Category Leading With Courage

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.


I participated in racism because I didn’t say anything. How you can be courageous enough to say something.

Before you read the article below, I wanted to frame the post with this personal note:

Many know I served as an infantryman in the Canadian Army. Years ago, on a training exercise, we had soldiers from another unit attached to us, one of which was an Inuit from Nunavik (Northern Quebec).

His section commander seemed like a good soldier and appeared to be very good at his job, but to be clear, he was a terrible human being and a racist.


Several times I overheard him call the Inuit soldier a ‘Tundra N-Word.’

But I stepped back and didn’t say anything.

I out-ranked the commander by several grades, I was the senior person in every sense of the word, and quite frankly I was an equal participant in racism at work because I didn’t say anything.

I failed that young man and set a poor example for every other soldier who saw what was going on.

I put my head down and failed to lead with Moral Courage.

Now is not the time for you to put your head down.

Now is the time to approach issues like Black Lives Matter and Anti-Racism protest with humility and hard truths delivered kindly.

When you see systematic and blatant racism, find the moral courage to face and address it with Moral Courage.


      • Read the article on Moral Courage below.
      • Share the survey with your full team.
      • Be courageous and hold small group conversations about times when your people have seen times when your organization has not lived with Moral Courage when it comes to fairness and systemic racism.
      • Now do the hardest thing you will ever do … shut up, sit there and listen.
      • Then commit to improving.

Now is not the time to put your head down.

Take care, be well and be safe.


“Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence.  —  Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961), A Farewell to Arms


Most military training is the epitome, the living embodiment, of the first line of Hemingway’s quote. It is the underpinning of the regimental system: an undying fidelity to your Regiment, your colleagues and comrades. Add in great leadership, and this fidelity is what allows a body of soldiers to accomplish great things.

Why? Because anyone cold, wet, hungry or afraid may well be tempted to give up; because you are only letting yourself down. But, that same cold, wet and frightened person would rather a slow painful death than let down friends, colleagues and comrades.

But when something is going wrong, that fidelity can become a terrible hurdle to scale when you are standing up for your ethical beliefs. When you stand up, there are perceived or actual risks of stress, anxiety, isolation from colleagues, or threats to employment. This moral conflict can make you feel powerless to improper behaviour.


“You can live with pain. You can live with embarrassment. Remorse is an awful companion.” – Senator John McCain


Often organizational cultures and constraints make doing the right thing difficult or impossible. How are you, or your organization, doing at removing the barriers to morally courageous behaviour? Try this simple exercise: Rank your thoughts from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) for these questions:

  • I/We encourage dialogue around ethical behaviour and actions every day.


  • My colleagues have the moral courage to take action when called on.


  • ‘Whistleblowing’ may be seen as the equivalent of being a ‘rat,’ a ‘tattle-tail’ or that you are letting down your friends & colleagues.


  • I/We face issues and problems face on every day.



What would do to improve any one of those scores by 1 point?

How do you encourage moral courage in your actions and the actions of those around you? developed the mne­monic CODE to help to remember what steps to take when you face a moral dilemma:

C: Courage

The first step is to critically evaluate the situation to determine whether moral courage is needed to address it. Morally courageous people know how to use valid and objective information to determine whether a situation warrants further exploration.

O: Obligations to honour

When caught in a moral dilemma, you should self-impose a purposeful time-out for reflection to help determine what moral values and ethical principles are at risk or are being compromised. And to consider: What’s the right thing to do? What principles need to be expressed and defended in this situation?

D: Danger management

What do you need to do to manage your fear of being morally courageous? This step requires the use of cognitive approaches for emotional control and risk-aversion management. During this step, explore possible actions and consider adverse consequences associated with those actions. To avoid becoming overwhelmed when deciding how to act, focus on one or two critical values.

E: Expression

The “E” in CODE stands for expression and action through assertiveness and negotiation skills. Knowing one’s obligations and demonstrating specific behaviours can enable you to move past your fear and serve as an active patient advocate,

Three things you can do to supporting moral courage:

  1. Share the CODE mnemonic with your peers and team,
  2. Host a lunch & learn or use a staff meeting to talk through hypothetical situations,
  3. Demonstrate Moral Courage in each of your actions. Click here to read more about Walking the Walk.

The fact that you are a leader will create complex moral and ethical dilemmas, and you will inevitably have to demonstrate moral courage.

As a leader, YOU are accountable for providing the best possible leadership – so you better get used to the fact that it is not always easy or fun.

John Wayne once said: “Courage is being scared to death—and saddling up anyway.”


