Outcome v. Ego


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I was talking with someone who was quite put out with their coworkers who were refusing to wear masks. This person has immune-compromised people in their family and tries to take as few risks as possible.

After asking the coworkers several times over a few weeks to wear masks, the conversation got heated. The person said, “I have no respect for them and will not treat them with respect because they have no respect for me or my health or my family’s health.” They make a totally valid point. When we depend on others to help keep our loved ones safe, the lack of control can be infuriating.

However, getting into a battle of wills and making the confrontation personal is not going to help the situation. When we are having a difference of opinion with someone, it’s crucial that we put our personal feelings aside and focus on the outcome that we want.

In this situation, the person wants their coworkers to wear a mask, as required by the organization. It’s a rule that they are not following. If they attack their no-mask peers, they make them feel defensive. The no-mask coworkers are not going to wear a mask because it’s become a point of honor. If they wear a mask, they have lost.

As leaders, when we want someone to do something, we must not make them feel that the course of action that we want is a loss of face or honor for them. We must continue to focus on the desired outcome and not get angry or make the conflict personal.

The coworkers should follow the rules and behave with respect towards others. However, they are not, so some influencing is in order. The model of the rider, elephant, and path from the book Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard can be useful. When facing change ourselves or when helping others through a change, we must deal with the logical rider and the emotional elephant, and we must do what we can to create a structure to ensure the desired behavior, which is the path.

mask meme

The mask meme above speaks to logic and could influence the rider. There is a reason to wear a mask, and it’s not just to protect ourselves.

A photo of the vulnerable family member could reach the noncompliant coworkers at an emotional level. A picture of a cute baby or adorable grandpa could help the coworkers make a connection and stir feelings of protection.

Finally, if all else fails, a trip to supervisors and HR is required. If logic, respect, kindness, and emotional connection do not do the trick, it’s time to create consequences for unacceptable behavior. This is the path part of the model. We could consider continuing gentle reminders as part of the path, as well, but since it hasn’t worked yet, it probably won’t in this case.

We achieve the goals that we want by keeping those goals in mind and our egos in check. No matter how much someone deserves a piece of our minds, we must instead use our influence on their logic and emotions. Finally, when we can, we create consequences for their actions that are as impartial and fair as possible. What we don’t want to do is create a personal battle.

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

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

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


Dealing with Overwhelm


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I will confess that I am a bit overwhelmed at the moment. I’m preparing welcome boxes for the 18 participants of my first-ever completely virtual leadership series, packing for a three-month stay in Austin, writing this blog, and getting my condo ready for guests to stay here while I am gone.

When I have a long way to go and a short time to get there, I begin by making a list of things that have to be done. The first step is a brain dump. Everything that is cluttering my mind goes down on paper.

Next, I put the tasks in priority order. Once I have a list of things to do, from most important and time-sensitive to least, I start moving. The trick is to only focus on one thing at a time. No emotional energy goes into hemming or hawing about what is the next best thing to do.

I also take a lot of deep breaths to stay calm. I want to move quickly, but not hurriedly. Wasting emotional pennies on feeling rushed isn’t helping the situation. I can do this by practicing some mindfulness. I focus on whatever I am doing right now. No thoughts of what still needs to be done or feelings of overwhelm are allowed. The only thing in my mind is what I am doing in this moment. And when I’m done with that task, I move on to the next thing on the list. Staying mindful turns a forced march into a brisk, intentional walk, which is much more sustainable.

For my current tasks, printing off the handouts for the welcome boxes and ordering items to include in it were first. Then I began to lay everything out across the living room floor and dining room table. Next, I began assembling the boxes. Currently, they are all filled and waiting for bubble wrap, sealing, and labeling.

I am also facing the effects of Hurricane Isaias, which has led me to switch up my priorities. I paused on leadership welcome kits so I could pack and load the car before the deluge hits. At 6 pm, I will stop packing and loading and finish off the welcome boxes. They will go in the car tonight so I can go to the post office first thing in the morning, when I will mail the welcome kits and ask them to forward my mail.

