How Do You Make Your Best Decisions?

The higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more you will be receiving advice from other people — in order for you to make the tough decisions.

The challenge, often, is to make the decision based on the best information possible.

Some decisions come after significant preparatory work while some are spur of the moment.

One of our favourite techniques when coaching teams to think bigger, and that you can use with your team, is to ask the team to write a memo to you early in the process titled “Reasons Why You Would Say No to This Approach.”

Tell the team you will read the memo, only once they have come to you with their final recommendations.

In essence the team ends up having a conversation with themselves (and you) in the future, to challenge their own advice.

Executive coaches will often use a similar, though simpler technique with individual clients to spark some quick new thinking. “Imagine yourself a month (or a week, or a year) from now. Picture where you’ll be sitting, what you’ll be doing, who you’ll be talking to, what you’ll be saying to them.”

As we take a few moments and help them craft this imaginary future, our clients often begin to see where they want to be, and what they might need to do differently to get there.

Another decision making challenge we often witness is seeing things as “either-or.” Either we choose Option A, or we choose Option B. We rarely allow ourselves to consider blending the best of Option A with the best of Option B.

A great way to step outside that binary thinking is a technique we use with our coaching clients, and you could use with your team – ask your team to “tell me about your second-best choice, tell me why it is good.”

A simple, direct “coach approach” question like that will often lead to inspiring conversations about how we could use the best of that second-best option to make the best option even better.

Coach’s Question

How will you challenge yourself, and your team, to think broader and to consider all the best information when making decisions?

Is Compromise a bad thing?

Sometimes successful leaders just know they’re right.

We know our goals are noble, we know how we want to get there, and we know we can be successful.

And sometimes someone with whom we are working seems determined to thwart us.

Sam Rayburn, the legendary Speaker of the US House of Representatives famously stood by the mantra “If you want to get along, go along.”

He meant you have to give a little, to get something in return.

In other words, you have to compromise.

I’ll tell you, there have been times in my career where I felt that compromise was a bad thing — an abandonment of principles.

It all comes back to that nobility of cause – compromising on that would be unthinkable. Wouldn’t it?

Can you recall a time when you’ve felt that way?

Imagine it now from a different angle — what if compromise meant putting the organization first, compromise meant doing what you need to do to attain the nobel goal, compromise meant succeeding AND building a better relationship.

I was once on the leadership team of a large project that was fraught with challenges and the team was made up of some hard-nosed, combative leaders and intellectuals. Yes, me, and others too!

We all believed we were going to save the cause and come through for the win. We had a hard time compromising.

Our individual need to succeed sometimes prevented each of us from seeing what others saw, from understanding what worried them, from examining things from their point of view.

It seems often in the modern workplace colleagues talk at each other, rather than with each other. We explain our point of view, rather than seeking to hear others.

Are there times where this happens in your organization?

Through my experiences of coaching some amazing leaders, and being coached myself, I have discovered other ways. Consider trying an approach with colleagues that demonstrates a genuine interest in understanding their concerns.  An effective way of doing this is by asking…

  • Tell me about _________.
  • Why do you feel that way?
  • Help me understand the issue more clearly…
  • What concerns you?
  • How could we do this better?

Some of my clients have reported things like “I didn’t realize her problem was with something else entirely, we were able to meet both our needs and still get things done” and “the more I asked him questions, the more the tension disappeared.

I could actually see him become more relaxed, less combative and more willing to work with me.”

How to Tackle the Peter Principle

Have you ever heard of the Peter principle?

It’s a theory commonly, if not derogatorily, popularized in the 70’s that says people get promoted to their level of incompetence, at which point they stagnate; presumably feeling miserable, and making those around them feel the same.

Not a very cheery picture.

A closely related notion is the concept of an expert in their field being promoted to management.

You can probably think of someone in your field or even your organization who was a superb engineer / nurse / policy analyst / teacher / doctor / lawyer / journalist / etc. who got “promoted to management”…and then the Peter Principle seemed to kick-in.

This excellent practitioner was now a lousy boss.

Perhaps they were a tyrant, or maybe they were indecisive, they might be trying to please everyone or maybe they go their own way regardless of advice from their team.

I’ll bet someone you know is coming to mind right now.

We probably think “they didn’t have what it takes to be management.” But what does that mean? and more importantly, can it be fixed?

As we rise through our chosen career we need more and more leadership skills. These “soft skills” are anything but soft — they determine the success of our leaders which determines the success of the organization.

Soft skills = hard core bottom line.

These skills are called “Emotional Intelligence” or “EI.”

EI measures our ability to achieve success through working with others. EI measures a series of abilities and helps us see where we could be more successful in life and work by adjusting our approach.

The fascinating key to EI, and the most difficult concept for many of us “Type-A — harder, faster, stronger is always better types,” is to understand that EI is about balance. In measuring our EI and looking at where we want to improve we can see that “too much of a good thing” can be as bad as “not enough.”

For example, I’ve always believed one sign of a good leader is decisiveness. I prided myself on being able to make the tough decisions. “How could I ever be too decisive?” I thought, as I started learning about my own EI.

