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Coach those who want to help themselves


Does one of the following scenarios hit close to home for you?

Scenario 1: You’ve been watching one of your regional managers closely for some time, and gosh, can he ever generate sales. He treats customers with great care and his salespeople are bringing in the dollars; the numbers for his region were up significantly last year.

Just one little thing – his employees and peers are streaming into your office telling you that he’s volatile, “going off” on them for every little thing that they do that isn’t exactly the way he would do it. You wonder if he is “successful” because he’s instilled fear in others. You’ve had a dialog with him about what you’re hearing and he blames others, who won’t do things right without the slight “nudging” (his word) he gives them.

Your rational brain whispers “But the sales……are up”.

Scenario 2: You have a brilliant engineer on your team that you’ve recently promoted into management. Smart as a whip, and as an individual contributor, she’s always been able to bring home results on time and within budget.

Her position now requires her to work with her peers, but she’s withholding information that is crucial for a key project to get completed. And her direct reports are close to mutiny with the way she micromanages their work. You’ve discussed her tendency to hold information too close and to over-manage the work of her employees. She doesn’t see it that way, she’s simply protective of the work they’re doing and wants it to be perfect.

Your logical brain says “But she’s so……brilliant”.

In either scenario, you know change needs to happen. What will you do?


What you’ve decided to do

You’ve enrolled in a class in “coaching skills” and are ready to help your manager to see what they’re doing wrong and find a way to correct it. You believe in human potential and can’t wait to use your new skill to help them develop and become a better manager.

Six months of regular coaching your manager passes….then nine. Their employees and peers are still coming to you with complaints about the same things you heard before you started working with them. What went wrong?

Excuses. Denial. Resistance.

Your zeal in wanting to help your manager is commendable, and your belief in their potential to correct their behavior should be admired. However, in this case, the hope you had for their salvation was futile. You’ve realized now that they are impacting the organization negatively, and you have to deal with the situation through your performance management process. You’ve learned a lesson in where to expend your coaching efforts.

Honestly, the clues that your coaching may not help them came before you started coaching meetings. You heard excuses, denial and resistance in their replies.

Sometimes these traits can be overcome, but in many cases they can’t. You could try hiring a coach from the outside, but if your managers aren’t ready to accept responsibility for their behaviors, you may just flush your investment down the toilet.

When coaching your direct reports, be wary of excuses, denial and resistance; if they don’t subside, you may need to change your tactics. In the future, consider using your coaching efforts to help those who want to help themselves.



Is kindness as important as toughness in leadership?


I once interviewed for a position where the hiring manager interrogated me mercilessly. The immediate impression I had of him as a leader was not favorable. My concern was that he would be overly demanding to his staff and possibly a micromanager. I thought he’d be very tough (in an unfavorable way) to work for.

Luckily, I spoke with some of his direct reports to find out more about him after the interview. Several stories from those who reported to him illustrated his kindness; there wasn’t evidence that he would be excessively tough to work for.

I was offered, and accepted the position. It required me to work closely with my new manager on a particular high-profile committee in the company that included top executives. I discovered that this manager was one of the best I’d ever had in terms of balancing his intervention in the work I did as I was learning with trusting that I was capable of doing what was required to have our business area seen by the executives as professional and effective. My new manager was both tough and kind.

This manager’s criticism was delivered with care and his praise and recognition was just frequent enough to give me the confidence to know that he believed in me. In turn, I had no problem giving him feedback or suggesting new ways to operate; he wanted it and received it with grace. Finally, our team (those who reported to him) forged bonds with each other that I found to be rare. We helped each other out when there was a crunch, and we delivered feedback without rancor. We were both tough and kind to each other, and we accomplished a lot.


What the data is showing


More and more data is showing that managers who focus on results while still showing kindness are what the world needs now:


  • Projecting warmth before establishing competence in a new position is more effective than beginning with toughness.


  • When leaders are fair to their team, the team reflects fairness to each other and to customers


  • Employees would rather be happy than have more pay


  • A focus on results and social skills are necessary to be seen as a great leader


How many leaders are both results and people focused?

