The Ladder of Assumptions

What kind of preparation do you do for important work-related conversations? What kind of thoughts do you have during a crucial dialogue?  What approach do you take when you follow-up on a conversation?

Many of us will brainstorm points we need to cover so we don’t forget.

Maybe if it’s a particularly sensitive topic we’ll carefully craft wording so we don’t say something the wrong way. We might be thinking about steps we can take to communicate effectively.

These are all beneficial techniques.

I want to outline another tool that will help you prepare a little differently.

The Ladder of Assumptions, also called the Ladder of Inference, is a fascinating tool that helps us understand our thinking – so we can better interact – and thus succeed.

Now, just like climbing a ladder in real life, we’re going to start at the bottom and work our way to the top. Each rung is a different point in the process.

The rungs on the ladder of assumptions 

Ladder of Assumptions

Ladder of Assumptions

The first step involves our senses. Inherently we scan our environments and pick up what can be seen and heard. It’s possible we might also notice other sensory information like smell or touch.

We are likely not consciously aware of most of the things we’re observing (this is when people talk about “I just had a feeling about it” or “I had a sixth sense about it…”).


As we subconsciously absorb information about what we experience, our brain moves to the next step and begins taking more notice of certain elements. It’s human nature that we notice some things more than others.


As we process this selected information, we move to the next step and start to apply some meaning to it. The way in which we do this is based on culture, experience, and past beliefs.

It could be influenced by the culture of a community, our own heritage, or the corporate culture. Or, it could be applied from our personal norms and values.


Next, we start making assumptions based on the meaning we’ve ascribed to the information we selected. At this stage, our assumptions are based on our own view of things and applied to others.


After making assumptions we move up the ladder to drawing conclusions about the environment or situation, the world around us.

Depending on the context, this could mean we’re reaching decisions or passing judgments about coworkers, bosses, the team we’re working with on a particular project, or the company.


We adopt beliefs based on conclusions we draw, thinking them to be true (even if there is no empirical evidence!), and these beliefs inform how we think. Our beliefs guide our actions.


We reach the top of the ladder now as we take actions based on our beliefs. What we believe could pertain to our organization, people around us, or even the world.

Takeaways from the ladder

You can probably see how the Ladder of Assumptions could be a good thing. Our ability to use our senses to quickly assess the environment and people around us and use that information to draw conclusions could protect us from harm.

Going with our guts is often wise. However, the Ladder of Assumptions happens all the time and consequently could be less reliable if we’ve misinterpreted first impressions or made false assumptions. Let’s delve into this a bit more.

Subconscious versus conscious

It’s worth noting that the first few steps of the Ladder of Assumptions occur at a subconscious level. We’re not deciding to evaluate what’s around us based on our senses, it just happens viscerally, instinctively.

Think about walking into a crowded presentation room and what you might observe: Your senses might pick up on the bright natural light pouring in through windows, that people are stopped at a registration table to the left-hand side of you, and there’s a song you like playing in the background.

However, what you select out of that barrage of information might be the registration table while you’re not consciously aware of the light and the sound. You might grow in awareness, moving from the subconscious to the conscious. For example, you might catch yourself humming along to music and then notice that it’s one of your favourite songs!

As our mind continues through the next steps of adding meaning, making assumptions, and drawing conclusions, many of us continue moving up the ladder subconsciously.

I want you to think about that: If we’re not really thinking about this, you’re not questioning yourself. Without awareness, there isn’t any guarantee of critical thinking.

What if the data your mind noticed wasn’t the most relevant? What if the meaning you’ve applied isn’t accurate or your assumptions were way off? Now consider the impact of those missteps as you draw conclusions and adopt beliefs that aren’t grounded on facts and evidence.

Kind of alarming, isn’t it? But this is precisely why we study the ladder, so that we can try to improve our awareness. Because we’re running up that ladder all day long.

Reflective loop

A key component about us running up this ladder is that it’s not a one-time, one-way trip. Once we reach the point of making beliefs, those beliefs will then start to guide us whether they’re right or wrong and that guidance will begin to affect what we notice and the meaning we give it. This is called the reflective loop.

For example, you might notice that large trucks on the highway kick up gravel more than other cars. Then next time you’re driving on the highway you might decide to avoid following a large truck and avoid having your windshield chipped or smashed.

But let’s consider beliefs one might adopt about people based on looks, background, gender, or race. It’s entirely possible a belief might cause you to notice something in someone else and confirm the conclusions reached in the past. In this case, what we observe is self-fulfilling pre-conceived notions.

Action loop

As we move up and down the ladder our own actions can have an impact on what’s happening around us. Let’s think about that: The actions we take based on our right or wrong beliefs can affect the world around us. This is what we call the action loop and it, too, happens alarmingly often.

So when we approach the top of the ladder (which can happen in moments, many times a day, in any number of different situations we find ourselves in) and we form beliefs, we take actions sometimes consciously and sometimes not (think about body language that you may not be intending).

What we do is observed by those around us and this could cause them to react because they, too, are picking up on observations, adding their own meaning, making conclusions, etc.

Racism is a more extreme scenario, but it illustrates the action loop quite well. Consider someone who selects certain observations her mind picks up about a given race; she applies meaning, makes assumptions, and draws conclusions, causing her to adopt beliefs about that entire race of people.

Each time she meets someone from this racial group, her mind is more attuned to pick up data that she already thinks fits the stereotypes that she believes, which then confirms her beliefs. This is the reflective loop.

As she rapidly travels up the ladder and back down the reflective loop, she is going to start to act consciously, and not consciously. Perhaps she avoids coworkers from that racial group, who notice. They react, responding differently based on their observations meanings, assumptions, and conclusions based on her and her race.

At the same time, their reactions then give her another opportunity to select more data that reaffirms her initial, ill-informed beliefs.

In the action loop, the actions of one cause responses from others, which generates new actions and generates more data. And, well, you can see how this can spiral out of control in a mind-numbing few moments, sometimes without us even realizing we’re doing it.

So now imagine this in a less troubling situation than racism you and your team members forming beliefs about each other, and acting on them. Or, think about your boss forming beliefs about you, perhaps based on inaccurate assumptions, misguided beliefs, and acting on them.

Walking the ladder in the workplace

Let’s take what we’ve learned about the ladder and apply it to a common workplace scenario.

Imagine that you’re interviewing for a junior analyst position and you’re about to meet a candidate who looks great on paper. He has gone to the best schools, achieved top grades, and has excellent references from peers in your industry where he had internships.

At the observation level, the meeting room is warm and there’s a hum as the HVAC blows warm air. There’s a lingering smell of coffee from an earlier meeting. The candidate walks in, sharply dressed, with expensive shoes and well-coiffed hair and calm, pleasant demeanor. He’s obviously from a certain cultural group. At this point you’re beginning to select certain details and apply meaning.

