Leadership Training for a new era

Skills that engage and motivate people

Our leadership training programs are designed to support new and experienced leaders in gaining the insights, knowledge, and skills they need to work with team members more effectively.

The old days of rigid hierarchies; unquestioned authority, and simply “doing what we’re told,” are (almost) gone. Today’s knowledge workers – in every kind of work – ‘think for a living,’ instead of just ‘working for a living.’  And they need to feel that their ideas are important and wanted. They need to be consulted rather than told – or they will either disengage or leave.

Earning the elusive engagement of team members (studies show that only about one in four employees is engaged at work) is today’s #1 task for leaders. Full engagement – meaning commitment, participation, contribution ‘over and above the task at hand’ and willing teamwork – requires a different kind of leadership. Today’s leader needs to be the collaborator and supporter, rather than the boss. The chief problem solver, rather than the critic. The person who can bring team members together around a common cause – and can elicit their ideas and solutions to the challenges that interfere with achieving their goals. Leaders at every level need a new form of leadership training – training that emphasizes people skills over all others. In a nutshell, that describes the training we deliver.

Training that Empowers the Leader

In this new world of work, leaders need to know how to connect with team members in ways that drive their enthusiasm – for the work, the organization and the customer or stakeholder.

  • Old style ‘managers’ need a paradigm shift in their understanding of workplace dynamics.
  • They need to know how to empower themselves by engaging and collaborating with team members effectively (‘effectively’ meaning having the ability to cause a desired effect or outcome).
  • Newly minted supervisors need to understand that ‘making you the leader doesn’t make you a leader.’
  • Leaders at every level need to learn the communication and facilitation skills; the creative thinking and collaborative workload planning and problem solving skills; the conflict prevention and resolution skills – and a range of other “people skills” that were once considered peripheral, but are now recognized as absolutely essential for success.

The Leadership > Stress > Employee Health > Retention Connections

News reports of study after study describe a simple truth: today’s workplace is toxic for a majority of employees. Here is a brief sampling:

Fortune Magazine:  “A Gallup study released Thursday sheds new light on worker-manager relationships, finding that about 50% of the 7,200 adults surveyed left a job “to get away from their manager.”

Toronto Globe and Mail.  Quoting a new poll by employment website Workopolis, the Globe reports that workers are more prepared to quit their jobs than ever before, if they find the work or the workplace unsatisfying.  For those who quit on their own, the No. 1 one reason cited was bad relations with their boss (37 per cent); followed by boredom and unhappiness at work (29 per cent), better opportunities elsewhere (20 per cent) and being a poor fit with the work culture and co-workers (14 per cent).

(Commenting on these findings a Workopolis spokesperson said: “We’ve all heard the saying: ‘People don’t quit the job, they quit the boss.’ That is one of the most prominent relationships you’re going to have in your life. If it’s not positive and constructive, it’s going to wear on you.”)  

Forbes Magazine: “Nearly half of 7000 employees surveyed by employment search site Monster.com report having missed time at work due to work-related stress, and an even greater number, 61%, say that workplace stress has caused them actual physical illness, with insomnia, depression, and family issues cited as results. Seven percent of employees report having been hospitalized as the result of work-related stress.”

Training Magazine:  A recent survey by MSW Research for the Dale Carnegie organization found that only 29% of the American workforce is engaged at work, while 45% are not engaged, and 26% are actively disengaged (meaning, basically, that they have fired the company, but stayed on the payroll). “Engagement is now recognized as a critical factor in business because companies whose employees are engaged out-perform their competitors by over 200%,” according to the Carnegie report, which also quotes surveys by Gallup.

Huffington Post: “A University of London study found an especially strong link between heart disease and boss-inflicted stress, while a University of Concordia study found that employees who rate themselves as highly stressed added 46% to their employer’s health care costs.”

Our Training Delivers the Insights, Knowledge and Skills

Your Leaders Need to ‘Genuinely’ Engage Team Members

Our training covers a range of topics focused on breaking the barriers to full engagement (barriers that are hidden in plain sight) by building personal effectiveness among your leaders.  Topics include:

Personal leadership: How to develop a clear sense of purpose to guide your choices and actions as a leader; how to manage your commitments (and those of others) so you and your team members can be trusted to do what you say you’re going to do. How to ‘design your own reputation’ by determining and developing the attributes you believe will ensure your success; how to live up to the reputation you envision.

Self-management: How to manage our reactions when things go wrong, so we can choose responses that make things right; how to manage our commitments so we can be trusted to do what we say we are going to do; how to manage our mood and attitude (yes, we can); how to manage our priorities and our time.
Coaching skills:  How to literally “set people up to succeed” through effective coaching (emphasizing teaching to different learning styles; supporting learning with Standard Operating Procedures; visual and other aids, and following through).

Correcting skills: How to correct without criticizing; how to attack the problem while protecting the person and the relationship; how to use mistakes and problems as opportunities to strengthen relationships rather than weaken them – as well as opportunities for continuous improvement.

