A coach approach to transitioning your teams return to work

Using a coach approach with your team members can help them with communication, innovation, self-reliance, confidence, taking responsibility and even with their work relationships. 

Our clients and regular readers of our blog are familiar with what it means to use a coach approach to leadership, but you may not have thought about how you can use it to transition people back to work during these uncertain times.

The pressure is on for us to adapt and keep leading our teams while we all figure out what business is going to look like in the months ahead. Chances are that there are a range of reactions among your team members to returning to workfrom happy and excited to get back into the office to hesitant and worried about health, family and child care.

Many businesses are looking at continuing to have some or all team members work remotely, but when a temporary solution becomes a longer-term reality that is still a change to manage for everyone.

Adding coaching to your leadership toolkit works really well alongside mentoring (guiding by sharing your own experience), directing (telling folks what they need to do) and teaching (showing them how to do something).

Here are some ideas for using coaching to help your team members return to work:

Try having one-to-one conversations with each direct report privately: Reach out to each of your direct reports, asking open-ended questions about their expectations, their doubts, their concerns and their hopes so that you have a good sense of what’s on their minds – the good and the bad. When we start going back to the office, what would you like to see happen? What would you like to see change from before? What concerns you? 

Be a reliable source of information: Ask people what they want to know from you or from the company. When they ask about something that you’re not sure about or that you don’t have an answer for, be willing to say “I don’t know yet.” Offer to look into it and to get back to them.

Reassure your team about uncertainty: It’s very likely that your team members are going to ask you questions relating to things that you have been asking “higher-ups.” If the “higher-ups” aren’t responding or aren’t giving you the info you need, don’t blame them when you’re struggling to answer your team member’s question. Remember no matter how senior and powerful and decisive they may be, they’re human and they’re quite likely struggling with all this uncertainty as much as you are. Instead, respond with something like, “That’s a good question that I’ve also asked. We don’t have the answer yet, but I’m on it and will keep you updated as soon as I know.” 

Learn to be honest about (and comfortable with!) not having all the answers: Believe it, or not, survey after survey shows that employees greatly prefer hearing a boss say they don’t know and will try to find out than having a boss who avoids tough questions, makes up answers that may later change or avoids the conversation entirely. If your view of leadership includes “always having the answers,” it’s essential that you work on this – especially if you want to reassure your team during uncertain times. Now is the perfect time to practise some vulnerability with, “I don’t know, yet” and some empathy with, “but I hear your concern and I’m going to do my best to get answers for all of us.”

Encourage your direct reports to use a coach approach: If your direct reports also have people they manage, at the end of your coach approach conversation with your direct report, encourage them to have similar conversations with their direct reports (and so on and so on). At that time, point out to them some of the things you did in your conversation with them that they might do with their direct reports (or, provide them with a copy of this post and our coach approach to leadership post).

Broaden the discussion: In addition to one-to-one conversations with your direct reports, try holding a virtual town hall with them and their next level down (or further – all the way to an all-staff virtual meeting, depending how many people you can put on your video system). If you don’t have a webinar tool or virtual meeting tool, try Zoom – it has become the most common choice and offers a free version for meetings up to 40 minutes long and accommodates up to 100 participants. During that virtual town hall, have some remarks prepared about what you know and what you’re still working on. Pre-arrange to have someone else on the call take notes for you, in particular, to record things you commit to doing or questions you commit to answering. Ask people for input and for their questions. Remind them that you value the questions to help you make sure you’re addressing the issues and concerns you may not have thought of. Whenever anyone asks you a question, thank them for stepping up to speak (especially if it’s a large group).  

Be as responsive to the group as you are to your direct reports: As with the one-to-one meetings, ask people during a virtual town hall meeting what they want to know from you or from the company. When they ask and you’re not sure or you don’t have an answer, be willing to say “I don’t know yet.” Offer to look into it and to get back to them. When you get an answer (or even a bit of the answer) try to respond personally to the person who asked AND to the group. For example, email Mary in accounting to tell her the response and to thank her again for asking. Then include the answer in an all-staff email update or on the company intranet or post it to the company chat board. Mention the answer in your update at your next leadership team meeting and remind your direct reports to pass along the answer to everyone who reports to them.

Build regular outreach into your calendar: Remind yourself that the one-to-ones with your direct reports (and theirs, with their direct reports) need to be more often right now, not less. Schedule reminders so you don’t miss checking in with your team amid all the other work demands. Additionally, make the virtual town hall conversations a more frequent occurrence and not “one and done” – particularly if you still have folks working remotely some or all of the time.  

Keep the information flowing: Yes, this sounds like a LOT of communicating and perhaps over-communicating but in a time like this, when people are stressed and anxious about returning to work – and answers and the way forward are uncertain – you really can’t overcommunicate. Now, more than ever, your role as a leader is to help others be the best they can be – that means a big part of your day is going to be talking with people, finding out what they need, what they’re worried about and answering questions for them.  If you don’t already schedule that into your day, it now needs to be a priority.

Coach’s Questions

How do you feel about trying a coach approach to help your team members return to work? What benefits do you see from trying it? What’s the first thing you want to try?

What does leading your team look like after a crisis?

Leading through the COVID-19 crisis has been challenging for most of us. 

We’ve made it through the emergency phase and now we’re trying to adapt to this new reality and figure out how to keep business moving forward. It’s tricky (and a new kind of stressful) to reassure our team members in uncertain times.

Now, as we head into reopening businesses beyond essential services in the weeks and months ahead (depending on where you are located), the challenge is figuring out what leading your team will look like after the crisis. 

Many of our clients are feeling the pressure from trying to meet people’s expectations that they will have answers that they have no way of knowing right now. Change is hard for some people even in the best of times, so trying to lead change right now can be particularly fraught with tension.

One of our amazing coaches recently showed me an article about leadership in a permanent crisis that was in the Harvard Business Review. Interestingly, the article was from 2009 and the permanent crisis it was referring to was the economic collapse of 2008. But, while it’s 11 years old and was written in response to an economic crisis, this HBR article has many insights that really resonate during our current global pandemic.

Here are some ideas to help give your team direction even when you’re not sure about how to move forward:

Reset rather than settle for short-term fixes

In times of uncertainty, it’s human nature to want to cling to the familiar. Many leaders are tempted to just hunker down and solve problems with short-term fixes. It is possible to get through a crisis by drawing on what we’ve done before. Essentially, this is to make it through so we can then continue our old ways.

The challenge is that the skills that brought many of us to senior leadership roles – analytical problem solving, confident decision making, articulating clear and decisive direction – can get in the way of success – particularly in times of enormous uncertainty.  Those skills might be helpful in the early moments of a crisis but relying on them keeps us in “hunker down” mode. They help us survive the crisis, but they don’t help us reset. 

Why is that a potential problem? The HBR article uses a heart attack as a brilliant analogy. If you have a heart attack and are saved through the heroic measures of EMTs and cardiology experts, you have survived the initial emergency by the experts carefully doing what they’ve always been trained to do.  They get you through the initial crisis. However, if you breathe a sigh of relief and go back to your usual ways of eating, not exercising, etc., you will have won the battle but not the war. Unless you know how to prevent another heart attack by adapting your diet and exercise then the crisis is far from over. 

Now is the time for adaptive agile leadership. We can use the turbulence to build on and reset. This might include changing key rules of the game, reshaping parts of the organization and redefining the work people do. This isn’t a “reorg” for the sake of shaking things up because conservation is as much a part of a reset as change. Nevertheless, there will be losses. EMPATHY WILL BE ESSENTIAL because you need people’s help (but not their blind loyalty).