You reach out to shake hands with the candidate, who averts his gaze. His handshake isn’t just weak, it’s mild. You might be consciously or not consciously thinking someone who averts his gaze has something to hide or low self-esteem and you feel even more uneasy with the limp handshake.

You might assume that someone with such mannerisms can’t be a hotshot analyst or has some hesitation about the work with your company. You might draw conclusions, perhaps that his credentials and references are somehow inflated perhaps you’re biased against this cultural group and you adopt beliefs that he’s benefited from affirmative action hiring in some way.

At this point, you might be feeling less enthusiastic about the interview. You sit down and check your phone for the time. You’re just going to go through the questions from HR and see how he responds.

The reflective loop here finds you always watching people from this cultural group for signs of low enthusiasm based on weak handshakes and an averted gaze. The action loop occurring would be that your attitude shifts after the handshake and checking your phone make this candidate feel like you’ve already decided against him.

He might lose motivation, believing now that he has a slim chance to impress you and his reaction to your actions are thus self-fulfilling.

The problem is that for some cultures, averting the gaze and a gentle handshake is a sign of respect. The impressions and assumptions and conclusions drawn are all ill-informed simply because the signs of respect were misinterpreted.

Now, imagine if you had applied the ladder as you prepared for the interview. If we can focus and become more conscious at a lower level of the ladder, we’ll become more aware well before we’re drawing conclusions and engaged in actions.

The challenge

We’ve given you a lot of heavy information in the blog today, but we have found this exercise to be career changing and even life changing for some of our clients.

As you prepare for a discussion, engage in a conversation, or reflect before you follow-up with someone, try to be mindful of the steps we’ve covered with the Ladder of Assumptions.

Consider questions related to the process like: What were you thinking about X situation when you decided to do Y? What have you previously thought about this person that led you there?

This ladder exercise is one of the most popular in our leadership workshops and it always blows the minds of participants as they realize they’ve made assumptions about staff, peers, and bosses that might have been wrong and how that may have affected their beliefs and their actions.

It’s not unusual to recognize that they were driven to say or do something that was based on their own beliefs or background and how that has likely caused the other person to respond.

Becoming aware of how the action loop has affected their behaviour toward staff or peers or a boss is a common “A-HA” moment in our workshop on Essential Conversations.

We’ve created a worksheet to help you walk through a personal example with the ladder, either a scenario that’s come to mind or a conversation you’re preparing to have.

Print it out as often as you find it useful. Click here  for your worksheet.

How to communicate effectively

The cornerstone of great leadership is effective communication, but it’s not as simple as memorizing a few strategies and putting them into practice.

The trick is that communication isn’t dependent only on you as the communicator.

Connecting with your team, inspiring your direct reports, and really understanding your clients requires a bit of give-and-take.

Remember that effective communication is much more than delivering a soliloquy of Shakespearean quality – effective communication is a dialogue; it flows two ways.

Certainly, there will be times you’re giving a message, but even then you need to ensure that you know and reach your target audience and that they understand what you’re sharing.

Even the most undebatable directive needs to be delivered in a way that the recipient understands it the way you meant it.

Personal relationships can be made or broken based on the success of communication.

The same goes for the workplace, where good communication can translate into thriving teamwork, brilliantly executing strategy, and deftly handling challenges.


“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. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. It could be. Participate as if it matters. It does.”


Oftentimes communication requires intuition, knowing your audience, and being able to listen well. There are verbal and non-verbal cues to watch for, plus times when you have to adapt and manage how you deliver the information. Both verbal and written bring challenges with tone and delivery.

Leaders need to communicate well during good times and bad, as well as sometimes off the cuff. It’s a tough thing to do! Or, at least to do well…

So when there’s no single model of effective communication and circumstances can change, how do we improve?

Let’s review some cornerstones of effective communication.

What is effective communication?

You may remember business class definitions of effective communication something like “when the message sent is easily understood by the recipient.”

That’s true, but there’s so much nuance around effective communication that it’s potentially more valuable to consider what it looks like when people are communicating effectively.

We can see certain outcomes when there is effective communication in an organization:

  • There is clarity and consistency in the message that’s being shared.
  • The information is delivered in such a way that those listening can paraphrase the outcome of the conversation in a similar way.
  • Everyone feels heard and safe to express their thoughts, offer feedback, or seek further clarification.

Another thing we’ll see is that the message aligns with the mission and values of an organization.

A leader who is effectively communicating is giving information, but how they are giving the information is in tune with the situation and has an impact on the recipients. It’s offered with the right tone and style of delivery because non-verbal communication is as important as verbal.

How do you make communication more effective?

Experience helps leaders deal with different situations. As the saying goes, with age comes wisdom – and most leaders will tell you about communication skills they learned the hard way.

Regardless, there are some ideas you can keep with you that will help you avoid some of the missteps. Like most things in life, having the desire to really get better at this, is an important first step.

Leaders who communicate effectively are informed, having cultivated a strong sense of the situation and context for communicating. While they can articulate their thoughts and make sure they are understood, they’re also able to deliver a message that will resonate, build trust, and drive people to action.

That trust assures their team that they want to hear the bad news as much as the good and that they want to be challenged on their ideas and direction.

They know that good communication is built on a foundation of trust and confidence, not only in their skills as a leader, but also their feelings towards their staff.

Good communicators are also exceptionally observant. Pay attention to what’s said, how it’s said, and what’s not said. If you’re able to read a person or the room, you’ll gain a sense of attitudes and concerns of those around you.

As you communicate, watch the reactions you get. Do people understand you? How do you know? With practice, skilled communicators are able to easily change how they communicate to suit the needs of the audience and handle questions.

Try to be clear and direct so there is no confusion about what you’re saying.

Now let’s drill down into more specific ways we can improve communication.

Listen to understand, not to respond

There’s no way around it: To be a good communicator you have to be a good listener. It’s so tempting, especially when you’re busy, to leap ahead to an answer.

And how many of us are guilty of getting distracted so that we’re only half-listening to begin with?

Think about trying to talk with someone who dismisses your concerns or keeps checking phone messages. Now consider a conversation where the other person is listening intently and has made you a priority. Can you think of a time that happened — and how you felt? Seen? Heard? Understood? As a leader, how often do you really listen to others?

By examining what kind of listener you are, you can learn techniques for active listening and practice listening before you speak. This way, anyone coming to you feels heard (which is often what people we ask consider the hallmark of a great boss!).

Effective listening also improves communication flow in the workplace. Even if you don’t agree, being able to understand the other person’s thoughts can help you resolve issues (because you’ll really understand where they’re coming from!).

Be authentic.

There’s a lot of talk about finding authenticity in your personal life, but it’s just as important for anyone in a leadership role. What does it mean to be your authentic self? It means to be comfortable in who you are, transparent about the good and the bad as you strive to be your best. If you’re genuine, it’s perceived as trustworthy.

