How your DiSC personality style affects work-life balance

I think most leaders I meet with recognize that work-life balance is an important goal for themselves and their team members.

Most agree that finding work-life balance is directly proportional to job satisfaction, mental health, physical health and retention of team members (people who are happy and healthy will stay with an employer longer and work harder than those who are living to work 24/7!).

So why is achieving work-life balance still a struggle for so many folks?

Why does it still top discussions and priority lists for individuals and organizations?

I think it’s partly because folks just don’t have strategies for achieving work-life balance and partly understanding how your own inherent behaviors affect work-life balance.

Self-awareness is the cornerstone of change. If you can’t see what’s contributing to or motivating certain behaviors, it’s unlikely you’re going to change.

What is DiSC style?

At Padraig, our coaches use a tool called Everything DiSC – both as an assessment tool to help individuals and as a workshop tool for teams and groups. Our regular readers will already be familiar with DiSC, but if you’re new to Padraig, basically this tool helps our clients understand themselves and others better. We all have a style and there is no right, wrong or “best” style.

By understanding your DiSC behavior style (and the styles of other team members, or of customers!), you can manage your interactions and relationships with them better. You gain insight into what motivates each personality and how to manage and communicate in the best way.

Each DiSC style has different strengths and weaknesses – and these all come into play with trying (desperately at times!) to achieve work-life balance.

DiSC style characteristics and work-life balance

Many times folks need reminding – or perhaps even permission – that they are entitled to establish boundaries at work. Having some ideas about HOW to do this can be very helpful.

But WHY you feel you can’t set boundaries may vary according to your DiSC personality style:

  • The Dominant “D” is a take-charge personality, and taking charge means seeing things through. Focused, direct and goal-oriented D styles might be organized at home and at work, but those work goals might keep a D working late. If that’s what it takes, a D will do it – and expect others to do the same to finish what they say they’ll finish on deadline.
  • The Influential “i” thrives on social interaction, loves new ideas and prefers flexibility. An i tends to prioritize volunteer and social engagements inside and outside of work, so balance may be less about making personal life a priority than making time for rest. The i style might be overly sensitive to disapproval from team members or bosses who are working long hours or after hours (or to put a positive spin on it, bosses who are inadvertently pressuring others to work long hours, too!).
  • Going a bit further, the Steady “S” tends toward people-pleasing. They want to make sure others have what they need and are content. They might long for work-life balance but will tend to avoid confrontation and have to work hard at expressing personal ideas (preferring consensus and predictability). The S values relationships and could sacrifice personal wants/needs to align with the majority or to please a corporate culture that makes work-life difficult – even if the relationships at home are important, too.
  • The Conscientious “C” works well independently and tirelessly, skilled at analytical thought and great at problem-solving. The C personality style does tend to get mired in details, which can lead to long hours at work (great for startups and corporations – but a risk factor for burnout personally and for others trying to keep pace). These are the folks who may be less interested in cultivating a wide-reaching personal life but would rather focus on one or two strong personal relationships. However, they are also the folks who can get so distracted by a problem or a challenge, they lose all track of time and forget to check-in or make time for others.

You can see how certain DiSC styles might be their own worst enemy when it comes to work-life balance, putting pressure on themselves to work harder or longer and striving for perfection – or people-pleasing and avoiding any whisper of confrontation if everyone else is working long hours. The behavior style of your boss can also be a challenge to asserting your needs for some work-life balance.

Imagine, for example, a Steady “S” person resolving to be off the clock by six but then caving in when a Dominant “D” boss announces he’s staying late to work on a project and ordering dinner in for everyone who stays to chip in.

Or, think about an Influential “i” team member who feels anxious about a meeting where there was criticism about not responding quickly enough to an important email. Feeling overly sensitive, this person now obsessively checks email all day and after hours to ensure they don’t miss anything again. What’s going to happen to work-life balance now?

When you complete one of our Everything DiSC Assessments and Guides, you’ll understand how to make the most of your strengths and work on improving your weak areas. It helps to understand what motivates you and how you like to communicate so that when you’re dealing with other personality styles you can adapt.

For example, when dealing with a Dominant “D” leader, you’re not going to want to ramble. The D personality style appreciates direct communication and being asked for opinions but cannot stand someone committing to something and then not following through, so don’t beat around the bush. If a D asks you to get something done ASAP, but you’re on your way to your partner’s very important event, say: “I have a commitment tonight, but I can clear tomorrow morning to tackle that. Do you want me to involve X person from X department as well?”

Remember that there are some strategies for achieving work-life balance that are effective for all personality styles. Having a few of these in your toolkit helps you to approach tasks, requests and obligations without sacrificing your personal life and well-being.

Similarly, there are ways to set boundaries at work and know when (and how!) you can say no without losing the respect of your boss, colleagues or team members. The more you practice setting boundaries, the easier it becomes for every DiSC personality style.

Coach’s Questions

How do you feel about your work-life balance right now? How could your own inherent behavior style affect your own work-life balance? What about for others on your team? What would help you make changes to achieve better work-life balance?

“How are you?” “Oh, busy”

If someone asks you how you’re doing, what’s the first word that pops into your mind?

I’m going to bet that it’s, “Busy.”

Often nowadays, that’s what I hear. Not “fine.” Not “great!” Not even, “okay.” Busy is by far the top response – and I know this isn’t some new and unusual aberration for me as an executive coach.

A few years ago, the John Hopkins Health Review discussed “the epidemic of overscheduling” around the globe in an article memorably titled, “The Cult of Busy” (and nothing’s changed it seems!).

Not long after, the venerable periodical The Atlantic published a piece about how busyness has become the status symbol of our time – in North America in particular. It’s not just a popular buzzword; being busy has become synonymous with being important and successful. As the article points out, there was a time that having ample time for recreation and leisure was the goal! Those who were admired for their success and their wealth were those who didn’t have to be busy.

So it’s not surprising that Psychology Today has copious articles about combating the culture of being busy (with advice about how to stop being busy or being addicted to being busy or the need to be busy). It seems on some level there is acknowledgement that being busy isn’t healthy.

And yet, this idea of being busy permeates our culture and it’s taken over not just work life but personal lives, too.

It’s time for us as leaders to shift ourselves from BUSY to PRODUCTIVE.

Not sure what I mean?

You can be busy all day but still not accomplish your goals. For instance, you could run around to endless meetings and work on five different projects and be busy, really busy, but not achieve anything truly important.

Busy can be an outcome of being distracted. For example, you could clean your inbox all day and talk with a few team members, but not get to your goals. And if you don’t have goals, here’s a reminder why setting goals is important.

Busy can be getting a lot of “stuff” crossed off your to-do list but not making any progress toward the most important thing on your list. Some folks get so used to living in a constant state of urgency that they lose sight of what’s urgent versus what’s important. Often we are busy when we’re dealing with urgent issues but we’re productive when we’re dealing with important issues.

In our blog about living in a constant state of urgency, we highlight the Eisenhower matrix as a tool that helps folks determine what is urgent versus what’s important. By assigning tasks to one of four quadrants, you can figure out what’s urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and not urgent and not important (time wasters!). The goal is to spend the majority of your time working on what is important and not urgent (catching important things before they’re urgent – and thus focusing on the big goals!).

Productive might not feel like a LOT has been accomplished but will feel like IMPORTANT progress has been made (and that’s a shift for many of us – to feel good about progress on something significant rather than striking several little things off a long but perhaps less important list).

NOTE: If you like a to-do list and find joy comes from striking things off that list – one big way to shift from busy to productive is to break up the big goals into tasks THAT GET YOU THERE and put those tasks on the list.

Busy can be directly linked to perfectionism. It can be challenging to be productive (even though we’re still busy) if we are striving for perfection – thinking there is only one right way to do something and spending all day researching it, figuring out all the details.

