Leaders Set The Tone

Experience, drive and intellect are important skills for leading successfully in today’s business world, but they’re not enough.

Successful leaders need to be able to inspire, motivate and communicate that they care about their people. They need to deal effectively not only with their own emotions but with the emotions of those around them.

The workplace today is increasingly full of challenge and stress. We are all being asked to do more with less. One of the greatest challenges leaders face is dealing with stress.

How a leader responds to stress can be contagious. Leaders who openly display anger, fear, resentment and anxiety under stress can be toxic to their people and the business. Allowed to continue unchecked, this kind of behavior can have a devastating impact on an organization. Loose cannons sink ships and human talent can be driven away.

How we deal with stress, challenge and conflict has roots deep in human evolution. The problem: In times of great stress or crisis, our limbic brains literally take over the rest of the brain. In the emotional intelligence arena, this is referred to as an “amygdala hijack,” meaning the reptilian part of the brain (the amygdala) has taken over for the more advanced, cognitive part of the brain.

The amygdala is the part of the brain largely responsible for our freeze, fight or flight response; in other words, our caveman defense system. We have millions of years of evolution hard-wired into our brains to protect us from those nasty sabertooths and other predators. While sabertooths no longer exist, sometimes it can seem as if your boss or co-worker is out to get you. This is when the lizard part of your brain kicks in so effectively and totally with its highly protective response. But as Martha Beck (Oprah’s O Magazine life coach) says, Do you really want to be taking advice from a lizard?

She makes a great point. When we lose control of our emotions and allow ourselves to be swept away by anger, fear or anxiety, it’s usually the lizard in you that is running the show.

How to get the lizard in you under control:

  • Self-awareness: Develop your ability to see or feel yourself getting “hooked” or hijacked. Getting hooked means someone has pushed your emotional button (or grabbed your lizard). Most of us know our buttons. If you don’t, make it your mission to know so you can see them coming.

Many of our triggers stem from early childhood experiences. For example, if you grew up with a father with very high expectations, you may overreact to criticism from a co-worker or boss. Similarly, if you were the middle child (and didn’t get the attention you craved), you may “react” when members of your workplace team don’t listen to your ideas or pay enough attention to you.

The key is recognizing your triggers so you can make a choice to behave differently. You do have a choice about how you react. Practice tracking and identifying your emotional triggers. Pay attention to the child (and lizard) within you to develop insight about when an “amygdala hijack” may be imminent (Hint: the hair standing up on the back of your neck or breaking into a cold sweat are clues). There are tools and instruments available to help you identify your typical response to stress and challenge and learn new strategies.

  • Self-regulation: Develop self-soothing or coping strategies to rely on when you know you are hooked. For some a walk around the block or taking deep breaths will work. Others use daily exercise or meditation to help them remain calm. The key is finding what works for you, and remembering to use it when you find yourself headed for trouble.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

Great Bosses Have High Emotional Intelligence

Today’s leaders require more than experience, business savvy, IQ and technical skills to be successful. Self- awareness, self-regulation, adaptability and the ability to relate well with others are all qualities that make up emotional intelligence, or EQ — an important skill set to master for anyone interested in leadership development.

Daniel Goleman, popular author on EQ, says that “as a leader moves up in an organization, up to 90 percent of their success lies in emotional intelligence.”

If you work for a high-EQ leader, you have a wonderful example to learn from (and likely you are a highly satisfied worker). Emotionally intelligent leaders get more out of their people (yes, this is bottom-line stuff!) They help us see and develop our “greatness” and potential. So what do emotionally intelligent leaders look like?