The great thing about prioritizing is that I do get the most important stuff done. There is only so much time between now and when I must be on the road. There is a chance that I will run out of time and not get everything on the list completed – and that’s okay! I’m a human who needs sleep before I can drive for hours on end. Not stressing or feeling overwhelmed also helps me stay fresh for the long drive.

Leaders often face time challenges. There are many responsibilities and tasks that pull on our attention. We can maintain a calm demeanor and manageable life by mastering the skill of prioritizing and then staying in the current moment by practicing mindfulness.

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

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

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


The Horrible Danger of a Harsh Start


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I received an email, and the opening line labeled a decision that I’d made as stupid and unthinking. The person went on to make some valid points, but they totally lost me at the initial attack. I was triggered. I was angry. I was not in the ventral vagal state that is required for creative thinking, problem-solving, and open-mindedness.

Beginning a conversation harshly, either virtually or in-person, is not a good choice for leaders. John Gottman, world-renowned relationship researcher, agrees. According to his research, a conversation that begins with a harsh start ends harshly more than 90% of the time. Those are some pretty steep odds to overcome if you are working to create positive relationships.

As leaders, we want to know the outcome that we are looking for from each conversation before we start it. One outcome that we always want is to increase the positivity of the relationship with the person we are talking with or emailing. That’s an important point to remember. I can tell you that I do not have positive feelings toward anyone who starts a conversation by insulting or blaming me.

However, as a leader I recognize when someone is using a harsh start. I may initially feel my hackles go up, but I use some emotional intelligence to self-manage those emotions. We do that by stepping outside of ourselves and becoming an observer. Here are some questions that we could ask ourselves:

  • Why did it make me angry?
  • What point is the other person trying to make?
  • What feelings are they experiencing that would lead them to start a conversation in that way?

When we become an observer, we re-engage our neocortex, and all of our adult reasoning comes back online.

In addition to creating a positive relationship, we usually want another outcome or two. Perhaps we would like to change someone’s mind about something. We might want to understand a person’s rationale for a decision. In the case of the email, the person wanted me to know that the decision I’d made was not one that worked with their priorities and schedule. They were disappointed and angry. They also felt misled by a series of events. All reasonable arguments and feelings.

For the record, the decision was made for a group and was totally a reaction to the unforeseen consequences of COVID-19. It was never going to make everyone happy, which is sad and frustrating. And that’s what leaders do; we make hard decisions. This one was made after asking for input from the group.

Because I can’t see the true intentions of another person, I can only guess at the outcome that they were looking for. My hypothesis is that they wanted me to change the schedule. Although that wasn’t a possibility in this case, I was not likely to change it after receiving a scathing email.

I would be much more likely to consider an email that begins with a soft start such as, “I received your email about _____, and I am sorry to say that I cannot participate because of _____. I am disappointed and wonder if there is any possibility of working around my challenges. I am also concerned about _____. Could we schedule a time to talk?”

When facing a harsh start, we can ask what outcome the other person is looking for from the conversation. People are sometimes looking to hurt our feelings, although they will seldom admit to that. By focusing on specific outcomes, we guide the conversation in a more productive direction. If we interact regularly with someone who uses harsh starts, we could create a Designed Alliance with them.

As leaders, we can create positive relationships and help create the outcome that we want by beginning in a non-confrontational manner and asking some curious questions. This approach doesn’t give the immediate emotional satisfaction of venting and attacking, but the long-term results are much more satisfying.

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

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

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


Literally, Change Your Mind


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Note: This is a blog that I wrote back in February 2014. I’m publishing it again as much for a reminder to myself as anything else. I’ve added additional thoughts at the end.

When we think the same thoughts over and over, we create well-worn paths in our brains.  The metaphor of a path is more than just a metaphor.  It’s a description.  We do create neural pathways in our brains.  The more we take a particular neural path, the stronger the connections become, and the more quickly our brains use that path as a default.

The mental image of a path always makes me think of the last lines of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”:   “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all of the difference.”  Taking the brain path that is less traveled, or even creating a new brain path, is the way to change thought patterns that are not serving us.

