Feedforward: what it is and why you should care

This week’s Coach’s Questions Blog is written by Padraig Coach,  Kathleen Cameron.

Think back to a time when you were feeling really proud of your work.

Now imagine that just as you were flying high on the satisfaction of a job well done, a colleague pointed out something you should do differently next time.

While the colleague was probably well-intentioned and wanting to help you improve, the bubble burst and you no longer felt confident and proud. In fact, you most likely felt self-doubt with a side of shame. You may have felt resentful, especially if you thought your colleague purposefully cut you down.

How could your colleague approach the conversation differently next time? Could they deliver advice on how to improve while keeping your motivation and self-confidence high?

What if YOU are the colleague who needs to give that feedback? Could you keep someone else’s motivation and self-confidence high while giving important feedback?

The answer is yes.

A Fresh Approach to Performance Conversations

Leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith originally coined the term feedforward to describe the process of providing future-focused suggestions with the intent of supporting success. This is in stark opposition to feedback, which is corrective in nature and focuses on the past and what’s already occurred.

While both approaches are designed to improve performance, feedback focuses on the past—creating feelings of shame and self-doubt; whereas feedforward brings attention to what can occur—creating a sense of possibility and growth.

We can’t change the past, but we can influence the future.

Why It’s Effective

Have you heard the phrase, “where thought goes, energy flows?” By focusing on the solutions, we’re encouraging a mindset of expansion, possibility and growth, which drives energy and motivation and at the same time, focusing on past problems drives energy to shame and regret.

In feedforward conversations we encourage colleagues to try new approaches they may not have considered for a task or goal. You share knowledge and help one another to do great work.

Feedforward also encourages conversations about what they might need to try the new approach. These conversations heighten partnership and contribute to positive morale and camaraderie among colleagues.

It feels good to support one another in a supportive, respectful, collaborative environment.

How to Implement a Feedforward Approach

Focus on development

Remember, you are delivering feedforward to support the other person’s success, not to deliver feedback on something in the past. Remind yourself of this before you initiate a feedforward conversation and get clear on why this is important for their success. Framing the conversation in your mind will help you stay focused on the goal.

Be collaborative

Just as your view of someone else’s growth and development can help frame feedforward, so can their willingness to hear you out. Check that they are in the right frame of mind to receive your suggestions and that it’s related to an area of development they consider to be important.

For example, you might want to start with something like, “I was admiring your work on X and had a couple suggestions that might make it even easier/better/stronger next time. Would you be interested in hearing them?”

Keep it specific

Instead of talking about broad ideas, discuss specific behaviours that can achieve a desired result. Or, if you want to start broad, make sure you break the desired outcome down into specific actions and approaches to support the bigger area of focus.

Do it in real time

Look for opportunities to provide feedforward in day-to-day interactions. Relevant, real-time feedforward can greatly impact someone’s success in implementing new skills, behaviours and approaches.

Practice, practice, practice

Early first attempts at feedforward may feel uncomfortable if this is a new approach for you. Before you jump in, think about the feedforward you want to deliver. Practice what you want to say and consider how it may be interpreted. Get comfortable with how you want to initiate the conversation and deliver the message.

Understand limitations

While feedforward can be very effective at engaging people when focusing on growth and development, it’s not appropriate for all performance conversations. Sometimes a direct, honest conversation about past performance is necessary to address an issue at work. Use your best judgment when deciding on approach.

What a Feedforward Approach Conversation Looks Like

Here is how a feedforward conversation might unfold:

Ellen: Thanks for giving the stakeholder presentation today. Were you happy with how it went?

Bob: Yeah, I think overall it went fairly well. I did feel people losing interest when I was going over the feedback we’ve received on the project though.

Ellen: Is there anything you could do differently at the next presentation to keep them engaged?

Bob: Yeah, I’m not sure. I need to give it some thought.

Ellen: Have you considered opening the floor for discussion on one or two key feedback items? It might help the stakeholders feel more involved in the presentation and give them an opportunity to feel heard.

Bob: I like that idea. I’d need to consider how to keep us on track with time, but with the right planning that could really work.

Ellen: Let me know if you need any help with that. I’m happy to share what’s worked for me in the past.

Note that the feedforward process sees Ellen focused on helping Bob, not judging him on how the presentation went.

It can be helpful to think of feedforward in three stages:

  1. What went well – in this case, overall Bob is happy with the presentation
  2. How could it be even better – Bob could keep the audience more engaged
  3. Where to next – Ellen suggests a strategy for more active audience participation next time

The feedforward approach is about achieving the next goal with success, not simply scrutinizing past efforts.

Coach’s Question

How could feedforward build growth and development on your team? What do you find challenging about this approach? How could you try feedforward today?

Kathleen Cameron

Kathleen Cameron is an executive coach who integrates emotional intelligence, leadership, and personal development to help her clients achieve better results at work and in life. In addition to being a Padraig Associate, Kathleen manages her own practice and serves as the Director of Public Relations for the Edmonton Chapter of the International Coach Federation.

Build a stronger team with the COACH Approach to leadership

We’ve recently redesigned a one-day workshop that helps leaders use a coach approach when leading or managing others. It’s called a COACH Approach to Leading and Managing and it’s been so successful, we thought you’d like in on some of the secrets.

Some folks I talk to are hesitant to try to “coach” their employees because they worry it requires a lot of rigorous training. Let’s start off by clarifying there’s a big difference between “executive coaching” and using a “coach approach” with your team members.

Executive coaches like the certified coaches here at Padraig have dedicated time to intensive study and specialized education with practise working with leaders. It’s our profession.

However, we help leaders use some specific coaching techniques so they can take a coach approach to leadership. You can learn these techniques quickly to help encourage and develop the best qualities of your team members.

What is the COACH Approach?

Basically, any coach approach means leaders move from telling people the answers to helping them find their own answers. We call our program The COACH Approach because COACH is an acronym for the steps to follow.

Specific steps aside, once you learn a few techniques and get in the habit of using them, your perseverance will pay off.

The two main things to remember when you want to try coaching your staff are:

  • Shift from solving problems to asking questions, and
  • Cultivate a sense of curiosity about everything.

For now, let’s keep that as the core technique – ask questions, don’t give answers, and be genuinely curious about the challenge and the person.

How does it help your leadership?

When you use our COACH Approach, your team will be affected in many positive ways. The best part? Not only do you bring out the best in them, but your leadership strengths are noticed when you have a well-functioning and effective team.

