Founder’s Corner – Life Planning

Someone once said to me, “How can I plan my life when life is ever-changing and unpredictable?” I found it a thoughtful question and a reasonable one to ask. While I believe it to be true that we cannot predict what will happen tomorrow or in the next minute for that matter, planning for the future has always been a worthy consideration –  as long as we do not become attached to our plans. Yet, having a plan in place is how many choose which schools to attend for a degree, what cities to live in that offer opportunities, and the qualities to look for in a mate versus remaining single. 

Some plans we look forward to and are eager to engage in.

I’ve witnessed couples planning their wedding. What colors to consider? Which caterer to hire? Who will be invited to that special day? Those same couples may plan for a family. How many children do they dream of having? What neighborhoods do they wish to live in? Which schools to send their children to? Those types of plans may lead to the type of job you want, the roles that are most important to you to take in your profession, and how much money you want or need to earn. 

Other plans are necessary and not so much fun to contemplate.

Recently I heard from a former client who shared that she is embarrassed to admit that, as she nears retirement, she has not planned out investments so that she has the money to retire comfortably. She admitted that planning for this next phase of her life is not something she looks forward to doing. So she simply avoids the topic altogether. This is a pervasive reality for many of us who don’t want to think about retirement. Yet, avoiding the topic doesn’t make its reality go away.

Life is full of plans. Some go as hoped while others, well, require rethinking. And just because you make plans, how you intend to carry out your plans may not always seem so clear. 

As a part of human nature or how we’ve been conditioned to act, we often find ourselves planning for the future – however unsure the future may be.

What I’ve discovered is that when it comes to the type of plans we make later in life, it can be the difference between planning the life you envision for yourself and living the life that someone else envisions for you, leaving your wishes out of the equation entirely. 

Hi, I’m Byron Darden with another edition of Leading with Purpose on Purpose. In this latest installment in the series on Transitions we began publishing in December 2023, we explore the value of Life Planning. The connection to our theme this month draws on the fact that more than a dozen countries celebrate Independence Day. So in keeping with the significance of gaining independence we thought it fitting to acknowledge the importance of doing so by planning ahead for the abundant life that is your birthright.

I’ve been supporting executive leaders for over 20 years in planning their climb up the corporate ladder and how to strategically navigate the process. Now I’ve drawn on that wealth of experience to support you in planning the life you most desire, rather than just hoping for the best that life has to offer. Because too many of us fail to plan for what is most important to us. Focusing on your passions, your dreams, and your greatest desires, I’ve learned first-hand the value of Life Planning. 

It began for me in 2008 when a dear friend and colleague offered me an opportunity to plan for what is next in my life. It was a profound experience unlike any I had before. While I had planned out my life as a skater as well as my rise as a stage actor, and my ultimate move to New York, these were all centered around my career. What I hadn’t considered was planning for the aspects of my life that were most important to me. Getting clear on how my life beyond my career might look. 

I was stunned to discover how many plans I made over the years without much thought to how retirement might fit in, as well as what and how I would like to give back. Particularly considering the countless opportunities that came my way and not by my own efforts. In fact, taking advantage of Life Planning is how I found my way to New York and what prompted me to begin Triple Axel Executive Coaching. 

Just to give you a taste of what Life Planning can do for you, I not only planned how my company would form and unfold, I even planned the last two-year pivot through which I’ve been transitioning in real time since we began publishing this series. 

You may have noticed that over the past eight months, our website has gone through a transformation. Our colors have changed from orange to several hues of blue. Our logo is different. Our services are more dynamic. And while we continue to specialize in serving women in leadership, we are also now inclusive of all executives and the various types of organizations in which they lead. We’re primed to help organizations become more inclusive, support them in facing change, and provide coaching to executives to sharpen their skills. In order to navigate promotions more effectively, we help leaders develop their personal brand, and guide our clients to build on what they do in business by also helping them identify what comes next in their lives.

As you read this month’s blog on Life Planning Part One, think about how you can benefit from allowing us to help you make way for your life’s passions. Enjoy!

Continue to this month’s blog on Life Planning!

One with You: Life Planning

It’s easy to get swept away by the cycles of daily life. We find ourselves caught in a cycle of routines, obligations, and unforeseen events, rarely taking the time to pause and reflect on where we’re headed. Last month, we discussed the importance of mindfulness and staying in the present moment with our tasks. This is extremely important. So is looking ahead. This is where life planning comes into play—a process that empowers you to take control of your future, align your actions with your goals, and ultimately lead a more fulfilling and purposeful life.

Life planning is not just about setting goals; it’s about envisioning the life you truly desire and mapping out the steps to get there. It involves a holistic approach, considering every aspect of your existence, from career and finances to health and relationships. By dedicating time to planning your life, you create a blueprint that guides your decisions, helps you navigate challenges, and keeps you focused on what truly matters.

In this blog, we will explore the nuances of life planning, exploring how it can enhance your sense of direction, improve your mental and emotional well-being, and provide a clearer vision for your future. Whether you’re at a crossroads, seeking greater balance, or striving for personal growth, life planning offers invaluable benefits that can transform your journey. Life planning can help you craft the life you’ve always envisioned or create a vision for the life you want to have.

Your Personal Road Map

Life Planning is your very own guide that draws from your personally developed itinerary focused on your most desired places to go, sights to take in, experiences to savor, identifying the causes you want to champion, and being with the people dear to you, on your most significant journey imaginable. 

Your guide is tailored for and by you, matching what’s core to why you are who you are; taking into account what you yearn for most. You’ll discover what obstacles might get in your way. Determine who can help you overcome them. You’ll even have the freedom to exercise your option to choose the timing to take action on possible adjustments to keep your journey on course.

When you find that certain aspects of your itinerary no longer align with your initial planning, you can let them go. This includes adding new choices to your itinerary, including changing where you wish to travel, expanding or scaling back your list of people to be with, and shifting experiences based on your change of heart.

Essentially, Life Planning is a roadmap that identifies what is most important to you that is born of your dreams and aspirations. It’s a way of taking wishes and fantasies and turning them into a plausible approach to making them a reality. 

What Life Planning is not, is a plan for the end of life. By contrast, it is as the title suggests. It is a way of looking at your life in terms of what can be possible when we allow ourselves to dream and then look at ways of turning dreams into reality. It is also not a plan full of guardrails. Instead, guidelines for how to move forward. It also is not a constriction that can not be altered. 

As the saying goes, “Life happens when you’re making plans.” The suggestion is that life does not go according to plan. While this is often true, the lack of a plan provides you with no starting point nor ultimate attainment of something important to you because you chose not to put whatever it is in motion. Life planning allows you to consider what you really value most and then map out steps to move you in that direction. While you might find something else along the way, the life plan guides you to possible roads to travel. Something that I often heard as an athlete is a quote credited to Norman Vincent Peale, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Next comes Creating a Purpose and Direction

Creating Purpose and Direction

The significance of life planning is twofold. First, consider the analogy of taking a trip. You wouldn’t embark on a journey without some level of preparation and planning. Without a plan, you might find yourself overspending, ending up in places you didn’t intend to visit, and missing out on key experiences you would have cherished. Just as a well-thought-out travel itinerary helps you maximize your trip, life planning ensures that your resources—time, money, and energy—are directed toward your most valued goals.

When you have a plan for your trip, it’s easier to manage unexpected events with contingency plans. Similarly, life planning equips you to handle unforeseen circumstances with greater resilience and adaptability. By anticipating potential challenges and having strategies in place, you can navigate life’s uncertainties more effectively. This proactive approach reduces stress and helps you maintain a steady course, even when faced with obstacles.

Second, life planning fosters a deeper sense of purpose and direction. It encourages introspection and self-awareness, prompting you to identify your core values and long-term aspirations. This clarity of purpose acts as a compass, guiding your daily decisions and helping you prioritize what truly matters. Without a plan, it’s easy to become reactive, constantly responding to immediate demands without considering their alignment with your broader vision. Life planning keeps you focused on your ultimate objectives, ensuring that your actions are intentional and aligned with your desired outcomes.

In essence, life planning is about taking charge of your destiny. It’s a proactive approach to living that empowers you to design a life that reflects your true self and aspirations. By planning your life with intention and foresight, you set the stage for a more organized, balanced, and fulfilling existence. In the following sections of this blog, we’ll explore practical steps and strategies to help you create your life plan, ensuring that you are well-equipped to achieve your dreams and navigate your journey with confidence and purpose.

It begins when you Shift Your Mindset.

Shift Your Mindset

The choices we make and the mindset we adopt play a crucial role in shaping our experiences and outcomes. Often, we find ourselves stuck in patterns that limit our potential and stifle our growth. To truly thrive, it’s essential to recognize these limiting behaviors and actively work towards more empowering alternatives.

The table below outlines a transformative path from limiting beliefs and actions toward more empowering and fulfilling approaches. Each transition represents a shift from a constrained, reactive state to one of intentionality, freedom, and self-empowerment. By embracing these shifts, you can unlock your true potential and craft a life that is successful and also deeply satisfying.

Move Away FromMove Toward
Limiting beliefsLimitless ones (at least at first)
Listening to adviceBeing heard for your dreams and desires
HesitationFreedom of flow knowing you have someone in your corner as a cheerleader rather than a naysayer
Stifling emotionsBeing in touch with your emotions
Letting life happenPlanning life’s happenings

Each transition signifies a profound change in perspective and behavior:

  • From Limiting Beliefs to Limitless Ones: Start by challenging the constraints you’ve placed on yourself. Open your mind to new possibilities and believe in your potential to achieve great things. This became very real for me when I was advised to earn a championship before turning to professional skating. 

