Leadership Essentials: Navigating Stress and Prioritizing Appreciation

In a recent LinkedIn poll I asked “What do you believe is the primary obstacle preventing leaders from expressing appreciation and showing recognition.” It is no surprise to me that Stress and Busyness was the number one obstacle.

In the fast-paced world of leadership, stress and busyness often become constant companions. However, amidst these challenges, true leaders find ways to rise above, fostering a culture of appreciation within their teams. As one person commented on the post, “I don’t think most ’leaders’ realize that appreciation and recognition are part of the leading equation.” If you want to bring out the best in others, expressing your appreciation and showing recognition is a critical tool in the leader’s toolbox.    

Unrealistic expectations
Stress and busyness
Organizational culture
Fear of vulnerability

If Stress and Busyness is an obstacle to you showing appreciation and recognition to others, here’s a roadmap to help you make this process a part of your “leadership equation.”


Self-Reflection and Mindfulness

Begin by reflecting on your own stress triggers and embrace mindfulness. By understanding your own reactions to stress, you can cultivate resilience and lead with a calmer, more appreciative mindset.


Effective Time Management

A lot of stress is self-induced because of our inefficient use of time. Put reminders on your schedule and build appreciation and recognition into your normal daily/weekly processes.


Open Communication Channels

Build transparent communication channels to understand your team's challenges and successes. Regular check-ins create a supportive environment where team members feel valued and heard.


Recognition Programs

Implement recognition programs to celebrate achievements, both big and small. Publicly acknowledge individual and team accomplishments to foster a culture of appreciation and motivation.


Lead by Example

Demonstrate gratitude through your own actions. A leader who expresses appreciation sets a powerful precedent, encouraging the entire team to follow suit.


Encourage Peer Appreciation

Foster a collaborative atmosphere where team members appreciate each other's contributions. This not only strengthens bonds and teamwork within the team, but also reduces the burden on leaders to be the sole source of recognition.


Flexible Work Environment

Recognize the importance of work-life balance. A flexible work environment that respects personal time promotes wellbeing, reducing stress for both leaders and team members. Allowing for that flexibility also helps the team member feel valued and heard.


Professional Development Opportunities

Show appreciation by investing in your team's growth. Provide opportunities for skill development and career advancement, demonstrating your commitment to their long-term success.


Celebrate Milestones

Take the time to acknowledge work anniversaries, project completions, and other milestones. Small celebrations contribute to a positive work culture and strengthen the team's sense of achievement.


Gratitude Rituals

Incorporate gratitude rituals into your leadership style, such as regular team meetings dedicated to expressing thanks. This creates a space for positive reflection and reinforces a culture of appreciation.

By navigating stress mindfully and prioritizing gratitude, leaders can build resilient, high-performing teams that thrive in a supportive work environment. Remember, genuine appreciation is a powerful tool that not only enhances team morale but also propels the entire organization towards sustained success.

Coaching Challenge

  1. Pick one strategy you believe you can make progress on in the month of December.
  2. Define what success looks like and brainstorm all the ways you can aim your CliftonStrengths to take action and achieve success on this goal.
  3. Now define the payoff (or the benefit) for you and your team when you accomplish this goal?
  4. Ready to get started? Do you want some additional accountability? If so, feel free to email me your plan and I will check in on your progress next month!


What Will Happen to My Team if … ?

Contingency Blog Post

As we continue to lead our teams and organizations through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are so many things that leaders must do to ensure the safety and performance of their team. There’s one thing in particular I want to put on your radar!

In addition to your increased management and leadership responsibilities, there is one very important question I want you to ask yourself:  “What will happen to my team if I (the leader) am out of commission for two weeks?”

What will happen to my team if I am out of commission for two weeks?

Great leaders don’t just focus on leading through crisis, they plan in advance for it.

Every organization, every team, has their own unique risks that can be navigated and managed more smoothly, if you are prepared for them. Many large organizations develop and update their Risk Management/Contingency  Plans annually so they are prepared in the event of various crises. 

If creating a Contingency Plan is something you have already done for yourself and your team, then you get to advance to GO and collect $200 (an old Monopoly reference)! 

If not, you need to carve out some time on your schedule quickly to create your team’s Contingency Plan. 

