Leadership Requires Vulnerability

I most confess that I’ve had some difficulty getting clear on what I’ve wanted to communicate in this post. To be completely honest, I am in the midst of one of the most challenging chapters of my life and focusing on writing has been incredibly difficult. However, I continue to experience the joy of working with leaders who are committed to the work of becoming the best they can be professionally and personally. That said, they would not express explicitly that they are committed to being the best, rather, these leaders demonstrate an unmistakable quality of humility and self-awareness which once examined, provides the path to authentic and effective leadership which requires vulnerability.

Vulnerability requires massive doses of emotional intelligence. (I’ll explore two specific components of EQ later) I don’t say this to intimidate the reader, but rather to indicate that the reason leaders rarely demonstrate authentic vulnerability, is because most of us shy away, dare I say, bolt from experiences that are difficult. Of all the challenges leaders face, none is more pervasive yet hidden than fear of failure. In a recent study conducted by Harvard Business School of several thousand leaders, the most striking comment is in line with my theme of vulnerability; “Leadership today,” Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail in Spain, told us, “is about unlearning management and relearning being human.”

Leadership effectiveness can be measured in several ways, but for this post, I’d like to bring attention to the power of vulnerability and its direct impact on leadership effectiveness. The power of leadership lies in our abilities to form personal and meaningful bonds with the people whom we lead. This is truer now than ever, as millennials are becoming the majority population in most companies. Millennials are not satisfied with only a paycheck, bonus, and benefits.They want meaning, happiness, and connectedness, too. This is where a leaders emotional intelligence is demonstrated — specifically, a leaders emotional self-awareness:

    • Emotional self-awareness includes: recognizing one’s emotions and their effects
    • Accurate self-assessment: knowing one’s strengths and limits
    • Self-confidence: a strong sense of one’s self-worth and capabilities

When a leader has a good understanding of how they fare in these three areas, they are much more likely to connect meaningfully with those whom they lead. The absence of self-awareness creates a disconnect which is unfortunately more common than should be. The problem is about 70% of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating — much in the same way as we all rate ourselves as great drivers. But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A survey published by Forbes found that 65% of employees would forego a pay raise if it meant seeing their leader fired, and a 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82% of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring.

Recently a client, a highly esteemed and respected individual, pulled me a side and asked if he could share some thoughts with me. This person went on to communicate their areas of insecurities about their own leadership, their shortcomings in some job specific areas, and a request for my support in navigating this particular phase of their leadership journey. This person in that moment demonstrated an authentic and particularly vulnerable self-awareness, a clear and accurate self-assessment, and the self-confidence to distinguish the good from the areas of needed improvement.

Leaders are effective when they have good ‘grip’ on their inner emotional life. Vulnerable leaders have demonstrated skill in the area of what EQ practitioners call self-regulation or self-management. A direct result of good self-management is the ability demonstrate compassion to those you lead. As Rasmus Hougaard, author of The Mind of the Leader – How to Lead Yourself, Your People and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results states, “If you have ever had a leader that was compassionate, you will know what it feels like. The person has your back. When it comes to leadership, nothing beats compassion. It is a universal language that is understood by anyone, anywhere.” Compassionate leaders have learned the skill of self-regulation. To understand self-regulation, leaders must understand and learn these five skills:

    • Self-control: Keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check
    • Trustworthiness: Maintaining standards of honesty and integrity
    • Conscientiousness: Taking responsibility for personal performance
    • Adaptability: Flexibility in handling change
    • Innovation: Being comfortable with novel ideas, approaches, and new information

Five years ago this month, I chose to leave my leadership role to venture out into the world of the entrepreneur. It took a great deal of vulnerability to step away from a career that many thought was respectable. I however, could not deny the real and serious disappointment with much of the leadership I had experienced working for corporations for 22 years. This became the motivation to begin coaching and developing leaders and organizations who recognize that authentic and vulnerable leadership enables leaders to form meaningful bonds with the people they lead. To quote a client, “…coaching has shown me to get beyond just managing people and actually be the authentic leader my folks need me to be.”20170603_161619000_iOS

Advice to My High School Self

If someone had told me back in high school that one day I would be sharing my life experiences with business professionals, or a group of soon to be graduating high school seniors, I would have responded that that would be highly unlikely. In high school I didn’t think enough about the impact I could have on those around me or the world. This is a letter I am writing to you about the life lessons you will learn in the near future.

