Archives 2021

Every Day – Great Leaders Understand Small Gestures

This past summer, I was in Victoria, BC, for a few glorious warm sun, beautiful seas with family, and doing good business with great people.

I posted a silly picture of a minor tourist attraction, and to my surprise, I received a Fb message for a soldier of mine who became a good friend of the family who had recently been posted to the Naval Base there.

We quickly arranged an impromptu reunion over a coffee. It was an added bonus to see this guy after many years and to hear how successful he had become.

When we left the coffee shop, he asked me to see his new motorcycle, and while we admired this beautiful machine, he reached into the saddlebag and pulled out a sheet of paper and handed it to me.

It was a copy of a letter of reference I had written for him in 1997.


Neither of us could remember exactly why I wrote it. And, for me, it was a small decent thing to do for a good person. But to be honest, it was one of the hundreds of letters and recommendations I have made for people throughout my career.

But he had carried that letter around with him for 24 years, so it was a big thing for him.

Recently I read an HBR article about Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BELFOR Holdings, who grew sales to more than $1.5 billion. BELFOR’s people jump into action after a flood, tornado, or fire damages or destroys property. It’s a tough, dirty, dangerous business. To express his appreciation, Yellen sends handwritten birthday cards to each employee every year—that’s 9,200 cards, plus additional anniversary cards, thank-you notes, and messages for a job well done, for a total of 12,000 or so handwritten notes per year.

Yellen once said that “Doing this has helped build a culture of compassion, family, and respect,” he said. Need evidence? When Yellen turned 60, he got an appropriate gift—more than 8,000 handwritten birthday cards from BELFOR employees, who wanted to show their appreciation for the CEO’s tradition.

Small gestures

Small gestures—references or recommendations, body language or handwritten messages—can send significant signals about who we are, what we care about, and why we do what we do.

The fantastic thing about a small gesture is that we have no idea the impact that it will have.

Like throwing a stone into a pond, the ripples go far, and we will likely never see what the impact that little rock will have.

I believe that my friend would have been successful without that letter as he has been, but what if I had blown him off that day? What if I had dismissed him because I was ‘to busy.’

What if Mr. Yellen drove hard every day to hit a financial target and didn’t take the time to write those notes?

We’ll never know, but even (maybe especially) in this age of digital disruption and creative destruction, never underestimate the power of a small gesture.

Don’t let technology or business overwhelm your humanity.

The cost is small, and the ROI is unfathomable and unimaginable.


Read About The 7 Simple Shifts – Your Checklist To Being A Better Leader

5 Ways To Encourage Meeting Participation

Cartoon Credit to Creator: Andrew Toos 

Have awkward silences become a rule of thumb in your meetings?

Are you frustrated that people seem to be sitting on their hands and not participating in important conversations?

Read more about why meetings are the linchpin of Organizational Health

We have all had that feeling of frustration when even the free coffee and snacks aren’t working to boost team participation.

‍If your team seems reluctant to share their thoughts and opinions, your team members may not be the problem—it is most likely you.

‍Silence usually means people are holding back, and it’s up to you to understand why.

‍It’s your responsibility as the leader to foster an open space for participants to feel motivated and comfortable to speak up. But how?

Safety can get your team talking.

During World War Two, they said that ‘loose lips sink ships’ and, in our case, ‘tight lips’ sink meetings.

‍One of the top reasons your team isn’t participating is because they don’t feel comfortable doing so. It’s important to understand those reasons before seeking solutions.

‍Often employees are pressured to be on their “best” behaviour. They would do anything to avoid looking ignorant, incompetent, intrusive, and negative. This means they often don’t ask many questions, keep their head down, don’t admit mistakes, don’t offer new ideas, and shy away from critiquing the status quo.

They may fear that if their share their opinions, that information may result in other repercussions.

If your team is focused on managing these impressions and doesn’t feel encouraged to speak up or share their opinions on improving the team or workplace, you have a problem with your Organizational Health.

What Is Heck Is Organizational Health? 10 Questions Answered by Steve

Patrick Lencioni is the standard-bearer of Organizational Health and has observed that companies with a trusting, accountable and safe workplace perform better.

‍What is a trusting, accountable and safe workplace? It can be defined as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

Organizational Healthy workplaces, employees and managers are encouraged and are expected to speak up.

‍Organizational Health isn’t about lattes, gyms or quiet rooms. It’s about giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes, and learning from each other. Team Leaders who encourage a climate of open reflection and learning are the most productive and successful.

