Idea of the Week Archives

Check back often for Weekly Tips and Advice from the Coaches at Resilient Leadership.

Are You Being Trapped By the Poorly Differentiated?

  • Fact: Every organization will at some point have poorly differentiated people within their ranks. A poorly differentiated person is highly reactive, intrusive of others’ boundaries and does not take responsibility for self. As such, they often demand a disproportionate amount of a leader’s time and energy to manage and contain. This comes at a high cost for both the leader and for his or her team, who often grow to resent the poorly differentiated employee.
  • Action: Reflect on whether any of your current employees are poorly differentiated and if so, what impact they are having on you and on your team. Consider how much time you are spending managing them and whether you need to change your tactics to produce different results.

Focus on Your Own Functioning

  • Fact: An accumulating body of research is gradually changing the paradigm for what competencies contribute to greater leadership effectiveness. Following more of a military model, an older approach focused on training a leader how to “command and control” others to follow the leader’s directions. Today, the emphasis is shifting toward a focus on the presence and functioning of the leader, so that issues such as self-awareness and self-management carry more equal weight than as learning how best to supervise, delegate, or direct.
  • Action: The RL model captures the essence of this new paradigm of leadership effectiveness with three imperatives: Stay Calm, Stay the Course, and Stay Connected. Choose one of these three that feels like it holds the most potential for your personal growth, and then find the relevant chapter (2, 3, or 4) in Resilient Leadership 2.0. Pick just one of the Core Practices from that chapter, and make a commitment to work on it over a sufficient period of time to own it at a deep level.

Offering Comfort or Challenge: What is Your Default?

  • Fact: Every leader has a default tendency – a response to struggling employees (or family members) that either favors comfort or challenge. Both responses are important for a leader to have in their repertoire, but most of us have much stronger muscles around one response or the other. Knowing your default tendency gives you more choice around which response is most appropriate in any given situation.
  • Action: Spend some time reflecting on your behavior patterns when faced with struggling employees. Is your first instinct to comfort, console, to feel sorry for, or even to rescue? Or is your first instinct to challenge them to rise up and to overcome their adversity? Observe your default tendency in action and notice its impact on you and others. How might you become more balanced and flexible in your response?

“Just Stop!” It sounds simple, but it’s not


  • Fact: Once we realize the extent to which we have become caught in a cycle of over- or underfunctioning, it can feel like achieving a healthier balance is literally impossible. The forces that are at work within ourselves and in the larger system around us are usually so imposing that we literally cannot imagine a way out. Fortunately, escape from the destructive cycle requires only that we focus on our own part of the pattern, not that we take on the “other” side (over which we usually have little or no control).

  • Action: The way out: 1. Identify your part of the reciprocal dynamic. 2. Get in touch with the strength of the hidden driver (i.e., the anxiety) of “A” that has created and sustains “A”. The underlying narrative sounds like this: “It’s “impossible” to change “A”—the risks are too great…even inevitable…the price is too high…etc.” 3. Begin to practice a very small, manageable, opposite behavior, “B”. 4. Persist in your commitment to stop doing “A” even if it seems like it’s too trivial to really matter. 5. Engage in that opposite behavior “B”, over and over. 6. Repeat: Stop “A”– start “B”. 7. Repeat: Stop “A” — replace with “B”. 8. Gradually—incrementally—increase the frequency and scope of Stop “A” – replace with “B”, and watch in amazement as momentum builds, strength grows, and success follows.

Remember the last time you received a hand-written note? How about the last time you sent one?


  • Fact: Today, the vast majority of our written communications comes in an electronic format (texts, on-line chat rooms, tweets, e-mails, etc.). These communications are almost all transactional in nature, filled with facts, numbers, observations and decisions. While many of these communications are essential to the ongoing development and management of plans, programs and strategies, they do not serve to nourish a “connection” on the emotional level
  • Action: To “Stay Connected” on the level that nourishes the emotional dimension of relationships, nothing beats a hand-written note. In the midst of the onslaught of electronic communications, the well-crafted, hand-written note delivers a simple message: “Our relationship is important to me, and I want to let you know that.” So, the next time you want a communication to strengthen an important relationship, don’t type it – write it.