Management Research Group has mined the data of 60,763 leaders who completed the LEA360 (a multi-rater feedback tool) to answer the question: Can leaders be both caring and focused on achievement?. Within that sample, they found only .77% (that’s not a typo; the number is less than 1%!) of leaders who were in the top 1/3 of the population studied that had a balanced focus on both achievement and caring.

Part of the reason for this strikingly low number is that the brain only seems capable of focusing on results or people at one time, as they’re processed in different parts of the brain. However, we know that the brain is “plastic”, with the ability to change, so with intention and practice, you can change how you react and lead over time to be more balanced.

So even if being overly tough or overly caring is your ingrained response mode, I believe you can become more balanced. It takes practice, focus and dedication. It’s hard. But your balance in these areas can help your organization to get better results.

The bottom line is that we need toughness (results-orientation) AND kindness (caring for others) in our leaders. What if we started rewarding leaders for knowing how to balance these traits? Where do you stand on the continuum between results and caring? What impact would achieving balance have on your organization?


This post was originally published in Smartblog on Leadership.

Want charisma? Know who you are and act accordingly.


Robert (not his real name) is one of the most charismatic leaders I’ve ever known. Simultaneously he also happens to be ethical, effective, influential and even inspiring. He is graceful in his approaches with both his board and the people he leads; in return they express great respect for him. Comfortable in his skin and able to get along with anyone, he might be considered the “ideal” leader, the one we want to be or be like in the way we lead.

His charisma is just who he is. There is never a hint that he may be playing a role or putting up a false front. He is very self-aware of himself and the impact he has on others.

We love charismatic leaders – the ones we so often think of who are at ease in their approach and able to speak and act in a way that draws others into their vision and creates great organizations that get results. Charismatic leaders are attractive, and they are true to themselves; they don’t “act”, they just “are”.

Consider Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr., and Margaret Thatcher (frankly, I would throw Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres into the mix too). For the record, charisma can reside in evil leaders too. These (Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson types) are not the subject of this post.

I urge you to watch those leaders you admire in order to hone your own style. However, beware that imitating the charismatic leaders you admire might be a bad idea – especially if you take on a way of showing up in the world that isn’t really you. The most effective leaders are genuine and true to themselves. That requires some work that goes beyond observation of others to truly knowing who you are and what works for you.

If you want to be a charismatic leader, you have to start by getting to the heart of who you are. And then as you take on new, potentially more effective behaviors, you can try them on for “fit”:

Learn about you by observing, journaling, reflecting, taking self-assessments (MBTI, DiSC, etc.), hiring a coach. Get to know your values and life purpose. It’s all useful for beginning the journey of being a charismatic (genuine) leader.

Ask for specific feedback on your behaviors from those who observe you in action. Some example questions you can ask: What should I start, stop, continue doing? What am I doing that prevents you from being at your best?

Observe others who lead well. These can be people at your organization, or others that you observe elsewhere (movies, TV, books). What do you notice that they’re doing that makes them genuine that you might be willing to experiment with?

Choose, try, and tweak the new behaviors you want to attempt. For example, if you’d like to listen better, try that. Tweak the behavior so it’s just right for you and the impact you want to make (too much listening, for example, may prevent you from speaking up when your voice needs to be heard).

Keep practicing until your new behavior feels like a sustainable “fit” for you.

Charisma isn’t magic and it can be within your reach when you make a conscious decision to be true to who you are.


Can you make an impact and still have a life?


A successful leader was seeking new ideas for his career. His life in a respected Fortune company was stressful, and he’d been at it for a while. He posed a question he’d been thinking about for a long time:

Can I have a career where I can make an impact and still have dinner with my family?

I had to stop and think about that. I’d spent many years in Corporate America, and felt that, honestly, I gave up a lot for both my career and my family when decisions I made were not advantageous to what mattered to me and others in my life.

If you’re human, you know the feeling of guilt and the stress it causes when you have to decide between attending the programs your kids are involved in vs. the important meeting requested by the C-suite executive scheduled at the same time. Or a sick elderly mother who needs you NOW when you have an urgent work deadline that’s going to require every last minute of your time.

