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The Positive Impact of Empathy in the Workforce

I want to cringe every time I see a TV series or a movie that features a crazed, former military member brandishing a gun, running with simulated voices in his or her head, and ominous music of impending doom – all due to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I applaud storytellers for bringing mental health issues to light and for attempting to tell these often-silent stories. Yet what is often lost in the sensationalism of a highly trained person with a gun, is the humanity and seriousness of the situation.

The US Department of Defense, National Center for PTSD reports that issues of PTSD vary. For veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom between 11%-20% suffer. For the Gulf War, Desert storm the center reports 12%. For the Vietnam War the numbers are 15%.  These numbers cover only those who have been diagnosed; the estimates for actual individuals coping with PTSD are thought to be even higher.

These numbers are important because if you live and work in the Washington, DC region, or any area of the country with a large military population, you interact with people who may be suffering or who have suffered from PTSD.

In my role as a leadership development trainer and executive coach, I work with large populations of both active duty and retired service members. They are some of the most highly trained technical people and skilled managers in the workforce. When these people transition from active duty and enter the workforce, they can and do bring real value to the companies fortunate enough to snap them up.

Please don’t avoid anyone you know with PTSD or pass them over for job or promotions because they may have issues. Don’t be afraid of them or not trust them. After all, these brave men and women have given their all to protect us. Instead, learn to manage PTSD in the workforce, whether you are a manager or co-worker.

Coping with PTSD in the workplace

  • Create a safe place to ask questions and work together
  • Bring in a trained facilitator/consultant to work with both management and veterans to better understand issues and then develop solutions
  • Develop written procedures, meeting notes, and training manuals so employees and can refer back if they missed something at a session or need additional refreshers
  • Have published calendars for team tasks so individuals can refer to these privately
  • Provide access to alternate/softer lighting in work spaces
  • Initiate organization-wide strategies for managing stress
  • Set aside money for additional training for new members
  • Provide disability training to all team members
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Six Emotional Leadership Styles

Our emotional intelligence determines our potential for learning practical skills that are based on its five elements: self-awareness, motivation, self-regulation, empathy, and adeptness in relationships. Dan Goleman

Change is not easy and often can be uncomfortable, yet change is an essential ingredient to an organization meeting its mission. Strong leaders motivate their team members by understanding the importance of emotional intelligence.

Often considered the Father of Emotional Intelligence, Dan Goleman is the author of Emotional Intelligence, named one of the 25 Most Influential Business Management Books, by TIME Magazine. His works have gone on to help define strong leadership skills and styles. His book Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence written in collaboration with Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, defined six Emotional Leadership Styles.

In order to implement change, it is important to understand the six leadership styles and the degree of impact they can have on an organization.

The Visionary Leader  This leader moves people forward with a new direction toward a shared goal. By sharing knowledge about the destination but not micromanaging the process to get there, the visionary leader empowers others to utilize individual innovation, experimentation, and grants permission to take calculated risks.

The Coaching Leader  This leader encourages individuals to identify strengths and weaknesses and connects those traits and aspirations with the goals of the organization. The coaching leader positively impacts the climate and helps individuals build skill sets through one-on-one attention.

The Affiliative Leader
  This leader takes a collaborative approach toward connecting people and engaging their emotional needs in a team setting. The affiliative leader creates a positive climate by alleviating stressful situations and healing differences between colleagues. In this scenario, poor performance by an individual can be masked by group effort.

The Democratic Leader
  This leader takes a consensus-building approach valuing participation, commitment, and input from all members of the team. This style relies on the group’s commitment to the goals and input on various facets of the business. While this approach draws on a variety of skill sets, it can create a crisis when urgent business demands a quick decisive response.

The Pacesetting Leader  This leader is most effective with a motivated competent team but it should be used sparingly and in combination with other styles. The pacesetter builds challenges and goals and sets high standards with very little input and guidance. The objective is to be better, faster, and more efficient. When overused or used poorly, this leadership style can create a poisonous environment that can undercut morale and set individuals up for failure.

The Commanding Leader
  This leader thrives in crisis as power and dominance are demonstrated and full compliance is expected. It creates a very rigid hierarchy much like that of a military commander issuing orders. The commanding leader maintains a singular vision and path to success and has no qualms about requiring all to conform to one unified ideal. This style is most often used, yet carries the least effect. Goleman argues it is only effective in a crisis when urgent change is needed.

Many of these leadership styles are most successful when utilized in tandem with one another. The most effective leaders pull from this selection of styles to fit the moment versus trying to fit each moment into a single style. Through proper utilization of each of these styles, a leader can move their team effectively through change.