Let’s say I have worn a very clear and wide “poor me” path in my brain.  In any circumstance that I face, the easiest, quickest path to take is the “poor me” path.  The car breaks down—poor me!  Economy takes a dive—poor me! Daughter won’t do chores—poor me! Hangnail—poor me!  You get the idea. I could just as easily have worn a clear and wide “stupid you” path.

Most of the time we glide into thought patterns without thinking.  We could be imitating a parent. Perhaps our current thinking is influenced by a set of circumstances in our past.  The first step is to ask, “Is this way of thinking serving me now?”  It might have been useful when you were a child and under the control of others, but it might not be useful now.  Maybe it never was useful. It’s time to take a fresh look.

Sometimes an event can put us on a mental path that is keeping us stuck in the past or in a negative way of thinking.  Way back when I was in high school, I would obsess over any mistake that I made.  If I said or did something that hurt someone’s feelings or embarrassed me or was just plain stupid, I would play it in my head over and over.  After a while, I realized that replaying it wasn’t useful.  It made me sick to my stomach and kept me on the “I am an idiot” path.  I came up with a solution that I learned 30 years later is called cognitive restructuring.

First, look at the offending situation.  What lesson can you learn?  How can you avoid repeating the mistake?  Decide on a one-sentence lesson you have learned. Then take the lesson forward and leave the details behind.

I will share a particularly humiliating example. In high school, I was head-over-heels for a guy who dropped me and started going out with someone else.  I was so hurt and angry.  I drove past his house one evening and saw that his car was out front.  I stopped.  It was unlocked.  I don’t remember the details, but I messed up the inside and outside of his car.  No permanent damage, but afterward I was so ashamed and humiliated.  He had to have known it was me.

First step: What happened?

I acted on impulse out of anger.  I acted childishly.

Second step: How could I avoid the same mistake in the future?

No acting out in anger.  I have poor judgment when I am angry. No childish behavior.  That wasn’t who I wanted to be.

Third step: Create a takeaway phrase.

“No childish actions when angry” was mine. Each time I started to relive the humiliation, I stopped myself.  I said, “I’ve learned my lesson.  No childish actions when angry.”

Step four:  Think about something else.

I forced myself to go over my to-do list or start reciting song lyrics, anything to get me off of the path of replaying the event.

I didn’t just have to redirect my thoughts once.  I had to do it over and over again.  The key is consistency and determination. I had to stay off the well-worn path to let the branches, vines, and grass take over and make it disappear. Eventually, the path grew over.  Today, I can only recall the lesson, not the details.

In the time since I’ve discovered that replacing the offending thought pattern with a thought that creates a feeling of gratitude is even more effective.  If you are feeling grateful, you cannot feel any other emotion.  It replaces fear, unhappiness, and resentment.  How cool is that? Way better than to-do lists. The key is to make the gratitude path wide and clear—very easy to follow.  Line the gratitude path with images and memories that touch your heart because those have the most power. Then you can call them up easily and take that alternate gratitude path whenever you are tempted to take the one you’ve declared off-limits.

A friend pointed out that we don’t control individual thoughts that surface unbidden.  I guess that’s true to some extent.  However, what’s important here is that we have the power of choice.  We decide what to do with any unbidden thoughts and how long we let them linger.

Like the traveler in Robert Frost’s poem, we get to choose our paths.  We influence new thoughts by which paths we keep clear and which we let grow over.  We choose the tone of our internal dialogue.  We choose which paths to cultivate in our minds, and through those choices we choose the types of people we are going to be.

Final note: Man, 2014 feels like a very long time ago. It was most certainly another life. Rediscovering this blog feels providential because I am working to release a lot of anger and resentment over some life events that have happened in the interim. All of them are infinitely more serious than a high school prank.

The actions are not necessarily my own, but the events, circumstances and anger have had me firmly in their grip. I have been caught in an endless loop of negative thinking and blaming for quite some time.

