How do I seem to you?


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We’ve talked about impression management as one of the pieces of our decision rulers. We have a vision of how we want to be perceived by others, and most everything we do and say is calculated to ensure that others see us in that way. However, how we want to be seen and how we are really seen by others can be vastly different.

One of the challenges to becoming an extraordinary leader is getting an accurate picture of how we are perceived by others. We believe that we project a certain image, but people’s perceptions of us can be quite different.

For example, I might believe that I am a confident and knowledgeable person. However, most people may perceive me as being an arrogant know-it-all. The difference between my intent and others’ perceptions might not be as drastic as this example, but they are rarely the same.

We can discover how we are seen by others, but it takes some courage and an open mind. We must pay attention to the reactions that we get from other people and the things that they say about us.

One time, a friend sent me a video of an artist demonstrating how to make decorative Christmas trees. She said that the artist reminded her of me. I watched the video and only saw a mild similarity, so I started to dismiss the whole thing from my mind. Then, I decided to get curious. What did she see in the video that I was not seeing?

I wrote back that the artist did seem to talk in the same rambling and chatty way that I do sometimes. My friend came back and said, “Yes, and she’s tall like you.” I am almost six feet tall, and I forget that my height is a huge part of who I am to the rest of the world.

What I do with the information that I glean from others is up to me. I can play up my height and wear heels to seem more powerful, soften my communication style to compensate, or just be aware that I can seem a little intimidating at first just because of my height.

As leaders, we want to know how others see us. We can do this by watching out for clues from other people. People tell me all the time in a very sarcastic tone, “Why don’t you tell us what you really think?” That lets me know that I’m seen as a person with definite opinions who shares them freely. Is that good or bad? I get to decide!

The information that we gather about ourselves is just more information about us that leads to greater self-awareness. We totally get to decide whether we want to do anything differently or just be more aware. I do not plan to stop sharing my definite opinions and great ideas any time soon! (Although I do try to maintain a little grace and a lot of respect while I do it. 😉)

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Positive Emotional Attractor State


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Positive Emotional Attractor State

Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) state happens when we are feeling positive and hopeful. When we are in a PEA state, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, so we are more relaxed, we breathe deeply, and we are more creative. We are also more open to new information.

When we are in a Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA) state, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, and we feel stressed and fearful. We are not creative or open to new information. As a result, we are not going to make our best decisions in an NEA state. (PEA and NEA were researched and defined by Dr. Richard Boyatzis, and he discusses them in the book Resonant Leadership.)

For leaders, this information means that we want to start meetings and conversations with what has gone right, rather than jumping in on what has gone wrong. We want to firmly establish everyone in a PEA state in order to ensure that they are open to new information and are at their creative best. Of course, we must deal with difficult issues, but it’s easier to do that if we establish some positivity and rapport first.

We also want to create as many PEA state moments as possible to maintain positive relationships. We’ve talked about our tendency to notice and comment on the negative. This is just a reminder of the power of positivity and creating positive relationships. Remember, in order to maintain positive relationships, we must maintain a positivity ratio of at least 5:1 for our interactions with others.

It’s best if we intentionally start conversations with something positive whenever possible. When we push someone into an NEA state immediately, they’ve already stopped listening and absorbing information. It’s not hard to create an NEA state. We can do it just by intimidating someone a little bit or making them feel uncomfortable. Great leaders create positive, non-threatening environments.

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Decision Ruler


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Every time that we make a decision, we are comparing our various options against our internal decision ruler. Our rulers are composed of several different parts.

The first part is our values. Our values tell us who we want to be. They include adjectives like reliable, family-oriented, respectful, respected, honest, professional, goal-oriented, and successful. In workshops, I ask people to consider what they want to be remembered for and how they live those qualities in their lives.

The second part of decision rulers is how we want to be seen. It’s called impression management. We all manage how others see us in order to ensure they notice the qualities that we want to be known for. We all have different goals for how we are perceived. Some examples are intelligent, needy, victimized, badass, nurturing, and intimidating. We aren’t always conscious of this part of our decision-making process, but it’s one of the most influential parts of our decision ruler.

The third part is our priorities. Our priorities change over time and reflect what is important to us at this particular moment in time. Making money is one of my priorities at the moment, so I consider the impact of each possible course of action on my ability to make money.

