3 simple steps for releasing anxious thoughts

Living with stress and anxiety can take a very real toll on our mental AND physical health if we aren’t able to manage anxious thoughts in a healthy way.

We’ve all certainly had some extra worries in recent months, whether that was leading people on the frontline or transitioning folks to working remotely. And now, the second wave of lockdown in some regions and waiting for the Covid-19 vaccine has many leaders struggling to cope with return to work anxiety.

When we surveyed readers and clients a few months ago, we had a tremendous response and many of you shared how anxiety is particularly amplified for you right now.

Trying to figure out the way forward when there are so many uncertainties is unprecedented for most of us. (Pro tip: Cultivating an attitude of gratitude for dealing with uncertainty is possible — and helpful!)

To help, today we offer you three simple steps to help release anxious thoughts:

  1. Acknowledge what is at the root of the anxious thought.
    Many of us try NOT to think about what’s making us feel anxious. We try to think about something else, get busy or ignore it — but it’s still there. Others feel consumed by anxious thoughts and can’t stop thinking about them. Just take a moment and think about what has you worried and anxious. This is the tricky part: Recognize and acknowledge what’s making you anxious, name it, but don’t get caught into the bad habit of spiraling the thought into all the potentially awful outcomes that could result. The first step is just to notice and articulate to yourself what is causing anxious thoughts for you right now. It can sometimes help to write it down.
  2. Take a deep breath to calm and relax your body.
    Whenever we are anxious, our bodies go into a temporary state of alarm. This puts us into the fight, flight or freeze response because the mind is preparing the body to deal with a threat. It’s entirely natural and normal to feel anxious (that instinct keeps us aware and vigilant!), but if allowed to build or spiral it can work against us. Take a moment and breathe in deeply (fill your lungs), slowly inhaling and then even more slowly exhaling. This is important because when we’re feeling afraid or anxious, we either stop breathing or breathe shallowly. Restoring oxygen to the brain in a calm and measured way actually counters that stress response. As you breathe in and out, notice the rest of your body: Are you clenching your jaw? Is your neck tense? Is your heart racing? Are you holding tension in your back or lower back? Are your arms tense or your hands clenched? How does your stomach feel? Keep breathing in and out, slowly and deeply, while you mentally take an inventory of tightness and tensing. As you do, gently stretch and release tension from every part of your body. Many people find it helpful to start at the top of the head and work their way down to their toes, inhaling and exhaling as you notice each different part of the body.
  3. Let go of the anxious thoughts.
    After you feel less anxious and tense physically, keep breathing in deeply and shift to releasing whatever anxious thoughts you have. As you breathe in, contemplate what’s worrying you (count to 4 or 5) and then visualize that anxious thought leaving your mind as you exhale (count to 6 or 7 — the exhaling is always longer). Repeat this, slowly, a few more times and be really mindful of acknowledging the anxious thoughts and then letting them leave your mind.

Once you calm your mind and body of anxious thoughts, you will feel better able to cope with moving into action. Not that you have to tackle the world, but you can start to determine your daily and weekly goals while also potentially putting things in a bigger perspective.

If you start to feel those anxious thoughts, pause and go through the three steps again. And if you sense there is quite a bit of employee anxiety on your team, share this article with them.

Coach’s Questions

What anxious thoughts came to your mind reading this? Try going through the three steps slowly, right now. How do you feel? What changed?


Strategies for Managing Performance Reviews During a Pandemic- Padraig Career Coaching

Whether you still have the dreaded annual performance review or you’ve moved to ongoing performance management conversations — or you have some blend of the two — performance management during a global pandemic takes on some new dimensions.

First: Do them, or skip them?

Whether you have performance reviews regularly or annually, should you do them during a global pandemic? With folks working at home, or possibly working in periods between lockdowns, is there value in continuing to have performance conversations?

  • Con: Performance reviews tend to be dreaded by some (managers and employees alike) and thus add to anxiety and stress while increasing the workload for managers.
  • Pro: When performance conversations are done well, they provide critical information to both the employee and the manager, helping everyone succeed.

Effective performance conversations require some groundwork or even the best of intentions can backfire. When strong performance appears to have gone unnoticed, it demotivates. When poor performance isn’t identified and managed, it can leave that employee struggling and others resentful. (Pro tip: Review our keys to having effective performance conversations.)

The verdict: Increase the frequency

At Padraig career coaching, we’re big believers in constant honest feedback with a two-way conversation. During a pandemic — when so many are struggling through (visibly, or not) — is the time to have more performance conversations rather than fewer. In a two-way conversation, we listen to the employee as much as we talk to the employee – finding out where they feel they’re succeeding and where they feel they’re struggling. This is an opportunity to find out where a team member needs help and what kind of help would be, well, most helpful.

Doubling down on performance conversations takes on a different appearance than the traditional annual review. This current time of ongoing uncertainty might be the ideal time to shift from one annual conversation to regular, ongoing opportunities to touch base and check in with team members. It could also be an opportunity to teach managers and leaders how to use a coach-approach to help employees learn and grow – moving away from the direct, demand, tell approach. (We’ve talked about using a coach approach during the pandemic and also using a coach approach to build a stronger team.)

It’s also an ideal time to help managers learn to build performance discussions into every weekly or bi-weekly private conversation they are having with staff. (Not having those conversations? Now is a great time to start because regular conversations help you avoid poor performance from members on your team.)

Should we focus on the same things?

Performance reviews should focus on expectations you’ve set, in advance – otherwise they’re an unfair surprise. So, if you’re about to do a performance review for 2020, it should continue to focus on whatever you stated were the goals, expectations and competencies for that employee. However, if some of those goals don’t seem relevant or achievable in a work-from-home environment, or when roles and goals have shifted during the crises, or when folks spent a good portion of the year furloughed, then it’s time to adapt them a bit.

For example, if your goals were stated as a finite number – produces x widgets per month – then perhaps the goal needs to be amended to recognize challenges. Perhaps you could change the number given months that weren’t worked, or say something like, “ramped up production of (something other than widgets) products after we shifted quickly to changing demand.” Or, perhaps, “produced an average of X widgets per month during times when the production facility was able to operate.”