That means saying, “I was wrong” when you were, or “I’m sorry” when you are. You have to ask for help when times are tough. A fragile ego usually shows up not as fragile, but as defensive, opinionated, blustering, and bullying.

A fragile ego will never build trust and confidence, but inviting and valuing input from your highly skilled team will.

Most of us who have struggled with vulnerability have struggled because we worry we’ll look weak, when in reality, most times, it builds respect and people see you as brave and leading by example.

Cater your communication style

Just turn on the news any day and there’s likely a story about misunderstood messaging. Think of all the times advertising missed the mark, a celebrity misspoke, or a corporate leader or politician is in hot water for saying something that was maybe misconstrued.

Now think of times when you have thought you gave a very clear message that was not received as you expected at work or home.

What factors come into play? Sometimes it’s a disconnect in education or understanding. Other times there’s trouble if we use “loaded” language terms. Sometimes emotions get in the way and no one is listening.

As leaders, we have to adapt our communication styles to suit not only the situation but also the way those around us communicate. What we glean from being observant helps us to cater to the way people receive the message.

For example, you probably wouldn’t use language picked up in your MBA program when you’re talking with front-line workers about service standards, as you might for the executive team, but you also don’t want to talk down to your frontline people.

You need to think about what will resonate for the person you’re speaking with, what will conjure images from their experience? You’re just going to adjust how you share the message so that it’s heard and received well.

Review our five steps to catering your communication style to help you communicate effectively with all types of people.

Leave space for silence

I want to challenge you to try using silence to your advantage. That’s right: Good leaders need to make room for silence.

It’s tempting to keep the conversation going or to jump in with information, but allowing room for silence in conversations and during meetings gives other people time to ponder and then share thoughtful ideas.

Giving space for studious reflection can be as simple as a long pause after asking a question.

I get that some of you might dread an awkward lull, but consider the benefits of the sound of silence. Try these techniques and see how communication, real two-way communication, flourishes.

Don’t shy away from conflict

In a perfect world, effective communication would eliminate arguments and interpersonal confrontations. It can help reduce tensions but the reality is you’re going to still encounter challenging situations and personalities.

Some people confront conflict head-on, some relish it and others avoid it. I’d like to propose you try turning difficult conversations into essential conversations.

When you employ this model for conflict resolution, you can have an essential conversation to gain understanding and come to a resolution. Try it and you may relish the opportunity to uncover concerns and emotions.

In fact, one of our mantras at Padraig is that very successful teams aren’t afraid to build conflict (you read that right – build conflict!). Now by conflict I don’t mean issues between people or infighting. That’s not healthy and needs to be cleared up. The conflict we encourage is conflict around ideas.

What we find is that when teams have trust, they can share ideas freely. They can debate, challenge, and argue to find the best solutions or improvements.

As a good leader, you should sense if there are unspoken disagreements or differing opinions and ask about them. The conversations that arise out of healthy conflict result in valuable discussions.

Click Here for our Essential Conversation Toolkit!


Coach’s Questions

What will you implement today? This week? How will you integrate some of these communications best practices into your daily practice?


How to set performance goals for your team

If you want your team to be successful, the best thing you can do is set aside time to work on some team performance goals. Visit why you need to set your goals for 2018 to refresh the reasons why goal setting works.)

Just as effective personal goals have to be set thoughtfully and thoroughly in line with your personal vision, team performance goals require some thought and should be aligned with company goals.

I’m sure we’ve all heard, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” right? Well, that is especially true when all of the parts are working together toward a common goal. As long as each piece is performing optimally and calibrated to work in harmony with the others, it’s much more likely that the whole will achieve success because of the strength of the parts.

Whether you’re a leader or one of the employees, working on your team goal setting offers a chance to achieve better things. It helps to have clear expectations and fully understand how each person’s contributions fit into the organization’s mission. People who feel their contributions matter and who have a written goal will be more engaged with their work and typically more productive.

Let’s work through how to set effective team goals so that everyone works with a shared purpose.

Identify opportunities for team performance goals

Start by identifying company goals, for the short and the long term. Then, within the company goals, clarify what your team’s responsibilities and goals are (unless you’re the CEO, and then company goals ARE your team’s goals).

Break down these goals into sub-goals that are based on areas of responsibility for individual team members. Ideally their interests and abilities will align to their areas of responsibility, but they don’t always. Don’t despair! Sometimes a goal requires ability outside our normal duties and those abilities may be found where you least expect them (and you have time to figure out the details later).

Some leaders use goal setting not only to challenge their team members, but also to help them have a chance to learn and grow by learning new skills or undertaking new responsibilities. Some goals will be a bit of a stretch, more than the employee’s normal daily routine activities. They should be within reach, and clearly establish how the employee will contribute to the good of the company.

Taking the time to write down sub-goals can help you identify situations that may need extra support or discover ways in which staff will surprise you with their hidden talents. Refer to our recent blog about mastering daily tasks to achieve big goals to help with this step.

Set smart goals

As I discussed recently in the blog presenting our ultimate goal setting worksheet, effective goals need to be SMART goals. To recap, this means that the right kinds of goals are going to be:

Specific – Does the goal set out exactly what needs to be achieved, including who is responsible and what supports can be leveraged?

Measurable – How will you know when this goal is achieved? You should be able to define how many, how much, or how often to give the goal some metrics.

Achievable – What makes this achievable? Is it likely that this goal can be achieved given the supports and resources available? If it’s not achievable, rewrite the goal to be achievable OR create an IF…THEN list; add in the obstacle (the “IF” this happens) that makes it unachievable and see if you can find a “THEN this happens” to address that obstacle.

Relevant – How important is this goal to the company and why does it matter? What difference will this goal make? Write that stuff down – when it feels tough to reach a goal, rereading the relevance might be motivating.

Timely – What is the target to complete this goal? Is it realistic to achieve? (Remember that while a stretch goal can be motivating, if the time frame is too challenging it can be demotivating and if the time frame is too far out, you risk losing momentum.)

Set aside time to collaborate with each team member, meet face to face if possible, and help them determine their SMART goals. Yes, depending on how many folks report directly to you, this could be a bit time consuming, but will save so much time – and frustration – for you and the team later. Just remember that you’re investing in your own leadership by nurturing collaboration so that you can help your team identify goals that will in turn support the company’s success.

In your meetings, outline and review each person’s goals and expectations, including the SMART measurement metrics and timelines. Keep in mind:

  • If employees are newer, you’re going to guide them through the steps you expect them to take and require them to check in with you often. (Be sure to set a reminder for yourself to do the same!)
  • If employees are experienced, you can outline how often you want updates and ensure they know they can come to you with questions. Then coach them on the projects (I recommend using open-ended questions with very little direction). Let them find the path that works best for them, as long as goals are met on time.

Align employee goals to company vision

It’s absolutely crucial that you make time to ensure that employee goals are coordinated. Imagine a dance troupe without choreography or a sports team with no memorized plays to execute on command; that’s the kind of chaos you can expect if employee goals aren’t aligned to the strategic business objectives of your company.