Competition was not for me at the time. Learning how to skate well enough to be hired by Ice Capades and work my way up was my greatest desire. I was told it wouldn’t happen. A year after joining Ice Capades I became the understudy for the lead male in the show. In fact, he was my coach. Eventually, he left the show and I took his spot…without a championship under my belt.

  • From Listening to Advice to Being Heard for Your Dreams and Desires: Move beyond simply taking advice from others. Find your voice, articulate your own dreams, and ensure that your goals are acknowledged and supported.
  • From Hesitation to Freedom of Flow: Overcome hesitation by building confidence and embracing the support of those who believe in you. Experience the freedom that comes with knowing you have a cheerleader in your corner.
  • From Stifling Emotions to Being in Touch with Them: Instead of suppressing your emotions, learn to understand and express them. This emotional intelligence will enhance your well-being and relationships.
  • From Letting Life Happen to Planning Life’s Happening: Take control of your destiny by actively planning your life’s course. This proactive approach allows you to shape your future rather than being shaped by external circumstances. I learned this firsthand when I dreamt of becoming an Olympic coach. Because I wasn’t a champion. Because I didn’t have my gold figure test. Because I did not train with a star coach. Because I didn’t have the politics in my corner. 

Because, because, because I stopped letting others plan my life for me according to what was “reasonable” to them, I instead kept my eye on what was most important to me. Eventually, one thing led to another, I became well known for an emerging discipline in the sport that put me in the spotlight and my dream eventually came true. Interestingly enough, you may recall my sharing in an earlier blog that I indeed became a professional pairs champion. It happened the same year my student earned his birth on the US Olympic team.

By making these shifts, you can move from a place of limitation and reaction to one of empowerment and intention. This transformation is key to living a life that truly reflects your passions, values, and aspirations.

Stay tuned as next month we discuss tools you can incorporate into your life to prepare for life planning, I share a personal story, and we explore the science behind life planning.

Founders Corner – Mindfulness of Transitions

Ever wonder what all the fuss is about regarding meditation? It is just one of the many ways of developing mindfulness. The practice of focusing on the present moment, often through sensations in the body. It can be practiced during meditation or in everyday activities, such as cooking, eating, cleaning, walking, or star gazing up into the sky. However you find yourself most comfortable developing it, mindfulness is a powerful tool anyone can develop for themselves. How have I come to know so much about mindfulness? It is a daily practice of mine and one I share with all my clients, no matter where in the world they may be leading teams, interacting with colleagues or influencing senior leadership and clients. Developing a mindfulness practice has helped every client with whom I’ve worked become a more effective leader.

Hi, I’m Byron Darden with another edition of Leading with Purpose on Purpose. In this seventh installment, we continue our series on Transitions with this month’s, Transcending Change: Embracing Mindfulness in Transitions. Enjoy!

Let’s begin this month’s blog with Transcending Changes: Embracing Mindfulness in Transitions.

Transcending Change: Embracing Mindfulness in Transitions

Transitions in life are tightrope walking experiences between the familiar and the unknown, where uncertainty lurks at every step. Whether it’s a career change, a move to a new city, or a relationship shift, navigating these transitions requires focus, courage, and resilience. Yet imagine the difference when aided by a guiding light. Enter mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and engaged at the moment and it offers a powerful tool for navigating life’s transitions with grace and clarity. It’s about cultivating a deep awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, without judgment or attachment to the past or future. In essence, this practice provides a steady anchor when the storms of change arise, allowing us to navigate transitions with greater ease and flexibility.

Focusing on the present moment helps us embrace the beauty and richness of each experience, even when faced with uncertainty. It invites us to observe our thoughts and emotions with curiosity and compassion, rather than getting swept away by them. In doing so, a mindfulness practice fosters a sense of inner peace and acceptance, enabling us to move through transitions that may lack clarity and sanctuary.

We’ll explore how mindfulness serves as a guiding force in navigating life’s transitions. From practical tools and exercises to inspiring stories of personal transformation, we’ll uncover the profound impact of mindfulness on our journey through change. And you will begin to better understand how mindfulness addresses our overall wellness as we learn about the benefits of developing this invaluable practice.

Keep reading to learn about Cultivating Awareness

Cultivating Awareness

Mindfulness is awareness of the interconnected communication loop between the body and brain that influences the perception and behavior of ourselves and our environment. While it requires a mental effort, it is an exercise that requires drawing on all our senses. It is a practice that involves bringing our attention to the present moment without judgment. It’s about being fully aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the environment surrounding us. 

Rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, mindfulness encourages us to experience each moment as it unfolds. Within its unfolding, it is helpful to combine mindfulness with loving kindness; the latter of which is more directed to our awareness in the physical realm. Often these two are combined to be certain to balance the mind with the body.

Mindfulness is a practice rooted in ancient contemplative traditions, particularly in Buddhism,  it has also gained widespread popularity in modern psychology and other wellness practices. At its core, mindfulness involves intentionally paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity, and acceptance.

Think of mindfulness as a framework to prepare for approaching transitions. By integrating your practice of mindfulness and loving-kindness into your transition process, you can navigate change skillfully and with a greater sense of inner peace. We will speak more about this in our final blog next month which brings closure to our series on Transitions.

Here are some key aspects of mindfulness:

  • Present Moment Awareness: Bring your attention to the here and now, focusing on your current experiences, sensations, thoughts, and emotions without getting caught up in past regrets or future worries.
  • Non-Judgmental Awareness: Observe your experiences without judgment or criticism. This means accepting your thoughts and feelings as they are, without labeling them as “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong.” These are judgments that when used to express our opinion of another’s effort, particularly in a business setting, can have an adverse effect on the receiver of such judgmental words. As a result, while we may not be conscious of their effect, the impact is felt and can often lead to the very reason people choose to move on to opportunities in other organizations.
  • Acceptance and Letting Go: Develop your ability to accept issues, circumstances, and situations as they are in the present moment, even when they are difficult or uncomfortable. It’s about letting go of the impulse to control or change things and instead allowing them to unfold naturally.
  • Awareness of Thoughts and Emotions: Become more aware of your thoughts and emotions as they arise, observing them with curiosity and without attachment rather than becoming overwhelmed by them.
  • Focused Attention: Focus your attention on a specific object or function, such as your breath, bodily sensations, or an external stimulus such as the flame of a candle. This helps anchor your awareness in the present moment and prevents your mind from wandering.
  • Cultivation of Compassion: While awareness and acceptance are primary, you will also want to cultivate compassion and loving-kindness towards yourself and others. This involves treating yourself with gentleness and understanding, especially during challenging times such as transitioning through change.
  • Practice and Skill Development: Mindfulness is a state of being and a skill that can be developed through regular practice. Activities such as meditation, mindful breathing, body scans, expressing loving-kindness and mindful movement, (i.e. yoga or tai chi) are common ways to cultivate it.

This developed quality is a powerful tool for promoting mental well-being, reducing stress, and enhancing self-awareness. It can be applied in various aspects of life, from managing everyday stressors to navigating major life transitions with greater resilience and clarity. You will recall my sharing about this in our May blog on “The ART of Listening.”

Discover the Role of Mindfulness in your life.

The Role of Mindfulness

Incorporating practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or body scans into our daily routine can help cultivate these skills over time, ultimately supporting us in managing our emotions. This is a useful skill given that our emotional state can lead to anxiety and stress – well-documented contributors to poor performance and health complications

Mindfulness practice is important in transitions for several reasons:

  • Emotional Regulation: Transitions often bring about a range of emotions, including stress, anxiety, excitement, and uncertainty. The practice helps regulate these emotions by allowing individuals to observe their feelings without judgment and respond to them in a more balanced way.
  • Reduced Stress and Anxiety: These practices have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels. By staying present and focused on the current moment, individuals can alleviate some of the worry and rumination that often accompany transitions.
  • Increased Resilience: Transition periods can be challenging and require adaptability. Practicing fosters resilience by helping individuals cultivate a mindset of acceptance, flexibility, and openness to change. I’m reminded of a colleague and friend who has meditated for decades and discovered how much more grounded they felt when dealing with an ailing family member. Their settledness also provides them solace with tensions that come up with other family members – who do not meditate regularly – who are more easily rattled when facing the illness of that same family member.
  • Improved Decision-Making: Develop your practice to enhance clarity of thought and concentration, which can improve decision-making during transitions. By staying present and grounded, individuals can make more thoughtful and intentional choices about their next steps. This can be particularly useful when addressing obstacles that can get in the way during the Life Planning process.
  • Enhanced Coping Skills: Mindfulness provides individuals with effective coping strategies for dealing with the uncertainties and challenges of transitions. By developing a greater capacity to stay present with difficult emotions and situations, individuals can navigate transitions with greater ease and confidence.
  • Promotion of Self-Awareness: Transitions provide opportunities for self-reflection and personal growth. Mindfulness enhances self-awareness by encouraging individuals to observe their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without judgment. This self-awareness can lead to deeper insights and a greater understanding of oneself during times of change.
  • Improved Relationships: Regular practice fosters enhanced communication and deeper empathy, which can strengthen relationships during transitions. By being fully present with others and actively listening to their experiences, individuals can build stronger connections and provide support to one another.

By cultivating mindfulness during transitional periods, individuals can adapt more effectively to new circumstances and embrace the opportunities for growth and transformation. That is what transitions generate and why remaining grounded is of great importance.