Or, what if you’ve stated that Adaptable and Flexible is a competency someone should aim for? Perhaps you evaluated that in the past as being willing to work late when the project needed it. Looking at this competency in a new light could be: Did they manage to adapt to changing conditions? Were they flexible in shifting their workplace? It will be important to recognize that in 2020, being Adaptable and Flexible didn’t mean adapting and flexing to the usual customer demands, or to the usual production cycle. This last year, that has meant adopting and flexing in a chaotic and uncertain environment, while also worrying about your health and safety in new ways — and while having your routines upended while worrying more than ever about family and friends. The takeaway? Evaluate something like “Adaptable and Flexible” with a charitable view. Did they manage to maintain some form of competency in unprecedented circumstances? Were they able to succeed in some of their work while having to adapt to working from home, managing kids and pets, helping parents, working alongside their spouses and worrying about the general state of the world?

Have a two-way conversation

Regardless of whether you’re having a performance conversation once a year or once a week — during a pandemic, or not — the conversation should be just that: a two-way dialogue, not a monologue where the boss talks at the employee. Now, more than ever, listen to understand.

Ask open-ended questions like:

  • What went well for you this year?
  • What are you most proud of in the work we’ve done this year?
  • What would you have changed this year, with your own work – if you could do it over?
  • What can I do to make your job easier?
  • What can the company do?

Then, listen. Listen to understand, not to respond. This means:

  1. Don’t worry about what your next question will be.
  2. Try not to take things personally.
  3. Focus on them and their needs. Even a “poor performer” often has challenges that are holding them back – more often than not, they’re not trying to be a poor performer.

Listen intently and empathetically to their answers. Ask more curiosity-based questions as you seek to understand.

Give specific feedback

Avoid saying broad and general things like, “You did great this year,” or, “You need to work on X,” without giving detailed examples. Instead, say things like:

It was especially appreciated when you did X because it allowed A, B, C to happen.
As you know, I’ve had some concerns about X because it affects A and B.
I feel like you’ve made some progress on X by (give a specific example…).
I would like to see you continue that trend and see you achieve Z.
How are you feeling about it?

Note: This feedback invites a dialogue with an open-ended question, but it’s anchored by specific details that provide context and a clear expectation.

Be human

Step away from trying to appear to have it all together. Don’t act like you’ve got everything under control if you don’t. Briefly acknowledge the struggles you, too, have had. Now, this isn’t the time to make the conversation all about you and your challenges, but it is time to be human, to acknowledge that it’s been a hard year for all of us and to show that you’re not only giving employees some slack for a difficult year, but you’re also giving yourself some, too.

Trying to sound too strong, too put-together or too on top of things makes you seem unapproachable and intimidating — and likely you’ll appear to be lacking self-awareness since folks might perceive that you don’t have it all together either. Acknowledge that.

What about performance pay and bonuses?

If expectations have been built, or promises made, that performance pay or bonuses will be tied to performance evaluations then you’ll want to stick with that or risk destroying morale. If your organization can’t afford the same levels of bonus as years past, then be open and honest about that as soon as possible – but keep some level of bonus tied to performance.

In most cases, financial compensation matters far less to employee satisfaction than do other things like – feeling supported, feeling appreciated, seeing their role in the organization’s success and feeling like they’re contributing, being part of a team and having a boss who understands them. So, why do we encourage you to continue with some sort of bonus? Trust.

Looking back at the 2008 recession, we are able to see now that the companies that opted to cut the bonus entirely (rather than reducing it but still paying something to top performers) suffered more in the long term. Turnover increased and employee satisfaction dropped.

People aren’t usually upset about the cash as much as they feel deceived by the promise of a bonus that was made or the expectation that was allowed to continue. If the organization has led people to believe performance begets bonus and has not clarified early on that this would have to change due to recent circumstances, then failing to provide something feels like a broken promise. That dissolves trust and leaves those employees feeling like they weren’t appreciated, that their contributions were taken for granted and that they were cheated.

Setting expectations for the year ahead

Now is also a great time to start building, or changing, expectations for 2021. If you are optimistic about bonuses provided certain goals are met, share that with your team. If you’re not so sure, talk to your employees: “If we aren’t able to continue paying bonuses in 2021, what would help? What would support you and show you that we care deeply about you, even if we can’t afford extra payments?”

And, of course, if your company is giving financial assistance to employees who are facing tough times, be clear that it isn’t a performance bonus – it’s assistance for all. Few things diminish motivation and pride in a job well-done more than if folks think poor performers and high performers are rewarded equally.

Before the conversation, think about how you would like to adapt your goals or competencies for 2021. For example, you might want to define what your leadership competencies look like in an uncertain year. One focus might be to shift from “Achieves sales targets” to things like:


  • Identifies unique ways of creating value and encourages others to achieve the same.
  • Remains resolute and calm when faced with challenges or seemingly inadequate resources.
  • Develops strategies to reflect our changing business priorities.


  • Rethinks processes to find customer solutions in times of change and uncertainty.

Team Management:

  • Encourages collaboration through virtual and non-virtual methods.
  • Acknowledges individual employee’s situation to accommodate corporate needs and employee needs.

The keys are to identify objectives and competencies that will aid in achieving goals but that don’t focus solely on the end goal. It’s important to articulate the reframed expectations in advance, so your leaders and staff know what’s expected and what they should be trying to achieve.

Career Coaching Questions About Performance Reviews

How will you approach performance reviews this year? What changes can you make? Has how you’ll measure success changed? How will you define good performance for 2021?

Can lessons learned in 2020 improve our workplaces?

There were a lot of lessons learned in 2020.

Some people discovered something new about themselves.

Some found an inner strength and drew on their resilience.

Others acknowledged the fragility of health – both physical and mental.

Many of us have been shaken by uncertainty – our societal bonds, our economy, our income, our healthcare systems.

Some of us re-kindled old friendships at a distance and found new perspectives on relationships.

Many of us learned a new technology and “you’re on mute” became perhaps the most common phrase of 2020.

We picked up new hobbies and games, sometimes rediscovering our youthful joys.

And, of course, some folks learned they like working from home while others learned they don’t.

Whatever your journey and experience, whatever you have learned or unlearned in the crazy year of 2020, there are a few things we can think about as leaders as we prepare to tackle 2021.

A broader view of leadership in the New Year

We need a new leadership agenda that empowers teams, including teams with members who may not see each other, to continue to build trust, challenge each other and double down on their commitments to one another, as well as a leadership agenda that supports individuals’ well-being, nurtures optimism and that builds resilient workers within resilient organizations.

So, what does that mean?

Work and home balance or work-life synergy has always been a challenge but it was brought into crystal-clear focus during COVID. Some employers and some employees want to go back to pre-Covid times, which may have meant long hours at the office but a clear separation of work and home. Others want Work From Home to be the new norm in a flexible, knowledge-based economy.