There are important benefits from making sure that everyone’s efforts are focused on supporting company goals. First, clear communication and encouraging collaborative efforts strengthen and enhance leadership. Second, camaraderie improves as people feel they are supporting each other and working together efficiently to achieve common goals. And finally, when redundant work is eliminated or minimized and people are very motivated, you’ll find much greater organizational agility as they can quickly respond to changes.

When each employee can see exactly how their smaller picture fits with the company’s bigger picture, they’re going to have a deeper understanding of where the company is going and what their roles and responsibilities are in accomplishing crucial steps.

Track progress 

Identifying the individual goals that support the company-wide goals is only the first step. Every employee needs to be tracking their progress to fulfill the measurement requirement of a SMART goal.

Key metrics need to be carefully documented as a matter of routine so that they can be easily reviewed. This way you or your managers will be able to assess whether progress is adequate or insufficient – as well as if extra supports are required – using actual data instead of a gut feeling.

While your employees should be keeping track of their own progress, don’t forget to set up your own calendar to track and check in. Don’t fall into the trap of running out of time to manage the employee and then feeling surprised and frustrated if things aren’t done right, on time. Their job is to deliver the goal, but yours as a leader is to make sure they’re on track and have everything they need as they progress, even if they don’t yet know they need it.

Measure success

Tracking progress helps us measure and demonstrate to employees how tangibly their own hard work supports the company’s goals. It can be immensely motivating to give different team members or departments insight into how their peers are doing. Reviewing goals and measuring success can sharpen focus and make everyone more determined (as long as the competition remains healthy!).

Studies show that setting and tracking metrics greatly contributes to achieving the desired results. There may be times that reviewing key data informs how individuals or teams can improve performance.

Some leaders choose to use dashboards to give a concise overview or snapshot of progress. These can be updated “live” dashboards available to everyone or tailored to individuals and groups. Sharing ongoing results with everyone can encourage a sense of collective responsibility, both motivating individuals to take ownership of their own roles within the team and offer support to others when needed.

Sharing metrics in team meetings is another way to review challenges and celebrate successes. Measuring should be a time to share ideas and find solutions so everyone is on track to achieve the goals.

Be flexible

It’s not unusual to have to reassess certain strategies or action items. Refining the process to achieve a goal is not a failure, it’s par for the course. Be prepared to adjust or change various aspects as required.

This is when you might decide extra supports or resources could be beneficial. There may even be times when deadlines can – perhaps even should – be extended. To paraphrase one of our fantastic clients, sometimes “procrastination is a skill.”

The ultimate goal setting worksheet

A New Year really feels like a fresh start, even if it’s really just the beginning of a calendar year. Let’s take some time to start 2018 strong by working through effective goal setting together.

Why set goals? A well-defined goal gives us focus and direction so that we can achieve results. Without that level of focus our goals are only dreams the imagine-ifs, what-ifs, wouldn’t it be nice-ifs that seldom happen. NFL coaches don’t have their players just wander onto the field for each game; they spend hours working out plays, strategy, and training. Think how much more productive and effective you can be if you put that kind of attention and planning into what you want to do in your life!

What’s interesting is that research into goal setting in the workplace shows that people are actually more likely to perform better if they have input into their goals (and financial incentives aren’t as big a motivator as giving employees some autonomy to set goals they care about!). Perhaps the best-known example of this in practice is the success Google has had allowing employees to use 20 percent of their work time to pursue a work-related goal (The New York Times and others have termed this The Google Way).

Having a plan makes sense. Setting goals gives shape to our days, weeks, and months so that we stay focused and on task. You can track your progress, refine the process if necessary, and feel the satisfaction of moving forward (it’s very motivating to draw closer to the finish line, confident you’ve achieved milestones along the way!).

I recommend you take at least an hour of uninterrupted time (it’s possible if you turn off your notifications on your cell phone and email!) for your 2018 goal setting. If you can’t carve out that much time in one block, tackle each step in 15-minute blocks.

You can use a blank notebook or download our customized goal setting worksheet here.

Here’s how to work through setting the right kind of goal:

Step One: Clearly define your goal

For goal setting to be effective, we need to set realistic goals that are specific, actionable, and measurable. Goals that are too broad or too difficult can be discouraging (and are likely to fail). Conversely, goals that are too simple may not be motivating and can fizzle out as enthusiasm wanes. Like Goldilocks, we need to find the goal that is just right.

Additionally, we’re all more motivated to work towards goals that really matter to us. Think about “a bigger than average thing” you want to accomplish as a personal or professional goal. What will change when you achieve this goal? How will achieving this goal affect your life? Why does it matter to you? It may be helpful to quickly create a personal vision statement to help align your life goals with what matters the most to you.

You should be able to define your goal in a few sentences. Once you’ve written it down, we’ll move through the next steps to figure out how you’ll work toward it and what might block you, how you’ll measure the success, and give yourself a deadline or completion date.

Step Two: Explore your obstacles

It would be wonderful if goals unfolded as planned once we write them down, but that’s not the case. Start a list of everything you think could stop you from achieving this goal. Just make a big list. Think about problems honestly and list internal and external barriers that you might encounter. Remember, this plan, and this step in particular, is just for you, no one else needs to see it. Be brutally honest with yourself. If you’re using our worksheet, list them all under the “IF” column.

Working through potential obstacles gives you the opportunity to figure out ways to deal with problems or complications as they arise. Thinking in terms of “if” this happens, “then” I will take this action is empowering and will help ensure your goal is not derailed by obstacles along the way. Being prepared to deal with the unexpected allows you to regroup, adjust, and tackle the issue without giving up. Take some time to now write your “THEN” column – if that happens, then you will do this. You don’t have to write full solutions, but perhaps just how you will find the solution. IF “I get bored or distracted with the details,” THEN “I will call Jill B. Friendly to brainstorm ideas because she’s been through something similar.”

Step Three: Refine your goal

Striking the balance between short-term and long-term goals is tricky, and after we’ve considered barriers or obstacles that original goal might need to be tweaked.

Sometimes as you start working through your goal on paper, you may discover what you’ve set out initially isn’t quite right – and that’s okay. Maybe you realize it’s not big enough. Or, it’s too big and could be two goals. Goal setting isn’t a result in itself, it’s about figuring out the results you want, so what you write isn’t set in stone rethink it, rewrite it, take some time to reflect. When you do you’ll feel more confident in your goals.

Step Four: Make it S.M.A.R.T.

You can take any goal, and make it SMART. This process helps to give your ideas more purpose and direction by giving you some criteria as a framework to help you achieve your goals. Answering these questions honestly can help you to refine your goal so that it is something you can realistically accomplish. Essentially you want to ensure that your goal is:

Specific – Does your goal set out exactly what you want to achieve, including who is responsible and what supports can be leveraged?

