Leading with an Attitude of Gratitude

Photo by Debby Hudson, on Unsplash

Canadian Thanksgiving is coming this weekend. The word thanksgiving is a great word, because it is a reminder to take some time to be thankful for what we have, and for those who love and appreciate us. It can be tough though, because it is a habit that needs to be developed through practice.

When I was younger, I didn’t really have an appreciation of Thanksgiving.  My family cooked a turkey, but that was about it.  When I went away to university, I really noticed Thanksgiving for the first time.  I was too far away to go home, and I lived in residence. When my friends would go home for Thanksgiving, it was lonely.  Occasionally a friend would say “hey maybe you can come home with me for Thanksgiving dinner” but wouldn’t follow through.

During those times, I would try to make the best of it.  I took myself out to dinner, hung out with others that were staying around, go to a movie, walk around and enjoy the fall colours, and sometimes I had a pity party.  It was a tough holiday.  

It isn’t easy to be grateful when you don’t feel grateful. Those times are the hardest to dig deep to find some small thing to appreciate.

I made a point to invite those without family or plans to Thanksgiving dinner or any other holiday dinner after I graduated. I know that they were grateful for the offer whether they joined us or not, because they knew that someone was thinking of them.  My children started this practice as well and is something they continue to do.  It is a way for me and for them to help show our appreciation for others, especially those who are lonely.

I am grateful for the lesson that lonely Thanksgiving holidays in school taught me. Holidays and celebrations can be hard on those who are alone.  I know from experience how a small act of kindness can make a difference in someone else’s life and how good it feels to be remembered.  It can also make a big difference in your life and how you see the world.

So, what does gratitude have to do with leadership? When I read various articles about leadership, frequently, a key quality of leadership mindset, is an attitude of gratitude.  There is nothing like a manager who tells you that they appreciate the work you do. Similarly, having family or friends tell you that they appreciate you is special. It makes a difference. Good leaders take the time to appreciate what they have, and those around them regardless of their situation in life. Many give their time and money to build a better world.  

What we reflect to the world, is reflected back to us… 

What are you grateful for?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Seasons of Relationships

I love the above sentiment because it reminds me that we have different seasons in our relationships much the same way as we have seasons in our life. Knowing the season of the relationship may help us understand and cope better when the relationship ends, but it doesn’t necessarily change the way we approach the relationship.

In my previous post, I talked about relationship capital and the importance of nurturing positive relationships  This is an extension of that post.

When I was younger, I felt that relationships, no matter what kind, should last. I hated when they ended, I felt like I failed somehow. Then I saw this poem and it helped me realize that relationships have different jobs. At work it helps to get things done, in my personal life it helps to build a sense of belonging, companionship and well being plus all the other nice things that come along with positive relationships. Positive relationships are good for our mental and physical health-a human connection is built into our DNA.  Enjoy the relationships you have for the time you have them.

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Relationship Capital and Influence

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on unsplash

What is it and how does it work?

I was listening to an interview, and the term relationship capital came up. It was explained as the opportunities that present themselves in the relationship without ulterior motives attached to the relationship, 


It is the network that helps you navigate the corporate culture, understand your shortcomings, and pushes for your success. Ultimately these relationships lead to a goal of some kind, for example wealth, prosperity or success.

For me, relationship capital means building solid relationships that has led to big results. I have worked with my colleague friends on contentious issues and come out with great solutions that make the organization look good.

I remember going into an interview and being asked about how I managed stakeholders and built relationships.  I was floored, not because I couldn’t answer the question, but because someone was asking it. To me it seemed like something you learned when you were growing up-like how do you make friends and keep them? I mentioned simple things like speaking face to face, or by phone, developing personal connections and following up with them after meetings if they didn’t attend, etc. The interviewers found these strategies great, they nodded and seemed to get excited. I realized at that point that building and nurturing relationships was a skill, and maybe some people just don’t have it, or they have poor skills resulting in financial losses, damage to organizational image, or loss of trust.  The road to building good relationship capital requires consistency of effort and character over time.

All of this to say that building relationships and nurturing them in work and in your personal life is not intuitive or natural to some people. There are lots of courses to learn how to build good relationships to prove it.

Do’s and don’ts of building a relationship


Stakeholders, clients, family, friends, require us to pay attention to the relationship. Building these relationships takes time and effort and if it is genuine then a strong bond can form. Relationships flourish when they:

  • Involve mutual reciprocity or a mutual willingness to help and support one another
  • Respect the time needed to build trust and the relationship
  • Value integrity


Mistakes that people make in building relationships:

  • Premature asks (asking before there is a relationship)
  • Poor or no follow up
  • Being a champion in a way that does not fit with the organization’s brand ​

What strategies help to build relationship capital?

