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Leadership, Resources, Staff Development

What if your understanding of motivation is faulty? What if that misunderstanding has caused you to frustrate, rather than encourage and inspire, your employees? Or even your kids? What if traditional carrot and stick methods are only temporarily effective at best, and perhaps counterproductive in the long run?


Those are Susan Fowler’s conclusions in her newly updated book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does. Fowler suggests that when we ask why someone isn’t motivated, we’re asking the wrong question.


Why are people motivated?


The question isn’t whether people are motivated. In fact, they’re always motivated. The question is why they are motivated.


“People are always motivated. The question is not if, but why they are motivated.” – Susan Fowler.


Asking why a person is motivated opens the spectrum of motivational possibilities. Fowler describes less effective sources of motivation as suboptimal, and those that are more effective as optimal. Moving toward the optimal side of the spectrum generates energy, vitality, and well-being.


Fowler’s spectrum of motivation goes beyond the typical definitions or extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, although there are common threads with suboptimal and optimal sources. Suboptimal motivation comes from disinterested, external, and imposed sources, while optimal motivation is aligned, integrated, and inherent.


The Need for Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence (ARC)


Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does draws from important research on the science of motivation. In doing so, the book highlights the relationship between motivation and employee engagement, a driver of key business outcomes such as productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction.


Fowler offers an easy-to-remember acronym to better understand the source of motivation and leverage its power. She relates the essence of motivation to three critical psychological needs, autonomy, relatedness, and competence (ARC).


Autonomy refers to the need for choice, or at least, the perception of choice. In the workplace, autonomy is about a sense of having some of control or choice about one does, or how it’s done. This doesn’t mean managers are hands-off, or laissez-faire, but that they allow their employees to have influence.


Relatedness is about connection, to others, and to purpose. People desire to be part of something bigger than themselves to belong with others in the process. Herein lies a powerful opportunity for leaders, to help people find meaning in their work and be part of a healthy team environment.


Competence represents the need for a sense of growth and learning over time. It’s about feeling competent to handle the normal, everyday challenges of the job. Leaders play an important role here as well since the workplace is where people spend the most time. Not feeling competent in the workplace can negatively impact other parts of workers’ lives as well.


When ARC needs are met, people thrive and flourish, satisfying an innate desire that is present in all of us.


A Learnable Skill: MVPs


Motivation is a skill that can be learned, starting with an awareness of where one is on the spectrum of motivation. Fowler offers a second acronym, MVP (mindfulness, values, and purpose) as the key to shifting toward higher level motivation.


The book contains tips for conducting motivational outlook conversations and numerous examples from Fowler’s research and consulting work. The epilogue contains short stories of masters of motivation, such as the great NBA coach Phil Jackson and former Southwest Airlines President Colleen Barrett.


Why Motivation Doesn’t Work…and What Does should be required reading for anyone in a leadership role. It’s an excellent discussion starter for executive teams, mentoring or coaching relationships, and training activities. Beyond the workplace, it has powerful application for parents, teachers, athletic coaches, and youth leaders.


Is it time to shift your approach to leading your team and developing your people? Let’s Talk! Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy call on my online calendar.



This is the third article in the series, Your Greatest Leadership Challenge: A Look in the Mirror at Self-Leadership. Visit my blog to read previous articles in the series.


An elite athlete’s inner core is a critical driver of his or her strength, power, speed, and agility. That’s equally true for an effective leader. And to lead others well, you must first lead yourself well. Healthy, confident leadership comes from a strong personal foundation.


As I wrote last week, building a strong inner core comes from clarity on these four key elements:


Vision:                Where are you going?

Purpose:            Why is this important?

Mission:             What are you doing?

Values:              How will you act?


This week’s focus is on mission and values. Along with an explanation of each element, I provide questions to help you get clarity in each area.


Mission: What are you doing?


Mission and purpose are often viewed as synonymous, but there is a difference. Purpose answers the question “Why?”—why accomplishing the vision is worthwhile or important. Mission answers the question “What?”—what you are doing to reach your desired destination.


Laurie Beth Jones, author of The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and for Life, describes a mission statement this way:


“The mission statement is centered on the process of what you need to be doing.”


Here’s a great example from one of the world’s most well-known companies: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”


Your mission statement should be aspirational, like Google focusing on “the world’s information.” It describes what you do in broad terms without getting too tactical (i.e., the word “organize” from Google). Finally, an effective mission statement conveys the impact of your work on those you serve.