I’ve decided that my takeaway phrase is “Shit happens, and most of it isn’t my fault.” I am not absolving myself of all responsibility, but stuff like injuries, illnesses, other people’s decisions, and COVID-19 are definitely not my fault!

This time around I am using one song lyric consistently to replace unbidden, negative thoughts and emotions. It honestly came to me while I was asleep, and it brings me great comfort. It feels like a message from Spirit. The song is “Just Remember I Love You” by Firefall. The specific lyric is “Just remember I love you, and it’ll be alright. Just remember that I love you more than I can say.”

A spiritual grounding is important for leaders. We must stand on a firm foundation to lead effectively. Choosing to master ourselves and our thoughts in an important proficiency. Connecting to our higher power gives us the strength and confidence that we need to do that – especially when we are running low on our own.

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

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

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


The Power of a Morning Routine


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Recently I’ve talked with several people about their morning routines. My mother lived with me for 10 years, and she was the queen of the morning routine. She settled into her “nest” with a cup of tea. Her nest changed each time we moved, which was pretty often as a military family. Sometimes it was in her bed, sometimes in a chair with her feet up on an ottoman. She always had three morning books going at one time. One was always Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. All of the books were uplifting, so they put her in a positive frame of mind.

I would be running around like a crazy person getting the boys ready for school, and she was an ocean of calm who refused to allow any big waves in her peaceful morning. She was one of the most positive people that I’ve ever known.

I recently participated in a virtual retreat for female entrepreneurs by successful businesswoman Grace Lever. She described her morning routine, and it was very similar. Grace gets up at 5:30 am and sits with her tea in meditation and prayer. Then she does 10 minutes of intense exercise with a German model named Pamela Reif. After her tea, she drinks a big glass of water. Her routine takes about an hour.

My sister has recently caught the Tony Robbins fire. Tony jumps into cold water first thing and then does some breathing and mindset exercises. Like Mom, he has an emphasis on positivity and gratitude. You can follow along with him here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faTGTgid8Uc&feature=youtu.be

I find that my days and my life go better when I have a morning routine. If I am not firm about the time that I am getting up and what I am going to do first, I sort of meander into the day. The lack of a plan also leaves me with a less than positive attitude. I feel bad because I have lost my most productive part of the day.

I will admit that COVID-19 has allowed me the time and space to lose my motivation and any semblance of a morning routine – and I’m tired of it! Discomfort is the greatest motivator, and I am definitely uncomfortable with starting my day in a sluggish way.

When looking for a solution, it’s always a good idea to start by looking at what has worked before. In the past, I have felt the most productive when I set the alarm for 5:30 am like Grace and immediately get up out of bed. The next important step is that I didn’t go back to bed! It’s such a temptation to go to the bathroom and crawl back under the covers. During my most productive time, I immediately got out of bed and shuffled to the dining room to work on my first online course.

Like Tony, I also like pausing before my feet hit the floor and thinking about things that I am grateful for. Then I think about what I want to accomplish that day and see myself doing those things with grace and ease. Tony also does a variation of that. Then I remind myself that the Universe supports me in all that I put my mind to. I firmly believe that God helps those who help themselves by taking steps toward a goal.

I have started drinking celery juice every morning. I pull out the juicer and juice one or two bunches of celery. The tinnitus that I’ve had since high school abates if I am consistent about drinking celery juice. I heard about the benefits of celery juice from The Medical Medium. He may or may not be your thing, but the plant-based diet that he advocates has helped me a lot.

I am also a water proponent. The celery juice works better on an empty stomach, so I drink a big glass of water about an hour before the celery juice. Coffee comes after that. Several studies recommend drinking coffee an hour or two after you wake up. (Our natural cortisol levels are highest in the morning. Cortisol gets us up and moving and if we double dose with coffee, the result can be anxiety. Cortisol levels fall off around 9:30 so that’s when coffee would be most helpful.)

I am not much of an exerciser in the morning. I like to get work done when I am mentally fresh. I do a few stretches in bed and while sitting on the edge of the bed, but that’s about it for the morning.