Ideally, we want the three parts of our ruler to complement each other, but they don’t always. Often people who are dishonest want to be seen as honest. They manage our impression of them with deceptions. This sort of behavior is not the hallmark of exceptional leadership.

Pretending to have the qualities of a great leader is a disaster waiting to happen on several fronts. First, it’s hard to manage an impression if there is no basis of fact for it. For example, I might want to appear knowledgeable about leadership. However, if I don’t put in the work and do the research, I am just going to sound like an idiot spouting platitudes. Dishonest impression management eventually comes to light, and the people who have been misled are usually hopping mad.

Second, we use a lot of emotional pennies when we try to be what we are not. It’s a stressful way to live and an inauthentic way to live a life. We are our best selves when we are true to ourselves, our values, and our priorities.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at

Using the Zeigarnik Effect to Motivate Ourselves


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Last week, we talked about how a sense of completion can help us let go of a situation or relationship on which we are currently spending a lot of emotional pennies. Our tendency to obsess over things that we do not feel are complete is called the Zeigarnik effect. We can free ourselves from the hamster wheel of negative thoughts by creating a sense of completion around relationships and situations.

We can also use the Zeigarnik effect to our advantage. It can be a powerful motivational tool. Screenwriters and authors use it to their advantage to keep us engaged. Think about a soap opera or a season finale of a TV series. They often end with cliffhangers that leave us wondering about what is going to happen next. The story is incomplete, and we are hooked.

When reading a book, I often decide to read one chapter before bed. However, when I get to the end of the chapter, the storyline has just started down a new trajectory, and I end up starting the next chapter.

I’ve noticed that advertisers are using the Zeigarnik effect to get us to go online to their websites. The Geico commercial about Pinocchio going on a blind date is the first one that comes to mind. At the end of the commercial, we are invited to go to their website to see how the scenario ends. I have taken the bait on a couple of those types of commercials and gone to the website to see how the situation is resolved.

Now that we understand its power, how can we use the Zeigarnik effect? We find a clue in the proverb “Well begun is half done,” which means that a good start gets us halfway to the finish line.

I have noticed this effect when I am trying to convince myself to start working on my taxes. The task feels daunting and overwhelming, even though I know that it will only take me a day or so to get it done. However, if I do one small task to start the job, like download this year’s forms, I am engaged in the task and want to go on to the next step. Once I start, the job is begun but not complete. That feeling of incompletion urges me to move on to the next step and get the taxes finished.

This blog is another good example. I hem and haw about starting the next one, but if I can convince myself to get one sentence down on paper, I am motivated to write the whole thing. I am also motivated not to miss a week. I have a great track record! I haven’t missed a week of writing my blog for about three years. I want to go on saying that I haven’t missed a week. It makes me feel like it’s a complete job.

Here is an additional consideration. I read about the motivational use of the Zeigarnik effect in several places, but I am curious about its effectiveness for Myers-Briggs Perceiving types. There is no doubt that we Judgers will be motivated by an unfinished task.

If we Judging Types do something that is not on our to-do list, we will write it on the list for the satisfaction of checking it off. We like to complete stuff! However, Perceiving Types don’t like finishing things because it means that they’ve lost some options. Once it’s done, they can’t make it better.

So, I’m curious. Any Perceiving Types have some insights to share? Does starting a job help to motivate you to finish it? If not, do you have any suggestions? As a Judging Type, I can only guess at what helps to motivate Perceiving Types, but I did find some suggestions here.

It is important to remember that a Myers-Briggs Type is a preference, not a definition. Great leaders learn to do whatever is useful in a certain situation. I might be a Judging Type, but I don’t get to make snap decisions all the time and complete tasks quickly. Sometimes, I must slow down and do more research than I am comfortable with.

The bottom line for using the Zeigarnik effect to motivate ourselves is to begin something in a way that encourages us to finish it. It might be a structured list or a mind map sort of plan.