  1. Build trust. People love this idea, but it comes with a catch-it requires action.For example, if you say you will follow up, do so, be accountable and reliable. Be honest and ethical and you will gain respect and build trust.
  2. Communicate. I believe that most problems that arise in relationships are because of miscommunication. Just the other day, I was speaking with a colleague friend, and we agreed to a plan of action. Somehow the message got mangled, and I got a call from her boss asking for more information. If he hadn’t called me, it would have resulted in a lot of unnecessary work with possibly incorrect information. Luckily, I have a great working relationship with both, and it was easily resolved. I can call on any of my colleague friends, because I have developed a relationship with them, and they will help me, and I will do the same for them. These relationships have paved the way for many successful initiatives.
  3. Set boundaries. Let people know what the goals are and what is at stake. Let them know what is and isn’t possible and the rest is negotiable
  4. Let others know if you suspect a problem is coming. Those in charge don’t like surprises about projects if they are accountable-it puts them in the hot seat. If you suspect something might become a huge issue, let others know about it, so that it can be addressed. This also builds up the trust bank, when they know that you are in control of the situation.

Building relationships out of difficult circumstances:

How does it work when clients are difficult or resistant to change? Meet stakeholders/clients who are resistant to change.  This is hard to do because it can feel unpleasant, time consuming, and messy to come to a satisfactory solution.  However, if it is managed well it can be really satisfying!

I have learned is to expect resistance and plan for it with any change. The following has worked for me when I have experienced resistance:

  • Clearly identify the problem, I am trying to solve.
  • Clearly state the goal.
  • Provide foundational information to ensure that everyone has the same basic understanding and context about why this is important.
  • Identify and get agreement on basic principles. These are the basis for how agreement on decisions can proceed. For example, a principle might be, “Safety is important.” When disagreement happens, go back to see how the suggestion aligns with the principles.
  • Identify negotiables and non negotiables to find common ground.
  • Listen to feedback and concerns. This provides valuable information on obstacles to implementing your plan.
  • Explain the decision. People will want to know what the decision is based on, and whether their feedback was considered. Not all feedback can be used, and it needs to be weighed carefully along with the overall goals, principles, etc.  Honest discussions that are respectful work best in this situation.
  • Have a respectful discussion, they should never be personal or aggressive. Rules of engagement may need to be used if discussions are contentious, heated or get out of control. Stop the discussion and remind people about appropriate behaviour and comments. If that doesn’t work, stop the discussion entirely and have it another time.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.

Developing good relationships is a lifelong process that will enrich your personal and professional life.  

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Mind your Mind

You’ve probably seen something like this floating around the internet.

I really like this visual because it is a reminder that our brain really is like a computer. We program and controlit by what we put into our head (thoughts, feelings, emotions, and beliefs).

What comes out of us (our actions) is a result of what we put in (programing).

To get new results, we must, alter our programing.

Delete the negative junk we are putting in our head. Then rewire with new programming.

Do Leaders Feel Like Imposters?

Photo: Kyle Glenn, Unsplash

Did you ever say to yourself that you’re not good enough, that you don’t belong, that you don’t deserve the job, the promotion, the book deal, the seat at the table, etc.?  If you have, you are in good company.

  • Tina Fey:  Actress and author, said the following about imposter syndrome “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re onto me! I’m a fraud!’” Women tend to explain their successes away by ascribing them to things like “luck,” “hard work” or “help from others” rather than the innate ability or intelligence than men often cite.
  • Maya Angelou: The prizewinning author once said, after publishing her 11th book, that every time she wrote another book she’d think to herself: “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.” 
  • Michelle Obama: The former first lady has spoken and written about how, as a young woman, she used to lie awake at night asking herself: Am I too loud? Too much? Dreaming too big? “Eventually, I just got tired of always worrying what everyone else thought of me,” she said. “So, I decided not to listen.

My friend Google, showed me that many famous people suffer from imposter syndrome, including, Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, Arianna Huffington, Serena Williams, Sheryl Sandberg and Mike Cannon-Brookes, an Australian billionaire and CEO of Atlassian who told his story in this TED talk.

Leaders in every walk of life have experienced the imposter syndrome. How they deal with it is an important lesson in leadership and managing your mindset.

Who is Prone to Imposter Syndrome?

This syndrome was first applied to women by two psychologists in a 1978 study.. Since then, it was found to apply to anyone from any walk of life. Anywhere from 9% to 82% of people can experience imposter syndrome

Minority groups may be especially susceptible to it. A 2013 University of Texas study  of ethnic minority college students found that Asian-Americans were more likely than African-Americans or Latino-Americans to experience impostor feelings.

What Does Imposter Syndrome Look Like?