A productive person tends to think, “What do I need to do to get this done?” whereas busy people often think, “What do I need to do to get this just right?”

So, what can we do to move away from being busy to being productive?

1.     Think bigger, then think smaller. Wait, what?

Decide on 1, 2 or 3 big goals – things that when you accomplish them will set you apart, or they will bring you a next step of success, or they will bring you great joy, etcetera.
Focus your to-do list on the tasks that need to happen to achieve goal 1, then the tasks to achieve goal 2, and so on.

2.     Focus on ONE THING AT A TIME. Busy people are multi-taskers. Productive people are focused on one thing at a time.
Now then, in real life you can’t always be focused just on your one thing. I get that. But the other two things productive people are good at are (1) blocking their time and (2) taking breaks.

3.     Blocking your time and taking breaks means setting manageable chunks of time to get things done, with a break after, constantly. So you might set 50 minutes to work on Task X which gets you one step closer to goal 1. Then you might take a 10-minute break and spend 50 minutes focused on Task Z which gets you one step closer to goal 2. Then back to Task X, etcetera. Now, it might not be 50 minutes and 10 minutes for you. Maybe it’s 20 minutes and 5 minutes.

It might mean trying to pay attention for a few days to how long you can focus on one task before needing a break (ie., before wandering off, before opening Facebook, before staring off into space).

You may find that time is different for different tasks.  Maybe you love math and organizing and so you can go HOURS working on a spreadsheet, but get distracted after 15 minutes of writing a report. Or, maybe you’re the opposite and writing in long stretches is easy for you but numbers are easy to ditch.

Blocking time might mean that instead of setting aside an hour to work on that spreadsheet, you set up 3 blocks of 15 minutes, each followed by a five-minute break.  So that’s an hour in your schedule but you don’t block it as an hour; you block it as 15 – 5 – 15 – 5 – 15 – 5. And you stick to that schedule.

4.     Blocking time for things means also controlling your calendar. I personally have probably the worst thing in the world for keeping me focused – a calendar that my clients can schedule themselves into directly. So, to control my calendar, I make sure to block my calendar ahead of time for things I have to focus on and accomplish.

5.     A key component for successfully moving from busy to productive is eliminating distractions. When an interruption could derail your focus (the person at your office door, the phone, emails coming in, your own boredom or distraction) – you ignore that distraction till break time (or, if it’s that person at your door looking to chat – maybe you tell them that they’ll have your attention in X minutes or at X o’clock when you break from the task you’re working on rather than ignore them!). We have discussed all sorts of ways to stay focused in an office of distractions – it is possible!

6.  Know your goals and define your wins. Some of us need external motivation to get us going or keep us going. Delivering Goal 1 might be a huge goal but it’s still in the distant future. We still have many tasks to complete and it seems daunting to get there. Setting smaller wins along the way might help  – especially if you have any sort of attention deficit. So, perhaps you remind yourself you can grab some chocolate almonds, as soon as you finish this task – and not before. Or, you remind yourself how good it’s going to feel to go to see a movie tonight and not think about work  – but you know that will only happen if you push through and finish Task X before you leave for the evening.

Coach’s Questions

How often are you busy rather than productive? What are some things you could do to be more productive? How can you encourage your team members to be productive?

Finding the emotional courage to make mistakes (and learn from them)

As a leader, you take courses and attend workshops. You listen to the feedback given to you by your boss – both informally and in performance reviews. You share best practices with peers and learn what’s worked for them, too. You devour articles and books about leadership. You read this blog. 😉

You take your role seriously and you want to learn how to do better. 

And that’s the key: In addition to LEARNING new techniques and strategies, you have to DO the new techniques and strategies.

Some courses or workshops include activities based on real-life situations, role-playing exercises, etcetera which are useful but it’s very different to use skills in real-life situations with your team members than it is to try them out in a classroom.

Taking theory and putting it into practice takes more than just conscious effort. Let’s face it, it can be much easier to read about how to deal with difficult employees or how to tackle bad conflict on your team than to actually start using new ideas.

I’ve often had coaching clients express feeling uneasy about following through on what they’ve learned. What if it goes wrong? What if it doesn’t work? What if I don’t do this right?  Of course, the easy answer is, “what if you keep doing what you’ve been doing and nothing improves?

The thing is, successful leaders in any organization don’t get there by knowing more, they get there because they put what they know into practice. They wade into those tricky areas of leadership – like managing office politics, addressing problems promptly, improving communication among team members or departments, making the best decisions in crisis situations, leading with confidence through difficult times, building trust in the office and more –  and they take action.

Being able to use what you learn to improve your leadership takes what nowadays we call emotional courage (it would have been simply guts or intestinal fortitude in the past!). It means that you find the strength to push through unsettling feelings of discomfort, anxiety or dread to try something new. Having emotional courage is what lets us take risks, face things head on and break old habits.

As with any new skills, practice makes perfect. You need to test out the things you’ve learned and see what works well and what could be done differently or better next time. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to use a technique again – even when emotions or stakes are higher.

Learn how and when to practice your leadership skills:

Be brave. Making the decision to act is part of the battle because fear flourishes when we feel uncertain. Don’t overthink it, just do your best. Some folks like to give themselves permission to fake it till they make it. Perhaps you’ve been putting off having THE TALK with your pre-teen. Pick a time and place and wade into that uncomfortable topic of the birds and the bees with a few key points to focus on. Those feelings you’re pushing through? Surprisingly similar to deciding to have a difficult conversation with a team member who is not contributing as they should be at work.

Start with low-risk situations. It takes time to build confidence and learn to use new skills well. Test them out in times that are less intense so that when you need to use the same skills in a crisis, you’ll feel more comfortable. For example, having a difficult conversation (without losing it or giving in on your position!) over a personal billing situation will build your confidence to handle conflict with a big client who is unhappy with an invoice sent by someone on your team.

Aim for progress, not perfection. Too often, we beat ourselves up for not getting things perfect the first time. Keep in mind that you are learning to apply these skills to infinite combinations of situations and personalities. There may be times that you do all the right things and there might be times you realize you could have done something differentlyand that’s okay. You’ll learn more from your mistakes than you will from not trying.

Keep adding to your toolkit. Successful leaders are lifelong learners because what works in one situation might not be the best strategy in another. And what worked 2 years ago might not be best now. The more we know about and test different skills, the better we can be.

Solicit feedback. Don’t be afraid of hearing where things fell short from your peers, your team or from a trusted mentor. Good leaders aren’t afraid of criticism and see feedback as a learning opportunity. If you’re having trouble with getting feedback, or how you’re reacting to it, maybe work with a coach. Remember that the best athletes have coaches (and so do many of the most successful leaders!).

Practice, practice, practice all the time. The more you use your leadership tools, the better you’ll develop those muscles. Many folks find it helpful to refine their leadership skills outside the office (there’s that low-risk opportunity again!) so they are more confident using them at work. For example, you can test whether you’re listening to respond in your personal relationships, help to strengthen working relationships in a community group or try a COACH Approach as a board member on a volunteer organization. Interacting with people from varied backgrounds will help you hone your skills and expand your thinking.

Take time to reflect regularly. Journaling can be a very helpful way to focus on ways to improve your leadership (so much so that we consider it the one leadership habit you can’t live without). Consider areas you’d like to improve in like giving better performance reviews or having essential conversations and take note of any achievements you make in these areas. You can watch for opportunities to try out different leadership tools in different situations.

Coach’s Questions

What leadership skills have you learned about but hesitated to try in real life? What’s holding you back? How and when can you practice something this week?

What to do when faced with an office betrayal

While we expect some office politics or complicated workplace relationships, sometimes folks are blindsided by an office betrayal.