Improving meeting performance requires clarity of objective and healthy conflict.

 When an organization lacks clarity of objective or healthy conflict, team members hesitate to share uncomfortable information with those who hold power within the organization. Or worse, they only share what they believe the people with power want to hear.

‍Why won’t we share because of the amygdala? When the amygdala perceives a threat, you go into a fight-or-flight mode. This instinct was useful when sabre tooth tigers prowled the woods, but it’s not effective when you need to think strategically and collaborate with colleagues at work.

Your team can combat the brain’s defence mechanism by cultivating organizational health. Everyone is encouraged to share ideas, spot problems, take risks, and keep your team talking, engaged, and productive.


Allow equal participation for all

6 Tips to Speak Confidently in Meetings (Even When You’re A Bit Scared)

Another common reason that may be keeping your meeting participants from speaking up is the structure of the meeting itself. Do your participants know that active participation is expected? Is one team member taking up most of the time by giving long-winded answers?

Try these strategies:

    • Establish expectations before a meeting starts to have everyone on the same page before the meeting gets off track.
    • Set time limits for each person to say their piece. This allows everyone to speak but gives equal weight to each person’s perspective.
    • Call on people reverse order of seniority to share their comments and thoughts without being swayed or silenced by more senior people on the team.

Democratize the meeting invites

So everyone feels comfortable participating in the meeting, allowing the team to decide who is invited collectively. Take a look at the invite list and really consider if anyone besides the team really needs to attend.

‍‍Incorporate introvert-friendly strategies

It feels natural to fall into a conversational rhythm whenever friends get together, with the talkers talking and the observers sitting back.

‍This is true with workplace teams, and it becomes tricky when one or two people dominate the meeting conversation. As a manager or facilitator, it’s important to make your meeting a fair playing ground for all types of people, especially the introverts in the room.

‍You can effectively encourage introvert meeting participation by utilizing timed discussions, anonymous voting, choosing the right time for the meeting, and open-ended answering exercises.

Increase your own vulnerability

3 Action To Not Kill Vulnerability On Your team

One way to establish trust is for the team leader to be vulnerable and admit their own mistakes and flaws. Demonstrate the behaviour you’d like your team members to display in the hopes that they follow your example. By sharing your mistakes and weaknesses with others, a relatable connection is created that leads to better conversations.

Make the meeting a routine.

Even if your last meeting was successful, but it was a long time, your team members will likely forget the conversational feeling of that meeting. Instead of one-time or infrequent meetings, make a point to meet with the team regularly to encourage ongoing learning, contribution, and improvement.

4 Actions To Ensure That Your Leadership Adheres To The ‘First Team’ Model

6 Tips to Speak Confidently in Meetings (Even When You’re A Bit Scared)

Based on an article written by Melody Wilding, LMSW

When I speak to a group, I am surprised that one of the most recurring questions people ask is: ‘How can I speak confidently in meetings?’

Next Week? How to get people to speak up in meetings.

It usually comes up in raising issues derailing a project or impacting the organization’s health and culture.

Most people are very anxious about raising issues that they may feel are contentious—the idea of speaking in front of peers and bosses and being paralyzing to some.

Whenever it comes time to contribute, some people freeze, overthink their response, or end up rambling.

Afterward, people beat themselves up, feel like an imposter be less confident.

Sound familiar?

If so, you’re far from alone.

Read about running great meetings.

Speaking Up in Meetings

It’s not uncommon to be a high achiever and, at the same time, highly sensitive. This describes many of us who thinks and feels everything more intensely.

Everyday workplace situations might be moderately stressful to the average person can cause some to shut down, especially when overwhelmed. Thanks to your ability to process information more thoroughly, you bring many assets and talents to the table.

But it also means you are more susceptible to stress and emotional reactivity, mainly when it involves judgment or evaluation from others (like in a meeting or on a conference call).

Meetings can be harsh environments because:

  • You want and feel you have to listen carefully to others’ ideas
  • You prefer to observe and absorb what’s happening before offering an opinion
  • You have a high sense of responsibility, so you show respect by deferring to the leaders at the table
  • You tend to be more reserved, which mean more outgoing coworkers may dominate the discussion
  • You are overwhelmed more quickly and may freeze under pressure
  • You can think deeply and see all sides of a situation, which can lead to overthinking
  • You are so empathetic that you worry about what other people think of you


6 Strategies to Speak Confidently in Meetings

Sitting frozen and fearful through yet another meeting is a terrible feeling. Take heart because it doesn’t need to be this way. It is entirely within your power to take control and ditch a habit of staying silent so you can get ahead.

