Helping leaders emerge




When my husband Brad tells me he is listening to something called “Touchy-Feely” for the third time, I pause and ask myself, “What the hell is going on here? And why would Brad, who rarely listens to anything more than once and has limited patience for discussing feelings be listening to something called Touchy-Feely?” We order the book. Next thing I witness is Brad quoting to me from the book, talking about something called an AFOG – short for “another f**king opportunity for growth.”

The book is called Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends and is by David Bradford, PhD and Carole Robin, PhD, colleagues who teach the most popular course Interpersonal Dynamics and affectionately coined “Touchy-Feely” by students at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

The authors share their passion for creating exceptional relationships, that is relationships where you feel seen, known, supported, affirmed, and appreciated for who you really are – not an edited (or Facebook) version of yourself. They discuss a process based on their years of experience to cultivate exceptional relationships.

Bradford and Robin believe that the best way to learn to be more interpersonally effective is to engage with others in real life situations and in real time rather than through lectures, readings, case studies, or yes, even their book and offer specific suggestions.

They even share their own personal struggles – at home and in their co-authoring partnership– modeling that mistakes and misunderstandings are part of the process. Mistakes happen, and repair and recovery are possible. In fact, challenges are opportunities to learn and deepen relationships.

Bradford and Robin explain that exceptional relationships have six distinct hallmarks:

1.  You can be more fully yourself, and so can the other person.

2.  Both of you are willing to be vulnerable.

3.  You trust that self-disclosures will not be used against you.

4.  You can be honest with each other.

5.  You deal with conflict productively.

6.  Both of you are committed to each other’s growth and development.

The six hallmarks represent important soft skills including self-disclosure, offering and receiving feedback, and managing conflict. There’s no easy way around cultivating exceptional relationships: it is not something you can delegate as a leader, and it requires a lot of hard work! Simple concepts, not easy to do, yet, well worth the effort!

For more information on Touchy-Feely

  • Click here for their website where you can learn more about the concept, order the book, and take their assessment.
  • Click here to purchase the book on Amazon.
  • Click here to hear the Podcast talk (the one my husband Brad loves!) The Awesome Power of “Touchy-Feely” with Carole Robin and David Bradford on Ten Percent Happier Podcast with Dan Harris.

How You Communicate and What It Reveals

I’ve been thinking …. what could be more sacred than the way in which we communicate with each other? What we say and how we say it reveals a lot about who we are – how busy, thoughtful, clear, focused, scattered, funny, kind, etc. we are.

I find exchanges of words to be like mini prayers, sometimes even opportunities for blessings. Yes, even exchanges with business colleagues and clients. Life is so uncertain, and you just never know what it has in store for any of us.

Recently a colleague Carol unexpectedly passed away. I never met Carol in person and only knew her through email exchange, and yet I could tell by the way in which she communicated that she was thoughtful, kind, responsive, and collaborative. I miss Carol and communicating with her.

In our busy world, it is easy to dismiss the importance of how we communicate, and how in turn it impacts others. And while we can’t always answer every communication because of the sheer volume of emails and texts, sometimes we rush to communicate without any thought or consideration of how the words might land on the audience – often lacking the simple please and thank you that a personal dialogue would include.

Thought questions

  • Do you consider how your words might land on the receiver?
  • Do you communicate in a way that is collaborative and thoughtful or demanding and self-centered?
  • Is your communication concise and clear or do you make the reader work hard to understand what you are trying to say?
  • Do you close the loop when you communicate Or do you leave the recipient hanging and wondering what is the next step or when they might hear back from you?

Here is a simple and useful tool I learned from my friend and colleague, executive coach Rick Gardner. It’s called the “The Feel, Know, Do” model, and is a tool many of my clients use.

The Feel, Know, Do Model

  • Feel: How do you want the recipient (or audience) to feel? Seen, heard, validated, challenged, inspired, motivated, energized? For challenging audiences, keep in mind the “do no harm” concept.
  • Know: What do you want them to know? What are the one to three key points you want the audience to take away? Remember, less can be more, so when communicating with senior leaders who have less bandwidth it is better to keep it concise and clear, encouraging the audience to ask questions if they need more information or clarification.
  • Do: What actions do you want them take? To know and not to do, is not to know, so what do you want them to do?