What helps me most is deciding the night before on exactly what I am going to do in the morning. It saves me from dithering, which is such a time-waster for me. I am an advocate of starting your morning routine the night before. I find that my brain works on stuff while I am asleep, and I wake up with some fabulous ideas.

Breathing, water (with or without lemon), meditation, prayer, loving kindness meditation (oooh, I might add that one), setting a positive intention, stretching, journaling, and exercise are all great ideas for a morning routine. The key is to decide and do it. No dithering allowed.

So here is my new plan:

  1. Alarm goes off at 5:30 am.
  2. Immediately drink a big glass of water or lemon water.
  3. Do some easy stretching in the bed and then on the edge of the bed.
  4. While sitting, I think I will try a variation of Tony’s routine, which will include some fast breathing, gratitude, the loving kindness meditation, and visualizing the tasks of the day in a positive way.
  5. Work until 6:30, and then juice some celery and drink it.
  6. At least another hour of uninterrupted work.
  7. Easy breakfast. (My favorite is fruit crumble that I make up in big batches. Delicious!)
  8. Coffee break around 9 am, and I am done with the morning routine!

What you do doesn’t matter as much as doing it consistently. Great leaders are positive and have enough self-discipline to follow through on plans that they know will help them move forward. A morning routine is great practice for emotional intelligence and a wonderful foundation for the feelings of accomplishment that come from achieving meaningful goals. I am in!

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

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

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


Regret Ruler


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I am having difficulty with some of my COVID-19-related decisions, and it’s unusual for me to have any trouble deciding. Decision making is one of my superpowers!

It’s important to consider our values and priorities when making decisions. I think of them as rulers. When I’m trying to make a choice, I hold up my values ruler and see which option is most in alignment with my values. Whatever is important to me right now also needs to be taken into consideration – that’s the priorities ruler.

We each have several rulers that we use when making decisions. Another significant ruler is the impression management ruler. We all want to be seen by others in a certain way. We do what we can to manage other people’s impressions of us to ensure we are seen as we want to be seen. For example, I want to be seen as professional and smart, so I do things that enhance that image. We always hold our impression management ruler up to any decision and consider whether or not it will enhance the image we want to project.

Lately, those rulers are not helping. I find myself faced with two choices, and neither one of them feels like a great choice. For example, one friend has invited me out to eat. I like her and really miss going to restaurants. I haven’t eaten out since early March. However, I don’t feel like going to a restaurant is a great idea for me right now. I am in one of the higher risk categories for COVID-19, and I just don’t want it. I don’t want to expose anyone to it, either.

Going or not going to a restaurant isn’t a huge decision; it’s just an example. However, it still gives me pause. I can hear that my friend is disappointed when I refuse. I want to be a good friend and see her, but I just feel uncomfortable about going. It’s not a value, priority, or impression management issue so I pull out the big guns – my regret ruler.

If the choices seem equally terrible or uncomfortable, I ask myself which one I will regret more now, in a few days, in a year, and in five years. The key is to determine which choice creates the most long-term regret and avoid it. Clearly, I will immediately regret not going out for a fun evening with someone I like. However, if one of us falls ill or if I carry COVID-19 to a family member, the regret would be greater – and long-lasting.

Of course, there is uncertainty involved. I could go to dinner and come back with nothing but a full stomach. I look at worst-case scenarios and the amount of risk. Once again, it’s a judgment call, but if I do a gut-check, I could not live with myself if I gave a potentially fatal disease to a family member in order to go out to dinner. I would also feel deep regret if I caught it and became a toxic burden to others. The amount of regret that I would feel is simply not worth the risk.

Like the values, priorities, and impression management rulers, the regret ruler is very personal – as is risk assessment. The variations in our regret rulers and risk assessment seem to be major contributors to the differences of opinion that are rampant in our society right now.

I am reminded of a video that I watched of several different people intentionally coughing on others to show the intensity of their disagreement on the issue of masks. For the record, that sort of behavior is unacceptable, and those people are definitely not great leaders. In my estimation, they aren’t great humans. They lack emotional intelligence, which starts with self-awareness and self-control.

