Leadership Lessons

I had to put my dog Myles, the Pug to sleep over the summer. The house was immediately a lot quieter. My husband was not in a hurry to get another dog, so I waited a few months before initiating a campaign to adopt another pet.

In November, we adopted Ruthie the Schoodle. From the start, Ruthie made it very clear that she had her own way of doing things. I attributed this to puppy behavior and then later on, attributed it to adolescence independence. However, I finally realized that Ruthie had a very strong personality and a mind of her own.

At first, this fact drove me crazy. I constantly compared her to laid back, sweet Myles. That Pug would do anything I wanted and had the kindest, sweetest disposition. Myles loved people and everyone in the neighborhood was his friend. Now Ruthie was another story. She would be excited to see people and once they got close, she would pull away, ambivalent about the prospect.

You could put Myles in any situation, and he would enjoy himself. A new experience? Well, Myles was up for it. He jumped headfirst into everything in life. As for Ruthie, she doesn’t like new situations and change. This rattles her and makes her anxious. 

Understanding that Ruthie needed some sort of additional training, I enrolled her in a 12-hour weekly Puppy school. My husband called me after the first day of school to tell me that she had been told not to come back. She had flunked puppy school after 4 hours. Of course, I was devastated. In that moment, I judged Ruthie to be a lost cause. 

As I processed this new bit of information, I reached out to other trainers to better understand my options. I listened to them, without emotion, and accessed my own wisdom about people and behavior change. Finally, the light bulb went on.

Was Ruthie any different than the many humans I come across in my coaching and therapy practice? I believe that people are capable of great change, regardless of their genetic predispositions. Then why wasn’t I giving Ruthie a break? 

First, I needed to stop comparing Ruthie to Myles. Then, I needed to work with Ruthie more to allow her to slowly accept new situations and learn how to adapt. With time and patience, Ruthie could change.

The truth was I needed to change my mindset.

The story of Myles and Ruthie is a great one to understand puppy AND human behavior. Leaders often make the mistake of not having the patience to nurture talent. They see the person in front of them and make snap judgments about their abilities and talent. They are blind to the possibility that with some intensive coaching and guidance, these unperfect humans can become a great asset to their team.

Just like Ruthie, employees might enter your team with a few negative quirks and bad habits. Yes, it takes more energy, but it’s thrilling to watch someone develop to their full potential. With the right guidance and support, they can become an integral part of your successful team.

Getting to Grateful

2020 is coming to a close. Finally. 

I’m so happy and relieved to shut the door on 2020. This year has been exhausting, stressful and just not good for a number of reasons. 

#1 Reason for making this a crappy year was obviously the pandemic.

Now, you’ve seen all those blogs reminding you to be grateful for what you have. That’s fine and totally makes sense. However, I just want to remind you of something. 

Even RESILIENT people feel overwhelmed in tough times. Even RESILIENT people struggle with feeling grateful when they’re in the thick of things.

That’s a normal healthy feeling. The “gratefulness” comes further down the road after you’ve had times to process, problem solve, and maybe even pivot. All those so called “grateful people” out there might not be feeling as grateful as you imagine. 

And all those grateful people can make you feel like something is really wrong with you. I’m here to say that there’s nothing wrong with you. In fact, you’re feeling what you should be feeling after this crazy year.

You are normal.

Personally, this year was very difficult for me. My work was not keeping me busy enough, which left me way too much time to think. Now, for some people having too much time can be positive and give you the space to nurture and grow. However, I don’t fall into this category. I need to be busy and be around people. In fact, I joked to someone on zoom, a few months back, that I had “face deprivation”. I get my energy from people, and I was feeling drained spending so much time at home with little interaction.

In lieu of this, I took action.

I did what I instinctively knew that I needed right now-I brought home a puppy. And this puppy became my main focus and made the time go by faster. This puppy brought me joy and something new to focus on. Ruthie didn’t make the pandemic go away, but she did help me pivot to something much more positive.