Monthly Favorites

  • Click here for Ted Lasso on Apple TV. Funny, upbeat, and why qualities of kindness, compassion, and acting like a goldfish can make you a more effective leader and coach – whether at work, home, or within your community.
  • Click here for Is it Safe to Speak Up at Work? With Wharton Professor Adam Grant. You’ve probably heard the saying “bad news never ages well”. In this podcast learn how to create a safe environment where colleagues can share bad news, ask for help, and/or admit when they’ve made a mistake.
  • Click here for Looking Towards American Renewal. Renegades Born in the USA. President Obama and Bruce discuss their hopes for American unification, what defines cultural appropriation, and Bruce’s memories from when he was writing “Born in the USA.”
  • Click here for The Science of Making and Keeping Friends. Robin Dunbar on Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris. Learn about “Dunbar’s number,” a measurement of the number of relationships our brain is can maintain at any one time as well as research findings and practical tips for upping your friendship game.
  • Click here for The Effects of Trauma, The Role of Narratives in Shaping Our Worldview, and Why We Need to Accept Uncomfortable Emotions with Esther Perel and Peter Attia on The Drive. They discuss the value of our relationships with others for one’s sense of wellbeing, ability to deal with past trauma, resilience, and even our lifespan.


The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Since it is August and most of my clients (and I!) are taking time to rest, reset and enjoy the summer – I am offering a favorite poem by Mary Oliver.  Hope you enjoy!


The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

 —Mary Oliver

Taming Anxiety: How to Stop the Spin Cycle

We all experience racing thoughts from time to time. One of the most common complaints leaders share with me is that they suffer from spinning thoughts: while falling asleep, in the middle of the night, prior to the start of their day, or before and during difficult meetings.

Last week, I heard about using the TEB cycle to stop the spin cycle from Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School Dr. Luana Marques, on Ten Percent Happier’s Taming Anxiety Meditation Challenge. I’m sharing this because it is simple, practical, and it works!

More on TEB, Taming Anxiety, and Stopping the Spin Cycle

Dan Harris, ABC News journalist and host of the Ten Percent Podcast and Meditation App, shares how the TEB cycle can help tame anxiety, Harris defines anxiety as …

  • a state of uneasiness and apprehension about future uncertainties, and/or
  • overestimating a potential threat, and/or
  • underestimating your ability to cope with that threat.

TEB stands for thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Understanding and working with this cycle can help your brain hit the pause button (interrupting a catastrophizing mind), identify what is happening internally, and relate to situations differently. In this practice, you train your mind to be more intentional in what thoughts you follow and become more tolerant of strong emotions. By doing this, you will better cope better and become more deliberate in your actions and behaviors.


How Does Observe the TEB Cycle Work?

Step One: Awareness of Thoughts: Become aware of and even interrogate your own thoughts, recognizing that you do not have to believe all of them.

Ask yourself …

  • What am I thinking?
  • Are my thoughts true?
  • How much are my thoughts influenced by the outside world (society, culture, family, etc.)?
  • What thoughts can I challenge?

Step Two: Awareness of Emotions: Become aware of and be with strong emotions and feelings without immediately reacting to them (unless, of course, you are in real danger).

Ask yourself …

  • What am I feeling?
  • How might I be with these strong emotion without responding right away?
  • Some clients find the practice of journaling allows them to become more aware of, accept, be with, digest, and ultimately let go of strong feelings and emotions.

Click here for The Beautiful Monster meditation, a practice for managing strong emotions.

Step Three: Awareness of Behaviors: Once you hit the pause button and have allowed enough time for your nervous system to settle and mind to clear, identify the best set of actions and behaviors to take that reflect your values.

Ask yourself …

  • What are some practices that I can engage in to help me best manage this situation? (See below for some suggestions.)
  • Once the mind has settled, what is my best course of action?
  • How do I want to behave?
  • What is my best intention for how I want to show up – for myself and others?