1. Understand the importance of knowing yourself and your personal values. Many are not given the opportunity to pursue their passions in life. Either we are told very early in life that we should have certain interests, certain friends, we should attend certain schools or universities, we should have an interest in a particular profession. You will be told, either overtly or implicitly, that your choices aren’t perhaps the best idea — that they are not the typical and known path. I am not eschewing listening to others. It is a wonderful thing to receive guidance and advice from family and friends. No one, however, will know you better than you know yourself! Hold fast to your values and let the knowledge of yourself guide your decisions.

2. Life is unpredictable. What I want to communicate is the fact that you will experience adversity, setbacks and even direct opposition. Do not be afraid of experiencing the realities of life. Wrestling through setbacks and opposition produces individuals who are able to cope with life when it doesn’t go as planned. Don’t complain or wallow in disappointment or self-pity when this happens, know that these seeming setbacks are shaping and building your character.

3. Ask yourself, what are you doing for others, and what impact are you having on those around you? Are you a force for good? Be authentic, caring deeply about people, while creating a climate where people are cared for, understood, supported and challenged. What you do matters and deeply affects others. Be intentional about your actions and words.

As I look back over my life, there are a few things I believe that have made me into the person I am today and define success for me. Knowing myself — separating who I am and who I want to be from what the world thinks I am and wants me to be — allowed me to define success on my own terms. Taking time to cultivate healthy relationships allowed me to have true friends, who supported me on the path toward success. Lastly, asking myself what I can do for others and what impact I had on those around me enabled me to help others reach success. Keep this in mind, “One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.”

See you in the future!

Your future self

This post was adapted from David Llewelyn Samuels keynote address at Flintridge Prep Senior Horizons Retreat

The Importance of Developing Emotional Intelligence

When you walk into a room – can you read it?  How well can you gauge the perceptions, feelings, emotions, needs of those around you? As an individual, are you self and socially aware, sensing need around you, while harnessing an empathetic approach?  These all are key qualities of Emotional Intelligence.  

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was made popular by Daniel Goleman and is rising in both personal and professional capacities.  According to World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report, Emotional Intelligence will be one of the top 10 job skills in 2020.  So what is EQ and why does it matter?       

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand, express, and manage emotions, while developing and maintaining good social relationships, and thinking clearly under pressure.  Developed EQ is important and desirable because it is the foundation of teachable and team-focused attitudes.  Emotionally Intelligent individuals share seven qualities that make them effective leaders and valuable employees:   

Emotionally Intelligent employees are/have:

  1. Better able to handle pressure
  2. Increased level to understand and cooperate with others
  3. Good Listeners
  4. Are Open to Feedback
  5. More Empathetic Toward Others
  6. Set an Excellent Example for Others: Ability to not be flustered
  7. Make More Thoughtful and Thorough Decisions

In a recent workshop, a high-level participant stated she looked for these qualities in new-hires because she can teach them how to use Excel and develop a budget fairly quickly.  She could not, however, spend the time teaching new hires how to be empathetic, teachable, and team-players.  Please do not misunderstand, emotional intelligence is something to be cultivated, but cultivation takes time and self-awareness.  If an employer can hire someone with a developed EQ over an individual without one, they will be saving time and bringing an immediate and strong asset to the team.   

