When your values no longer line up with your company

How well do your values align with your company?

It’s not always something that leaders stop to consider, but when your values don’t line up with your organization’s values, your career can feel unfulfilling or even draining.

Perhaps there is an obvious disconnect; for example, you are passionate about the environment and your organization puts profits before environmental stewardship. We’ve talked with leaders who describe their organization’s mission or their corporate goals as “soul-less” or completely contrary to what they personally hold to be important. Working without passion is miserable, but working in ways that are contrary to your belief system also feels duplicitous, inauthentic, draining and heart-breaking.

Other times, leaders feel out of sorts but can’t articulate what is wrong at work. We’ll hear them mention that they don’t feel appreciated or that they’re not feeling they have purpose — they might have an important or high-paid position, but the work they do lacks meaning. That feeling of despair or being disconnected or disengaged happens when your values are out of step with your professional life.

How do you know if a values misalignment is at the root of the problem? Well, figuring out your goals helps you know where you’re headed while knowing your values helps you figure out why. Creating a personal vision statement for your career is one way to evaluate whether decisions align with your values and aspirations. It’s helpful to have clarity around your core values.

Once you’ve done that self-reflection work, consider your company.

How well defined are your organization’s values? When was the last time there was discussion about what the values are and how they can be put into action? We’ve worked with leaders who know the values statement their company hangs on the wall, but who don’t see it being lived up to in practice.

When an organization’s value and vision don’t line up, it’s challenging for leaders to foster a strong and successful organizational culture. There are times when we’ve worked with organizations to clearly define their values and find ways to live them. This way, folks feel the values are attainable — values they support and that align with their own — not just platitudes.

Anyone who drives knows how tires that aren’t aligned can wreak havoc on the vehicle, no matter how carefully you drive. Getting a proper alignment ensures your car will perform better.

Similarly, when values are not aligned, organizations might be able to keep pushing through to some success but it feels like a struggle for those driving. In contrast, life and work feel smooth and satisfying when everyone is working toward the same goals with shared values that are being demonstrated in the day-to-day work.

When your values align with those of your company, benefits include:

  • Feeling motivated to work and inspired that their performance matters
  • Increased employee satisfaction and employee retention
  • Improved teamwork and commitment
  • Better communication (with plenty of good conflict to challenge ideas)
  • Stronger work relationships
  • Increased productivity

When we feel good about priorities and our role in achieving success, we show up and work hard. As leaders, we’re going to be better able to inspire others on our teams to find inspiration and passion in their work.

What happens when your values and company values don’t align? Typically this is when we see:

  • Disgruntled and unhappy leaders and team members
  • Unhealthy competition
  • Poor communication
  • Low productivity and little dedication or accountability
  • Trouble meeting business goals

Realizing that your values are not reflected in the organization where you are a leader is sobering. What now? There are a few options.

  • Try to influence change. As a leader, could you initiate some discussion about company values? Perhaps this is a good time to nudge the organization toward transformation in ways that match the values that matter to you. Change happens when people speak up and advocate for it. Can you suggest a value shift?
  • Take stock and bide your time. It’s possible that you are at a point in your leadership that you can’t make the changes you’d like to see — and it’s not a good time to make a leap to another company. After reviewing positives (perhaps a good salary, flexible work arrangements, better opportunities elsewhere after a few years in this role), the conflicts between your values and the company might be tolerable for now. You can use this time to work toward what you’d like in your career.
  • Look for a new company. If you’ve tried to influence some level of change and you know that it’s highly unlikely that your company will change enough that you can reconcile your life’s work with your personal values, it may be time to consider a career move. There are times that a lateral career move makes sense and this might be one of them. You can prioritize your own core values as you research potential companies. During interviews, you can ask the interviewers to describe the company values and culture, as well as for examples of ways they do things that are important to you. For example, an organization might say they work hard and play hard. If one of your values is to have work-life balance and a fun work environment, that could sound really positive. But what does that look like in practice? Does the boss support flexible work arrangements or value face-time in the office? What does a typical work week look like? How do they celebrate successes?

It’s a struggle when your values no longer line up with your company, but you get to decide what kind of leader you will be.

Coach’s Questions:

How well do you understand your values? Do they align with your organization’s values? Are there ways your company’s values could be refined or changed? What can you do to align your values with your work?



How to get buy-in on big ideas

Big ideas come from inspired, creative thinking. But having that idea and thinking it through, doesn’t take it anywhere. The next is figuring out how to pitch your idea and get buy-in.

If you really want to create change, you need support from folks across your organization. If you can’t get buy-in, your idea (even if it’s REALLY good) may not get the traction it needs to be fully realized.

Without buy-in from others, big ideas can be met with resistance to change, avoidance to new ways of thinking or doing things or apathy for yet another “flavour of the month” initiative.

Being able to get buy-in isn’t just desirable, it’s crucial. John Kotter, a Harvard Business School Professor, lectures internationally on leadership and change. In his book, Buy-In, Kotter mentions research shows that 70 percent of organizational change initiatives fail — 70%! He identifies lack of buy-in from enough people to be a major reason for big ideas faltering.

How do you secure buy-in when you bring your big idea to members of your organization? And by this I mean people actually embracing it, promoting it, and actively participating in it — not just giving it lip service.

It’s less about polishing your sales skills and more about involving others in the idea process.

Here’s what change experts recommend:

Articulate your vision. It helps to have a very clear way of stating what your idea is and why it matters. Just as screenwriters create an elevator pitch to share a story idea with movie producers in a few minutes, you’ll benefit from being able to briefly articulate your idea and why it is important to the future of your organization. What makes your idea revolutionary, essential or innovative? What will it do or fix? How is it attainable and what is their role in its execution? If you can help others imagine this idea and understand what problem it solves, you’re more likely to pique their interest. Even better, you might help them see how this idea can make things better for them (and they will have an interest in helping you bring this idea to fruition). Pro tip: aligning vision with organizational values can drive change.

Involve others in the process. To get buy-in, you need more than a sales pitch. You need to help others on the team or across the organization recognize they have a say. What this looks like might be inviting others to discuss the idea, encouraging constructive feedback and actively seeking viewpoints from diverse sources. (What about your idea would benefit from brainstorming or input? Is there anything that’s problematic, uncertain or risky that could use the hive mind?) Remember that good leaders are open to criticism and benefit from hearing the good AND the bad. Not only will you cultivate support from stakeholders, you’ll benefit from opinions and ideas that can help you refine and improve your idea. People generally feel better about accepting (and even embracing) change when they’ve been informed, consulted and have an interest in the outcome.