Embracing Conflict

Maintaining the right balance of urgency and criticality, without pushing people past their capacity, also requires depersonalizing conflict. This is a topic we talk about a lot at Padraig.

There has to be a lot of conflict around ideas and challenging each other’s thinking if we’re to change the culture, shift patterns, adapt our leadership thoughts and style. This requires depersonalizing conflict and building productive conflict in the workplace

The aim is to disagree on issues and challenge each other to broader thinking, different thinking while trusting each other to not make it personal, nor to take it personally. You have to understand the interests behind a perspective – the fears, aspirations and the loyalties that are being maintained and the factions that have formed. All of that requires knowing each other and using emotional intelligence.

A critical part of emotional intelligence is vulnerability, which helps to build trust. Building vulnerability-based trust is essential to depersonalize conflict. 

Find your sea legs

If you’ve ever been on board a ship, especially on stormy seas, you know that a regular gait won’t help you navigate on deck. You have to adapt your walk to the rise and fall of the waves if you don’t want to fall over. Similarly, in these uncertain times, we have to embrace disequilibrium and find a new way forward.

Difficult change generally requires sparking urgency in folks – but too much distress can trigger the fight, flight or freeze response – and we don’t want any of those. It’s a fine line of maintaining urgency and criticality, while not freaking people out. It can be helpful to remember and to remind your staff that while we’ll be operating outside our comfort zone, it’s not outside our capable zone.

Building on disequilibrium also means shifting from grand and detailed strategic plans to instead running numerous experiments of what might work going forward, given our new and uncertain future. 

An idea we like and that you might consider as you review your plan for going forward, is that a strategic plan should be less a collection of goals and more a collection of hypotheses. That’s an idea that first began circulating in earnest in 2017 after articles from Amy Edmondson and Paul Verdin, both professors of management. 

It might sound like a simple shift in wording but the idea brings a change of mindset.  When you’re struggling to map out the short- and medium-term when everything feels so uncertain, it somehow feels easier, and smarter, to draft some hypotheses you’re going to explore and work toward (and adjust, as needed) then to pronounce on goals you’re going to achieve. And yet, it still gives plenty of guidance to your staff, on where you’re trying to go and how you’re thinking of getting there.

Edmondson and Verdin call this approach “strategy as learning,” which contrasts sharply with the view of strategy as a stable, analytically rigorous plan for execution in the market. Strategy as learning is an executive activity characterized by ongoing cycles of testing and adjusting, fueled by data that can only be obtained through trial.

Perhaps what is most striking is what Edmondson and Verdin call the key indicator of a strategy-as-learning approach which is, how managers interpret early signs of gaps between results and plans. Are the gaps seen as evidence that people are underperforming and that we’re failing? Or as data that indicates some initial assumptions were flawed or have since become flawed (perhaps because of the arrival of a global pandemic, for example), triggering amendments and further refinement?

Build leadership in others

Building leadership is a critical task of leaders at all times, but never more so than in a crisis and following a crisis. An important strategy for adaptive leadership is to find and build strength throughout the organization, rather than keeping the hierarchical status quo to eventually breathe a sigh of relief that the crisis is over.  

Organizations that adapt in a crisis usually succeed not through one brilliant new initiative dreamed up at HQ, but rather through multiple smaller ideas, hypotheses, experiments and adaptations by people throughout the organization. That means mobilizing everyone, encouraging people to try new things with common sense and analysis, without fear of being criticized for trying.  

This means leaders have to let go of their own sense of obligation that they must be all and do all and get comfortable sharing the burden, being vulnerable, saying, “I don’t know but I’d appreciate your insight.” It means finding the emotional courage to make mistakes and learn from them.

As leaders, our primary goals become ensuring information is being shared, ideas are being discussed and new initiatives are attempted. The goal is for folks at all levels of the organization to feel supported, trusted and to take ownership, no matter where they are in the hierarchy, for creating value in the organization.

Take care of yourself first

We’ve all heard it on a flight: “put your own mask on first, before helping another person.” This is based on the rather obvious, but often forgotten idea, that if you aren’t healthy and functioning, or if you don’t survive the crisis, then you have no hope of helping others to survive.

Find a friend, mentor or coach with whom you can speak frankly, honestly and directly – to share your fears, explore ideas and sometimes to rant, rave or let yourself go. Ideally this isn’t someone in your organization who may someday end up facing you with an opposite view or a conflicting priority. The key in choosing someone for this particular role is that they care more about you than about the issues you’re raising. 

Find a retreat – somewhere you can be alone with your thoughts from time to time.  I don’t mean booking a week-long retreat at a spa ranch — though if you can manage that, then all the power to you. But, if you’re home during the pandemic, sharing space with a spouse, kids, parents, pets – maybe your retreat is the bathroom, maybe it’s the garage or perhaps a walk around the block. Visit your retreat space from time to time to ask yourself questions a coach might ask you, such as – “How am I feeling?” “Am I pushing myself too hard? Am I pushing others too hard?” “Am I pushing enough to keep us on a path forward?” “Am I being the leader I want to be through this?” “Am I building other leaders by being open, honest and vulnerable with my staff and peers?” etcetera.

Ask yourself if you’re being optimistic or pessimistic, are you being realistic or cynical? Try asking yourself, “If I were being optimistic and still realistic, without letting myself become pessimistic and cynical, what would I be thinking about this situation? What would I be doing about it?”

Coach’s Questions

We’ve thrown a lot of ideas and a lot of questions at you today. What resonates for you? What can you start doing to prepare yourself and your team for what the future months hold?

An attitude of gratitude for dealing with uncertainty

Feeling overwhelmed and gripped by fear, worry and uncertainty? Trying to navigate this new reality thanks to COVID-19? You’re not alone.

One of the most important things we can all do for our mental health is to develop an attitude of gratitude. If that sounds too simple when you’re struggling with working from home, working on the frontlines, being laid off and all the other challenges related to this quarantine life, please hear me out.

Finding things that we’re thankful for during a global pandemic might seem strange, but gratitude helps us to be resilient and find hope.

When we can do that, it helps us deal with stress and anxiety, and that in turn helps us with our mental health and even our physical health – science has proven that stress is a huge drain on our immune systems.

You may not be feeling gratitude right now, and that’s okay.

Start by practicing gratitude, by noticing the things you feel grateful for and building time for a gratitude meditation into your daily routine. As with all skills, the more we practice gratitude, the more it becomes a habit. Some folks find it helpful to think of three things they’re grateful for when they start and end the day.

(Pro tip: Try starting your day by thinking of three things you’re grateful for BEFORE you check the news on your phone. They can be small, simple things like enjoying a hot cup of tea or coffee or having a hot shower – or they could include bigger things like your relationships, work and unique skills or abilities.)

If you like making lists, you’ll probably find it very satisfying to start a gratitude list. Others might find it very helpful to keep a gratitude journal. (And if you’re never tried journaling, consider starting a journal now because our coaches will tell you it’s the one leadership habit you can’t live without!)