At the core of EQ is self-awareness.  To be emotionally intelligent we need to be able to be critically self-reflective.  In essence, we cannot avoid who we are, but we can develop who we are. Developing who we are begins with self-awareness and is comprised of 3 competencies:

  1. Emotional Self-Awareness: Able to read and understand your own emotions; recognize personal emotions impact on work performance and relationships; able to conceptualize how we impact others.
  2. Accurate Self-Assessment: Knowing strengths and limitations of the self.
  3. Self-confidence: Where you have a positive and strong sense of one’s self-worth

Practically speaking, if you find yourself saying, “this person is clueless”  you have successfully found an individual void of self-awareness.  To avoid being “that guy” ask yourself: “Are there things I don’t like about myself? Things I can change about myself?” In doing so, you have begun the journey of self-awareness.

The Balanced and Authentic Life

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“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”  Oscar Wilde

I was recently asked to present a talk on the subjects of authentic living, and living a balanced life. As I typically do, I’ll look through articles and books I have read previously and also search for current articles on the same topics. I was quite surprised to find how seldom the word authenticity appeared in business and psychological literature. It appears that most of what we are reading is pushing us to do more, rather than be more. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us are struggling to find balance. Or even more unfortunate, many of us are completely out of balance, having become almost entirely focused on doing, rather than being. So how do we regain our focus, and start on the journey to getting back to being authentic people who live balanced lives?

Becoming an authentic person really requires us to adopt a holistic view of ourselves. Authors Bob Rosen and Kathie RossIn have developed The Healthy Leader Model, which is an excellent framework for pursuing authentic living. As you can see from their model, there is so much more to us than we often acknowledge. We are so much kinder to ourselves and others when we look to develop ourselves holistically. As the business investor extraordinaire Warren Buffet says, “Investing in yourself is the best thing you can do”.

The Healthy Leader Model

The Healthy Leader Model

I remember the first time I heard someone say, ‘I need to be more productive.‘ The phrase may sound like a call to live responsibly, but subtly I think our performance based culture has robbed us of what it means to be authentically human. I know I’m not the first to make this observation; we are human beings, which means we cannot be defined only by what we do. It is far more important for our own well-being to find out who we are, not just what we do, and live our lives informed by that perspective. Easier said than done you say! The late Warren Bennis, University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, University of Southern California says in his book, On Becoming A Leader, “If knowing yourself and being yourself were as easy to do as to talk about, there wouldn’t be nearly so many people walking around in borrowed postures, spouting secondhand ideas, trying desperately to fit in rather than to stand out.” My work with my clients is helping them identify what is most important to them, and to become more of who they are, so that they can make the maximum contribution in every area of their life.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, genuinely happy individuals are few and far between. He asks us to think about how many people we know who really enjoy what they do and are reasonably satisfied with their lot, who do not regret the past, and look to the future with confidence. Probably, not very many! In Simon Sinek’s  TED-talk, Why Leaders Eat Last, I believe the following statement captures the heart of the problem for many of us business people; “In business we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so they can survive.” This truly begs the question, how can we humans be happy if at the end of the day we are hurting others and ourselves? Put another way, why are we not doing more to help ourselves and others? Sound too touchy-feely? It should, and that’s because our bodies and brains have been designed to do things that make us feel good.

Our bodies contain certain chemicals which are there for the sole purpose of our survival and making us feel good. Again I fear, that many of the activities of our lives; work and relationships, are actually depleting and do not enhance our human experience. You probably have heard of  some of these biological chemicals:

  • Endorphins – the chemical released in the body which reduces pain.
  • Dopamine – regulates movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.
  • Serotonin – the chemical that is responsible for maintaining mood balance, and that a deficit of serotonin leads to depression.
  • Oxytocin – the chemical released in our body when we feel trust, love, safety and empathy in the presence of a person whom your body senses is safe, as well as enabling feelings of  bonding.

The reason for discussing these chemicals is to remind us that we are so much more than what we do, and so much more about who we are and how we are wired biologically and neurologically. I think we have to ask ourselves on a regular basis the important question, are the activities of work, family, and friends allowing us to experience those “happy-chemicals”?