Harness dissent and use it. We’ve discussed before how leaders benefit from building a culture of conflict around ideas. Healthy conflict allows for honest conversations about challenges so that your organization can be better and stronger. When you encourage this kind of conflict, you’ll be able to work through issues that you might otherwise have missed as they were whispered behind closed doors. This is an opportunity to get buy-in from nay-sayers who are able to bring concerns out into the open for discussion. It requires that we as leaders let go of needing to have all the answers. Try asking:

  • What have I missed with this?
  • Can you see any weak areas?
  • What could make this idea stronger?
  • What do we need to be careful of, if we were to proceed with this?

Really listen to critics of your idea. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again (and again!): Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply. Be curious and make sure you know what they’re saying. Recap what folks share, giving them the opportunity to clarify what they’re thinking or confirm that you’re on the same page. Seek clarification by asking people to tell you more or walk you through what they mean. This helps to encourage people to share what they’re really thinking, which gives you as the leader the opportunity to incorporate some ideas you otherwise might not receive.

Watch your wording. Once you’ve got people involved in the process and you’re starting to get buy-in for your idea, be mindful of your language. It started as your idea, but now it’s time to move from “me” to “we.” Talk about “our goal” and “our thoughts” and “our plan.” If you retain ownership of the idea and speak about it in the first person, you’re pushing the people you’ve been trying to bring onside over to the sidelines. This underscores the feeling that this isn’t you pushing your agenda but rather that everyone is now working to have this succeed so that the organization achieves success.

Keep the lines of discussion open. Implementing an idea takes time. What bugs are there that need to be fixed? What other issues that have become apparent that need to be addressed? How are we measuring success? Keep everyone on the team involved in updates about how things are going — and involved in potential refinements. Again, when you keep involving folks and listening to their input, they’ll feel a sense of ownership that helps people buy-in more readily.

Coach’s Questions:

What big change ideas have you seen embraced? Which have you seen that failed? What was the difference in approach? What can you do to lead change and get buy-in for your big ideas?



How to move past mistakes and continue to lead confidently

Think about past mistakes you’ve made during your career.

What comes to mind?

Most of us will remember past mistakes that were big and some that were small. At Padraig, when we speak with clients, they remember how they felt at the time. Cringy. Embarrassed. Afraid.

The thing is, mistakes happen. Everyone makes mistakes. We work with leaders from all over, and we hear very similar kinds of stories:

I got the date wrong for a really important client meeting.

When I had to deal with team members, I lost my cool.

I made a decision in the moment that missed the mark.

I don’t know how I missed it [mathematical error, grammatical error, design flaw – fill in the blank!],
but I did and it was mortifying.

It was my call and it failed.

My instinct told me Jeff was overwhelmed but I ignored that.
It all ended badly for him and the company. It was on me.


The hard thing for most of us, especially when you make a mistake as a leader, is how to learn and move forward while not letting past mistakes shake your confidence.


Here’s how to move past mistakes and lead confidently:

Face the truth: Ignoring a mistake (or worse, trying to hide mistakes!) is never a good strategy. It’s far more productive to discuss a mistake, highlighting your ideas for mitigating damage or possible solutions, than to leave it to be discovered by someone else later. If you’ve made an error that hurt someone else, make a sincere apology. If you’re part of a team and something has happened, take responsibility for your part. If you realize someone on your team has made an error, address it with that person directly and privately in a non-accusatory way. Let the person be part of the solution first, maybe even the one to present it to the team to figure out the way forward. Organizations with coaching cultures thrive because mistakes are seen as opportunities to grow and do better.

Own your mistake and face your team: It’s not always easy to admit when we’ve made a mistake, but when you respond quickly and take responsibility then you’ll reassure everyone that you’re trustworthy and competent. Show that you accept responsibility, explain what you’ve learned and share what you will change in future. It’s inspiring for team members to see a leader be accountable and admit human fallibility — plus it’s modelling behaviour that will strengthen your team.

Don’t blame others: It’s tempting to deflect and point out all the other factors that contributed to a mistake, but blaming other folks (even if they were involved) is demoralizing. When you look at a situation and try to figure out how to avoid repeating a mistake, talk about processes and roles, not people. If appropriate, get stakeholders involved to help figure out how to close the gaps so they feel that they’re part of the solution (not your scapegoats!). Blaming others makes them feel worse, makes you look like you think you’re infallible and encourages your staff to hide or cover mistakes in the hopes of avoiding your finger pointing.

Refocus and realign: When you’ve admitted that you made a mistake, you have the opportunity to change. Sure, it might be humbling, but good leaders find the emotional courage to make mistakes and learn from them. Why? Because we aren’t going to make mistakes if we don’t experiment or innovate. Mistakes are part of growing and pursuing new opportunities. And taking a small hit to your ego now can actually pay bigger dividends in the future when your staff and colleagues trust you and come to you for guidance and coaching on their own challenges.

Look forward, not back: Even a massive error or mistake in judgement does not have to define the rest of your career. We talked earlier this year about learning from adversity to build resilience. A big part of this is being aware of our own inner voice. When you make a mistake, how do you frame that to yourself? Do you damn yourself? Do you approach mistakes in judgement or with curiosity? Consider the difference between:


  I’m an idiot. How stupid.


That was bad. What can I learn from this?

That’s it. Career over.


This is big, how can I troubleshoot solutions to minimize the damage?

 I never learn. I’m useless.


If I could do this over, I would change X, Y, Z.


Get support: Every leader needs a circle of safe, supportive people. It might be a mentor, a coach, a peer in another industry — whoever these people are, you can share your concerns and get some honest feedback. An outside perspective can really help us as leaders to feel empowered to face problems and figure out ways to fix them. Pro tip: Consider ways to harness the power of peer learning.

Stop beating yourself up: This can be really hard for some personalities (perfectionists, raise your hands!). It can be helpful to recognize that many of us are tougher on ourselves than on other people and we’ll magnify our own mistakes. Admit the mistake, learn from it and move on. If you catch yourself dwelling on it, consciously shift your focus to the future. What could this look like if you changed your outlook? Mistakes aren’t proof you’re a failure, but your ability to recover from them shows you are focused, resilient and able to persevere.