When I offer tools in my leadership workshops, I often say, “Give it a shot!” It doesn’t hurt to try a new way of thinking about something. If it works for you, great! If not, there are lots of other leadershippy stuff out there to try.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at

Stop the Hamster Wheel


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Often, we run an event or conversation over and over in our minds. We think of what we should have said or things that we want to say now. We replay our actions and imagine what we could have done differently. Sometimes we even imagine scenarios that we want to happen. I’ve imagined conversations with people who have done me harm many times. The other person never comes out of that fantasy unscathed!

We obsess over conversations, events, and relationships because we don’t feel that they are complete. This is called the Zeigarnik effect. Understanding it can help us save a lot of emotional pennies.

Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik, a Russian psychiatrist and psychologist, defined this phenomenon back in 1927. She noticed that waiters could remember minute details about what people ordered until the orders were complete. Then, they remembered hardly anything about who ordered what.

She decided to do some research. She asked participants to do a series of tasks. Half were interrupted, and half allowed to complete the tasks. The group that was interrupted recalled details of the tasks 90% better than those that were allowed to complete them.

Now, the results have not been replicated by other researchers regularly, but it does give us something to think about. The Zeigarnik effect intuitively makes sense to me. I do hang on to events and relationships longer if I do not feel they are complete.

Think about an ongoing dispute or a slight you have suffered that you did not say anything about. Do you revisit those in your mind? Think about a dispute that was resolved to your satisfaction. Do you go over and over disputes that you feel are over and done? It can be difficult to come up with one because we tend to forget things that we feel are complete.

Wouldn’t it be great to forget the things that we dwell on? I know that I would like to spend fewer emotional pennies and clear up some space in my head. We can do it by finding ways to create a feeling of completion.

I fantasize about yelling at people, but that is not something that I’m going to do in real life. It’s important to me that I remain civil at all times. So what are my options? What would make me feel complete?

Psychologists suggest writing a letter to the person or people involved. We can send the letter, but we don’t have to. Sometimes just putting our thoughts and feelings on paper can release us from them. We can burn the letter or rip it into a million pieces.

We can also have a civil conversation with the person or people involved. It takes a great deal of skill to have a difficult conversation in a positive way. I’ve written about many of the perspectives and tools that can help, such as creating a conversation container and using the conversation outline.

We can use most any method as long as it makes us feel complete. I’ve punched a bunch of pillows when I’ve been extremely angry, but that hasn’t released me from the hamster wheel of repetitive thoughts about the thing that made me angry. Punching pillows might release some stress, but it doesn’t create a sense of completion for me.

Of course, time can help, but it doesn’t heal all wounds. I have a vivid memory of a group of girls standing between me and the locker room at the gym back in middle school. I did the right thing and did not engage, but it hurt my ego. I wanted to take them all on in one big brawl or throw insults back at them. I still want to.

It was middle school, and I bet that they don’t remember their youthful feistiness, but I do. It’s been more than 45 years since that event happened, and I remember it. I can actually feel a little adrenaline pumping when I relive it. However, now that I know about the Zeigarnik effect, I can figure out a way to release it.

John Gottman, the relationship researcher and expert, talks about the Zeigarnik effect. When couples begin a downward spiral of negativity that includes unresolved conflict and hurt feelings, they begin to dwell on every perceived transgression. Unless they bring the hurt out into the open, empathize with one another, and discuss their feelings until they feel heard and understood, the relationship is doomed.

Which brings us to the basic goal of feeling complete: our personal needs are to be listened to, understood, and respected. If we feel those things, we are generally able to release the event or relationship and move on – without the hamster wheel of repetitive thoughts.

Getting and giving what we need from others requires – ta-da! – psychological safety. We must create an environment where we and others feel free to share our thoughts and feelings. In order to do that, we must be trusting and trustworthy.

There’s a lot to be gained at both work and home by maintaining an atmosphere of openness and trust so that we avoid creating memories that require closure.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at

The Four Communication Toxins


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John Gottman is one of my favorite relationship researchers. In the ‘70s, when therapists were having couples whack each other with foam bats to alleviate aggression, he actually researched the effects of bopping each other. They weren’t good. As it turns out, once you start hitting someone, you feel more angry and aggressive. Makes sense to me. He probably saved a lot of people from some serious marital problems.

I’ve taken a series of seminars from Dr. Gottman and his wife. They’ve been researching couples for decades. He said that they couldn’t define a healthy relationship because they are so varied. There are, however, markers for relationships that are in trouble.