Learn how to Harness the Benefits of Mindfulness

Harnessing the Benefits of Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can serve you well in various transitions throughout life. Here are some examples:

  • Career Transitions: Whether starting a new job, gaining a promotion, transitioning to a different career path, or retiring from your current profession, mindfulness can help you navigate the transitions of these changes more effectively.
  • Relationship Transitions: Draw on your practice to support you during relationship transitions such as starting a new romantic relationship, going through a breakup or divorce, or adjusting to changes in your family dynamics.
  • Life Stage Transitions: As we learn, grow, mature, and explore, life stage transitions are inevitable and look different for everyone. Mindfulness can help us embrace these differences and transition through the changes they present to us with openness, acceptance, and a sense of purpose. This insight led me to learn how I can provide support to leaders as they consider what is next in their lives. Helping them plan for it rather than just letting life happen to them.
  • Health Transitions: Managing health-related transitions, such as recovering from an illness or injury, adapting to a new diagnosis, or making lifestyle changes to improve your well-being, can be challenging. Your practice can support you in coping with the physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological aspects of these transitions.
  • Cultural or Environmental Transitions: Moving to a new city or country, adjusting to a different cultural or social environment, or experiencing changes in your community can be disorienting. Mindfulness can help you stay grounded and connected through cultural or environmental shifts. Loving-kindness will help to orient to new situations with greater ease.
  • Educational Transitions: Whether starting school, transitioning between academic programs, or pursuing further education, mindfulness can help you manage the academic pressures and uncertainties associated with the educational environment. Adding loving-kindness will support you physically as you experience the stress of such a transition on your body.
  • Personal Growth Transitions: Engaging in personal growth activities such as starting a new hobby, embarking on a spiritual journey, or challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone can be transformative. Mindfulness can support you in staying present, curious, and open to new experiences.

In essence, you can benefit from a mindfulness practice when experiencing any change, uncertainty, or adjustment. By cultivating mindfulness, you can navigate transitions with greater ease, resilience, and well-being, embracing the opportunities for growth and transformation that come with change.

Learn more about Developing Your Practice.

Developing Your Practice

Here are some ways to incorporate a mindfulness practice into any transition:

  • Mindful Breathing: Take a few moments to focus on your breath. Notice the sensation of each inhalation and exhalation, allowing your breath to anchor you in the present moment. This simple practice can help calm your mind and ground you during times of change.
  • Body Scan: Conduct a body scan to bring awareness to physical sensations. Starting from your toes and moving up to the top of your head; be sure to heighten your awareness as you sense each part of your body. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort without judgment. Simply observe and breathe into those sensations, allowing them to soften and release. 

This is something I find myself doing from time to time when my energy is high and I notice my hand trembling when holding a piece of paper or another object. By simply observing the tremble, breathing into the sensation of trembling, and then releasing muscle tension with the exhalation, the trembling stops and I am now aware of regulating my breathing and energy.

  • Observing Thoughts and Emotions: Pay attention to your thoughts and emotions as they arise during the transition. Instead of getting caught up in them, observe them with curiosity and compassion. Recognize that thoughts and feelings are transient and that is what the mind and body does. It creates thoughts and experiences feelings. Then choose not to attach to them and allow them to pass away as though helium balloons were being let go to float away. Or clouds that dissipate over time. Then allow your attention to return its focus to the breath, the flickering flame of a candle, or the physical sensations you experience in your body
  • Engaging Senses: Use your senses to connect with your surroundings. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around you. Engaging with your senses can anchor you in the present moment and provide a sense of stability during transitions.
  • Mindful Movement: Practice mindfulness during movement activities such as walking, yoga,  tai chi, eating, food preparation, or star gazing. Pay attention to each movement and sensation in your body as you move through space. This can help you stay grounded and centered through the transitions of change.
  • Gratitude Practice: Cultivate gratitude by reflecting on aspects of the transition that you are thankful for. Even amidst uncertainty or challenge, there are silver linings or opportunities for growth. Focusing on gratitude can shift your perspective and foster a sense of resilience.
  • Acceptance and Letting Go: Practice acceptance of the present moment, including both the joys and the difficulties of the transition. Let go of resistance to change and embrace the unfolding journey with openness and equanimity.
  • Regular Mindfulness Practice: Maintain a regular mindfulness practice, such as meditation or mindful journaling, to build resilience and inner resources for navigating transitions. Consistency is key to reaping the benefits of mindfulness over time.

Remember that mindfulness is a skill that develops with practice, so be patient and gentle with yourself as you integrate these practices into your life during transitions. Also remember that with any practice, seeking help and support will set you up for greater success. I know this to be true because I was unable to master this practice until I sought support.

Read how mindfulness and transitions have helped me through Life Changes.

Life Changes

So much of my life has been steeped in transitions that I rarely gave much thought to how my experience could support others. It wasn’t until a dear friend and colleague of mine suggested I support others through transitions that it even occurred to me. At first, I could not fathom why they thought I would have anything to say to others that could help them. Her reply was sobering, “Clearly Byron, you haven’t read your own resume.” 

We all have moments in our lives when we discover how significant our experiences can be to others, sometimes more than they seem to ourselves. Having worked with global leaders who do not see their lives as particularly noteworthy, I’ve discovered a similar point of view about my own life! I’ve also learned just how noteworthy my clients’ lives truly are as we work together to evolve their leadership. They lead fascinating lives when they have the opportunity to see it from someone else’s perspective. 

When I work with leaders one-to-one or in groups, one of the aspects of my coaching is to share vulnerably about myself when appropriate. I learned that when I demonstrate vulnerability with my clients, they experience the value of the impact for themselves and are more confident in showing vulnerability with their own teams, colleagues, and clients. Starting at the beginning of our working relationship, I strategically find opportunities to share about myself as a model for how it is done and why it is such an effective way to build long and lasting relationships with others. 

In the Beginning

Rather than simply tell you a story, I will share with you that my friend and colleague brought to my attention that I transitioned from being a puppeteer entertaining young audiences to beginning my figure skating career which opened my eyes to business. 

My interest in how the skating business worked led to the start of a twelve-year career in the food service and hospitality industry primarily as a waiter; the most accessible entertainment to the public, from my perspective. I learned how to be authentically engaging and attentive to what made diners happy and appreciative. It was an industry that significantly developed my stage presence.

The entertainment business was already in my blood from my father; a professional pianist and drummer. Beyond his 9 to 5 profession, he continued to return to his love of music right up until the last six years of his life. He taught me to sharpen my entertainment skills through music and I did. I began honing those skills at just about every imaginable level of the restaurant experience. I transitioned from a pizza parlor to steakhouse dining. I made my way into gourmet catering where I continued for over a decade. I had the opportunity to work in a number of fine restaurants in my career. To this day, food preparation is my greatest passion. 

During that ten-plus year timeframe, I was tapped to move into the hotel industry working in the banquets department through five-star dining. I remember how challenging some of those transitions felt. When I first learned about the concept of imposter syndrome in my coaching work, I recalled similar feelings as a skater, progressing from one level to another. 

It really hit home for me when I earned my first master’s rating as a figure skating coach. “What am I going to do when they all find out I have no idea what I’m doing?”, I used to think. “Worse, what happens when the master coaches who passed me, have to explain why and how I passed?” It never occurred to me that imposter syndrome was what I experienced as I got promoted to higher levels, changed jobs, shifted to different industries, and acquired new skills and various roles. I’ve experienced these doubts since I began acting in the second grade. Being emotionally stretched and facing rejection was then and still is now, a regular occurrence. 

It remained the same when I toured with Ice Capades. In a professional show, talent is hired, promoted, demoted, and fired. It wasn’t always about a skater’s ability either. Sometimes it boiled down to, ‘how easy it is to work with a skater more so than how talented or not they may have been?” There is also that moment when it becomes time for talent to move on. It could be leaving the ice show as I did after three years, to move on to a coaching career. It could be moving up in an organization when promoted to more advanced roles. Or it could be moving on from a role in a company to join a different organization

For me, leaving the show and moving into coaching skaters was nothing like being a performer in an ice show. Evidence of that took a bit of time to sink in after a very seasoned coach enlightened  me that “it takes about five years to feel like you know what you’re doing.” Except, I already knew what I was doing. Or so I thought! 

My mother used to reference people who thought very highly of themselves. Not unlike when we reach adult age and think we know more than we do. She called it “smelling yourself.” I was so busy smelling myself after I heard I’d have to wait five years to really know what I was doing as a coach, that it wasn’t until about the fifth year that I remember gasping; realizing how far I’d come and how little I really knew! That revelation led to many years of trying to prove I had any business in the sport, much less coaching. Champion? Olympic coach? Yikes!

Coming Full Circle

I think part of the reason I returned to my own skating, which eventually led me to become a professional pairs skating champion, was to reconnect with my confidence in performing. That is a strange thing to share given we balance on a quarter of an inch of steel during which the only time we are on the full quarter-inch of the blade, is when we transition from edge to edge, from one foot to the other as well as moving from backward to forward and back again. The only way to avoid spending most of your time on your rear end is to master transitions. Yet, skaters still spend a significant amount of time on our ass, getting up off our ass or about to fall on our ass! Go figure! Pun intended.

This makes for an ideal transition to share where I learned to develop a nervous system that allowed me to cover that much change in my life. It was during the countless and seemingly endless hours of tracing school figures that I developed the skill of mindfulness. Compulsory school figures are the backbone of the sport and one of the most mindfulness training grounds that I know. Meditation came along much, much later in my life. School figures are where it all began for me and they were a requirement until 1991, until then you were not considered a figure skater without having trained school figures. 