Here are five reasons why and how an attitude of gratitude can help us face uncertainty:

  • We can’t control what’s happening, but we can control how we respond to everything. At Padraig, that’s one of our mantras. I think this is best explained with shifting perspective from being STUCK at home to being SAFE at home. Words and context are powerful, so if we can reframe things more positively, it helps us cope. Instead of focusing on the worst news or how the worst leaders are handling things, think about the way researchers around the globe are working together to figure out this virus, how to best respond to it and to develop a vaccine. Consider all of the heroes and helpers in this time of crisis and what they’ve done to make a difference. As leaders, we can show confidence in the talent and skills of our team members to solve problems and tackle challenges together. We can share a word of thanks and a compliment. What can you control about your attitude right now? What could you do to help someone?
  • This is temporary. It’s harder to deal with situations that don’t have definitive end dates, but we will get through the pandemic. Things might be different going forward, but we’ll figure it out. If you watch the news or engage with social media, you’ll see stories celebrating the simple joys like people reconnecting with family and friends online or banging pots and pans to celebrate frontline workers. Some folks are enjoying slower starts to the day, a return to writing letters and many have adopted rescue dogs or cats. What are some positives you will remember from this time? You might want to add those to your gratitude journal so you can look back later and remember the good things. Take it one step further, what can you do to make some more good memories?
  • Sometimes it takes a crisis to see the best of humanity. Many arts organizations and musicians are sharing their creative gifts with the world for free, like this beautiful cover of Lean on Me by Canadian musicians. People are sharing love with family, neighbours and friends with “ding-dong-dash” deliveries of home-baked goodies and groceries. Some neighbourhoods have decorated their windows with hearts or hidden painted rocks so that children and families can enjoy scavenger hunt walks. What ways have you noticed people caring for each other and the community? What could you do, no matter how small, to make a difference?
  • It’s possible to train our brains. In times of anxiety or stress, our thoughts can run amok and usually tend to head toward the future. Take a deep breath and focus on the present. Re-label and reframe those negative feelings so you’re not just focusing on the worst-case scenarios. Ground yourself with the 3-3-3 rule of finding three things you see, three things you hear and three things you can touch. That’s a common technique to step back from anxiety. Then think of three things you are thankful for. Calming down that fight-or-flight response helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and make it easier for us to be positive and build an abundant mindset. Sometimes examining facts and focusing on what we do know (instead of what we don’t know) helps us to “de-catastrophize” our perception of a situation. How can I rewrite the script that’s playing in my head? What can I feel good about right now?
  •  Positivity is contagious. It’s hard to be positive if you’re surrounded by negativity. Reach out to your circle via social media, an email or a group call and ask everyone to share what they’re thankful for right now. It’s very uplifting to share reasons for gratitude. Connecting with other people is also a way to naturally boost all those feel-good hormones, so nurturing a digital community is important during this time of isolation. Think about not only group chats but watching online concerts, having online parties or streaming a funny comedy show or movie (laughter is the best medicine!). Because coworkers, friends and family members are probably feeling the strain from things, too, make an effort to offer supportive responses and contribute positive topics of conversation. What are those around me grateful for? What inspires me to gratitude or makes me feel grateful, too?

Even as we weather this crisis, there are still moments when we can find joy, comfort and even have fun. If we work on an attitude of gratitude, we can keep our spirits up (and the spirits of those we lead!) and have the mindset to Keep Calm and Carry On.

Coach’s Questions: 

What questions above really resonated for you?? What can you do to help yourself practice gratitude? What can you do to help others see the good?


What does being productive mean right now?

Most of us around the world are staying home right now, trying to minimize the coronavirus pandemic. Some of us are still working or have transitioned to working from home, some have been laid off and some are working on the frontlines.

And everywhere on social media and internet sites, we’re barraged with social media posts, articles and ads on ways to stay busy and use this time productively. 

Reactions to what I’ve heard called “productivity porn” vary, from:

Encouraged and inspired: Some people are up to the challenge, happy to pack their days full of things to do, challenges to undertake and new things to learn. Carpe diem!

Ambivalent: Others might celebrate what others are doing but are content or laugh at themselves for staying in pyjamas all day or binge-watching TV. Is it wine o’clock? What day is it? 

Pressured: Some folks are feeling defeated, like they’re failing at taking advantage of this time to do incredible things. What’s wrong with me that I can’t do more? Why am I wasting this time?

Exhausted: I want to be doing more but I just can’t bring myself to get to it. Where is everyone finding the energy for this stuff?

How you’re feeling right now could depend on many things, like whether you’re working from home or suddenly out of work, if you have young children or other loved ones to care for or if you’re in a stable and loving relationship with a partner, if you’re trying to get along with a household of people, or alone, if you’re staying home or working on the frontlines and whether your physical and mental health was strong before the lockdown.

In addition to our unique circumstances, our personality styles factor into how we manage through self isolation. We can’t fall into comparing ourselves to others or judging people who respond differently than we do – yet many of us do just that, don’t we?

Productivity isn’t the right measure for us right now

We are in the midst of a pandemic. Being productive is often really challenging for people when times are good, so it’s okay to not be okay during a global crisis.

Be wary of feeling that you have to be more productive, live up to your expectations of what productive used to look like or live up to anyone else’s ideas of what being productive is.

While productivity is a great measure for a machine or a business, is it the right measure for us as people – especially in a crisis? What does it mean to succeed or thrive right now? What if you’re #nailingit if you’re managing only the essentials?

Time is relative

I have heard from many clients that they thought they would have EXTRA time when they weren’t commuting, working regular 9 to 5 workdays or ferrying children to extracurricular activities. Some had ideas of all the new and additional things they would add to their days (especially those of us who love lists and promote the use of them in normal times) – and now we feel like we’ve LOST time.

Extra time is elusive when you’re dealing with uncertainty, adapting to working remotely (or the stress of working on the frontlines) and figuring out this new reality, which has changed everything from schooling kids to getting groceries. Nothing is normal right now.

It’s like when we’re driving to a new destination and the route there seems really long because we don’t know for sure where we’re going, so our senses are heightened and we’re a bit anxious. On the way home it feels very different – shorter – because we know what to expect. 

Similarly, our sense of how long we’ve been in suspended production is not accurate because we haven’t made it through. Just dealing with uncertainty and worry is tiring and distracting. Do you HAVE to take on bonus tasks and extra things if it’s a stress for you? Or is it okay to just pay attention to getting there safely, fed and rested?

Determine for yourself what to value

What if making the most of this time is taking care of ourselves and those we care about? We’ve talked before about how contemporary culture has a fixation on being busy. But being too busy is counterproductive, resulting in burnout and sacrificing personal life for corporate accomplishments.

Given that society has glorified this idea of overworking in recent years, particularly in North America (“How are you?” “Oh, busy!”), it’s not surprising that one response to having to quarantine and stay home has been to fill every second of time with achieving and overachieving. But resting quietly is valuable and necessary – everything has its season.

If your glass is already full, adding even one more drop will be too much. You want to fill it to where it’s comfortable for you. 

What will help you manage could be very different from every other person you care about and that’s okay. Learning to knit could be calming and distract you from worrying about COVID-19. Learning a language or being creative could be a wonderful way to occupy your time if you’re feeling lonely. Or, cuddling with your dog and sipping a cup of tea while you watch the sunrise could be just what you need.