Adopt a positive mindset: What’s fixable? What are your next steps? When you have a plan or strategy for moving forward, you’ll feel more in control. That helps you get busy (less time to dwell and fret!) and realize what you’ve learned so you can move on from past mistakes.

Coach’s Questions:

How have you handled past mistakes? What could you do differently? What does this mean for you? For your team?



Back to the office or work from home?

So many leaders we are talking with these days are consumed by the same issue: What does “back to the office” look like for their organization?

Determining what back to the office looks like (should look like/could look like/needs to look like!) and how to implement it is a big challenge. There’s a lot for leaders to consider when thinking about returning to work.

We’ve heard of organizations who are declaring the office obsolete and embracing work from home.

We’ve heard of other leaders who say it’s time to get back to the office and order all their staff to return.

Of course, we’ve heard of many using some sort of hybrid, including things like:

You must be in the office at least X days per week.
Everyone has to be in on Tuesdays and at least one other day.
All of our offices are now hoteling spaces that you have to book online ahead of time.
Or, or, or…

The possibilities are infinite. The one common thread is that determining what the office will look like is stressful.

We’re not going to say any option is right, though I am going to come out of the shadows on this one. I will say that ordering everyone to work from home is almost certainly wrong and ordering everyone back to the office full-time is almost certainly wrong.

Why? Because the people working for you are all motivated by different things and because they’re all grown-ups. If nothing else, the one thing we have (or should have) absolutely learned by living through the last 18 months is that measuring productivity by the number of hours that people are at their desks in the office wasn’t helpful. It was never particularly helpful, but it’s what we were used to.

Having everyone work from home or everyone at the office are opposite ends of a spectrum, and there’s a lot of uncertainty between the two. So, how do we figure out what is best for the organization and your employees?

I recommend talking casually with employees and getting a sense of what people would like to see – remembering that you may hear complete opposites from two different people – and that’s okay. (Pro tip: Read our strategies to avoid miscommunication with your team before you have these conversations!)

When you speak with folks, you’ll want to know what would be ideal for them, but let them know that while you’re taking their wishes into account, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to accommodate the ideal for everyone. Tough decisions are often tough because there’s no way to make everyone happy. But as a leader, your job is to consider all viewpoints and then make the difficult decision.

It’s very helpful to work through your decision with a pen and paper. So, for starters, let’s divide a sheet of paper into 3 columns ( or click here to download one ).

In the first column, start with your “Goals.”

What do you want to achieve in the end? Make a list down the first column, including not only your deliverables but your cultural objectives, too. What do I mean by that?

Well, the list might start with:

We want to return our sales to 2019 levels.
We want our leaders to make good decisions.
We want to innovate and improve our products.
Some staff want to work from home all the time.
Some staff want to be back in the office full-time.

AND the list might continue with:

We want to nurture cohesive teams in each division and a cohesive team at the leadership table.
We want an organization where people reach out for help when they need it.
We want people to take informed risks.
We want our staff to feel a sense of commitment and ownership.
We want our customers to have options in how they engage with us.

What’s on your list? Make it as long as it needs to be.

Thinking about the “WHY?”

Now, in the second column, I suggest also thinking about the “WHY?” of each statement from the first column. Sometimes the answer(s) might feel obvious, but think about each one and jot down why you would want that goal to be achieved.

Sometimes thinking about the “why” behind our wants leads us to rethink the wants or to rewrite them. For example, if you put “I want people at their desks!” as one of your “Goals” then thinking through the “why” might help you formulate the need further. In that example, you might come up with “why” things like, “I want to know they’re working on the right projects” or, “I want to know they’re not slacking off on company time.”

Of course, thinking through the “why” makes us realize there may be other ways of achieving that goal without requiring that people be at their desks in the office for X hours each day. For example, are there ways to measure productivity other than hours at the computer screen? Are there outcomes we can look for that confirm we’re getting what we’re paying people for?

You may find as you go through the exercise that your first column also includes conflicting goals. This exercise will help you prioritize. For example, you might want “to save on rent by reducing our office footprint” and you might want to, “develop/maintain a culture of cohesion and cross-functional synergy.” At first glance, those goals may feel like they’re in conflict. Perhaps digging deeper into why you want those goals will help you understand which takes priority or ways to achieve both to some degree. Your “why” might be you trying to solve a problem you’ve noticed or trying to double-down so something good comes out of the pandemic. Have some teams shown themselves to be cohesive via Zoom or Teams? Have others started to fracture?

Working through the “HOW.”

Once you’ve thought through, and written down, the “why” behind your goals and made any adjustments needed, you’re ready for column 3. In column 3, write the heading, “How.” Start thinking through options that can help you achieve your goals from Column 1 that also take into consideration the “why” behind them that you detailed in Column 2. This will help you define for yourself what a hybrid workspace might look like.

This list could include things such as:

This team in the office on that day
All leaders in the office on another day
A minimum requirement or maximum requirement of days in the office
Frontline staff in certain hours or certain days or alternating?
Could you have some frontline staff serve clients from elsewhere?
Are there activities front line staff could take on for “home days” rather than direct client interaction?

And finally, once you have filled your “How” column, walk away for a bit and let it percolate in your mind. Muse about it. Think about it. When you’re ready, return to your list, or get a fresh sheet of paper, and start writing out what feels best. What might achieve many of the goals you and your staff have, without ignoring critical corporate goals, and that doesn’t try to satisfy everyone?

Once you’ve got that, you might be ready to start rolling out the plan, or at least rolling out the idea to get a sense of where you’ll need to support people as you roll it out.


Coach’s Questions:

What are your own feelings about returning to work? Have you talked with others on your team about their feelings? What else do you need to consider?


14 Strategies to avoid miscommunication with your team

When communication is effective, you’ll typically see flourishing teams and businesses. When it’s poor, you’ll see conflict, tension, missed deadlines (or opportunities!), mistakes, inefficiency and other mayhem.

Learning how to avoid miscommunication is key.