I think the lesson learned is that neither is optimal and that as employers we must be more flexible than we were ever willing to be before. This means changing how we measure contributions and progress – shifting from bums in seats and long hours at the office, to teamwork, engagement and deliverables. We have to prepare for an ongoing remote workforce (it’s here now, to stay) that is less visible the way brick and mortar in-the-office team members are.

This means leaders have to make a much more concerted effort and take a much greater part of their days and weeks to mold the culture of the organization. As leaders, we have to shift from being deliberate about the deliverables and the culture grows from that, to being deliberate about the culture with the deliverables and success flowing from it.

That also means that companies and employers who have people working from home must help those folks ensure it is a home workplace that is conducive to healthy, team-driven work – that includes:

  • Finding ways for teams to be teams – using technology, schedules and innovation to connect people and meet your business goals.
  • A way to shut down and walk away at “closing time.” A way to turn off and tune out. That seemed impossible for many people before COVID and even more so now that their office is in their dining room or guest room.

Much greater focus on mental health
We know COVID has been highly virulent and has been deadly to some cohorts of the population but less so for others. There’s been a fair bit of debate about social responsibility – staying home to let others live.

What we’re starting to see now are the effects on everyone else who thinks they were somewhat immune to COVID. That includes fear and anxiety, mental fogginess as we juggle newfound uncertainties in life, a deepening of depression – folks who had occasional blues are struggling with full depression and others who have never felt a struggle with their mental health are now confused and worried, not knowing why they’re so tired, or foggy, or irritable or emotional.

And while there’s certainly been more discussion about mental health that we have seen recently, this, I hope, will be a priority topic in workplaces and elsewhere throughout 2021 and beyond. We haven’t yet fully acknowledged the damage being done to the general population’s mental health, and workplace mental health, by the changes we’ve gone through and the incredible, ongoing, uncertainty we all face.

At Padraig, we coach mid-level and senior level leaders in the private sector and public sector – arguably some of the most privileged, successful, protected people in our society – and we are hearing, constantly, from them the strains on their mental health and those of their loved ones, their peers and their staff.

Where our conversations before may have focused on how to help that one employee who isn’t making the grade, they’re now focused on how to help all their employees get through the day – particularly when, as leaders, they can’t see those folks. Where our conversations before may have focused on deliverables and goals and finances, we now spend a fair bit of time talking about their own fragility, their fears and uncertainty.

The importance of slowing down
The response we used to hear most often to, “How are you?” was, “Busy.” Now, it’s, “Getting by, considering.” Many of us have let go of “busy” as a source of pride, or martyrdom, and started focusing on what we need to do to get by. Thankfully, we’re starting to focus on what is bringing us joy or comfort right now, not what is making us busy.

In the office, keep the focus on being productive, not busy. We’ve said it before: You can be very busy and not accomplish much. Productive means that you’ve made progress toward the goals that you’ve set. (And as strange as 2020 has been, a new approach to goal setting is still important as we head into 2021.)

Communicate frequently
Good communication is integral to leadership, but never more so than when you’re managing remote teams or a combination of remote and on-site teams. Leading a team through uncertain times also requires more communication, not less.

As leaders, we’re not going to have all the answers with so many uncertainties. We can share what we know, take concerns higher or search for answers and strategize with our teams to change as required. We need to keep asking what our team members need and how they’re doing.

Don’t abandon your core mission in a crisis – double down on it
If you were out at sea in a storm, even if you were handling water on deck or damage to the vessel, an overarching goal would be to keep the ship on course. If you lose your direction, all could be lost. Strong leaders recognize the power of vision, mission and values during troubled times.

As a leader, your core mission will be both creating a personal vision and creating – or embracing – your corporate mission. These are powerful tools, which you can use to provide focus and direction as you adapt and navigate your way through short- and long-term decisions. Why do you do what you do? How do you want to be? How do you want to show up as a leader? How can you adjust your business without losing sight of your mission?

Patrick and other experts were interviewed by Richard Cloutier of CJOB for his year-end program. Click here to listen.

Coach’s Questions

What were your biggest lessons learned in 2020? How is your leadership different heading into 2021 than it was going into 2020? What is your vision and mission for 2021?




Goal setting 2021: Where do I start?

Usually at the end of the calendar year, we reflect on our successes and challenges and then set goals for the New Year.

After the year we’ve just had, many folks are finding it hard to even consider goal setting for 2021. I don’t know anyone who predicted a global pandemic when goal setting this time last year.

I appreciate the honesty of people who have shared their feelings about leaving 2020 and trying to reconcile setting goals when they’re feeling, well, pessimistic. I’m hearing things that, frankly, resonated with me and others on my team. Things such as:

Is it even worth my time setting goals for 2021 with all the continued uncertainty?

How do I begin setting goals when we can’t predict what’s next?

What do I do with the goals from last year that didn’t happen?

If there’s anything we’ve learned from 2020, it’s that being able to shift our perspectives during challenging times is key.

Yes, it’s been a very difficult year in many ways. But what’s been positive?

We’ve seen leaders adapt and change, shifting teams to working remotely or business operations to online systems. There have been plenty of people who have innovated, organized and rallied. Artists, musicians and actors shared their talent to buoy the spirits of people around the globe.

That got me thinking. During lockdown last spring, one of our blogs that really struck a chord with readers examined what does being productive mean during a pandemic. Many people were feeling pressure to be productive, to accomplish big things and do something more or different or significant and we theorized that perhaps productivity wasn’t actually the right measure.

It’s still important to set goals. It helps us to focus, work towards what matters to us and to prioritize.

But what if goal setting for 2021 isn’t about the typical personal bests and professional successes? Perhaps those aren’t the right sort of goals for heading from a year filled with uncertainty into another year that could be just as unpredictable.

  • What if, instead, our goals are about things like:
  • How we see the world
  • How we live life
  • How we show up to ourselves and others

These are things that matter and can be life-changing, whether Covid-19 is becoming a memory or we’re still in a crisis partway through 2021.

Maybe, just maybe, we as leaders and our team members will benefit from goal setting that gives us a positive mindset.

Psychologist and New York Times best-selling author Shawn Achor has done extensive research on mindset and is considered one of the leading experts on positive psychology for corporate education programs. He’s worked with over a third of the Fortune 100 companies and is highly sought-after as a speaker by organizations around the world.

In his TED talk (one of my favourites), Shawn says: “It’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, it’s the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”

He explains that while many of us believe that if we work harder, we’ll be successful and then we’ll be happy, science shows the opposite is true. The human brain actually works better and we achieve greater success when we’re feeling positive or happy.