A person with impostor syndrome does not internalize the positive feedback they get. They don’t see it as an accurate reflection of their abilities. Those who don’t feel like imposters, receive positive feedback, feel good about themselves and confident in their abilities.  

Imposter syndrome is:

  • Feeling like a fraud and fearing being discovered,
  • Having difficulty in absorbing personal successes,
  • Feeling like success isn’t deserved, they don’t belong, or are out-of-place.

Feeling like an imposter can lead to a drop in job performance and job satisfaction, as well as increased anxiety and depression.

Valerie Young, expert and author of, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, found the following patterns: in those with imposter syndrome:

  • Perfectionists are prone to imposter feelings because of the high expectations they set for themselves. Small mistakes will make them question their own competence.
  • Experts feel inadequate if they are not fully prepared or knowledgeable before they start a project. They won’t ask questions or speak up in meetings if they don’t know the answer.
  • The natural genius feels like an imposter when they have to put effort into their work.
  • Soloists work on their own and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
  • Superstars feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life and may feel stressed or like imposters when they are not accomplishing something.

Managing Impostor Syndrome

Re frame your thoughts

  • Recognize the imposter thoughts and put them in perspective. Ask yourself: Does this thought help or hinder me? Then, take action; either let it go, or take positive action.
  • The way to change your self-talk is to guide your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  Replace negative thoughts with positive ones or phrases that break the cycle like, “You got this!”,”Go get ’em”, or ” I can do hard things!”, You are good enough!”
  • Recenter and calm yourself, go for a walk, meditate, do some deep breathing or something that is relaxing. Over time, when you refute the negative chatter in your brain with more accurate and positive thoughts, your brain will become rewired to believe better.

Discuss your feelings

  • Discuss how you feel with a trusted friend, mentor or seek professional help. People who have more experience can reassure you that what you’re feeling is normal and knowing others have experienced it can help make it feel less scary.
  • Most people experience moments of doubt, which is normal. The important part is not to let the doubt control your actions.  Use the information you have to remove imposter doubts more quickly.  Young says. “They can still have an impostor moment, but not an impostor life.”

Write it down!

Your successes

  • A study of over 12,000 journal entries from 238 employees found that capturing small wins helped increase motivation and build self-confidence. Write down your successes, so that you can visit them when you need to. Take time to absorb your successes.

What you are grateful for?

Successful people practice gratitude by writing down the things they are grateful for. Gratitude:

  • releases positive emotions,
  • helps to adopt the wins,
  • improves health,
  • helps to deal with adversity, and
  • builds strong relationships.

Your self-doubts

Writing is a great remedy for impostor syndrome and has a healing effect. Write down your feelings of self-doubt. In fact, participants in a study who wrote about their most traumatic experiences for 15 minutes, four days in a row, experienced better health outcomes for up to four months later.

Writing can help you find meaning in your experiences, provide a different perspective, see the positive side of an experience, and provide lessons for future use.


Imposter syndrome is a mind game. It is a matter of who has control of your mind, is it you, or is it your thoughts?

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The Self-Confident Leader

What is it about self-confidence that is so appealing?  

  • We are drawn to people who believe in themselves.
  • Confident people are simply happy with where they are in life and believe they are capable of reaching their goals.
  • Confident people seem to know what they want, and are not afraid to ask for it, or go after it.
  • They’re typically comfortable in their own skin and well-adjusted.
  • They have a sense of ease which is appealing.
  • They are not afraid to express themselves.
  • Confident people transform the energy in the room.
  • They are authentic, they do not try to be something or someone else.

Think about someone you know who is confident. What is it about that person that says confidence? Then think about someone you know who lacks confidence. What is it different about the two?

The person who comes to my mind that exudes confidence is my husband. Why? 

  • He is confident about his abilities and is comfortable with who he is.
  • He is decisive, takes action, and follows through.
  • He is a positive person and tries to find the positive in all situations.
  • He values integrity and honesty above all things.
  • He isn’t afraid to try new things. He sees it as a challenge and is willing to work to master it.
  • He doesn’t worry about what others think about him.
  • He has a positive energy that transforms the room.

How did he get this way? Part of it is personality,part is hard work and taking calculated risks, facing his fears and building upon his successes.

Self-confidence is:

  • an individual’s level of certainty about their ability to handle things.  
  • essential for the leader to influence collaborators, or followers.
  • the leadership trait that was most often identified in a 2002 study.
  • developed at an early age and is influenced by others, experience, our successes and failures, and how they are interpreted in our minds.
  • the level of general self-confidence that we each acquire in childhood remains fairly stable over our lifetime.
  • formed through our successes and failures, how others react to us and what we expect of our future performances. 