For Your Team

Consider doing a Zoom or GoToMeeting call with your team to discuss creating a Contingency Plan. You can also discuss during your weekly one-on-one meetings with each team member, as well. Ask each team member “if you are suddenly out of commission for two weeks in your role, what are the worst-case scenarios?” Have them write down each scenario and begin to develop their individual Contingency Plan, which will become a part of the team’s overall plan. Remember, this is a “temporary, just-in-case plan” so the plan needs to focus on critical work products or deliverables only.

Their individual plan should include:

  • Describe the Project, Deliverable or Task
  • Define the Successful Outcome 
  • Document the Ideal Response  (including Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Make sure critical processes and procedures are documented in detail and, if it makes sense, consider  job shadowing or cross training someone on this particular task.)
  • Document the Timeline 

For You — the Leader

In the event you are out of commission for two weeks yourself, you also need to explore the  worst-case scenarios, risks, and concerns and develop a Contingency Plan to help your team manage around or navigate through the disruption in your absence.

Stop worrying about having all the answers. You just need to be able to tap into the wealth of knowledge, experience, abilities, and strengths of your team … and then give them the space to deliver remarkable results!! 

Make this a “WE Project!” This is how you keep your team engaged.  When they are working on meaningful projects — projects that have a specific purpose — projects that are aligned to the company’s goals — THEY WILL STEP UP AND BE ENGAGED!

But listen! You must take time to acknowledge and appreciate the extra work they are doing for the overall benefit of the team. You must not miss an opportunity to celebrate or to  say “Thank you! You did a great job!” That momentum is what you need to keep your team moving forward!!

Leading Through Disruption

In the fields of Manufacturing, Technology, Customer Service, HR, and the list goes on and on, the big topic at conferences around the globe has been around “Innovative Disruption.” How can we disrupt our daily routines to discover critical solutions, create new products, and streamline existing processes and procedures to produce breakthroughs in our systems? How can we step out of the whirlwind of “business as usual” to elevate our game  and provide better products and services to our customers?

Well … guess what?  DISRUPTION IS HERE! 

Leading through times of constant change and ongoing disruption requires different leadership.

It is during these critical times that great leaders slow down to do the right thing — not the easy thing.

When it comes to leading through disruption, here are 4 critical leadership opportunities to help your team thrive!

  1. Focus on your Mindset. Shift your focus from crisis to disruption. When you think of the word crisis, what thoughts, words, or emotions come to mind? When you think of the word disruption, what thoughts, words, or emotions come to mind? Does one word seem or feel more hopeful than the other?  Does one word seem to cause less stress or anxiety? Remember, strength doesn’t start in the gym. Strength starts in your mind!
  2. Focus on your Behavior. If you think about this as a crisis, and you talk about this as a crisis, and you behave as if the sky is falling and everything is falling apart … guess how your team will respond? It is important that you remain calm. Be mindful of your behavior because your team will follow your lead! Focus on demonstrating the same behaviors you want to see in your team.
  3. Focus on Successful Outcomes. Instead of being paralyzed by the problems and challenges created by the disruption, allow it to give you the courage to take action. To think “outside the box.” And, don’t worry! Just because you are the leader, you don’t need to have all the answers! Look for opportunities to pull your team together to collaborate and provide input. BUT … before you get started brainstorming on solutions, stop and ask your team to define the successful outcome. Once everyone is clear about what the successful outcome looks like, everyone will be moving toward the same destination for a solution!
  4. Focus on You. You must make sure you are taking care of yourself first. If you are “Running On Empty” (like the old Eagles song), you have nothing to give to others. Make sure you incorporate activities into your schedule that helps to fill your bucket. If you like to read, listen to music, or workout, create space for those things in your schedule so that you will be refreshed and refueled in your mind and body.

#ExerciseLeadershipToday Challenge

  1. Create a visual reminder in your workspace — DISRUPTION, not crisis!
  2. Take 5 minutes to create a list of current challenges you and your team is facing. Prioritize the list. Now that you’ve identified your top challenge, send a virtual meeting request to the team members who can help you brainstorm solutions.  Remember to start the meeting by collecting their thoughts and input to create a clear, successful outcome. Then begin the brainstorm process. This is not the time to “weed out” supposed bad ideas.  Just collect the ideas and then let the team go off for a day or two to think about their best solution!
  3. Make a commitment right now to the ONE THING you are going to do for yourself to keep yourself mentally and physically sharp!