Why? The feel-good hormone dopamine that our bodies release when we’re feeling positive doesn’t just make us feel happy. It’s a neurotransmitter that activates the learning centres of the brain. Positivity makes us work harder, smarter and faster.

It’s true: Scientific research confirms there is a happiness advantage. Our brains perform much better — 35% better for those of you who like stats — when positive than when negative, neutral or stressed.

When the brain’s level of positivity is high, we:

  • Are more productive, creative and resilient
  • Have more energy
  • See intelligence rise and accuracy improve

When an organization or team of people improve their positivity, business outcomes that improve include:

  • Employee retention rates (less turnover)
  • Lower burnout rates
  • Improved sales
  • Higher productivity

And the good news is — you can learn to be positive even if you’re feeling pretty pessimistic.

So if goal-setting for 2021 that improves your mindset appeals to you, there are a few things you can do to train your brain to be more positive. These include:

Cultivating gratitude: It might seem difficult or maybe even impossible, but we can develop an attitude of gratitude even when facing uncertainty. Jotting down three new things you’re grateful for each day for 21 days in a row will rewire your brain. Taking just a couple of minutes daily will teach your brain to search for positives before negatives. The result? A more optimistic and happy mindset, which is more successful. And they don’t need to be BIG things — just 3 things you are grateful for.

Keep a gratitude journal: Writing lets us work through things, clarify our thoughts and learn. We’ve said for years that journaling is an important leadership habit. Consciously writing about one of your three positive things lets your brain relive the experience (cue the dopamine!). So jot down your three things and then write a bit about one of them. Why are you grateful for it or them?

Pay it forward: Give other people something positive to think about! Be intentionally kind when you can. This could be acknowledging someone’s hard work, expressing gratitude with a thank you note or treating someone to a meal. Put positivity out into your circles at home, work and community and you’ll reap what you sow.

Make time for mindfulness: Regular readers may remember when we blogged about the benefits of being mindful amid all the busy demands of life. Our brains benefit from rest and meditation; that’s scientifically proven. Try meditating to reduce stress and improve your focus. That link to our mindfulness blog includes a lot of tips and suggestions to help you start.

Get moving: Exercising improves your mood and reduces anxiety. Incorporate regular exercise into your routine to boost your happiness advantage. Start small — maybe a walk around the block to start the day.

Coach’s Questions:

How have your thoughts about goal setting for 2021 shifted? What can you do today to ensure your brain is positive and not negative, neutral or stressed? What goals make you feel more optimistic about 2021? Who else would benefit from this?

Storytelling is the career superpower your clients need to master

Being able to deliver a compelling career story will help jobseekers identify their value and communicate it to employers
Alastair MacFadden

Contemplating a path through an uncertain future can be agonizing. For students and workers, it can be particularly uncomfortable. They are bombarded with information and advice. From the future of work to the impact of COVID-19, the labour market context is noisy.

In the face of uncertainty, many will seek refuge by just getting by; focusing on the short-term horizon and making choices that can undermine their preferred future.

Short-term thinking comes naturally in times of stress. A job applicant might relay the chronology of their resume rather than reveal their ambition or true self. A university student might choose more education over a leap into the job market. The impulse is to survive the immediate threat. It is an instinct that comes at a cost. By avoiding risk, we also foreclose on opportunities.

How can a person shape a career plan in the face of uncertainty? How do you excite strangers about your fit for a new opportunity? How can you become the hero of your own story?

These questions are fundamental for anyone engaged in a career journey. To help a client find their way, an essential superpower involves helping them master their story.

Why storytelling matters
We’ve all overcome difficulties, stumbled and learned. This personal narrative includes the stories we tell ourselves and others. In that sense, they define who we are. (Other leaders in career development have also described the importance of a personal narrative. Lysa Appleton (2018) offers another angle on storytelling in career development based, in part, on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. )

Here’s why storytelling is so powerful in career management:

Our minds are built to share and remember stories. Our physiology drives us to link fragments of information in patterns (Gottschall, 2012). When something is unclear, it is automatic to jump to conclusions, fill in gaps with assumptions and make up stories (or even conspiracies).

Arranging the story arranges the mind. Research has proven that knowing and applying your strengths leads to better engagement, productivity and well-being (Seligman, 2002). Stories integrate emotions, sensations and events into meaning. You can find confidence by exploring patterns and themes that reveal talents and resilience (Dingfelder, 2011).

A personal narrative positions you as the protagonist. When you’re the agent and not the victim of your story, you gain a sense of control and hope for what is still to come (Ibarra and Lineback, 2005). A story forms the context needed for self-compassion. The work of narrative psychology shows that those who find positive meaning in life events express greater life satisfaction.

Storytelling is a way to make sense of our lives. As you arrange the plot points, you highlight what has taken place and frame what is next in your career journey. Turning points gain significance through recall and interpretation, and maturity surfaces as we relate our past to our present and foreshadow possible futures. Your story gives you the words to close one career chapter and begin another.

We communicate and connect through stories. By mastering and then sharing your story, you form relationships with strangers. You can become someone memorable because sharing a multidimensional story creates an associative map across multiple brain regions (Lazarus and Snow, 2018).

There’s value in being able to tell a good story. Good stories transport the audience toward connection. Character-driven stories activate the production of oxytocin in the brain – a hormone associated with feelings of empathy, generosity, trust and co-operation (Zak, 2014). If you want help from others, your story helps them feel they have a stake in your success.

Building a coherent and compelling career story

A random, accidental and incoherent story is a drag. Compelling stories have structure that grabs attention and transports the audience into another world.

A coherent career story also has flow. It identifies plot points and draws connections between them. To help your client explore their story, ask them what has been significant or inspiring in their work life. Try using these questions as a prompt:

  1. As you look back, what are key turning points or events? What are personal experiences that best reflect your strengths, passions and achievement? Describe a time or two when you’ve been happiest in your work – what skills were you using in those moments?
  2. What has been the role of other people in your journey? Who are the mentors, coaches and allies who have influenced you? What advice have you received? What was the impact?
    Next, work with your client to create headlines that capture these critical moments and relationships as the chapters in their career story. Encourage them to craft a vivid, concise description of experiences that are most relevant to the impression they want to leave others about their character and story.

Delivering a story that connects
When someone asks your client, “What do you do?” or “Tell me about yourself” they are inviting a short story. Converting career chapters into human connection involves linking past experiences with the present and future.