As a leadership coach, I hear different ways people feel betrayed in business. Things like:

I confided in a coworker, who then gossiped to others and hurt my professional reputation.

I found out that my relationship with a big client has been sabotaged. My colleague is either trying to take the account over or ruin it for me.

I worked so hard on this project, but another colleague took credit for it.

My boss promised me that a job was mine, and then the company announced that someone else has been promoted.

I work closely with other team members and found out that they’ve made important decisions behind my back.

I trusted a team member and in the executive meeting they threw me under the bus.

I trusted a client to pay for or deliver goods or services, only to be left in the lurch. This has really hurt my business.

However it happens, betrayal is trust that is broken. It might be trusting someone you shouldn’t have or learning that you’ve been deceived or conspired against.

You’re left shocked, angry, sad, hurt, unvalued or indignant – or a combination of these feelings.

How devastated you are by the betrayal typically depends on how trusting your connection to your betrayer is (so being betrayed by a competitor might not be as upsetting as being betrayed by a mentor or a teammate at work) or whether the breach of trust was minor or major.

Still, here you are, left feeling upset, suddenly insecure and maybe even feeling stupid. Now what? How do you handle an office betrayal and how do you move forward?

Stay calm and assess the situation

Sometimes our first response is to confront someone and get to the bottom of things. Whether someone else has brought the betrayal to your attention or you’ve uncovered information that suggests betrayal, you need time to figure out what has actually transpired. Ask yourself:

  • Are you dealing with gossip? Hearing things second-hand?
  • What proof do you have that you have been betrayed?
  • How objective can you be about the situation?
  • Are you making any assumptions (check out our Ladder of Assumptions tool)? Jumping to conclusions?
  • Was there actually intent to betray, sabotage or deceive you? Or is it possible it was thoughtlessness or lack of professionalism or a misunderstanding?

Keep in mind is that others don’t read things the same way you do and they don’t see the world the same way you do. It doesn’t mean they’re right or wrong, it just is. Now, I’m not suggesting you excuse the behaviour just because they’re different than you – I’m saying it’s worth reflecting on how they might have seen it, before you confront them based on your own assumptions, and your own way of seeing the world.

For example, perhaps Rob tells you that Jane was taking credit for a project that was your idea. Was she maliciously trying to ignore your contribution? Or is it possible that Rob overheard only part of a conversation and doesn’t realize that she made it clear that you deserved more credit than she does?

Have that difficult conversation

You might want to either rage or hide, but once you’ve quickly assessed how you might be reading things differently than the other person, the next step is to have a conversation with the person you feel betrayed you. (If this is the n-th time this has happened, or it is so egregious you really feel you can’t face them, then you can talk to your boss or Human Resources, or someone else who has the authority to do something about it.) But, you should almost always have a reasoned conversation with the other person first.

One of the biggest things to avoid is having a conversation with someone else about the person and the situation – without seeking a solution. It’s one thing to go to a trusted friend or colleague or mentor and say, “Here’s what happened; how do I deal with it?” – which can be helpful, compared to, “Here’s what happened; can you believe how awful they are?” – which may feel helpful but now you’re gossiping. In our leadership workshops we call this “triangulation” and it’s one of the worst malignancies found in organizations and relationships.

It’s uncomfortable for many folks to confront someone, but it’s possible to turn difficult conversations into essential conversations. It is much better to have a private conversation (in person, not by text or email!) about something that is troubling you than to carry it around, building on the assumptions in your own mind.

How you approach the conversation is crucial and will set the tone, so rehearse how you’ll broach the subject. Remember that the other person might not even realize that you feel betrayed. Yep, it’s possible.

For example, perhaps you thought you were going to be given more leadership opportunities but the boss has assigned your colleague to head up the latest project. Instead of walking in and complaining that should have been your opportunity, state your concern and ask about it with more curiosity:

“You know how we discussed me growing in a leadership role? I was surprised I wasn’t a candidate to lead Project X. Could you tell me how you decided on the lead this time and what I could do differently to be considered next time?”

You sound professional, motivated and open to hearing how to improve. You’ll likely find out more than if you went in angry and might even find out that you’re up for something bigger and better.

Perhaps it’s a situation where a coworker didn’t keep information you shared private. Instead of going in angry and accusatory, try a less directly accusatory approach:

“I told you about the new business leads in confidence. I was really shocked when Janet told me you told her all about them. What happened?”

It’s possible this colleague will confess that he couldn’t help it and broke your confidence. It’s also possible that you’ll find out that Janet baited your colleague by pretending to know more. Again, there’s a difference between deliberate and unintentional actions. The result may be the same but how you approach the “culprit” will go a long way in determining the relationship between the two of you.  

Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, said it best, “Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can.”

To help ensure success in the conversation, be sure that you aren’t listening to respond – this is a time when you need to listen to understand.

If the stakes are higher – like you’ve learned that a team member you trusted has allegedly harassed the summer intern or someone is “borrowing” from petty cash – or someone is maliciously trying to ruin your professional reputation – seek guidance from Human Resources, a trusted mentor or even legal counsel. Leave the difficult conversations to be mediated by professionals with experience handling these more delicate situations.

Otherwise, take a few minutes to prepare your thoughts before you start an essential conversation with someone – or download our free worksheet to help you get focused.

Figure out what you want

There is no one way to resolve a situation of betrayal. Here are some things to consider:

  • This is the time to have your say. State the impact of these actions on you, your team, or the company as applicable. You can be candid about your hurt, disappointment or anger and still remain professional.
  • When you speak up after a betrayal, you’re holding the other person (or people) accountable for their actions. This helps to clear the air and allow you to move toward finding solutions – or in dire situations, consequences like dismissal or corrective action. It also might help prevent this situation from recurring.
  • Focus on problem-solving rather than blame.

Be clear about what you want. This might be, for example, something like:

“I’d like a shot at drafting our next product pitch. What could I do to be considered?”

“It will be hard for me to trust you with confidential information. It’s going to take work to rebuild that.  I’m willing to try next time I’ll be very clear when something is not to be shared with anyone.”

Rebuild trust or create distance?

It’s always good to reflect on your role in the situation but can be hard not to blame yourself when you’ve been betrayed. Try to leave the what-ifs and I should-haves out of your inner dialogue and take situations like these as learning opportunities. As you reflect, consider:

  • What did you miss?
  • Did you ignore warning signs?
  • What might you have done to lessen the chance of this happening?
  • Did the person intentionally betray you? Did they offer an effective apology?
  • How could I have responded differently?
  • What can I do now that I know about this?

Try to learn lessons from the situation and determine how to protect yourself in the future. Remember that the betrayal says less about you than it does about the person who broke your trust. And, your response to it is a reflection of you, not them.

Some work relationships are worth salvaging, though rebuilding trust may take some time. Some work to build a more cohesive team can help if the situation was based on a misunderstanding, poor communication or insecurity.

If the breach of trust is great, and discipline or HR policies don’t result in the betrayer being fired, you may still have to work together. Be professional, but exercise caution when you interact with someone who has been purposefully malicious or untrustworthy. Try not to speak with them without a third party present, communicate in writing so there is a record of who said what and quietly document interactions. It’s possible that you might want to ask that you work with another team or department going forward.

Whatever you do, don’t engage in gossip or backstabbing. Cultivating strong work relationships takes time and energy, and sometimes even professional workshops to help build a stronger team. Remember that you don’t have to like someone to work with them effectively. And you can put your energy toward those team members who do have your back!

Coach’s Questions

What can you do differently when faced with a workplace betrayal? How can you support a team member who feels betrayed? What can help to rebuild trust?

The keys to networking successfully when it’s outside your comfort zone

What is your gut response when you find out that there is a client event, staff party, or team boat cruise?

