Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Every person on your team—regardless of their level of performance—deserves your best leadership and guidance.

If you’re leading a team you undoubtedly have a percentage of high-performers on the team—People you enjoy leading, working with, and mentoring. People who shine. They take initiative or they take your lead, get better at their jobs, and highly contribute to the organization.

You may also have people who are mediocre or under-performers. They may lack strategic thinking. They may fail to contribute beyond the minimum. Or, they might be trying their hardest yet they’re still falling short of reaching their goals.

Having to roll up your sleeves for the hard work of leading someone who is tough to engage, or who may lack skills or professional drive, is not fun. It can be draining. It can slow your progress towards an objective. It’s understandably frustrating.

It’s natural for leaders to find themselves gravitating towards their high performers. And it’s natural to avoid efforts—that they may see as fruitless—with those they deem as under-performers. Yet, as leaders we have a responsibility to lead and coach every member of our team. We have a responsibility to seek to understand the strengths and struggles of each individual. We’re charged with setting and communicating clear expectations and requirements for performance. We’re called on to coach and develop, and generate accountability.

The personal reward may come when you’ve helped an individual soar in their role, or you’ve helped someone who continues to struggle, to find a better fit for their talents and skills. And if you’ve done it all with a genuine regard for the individual’s well-being, you’ve offered your best. 




When’s the last time you gave specific positive feedback to that awesome performer on your team, or that valued colleague?

Consider approaching a high-performing individual on your team, or an awesome colleague, today. Let them know how highly you think of them. Offer one or two specific examples that highlight ways in which their efforts, skills, or approaches have made a difference to a project, your team, or your organization.
As we struggle to find the time to respond to daily demands, and work towards longer-term goals at work, it’s sometimes easy to take our highest performers for granted. They deserve one-on-one attention and coaching. They may appreciate discussing their successes in more detail, giving them the opportunity to remain pumped about a job well done. Keep them engaged. Ask them how you might best support their career goals, or how you might help them engage in new learning opportunities.
As leaders and professionals, we’re frequently reminded of how important it is to provide timely and specific feedback relating to poor performance. Today, we’re reminded to offer the same service to those who provide outstanding contributions.


Wishing you a happy holiday season—and if that’s too big an order for any reason, wishing you genuine moments of gratitude.

I’ve shared these thoughts before at this point in the holiday season. I think I’m going to make it a tradition because I’m reminded of it each year, either through my own experience, or what I imagine others may be experiencing.

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This is a time of year when we may experience an interesting contrast of emotions. We might find ourselves thinking about all that we have to be grateful for—family, friends, our health, or just being alive. At the same time, our memories or expectations of holiday cheer may heighten our feelings of sadness or concern over the loss of loved ones, struggling elders, challenging family dynamics, career-related stress, or our own or a loved one’s ill-health.

When we find ourselves burdened by difficult or stressful circumstances, whether they be during the holidays or in life in general, we can still enjoy moments of the good stuff. It may be as simple or momentary as appreciating a ray of sunshine warming us through a window, a good conversation with a friend, noticing a beautiful cloud formation, a few hours free of responsibilities or immediate demands, or feeling good about what we might give or offer to others.

May you be grateful for the good stuff, even if you’re in the midst of the tough stuff.

Someone driving you crazy at work? Ask yourself these questions.

Many of you will relate to this next sentence. One of the most significant causes of workplace frustration is unresolved conflict between two people. Two leaders don’t see eye-to-eye, and as time goes on, their teams begin feeling the impact of the lack of alignment at the helm. Two co-workers who find each other’s work styles frustrating fail to talk through it, and while unspoken frustrations increase, productivity decreases. Passive-aggressive behavior between two people on a team, begins impacting open dialogue among the larger group during team meetings.

There are numerous resources, tools, and approaches that an individual can use to generate a professional, candid, and collaborative resolution with someone. But today, I just want to share this quick exercise that may help to provide a shift in your thinking about how you might be contributing to the very dynamic between you and the other person who is driving you crazy.

Here’s the exercise . . .

1. Write down these two sentences:

They are ___________.

What in me is ___________?