One set of markers has to do with how couples communicate with one another. He calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because they are so damaging to relationships.

I use a lot of Gottman’s research in my leadership workshops because the ultimate goal of an exceptional leader is to create positive relationships. Gottman’s findings apply to all types of relationships, not just romantic ones.

In leadership workshops, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse become Communications Toxins. It’s a less intimidating and more descriptive name for the four ways that people communicate that cause damage to relationships. Let’s look at them one at a time.

The first Communication Toxin is criticism. We all have grievances to air with others, but how we relay the information makes all the difference. Gottman differentiates between a complaint and criticism. A complaint specifically states an action with which we have a problem. We amp that complaint up to criticism when we add on negative words about the person to whom we are complaining.

Here are a few examples from Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:

Complaint: There’s no gas in the car. Why didn’t you fill it up like you said you would?

Criticism: Why can’t you ever remember anything? I told you a thousand times to fill up the tank, and you didn’t.

Complaint: You were supposed to check with me before inviting anyone over for dinner. I wanted to spend time alone with you tonight.

Criticism: Why do you keep putting your friends ahead of me? I always come last on your list. We were supposed to have dinner alone tonight.

Criticism includes blame and casts aspersions on the other person’s character.

The second Communication Toxin is contempt. Sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor are all forms of contempt. Contempt is the most damaging of the toxins because using it conveys a feeling of disgust for the other person.

When using contempt, a person’s goal is not resolution of the problem. Their goal is to make the other person feel incompetent and blameworthy. In essence, it’s a campaign to demean the other person.

Here is an example of contempt from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:

“We’re paying through the nose for your car, and you can’t be bothered to wash it. I think that’s outrageous. I think that’s probably the most spoiled thing that you do.”

This spouse is not just complaining about how his or her partner spends money. They are accusing the partner of the moral deficiency of being spoiled.

I assure you that using contempt is never a part of exemplary leadership. The goal of an extraordinary leader is to build positive relationships, not make people feel small and worthless. I often talk about the damaging effects of sarcasm in the workplace. We cannot use sarcasm without demeaning a person or organization.

The third Communication Toxin is defensiveness. Not getting defensive is a tough test for the ego, but Gottman contends that any attempt to defend yourself or your position only raises the level of tension. Defensiveness does not help to resolve the conflict.

Gottman says that the antidote for defensiveness is to accept responsibility for some of the problem. Here is an example from his latest book (and my favorite), What Makes Love Last?:

Contempt: “You’re such a slob – you should’ve cleaned this up!”

Defensiveness: “I couldn’t find the sponge. Where did you stash it this time?”

He doesn’t give any positive options in either book, but here is a possibility: “I apologize for not cleaning that up right away. I got sidetracked when I couldn’t find the sponge. Do you know where it is?”

We defuse criticism and contempt when we accept some responsibility for the challenge at hand, which can be very difficult. When under attack, our immediate and understandable response is to defend ourselves at the very least. It takes a great deal of self-control and emotional intelligence not to show righteous indignation, act like a put-upon victim, or launch a counterattack.

The fourth and final Communication Toxin is stonewalling. Normally in a conversation, we give signals that we are listening. We nod our heads, mutter an assent, or maintain eye contact. When we are stonewalling, we give no nonverbal signals that we are listening. We check out of the conversation and refuse to engage. It is an avoidance technique.

Often, we stonewall because we’ve become overwhelmed by the disagreement. Gottman calls it “flooding.” When we are flooded, we’ve gone into fight-or-flight mode. Our bodies are actually flooded with a mixture of hormones that makes it difficult for us to be creative, listen with empathy, problem-solve, or even think clearly. We become impassive like stone walls to protect ourselves.

If someone is stonewalling because they are flooded, it’s best to walk away and let them calm down. No empathetic statements or attempts to soothe will get through.

The four Communication Toxins will be present in all relationships, whether personal or professional. They do not appear in a certain order. Gottman says that they perform more like a relay race, handing the baton off to one another as an argument races forward.

Our job as leaders is to minimize our use of the Communication Toxins, which takes quite a bit of self-awareness and self-discipline. We can also recognize when others use them and minimize their effects.