Axelrod in her chapter on leadership and self-confidence, discusses the idea of self-leadership to build self-confidence.  Self-leadership involves changing our way of thinking to believe in what we want.  She states:

“…after we fail at a task, most of us automatically berate ourselves, but if we practice self-leadership, we can observe that we failed only because it was a learning experience and assure ourselves that we will succeed next time…positive expectation helps guide our thoughts in a constructive direction and manage our emotions, so it helps builds task-specific self-confidence, which can enhance performance because people who believe they can perform well tend to do better than those who expect to fail…self-leadership may be the leader’s single most important skill, …to shape our internal life story to foster success…”


Take Risks: Leaders who are confident tend to have positive expectations and are willing to take risks. The willingness to take risks, along with believing in their own competence helps build success.

Our level of self-confidence also affects our willingness to complete a task when we fear failure. Those with a high level of confidence will adjust their goals to be more manageable and achievable.

Manage their emotions:  A leader who remains emotionally stable, manages his/her anxiety and anger during difficult confrontations, and focuses on constructive language will be more successful. This self-control will put the leader in a positive light. On the other hand, lack of self control can damage trust, commitment, and the leader’s reputation.

Are Authentic: When leaders reach a level of success and seniority, they may have to take a stand about their personal values, beliefs and principles. This may attract criticism and polarize people. When faced with harsh critics, the best advice is to ignore them if your decisions are ethical, and principle based. Don’t let them get in your head, if they do, banish them like you banish your inner critic. 

Takeaways to Build your Self-Confidence

Imaging/rehearsal: Picture the activity in your mind and what a successful outcome looks like. Rehearse what might happen, what might be said and how you might to respond to the scenarios your mind generates. This acts as a rehearsal for the real thing and prepares us for what might happen. Athletes and many who have life coaches or mentors, are coached to use this method to visualize success.

Constructive self-talk: Catch your inner self-talk to identify destructive patterns. Confront and silence the inner critic, boost your confidence, and reduce anxiety. Speak to your inner critic and tell it that it is wrong, it is a liar, you are going to send it for a time out, it is going to a parking lot, etc. A tip someone shared with me was to wear a rubber band on my wrist and snap it every time the inner critic started. Then call out the critic and re frame the thought to a more positive message. Catch it before it changes the message in your head.

Competence: Focus on what you do well; your competence and abilities. Avoid comparing yourself with others. Be proud of what you do well.

Eliminate triggers: Avoid negative thinking or spending time around things or people that can make you feel bad about yourself-anything that leaves you thinking you’re not good enough. Re-frame your thinking-change your mindset.

Bounce back from your mistakes: No one is perfect. Even the most confident people have insecurities, and there’s no one alive who hasn’t made a mistake. Don’t let one wrong turn, or even a few of them, make you think you don’t have what it takes to achieve your goals and reach your success.

Surround yourself with people who believe in you: Nothing is as powerful as people who think you’re great, who believe you can do the impossible, and who have all the confidence in the world in you. Surround yourself with those people and be intentional about maintaining those connections. Stick with the people who lift your perspective and avoid (or at least tune out) those who make you feel bad or doubt yourself.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Jim Rohn

Take pride in yourselfSome people think that taking pride in yourself means that you can’t be humble. You can recognize and appreciate who you are and what you’ve accomplished without being arrogant. Sometimes it’s the motivation we need when things get tough.

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Successful Leadership Problem Solving

Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash

Good leaders have a problem solving mindset which makes them so effective, have better control of their lives, and have more success.

Successful problem solving happens when you are clear about what your problem is. Correctly identifying a problem is critical to solving it.

  • It sounds so basic, but some problems are not easy to identify, which makes it more difficult to solve them.
  • Sometimes people have a solution, before they understand what the problem is. 
  • Sometimes the problem is so complicated that layers must be peeled away before you can get at the root cause.
  • It is a trap if you think that defining the problem is easy. In all my years as a policy analyst, defining the problem is the most difficult part of policy work because you need to get to the root of the issue. If you can’t identify the problem, you won’t be able to fix it, or move on.  

Problem Solving Steps

The problem-solving process is the same no matter what the problem is:

  1. Identify the problem(s): It may help to talk it out with someone. 
  2. Gather information: interviews/talking with others, research, data, internet reviews, annual reports, other reports, minutes, etc.
  3. Analyze your information: Use the information gathered from step two and begin analyzing and synthesizing the information.This includes identifying options or choices and what to consider before you make your best choice. Often step 2 and 3 go together.
  4. Put together an action plan: What are the steps you need to take to make it happen?
  5. Review what you learned:  Once you have implemented your plan, you may want to review the process, (immediately, so you can document what worked and what didn’t at various intervals, 6 months, 1 year, etc.)