2. Think of someone who consistently frustrates you, or someone you find difficult. (You can use a person at work, or a family member if that’s easier to think of at the moment 🙂 Think about what you hear yourself saying about this person, whether you tend to say it to yourself or to others. Take a look at the first sentence above, ask yourself the question about that particular person, and fill in the blank with a word or phrase that comes to mind. Examples might include: judgmental; not listening; stubborn; selfish; negative; arrogant; curt; etc.

3. Now simply drop the same phrase or word you placed in the first sentence into the second sentence. Considering the examples offered above, as you complete the second sentence your first reaction may naturally be…I’m not a judgmental person. I’m an excellent listener. Or, I’m not a stubborn person—I tend to be very flexible! Perhaps you’re right about your self-assessment as it relates to your tendencies or general behavior. The more focused question to ask yourself is: What in me is judging, not listening, or stubborn, when it comes to dealing with this specific individual? Explore if there’s any truth to the second completed sentence, as it relates to your specific internal thoughts or external behaviors before, during, or after you interact with them.

Our human nature has us sometimes acting in a way that mirrors behaviors of the people who are frustrating us. If someone stops listening, the odds of us eventually not listening to them, in return, are high. If someone is stubborn, it’s natural that we may become less flexible when we’re working with them. Let’s face it, when we’re upset with someone either overtly or covertly, it’s easy to slip into a judgmental state of mind. Are we bringing negative energy or apprehension into a conversation or situation simply because we’re dreading or anticipating negative behavior or energy from the other person(s)? Are we failing to address concerns directly with the individuals we’re challenged by, and then wondering why they’re not aware of the impact of their own behaviors?

The key point is that if we take just a few minutes to explore how we might be contributing to the dynamics that are widening the gap between ourselves and others, perhaps we can shift our participation, and positively impact the relationship. Maybe we can approach the person with an acknowledgement that it’s been tough. Maybe we can enter the conversation with the intent to suspend judgment or assumptions, ask questions and listen, with the hope of agreeing to some flexibility on both parts.

Hey, you never know….With a slight positive shift in your efforts, you may be contributing to a resolution you both can live with and benefit from.

Managing a highly-skilled contributor, who is short on interpersonal skills? A few tips.

I’m guessing many of you can relate to the title of this post. It may be about a salesperson who is bringing in a ton of revenue, yet fails to treat support staff with respect. Or, it may be someone with exceptional technical skills who is alienating their peers with poor or gruff communications. In some cases, your ability to enforce certain standards may be—or may feel—limited.

We know how important it is to set consistent performance standards across our teams and organizations. We know how crucial it is for professionals to build internal relationships. Yet, it’s not unusual for specialized talent, tenure, or organizational metrics to get in the way of truly requiring these things.

Situations like these can be very frustrating for managers. They can be even more frustrating for peers or employees who have little to no control over performance outcomes. These circumstances can also cause unrest and low morale on a team.

The good news is, as a manager, you always have the freedom to engage someone in their own development. You still have the opportunity to provide candid feedback, coaching, and support. You may want to start with a formal and genuine exchange. Get the person’s perspective of their comprehensive performance, offer yours, and go from there.

So what can you do if a difficult, yet gifted, person reports to you or is a key contributor in your organization? Here are just a few quick guidelines that may help before, and during, that necessary one-on-one discussion:

– Before the meeting, take time to review or consider the job description or “requirements” of the job. (Ideally, they’re documented.) Note any competencies in the job description that fall under interpersonal successes. Do any of them describe attributes relating to service attitude or teamwork? If so, this will help you discuss what’s expected relating to relationship building. You can also use your organization’s values, if applicable, as an anchor for discussion.

– Schedule a meeting with the individual to discuss their perspective of their successes and challenges on the job. Assure them that you’ll offer your perspective as well. Let them know that your goal is to establish how you can partner with them to best support their development and success.

– As you prepare, be ready for resistance or defensiveness, so that you’ll be ready to respond versus react. Be prepared to calmly respond while reiterating the importance of improved relationships. Give some thought to what resources, articles, or tools you may be able to provide them in support of this goal.

– Ask them for their perspective first. Ask what’s going well, and where they may be struggling on the job. Listen and take notes as they answer both questions. Once they’ve finished, offer your perspective. Come prepared with specific examples to validate their successes, and to help clarify their development opportunities.