When staff are led by someone using a coach approach, we typically see some of these wins among team members:

  • They innovate – brainstorming new ideas, generating questions that lead to exploration of new methods
  • They’re self-reliant – instead of always seeking guidance or consulting the leader, staff solve their own challenges (coaching can help with figuring out barriers to success)
  • They are more confident – especially as they realize they can achieve success independently
  • They set goals – with coaching, team members will establish goals and set out to achieve success
  • They’re engaged – taking initiative, growing in confidence, and setting goals means staff are off the sidelines and contributing (not just when asked!)
  • They take responsibility – when team members are involved in goal setting and can take initiative they also own the solutions – and this means they have more accountability

Does that sound like a list of attributes you’d like to see with your team? Well, guess what? You’ll likely see that, and more, with our COACH Approach.

Over and over, we see that using a COACH Approach builds relationships and encourages effective communication at all levels. In this environment, team members are productive and work well together – which also leads to increased job satisfaction for everybody.

Adding the COACH Approach to your toolkit

So, how do you start using the COACH Approach?

The first thing to do is let the team member know that you’re thinking that a new approach might help with the challenge. If you just dive into using a coach approach, they might not know what’s happening and maybe even react negatively! If you’ve always been the boss with all the answers, and an advice-giving machine, it will be surprising and maybe uncomfortable for people when you stop doing that.

Share with the team member that you’re going to use a coach approach to help them work through this challenge. This means you’re not going to give them solutions or directions at this point, but rather than you’re going to ask a lot of questions to help them figure out for themselves what they need.

If a team member doesn’t understand how the COACH Approach to leadership explores issues with questions, all of your questions could feel like an interrogation. That’s why it’s important to be clear that you’re helping them discern what the roadblocks are so that they can figure out how to move past them.

Remember, too, that as you’re learning how to use the COACH Approach that you’re practising. You might not ask questions in quite the best way in these early days of trying these new techniques and it will be good if they know you’re trying something new.

For example, asking, “Why did you do that?” could come off as abrupt and implying blame. Asking, “Tell me more about what led you to do that?” may sound more interested and encouraging.

Here are some ideas for bringing a COACH Approach to your leadership:

  • Get the discussion started: Get clarification through questions like, “What would success look like when we’re done discussing things?” so your team members can sort out what needs to be done. They might brainstorm solutions and new approaches or what actions need to be taken. Sometimes they might realize they just need you to listen.
  • Think questions, not solutions: Remember, your role is to listen and question when you see opportunities to stimulate ideas, not to jump in and solve problems or give advice (even though that’s probably been the reality of your entire career!). Ask questions to help your team find their own answers.
  • Listen to learn and understand: Being eager to know more and curious will help you with asking questions that encourage valuable conversations. I often tell folks to silently start asking a question with, “I’m curious about…” If you hear someone say something interesting or unusual, find out more by asking something like, “You just mentioned XYZ. What else can you tell me about that?” might uncover more information than otherwise.
  • Stay quiet: It’s hard, but stifle any urges to chime in or direct things (even if discussion falls silent). As leader coach, you are helping the team uncover answers – not providing them. If you have to, pretend you’re not sure what the solution is and don’t fill in gaps in conversation because silence can be a really good thing. Let them ponder and work out what to do. You might be amazed by what they come up with when you sit through the uncomfortable silence for a while.
  • Use open-ended questions: Some questions lead to specific answers – very often yes or no – whereas open-ended questions result in unpredictable answers. For example, asking, “Were the research results good?” will likely get a yes or no answer (and many times people will answer in the way they anticipate is sought). Instead, ask, “What was the most interesting result from the research?” and you’ll get an opinion with ideas and facts; open-ended questions encourage discussion.
  • Check-in every so often: Make a point of checking in with the team member or team to see whether the COACH Approach is helping their exploration. Instead of asking, “Do you feel you’re making progress?” (the yes or no answer!), ask, “How are we doing toward your goal of XYZ?”
  • Re-establish commitment: As you’re winding down a conversation, confirm that there is commitment to solving the challenge. This could be as simple as asking, “After everything we’ve discussed, what next steps are you committed to taking?” or you can seek more clarification. For example, you could say, “I feel we’ve got to A,B,C. Would you agree?” You can also ask for further clarification, for example, what is the timeline for this or a deadline for completion.

Any time your team member is struggling, remember that using the COACH Approach will help you guide them to finding their own solutions. To do this, ask questions such as, “What would help you achieve this?” or, “What could make it easier to commit?” or, “What do you need to stay on track?”

There may, of course, be times you need to be a bit more directive. It’s fine to switch out of the coach approach, for example, to confirm the corporate deadline required for the proposed solution.

You could say, “We need to be sure that XYZ is complete by the end of the month. Can you commit to that deadline?” If you need to check in on accountability, ask, “What do you need to stay on track?” or, “What will you do to hold yourself accountable to that timeline?”

When to use a COACH Approach (and when not to!)

Add the COACH Approach as one more tool in your leadership toolkit. It is handy to have to use along with other tools, such as mentoring (sharing your experience to guide), directing (telling what to do) and teaching (telling how to do something).

Depending on the situation, you might employ other tools, like turning difficult conversations into Essential Conversations and building conflict around ideas.

With so many different leadership tools, how do you know when the time is right for using a COACH Approach? Because it helps your team members build on their strengths to achieve success, it’s best to use with a motivated team member who is ready for professional learning and growth.

For this reason, a COACH Approach works very well with high performers – especially those ready for a bit of a stretch. It is also ideal for situations that require innovation or a new approach.

Additionally, a COACH Approach can work well when problem solving is required, planning needs arise or goals need to be set. It can also work when someone is struggling with another team member and wants to figure out how they will address it.

It’s important to note there are times when a COACH Approach is not the best choice. For instance, if someone is learning a new skill. That requires teaching, mentoring or a directive approach.

Further, while a COACH Approach could definitely help with a struggling or under-performing team member who needs extra support, it is not a good approach for someone already at the point of disciplinary action.

I started today by talking about our new COACH Approach to Leading and Managing workshop.  If you think you and your team would like to try the COACH Approach, why not give us a call to explore whether this one-day workshop might work for you? It’s a great way to truly learn the techniques and get your team members supporting each other at the same time. 

COACH Approach to Leadership Journal

COACH Approach to Leadership Journal

Check out our recently released COACH Approach to Leadership Journal.  

The Coach’s Questions

What makes you hesitate about trying a coach approach? What would help you feel more confident in trying it? What would it take for you to dive in and give it a try?

You know, I always end my posts with some Coach’s Questions but rarely hear anyone’s answers. Please reach out to let me know (coach@padraig.ca) or even better, make a comment below so others can join in the conversation too!

Signs you’re ready to be a leader… and a few signs you’re not

At a cocktail party recently, someone asked me if I thought they should try for a leadership role as Team Manager, which had just come open when their boss moved on. It would make them the leader of the team they’re already on.