Example:  Having a difficult conversation

The Context

A golf trip is being planned by a group of golfers once travel opens from COVID. Some golfers are concerned that not everyone is immunized or will be before the golf trip. The immunized golfers are hesitant about having non-immunized golfers join them, but are afraid to raise it for fear of offending the non-immunized golfers. They are also afraid that by socializing with the non-immunized golfers, they could potentially infect their close family members once they return home from the trip. (Partners were not invited).

Identify the Problem:

Do I have this difficult conversation about what to do about the immunization issue, or do I let it go?

It may be helpful to talk it out with others to clarify the problem. 

Information Gathering and Analysis:

Identify concerns of the golf group both immunized and non-immunized. 

Identify what is non-negotiable.

Identify logistics of lodging, meals, golfing, local rules and requirements, etc.

Find out what the safety risks and requirements are for the immunized and non-immunized, including risks to family members. Many of the golfers have family members with chronic and respiratory illnesses that could put their health at risk.

What are the requirements if someone gets the virus? What is the impact to the group? If quarantine is necessary, are there other arrangements that need to be made?

What happens if someone is hospitalized with COVID or becomes ill? Would someone have to stay with them until they were better?  How will that situation be managed? Would medical insurance cover them? Will someone from the family be able travel to be with their sick family member? 

All these items need to be thought out and planned for.

Action Plan:

Plan for the difficult conversation. Identify how and when to have the difficult conversation. Plan what to say and how to say it:

The leader of the golf trip started the conversation by admitting to his non-immunized friends that this was going to be a difficult conversation and that he was taking a risk with the friendships by doing so. He indicated that his safety and the safety of his family was the most important thing to him.

He acknowledged that his friends had a right to choose not to be immunized. He also acknowledged that as the leader of the event, he had a right to protect his family and others on the trip. He mentioned that others were concerned about how this would affect them and their families.

The leader laid out all the information he gathered and all the questions that needed to be answered. As they began discussing the issue in a calm and rationale manner, it became clear that the non-immunized golfers had not considered all the “what if’s” and had more to think about. The non-immunized golfers went away to consider the discussion and the potential scenarios.

They had a follow up discussion a week later and the non-immunized golfers decided that vaccination was the best option for them and their families. (They had been thinking about getting vaccinated, and the questions raised made them do their own research and reach this decision-no strong arming was involved).

The discussion ended with a temperature check on the relationships. The leader asked how the non-immunized golfers felt about the issue, discussion and relationship. The response was: “All is good.”


Leaders don’t step away from a difficult conversation but find ways to manage it. This real-life example is relevant because difficult conversations happen in the work environment and in a personal environment.

It was an awkward situation and an uncomfortable discussion that brought out all the issues into the open and “cleared the air”. They were fully discussed so that everyone could move on.

Thoughtful problem solving played a key role.

Having a difficult conversation can be productive, calm, rationale and without drama. 

Fully displays leadership skills and character traits such as communication, integrity, honesty and compassion.


This is an example of excellence in leadership problem solving: All of us will run into messy people problems based on emotions, principles, or politics. Most people want to run away from these kinds of conversations, it is an act of courage to face the problem directly.

  • This method of problem solving is a time-tested process that works no matter what the problem is.  
  • Sometimes as a leader you have to do the hard thing. Do it as compassionately as you can.
  • This also serves as an example of how to have a difficult conversation, whether in your work life or in your personal life.
  • Every decision you make has a consequence, be ready for the consequences.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. Quote Master

Leaders Speak Differently – Speak Like a Leader

Leaders command a presence

Leaders command a presence when they walk into a room. Is it the title they hold? Maybe? There are some people who command a room and don’t have a title.  Leaders hold themselves differently, they speak differently, and they act differently.

What makes someone sound like a leader?

A key part of being seen as a leader, is to sound like a leader.


Pay attention to subtle differences in language and choose their words carefully. They are tuned into using emotionally intelligent language to encourage conversations, rather than shut them down. This type of language exudes leadership because it is positive, empowering and solution oriented.

Use emotionally intelligent language. Instead of “why did you do that?” they say, “tell me what happened.” they replace “no, but…” with “yes, and…” And “we can’t …” with “what if…”

Decide what goal and emotion to tap into. This will determine word choices. Let’s say you want to motivate, your choice of words may focus on emotions that evoke ambition and pride. Here is an example of Bill Gates and his style of leadership. He knew his team would be facing long, hard days ahead to improve and produce products. He chose his words carefully to inspire specific emotional reactions among team members. He said, “The reason you’re here is because you’re amazing.”  Simple words that evoked ambition and pride.

Connect emotionally. Leaders inspire others, by connecting emotionally with them to make them feel valued, collaborative, and trusted partners in achieving goals.  Examples of classic leaders with the ability to tap into emotions that inspire, include Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his speech “I have a dream” or, John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” These speeches have stood the test of time because of how they connected their objectives with the hearts of ordinary people. They made ordinary people feel a part of a bigger dream.