Measurable – How will you know when you achieve your goal? You should be able to define how many, how much, or how often to give your goal some metrics.

Achievable – What makes this achievable? This is where you can review your IF…THEN obstacles list. Is it likely that you can achieve this goal given the supports and resources available to you? If it’s not achievable, rewrite the goal to be achievable OR review your IF…THEN list and add in the obstacle that makes it unachievable, and see if you can find a “THEN” to address that obstacle.

Relevant – How important is this goal to you personally or to your work and why does it matter? What difference will this goal make in your life? Write that stuff down – when it feels tough to reach your goal, rereading the relevance might get you back on track.

Timely – What is your target to complete this goal? Is it realistic to achieve? (Remember that while a stretch goal can be motivating, if the time frame is too challenging it can be demotivating and if the time frame is too far out, you’ll lose momentum.)

Here’s an example:

S – write a TED talk

M – have a well written and edited talk of 5 – 12 minutes in length that has been peer-reviewed by at least two other people.

A – use my expertise, experience, and reference three recent studies to support my theory

R – so many people ask me about this subject I can offer insight to help others and feel I have contributed to bettering my community while also gaining visibility!

T – rough draft in two months; final draft in three

Step Five: Break it down and make your action plan

Taking any goal and breaking it down into steps is valuable. A big goal can be daunting and overwhelming, but manageable steps are easy to start. Working your way through milestones is a great way to feel accomplished and keep you motivated.

Consider your timeframe and work through what you need to accomplish. Depending on your goal you may want to set weekly, monthly, or quarterly milestones. Go with your intuition for what feels challenging enough to get your adrenaline going but not so tight that you’re already thinking you can’t do it!

In our example we might have:

  1. Pull together research on the topic from X Book,, and my own notes.
  2. Write an outline of my talk – the core idea, the main message, two to three anecdotes or stories, two to three pieces of evidence, the hook, and call to action.
  3. Draft first draft based on outline – not based on time.
  4. Review draft for general direction – have I made the case?
  5. Edit draft based on timing – what’s not necessary?
  6. Review draft for clarity and general direction. Am I still making the case?
  7. Send draft to two to three peers for input.
  8. Consider feedback and edit as necessary.
  9. Etcetera

Be sure to go through the plan and add some timelines and, if others are involved, be clear about who has to deliver what, and when.


Why you need to set your goals for 2018

If you really want to accomplish things in 2018, forget the resolutions about things you don’t really want to do and take a run at setting some really good goals around things you do!

Before the holidays we talked about the value of creating a personal vision statement for your life. Going through this process is a great way to figure out which big goals (at work and/or in your personal life) really matter to you.

Now, I’ve always been a list-making, get-things-done kind of guy. And while I’ve always prided myself on being a big thinker with lots of ideas and vision, my lists often focus on tasks that need to be done today or during this week and not the bigger ideas or goals.

It’s easy to get swept into the rhythm of daily life to the point that we’re dealing with immediacy and not really thinking long term or big picture. It can be satisfying to finish a bunch of stuff, but are you achieving your vision?

If we can focus on breaking down the big audacious goals into measured tasks, we can stay on track to achieve them. As we discussed at the end of last year, once we master daily tasks, we can achieve big goals. This really works!

In the midst of all the hard work of launching and then, for the last couple years, running Padraig Coaching & Consulting, I wanted to be able to reach people who would benefit from our help, but who aren’t able to afford our one-to-one coaching or leadership workshops.

I talked about my ideas for a long time.  Sometimes with myself, sometimes with other people — thinking if I talk about it, I’ll have to get it done. That didn’t work.  I knew in my mind where I wanted us to be, but I wasn’t taking time to figure out the steps to get there.  It took effort and creative scheduling at times, but I was able to carve out time to figure out what to do and start executing the steps to get things underway.

I’m happy to report that now, just after celebrating the fifth anniversary of my business, we’re in the process of creating online courses to bring leadership skills to more people.

It’s been exhilarating to figure out that sometimes what seems urgent isn’t really important and to be so close to achieving something that really matters to me.

Are you feeling inspired to figure out some BIG goals for 2018?

Why goal setting is important

Author Lewis Carroll (he of the Cheshire cat and Alice in Wonderland), is credited for the saying: “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” While we can meander and enjoy the view or even enjoy the journey, we might also never make it to the destinations that really matter.

If your goal is to enjoy the journey (and hey, that’s a laudable goal too) then perhaps a well-drawn map isn’t needed. But, if at least part of your goal is to get to a specific destination or two, then it helps to have a roadmap to guide the adventure – a little strategy to make sure we aren’t lost and adrift.

Writing down goals makes them a priority. Seeing goals or dreams written out actually increases the odds that we’ll accomplish them. According to psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, people are 42 percent more likely to do things they put in writing!

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Antoine de Saint-Exuperay

Why goal setting has a bad rap

I think many of us have negative associations with goal setting because we treat planning and goal setting like it’s an end in itself. Then at the end of the year, we look at that list of goals or resolutions and wonder why we didn’t accomplish as much as we wanted.

When goal setting becomes a negative enforcer it’s pretty difficult to get excited about embarking on change. We’ve seen too many times how we set goals we never achieve, even if we try again every year.

How can this year be different?

If you change the dynamic, the way you interact will change. Rather than announcing some nebulous, albeit glorious business and career goals or listing big life changes to implement, it’s time to get specific.

The first thing you need to do after brainstorming is write out your goals. Prioritize them, and make sure they’re achievable.

For example, solving the homeless problem is pretty broad. Planning to volunteer with your coworkers at a shelter is something tangible. The more specific you are with goal setting, the more achievable the goals will likely be.

Second, do a little planning. Figure out how to conquer your goal in steps and stages. Instead of running headlong to hopefully achieving something, we need to make a plan to navigate the way there.

Mapping out the route will get you to any destination efficiently! Plus, having a plan to execute makes us more accountable. Dedicating time out of your week towards achieving a step toward the goal will help ensure the weeks don’t slip by!

Third, as you undertake the manageable tasks, track your progress. It is very motivating; achieving milestones along the way propels us forward. It takes us back to scratching things off our list. If our weekly or daily lists include one item from our big goal plan, we feel victorious AND we make progress on the important things.

We’re more likely to be successful if we set goals that are measurable, with deliverables or clearly defined steps to keep us actively working and moving forward. You might even want to let others know what you’re up to because feeling accountable to others can be another wonderful motivator.

As with life, another thing that is essential is the right attitude. Seeking perfection often prevents progress. Wooo boy, do I know that, and yet how often do I momentarily forget it.

One of the big solutions is… GET STARTED. It’s difficult to get things absolutely right, but if we get started we can always improve the finished product later because, at least, the product will be finished.  Right?

And finally, each time you set out to make a to-do list, whether that’s daily or weekly, take a moment to look at your big goals and consider what you’ve accomplished and what remains.