Elevating your visibility at work is essential if you want your career to evolve and grow. You work hard and have great ideas to contribute—you should be making an impact and getting the recognition you deserve.

With a bit of practice from these tips, you’ll finally feel like the integral team member you’ve always been.

  1. Banish Pre-Meeting Jitters

Your hands are shaky. Your stomach is doing somersaults. You suddenly start second-guessing every thought you have. These are common pre-meeting anxieties. It’s normal to experience anticipatory stress when you feel your intelligence or contributions are being evaluated.

Instead of doubting your jitters as a sign that you’re inadequate or otherwise not up to the task at hand, befriend your stress response, reframing it as a sign you’re ready for action and prepared to bring your best.

Ease Into It

It may be tempting to arrive right before a meeting starts to appear prompt or avoid awkward small talk. But if you feel rushed or short on time, this will only exacerbate the existing stress you already feel during meetings.

Instead, build in a buffer and plan to settle in before things get underway. Allow yourself to ease into the physical meeting space. If it’s a virtual teleconference, get comfortable with the webinar controls, your mic, and webcam ahead of time. As colleagues arrive, focus on making conversation with one or two people at a time.

This can help ease anxiety and make speaking up for the duration of the session seamless.

Commit To Speaking Early

Have you ever come to a meeting with ideas and planned what you want to say, then left realizing you said nothing the entire time? You are not alone, but staying quiet is doing yourself a disservice. It typically gets more challenging to enter the conversation as the meeting progresses. The longer you wait, the more your anxiety will build.

Growth often comes from discomfort, so push yourself to speak up early. Ask a question or offer an opinion on a new business proposal. Try to say something in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the session–whether to welcome attendees, present your main argument, ask a question or offer an opinion on a new business proposal.

Use Your Strengths When Speaking Up

You don’t have to be the loudest in the room. Even the soft-spoken can still make an impact by backing up coworkers’ comments with a simple “Great idea! I can see that working we” l.”

You can also focus on asking powerful questions. You are likely very observant, which gives you an edge when it comes to posing the kind of thought-provoking questions that haven’t crossed your colleagues’ minds quite yet.

Be The One To Take Action 

Did something come up in the meeting that could use more research? Commit to taking on something for the next meeting. It shows you have initiative and that you’re interested and invested in your organization.

This is an excellent example of employing a pre-commitment device, a habit formation technique you can use to nudge yourself towards desired behaviours, be more motivated and likely to follow through.

Challenge Your Beliefs About Contributing

Many people’s leadership instincts may be held back by the ‘Imposter’s Syndrome’ where subconscious insecurities can seep into our behaviour to this day when speaking up.

Growing up, what were you told about standing out? Were you given the message by your parents, teachers, and community that you could be whatever you wanted, or did you internalize concepts like: “People won’t like you if you try to stand out”?

Read what an employee might tell you. If they could.


Don’t be held back by real or imagined negative feedback.

Somebody hired you because you are intelligent, competent and qualified to do your job.

If they thought that, the least you could do is respect their opinion and speak up.

You have got a lot to offer.

Now it’s time to let everyone know it.

What Is a Red Team Exercise & Why Should You Conduct One?

The most enduring leadership lesson I ever learned was a military adage that says:

“Your plan is only good until first contact with the enemy.

And the enemy’s job is to stop your.”

 In military training, friendly forces are called the ‘Blue Team,’ while enemy forces are considered the ‘Red Team.’

The Red Team’s job is to stop the Blue Team’s plan.

Read more about planning

Red Teaming

Recently a simulated battle took place at the U.S. Marine Corps training Centre at Twentynine Palms, California. The exercise involved 600 British Royal Marines acting like the ‘enemy’ force, or ‘Red Team’ against a much larger U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) unit preparing for deployment overseas.

The British press gloated that the Royal Marines trounced the USMC so severely during the exercise that US commanders asked for a pause to reset their plans.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a similar simulated defeat, and I was glad for it.


Except for a few bruised egos, nobody was hurt. We learned important lessons. And plans were tested and improved. And we were better for the experience and more prepared for the day when we faced off against a real enemy.

This is the point of exercising and training: To test your plans and capabilities.


How about your plans?

Outside of the military, most organizations conduct their planning with a small group of executives. Or worse, planning is done by one person, the CEO.

One of the best ways to ensure your strategy or projects are successful is to test it by an objective team, a ‘Red Team,’ that sees it through clear and new eyes.