Some folks love to go out and mingle and seem to manage conversations effortlessly, but for others it can be something they do because they know they have to (but they don’t enjoy it or they spend the time worrying about everyone else in the room) – or they hate it!

As a leadership coach, this comes up with many of my clients for sure. We work with many professionals who find networking and schmoozing to be a stress. I hear things like:

“I know it could help my career, but I suck at it.”

“I never know what to say.”

“Isn’t it enough that I’ve been around people all day? I have to go to events on my own time, too?!”

“I like these events but I don’t know if I’m approaching them as strategically as I could or should.”

 DiSC Personality Styles

Being able to work a room is a skill – and it’s one that can make a huge difference in your career.

So why does it come so easily to some folks while others aren’t so keen or really struggle with it? It all comes down to different motivators, different stressors. At Padraig, one of the tools we use is the Everything DiSC Assessments and Guides to help our clients understand themselves and others better.

Guess what? Each behaviour style has different strengths and weaknesses – and these include how comfortable they are with social situations.

The DiSC personality styles all approach networking and social situations differently:

  • The “D” can often manage it, but sometimes find it tedious
  • The “i” thrives on it
  • The “S” can handle it if it isn’t unexpected, but worries a lot about whether others are enjoying it
  • The “C” often detests it

When you understand your own personality style and the other personality styles, it helps you realize what you can contribute to a group situation and how to make the most of what comes naturally to you. It also helps you know where you can improve or try to do things differently.

In addition to understanding your personal motivations, it also helps you learn what motivates other personality types and what to do when you approach them (which helps to break the ice and get conversation flowing in all kinds of social situations!).

To give you some idea of the kind of effective communication insights you gain from taking a DiSC assessment or participating in a DiSC workshop, here are some highlights for each of the four DiSC personality styles:

The Dominant “D”
Is usually very self-confident and likes to lead people but isn’t fond of routine and repetition. They are motivated by new challenges and thrive when they see tangible results. A “D” is not afraid to be opinionated and show authority.

The “D” leader has to be careful not to come across as argumentative or intimidating in social settings. They appreciate direct and to-the-point discussions, so do better with meaningful conversations and big-picture ideas. Rambling conversations are a challenge for a “D” to listen to attentively, but they like to focus on business and goals.

The Influential “i”
Is comfortable in situations where they might be the centre of attention and they love to be around other people. They are talkative, emotional and often full of enthusiasm. They tend to dislike conflict, especially if they will look unpopular for it and they like to motivate those around them. An “i” isn’t afraid to express an opinion and can put a positive spin on almost anything.

The “i” profile has to be careful to really listen to others (not talk over them!) and not to go overboard with excitement for new ideas. They don’t do well if they feel rejected and tend to do better with flexible situations and hate to feel restrained or controlled.

The Steady “S”
Is a good listener who is even-tempered, friendly and patient. An “S” is usually a peacemaker and nurturer in a group, watching out for everyone’s well-being. They like harmony and consensus within groups and feel best in predictable and stable situations. They like being around people but do best when they are with people they trust and in predictable environments in which they feel comfortable.

The “S” often has to work on being flexible with change and new situations. Because they value personal relationships and being agreeable so much, the “S” has to work at being comfortable expressing their own wants and needs (not always putting other people’s needs before their own!). They do best when interacting with kind and patient people who seem trustworthy and genuinely interested in them. Confrontation will make them very uncomfortable.

The Compliant “C”
Is very detail-oriented, an adept analytical thinker and a great problem solver. A “C” is thoughtful and even-tempered but can get bogged down in details. They are very motivated by information and logic and love to be in environments that are logical. They feel little need to be social and enjoy working independently. A “C” responds well to facts and detailed plans.

The “C” personality has to work on not being too critical of others and being able to let go of their need for detail when in situations that aren’t running with precise scheduling or predictable outcomes. They don’t like being criticized but need to remember that their own attention to detail often has them pointing out faults and seeming overly critical to others. The “C” does best in non-confrontational situations and takes pride in their work.

Now, let’s take theory and put it into practice.

Knowing the motivators and stressors for different types can help us to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and reach out to others in a way that is bound to connect with their personality style.

For example, making conversation is a skill – but it’s easier when you have a hunch at what motivates different personality types and how to play to their strengths.

Conversations flow when:

  • Others feel comfortable
  • You feel comfortable
  • Everyone feels included and heard
  • There is common ground
  • Topics are interesting to everyone

It starts from being able to establish connections between people who may not know each other well or at all. If you’re introducing people, you want to establish a connection quickly. For example, if you are introducing two people, you could say something like:

“This is Jane. She’s an account manager for this Hollywood producer and

the biggest soccer fan I’ve ever met!”

“Have you met Phil? He’s our finance manager and

a huge supporter of local theatre.”

In addition to introducing names and positions, you give some detail that gives some common ground (Jane and Phil are both managers with connections to the arts) and ideas for conversation (soccer or theatre).

The more familiar you become with characteristics of the four DiSC personality styles, the easier it is to figure out what might make someone feel more comfortable in conversation and more motivated to participate in conversation. Networking and schmoozing is essentially being able to figure out what will get different people talking and feeling at ease – with you and with each other.

If we look at the brief overviews of the four personality styles, we can already see:

  • The “D” likes to be an authority and hates rambling conversations (keep stories brief and focused and ask the “D” for opinions or ideas rather than sharing your own unprompted)
  • The “i” loves to chat and enjoys being the centre of attention (ask the “i” general questions and be an active listener or share a funny story and build rapport through humour)
  • The “S” needs to feel comfortable and worries about others (be personable and remember the “S” values sincere appreciation of their kindness – thank an “S” for something they have done for your team – or genuinely take an interest in something the “S” shares in conversation)
  • The “C” isn’t fond of socializing, likes facts and detailed plans (if you hear the “C” has a favourite hobby or passion, ask the “C” to tell you what they like best about it or their advice about it – talking about something important to them is easier than making small talk)

Miss Manners would tell us all to leave politics, religion and other controversial topics out of polite conversation – and with the DiSC profiles you can see how some personalities don’t mind sharing strong opinions or creating conflict, but other personalities loathe conflict or upset. In a social/professional setting, conversation is best steered away from polarizing topics (anything too personal is not appropriate unless you are intimately acquainted!).

If you encounter a situation where the topic of conversation gets derailed and tempers are flaring, try:

  • Redirecting – “Well, as interesting as this is, we should really be talking about [anything funny or of general interest in the community or the next big event] so we can enjoy the rest of our evening.”
  • Distraction – “Oh! Is that Larry and Olivia?! I have to introduce you!” [call someone over and introduce to the group with an invitation to the tell the group about something fabulous]
  • Diplomacy – “Clearly we have some very strong opinions here. Can we agree to disagree and go check out what’s for dessert?”

The more you practice making conversation with other personality types, understand your listening style and brush up on your active listening skills, the easier it gets to network, schmooze and mingle. You will find yourself quickly guessing which personality style someone is and adapting your conversation to suit that style.

So Now What?

Now you may be wondering, “what DiSC type am I? Or what DiSC type is… my boss, my staff, Sally in accounting, etc.. We can help you with that with everything from a quick online DiSC assessment, to a short talk with one of our coaches about your results, to a full day workshop for your team.  There are many options, all of which can help you out. Give us a call (855-818-0600 x101) or or if you want results right away, click here to take the online assessment.

Coach’s Questions

Which elements of the DiSC personality styles do you recognize in yourself? Which do you recognize in others? What can you do to help make conversations easier for yourself and others? What do you want to try at the next social event you attend?

How to take a vacation from work (and really unplug!)

Hands up if you’ve been on holiday and, despite swearing that you weren’t going to check email or answer your cell phone, you ended up working some (or, true confessions, MUCH!) of your vacation.