Figure out what’s next, today, to get things done.

When you can accomplish a series of short-term goals you’ll feel inspired to persevere for the long-term (and it might not seem too long or impossible when it’s broken down!).

So my Coach’s Question for you today, as we start 2018:

What will life look like at the end of the year if you achieve your big audacious goals?

End of year wrap up and reflection

Realizing this is our last blog of 2017 got me reflecting on what I’ve learned this year.

The list was too long to do justice to it, but one thing that stood out to me was how we learned through our work coaching successful executives that self-talk can really have an impact — not only on you but on your leadership with others.

What we learned inspired our blog when your toughest conversations are with yourself.

My thinking on this has been galvanized even more after reading an article in Psychology Today that explores the impact of adults comparing ourselves to others in the age of social media.

We’ve heard news reports of how teens can be negatively affected by social media, but they aren’t the only ones who are gauging life success by the number of likes, followers, and interactions on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, even as professionals. (And we know that teens aren’t typically watching LinkedIn for news of promotions or who has which connections!)

There is some hope, however, in that researchers report we care less about social comparisons the older we get. In my experience, without conscious effort, it doesn’t start noticeably diminishing until we’re closer to retirement.  My hope is that we can make that conscious effort start earlier.

As we enter the holiday season, how many of us will be watching year-in-review posts listing the accomplishments of friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter? It’s really hard not to feel a little green with envy about beautiful vacation photos or accolades for achievements and successes.

It can feel gratifying when our peers celebrate our successes, but it can also sting if people we hope will support us don’t comment or engage.

Now, let’s be clear, sometimes competition is healthy. Seeing someone else achieve great things might be motivating to try a little harder – maybe even amp up our drive to cross that finish line, too.

Or, we might feel inspired to try something new or take some risks if we realize others have achieved great things.

The problem is that the negative feelings can sometimes fan the flames of unhelpful self-talk, even among the most successful people. That 24/7 ability to compare ourselves to others thanks to social media can also chip away at self-esteem, particularly if we’ve got a bit of holiday time to be more self-reflective instead of living in a constant state of urgency like the rest of the year.  

All this inspired us to consider implementing several strategies to avoid the trap of constant comparison, taking what we’ve learned in 2017 to give us a strong start for 2018:

Cultivate relationships and connect authentically

It’s so easy to scan through posts aimlessly, sort of like wandering through an online version of a great hall filled with people. I know I’m not the only one to quickly check Facebook only to suddenly find an hour has gone by!

Psychologists recommend using social media with purpose, using it as a tool to connect with people to have meaningful dialogue. So instead of liking 15 posts that show up in my feed, I’ll seek out a few people I want to build relationships with and send a private message to check in or post a supportive comment.

Watch your time and set limits for how long you’ll spend so you don’t get sucked into the void.

Follow what (or who) inspires you

Use social media to find people who will mentor you or provide inspiration. Remember that idea of healthy competition? The experts call it upward comparison, but essentially having someone who outpaces you a little or someone you really admire, to engage with might help you push for better results, too.

This doesn’t mean you have to friend your boss, but you might want to connect with someone a little further or higher in their career than you. Following how they achieve results or seeing what articles inspire them may give you an edge in what you do.

Spend your time online reading articles that will give you strategies to improve yourself or push you to consider new ways to consider your career (like writing your own retirement speech today).

Set a goal

This is the time of year that everyone starts talking about New Year’s Resolutions. People will start thinking about what they’d like to do better, or what they hope to do personally and professionally in the year ahead.

Two of the best things you can do to make a change is to set smaller goals that lead to that change and commit to a deadline for each small goal.  Goal setting and goal management is something we’re going to delve into with our topics in January.

Some of the things we’ve focused on during 2017 may help get you started on brainstorming some New Year’s Resolutions you can stick to! We considered the wisdom of creating a personal vision statement and being mindful (instead of MINDFULL). Check in with us in January to stay motivated to be your best self for 2018.

Find your gratitude

Having a positive mindset can help us to sidestep the trap of comparing ourselves to others.

Did your parents or grandparents ever tell you that you may not have all you want, but you have what you need? It’s so easy for us to get bogged down in comparing ourselves to people who we feel are more successful (upward social comparison), but considering how good we have things compared to others (downward social comparison) reframes everything.

I also recommend finding ways to serve others in your community with your time and talent, not just monetarily. Writing a cheque doesn’t give you quite the same sense of community awareness and involvement as organizing a charity fundraiser that helps people in need, volunteering with a non-profit, or simply dropping off a meal to a family in crisis.

Acts of service generate goodwill in all directions and a change in perspective is a great way to check yourself before you fall into negative comparisons.

Be your best self

According to researchers, the older people are the more likely they are to judge themselves against their past rather than against other people.

We need to learn from the wisdom of our elders and others who strive to beat their own personal bests.

Internal evaluation would be considering how you’ve improved based on your own track record rather than some external measurement. So if you’ve mastered giving a speech without stage fright and nausea for the first time, rejoice!

If you’ve pulled off some great sprints at work and achieved results that previously eluded you, celebrate! And then consider how you’ll take what you’ve learned to leverage even more success going forward.

Acknowledge your admiration of others

The next time you see that someone has done something notable, take a minute to leave a thoughtful comment or send a private email of congratulation.

When you take the time to praise others for their successes and acknowledge what you admire about them or their work, it’s amazing what you learn about them and their effort.

Expressing how you’re happy for someone is a great way to keep feelings of envy at bay. Not only does it generate goodwill, it’s a great way to build a rapport with someone (you might end up with a mentor!).

And you know what they say: You’re the average of the five people closest to you, so it can’t hurt to start bonding with folks you admire!

The Coach’s Questions

How aware are you when you’re comparing yourself unfavorably to others? Which of our suggestions do you commit to trying? How are you going to remind yourself?

Create a personal vision statement for your career

I think we’ve all had moments where we feel so overwhelmed by tasks and demands that we wonder what we’re doing. Or so stretched by the day-to-day firefighting that we feel hopelessly trapped on an endless treadmill.

As we’ve discussed before, busyness has become an epidemic of our time.

So how do we figure out the answers to the big questions in life about why we’re here, what we’re doing, and where we want to be? It’s so easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of every day and lose sight of what we want out of life.

Just like big corporations, we as individuals need to take some time to really think about our purpose and reason for being.

Crafting a personal vision statement is one approach that can help you rediscover your passions and ignite your desires, aligning your day to day with your life goals and with what really matters to you.

Let’s go through how we can quite easily bring this kind of success from the corporate world to your own life, both personally and professionally.  

What is a personal vision statement?

Writing a personal vision statement is making a commitment to live your life in a certain way, drawing from the myriad complexities that make you who you are – like your relationships, belief systems and values, health, well-being, and personality.

It keeps you aligned and helps prevent waking up some Monday morning and thinking, “how did I end up here?”