These are the times that try your soul, and you have to be very clear about what matters to make the decision that’s right for you.

Yes, it’s possible for you to make an impact and still have a life outside of work. In fact, I think it’s preferable, because all parts of your life work together to inform all others, making you the best leader you can be through your varied experiences. The way to make the best decisions that will assure you stay balanced in all areas of your life will happen when you:

Know what you value: Be clear when about what’s important in your life when you have to choose where to spend your time. Consider who/what you want to make the biggest impact on and how that impact coincides with what you value.

Identify what you’re here for: Have a life purpose statement that you can commit to. Spend some time thinking about what you’re on this planet for, and remember and invoke your resolve in this area when you have tough work-life decisions to make.

Surround yourself with people who can help: At work or at home, very few of us have to “go it alone”. Find smart, capable people who can help you out when you ask for it. If you’re a people manager, developing your team to step up will be crucial.

Stay grounded in all of the above: Don’t just react – be intentional and use the above strategies when you have to decide between two or more choices. When you’re intentional and grounded, you’ll be ready to weather the conflicts that come your way.

When all of the above fail, you can make other choices: Sometimes a tougher decision has to be made, and you’ll find yourself choosing something unexpected if you keep your options open. You always have a choice – but knowing what you value and why you’re on the planet will help you to decide. The leader mentioned above decided in favor of leaving the Fortune company and taking a position at a smaller company that placed more emphasis on work-life balance.


5 ways to get unstuck


Adrian had been looking for a solution to an issue at work in her head for months (and months). She was, in her words, a perfectionist who was looking for a way to control the issue without negative consequences. She didn’t just ponder how to deal with it, she obsessed about it. It was beginning to impact her leadership and her personal relationships. Wishing that her obsessive thoughts about the issue would stop didn’t work; in fact, it made her more frustrated.

She discovered a way to find answers to the issue that worked for her and allowed her to take action. Once she did, she was able to come back to the technique she used over and over again, increasing her ability to make faster decisions and her effectiveness as a leader.

Very few leaders will claim to get stuck, but realistically we all do at some point. The decisions you don’t make are as important as the ones you do. So how do you get on with making them?

If you’re stuck, or you know you’ll be stuck at some point (this is a good assumption by the way), finding what works for you to become unstuck is key. Over the years, my client-leaders have shared lots of ideas about how they “get on with it”, and I’ve got a few of my own. So here are the most frequently cited ways to know what to do when you don’t know what to do:

Talk it out with someone: Find the best listener you know and talk about the thing that has you stuck. You might be one of those people who think out loud and find that the act of speaking about the situation is enough to help you to find solutions. Or, you might benefit by asking the smartest person you know for their advice. Finally, you might find a coach who’s been trained to listen well and to ask great open ended questions to help you out.

Reflect on some provocative questions: A standard set of provocative questions can be used in reflection to help you get out of your head and into action. “What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?”, “What am I committed to in this situation?”, “What don’t I know that I need to know about this?” are examples. If you can’t design the questions yourself, head on out to your favorite bookstore to purchase a book of questions – there are a lot of them out there.

Get away: The importance and timeliness of resolving the issue might impact your strategy here, but for many people, getting out of their usual place of work or play can help. Travel someplace you’ve never been, or take a walk in nature. Some people get their best ideas in the shower – so go take a shower! Take art classes, organic chemistry class, or whatever interests you to get away from your usual routine and give your brain a rest from the issues you’re stuck with.

Wait: Sleeping on it, or just moving on to something else are enough for some people to stop obsessing over a problem and come up with solutions. It’s pretty magical for some people. Your unconscious mind seems to do the work for you, in the background, allowing you to get back to the issue with fresh ideas later.

Don’t wait: Sometimes just taking the smallest action toward resolving the situation is enough get solutions to the issue flowing. Do it now. Don’t wait. You might ask yourself, “What small step can I take to resolve or make a decision on this issue?”. Start with low hanging fruit – something easy and without risk.

Getting out of being stuck often resolves by taking some action, any action – that seems to work. The five things mentioned above have helped other leaders; what works for you?