2020 has been difficult and it’s very possible that it has been a disappointing year for you. However, 2021 is just around the corner and you are about to put this last year in the rear-view mirror. Realize how resilient you are -you made it through a tough time, persevered and now are posed to move on to bigger and better things. 

You could even say that you’re grateful.

Lead With Empathy

I think that we are in trouble. Let me explain.


A friend was telling me a story the other day. She works in a store that is going out of business and she is amazed by the behavior that she witnesses daily. There are a number of announcements made when they are getting ready to close for the day, and as you can imagine, the workers in the store are looking forward to going home.


She reports that consistently, numerous shoppers will get in line at the very last minute before the doors are locked, with 30 items in tow. This means that they won’t get out of the store usually for another hour.


She finds this frustrating, rude and people don’t seem to even give this unkind behavior a second thought. Sadly, I don’t find it surprising in the least.


In order to take part in this behavior, you have to be focused on your own needs. You need to believe that your needs are more important than some stranger working late in the store. The moment you give thought as to what that other person might be experiencing, and imagine their feelings in the situation, your behavior would probably change.


It’s called EMPATHY and there seems to be an absence of it lately.


Now the reason that this doesn’t surprise me is because I’ve done some research on the subject. I became concerned about this lack of empathy watching people interact around me. Research done from 1979 to 2009 shows that “empathic concern” has declined by 48% and there was a steep decline from 2000 to 2009. The authors speculate that narcissism, prevalence of personal technology, media use in everyday life, shrinking family size and pressures on young people to succeed has contributed to this decline.


A baby is born with the genetic component to feel empathy. When you witness what happens to others, it activates your visual cortex and activates your emotions. In short, you have mirror neurons in your brain that overlap with other people’s actions-if your friend picks a flower, that part of your brain mirrors that. These neurons help you become more empathic toward others.


Empathy is the glue that holds societies together. It helps us thrive and grow in our communities. Then what’s the problem here? Research has shown that you are wired to feel more empathy toward people that resemble and look like you. This biological underpinning enabled us to stay alive many years ago. Today, it negatively impacts us and adds to our division in our communities.


This is in no way an excuse for why we do the things we do. As humans, we are capable of higher-level thinking and not leading with our instinctual response. And as humans, we are able to insist on social norms in our communities that reflect respect of others.


As a leader, there are things that you can do to positively impact this need for empathy. Insist on social norms that encourage empathy and kindness toward others. Model curiosity about others and listen to their stories. The more you understand individuals that are different from you, the more chance that the feeling of empathy will lead to changed behavior and a better community.



Finding Your Inner Calm

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. As the discussion turned to the latest political happenings, I felt that welling up feeling in my body. That signal that I’m beginning to feel anxious and could easily be triggered by something shared in the conversation. And there it was……the very thing that I was fearful would be said, was said.


I didn’t say a word. I kept quiet and the conversation continued. I felt my heartrate stay elevated and that stressful feeling in my body stick around. Soon, it was time to go and I spent the whole car ride home upset about the discussion. When I got out of the car, I didn’t feel any better. Having an explosion of emotions didn’t aid me in releasing my frustration. In fact, I felt exactly the same.


That whole episode was not characteristic of my personality. Usually, I am able to listen, reflect and understand when another person shares their viewpoints. And usually, all without turning on the judgement. However, something had changed.


I felt that level of stress continuously throughout the following days. Granted, these are not normal times. Dealing with the changes of COVID and the uncertainty going forward, played into this feeling. Being bombarded with the latest news update, wasn’t helping the situation. And I realized, that I couldn’t even concentrate to accomplish simple tasks at work. I no longer had the ability to be creative. My brain just seemed way too overstimulated to allow the creative process to unfold.


In addition, I was worried all the time. My mind was proficient at finding the “perfect” thing to worry about hour after hour. It’s as if it was just searching for something to attach to and continue the worry cycle.


When stepping back from the situation, I realized that I needed to become more mindful and live more in the present. I needed to quiet my mind.