As leaders, we examine our choices and our rulers, and then manage ourselves to ensure our behaviors are always respectful towards others, no matter how different their rulers are from ours.

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

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

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

Airplane! v. Guardians of the Galaxy


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Guardians of the Galaxy

I teased a friend about watching the movie Airplane! If you have somehow missed this movie, filled with cringe-worthy humor and ridiculous gags, then you are missing some great one-liners to use in everyday life. When someone says, “Surely you are not serious”, the classic retort from the movie is “I am serious – and don’t call me Shirley.” It is not the kind of movie that I would watch more than once a decade. It is not my cup of tea. Absolutely do not watch it with your children, no matter how old they are.

A few days later, I told my friend that I was watching The Avengers. She immediately said, “You harassed me about watching Airplane!, and you are watching The Avengers?” Fair point. I thought about it for a minute and then said, “It doesn’t have potty humor or drug references.” Which is true. The Avengers are pretty clean cut.

However, the next movie that I watched was Guardians of the Galaxy. It has potty humor and drug references. And it’s not the first time that I have watched Guardians of the Galaxy. I own it. I’ve watched it a dozen or more times.

So, hmmmm. What is the difference between Airplane! and Guardians of the Galaxy? An even better question is why am I writing about it in a leadership blog? There is a method to my madness.

As leaders, it’s important that we are clear on the ruler that we use to judge things. Our ruler is made up of our values and priorities. We want to know and be reassured that what we say is important to us is truly important to us. Self-awareness is the first part of emotional intelligence. We can’t lead well if we don’t know ourselves well. We can check in on our values on something as superficial as movie preferences.

So why do I like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy and not Airplane!? Any guesses? Here’s what I think. In both The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, good is fighting evil. Granted, the Guardians wander around a bit in a morally gray area but stand up in the end and do what is right. I like the idea of good triumphing over evil. It’s an old storyline, but I am comforted when those on the moral high ground win, especially when they win for others and not just themselves.

I believe that great leaders are servant leaders – people who use their talents and power to help others. So, yes. My choice in movies reflects my values. The struggle of good v. evil also draws me to the Harry Potter books and movies.

The other thing that I like about the Avengers, the Guardians, and the gang at Hogwarts is that they each are a team. They work together for a common purpose. There is a definite sense of camaraderie and affection. When the chips are down, they always have each others’ backs. I like that.

Loyalty and teamwork are important leadership qualities. We cannot lead unless we care about and support the people around us. We cannot succeed ourselves unless we make sure everyone else succeeds, too.

My choices in movies don’t always reflect my values. I went through a John Wick period for a while that reflected my life circumstances and events more than my values. However, figuring that out was a huge leap in self-awareness.

Awareness is just the first step. Once we have brought a decision to a conscious level, we can decide what to do about it. I decided just to enjoy John Wick’s violent expression of anger. I did and got tired of it; then life moved on. Now I’m back to watching the Avengers, Guardians, and wizards who live the lives I want to emulate.

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

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

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


Stay Woke


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By the time I’ve heard and grasped a slang term, it’s made it to mass saturation. The term #staywoke was used to mean just staying awake for a while but became a call to be on the lookout for racial and social injustice starting in about 2011. It’s not a term that I’ve been aware of, but the concept is something that I’ve advocated in my leadership series for decades.

As leaders, it’s imperative that we maintain constant vigilance for the small and large slights that people often make without thinking. Although I like to think that fairness and equal treatment are always on my radar, I know that I am probably most aware of sexist comments and actions.

At 60 years old, I’ve seen and heard a lot of stuff that angers and annoys me because it’s based on underlying stereotypes about women. I realize that most people, both male and female, have no idea that they are being offensive. Several years ago, I decided that I was done being quiet about it. I decided that I was going to speak up firmly and confidently each time I heard someone being sexist.

My first opportunity came at a public event. It was a study of successful entrepreneurs. There was a slide for each entrepreneur that showed their net worth and major accomplishments. On one slide there was a large picture of a male founder with a beautiful woman. The caption was “He married a supermodel.”