Setting work goals during self isolation

Many of us are still working right now, remotely or as essential workers. We do still have to deliver things for others to be able to do their work. If you’re finding it a challenge to get through what you need to do, this could be helpful:

  • Write out your weekly goals first, then go through the list and remove everything that isn’t actually essential – everything that you think “oh, I should,” leaving only “yes, I must.”  Then break down the steps to help you achieve them.
  • Next, pull out another piece of paper and write down the things you’re thankful for in this pandemic. Pro tip: one of those things might become, “I gave myself permission to rest,” or “I accepted that resting my mind was good for my health.”
  • Finding an accountability partner can be very helpful, especially if you’re new to working from home or feeling overwhelmed. Talk to a friend, or trusted colleague – not the person you’re trying to be like, but someone you trust, someone who gets you and yet will be willing to do what you ask of them – and then ask them to check in on your progress.
  • Review our strategies for staying focused in spite of distractions – especially the Pomodoro Technique, which is simple and very effective (focus for 25 minutes, break for 5 and then repeat until your to-do list is done). Adapt the Pomodoro to your situation. For example, first of all – the 5-minute break has to be a break. Sip a tea and look out the window, put in some earphones and listen to soft music with your eyes closed, do a short meditation, get up and walk around the block.  If you are also caring for others, build in caring for them as part of a 25-minute block NOT as part of a 5-minute break.
  • The other ideas for staying focused will also help if you’re struggling to quiet your mind – or perhaps other humans if you’re working from home.

Changing our ideas of what being productive means right now will help us get through this pandemic – and maybe even improve our approach to work and personal life in years to come. 

Coach’s Questions

Have you felt stressed about being productive during the pandemic? Have your thoughts about productivity changed? What are you going to try this week? What are you doing to let go of this week?

Managing grief and anxiety in difficult times

I’m hearing a lot from folks who are really feeling the weight of social isolation with this new COVID-19 reality. 

Some were feeling like they were managing and suddenly feel like they’ve been blindsided by emotions. Others share that it’s been hard but now, nearly two months in, they’re barely coping. Then, of course, there are the frontline workers who are so busy and worried by what they’re seeing that they’re just doing what they can to keep going while protecting all of the rest of us.

Clients, members of our team here at Padraig, family, and friends many of the folks reaching out to me or responding when I reach out to check in with them nearly everyone is feeling out of sorts right now. 

Some folks aren’t sleeping well as they struggle with insomnia, nightmares or anxiety. Tension is running high in some households, with even the normally calm personalities feeling irritable and cranky. It might be hard to focus, remember things or accomplish much.

Add to that that some of us have been sick with COVID-19, know someone who has been sick with it or who works on the frontlines caring for those who are ill, and we can include anxiety and fear to those other feelings of malaise.

When I was “Zoom meeting” with our Padraig team across Canada this week, our Admin officer, Tricia Hiebert, shared that she’d read a great article in the Harvard Business Review that this discomfort that we’re all feeling is grief

That realization resonated for us. Collectively, we’re grieving the loss of how things were before COVID-19. Many of us, and you, have lost work and income and some have even lost loved ones or we’re worrying that we will and that anxiety is palpable.

No matter what your experience is right now, we are all going through losses and fears while also trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy. It’s stressful, it’s unusual, it’s challenging and it’s sad. And, you might feel like you’re not doing as well as others.

Remember the five stages of grief? Think about them now in terms of what you’ve experienced during this pandemic:

Denial (We’ll be fine – some say COVID-19 isn’t worse than a bad flu.)

Anger (I can’t believe this is happening – why didn’t anyone plan for this?)

Bargaining (We can stay home for two weeks and then resume normal life.)

Depression (After weeks of this health stats are still bleak & unemployment rates are brutal.)

Acceptance (What can we do to work through this?)

This is a script change that none of us anticipated and the fallout touches on all aspects of our lives. We have an expression when it comes to feelings: Name it to tame it. Being able to name what we’re feeling is a relief and when you can identify it, you can talk about it and release some of it. Only then can most of us move through the thoughts to action.

Here are some ideas for managing grief and anxiety during this time of uncertainty:

Find ways to connect with other people: As humans, we’re built for connection and we need to feel valued. Social isolation has cut us off from our normal connections and on top of that, now we’re stressed, perhaps lonely and worrying. Reach out to friends and loved ones by phone, on social media, or by video teleconference. Don’t feel guilty if you’re home with family and still feeling lonely! You might just need a bigger support network right now, so get in contact with the other people you care about and engage with them online. Be real and honest about how you’re feeling and lean on those people around you to get through this. Name your feelings.

Stick to a routine: When everything seems uncertain, a new routine of what we can control can be very helpful and comforting. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning,  regular sleep, add in some exercise, drink lots of water and eat healthy at regular intervals. Remember routines can start small. If “get some exercise” means 10 jumping jacks when you get out of bed, that’s 10 more than you were getting before and you should be proud of that.

Manage information: Some of us are watching the news headlines compulsively, which can add to our feelings of grief and anxiety even if we don’t think it is. Tune in to the news at a certain time of day for a set amount of time and then get on with the rest of your day. This way you can be informed without being overwhelmed with statistics and reports. Again, this is habitual only in this case, it’s breaking a habit. When you realize you’re checking the news app, or you’re reading more frustrating social media updates about this politician, or that company gently remind yourself to do something else. Don’t criticize yourself for being “lazy,” don’t criticize yourself for breaking your “rule” of no longer reading this stuff during the day, just “notice” that you’re doing it and switch to something else. It’s helpful to decide now, what you will switch to when that happens so you’re ready. Maybe you switch to working on project X, or you switch to clearing up work emails, or whatever works for you. Tell yourself, in the moment, you have to switch for 3 minutes. In most cases, that will be enough to remove you from the news or the social media, or whatever it was that was distracting you.

Try to be flexible: This is hard for everyone. Many of us are having to revisit what it means to be a professional and adjusting our ideas about productivity in the workplace. Working with kids and teens at home and trying to keep them schooling remotely? Enough said. There will be really good days and there will be some really hard days. Things will not be perfect. You will not accomplish everything you feel is needed of you. That is okay.

Work through feelings of anxiety: The way we think about anxiety can have a huge impact. Anxiety itself is not a bad thing. It is a very important human response that helps us to avoid danger and tells us what is important. Sure, it feels uncomfortable when we’re in a state of alarm, but it’s a normal human response to a threat. The first thing to do when you feel panicked is to acknowledge it’s happening and that it’s okay. Then breathe. Deep breathing calms our nervous system. Racing thoughts? Try writing them down because journaling helps us to process our emotions and put them in perspective while slowing us down.

Turn to mental health professionals: Many mental health providers are providing free resources and even online consultations (I found Stronger Minds by BEACON on Facebook a free digital program created by clinical psychologists that is free to all Canadians and sponsored by Manulife and Green Shield Canada). A number of provincial governments have contracted with mental health organizations to provide free online resources. You can Google for local references. Reach out if you are really struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety and stress because looking after our mental health is as important as, or more than, taking care of our physical well being.

Focus on what we can control: There is a lot of uncertainty right now, and feelings of fear and anxiety intensify when we’re facing the unknown. Try to sidestep falling into the “what ifs” (which usually get us thinking about all the worst possible outcomes) by focusing on what you can do in the moment. We don’t know how long this will last, but we do know that washing our hands and practicing social distancing is a good way to protect ourselves. Taking a walk in fresh air can clear the head. Turning off the video on a Zoom meeting is helpful when you just don’t feel like trying to be “on” for everyone.

Boost those feel-good hormones naturally: Our bodies produce hormones that elevate our mood (endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine). Know what helps get those feel-good hormones flowing? A bit of regular exercise, sunlight, fresh air, connecting with other people, laughter, singing or playing or listening to music and certain foods (spicy dishes, foods high in tryptophan and probiotics to name a few!). If you’re feeling low, it’s time to walk around the block, turn on the stereo (or iTunes or Spotify on your phone!) and have an impromptu dance party, sing along to your favourite tunes or swap funny stories with some friends. 

Coach’s Questions

 Have you noticed your mood changing over the last few weeks? What’s been a struggle for you and can you name it? What ideas above resonate for you? How will you remind yourself, in the moment, to use them?