I get it. I’ve been there at times in my career. Now, as a leadership coach, I meet clients who don’t like that they’re always on the clock but need help preventing leadership burnout.

The thing is that very few of us are in positions where things really, truly cannot continue if we’re away for a holiday. The pressure is often from a work culture where “face-time” and working 24/7 is valued as some sort of loyalty orit might be self-induced by some folks who need to feel super important or essential and have problems delegating effectively. Perhaps some others just worry and feel guilty if they’re away on vacation.  We live in a world where, for many, responding to “how are things?” with “oh, I’m super busy” has become a badge of honor.

If you obsess over checking and replying to emails and texts while you’re supposed to be enjoying hard-earned time off, you likely rationalize it in one or more ways:

  • I just need to check that my team is okay
  • They can’t do this without me
  • I can’t really rest and relax if I’m worrying about what’s happening at work
  • This won’t get done if I don’t check on the progress of things
  • I don’t want everyone stressed because I’m on holiday
  • It’ll look bad if I’m not in touch while I’m away
  • If I don’t do a bit now it’ll take forever to catch up when I get back

Unplug from the office

While countless companies profess they support achieving work-life balance and everyone seems to say they want more balance, recent workplace studies indicate over and over that North Americans, in particular, have a hard time taking a break from the office. More than half of us will check in with work at least a couple of times a week from vacation and many others at least daily or even twice a day.

Whether it’s an external or an internal pressure, not being able to get away from work on vacation is not healthy. So why is it so hard to unplug from the corporate world?

After all, from psychologists to neurologists to mental health experts, we hear one message: Our brains need rest to perform better. Taking a break from work (and technology!), getting adequate sleep and enjoying downtime with friends and family isn’t just nice or wishful thinking for busy professionals, it’s critical to our mental and physical health.

Taking a vacation is actually good for your career because, when you really unplug, your time away will be restorative. Science is clear: Giving your brain a break from all the constant demands is not wasteful or selfish! It improves your energy, concentration, and creativity.

As you’re planning this summer’s time off, I challenge you to completely unplug from the office this vacation and every subsequent vacation. As a leader, you can demonstrate this healthy behaviour (perhaps even shifting the corporate culture!) and you can help your staff do the same.

Vacation instead of workation

Here’s how to take a vacation from work instead of a workation:

Plan ahead. Decide when you’re going to take holidays and encourage everyone on your team to submit their vacation planning if they haven’t already done so. Tone is important and if you’re making vacation a priority, your team members shouldn’t feel taking time off is going to have a negative impact on their own careers. Remind everyone that in disconnecting and looking after themselves, they’ll come back to the office renewed and ready to tackle things. Ideally, you and your team members will want to book vacation time for quieter periods at work (not when you’re needed for a grand opening, the launch of a new product or the closing of a big deal) or stagger holidays so that everyone can cover off for everyone else.

Manage expectations. Vacation time is your time, but some people feel pressured to stay connected to the office by a boss who insists on having contact information. You don’t have to give many details about your plans, but you can say that you’ll have limited access to wifi or cell service either because of the hectic pace of your itinerary or because of geography  and that you’re going to be focusing your time on holiday adventures or family and friends. This sets the expectation that you can’t reliably stay in touch (rather than won’t).

Get in the mindset that time away is restorative. Even if you’re in the middle of a massive project, managing a difficult account or swamped with work, you and your team members need vacation time. Perhaps try taking shorter breaks; a few long weekends can be amazingly rejuvenating and easier to cover off (and definitely easier to deal with than burnout!). If you’re the kind of person who has trouble disconnecting from work (rather than someone who has pressure from bosses to be available), shorter stints away might be a way to wean yourself from being available 24/7. Or, when you do have a longer time booked, remind yourself, constantly, of the value of that time to you and the company. Keep reminding yourself you will be even more amazing, if you take a break before diving back in.

Line up your ducks. By that I mean prepare your most reliable coworkers to cover for you and ensure that your team members are ready to cover off for each other, too. Connect with your team in person, with enough time before your holiday that people can talk about priorities, problems, and expectations and those covering for you or others can ask questions. Ask them what they’re concerned about for the time you’ll be away and help them figure out mitigation strategies — you’ll feel better and they’ll feel better. Then follow up with brief, written summaries so people don’t feel they’re left guessing or scrambling.

Delegate authority when you are away. If you are in a leadership or management role, figure out who can make certain decisions while you are away on holiday. Putting a chain of command into place for all but the most critical of emergencies will let you leave things with others to handle. Realistically, other managers or leaders should be able to look after things in your absence and delegating effectively will save you time and your sanity year round. Your second in command should be the only one to text you if there is an absolute, end-of-the-world crisis – and you can describe what would qualify as this kind of crisis. This ensures that you can leave work behind because you can trust that you’ll be contacted in a real emergency and that when you return, these folks will catch you up on everything you need to know.

A week before your vacation time, communicate with key contacts. Remind everyone you regularly work with that you’re going to be on vacation and unreachable from this date to that date. Ask again (last chance!) if they have any questions for you before you leave because you won’t be checking email while you’re away. This sets up the expectation that you are truly going to disconnect for the duration of your vacation. And, it might limit the number of emails you have to sift through upon your return.

Make a list for yourself, ready for your return. Instead of going away and obsessing over what might be waiting for you when you return, make a list. Go over things that are coming up and jot them down. This way, you’ll feel prepared and can leave for your vacation without feeling compelled to check email to stay on top of things. One of the things I’ve taken to doing is completely clearing my desk the day I leave, leaving ONLY that list on it. That’s a reminder for others — they’re less likely to dump a pile of work on your desk if your desk is spotless, and it’s nice to know you’re coming back to a clear desk and a succinct list of things that need your attention.

Email key people your last day before vacation. Remind them that you’re going to be away, but don’t be too specific (don’t tell them which hotel you’re staying in and where to call you!). Set the expectation that you’re going away and you won’t be reachable but then tell them who to contact in your absence:


“Hey, team, just a reminder that I’m leaving tomorrow for my 10-day vacation. I’m NOT going to be checking my work email or voicemail while I’m away, but you can get in touch with Susan for account management issues, Bryan for accounting, or Cheyanne for marketing.”


Remember to let reception and administrative staff know your vacation plans and who is covering for you, too, so that they can handle any calls effectively and aren’t left guessing.

Use technology to your benefit. Put an out-of-office reply on your email so that anyone who emails while you’re gone knows that you are away AND NOT CHECKING EMAILS and who they can contact in your absence. Then record a new voicemail message with the same information on your office phone and work cell phone. Some leaders will build in a day to catch up and settle back into work (their colleagues will know when they return, but other contacts won’t) by saying they will reply to emails and voicemails a day later than their official return-to-work day instead of detailing the dates they are away:


I will be unavailable until August 11. I’m NOT going to be checking my work email or voicemail while I’m away, but you can get in touch with:

Susan at [PHONE] or [EMAIL] for account management issues

Bryan at [PHONE] or [EMAIL] for accounting queries

Cheyanne at [PHONE] or [EMAIL] for marketing assistance”


You can also turn off notifications so that you don’t jump to check or reply to texts or emails while you’re away. You’ll be amazed at how well trained we all are to jump and reply when we hear that device notification! With notifications off and your ringer set to silent, your work phone will not be intruding into your vacation time. You can check your notifications for any emergency issues on YOUR time if you must. Some people even put work-related apps into a special folder so they don’t check them out of habit.

Walk the talk. If you’ve set everything up and told everyone that you’re going to be unavailable during your vacation, don’t contradict yourself. Stay off your email and leave that work phone alone. If you start replying to emails and checking in with everyone then your team members will assume that you’re actually working remotely and available.