Have you ever thought about the connection between working in a healthy environment and the impact it has on your psychological and physical health? According to a recent study by Stanford Graduate School of Business, workplace stress — such as long hours, job insecurity and lack of work-life balance, contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year and accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs! According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business and one of the authors of the study, “When people like their lives, and that includes work life, they will do a better job of taking care of themselves. When they don’t like their lives, they don’t.” To paraphrase, when we don’t like our jobs, our lives and our health fall apart!

Recently I had the opportunity to have lunch with a former associate I’ll call Jim, and inquired as to how he felt he was doing in his career. Sadly, I heard what many of my colleagues and friends seem to be experiencing; their bosses are either unable to talk about development and growth opportunities, or worse, their bosses show no interest in their associates careers. Author and consultant Patrick Lencioni calls this “abdication management.” The most troubling part of Jim’s situation is that he is a millennial and has only been in the workplace for a few years, and has already grown cynical towards management. I encouraged Jim to talk with others about his interests and even do a little soul-searching, and begin defining his values, purpose, and goals in life. As I said earlier, if we find ourselves going through the motions (only doing), including “punching-the-clock” at work, we are not  going to be effective in our jobs, and we will never feel those life-giving happy chemicals which are so fundamental to our human experience. We need to be in environments which support and allow us to be fully human.

My own journey to authenticity has not been easy. I can think of many occasions where people have misjudged my motives, questioned my actions, but this will always be the result of living a life where you are not thinking so much about what others think of you, but asking yourself, am I being honest and true with myself? It is in this place where our relationships with others move to a different level, and ultimately we begin to experience the kind of life that is centered on life-giving activities, rather than life-depleting activities.  Just this week over lunch with a friend, we talked at about a tragic event in this person’s life — the anniversary falling on this Mothering Sunday. Our friendship could be seen as quite unlikely, because on paper we couldn’t be more different; different ethnicity, thirty-plus age difference, different nationalities. We have become close friends because of the intentional authenticity on both our parts. As we talked about this event, my friend was moved to tears and neither one of us felt any embarrassment, but rather experienced those feelings of empathy, love and connection. As Brendon Bouchard author of The Motivation Manifesto says so eloquently, “We learn that the more we are true to ourselves, the more we can connect and contribute to the world. We find that the more free and spontaneous and authentic we become, the more our motivation and aliveness returns and the more others are attracted to us and want to be around us. I’m reminded and encouraged to embrace the words of the musical artist Sting, “Be yourself no matter what they say.”

Be Nice – It’s Good For Business, And It’s Good For You

“Being nice doesn’t necessarily mean you’re weak. You can be nice and strong at the same time. Thats a character trait we need more…” Shelley Moore Capito

It is truly unfortunate that many of our workplaces are not “nice” places to work. By nice, I simply mean, places where people treat others with the dignity, kindness, and respect deserving of all humans. What is even more unfortunate than the dearth of nice work places is the lacking expectation that our places of work can be “hubs of happiness”! And if you think that being nice is somehow Pollyanna thinking, being nice can change your brain! Did you know that doing nice things for others boosts your serotonin? Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that gives us the feeling of satisfaction and well-being.

I realize that readers from the four generations in the workplace; Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y or Millennials may respond very differently to what I’m about to say. Those of us from Generation X (born between 1965-1980) have been heavily influenced by a wide range of cultural and political shifts as well as technology, which has greatly affected our expectations at work. My generation, and the following Millennial Generation (born between 1981-2000) are particularly concerned with the work environment and work life balance. Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) and Traditionalists (born between 1900-1945), are typically less concerned with the environment due to their concerns with adult children, retirement and other concerns related to aging. That said, many executives who are primarily from Traditionalist and Baby Boomers generations recognize that the workforce is primarily comprised on Gen-X and Gen-Y.

