Two women seated facing eachother intense conversation

How to give feedback to peers at work without offering insult

A peer of mine, “Bruce,” was up for promotion. As part of his assessment, I was asked to provide 360° feedback for him, contributing to the confidential feedback alongside his boss, peers, and subordinates.

I liked and respected Bruce, and for the most part my feedback was very positive. But in the comments section I wrote:

“Bruce often gives me critical feedback or advice which I have not requested. I’m sure his intention is good, but it feels somewhat demeaning. He is my peer, not my boss. If I want feedback I will ask him for it. I think this behavior may undermine his effectiveness as a colleague and a leader.”

keyboard on fire

Why a mean email is the wrong way for leaders to give negative feedback

A long time ago I had to work with a very frustrating administrative assistant. I was a relatively new consultant and as far as she was concerned, it was way below her dignity for her to provide support to the likes of me. One day she said to me, “I am corporate and you are small business.” She was an expert at playing passive-aggressive games, like preparing documents for me at the very last minute before I had to go into a meeting. 

Frankly, she drove me crazy. I used to lie awake nights trying to figure out how to deal with her. I mean, for goodness sake, I’m a psychologist! And I’m generally regarded as pretty easy to work for. Surely I could fix this problem.

Man on walking steps confidently wearing a fashionable suit

How to build self-confidence at work in 5 steps

Reading an article about how to build self-confidence at work recently, I stopped on the first piece of advice: “Believe in yourself.” If you believe in yourself, you don’t need to be reading an article about self-confidence. You’re already there.

After decades of working with clients who lack self-confidence, both as a therapist and later as a coach, I have learned there are five actual steps people can take to become more self-confident. 

Why it’s a bad idea to bring your whole self to work

“If you’re looking for a firm with a strong team connection where you can be your whole self … ”
“We welcome all, and seek talented individuals who can bring their whole self to work … ”
“We appreciate different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives — encouraging everyone to bring their authentic selves to work.”
“We cultivate a community of playful personalities that thrive in a fast-paced environment where our employees can be their most authentic selves.”

These quotes are from recent job postings at well-known companies. They reflect a powerful trend in current thinking about the kind of environment that talented employees are seeking. They also imply that this kind of environment will bring out the best in their people.

This wording may be useful from a marketing perspective. But let me tell you, as guidance for getting ahead and moving into a leadership role, it’s dead wrong.

Brown sailing boat on the sea during sunset

Why we’re listening to sea shanties and living like sailors

Singing sea shanties is a thing right now. And while it may seem as hard to predict and understand as any other pop culture trend, it’s not a surprise to me that we’d find comfort in classic and modern versions of the 19th century sailors’ songs. 

No, we’re not performing physical labor together like the original singers. But from what my husband, Dan Golden, has told me about old-time sailing, there are a number of parallels with the way many of us are living now.

man trying to scale a rock climbing wall

Fearless 2021 predictions from Chicago’s business leaders

We have all learned this past year that trying to predict the future is a highly risky endeavor. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

Every January, the Executives’ Club of Chicago invites a panel of experts to help business leaders and investors navigate the coming year by predicting the major economic trends. Last January, for the most part, they didn’t do so great. But they were at it again recently.

Man on phone illustrating Zoom fatigue

The trick to managing Zoom fatigue without miscommunication

When I was first introduced to Zoom by my fellow executive coach, Jim Kelly, a few years ago, the concept of Zoom fatigue would have seemed laughable. At the time, I was just amazed at how well it enabled Jim and me to stay connected as professional colleagues and friends. I felt like part of an exclusive club — no one else I knew was using videoconferencing very much, let alone Zoom.

five people in office wear talking

How to evolve and optimize internal talent management

How do employees find out about opportunities in your company? Not just full-time jobs, but also opportunities to participate in projects, find a mentor, engage in networking, or learn something new?  How do leaders learn about employees’ skills, aspirations, and passions?

In most companies, the answer is – it’s difficult. Often, employees have access only to the opportunities their managers know about and are willing to share with them. And equally often, leaders have many demands on their time with few opportunities to really get to know their people.

hands pointing to diagrams

How organizational innovation can bring in big, bold ideas

The calls for organizational innovation always intensify during a crisis. Sure, many leadership qualities and behaviors are in high demand right now, including the ability to handle your own and others’ emotions, the skill to set clear expectations and hold people accountable, and the gumption to make the tough calls. But the one trait I hear asked for most often is the ability to innovate — to think about problems in new ways and move swiftly to create novel solutions.

Innovative ingenuity is an individual skill. But it is powerfully affected by organizational culture. Many companies are very effective at squashing innovation, often unintentionally. How often have you heard leaders respond to a new idea with, “Oh, we already tried that and it didn’t work?” Or watched as new ideas were ignored, dismissed, or even stolen. And then leaders wonder why their team members aren’t frequently bringing them bold, creative ideas.

olivia de havilland

What do you want out of life? A Lesson from Olivia de Havilland

Olivia de Havilland just passed away at the age of 104. The tribute to this great movie star in the Chicago Tribune (July 28, 2020) praised her “talent, ambition, and luminosity,” which pretty much says it all. As Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, as Maid Marian in The Adventures of Robin Hood, and in numerous other starring roles, she lit up the screen. 

She was a standout off-screen as well. At a time when the Hollywood studios locked movie stars into oppressive contracts, de Havilland challenged the system and won. The result of her court victory is called “the de Havilland law” to this day.

Sounds like a life well-lived. That may have been at least in part because of her very clear-eyed vision of what she wanted. At the age of 18, de Havilland tested for a starring role opposite Errol Flynn. She won the role and went on the star with him in six more films. During that screen test, when they were off-camera, Flynn asked her, “What do you want out of life?” She thought for a moment and responded, “I would like respect for difficult work, well done.”

man standing at middle of cornfield

Uncertainty is always around, but we manage to get through

I started writing my newsletter, The Cautious Optimist, in the spring of 2009. Like today, that was a dark and scary time. The financial world was collapsing around us, unemployment was skyrocketing, and everything was very uncertain. I chose the title deliberately because it captured the attitude I was trying to cultivate – not a rose-colored “Little Mary Sunshine” perspective, but a realistic confidence that things would get better. 

And here we are again. It’s a very different crisis from the 08-09 financial meltdown, but once again we are surrounded by collapse and uncertainty. It’s been 11 years, and I’m still writing The Cautious Optimist, and people are still reading and responding to it. No one knows what the future holds, but I’m confident that cautious optimism is still the best game in town. 

remote meeting

What crisis leadership looks like during Coronavirus and after

I don’t know about you, but my inbox has been deluged with well-meaning, useless Coronavirus advice. If one more person sends me information on how to wash my hands or socially distance myself or engage with my team, I’m going to say a bad word. As a result, I have been avoiding sending out advice of my own.

And then amid all the noise I got a PowerPoint deck from my colleague Nancy Picard, one of the smartest people I know. Her deck was full of useful guidance about how to lead right now — useful enough that I was moved to share it with you.