Extraordinary Personal and Team Payoffs of a Strengths Culture

In your family there are certain values, beliefs, attitudes, rules and behaviors that are taught, demonstrated, and nurtured in order to help your children grow into responsible adults. In addition to those family values, there are behaviors that are considered dealbreakers. Certain behaviors are simply unacceptable. These values, beliefs, attitudes, rules, and behaviors define your “family culture” and, over time, the “family” becomes quite clear about the things that are most important.

This concept of creating a “team culture” works the same way. But, first, the leader must be clear about those values, attitudes and behaviors that are important to the team’s success. Believing that everyone is uniquely wired with extraordinary “super powers” that equips them to make a remarkable impact on the team, is the driving motivation for incorporating strengths-based development into your team’s culture! 

If you haven’t thought much about your team culture, here’s your first opportunity to make a significant shift in your leadership!

But … defining, developing, and demonstrating your culture takes great clarity; the leader must ‘lead’ the team by demonstrating these values, attitudes, and behaviors; and, the leader must be consistent in communicating, nurturing, and holding the team accountable to these values.

In order to integrate (and sustain) a Strengths initiative within your team, you must first do some reflection, which  will create an emotional connection to the benefits and payoffs of a strengths culture that will inspire, drive, and motivate you as you meet resistance.

Just know this … you can count on it … be assured … There. Will. Be. Resistance.

You will encounter resistance from yourself as you wonder if what you’re doing is working and is it really worth it the effort. Resistance from others as you challenge them to think and do things differently. Resistance because the team simply doesn’t understand how important this is to you and the ultimate success of the individuals and the team. Resistance because the team doesn’t understand that you believe and are committed to developing, utilizing, and celebrating every ounce of strength sitting at that conference table. Resistance simply because some people are WIRED to slow down, question and analyze before taking action.

When you encounter resistance, it doesn’t mean your efforts aren’t working!  It just means “this is normal.”

Remember, a strengths approach to leading a team is a game changer! It affects every conversation in the office. Excellence becomes the new norm. The team demonstrates higher levels of emotional intelligence as they seek to develop strategic partnerships with other team members. Increased personal and team accountability are the outcomes.

#ExerciseLeadershipToday Challenge 

Carve out 15 minutes on your schedule today and write your answers (free flow) to the five questions below. Don’t over think your answers or dismiss an idea as silly or unrealistic, or even stop before the 15 minutes is up. Push yourself to write down as many answers as possible in the allotted time.

Here are the five questions: 

  1. What are the benefits or payoffs for the team once we successfully integrate Strengths into our culture?
  2. What successful outcomes would I hope to achieve? (Be specific)
  3. Fast forward 6 to 12 months after you have successfully integrated Strengths into your culture. Get a clear picture of your team (individually and collectively) operating in their Strengths Zone … together. What problems am I currently facing that have been resolved?
  4. As the leader of a stronger, higher-performing team, what benefits or personal payoffs am I (the leader) experiencing as a result?
  5. If I don’t integrate Strengths into my team’s culture, what is the result?

The final step in this challenge is to create a one-page Strengths Vision Board that focuses on the desired successful outcomes for yourself and your team. Post this somewhere close where you can see and refer back to it often!

Making this emotional connection to specific successful outcomes is exactly what will inspire and motivate you through the expected challenges and resistance. Otherwise, any organizational initiative you try to adopt, as positive as it may be, will fail.

When it Comes to Feedback, Delivery is Everything!

People often have a negative reaction to “feedback” because, over the years, the message was sent but not received, let alone understood. For a variety of reasons, the feedback was often too vague, too direct, too punative, too one-sided, and the list goes on and on. The result? 

Good Feedback + Bad Delivery = Negative Reaction and No Improvement

This has to change because, as Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, the knowledge of the “whole,” the experience of the “whole,”  the wisdom of the “whole,” is greater (more valuable) than that of a single person on a team. That makes practical sense, right?

So it’s not giving feedback that we need to do away with but rather we need to work on our delivery of the feedback. A bad reaction to feedback is not an employee problem, it’s a leadership problem. 

When giving feedback, great leaders check their motives at the door. They take themselves out the equation and do what is in the best interest of the team or team member. They’re not focused on what’s easiest, but what’s effective. They’re not focused on what they want, but what the team member needs. 

Here’s what I propose. Rather than focusing on the “feedback process,” as if there’s actually a “one size fits all” approach, we focus on defining the “successful outcome.” 