Next up: What does being productive mean right now?


How introverts and extroverts can manage through social isolation

You may have heard the joke that staying home sheltering in place is what introverts have been training for their whole lives. 

Or the meme asking introverts to please check on extroverted friends because they are not okay with social distancing.

While it’s true that facing social isolation is arguably harder on extroverted personalities in some ways, it’s very challenging for all of us to be home because of COVID-19 and not by choice.

We’re several weeks into this COVID pandemic and it’s wearing on most people, even the ones who are safe at home and not worried about their incomes. For those struggling with layoffs or professions that have them on the frontlines, it’s a particularly scary time.

It’s really shades of introvert and extrovert

At Padraig, we do a lot of work with leaders and their teams on understanding personality differences. There are different assessment tools available our coaches use one called Everything DiSC to help folks understand themselves and others better. 

If you’re familiar with the DiSC personality styles or a regular reader of the blog, then you’ll know that the Dominant “D” and Influential “i” tend to be more extroverted and the Steady “S” and Conscientious “C” tend to be more introverted. 

Some people think introverts like to be alone and extroverts like to be around a lot of people, but it’s a little more complicated than that. For example, introverts can be very outgoing and sociable but tend to like to recharge with some alone time. Extroverts can accomplish things solo but like to recharge with others. And there is no “right” or “best” style, by the way, because all of us have strengths and challenges being able to work with different personalities is where we find true success.

Typically introverts:

  • Draw energy from within, spending time alone
  • Seldom like to be the centre of attention
  • Like to think before they speak, which to others may make them appear reserved or quiet
  • Don’t need a huge social network

While extroverts usually: 

  • Draw energy from other people and enjoy being around others
  • Enjoy participating actively in things and being the centre of attention
  • Are usually seen as outgoing and enthusiastic
  • Enjoy cultivating a large social network

If you’ve ever done a personality assessment like DiSC or perhaps Myers Briggs, then you know that personality is not as simple as introvert or extrovert because it’s a scale where some will score very high, very low or in the middle. Our personality styles affect how we approach work-life balance, work, and personal relationships.

So when it comes to social isolation, we need to remember that while there may be some truths to introverted personality types adapting to being socially isolated more readily than their extroverted counterparts, we’re all learning how to manage this new normal. 

As leaders, understanding personality styles can help us anticipate what works not just for ourselves, but for some team members and what will help other folks manage better. 

What helps introverts manage social isolation

I’ve spoken with clients, heard from blog readers and touched base with my Padraig team members. Introverts may not mind some aspects of self-isolation, but here are some helpful strategies:

  • Create and adapt to new routines: For many people who are more introverted, routine is a great comfort. Thanks to COVID-19, most people’s normal schedules have been disrupted. And it’s not just the work routines that have been derailed! Introverts who are used to picking up a coffee at their favourite bistro in the morning or going to see a movie every week are missing their habitual practices just as much as extroverts. Building new routines is very helpful while physically distancing. If there are things that you can keep on schedule with working from home (from sleep schedules to the timing of regular team meetings), it can really help some personalities feel more settled.
  • Reach out when and how you need to: That’s right, connect with people! Nearly every one of the more introverted personalities I spoke to said that everyone assumes they are happy and relieved (rejoicing even!) to be home all the time, but that while they do like solitary time it’s different when they’re feeling confined to barracks. They’re also missing the freedom to go out to eat, visit public places and travel. One introvert shared that he has found it really hard to deal with stress since his gym closed and his band can’t meet: “I like having alone time, but I enjoyed these activities and now they’re off-limits. It’s really hard for me to lose them.” He’s started running and says he now appreciates being invited to participate in an online meeting or streamed concert or movie. An introverted account manager I know said, “I’m actually gaming online or going on social media to interact with people and look at photos of friends who live in other places. It’s great because I can enjoy a bit of a diversion, but it’s still interacting on my terms.”
  • Deal with non-essential chatter: It’s not that more introverted folks don’t like people, because most value close one-to-one relationships and are very thoughtful. What’s hard is feeling inundated by small talk or too much casual conversation, which is draining for introverts. “I don’t like meaningless texts,” one self-described introvert shared. “We have a text chat for our team and I’m not kidding, the other day there were 183 new texts and only five were actually work-related. I can’t skip them because I could miss something important. It killed me.” The simple fix is to ask for or offer a way for introverts to opt-out of the contact that the more extroverted need and want. Maybe suggest a chat stream or a Slack channel for socializing (“The Break Room” or “The Watercooler”) and one for each project?

What helps extroverts manage with social isolation:

It’s not hard to see why folks who feel energized when they’re with other people and out there interacting with clients and colleagues all the time are struggling with social isolation. Here are some ideas to help the more extroverted personalities:

  • Figure out remote ways of connecting with people: The more extroverted you are, the harder it is to be socially isolated. Feeling lonely can increase your stress, interfere with your sleep and exacerbate feelings of anxiety or depression. You might also be feeling shame, or guilt, if you’re at home with spouse and kids but still feeling lonely or disconnected. I recently spoke with a client who is exceptionally capable, very positive, creative, and intelligent who shared that he’s been in despair for about three weeks now as he tries to figure out what to do to cope with social isolation. First, it’s very helpful to name what you’re feeling, to know you’re not alone and to reach out to someone who can be a good listener. Next, strategize and find ways to fill that need for human interaction. This is where having video conference calls for work (seeing people, not just chatting with them), online coffee breaks with friends or coworkers, virtual coffee dates and checking in with loved ones and friends is essential. Participating in Instagram streamed events with your fave celebrities (many musicians and authors are streaming interactive concerts and readings or Q&As) and going for walks where you can pass people at a safe distance may also help to fill your bucket.
  • Get creative and stay active: The more extroverted folks I’ve heard from miss the busy-ness of life before COVID-19. They’re missing the events, lectures, meetings, parties, and all the opportunities to network and mingle. Living within four walls and rarely venturing out unless it’s for a careful shopping trip alone is not just boring, but depressing. Find some inspiration and do something that allows you to interact with others at a distance. We’ve seen the balcony concerts and serenades in Italy first and now many other places, online dance parties, and surprising friends with drop and dash goodies left on their doorsteps. I’ve heard of friends playing a game of hide-and-seek in the car where one vehicle hides and texts clues to the others. Go for walks and exercise to keep all those feel-good endorphins and dopamine flooding your system.
  • Ask for space if you need to: Just as introverts do need some human connection, extroverts sometimes need some downtime and quiet. One of our Padraig team members is on the extreme end of the extrovert scale, but working from home while also schooling her children has been a strain. Her partner, an introvert, was genuinely shocked when she dissolved in tears because she wanted him to take over for a few hours at least one day a week. “He genuinely thought that I’d be in my element, loving having everyone home. And while that’s true, it’s also stressful to lose my routine and ability to work uninterrupted when I need to.” 

No matter where we fall in the continuum of introversion or extroversion, it’s important for us to learn to live and work remotely with different personalities in these uncertain times. Everyone is adapting to new situations and how we’re feeling can change day-to-day.  That last phrase is an important one our feelings can, and do, change from day-to-day. If you’re having a bad day, set an intention to, later in the day, or tomorrow, try one of your new goals above.

When we’re aware of what we and others find comforting or challenging, we can be more mindful about feelings and what we all need for our physical and mental health. It helps to communicate clearly when we’re feeling anxious or stressed, and to reach out when we need support.

Don’t assume people know how you’re feeling or that you know how those around you are doing; share your real situation with those you trust and check in with people. It’s especially important to listen to understand right now to support one another and strengthen relationships.