It’s your turn: what’s your mission?


Set aside time alone to write your mission statement. As I mentioned in last week’s article, you may have separate statements for your work and personal lives, depending on your situation. However, there should be congruity between the two.


Here are six questions to guide you in this process:


  1. How will you achieve your vision?
  2. Who do you serve?
  3. What do you do for them?
  4. Why is that important?
  5. What kind of impact will you have?
  6. How do you differentiate yourself?


Like the other core training exercises, it may take a few attempts to create something you’re happy with. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Get to a statement that has some staying power but room to tweak as time goes on. For an example, look at the statement under the headline on my website.


Values: how will you act?


Values add a qualitative element to your core. In Self-Leadership: How to Become a More Successful, Efficient, and Effective Leader from the Inside Out, authors Andrew Bryant and Ana Kazan describe values as:


“Personal or shared enduring beliefs or ideals about what is good or desirable and what is not.”


Values are filters that guide decisions. They form a moral compass that guides behavior, whether as an individual or an organization. In the marketplace, values inform the way in which an organization interacts with its employees, customers, and other constituents.


Ritz-Carlton is highly regarded for exceptional customer service in the hospitality industry. Among its Gold Standards, the company lists 12 service values that are stated in first-person terms to make them personal, empowering, and operational. For instance, as a Ritz-Carlton employee, “I own and immediately resolve guest problems.”


It’s your turn: what are your values?


Answering this question is more about discovery than decision. Your values are already there; you just need to put words to them. Although there’s nothing wrong with common values like integrity and excellence, make sure your stated values reflect your character and personality.


Condense your values down to a few key words or short phrases to make them easy to remember and articulate. There’s no “right” number, but once you get past five or six, they become difficult to remember and can be diluted in terms of effectiveness.


I landed on five values, which I list on the About page of my website:


  • Holistic excellence
  • Growth mindset
  • Bias for action
  • Desire over fear
  • Legacy thinking


Here are some key questions to guide you in discovering and compiling your values:


  1. What is important to you?
  2. What qualities do you admire about yourself?
  3. What qualities do you admire in others?
  4. What qualities are mentioned when others compliment you?
  5. What principles guide your decisions?
  6. How do you want to be remembered?


Review your values regularly, looking for consistency between them and your behavior. When leaders derail, it’s typically the result of behavior that drifts from their values, further and further over time.


What’s next?


If you’ve done your homework the past two weeks, you’re well on your way to strengthening the inner core of your self-leadership. With this strong inner core in place, we’ll move next into a discussion of individual differences and personal uniqueness.


How can you strengthen your inner core? Let’s explore the possibilities together in a complimentary strategy session. Feel free to contact me via email or schedule a telephone conversation at my online calendar.


Fun, Productivity

That’s fine if you’re getting the results you want. Then keep doing what you’re doing.


If, on the other hand, you’re stuck in a frustrating time loop like the weatherman played by Bill Murray in the 1993 classic, Groundhog Day, it’s time to make some changes. Hopefully, it won’t take the same extreme measures Murray’s character experienced to get you to re-think your priorities and behaviors.


To achieve new levels of effectiveness as a leader, you need to enact new habits and behaviors. Whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow today, you can get unstuck and move faster and further toward your goals. Even if there are six more weeks of winter (can you tell I’m from Minnesota?).


Consider these three new approaches to your work day:


  • Kill the open door policy
  • Consolidate email and social media time
  • Engage in Deep Work


Kill the open door policy


Let’s face it, your office is often the place you get the least work done. An open door policy is well meaning and conveys a positive message: I’m available. But there are unintended consequences of being perpetually available: a steady stream of interruptions and distractions.


Reclaim control of your office time by killing the open door policy. That doesn’t mean permanently withdrawing from your team. After all, a big part of leadership is getting things done through others. Your team still needs access to you. But it doesn’t have to be unlimited.


Use your door as a tool to communicate your availability in the office. Here’s an approach I found effective at various stages of my career:


Door completely open: feel free to come in, I’m available.

Door nearly closed but not latched: don’t come in unless it’s something that can’t wait until later in the day.

Door closed and latched: don’t come in unless the building is on fire.


If you don’t have a private office or work in a cubicle, find another cue that conveys the same message. Give yourself enough uninterrupted time for higher-order thinking, problem-solving, and planning activities.


