Idea of the Week Archives

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

EQ + RL = Standing on the Shoulders of a Giant!

  • Fact: An impressive accumulation of research data has shown that leaders with higher levels of Emotional Intelligence have a clear edge on a variety of success indicators over those with lower levels of EQ. Resilient Leadership also helps leaders develop their strengths in the critical areas identified by EQ (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management). But RL adds an important skill set not present in the EQ tool kit: A focus on emotional systems + training in how to “think systems”. Leaders with well-developed EQ have testified that RL has given them an additional, invaluable competency and made them even stronger and more effective leaders.
  • Action: Take the “Are You a Systems Thinker” inventory on pp. 158-59 of Resilient Leadership 2.0 and then read the story of Marvin on pages 9-13. The two Core Practices on page 19 provide accessible steps you can take to strengthen your skills as a systems thinker as you work to become a more resilient leader.

You can get Resilient Leadership 2.0 on

Under stress do you naturally draw nearer to others or distance yourself from others as a way to tone down your anxiety?

  • Fact: We all do it automatically. When under stress we instinctively off-load the built-up anxiety by “talking things over” with someone who will listen; or, in the opposite direction, we take the “I’m out of here” approach to stress reduction. When we do either of these too frequently, we easily lose a healthy balance and become rigid and one-dimensional in our relationships with coworkers, friends or family members.
  • Action: Think about the last few stressful encounters you have had with coworkers, family or friends. Select one individual with whom you want to strike a more balanced relationship. Make an improvement plan; take action; see what happens.

Burnout: Too much or too little? Or, is it something much deeper?

  • Fact: The cause of burnout has been researched from countless social science perspectives, and the resulting data is a thicket of overlapping and sometimes contradictory explanations, most often focusing on such things as too many hours worked, trying to juggle too many demands, getting too little sleep, or having too few supportive resources. The research underlying Resilient Leadership, on the other hand, focuses on a framework that is qualitative rather than quantitative. RL identifies an internal dynamic—high levels of chronic anxiety—as the driver of overfunctioning/burnout, not “too much” or “too little” of any external factors.
  • Action: Identify one situation or relationship where you recognize you often anxiously overfunction. Try to dig deeper and identify the anxiety-laden assumptions, the narrative, underneath your behavior. Try to be as objective and factual as you can, and test the extent to which your anxious fears are realistic, and how you might be overstating the risks you face should you stop overfunctioning. Then take a test drive. Face your anxious fears, take a few “new and risky” first steps. See what happens. Try again. And Again.

Overfunctioning? Can you spot the underfunctioning? It’s there, for sure!

  • Fact: Overfunctioning is to think, feel or act for another in a way that erodes another’s capacity for ownership or thoughtful action. The way an emotional system works guarantees that overfunctioning is always a reciprocal phenomenon. This means that whenever there is overfunctioning somewhere in an emotional system, there is inevitably a re-balancing (underfunctioning) that is taking place somewhere else in the system—perhaps in another dimension of the overfunctioner’s life, perhaps in how another person is functioning, or perhaps in an entirely separate part of the organization. It can be very difficult to spot exactly where/how the reciprocal dynamic is playing out; but even if it is impossible to recognize, you can be certain that it is taking place!
  • Action: Pick a situation in your home or work system that is clearly a form of overfunctioning. (It’s usually easier to see in others than in oneself.) Get up on the balcony to observe the larger system, and try to recognize where some reciprocal underfunctioning may be happening. It’s often not easy to spot the reciprocal pattern, so make a list of the places/ways that you suspect might be evidence of underfunctioning. Use this exercise as a way to practice the important RL skill of “thinking systems”.

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.

Are you a Systems Thinker?

  • Fact: Leaders “think systems” by reflecting thoughtfully on the actions, reactions, and interactions they have observed among the people within the system of which they are a part. The anxiety-driven forces that make up the emotional system of families, teams and organizations cannot be directly observed. Reactivity, however, is the “public face” of anxiety and reveals to the thoughtful observer a great deal about the system and what is happening beneath conscious awareness.
  • Action: Set aside time to focus and reflect on the emotional system you are part of (family and work being the most obvious and important systems for most of us). Be deliberate about trying to understand what is underneath a subtle—and perhaps not so subtle—reactive behavior that you observe in yourself, in others or in the system at large. Focus on a single behavior that is clearly reactive and disruptive, but do not be lured into thinking it is the behavior that is the issue or problem. See it as a symptom, and probe more deeply into the source and intensity of the anxiety that must be driving such a behavior. Reflect on where there may be hidden connections with other parts of the system, and ask yourself how anxiety elsewhere might be spreading like a contagious virus, only to surface in the behavior that has caught your attention.

How is it possible to remain balanced in a VUCA world?

  • Fact: It is an undeniable fact that the world we live in today is characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA). Those who are in a positon of responsibility—at home or at work—cannot escape the challenges posed by the demands of leadership in a world of such intensity and escalating chaos. Since “being responsible” is an essential dimension of leadership, the temptation to overfunction is strong and powerful. Recall, the definition of overfunctioning is “to think, feel or act for another in a way that erodes another’s capacity for ownership or thoughtful action.”
  • Action:Action: How to balance legitimate claims of responsibility that are ours as leaders, without feeling responsible for what is not ours to carry is a huge issue. Try this: (1) Make a high-level list of no more than 10 of the major areas/things that you feel responsible for at home or at work. (2) Then go back and thoughtfully put a percentage number beside each item, indicating how much of the responsibility is truly yours to carry. (3) Finally, go back a second time and put the percentage that represents how much you feel and act as if you are responsible for each item. (4) Study the items where there is a significant difference in the percentage numbers, and consider the implications where it appears you are overfunctioning.

Hello out there. Are you staying connected?

  • Fact: When we are juggling busy, complex schedules, we can easily lose touch with important friends, colleagues, constituents. We let time pass by with little notice, and before we know it, our connection with key stakeholders has weakened. When this happens, we hesitate to pick up the phone and call or send a note.
  • Action: Be proactive. The longer we wait to take action, the harder it is to reconnect. Each Monday morning identify 1 connection to rekindle that week. Make the call or send the note before week’s end. Every week!

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.