Now if you don’t see why this is offensive, you are definitely not woke. I probably would have been okay if the caption had said, “Through his work he found the love of his life.” Listing marrying a supermodel as an achievement alongside his financial gains and market share objectifies her. And why is the fact that she is a supermodel important?

There are a couple of leadership lessons here. First, point out social injustice or inappropriateness if you see it. It doesn’t have to be in that moment. I could have waited until after the presentation to speak to the presenter. In that particular situation, it was a young man presenting to an audience of mostly young men. I was the outlier. The audience catcalled when the picture went up. I felt that the entire group would benefit from a little more awareness. I also felt that the few younger women in the group needed to see it was okay to speak out.

Talking to someone privately has its advantages. I was providing diversity training to an organization. Let me reiterate – diversity training. We were talking about lifting something heavy, and I said that they needed to find a young buck to lift it for them. At break, someone pulled me aside and told me that “young buck” was a racial slur. My response was, “What?!” I had no idea. When I was growing up, I heard it used to describe muscular, fit males of all colors. I was so embarrassed.

I thanked the person who told me and apologized to everyone after the break. Instead of a public humiliation, it was a positive learning experience. I was grateful to the person who told me and honored that he assumed good intent on my part. He didn’t believe that I’d used the term in a knowingly derogatory way.

When to call out a stereotypical or racist comment is a judgment call. Leadership is full of them. Just make sure you point it out.

We have blind spots. We see and react to the world through our own unique Frame of Reference. We aren’t going to notice every discriminatory comment. When someone else calls it, the first thing to say is “Thank you for pointing that out.” That is the second leadership lesson.

If you can see how the situation could be taken as offensive, say, “I can see how that could be offensive.” Then check in to make sure that you are right. They may find it offensive for some other reason.

If you really don’t have an idea, which could be a possibility, ask what they thought about it was inappropriate. Tone of voice is huge here. Put your ego down, and ask sincerely.

Making ourselves and others aware of discrimination is crucial for great leadership. We can lead ourselves and others into a heightened awareness of other perspectives. Awareness is always the first step – and it shouldn’t be the last.

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

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

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


Questions Are the Answer



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In the final class of my MBA program, we had to do a presentation. I can’t remember exactly what my partner and I did, but it was some sort of business case analysis. We worked long and hard on our presentation.

We presented to the rest of the class – who were in competition with us. The goal of the class was to make the presenters look as bad and incompetent as possible. Not the best organizational behavior set up to foster goodwill.

There was one other woman in the class besides me. She was outspoken. When our presentation was over, she started asking questions that felt a lot like bait. She was subtly trying to get our goat. My young partner rose to the challenge almost immediately. I remember putting a hand on his shoulder as he began a heated retort. I said, “Wait, let’s be clear about what she is asking before we answer.”

I can’t remember her initial question exactly, but it was something like, “You honestly believe it’s a good idea to have people blah, blah, blah?” What she finished with isn’t important. Then, I turned to her and asked her to clarify.

I asked something like, “What exactly do you think is a problem about having people blah, blah, blah?” She huffed and said it was obvious. I told her that it wasn’t obvious to me and that in order to properly answer her objections, I needed to know exactly what she was objecting to. I asked, “Which part of our analysis do you believe to be faulty and why?”

She sputtered and backed down. She didn’t have anything specific. She was just trying to get us to lose our tempers. It was in that moment that I realized the power of questions. It was well before I started coach training that confirmed that belief. Questions are almost always the answer when facing difficult times and decisions. They also work pretty well on bullies.

The most important thing to remember when using questions is that you must sound sincere in the asking. Any hint of sarcasm and you are done for. Tone of voice is the difference between successfully asking “Please tell me specifically what your objections are to that plan” to create a dialogue and creating ill will and resentment. As leaders, it’s important to maintain an authentic curiosity about what the other person is thinking and feeling.