Consolidate email and social media time


When it first became available, email was hailed as a huge time saver in the workplace. Now, studies on the time-wasting effects of email abound. Depending on the study, the average worker spends between 20 and 75 percent of his or her day checking, reading, drafting, and sending emails.


Look online and you’ll find countless suggestions to tame the email tiger. Unsubscribe from email newsletters you never read (or don’t subscribe in the first place). Use filters and folders to file emails that contain important information but don’t require a response.


Don’t get trapped in a long email chain to debate a decision that needs to be made. And don’t use email when a simple phone call would do. Both are among my pet peeves, especially for internal communication.


At a minimum, stop checking your email all day long. Are you like the average employee in one survey, who checks his or her email 36 times an hour? (Okay, I realize some roles are email heavy by necessity, i.e., customer service representatives, but that’s the exception.)


Consolidate the time you spend on email and its potentially black hole twin, social media. Schedule two or three blocks in your day for these purposes. Close your email window the rest of the day. Change your email server to pull your messages when you want them and hold them back at other times. Or use a service like Inbox Pause.


Stop being reactive to email and social media and your productivity will soar.


Engage in Deep Work


Deep Work is capitalized here because it’s the title of a great book by Cal Newport. The subtitle, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, reveals why every leader should read it. Although many leaders pride themselves on being multi-taskers, Newport suggests multi-tasking is a misnomer. We are simply switching between tasks in a distracted state, which drains focus and productivity.


Newport suggests “Deep Work” as the antidote, a focused approach to cognitively demanding tasks that produces powerful results in less time. He introduces Wharton professor Adam Grant as an example. Grant sets aside extended time periods where he can concentrate without interruption to accomplish his most important work. At times, these deep work periods last three or four days.


Turning off my smartphone, closing my internet browser, and shutting the door for 3 to 4-hour blocks of deep work have proven to be extremely productive. So has Newport’s suggestion to schedule these time blocks on my calendar, as I would my most important meetings.


Pick one


Try all three of these strategies but choose at least one to build into your regular routine. Make it a habit over the next six weeks and watch, you’ll be more productive when spring finally arrives!



What can you do to become more productive? Let’s talk about forming new habits to regain time, focus, and energy. Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy session on my online calendar.

 Photo copyright: <a href=’’>izanbar / 123RF Stock Photo</a>



This is the second article in the series, Your Greatest Leadership Challenge: A Look in the Mirror at Self-Leadership. Visit my blog to read previous articles in the series.


Strengthening your core is as important to your leadership success as it is to your physical well-being. Healthy, confident leadership is born out of a solid personal foundation. Without a strong inner core, your leadership will be weak and wobbly, just like a human body without core strength.


Building a strong inner core comes from clarity on four key elements:


Vision:                Where are you going?

Purpose:             Why is this important?

Mission:              What are you doing?

Values:               How will you act?


The next two articles in this series will explore these four elements in the context of self-leadership. Along with a description of each element, I include questions to help you get clarity in each area. Invest the time. Do the homework. That is if you’re serious about becoming a better self-leader.


Depending on your situation, you may need to answer the questions separately for your professional and personal lives, although the two need to be consistent to have integrity. As a solopreneur, my professional and personal responses are much more intertwined than for those who work for someone else.


Vision: Where are you going?


Strengthening your core starts with gaining clarity of vision because, as Hall of Fame baseball player and sometime philosopher Yogi Berra said,


“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”


Professors Michael Hackman and Craig Johnson define vision as “A concise statement or description of the direction in which an individual, group, or organization is headed.” Others describe vision as a preferred place, destination, or state of being.


I think of vision as a place that I’d like to be, a compelling destination that I’m headed toward. Vision is aspirational, directional, and momentum-building.


Characteristics of effective visions


Acclaimed leadership author Burt Nanus lists four characteristics of effective vision, which I’ve paraphrased slightly to fit the self-leadership context:


  • Vision generates commitment and energizes you.
  • Vision creates meaning in what you do.
  • Vision establishes a standard of excellence.
  • Vision creates a bridge between your present and your future.


Many vision statements are perpetual or represent a lifelong journey. To make vision more actionable, I like to put a timeframe on the destination I’m trying to reach. President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 “moon shot” speech is one of the best vision statements in this regard:


“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”


It’s your turn: what’s your vision?