A personal vision statement is going to be a combination of what you care about and what motivates you, serving as a guide for you as you proceed through your career.

Now, when we’re looking at goal setting, I don’t want you to get a personal vision statement confused with a mission statement. They’re complementary, but different.

A vision statement is focused on where you want to be in the future, whereas a mission statement centres around what you’re doing now that has value and what you aim to achieve.

In other words, a vision statement is more of a guiding principle or philosophy for life while a mission statement defines how you’ll accomplish goals grounded in the present.

When we create a personal vision statement we’re looking big picture and long-term.

Why you need one

I like to think of a personal vision statement like having a compass to navigate through our personal and professional journey.

First, a well-crafted personal vision statement is going to give you direction for every turn and bump in the road. You can use it to evaluate whether decisions align with your values and aspirations, or if options play to your strengths or weaknesses.

It can help you discern whether you’re drifting off course or getting pushed away from where you want to end up. Imagine using it when a new job opportunity comes up – it can help you think big picture and consider the finer details of the offer, not just the title or the salary.

Second, when you can orient yourself no matter what surprises or obstacles you encounter, you can proceed with a feeling of purpose – be that to achieve personal milestones or the greater good. This, in turn, helps us find meaning in what we do and a sense of fulfillment.

Imagine for a moment losing your job. A terrible, upsetting prospect for most of us, but with a clear vision of where you want to be, you’ll be focused on what you need and what you have to offer to get back on track quicker than most.

And third, a personal vision statement pushes our focus from the immediate and short-term to the future in the long-term. It’s making the switch from figuring out how to deal with that one employee today to figuring out what kind of leader you want to be. Perspective, as they say, is everything.

A personal vision statement keeps us on track. After all, every journey is easier when you know where you’re headed and why.

How to craft your own statement

Choose a quiet time to reflect that is free from distractions and demands (turn off your cell phone!). It’s great if you can set aside an uninterrupted hour to work through this process but if that’s impossible then set aside 15 minutes to work through each step.

Get ready to examine your deepest thoughts and feelings.

Step 1

Grab a blank notebook or some loose sheets or download our worksheet to help you craft the perfect personal vision statement.

Get your free worksheet here.

How you brainstorm is up to you; some of us do well with lists and others get more creative with doodles.

I want you to be brutally honest and really reflect on what matters to you. Note any common themes that emerge as you undertake this process of reflection or what really resonates with you in this moment. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

Consider the various aspects of your life: personal, professional, spiritual, social. What comes to your mind? What is most important to you? What makes you happy? What makes you feel fulfilled in life?

Examine your strengths and weaknesses. What do you do well? What do you find challenging? What do others notice about you that is admirable and what have you heard needs improving?

Describe your values, hopes, and dreams. What belief systems are the scaffolding to your personal and professional life? What ideals do you admire? Jot down any wishes or ambitions that come to mind.

Step 2

Now I want you to shift gears a little bit to delve into what motivates you. Consider your life from every angle and think about what gets you excited about life and what moves you into action.

Remember, you’re writing this only for yourself so be really honest. Inspiration could be:

  • Changing something in the world
  • Financial gain
  • Rewards
  • Achievement-based
  • Educational (formal or informal)
  • Helping others
  • Public recognition, accolades, or fame

Step 3

The next step is to think about your future. Take time to ponder these big questions to help you think about yourself in the years to come:

  • What would you try if you didn’t have to risk money or your pride?
  • If you won a lottery and could finance anything you have ever dreamed of doing, what would you do in life?
  • If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would be your biggest regrets?
  • If people were to talk about the legacy you’ve left, what would you like them to say? Could they say this now? If not, what needs to happen?

Step 4

Think about everything you’ve brainstormed about yourself in the last three steps. Review your notes and highlight what strikes you as the most important points.

Now, try writing a personal vision statement that draws from this work.

Write in the first person (this is your personal statement it’s about you!) and focus on the future.

Write with optimism and confidence, using the active voice that you will achieve (not that you hope to!).

Some people give themselves a word limit, but I suggest you write first and then edit it down for brevity. You want to keep it long enough that articulates what inspires you and what you aspire to be, but brief enough that it’s memorable.

Ideally, you want to have a statement comprised of a few sentences that you can memorize as your visionary goal of your future.

We’ve listed some examples below.

Step 5

Read it over. Post it on your wall and see how it feels.

This is your personal vision statement so you can refine or finesse it as you choose. It may be worth reassessing every six months to a year because sometimes we change course a little.

But you may also discover that your statement is very fitting through many seasons.

Personal vision statement examples

What you write is up to you. This is your statement about your future and what matters to you. Here are some examples to get you thinking:

My vision is to share my knowledge and passion for human resources through work and volunteering to create a more inclusive world. I will lead by example and inspire a love of diversity in those I work with and my children.

I will not forget to treat people well as I gain success because I want to be a leader who encourages respect and values input from all levels. I will strive to find joy and use design to create social change.

My vision is to be a lawyer of honour and integrity who shares these values with others while continuing to grow through ongoing education, pro bono work, and mentoring students.

Click here for your free worksheet.

Our five favourite employee retention strategies

Do you want to keep your best employees?

You might think money, vacation time, health benefits are things that keep people working hard.

In a few cases, that might be true, but more often than not, those financial benefits rank low on why we stay in a job.

Think back over your career, the jobs you’ve had that you loved — the ones where you really enjoyed yourself, you dove into the work, you thrived.

Now think about what was great.

Chances are you aren’t thinking about your retirement savings plan, you aren’t remembering the amount of your biweekly deposit or the coverage you had for your eyeglasses.

You’re probably thinking about the work you got to do, the manager you had, the colleagues, and the opportunities.

If you want your best employees to stay with you (and they’re the ones most likely not coming to work for the money) then here are the top five retention strategies to help you keep your rock stars happy and productive.

People need to be seen, heard and understood.

This is a mantra for us as executive coaches, and if you memorize this alone, it will take you a long way as a leader too.

People want to be seen and to know that the boss is aware of them and the work they’re doing.

But more so, they want to be heard. They want to be asked for their input and to know that their opinion is listened to with interest.

And most of all, they want to be understood — that is, to be listened to without judgment, to feel validated in their dreams, aspirations, their fears, and their motivators.

People want meaning and purpose in their work.

I hear a lot of leaders say that the folks working for them don’t get the big picture. They’re focused on their day-to-day tasks without thinking about how to achieve the bigger vision.

This is, in large part, a leadership failing. It’s our job as leaders to help people see how their work translates into achieving the bigger picture — to paint the picture for them in such a way that they see their own importance.

People need to feel safe at work.

I’m not talking about a health and safety program (although that’s important too) — what I’m talking about here is that they need confidence boosters from you.

They need emotionally intelligent leaders who listen, encourage, praise and support their growth. They want leaders who give them hope and, of course, they need to be free of bullying and coercion.

They want you to show them that their values are accepted and part of them.|

People want to know what’s happening in the organization.