As leaders, what can we do differently to deliver feedback in a way that influences a positive reaction and a successful outcome? 

This is one of those times when you a leader has to turn off “auto pilot” and be very intentional about delivering a clear message, clarifies the best way to deliver the message based on the unique personality and needs of the individual, and is always striving for a positive feedback experience and outcome. 

Good Feedback + Good Delivery = Positive Reaction and Improved Performance

#ExerciseLeadershipToday Feedback Challenge

  1. Think about a specific person in which you need/would like to share feedback. (Think PP — positive feedback or performance feedback. Please do away with the phrase “constructive feedback!”) 
  2. Clarify the most important action you want them to take. Instead of telling them what to do, how can you lead them to the best solution by asking them questions? Asking is much more effective at inspiring people to take action because they think it is their solution, not yours. 
  3. Based on what you know about that individual, what can you do differently to deliver that message in a way that inspires that individual to take action? Be specific and think about positive behaviors that would inspire a positive outcome. 
  4. Is there anything else you can do differently to influence a favorable reaction and positive outcome?
  5. Now, go have this feedback conversation! Remember, this doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out conversation. Feedback conversations are most effective when they are short and sweet.

Transformational Leaders are Extremely Caring …

Valentine’s Day is this week and it reminds me of the importance of expressing gratitude and

appreciation within our teams, families, and communities. As a leader, these leadership skills address a very important question on the minds of your followers: Do you care about me? Do you care about my struggles? Do you care about my results? Do you care about my successes? Do you care about me as a person?

When it comes to showing appreciation in the workplace some leaders are so concerned about “over appreciating” and appearing “soft” that they don’t express their gratitude or appreciation at all.

Pete Luongo says it best! “The most transformational leaders are extremely caring and extremely demanding.” You don’t have to trade one for the other. You can be both. You can have high expectations AND care about your team at the same time.

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report, when employees feel like their supervisor, or someone else at work, cares about them they are more likely to: experiment with new ideas, share information, support coworkers personally and professionally, give their manager (and coworkers) the benefit of the doubt, feel equipped to strike a balance between their work and personal lives, and be advocates for their employer.

This week, I want you to look for MORE opportunities to say “Thank You.” If a team member does or says something kind (and you wish everyone else would do more of that), take the time to express your appreciation.

The goal of this Challenge is not to tell you HOW to show appreciation to others but, rather, to get you to JUST DO IT! And do it again! And do it again! And do it as often as it is warranted throughout this week!

Are you in? Are you up for the #ExerciseLeadershipToday Challenge? If so, SHARE a specific experience in the StrengthsBuilders Community and/or the Strengths-Based Leadership Tribe and you will be entered into the monthly drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card!

#strongleaders #strongfamilies #strongcommunities #strongteams #bestrong #2020strong #strengthsbuilders #strongfeedback

Flip the Feedback Script!

As we kick off this month’s featured topic, instead of always thinking of feedback as “GIVING FEEDBACK,” let’s flip the script!

Instead of looking for opportunities to GIVE FEEDBACK this week … I think we should develop the discipline of ASKING for feedback!

Whether you are a leader, team member, parent, or community volunteer, asking others for their feedback is a great way for you to take control of your personal development. Feedback from “key stakeholders” (i.e., trusted colleagues, your children, other volunteers) not only equips you with meaningful insights of where and how you can improve, it also helps to build trust and strengthen important relationships. Asking others for feedback also reinforces the importance of “teamwork” — that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Here are a few tips to help you maximize the opportunity to receive meaningful feedback:

  1. What exactly do you want to know? When asking for feedback, be specific. EXAMPLE: “Hey! I would like to get better at ‘x.’ I really value your feedback and was wondering if you would share with me … “
  2. Practice asking for just ONE THING. Asking for too much feedback can defeat the purpose. Set yourself up for success by making the feedback forward-focused and managable. EXAMPLE: “Hey! I would like to get better at ‘x.’ I really value your feedback and was wondering if you would share with me ONE THING I could do better …”
  3. Clarify the “desired outcome.” When asking for feedback, don’t focus on a “job responsibility” or task (i.e., public speaking, organizing an event) but, rather, focus on the “desired outcome” (i.e., engaging more quickly with my audience, increasing the engagement at my events). EXAMPLE: “Hey! I would like to get better at ‘x.’ I really value your feedback and was wondering if you would share with me ONE THING I could do better that would help me close a prospective client faster?”
  4. Once someone shares meaningful feedback with you, don’t forget to say Thank You! EXAMPLE: Thank you so much! This feedback is extremely valuable to me. I appreciate your support and willingness to share. This is priceless!”  