Coach’s Questions: 

Where do you fall on the introvert or extrovert scale? Who on your team is more an introvert or extrovert? What can you do to manage social isolation on those difficult days? What could you do differently or better to help those on your team?

Next up: I’ll explore more about how the pandemic is affecting our mental health and then how to have an attitude of gratitude in social isolation.


How to start an engaging Zoom meeting

Capturing the attention of an audience has been the work of storytellers, writers, and orators forever and a day. Narrative hooks can range from dramatic to hilarious stories, startling stats or relatable secrets.

Songwriters and musicians use music hooks memorable lyrics or melodies to catch the ear of the listener. 

Why? If you can pique the interest of your audience and bring them together, you’ll have a better shot at keeping their attention with the rest of what you have to say. Not only that, but they’ll feel connected to you and to each other.

When you have a Zoom meeting with your team, how you start things off matters — especially right now, amid the uncertainty and stress of the COVID-19 crisis.

We’ve already covered the basics for setting up an online meeting that keeps your team engaged. So, how do you actually kick-off the meeting in a way that gets everyone involved?

Start with a question for everyone to answer. Not just a rhetorical, “How’s everyone doing?” but a truly interesting question that everyone can answer. 

(Pro tip: If it’s a huge meeting, skip the roundtable and ask people to give their answers in the chatbox so everyone can quickly scan the responses.)

It sounds simple, but having the right question to start a meeting:

  1. Encourages participation: Getting people to say something at the start of the meeting inherently makes them more comfortable to speak up and engage later in the meeting.
  2. Guides conversation but allows for creative and varied answers: A good open-ended question encourages folks to share about a common theme. When you’re leading a team during these uncertain times, it helps to have direction and focus. The right type of question will work for all personalities, taking the pressure off the quiet folks, exciting the creative thinkers, and not annoying the logical members on your team.
  3. Builds relationships on your team: An open-ended question allows people to share their unique thoughts and experiences, which helps with team bonding as people get to know each other better. Your team members may realize they think a lot like Sam in accounting, they’re interested in what Fadi in marketing has to say and they have a lot in common with Zoë in sales. In times of distress or difficulty, it also allows people to share a bit about themselves their bigger lives outside of just their work life.
  4. Builds trust among team members: Sharing things about ourselves that aren’t necessarily work related or that won’t come up in most work conversations helps us to get to know each other and that builds trust. Best of all? Building trust builds stronger teams.

At Padraig, we’ve developed a card deck, called “Team Talk, Team Trust” that helps get teams sharing about interesting and thought-provoking topics. The deck has 150 questions that are designed to start conversations that develop trust among team members.

We’ve recently developed a screen-sized version of the cards for virtual meetings and whiteboards:

engaging zoom meeting

engaging zoom meeting

engaging zoom meeting


We’ve heard from so many of you who are trying to figure out how to make this new reality of working remotely and managing others remotely (all while juggling family and personal life) and so we’re offering you this complimentary download of 10 questions from the Padraig “Team Talk, Team Trust” card deck. CLICK HERE and we’ll send you the 10 cards as screen-sized PDFs, and as PowerPoint slides and Keynote Slides so you can use whichever version works best to post on your video meeting software.

If you’d like to buy the full set of cards, we’ve also put them on sale and we’ve added a bonus we’ll email you the full set of all 150 cards in PDF format, as well. You can order them here.

And again, thank you to everyone who has reached out to me to let me know how much you’ve appreciated the blog topics to help support leaders during this COVID-19 crisis. If there is a topic you’d like us to address, please let me know.

Coach’s Questions: 

What successes have you had with online meetings? What are your top challenges? Which question would you like to try to launch your next meeting?

8 tips for encouraging team members to speak up at work

If you’ve ever worked in a fractious or toxic work environment, you know how difficult it can be to speak up at work. 

Hushed and guarded conversations. Uncertainty about who to trust. Dread about retribution for those who dare to raise concerns. Worrying about the future of your career. In the worst cases, a pervasive sense of fear and not even daring to ask for permission to speak freely.

We’ve seen exactly this scenario emerge in recent years with Google, which as it grew from a handful of like-minded techies to 10,000 employees to upwards of 100,000 seemed to forget about its own “don’t be evil” motto as leaders went after more and more business at any cost.

speak up at work

The company that once had incredibly high ratings for employee satisfaction and employee engagement ended up facing high-profile news reports when staff and contractors around the globe walked off the job on November 1, 2018, to protest Google’s corporate culture.

Worldwide, news agencies reported how Google staffers and contractors shared complaints about the way contract workers were treated, sexism, sexual harassment (including paying male executives millions in exit packages – without addressing inappropriate behavior), racism, unethical behavior and engaging in business practices that put profits ahead of human rights.

In January of this year, Ross LaJeunesse wrote an article for Medium that detailed why he left his role as Google’s Head of International Relations. His article is one of the most personal accounts validating the concerns of those Googlers who walked off the job.

In 2010, LaJeunesse was instrumental in Google’s courageous and ethical decision not to censor search results in China. But by 2017, the company was involved in creating a new search engine for China named “Dragonfly” that would facilitate censorship.

The company that had once held firm to upholding human rights was also very interested in doing Cloud business with the government of Saudi Arabia — known for its terrible track record on human rights — and the Cloud executives didn’t want LaJeunesse’s Human Rights team involved in any of it. There were also ethically questionable Artificial Intelligence projects being brokered in China and for US military purposes.

LaJeunesse describes how Google’s workplace culture deteriorated to the point that senior staff were abusive toward young women team members and frequently blatantly racist, homophobic and sexist. 

As a Google manager who was part of their elite executive pool, LaJeunesse says he repeatedly raised his concerns with both Human Resources and senior executives. Over and over, nothing was investigated. 

One day, a senior HR director copied LaJeunesse on an email by accident in which the director was asking someone else to “do some digging” on LaJeunesse because he was bringing up so many issues (rather than asking someone to look into the problems being raised!).

How does a company that prided itself on upholding human rights and offering a safe and respectful workplace end up in such a different place in such a short time?

What helps other companies stay true to a mission without compromising ethics?

How do you create (and sustain!) a company culture that is inclusive and respectful of diversity?

8 strategies to encourage your team to speak up

Here are some strategies leaders can use to build a strong culture that prevents these kinds of problems:

  • Look inward and check your biases. If you tend to think, “Oh, this person is always raising problems and they’re so negative” is it possible that while that may be true, they might be right on this one?
  • Make an effort to be objective. Step back from the situation and consider whether you are making assumptions (pro tip: try our Ladder of Assumptions tool). You might be surprised to realize that you’re reading into things or there is some other misunderstanding.
  • Engage with the staff who are raising concerns. In addition to really listening to what they have to say about the problems they’re bringing to you, ask for their insight into reasonable solutions.
  • Don’t add to the problem. Pointing fingers, being negative or talking badly about people who speaking up at work about something that troubles them will not improve anything — but it will probably shut down any discussion (on this concern and on future ones). If you have to vent, find someone you can really trust (like a mentor or coach) to help you turn the venting into constructive actions or journal about your feelings. 
  • Presume that people speaking up at work have good intentions. It’s easy to start with a different presumption. Instead, try to see things from their perspective. What is important to them in this situation? Why is it important to them? Be curious and ask questions.
  • Gather facts. There are always different sides to every story (and the truth, if there is one truth, may lie somewhere in the middle).
  • Ask for input from others. Be careful that you’re not just soliciting input from those you know will agree with you — even if you’re wrong!
  • Don’t shoot the messenger. You might learn some disheartening facts, but you’re gathering information. You might sometimes have to deal with difficult employees who are creating dissent or stirring up trouble, but generally being receptive to hearing the good and the bad is very important if you want people to continue to be honest with you. 