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Developing Individuals like Crafting Fine China

The other day, a friend forwarded this lovely story; it started me thinking about how artisans see the final masterpiece from a blank piece of canvas or a single lump of clay. It also caused questions as to how leaders see the potential in individuals and begin to polish the hidden gem.

There was a couple who took a trip to England to shop in a beautiful antique store to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. They both liked antiques and pottery, and especially teacups. Spotting an exceptional cup, they asked, “May we see that? We’ve never seen a cup quite so beautiful.”

As the lady handed it to them, suddenly the teacup spoke, “You don’t understand. I have not always been a teacup. There was a time when I was just a lump of red clay.”

“My master took me and rolled me, pounded and patted me over and over and I yelled out, ‘Don’t do that. I don’t like it! Let me alone.’” But he only smiled, and gently said, ‘Not yet!’ Then WHAM! I was placed on a spinning wheel and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting so dizzy! I’m going to be sick,” I screamed. But the master only nodded and said, quietly, ‘Not yet.’”

“He spun me and poked and prodded and bent me out of shape to suit himself and then… Then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked and pounded at the door. Help! Get me out of here! I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head from side to side, ‘Not yet.’”

“When I thought I couldn’t bear it another minute, the door opened. He carefully took me out and put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. Oh, that felt so good! Ah, this is much better, I thought. But, after I cooled he picked me up and he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. ‘Oh, please, Stop it, Stop it!’ I cried. He only shook his head and said. ‘Not yet!’”

“Then suddenly he put me back into the oven. Only it was not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I just knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. I was convinced I would never make it. I was ready to give up. Just then the door opened and he took me out and again placed me on the shelf, where I cooled and waited — and waited, wondering “What’s he going to do to me next?” An hour later he handed me a mirror and said ‘Look at yourself.’ “And I did. I said, ‘That’s not me, that couldn’t be me. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful!’”

Quietly he spoke: ‘I want you to remember,’ then he said, “I know it hurt to be rolled and pounded and patted, but had I just left you alone, you’d have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. I know it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked. I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened. You would not have had any color in your life.

If I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t have survived for long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product.

Now you are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”

~ Author Unknown ~

How many pieces of fine china have you helped to create in your career and lifetime? How many people have you taken the time to help mold and develop?

When you encounter a young intern or new employee who has been assigned to your team, how do your actions impact their future? Do you take the time to speak with them, learn about their goals, guide them on their way, and contribute to their future success? Or do you consider yourself too busy and important to give them any of your time?
Do you recognize them as individuals? Or do you treat them like they’re ‘just like everybody else’?

When you see the small flicker of something wonderful and new, do you take the time to cultivate that spark into the brightly burning flame it can become? Or do you snuff it out with harsh words and a cold shoulder?

Do you think back to those who spent time molding and shaping you?

So again I ask….how many pieces of fine china have you helped to shape and mold?

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Leadership Development and Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins

In 1925, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wrote the Seven Social Sins, sometimes called the Seven Blunders of the World. He published it in his weekly newspaper, later giving the handwritten list to his grandson, shortly before his assassination. His social sins consisted of a list that can be applied in today’s world when implementing leadership development and training for teams and organizations.

Gandhi’s belief was that without awareness and purposeful resistance to these pitfalls, these sins could damage both individuals and countries. In this day and age, it is important to see that several of these principles can be applied as cautionary tales to businesses and organizations as well.

In order for organizations and teams to function with a high level of productivity while maintaining a valued work environment for employees, managers, and teams, there must be:

Strong work ethics and standards
Individual and organizational integrity
Characteristics of virtue
A well-defined company culture
Attention to cultural diversity
An eye toward the greater good within the organization
Company values

These principles, as they relate back to Gandhi’s original social sins, can help shape a productive organization. When conquering and defining these ideas through strong leadership and training, organizations can be set on a path toward their highest productivity and success.

Organizations that emphasize attention to these ideals and train to cultivate the right tools and team development create a win-win for those participating in the workplace.

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Leading Teams Through Change

For most people change is uncomfortable. Yet successful organizations are frequently changing and adapting to elements that affect and enhance their productivity and help them achieve their goals.

For those tasked with leading a team and helping others to facilitate change, this may mean employing a variety of emotional leadership skills that we discussed in recent postings here. As a change leader it is important to understand that individuals react, respond and transition through change differently.