The red team evaluates a strategy, a presentation, or a business plan for weaknesses and checks that any unanswered questions are answered to improve the plan.

And give it the best chances of success.

if your presentation or strategy has serious problems, they should tell you that, “This is not making sense!”

Red teaming can be a very unsettling experience for some – but the goal of each member of the red team is to help improve the strategy, presentation, value proposition, business plan and chances of success.

Remember, to have success; you occasionally have to break a few eggs!

Here are some optimal guidelines for forming and running a red team review:

  • Because of their experience, members of our red teams emulate the process and mindset of the stakeholders.
  • Pick at least three people to serve on each team.
  • They are knowledgeable in the company’s space.
  • Team members must have no prior connection with the team that is presenting.
  • They must be willing and able to commit the necessary time and attention to the process.
  • Insist that members are given at least two days to read the materials in the presentation and do a bit of personal research.
  • Team members must be committed to helping the team improve their chances of success.

Read about how to get results

Benefits of a Red Team Review

A Red Team Review is an independent test of the executive’s decision-making.  The results will provide you with guidance and direction on what must be done to improve your plan’s chances of success.

A Hero, The Colours, A Badge: Leading With Courage

Angus Duffy served throughout WWII with honour, ferocity and courage. He returned home and continued to serve as a soldier, business leader, husband and family man.

Most would say he was a war hero, community hero, family hero, or all three. In my opinion, none of these was the most heroic thing he did in a long, unbelievable and history-making life.

The most heroic thing he did was a quiet, humble and dignified demonstration of moral courage.

Click here to read more about Moral Courage.

Post-WWII, Angus became the Commanding Officer (CO) of a storied infantry unit. As CO, he was entrusted with the symbols that embodied the Regiment’s ethos, history and culture: its Colours.

Historically, the Colours served as a rallying point for that unit’s soldiers in battle. Today they are a record of the proud and costly history of each Regiment, and they are protected as if made of gold.

When Angus was the CO, someone stole the Colours from the Regiment. There is a whole story behind this heinous crime, but suffice to say, it would be the equivalent of someone breaking into your home and violating your most personal family artifacts.

The CO is personally responsible for the Colours, but no thinking person blamed Angus for the theft, and this is where one of the most selfless, courageous acts that I have ever heard of took place. Angus took his regimental cap badge off of his beret because he took personal responsibility for losing the Colours.

Angus was never charged or accused of misconduct with the loss. To my knowledge, no one ever publicly blamed him for negligence, nor was ever a mark placed on his record regarding the matter. He took on the personal responsibility and public punishment for losing the Colours and never wavered from it.

The Regiment obtained replacement Colours, and Angus went to his grave, never putting his cap badge back on.

What have you done to take responsibility?

Have you resigned on the point of principle or refused to do something that did not align with your values?

Click here to read more about walking the talk.

You don’t have to wear a hair shirt for the rest of your life, but here are three actions you should do when taking responsibility:

  1. Take personal responsibility

Colonel Duffy could have blamed many people for the theft and embarrassment to the Regiment over losing the Colours.

He didn’t. He said, “I am the Commanding Officer. As such I am personally responsible for the Colours, and I am responsible for their loss”.

  1. Go public

Angus certainly went public.

He publicly demonstrated his responsibility by taking down the second most important thing in a soldier’s life, the emblem of his regimental family affiliation: His cap badge.

  1. Be consistent with your values and brand

Holy Moly, was he consistent or what!

Until his death, Angus demonstrated his responsibility. His values and brand were on demonstration to everyone.

Do You Measure up?

Once you knew Colonel Duffy’s story, you would have followed him anywhere.

What wouldn’t you do for a leader who demonstrated that level of moral courage?

Once you understood his devotion to duty, you were not likely to fail the Regiment.

Are you leading your people by taking responsibility?

Monsters Under The Bed – How To Remove The Bogey Man From Organizational Change

People Fear Change!

Just like they fear monsters under the bed …

or behind the closet door …

or what lurks down those cellar steps.


Two reasons:

  1. We can’t see what’s there so our imagination fills in the blanks … As kids we imagined monsters, as adults we don’t like change so we imagine job loss, upset and disaster.
  1. Like a horror movie we know that the first person to go down those stairs is going to get killed …Most of us have lived through a change management exercise they did not go well and we ended up worse off than when we started.

Watch the Vlog to see how we as leaders can take fear out of the equation and give our hopes and aspirations for organizational change the best chances for success.