Are precise in their communications. They get to the point and resist the temptation to give too much detail. They keep their key message to 10 words or less, otherwise it isn’t ready to share.  This means, knowing the communication goal and deciding what actions the audience needs to take. 

Are strategic. They give the “why” behind their expectations. They link the project or work back to the bigger goals of the organization. They provide the context for better understanding and outcomes. For example, leaders will say, “here’s the situation,” “here’s the plan.” People want to know what’s going on, and how their work fits into an overall objective and strategy. If they aren’t told, they will fill in the gaps of their understanding with conjecture. So, emotionally intelligent leaders don’t leave gaps, they give the reason behind decisions.

Speak to encourage; look for solutions and innovate.  Negative, critical or complaining speech will hurt efforts to be an effective leader and will hurt the leader’s personal brand and reputation.  

Use the rule of threes. This is used to convince people of something, break down the message into three points: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Why? Because it makes it sound more compelling, more convincing, and more credible. This can be applied to email, presentations, meetings. Also, three is an easy number of points to remember.

Tell stories. Why? Because stories give facts meaning. When leaders tell stories, they invite the listener to join the journey and where the story takes them.  

 Emotionally Intelligent language tips:


SayInstead of
Let’s figure out how to fix thisYou need to fix this
What do you think we should do?What are you going to do?
What is the best way to resolve this?Who’s responsible for this?
Have you tried this approach?You’re doing it wrong
Help me understand your thinking“I wouldn’t do that
We need to do betterThat’s not good enough
How can I helpDo you need help?
Why don’t we try…I don’t think you should
Well done! Thank youIt’s about time


Use weasel words or phrases: “To the best of my knowledge; I could be wrong; If I recall correctly; As far as I know; This may not be a good idea, but; Maybe; sort of; kind of; somewhat; um; and, uh.” These words do not make you look or sound confident or prepared.  Women use these words or phrases more than men. They are filler and not precise communication. If you need time to think about what you are going to say next, then take a pause. Use these words and you will lose your audience. They will become focused on the words and stop listening to what you are saying.

Use jargon or obscure references. You will lose your audience.

Go into detail. Keep the information at a basic level for decision makers to understand and make a decision without too much detail.


Whether you work in an organization, are a community leader, or a parent, people are watching you all the time. They are evaluating you as a leader. How do you speak?  Can others understand you?  Are you a positive communicator or a negative one?  Do your words invite or deter?

You can learn to be a better communicator through practice. Watch what you say and how you say it. Emotionally intelligent language can be learned.  Be aware of the impact of your words.  

The leadership mindset is what helps you get what you want out of life. Leadership is a work in progress. It is complex and considers the whole person;  their character, body language, attitude, speech, writing and so on. Leadership and communication are areas of constant learning and growth. No one gets it right all the time, the goal is to keep learning, improving and moving towards your goal.

If you just communicate, you can get by. But if you communicate skillfully, you can work miracles.

Jim Rohn

Are you friendly and likeable?

Friendliness and likeability are more than basic communication skills – they are today’s soft skills of leadership. They are everyday niceties and good manners of civilized living.

Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash

I bet when you saw the picture, you said to yourself, aw how cute, or how sweet, or something to that effect. This picture screams friendliness and likeability to me, they just like each other. (I am interchanging friendliness and likeability in this article).

Isn’t friendliness just basic good manners and civility?

Yes it is, and common sense. You have probably heard someone say, common sense isn’t so common; some people have it, some people don’t, and some people have it some of the time.

Friendliness and likeability are more than basic communication skills. They are common everyday niceties and good manners that grease the wheels of civilized living.

Being friendly and likeable are soft skills that are in high demand for leadership inside or outside of work settings. Managers in organizations are on the lookout for people with a grasp of soft skills. In other words, people skills- your attitude and how you interact with others.

If managers and organizations are on the lookout for these soft skills, it means that not everyone has them. These are the intangibles that make for good to great leadership – and leadership is about getting people to buy into your why; why should we follow you, why should we do this, why should we buy this product?

Outside of the work realm, friendliness and likeability make for better relationships and for a better quality of life. Who wants to be around someone who has poor interpersonal skills?

I have had good friends and family call me out on rude or inconsiderate behaviour and how my behaviour hurt them. It’s been an opportunity for growth, because it is a chance to adjust my mindset to improve the course of relationships. It took courage for others to talk to me about my behaviour, and it was a bitter pill to swallow to admit that I was wrong and hurtful. But you can’t change what you can’t see is wrong.

Sometimes we don’t know how we come across to others. I mean the whole package: setting the context for discussions, using words appropriately  –  do your words build up or destroy, what is your body language saying to others? Do you like being around you?