I asked them what was appealing about becoming a team leader and the list of positives included:

  • It would give me visibility.
  • It would give me a say in the bigger picture.
  • It would give me a pay raise.
  • It would remove me from some of the tedious tasks I have to do now.
  • It would make me more marketable.
  • It feels like the logical next step.

I then asked, “What is the downside?”

This person thought about it for a moment and said, “Good point! I don’t see a downside – I should go for it!”

I couldn’t help myself, I had to offer a little one-to-one coaching in this cocktail party conversation, so I said, “Hmmm, possibly, but may I make an observation?”

“Sure!” was the reply.

“When you listed the benefits, none of them had anything to do with managing people.”

“Oh!”

I pointed out that while it sounds as though this person is ready for a change and looking to be more involved in the operation of the company, I’m left wondering whether pursuing a role in which the primary functions are to encourage, support, guide, and coach staff is the ideal choice right now.

I shared that as an executive coach, a number of the folks we work with are struggling in part because they were really good at something, got promoted to manage others doing that same thing, and now they aren’t enjoying the work. Or they were keen to lead, but realized they needed some more tools to be really successful in a new leadership role or during a time of challenge (you can read more about how we’ve helped leaders on our testimonials page).

Then I said: “I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t apply – that’s definitely up to you to decide. But, I’d encourage you to reflect on what the job looks like day to day, and decide if it excites you. Perhaps you could reach out to your former boss, and ask what the job was like?”

My suggestion was accepted enthusiastically with, “That’s a great idea, I’ll do that!”

Ever since I had this conversation, I’ve been reflecting on how someone would know if they’re ready for a leadership role – a job where they’re leading and managing other people – and I’ve come up with a list of signs you’re ready for leadership and signs it might not be quite the right time for a leadership role .

Signs you’re ready to lead others

  • You’re liked and respected by your colleagues because you are responsible and professional. It’s okay to be jovial and the life-of-the-party, but really good leaders are liked not only for their congeniality, but also because they have the tools to develop an executive presence.
  • You’re interested in how the organization operates – both formally and informally – and you have ideas on how it could be better, stronger, and more successful.
  • Peers come to you for advice and see you as an informal leader in the organization.
  • You tend to give folks the benefit of the doubt, at least the first time around. You assume people want to do a good job.
  • You’re a relationship builder – you know people in other departments and you’ve gotten to know customers and colleagues. You know how to foster connections and how to encourage successful teamwork (and how to tackle bad team conflict).
  • You’re a great listener – you listen to understand rather than to reply. When peers come to you with problems, you help them figure out an answer that works for them.
  • You’re comfortable handling criticism.
  • You’ve had good managers and bad managers and learned important lessons from both.

Signs a leadership role might not be right for you right now

  • You want the job because it pays more or has a corner office or fancy title. Leading others can be rewarding and it can also be frustrating. On the frustrating days, few leaders ever say the pay or bigger office makes up for it.
  • You think employees are generally lazy, dishonest, or feel entitled.
  • You think leadership in this organization is incompetent.
  • You’re looking forward to telling people what to do.
  • You want someone fired and getting this job is the way to do it.
  • You struggle to speak up with your opinion.

Remember, if you’re not ready for a leadership role right now, you can become ready by working on it, if you want to work on it. Leadership can be learned and there are a lot of links up above to our previous blog posts to help you out (and sometimes a lateral career move makes sense in the interim).

Stay tuned for our next blog two weeks from now when we provide you with some great tips on how to bring a coach approach to your leadership style once you’ve gotten the promotion!

And perhaps even more importantly, remember that being a leader or manager isn’t required of everyone. If it’s not for you, seek out the other influential roles in your organization that don’t require leading others but that play to your strengths. If you look carefully, you’ll probably find roles that are influential and don’t require formally leading others.

Coach’s Questions

What makes you want to be a leader, or not? Regardless of whether you do, or don’t, try for a leadership role now, what can you be doing to prepare yourself for your next career step?

 

Our favourite tools to develop your executive presence

When I say executive presence, I’ll bet you have something in mind or someone in mind but you might be hard-pressed to fully define executive presence.

You’re not alone; a lot of folks I talk to feel they know what executive presence is but can’t really describe it.  

Of course, if you can’t describe something, it’s more difficult to achieve it. So, let’s define what it is AND help you develop your executive presence.

Some say that, essentially, having an executive presence is being able to inspire confidence in your leadership with members of your team, among your peers, and with anyone to whom you report.

However, rather than having an innate ability or trait, an executive presence is a combination of qualities or characteristics plus skills that can be developed.

Sure, some people will just naturally have more “presence” and some folks need to work at it a bit more but all of us benefit from naming specific areas we want to develop (particularly as leadership roles become more and more senior and demands are greater).

Why should you care about or want to develop your executive presence?

Having an executive presence inspires confidence and persuades others around you that your leadership matters. If someone believes in your ability to lead, it gives you opportunity whether that person is choosing to be led by you, to work with you, or to hire you or your company.

Here are the key qualities to cultivate that will develop your executive presence. Notice we’ve defined them all starting with a “C” you can think of these qualities as “the C-suite that will get you into the C-Suite”:

  • Connected – successful leaders cultivate a network of relationships and include diverse opinions in discussions, using emotional intelligence skills to navigate organizational politics and the myriad complexities of team dynamics at all levels. Leaders need to be able to delegate effectively and rely on their team members, which means building trust.
  • Charismatic – being a strong leader means having the ability to understand yourself and others well enough to inspire and motivate. It’s being able to talk with anyone and put them at ease; while you are able to engage everyone in the discussion, it’s clear that you are confident in your leadership role. Feeling comfortable talking to anyone is something that a lot of our clients find challenging. One tool that can help is our Everything DiSC workshops that give leaders tools to adapt to people around them and more easily build relationships.
  • Confident and Compassionate – when you are self-aware – knowing your own strengths and challenges and how to work with a variety of personalities – a few things happen. One of them is that your emotional intelligence rises and high emotional intelligence allows a leader to walk that fine, but essential, line between assertive and aggressive. By working with intention and having a purposeful vision, leaders demonstrate self-confidence, build trust, and align goals with core values.
  • Credible and Consistent – understanding builds trust, and it takes effort – but a highly functioning team is well worth the investment. Our Five Behaviours of a Cohesive Team workshop helps leaders and their teams understand themselves and how to work well together (including building trust and how to build the good type of conflict in the workplace!).   
  • Clear and Conciseeffective communication skills are, of course, essential and that includes articulating and rearticulating a clear, consistent vision in ways that others can see it and get behind it. That also means having exceptional listening skills so you can understand how others are receiving your message which brings to mind my favourite quote from motivational writer Stephen R. Covey: “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Recognizing your listening style is the first step to improving communication with your team.
  • Calm and Composed – being able to function effectively under stress – without losing all the above characteristics by panicking, dramatizing, or appearing overwhelmed – is essential to developing your executive presence. Effective leaders appear capable, in control, and able to handle even difficult or unexpected situations with grace and poise even if that sometimes means you “have to fake it til you make it.” Use the EQi and EQ360 tools to determine where and how you can make changes to improve how you lead your team through inevitable challenges.
  • Coach Approachtaking a coach approach to leadership can be transformative, encouraging greater communication, improving work relationships, and increasing both productivity and job satisfaction. Learning how to build a coaching culture is an important tool to develop your executive presence. Check out our new Coach Approach to Leadership program and recently released Coach Approach to Leadership Journal.  