Protect your vacation time. Worst case scenario, if you have to check work emails or voicemails while on vacation, do this once a day for a set amount of time so that you don’t lose your time to rest and enjoy downtime. If you check at the end of the day after work hours. This keeps your limited replies to a time that shows you are intentionally responding to urgent issues while you are off work.

Coach’s Questions

When was the last time you were away from work and didn’t have to deal with a single call or email? What’s stopping you from really disconnecting from work? What steps can you take to change this?

Does how you see yourself match how others see you?

How do you think others see you? A couple of the things we hear a lot from our clients is:

  • They think folks see them the way they see themselves and wonder why things don’t always go the way they thought they should.

  • They recognize folks don’t see them the way they see themselves and they don’t know what to do about it.

We have some suggestions to lessen the gap between how you see yourself and how others see you to strengthen relationships.

The biggest challenge is that other people can see our actions, observe our behaviours and body language and also hear our voice and tone – all of which helps them understand us – but they can’t see or hear our motivators. They can’t hear that little voice in your head!  

They haven’t been with you in the moments, days, weeks and even years leading up to this moment. And, unfortunately, that little voice and those moments are often driving what you’re doing and consequently explain what you’re doing or saying. Those things are the “why” behind your actions and so while your actions, behaviours, words, and tone make complete sense to you, they might not make sense to others or might be wholly misinterpreted.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize those motivators in the moment for ourselves, let alone for other people to understand what’s driving us! Learning to recognize these motivators and adapt to them is mindfulness (and we’ve talked about mindful leadership before).

The problem is, other people will subconsciously fill in the blanks when they don’t know your motivators – when they can’t hear the little voice in your head or when they don’t know the details of what has led to this moment in time. They might try to fill in the blanks by reading your body language and facial expressions – or maybe they’ll just make assumptions based on their own experiences and how they see the world.

First Impressions and Other Factors

You’ve probably heard how important first impressions are and that, “you can never make a second first impression.” While first impressions matter, there are other factors at play that have an impact on how others see you.

In her book, No One Understands You and What to Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson suggests there are two phases to how we are perceived by others – and Phase One is that all important first impression. Phase One of perception is entirely automatic, very rapid and almost subconscious. Phase Two is when there is more effort to understand the other person and when they’ll ask themselves (consciously, or not) whether their earlier impressions were accurate.

The big problem is that some folks won’t give you a Phase Two because it takes effort. During Phase Two folks might consider the situation, the surroundings and the context – but even then, they still can’t hear that little voice in your head and may not know much more about what brought you to this action or these words.

Adding to the problem is something called a confirmation bias, which is exceptionally common in people (yes, in you and me, too). The confirmation bias is what lets us pick out things that confirm we are right and ignore things that point out we might be wrong.

For example, if you’re in favour of a merger with another company, you will likely have an easy time finding all sorts of things that prove your point – the overhead will be lower, we’ll have access to their technology, etcetera, etcetera. If you’re opposed to the merger, you’ll likely pick up on the data about how badly efficiency and employee engagement suffer for a long time after a merger. What you’re picking up on reaffirms your initial view  – hence, confirmation bias.

So, when someone has a bad (or good) first impression of you, they’ll tend to pick out things they see that reaffirm that in Phase Two (if they even try to get to Phase Two).

Another form of the confirmation bias is the halo effect – where we see one good quality in someone and think it translates into other good qualities. This is why, in part, physically attractive people succeed – we think they’re warm, honest and intelligent even if we know little about them.

The inverse halo effect happens, too. When we pick up on one negative characteristic in that first impression, it can make a person seem less attractive, less intelligent and less helpful – and that negative effect tends to be even stronger than the halo effect.

In all of our interactions with others, it’s helpful to understand how we gather and filter information, add meanings and make assumptions. Read about the Ladder of Assumptions and try our worksheet to see how your beliefs and background can have an impact on conversations and workplace relationships. This is always one of the most popular exercises in our leadership workshops.

The other thing working against us when we’re trying to figure out how others see us is something called the false consensus bias, which is another natural human tendency. With this bias, we tend to think others see the world the way we do and we tend to think we’re in the majority.

When you see fringe groups on the news saying, “the people want…” you can see the false consensus bias in action. You and I look at the fringe group and think they’re out in left-field, but they think they’re speaking for the people. Unfortunately, even if you’re not a fringe lunatic, you still operate with this bias.

Here’s where it gets really interesting – while we all at some time think we’re speaking for the majority, we also operate under the false uniqueness bias, which is where we tend to underestimate the proportion of peers who share our desirable attributes and behaviours and to overestimate the proportion who share our undesirable attributes. In other words, if we’re particularly good at math (desirable) then we tend to assume most people aren’t and if we’re prone to impatience with slow progress (undesirable), we tend to assume others are impatient with that, too.

Tools to Manage Perceptions

So what can you do about this?

Well, becoming aware of your own tendencies is a giant first step. Becoming aware of common biases and thinking about how you’ve been applying them (without realizing it) is also important. But even more so, starting to remind yourself that others are applying those same biases to you (without even realizing it) will help you figure out how others see you.

We also have a couple fantastic tools in our toolkit that can help you:

You could take a DiSC behaviour profile to understand yourself better. Our profiles help you not only get an incredibly helpful picture of yourself – and your motivators and stressors – but also show you how to begin to adapt to folks around you who are, undoubtedly, seeing you differently.  

We offer a version for the workplace in general; the DiSC Workplace Assessment helps build stronger teams by improving relationships among team members.

The DiSC Management Assessment is designed for folks in management and leadership roles. It helps you understand yourself and how to adapt to your boss and your staff. This one our clients use a LOT and report amazing success.

We also offer DiSC Sales Assessment, which is to help salespeople understand how they’re being seen by prospects and clients (and what to do about it).   

Another option is to ask some trusted folks in your life to share how you’re being perceived. Now, this requires a bit of nuance – you have to ask folks who know you well AND who will be completely honest with you.

You might try explaining what you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to learn more about how others see you (so they understand you really want to know) and then ask something like, “if you didn’t know me better, what would you think of me?” Then, remain completely open to the response.

This may also be a great opportunity to work on how you’re perceived to respond to feedback (Aaacck — this may be a challenge!).  Be prepared to keep your expression neutral. Work hard on reminding yourself this is going to be helpful to you and this person is giving you a gift by being willing to be honest with you.

Another way to ask people about how they see you that is usually VERY effective is to do a 360 review. This is where your boss, your peers and your staff all answer some questions about you online or with one of our team members and then one of our coaches walks you through the results, helping you understand the results and, importantly, what you can do to improve. Give us a call if that sounds helpful.

If you’ve done an assessment, or just reviewed the situation yourself and figured out some areas where you might want to reset how people are seeing you, what else can you do about it?

Well, one particularly helpful thing is to be more explicit about what you’re thinking or feeling and to explain a bit to people. With our clients I often use the expression, “narrate the conversation.”  In other words, while meeting with someone or even talking over coffee, if you have the inkling you may be coming across wrong (because you’ve done a DiSC profile and you know your tendencies, or because you’ve heard about this from others, or because you’re becoming more in tune with yourself) you can pause the actual conversation about X, Y or Z and explain.  

For example, if you’re talking about a difficult situation at work and you realize you may be coming across wrong, you could pause for a moment and say, “I just realized I might be coming across as … [intense, angry, frustrated, aloof, overly concerned, etcetera, etcetera] because of … or because of …,” or, “I’m actually feeling frustrated right now but I know that often looks like I’m angry, and I just wanted to emphasize I’m not angry” etcetera.

If you’re worried someone has the wrong impression about you, your instinct may be to avoid working with them, but that is the exact opposite of what you should do. You see, if you avoid them, the only data they can use to figure you out is the misinterpreted data they already have. So, you should, actually, seek to work with them even more.  