School figures are to a skater what barr work is to a ballet dancer. Without the barr, you are left with no foundation for classical dancing. Without figures…well, the sport is now without school figures. This means the sport had to change and experience the uncertainty and growing pains of transition. I was coaching when figure requirements ended and something new had to become our version of barr work. A group of coaches; several of whom were mine, a number of judges; some of whom are my contemporaries, and a pool of skaters; one of whom later became my student, developed Moves in the Field. I was invited to co-author the book of standards for the new discipline that replaced figures and ushered in a new type of skating athlete. Enter in deepening the concept of cross-training. 


As I became known as the MovesMaster demonstrating, coaching, mentoring coaches, and setting standards for judging them, my skills as a coach became known as well as my writing ability. Eventually, I found myself writing my own column in an international figure skating magazine and coaching on the Olympic level. I’m reminded of a lyric from The Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime, “How did I get here?” It is a sentiment I thought of often as I transitioned in and out of a professional acting career that is still alive today. I recorded a book on tape, did voice-over work, and appeared in the global television special, “Ice Capades with Kirk Cameron.” 

Most of the professional skating experience I’ve had came after owning a chocolate manufacturing company; initially intended to financially support my skating. That business was what signaled my eventual retirement from the food industry. In each of the many professional roles I’ve had, I learned countless life and business lessons along the way. It finally inspired me to earn an academic MBA to go along with learning business on the job.

Navigating smoothly through transitions can help you Gain an Advantage.

Gain an Advantage

Embracing mindfulness can set you apart from others. While many may navigate transitions with uncertainty, stress, and emotional turbulence, those who incorporate mindfulness into their lives stand out for their resilience, clarity, and grounded presence. While there are numerous ways to practice mindfulness, one of the ways I’ve found that boosts your awareness is a regular meditation practice.

It did not surprise me to learn that less than 15% of the population spends time in a regular meditation practice. I avoided it myself at first. Of those who spend time in quiet contemplation: 

  • Three-quarters experience improvements in their health.
  • Nearly ⅔ have more energy.
  • One-half have better memory and attention.
  • One-third experience decreased anxiety, stress, and sadness.

What did surprise me is that there are over twelve thousand empirical articles written about the self-compassion aspect of mindfulness.

Mindfulness cultivates a unique capacity to engage with change in a more intentional and balanced manner. By developing a practice of present-moment awareness and self-compassion, individuals become adept at observing their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judgment. This ability to stay anchored in the present moment while transitioning through change allows for a deeper understanding of oneself and the situation at hand.

Rather than becoming distracted by a whirlwind of emotions, one is able to acknowledge and accept their feelings with equanimity. By maintaining a sense of inner calm, they can respond to challenges with greater clarity and composure, thus fostering more harmonious relationships and effective decision-making.

Mindfulness fosters a sense of resilience that sets individuals apart during transitions. Instead of viewing change as a threat, they approach it with a mindset of openness and adaptability. Through regular meditation, deep breathing exercises, or body scans, they build a strong foundation of inner strength and flexibility, enabling them to navigate even the most turbulent of transitions with grace and fortitude.

By being fully present with others and cultivating deep listening skills, mindfulness practitioners forge deeper connections and offer genuine support to those around them. This empathetic and compassionate approach not only strengthens existing relationships –  they attract new opportunities for collaboration and growth.

Mindfulness is a path to greater self-awareness, emotional resilience, and interpersonal connection. 

Start Your Journey

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Embarking on a transition journey is navigating uncharted waters, filled with uncertainties and complexities. In times of change, finding inner balance and clarity becomes paramount. That’s where meditation can be an invaluable ally. 

Whether you’re facing a career shift, a relationship change, or any other aspect of life that sets you on a transition course in life, meditation offers a sanctuary of peace and insight. 

I’ve seen a great deal of change in my life including having grown up and lived in three different cities in Texas and two different cities in Colorado. I’ve spent over a decade in Massachusetts, and nearly a decade in Washington state, traveled the world, and now reside in New York City. I’ve lived through numerous transitions from one aspect of my life to another and I’ve developed a mindfulness practice that allows me to be where I am in my life today – grounded. 

Engage me to support you in transitioning through whatever changes you face in your life. Having earned the Registered Life Planning designation, RLP®, I have an insightful way to help you begin planning a transition rather than meeting it as a deer in the headlights might!

Founders Corner – The ART of Listening

Children Will Listen from the Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway show, Into The Woods.

You may not have expected to open this month’s Founder’s Corner to experience me singing. Yet given this month is all about listening, I thought it fitting to grab your attention by demonstrating the impact and power of Listening.

Hi, I’m Byron Darden with another edition of Leading with Purpose on Purpose. In our continuing series on Transitions, this month we focus on The ART of Listening and its impact on relationship building. This is a particularly significant topic when you consider the emotions that are stirred when we find ourselves moving through major transitions in our lives. 

Whether I’m coaching leaders transitioning within their organizations to more senior roles, advising them on how to approach retirement, or making the decision to leave their corporate jobs to start their own firms, launch a nonprofit organization, or simply follow their aspirations beyond 9am to 5pm (which I must admit is a timeframe from another era), it is the listening that lies at the foundation of how I help clients get from their current state to their desired future state. 

I cannot recall the last time I worked with an executive who worked exclusively within the hours of 9 to 5. Which most likely leads to some of the desires they share with me about what more they would like to do with their lives going into their future. One of the ways in which I help many leaders is to inspire them to master their own listening. That sometimes means listening to the internal voice we all have that can lead us in the direction that most calls to us. That is when we can hear that inner voice over all the noise that often permeates our environment in order to build a stronger relationship with ourselves. Enjoy!

Explore the Art of Listening.

The ART of Listening: Impact on Relationship Building

In a world filled with constant activity as well as increasing distractions and competing demands for our attention, the skill of truly listening has become increasingly more important.  Listening goes beyond merely hearing words; it involves actively processing and comprehending the message being conveyed. It requires attention, empathy, and genuine interest in understanding the speaker’s perspective. 

Listening with our whole self means being fully present and attentive; listening with our ears and including our hearts and minds. It means setting aside distractions, suspending judgment in exchange for curiosity, and genuinely investing ourselves in understanding the speaker’s message. This holistic approach fosters deeper connections, builds trust, and cultivates empathy, fostering stronger relationships both personally and professionally.

This month, we explore how each of our senses allows us to become effective listeners, the different styles of listening, why it’s so important to listen with our whole self, and how we can practice deeper listening skills with others and with ourselves

Learn how to Be Present.

Be Present

The ART of listening, as we define it, is the ability to bring one’s full attention to the speaker, and be present without interruptions or distractions. You engage in what is being shared and not being shared, identified through all your senses. It involves:

  1. Thinking: Actively processing and reflecting on the speaker’s words and their implications. In the Buddhist tradition, the sixth sense is aligned with thinking vs ESP.
  2. Seeing: Observing the speaker’s body language for additional insights and cues.
  3. Hearing: Paying attention to the words spoken, vocal inflections, word choice, and emotional tone.
  4. Smell:  When we experience life and others, we may be aware of scent associations that we often give little attention to, such as when I think of my grandparents with whom I associate with the smell of the farm or the musty basement beneath the farmhouse.
  5. Taste: Being attuned to any olfactory cues that may reveal additional layers of meaning. An example of this is when I think of my mother, I’m often reminded of a scent she wore or the lemon icebox pie she used to make for me on special occasions.
  6. Feeling: Sensing the speaker’s emotions and intentions through their expressions and the sensations they evoke in oneself.

Though all our senses play a role in deep listening, what we perceive visually and physically outweighs auditory input by more than 50%. Taking this into account, we draw on our ART model to remind us to Approach our listening with a sense of curiosity and openness. We Resolve whatever issue is at hand by giving the speaker our full attention with the intention of reaching a conclusion, determination, or settlement. The accomplishment or desired impact that follows is the release of Tension that results from an effective and accurately received message.   

As you will note, listening is so much more than just hearing someone’s words. It is also listening through our senses to what the speaker is conveying (intention). We listen in this way to the messages our mind, body, and spirit convey in service to our protection, growth, and development. Think of it as listening to your gut. Examples of this are what is learned through meditation and somatic work.  

Listening itself comes in many forms depending on your environment. Here are some common types of listening and when you might use them.

  1. Informational Listening focuses on understanding the message being conveyed. It’s used when you want to remember what is being said. You’ll use this type of listening in work training, self-paced learning, or when listening to a coach or mentor.
  2. Discriminative Listening involves distinguishing different sounds, voices, pitch, or quality. It’s the most basic form of listening and helps us understand the basic auditory information in communication. Think of this as reading between the lines, such as when someone says “Yes” and they clearly mean “No.”
  3. Selective or Biased Listening means that you hear what you want to hear. This can lead to misunderstandings as you fail to fully process the message of the speaker.
  4. Sympathetic Listening is where you focus on understanding the speaker’s feelings, emotions, and perspectives. It involves having and demonstrating compassion, empathy, and sensitivity towards the speaker’s experiences and concerns.
  5. Comprehensive Listening focuses on understanding the message being conveyed. It involves grasping the main ideas, details, and overall context of what is being communicated.
  6. Therapeutic Listening focuses on providing support and understanding to the speaker. It involves creating a safe space for the speaker to express their thoughts, feelings, and struggles without blame or judgment. 
  7. Critical Listening involves analyzing and evaluating the message being presented. It requires assessing the validity of the information, considering the speaker’s credibility, and examining the arguments for evidence provided.

All of these types of listening can have the ART model applied to them.

Learn how to Build Relationships through the ART of Listening.