P.S. A favorite trick of writers who are blocked is to just write – anything, even if it’s nonsense that won’t get used. I got started on this article by writing nonsense about having writer’s block. It works!


This post was originally published in Smartblog on Leadership.


How to be more open


I attended a coaching skills training program in 2014 that I knew would challenge me when I registered. Having received coach training more than a decade ago, I felt I needed renewal and a challenge, but wanted to make sure I stayed open to any new ways of working with my clients that I would learn. I knew enough about the training to recognize that it would require me to think and act outside of the box I’d put myself in after working and coaching in corporate settings for so long. I wanted to enter this training with a “beginner’s mind“.

What “being open” meant was that I needed to consider that this training had merit, and that I needed to admit that I didn’t know it all. If I could do that, I had a chance of taking in new skills that, with practice, would help me to get even better at my craft.

What I got were new skills AND a rekindling of the passion for the work I do. As a bonus, I found a network of people at the program who were united in their quest to make a difference, and that helped us to help each other.

I see defensiveness, judgment and hubris sometimes in leaders; taking the low road, the road that is most travelled, to avoid the vulnerability and pain that comes with admitting that they have something to learn.

That low road is the least courageous path you can take. The fearless thing to do is to stay open and learn something new every day. This only happens when you are willing to admit that you don’t know it all and make a commitment to:

Noticing what’s new: Get out of your head and use your senses as you cease the chatter in your mind. Observe and listen as you go about your day. The people around you, despite your frustrations with them, often have a lot of wisdom, ideas, and new things that can help you to lead better. Stop and notice.

Withholding judgments: If you pay attention to finding the nuggets of newness around you, you’ll find renewal and creativity you didn’t know you/your team had. When you become aware of your judgments and cast them aside when they don’t serve, you can learn, change and grow.

Being willing to walk outside of the box: What you learn is important, but what you do with it is even more so. Be willing to courageously walk outside of the box you’re in, to do something different based on what you’ve learned. And then be willing to take others with you. That’s the true mark of a leader!

Continuing: Observe yourself, and notice the impact you’re making with the new things you learn and put into action. Find a way to capture them (journal? Tell a friend? Use your smartphone to record your learnings?). Tweak your behaviors as needed.

Don’t be surprised when you inspire others around you to be open too. Can you imagine what you can accomplish with your example of openness?


Forget resolutions and make a commitment!


We all understand that New Year’s resolutions are wishy-washy and that by the end of January most resolutions have been abandoned, right? One of the reasons for this might be in the language we use to decide our personal improvement focus in the coming year. The word “resolution” just doesn’t pack a punch.

However, a “commitment” is something you can sink your teeth into. It’s gritty and solid – a pledge of dedication to something. For most of us a commitment is a promise to ourselves that cannot be broken. Great leaders may not follow through on a resolution, but when they commit, they’re more likely to do what they say they will.

How about choosing to make a commitment instead of a resolution?

What commitments will you be making in 2015 to improve the way you lead others?

Choose carefully and don’t over-commit. Make sure that you are able to follow through on your commitment by considering how you’ll overcome barriers that may get in your way (most often, we are the barrier to our own success!). It’s okay to set your sights high! Consider the sacrifices you might have to make to achieve your commitment; you may have to give something else up to free your time or to better serve your dedication to the commitment.

Write a commitment statement in the first person (thanks to Doug Silsbee for this) in order to make it personal and strike the proper emotional and motivational chords. Make it brief enough that you can remember it spontaneously. You can begin it with “I am a commitment to……(fill in something here that will change the way you lead such as “being an inspiring leader” or “developing my team”).

Test it. Does your commitment feel realistic? Is it something that you can emotionally connect with? Is your heart open to it? When you have a positive emotional connection to your commitment, you are more likely to follow through and remain dedicated to success. If you feel yourself straying from your commitment along the way, think about whether it’s the right thing for you – and be willing to let it go and rethink what you are really committed to.