PLUS, one thing that helps overcome a number of the biases I mentioned above, is for someone to see you being helpful to them, or even more so, helpful to other people. What better way to sincerely achieve that, than to work on a project together?

And finally, you may be asking yourself, “Yeah, but what if they’re right? What if I am [short-tempered, overly accommodating, skeptical, too generous, etcetera, etcetera]?” If that’s the case, congratulations! Seriously – you might have learned something about yourself and now you can do something about it.  

Just being aware of something allows you to figure out things you can do to compensate, if you wish. For example, if you’re overly impatient, you can catch yourself feeling impatient, remind yourself to smile, remind yourself to take a silent deep breath, remind yourself the other person likely isn’t trying to slow things down and take a moment to figure out what may be hindering them.

As well, the DiSC profile I mentioned above will give you all sorts of tips to help. It’s chock-full of specific tactics, tailored specifically to you, to adapt to folks around you.

Working with a coach has incredible value for the money in this situation because the coach tailors their work specifically to you. You don’t spend time in a course learning how to be X, Y, and Z when what you need to really focus on is Z.

Coach’s Questions

How do you think others might see you differently from how you see yourself? Have you ever asked others to share how they perceive you?

What can you do this week to identify the gap and change how you are perceived?

Six Characteristics of Problem-Solving Team Leaders

A big part of any leadership role is being able to troubleshoot. It might be strategizing to get a project that has derailed back on track, attracting new business or leveraging technology.

Whatever the problem, there are four basic steps that problem-solving leaders generally use:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Generate options
  3. Evaluate and choose an option
  4. Implement the solution

Great leaders don’t try to problem-solve on their own.

They don’t carry that burden because they know that a skilled team will better define the root of a problem, will generate better options and will better evaluate to find the best option and will implement the solution together.  

BUT, how do you and your team get to a point where you draw out all those benefits without feeling that “it would be easier to just do this myself”?

How Problem-Solving Leaders Involve Team Members

Here are a few things that really successful team leaders do:

Practice open communication and seek input from team members – One of the biggest challenges of solving a problem is getting to the root of it. Don’t assume people are comfortable sharing what they think. You may have to probe for it.

Pro-tip: Don’t overreact when they share upsetting, difficult or disheartening news. For example, if they share that someone overlooked something, someone contributed to the problem, etcetera – take the information as a learning opportunity. Thank them for noticing the problem.

Be open to considering why something was missed. Knowing why something happened (or didn’t happen!) will help you figure out how to avoid communication breakdowns in the future.

Remember, you want to encourage your team to share openly in the future, so don’t punish this behaviour. It’s important for problem-solving leaders to be able to hear bad news.

Break down silos – Effective leaders break down silos (sub-divisions of the organization that act independently). This is tied to open communication because silos are typically built as a result of three things:

  1. An organizational culture that pits units against each other for scarce resources;
  2. Organizational design that builds vertical units more than functional teams (note I didn’t say, instead of functional teams – good organizations can blend vertical units with cross-unit teams); and
  3. Strong individual leaders or weak individual leaders. That’s right, strong or weak.

You see, leadership teams made up of particularly strong team leaders (VPs, etcetera) are often not teams, but rather groups of highly successful individuals who are often quietly competing against each other.

Imagine that the VP of Marketing is a rock-star marketer but doesn’t trust the sales VP. The VP of Sales is one of the best salespeople you’re ever going to meet, but he thinks the VP of Finance doesn’t understand how truly, singularly important sales are to the organization. The VP of Finance is probably the best comptroller and accountant you’ve ever met – and she thinks the Marketing VP thinks the organization is made of money and the Sales guy thinks he walks on water.  

Know what that is? That is a team of strong and capable leaders, each leading their own silo instead of leading the company.

Sadly, silo-building also occurs when you have weak leaders who want to protect themselves and hide their shortcomings. They, too, tend to build an empire of support under them and try to hide things from their peers and boss.

The answer? Improving relationships to build stronger teams.

Big picture thinking  – Great, problem-solving leaders have a clear vision of the big goals. Not only that, but they clearly and engagingly articulate that picture, constantly, to the team under them.

When leaders keep reminding their team members of the big picture, problem-solving becomes clearer.

Even better, when we have a number of possible solutions – none of them obviously the “right one” and most of them not a terrible idea – we go with the one that is most aligned with getting us to the bigger goals and most aligned with our bigger values as an organization. That one may not be the simplest, most obvious solution you come to if you don’t constantly keep your eye on the end game.

Avoid blaming and accusing – It may seem obvious to say this but so many of us can easily fall back into the habit of showing our frustration. At the worst, you might fall into being an executive bully. Set a tone of learning from mistakes and solving the problem.

Stay positive – Good leaders show positivity even when the team is struggling. That doesn’t mean blind naivete, nor does it mean lying to everyone — but remaining positive about the situation (perhaps you could say positive and realistic) helps keep up momentum. Knowing you and your team can solve big problems and letting that optimism show will encourage everyone to pull together.

Follow through – Figuring out a solution isn’t the end; you have to see that solution implemented and then monitor to make sure it’s working the way you thought it would. A lot of stellar big-picture leaders drop the ball on this one.

You may also need to apply what you’ve learned with this problem to other areas of your team’s work and so monitoring the success of the follow-through will pay off many times over.

Coach’s Questions

Which problem-solving characteristics do you recognize in yourself? Which would you like to develop? What can you do to facilitate problem-solving this week?

How strong are your work relationships?

Strong relationships are built on trust, respect and mutual support. The world’s best teams (whether in the arena or the boardroom) are built on those qualities.

So how do you cultivate great work relationships?

Team-building events will get you off to a good headstart but it’s really about how you approach everyday interactions.

Here are some practical ways to build strong work relationships:

Listen to understand, not to reply. This is almost like our # 1 rule. When someone talks to you, even if you disagree with what they’re saying, don’t plan your response – rather, seek to really understand where they’re coming from. Seek to be curious and truly understand what is driving their issue for them. When you do reply, try to ask a question to understand more deeply.

When you’re upset with someone, talk to that person and not to others. Don’t triangulate or gossip. While it’s not easy to approach someone when they’ve upset you, it is possible to turn difficult conversations into essential conversations.

Triangulation is very common and it is an absolute killer of relationships and organizations. If you’re not familiar with it, triangulation is when I’m angry/frustrated/annoyed with Dave but instead of talking to Dave about it, I go to my colleague Sue and say, “Can you believe Dave?!? That’s a horrible idea he wants us to implement… etcetera, etcetera.” The only thing worse is when Sue chimes in, “Oh, I know – Dave’s always like that…”

Gossip is likewise toxic behaviour. Even if you think you can defend that what you’re saying is true, gossiping is malicious spreading of stories or rumours about someone else (whether true, or not, they’re malicious). If it needs to be said, say it to the person it concerns and not to others.

Build Stronger Teams

Be open and get to know your peers and staff. This is more than just chatting about the weather and beyond just meetings in the boardroom because we build stronger teams by developing relationships. Grab a coffee one-on-one once in a while, ask them about their life, and share a bit about yours.

Share your knowledge and support the work of your team members. There will be times that you can mentor or guide, and other times that the COACH Approach to leadership encourages and develops the best qualities of your team members.

And while you’re at it, share more of yourself in meetings too. Explain WHY you feel strongly about something. Share why it’s important to you even if others don’t see it. Regardless of the final decision, people who get to know you better will trust you more.

Focus on the issues and ideas, not the personality, and don’t shy away from conflict. A strong team can (and should) have lots of conflict around ideas. The only way to bring out the best, and to overcome the worst, is to have lots of debate about it before proceeding. Conflict around ideas is, of course, different than conflict between personalities.