In our work with leaders, we’ve seen some common areas where communication can be problematic. Here are some of the challenging trouble spots for leaders:

  • Lack of clarity. Sometimes the message is not delivered well and folks are confused (or they think they understand and don’t realize what they’ve heard is not what was intended — either way, problematic!). Communication — whether you’re speaking to someone or to a group or sending an email or text — needs to be clear to be understood.
  • Hesitating to be direct. Call it what you will — waffling, sidestepping, spin or just “trying to be nice. When leaders don’t want to say what they mean in a direct way, the message can get lost. Hinting at something or suggesting leaves room for people to guess (and they often guess incorrectly!). Unsurprisingly, this often happens around performance issues (and typically ends in incredible frustration for the employee and for you).
  • Speaking, but not listening. Communication means not just speaking, but listening and understanding. Many folks listen with the intent to respond when, instead, it’s important to listen to understand. The difference is that listening and hearing what your peers, bosses or team members have to say (or, are trying to say), really listening, can change how you react and how you respond.
  • Making assumptions. As human beings, we have experiences, biases and misconceptions that can influence how we perceive others and, in turn, how we communicate with them. We recently discussed how making assumptions can be damaging your team.
  • Not speaking for your audience. Different personalities need to hear messages in different ways — or they react in different ways — which is why many times misunderstandings arise. At Padraig, we use the Everything DiSC Assessments with our clients to help them understand themselves and others. What one person perceives to be curt and unkind is what another person defaults to as factual and brief. It’s very beneficial for leaders and their teams to understand how personality affects communication styles.
  • Mismanagement of information. As leaders, we also need to know which information to share and how much is too much (boring or alarming) or too little (leaving questions and possibly mistrust). We also need to be comfortable saying when we need to find out more if we don’t know something because pretending to know everything can backfire.

Strategies to avoid miscommunication

When you want to avoid miscommunication with your team, there are some strategies that help to improve the quality of your communication and how it is received. This includes:

  • Make any messages you share clear and concise. Whether you’re speaking or writing an email, avoid unnecessary adjectives and state what you need to say in plain language. When you can, take time to jot down your key thoughts and intentions so that when you speak or write, you’re focused. If you have information to share, prepare handouts or attach pertinent documents for reference. When you’re emailing, use a clear subject heading and keep your message focused by using headings and bullets as appropriate. It’s also helpful to pause and reflect — is there something you know about this situation, or that you take for granted as “common sense” or “basic knowledge” that your audience might not know. If so, you need to explain your thinking before people will understand your message.
  • Check in with your audience. Did they hear the message the way you intended? What else do they want to know? Respond accordingly. This is when it’s valuable to understand how different personalities will react to things in different ways. Ask folks to tell you in their own words how they understand what you’ve said. For example, if you’ve had a conversation with Ravi about a performance issue and you’ve asked for certain things to be improved, ask: “So, can you reflect back to me what we’re agreeing the next steps will be?”
  • Don’t avoid uncomfortable topics. Be honest and direct. We frequently speak about turning difficult conversations into essential conversations. Hinting at things is never as effective as being clear about your expectations (and avoiding these discussions is worse!). Pro Tip: if you find yourself thinking, “maybe this will clear up on its own” or “if I am just patient, maybe this will go away,” it is TIME to have an essential conversation.
  • Choose your method of communication wisely. It’s sometimes easier to send an email than to talk with someone face-to-face or on the phone. Similarly, especially right now, it might be easier to send a quick email than to gather your team for a town hall in person or virtually (or a mix). There are times that speaking with people in person or even via video teleconference is better than sending an email because they get to hear your tone, observe your body language and ask you questions in the moment if they’re uncertain. Email can be problematic because it’s so easy for tone or intent to be misconstrued and the subsequent back and forth exchanges can lead to more misunderstanding.
  • Pay special attention to communicating with virtual team members. When you’re not in a physical office space together, it can be more challenging to build strong team relationships (but not impossible when you’re managing virtual teams!). It’s very easy for emails or instant messages to be taken the wrong way. If you ask, “When did that happen?” the recipient might be wondering if you’re angry or annoyed, when really you’re just curious. Be very clear about things like deadlines or expectations, using calendar reminders or project management apps so you’re never saying, “I thought that was clear.” Using more than one way to communicate, a combination of email, phone and videoconference, helps to build in some camaraderie.
  • Maintain your sense of calm. It’s easy for leaders to react or, as we discussed earlier, listen to respond. If you are able to, take a few moments to compose yourself and stabilize your mood before you communicate something difficult so you avoid miscommunication. Remember that if you are frustrated or angry or need time to think, you can return to a conversation after you take some time. Review our tools for developing your executive presence, which helps you to be calm, confident, credible and consistent in your leadership communication.
  • See silence as a good thing. Learning to sit comfortably in a silent pause is an excellent leadership skill. Sometimes we are conditioned to or feel we should fill all the silence with our own ideas and directives. Pausing before we respond allows time for reflection and an opportunity for other people to interject with their own ideas and opinions. It also demonstrates active listening to the other person or people.
  • Encourage people to come to you when they’re unclear. If you say there is no such thing as a stupid question, you must work to ensure you don’t make anyone feel silly if they ask you something you think they should know. Make time to talk with your team members, and consider setting up one-to-one meetings to build a solid culture of engaged employees.

Coach’s Questions

When have you recently experienced miscommunication with your team? What more could you be doing to avoid miscommunication? Which strategy can you employ this week?




How to lead an exhausted team when you feel the same

How many people on your team are feeling worn out? Business as usual feels like a thing of the distant past and any more “pivoting” will be too much for an already exhausted team.

Shutting down, returning to work, a second shut down (and a third?) and now continued uncertainty — anticipating, planning, scrambling, and trying to keep it all together has taken a toll on everyone. (And then there is all the personal stress people have been dealing with!)

But many of the leaders we work with tell us that it’s not just their team members who are exhausted: They’re worn out, too.

How do you lead an exhausted team when you feel the same way?

We’re hearing similar stories from leaders across a wide variety of industries and locations. Not only are their teams struggling, leaders confess they’re feeling:

  • A roller coaster of emotions
  • Hopeful, but behind
  • Less creative and agile
  • Stressed about dealing with the way the work world has changed and the world in general
  • Uncertainty and fatigue
  • Demotivated and foggy (what some experts call “pandemic fatigue”)
  • Worries they’ve got to figure out how to avoid leadership burnout

It’s not surprising that exhausted leaders with exhausted teams also report:

  • Workplace tensions increasing
  • Witnessing (or personally experiencing) emotional outbursts
  • Low employee morale
  • Employee turnover
  • More stress leave/sick days

These feelings are rampant, whether the leader works in an industry that’s booming, treading water or floundering.