Figure out how. Consider the following when figuring out the steps needed to begin work on your commitment: What are the actions or behaviors that you need to take to move toward fulfilling your commitment? What do you need to learn to be successful in your commitment and how will you learn it? If you were to look ahead to the end of the year when your commitment is achieved, what will you be doing? Write down your steps.

Ask for help. Share your commitment statement with someone who can hold you accountable. Negotiate with them about how you’d like to be held accountable. Scheduled check-ins work for many, but anything that works for you is okay. The point is that accountability is key to success.

If you’re dedicated to your commitment, by the end of 2015 (and maybe before!), you will have developed a new way of being because of the commitment you’ve made.

P.S. My commitment for 2015 is to make a difference in the lives of leaders who make a difference.

Happy New Year!



Leading with comfort and joy


A favorite ancient Christmas carol speaks of “tidings of comfort and joy”, reminding Christians to rest easy in Jesus and be assured that all will be well. I’ve always loved the carol and see that there is some relevance in comfort and joy to how you lead others.

In the context of your leadership:

Comfort is your ability to lead with ease and confidence.

Joy is a feeling of well-being and great happiness.

Leading with comfort and joy requires you to make deliberate choices in how you live your life every day.

Consider that you might lead with ease and experience happiness when you pay attention to self-care and caring for others:


Take care of yourself first: Take stock of your fulfillment and take responsibility to improve the personal arenas that need attention by asking yourself some questions:

Physical: Exercise and healthy eating can help you control your weight, prevent disease, improve your mood, and increase your stamina for the daily challenges you face at work. Are you exercising regularly, and do you have a sense that you’re physically fit? Are you consciously eating foods that are healthy?

Mental: Feeding your brain is important to taking care of yourself and your ability to lead at your best. What new things are you learning? How are you being intentional about what and how you learn?

Emotional: Caring for your emotions is every bit as important as caring for your physical body and your brain. What passions have taken a back seat to your work life? Are you spending the optimum amount of time with those you love and who love you back?

Spiritual: Your spirit is the part of you that experiences meaning and connection to something greater than yourself. What is your life purpose, and are you acting in accord with that? What regular practices do you have that connect you to a greater good?


Serve others: Become clear about how you administer to the needs of others and be accountable to improving how you lead:

Demonstrate respect: When you show respect to others, it means you trust them to do their work, treat them with civility, and honor them as human beings. What do you do to notice the good in others (even those who “push your buttons”)? Who do you need to seek out and repair a relationship with?

Express caring: People will care about you and work harder with/for you when you show that you care about them. What can you do regularly to demonstrate your appreciation of others? What have you done lately to show your team how much you appreciate them?

Give guidance: Everyone needs some coaching at some point; if you coach well, the people you guide will become self-resourceful. Who needs your coaching? What else can you do, on a regular basis, to help others develop and grow?

Set an example: People follow you when you lead with values, purpose, and skill. What gaps do you need to fill in the way you lead? What’s the first step you can take to become a better leader?


When you make conscious choices on how you live your life, you will lead with ease and happiness.

God rest ye merry gentlepersons! Happy holidays!


Practice improving your relationships to become a better leader


“If we want to introduce new leadership behaviors in our lives, it’s necessary to practice.” Richard Strozzi-Heckler, The Leadership Dojo


Leading others has everything to do with the relationships you form with them. And when you lead others well, your success – and that of your organization, has the best chance of occurring.

When you discover through feedback you’ve received that your relationships have room to improve, it can be discouraging. However, this feedback is simply a reminder that things can be better. It’s a good thing to know because as your relationships with your manager, your peers, your direct reports, or your customers/clients improve, so does your ability to achieve results.

What you might not know is that leadership is something that needs to be “practiced” in the same way the best basketball players, ballerinas, or virtuoso pianists do. More to the point, the relationship behaviors you need to have as a leader that are capable of connecting, growing, inspiring, and influencing others must be practiced.