    Coach Approach to Leadership Journal

    Coach Approach to Leadership Journal

Coach’s Questions:

Which qualities would you like to improve to develop your executive presence? What steps can you take to enhance your growth in this area? What gaps are there between how you see yourself and how others might see you?

Looking back: Why reflection is essential for success in the new year

 

The beginning of a new year always feels like a fresh start, often with a focus on New Year’s resolutions and everything we’re going to start, or do differently, in the year ahead.

But, looking back, isn’t just sentimental or self-indulgent – it’s necessary to achieving success.  A review of the last 12 months helps to evaluate what worked and what could be better. Some of us need to take a moment and remind ourselves of the successes as much as the lessons learned.

At the same time, some folks are hesitant to undertake this process unless it’s been a fantastic year (because then reflection is painless and celebratory!). The truth is, the worst years and the best years all have some wins, all teach us lessons, and can all remind us of our resilience.

So, before you dive into setting goals, plans, and strategies for you and your team this new year, give some thought to these reflective ideas.

Here are five things to consider about the last year as you prepare for success in the new year:

  1. Take stock: What worked with your team? What didn’t? Grab your calendar and start looking back since January 1 of last year make notes about times you and your team members accomplished goals, encountered conflict, or faced challenges.
    Try to take a step back and look at each situation critically – not to judge, but to learn. A question to ask yourself is – “what else was going on at that time?” You may have insight now that you didn’t then. This is important because you may see positive and negative trends or issues that need attention, plus understanding your leadership style can help you facilitate teamwork and manage more effectively.
  2. Be honest: What went wrong and what went right? More importantly, how did everyone react? How did you react? Did you overlook problems? Avoid confrontation? Overreact? Perhaps you’ll decide to have some difficult conversations or delegate more effectively
    Learning from mistakes and achievements is what sets us up for success in the future. Recognizing today’s regret or missed opportunity could help you be on top of your game next time.
  3. Consider change: What does the team look like now versus 12 months ago? What loss and gains in talent have you had? Why? Were there any other disruptions you faced with the clients, workspace, or industry? Take a peek at your roster from last January, and now.
    Hindsight is 20-20 as they say, so shift your perspective on failure: Looking back now may give you insights into what planning, resources, or interventions may have made things unfold differently.
  4. Health check: Does the team feel valued? When was the last time you checked in with your team members? When you consider all of the above reflection you’ve undertaken as you’ve gone back through last year’s calendar, ask yourself whether you are really building a strong team or if you could improve by building team trust.
  5. Lessons learned: After you’ve gone through all of the above, pause and consider everything you have reviewed and reflected on. What did the last year teach you about your leadership and your team? Once you’ve considered what challenges made you stretch and pinpointed some growth opportunities, you can jump into some informed goal setting for your success in the new year (don’t forget our ultimate goal setting worksheet!). This can include refining existing goals and setting entirely new goals.

Pro-tip: Consider starting a journal to make reflection for next year easier!

Set aside time daily, weekly, or monthly to make notes about your successes, failures, challenges, and other observations. Concrete examples will be very informative the next time you want to reflect.

Coach’s Questions:

What surprised you most during the past year? If it was good, how do you make that happen more often? If not, how do you avoid those surprises in the year ahead?
What steps can you take to improve your leadership? Are there things that you could do to strengthen your team? What goals for success in the new year are the most exciting for you?

10 simple ways to thank your team this holiday season

As leaders we often find it particularly difficult to let go and make the most of the holiday season.

For some of us, the fiscal year ends with the calendar year and so we have all sorts of year-end reporting, planning for the new year, etcetera. That’s all while our staff and our families are gearing up for the break and likely feeling anxious, excited, happy, and stressed all at once.

How do we use this festive time to show staff we appreciate them AND reduce our own stress and burden at the same time? One word covers it all: gratitude.

You might have thought I was going to say, “Bonus.”  While more money and a bigger bonus may work to motivate some staff and it is one way to show them you appreciate them, it won’t work with everyone – and not to the depth of some other forms of gratitude.

Additionally, giving bonuses alone won’t reduce the stress on you, your team, or your organization.

Now, having said that, in our western culture, money does play a factor – so don’t completely discard the idea of compensating folks for their hard work. That’s essential, but think of it as the baseline of gratitude. You can, quite easily, do much more to thank your team that will be impactful for your staff and for you as well.

You see, showing gratitude is great not only for the person receiving it, but for the giver too.  We’ve seen study after study, and tangible proof in ourselves and our clients, that feeling gratitude and expressing it, bring both physical and psychological benefits, including:

    • Stronger relationships1
    • Fewer aches and pains 2
    • Sleeping better 3
    • Reducing aggression while increasing empathy 4
    • Reducing toxic emotions 5
    • Improving self-esteem 6
    • Greater resilience 7

Sounds miraculous, right? Well, tis the time of year for miracles…
Sounds too simple? Give showing gratitude a try; you might be amazed.

How do you show gratitude to thank your team? Well, first, remember to ask yourself that question for each team member individually, not for the team as a whole.

This is important because one approach won’t necessarily speak to everyone. Different people enjoy recognition, appreciation, and rewards in different ways, so cater your communication style to show your appreciation in the most effective way.