I believe that if you and I want to work in a nice environment, then I must be the first to commit to being nice. We can only do this if and when we take steps towards self-development and personal reflection. As the greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates believed that the purpose of human life was personal and spiritual growth. We are unable to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon our life. As another philosopher, Santayana, observed, “He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it.” I agree with Socrates in theory and in practice. My own personal decision to pursue my present career is a result of many years of reflection on who I am at my very core, and then making a conscious decision to change course, and focus on leadership development and organizational culture. It’s probably good for me to acknowledge that I am on a personal mission to change our expectations of what is possible in the workplace. If you can take Socrates’ advice, you can begin creating a new reality, starting with you, by being nice to others and yourself. As uncommon as it is, one realizes quickly that being “nice” is germane to and essential to human nature. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

There is a very tangible effect on the workplace when being nice (respect) is not a core operating value. A recent article states,“Study after study points to unhappy employees, leading lives of unproductivity, which hurts profits. Gallup recently estimated that symptons of employee unhappiness — high absenteeism, chronic turnover, quality control issues, lost productivity, cost companies an eye-popping $550 billion a year! So does it pay to be nice? Emphatically yes! The firms listed in the 100 Best Places To Work in America, have out-performed their industry peers in annual stock market growth by two to three percentage points. In the movie Horrible Bosses, one of the characters advises the new executive on the block that,“the key to success is taking sh#$ from everyone.”Sadly, I do believe this advice to be the implicit if not explicit belief of many. I however, take great exception to this kind of thinking and sincerely discourage anyone who currently believes this lie. The real key to success is learning how to build harmonious relationships, engaging in acts of kindness which are both centered on others and yourself. This final point is directed toward management, to whom I sincerely hope will allow your intellect, imagination and emotions to be engaged by my following comments. Our places of work were never intended to be run by “the antichrist,” as one boss was affectionately described. If you haven’t noticed, expectations of managers in the 21st century have changed from what you may see in television shows such as Madmen. Most recently Zappos eliminated the management layer all together! Managers are expected to be leaders and leaders genuinely care about their employees, and are concerned with their employees happiness. Research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania by psychologist Martin Seligman, found that there are five key areas that contribute to human happiness – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.  It is commonly thought today that enlightened leaders are participative, encouraging and focused on their employees development. Leadership involves counseling  or “people-development” skills. To see transformation in the managerial role from tyrant to teacher, managers need to be taught how to adopt approaches that will make them effective counselors.

In conclusion, we are all responsible for improving our work environment. I fear many of us have stopped caring, partly because we are continually disappointed by many in leadership positions. I am deeply empathetic to those who feel this way, however, I fully embrace Max De Pree, founder of Herman Millers’ challenge; “ In the end it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining who we are.” 


The recruiting game has changed dramatically. It is no longer about selecting the best person from a long list of candidates; it’s about going out and finding great candidates. There are four key people strategy functions involved in getting the right people in the right jobs at the right time.

􀂾 Identifying and Managing Talent
􀂾 Training and Development
􀂾 Coaching and Evaluation
􀂾 Career Planning

Having a reputation as a desirable place to work helps organization to attract and retain top people. Having a reputation for knowing how to attract talent is the goal of effective talent management. Succession planning is the end goal of effective talent management. One of the aims of a talent management program is to create talent pools that feed particular jobs classifications, focusing on individuals’ skills, competencies, and behaviors that make those jobs and employees successful in the future.
One CEO was heard to say, “ If I want to find a global leader, I look for a kid who backpacked around Europe in his 20’s, not necessarily the one who went from his B.A. to an internship at IBM.”