The best antidote to all of the Communication Toxins is curiosity. When we get curious and ask thoughtful questions about both the fact and feeling part of an issue, we are meeting people’s personal needs to be listened to, understood, and respected. Once that happens, they usually calm down and communicate more effectively.

Of course, there are people who are dead-set on winning or creating discord. In the workplace, we coach them on their behavior because it can seriously disrupt the effectiveness of a group or team. If our team doesn’t feel free to express an opinion for fear of being on the receiving end of criticism or contempt, psychological safety is not present. Remember, psychological safety is the key to high performance.

Here is a final quote from What Makes Love Last?:

“Earlier in my career, I thought that if couples learned to avoid the Four Horsemen, they would automatically communicate in positive ways that would allow love to flourish. This is not the case. Defeating the Four Horsemen will not be enough to resolve all of a couple’s problems. That can be achieved only by healing and reestablishing mutual trust.”

Yep, trust is still the foundation of positive relationships, psychological safety, and effective teams. How we communicate matters, but not as much as being trustworthy.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at


Leadership and Self-Care



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I once worked with a small group of business executives who were burning themselves out. They wanted me to give them tools to get more out of others, but they were too edgy and tense to effectively deal with other people. I wanted to talk about some self-care and creating a peaceful, positive foundation for their lives and leadership. They felt like that was a waste of time.

Self-care is absolutely not a waste of time. If we are overwrought and overwhelmed, we cannot make good decisions, see the big picture of what is going on, or create positive relationships with others. As leaders, it’s imperative that we influence the world from a strong base of calm confidence and health. It’s almost impossible to interact with the world in a positive and intentional way without good health and a positive frame of mind.

So how do we take care of ourselves? What does good self-care look like? It’s helpful to look at our lives by category: relationships, financial health, personal well-being, and our physical environment. Here are a few questions to get you started for each category.


  • Do you have a support network that gives you emotional and physical support (e.g., listen, tell you hard truths, bring you chicken soup, ferry you to the doctor)?
  • Do you have any unresolved conflicts?
  • If you have a romantic relationship, is it satisfying?
  • Do you have any draining relationships?
  • Do you generally get along well with others?
  • Are you someone on whom others can depend?

Financial Health

  • Do you pay your bills on time?
  • Do you save regularly?
  • Are you debt-free or have a plan to achieve that?
  • Are your assets insured?
  • Do you have six months of living expenses in a savings account?
  • Are you able to live within your means?
  • Do you have a plan for your financial future?


Personal Well-Being 

  • Do you feel healthy and vibrant?
  • Do you regularly see a doctor, dentist, and optometrist/ophthalmologist?
  • Do you fuel your body with healthy food?
  • Do you exercise regularly?
  • Do you get enough sleep?
  • Do you have a regular religious or spiritual practice?
  • Is there any nagging physical ailment that needs to be addressed?
  • Are weekends and evenings times of rejuvenation?
  • Do you spend your free time intentionally or mindlessly?
  • Do you have activities that you enjoy?
  • Do you foster an attitude of gratitude?

Physical Environment

  • Do you feel peaceful when you walk into your home?
  • Is your car well-maintained?
  • Are your clothes clean and in good repair?
  • Is your bedroom conducive to sleep?
  • Is your home clean, organized, and well-maintained?
  • Are your personal papers organized?
  • Do you have beauty in your home?

Don’t worry if you aren’t squared away in every category! Few of us are. These are just questions to get you thinking about how you could eliminate some stress and create some joy in your life. We want to figure out what self-care items would give us the biggest bang for our buck. Start with one thing, master that one, and then move on to the next most useful action.

For example, if a cluttered house is a constant emotional drain, that may be the first thing to tackle. Years ago I took on clutter and organization. I used FlyLady’s method back then, but there are other cleaning gurus to follow now. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel or figure everything out on our own. There is always help out there.

If financial health is your challenge, someone like Dave Ramsey could be a big help. Having a plan and direction from an expert saves a lot of time and energy. A financial advisor who works with you individually is another option.

My emphasis right now is health. I’ve lost the health routines that make me feel better. I know that daily stretching and some sort of movement make me feel much more vibrant and energetic.

