Explore how to become a more effective leader and increase productivity.

How many times a day do you say, “I know” even when you don’t?  If you grew up in a family or worked in an organization that valued knowledge over curiosity, you learned the importance of being right.  Needing to know everything can be a heavy burden.

Armored Leadership

In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown explains that being a knower and being right is a form of armored leadership that may be driven by shame.  This shows up in organizations when only certain people are valued as knowers so others don’t speak up because they’re not “senior enough” or it’s “not their place.”

Daring Leadership

The antidote to armored leadership is daring leadership.  The Courage to Not Know suggests three strategies to transform always knowing into always learning:

  1. Name the issue with a conversation like this: “I’d like you to work on your curiosity and critical thinking skills. You’re often quick with answers, which can be helpful, but not as helpful as having the right questions, which is how you’ll grow as a leader.”
  2. Make learning curiosity skills a priority. Brown points out that some people may need to be taught how to be more curious.
  3. Acknowledge and reward great questions and instances of “I don’t know, but I’d like to find out” as daring leadership behaviors. Encourage and model a shift from wanting to “be right” to wanting to “get it right.”

If you’re a knower or you work with one, I invite you to consider the impact of becoming a learner.  What would be the first step?

In our 360 feedback debrief, my client’s boss said, “I thought of you when I heard a recent How I Built This podcast.”  One of the founders of Strava, an app for tracking cycling and running performance, told a story about teamwork that had a huge impact on him and his fellow co-founder.  Their college rowing coach stopped the boat to figure out why it was rocking back and forth.  When each crew member shouted out the number on their heart monitor, it was obvious – one rower was 40 beats higher than everyone else.  He stopped trying to do most of the work himself and the boat took off like a rocket.

What’s the Problem?

A lot of my clients are rowing harder than ever as they try to find new approaches to leading hybrid teams while dealing with staffing shortages.  Gartner’s research confirms that leaders are overwhelmed, which can hurt retention and engagement.

What’s the Solution?

The authors of this Harvard Business Review article make a compelling case for reinventing the role of leaders.  In the wake of these significant shifts resulting from the pandemic, the leader as coach model is more important than ever:

  1. Power shift from “me” to “we” – moving from instruction to support and guidance
  2. Skills shift from task overseer to performance coach – moving from oversight to giving feedback
  3. Structural shift from static and physical to fluid and digital – engaging in a way that’s not tied to a physical workplace

As the HBR authors point out, human connection is essential for effective leadership.  Instead of rowing faster and doing more, how are you strengthening your coaching skills to support the demands of this new environment?

With an impish grin and a twinkle in his eye, the wise old man talks about the importance of sowing seeds with the hope that they will bear fruit in the future.  He encourages us to sow seeds every day and not hold onto them.  In this Stories of a Generation episode, Pope Francis explains that instead of holding onto our skills and knowledge, we should share them.

Empowering Leaders are More Effective

It’s a beautiful description of what leadership should be – sharing what we’ve learned and investing in the future by empowering our team members to make their own choices.  And it works — based on data from more than 30,000 employees in 30 countries, empowering leaders are much more effective at influencing employee creativity and more likely to be trusted by their team members.

How to Become an Empowering Leader

  1. Start with strengths — identify and leverage what makes each team member shine
  2. Develop the team – help them learn how to work together
  3. Share your experience – teach them that looking back will enable them to move forward
  4. Hold them accountable – communicate clear expectations and follow through

What might grow from the empowerment seeds you sow?

To kick off a recent workshop at Rice University’s business school on building trust, I invited Melinda English, Rice’s Director of Organizational Development and Talent Strategy to share her story.  This is what she said:

I have seen the impact of increasing trust work its magic over the years. You cannot put a price on trust and psychological safety when it comes to team cohesion and effectiveness.   Recently one of my new team members led us through an exercise called What’s Working/What’s Not Working and the number one thing revealed as what IS working is the level of trust on our team. This was so wonderful to hear because I know it is foundational to team resilience and working together to achieve some very big goals.  Since half of my team is new, I have been very intentional about taking the time to do team building and development despite the temptation to skip over it because there is so much to get done.