Watch for our next blog on June 2, when we continue to explore how to eliminate fears of speaking up at work by reviewing some strategies that foster a culture of open feedback. 

Coach’s Questions:

Have you ever hesitated to share your opinion about something for fear of retribution? Do you think your team members ever fear speaking up at work? What can you do to help eliminate fears and encourage people to speak frankly?

Balance? What about work-life synergy?

I’ve been doing some reading about work-life balance (and how it rarely exists). 

Many of us have spent years — maybe even decades — trying to find ways of achieving work-life balance. A primary focus is often, reducing the demands from our work time to allow more “life” time. And, indeed, research shows that idea is important to retain talent and most companies have developed policies to help people carve out some balance.

It’s become even more difficult to achieve in the last decade with improved technology making it hard for people to really unplug from work at the end of the day — let alone weekends and holidays. It’s hard to leave work when it follows you on your phone everywhere you go.

Work-life synergy

I’ve noticed a shift toward the idea of work-life synergy, which is a refreshing new way of trying to find some “balance.” The idea behind this is that each side of our life supports the other. The difference is nuanced, but it’s interesting:

Work-life balance implies there are two sides competing, like weights on opposite sides of a scale, and by compartmentalizing you can focus fully on one and then the other.

Work-life synergy focuses on finding ways work and personal life can interact and cooperate, creating harmony out of their combined existence. (Life includes your family, friends, health, community, hobbies, etcetera.)

With work-life synergy, we work to align everything with our goals and unique needs. It’s a way of figuring out what you’re passionate about not only at work, but in all facets of your life — at home, in your hobbies and in your volunteer time — and using things you learn or practice in one area to support or strengthen another. At times, it requires more flexibility and at times, increased commitment. 

It’s an interesting endeavor in today’s work climate, when the ability to stay connected (and sometimes the pressure to be constantly available) can result in our work lives eclipsing everything else about us.

You may be surprised when you start looking at your life this way how many elements can work in harmony. Instead of feeling stretched and pulled in all directions, you may start to feel more congruity. 

A tech leader we know used to struggle to find time to practice yoga during her busy work weeks. If she tried to fit in classes after work, she felt she lost quality time with her children and partner. 

She decided to make time during her workday for yoga, and found to her surprise that some of her team members wanted to join in. She had become a certified yoga instructor back in her university days and found great joy in leading classes in a break room. Not only was she enjoying her return to the yoga mat, she saw how the classes were reducing stress and encouraging a different relationship among her team members.

Other leaders have shared how they felt great satisfaction in sharing their time and talent for finance with non-profit charities that were aligned with their own beliefs. 

One finance manager not only volunteered as a treasurer for a non-profit organization, but started participating in fundraisers for a cancer charity. As a cancer survivor, he enjoys giving back and also celebrated his return to health by cycling 200 kilometers for the epic two-day Ride to Conquer Cancer. Plus, his improved fitness routine has helped him manage stress at work and feel more focused.

Work-life balance to work-life synergy

Here are some ideas to help you shift from thinking about work-life balance to work-life synergy: 

Accept the complexity. You can embrace different aspects of your identity and you don’t have to pick one over the other. Make a list of things you care about and then ask yourself: Why are these things important to me? 

Find common ground. Look at your list and then think about connections. Are there aspects of some things you do or enjoy that complement others? Does being better in one area help you in another? What skills can you take from one area of your life to another? Are there ways you can make time for what matters that you hadn’t considered previously?

Recognize it’s more than just work and personal life. Move away from either/or thinking that either you’re at work or you’re home — or either you’re working or you’re relaxing. Synergy is about finding harmony, not segmenting aspects of your life. Are you able to enjoy the moments where you are? Are you giving your full attention to the activity at hand (whether that’s talking with a client, or talking with your kids, calculating spreadsheets or going to the movies with your spouse)?

As leaders, we can also help folks on our team move toward work-life synergy. Finding this sweet spot for work and life helps with mental wellness, retention, recruiting high fliers and job satisfaction. All of this then feeds into other benefits, like higher productivity, creativity, and loyalty.

Here are some ways to encourage a shift in culture to work-life synergy so that everyone on your team can walk the talk:

Offer practical support. Researchers find that employees appreciate a variety of supports to facilitate their work-life integration. It’s not just being able to telecommute at times (that’s expected in today’s job market!), but also other things like on-site daycare, gym subsidies or classes at work, perhaps a shower and changing room, healthy snacks, casual dress and flextime. What are some things you can offer to your team members?

Agree on boundaries and respect competing priorities. It’s so easy for us to keep working around the clock and through days off and evenings because we’re tethered to cell phones (and thanks to smartphones that means email and spreadsheets and on and on). Being able to say no without losing respect is part of the equation — the other part is being the leader who says I understand and let’s see how we can make this work and still achieve our work goals. Set the example of making other things in your life a priority and, for example, really unplugging when you take a vacation.

Understand demographics and cultural differences. Millennial workers are driving change in the workplace because they just don’t (or won’t) live to work because they want to work to live. They want careers to fit in with their lives and individuality. Their successors, Gen Z, also want work that has meaning and a meaningful life. Add into that the diversity of a multicultural workplace and there will be different priorities for family time, holidays, cultural traditions and more. When leaders support people finding what work-life synergy means to them individually, everyone is more inclusive and supportive.

Involve your team members in the conversation. Work-life synergy is going to mean something different to people in different industries, at different stages of life and from different backgrounds. At its essence, work-life synergy is achieved when employees have more control over their lives professionally and personally. What will make your team feel more engaged, creative and enthusiastic? (Hint: the same things that will make them more productive and increase their job satisfaction.)

This might look like someone leaving work early to drive a child to soccer and catching up on work later at home. Or it might be someone telecommuting for a stretch of caregiving for an aging parent. It could also be offering team members opportunities for professional development because many folks like to feel they are involved in something that has meaning and that their employer is supportive. 

Align with company and personal goals. When you set performance goals for your team members, of course, you’re going to want to have them align with company goals. But team members who write a personal vision statement for their career will have some ideas about what work-life synergy means for them as individuals.

This helps to determine ways everyone can get work and life to dovetail so that one supports the other — things like cycling to work knowing there is a place to keep the bike locked and safe as well as somewhere to shower (meeting the personal goal of keeping fit without any strain on work or other goals). 

Consider setting weekly priorities. Making a habit of setting weekly priorities (individually and as a team) instead of a daily to-do list helps the flow of work and life because you’re not perpetually managing urgent situations that knock everything else off the schedule. Check out project management and communication tools that may be very helpful for planning and executing priorities (at Padraig, we use Asana and we know some of our clients use Trello boards to manage deadlines and many moving pieces). 

When there’s a rhythm to work, everyone on your team can schedule other things around the key priorities and manage their time accordingly. Some companies even reserve certain days or times for meetings or administrative tasks so that team members can flex other days without inconveniencing anyone else.

Embrace a change in time management thinking. Instead of feeling like you’re juggling or always short on time, reframe the busy-ness in a positive way. Setting priorities and finding time for what matters is about problem-solving, not throwing your hands in the air in frustration and defeat. When you can figure out what matters most and strategize how to get things done, you’ll attract and keep the best and brightest talent. It might involve teamwork, delegating, outsourcing (by the way this applies equally to work and personal life!) or asking for additional resources — or it could mean you’re going to have to set some new habits and guard your time more wisely. 