Here are our top 10 suggestions for ways to show gratitude to your team members:

  1. Hand deliver a thank you. Wrap small gifts, add a short handwritten note (with sincere and specific thanks for something each team member has contributed), and give the presents out by hand. It’s so much more meaningful to be given a gift personally, especially one with a heartfelt message. Plus you get to say thank you in person, too!
  2. Publicly recognize team members. Again, public recognition doesn’t work for everyone – and some folks hate this – but it can mean so much more than a gift or other reward to some team members. If you know they’ll appreciate it, seize moments to acknowledge extra efforts, exceptional skills, and meaningful contributions as they arise. This might be informally when you meet in the office, during a staff meeting, or as part of a celebratory lunch or dinner.
  3. Link their work to the company. Make the effort to say more than just a generic thank you for working hard; take a moment to really recognize someone’s personal contribution to the company. Acknowledge something specific a team member has done, thank them, and link their work to how they’ve had an impact on the organizational success. Often we hear from folks that they really don’t see how their work makes any difference. Helping them see that is enormous for them.
  4. Skip the holiday party and give a thank you party in the new year. At Padraig, we’re conscious of the diversity of our teams and recognize that Christmas is one holiday at this time of year, but not the only one.
    In a move away from religious-based holidays, we’ve shifted instead to a New Year’s celebration. Other corporations choose to offer a team celebration after the busy festive season. Tying the event in as a thank you rather than a holiday celebration shows even more gratitude to your team.
  5. Give them time to recognize their own team. If you have managers reporting to you who have folks reporting to them, give them time off (and a budget) to take their own staff out for an afternoon.
  6. Encourage journaling. If you’re a regular reader of The Coach’s Questions, you know we advocate journaling to help leaders be stronger and more resilient. In fact, the main reason it works is because we reflect on our gratitude as we write the journal entry.
    Share that gift with your team. Buy them a beautiful journal (remember our first note about hand delivering a thank you!) and talk with them about the benefits that accrue from journaling and being mindful – and why you want to give them those benefits.
  7. Schedule gratitude sessions in your meetings. This can become a habit that has a ripple effect throughout the organization. Simply schedule two to three minutes into every meeting agenda for team members to give spontaneous thanks to colleagues or others in the room. Be prepared to model it yourself the first few times.
  8. Set the tone; lead by example. Start including random acts of thanks in your daily routine. Don’t underestimate the impact of simply expressing gratitude and building relationships with your team in simple, but genuine, ways.
    Heading to a meeting? Think about what you’re grateful for, and mention it at the meeting. Walking to the breakroom? Thank some staff along the way – mentioning something specific that they’ve done or that they’re working on that you appreciate.
  9. Build opportunities to show gratitude along with your team. Find half a day where you can contribute to a charity or local good cause, and ask your team for input into who they’d like to help or where they would like to go. Maybe a local food bank could use your help packing care packages or a community services agency needs gifts for children.
    A lot of organizations that I’ve worked with contribute a holiday hamper to a family in need through a local charity. Sometimes this is just a donation of cash, or often it’s a box in a breakroom where staff can contribute food items and small gifts for the children.
    What if you changed it up and made this gesture of goodwill an event for your team? Take two to three hours one afternoon and you and your team make a field trip to a local store. Go with a list of everything you need and then shop together – some folks picking out the food, others the gifts, and some the extras (warm coats for the kids maybe?).
    You pick up the tab with the company credit card (ideally), but the whole team has an afternoon together, away from work, thinking about others and contributing to their own gratitude and happiness.
  10.  Give a bonus. While relying on a bonus alone as the only way to show gratitude won’t do enough for staff (and it won’t do much for you, either!), let’s not forget that your folks have a lot of bills at this time of year, too.
    If the company can afford it, don’t wait til Christmas Eve – give those holiday bonuses early so everyone feels the weight from extra financial demands lifted. Small gestures like this can have a huge impact.

The Coach’s Questions:

What ways to show gratitude are new for you? Can you think of things (or people) you take for granted? When have you been touched by someone expressing gratitude to you? How can you show your gratitude today?

 

 

 

 


1. Williams, L. A., & Bartlett, M. Y. (2015). Warm thanks: Gratitude expression facilitates social affiliation in new relationships via perceived warmth. Emotion, 15(1), 1-5.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000017

2. Adler, M. G. and Fagley, N. S. (2005), Appreciation: Individual Differences in Finding Value and Meaning as a Unique Predictor of Subjective Well‐Being. Journal of Personality, 73: 79-114. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2004.00305.x

3. Digdon, N. and Koble, A. (2011), Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 3: 193-206. doi:10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01049.x

4. Nathan DeWall, C., Lambert, N. M., Pond, R. S., Kashdan, T. B., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(2), 232–240. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550611416675

5. Numerous works by Robert A. Emmons. Google Search

6. Lung Hung Chen & Chia-Huei Wu (2014) Gratitude Enhances Change in Athletes’ Self-Esteem: The Moderating Role of Trust in Coach, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 26:3, 349-362, DOI:10.1080/10413200.2014.889255

7. Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crisis? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 365-376.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.365

Are your limiting beliefs holding you back?

The human brain is paradoxical. The same grey matter that helps us cope with everything life throws at us can either limit us or enable us.

That tiny, inner voice can counsel us to wait – or it could encourage us to envision a goal and go for broke. Sometimes ‘wait’ is the right choice, but how do we know?

The question is: Are limiting beliefs holding you back?

Sometimes limiting beliefs may be rooted in previous experiences. For example, if you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone on a school project and it was an epic failure, the thought of trying something that’s a stretch for your professional skill set makes you queasy.

It’s also possible that limiting beliefs were ingrained in you from a young age. For example, if a person whose opinion you valued always said you were academically gifted, but not ‘people smart,’ that may be a belief that you carry with you as an adult. These kinds of formative interactions can translate into deep-seated beliefs.

Now, some of our beliefs have value and keep us safe. But being prudent about when you cross the street so you don’t get hit by a car or knowing when to hold your tongue so you don’t say something you will regret are very different from taking reasonable risks and trying to achieve more personally and professionally.

Limiting beliefs are not grounded in fact. Your inner voice might tell you a bunch of limiting beliefs about your ability, which is the recipe for settling for mediocre (or much less!). For example, a limiting belief could be deciding you aren’t ready to challenge your career comfort zone.

What we want to confront is the kind of limiting belief that holds us back unnecessarily. Many times beliefs we accept, consciously or subconsciously, are very subjective. Our selection process of a lifetime of experience is serendipitous at best!

Even if life experiences resonate with us and become a default belief, future experiences won’t necessarily benefit from past perceptions. You can, and sometimes should, challenge beliefs that shape your life.

So how do you know if you have a limiting belief?

You’ll most often discover limiting beliefs if you consider the areas of your life that end up with you feeling unsatisfied about the results or outcomes.

Often limiting beliefs (and sometimes excuses or reasons) are why these things aren’t working the way you wish they would.

Sometimes they’re quite subtle, and we think we’re expertly engaging in positive self-talk. For example, telling yourself: “I want to ask for a raise, but I don’t think now is the right time.” Are you being practical and pragmatic, or are you fearful that the boss might say no; that they will think you are greedy; or if they felt you were worth more, they’d have already offered it to you?

There are usually strong emotions tied to limiting beliefs, so considering how you feel can help to uncover the underlying limiting belief.

Here are some common types of belief statements we encounter among clients, and ways to reflect whether any limiting beliefs might be causing the behaviour:

  • “I should confront this problem with them … but I’m just not good at it.”
    • I dread confrontation; I’ll make things worse; maybe things will get better if I ignore it or wait a bit longer

Pro tip:  Check out our previous blog on how to have a difficult conversation!