Looking for talent in unexpected places should be standard practice for those in the business of recruiting talent. The business unit’s and its managers should be held accountable for developing its talent management strategies, with the support of human resources. Adopting the following high level approaches below when thinking about talent are a good beginning point:
􀂾 Find and provide resources to get the job done.
􀂾 Figure out what resources are essential to your team’s success.
􀂾 Demonstrate creativity and persistence in acquiring them.
􀂾 Look for talent in unexpected places.
􀂾 What kinds of questions do we fail to ask that would provide a better assessment of the candidates’ suitability for the position?
􀂾 Develop alternative channels for advancement.4
􀂾 Design and deliver training programs. Evaluate their effectiveness a make adjustments as needed.
􀂾 Reinforce training and targeted mentoring and coaching

Once the talent has been acquired, it is equally critical to build that talent. People are the key to the organizations present and future success. It is to the organizations advantage to know the talent in the organization, know what needs to be done to help each person develop, and understand the priority of developing particular talent, so that business goals can be met. Successful managers know what’s important to their people and keep and eye on emerging issues. Consider below some alternative ideas for developing a talent model.
􀂾 Pursue and attract talented candidates for key roles.
􀂾 Promote the organization externally as an attractive place to work.
􀂾 Improve the interviewing process.
􀂾 Help new employees be successful.
􀂾 Apply knowledge of what motivates employees in order to retain key talent.
􀂾 Share roles and assignments in ways that leverage and develop people’s capabilities.
􀂾 Identify required capabilities and skill gaps with the current organization area.
􀂾 Provide feedback, coaching, and guidance.
􀂾 Promote sharing of expertise and a free flow of learning across the organization.

Analyzing the Role of People on Project Teams

Project teams succeed or fail because of program management.
It has been the writers’ experience that role of the project management office (PMO) is extremely challenging, probably, more challenging than an organizational management. Project teams are formed quickly and players are brought in from the outside and from within an organization, largely thrown together in a short space of time with a directive to deliver solution. The unique nature of this ‘temporary’ organization requires out of the box management, in the very least, management who do not apply status quo management techniques. Project teams require a ‘skunk-works’ mentality – people passionately committed to creating something great and unexpected, largely risk-averse, and passionate about creating something new and possibly ground-breaking or revolutionary. Old-style, everyday management techniques will not work for doing something new… if things are still being done the old way.7 That said, the project team will find success elusive if a clear set of objectives, spelled out unambiguously by management does not exist. Individuals with leadership roles on project teams need to demonstrate enthusiasm and passion associated with the hallmarks of those who aspire for greatness, because the need to engage the organization or customers is one of the greatest challenges to gaining buy-in and creating the shared need and urgency around the project.


One of the main reasons why people report to work is because of the social element. It is not enough to think of financial compensation as the ultimate motivator – it is a short-term motivator at best. One objective of a people strategy initiative is for management to learn what motivates their employees, which requires developing and showing genuine concern for each employee. People are motivated by many different things – private compliments on their work, formal recognition, special assignments –whatever the form, people get results when the work is personally meaningful to them.
A case study of 15,000 people by Jordan Evans Group, found all people to name at least one of the first three of these six motivators:
􀂾 Exciting work and challenge
􀂾 Career growth
􀂾 Learning and Development
􀂾 Working with Great People
􀂾 Fair Pay
􀂾 Supportive Management/Good Boss

All of the above motivators observe an inherently people-centric focus, which does not appear to be coincidental. Ultimately the workplace organization or corporation is made up of a group of people who think like people, and want to be treated like people. This may sound trite, but it must be said, as not too many years ago, machines were thought to be more valuable than the operators. Today, our blind spot may be our over emphasis on processes or more likely, not placing a proper value on the role of people. Most people report leaving a job because no one recognized their accomplishments, not because of poor processes! If we are to trigger good performance, as well as motivate, it must be understood that the most powerful trigger by far is recognition.
This implies that people need to feel that they can talk with management about the aspects of their job that they enjoy most or least, and what they want to do next. This kind of approach focuses on the ‘relational’ aspect of business. The relational factor is a term used by researchers Timothy Butler and James Waldrop, career psychologists at Harvard Business School.
Interpersonal Facilitation
Relational Creativity
Team Leadership
Four Dimensions of Relational Work Model
Acknowledging the role of motivation as a guiding principle is key to a people strategies initiative.