Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Archive for March, 2007

A quick tool to help with Overload Mode

Our daughter gave birth to her first baby last week. It’s a very exciting time for us. In my efforts to be supportive of her and spend a little time with the newest member of our family, I took a couple of afternoons off, in addition to the full day I spent at the hospital on the day of the baby’s birth.

Here’s the challenge: I’m swamped with work. And because I took a few days off, my meeting schedule and workload are extremely heavy. So I worked over the weekend, and I could feel the stress as I started this week, with all that awaited me.

When I feel myself heading towards overload mode, it helps to ask myself this question about what’s on my plate: Which of these things absolutely, without exception, MUST be done today?

There are always actions that can be put off without compromising your service to your clients or internal customers. Your MUST DO TODAY list will reflect the true pressures of the day, versus the overwhelming mind clutter of all that needs to be done. The key is being able to focus. Small tool, big impact. Hope it helps.

How high is your EQ?

You may already be familiar with Emotional Intelligence as a crucial leadership attribute. Or you may have heard the reference, but you’re not quite sure what it means. Emotional Intelligence (sometimes referred to as EQ or EI) is the ability to be attuned to one’s own feelings and emotions and the feelings and emotions of one’s employees and/or associates. Upon introduction, it may seem a bit touchy-feely. But research indicates that it’s a primary and core strength of strong leaders, and a significant factor affecting employee commitment levels. And, great news—you can increase your EQ.

If you’re looking for a snapshot of what Emotional Intelligence is, and how you might increase yours, check out my article How High is Your EQ?, available at: For a more comprehensive understanding and further references, the Harvard Business Review published, in 1998, what is still one of their most popular-selling articles— What Makes a Leader?, by Daniel Goleman (considered a guru on EQ). The article is available at HBR’s website, at

Be a better listener, one open-ended question at a time

If you find yourself struggling with your interpersonal relationships at work, or you’re coaching an individual who is challenged by ineffective relationships, being less than an effective listener may be contributing to the problem.

Many of our leadership attributes, and interpersonal tendencies—like how we listen—are hard-wired behaviors that can be a real bear to change, even when we make a commitment to do so. Keeping this in mind, making a commitment to use just one simple development tool at a time, versus a more comprehensive development approach, may help.

I have a client who was striving to be a better listener, and for weeks, she applied one simple tool—when she entered a conversation or meeting, she used the seek to understand approach. She simply focused on asking open-ended questions that would help her figure out what the other person was experiencing. And then she learned from their answers—she listened—which helped her be more responsive to their needs. Open-ended questions are the basis for seeking to understand others.

Want to be a better listener? Try entering your next conversation seeking to understand versus seeking to be understood.

A matter of trust

Change is inevitable. And so is some level of discomfort while we’re moving through it. I find that one of the most unsettling discomforts for individuals anticipating a change at work is a lack of expectations or clarity around their roles during the transition, and, of course, after it. Understandably. So as leaders, anything we can do to clarify expectations or roles, as promptly as possible, will help us lead others through a change.

There are times, however, when we may not have the luxury of providing a crystal-clear picture. Perhaps your organization is not ready to announce the details of a change. Or, maybe the change is inevitable, but the details are not yet ironed out. If we aren’t in a position to offer clarity to an employee or team in the short term, then acknowledging the uncertainty and offering our empathy, may at the very least validate their reactions.

I’ve had leaders tell me that they avoided communicating with employees who were anxiously anticipating a change, because they didn’t yet have anything definitive to tell them. If you find yourself in a situation like this, here’s a recommendation that may help morale and build trust—share with your employees that you don’t have anything definitive to offer, and then, if possible, tell them specifically when you will. It just may help to offer some small thing that can be counted on, and to provide one more opportunity for you to keep your word.

Mirror, mirror…

I was shopping in a department store earlier today that’s closing its doors soon. In its heyday, it was an upscale store with highly service-oriented and professional salespeople. Lately, it’s looking more like an organized warehouse. There are great sale prices, but evidently the salespeople are feeling less of a need to be professional.

Two women employees, who I recognized as being long-term employees of the store, were talking negatively about a coworker while they were returning clothing to the appropriate racks. The individual they were talking about was, from what I could tell, a newcomer hired to work the sale. They continued to commiserate for several minutes about how their coworker didn’t carry her weight and had a bad attitude. As one woman walked further away from the other, she spoke loudly across the aisles. “I know,” she said, “she’s so negative!”

That last statement lingered with me for awhile—it reminded me that when we find ourselves frustrated or thinking negatively of another individual or team, it’s a great exercise to ask ourselves how we personally might be contributing, even minimally, to the very dynamic that’s upsetting us.