If you are experiencing poor relationships with people, or not getting noticed at work, or not being recognized for leadership qualities; it’s time to reflect on what your behaviour looks like to others. If you don’t know, ask. Hopefully, someone will have the courage to give you honest feedback. If you ask though, be prepared to hear the answer.

Why is friendliness and likeability in the communication bucket of leadership?

  • Friendliness and likeability are soft skills and non verbal forms of communication. In fact, teaching manners, etiquette, and civility in the workplace is a booming business; it is teaching people simple things like how to be civil; for example, saying hello and smiling.
  • Friendliness and likeability go hand – in – hand. When you are friendly to others, it encourages them to be friendly back. When you are friendly, you are also more likeable. Those who are more friendly and likeable, are more likely to experience success in life than those who are not. We increase the chance that others will support our cause, if we are both friendly and likeable.
  • When you are friendly, it encourages others to be less wary of us -this goes back to ancient times and whether you were seen as friend or foe.
  • Friendly people are natural facilitators and help smooth out awkward or difficult situations and conversations.
  • People respond more openly and positively to friendliness and likeable people, because it makes us feel happy.When you are happier, you are able to communicate better, and it bonds you with others in ways that anger, coercion, intimidation can’t.

Studies on likeability

At work

Likeable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others, and have mistakes forgiven.

  • 133 managers participated in a University of Massachusetts study that looked at the role internal auditors played in influencing managers’ judgements, and the role of likeability. The study found that managers were more likely to follow the auditor’s suggestions, if the auditor was well organized and likeable.  
  • Northwestern University study looked at hiring practices in elite professional service firms. In the study, 120 candidates were interviewed for a job. Hired candidates were those that most closely matched the employers, in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. These qualities were seen as more important than productivity

In your personal life

The University of California measured if likeability and competence are important to the physician – patient relationship. The study found that likeable – competent patients were more likely to be encouraged to call or return for a follow – up than likeable – incompetent, and unlikeable –  competent patients. Additionally, likeable patients were more likely to be educated by staff than unlikeable patients. So, likeability in your personal life will also advance your efforts.

Gender bias- the struggle is real

There is a phenomenon known the likability penalty. Generally, the more competent a woman is, the less likable she is. The more likable a woman is, the less competent she is seen to be. Women leaders who are assertive are often seen as pushy, while the same traits in men are seen as leadership qualities. 

Women are rewarded for being nurturing, deferent, kind and warm. Men, in contrast, are valued for being confident, in control, and outspoken. However, in a work environment, to be a successful leader, assertiveness and directness are needed, but are not necessarily valued in women. As a result, women leaders may be penalized. They may be disliked by their colleagues, or their communication style critiqued. They may be fired or miss out on important promotions or assignments.  As a result, successful women leaders have had to find a different way to lead in the workplace.

How to improve your friendliness and likeability

  • Smile
  • Smile and say hello.
  • Make eye contact-look people in the eye.
  • Remember the person’s name and use it.
  • Treat everyone with respect.
  • Become an active listener. This means you don’t interrupt, change the subject mid – sentence, look around to see who else is around, look at your phone, etc.
  • Be relaxed, natural and comfortable.
  • Ask questions and show interest in the person you are talking to, ask their opinion, don’t be self-absorbed.
  • Don’t speak in a monotone voice; vary your voice and tone, show enthusiasm.
  • Be open, flexible and non judgemental.
  • Make a connection with the person you are talking to.
  • Show empathy. Pay attention to what others may be feeling or thinking.


Likeability and friendliness is about considerate behaviour and making people feel comfortable around you.  It makes you a natural leader in your own environment.

Being likeable and friendly will make life smoother and easier for yourself and others. Let’s face it, we want to be around friendly people rather than unfriendly people.

Take an inventory of yourself. 

Do you want to be around you?

We shall never know all the good a simple smile can do

Mother Theresa

I am Pleased to Meet You!

93% of what you communicate is nonverbal. Only 7% of our communication is through words we speak. It can take as little as 1/10th of a second to make a first impression and can be difficult to change that impression. Align your verbal and nonverbal language to improve your leadership results. Make it a pleasure to meet you.

Photo credit: Cytonn Photography, unsplash

First Impressions

First impressions are fraught with anxiety whether you are going for a job interview, meeting the parents, meeting a new friend, starting a new job, or……

So many things to think about all at once: smile, stand up straight, look people in the eye, don’t say anything dumb, don’t look rigid, don’t be overly friendly, don’t be cool…

We are judged on our credibility, confidence, empathy, and trustworthiness – and less by what we say.  

Do you realize that 93% of what you are communicating is nonverbal?

Some Facts:

How long does it take to make a first impression?

  • Seven seconds,
  • Two seconds, or,
  • 1/10th of a second?