Set aside time alone to write your personal vision statement. Think about where you want to go, your preferred destination. Let the following six questions guide you:


  1. Is it energizing and inspiring?
  2. Is it aspirational yet achievable?
  3. Does it compel you to action?
  4. Does it require new standards of excellence?
  5. Does it link the present and the future?
  6. Is it concise and memorable?


Don’t get hung up on creating the perfect vision statement. It may take a few revisions and you may modify it over time. But knowing where you’re headed is critical.


Purpose: why is this important?


Once you determine where you’re going (and perhaps before you finalize the destination), the next step is to clarify why it’s so important for you to get there. Get a handle on your “Big Why.”


Self-Leadership: The Definitive Guide to Personal Excellence defines this sense of purpose as “our reason for being, our aim in life, our reason for getting up in the morning.” Knowing your Big Why is critical for when the going gets tough and you’re ready to give up.


I’ve been blessed with coaches and mentors who pressed me to drill down on my Big Why until I was absolutely clear about it. They knew I would need to be reminded of my purpose when the inevitable adversity and challenges of launching a new venture set in.


It’s your turn: what’s your Big Why?


Just as you did in clarifying your vision, take time to determine why that vision is so important to you. Keep asking yourself “why?” until you get to the deepest levels of motivation.


Motivational factors vary widely from person to person, so don’t judge yourself if your motives don’t seem as pure as the next person’s. These factors might focus on things like family, health, spiritual well-being, retirement, business growth, etc.


Entrepreneurs, professionals and other leaders often hesitate to include profit-making or wealth-building in their Big Why, as though it’s not altruistic enough. Yet, there may be even deeper motivators that support a money-oriented goal. When I was a practicing CPA, one client viewed his knack for making money as a way to generously support a number of worthy causes.


Here are a few homework questions as you write out your Big Why:


  1. Why must you achieve your vision?
  2. What will your life be like if you do?
  3. What will it be like if you don’t?
  4. How will it impact the people around you?
  5. Will your “Big Why” motivate you to persevere when you might be tempted to give up?


What’s next?


If you’ve done your homework, you’re well on your way to strengthening your inner core as a self-leader. Good work! Up next: mission and values.


How can you strengthen your inner core? Let’s explore the possibilities together in a complimentary strategy session. Feel free to contact me via email or schedule a telephone conversation at my online calendar.






Most leadership development focuses on leading other people. But to lead others well, you must first lead yourself well. As leadership coach and consultant Glenn Gutek writes, “All leadership starts with self-leadership.”


The importance of self-leadership


Self-leadership is so important that former VISA CEO Dee Hock once suggested that leaders focus 50% of their time and effort on leading themselves, before leading vertically and horizontally within their organizations.


Thirty years of academic research reveals numerous positive business outcomes from effective self-leadership: increased commitment, confidence, job satisfaction, performance, productivity, creativity, and innovation, among many others.


The benefits of self-leadership transcend the workplace. Improvements in emotional health, relationships, physical fitness, and spiritual well-being are often attributed to positive self-leadership.


The antidote to leadership derailment


Self-leadership is also an important antidote to leadership derailment, when seemingly high capacity leaders veer off the tracks. Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy once said, “The number one reason leaders are so unsuccessful is their inability to lead themselves.”


In some cases, derailment occurs when leaders lose sight of personal values or ethical standards, succumbing to greed or the trappings of the office. Classic derailment examples include Kenneth Lay, Bernard Ebbers, and Dennis Kozlowski, leaders at the helm of three colossal corporate scandals in the early 2000’s.


Derailment also occurs when leaders perform below expectations, often to the point of demotion or termination. Marissa Mayer has taken a lot of criticism lately for Yahoo’s underperformance. She’s been described as a driven workaholic who once spoke of managing bathroom breaks in order to work exorbitant hours in her prior role at Google. Others note her lack of listening, learning, and attention to culture as marks of poor leadership.


Soft skills deficiencies


Derailment is rarely due to a lack of technical knowledge and skills. It more likely results from deficiencies in soft skills or non-technical factors. The International Journal of Economics and Financial Issues cites five recurring themes when leaders derail: interpersonal relationship problems, failure to build and lead a team, failure to meet business objectives, inability to change or adapt, and too narrow functional orientation.


Successful self-leadership is the starting point to overcome these potential pitfalls.


What is self-leadership?