Do you want to go deeper and learn more?  Contact me, and we can begin the conversation.

The Precursor to Success? – 4 Actions To Drive Leadership Team Accountability

It was a harsh lesson in accountability.

I don’t remember why I was late, but I was late.

I was dishevelled, probably hungover and looked like crap.

The rest of the soldiers in my platoon were on time, looked good and were all formed up.

I fully expected to be punished for screwing up, but I did not expect that the entire platoon would be confined to barracks for my mistake.

I was responsible for my friends and peers losing their freedom. I knew it, and to my great horror, they knew it.

You see the Army knows that as an individual you might be willing to let yourself done, but you would rather die than let your peers down. They drive accountability to your peers.

Accountability is the glue that holds high performing teams together


The Sticking Point

Even with the proven success of high-performance teams that have high levels of peer-to-peer accountability, there always seems hesitancy by leaders to make it central to their organization.

Over 200 teams have taken my Team Online Assessment and of the five key behaviours of high-performing teams – trust, healthy conflict, commitment/decision-making, accountability, and team-oriented results – it is accountability that team’s rate as the most problematic.

Why is this?

For some leaders, there is a temptation to be popular with their team. Who doesn’t want to be well-liked?

Read what leaders won’t do

Others don’t want to confront a high performer whose behaviour is bad, even when it hurts team results.

In some cases, the hesitancy can be caused by a friend in their organization whom the leader just can’t bear to confront because of their personal relationship.

Read about tough conversations

While this feeling of discomfort is real, the implication for not facing these issues is often poor results. It is fair to say, those same people in your organization won’t like you if you fail either.

A leader’s avoidance of accountability can start a feeling of resentment from those with different personal standards of performance. And this resentment is deep.

Think about this on a personal level…have you ever had a job where you performed well, met your numbers, had a good attitude, arrived early and stayed late while the person sitting near you rarely hit their numbers, had a bad attitude and did as little as possible?

How did you feel about it? Resentful?


Accountability in Action

Improving an organization’s ability to gain advantage using peer-to-peer accountability is less difficult, and quicker, than it may appear.

The leadership team must set the example and openly commit to holding one another accountable. As leaders begin to model this behaviour, it will permeate throughout the rest of the organization. For most, this causes a sigh of relief because, ultimately, people do want to have a sense of accomplishment at work.

Once leaders commit to accountability, some simple but specific guidelines are needed for it to take root. Discussing and coming to an agreement regarding the following four questions is a great place to start:

What behaviours/actions are acceptable on the team? Team members need to identify what behaviours are acceptable. Some examples include not holding back in meetings, avoiding back channel-politics, full engagement in meetings, meeting commitments on time, and staying off email during meetings. Discussing, understanding and committing to these expectations in advance helps team members feel comfortable calling out these behaviours that detract from the team.

Where will these conversations happen? The most common question regarding accountability is, “Should it be public or private?” We’ve found that high-performing teams do this much more in public than in private. The whole team benefits from knowing the team standards are being upheld and the group often learns from observing the process.

When will we bring it up? Team members must consider the time frame for holding one another accountable. Should teams talk about it the moment an issue is suspected? A day later? A week later? However, allowing a specific commitment to go unmet more than a few days can make it more difficult to discuss.

What manner/style should be used to bring up issues? Team members tend to be more comfortable when they know how their colleagues are going to deliver feedback. Will teammates be careful not to offend or will they come across straight forward? Will the feedback come out of anger or a desire to help?

The key to success in the area of accountability is that everyone on a team feels empowered to hold other team members accountable, according to one (or more) of the four agreements. For accountability to become ingrained in the culture, exceptions should not be allowed. Additionally, no one team member should be above accountability and all team members, not just a select few, should be responsible for enforcing it.



Accountability is essential in developing a high-performing team.

Read about results

Teams that are behaviorally and intellectually aligned, have constructive conflict and make firm commitments need to have the ability to push each other to stick to those commitments in the spirit of achieving results.

When teams suffer from a breakdown in accountability, results do suffer.

For teams that have never engaged in this direct form of feedback, it may seem harsh. In reality, it is quite the opposite.

To hold a team member accountable for his/her actions shows that person you actually care about them enough to take the interpersonal risk to discuss the issue. When feedback is given according to the outlined agreements, it can help a team member’s personal/professional development and the progress of the team. Those that are able to have effective peer-to-peer accountability will avoid costly and difficult situations and freely march toward their desired results.