You have been born with some of those relationship behaviors. Others must be learned and practiced in order to become embodied. If you are observant, you may notice that as soon as one behavioral habit becomes ingrained in your psyche, another one appears that needs to be practiced and worked on. Some examples of relationship behaviors that are commonly “practiced” by leaders who are intentional about improving their relationships include the “how to” of:

  • having “small talk” conversations
  • listening better
  • getting along with their manager
  • dealing with high performers and/or poor performers
  • forming better relationships with their peers
  • learning to coach others

Start practicing today to improve your leadership relationships by:

Getting feedback on relationship behaviors that may need some “tweaking”. Almost any leadership 360 will have questions relating to your relationships (in the form of how well you communicate, collaborate, work in teams, etc.) that when answered, can help you to understand your gaps. You can also ask for feedback or hire an executive coach to do targeted interviews of your stakeholders around your relationship strengths and gaps.

Creating a plan to close the gaps in your relationships. Create a written action or development plan and find someone to hold you accountable to your action steps. Make sure that your steps include the specifics of the behaviors you need to incorporate, for example, what will you be doing when you listen better?

Trying on new behaviors that will strengthen your relationships. Be willing to do some things that aren’t in your comfort zone. For instance, having small talk can be uncomfortable (but it is necessary to connect with others). Try the new behavior, and observe how others act differently in the workplace and toward you; adjust as needed.

Ongoing “practice” until new, more effective behaviors become “habits”. When you’re diligent in and reflective in your practice, your new behaviors can become “second nature”. This usually means they’ll feel more natural, automatic, or habitual. It may take months for this to happen (so patience is key).

Improving the relationships with your stakeholders requires dedicated practice and a dose of courage. Your improved rapport with others will be rewarded with improved leadership and a successful organization.


No ham please! What your employees really want for the holidays


The company I worked for in my first professional position gave all of the employees a ham for the holidays. Although I was grateful and surprised to receive anything at all, there was a bit of dismay for this gift because:

  • They didn’t ask me what I wanted
  • My salary was barely a living wage
  • Management treated employees as a commodity with firings for minor transgressions
  • I was vegetarian (but was able to donate my ham to someone who could use it)

The next company I worked for was a wonderful place to work. We were paid well and treated as individuals and with respect. They gave us a holiday bonus which was a percentage of annual salary. I was happy and grateful about this until I worked in corporate compensation and discovered that the CEO’s holiday bonus equaled my annual salary.

Now I was getting the picture. Throwing food and gifts was supposed to – what – make me work harder? Be more loyal? Do as I was told?

Whatever the reason, it wasn’t what worked for me to feel connected and motivated.

At some point, I realized the intangibles were important to me, and as I moved up the ranks in my career, I did my best learn what employees really wanted.

And you should, too.

If your employees are making a good, competitive wage and are doing work they enjoy, it only makes sense for you to listen beyond the requests they make for money and promotions to figure out what really brings out their best work. They want you to ask them. And even if they don’t know the answer right away, they will walk away and think about the question.

You may find that their answers are surprising. They aren’t what you expect. And they are intangible, but they are something that you have some power to provide to them, if only you will change the way you lead. When I talk to employees, the responses I hear about what they’d like from their managers show up most often in these areas:

Freedom to figure out how to do things on their own, to make mistakes, and to pick up and continue to learn from them. Most employees don’t want to be told how to do something unless they fear retribution from you. Almost all employees will need to be pointed in a general direction or will ask for your advice, but if you allow them to figure it out and make mistakes, they will grow and develop into better employees.

Respect for them personally, and for the work they do. Employees want to be appreciated and told when they do a good work (this is rarer than you might think), and to be respected as the resourceful, smart, and perfectly capable human beings that they are. Believe in them as fully able to go beyond what they think they are capable of, and you might be surprised to see them achieve even more than their own expectations.

Connection to a vision and purpose that is big and inspiring. Inspire them to see what is possible and to understand how the work they’re doing connects to a bigger picture than they can currently see. This is the kind of connection that powers great organizations to succeed and make a difference in the world, since it is powered by motivated and inspired employees.

The ham and the bonus were gifts that were appreciated, but not really what I wanted. Likewise, your employees really want freedom, respect, and a connection to something bigger. Those are the real gifts you can give to them. Why not ask them what they want and find out for yourself?


This post was originally published in Smartblog on 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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