Build Relationships

Effective communication lies at the heart of all human interaction. It serves as the cornerstone of our relationships, both personal and professional. Miscommunication, often stemming from a lack of attentive listening, can lead to a cascade of negative consequences.

When we fail to listen deeply to one another, misunderstandings abound. These misunderstandings can escalate into conflicts, erode trust, and ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships. Whether in intimate partnerships, familial bonds, friendships, or workplace collaborations, the repercussions of miscommunication reverberate far and wide.

By honing the ART of listening, individuals can foster deeper connections and build stronger, more resilient relationships. When we listen with intention and attention, we signal to others that their words, feelings, and perspectives matter to us. This acknowledgment lays the foundation for trust and mutual respect.

Attentive listening equips us with the tools to navigate the intricate dynamics of social interaction with greater ease. It allows us to pick up on subtle cues, understand underlying emotions, and respond thoughtfully to the needs and concerns of others. In doing so, we forge bonds of empathy and understanding that transcends mere words.

In essence, the ART of listening is not just a skill; it’s a transformative practice that enriches every facet of our lives. By embracing this practice wholeheartedly, we can cultivate deeper connections, foster meaningful relationships, and navigate the complexities of human interaction with grace and compassion.

This also goes for the relationship you have with yourself. We suggest employing one of our learning tools we call, Engagement Query. It is an emotional intelligence-based tool used to create connection, enhance engagement, and deepen the influence you have with your audience during presentations, meetings, facilitations, and Interactions. It is also designed to help us develop questions we can ask ourselves to ensure we are truly present with ourselves. 

It accomplishes a similar outcome addressed in the phrase, “Should an emergency situation occur, you need to put your own oxygen mask on first, before attempting to help those around you.” While it isn’t necessary to wait for an extreme emergency situation to act, the sentiment of the phrase reminds us that we are more successful doing for others, what we’ve accomplished doing for ourselves.  

Listen more effectively by Shifting Your Focus.

Shift Your Focus

Improving listening skills is vital for better communication and stronger relationships. Here we explore the shift from old habits that hinder communication to new practices that foster deep understanding and connection:

Move Away FromMove Toward
Waiting to ShareFocus on What is Shared
Quick to ReactPause to Respond
DistractedBeing Present

Each one of these pairs represents a chance to improve your listening skills. Mindfulness meditation is at the core of each Move Toward recommendation. What is most challenging for many who consider the practice of meditation is that they find it too difficult or not something they are cut out to do. You are not alone. I could not meditate successfully when I first began. So what can be done?

Given there are so many obstacles that can get in the way of quieting the mind, there are ways to work through this often challenging form of centering. The first step that supported me and many like those of us who find it difficult at first is to ask for help before you assume you “can’t” do it. When I taught figure skating invariably students who believed something was too difficult would often respond with, “I can’t!” 

I would pull out a marker and write the word “Can” on the ice. Then I would underline the word and proceed to draw a vertical line down from the underlined word and add the letters, “ry” spelling “Try.” We both had a laugh and I would proceed with, “Let me show you how before you adopt the idea that something is impossible.” Asking for help is the first step.

Obstacles that often get in the way include stress, exhaustion, hunger, pain, and strong emotions. The very reason we meditate is to reduce stress that can lead to exhaustion and compound the issue. Therefore it comes with the practice of meditation itself that allows us to overcome these very stresses in our lives that lead us to meditate in the first place.

It can also help to better understand the benefits of meditation which include boosting the immune system. High stress levels for extended periods of time and experienced with frequency release the hormone in the body called cortisol. Lower levels of cortisol flowing through the body allow it to fight off infection. The added benefit is that less cortisol triggers reduce inflammation as well as chronic pain and the higher risk associated with heart disease. 

Through meditation, you can also lower your blood pressure. As an athlete, my training over time lowered my blood pressure which was a positive outcome among many because I developed improved focus and learned to maintain calmness over the many years I skated. When I would go for a physical, my doctors noted my lower blood pressure. This led to a calmer state of being that developed over time in skating. It served me well from a health perspective. 

There are alternatives to meditation. One significant alternative for me was practicing compulsory school figures; in those figure eights, we would draw on the ice with our blades as we continued round and round the circles until we achieved excellence in shape and tracing of the patterns. Although figure eights are no longer a compulsory part of the sport, other meditative practices such as walking in nature, gazing up at the clouds, and rhythmic drumming are a few options to consider.

What shocked me when I began meditating twenty years ago was discovering that all those years of figure skating proved meditative. I had no idea that I already knew how to meditate. I just hadn’t been told about it. When I discovered that, I was reminded of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz learning that she could go home all along after a whimsical journey through the land of Oz.

While I may not be a meditation teacher, I’ve learned from my teachers how to meditate and help others get started. So allow me to offer a sneak peek at what I’ve learned to do and perhaps you will want to try it yourself before you adopt the belief that you CAN’T!

Click here to meditate along with me.

Learn more ways to practice your listening skills in Try This.

Try This

To cultivate the art of listening in your daily interactions, try the following exercise:

The next time someone initiates a conversation without explicitly seeking your attention, pause and acknowledge the need to prepare to listen fully. Say something like, “Hold on just a moment so I can give you my full attention.” Cease any ongoing activities and, if feasible, adjust your body to make eye contact with the speaker. Take a deep breath, exhale fully, and pause for a beat before inviting the speaker to continue. Notice the impact of this intentional shift in your listening approach. Capture what you experience in your executive journal and look for opportunities to improve. 

Here’s an analogy that may help explain the passage of time in a conversation:

A beat in the theater is half a second. This measure of time is based on musical theory in that it takes 120 beats per minute to pass, the timing you’d most likely experience in a pop song. That may sound very technical and it is. This information also demonstrates the science of timing used to calculate the passage of time that will be most realistic in what is happening on stage when watching an actor perform their role.

Another helpful tool to consider when practicing your listening skills is:

Listen without focusing on what you want to say next. Instead, remain fully present with the person speaking and allow your full attention to truly grasp what the other person is and is not sharing. This usually requires us to hear the other person out. Then take the time (perhaps several beats) to weigh what you just heard. Then follow up with a guttural, pause, and/or a deep breath. Then when you respond, focus on what has been shared rather than moving forward with what you wish to add. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you will gain the other person’s attention, trust, and regard.

Case in Point: I recently was meeting with clergy to discuss ways and offerings the church could consider adopting to build greater community with its congregation. I suggested deep listening without an agenda because of the powerful impact on the speaker and the listener. My thoughts were appreciated and taken into serious consideration. During the conversation, another thought, not completely related to the conversation, occurred to me that felt important to add. Instead of breaking my own rule about listening without an agenda, I kept the comment to myself. Later in the day, the moderator who asked the question took a greater interest in my work and shared their wish to learn more. I deepened my relationship at that moment by keeping my additional thoughts to myself.

In that moment I got to see my approach in action and experience the power of keeping my mouth shut about what more I wanted to add. Now I have made a note about the additional insight that I will save until another time.

Lesson learned: I’ve given myself another reason to return to another conversation and cement in the mind of the clergy that I had more value to add…next time!

Keep reading to learn more about the Power of Listening.

Power of Listening

When I was developing my listening skills to earn the RLP® designation, I was struck by the power that my listening had on my partner. While I have been developing my listening and different types of listening over the years, I’ve continually learned so much about the nuance of listening that I’m amazed at how much more there is to learn. During my training, a story was shared with the group that really landed for me. It involved a husband and wife who attended a function during which the husband decided to just bring his acute listening skills to his interactions with other attendees. He shared how he moved around the room and focused on just his listening skills. He spoke little and simply listened and demonstrated his listening through body language and by being completely present with each person with whom he spoke.

When the couple prepared to leave the function, guests were so enamored with him that they were all excited about this incredible guest they met and wanted to meet again. He went with no agenda and only the goal of being a good listener. The key takeaway: Listen and take interest in others and they will remember and appreciate you long after you’ve gone.

By contrast, one must be discerning about self-protection when listening to others so as not to allow others to emotionally dump on them. Another account of a “good listener” I recently heard, was about a colleague of mine who allowed themselves to be fully present for the speaker who proceeded to dump their problems onto my colleague. By the end of the conversation, my colleague shared how worn out they were and how the speaker droned on to such a degree, that when my friend walked away, they felt as though a load of garbage had just been poured all over them. Not enough focus on self-protection was taken in that instance. 

For this reason, we must take care of ourselves so that we do not feel as though we become a dumpster for others to drop their woes upon us. In these situations, it is important to set boundaries for ourselves. Here are a few thoughts to consider when in a position to listen so as not to be overloaded with the challenges of others:

  1. Set limits on how much time you can afford to give to others. Let the speaker know up front how much time you have to give. Then be your word. When we do not hold to our boundaries we are telling the other person that they have the power to override our boundaries.
  2. When others have shared their boundaries with you, be sure to acknowledge that boundary before you cross it. You might say something along the lines of, “I just noted that our time is almost up. Are you in a position to allow this conversation to continue?” Should the person say yes, ask how much more time they have, and hold to it? Should they say no? Be sure not to continue. That other person will respect you more and will most likely not avoid speaking to you in the future.
  3. Set limits on what the topic will include and what it will not include. Avoid being the person who takes the other for granted and move into topics that were not agreed upon. This is a great opportunity to share an agreed-upon agenda and stick to it. I have found myself breaking this rule with my team. It doesn’t put you in the category of respecting those with whom you work.
  4. When you do flounder, be sure to apologize and make an effort not to repeat the offense. Particularly in business, the fastest way to lose the respect of others is to become a repeat offender. The rule of thumb here is that when you are out of integrity. Acknowledge it, and check to see whether there is anything you can do to get back in integrity with the other person. Then listen and commit to correct the error.