According to the Personal Transition Curve, developed by John Fisher, a leading contributor to change management theories, there are 11 different degrees of reaction and phases an individual may pass through as they are coping with change: Anxiety, happiness, fear, threat, guilt, depression, denial, disillusionment, hostility, gradual acceptance, and moving forward.

It is important to provide support, training, mentoring, and coaching to successfully see individuals and teams through change. Change is a process that affects several aspects including organizational restructuring as well as dealing with attitudes and behaviors.

Leadership and change expert Dr. John Kotter devised his 8-step process for leading change.

Essentially the steps involved are:

Establishing a sense of urgency
It is important for the company’s management to be convinced there is a need for change. Without establishing a need for change things will remain at the status quo.

Creating a leadership team
This is a core group within the organization that can lead change and lend their authority to the activity of change. In essence, they then become the guiding team who will support and direct the path toward the new reality.

Developing a shared vision
A clear cohesive vision that is easily communicated is essential to help develop a strategy to address changes.

Communicating the vision and strategy
The guiding team can employ transformation by clearly communicating the goals and vision through seminars, presentations, and other ways to target the message and facilitate change.

Encouraging action
Obstacles will always arise as each individual is dealing with their various reactions to change. It is important to encourage risk taking. If key individuals within the organization are blocking the change, it is important to identify this and take action. By dealing with obstacles swiftly and fairly there is less chance of undermining the operation.

Creating short-term wins
It is important to set achievable goals that will move the process of change forward. Break the vision and path into manageable hurdles that will facilitate activity and movement toward the greater goal. A short-term win will allow people to earn recognition and rewards on the path toward greater change.

Building the Momentum
Be persistent in moving toward the overall goals of the change. Do not accept short-term wins as final change. Understand that implementing change takes time. It is not something that happens overnight and it is important to make sure that backsliding into old habits do not take place. Continue moving forward and do not declare victory prematurely.

Lasting Change
A successful change is one that is anchored into the corporate culture. As team members associate change with their own contributions, they will see it as part of the organization that they help build. Hence they will view themselves as being a part of the change and not just enacting that change as directed by their upper management and leadership.

By understanding the reactions individuals have toward change, and systematically leading them through a process of change, strong leaders can employ different emotional leadership skills and successfully facilitate change within their organization.

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A Review of Performance Reviews

To paraphrase a well-known Biblical verse, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven….” And to every employer and employee there is a time for an annual performance review.

If you think my pulling in the Bible is a bit heavy handed, it’s not. To many, this annual ritual is fraught with the same emotional up swells, wrath, judgement, and indignation as any powerful religious parable. And like the reading of any religious text (the Bible isn’t exclusive to this metaphor) it is followed with faith, awe, and confusion.

The Annual Performance Review As A Tool

The human resources community has been examining the role of the annual performance review as a tool for, well…employee performance. The results shouldn’t surprise anyone who has given or received an evaluation. It can be a miserable experience that people on both side of the desk feel is a waste of time. Many companies have done away with the formal review, opting instead for real-time evaluations. However, that isn’t yet the norm. There still needs to be a formal vehicle for tracking how employees are, or are not doing their jobs, as well as disciplinary actions, and accolades that lead to promotions.

Global advising firm, Willis Towers Watson in a 2016 study on employee evaluations, formally referred to in the report as employee value proposition (EVP), revealed some interesting results.

Employees want employers to connect with them the same way they connect and value their customers. Employees who are unhappy with performance reviews cite that their managers lack the skills or the time to make it effective. Only 51% of employers say that performance management is effective at creating a positive employee experience.

Employees who do find reviews helpful are often the most engaged employees. This means their managers have done an effective job in placing their role within the overall organization, provided positive coaching and feedback, and attended to employees’ concerns for security, pay equity, and a clear career path.  You can find the complete study here and it’s a worthwhile read: https://www.willistowerswatson.com/en/insights/2016/09/employers-look-to-modernize-the-employee-value-proposition

But here’s the spoiler alert. Effective employee reviews come down to effective communication skills. The same hold true on the other side of the desk. Employees need to listen and ask the right questions to elicit the most helpful feedback.

Anyone who has worked with Wise Ways Consulting has hopefully walked away with an appreciation for the power of communication in the workplace and a belief that there is always room for improvement.

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The Value of Getting Out of Town

In an earlier post, I advised readers to plan for their summer vacations.  There is a tremendous value both physical and mental for taking time off.

Now that summer is here, and I hope you have scheduled your time off, I want to push you out of the Northern Virginia nest. It’s easy to want to plan a “stay-cation.” Northern Virginia has many regional treasures and monuments, historic battlefields, great nature trails, and fabulous panoramic views of the Potomac.