In addition, I am getting some outside support. I am setting up a regular schedule for Rolfing, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage. It’s also time to have my eyes checked! My own health has not been my priority over the past couple of years, and I am ready to change that.

Self-care helps us create peace in our lives. When we have a peaceful foundation, it’s easier to act intentionally. We don’t get triggered as easily, and daily challenges seem less overwhelming.

Go get a massage! Watch a movie with a friend! Go on a retreat! Meditate! Have a spa day! Here is a good one: Hire a life coach! 😉 Activities that we often feel are self-indulgent are really just good self-care that makes us better leaders in all aspects of our lives.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at

New Year’s Eve


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Today is New Year’s Eve. It’s a day when we have one foot in the past and one foot in the future. Although I advocate living in the moment as much as possible, we can gain some insights and direction by spending some time looking at our feet.

Let’s start with the past. There are several questions that we can ask ourselves.

1. What did you enjoy doing this year? If we know the specific activities that we liked doing, we can intentionally plan experiences in 2020 that bring us joy.

For example, I enjoyed the various craft activities that I did. I made a glass egg, threw a pot, and made one of those super chunky blankets. They were all classes that I did with a friend. I will schedule a few of those types of classes in 2020.

I very much enjoy spending time with my children and their families. I adore each and every one of them. I want to be sure and schedule trips to see them all in 2020.

Lastly, I am one of the most fortunate people on the planet because I love what I do! I love standing up in front of groups and talking about leadership concepts with them. I always enjoy honing my skills and will schedule some professional development classes during the year. Maybe I will join Toastmasters!

2. What is your biggest regret in 2019? I’m not into wallowing or wishing things had turned out differently. However, knowing what we did or didn’t do that caused us to feel bad can help us avoid repeating that particular regret. It’s important to focus only on actions that we have control over. I might regret not getting a gig, but I didn’t have control over that. Now, if I regret not preparing for my interview for the job properly, that’s something that I can analyze and figure out how to do better next time.

3. What did you really hate about your days in 2019? This one is tricky. Sometimes we have to do things that we don’t really enjoy. For me, that’s fixing food. I don’t like cooking, and I haven’t figured out a way to get rid of that task because I also like eating fresh, clean food. For now, I power through fixing healthy, healing meals.

I also dislike cleaning the bathroom, and I’ve already handed that task off. I redid my budget so that I could afford a cleaning team every other week.

It’s trickier if you hate things about your work, but useful to chronicle them. If I know what I dislike about my workday, I can try to do less of that – but now always. However, if I look for a new job in the new year, I know what things I do not want in my daily work life.

4. What are you grateful for? What people and events did you encounter for which you feel profound gratitude? Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is the foundation of a positive attitude. It’s important that we acknowledge all of the gifts that we’ve been given.

I have much to be grateful for! My youngest son got married in 2019 to a wonderful young woman who is now pregnant with my third grandchild. I have a contract with an organization whose people I love. I seriously enjoy working with them and am so grateful for that opportunity. I love my family. I enjoy talking with them and being with them. I am grateful for my condo that I call Xanadu. It’s a home to call my own that is cozy and filled with things I like. I am grateful for my freedom. I sleep and eat when I want. No one questions my actions or purchases or sleep patterns. I am grateful for my community of friends. I have people who care about me, and I them. I love my car! Her name is Amber, and we travel all the time together.

My list continues, and my heart warms just thinking about it. Gratitude is a powerful tool – and it feels good!

We’ve just taken the first step in Boyatzis’ Intentional Change Theory – take stock of where you are. The second step is to visualize where and who you want to be, doing what. All of the answers are in the answers to the questions that we asked ourselves.

Sometimes it helps to think about the segments of our lives, such as work, home, friends, and hobbies. We can visualize each segment in great detail and decide what would be ideal for each.

For example, for work I see myself up in front of a room of dedicated individuals who want to become the best versions of themselves. That one is really close to my current reality, so there isn’t much to change there. I did say that I wanted to do some professional development, so I need to keep that in mind.

For community, I see myself taking craft classes, going to movies, eating out, and playing games with my friends. The only thing that doesn’t happen now is playing games. Perhaps there is a game night in my future?

Now, we decide what we want to include and what we want to get rid of. We know where we are (the answers to the questions) and what we want (the visualizations). What’s left is to decide what we need to do to get from one to the other.