Coaching is all about helping people figure out their best path forward. Coaches do that by first raising a client’s awareness around a topic and then creating accountability for action. The action part is not usually the problem, it’s deciding what to do that can be a challenge when facing complex issues.

We can coach ourselves a bit during these challenging times by asking ourselves some questions. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Which one of your values is the most important to uphold in this situation?
  • Which one of your values feels challenged in this situation?
  • What is the single most important consideration?
  • How do you want to be remembered when this situation is over?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and create the perfect outcome, what would it look like? What is the most powerful action that you could take to help achieve that outcome?
  • What would make this decision easier?
  • What are the unknowns right now?
  • Who else will be affected by your decision?
  • How can you help others?
  • Who can help you?
  • What would you regret doing? Not doing?

We can use these questions for something as easy as whether or not to wear a mask in public. I do wear a mask because I feel that the most important thing for me to do is to protect others. I could be pre-symptomatic and not know it at any time. I would wholly regret giving COVID-19 to someone else – even unknowingly. To me, it’s a simple action that I can take to care for others. Caring and helping others is one of my core values.

People who don’t wear masks make their decisions based on different values and considerations. I don’t know what they are for sure, but I would guess from what I’ve heard and read that freedom is an important consideration for them, or perhaps not showing fear or weakness. I am not criticizing their decision. We all must do things in alignment with our values that are based on the information that we have.

I recently visited several gun shops. I was the only person in every store who was wearing a mask. Well, one guy walked in wearing a mask, looked around, then took it off. Blending in, or what other people thought of him, seemed to be his guiding principle.

I did not take my mask off in any of the gun shops because I am very clear about why I am wearing it. I give myself some modicum of protection, hence I am protecting the people that are in my inner circle. I am also protecting everyone in the gun shop by keeping my respiratory spray to myself. It doesn’t matter to me what everyone else is doing. What matters to me is following my own values and doing what feels right to me. No regrets.

There are a million different ways to assess a decision and decide how to act because each of us has our own unique Frame of Reference. The key is to clearly understand our own Frame of Reference and act in ways that will make us look back on our actions proudly. As great leaders, we also want to feel confident that we are helping more than hurting.

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

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

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

Leading in Challenging Times


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I am deeply disturbed by the things happening in America now – and I do not want to react irrationally. As a leader, I know the importance of pausing before acting or speaking on complex matters of great importance. Rash actions in times like these can look pretty poor in hindsight.

I am against personal and societal racism. I firmly and unequivocally believe that black lives matter. I sincerely hope that we are making a crucial pivot in our society toward equality for all.

I am appalled that police have killed and attacked unarmed civilians. People in positions of power have a responsibility to care for others. However, I do not believe that all police are terrible people. It is unacceptable to condemn an entire group of people as being a certain way; that is stereotyping.

I am white, female, and old. I can only offer views from that perspective. However, I am listening to other perspectives. Good leaders listen and help where they can.

If you are a leader in an organization, it’s important to talk about what is going on. Asking questions and listening is the way to begin. Asking “How can I help?” is a good next step. We all have an elephant in every room right now, and it’s best to talk about it rather than ignore it. Strategic actions come next.

As difficult as it may be, my request for the world would be for us all to presume good intent as much as possible as we move forward and change. I am sure to insult someone even though my intentions are good. I hope that anyone who knows me would not assume that I am being intentionally malicious, mean, or racist. If we can create some psychological safety for each other, we can have productive discussions that will lead to understanding and tangible solutions. It’s the only way for us to move forward together in partnership.

Personally, I plan to listen and do more research. There is great power in listening fully to what someone has to say. When we feel heard, we feel seen. I will find groups in alignment with my values and support them. I also plan to vote and encourage others to vote. We need politicians at the local, state, and national levels who answer to the people and not money. It’s one big-picture action that I can do for this very complicated problem. It’s an action that I feel passionate about.

The only other things that I can do now are to act with integrity, see people as people with value equal to my own, and call out instances of any sort of unfairness – whether it is racism, chauvinism, homophobia, or any other form of discrimination. That’s one small-scale action that each of us can do.

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

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

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