The profile:

  • Self-aware. They understand their emotional patterns and response tendencies when interacting with others. They know themselves well (their emotional hooks and triggers) and are capable of consciously observing themselves in the middle of high stress or challenge. This enables them to make positive behavioral choices versus typical knee-jerk reactions that may hinder relationship goals. They understand how their emotions and reactions translate to others (smiles, confidence and positive energy are contagious) and are able to adjust their reactions accordingly and appropriately.
  • Adaptive and “tuned in” to their people. The most effective leaders are resilient, with a wide tolerance for different personalities. They adapt their management style to the situation and people involved. They aren’t self-absorbed; on the contrary, they are empathetic. They pay attention to the non-verbal “cues” and “moods” of their people. For example, they recognize when their team has reached its capacity to effectively absorb any more and respond by setting a slower pace.
  • Know how to capture our hearts and emotions. They bring out the best in us by helping us identify our undiscovered strengths and talents. They inspire self-confidence and high performance in others. They pay attention and acknowledge what matters to their people (like work/life balance). Because they truly value their people, they communicate congruently and convey that they genuinely care.
  • Focus on the positive while staying in touch with reality. They help others see the opportunities in the muck. We want to give our best to leaders who display confidence, positive energy and faith in our abilities. A word of caution here: leaders with “rose-colored glasses” will not be trusted for long (Pollyanna was just too good to be true). While we want positive leaders, we also want them to be grounded in reality and to understand the pitfalls and challenges of the task at hand.
  • Inspire trust. They create harmonious workplaces by helping people connect with each other. They are approachable and listen well. They inspire collaboration and commitment (when feasible) with a participative management style — gaining input from their team before initiating change. They value input from others and are adaptive versus “it’s my way or the highway.”
  • Are emotionally available. They are in tune with their own emotions (informed but not ruled by their feelings). By the way, those who hide (or are unaware of) their emotions can be perceived as aloof, uncaring and out of touch. If people can’t read you, they typically create their own labels or stories about what is really going on with you. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate you are human (what you are feeling) or that you care about your people.
  • Keep their composure during a storm. They can maintain calm and self-control even during times of high stress. They self-regulate and can recover quickly from mistakes and relationship challenges. They are in charge of when and how they express their emotions and express them appropriately.

Research suggests most leaders tend to overestimate their emotional intelligence abilities. It’s lonely at the top. The more senior your position, the less likely that you are getting honest, critical feedback on your capacities in the EQ area.

One tool that can help identify how other people in the organization view your EQ is 360-degree feedback.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

Don’t underestimate emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence, or “EQ,” is a core competency for leadership and success in the workplace. EQ was popularized by author Daniel Goleman, who says EQ is “one’s capacity to deal effectively with your own and others’ emotions.”

There is a strong business case for emotional intelligence. Many Fortune 500 companies take a focused approach to assessing and developing EQ in their employees. Numerous studies indicate that EQ is the most important factor in job performance and promotion, particularly leadership.

One Gallup study of more than 2 million employees found the majority of workers rated having a caring boss higher than money or benefits. Productivity and workplace satisfaction have been linked to the amount of time people feel positive emotions at work. Good moods are good for business.

Why should you care about your EQ? The most frequently cited reason behind career derailment is a lack of emotional intelligence. Professionals and leaders who frequently vent anger, are insincere, untrustworthy or let their emotions run out of control can be toxic to workplaces.

The good news: Unlike IQ, EQ can be developed and improved. The bad news: EQ is hard-wired in our neural pathways in the brain; therefore, rerouting those circuits isn’t easy. It requires (like most areas of leadership development) self-awareness, understanding how co-workers interact with you, new skills, practice and focus.

Self-regulation (how we manage ourselves under stress), trust of self and others, empathy, listening, interpersonal communication, optimism, being able to inspire and influence others, team building and self-awareness are the most frequently cited skills and competencies associated with EQ development.

So, how do you increase your EQ? You can get started by focusing on these areas:

Self-awareness: It’s the foundation for EQ. You can’t change what you are unaware of in yourself. Being able to observe yourself in the heat of the moment is the first step to making a different choice versus your typical programmed emotional reaction. Understanding how you react under stress and pressure is imperative. Ask others; become a feedback-seeking missile. EQ assessments help you gain an understanding of how you uniquely respond under stress. This awareness is critical to stopping a downward slide on the corporate ladder — or to moving up.