We only truly see what we are looking for

  • Fact: We naturally assume that the ability to see is located in our eyes, since that is the critical organ that we immediately identify as essential for the gift of sight. But science reminds us that the ability to see is located in our brains every bit as much as in our eyes. Emerging neuroscience has further broadened our understanding of perception as an extremely complex phenomenon that goes well beyond the mechanics of eyesight. Perception is shaped in decisive ways by deliberately focused attention, and a host of emotional factors both filter and highlight what and how we “see” the world around us.
  • Action: Practice Resilient Leadership’s “New Way of SEEING” by committing to a regular practice of observing how the emotional dynamics of your work or home system play out. Choose settings where you can “get on the balcony” and simply observe without being so heavily involved that you lose your focus. Watch your children at play or observe the roles that co-workers play in routine meetings. Make notes on such things as the subtle reactivity you observe around anxious conversations, the reciprocal patterns that characterize certain triangles, the over- and under- functioning on the part of certain individuals and others with whom they are connected. Regular practice, even for 15 minutes daily, will strengthen your ability to SEE the emotional systems to which you belong.

Looking for the “Sweet Spot” when relationships become anxious? Aim to be “Close Enough to Influence” and “Distant Enough to Lead”

  • Fact: In the routine of both family and work life, moderate anxiety-producing situations arise all the time. And, too easily, those minor stresses can erupt into a major crisis. Whether the stressful situation is small or full-blown, we all have a default tendency when managing anxiety. We naturally tend to become overly involved, or we distance ourselves from the drama produced by the crisis. Both responses are understandable; neither response is optimal.
  • Action: Reflect on two or three stressful situations you have experienced in recent times. What was your default tendency in the midst of these situations? Did you become overly involved as a way to manage your anxiety, or did you withdraw (physically or emotionally) from the situation? And did your behavior serve to lower anxiety or increase it? Write a note to yourself about how to manage your anxiety in better ways by being “Close Enough to Influence” and “Distant Enough to Lead” in such situations.

Watch Your Default Tendency

  • Fact: The ability to strike a healthy “close-distant” balance is key to maintaining enjoyable and fruitful relationships. When we move in too close or retreat too far from others we lose perspective and may make poor judgements.
  • Action: Become aware of your default tendency to merge or drift apart in your relationships. Study your actions, thoughts and self-talk about relationships that matter to you. Keep on rebalancing to keep relationships strong.

What was written at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece?

  • Fact: The wisdom of the ancients inscribed at Delphi was captured in two words, variously attributed to a dozen different Greek sages, from Socrates to Pythagoras. “Know Thyself” is as important today as it has ever been. Contemporary sages, from fields as diverse as neuroscience, positive psychology, organizational development, and leadership studies echo—each from their own perspective—this fundamental truth. Only when we come to understand ourselves more deeply will we be able to lead others along the path to enlightenment, whether that be as a more resilient leader, a parent or teacher, an athletic coach or a business consultant.
  • Action: No matter how daunting or difficult it may seem, carve out some “sacred” time and space for yourself on a regular basis where you can be alone with yourself, your thoughts and feelings, your moods and memories—a place where you can simply “be aware” and where your only agenda is to “know thyself”.

Triangle Management = Emotions Management

  • Fact: Building and maintaining healthy and authentic relationships is the hallmark of good friendships and good leadership too. To be a great friend, be open and welcoming but courageous too.
  • Action: Even your best friends will, on occasion, try to draw you into a toxic conversation about someone else. Don’t take the bait. To preserve great relationships keep them wholesome by keeping them free of gossip, scapegoating or third person criticisms.

In a Toxic Triangle? Look After Yourself!

  • Fact: It happens all the time. Two colleagues who are caught up in a heated debate have you cornered. Both want you to side with them in “their debate”. You feel caught, obligated, duped.
  • Action: Don’t take a side but do take a stand. Your colleagues will benefit from your input on the issue needing resolution. They will not benefit from you taking a side on the debate of the issue. Remain emotionally neutral and place the resolution where it belongs – with your two colleagues.

Recognize Balance in Relationships: Not too close. Not too distant.

  • Fact: Each of us instinctively maintains a comfortable balance between “close enough” and “distant enough” in our relationships. To a great extent, our balance point is “built in” from childhood. But under stress the balance point can shift toward fusion or cutoff to relieve anxiety.
  • Action: Think for a moment about people in your social networks. Has the close-distant balance shifted for a friend or colleague? If so, look for an anxiety producing cause that may be responsible. Consider if a re-balancing step on your part might help your friend or colleague regain their balance.