  • “I’d like to find a new career opportunity, but I’m not actively looking right now.”
    • I’m not marketable; I haven’t had enough success to stand out; I’m too young (or old!) to try to get a new position
  • “I’d like to have a relationship, but it’s hard to meet people.”
    • I’ll be rejected again and I’m tired of being hurt; I’m don’t attract the kind of person I want for a life partner; I’m not rich or attractive enough

When your inner voice is stopping you from accomplishing more, you don’t have to listen. Are there goals you’d like to achieve? Do you have secret desires for things you’d like to accomplish?

If limiting beliefs are holding you back or perhaps even making you feel very comfortable and safe when you fail to act, maybe it’s worth pushing back.

Challenging beliefs requires us to:

  • Understand and acknowledge the need for all of us, as humans, to have limiting beliefs. This isn’t a defect of character or some impossible challenge, but rather an opportunity to do some reflection. Is it a limiting belief masquerading as being honest and practical?
  • Trust that you can change limiting beliefs into enabling beliefs. Countless others of us have and you can, too. It can help to ensure your beliefs align with your personal vision statement.
  • You can get help to reframe limiting beliefs; you aren’t alone. If it’s difficult for you, find others who can support you. This might be a coach, mentor, friend, spouse, or supportive family member.

Here’s how to challenge any limiting beliefs you may have:

  1. Uncover the limiting belief. Think about the goals you’d like to set, and what you believe or what you’re telling yourself about them. Write that down, consider the feelings you associate with the words, and reflect.
  2. Notice when the voice is talking. When our Padraig team members went through coach training at Royal Roads, we all found their slightly cheeky phrase to help you notice and stop limiting self-talk to be quite memorable. They likened the voice in our heads always quacking away to a little rubber duck on our shoulders giving us constant limiting feedback “you can’t do this…” or, “you’re not good enough…”. Their suggestion? Knock that little rubber duck off your shoulder to Shut the Duck Up!
  3. Put the limiting belief in perspective. These beliefs that you are holding even if you’ve held them for a long time do not have to be your truth. In this moment, you have a choice to either keep believing the limitation or choose to change it so that you have a shot at achieving your goals or desires for life.
  4. Rewrite the script, transforming the limiting into enabling. Take time to consider what you have learned or what you could do to change things. If you have not asked for a raise because you don’t think it’s the right time, the real limiting belief for you might be that you worry you’ll be refused.

    Perhaps you feel angry that you haven’t been given a raise because you’ve worked really hard. Instead of saying it’s not the right time, you can rewrite the belief to be: “After achieving these specific successes and bringing in new business, I’m going to ask for a raise.”

 A great way to help you rewrite the script is to think of your closest friend and imagine they are sharing with you this belief, this feeling they have.  What would you say to them? Can you say that to yourself?

5. Start acting on the new belief. Changing beliefs from limiting to enabling comes with risk, and risk can be scary. However, courage is finding the ability to push through fear to try to achieve a goal. Perhaps find a friend, mentor, or trusted confidante who can help you uncover why you should go for it. Be careful to find someone you know is supportive and believes in you. Going back to the same person who has previously fed your limiting beliefs won’t be helpful.

Acting on the new belief means you are going to choose to act differently. Tell yourself, I have worked really hard and I’ve achieved some good things for the company. I’m not being greedy if I bring value to the business and ask for a raise. Doesn’t feeling you are worthy of asking for a raise feel better than feeling you weren’t valued enough to be offered more remuneration?

If you find yourself thinking something like, “I’ll never be able to do this…” try instead, “what could I do that might help me do this?”

Every time you challenge a limiting belief you are allowing yourself potential for growth. Even if you don’t immediately achieve all your goals and desires, you are taking steps in a new direction and not allowing limiting beliefs to hold you back. It’s all about progress, not perfection.

Coach’s Questions:

What are you telling yourself about your dreams or hopes? Where are you telling yourself something isn’t realistic? Have you stopped to check whether those inner stories are true? What steps can you take to ensure your inner voice is enabling, not limiting?

Preventing leadership burnout

Have you snapped at someone when you’d normally be patient? Felt irritable with everyone and disinterested in what you normally value? Reacted to situations disproportionately?

These could be warning signs that you are suffering from burnout or close to it.

In a recent article on Digital Freelancer, James Sower outlined how to differentiate stress from burnout and it resonated for me; it made sense. Essentially, he explains the characteristics of stress versus burnout this way:

Stress

  • Feel emotions more strongly
  • Feel less energy
  • Leads to being anxious or worried about a situation
  • Manifests as physical consequences, such as feeling tired or nauseated or having headaches
Burnout

  • Feel emotionless or disinterested
  • Feel less motivated, optimistic, or hopeful
  • Leads to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or depression
  • Manifests as emotional consequences, such as experiencing anger, mood swings, or depression

When you feel the stress list building up and maybe you’re starting to worry about reaching burnout, or maybe you’re already there, try these strategies:

Let go of perfectionism

I think those of us who are overachievers are arguably more prone to burnout than others. If you have perfectionist tendencies, you may be pushing yourself toward burnout by exceeding expectations unnecessarily.

It’s important to understand when your personal expectations are higher than what’s expected. Overproducing can generate a lot of extra pressure as you try to juggle all your deliverables and priorities.

It’s time to step back, take stock, and delegate

When you feel like you’re close to hitting a wall, that should be your trigger — let that feeling catch your attention — and stop. Take a moment to look at what you’re doing and what needs to be done. Are you working to meet goals, or trying to maintain total control? It can be gratifying to have the reputation as a leader who does it all, but perhaps it’s time to delegate effectively to save time and your sanity!

Some folks find it difficult to trust that staff or peers can complete tasks to their own exacting standards, but there are benefits to educating others and giving them opportunities to learn and grow. Notably, giving yourself a manageable workload and the time to add value where it is most needed.

Control your schedule

One of the biggest challenges for the leaders we work with is finding balance, and one of fastest paths to burnout is to lose control of your schedule. While you want to be available to your team, your clients, and your boss or board, you still need to have time for your own work and a life outside of work (that includes weekends!).

It is possible for you to draw pretty clear and firm boundaries about your time and availability. Read our tips on how to set boundaries at work and then implement strategies to help you set limits and say no without losing respect.

Limit tech time

Never being unplugged exacerbates feelings of burnout. It’s an easy fix in theory, because we’re supposed to control our technological devices, but many of us are addicted to the quick fix of “quickly” checking emails and texts and getting sucked into work till late at night or in the early morning hours.