Being comfortable with healthy conflict requires a lot of trust among team members because they have to know that you’re attacking the idea, not them. They also need to be confident that your goal is to find the best solutions for the organization – not the solution that makes you look good and not the solution that makes your division successful – but the best idea for the organization.

Better Communication

Work on your Emotional Intelligence – start with empathy. Presume good intent. Consider the world from the other person’s perspective – most people aren’t trying to simply be difficult – they’re trying to achieve something that’s important to them which may not be at all important or even evident to you. There are many ways you can boost your emotional intelligence in leadership.

Practice humility and gratitude. No one wants to work with a know-it-all. Pretending to always have the answers or to look perfect and unfailing not only sets you up for impostor syndrome when you inevitably struggle with something, it also builds a culture of hiding mistakes and mistrust. Fostering a sense of gratitude benefits you and your team. Unsure how to show gratitude? There are many ways to thank your team (and they work for special occasions or ordinary days!) and making journaling part of your routine is a way to reflect on your own gratitude (and it’s one leadership habit we see reap rewards over and over for our clients).

Have clear expectations. Identify your own needs – what is it you value in colleagues? What are you looking for in peers and staff? Share those needs in a kind and caring way so people know what you want from them. And, be prepared to hear different needs from them.

Learn to give feedback (or feedforward!). Difficult conversations can help us move forward when we know how to have better conversations about problems or issues. Sometimes we need to use a feedforward approach to help team members improve – without destroying their motivation or rattling their self-confidence.

Learn to take feedback. As the old saying goes, don’t dish it out if you can’t take it! Good leaders are able to handle criticism and recognize that criticism is actually a good opportunity to listen.

The better communication is among you and your team, the stronger your work relationships will be and strong teams can accomplish great things together.

The Coach’s Questions:

Who do you need a better relationship with? What are you willing to do to try to strengthen work relationships? What might you most need to work on? What can you do today?

Are you a “boss” or a “leader”?

Would you say you are a boss or a leader?

Let’s start with definitions: A boss has a position of authority and can exercise power, but a leader has the ability to manage people well and inspire them to action.

We recently discussed signs you’re ready to be a leader (and a few signs you’re not!). A key takeaway is that just because someone is in a position of authorityno matter how great the responsibility or grand the titledoesn’t mean that person is an effective leader. And, we’ve likely all seen the reverse hold true as wellsomeone who is clearly a leader, without a title or any direct authority.

So what’s the distinction and how can you be the leader even if you’re also the boss?

Understanding human motivation and leadership

When we delve into the difference between being a boss or being a leader, it really comes down to motivation.

If you’ve ever done a psychology or sociology course, you’re likely very familiar with American psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Even though he presented his theory in a paper in the early 1940s, Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is still used today as a foundational framework in sociology, psychology and management theory.

To summarize, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is typically presented as a pyramid, divided into levels. Originally, his theory was that humans must have the needs met at each level before they can move to the next level of the pyramid. Today scholars interpret this a little less rigidly, but the idea that the basic levels must be met before anyone can be motivated to pursue the higher level needs remains.

So, if our physiological needs (hunger, thirst) are met at the lowest level, we can be motivated to safety needs (feeling safe and secure). From there, we can progress up to the third level of social needs (feeling a sense of belonging and forming relationships with family and friends), then to the fourth level of self-esteem needs (how you evaluate your own self worth and feel good about yourself), to the fifth level of self-actualization (when you realize your full potential).

What does Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have to do with being a boss or being a leader?

Motivation for a boss versus a leader

Let’s check the motivation for a boss who is motivated by having power over others (and I’m sure all of us can think of examples of bosses motivated purely for power). A desire for power is entrenched in the safety level of the hierarchy of needs, which is second to the bottom of the pyramid.

Why? Seeking power is a way to have control over resourceshuman, financial and otherwise. Power can corrupt, as we all know. Someone who seeks power to fulfill the higher personal need of self-esteem might offer or withhold resources to influence others for personal gain rather than for the greater good.

If we put ourselves into the mindset of someone whose motivation is to attain power rather than to assume a leadership role, it’s clear that a power-seeker is not typically thinking about what is good for the group. Someone stuck here may not be able to see other people’s perspectives or likely considers the team members subordinates.

Truly effective leaders are not motivated by power, but rather to achieve goals. This is true of a business leader, the leader of a group or even the leader of a country.

Someone who aspires to true leadership will have met the basic needs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, feel secure in belonging, have formed healthy relationships and have good self-esteem (and a well-developed executive presence!). An effective leader will find motivation at the fifth level of the hierarchy of needs – self-actualization and realizing full potential.

Leadership with this motivation is about doing better, not being powerful. This is how aspirational leaders rally people to coordinate and achieve something individually or together. They establish and prioritize goals based on doing what is best for the success of the group and then motivate and build engagement around those goals.

How power differs from leadership

Now that we’ve considered the motivational differences between a boss and a leader, let’s consider how power is different than leadership:

How it is achieved:

Power can be assigned or granted. Someone in a powerful position might not have credibility or trust, but can hold a position of authority with power over others and resources.

Leadership is a collection of character attributes and skills, with group members who believe in a credible leader they are willing to follow. In other words, leadership is earned rather than granted.

How it is put into action:

Power is about having the right or permission to exercise authority. For example, a judge can decide the fate of a criminal because of holding a judicial position. Power is exercised by issuing orders or commands.

Leadership is having the ability to rally individuals or a group to achieve something. It’s more complex than just having authority; leadership is being able to motivate others to work toward a vision while coaching team members to do their best. Leaders inspire others to action.

What is required:

Power does not require leadership. In other words, someone can be in power, but not be a leader.

Conversely, all leaders need to have some form of power to be effective.

How a boss can become a leader

Many times I meet folks who have been promoted to a leadership role because they were high performers, not because they were exceptional leaders.

We get requests for one-to-one coaching when these managers or directors aren’t enjoying their work, or realize that they need more tools to understand and motivate their team members.

Fortunately, it’s possible to decide what kind of leader you want to be and work toward learning the skills to support your leadership so you can inspire your team to strive, work together and achieve goals.

Here’s how you can move from being a boss to being a leader:

Lead by example: You could sit closed up in your office and give orders and assignments (like a boss!). But to be a leader, it’s time to get those boots on the ground, as they say, and work with your team to set performance goals that are aligned with company goals. Then, help your team members achieve their goals (by coaching them, not by being a micromanager!).

Share your knowledge: Some bosses like to keep what they do secret and mysterious (power!), perhaps because they are afraid of being usurped. In reality, if you share what you know and develop the skills of your team members, you will benefit from their strengths as you empower them to do better. There are many times that you can build a stronger team with the COACH Approach to leadership.

Give credit where credit is due: Acknowledge, thank and share the credit with your team members. Leaders who know how to communicate effectively will understand that different people appreciate different forms of recognition and they will build trust through being authentic whether they’re saying sorry, taking responsibility or showing gratitude.

Solicit feedback: Good leaders don’t just give feedback, they seek input into their own abilities and can handle criticism. They are open to hearing from others and they know how to make their best decisions based on the best information available.

Build relationships: When a leader enjoys working with people, it shows. There are myriad ways to build stronger teams by developing relationships. It takes time, but it pays dividends when there is respect and a human connection – and confidence in your leadership and authority.

If you want to be more than a boss with a title, you can learn ways to be a more effective leader. Our COACH Approach to Leading and Managing workshop is one way to introduce a coaching culture throughout your organization and amplify success for all your leaders (and your bosses!).

The Coach’s Questions

Of our five suggestions above, which one do you think would have the biggest impact in making you even more of a leader? What could you do, this week, to start making that happen?

COACH Approach Journal

COACH Approach Journal

If a COACH Approach is something you think will be beneficial, check out our COACH Approach Journal to help you get started.