Learn how becoming a better listener can Differentiate Yourself from your peers.

Differentiate Yourself

Did you know that, on average, people spend approximately 45% of their communication time on listening? While we often think of communication as speaking or conveying our own thoughts, a significant portion of effective communication actually involves attentive listening. Whether it’s in personal conversations, professional meetings, or public settings, listening plays a crucial role in understanding others, building relationships, and exchanging information. This statistic highlights the importance of honing our listening skills to become better communicators and truly connect with those around us.

Countless studies highlight the importance of listening skills. As you ascend to higher levels of management and leadership in an organization, listening becomes even more important. It can lead to employee satisfaction, a reduction in misunderstandings, and empowerment. Take a hint from many of my colleagues who are HR professionals who identify active listening as the most critical leadership skill. 

Another Case in Point: I was working with an HR professional on leadership skills. Our engagement had come to an end sooner than I would have liked. Yet, I honored my client’s desire to end the coaching work we’d begun. Some weeks later, they circled back with a new problem and inquired about the cost of a spot coaching session.

Given that I offer coaching packages and prefer them over spot coaching engagements, I shared the going rate for such a one-off coaching hour. My fee was met with resistance and an unwillingness to move forward with the conversation. I suggested we discuss this further and was told the fee was not affordable. At first, I wanted to share the importance of negotiation which often gets in the way of reaching an amicable agreement. I wanted to bring this to their attention except, had I done so, I would not be honoring their wish not to pursue.

I was stuck between wanting to use the lack of negotiation as a leadership stumbling block and also wanting to honor the client’s wishes not to continue pursuing more coaching.

Lesson Learned: As a business person, we have to be forward-thinking enough to recognize this might happen in the future and step into these types of conversations with alternatives already in place. 

It’s time to Master Your Listening Skills.

Master Your Listening Skills

“Listening is a master skill for personal and professional greatness.” – Robin S. Sharma

Did you know that people can listen to up to 450 words per minute, Yet their thoughts race ahead at a staggering pace of about 1,000 to 3,000 words per minute? This striking contrast highlights the challenge of staying fully engaged and attentive during conversations. While our ears can take in information at a rapid rate, our minds often wander, processing thoughts and ideas at a much faster speed. This phenomenon underscores the importance of actively practicing focused listening techniques, such as mindfulness and active engagement, to bridge the gap between our listening and thinking speeds. By doing so, we can enhance our ability to understand, empathize, and connect with others on a deeper level.

One of the ways you can improve your listening skills is to connect with me to explore options that work with your learning style and needs. Book an introductory call with me and learn how you can distinguish yourself from your peers with amazing listening skills.

Founders Corner – The People Side of Change

What do National Month of Hope, Volunteer Month, Move More Month, Parkinson’s Awareness, Garden Month, Stress Awareness Month, and Women’s Black History Month all have in common? They are all steeped in deepening awareness in our lives. By deepening our awareness, we live a fuller life, more broadly experienced, and in what I’ve discovered along my journey, experiencing my life on a level that allows for greater insight beyond what I ever imagined possible. 

For several months we’ve focused on different aspects of life that cause us stress, and while stress may often find its way to the forefront, this month we honor Financial Literacy Month.

Hi, I’m Byron Darden with another edition of Leading with Purpose on Purpose. In this edition, we continue our series on Transitions. In this installment, we focus on The People Side of Change. We’ve covered a great deal about the challenges and stressors of change and how a well-planned transition can make a universal difference in how we leave the current state, and move toward our approach to, the transition through and arrival at the new future state. That’s the Macro level of change.

On the Micro level, are those of us who lead through, and work in, the new state of change of  our organizations. Therefore we need tools to help us along the way to support our internal and external stakeholders. One of the most useful tools I’ve discovered as a leader, and often a leader’s ultimate downfall without it, is the invaluable ability and willingness to listen.

So listen with your eyes and your ears as we share how Triple Axel Executive Coaching can support you in navigating your long-range aspirations in your career and life. Enjoy!

Dive into this month’s blog with the People Side of Change – Step by Step.

People Side of Change – Step by Step

Change is constant. Organizations must change to adapt to global and industrial conditions to keep up with the demands of their customers and remain in step or a step ahead of the competition. Those in charge of these changes make decisive decisions, where the aim is often to influence consumers and improve the bottom line. What’s missing sometimes is how these changes affect those in the middle. 

When the CEO declares there will be cuts across the board, each department head is tasked with how that will look in their department. Do they search for efficiencies, scrap projects, or lay off employees?  Meanwhile, the employees are thrown into a whirlwind of change, which includes various emotions.  Some employees are excited about change, some resist, and others are left by the wayside – either without a job in the organization or floundering to understand where they fit in.

How change affects the organization as a whole is familiar, as many studies and strategies have been explored in Change Management.  What we will explore here is how change affects the human dynamic, including navigating emotions, perceptions, and personal experiences.

We evolve with each passing day as a response to our environment, our interactions with others, or by gaining an understanding of ourselves.  The response to organizational change is an opportunity to turn inward and determine how it aligns with your purpose.

Learn to Paint a PICTURE.


Organizational Change Management drives a series of actions to help support a company or organization to alter the way a significant component operates. This could involve the adoption of new technology or IT systems, an aspect of how the organization is set up (its infrastructure), or a culture shift.  

Instead of viewing the change as something that is happening to the organization and in turn happening to you, consider how you can grow through the transition and emerge successfully on the other side.

This process has three phases: preparation, implementation, and completion (follow-through). Its checks and balances are testing, utilization management, relational impact, and evaluation. We’ll call this process PICTURE.

There are different models for launching an organizational change, each with a unique approach to solving the problem. They commonly break down the PICTURE into manageable chunks of actions to complete the entirety of the change process.

Some organizations fail to take into consideration how they will manage human capital, or how the people factor into the change.  Human capital is multi-faceted consisting of:

  • Health
  • Education/Training
  • Experience
  • IQ and EQ
  • Hard and Soft Skills
  • Abilities
  • Creativity
  • Wisdom
  • Discernment

Each of these aspects is a study in itself, and when planning a transition, the goal is how to influence your team to draw on all these different aspects of what they bring to their role (so that the enterprise gains most from their contribution). At the same time, as you are experiencing the change, you can draw on all these personal attributes in planning your transition to your future self. 

Human capital management encompasses overseeing, evaluating, and deploying the value a human being contributes toward an organization achieving its goals. Beginning with well-chosen talent sets the stage for developing, managing, and inspiring that talent to perform well in their role. The development of human performance is the heart of our coaching. 

To optimize the talents of your team to more effectively ensure success in achieving the end goal of change, inspiring that talent to maintain the new state is crucial. Otherwise, your team can become demotivated, lose the spark of inspiration, and impact the new state in ways that render the change ineffective.

The 4 Cs of Performance Management as outlined by HR Tactics are collaboration, connect, clarity, and character. These concepts complement my approach to building leadership capacity in the following ways: 

  • Gaining buy-in,
  • Building strong team alliances,
  • Maintaining the transparency of a clear why,
  • Drawing out the unique alignments between one’s character and what the organization stands for,
  • Influencing the adoption of the new state following the change itself,
  • Responding to, Why it is Important? And
  • Ability to articulate the benefit in a way that’s inspiring to those going through the change

When we focus on the contributions and abilities of the people who will see the change through by acknowledging their concerns, potential obstacles, and fears of the unknown, we must support them in realizing we are all in this change together. We will all learn, stumble, and work together for the good of the outcomes that impact each employee and/or team member in positive and sustaining ways.

Questions to ponder are:

  • Are we really all in this together? 
  • As a leader, have you considered what is most important to you when it comes to change? 
  • Have you done the soul searching that can answer the question, “Why are you here?” 
  • Is it just to have power? More money? Perhaps satisfaction that you put your knowledge and wisdom to work to make a difference for someone else? 
  • Have you identified what you are most passionate about and then sought to fulfill that passion through your leadership?

When we miss the opportunity to ask of ourselves what we are ultimately asking of our team, we also miss the opportunity to walk in their shoes. To see the world from their perspective. We can become tunnel-visioned in leading the charge for change’s sake alone. Yet, when we aren’t steeped in awareness of our world outside of our leadership, we can misstep in managing the human capital of others.

It’s time to Design a Roadmap.

Design a Roadmap

Here’s a simple task to turn your experience inward and discover what’s important to you:

Start with identifying what it is that you do at the very heart of your role as a leader. Consider the essence of your leadership, not just your tasks. Consider a metaphor that sums up who you are as a leader and as a person that is inextricably linked to your what!

Then look at why you’ve found yourself on this path. 

Next, explore how your knowledge can help you build a roadmap through life transitions you’ll face up ahead whether or not you’ve prepared. Consider these questions:

  • Will you be leading teams right up until you decide you have something more you want to do? 
  • Will you view your current state as a stepping stone to something that is calling you? 
  • Are you even aware there may be a calling you’re not hearing because of all of the noise that gets in your way? 

Taking the time to look into planning your own life, will support you in more effectively planning a new life (future state) in which your team will do their work, accomplish their tasks, and achieve their personal goals.

Next learn how to Build a Ship.

Build a Ship

By inspiring your people to embrace the desire of wanting to make a difference, you begin the development of a leader. There is a moving quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery that reads: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the sea.”