Decide what your boundaries for tech will be and treat it like a ritual. Some people find it helps them to turn off cell phones and shut down iPads and laptops at a certain time each evening, while others will set weekends as their tech-free time or have set hours for connectivity outside the office. Did you know most phones and devices these days allow you to set quiet hours? If you’re curious, Google it for your device.

If you feel you’re not ready to be untethered from electronics, start small. Try not checking your phone as soon as you wake up and wait until you’re ready and have had breakfast. Unplug at night at least an hour before you go to sleep because studies show our brains won’t rest immediately after screen time — and rest helps us avoid burnout. A big step here for a lot of us is to keep the phone out of the bedroom — charge it overnight, in the kitchen, or in the hall by the door where you exit and enter the house.

Accept help on the home front

When things are particularly hectic at work, try to find help at home. This might mean hiring a house cleaning service, ordering ready-to-cook healthy meals, or working out how to divide household tasks with your partner and children.

If you are a parent, carve out some adult time by hiring a babysitter to watch the kids for a few hours. It might be in the morning so you can go to the gym, or for the evening so you can go grab a bite or catch a new movie.

Be creative to find balance and make time to nurture your own interests (and stave off feelings of burnout!).

I get it — it may feel frivolous or it may seem like these little steps aren’t going to make a difference, but take a look again at those two lists at the top — what looks like stress and what looks like burnout. If you’re reaching burnout, every little thing is going to help.  

Cultivate gratitude

It’s pretty hard to feel grateful if all you do is work, work, work and try to eat and sleep as you can around the work. But, finding reasons to be grateful during your day, even tiny little reasons, and taking time to acknowledge them, counteracts the feelings of negativity and hopelessness caused by burnout. This will help you find ways to get (and stay!) motivated about work.

Acknowledge team members who work hard and find ways to make arduous tasks a little less painful by bringing in a snack for the team because joy is contagious. A positive attitude sounds cheesy, but it shifts perspective and elevates the mood. Feeling appreciated and having a shared purpose are not to be underrated!

What is new and exciting at work? Find opportunities for workshops, courses, or conferences that will help you professionally, but also give you something to look forward to. If that’s out of the question, what about setting up a lunch or a breakfast with your team to simply discuss the latest trends, or to talk about a relevant book? Burnout is less likely to surface if you and your team are not only sharing the load, but enjoying the work.

Practice mindfulness throughout the day

We hear admonishments to walk and move periodically so that our physical well-being isn’t adversely affected by sitting at a desk for hours each day, but it’s just as important to give our minds a break.

Whether you prefer to think of mindfulness as self-awareness or detaching, it’s important to relax and recharge intellectually every day (not just on a holiday or day off!). Starting with just a few moments a day, at your desk, can help. In fact, a lot of us who have started exploring mindfulness have found it’s a little addictive — it’s so effective, you naturally bring it into your day over and over. Check out our tips for how to be mindful when your mind is full for other ways you can bring greater mindfulness to your day.

Seek professional advice

Athletes have trainers and dancers, musicians, and artists seek instruction and mentorship. Similarly, business leaders can benefit from hiring one-to-one executive coaches.

At Padraig, our goal is to help our clients be better leaders and more successful than they are now.  Take our online quiz to see if coaching might be right for you right now.

 

Coach’s Questions:

Do you recognize any characteristics of stress in your life? What about burnout? Which strategies do you think could help you prevent leadership burnout? What can you try today?

How to delegate effectively to save time and your sanity

It’s no secret: An important best practice in leadership circles is to spend your time on tasks and projects that are the best use of your time and delegate the rest.

Why then, as managers and leaders, don’t we delegate more often and more effectively?

The most common excuse I hear from my clients who resist delegating more is, “it’s just easier to do it myself.”

The trouble with that thinking is that it’s very short-term, and it’s not good for you, your company, or your team.

That way of thinking focuses on the challenge of delegating right now rather than the bigger wins overall that you could make long-term by delegating – or the costs you’re going to face long-term by not delegating.

There are so many drawbacks associated with not fully embracing the magic of delegation:

Opportunity costs

What are you not working on, moving forward with, or making space for (both for you personally and the organization) because your time is being spent on something that you personally don’t need to be doing?

Employee morale

If your team doesn’t feel like you can trust them with taking things off your plate and owning the task themselves, job satisfaction, initiative, and employee retention all start to slip. They’re here to do a job, yes, but they also WANT to learn new things, advance their careers, and feel useful.

Revenue

It costs MORE for you to do that task over time than the time it would take for you to train and delegate said task. Yes, the first few times that you delegate there is an investment of your time, but the return on the investment can be tenfold, or more!

Consider the ROI of the time you spend showing an employee how to do something. Even tasks that appear to be a one-off situation often aren’t. The skills learned can often be transferable.

So, what can you do about it?

There are three steps to effective delegation: knowing what to delegate, knowing how to delegate, and reviewing how the process of delegation worked.

Step 1: Knowing what to delegate

When you have that familiar feeling of: “Oh, it’s easier if I just do it myself,” or when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by diminishing time and increasing deadlines, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Would this assignment give someone the chance to grow in their role and develop new skills?
  • Is there any chance this activity might occur again? Would teaching it now to someone else provide lasting benefits?
  • Could the assignment be divided up and given to multiple team members, focusing on each of their individual skills? This is an opportunity to encourage teamwork and make use of each team member’s strengths, all while freeing up your time and attention.
  • And quite simply — Is this something that you know should be delegated?

If it’s strategic or highly tactical, this might be something you need to do yourself or with some support from the team. However, if it doesn’t require your direct management and you’re pressed for time on issues that are more strategic, now is the time to practice delegating.

Do I delegate enough?

Start by keeping track of your time for a few days, or even a week and try your best to keep a record of how much time you spend on each task throughout the day. It can feel onerous, but our clients who try this often find incredible opportunities for enormous wins through delegation.

Awareness around how we’re spending our time allows us to identify what’s eating up time. Knowing what to delegate can help your team grow and give you the time to focus on other priorities.

Step 2: Knowing how to delegate

Once you’ve identified something to be delegated, it’s time to hand it over.

To choose the best person to own the task or project ask yourself:

  • Is it best to be split amongst team members or given to one person?
  • Is there someone on the team who has the background, skills, knowledge, or just a keen interest to tackle this assignment? If not, is there someone who would likely learn it quickly? Is there someone who loves new challenges, or thrives on deadlines who could run with this?

To hand it over, you’re going to want to communicate the basics:

  • What needs to be done
  • When it needs to be finished
  • What sort of updates or progress reports you want
  • How big of a priority it is within the rest of their workload
  • What resources they can access to help them
  • Any extenuating circumstances
  • Context – for example, if there are additional stakeholders to consult or advise

How you communicate that list is just as important as what you communicate.  