– Let them know that they are your very first choice to be successful in this role. Reiterate that their position calls for their ability to build collaborative internal relationships. Let them know that you’re willing to provide coaching in support of their development efforts.

– (This would be a great time to offer any resources or tools, mentioned in the third bullet, above.) Ask them to choose one or two specific action plans or new approaches that they’re willing to focus on and use within the next few weeks. (Be prepared to offer a few ideas if they’re stumped.) Let them know you’ll meet again to debrief their experience with action plans, and discuss any results or challenges they may have experienced. Tell them you remain available in the meantime for any questions or if they think a conversation will be beneficial.

– Before leaving this meeting, schedule that follow-up meeting 3-4 weeks out to discuss progress and establish a way forward. Be sure to confirm about a week ahead of time and restate the objective of the meeting. This approach reinforces the importance of their willingness to take part in their development.

Although addressing performance relating to interpersonal traits and behaviors is not easy for anyone, applying these simple tips is a great start for further discussions and results.

On a personal note…My creative side is dying to come out!

Just to clarify, I’m referring to my ability and motivation to produce creative art. Actually, I’m talking more about my desire to produce art, and my lack of motivation to get started. For those of you who read my blog, you know that 99% of the time, my posts are focused on workplace topics, tools and strategies. But today, I feel compelled to share one of my personal journeys. And I’m asking you directly for any thoughts or guidance you might be willing to offer.

I enjoy playing with clay. I love to write. I’ve thought seriously about starting a video blog on aging gracefully. “Aging Grace”….. See? I even named it! Yet, the weeks fly by, and they become months and then years and I consistently find myself disappointed in myself because I’ve not taken the time to express my creative side. How often do I think about these things? Almost daily.

I did collaborate on a poetry and art project this past year with my brother who is an incredible artist. He had a gallery showing of art representing mental illness and states of mind, and he asked me to write prose to accompany several of his pieces. It was a great experience. With someone waiting for me and counting on me, by a specific deadline, I’m golden. But left to my own awakening? Well, that’s another story.

My professional work and business is demanding. I’m fortunate that I love it, but it is time consuming and it calls for a great deal of thought. Spending time with my spouse is a priority for me. Our immediate family has grown to 11 people and I love spending time with each of them. And seeing my girlfriends is crucial to my well-being! Not a whole lot of time left to dabble in creating tiny heads of clay 🙂 If I were offering counsel to myself, I would say… “Do it in small chunks. Just devote 10 minutes a day to one of these artful endeavors, and see where it takes you.” I know intellectually that’s a great idea. But I can already hear my brain closing shut when I say it. So….Can you relate? Am I alone in this feeling? Do you have any thoughts or strategies to share that may help me or readers who may be experiencing something similar?

Thank you for listening! I actually feel a little better already.

Practicing empathy when frustrations are high

I was inspired to write this brief post after a business associate expressed that she’d like to learn how to be empathetic when frustrations are high. I thought that was a brilliant goal. And a hard one to reach. It got me thinking and this is what I came up with………

People who are striving to be more empathetic at work can generally find small ways to practice. They can ask more questions at the beginning of a conversation to better understand where someone is coming from. They understand when someone who is grieving is not at their best. They may reach out and offer support to someone who is struggling with a specific work issue.

It’s difficult to practice empathy at work with someone who frustrates us over time. When we’re focused on our own feelings we’re less likely to have a genuine interest in understanding others. We tend to judge and defend. We’re less equipped to influence or experience collaborative results.

It’s even more difficult when our buttons get pushed in the moment. We have an immediate physical reaction. Our heartbeat increases. Our palms sweat. We become defensive, resentful, angry or frustrated. Being empathetic to what the other party is experiencing in that moment is near impossible. We’re way too busy inside our own heads!

Not impossible though. One effective approach is to better prepare for those sensitive meetings or conversations. Prepare to tap into your self-awareness. Commit to noticing your sudden physical reactions. And when you do….Stop, Probe, and Listen. Prepare to learn more before responding. One hallmark of empathy is considering others’ feelings. Perhaps the other person is not equipped to receive your idea in the moment. Maybe a calmer conversation in a follow-up meeting will be more effective.

Choose a specific upcoming meeting or conversation and practice. Increase your contributions, influence and results.