Develop empathy: Having empathy means being able to understand what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes, to let someone know you have heard, understood and acknowledged their experience. This requires a shift from a focus on you to them. By the way, empathy isn’t about agreeing with someone else’s perspective; it’s about understanding where they are coming from.

Be informed — not ruled — by your emotions: Notice your feelings. It is unfortunate that many people were taught as children not to experience or “own” their feelings. There is valuable information in emotions — if you can tune into that internal channel. Feelings can clue us in about the importance and meaning of an event, situation or interaction. Start tracking your feelings when stressed or challenged. Is there a pattern? Are your feelings mostly positive or negative? What “triggers” your emotions? What action did you take after experiencing the emotion? What do you want to do differently next time?

How we play with (and lead) others is key to successful leadership. One way to improve your EQ is to work with a certified coach who specializes in emotional intelligence like me!  I can help you identify areas of strength and challenge, teach you new EQ skills and provide the necessary feedback for improvement. Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

Your Conflict Style -Learned At Early Age

Our ideas about how to influence and respond to authority are largely a result of what we learned as children through our family upbringing. As adults in the workplace, we tend to recreate and respond in the fashion we were taught in early childhood.

Recall a recent workplace conflict and the part you played — what did you do or say? Did you avoid, blame, yell or threaten, acquiesce, compromise or work out a win-win solution? Now compare this with the family “rules” around conflict you learned as a child. Most people can recognize that their workplace conflict pattern stems from their family of origin.

We bring these lessons and patterns with us into the workplace. The first group we ever belonged to was our family. Our parents were our first “bosses.” How we relate and respond to a workplace “boss” is largely habituated from our own parental experiences. Common struggles with workplace power and authority (asking for a raise or challenging your boss) are likely connected to early childhood “interpretations” and experiences with authority. For example, some grew up with the message that it was not OK to challenge authority, with strong parental messages like, “Do what I say,” or, “You can sit there all night until those peas are gone!” or, “Don’t argue with me!” As adults, they may be reticent to tell the boss bad news, ask for what they want, disagree or give challenging feedback. As children, they learned it wasn’t OK to challenge authority.

Most bosses (and businesses) would benefit greatly by hearing what’s really going on from people in their workplaces. Yet few get this kind of honest feedback. Bosses need to ask for feedback (and not shoot the messenger!) and work to establish trust with their people.

In terms of how we manage conflict, the truth is most of us go through life reacting unconsciously. To change how you manage conflict, you must first be aware of your patterns and tendencies.

In moments of anxiety, stress or fear, a highly automatic emotional reaction (triggered by the reptilian part of our brain) often overpowers rational thinking. Our brains release a hormone to signal danger (fight or flight). This served our ancestors well for survival in saber-tooth territory, but can be a hindrance in today’s workplace.

Additionally, our brains are “hard-wired” for how we react emotionally — our early childhood experiences determine how neural pathways are established. As adults, we react emotionally when something happens that causes these childhood neural pathways to “fire.” For example, if as a baby you experienced a parent as loud and frightening, you likely react with a conditioned fear response to a boss yelling. Perhaps you got the message as a child you were never “good enough;” then you may have intense reactions of sadness or anger when you hear disapproval in the workplace.

Have you ever been surprised at the intensity of someone’s reaction to something you said — “Whoa, where did that reaction come from?” The stronger the emotional reaction, the more likely their interpretation of the situation is coming from their past.

Most want to blame others for their reactions, as in, “You made me mad,” or, “He pushes my buttons.” The truth is, we push our own buttons. Nobody makes us feel anything.

Most of us react to words or behaviors of others that get under our skin. For the sake of future workplace relationships and your career, identify and learn to recognize your hot buttons.

The primary reason for career derailment is a lack of emotional intelligence. The good news: It is possible to rewire your brain’s neural firing patterns. The bad news: It isn’t easy. It takes great attention, support and practice to learn to rewire new behaviors.