When it’s hard to find enthusiasm and focus as a leader, it’s nearly impossible to reassure your team and inspire those you’re trying to lead.

What can we as leaders do for ourselves and an exhausted team?

Actively build resilience. Sometimes we’re focused on productivity in the workplace, but we need to build resilience alongside productivity. As leaders, we need to do this for ourselves and we have to demonstrate how to break negative thought cycles, set healthy habits, focus on what we can control (“with the information we have right now, our plan is X”), learn from our mistakes, and more. Our capacity to overcome difficulties is a skill that we can develop, in ourselves and our team members.

Dig deep and find the ability to keep going. It turns out if Covid were a race, it would be a marathon, and we’re not sure if we’re past the halfway point or in the home stretch. Yet most of us approached it 18 months ago, as a sprint. And, many of us are still running like it’s a sprint. Instead, it requires a steady pace with some leadership self-care so that you’re not running on empty. If you know you’re barely coping, take a mental health day (or long weekend!) to rest and restore your mind, body and spirit. That means keep your phone turned off and spend time doing what you truly enjoy. (And, by the way, that’s modelling healthy habits for your team!)

Resolve to regain a sense of control. When we’re busy and consumed by constant demands, seemingly endless worries and that overwhelming uncertainty, it’s usually pretty certain that we’re staying busy but we’re not really being productive. At the same time, not being busy feels wrong when work feels unpredictable or precarious. When you take steps to regain control, you’ll feel more collaborative, creative, effective and resilient. THAT makes your leadership feel more positive, confident and stable — all of which is what you need to lead an exhausted team!

Set priorities. You and your team need actionable and achievable goals (yes — set goals for this crazy time), but also priorities that determine what is important and what is urgent. Often we have a very human tendency to focus mainly on what feels urgent and then we need a break or lose stamina before we get to the other stuff. Instead, what are we missing that is important but not yet urgent? What important things are out there that we’re not focusing on because we’re driven by that urgent item of the day? How can you get ideas flowing again about what we’re not doing that is important? And, what are we overwhelmed by that could be let go or, heaven forbid, sent onward as “good enough”?

We’ve highlighted the Eisenhower matrix as a great tool for this purpose in an earlier blog about living in a constant state of urgency. It helps you sort tasks into four quadrants: urgent, or not and important, or not. You want to be putting your effort into working on what is important and NOT urgent so that you catch important items before you’re facing an urgent situation.

Keep listening and observing. Ask what your team members need for support and listen to what they tell you and what your gut tells you after you observe interactions. Some folks are tired of being told to stay calm and carry on, and now they want to know what to do and how to do it.

What energizes everyone? Maybe it’s time to move from sharing concerns or commiserating over worries to celebrating wins and challenging each other to do things. What people need this week could be different next week or in a month. Keep asking, listening and engaging.

Don’t tackle everything alone. Leverage the talents of your team to figure out the way forward together. People feel more energized when they’re involved and feel heard. Connecting with everyone on a human level may rally them to find a second wind, too. If you’re not already, try using a Coach Approach with your team so that you’re not responsible for directing everyone and doing all of the problem-solving. The bonus is that building a coaching culture helps organizations win big because there is a tangible ripple effect as people learn, grow and brainstorm ideas.

Coach’s Questions:

What has been the most draining for you in recent months? How can you change that or let go of it? What can you do this week to re-energize and lead more effectively? Where do your priorities need to shift?



At what point is your management career most at risk??

What point in a management career causes – or caused you – the most challenges?

What we’ve seen and heard from thousands of clients in hundreds of organizations over the last nine years is that the biggest challenge individual leaders had to get through in their career – and the biggest risk companies face in people management – is…that first big step from worker to manager.

If you’re facing this, you’re not alone. And if you’re a leader or HR Manager, there are ways you can support your new managers better.

Why is taking that long and often lonely walk from worker to manager so hard? Well, there are a few reasons:

Most organizations promote people who are good at their jobs but not prepared to manage others effectively. It’s only natural to want bigger things from and for our most valued employees. Unfortunately, though, the skills you’re so good at – the ones that make you the factory’s best designer, the government’s best policy maker or the ag company’s best salesperson – are not the skills you’re going to need to succeed as a manager. And while that may sound obvious, most organizations do little to address it.

There’s an expectation that good team members will just figure out the management role. You see, when you’re good at what you do, we tend to like to think you’ll be good at anything you set your mind to – so we expect you to be a good manager. Often folks aren’t sure they are even ready to be a leader, but a promotion is a step up the career ladder and a pay raise is attractive, too and of course, you don’t want to look like you’re not willing and able. So what happens? It feels like being thrown into the deep end without any swimming lessons and really, the only thing you know about swimming is from having watched others. Congratulations on the promotion! Sink or swim while everyone is watching.

Making the move from being part of a team to managing them can be complicated. Add in different (or fractious!) personalities, petty jealousies or nagging self-doubt thanks to feeling you don’t have what it takes to be in the role (also called imposter syndrome), and many new managers struggle to feel confident and capable. It takes time, practice and the right tools to develop an executive presence.

Many times, the timing of a promotion to management doesn’t allow for much of a learning curve. When a management role comes open, we’re likely anxious to fill it quickly and don’t have time to start training someone in the finer skills of managing people.

(Pro tip: In an effort to mitigate this, we encourage leaders to get serious about succession planning!)

Your role suddenly shifts from doing the work to managing relationships. It’s a huge change to go from doing the work to helping others do their best (and not micro-managing because you want to keep doing the work for them!). Learning on the job means mistakes are inevitable, but there are five must-have conversations with new managers that their leaders can have with them to set them up for success.

Putting theory into practice takes time. Some large companies have management development programs that future managers can take, which can ease the transition from team member to manager. Additionally, some leaders are really good at teaching and coaching their staff to prepare them for management – rather than making decisions for them and directing them to do things. BUT the reality is most people face a daunting challenge just to learn the ropes as a manager – let alone get comfortable in their first management role. And who do you turn to for help and encouragement? It often feels very lonely at the top.

Perhaps you’re thinking, I’m on that path – how do I prepare to lead others? OR, I’m already in my first management job or leadership role, and I feel overwhelmed and frustrated – what do I do? Or perhaps you’re considering the folks on your management team – what can you do to help them?

Whether you’re a manager or a leader who wants to be great in the role – or if you’re aspiring to advance into one of those roles – we want to help you get there.