Delegation skills: How to avoid “drive by delegation” and “hit and run communication,” so there is every likelihood that work will be done correctly the first time.

Problem solving skills: How to use creative and lateral thinking to solve problems; how to use predictive problem solving – systematically and routinely – to anticipate and pre-empt problems and challenges that can be foreseen; how to coach team members in doing the same – and how to engage others in collaborative problem solving.

Interpersonal communication skills: How open and honest communication builds trust – the essential contributor to engagement. Leaders need to know how to speak so others will listen – and listen so others will speak; how to practice empathy; how to practice ‘genuine’ assertiveness; how to respond to non-verbal communication; how to deal with anger, in yourself and others; how to practice assertiveness; how to identify and avoid ‘blocks’ to communication.

Conflict prevention skills:  How to differentiate between constructive and destructive conflict; how to manage constructive conflict; how to predict and prevent destructive conflict.

Conflict resolution skills: How to facilitate problem solving when team members are in conflict; how to work effectively with ‘difficult’ and angry people; when and how to escalate the conflict resolution process.

Differences in personal styles:  How to work effectively with people whose personal styles, ideas, opinions and work habits are different from yours. (We also explore the challenges of working with people of different gender and age; different beliefs, ethnicity, culture and language, as well as education and experience level.)

Facilitation skills:  How to conduct effective meetings and brainstorming and action planning sessions; how to facilitate interdepartmental problem solving.

Leadership as a service: How leaders perform a service – to peers, to those they report to, and – most important – to members of their teams.

Many managers and supervisors unknowingly and unintentionally sabotage themselves by indulging in behaviors that weaken and destroy motivation and engagement – such as fault finding, blaming and criticizing when mistakes are made. Not realizing that criticism is almost always received as an ‘attack’ by the other person – who can almost always be expected to ‘defend’ – the typical supervisor points out errors in a critical way, and fails to recognize the cause and effect relationship between the way they speak and act, and the diminishing motivation, enthusiasm, and engagement of team members. When being defensive (which literally means defending themselves from attack), people tend to make excuses, or blame others, or blame circumstances beyond their control for what has happened). In this process neither party is fully focused on solving the actual problem – instead, both are unaware that they are caught up in a destructive exchange that drives distance between them.

This insight alone – coupled with learning how to correct without criticizing – can have an immediate and dramatic impact on employee motivation and engagement.

Taking Responsibility Frees Us from ‘The Blame Game’

In our training leaders gain the insights and skills needed to approach and correct effectively. They learn to pre-empt defensiveness by taking responsibility for their own role in what has gone wrong (by asking themselves questions like, “Was I guilty of drive-by delegation?” “Did I instruct in enough detail on this aspect of the work?” and so on). They learn to empathize. To suspend judgment. To make a positive assumption about the other person’s intention. To keep their purpose in mind as problem-solvers, when they plan how they will approach the other person ‘safely.’

I stress the fact that all behaviors are chosen – whether consciously or unconsciously – and simply encourage participants to ‘connect the dots’ between their behavior and its consequences, and make their choices consciously.

A key to success in this vitally important aspect of leadership is learning to treat mistakes as opportunities to strengthen relationships, rather than weaken them. Mistakes are all too often treated as opportunities to fault-find, blame and criticize – to play the blame game. These behaviors destroy the critical relationship between employees and their immediate supervisors – leading directly to disengagement, demotivation, absenteeism, stress-related illness and employee turnover.

The good news: While some managers have difficulty accepting and acting on this learning, most are quickly and easily able to use their new insights and skills to improve their personal performance. In doing so they help your organization achieve genuine employee engagement and ‘real’ teamwork.


Participants in our team building workshops and ongoing programs describe them as entertaining and enjoyable, as well as educational – and tell us they really appreciate how the content relates to their personal lives, as well as their lives at work. I intentionally use a ‘learning through laughter’ approach to lighten things up, but our purpose and goals are serious – we want to provide insights and learn-by-doing exercises that lead to enhanced personal and team performance.
Much of the content in our team building workshops is similar to our leadership programs. We focus first on the individual, exploring their purpose and goals for the work they do, and their aspirations for personal growth. Then we move through group dynamics to explore ways to work together more effectively. Our  topics include:

  • How to reduce stress and anxiety, sharply, by anticipating and pre-empting destructive conflict, with the goal of creating a healthier workplace atmosphere – leading to reduced stress-related absence and illness, and enhanced employee retention
  • How to communicate more effectively – by speaking so others will listen – and listening so others will speak
  • How to practice empathy (which I describe as ‘the greatest skill on earth’)
  • How to practice ‘genuine’ (non agressive) assertiveness
  • How to respond to non-verbal communication
  • How to deal with anger, in yourself and others
  • How to identify and avoid “blocks” to communication
  • The attributes and practices of personal leadership – How to develop a clear sense of purpose to guide your choices and actions; how to ‘design your own reputation’ by determining and developing the attributes you believe will ensure your success; how to live up to the reputation you envision
  • How to manage your reactions when things go wrong, so you can choose responses that lead to positive outcomes
  • How to manage your commitments so you can be trusted to do what you say you are going to do
  • How to manage your mood and attitude (yes, you can)
  • How to manage your priorities and your time
  • How to work effectively with people who have different personal styles and work habits, and with people of different gender and age; different ethnicity, beliefs, culture and language, and different levels of education and experience