When we inspire people to make a difference, and they discover the value they bring, we are planting the seeds that – when nurtured over time – will grow their confidence, passion, and visionary potential; key components of leadership.

When we are inspired, the dopamine in our brains is released stimulating a sense of motivation and energy. This energy is the rush we think of when positive thoughts enter our brains leading us to think in different ways that ultimately lead to the types of actions we take. One of the ways I develop leaders is to provide them with examples and put them in situations where they can draw on all their senses to physically experience, see, hear, smell, taste, and think about how they respond to positive vs negative language use. We address the concept of indoctrination that happens to all human beings within a society where norms are established.

We then perform a variety of activities that allow them to get in touch with how their senses take in the world around them and synthesize the individual components to produce different experiences in the mind, body, and spirit. Experimenting with these different experiences allows leaders the opportunity to gain insight into where their intentions may or may not align with their impact.

By transferring these experiences to their teams and employees, the leader begins to help those around them to rewire neurologically the synapsis that leads to new pattern development in their behavior. When we experience the influence that the new behavior has on our outcomes positively, we are more likely to repeat and embrace the different state of mind that aligns with the new future state that emerges upon completing a change initiative within an organization.

These are guiding principles to support your team through a change. They are also crucial considerations to take into account when doing your inner work of Life Planning. 

Life Planning is the human side of financial planning which seeks to discover the most profound goals of a leader through a process of listening and inquiry. Life Planning connects the dots between a leader’s financial realities with aspirations and the life they want to create for themselves. Through this process, the client harnesses behavior and relational aspects of financial planning that lead to the inspiration to mindfully pursue their aspirations.

Life Planning in contrast to Life Coaching – which can be a byproduct of Life Planning – results in developing another useful tool that serves you well as a whole person of whom, one of many roles is a leader. Once your Life Plan is in place, Triple Axel can work with you in manifesting that plan through coaching and program offerings designed to transition your life accordingly.


  • Life planning can provide you with a roadmap for the future
    • Starting a nonprofit organization
    • Retirement planning
    • Move to Volunteerism
    • Pursuing a promotion
    • Changing Fields/Industries
    • Starting a business
    • Living the life you want rather than someone else’s life because you did not plan your own 
  • Ground you in the work you’ve currently chosen
    • Supporting your personal brand
    • Clarifying your why and uncovering your motivations
    • Building compassion for your team and colleagues
    • Deepening your leadership effectiveness
    • Advise and coach your team with care
    • Sharing personal stories that inspire
  • See and experience others more mindfully and from a deeper knowing
    • Providing thoughtfully for your family
    • Building empathy for others
    • Sharing personal stories that inspire
    • Become a more effective listener
    • Deepen your inner peace
  • Reduce the anxiety and stress often coupled with climbing the corporate ladder
    • Develop focus and concentration
    • Manage anxiety and stress with deep breathing practice
    • Take more risks in low-stakes situations to build confidence
    • Increase self-reflection time and opportunities
  • Help you build a stronger and more sustaining relationship with yourself and your community
    • Capitalize on Strengths and Overcome Challenges
    • Enhance comfort with vulnerabilities
    • Strengthen your confidence
    • Let Go more effectively

Time to think about Where Do You See Yourself?

Where Do You See Yourself?

Think of your life in four increments of 8000 days (22 years). Each 22 years is a chapter that reads like a book. A time in your life during which you will transition to another. By the time you finish The Book of You, How would you want each chapter to read? 

Here is an activity you can start with:

Create a Four Square chart: The Book of You

Proceeding in a clockwise direction, starting in the upper left, name the boxes chapters 1 through 4. Identify each chapter by a name that is most meaningful to you and captures the general activities you recall taking place in the first two (the chart below has examples). 

Remember that the first chapter takes you to the age of 22. 

While the second begins at 23 and ends at 44 years of age.

Now imagine your future self in Chapters three and four. 

What name would you give each of the two remaining chapters?

What types of activities do you imagine being your focus? 

What do you like about what you see? What would you like to change? 

How do you imagine you would go through that process?

Let me share A Personal Breakthrough.

A Personal Breakthrough

In 2008 I stepped into my first ever experience of Life Planning. It was an eye-opening experience for me to stop and consider what is most important to me in my life. I was coached through the various steps involved in the process and what I discovered was surprising.  

At the deepest level of my life plan was the desire to be philanthropic, self-improvement-focused, and able to give back to others. When it came to how that would look, creating a business, publishing a book on how to thrive, and public speaking were at the top of my list.

What came out of that life plan was starting Triple Axel Executive Coaching, publishing a blog, and beginning to deliver keynote addresses. I also returned to my acting roots and was approached by long-term friend and theater director, Jane Staab. She cast me in Billy Elliot: The Musical. I left my home in New York City and relocated to Boston in 2017 to begin rehearsals and launch the production. It was an exciting time and a challenging one on a personal level.

Halfway through the run, my father’s health took a turn for the worse. On a Sunday evening following a matinee performance, I took the last flight out of Logan Airport before they closed due to a snowstorm and traveled to my father’s bedside in Denver. Two days later I flew back to Boston in time for a 10 am matinee the following morning. Upon my arrival in Boston, I heard from my sister that our father passed away.

I realized that as part of my life planning, I’d become closer to my sister, took time out to support my dad during his five-year illness following a stroke, and was impacting the lives of others through my performance on stage. That is when I discovered how powerful life planning can be.

Years later, I was reintroduced to Life Planning while attending weekly meditation with the father of Life Planning, author and retired financial planner, George Kinder. Two years ago, I began taking a deeper interest in Life Planning and decided I wanted to help executives by introducing them to this life-changing experience as it had been for me.

One of the other surprising revelations for me is that within my first Life Planning experience, I’d covertly alluded to becoming a Registered Life Planner myself. So I committed, signed up for the course, and did the training. What I had not expected to learn was how prepared I was to step into this work from all the previous work I’d done in becoming an Executive Coach that began over twenty years ago.

What I learned from this experience is that Life Planning and Executive Coaching go hand-in-hand. My certification in Organizational Change Management was also inextricably linked to who I am becoming in my field; an influencer in how the world of business runs.

Find out What You Gain from life planning.

What You Gain

You may be familiar with life planning as it pertains to the end of your life here on Earth. You draft a will and decide that your china collection goes to your daughter or son.  We want to differentiate that from life planning, which is a plan for your life. It entails what you want your life to look like and how you are going to accomplish your vision.

Many of us set goals related to promotions or working until we are 67 ½ and then retiring. It’s easier to achieve a goal of $1 million in our bank account than it is to envision a better relationship with our partner or leave a legacy.   

Around 22% of people have end-of-life plans. Around ⅓ of people have life plans.  Some of us make plans for exercise, healthy eating, and our career aspirations, yet life planning is so much more. It’s been compared to a personal compass.

Of those who create and work toward their life plans, there is more focus and commitment. Among the benefits of a solid plan are:

  • Helps you direct your energy and resources toward specific objectives.
  • Prioritize your tasks and goals based on their importance and urgency.
  • Allocates time for various activities and tasks, including work, leisure, and self-improvement.
  • Motivates by visualizing your goals and the steps needed to achieve them.
  • Creates accountability when you share your goals with others.
  • Allows for flexibility when life is unpredictable.

It’s time for you to Take Control.

Take Control

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” – Jim Rohn

Are you tired of living life on someone else’s terms?  

Perhaps you made choices that achieved your professional goal, and still something is missing.

At Triple Axel Executive Coaching, we coach you through the corporate dilemmas in which you find yourself – how to get to the next level or how to effectively lead your team.  Along the way, you discover more about yourself. Perhaps you find that your purpose doesn’t align with your job role. You may also find that you are exactly where you need or want to be and now have the clarity and confidence to move forward.  

Asking yourself how you want your life to look and feel are essential questions for your quality of life. You might sit down and envision a life filled with community involvement and relaxing breakfasts with your partner. Your reality might be 80-hour work weeks that start with 6 am power meetings.

Getting from your current reality to the life you envision is what life planning entails. I’m Byron Darden, founder of Triple Axel Executive Coaching and a Registered Life Planner RLP®. Book a call and we’ll start getting you from here to there in a way that works for you.  

Founder’s Corner – The AHA of Change

Catherine Pulsifer is a published author who shares the many hurdles she overcame in her professional career. She has a beautiful quote that says, “One of the best lessons you can learn in life, is to master how to remain calm.” I recently attended a nine day silent meditation retreat where calm was a huge takeaway for me. I also experienced deepening concentration and focus. I had greater access to insights far deeper than I recall ever having before. It put me in touch with the countless women who have contributed to shaping my life and my work. And with that we celebrate March beginning with Women’s Month.

As secondary celebrations this month there’s also National Nutrition Month. Employee Appreciation Day and National Day of Unplugging, both celebrated on the 1st of March. Although I look at these one day celebrations like birthdays. Celebrate them all month! I encourage you to do the same. There’s also the International Day of Happiness.

What’s significant about these celebrations to Triple Axel Executive Coaching? For one, the majority of my career has been centered on women. So this month is particularly special for me. When it comes to nutrition, Joe Bastianich who’s an American restaurateur and winemaker says, “When I stopped looking at food as a reward or celebration and began looking at food as energy to fuel my athletic ambitions, that really kind of changed the whole world for me. That was the real AHA moment.” I love that quote because it really speaks to another quote I love which is, “When you change the way you look at things, things change.”

I unplugged for 10 days in honor of the National Day of Unplugging and in celebration of it. Then there was the International Day of Happiness which is what this retreat really led to for me around personal restoration and having a greater sense of happiness.