Maybe even more importantly, we also want you to enjoy the journey along the way, not worried and stressed each day.

We want you to feel confident, skilled, knowledgeable and supported.

One-to-one coaching is tremendous, of course. It will help you overcome every obstacle you’re facing. But, there’s also another option for about half the price — group coaching as part of a peer program. There is additional power in peer learning, which we see lead to success for managers and leaders across all industries.

At Padraig, we offer two COACHED peer group programs:

The Network – For managers, new leaders and those who aspire to leadership roles. This program offers coach-led group discussions as well as four fundamental leadership courses, over one year. The program meets monthly alternating between 90-minute group coaching sessions and full-day courses. Participants in this program develop peer bonds as they become leaders — solidifying a network of connections for years to come while successfully learning and applying the skills of great management. Each successful participant graduates with our Certificate in Leadership Foundations.

Our next cohort starts September 23, 2021. Register now before the group is full.

The Partnership — If you’re already in a leadership role and want to deepen your skill and experience while building a small network of like-minded peers and working intensely with one of our coaches, we have The Partnership — our peer group program for experienced leaders. This program brings experienced leaders together in a small group with a certified executive coach for monthly group coached sessions as well as 4 private one-to-one coaching sessions, all held over the course of the year.

Our next cohort starts September 28, 2021 (meeting the 4th Tuesday of every month) and another starting September 30, 2021, on the last Thursday of every month. Register now before we sell out.

Coach’s Questions:

When you think about your career, what are the first most challenging times that come to mind? What could have helped you? Are you helping others at that point? What can you do to get support for yourself and/or for the managers on your team?


Leadership tips for managing team members who question authority

At some point, most leaders encounter someone who seems to want to undermine them.

Whether you’re leading an organization or put in charge of a project team, dealing with someone who is resisting your leadership or outright insubordinate is necessary before it damages your team, the esprit de corps or your reputation.

Often, questioning authority manifests in a few different ways:

  • Subtle sabotage during meetings or when performing tasks, for example by asking questions only intended to raise doubt or inspire discord or by complaining about assigned duties behind the leader’s back (often someone who is either the determined cynic, constant skeptic or know-it-all)
  • Triangulating — complaining about the leader to everyone but the leader
  • Gossiping to damage the leader’s reputation, be divisive and undermine team morale
  • Intentionally ignoring or defying directives
  • Intimidating or inappropriate comments or abusive language to denigrate the leader or leadership
  • Confronting the leader in front of others rather than having a conversation in private (not that team members can’t raise contrary ideas — good leaders can handle criticism — but rather that the intent here seems to be to make the leader look bad to others)
  • Missing deadlines, refusing to perform assigned tasks or duties or failing to perform them well as a protest against the leadership

Usually questioning authority becomes an issue when there is a personality conflict or resentment if someone feels that they are more qualified to lead than you are. There are also some people who will challenge you to test you — to prove that you are worthy of a leadership role (especially if they have more seniority or are more educated than you).

Here are some ideas for handling team members who question your authority:

Don’t take it personally. It’s hard not to, but you need to stay calm and in control. Try to be objective and listen to concerns with curiosity and the intent to understand. Use this as an opportunity to develop your executive presence so that your team sees you as a confident, credible, calm and consistent leader.

Clarify roles and responsibilities. Remind whoever is questioning your authority that you were assigned to lead by X (name the manager, director or board) and that you are taking the position seriously. Be clear about their role and that you value input from them in that role.

Help them see their role as a teammate. Whether someone is a direct-report on a team of folks who report to you, or they’re a peer on your own team, it helps to do some team building to build trust or strengthen relationships with our Five Behaviours of a Cohesive Team workshop. This helps them step away from seeing themselves as the expert in “X” to instead being a member of the team where everyone works better together.

Deal with conflict head on. If there is someone who relentlessly pushes for their own approach after a decision has been made, listen and reiterate what you or the decision-maker have decided. Swiftly redirect if the conversation is being derailed and take control of meetings calmly and assertively. Sometimes leaders hope that if they ignore problematic behaviour that issues like this will disappear, but generally they don’t and that’s when other members of the team start wondering if you’re going to continue letting this person undermine you. Others start to wonder if you have the skill to lead.

Set boundaries. A usurper needs to know that you will not relinquish your leadership and that there are clear boundaries and consequences for crossing them. Don’t ignore serious breaches of behaviour. Difficult conversations are essential, so arrange to speak privately with someone questioning your authority about the behaviours that need to be corrected. Does the employee acknowledge there’s a problem and their role in it? Be specific, provide neutral examples and identify consequences. Make it clear that team members can disagree with you civilly and that there are times when they must accept decisions they might not fully agree to.

Document misconduct. If you need to speak with a team member about poor behaviour, take notes about problematic situations and who witnessed them. When you meet with the team member, record briefly what was discussed, including when you spoke and what you agreed the next steps would be and when you’d follow up. Hope for the best (the situation will be resolved), but prepare for the worst. If you do need to let someone go — either from your team or from the organization — termination shouldn’t be a surprise and you’ll want the documentation to back it up.

Seek bad news. Leaders need to be hearing the good, the bad and the ugly. If you’re soliciting honest feedback — and listening — your critics might become very good allies because they know that they are being heard. Your business will do better when you’re making informed decisions based on as much feedback and information as possible. You don’t want people telling you only what you want to hear.

Encourage good conflict. Yep! Encourage it. Dissent or contrary views aren’t inherently bad, it’s how they are shared and worked through on your team that matters. Building productive team conflict and healthy team dynamics are essential to success. Sometimes you’ll discover that the person questioning your authority just needs to feel heard and may have very valuable concerns that have been ignored by others in the past.

Be clear on decisions. After you’ve encouraged everyone to share their concerns and raise conflicting points, and you’ve shown you’re listening and considering those views, make clear that a decision has been made and the full team must commit to the decision — even if it’s not the way they would have done it. Someone has to be the decision maker and that person must listen to new ideas and other ways of doing things and then select what they feel is the best option. Everyone else must support them in implementing that decision.

Try a Coach Approach. If you want your team to thrive, try using a Coach Approach instead of problem-solving everything yourself. This shifts the conversation from you as the leader directing others to asking, listening and getting others to think through problems. Confidently leading your team with a Coach Approach allows your team to learn and grow.