UMass Amherst Management Professor Charles Manz defines self-leadership as:


A self-influence process and set of strategies that address what is to be done and why as well as how it is to be done.


Self-leadership is not simply an anecdotal concept, but one rooted in several theories and models from psychology: self-regulation, social cognitive theory, self-determination, intrinsic motivation, and self-management.


Become a better self-leader


This is the first of a series of articles that will take a deeper dive into the practice of self-leadership. Next up: building a strong personal foundation through clarity of vision, purpose, and values. Then: understanding individual differences, strengths, struggles, and blind spots. Later: establishing self-leadership disciplines to show up as your best self in every situation.


Join the journey and maximize your leadership!


Where are you at most risk of leadership derailment? Let’s talk about ways to use self-leadership as a springboard for better leadership of your people and organization. Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy session on my online calendar.


 Photo copyright: frugo / 123RF Stock Photo


Leadership, Resources

A title like A Leadership Kick in the Ass is sure to grab your attention. It certainly makes you wonder what’s inside the cover. And what you’ll find inside this new book are some of the most important leadership lessons you’ll learn this year. As my first leadership reading of 2017, it sets a high bar for other books I’ll read as the year goes on.


Leadership is just plain hard


A telephone conversation with author Bill Treasurer gave me an even deeper appreciation for the book. Bill shared that he started from the premise that leadership is just plain hard. In fact, his original working title was Leadership is Freakin’ Hard.


“We glamorize leadership too much,” Bill explained. “We deify it, put it on a pedestal and make it out of the reach of most people, most mortals. And that’s unfair to a leader.”


“There’s a certain wake-up call that happens for a leader,” he continued. “There’s a certain reality check that leaders eventually confront. Some of it is the fact that leadership is so hard. But some of it is that leaders often get in their own way with their own ego.”


The leader’s choice


An over-sized ego often leads to the leader getting his or her butt kicked. Other kicks may be out of the leader’s control, like the death of a company founder (one of the book’s many relevant examples). Regardless of where the kick comes from, the leader faces a choice.


Unfortunately, many leaders reject the kick and the learning opportunity that comes with it. Some double-down on arrogance and blame, setting themselves up for an even more painful butt-kick later.


On the other hand, wise leaders approach their missteps or setbacks with a teachable attitude. This opens the door for what the book calls “transformative humiliation,” leading to positive behavioral change that helps form a more humble, genuine, and grounded leader.


As Bill writes in the preface, “Good leadership often starts with a swift kick in the ass.”


The key: confidence and humility


Bill suggests that the best leaders lead with a blend of confidence and humility. As the book states, “When confidence and humility are present in the right measure, your leadership strength, influence, and enjoyment will grow.”


An overabundance of confidence results in impulsive decisions, a lack of receptivity to the counsel of others, and the risk that the leader misuses power in pursuit of his or her goals. When the scale tips toward too much humility, leaders don’t trust their own ideas, avoid risk, and bend to fear and people-pleasing.


Chapter 7, creatively titled “A More Perfect Derriere: Confident Humility,” closes with practical tips to help leaders move toward the right mix of these qualities. Among them, Bill points out that sharpening skills helps to build right-sized confidence while serving others results in greater humility.


A powerful tool for reflection, discussion


The best way to leverage A Leadership Kick in the Ass is to pause at the many thought-provoking questions planted throughout the content. Self-observation and reflection are critical ingredients for effective leadership.


As Bill told me, “The best leaders are thoughtful and know what their thoughts are. They’re not just shooting from the hip. They have a depth to them. It’s hard in a really shallow society to have depth if you don’t spend any time observing and reflecting.”


The book is also ideal for team discussion and one-on-one mentoring or coaching conversations. Senior leaders will find it a helpful springboard to share their butt-kick lessons with younger leaders. Emerging leaders will gain an awareness of potential leadership pitfalls that might just prevent a sore rump down the road.


Have you had your leadership butt kicked lately? Or, maybe it’s time for you to kick yourself with the help of a professional coach. Let’s Talk! Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy call on my online calendar.



January is here and with the new year, a chance to start fresh with our goals for 2017. All too often, these goals quickly fall by the wayside and along with that, the growth we were hoping for in our personal and business lives. Here are three subtle but powerful adjustments to improve your goal-setting process for the new year.