We’ve created a downloadable DELEGATING CHEAT SHEET for you that summarizes what you need to share and how to share it for different types of employees.

 

Step 3: Evaluate and revise

Improving business process involves constant review, evaluation, and tweaking. It doesn’t have to be onerous, but if you focus a bit of attention on it, things get better quickly.

  • Have a quick debrief meeting with the delegate and ask them if they had all the information they needed to do a good job, if they had any challenges, and what they liked about the project.
  • Look at how much time it took you to delegate and if the outcome was what you wanted or expected.
  • What went well?
  • What could you do better next time?

You know…I get it, delegating is not as simple as sending an email and sometimes that feels harder than doing it yourself, but making a habit of strategically focusing your efforts and your team’s efforts can create huge wins for productivity, employee engagement, and business growth. And who doesn’t want to be a leader racking up huge wins?!?

Frankly, leaders who delegate well are leaders who advance.

Coach’s Questions

What is hovering over you, right now, that could be (should be?) delegated to someone on your team?  What’s stopping you?

Finding ways to conquer the loneliness of leadership

You work for years to climb the corporate ladder and you finally reach the top. This is it! Years of hard work and effort have paid off and you are an executive in charge of a team, a division, or perhaps an entire organization, company or government department.

As exciting as it is, there is a small downside when we rise up through the ranks that you may not have anticipated: It can be a bit lonely at the top. Sure, you’ve probably heard it before but for many of us, until we start to experience it, we don’t expect it.  

For many, admitting to loneliness, isolation and fear equates to weakness and they feel they can’t be weak in the top job — so they try to hide it.  While others, the internal conflict they feel is that when you’re an organizational leader, you’ve got power, privilege, and perks and so it might seem terribly self-indulgent or even wrong to admit you feel lonely and isolated.

For some, they haven’t yet even put their finger on the feelings because feeling lonely as a leader just isn’t often discussed.

The reality of leader isolation

If you feel lonely or isolated in your role, you’re not alone. And if it makes you feel better about acknowledging it, several years ago the Harvard Business Review quantified the impact of feelings of isolation.

According to the HBR, their survey of CEOs showed that half of CEOs admitted feeling lonely and of these, 61 percent expressed concerns it hindered them at work.

There are many reasons why leaders feel isolated.

Leadership necessitates some distance. You can be friendly with your team members, but as the boss you are not one of them. You’re privy to more information, you need to keep some things confidential, and there will be times, where the difficult decisions you have to make will hurt those around you. As a boss you can’t let on that you don’t have all the answers and perhaps you even struggle with imposter syndrome. Many top executives are under scrutiny, not just by a board of directors or shareholders, but by the press. Protecting your privacy and safeguarding your reputation is an important consideration when you can’t be sure who to trust. There are many reasons why so many leaders keep themselves a bit apart from their team members.

Your team members may be holding back, especially if you’ve been promoted. Where you were once included in informal lunches, birthday parties, and get-togethers, team members are aware that the boss isn’t there to socialize with them in quite the same way as their peers. This might be a natural deference to authority, where they want to ensure the team leader sees them only in a professional capacity. It can also be a case where team members don’t feel their opinions will be valued or heard, so they keep themselves apart from top-level executives and watch what they say. Realistically, many team members may feel separated from the executive tier by office doors and calendar-protecting, access-limiting executive assistants.

It’s new territory. Whether you’re shifting gears from go-getting team member to leader or a veteran leader in a new role, it takes time to figure out how to engage your team members in the ways they want and the ways they need. As you size things up, you’re likely fine with some distance and so is the rest of the team. But on some level it may feel that you’re excluded.

The damaging effects of leadership isolation

As human beings, we’re built for connection. Feeling lonely can affect our health and wellbeing.

When we feel isolated in a social context, it activates the alarm response; on a physiological level, loneliness affects our behaviour (consciously and subconsciously). Those feelings of fight or flight release stress hormones, which cumulatively can make us sick.

When lonely and stressed, many folks won’t sleep well and immunity can be weakened because stress hormones inhibit the production of those germ-fighting white blood cells.

In addition to our interior response, you can guess that your external responses could change too. If you as the leader feel alone and isolated, your actions will reflect this.

You’ve heard of the ripple effect or the butterfly effect? Your actions as a leader will not only affect your performance, but also that of those around and under you. Feeling lonely and isolated could come out as negativity, anger, or perhaps frustration. If loneliness has made you tired and anxious, it could have an impact on the kind of decisions you’re making.

It can also affect how others perceive you. They might assume you are aloof, unreachable, unapproachable, arrogant, or overwhelmed. If they think you’re miserable, will they be inspired to follow your leadership?

How to conquer loneliness at the top

We’ve established many reasons why leaders feel isolated and also the negative effect loneliness can have on you, your work, and your team.

It’s important to feel supported and connected. There are a few ways you can achieve this:

Build a support network. Some folks find professional development organizations, where they can spend time with peers who understand their unique concerns and struggles, to be the answer. Others will pull together a more informal support group, perhaps comprised of a long-standing mentor, retired leaders, or peers who work in other industries. The key is to find a few people you can turn to when you need to vent, seek advice, or brainstorm in confidence. When we have a support network that feels safe and where we belong, we feel happier and more able to weather challenges — and science even says people who feeling connected socially live longer, healthier lives. Lowering stress also improves our immunity (physical health) and feelings of anxiety and depression (emotional health).

Consider an executive coach. When you work with a professional coach, you gain a trusted advisor who can help you through any challenges you face (and many organizations will pay to coach their leaders because the ROI is higher than with other training and development). One to one coaching with Padraig is confidential and personalized, grounded in transformative change.

Find ways to connect appropriately with your team members. Even as the leader, you can connect with your team members in ways that let them see you as an approachable leader. There are many team-building opportunities and it’s good to embrace those times to foster a connection and build trust. It might be talking about shared interests like movies or sports, asking about outside interests, perhaps celebrating successes together, or having an impromptu coffee and muffin together. Stay in touch with the grassroots of your organization so that you know you’re not being given a filtered and managed perception of the business reality. This might mean holding town halls, walking the halls and chatting informally with team members, or having skip-level meetings so that you meet with more junior employees without the mid-level bosses mediating the discussion.

Take work-life balance seriously. Fostering relationships outside of work is important for feeling that sense of belonging and wellbeing. If your role as a leader makes you feel isolated, achieving work-life balance is all the more crucial. Make time for friends, family, loved ones, volunteering, and hobbies or interests. Your connection to other people and feeling well-rounded can improve your health and empower you for the hours you are at work.

Coach’s Questions:

When have you experienced loneliness or feelings of isolation as a leader? Are you already seeing the effects? What changes can you make to feel more supported and connected? What tools will help you cope with leadership isolation?