To arrange the chapters and deliver a story that connects, good stories offer a consistent formula:

  • Know your audience. The aim is to share a career story that will resonate with the audience. The client should tailor their narrative to the opportunities they are exploring. Scanning a job ad for keywords, for example, can point to elements of the story that should be emphasized in a cover letter or interview.
  • Start by sharing something that may be surprising, such as a time you embarked on a personal challenge or crossed a career threshold.
  • To sustain attention, build tension by sharing obstacles that have shaped you, such as a crisis or failure or an unusual project. Describe the insights gained, before leading to …
  • The present state – a career crossroads – where you are taking a further step toward your preferred future.
    Over time, each interview and tailored job application will bring the client clarity and a deeper sense of direction as they master their career story.

Anticipating the next chapter
Heroes don’t just endure difficulty and accept their fate. They exercise their strengths to prepare for the future. If a client feels they are preparing for an uncertain future, help them build their story with scenario planning. Have them focus on what is known:

  • Their main talents, gifts and competencies. For example, what patterns are evident in the interests, experiences and life lessons in their career story?
  • Trends shaping the future of their work life. What will be the impact on the client of personal and labour market trends over the next 10 or 20 years? Can they envision multiple futures or scenarios? (E.g. technological change or other trends in their profession, changes within their family or their family status, wider economic or social trends such as access to childcare or eldercare.)
  • Choices in a changing world. How can the client’s talents be deployed in each of the future scenarios they envision? What partnerships or allies will matter? How can their knowledge, skills and attributes best be deployed? Of the tactics that fit each future scenario, which ones appear again and again? Those are the tactics that offer the most robust next steps for any plausible career future, and they should inform the client’s choices and their next chapter.It is worth reminding the client that they are protagonist of their story. By helping them master storytelling, you are helping them gain a superpower that will build their confidence, form relationships and propel their career forward.



Alastair MacFadden is a proud Padraig coaching client and an Executive in Residence at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. He has worked in the non-profit sector and government to advance career development practices and to help individuals reach their full potential.


This article was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of CERIC’s Careering magazine on the theme of “Career Superpowers.”   


Appleton, L. (2018). Storytelling a powerful tool in clients’ career development. CareerWise. careerwise.ceric.ca/2018/11/25/storytelling-a-powerful-tool-in-clients-career-development/

Dingfelder, S. (2011). Our Stories, Ourselves. American Psychological Association. Monitor on Psychology, 41(1). apa.org/monitor/2011/01/stories

Gottschall, J. (2012). The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Ibarra, H. and K. Lineback. (2005). What’s Your Story? Harvard Business Review. hbr.org/2005/01/whats-your-story

Lazarus, J. and S. Snow. (2018). The Storytelling EdgeHow to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming Into the Void, and Make People Love You. Wiley.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. Simon and Shuster

Zak, P.J. (2014). Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling. Harvard Business Review. hbr.org/2014/10/why-your-brain-loves-good-storytelling


Is destructive workplace conflict affecting your team?

Every workplace has conflict, every group, every family unit. Conflict is unavoidable wherever there are human relationships.

While we often view conflict as a bad thing, there are actually two types of conflict. It can be either unproductive or productive. Today we’re going to focus on the unproductive kind, and discuss what to do about it (regular readers of our blog may remember us previously describing how to build good conflict because it’s critical to success). If you’re unsure how conflict can be good, be sure to hop over to that blog and then come back here.

Destructive behaviours that create workplace conflict

Some of the most common destructive behaviours in the workplace include:

  • Gossip, whether it’s done in the guise of venting, sharing “concerns” about others or trying to be an authority with inside knowledge
  • Triangulation, where if I’m angry with Bob I tell Simran about it rather than sort things out with Bob and thereby spread my version of events to a third party
  • Sarcasm, which is used in conflict to attack or demean someone while claiming it’s just a joke
  • Stonewalling, which is a strategy to shut down discussion and prevent someone else from doing something we don’t agree with (while feeling gratified, powerful and perhaps even dignified)
  • Exaggerating, which takes someone else’s minor transgression and makes it feel much, much worse to others to solidify our own position

There are many more types of unhealthy behaviours that create unproductive workplace conflict. All of us have go-to reactions when we’re faced with conflict, whether we notice them, or not.

Maybe you don’t gossip, but you know you’ve used words to belittle someone’s job performance when you’re angry. Perhaps you don’t remember stonewalling anyone, but you do regularly assert your authority to overpower team members or dismiss their ideas. Or while you don’t exaggerate issues, you might be hypercritical, find scapegoats or react poorly to criticism.

Sometimes high performers can’t play nice with others but get away with bad behaviours because of their job performance.

As leaders, we need to do better and help our team members move from unproductive conflict to productive conflict.

Studies show that unproductive conflict makes the workplace culture toxic, hinders productivity and creates problems with employee retention.

Earlier this year, Wiley (publisher of DiSC, Five Dysfunctions and so many other business tools) surveyed over 12,000 employees about their experiences with workplace conflict and found:

  • 70% of managers and executives identified that workplace conflict between their employees negatively affected efficiency
  • Managers reported spending an average of 13 hours a month dealing with workplace conflict
  • Two out of every five (or 40% of) respondents said they have left a job specifically because of unhealthy workplace conflict

Why unproductive workplace conflict is so pervasive

We can try to remedy unproductive conflict by having seminars about providing harassment-free workplaces and offering team-building opportunities. Many businesses also have corporate values for everyone to uphold.

But while those initiatives have been around for decades now, toxic workplace conflict is still widespread.

The problem is that many of us have instinctual responses to conflict that are a combination of what we’ve learned and that are innate because of our personality style. Depending on our upbringing and experiences in school and afterward, we may not have learned healthy ways to handle conflict — or how to cope when having to interact with someone who has unhealthy approaches to conflict.

It’s complicated and layered and usually subconscious — we don’t even know why we react the way we do. Additionally, conflict can cause us to react in unexpected ways that are uncharacteristic of how we normally respond or how we want to behave.

Psychology experts describe dozens of ways in which how we respond to conflict has a very different motivation from what we tell ourselves. Here are two common psychological mechanisms for this:

Emotional indulgence: We justify our actions because we have been wronged and need to defend ourselves. However, the negative reactions (ranging from outrage to gossiping or sarcasm) also feel good on some level. Subconsciously, it’s satisfying to feel self-righteous or indulge in some self-pity — and bring others to our side by sharing it in an unhealthy way.