Developing Personal Leadership

Personal leadership is a core concept in our team building workshops. Everyone is capable of being a personal leader, whether they play any formal leadership role or not. Personal leaders manage themselves; lead others by example and through initiative – and influence or accept events rather than suffer their effects.

I’ve come to believe that the most effective way to ensure career success is to develop the attributes of personal leadership.  I also believe that the ultimate way to ensure your success as an organization is to build   ‘a team of personal leaders,’ or simply, ‘A Team of Leaders.’

Human Evolution – One Human Being at a Time?

Personal leadership is a way of describing fully mature (fully evolved?) adult behavior. It involves taking full responsibility for our lives; establishing purpose for our actions; doing things consciously and intentionally (‘on purpose,’ instead of ‘by accident’); being self-determined; being independent and interdependent (rather than dependent); being proactive instead of reactive, and solving problems or proposing solutions instead of complaining, blaming and criticizing.

I think of performance at this level as the key to ‘personal evolution’ – using the simple definition of evolution as “growing from a simpler to a more complex form.” Specifically, I believe that the ability to manage our knee-jerk, unthinking reactions when things go wrong is the missing link in human development.

Can you imagine a world where most of us are able to over-ride our initial reactions and remain calm when things go wrong – so we can think carefully about our situations and deliberately choose our responses?  If envisioning a world operating this way is too big a stretch, try imagining your workplace.

Personal leaders are…

  • Self-managers who take total responsibility for their own attitudes, choices and actions; the quality of their own work; their relations with others, and the success of their organization.
  • Committed and fully engaged at work. When they feel valued and respected they contribute over and above the task at hand. (Important note: If the work atmosphere becomes inconducive to peak personal performance, and they are not able to influence change, they can be expected to leave).
  • ‘Intrapreneurs’ who look for an act on opportunities to improve product and service quality, and contribute to the organization’s success in any way they can.
  • Versatile performers who can manage continuous change, ambiguity, conflict, and multiple priorities.
  • Professionals who make commitments with great care, and take great care to follow through
  • Team players who demonstrate respect and support for each other, particularly under stress.

Coaching and ‘learn by doing’ exercises on personal leadership form the cornerstone of all our leadership and team building programs.

‘Road Rage Rehab’ Starts Here

When we gain the ability to monitor and manage our reactions – which can be easily learned, but difficult to practice, as I warn participants – life changes. We are no longer so easily provoked. We can see danger coming. We can use cues to help us remember how we want to respond, instead of react. And we can literally predict and prevent conflict. As a result we are likely to feel calmer and more confident, less stressed, and more ‘in control,’ in challenging situations.

An interesting note: Once these insights are gained, it becomes difficult to continue self-destructive behaviors like ‘road rage.’ The dangers become so obvious, and the alternatives so easy and practical, that people report “feeling foolish” when they find themselves reacting to perceived slights on the road (or at work, at home, or at the supermarket) – and are able to change their thinking from making negative assumptions about others’ (unknown) intentions – to simply making positive assumptions and remaining calm. As I’m fond of saying, “All we have to do is change our mind.”

Conflict Resolution is Hard – Conflict Prevention is (Relatively) Easy

Study after study tells us that unnecessary, destructive conflict contributes to low productivity; high rates of absenteeism; stress-related illness, and employee turnover. But (as always) there is good news: As I’ve said elsewhere, the ‘Big Idea’ that guides my work is the notion that most conflict can be anticipated and prevented – if we gain just a few of the insights and skills needed to make that goal a reality. I’ve also come to realize that the insights and skills required for conflict prevention are much easier to learn and practice than those required for conflict resolution.

Conflict resolution is hard work. To prevent most conflict all we have to do is monitor and manage our selves – our reactions; our thoughts and feelings, and our responses – when mistakes are made; or things go wrong, or we anticipate a potential problem.
However, when trying to resolve conflict that was not prevented, we have to deal not only with our own reactions and feelings, but also the reactions and feelings – and the biases, and the baggage – of others (sometimes several others).  This is difficult, even for professional mediators.  So, my challenge to the people I coach is simply this: “Let’s catch snowflakes before things snowball out of control.”
The costs of conflict, to people and organizations, can be enormous – in terms of lost time, energy and focus (even the cost of professional intervention). By learning ways to stop conflict before it starts, participants can contribute to building a healthier workplace – and a healthier personal life. That is our goal, and I welcome you to call about a program for your organization.