Coach’s Questions:

When have you struggled with someone questioning your authority or undermining you? What is the biggest challenge for you? What behaviours “push your buttons”? What can you do to build a cohesive team and foster good, productive conflict while setting clear boundaries on what is good and what is bad conflict?

Why making assumptions can be damaging your team

Making assumptions can be a problem for anyone but particularly for a leader in the workplace.

When we assume things about ourselves, other people or circumstances, it can cause:

  • Division, possibly to the point of creating a toxic work culture
  • Hard feelings, which foster discontent and complacency
  • Loss of motivation, feeling there’s no point
  • Team breakdown, preventing dialogue and innovation
  • Decreased productivity (preventing forward movement)
  • Retention issues (great employees might leave!)

We’ve talked before about the Ladder of Assumptions (also known as the Ladder of Inference) here at Coach’s Questions and how making assumptions can undermine the potential for your team to succeed. It’s a tool that our executive leadership coaches often use with clients that helps us understand how we think — particularly if we’re misinterpreting things or making assumptions.

But how do leaders know what kind of assumptions are being made?

When you consider your work and your team, think about some of the most common assumptions we encounter in the workplace. These might include things like:

“We’ve always done things this way and it’s worked just fine.”
“Don’t even bother suggesting that. They’ll never listen.”
“Leadership doesn’t get what we do. They’re looking out for themselves.”
“They say that, but they don’t mean it. Nothing ever really changes.”
“Some people can’t be trusted. Gossip and workplace drama are a given.”
“Don’t admit to mistakes or ask questions because it’ll count against you.”
“You’ve got to watch out for yourself. No one else will watch out for your interests.”
“I haven’t heard any issues. If there were concerns, people would raise them.”

In each of these examples, making assumptions is limiting thinking and hampering creativity. Making these kinds of assumptions is going to limit what a team can accomplish because they hinder how well team members work together.

Often the assumptions we make are based on past experience but not necessarily even past experience with that person. They are based on stories we tell ourselves about the world around us. The thing is, we usually make assumptions based on our own view of the world.

The heart of the problem is often that our assumptions inform the question, “Why are they doing what they’re doing?” We can see what others do and hear what others say but we can never truly know what’s going on in their heads to motivate what they’re doing or saying. Our assumptions attempt to fill in that gap but, of course, the assumptions (aka the stories we’re telling ourselves) are based on OUR experience in the world, not the other person’s.

Have you noticed that when you’re having a bad day people seem more irritating? Perhaps more needy? Perhaps less hard-working? That’s not because there’s a conspiracy, but rather because your bad day is casting a shadow over how you see the world — you assume things are not going to go well with people, you assume people’s intentions aren’t good, etc.

Of course, occasionally our assumptions help us out — we’ve learned from past experience with Sally that she’s very interested in her own career and not interested in helping teammates. IF that has proven true in action, then our assumptions were correct — and it’s helpful to have that as ONE thing that might inform our assumptions. But that thought, that assumption, that way of thinking builds a bit of a pathway in our brain and it makes it easier for other assumptions to follow the same path — soon, when we’re tired, or having a bad day, we start making that assumption about someone else. We start thinking their own selfish self-interest is what’s driving them to do something.

Keep in mind, this holds true for everyone around you, too. Your peers are making false assumptions about you based on their current view of the world, plus your staff are doing it with you and with each other. And, occasionally, other people voice their assumptions and opinions that then go on to inform our assumptions and opinions.

As a result, you might be watching Joe in marketing carefully because a peer told you he’s impulsive, loves drama and could be a problem — and you’re set to depend on Manjot in accounting because everyone “knows” she’s a rising star who multitasks like no one else can.
Consider the way assumptions could colour your view of Joe or Manjot leaving early for a family situation:

Joe – “Did he really have to dash out now? He likes to exaggerate things for attention.”
Manjot – “How does she manage it all? There must be a real challenge at home for her to leave early like that.”

I know this all sounds daunting and perhaps insurmountable. It’s sometimes difficult to change your mind about someone once you’ve made an assumption, but it’s not impossible. It can be helpful to try to keep an open mind and take other opinions into consideration but not as absolute truth. Most importantly, it’s essential to remind yourself that you’re making assumptions all the time, and to notice them before acting on them.

As leaders, we can strive to:

  • Notice the self-talk, the assumptions, we’re telling ourselves about why someone is saying or doing something and ask ourselves if it might be incorrect this time.
  • We can reframe the thought with positive intent (‘what if he’s got a big problem at home and is really struggling?’).
  • Occasionally ask people what their motivation was. Not, “ugh, why did you do that?” but rather, “I wanted to check in — you left really early yesterday, what was happening?”
  • Strive to be impartial because when people share opinions, they might be biased, have ulterior motives or be making their own assumptions – consider them as one source and only one.
  • Try to find more than one opinion about someone. Understand that different personalities react in different ways, so some “issues” might actually arise from miscommunication and misunderstandings (there are different tools for understanding yourself and others and at Padraig, we use the Everything DiSC Assessments with our clients. In particular, if you find yourself making assumptions or excuses for people when things are in conflict, you might want to consider our Productive Conflict course.)

Making assumptions is problematic because it creates negativity and conflict (or minimizes and reduces problem behaviours) — and minimizing problems or escalating conflict that goes unchecked can damage your team.

How can we, as leaders, identify and challenge the assumptions that are interfering with how our team members work together?

We have to check in with our teams and encourage some reflection about assumptions, perhaps using theLadder of Assumptions tool.

At your next team meeting, try sharing an example of an assumption that you’ve made that has limited your own thinking. Then ask your team members to brainstorm, identify and share some common assumptions. You might want to start by brainstorming assumptions about clients and customers (since they’re not in the room with you) and then move to encouraging thinking about what assumptions we make about each other on this team or with others in the organization.

Lead the discussion by asking things like, “How does this assumption affect our beliefs? How does it affect our actions?” Be curious and listen. Then challenge by asking: “How can we challenge this assumption going forward? How can we commit to challenging our own thinking?” Be sure to follow up at the next meeting to check in on everyone’s progress and continue to revisit assumptions at future team meetings.

When we recognize the kinds of assumptions that hamper how we and our teams perform, we can actively challenge them and be more intentional about how we choose to act.

Coach’s Questions:

When was the last time you stepped back to think about how assumptions influence you and your team? What assumptions can you identify right now that are problematic? What steps can you take to mitigate how assumptions damage your team?