Specific Strategies

Here are some specific ways we are building trust on our team:

  • For my one-on-ones it is not just about what is going on at work. I feel it is really important to know how they are as a person and I want them to know I care about them as a person first.
  • Every team member completed an All About Me form. Each time we meet I take a category and everyone gets to guess who goes with each one.
  • We all took a values survey and then shared our top five. From there we identified our Team Commitments.
  • One of our new team members is leading us through a Teams That Work discussion, which allows us to learn what is impactful to each team member. You have to show trust in them to lead and lead differently in order be trustworthy.
  • We recently completely individual “User Manuals” and will be sharing the highlights of those.
  • We rotate meeting facilitation and start each meeting with a quote – some funny and some inspirational.
  • For projects I try to select those members where I can leverage their strengths or ask the team who might be interested and they are wonderful about taking turns.
  • Last but not least, we actually have A LOT of fun. I never sacrifice this and it has always been well-received.

As you can see I believe it is not just any one thing and that it has to be consistent and intentional because it develops over time.


It’s indicative of Melinda’s trust with her team that she invited them to email me their confidential input about their team and her leadership.  Some of the common themes were:

  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Authenticity
  • Caring and support
  • Psychological safety
  • Valuing each other’s experiences, thoughts and opinions
  • Celebrating successes and learning from mistakes
  • Follow-through
  • Responsiveness
  • Communication
  • Focus on development
  • Leading by example

As a result of Melinda’s leadership, her team has been able to persevere during an incredibly challenging time with motives and spirit intact.

These are the 7 Elements of Trust we discussed in our workshop.  I invite you to consider which one is most challenging for you.  How could improving in that area impact trust on your team?

“I’m having a hard time focusing and that’s not like me,” my client said.  After successfully navigating a protracted challenging business environment, he couldn’t understand why his productivity had declined.  As we explored the underlying factors, it became apparent that he was stuck in a cognitive tunnel.


Immediate Focus

In Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg explains that “cognitive tunneling can cause people to become overly focused on whatever is directly in front of their eyes or become preoccupied with immediate tasks…Once in a cognitive tunnel, we lose our ability to direct our focus. Instead, we latch on to the easiest and most obvious stimulus, often at the cost of common sense.”  This is why my client was distracted by cleaning out his inbox and responding to yet another text message.

Guess Again

Between back-to-back meetings and juggling multiple priorities, it’s easy to fall into reactive mode. To break out of that cognitive tunnel, Duhigg suggests the following approach:

  1. Second guess the story you’re telling yourself – consider what you could have done differently
  2. Encourage others to second guess you – ask someone to help you think about other options
  3. Leverage the feeling of control – empower yourself to make better decisions

When my client imagined the clarity and improved productivity he could have at the end of his cognitive tunnel, he was able to take the first step in that direction.  What do you see at the end of your tunnel?



Pema Chödrön is an American Buddhist nun and a teacher at the first Tibetan monastery in North America established for Westerners.  In her audio book Don’t Bite the Hook, Chödrön teaches that biting the hook of habitual anger is self-destructive.  She explains that the more we strengthen the habit of anger, the less often we find things that please us.  Chödrön recommends that we practice not getting hooked by small irritants — like slow drivers — to build our muscles for the big ones.


As I growled my complaint about the slow driver in the fast lane, Chödrön’s voice and wry sense of humor helped ease me into awareness of the negative energy I was creating.  She encouraged me to get curious about what triggered my anger.  Was I afraid someone would think less of me if I was late?  That’s my innate shame trigger – not wanting to be shunned goes back to my ancestors who couldn’t survive on their own.


Once I became aware of my trigger, I could accept the need to change my response to it.  Instead of getting hooked and making up stories that would fuel my anger (that person is such a terrible driver they shouldn’t even be on the road!), I needed to reframe my attitude toward the discomfort of going too slow.  Practicing patience could help me strengthen my tolerance for the next time I encounter an annoying situation.


Chödrön acknowledges that resisting the urge to act on our anger causes us pain, but pain can wake us up and make us more compassionate.  That worked for me — I was able to move from acceptance into action by using compassion and curiosity.  I wondered what might be happening with the person in the slower car.  Might they be lost or having car trouble?

Mastering this approach to avoid getting hooked by anger will take some of us longer than others.  Chödrön’s advice is to get comfortable with the idea that things and people are changing all the time.  Each new encounter gives us a fresh opportunity to practice awareness, acceptance and action.