It can take as little as 1/10 of a second to make an impression that can last forever.

The Science of People Research Lab conducted a survey of 209 people on their opinions of first impressions, here is what their participants indicated:

  • First impressions are very important – 95%
  • They can instantly spot a “phony” the minute they meet him or her – 61%
  • They make a good first impression – 79%
  • First impressions of others are accurate – 68%
  • Eyes are the first things people notice when meeting someone – 44%
  • First impressions happen in seven seconds – 40%

Do – overs

It is hard to change a first impression because of a psychological phenomenon known as the “fundamental attribution error.  What this means is, when we see someone doing something, we link it to their personality rather than the situation the person is in.  For example, you could be having a bad day – what we do is, assume that the behaviour is really who you are (your personality), rather than thinking that you are having a bad day. This is what makes it so hard to overcome the negative first impression.

Can you change their mind about you?

Yes, it is possible, but it will require work, patience, and time.

So, what can you do to change someone’s mind?

Change their thinking with surprise behaviour – do the unexpected. A change in behavior may get your colleagues/friends/family to take notice and start questioning their impressions of you.  However, this change must be consistent over time. It’s important to provide evidence that their first impression of you was wrong. For instance, if your behaviour was coming in late to work, come in early – everyday.  You need to show evidence that you’ve changed, and over time their impression will likely change.

Wait it out. Sometimes the only thing you can do is just wait it out.

Nonverbal communication

This is 93% of our communication to others, here’s how it breaks down:

  • 7% of our communication is being conveyed through the words we speak
  • 55% is through posture, gestures, and facial expression
  • 38% percent is through tonality (tone and pitch of your voice)

While the words we choose to say are important and can have a significant and permanent effect on others, your nonverbal language is getting more attention. It is important to align your nonverbal and verbal messages otherwise you are sending mixed messages.

Facial Expression

A smile reflects confidence and tells others that you are approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy.  Have you noticed that when you smile at someone they will smile back? That’s because a smile triggers a positive emotional response.

Eye Contact

Make eye contact with others because it transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. (To improve your eye contact, practice noticing the eye color of everyone you meet). If you fail to make eye contact, you will minimize your impact and make people feel uncomfortable and less trusting of you.


Posture that takes up space and opens the body, activates a sense of power. In meetings, it is posture rather than position in an organization, that conveys power to others.

Use of hands and gestures

There has been a lot of research done on hands and use of gestures. Mark Bowden has written about the importance and impact of body language and the use of hands and gestures.  He talks about a “truth plane”. This is an open-hand gesture at belly height that creates feelings of trust, credibility, and confidence when communicating. If people cannot see your hands, they begin to feel mistrustful of you.

Vanessa Van Edwards, the founder of Science of People, asked 760 volunteers to rate TED talks and determine why some had millions of viewers and others didn’t. The volunteers found five nonverbal patterns – amazing since this is a talk!

  1. The volunteers rated speakers comparably on charisma, credibility, and intelligence, whether or not the sound was on.
  2. Hand gestures make you seem more charismatic. Volunteers looked at the number of hand gestures in each talk and ranked the talks.  The talks that had the most hand gestures correlated with the talks that were overall favorites. Why?  It may be due to the speakers engaging more than one sense. Their gestures maybe used to emphasize points and show enthusiasm. The one gesture that is a “no, no”, is finger pointing because it is an aggressive gesture that suggests that the leader is losing control of the situation – and it feels like parental scolding or playground bullying.
  3. Vocal variety showed better ratings on charisma and credibility. Why? Because the brain is more fully engaged.
  4. The longer someone smiles, the higher their intelligence ratings went. Why? Relatability! Speakers who smiled from stage seemed more human to those who were watching. Viewers could say, “Ah! This is someone I could get to know.”
  5. People had largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds of the speaker taking the stage and beginning to speak.

Don’t do this if you want to create a positive impression!

The following behaviours send a negative impression that signify insecurity, a lack of confidence and restlessness.

  • Biting nails
  • Getting distracted
  • Faking a smile
  • Looking somewhere else instead of the person you are talking to. 
  • Crossed arms

Verbal/nonverbal cultural communication

Body language is also culturally based, so depending on where you are in the world, there may be different meanings and expectations regarding verbal and nonverbal norms.


What is it you want to communicate? If we know that 93% is nonverbal communication, we need to pay attention to our body language as much as we pay attention to our words.

If you are not getting the results you want in your work environment or your personal life it may be your body language.

Good body language is a skill that can really improve leadership results. It can convey competence, warmth, and empathy. It can also help motivate staff, create bonds with audiences, present ideas with added credibility, and authentically project your personal brand of charisma.  It makes you a more approachable human being at work or in your personal life.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.

Peter Drucker