Are You Making Time for Leadership Development Self-Care?

When was the last time you told someone on your team to take a break, delegate or take some time off? Good leaders watch out for people who report to them.

But when was the last time that you told yourself to take a break, delegate or booked time off? Good leaders should take care of themselves, too, but we often fall short on leadership development self-care.

When we’re working with leaders, we hear excuses like:

“I’ve got too much at stake. I’ve managed so far, and I’ll keep managing.”
“I don’t get the luxury of relaxing at this stage.”
“I can’t focus on self-care now. It’s not the priority.”
“I’ll take a holiday when I get through this project/phase/year…that will be enough.”

Many leaders resist the idea that self-care is important, either because they don’t see the value in slowing down or they see it as overly indulgent somehow. Others think that a strong and serious leader doesn’t need something so self-indulgent as self-care. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, often we don’t take what we need to care for ourselves, because it feels good to be critical to a project, to be the only one who has the info or the experience or the talent needed.

Sometimes, changing the terminology from leadership “self-care” to focusing on what that actually looks like is helpful.

You’ve heard the instructions in airplanes that adults should put their own oxygen masks on before helping children or those who need extra assistance? That makes sense because you can’t help someone else if you can’t breathe.

Leadership self-care is more than spa days, soft music, candles and walks in the park (not to knock any of those things!). It’s about making sure we take good care of our physical and mental health so that we can function at our optimal levels and take care of everything we need to take care of as leaders.

Deep down, we all know we are not invincible — no matter how talented, creative or successful we are. We know, thanks to medical and scientific evidence, that we all function better when we:

  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet (no skipping meals or fueling ourselves on junk!)
  • Exercise regularly, even if only a little
  • Have a consistent sleep routine and get regular, adequate and restful sleep
  • Manage our stress and regulate our emotions with healthy outlets
  • Connect with those we care about
  • Do things outside of work that are fulfilling socially, emotionally and even spiritually

Each of these things is a way to practice leadership self-care. Seeing it framed this way, does it feel more palatable? It might still feel like a lower priority compared to the plethora of leadership demands and regular workday crises, but many leaders will agree that there is merit to watching out for their health.

In business, we talk a lot about return on investment. When we invest in our health and wellbeing, we reap benefits beyond the cost. Leadership self-care is an investment into our own productivity, and thus an investment in our success, in the organization’s success and in the success of teams we lead. It’s a positive.

Think about it: A healthy diet, regular exercise, good sleep and managing stress are all ways to boost mood and energy, lower depression, sharpen memory and focus and even improve our cognitive functioning. That’s quite the ROI from our physical and mental health.

Do you agree that your leadership would benefit from enhanced productivity, creativity, memory, focus, motivation and a better mood?

If you consider your work priorities right now, would you say it would be easier to achieve goals if you were healthy, rested and in control?

The more you spend your time and energy helping your team grow and develop their skills, the harder it can be to intentionally develop your own. You can’t only do for others and not take care of your own growth and development.

Leadership self-care to be an effective leader

Here are some changes that help you be really effective as a leader (and hint – they’re all prioritizing your health and wellbeing, which is leadership self-care):

Make it a priority. I know leaders who say if something is not in the calendar, it’s not going to happen. Whatever you decide to develop as your own self-care skills needs to be part of your routine, scheduled and safeguarded (every bit as important as other stuff!). Taking care of yourself is an investment.

Avoid burnout. Make sure you’re filling your own well in terms of emotional rest and self-care because you want to make sure you’re able to provide for your own intellectual and professional well-being. To use another water metaphor, if your bucket isn’t full (or worse, if it has holes in it!), you’re not going to be able to fill other people’s buckets or put out fires. It’s critical that you take steps to prevent leadership burnout.

Make time for learning and reflection. Take workshops, read, meet with peers or mentors and stay curious about learning more. As leaders, we can always add new skills to our toolkits. Many leaders also find it helpful to journal as a way to reflect and learn from what goes well or what doesn’t.

Figure out what you can assign to others and how to delegate. Too many of us try to do it all, which is counterproductive for many reasons. Learning to delegate effectively is a crucial leadership skill that saves you time and sanity while also building capacity among your team members.

Take time off. That doesn’t mean staying in touch by phone from a different location! Take a complete break away from all of your work demands to rest, relax and recharge. (Here’s how to take a vacation from work and really unplug.) Downtime will help you keep your energy levels high, but equally important is spending time with family and friends (companionship releases all those feel-good endorphins, and time together strengthens your personal support network).

Carve out time for yourself every day. As part of your routine, find moments each work day and weekend to do things that you want to do, things that are restorative and things that make you happy. It can be as simple as taking your lunch outside, going for a walk, phoning a friend or putting on some headphones and listening to music. Just make sure time for yourself is on your daily to-do list and booked in your calendar.

Build a support network. Meet with other leaders regularly and consistently. Have a monthly coffee or breakfast with a peer or mentor. Find someone you trust to talk to so you don’t carry the emotional work of leadership entirely on your own. (If you’re not sure where to start with that, you could try one of our leadership peer programs.)

Develop a hobby outside of work. Find an outlet that inspires and invigorates you, whether that’s taking a class, joining a team or group or volunteering. Being social improves overall mental health. That’s because connecting with other people lowers anxiety, regulates emotions, improves mood and all of that can also improve immunity.

Establish an exercise routine. You don’t have to join a gym or take a yoga class (though that might be worth trying!). It’s important to have regular physical activity as per the current health guidelines because it helps with energy, health and immunity. Find an outlet that’s healthy for challenging emotions and stress and gets you moving each day.

Practice mindfulness. Learning how to be mindful gives you a solid foundation. It’s about being present and self aware — not just about what’s happening but also about how you’re reacting in the moment.

You don’t have to do all that — now that you’ve read through ways to practice leadership self-care, consider what that will look like for you. It’s time to make changes that create a routine that re-energizes and boosts your mood and health.

Over time, what you need or want might change and that’s fine, as long as you are making your health and wellbeing a priority amid all the other demands on your time and energy. As leaders, we can also lead by example and encourage our teams to take care of themselves, too.

Leadership Development Coach’s Questions:

When you think about it seriously, what is your resistance to the idea of leadership self-care based on? What would it take to change your outlook? What can you do to integrate strategies that improve your health and well-being into your current routine? How can you take steps right now to make time for your leadership development?