Focus on growth, not maintenance


There’s nothing wrong with maintaining important habits and disciplines you already have in place. However, goal-setting should focus on taking a significant step forward or growing in one area of life or another. Perhaps you’ve already established the habit of regular visits to the gym. Your new goal might focus on a new workout routine to take your strength or endurance training to the next level.


From a business standpoint, Chris McChesney, co-author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution, suggests leaders determine their “WIGs.” These are the Wildly Important Goals that help the organization take a giant step toward realizing its vision.


Unlike maintenance tasks, like paying the bills, WIGs are important new initiatives that won’t happen without special attention. Leaders need to ask, “What lives at the corner of what’s really important but won’t happen on its own?” For example, implementing a new customer relationship management system may be wildly important to building your prospective customer base, but is easily be pushed to the back burner in the midst of the daily grind.


Focus on behavior rather than results


In his new book, The Five Thieves of Happiness, John Izzo points out the danger of focusing on the results of our actions rather than the actions themselves. “Happiness is knowing what we can control and accepting what we cannot control,” he writes.


Izzo suggests that the thief of control misleads us to believe we have more control over our lives than we really do. This leads to discontent when things don’t go well, which may tempt us to give up. Instead, we achieve happiness by focusing on what we can control, like our actions and responses to circumstances, and keep moving forward.


As you set 2017 goals, focus attention on the actions and behaviors necessary to achieve the results you desire. If we perform the right actions, we will achieve the right results, even if it takes longer than we expected. For example, increasing revenue by 20% is a worthy goal, but incomplete without including the actions required to get there.


Avoid the letdown


There’s some debate about the value of going public with your goals. On the surface, it seems like a good way of obtaining accountability. However, research by Peter Gollwitzer indicates that when our identity-related goals are noticed by others, we gain a premature sense of accomplishment. In addition, our behavioral intentions for achieving those goals are undermined.


For instance, if I declare that I’m going to become a marathoner (which I’m not), sharing those intentions with others make it less likely that I’ll do what it takes to run a marathon. I experience a social reality condition that makes me feel like a marathoner without the work required to become one.


Similarly, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, authors of The Knowing-Doing Gap, found that companies often substitute talk for action. Important initiatives are unfinished because leaders feel like talking about plans and goals made something happen, without prioritizing implementation.


To counteract these tendencies, attach required action or implementation steps to your goals whenever you talk about them.


Act now!


Take the following steps to jump start your success in achieving this year’s goals:


  1. Identify your WIGs, Wildly Important Goals. Focus on 2-3 key initiatives for the first quarter.
  2. For each goal, prioritize the actions and behaviors you can control over the intended results.
  3. Be aware of the tendency to let talk substitute for behavior. Reward action, not talk.


Establish a regular review (weekly, monthly, and quarterly) around these steps and enjoy the progress on your 2017 goals!


Let’s Talk! This is a great time to collaborate on making 2017 your best year ever. Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy call on my online calendar.



This post first appeared on the CLA Higher Thinking Blog, December 30, 2016


Have you ever left a conversation thinking, “I didn’t come across very well”? Or left a meeting telling yourself, “I don’t think I added much value to that discussion”? Or finished a presentation wondering why you failed to make an important point?


As leaders, every presentation, meeting, and interaction is an expression of our leadership. Yet, we often fail to carry a leadership presence into those situations. Instead, we go into them unprepared, “winging it” throughout the day. It’s no wonder we fall short of our own expectations.


This post offers three strategies to help you as a leader show up as your best self in every situation: self-observation, feedback, and mental practice.




Leadership professor Charles Manz contends that self-observation is the lifeblood of self-leadership. Self-observation enables us to observe our own behaviors to gain information on them and, in turn, manage them. Self-observation leads to self-awareness, a critical leadership competency.


The Apostle Paul implores us to think of ourselves with “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3). In other words, take an honest look at our strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. Assessments are valuable tools to gain a better understanding of ourselves (i.e., Strengthsfinder, DISC, RightPath, etc.). These steps help us distinguish between the behaviors that show our best selves and those that don’t.


How can you build time for self-observation into your routines?


Set up a daily reminder on your calendar. Pause between meetings. Record your reflections in a journal. Notice behavioral patterns and lean into the ones that reflect your best self.




As we better understand our personal strengths and weaknesses, it’s also important to explore any blind spots or behaviors that we aren’t aware of. This is where we invite others into the process. Manz stresses the value of relationships as “an ongoing source of enrichment, learning, and resilience, and a cue for personal reflection and development in general.”