Take some time with this list. It’s your strategy for 2020. Start with a long list of things that you want to add. Make another list of the things you want to toss. What things do you want to change or do differently? Make sure that everything that you list is in alignment with your visualizations.

Now prioritize your list. What are the most important things for you to do or not do? The important things can usually be separated into short- and long-term goals.

A few of the things on my shortlist include finishing the book that I’ve started, creating structured time to spend with family, incorporating some type of daily exercise, and starting a game night. I use my 2020 calendar for planning.

For example, I have lots of commitments for the first part of the year. I won’t be starting my book until July, so I put it in my list of goals for July in my calendar.

I don’t like to do the same type of exercise every day, and my stamina is a bit unpredictable. The best I can do is schedule a time each day and commit to doing something physical during that time.

I will need to decide how often I want to have game night and coordinate with my friends. I also want to plan a big family vacation in 2021. I will work out a savings plan and coordinate the time in 2020.

You get the idea. Some actions are daily, and some are long-term. To move our lives forward, we need both. We create the life that we want in bits by deciding what’s important to us and taking intentional actions.

One last note: Stuff happens. Things we don’t plan for get in the way. Sometimes we have to let go of one plan and create a new one. That sounds easier than it is, but it is necessary. Continuing to hold onto a vision that cannot happen is not productive. Let it go, and move on.

The last step of Intentional Change Theory is to get support. We are more likely to achieve our goals if we tell others about them. We increase our chances again when we enlist their aid.

Remember the power in the Magic Wand of Destiny. With determination and a clear direction, we can get just about anywhere and achieve lots of cool stuff. Good stuff.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at

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If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at

Anticipation of Eves


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Today is Christmas Eve. The day before a major event is always filled with all kinds of emotions. There can be joyful anticipation and a sense of impending doom. It all depends on our expectations for the next day. It can feel like the eve of battle.

Expectations can be a tricky thing. First, they are totally made up in our own heads. The day itself just is. Aunt Joan may or may not say every little inappropriate thing that passes through her consciousness. Small children will be filled with excitement that will present itself in adorable and annoying ways. Those things are just facts. We add the emotional charge to them. However, we don’t have to.

If you are feeling a little holiday overwhelm, take a break from the crowd and review a few tools and perspectives that will help. First, remember that the chair is the chair and that you are not going to change it.

Second, you don’t have to charge a situation with emotion. Know that what other people say and do has little to do with you and your value, and everything to do with their own perspectives and ego.

Third, you don’t have to convince anyone of anything. You can give them the gift of just sitting and listening. Our personal needs are to be listened to, understood, and respected.

Fourth, when we are fully in this moment and only paying attention to what is happening now, we don’t feel anxiety or dread. We aren’t revisiting the past or creating some weird future in our heads. We are just being present now.

Finally, we can save ourselves a lot of trouble if we just presume good intent. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, so go ahead and presume that there are no hidden digs or agendas. Your life and sanity will be much calmer.

At the end of the holiday season, you will still be you! And you are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. As long as you are living in alignment with your own values, accepting others as they are, and being kind, you are being your authentic, best self. There is no better gift for you or the world. Rock on!

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at

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People in my immediate world, including me, have been quite sick for the past few weeks, so I’m practicing some holiday self-care and reposting a blog that will be useful in our holiday interactions.

In many of my holiday memories, there was a lot of silver-lining going on. We do it for several reasons. One is that we care about people and want to cheer them up. Another is that we aren’t comfortable talking about uncomfortable emotions. We also just don’t want to focus on “negative” stuff.

Take a breath, and dive into your holiday conversations using the examples and tools below. One of the best gifts that we can give someone is to make them feel seen and heard. It really can make all the difference in a person’s life.

May your holidays be filled with joy, peace, and understanding!

Warmly, Kathy

Brené Brown turned silver-lining into a verb in a video on sympathy vs. empathy. You can watch it [here] [] if you are interested. I love her discussion on silver-lining things.

When someone is upset about a situation, we want to make them feel better. It’s a natural reaction, but not always a helpful one. Sometimes we feel compelled to show them the bright side of a situation – also not really helpful. When we do that, we are silver-lining. A tip-off that we are silver-lining someone are the words “At least.”