Suggested practices that may help settle your emotions and clear your mind as you observe and work with the TEB cycle …

  • Bring attention to your body by focusing on the sensations of your feet on the floor, hands on your lap, or back against the chair.
  • Take deep breaths to the count of ten.
  • Practice straw breathing (breathe in to count of four and then out through pursed lips to the count of six or eight as if blowing through a straw)
  • Spend time in nature and pay attention to the sounds and sights around you
  • Click here for Energy Management and Reframing (the 3 P’s) tips

For a Deeper Dive

Beautiful Monsters: How to Deal with Difficult Emotions

This month, I’m excited to share one of my favorite meditation talks called Befriending Our Beautiful Monsters: A Guided Practice to Work with Difficult Emotions with Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Daniel Goleman.

For the uninitiated, Tsoknyi Rinpoche is a well known meditation teacher and a joy to listen to because of his brilliant mind and his engaging, playful style. And Daniel Goleman,Ph.D., is a science journalist and psychologist, who first introduced the idea of understanding and managing emotions to the workplace in the 1990’s with his New York Times bestseller Emotional Intelligence.

And even if you’re not a meditator, the Befriending Our Beautiful Monsters practice can help you show up with a clear mind and sense of okay–ness – that is calm, present, compassionate, and kind toward yourself and others – in all situations, especially challenging ones.

Key Themes: Learn ….

  • How to drop the thinking mind for a while (don’t worry you will bring it back!) and find the stillness within movement
  • How to be with and shake hands with the beautiful monster: that is strong, raw emotions like anger, anxiety, unease, turbulence, aloneness, grief, loss, unworthiness, sadness, shame, hollowness, etc.
  • Why suppressing, ignoring, indulging, and fixing does not work and how to appreciate, accept, respect, and be with difficult emotions
  • How to create enough space in your mind to see strong emotions as left-over residue and even blockages resulting from old experiences/memories so that you don’t personally identify with them. The power move here is to understand you are not your emotions (don’t identify with them); allow them to be seen, metabolized, and released, when ready.
  • How to cultivate a clear, lucid mind, open heart, and an embodied (grounded) presence

Click here to hear Befriending Our “Beautiful Monsters”: A Guided Practice to Work with Difficult Emotions (51 minutes – see below for sections)

  • Intro: Goleman introduces Rinpoche, beginning thru minute 12
  • Meditation: Led by Rinpoche, minute 12 thru 27
  • More conversation: Rinpoche and Goleman, minute 27 thru 46
  • Q&A: minute 41 thru 51
  • Recommendation: practice Befriending Our Beautiful Monsters meditation (minute 12 thru 27) once/day for a week and notice what shifts for yourself and with your relationships. Note, it’s always a good idea to practice before you need it.

Courageous Conversations

I don’t believe anyone wakes up in the morning, jumps out of bed, and says YAY! today I want to have a courageous conversation yet I often hearing from leaders that they and their teams need support in this area. Have courageous conversations sooner” is a phrase that appears on many of my client leader’s coaching plans.

Most of us avoid conflict because it’s just so uncomfortable in terms of tough emotions, physical sensations, and spinning thoughts that often accompany difficult situations. But as I’m sure you know, conflict is a necessary outcome of working with others and if handled correctly can build bridges and lead to better solutions.

Many clients use a version of the following questions as a framework by thinking through and writing down their thoughts. And they often share that preparing can help minimize (though not necessarily eliminate) the discomfort (e.g., racing heart rate, tight chest, OCD thoughts, sweaty palms, etc.) associated with having a tough conversation.

Keep in mind it doesn’t have to and won’t be perfect. Despite your best efforts, your tone, body language, or phrasing might not be “perfect”, and that’s ok, all part of the process. Just make sure you set the right intention by preparing ahead for the meeting in order to bring out the best in you and (hopefully) the other party.