Mindfulness is the mental state achieved when you focus on being aware in the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and body sensations. It’s not thinking about what happened in the past, and not focusing on what might transpire in the future. It’s living in the now. Although I had been mindful in my daily life in the past, I had lost my way the last couple months.


The constant bombardment of the latest politics, COVID updates, business struggles and racial tension had gotten me off track. I’m guessing that many leaders out there are also wrestling with the inability to be mindful and present. I can imagine many of you are struggling, like myself, with all the “what ifs” that could happen in the near future, with so much being up in the air. And when all this stimulation takes up too much brain space, you are much less productive.


So here are some suggestions to find more calm and mental clarity.


Take 5 minutes to start your day off on the right foot with meditation.

Set the timer for 5 minutes, get in a comfortable sitting position, and just focus on your breathing. Pay attention as you inhale through your nose, and slowly exhale through your mouth. Your brain will try to bounce around to other random thoughts and that is OK. Just keep with it and go back to the focused breathing. Make no judgments over the thoughts, just let the thoughts wash over you and let them leave your body. Over time, this will get easier and you will be able to increase your time.


Limit your Social Media and news access

Do you feel your stress level going up when you get on Social Media? It’s good to be informed and educated. Focus on receiving enough information to be educated on the world news. Recognize that line where you might be diving in headfirst and not coming out. For example, I worked hard today to have a work-out without checking my phone over and over for the latest update. Just make it a point to focus on the present task and not overload your brain with too much stimulation.


Learning how to be mindful is a process and takes time and hard work. It’s not something that you master in a day. However, learning this skill can help you gain self-control, emotional regulation, lower your heart rate and find your calm.


I could use a little of that right now.

Yes, But It’s Just….

Raise your hand if you think the last couple weeks have been difficult. I have a sneaky suspicion that we agree on the fact that between the Covid-19 Pandemic and the Protests and riots, this has been an emotional couple of months.


Being an observer, I have been searching through all the noise on social media and monitoring human reactions. I can tell you that people are angry, frustrated, and in many cases, acting out. They are no longer holding back on how they feel about the pandemic or the recent protests and riots. And in the process, a number of people are proving to me how they sorely lack skills in the listening department.


By the way, this last sentence concerning listening is an understatement.


At the age of 13, my son had a friend over the house to hang-out. Although it was summer, I was still working from home and taking care of a number of different responsibilities. The boys were busy for a couple hours when they suddenly got the brilliant idea to go to the mall. My son presented himself in the kitchen and announced that I needed to take him and his friend to the mall-as soon as possible. I looked up from my work and said, “you know, this might surprise you, but I don’t exist just to serve all your needs. I have my own life, and things that I need to get done around here”.


My son looked at me strangely, in a way that I had never experienced. I actually could see the light bulb going off above his head. It’s almost like I could see his perspective shifting in front of me. He was no longer focused on himself but could see and hear what I was trying to tell him. He responded in a way of understanding, not motivated by his own needs, but in a way that reflected what he had just heard.


It was the first day that my son saw me not just as his mom, but as an individual that had my own needs. I felt heard and respected.


The moment is seared in my memory because it represents active listening. I was so impressed that he didn’t try to have his usual discussion, convince me of his views or break me down until I finally gave in. He didn’t give me the well-known “yes, but it’s just” and tell me why my thinking is wrong. He just said that he understood, and they would find something else to do.


As a leader, you have a responsibility to be an exceptional listener. I doubt many of you are able to accomplish this feat on a consistent basis. Want to be a better listener? Then focus your whole being on hearing the message. Stop concentrating on your great rebuttal that will bring them over to your own side, or what you want for lunch in two hours. Just focus, without judgement and hear the real message coming through. And remember, being an exceptional listener takes time and practice.


It’s past time to start practicing.





Taking Control

Full disclosure-I had a fight with my husband yesterday. I had just spent the last stressful hour at the grocery store. I thought I had timed it right so it wouldn’t be so crowded. However, the store was packed, which made my trip that much more difficult.