Emotional Avoidance: Some emotions are more difficult than others, like hurt. Sometimes we react in anger when really we’re feeling hurt. This is a common reaction in the workplace when someone faces criticism from a boss or colleague. Even if the criticism is valid, subconsciously there is a need to be angry about something rather than acknowledge the hurt. Anger feels empowering instead of debilitating. Other reactions could be indifference, cynicism or disgust. This leads to behaviours like finger-pointing (it’s not my fault!), causing drama (you think everyone else is better!) or caving in (fine – if that’s what you think then I’m going to do the bare minimum!).

Solving the problem of unproductive workplace conflict

There is a way to combat the negative types of behaviour that we see in workplace relationships. As leaders, we can learn ways to recognize and manage the unconscious, automatic thoughts that are our go-to reactions and then manage them differently.

Our thoughts trigger us to act in certain ways, so if we can catch and reframe our thoughts then we will react with different behaviours. Psychologists call this Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and it’s a scientifically validated method for changing how we behave under various conditions. It starts with mindfulness — being aware of and recognizing our own behaviours and the motivators for them.

Unhealthy thoughts lead to unproductive emotions and behaviours. Conversely, when we consciously seek neutral or positive thoughts, we can regulate our emotions and then choose behaviours.

Here’s how it works:

Pause and recognize our automatic and possibly unhealthy thoughts. We have to practise this at first because unconscious reactions are comfortable and feel right because we’ve always done it this way. It’s important to slow down and reflect. This is when we ask: Is this thought valid or true? Might it not be? Why do I believe it’s valid or true? How else could I look at this?

Reframe the automatic thought. Instead of going with the first thought we have and heading into an auto-pilot reaction, we pause and reframe to something more realistic and productive. For example, we might think she has no idea what she’s doing. After pausing, we can reframe that to: I wonder if she’s seeing something I don’t about this situation? Or, I wonder if her uncertainty is causing her anxiety or fear and she thinks she needs to hide that from me because I won’t be helpful?

Choose a more productive response. Instead of reacting instinctively to something that felt negative, we can choose to react in a way that is more productive. Following the example from point 2, we can ask our coworker if she would like some assistance with this situation, or mention something like, “these issues/topics/problems are challenging. I’ve had some experience with X, can I help?” Or, we could identify that in the past we’ve seen it done this way and notice that she’s doing it that way. We can acknowledge that perhaps her way makes sense and ask why she chose it. We can listen and see if there is a reason why this is the case instead of telling her she’s wrong and causing a conflict. In an example like this we remind ourselves that perhaps we don’t have all the information for the situation, this time. Or, perhaps there’s more than one way to get the job done and ours doesn’t have to be the only way.

When we employ these strategies, we’re using our rational selves to drive responses rather than instincts that could be completely off base. Choosing more productive responses is a skill that requires mindful practice.

How personality plays a part in workplace conflict

Different personality types have certain characteristics that inform how we interact with others and approach things. At Padraig, we find using the DiSC personal assessment tools helps our clients to better understand themselves and their coworkers.

There are different ways we respond to unproductive workplace conflict. Common responses might be:

  • I’m not backing down. I’ll look weak.
  • Let’s not fight. We have to focus on XYZ task, guys!
  • It’s wrong to upset people. Let’s agree to disagree.
  • If I admit I’m wrong, I’ll lose credibility.

There are simple strategies that tackle the bad kind of conflict. Some of our professional coaching suggestions include shifting forward to how you can change in the future, listening to understand (not to reply!) and really trying to see things from the other person’s perspective.

Once we understand how personality styles affect conflict on our team, we can use the CBT approach to pause, reflect and take a more productive approach to deal with issues or situations that involve people who come at things in different ways.

If you’re noticing a fair bit of bad conflict on your team or feeling it yourself, you might consider our Productive Conflict workshop, which can be provided to your group or team in-house or virtually — giving each participant their own personality profile and conflict map along with techniques to use with colleagues when feeling the conflict.

Professional Coaching Questions

What instances of workplace conflict come to mind for you? Were you aware in the moment of things you could have done differently? Did the experience stay with you and bother you beyond that moment? What can you do this week to move unproductive conflict to productive conflict?


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Learn how destructive workplace conflict can affect a team and how to move from unproductive to productive conflict.  Click the image for the complimentary ebook  Under The Hood – The Secret Engine That Drives Destructive Conflict.






Connecting Agility and Emotional Intelligence at work

This past year has demonstrated, more than ever, the need for emotional intelligence at work.

Being able to successfully handle the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of COVID-19 has required agility from leaders and team members.

But it’s not just the pandemic. We’re working today in a marketplace that is ever-changing because of new technology, globalization and fierce competition. Our workplaces are often more diverse now, too, which reshapes how we do business.

What does it look like to be more agile? It could be:

  • Flattening the leadership hierarchy
  • Introducing new approaches to project management
  • Transitioning to new business models (like shifting to remote workers and online business services)
  • Recruiting team members who are flexible and who work well with others

Wiley (publisher of DiSC, Five Dysfunctions and so many other business tools) recently surveyed 2,500 professionals, and researchers found that in 2020:

  • 95% of managers, directors and executives identified that the ability to adapt quickly and easily (agility) is more important to success now than five years ago
  • 90% of those who responded, (whose positions varied from individual contributor to top tier executive), said agility was more integral to their personal success than it was five years ago
To be agile, businesses need people who can handle radical disruption.

Some common examples of radical disruption — aside from the global pandemic — could include:

  • Facing a new competitor with innovative technology or services
  • A major problem with the supply chain
  • Going international and figuring out everything from regulations in another country to tariffs to cultural norms

So how do you find people who can be agile? Perhaps more importantly, how can you help build agility in yourself and your current team members?

The answer is to look for and develop emotional intelligence (EQ).

EQ is more than understanding emotions. It is having the ability to see a situation and understand your own emotional response and the emotional and interpersonal needs of those involved so that you can respond appropriately. When you can do this even when it’s difficult, that’s agility.

Leaders or team members who have developed agility are going to be working offensively, watching out for the next radical disruptor and ready to make decisions or manage change.

These are folks who will make an effort to adapt when needed, even if it feels uncomfortable.

They’re also able to work with people very differently from themselves, whether that is a generational or cultural difference.

Among the qualities we see demonstrated by those with high EQ are core social and emotional strengths such as:

  • Active listening
  • Self-reflection
  • Empathy
  • Objectivity
  • Assertiveness

These kinds of competencies are foundational for successful teamwork and problem-solving. When we’re able to move between confidence and vulnerability and between self-assurance and empathy, for example, or handle change that is thrust upon us, that is the sort of agility that is valuable in today’s ever-changing workplace.