Seeking feedback from trusted friends, colleagues, or mentors is one of the most effective ways to discover our blind spots. Honest feedback may sting but, as Proverbs 27:6 states, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”


Who will you invite to give you honest feedback?


Include the people you lead by asking them, “What’s it like to be on the other side of my leadership?” Consider a 360-degree assessment to obtain feedback from a range of people who experience your leadership in action. Use your findings to work on your blind spots.


Mental practice


Top athletes, musicians, and other performers use positive visualization to imagine themselves achieving their goals. Andrew Bryant and Ana Kazan, authors of Self-Leadership: How to Become a More Successful, Efficient, and Effective Leader from the Inside Out, emphasize the importance of this mental imagery. They write, “To be a self-leader it is essential to gain control of your imagination, because whether you are imagining good things or bad, you are setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.”


Make mental practice a habit by imagining yourself successfully completing each task or event before you start it. This technique is effective for any task, project, presentation, meeting, conversation, phone call, etc. When possible, take your mental practice a step further by scripting out your behavior in advance, and rehearsing as if you were going to perform on a big stage.


Ready to practice?


Take a minute or two before every opportunity to exhibit your leadership. Ask yourself: Who am I and what role do I play in this situation? How do I want to come across? How can I add value? What does a successful outcome look like? Then, perform a mental (or actual) walk-through as you picture your best self in that situation.


Want to ensure that you show up as your best self in every situation? Enhance your leadership presence and results by developing these strategies of self-observation, feedback, and mental practice.


Jon Lokhorst, CPA (inactive), is a leadership coach and consultant, partnering with organizational leaders to maximize their talent, build high-performance teams and deliver extraordinary value to their constituents. Contact him at



Our youngest son was transitioning from school to the work world a few years ago and decided to start saving for an engagement ring for his then-girlfriend, as well as for a honeymoon and car purchase. As an existing Wells Fargo customer, he met with a bank representative who opened separate savings accounts for each purpose, saying that would be the best way for him to reach his financial goals.


The CPA in me found that strange. In fact, my response was, “Seriously? They want you to manage three savings accounts?” Events of the past few weeks cast new light on that experience. While the multiple account structure didn’t cost my son anything, it ultimately cost Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf his job.


Whether you view Stumpf’s departure as a resignation, retirement, or termination, the consequences are substantial. The Wall Street Journal reports that he had already agreed to forfeit $41 million in stock compensation, his 2016 bonus, and salary during an independent board investigation.


Those actions came after Stumpf faced intense questioning by U.S. Senate and House committees that oversee the banking industry. Sen. Elizabeth Warren grilled Stumpf, challenging the lack of accountability at executive levels within Wells Fargo. “OK, so you haven’t resigned. You haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings. You haven’t fired a single senior executive,” she said to Stumpf.


For its part, the bank agreed to a $185 civil settlement and refunded $2.6 million in fees to affected customers. And let’s not forget that 5,300 Wells Fargo employees were fired for opening unauthorized accounts.


Ironically, the Wells Fargo website touts “What’s right for customers” among its core values. “We value what’s right for our customers in everything we do,” it explains. Similarly, under “Ethics,” Wells Fargo states, “Our customers trust us as their financial resource . . . They trust our bankers to provide them with products and services to meet their needs.”


Unfortunately, Wells Fargo isn’t the first company to experience a disconnect between its core values and employee behavior. And it won’t likely be the last. Pop quiz: what prominent corporation declared its values as Communication, Respect, Integrity, and Excellence? That’s right, none other than Enron, which the Journal of Business Ethics describes as “the ultimate symbol of corporate wrongdoing.”


What can companies do to ensure behavior matches their values?


Norman Sheehan and Grant Isaac suggest that organizations operationalize their values by establishing a set of principles that amplify and fully define those values. This approach takes the values, which are often stated in idealistic terms, and translates them into actionable principles that guide behavior.


For example, one of Boston Consulting Group’s values is “Clients Come First.” The company further defines and operationalizes that value with several principles, one of which states, “In trade-offs between BCG’s and a client’s interest, the client comes first.”


Operational principles like these can then be used to establish policies, procedures, systems, and processes that motivate employee behavior consistent with corporate values.


What are you doing to ensure your values are clearly defined and lived out by everyone on the team? Let’s talk about a fresh approach to strengthen the impact of values in your organization.