Coach’s Questions:

What possibilities do you see in shifting from work-life balance to work-life synergy? How can you start finding work-life synergy for yourself? What can you do to help your team achieve it?

Respect: is it owed or earned?

Respect is a two-way street. 

Respect your elders.

Give respect, get respect.

We grow up hearing all kinds of things about respect, but what is ideal in the workplace? Is respect owed because of achievements, abilities, and status? Or earned because of qualities and reciprocity? Or should it be a combination of both owed and earned?

I recently read a very interesting article that Kristie Rogers, an Assistant Professor of Management at Marquette University, wrote for the Harvard Business Review about respect and employees.

In her article, Rogers says that her research shows that two types of respect are valued in the workplace:

Owed Respect – which should be given to all members of a company, where everyone is valued and accorded a basic level of civility

Earned Respect – which is given to those team members who have done work well or exceeded expectations and are rewarded for their success with admiration and sometimes in other ways as well (financial or other incentives)

Rogers and her fellow academics argue that companies whose employees feel valued and respected are more successful. Finding the right balance of owed respect (which meets the universal need to feel included) and earned respect (which meets the need to be valued for doing good work) is the tricky part for leaders. 

You’ve probably seen workplaces where there is a focus on earned respect but not enough owed respect: Only the shining stars are appreciated. In this environment, you’re thanked or appreciated only if you deliver the big client or the successful project. Good, solid effort every day toward ongoing needs gets overlooked. 

I once worked for a boss who was seen to “play favorites.”  He *loved* Joe in sales because of the clients Joe brought into the company but showed no respect, at all, for the folks in HR who kept Joe staffed with sales staff when he went through people like Kleenexes because he was so hard on them. There was no respect for everyone in finance, who made sure billing to clients was timely and followed up when payments weren’t received. 

This boss created an environment where earned respect and owed respect were badly out of balance. When only earned respect matters and there is very little owed respect, team members who aren’t superstars become very, very discouraged.

Soon, you’d overhear shorthand lingo around the office like, “well, if you want him to agree to do that, you better get Joe to pitch it to him.” Or, “I saved us thousands last year on delayed payments but, I’m no Joe so, of course, I didn’t get so much as a thank you.”

Contrast that with a director at a health authority I heard about from a staffer who raved that this director knew everyone by name on her team at the health unit and on the ward at the hospital. Everyone respected this director, who moved into management after years as a nurse, because she recognized not only the big important things, but the day-to-day dedication of various support staff. She was genuinely interested in everyone, took the time to check in with everyone on her team and even celebrated the smaller successes of support staff. You didn’t have to be a NICU nurse or helping to deliver babies to feel valued and want to go above and beyond.

This director is an example of a leader who offers both earned respect (the good job individual nurses did with moms) and owed respect (treating everyone with quiet dignity and setting a tone and an expectation for a baseline of respect for everyone on the team). We can see how respect, as one of the key leadership behaviors, has a ripple effect and is copied throughout the team when it comes from the top.

It’s a balance that can be tricky to achieve because too much of one of the two types of respect can be detrimental because the fallout is frustrated team members. 

What happens when there isn’t enough owed respect?

  • Only recognizing the high fliers can leave others feeling unmotivated and demoralized
  • An abusive culture, a culture of disrespect and incivility 
  • Overall mood drops, people feel unhappy with their job or role
  • Micro-managing

What happens when there isn’t enough owed respect, yet lots of earned respect?

  • All of the above, plus
  • People who should be working together see each other as competition (and excessive competition is quickly toxic)
  • There could be temptation to steal credit from peers

What happens when there isn’t enough earned respect (either all respect is absent, or owed respect overshadows or eclipses earned respect)?

  • People feel their extra effort isn’t recognized and some will begin to question whether their effort is worth it (reduced individual motivation)
  • High fliers will look elsewhere for work
  • Major contributors may feel frustrated and unappreciated
  • A culture of “minimum required effort” may develop

What happens when there is a base of owed respect shown to everyone and healthy earned respect in place?

  • A positive culture of people supporting each other and interacting with civility
  • Overall employee satisfaction increases
  • A relatively consistent level of effort and output is achieved
  • High fliers are challenged, but cooperative, and everyone is motivated to contribute to company success

Before you dismiss an imbalance or lack of respect as merely creating some sour grapes, consider the impact on productivity. In her HBR article, Rogers said, “80% of employees treated uncivilly spend significant work time ruminating on the bad behavior, and 48% deliberately reduce their effort.”

Respect really matters and workplaces that get it right reap many benefits:

As a leadership coach, I firmly believe that it always comes back to learning how to manage different personalities. When you understand personality, you get what makes each individual feel motivated/complacent/unmotivated. 

Here are some tips to help you build the right balance of owed and earned respect:

Make sure everyone feels respect in your workplace. From the most junior to the most senior and everyone in a support role, all people need to feel valued and worthy of basic dignity. This can be accomplished by something as simply getting to know your team members by name because you build stronger teams by developing relationships

I remember someone saying once, “You treat people on your way up the way you would if you were on the way down.” How you treat those who work under you will affect how your team members treat their subordinates and your clients or customers. Do you make time to answer questions? Do you listen, really listen to people? Do you see the little things as well as the big things? Other actions that cultivate respect include delegating and supporting your team through tough situations.

Recognize that there could be variations in respect behaviors. What works in one environment could be perceived as rude in another so the approach has to fit the reality (and it could vary between departments at your workplace). How you apply the elements that build relationships and foster respect and trust have to make sense within the norms of the workplace. For example, you don’t want to disrupt the rhythm of the workday by making small talk during a time or period that everyone needs to be focused and working. Be aware of different personality styles, and things like who thrives with quiet, private conversations and who likes to be part of a more animated and open discussion.

Once you have owed respect figured out for your workplace, consider earned respect. The researchers have demonstrated that the balance has to be right to be effective, so how you reward team members for performance is ideally fair and tied to deliverables. In practice, this could include things like celebrating success, praising exceptional contributions, awarding bonuses or other incentives. (Note: the research is clear that praise and attention from a leader frequently mean more than money.)

There’s always enough of both owed and earned respect. Consider respect from an abundant mindset, and you’ll agree that it’s impossible to run out of respect. You can offer owed respect to everyone, across all levels and departments. Similarly, you can still offer earned respect when and if it is due for meeting or exceeding expectations. Sure, you might have a finite bonus budget or salary pool, but you can still celebrate the big successes by building a company culture of growth and happiness

You’re never too busy to acknowledge team members with respect. When owed respect is the default behavior, it’s going to be there even under heightened stress (things like listening to understand, offering common courtesies and showing gratitude for help). It’s also well worth making time for moments to offer earned respect because failing to do that, as we’ve discussed, has serious repercussions for motivation and even retention of the high fliers on the team. 

The best gestures of respect are authentic. Feigning interest or half-hearted attempts at offering praise will be seen as such and become meaningless. Similarly, if praise is too lavish and constant or if everyone gets the same reward for varied effort, team members won’t feel valued. Have you ever worked with leaders who only offer owed or earned respect when others are watching (especially more senior folks)? Insincerity is never received well. Having said that, a little fake it til you make it can get you started if acknowledgement and respect feels foreign.

Coach’s Questions:

Have you ever worked where respect (or a lack thereof) was a problem? Are there ways you can improve how owed respect and earned respect are shared in your workplace? What is something new you’d like to try this week?