You see, I spent every minute thinking through my every move. Am I getting too close to that person by the onions? When will that man be done touching each potato before I can take my turn? Things that I never had to give thought to, now permeate my brain. I used to enjoy my shopping time and pick up a Starbucks at the start of my journey. However, now I strategically map out every move that I plan to make in the store so I can quickly exit the store.


So back to the fight with my husband. After spending the emotionally taxing time in the store, I drove back to the house and unpacked all my food. My husband reviewed some of my purchases and commented on how they weren’t his preferred brands, among other criticisms.


That was all it took to put me over the edge.


I know this might surprise you, but he didn’t understand my strong reaction. What was the big deal? He was upset because what he was expecting was not what I delivered. Never mind that going shopping these days is hit or miss. Will they have the bread I usually buy? Will they actually have eggs? You don’t always get exactly what you would prefer.


My reaction bothered me enough to give it thought. I wondered why he was being so impossible and why I had absolutely no patience for anything.


The truth is that we are all experiencing a loss of control. And when people feel a loss of control, they often look for a scapegoat, someone to blame their misery on.


This is a difficult time that is filled with uncertainty. As a human, you like certainty and understanding how things are going to turn out. And the truth is, no one really knows where all this is going and where you will end up. This makes you feel anxious and not feel in total control of your universe. You like to call the shots and make your own decisions. Right now, that’s just not happening.


And if you don’t believe me, take a look on Social Media. You can see the loss of control right before your eyes. You can also see a number of people trying to control their world by finding blame. Even in this time of crisis when we should band together, you see way too much division, name calling and blame. My favorite are the individuals that post the loveliest messages of hope and then negate all this positivity with posts of hate, blame and divisiveness.


Now is not the time to post political messages that attack others. Now is not the time to post anger, and hurtful messages for those that don’t agree with you. Now is not the time to fight so hard against our current reality because it’s not’s comfortable and not what you want to accept.


Make an effort to rise above all the negativity that is swirling around you.


Look in the mirror and recognize that you are part of the problem. You are the one that is standing in the way of moving forward.


Just accept your reality.






Building Resilience

My son sent me a text with a pic attached from his local Costco. He was standing in a long line that snaked all the way back to the meat section. He reported that people were buying incredible amounts of food and they were out of all their paper products and water. He thought it was comical that people were hoarding water since everyone has access and will continue to have access to fresh water.


Yet, when he got to the front of the line, the worker asked him if he wanted the available bottled water at the counter. Someone had decided against it and left it at the register. He excitedly accepted the water and felt accomplished that he had scored big.


Now, his sane mind told him that he didn’t need this water. However, emotions can apparently be strong motivators. Look around and you can see how this fear can become contagious. I’m sure you see it daily in the grocery stores. Yesterday, I saw people running through a Kroger to snag one of the last available toilet paper packs.


There is no denying that this is a scary time filled with uncertainty. You don’t know from day to day how things are going to change. And the truth is that human beings really don’t like change. Your patterns, routines and habits have all been upended. Kids are out of school, parents are working from home, and all your usual services and supports are closed. All of this combined can make you feel a complete loss of control.


So what can you do about it? Here’s a couple ideas to help you through this time.


Establish a schedule and new routines in your daily life.  Getting exercise and going to the gym daily helps me stay sane. It makes me feel energized for the rest of the day. With the gyms closed, I knew that I needed to establish a new healthy routine. Two days this week I was able to go for a walk outside, and the others, I jumped on the treadmill. The exercise coupled with getting “out of the house”, helped me immensely.


Monitor the amount of time that you spend on Social Media and news. It’s important to stay informed, but too much information can make you feel overwhelmed and can heighten anxiety. I have noticed that when I overconsume news, I become distracted easily and have difficult focusing. When you feel that happening, walk away from your computer and become involved in a different task that’s pleasurable.