That’s when Executive Coaching helped me to see that as I became “too decisive” others began to withdraw.

My team saw me as intimidating, my colleagues saw me making decisions without engaging them, my clients didn’t feel heard.

There is no question, my ability to make decisions in tough situations was a huge benefit to the organization and a quality of a good leader — but allowing that strength to begin to outweigh my interest in hearing from others, showing interest in their input and having empathy for their point-of-view, was beginning to harm my ability to lead and thus my organization’s ability to succeed.

Why am I telling you this?

Well because there are great leaders among you who know they are struggling with this balance and maybe haven’t been able to name it.

More importantly, I’m telling you because EI can be learned and improved.

We start by taking a assessment of your EI now — how you see yourself — it’s remarkable how accurate the picture turns out.

If you’re open to it, we also ask people around you — your boss, your staff, your colleagues, and maybe even a couple friends or family, to take the same assessment of you. This is called a 360˙ assessment.

We have a great tool at Padraig to do this online, completely confidentially. Using the tool, we help you see where your EI is today and then most importantly we help you improve the areas you want to improve — to bring balance where together we think it would be most beneficial.

If you want to make changes we can help you do it through one-on-one coaching. The entire process is completely confidential.

While this works for bad leaders who want to improve, the really exciting news is that it works incredibly well for good leaders wanting to be GREAT leaders — learning to build on strengths while balancing a wider range of EI skills.

In fact, it is often good leaders who struggle the most with the “Peter Principle” — they are promoted because they are good, but they are given little support because they are good.

So, do you have to accept a career plateau, or is there just more to learn?

If strengthening your EI and, in the process, boosting your career prospects appeals to you, or you think it might appeal to someone you know, you can reach us at: or at (204)-818-0600.


Advice for Your Younger Self

Is it ever too late for your own advice?

I’ve got an interesting question for you today; but first I need you to do a bit of imagining.

Try to remember, for a moment, what you were like when you were first starting your climb up the leadership ladder.

Can you picture the younger you? What were your career expectations? What were your fears?

Close your eyes for just a moment and try to be that person again for a moment.

So how was that?

Were you able to remember your younger self?

Did some of those expectations come back to you?

Did you feel some of that fear you used to feel?

So the coach’s question of the day:

If you could go back in time and give your younger self some career advice, what would it be?

Go ahead, close your eyes again and imagine what you would say to yourself.

I practice what I preach, and I’ve done this exercise myself:

  • I would remind myself to imagine that everyone around me is wanting to contribute their best – even on days where it doesn’t seem that way.
  • I would encourage myself to look more for jobs with people I admire, and less for jobs with impressive responsibilities.
  • I would worry less about ‘getting ahead’ by other people’s measures and more about contributing something to the world that I’ll really be proud of.

So what would you tell your younger self?

Now that you have some idea of what sage advice you would give, have you implemented it in your career?

If not, what’s holding you back?

And if you have fully taken your own advice, congratulations and bravo!

But, I’m not letting you off the hook just yet.

Last time we talked about using a coach approach in your workplace.

Taking a coach approach with those around you will build an even more impressive team.

How can you take a coach approach, and ask some key questions, to help a younger or more junior person in your office figure out what their own advice would be to themselves?

If you’re so inclined, and want to offer your thoughts for others to see, please provide a comment or two at the bottom of the page.

Asking Questions – The Coach Approach

In our last blog we talked about using “Why?” to engage others, to learn more and to explore ideas.

We take that a step further today with asking more questions — using a “coach approach” to leadership.

Good questions often lead to amazing answers — answers that can astound you and the person you asked, and can lead to leaps in success — yours, theirs and the organization’s.

The problem is, a lot of us ask terrible questions. We talk too much and listen too little.

We’re uncomfortable with a pause in conversation, we accept bad answers or worse, no answer. We’re embarrassed to ask the tough questions.

Will we look stupid?

Will they?

Bringing a coach approach is easier than it may sound, and leads to enormous gains (just ask anyone who has an executive coach helping them to succeed).

Here’s some of the key tips:

Ask open questions — in other words, questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response. This leads to dialogue without an accusatory tone and builds a comfortable rapport. To watch this technique in action, watch an experienced journalist on a panel news discussion or watch a good talk show host interview a guest – pick your favourite, then watch the technique. (Find some links to good interviewers at the bottom of this note).

Ask questions one at a time — when we get into an interesting stream of thought, our questions pile up. But, asking more than one at once can confuse the listener, and can lead them down our path of thinking, rather than theirs.

Be curious — don’t fish for an answer. Bad questions fish for the answer you want, really good questions are based on curiosity. I find it helps to start the question in your own mind with “I’m curious about….” — that helps you come from a point of curiosity.

So when an employee is explaining how a mistake happened we might be tempted to ask “why didn’t you do it ‘this or that’ way?”

A better question might be “I see where you decided to go this way — what prompted you to choose that?”

You may learn something about your company processes that misled that employee.

You may find a gap in information sharing that left them poorly informed when making a decision. And, interestingly, you may find the option you would have chosen (‘this or that’) might not have been the best choice either.