I have seen the power of accountability play out in a number of settings. In my previous careers, I was fortunate to be part of high-performing teams and if I could point to one distinct behaviour of those highly successful teams, it would be peer-to-peer accountability.

Regardless of your organization’s size or industry, a strong commitment to accountability is perhaps the greatest indicator for achieving long-term success.

Money In Your Pocket – What Happens When You ‘Bump’ Into One Trauma Too Many

Colonel George E. Renison was a WWII hero, Chairman of WH Smith Books and Chancellor of the University of Waterloo.

He led a life with a scope and breadth that reads like a historical novel.

I was lucky to have known him, shared a glass with him, dined with him, and had many a wonderful conversation with him.

I am not sure how the subject came up, but we once talked about what was known in his day as battle stress.

Now we understand it as PTSD.

He described a person’s ability to absorb trauma as courage and in this way:

At our birth, we are all given a pocket of courage in the form of money. Each of us gets a different amount, and it is given to us in different currencies. 

Some of us get a million dollars, but in one bill, and others get hundreds of dollars in nickels, dimes and quarters.  

As we go through life, we bump into traumas. Sometimes there are big, like combat, and others are smaller. But each ‘bump’ sends an invoice payable immediately.

At each trauma, we pay that charge from our pocket of courage.

None of us pay the same for what seems like the same trauma.

For some, what seems like a ‘lesser’ trauma extracts a considerable cost; other significant trauma costs a small fee.

Regardless, when a person is out of money to pay the trauma invoice, that’s it.

There is nothing left.

There is no refilling your pockets.

You are broke.

And you are broken.

You never know when someone’s ‘currency’ will run out.

You never know when they will have spent the last of their ‘money.’

You never know how they will react.

But they will react.

Some react by lashing out in anger.

Some react by becoming sullen.

They almost all call out for help.

Unfortunately, the call is silent or inappropriate – like angry rage.

Are you listening?

Have you thought about how you might help?

Read more about the importance of listening when someone is ready to talk.

Read more about using silence to get more out of those ‘challenging’ conversations.

3 Action To Not Kill Vulnerability On Your team

You’ve likely heard all about the importance of vulnerability in being a leader.  

Vulnerability is the ability to acknowledge a mistake, to admit a weakness, to ask for help when you need it, even to put a crazy idea out there. Most importantly, you need to know that you can be vulnerable without fear of judgment.  

Vulnerability is a crucial ingredient in allowing teams to perform at an epic level. 

Most leaders say that they want a high level of openness and honesty on their teams, yet the up-undermining vulnerability.  

Leaders frequently allow these three actions to kill vulnerability. 

#1: Confusing “being supportive”… with “being efficient.”

When someone comes to you with a project they’re struggling with, what do you do?  

The natural tendency is to be efficient in solving the problem and say, “Thank you so much for being so vulnerable!  Now let me take that away from you and give it to someone else more capable.”  

Reassigning ownership discourages vulnerability. You’ve taken away something that your team members enjoyed and wanted to be successful.  Now they won’t have that chance.

Instead of efficiency, be supportive.  Ask how you can help, and don’t assume that changing owners is the answer. 

I worked with a CEO recently who had someone on the team who was having some real challenges.

I coached the CEO that instead of jumping in with a solution, to respond with, “You still own this.  What can we all do to help?” This led the executive team to a fantastic conversation that allowed them to all pitch in with their input and expertise, while still encouraging her to keep going.

Read more about asking good questions

#2: Fostering a spirit of internal competition.

I get it. You have a competitive spirit.

Your competitiveness likely contributed to your successes.

You want to crush your competitors, and you want people on your team to have that same attitude.

But competitiveness pushed too far becomes the enemy of great collaboration by encouraging the focus on individual goals, individual owners, and personal achievement.

Read more about competing priorities

3:  Setting clear expectations … and not telling anyone

Lack of clarity around what the leader expects is one of the biggest detractors to vulnerability on a team. 

Lack of clarity invites fear into the party, and fear brings along defensiveness.  

Be transparent, explicit, and clear.  

On a truly great team, everyone knows exactly where they stand at any particular point in time.  

The very best leaders that I’ve worked with have been able to improve trust and vulnerability with their teams by consistently holding them accountable to their expectations.  

Sometimes that requires giving them what we call the “kind truth.”

It’s easy to be nice, but sometimes being kind means being honest. 

Read more about communicating with clarity

Final Thoughts

Even great leaders will occasionally slip up and negatively impact vulnerability on their teams.  

It happens.  

We’re human.  

But, interestingly enough, so are the rest of your teammates.  