High EQ also shapes the culture of the workplace and how employees experience working there. This is important because low EQ hurts productivity, often correlating with toxic cultures. In the Wiley 2020 survey, more than 40% of respondents said they had quit jobs where they had to work with people who had low EQ.

How to build EQ in the workplace

There are ways to measure our emotional intelligence so that we can figure out where our strengths are and which areas need a little more development. While it’s very valuable to have this kind of insight, we also need to know how to use that theory in practice. Specifically: How can we use EQ to drive organizational success?

The good news is that experts agree — everyone can grow their EQ and develop social and emotional skills.

At Padraig, we use many assessments and guides to help our clients better understand themselves and their team members. The Everything DiSC series of assessments and the EQi2.0 are examples that are valuable because they provide participants with a detailed personalized profile based on their results. From there, we have coaching and group learning programs to help participants learn how to improve their EQ and make the most of existing strengths so that everyone feels empowered to move between mindsets and become more agile.

Coach’s Questions

How would a more agile workforce help your organization? How might agility help you and your home life? When it comes to the volatility and change we all face, what would you most like to feel stronger about, or more sure about?

Click here for a complimentary ebook



Want to learn more about the connection between agility and Emotional Intelligence at work? Click the image for the complimentary ebook  Agility Unlocked.







When is “good enough,” Good Enough?

I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist.

At times I have struggled to let go of something until it’s perfect, spending far too long labouring over every word and number at the expense of my sleep, my sanity and the emotions of those around me.

I beat myself up when I don’t do things as well as I would like, and frankly, there have been times in my professional life when I’ve treated others around me that same way when things weren’t perfect. It’s taken some time for me to understand that there are (many) times that good enough is, well, good enough.

Psychologist Harriet B. Braiker – who interestingly was the first in her field to publicly identify that women experience more and different types of stress than men – said, “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.”

That really resonated with me.

Excellence is a great goal, right? It’s outstanding or extremely good – whereas perfection is flawless, free of any defects.

Arguably, perfection is unattainable and, often, not even necessary. Expending emotional and physical energy in the pursuit of perfection might not be warranted if excellence is good enough.

I’ve done a lot of work on this over the years, and occasionally my own executive coach and I continue to work on accepting that good enough might be the preferable goal to driving myself (and those around me) crazy.

Leadership and the idea of “good enough”
In the textbook Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others, which I read while studying to become an executive coach, James Flaherty wrote:

The mood of organizations is, for the most part, shaped by the willingness of superiors to be satisfied.

That struck me as quite profound and incredibly accurate.

What do you think? Have you worked for leaders who have upbeat, supportive attitudes toward work done by their team members?

How does it feel to have someone acknowledge that you worked hard on something and applauded the excellent work rather than pointed out a few flaws to show it wasn’t perfect?

When team members feel safe to stretch and learn and grow, they gain confidence. Can you think of any organizations with a “can-do” tone and a culture of growth? Maybe you work somewhere or volunteer at an organization with that kind of culture.

If you’ve witnessed it, I encourage you to think about the leader: Were they willing to be satisfied? This might seem like an odd question but when you think about it, the reaction from someone who seeks perfection could be very different.

Maybe you’re even leading that kind of organization. What sorts of things are you comfortable letting go? What things would you coach your team members to improve? What is required for you to feel satisfied?

Some of us have probably worked, at one time or another, at companies where nothing was good enough or the scrutiny of work submitted felt challenging in a bad way. What’s the mood then? Awkward, angry or unhappy. Was the leader willing to be satisfied?

The best isn’t bad
Now, just to be clear: I’m not suggesting that sometimes we don’t need to strive for perfection.
When I’m traveling, for example, I like to think the pilot flying my plane, or the people at Boeing who built it, are aiming for perfection.

Similarly, I really hope that an anesthesiologist or surgeon is paying close attention to every detail, meticulous in technique and striving to be perfect.

But, how often is perfection necessary? When can we allow ourselves to be satisfied?

In his book, Flaherty also proposed “in our society and current culture, dissatisfaction is sometimes seen as a sign of sophistication or an unwillingness to compromise high standards.”

Can you think of anyone you know who is like that?

I’ve certainly had moments, when I was unwilling to “compromise my standards” while pushing myself and others beyond our abilities. Now, in hindsight, I can see the drawback to that pursuit of perfection instead of good enough.

As leaders, we need to know when to make the call.

Coach’s Questions:

When is good enough, good enough? How do you communicate that to your team? And what will it take for your colleagues to believe you? For your team to believe you? For you to believe you?

Advice for your younger self

How many times in life have you thought, “If I only knew then what I know now?”

When you think about your younger self, what do you remember about starting your career? Try, if you can, to remember how you felt. What was exciting? What did you worry about?

Think about your first “real” rung on the leadership ladder. What were your career expectations? What challenged you? What did you struggle with?

Take a few minutes, close your eyes and try to revisit what your younger self thought and felt. What specific details about your past goals and fears came to mind?

Take a piece of paper and jot down whatever comes to mind. (Pro tip: Keeping a journal to work through exercises like this and process events are proven to make you a better leader.)

Next, after you reflect on those early years, what career advice would you share with your younger self now that you’ve got some more experience? Again, write down what advice you have for your younger self.

When I did this exercise, I realized that:

  • 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 tell myself to 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.

After you write out what you’d tell your younger self, I have another question for you: Which advice have you followed or applied to your career?

If you haven’t actually taken your own advice, what stopped you? Could you implement it now?

Perhaps you have actually acted on all the advice you had for your younger self. If that’s the case, well done! But you’re not in the clear just yet.

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, then you’ll know that we strongly advocate that leaders add a COACH Approach to their leadership toolkit to build stronger teams.

The next time you have a team member who isn’t sure what to do with a situation, be curious. Ask them some questions to see if they can figure out what advice they have for themselves.

Many of us want to jump in and offer the solution, but encouraging people to think in this way allows them to be innovative, self-reliant, and engaged. They’ll feel more confident in their abilities and be more accountable for what they decide.

Another tool is to be a mentor – that means sharing your experiences, the good and the bad, the things you know now that you wish you’d known then – and allowing the other person to hear your experience and reflect on it, while deciding what bits they want to use for themselves. Mentoring isn’t telling someone to do this or do that, it’s sharing your own learnings for them to use (or not) as they wish.