However, getting away from work should mean getting away from the stressors of life in this region!

Every day we deal with it – the constant political and economic chatter. We get it from the person sitting next to us at work, on the news, at the PX, at our kids’ soccer games even!  “Is the government going to shut down?”  “I’m a contractor.  Is my employer going to win that recompete?”  Some work on the Hill – that comes with its own set of headaches!

Because of where we live, we hear more and know more than we probably want to! As Dr. Seuss’ Grinch says, “all of the noise, noise, noise, NOISE!”

Many advocate the value of a ‘stay-cation’.  It’s easy and cost-effective. But this year, if you are able, get out of town and away from the chatter.

The Benefits Of Vacation And Travel

According to a 2016 report from Project: Time Off, an initiative of the U.S. Travel Association, estimates that an incredible 659 million vacation days went unused in 2015.  That’s 1.8 million years. I won’t even begin to calculate the salaries.

  • Travel keeps you healthier. Another study showed that women who vacation at least twice a year have a much lower risk of having a heart attack as compared to those who only travel every six years or so. For men who don’t take a vacation, the study showed a 20 percent higher risk of death and a 30 percent greater risk of heart disease.
  • Vacation helps with your mood. When vacationing at least twice a year, women are less likely to suffer from depression and chronic stress than those who take time away less than once every two years.
  • Escaping town helps with our relationships. Spending time away from this area will allow us to have time away from work, the smart phone, and the work-obsession environment that we inhabit.  It’ll give us time to truly reconnect with those closest to us.
  • Dedicating time to a vacation helps improve our self-esteem. By putting our mental health first and committing to our vacation days, it tells us that we are important and worthy of that time away!
  • Vacations boost creativity. New stimuli including faces, places, tastes, smells, experiences, can help bring about new creative ideas!  Being able to develop new avenues to tap into your creativity can help as you work through challenges back at the office or at home.

Leaving the region will help you leave the chatter behind.  Set your email and voice mail to an away message and leave the noise behind.  Save the stay-cation spots for when friends and relatives come into town, for when they are escaping their own chatter-filled regions.

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Are you a reason, a season, or a lifetime?

So here we are again in December.  The time when we reflect and take stock of all that we’ve accomplished or in some cases, not accomplished.  Heck, sometimes it is even difficult to find time during the holiday season to sit still and breathe, let alone reflect!

What did you set out to accomplish in 2016?  But, before you harangue yourself for not finishing everything, think about your year beyond your list of goals.

I’ve always found this poem to be poignant; given that we are nearing the end of the calendar year.

 People always come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.
 When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what to do.

 When someone is in your life for a REASON,
 It is usually to meet a need you have expressed outwardly or inwardly.
 They have come to assist you through a difficulty,
Or to provide you with guidance and support,
To aid you physically, emotionally, or even spiritually.

They may seem like a godsend to you, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.
Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
This person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.

Sometimes they die. Sometimes they just walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, and our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and it is now time to move on.

When people come into your life for a SEASON,
It is because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn.
They may bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.

They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it! It is real! But, only for a season.
And like Spring turns to Summer and Summer to Fall,
The season eventually ends.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
Those things you must build upon to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person anyway;
And put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas in your life.

It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.
Thank you for being part of my life,
Whether you were a reason, a season, or a lifetime

Consider the people in your circles at work and social.  Who were/are the reason, people?  What lessons did you learn?  How did you grow?

Who are the season individuals?  What experiences did they bring for you that brought joy?  When the reason and season people in your life moved on, were you able to accept that it was time and think about the growth in your life?

Who are the lifetime folks?  What are you doing to learn from those individuals?

Relationships are not meant to be one-sided.  Think also about your influence on the lives of others.  Who have you represented to them?  Have you been released from a relationship along your journey?  What did you bring to the space that you shared?

At work, if you are a manager/leader you can extend that idea to new employees, new clients, and new upper management.  If you have hired someone for a job you can extend that to the consultants, new customers, and customers you may have lost.

If you are a team member, you can extend that to your boss, co-worker, and the idea that 2017 is the time for a change.  Maybe it’s time for you to push for a promotion, get/finish a degree, or even a new job.

As you move forward into 2017, consider how you will ‘show up’ to those in your life.  Take steps to ensure that you are bringing your authentic self, both in the workplace and in life in general.

To those of you celebrating holidays in the next few weeks, enjoy!

All the best, see you in January!

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