For example, let’s say that I am expressing frustration about not getting a gig after spending a lot of time on writing a proposal. The people listening want to cheer me up and make me feel better. They might say, “Well, at least you still have your health” or “At least you still have that other job that you are working on.” Both true perhaps, but the statements are not going to improve the situation or make me feel better.

After I watched Brown’s video, I started noticing a lot of silver-lining going on. A friend and fellow coach with a soft and nurturing heart who doesn’t like to see people suffering was the first person I noticed. She called me when I was seven hours into an eight-and-a-half hour drive. She asked me how much further I had to go, and I told her. Her answer was, “At least you only have an hour and a half to go.”

I felt like smacking her upside the head. I wouldn’t ever, but I felt like it. Her statement made me angry. The point was that I had an entire hour and a half of torture left! I was tired, and my back hurt. I was bored and felt like I couldn’t take another moment in the car. Her silver-lining had totally dismissed my feelings and situation. Her statement had the exact opposite effect of what she intended.

My friend was the first person who I thought of and noticed, but I should have seen myself first because I am also guilty of silver-lining! I am a champion at silver-lining, especially with my children. They complain or share a frustration, and I want to show them that things are not that bad. I will say something like, “At least you have friends you enjoy at work” or “At least you have a car that runs.” Ack! I’m working to never silver-lining them again.

I noticed silver-lining again in a leadership workshop. We were talking about communication toxins. Small groups were creating skits to show each toxin and an antidote for each. Communication toxins are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling, in case you are curious. They come from John Gottman’s research on couples.

I heard a lot of “At least” when they were creating their skits. We stopped and talked about better ways to deal with the toxins and, in general, situations when people were feeling some negative emotions.

The first step is to identify and acknowledge the feeling that the person is experiencing. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, advocates facing all of our feelings, even the uncomfortable ones. Before we can face them, though, we have to name them.

In coaching, after naming an emotion, we normalize it. It’s important for all of us to be reminded that it’s normal and acceptable to feel some of what are termed “negative” emotions. In truth, emotions are just emotions. They are not inherently good or bad, positive or negative. Our emotions are natural reactions to events.

Now, we can control our emotional reactions to some degree, but that’s a different conversation. Now we are just naming and normalizing. Remember that silver-lining does not help someone reframe a situation or feel better; it’s not the solution.

Let’s go back to my road trip example. I sigh and say I have an hour and a half to go of an eight-hour drive. One good response could be, “That is a really long drive. I bet you are tired.” I might respond with something like, “I am tired! My back is sore, and I am so bored that I can’t stand it.”

At this point, most of us want to send a solution like “Why don’t you listen to an audiobook?” or silver-lining the situation with “At least most of the drive is behind you.” Resist!

It’s time to normalize and help them name and accept the emotions that they are feeling. We might say, “Of course you are tired! You’ve been sitting and focusing on driving for hours!” Hearing that kind of response makes us relax because we feel seen and heard.

Naming and normalizing emotions can also open the door to furthering the conversation. Once I feel that someone is listening and empathizing, I might say, “Long drives are terrible – and my children live so far away.” I’ve shared something else that is troubling my mind as I drive hour after hour.

Once again we are presented with the temptation to do some silver-lining because we want to make people feel better. We don’t want to say, “At least you get to see them every few months.” Instead, we want to name and normalize again by saying something like “It is frustrating that they aren’t closer to you.” No solutions or silver-lining – only listening and empathizing.

When we silver-lining people, we create resistance and an adversarial conversation. They feel compelled to defend the emotions that they are feeling. They don’t feel listened to or understood. Remember my gut reaction when my friend said, “At least you only have an hour and a half left.” I was immediately angry.

When we acknowledge the feelings and listen, we let people know that their feelings are valid and normal. We also let them know that we value them enough to really listen to them in order to understand what they are feeling. Our personal needs are to be listened to, understood, and respected. When we meet those needs, we help others relax into their situations, gain some perspective, and maybe find a solution.

Or maybe they just feel better because they aren’t alone with their feelings. Empathy, rather than silver-lining, goes a long way towards creating positive relationships, which are the hallmark of great leadership and a happy life.

(And a joyous holiday season!)

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at