Reach out and connect with others

I crave interaction with others. Therefore, staying in my house can feel like a punishment. Make a point to reach out to friends and family as much as possible. Contact that friend you haven’t talked to forever. Check on your elderly neighbor that doesn’t have family in town. With so much technology that enables us to connect, there’s no excuse for not reaching out. Be creative, make a plan and take action.




Focus on doing good for others

Being isolated in the house can lead us to some extraordinary “overthinking”. It can take you back in time, looking at your failures, or worrying about things yet to happen. The best cure for this is to redirect that energy in helping others in need. How can you give back during this time of need? How can you use your talents to help people that are currently struggling?


It’s easy for us to get lost in the moment and feel like this time will last forever. Remind yourself that this is not forever, and this is just a moment in time. If you have too, say this out loud to yourself, when you are having a low moment.


We will all this through this time together.



Revealing Reactions

I was in the home stretch of my walk with my Pug Miles. It was a cold day, and I had dreaded taking this walk the whole afternoon. Despite the cold, I was warming up as we walked briskly to the back of the neighborhood. When Miles was sufficiently tired, we made our way to the front and turned right on our street.


I was lost in thought, finding it ironic that what I had initially dreaded, had become an enjoyable experience. Out of nowhere, I heard yelling and commotion. Before I could react, I looked to my left and saw a large dog barreling toward us at a breakneck speed. A young boy followed, running as fast as his legs could carry him.


To paint a clearer picture, Miles is 11 years old and is not the most athletic dog, and his hearing leaves much to be desired. Pugs are passive dogs by nature and in all the years we’ve had Pugs, I’ve never seen one show any aggression. Basically, they’re wimps. As you can imagine, this other dog definitely had the advantage.


Miles didn’t anticipate a dog in the next few seconds invading his space.  Before I could react, the dog was attacking, growling, and ferociously biting at his neck.


What happened next surprised me. Guttural, horrible sounds were coming out of Miles. Once he got his bearings, he was aggressively attacking this large dog right back. I couldn’t pull them apart, and I was fearful that I was going to be bit by this dog in the process. Finally, the young boy secured his dog, apologized profusely, and left us to walk the rest of the way back home.


When I got home, I checked Miles everywhere to ensure that he hadn’t gotten bit anywhere. You see, this is not the first time Miles has been attacked by a dog. In the past, we have ended up at the vet getting stiches.


Reflecting on the experience, I realized that Miles had learned from his traumatic events that when in doubt, be aggressive. I have seen this side of him and questioned why his reaction was way too extreme and didn’t fit the situation. Not a normal response from a pug, but one that he learned from being in some harrowing circumstances.


And that’s my point to sharing this story.


Think about someone in your personal or professional life that you feel comes on a little too strong. Someone that with the most minor of slight, goes for the jugular. Maybe you refer to this person as being too high strung, or maybe too thin-skinned. Chances are that they have learned this response from their past experiences. They live by a belief system that says, “fight back quickly because people will hurt you” or “people will always take advantage of you”. Therefore, they overcompensate when something happens and go from 0-60 when it doesn’t merit such a reaction.


Maybe as a leader, you have made judgments about this person without considering what’s beneath the quick response. Consider that just maybe this individual really isn’t quite as “mean” as you think, but they “bite back” when the circumstance doesn’t necessarily call for that reaction. Understanding and a productive conversation can lead to this person gaining more self-awareness and the ability to control their reactions.


Leave the judgment at the door and strive for positive change.







Many years ago, I was paired with a woman to work on a project on a volunteer board. We split up the project responsibilities and agreed to speak again in 5 days to review our progress. Within those 5 days, she would send me the completed piece via email so I could review her share before our conversation.


5 days passed with no email in sight. I emailed her on the 5th day to inquire when I would receive her part of the project but heard nothing. On the 6th day, I called on our agreed upon time. She shared that she hadn’t completed it. There was no explanation. In fact, she was a bit indignant that I was reaching out to inquire at all.


I had a strong emotional reaction to this situation. I felt let down and disappointed in my partner and began to form some strong judgments about this woman.