In other words, you might learn something, the employee might learn something and the whole organization may benefit

Be comfortable with silence — being asked an insightful question often requires time to articulate an answer. Compassionate silence is ok, it leads to insight. If your question was based on curiosity, the silence will be compassionate. If the question was fishing, the silence will be accusatory

Interject with another question when necessary — sometimes you’ll face the opposite of silence — the other person will begin to ramble. Try interrupting with a thoughtful, curious question. Most people don’t mind interruptions that allow them to continue talking and help them focus on the issue.

Repeat back what you’ve heard — it shows the other person that you are engaged and listening, and it confirms you are both on the same page. This is when you may use a “yes” or “no” question to make sure you’re understanding. “So are you saying that the product you are selling will provide us with faster data on a user friendly system?”

Experienced executive coaches use insightful questions to help their clients achieve great things. Bringing a “coach approach” of asking questions to your organization can help do the same thing.

Getting There With “Why?”

A recent article in Fast Company, the innovative business magazine, got me thinking about the question “WHY?”

Anyone who has ever spent time with a pre-schooler can tell you two things about the single word question “WHY?” — it is both very effective and highly irritating.

“Why is the sky blue?”

“Well, because the oceans are reflecting the blue up to the sky.”


Hmmm, two “whys” and if you’re like me, you’re likely stumped.

And, you’re likely also thinking more deeply about something you’ve previously taken for granted.

That inherent curiosity of a pre-schooler, combined with some diplomacy and emotional intelligence in asking “why” can lead to some deeper thinking in your workplace too.

I want to talk about getting there with ‘Why?”.

Imagine you are CEO of this company and a young exec on your team comes to your office…

Him: “We need to have a presence on Facebook”
You: “Hmmm, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Why should we be on Facebook?”
Him: “Because all of our competitors are on Facebook.”
You: “That’s a good point, a lot of them are. Why are they on Facebook?”
Him: “Because they want to position themselves as forward looking and youthful.”
You: “Ahh, yes, that could be true. Why do they want to position themselves that way?”
Him: “Because they want to make more money with young people.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

A final “why” might be in order “ah ok, you might have something there.

Why do we want to make more money from young people?”

The answer may be obvious, or it might not.

Asking why will help you get there quickly and will help you decide if Facebook really is the obvious answer.

At this point you’ve achieved a couple of things in a very short time — you’ve taken the conversation far deeper than it started; you’ve inspired the young exec to identify the challenge, not just the solution and you’ve demonstrated a keen interest in his work.

Thought for the day: Are there moments in your workday when you could try “Why?” with colleagues and staff?

Asking questions like “Why” is one of the techniques coaches use to help executives and senior leaders advance their ideas. Stay tuned for our next blog on taking this concept to the next level — using curiosity to bring a coach-approach to your leadership.

How will you make 2013 your best year yet?

As the New Year starts we hear a lot about resolutions. “I’m going to lose weight, land my dream job, turn my business around.” Some people are rigorous “resolvers” on January 1st, some succeed, many don’t, some simply refuse to participate, often because “I never live up to them anyway!”

One great way to live up to them, and to achieve business and career goals that might normally be out of reach is to work with an executive coach. Coaching works under the premise that all of the answers are within you — the coach helps you find the answers, set the goals and launch yourself to success. An executive coach is like your “thinking partner” helping you to reach further than you’ve reached before. A coach will support you with:

  • Listening and Questioning: securing blocked-out time to think;
  • Vision: co-creating a plan to support your growth;
  • Accountability: keeping you aligned with your plan;
  • Support: encouraging and challenging you to step up every step of the way;
  • Celebration: marking your achievements and success, and

Perhaps most importantly:

  • Return on Investment: We will help you turn your small investment in coaching into a larger return for you and your business.

Regardless of where you stand on resolutions, the start of a new year is a time of renewal, a moment when we tend to reflect back on the last year, and look ahead to the new year. If you were to be completely honest with yourself, what is the really remarkable professional achievement you would like to achieve in 2013?  

Now how are you going to get there?

Now is the time to see if your company will cover the cost of executive coaching services to achieve great ROI and to help you reach your full potential.


As many of you know, since leaving the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, I have started my own executive coaching firm — Padraig Coaching & Consulting.

My goal with Padraig Coaching & Consulting is to share some of the incredible experiences I have had in my career, to help make your job easier.

Whether that involves communicating better with stakeholders, donors, investors, government and media, or it means assisting you to make the most gains in the shortest time when starting a new leadership role, or whether it means facilitating and managing important discussions and meetings – helping you and your team or your board focus on the strategically important issues — I’m here to help.

I’ve lived these experiences (sometimes for the good, and sometimes with important lessons learned) that I can now share, to make it easier for you.

So what is this newsletter? This E-mail newsletter will come to you every 2 – 3 weeks, it will be short and to the point, and it will offer some suggestions, some tips, some tools that you can use in your daily management life, and that we use here at Padraig Coaching & Consulting.

We hope you’ll share the newsletter with others by clicking on “Forward to a Friend” in the top left of each email, “like” us and engage with us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and let us follow you. Padraig Coaching & Consulting is a social medium built on making management easier, and keeping our networks informed.