Gallup research does a massive annual survey around the world about worker engagement. The second most common problem cited by employees about leadership is a lack of communication.

A sense of hiding information, failing to share information or wielding information as a source of power leads to confusion, fear, mistrust and all sorts of dysfunction.

Good employees are always the first to leave uncertainty.

People need feedback.

No, the archaic annual performance review is not enough.

People need rich feedback, as soon as possible in the moment.

This includes positive feedback about what they’re doing well and constructive feedback on where they can improve.

We offer a number of leadership workshops that touch on communicating with staff and peers and specifically giving feedback. Participants tell us one of the most frightening exercises we do is asking them to give feedback to a colleague, face to face, right now.

But interestingly, they also tell us that:

  1. It was way easier than they thought;
  2. The other person appreciated the insight;
  3. It’s harder to give feedback than to receive it — so holding back is supporting you, not them, and
  4. They look forward to trying it again — knowing it gets easier, and more effective, each time they try.

Coach’s Questions:

If you were to tell us who your best employees are today, and five years from now we asked them what jobs they loved the most over their careers, would the one they’re doing today be on the list? Would they still be with you?

What are you willing to start this week, to ensure it is and to ensure they are?

How to deal with difficult employees

I came across this great infographic the other day and it got me thinking about the steps to deal with difficult employees.

There are a few things that I’ve learned over time when issues crop up around communication and difficult people in the workplace:

  1. It’s often not isolated to one person or one issue;
  2. Band-aid solutions, or worse, “hoping it will go away,” are used more often than not and rarely solve the problem, and
  3. In most cases, the problem can be resolved.

Here are 9 steps to take when you’re dealing with  difficult employees (From’s infographic with a Padraig spin):

1. Get to the root cause (the key person)

This can be tough but often when an issue surfaces in the organization, the person who initiated it isn’t necessarily the person that is vocal about it or creating the turbulence.

Ask some team members who you are usually open and forthcoming with, to shed some light and figure where the discussion/issue/problem starts.

2. Maintain your distance

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama or to even contribute to the negativity. Do your best to stay objective and solutions focused. You have an opportunity to lead by example and keep your cool. You’ll earn respect AND have a better chance of truly solving the issue.

3. Be a fly on the wall

It can be tempting to jump in and referee a situation but sometimes you can learn a lot by sitting back and observing what is actually unfolding. How are frustrations being expressed? Is there any resolution happening on its own? Write down your observations and brainstorm solutions for each area of drama.

4. Get to the root cause (the key issue)

Now that you know who is involved and have made some observations about how they act out – see if you can figure out exactly what it is that is bothering them. How are they seeing the world? What is it that’s bothering them that perhaps isn’t an obvious problem to you or others?

5. Solicit input

Of course, you don’t want to contribute to gossip or speculation but if you’re able to subtly get a sense of the issue from other perspectives – mentors, peers, other members of the team, it can be helpful. Do your best to see the issue from as many angles as possible.

6. Decide if you need to take action

Sometimes the difficulty is circumstantial or fleeting and there are instances where issues unravel on their own. Perhaps even the disruptor is helping in the long term?  If you decide you do need to take action – double check that you’re the right person to address the issue and then think through how you want to start this essential conversation.

7. Talk to the difficult person

I called this step “talk to the difficult person,” but this step is ALLLL about listening. Without making assumptions, talk to the person and really hear their perspective. Check out this article on how important silence is in conversations.

8. Collaborate

There is an opportunity to work together to resolve the issue. If the other person understands your concerns, brainstorm solutions together and get their buy-in to solve the issue. Remember to show your willingness to work together.

9. Check in regularly

Change may not happen overnight and it may take multiple check-ins to encourage a change in behavior. Continue to show your support and to take the steps you agreed to take on your end.

Coach’s Questions:

Which “problem employee” are you tiptoeing around, or hoping they’ll change their ways? Given the suggestions above, what can you do this week, to start to improve the situation? How can you avoid escalation of issues with difficult team members?



Why you should write your own retirement speech TODAY

My 13-year-old nephew, when he was a bit younger, was famous for asking interesting, open-ended questions. Perhaps he’ll be a great coach, one day!

One of those questions that stuck with me was, “Uncle Patrick, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?”

My answer was that I’d like the power to go back in time. When he asked why, I said, “because there are things I know now, that I wish I’d known then…”

Since no one I know has that superpower, I was thinking about the question from a different angle and wondered, “if, right now, you could write your own retirement speech, what would it say?”

Imagine you were to sit down today and write out a page or two, talking about the career you’ve had (and the one you’re still having), and that page or two would be read to everyone by your colleague or boss when you retire — whether that’s a year from now, five years, 10 years or even 25 years from now.

What would you want it to say?

Most of us hope that speech will be kind and generous, but more so, personal. That it will be easy for the speaker to talk about the contributions you’ve made and the legacy you’re leaving. That it will be easy for them to enumerate our strengths and how we contributed those strengths to some sort of success.

But what do you want those strengths to be, and what success do you want spoken about?

What will they say about the kind of leader you were? The kind of colleague? The kind of peer? 

What will they say when they speak about what you stood for? Do you want them to describe how you challenged others to be successful? Or perhaps how you always made others feel appreciated. Do they speak of your attention to detail, or perhaps your bold honesty?

When they talk about how you improved yourself over the years, what would you want them to say?

Writing this part of the speech is important to help us identify what we might like to change, and to accept the changes we’ve made.

For example, in my own speech, I’d like them to say, “With good work and determination, he rose rapidly in his career in government. That brought with it a shift — Patrick began striving for perfection, he wanted no criticism, he needed to prove he was worthy and capable of the roles and titles he was given.

That pressure took its toll on him, and those around him for a number of years until in his 40s, he shifted gears. He went back to school, became a certified executive coach. He describes that time as finding himself, again.

He launched Padraig, dove into coaching and became more understanding, more supportive, more compassionate –not just with all those who were lucky enough to work with him, but with himself too. It’s probably no coincidence this is when his business really took off.”

When they speak of the one or two great achievements, what would you like them to be?

Perhaps you want them to speak of a particular project or company — what do you want said about how you brought success to the project or company?

Sometimes we focus too much on that one project or that one role. So besides talking about how far or how fast you climbed the ladder and the titles and influence you had, would you like them to speak about the atmosphere you created? The culture you built?

I’ve thrown a lot of questions at you in today’s Coach’s Question blog and hopefully, some of them will help you write your own speech.

When you do, I encourage you to keep it somewhere that you’ll see it occasionally and you can check in — re-read it and ask yourself how you’re doing. Are you on track? What might you need to adjust to live up to your speech?

If you’re feeling bold, I encourage you to read it aloud to a friend or loved one — it helps you commit to it when you read it to someone else.

Coach’s Question:

What’s going to be in your speech? What are you worried might be in your speech? Or, might not?