  • Be aware of your emotional patterns.
  • Understand that we co-create what’s working and not working with others.
  • Identify what you are feeling (feelings inform you about the importance and meaning of a situation) and then choose your behavior. Recent brain-scan research indicates that naming your feeling when upset (either to yourself or out loud) can get you out of “lizard” mode and back into prefrontal cortex thinking mode (where your odds of successful resolution are greatly enhanced).
  • Get help — hire a coach or get training in conflict resolution and interpersonal practices.

Notice when you slip into your childhood emotional state, then choose to behave as a grownup.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

Leadership and Conflict

If you are a leader – your are in the business of conflict.  Research suggests the majority of managers spend a minimum of 20 percent of their time managing conflict. Yet studies also indicate that only 10 percent of managers handle conflict effectively. Conflict is a given in any workplace; differences will and do occur among co-workers, bosses and their reports. The challenge for managers is not to suppress (or avoid) conflict but to learn to manage it effectively.

When managed poorly, conflict can become unhealthy and may result in huge organizational cost — lost productivity, low morale and high turnover. Many managers bounce between the extremes of avoidance (hoping it will magically go away) or taking action in extreme ways (punishment, anger, blame, accusations or lashing out).

We have varying degrees of comfort with conflict, and approach it in different ways. Most of us have a “preferred” style of conflict management. This doesn’t mean we don’t use other styles. It means we have a greater comfort with (and tendency to employ) a particular style over others.

What is your preferred style for handling conflict? There are professional resources and assessments to help you identify this. One frequently used instrument is the TKI (Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument), which identifies the following five primary conflict management styles:

  • Avoiding — not addressing the conflict (postponing or withdrawing).
  • Accommodating — acquiescing and letting the other have his or her way (self-sacrificing for the sake of the relationship).
  • Competing — there will be one winner and one loser; using persuasion and power to win.
  • Compromising — each one gives a little and loses a little trying to find middle ground.
  • Collaborating — exploring for a win/win to create a solution that satisfies both parties.

As a professional leadership consultant, some of the most difficult executive challenges I am engaged with involve situations with great internal, organizational or interpersonal conflict.

Here are a few tips to handle conflict more effectively:

Invest upfront and spend more time contracting prior to the project kickoff. Define and set clear expectations for tasks, objectives and role responsibilities. Establish timelines and expected completion times for project benchmarks. If disagreement occurs during the project, go back to the contracting phase and review or, if necessary, re-establish expectations and roles.

Get clear about what the conflict is about. Managers need to remember that there are at least two sides to every story. It’s easy to lose sight of the facts when a conflict deteriorates into an emotionally charged interchange. It’s important to talk about what the core issues are, what’s not working and what can be done differently. Take the “helicopter” view and consider the systemic reason behind what has gone wrong. In my experience, the core issue is often a system or organizational process versus a personality or personal one. Long-term or repetitive conflicts often require professional organizational development expertise to help resolve systemic issues.

Avoid blaming. Blaming often generates defensiveness or retaliation. Own and communicate your contribution to the conflict. Use empathy (what it’s like to be in their shoes). Use curiosity to try to understand their perspective. Most people will “de-escalate” in a heated conflict if they feel heard, acknowledged and understood. This isn’t about agreement — it’s more about simply understanding where the other person is coming from. This is not easy when emotions are high (particularly if your “inner lizard” kicks in).

It can be highly beneficial to “debrief” after significant conflict. It’s important to create a plan for dealing with conflict moving forward — one that identifies what worked and didn’t work last time. Use these learnings to identify behaviors that may help resolve any future conflict. Nobody wants to go through unnecessary pain resolving the same problem again.

In a fast-moving, growing and challenging business environment, conflict in inevitable. It is also a highly effective process (when managed well) for any high-performing team to reach creative solutions. An organization without conflict isn’t trying hard enough.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com