Encourage vulnerability, and you’ll be sure to get the most of every one of them.

5 reasons you need to improve your Leadership Skills

When a new leader begins their role they often get a surprise.

They’re shocked at the time it takes to manage personal and professional relationships at work.

Their success can come down to seeing the warning signs and having the skills to deal with them.

Until you’ve actually been a leader, it’s tricky to develop the specific leadership skills and qualities you need to be effective. To help you get there faster, here are five signs your leadership skills could use some work—and what you can do about it. 

Surprise #1: You really can’t run everything.  

A leader doesn’t need to have a toe dipped in every single pool at work. Sure, you want to know what’s going on and be consulted when necessary. But trying to run everything single-handedly will ultimately lead to burnout, making mistakes, and ineffective leadership.

There are a few instances when micromanaging can be a useful tactic. Learn about them here.

Here are some warning signs you’re trying to run too many things as a leader:

  • You are in too many meetings and involved in too many tactical discussions.
  • There are too many days when you feel as though you have lost control over your time.

Surprise #2: You learn there’s a price to giving orders.

New leaders are often surprised to find they pay a price for being the one to give orders. Often, this is shown in how their relationships can change with coworkers. 

Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • You have become the bottleneck.
  • Employees are overly inclined to consult you before they act.
  • People start using your name to endorse things, as in, “Stephanie says…”

Surprise #3: You don’t know what’s going on.

Remember how we talked about being too involved in every project, decision, or discussion? There’s another side to that, and it involves being too distant from all of these things and missing important details and information.

Here are some warning signs you don’t know what’s going on at work:

  • You keep hearing things that surprise you.
  • You learn about events after the fact.
  • You hear concerns and dissenting views through the grapevine rather than directly.

Surprise #4: You’re always on display.

As a leader, you’re bound to face the spotlight more often than you did in your previous roles. This feeling of “always being on display” is often a surprise to new leaders. 

Warning signs:

  • Employees circulate stories about your behavior that magnify or distort reality.
  • People around you act as if they’re trying to anticipate your likes and dislikes.

Surprise #5: You feel like you’re on shifting ground.

New leaders don’t always feel the stability and security they expected to in their new role. 

Be on the lookout for these warning signs:

  • You don’t know where you stand with your boss or board.
  • Roles and responsibilities between your boss or board are not clear.
  • The discussions in board or executive meetings are limited mostly to reporting on results and decisions.

Implications on your leadership.

These ‘five surprises’ have tremendous implications on how a new leader should perform their role.

First: Learn to manage strategically rather than focusing on daily operations. Strategic, effective leadership, not diving into the details, can be a jarring transition.

One client, a CEO, said that he initially felt like the company’s “most useless executive,” despite holding all the power.

He needed to learn how to act in indirect ways by:

  • setting and communicating strategy,
  • putting sound processes in place,
  • selecting and mentoring key people who create conditions to help others make the right choices.

At the same time, he needed to learn how to set the tone and define the organization’s culture and values through his words and actions—in other words, demonstrate how employees should behave. To do this, he needed to learn the right leadership skills.

Second: Leaders must recognize that a position does not automatically give the right to lead, nor does it guarantee loyalty.

Leaders must perpetually earn and maintain the moral authority to lead. CEOs can quickly lose their legitimacy if:

  • their vision is unconvincing,
  • if their actions are inconsistent with the values they espouse, or
  • if their self-interest appears to trump the welfare of the organization.

They must realize that success ultimately depends on the ability to enlist voluntary commitment rather than forced obedience—and yes, it takes certain leadership skills and leadership qualities to do so.

By the way, you won’t want to miss these 3 important things to remember on your first day as a new leader. 

Mastering the conventional tools of effective leadership and management may lead to the promotion or appointment of a leader, but these tools alone will not keep you there.

Before you commence your leadership role, ask yourself WHY you want to be a leader in the first place. 

Finally, it’s essential that the leader maintains humility, and must not get absorbed in the role.

Even if others think you are omnipotent, you are only human.

Failing to recognize this will lead to arrogance, exhaustion, and a shortened tenure.

By maintaining a personal balance and staying grounded, an effective leader can achieve the perspective required to make decisions in the interest of the organization and its long-term prosperity.

If you’re interested in going deeper or moving your career to the next level, you’ll also want to have a look at my 1-on-1 coaching services.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check these out, too:

How One Word Can Damage Workplace Culture

9 Stupid Management Practices (and what to do instead)

The 6T’s To Know What To Delegate

This article was originally published on November 25, 2018, and has been updated.