Coach’s Questions:

What did you learn about your younger self through this exercise? What did you discover about who you are now as a leader? What would you share from your own experience? Where can you open up about things you’ve learned that were hard to learn? Who might benefit from this?

When high performers can’t play nice with others

The solution for handling a problem employee who is a poor performer might be a no-brainer: You involve HR, document and terminate their employment.

It’s not so easy, however, when you have a very difficult employee who is also one of your high performers. What do you do when someone who is invaluable to your business is also a major pain for everyone else around them?

Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon. Sometimes it’s a certain ego or hubris that makes some talented individuals feel they can act with impunity. Other times, the prima donna mentality emerges after there were no consequences for poor behaviour as long as the superstar brought in revenue or business. And sometimes that high-performer is so focused on delivering the goals they are simply oblivious to how they’re being received by everyone else.

You’ve probably encountered the excuses:

Arrogant grandstander? But driven.

Demanding and never satisfied? Running through admins like water? But creative and innovative.

Uncooperative and insensitive to others on the team? But one of the best in the field.

Prone to outbursts and verbal abuse so that everyone is walking on eggshells? But always lands the big clients.

Managing high performers who can’t play nice with others can be a nightmare. Dealing with the fallout of their actions and their high maintenance ways can quickly monopolize your time as their leader. Odds are that many of these personalities are also the first to challenge your authority or undermine your decisions, which further complicates your role as it steals your time and attention away from other matters.

Here are some strategies leaders can use when their top talent’s intellect and ability is also a liability:

Have the difficult conversation. Sure, someone who is really bright ought to realize when they’re continually creating drama or upsetting others but if you as their manager don’t say anything, they can plead either ignorance or argue that they’ve never been corrected for it. The first step is for you to make that high performer know that while you value their contribution(s), that X or Y is ALSO part of the job and it’s something they need to work on. (Pro tip: Prepare for this difficult conversation carefully – read our tips and use our worksheet for having a difficult conversation remotely or otherwise.) Pay careful attention to how willing this top performer is to acknowledge first, that there is an area in which they could improve and second, how willing they are to take you up on support to do that. Remember, if this is truly your first conversation about the problem, they may need time to digest.

Draw some really firm boundaries. A large accounting firm in one of Canada’s northern territories had a very bright, very senior accountant with a very niche specialty who gained quite a reputation for his nasty demeanor with everyone from admin assistants and reception to clients — and the leadership team based elsewhere made excuses because he was a rare talent (and kept hiring new admins to deal with him!). As leaders, we have to decide what we absolutely will not tolerate. How many harassment complaints are too many? How many rude interactions are unacceptable? What’s the baseline of courtesy that should be extended to clients, colleagues and others? What sort of insulting behaviour should result in someone being asked to leave a team meeting? Give some thought to that, jot down some notes and make sure that the high performer is told that X, Y and Z cannot continue to happen — and then follow through. Sometimes people push when they think the boundaries exist only for others, and not for them. 

Be confident in your authority. As the leader, you can’t let a difficult personality rattle you. Stay calm and grounded no matter how they behave. That’s easier said than done but you might want to have a confidential discussion with a peer who has been through this before, or talk to a certified executive coach (whose conversations are always confidential). When talking to the problem employee, if they try to distract you from the issue, redirect the conversation. If they rant and rage, say that you’ll take the discussion up again when they’ve calmed down and then end the meeting (for now!). Trust in your executive presence and remember most of all why you’re doing this — to save the full team and to prevent the long-term losses that occur when a high performer with poor connection is allowed to continue. Remember that others on your team (whether they have told you, or not) will admire you addressing the problem and appreciate that you are reining in the high performer who gets out of control. Pro tip: it also might prevent some problems down the line when others realize you’re not a boss who can be bullied or walked on.

Be consistent going forward. If issues arise, deal with them right away, with a face-to-face conversation ideally (or video teleconference if necessary during the pandemic). Focus on the issue, not the person, and raise any ongoing issues for discussion. “Remember we talked about collaborating with marketing? There seems to be more tension.” Conversely, if you notice a concerted effort to change, make a point of sharing that you see and appreciate the progress. 

Assign projects carefully. Some high performers do best when they have a really challenging project to undertake that requires them to stretch — it’s when they’re bored that they stir up drama and get prickly. Then there are those who like a challenge, but lose those grace-filled interpersonal skills under pressure — so team projects may not be the best decision. Assess what’s going on and figure out how to mitigate any potential fallout based on what you’ve seen in the past.

Make sure performance reviews always document the good — and the bad. Too often the trouble areas are overlooked for superstars, which isn’t fair to them really (and it will be even more difficult if you eventually decide that you do need to build a case to terminate a talented troublemaker). In a situation where there are challenges, it’s important to review and provide feedback more frequently, perhaps even monthly or every quarter until you see a better long-term outcome emerging.

Be strategic with incentives. I remember hearing about one rock star asset manager who upset everyone around him constantly. He said things like, “My whole life I’ve been on winning teams, but I’m always the captain.” Any hint of an individual reward or bonus made him even more ruthless. The solution? An astute manager ensured that bonuses were structured for team achievements based on some 360-degree feedback.

Help to support the changes you want to see. You can find a good mentor for a superstar who is a little rough around the edges. This takes a bit of matchmaking ability, because it has to be the right fit, but when it works it can be life-changing. Alternately, consider whether there are any professional development opportunities for this member of your team that could help to boost the (usually softer) skills you want to see. Working with a coach, of course, can be helpful.  As well, launching the coaching with an emotional intelligence assessment tool can be eye-opening for the person. Build time into your schedule to meet regularly with this challenging high performer one-to-one so that they feel they have your attention and support.

Now, the big question is: When do you cut your losses?

Sometimes, no matter how much we as leaders work with someone, they aren’t willing to change. This is a much bigger problem than someone who needs support and mentoring or coaching to change.

You might ultimately decide that no matter how talented someone is, there are too many drawbacks — particularly in today’s world of remote work because we can recruit talent from anywhere around the globe. In some situations, you might conclude that it’s very well worth recruiting a slightly less talented or capable replacement who is a lot nicer to be around.

Making that decision may take some time. It might require that the leaders or the board members you report to need to buy-in to the idea (which is why careful documentation is important from the get-go).

If this is a real possibility, then be sure to reference that in the next Essential Conversation you have with the person (in the part where you state what is at stake).

Coach’s Questions:

Who do you know who fits the description of the very talented difficult employee? What has held you back from dealing with the situation? Given what we’ve offered, what will you do going forward?