Final thought. As you are learning how to effectively “ask” for feedback, your colleagues are learning how to effectively “give” feedback. During the conversation, be fluid and learn to actively navigate the “ask” so that you get feedback that is meaningful and truly equips you to achieve excellence!

#ExerciseLeadershipToday Challenge: Who’s up for the challenge of asking for feedback this week? Once you complete the #ExerciseLeadershipToday Challenge, SHARE your experience in the StrengthsBuilders Community or the Strengths-Based Leadership Tribe to enter a monthly drawing for a $25 Amazon Gift Card! Make sure you use #strongfeedback when posting your experience!

How do Great Leaders Handle Negative Feedback?

The ultimate purpose of giving someone feedback is to help them get better at something … to improve their performance. But often times, feedback and how it is delivered leaves the recipient feeling devalued, deflated, and defeated. Ill-delivered feedback has a far-reaching impact. Not only does it impact the team’s morale but it affects the individual’s level of engagement. Ongoing negative feedback often results in employees becoming actively disengaged in their jobs. That is a tragedy … especially when the purpose of feedback is improved performance.

I’ve read numerous books, articles, and blogs on how to “give” effective feedback, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything on strategies for “receiving” feedback. However, I am convinced there is a right and wrong way to “receive” feedback. How someone delivers the feedback to you is completely out of your control. How you receive the feedback is every bit within your control.

The following is a creative and healthy process that will help you change the way you think about feedback or feedback that is delivered negatively.

  1. Change the way you think about feedback. Rather than thinking all feedback is negative … what if you believed that most feedback is productive and some people know how to communicate feedback better than others. That is powerful because you are setting the mental expectation that some people will deliver productive feedback in a positive way … and some will not.
  2. Accept the fact that the person providing the feedback may have good intentions, but their delivery is lacking. This thought process starts an important shift in the direction of this conversation. Instead of focusing on how horrible the feedback is making you feel, you start to focus on how that person needs to learn how to give better feedback. Understand? The negative emphasis is no longer about you but rather the negative delivery.
  3. Approach the feedback with an “open mind.” What if the information that is shared actually helps you to improve your performance or helps you become a more effective leader? Just what if …?
  4. Listen and seek first to understand. Don’t get defensive, argue, put people down, or get caught up in the conversation trying to prove a point. A defensive response changes the whole tone of the meeting. And now the very result you didn’t want is the result you will get. Keep an open mind and listen to the feedback. What is the point of the feedback? What is the value to you (personally and professionally) and to the organization if you improve in this area? Listen, understand the purpose of the feedback, and stay focused on the result … not the person’s delivery.
  5. Influence a productive outcome. While you can’t control how the feedback is delivered, I am convinced you can still influence the direction of the conversation. If the conversation appears to be taking a negative turn, rather than making statements (or worse … excuses), learn to ask questions. For example, What are your expectations of me in this situation? What are some ways in which I could improve? What does “success” look like? In the future, how could I approach this differently? What other ideas or suggestions do you have for me? Remember to keep your questions future-oriented, maintain a positive body language, and stay focused on the result!
  6. Thank them and make a genuine commitment to do better. If the feedback was that you did a lousy job facilitating the team meeting yesterday, and this person gave you suggestions on things you could do differently in the future, change what you can change and ignore the rest. In most cases they may never know. But in all cases, thank them for their feedback.
  7. Ask for permission to check back with them at a later time. Marshall Goldsmith talks about leading from a place of perception. This simply means it is much easier for you to change your behavior than it is to change a person’s perception of your behavior. Think about it. If you go back in two months to this same person and ask them “how am I doing at facilitating our team meetings?” and they respond with a resounding “great job,” then you win! If you go back to them and they say you are making progress and keep up the good work … then you still win! In either case, you are influencing their perception of you and that perception is one of commitment, dedication and excellence.

I understand that receiving feedback can be awkward and challenging. Don’t give up! Becoming a great leader demands a hunger to learn and improve, a willingness to be vulnerable at times, and a readiness to own up to shortcomings that you’re working hard to improve.