Thought Questions to Prepare for a Courageous Conversation

  • How do I want to “show up”? What are the three to five things I would like to hear my colleagues say about me after the meeting? (e.g., I listened, remained calm, was thoughtful in my responses, demonstrated a spirit of generosity, and brought a sense of humor to the meeting.)
  • What do I want? What’s the preferred outcome of the conversation? What is my goal for this meeting? (in terms of a goal, focus on what is within your control, keeping in mind you can only control your own behavior and not the other person’s.)
  • What does the other person want? What does a successful meeting look like from my colleague’s point of view?
  • What is best for the relationship? What might I say or do in order to further enhance the relationship and lead to more trust?
  • What is best for the business? What might I be willing to agree to—or let go of—in the short term in order to achieve greater long-term influence and impact to the business?
  • How do I show up honest and respectful? How might my need to be liked (manage people pleasing tendencies) or my need to be right be getting in the way of saying what needs to be said? Keep the focus on “getting it right” versus “being right”.
  • How do I minimize drama? What do I need to refrain from saying that might trigger and make the other person feel defensive?
  • How do I maintain leadership presence, self-manage and remain calm? What could the other person say that might make me feel defensive? How will I prepare myself for the meeting (deep breaths, take a short walk, write down my goals, etc.)and what will I do so I don’t go into reactive mode? If I do get triggered, how will I get centered again? (e.g., suggest coffee or bathroom break, take three deep breaths, feel my feet on the ground, etc.).
  • How will I be empathetic? How will I demonstrate that I am listening to the other person? What would I like my body language and tone communicating? What are some of the signs that my colleague is becoming triggered (tone of voice, facial expressions, etc.) and needs a break to get centered and grounded?

What is a Courageous Conversation? (meets one or more of the following criteria).

  • Difficult: something hard to talk about is being discussed. The situation may be awkward and there may be potential for fear and anxiety around the conversation.
  • Potential for Amygdala Hijack Situation: There are strong feelings and emotions about what’s being discussed and at least one of the parties could become triggered (flight, fight or freeze mode)
  • Vulnerable: One or more of the parties might be worried about being exposed and not feel safe
  • Different Point of Views and Different Stories: There are different perspectives about what has happened and what might need to happen
  • High Stakes: The conversation that needs to happen will impact an important and uncertain outcome

Why Conditional Love Matters

I’d like to share five key themes from this week’s Ten Percent Happier podcast The Art and Science of the World’s Gooiest Cliché with Dan Harris and Barbara Fredrickson who discuss important operating principles and practices for a healthy life that lead to happiness and even performance. The power move here is while these practices are simple, you have to take them seriously and remember to do them.

Key Themes:

  • Expand Your Social Connection Circle. Fredrickson defines love as co-experienced positive emotion broadening the definition of love to include a much broader range of human interactions beyond our intimate circles. Her definition of love includes positive emotions that result from connecting with colleagues, acquaintances, and even strangers via micro inter exchanges throughout the day.
  • Seek Conditional Love. The importance of connecting in real time, face-to-face with others when the exchange is mutually positive and beneficial (not one sided).
  • Love is a Trainable Skill with Benefits. Because love is a use it or lose it skill, as we move out of our COVID cocoons, managing social anxiety is real issue for many of us so be gentle with yourself (and others) as we get back in the game of connecting with others, which may feel awkward at first.
  • Love is Good for Your Health and Productivity. Simple practices like chatting with colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers where the exchange benefits both parties can have profound implications on your psychological and physiological health and even lead to professional productivity.
  • Keep in Mind the 3 to 1 Ratio. Prioritize your day to include three positive experiences like connecting with others, acts of kindness, and meditation to counter balance each difficult one. Based on client feedback and research, I’d include exercising & body movement, journaling, being in nature, tending to flowers & plants, painting, cooking, baking, star gazing, laughing, and disconnecting by taking breaks from technology & news. What practices work for you?

To learn more, click here to listen to the podcast The Art and Science of the World’s Gooiest Cliché with Dan Harris and Barbara Fredrickson. Fredrickson is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Spring by Mary Oliver

In the spirit of a renewed sense of hope and optimism given vaccine accessibility and the transition into spring (it was a long winter!), I am sharing Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem for this month’s blog …

by Mary Oliver

a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her –
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

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