the appropriate homes.

Leaders take responsibility.

Instead of shrugging your shoulders and saying that there is nothing you can do consider if you are doing what you can. That may mean:

An offer of help to someone who needs it. This could be a colleague, a direct report, a customer or a boss. Someone may be overwhelmed at work and could use your help. Maybe someone is experiencing a tough situation outside of work that would benefit from your assistance. Offer to support them in any way they may need it and not only will you be acting like a leader, you’ll have an ally for life.

A listening ear to hear someone out. Listening to someone tell you their troubles might not sound like your favorite way to spend some time, but the truth of the matter is that sometimes that’s all that’s needed. So often people don’t need our advice or our active problem solving, they just need to feel heard.

A willingness to step in. Yes, sometimes you just have to roll up your shirtsleeves and do it (like the policeman in my story). The job that needs doing might not be glamorous and you may not get kudos for doing it, but it needs to be done. Be aware of the times when something needs your active participation, and step in and get it done.

Leaders lead responsibly by staying aware of the things they can do, even when something looks hopeless or routine. This creates connection and forges the kinds of relationships that will help you to become an exemplary leader.



360 assessments are just the beginning


The leader and I sit quietly dissecting the 360 report she holds in her hands. This is an esteemed and seasoned leader who had spent years managing others and was now a “manager of managers”. She sits across from me, trying understand the feedback in the report. I sense her distress when she says:

“This information must be wrong. I have great feedback conversations with my stakeholders. I ask them frequently what I am doing well and what I can do better. They tell me I’m doing well and that doesn’t match up with the negative information in this report. Is this really my report or could it belong to someone else?”.

She was trying to make sense of information that doesn’t seem to match up because they were different ways of assessing her behavior. The fact of the matter is that the feedback she receives by either method won’t tell her “truth” – they are a snapshot of perceptions of her stakeholders. What matters is what she thinks and does with the information.

First, she needs to spend more time after this initial debrief to review the report again and to think. When she’s digested the report and had time to think more about it, her results can become the beginning of some illuminating conversations and an action plan.

Assessment results can be disconcerting, and every leader deciphers the results reacts differently. Some will agree with the strengths and disagree with the weaknesses that are highlighted. Others feel the results reflect well how they show up, warts and all. All of it’s the start of something.

After you receive your report, begin the conversation:

With yourself: Spend some time going through your report again. Recognize that NOBODY has perfect scores. There is always something that you can do better or differently. As you look at the information, consider the balance – you’ll have plenty of strengths that show up too. Ask yourself: What surprised me? What am I proud of? Where do I go from here? Put yourself in your stakeholder’s shoes and ask yourself if you can imagine why they might have scored you low in some areas of your report.

With others: 360 reports do not always pinpoint the exact behaviors that can result in lower scores in some areas. Have a conversation with trusted stakeholders who can tell you exactly what behaviors they observe that might be causing the lower scores. Listen well and ask questions about when they see the behavior, who you are with when you exhibit it, and what they observe you doing. I know it’s hard to be vulnerable in this way, but its important for you to know the specifics so that you can make the changes that will transform your leadership from good to great.

It can be difficult to receive critical feedback, but when you see it as a learning opportunity and the beginning of conversations that can make you a better leader, you just may be on your way to greatness.



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.
View my complete profile