After analyzing the situation, I realized that I reacted strongly because one of the most important values to me is “taking accountability”. I believe that when someone says that they are going to finish a task, it’s imperative that they follow through. In addition, if they haven’t followed through on this task, then they need to take accountability for their actions-or lack thereof.


My point to sharing this story is to help you understand how quickly I made judgments and categorized someone because of my own values and expectations. Yes, taking accountability is important, especially to a leader. However, my strong reaction got in the way of handling the situation appropriately. I don’t have to accept this lack of follow through, but I certainly have to change my reaction so I can deal with someone fairly.


If only I had asked some pointed questions, instead of making judgments, there would have been more understanding between the two of us.


Realizing that everyone has different values that drive their behavior is an important lesson to learn. A prime example of this can be seen daily by scrolling through your social media. I’m sure you have noticed that some individuals feel obligated to post political articles so that they can share their views. It appears that they are driven to help others understand why their perspective is the “right one”. They are so certain about this, that their posts can end up being attacking and sometimes cruel. Of course, you invariably see others responding, not always in the most appropriate way.


If you could take a step back, you might realize that beneath that polarizing post and emotion is a value that’s very important to them. It’s so important to them that they are struggling to understand why you would see it any differently. On your part, you are probably making some very strong judgements about the individual and some sweeping generalizations.


That’s why having a real conversation is so important. With communication, comes understanding. With understanding might come a shift in perspective. But none of this is going to happen if you don’t truly try to understand what is beneath their behavior.


And I’m pretty sure that clarifying someone’s values, that then leads to understanding, definitely is not going to happen on a Social Media political post.


All I am suggesting is that you try look at things from a different perspective. When you are triggered, recognize the value that is not being honored. Learn from this and don’t judge others so harshly in the process.



Treading Water

Do you know someone that is going through a bad time or has ever experienced a rough patch in their life?


Let’s be honest-no one is immune to heartache. At some point in your life, you will go through a difficult time. You will be disappointed, disheartened, and feel like you can’t go on. You will think that this new CHANGE that has occurred is just way too much to handle.


How do I know this? Because there isn’t a person alive that gets through life without some bad scrapes and bruises. It’s part of the whole journey that is referred to as “life”. And at some point, it will be your turn to endure some difficult experience.


I have heard countless stories of getting fired from a job, grieving a loved one, not achieving your dream, having a loved one disappoint you and the list goes on.


So, here’s a couple things to remember so that you’re a bit more prepared and resilient for the next low point that you encounter:


This is only a moment in time.

When you’re going through this bad time, you don’t have perspective. You become so immersed in your pain and sadness that you neglect to understand that this is a temporary condition. This horrible pain is not going to last for eternity. This feeling is just for now and will eventually subside. The fact that the sadness is for now and will pass is always a tough concept for people to accept when they are in the midst of a disappointment. They feel trapped and can’t see outside the walls of their agony. But trust me, it will pass, and things will lighten up. Just keep repeating this to yourself.


You are not unique-we all have some burden to carry.

When you are going through a challenging time, it’s easy to look around and think that you are unique. It feels like everyone else is living a fairytale life while you are struggling to get through another day. Remind yourself of the truth-no one’s life is perfect and you are presently seeing the world through a distorted lens. Wallowing in this is not going to help you move forward.


You need to allow yourself to let go of the loss

People don’t like to feel pain. They will go to great lengths to avoid any hurtful feelings. However, there is a certain amount of pain you must walk through in order to get to the other side. Numbing the pain won’t work and neither will distractions and positive talk. Yes, they might give you some temporary relief, but the only way to truly move forward is to be honest and vulnerable with your feelings and be willing to trudge through it until you reach acceptance. Maybe then, you can get some understanding and put the pain and the experience in the right place.


You can’t rush the experience of finding meaning in your heartache. That comes only with time and the willingness to truly dig through your feelings. So have the strength and courage to face the situation and know that better times are ahead