Hi I’m Byron Darden welcoming you to another edition of Leading with Purpose on Purpose. In this installment of our continuing series on Transitions we focus our attention on The AHA Moment of Change. You know, my greatest continually evolving AHA is what I learn each month as I prepare my blogs for publication. It is my hope that you will learn just as much as I did.


Click here to discover Moments of Clarity: Discovering the Power of AHA.

Moments of Clarity: Discovering the Power of AHA

In our lives, some moments stand out – times when everything clicks into place. We see things with a clarity that eluded us before.  These “AHA moments” have a unique ability to shape our understanding and set us on paths of self-discovery.

This month, we’ll uncover the essence of AHA moments—from subtle insights to profound revelations. Whether in groundbreaking scientific discoveries or personal experiences, these moments transcend boundaries, leaving a lasting impact on our lives.

Join us as we delve into the origin and impact of these transformative moments, exploring the dynamic relationship between intuition and intellect. From historical turning points to personal growth, AHA moments are the sparks that ignite our quest for knowledge and understanding.

Get ready for a journey through the landscapes of revelation, where the boundaries of what we know are expanded, and moments of sudden clarity redefine our perspectives. As you join us, take a moment to reflect on your own AHA moments, recognizing their profound influence on the human experience.

What are these AHA moments? Continue to Insights and Emotional Realizations.

Insights and Emotional Realizations

An “AHA moment” is more than just a serendipitous flash of insight; it’s a powerful catalyst for change, a sudden and unexpected emotional realization that ushers in a deeper understanding or a fresh perspective. These moments of clarity, often accompanied by a profound sense of enlightenment, have the potential to reshape our thinking and propel us toward growth.

For many of us, AHA moments seem to occur organically, catching us off guard with their sudden impact. They manifest during times of reflection or in the midst of navigating challenges, offering a unique lens through which we can view a situation or concept. These unplanned revelations have the power to shift our perspectives, leading to a newfound clarity that can be transformative.

Contrary to the belief that AHA moments are solely products of happenstance, they can also be intentionally cultivated. Choosing a deliberate path, committing to collecting data, and planning for an AHA in advance are strategies employed to engineer these moments. Consider the metaphor of the overnight sensation in the entertainment industry – an actor strategically planning and executing steps to seemingly burst onto the scene. Likewise, the self-made millionaire meticulously plans and adapts, implementing backup strategies when faced with unexpected challenges.

In the pursuit of our goals, unexpected obstacles often force us to activate our ability to think on our feet. Spontaneity becomes crucial as we navigate changes in direction or unexpected shifts in our plans. Pivoting becomes a necessity – a skill honed through adapting to choices that might not lead us exactly where we initially expected.

AHA moments are, at their core, emotional reactions. By understanding the emotional journey users undertake, intentional AHA moments can be strategically crafted, enriching the user experience and fostering a deeper connection.

How does the brain and technology work together to create AHA moments? Learn more about The Eureka Effect.

The Eureka Effect

Termed the “Eureka effect,” AHA moments are closely associated with sudden realizations that lead to breakthroughs. This phenomenon is not confined to personal experiences alone; it permeates various fields, including technology. A closer look at intentional AHA moments in technology reveals how emotions play a pivotal role in these breakthroughs. The intentional creation of AHA moments for consumers, as explored in the realm of technology, showcases the profound impact that planned insights can have on user experiences.

When the connection between the heart and the brain joins forces with the body in a fluid state, the outcome is what is called the eureka effect. The bright idea emerges. It’s about being in alignment with your purpose. This is the moment when our mind, body, and soul calibrate with one another, leading to more idyllic circumstances. Think of it in terms of the brain receiving signals from the heart that together fall into synchronicity with our physiology (functional body parts). 

Of course, our educational experiences, our ability to think critically, and our understanding of data and science are all significant and essential elements that give us the framework to articulate, define, and execute our vision. Yet the epiphany emanates from the heart and is fueled by its intuition. True visionary leadership develops inside the heart, not the brain. And it is there for each of us to grasp…we simply need to be aware of how to access it. Access is the key to getting to the heart of what is important. Then we are more effectively able to understand why its importance matters.

Set yourself up for more AHA moments in AHA’s are No Accident.

Opening Your Mind to New Ideas

In the dynamic journey towards open-mindedness, arming yourself with effective tools and adopting practical tips can pave the way for transformative shifts. Here are ten actionable steps to become more open-minded:

  1. Be Aware of Your Biases: Acknowledge and confront your biases head-on. Understanding where your predispositions lie is the first step toward overcoming them.
  2. Consider the Opposing Viewpoint: Actively engage with perspectives that differ from your own. Particularly with clients and team members. This broadens your understanding and fosters a more inclusive mindset.
  3. Practice Generous Interpretation: Assume that people have positive intentions. Cultivating a positive outlook enables you to approach discussions and disagreements with empathy.
  4. Ask Questions: Be curious. Asking questions encourages dialogue and allows you to gain deeper insights into diverse viewpoints.
  5. Think About the Neutral Viewpoint: Deliberately consider perspectives that fall in the middle ground. This helps in fostering a balanced understanding of various issues.
  6. Make New Connections: Expand your social circles and professional networks. Interacting with a diverse range of people exposes you to different ideas and experiences.
  7. Experience Different Media: Diversify your sources of information. Consuming a variety of media ensures a well-rounded perspective on current events and issues.
  8. Join a New Group: Participate in activities or groups that are outside your comfort zone. Engaging with new communities introduces fresh perspectives.
  9. Reframe Negative Thoughts: Transform negative thoughts into constructive ones. This shift in mindset contributes to a more open and positive outlook.
  10. Acknowledge You Are Learning: Embrace the fact that learning is a continuous process. Acknowledge that your beliefs and understanding can evolve with new information.

Exercise: Inspiring “AHA!” Moments

Unlocking those coveted “AHA!” moments involve intentional exercises that encourage a shift in focus. Here are strategies to inspire moments of insight:

  • Zone Out and Focus In Spend time in solitude, focusing on your inner life of physical sensations. Eliminate external stimuli to allow yourself to let go of thoughts to get in touch with what you are experiencing. One way to accomplish this is to spend time out in nature. This will foster an optimal environment for present-moment freedom.
  • Allow Your Mind to Wander: Embrace wandering thoughts. This seemingly unstructured mental state often triggers insightful revelations and connections.
  • Avoid Overscheduling Your Day: Create downtime in your schedule. Allowing moments for daydreaming fosters a creative space where new ideas can flourish.
  • Foster Happiness: Cultivate happiness in your life. A positive mindset provides the mental space for insights to emerge, leading to eureka moments.
  • Lift Your Spirits in Low Moments: When feeling under the weather, engage in activities that uplift your mood. Whether it’s reading an inspiring book, going for a walk in nature, or spending time with a friend or supportive community, these actions contribute to a brighter perspective.
  • Take a Necessary Nap: Recognize when you need a break. A short nap can rejuvenate your mind, promoting mental clarity and openness to new ideas.

By incorporating these practical tools, tips, and exercises into your daily routine, you can actively cultivate an open mind and create an environment conducive to those invaluable “AHA!” moments. Think of engaging in these activities as restorative self-care.

Let me tell you a story in Navigating Transitions: From Setbacks to Breakthroughs.

Navigating Transitions: From Setbacks to Breakthroughs

AHA moments are a regular occurrence in my life. Someone recently asked the question, how does faith help me in tough times? My response was automatic. Tough times typically show up when I think I’ve reached a dead end. Or when I arrive at a crossroads where there doesn’t appear to be a “right” choice. These situations are what I refer to as setbacks or breakdowns after which follows a breakthrough.

You may recall my November 2023 blog on Leadership and Resilience where I write about the 5 Tips To Overcome Setbacks. It was such a powerful topic for me to write about because my chosen careers all tend to have a high level of rejection and risk associated. Facing setbacks and breakdowns are built-in components that go with the industry. One such setback triggered the writing of this series on transitions.

It is  January 10, 2022, when I receive an email from my trademark attorney letting me know the renewal paperwork with the US Patent and Trademark Office is due one year from now. “I went to your website and it does not appear as if you are using that mark to provide services anymore”, shares my attorney. This claim is baffling to me. “What do you mean I’m not using the mark? It’s printed on all my documents, on every page of my website, and is the name on the company checking account. There’s not a single example I know of that isn’t identified under Triple Axel Executive Coaching, LLC.”

What I do not realize is that the name is not in use for marketing in commerce. Aha, I fully understand the issue. Deer in the headlights! I feel my heart begin to race. Sweat breaks out on my forehead. The muscles in my neck and shoulders tense as I sense panic throughout my body as I learn the news. What do I do? This familiar question emerges from my thinking which fortunately leads into a series of steps that outline a transition in the making.

As each of the next nine months unfolds,  I begin the work of reimagining my website, determining a new color scheme, and figuring out an array of brand elements including the design of a new logo. For a moment I face the reality of time and a small fortune, gone. Now I’m overhauling my entire online presence to become compliant.

What I have to accomplish in order to make this pivot, is just about everything you are reading thus far in the sections leading up to this point. In one year I go through an in-depth transition to make the change from just to

Three days before the deadline for filing my trademark renewal paperwork I go live, as we say on the Net. For the next twelve months, I will go through an indescribable transformation, sparking this series on Transitions debuting  December 1, 2023.

Lesson Learned: Life is impermanent. As every moment passes we become more in touch with the reality that nothing stays the same. We must remain adaptable. Everything always changing is one of the most significant ways we know we are alive and living in the impermanence of the present moment. Avoiding change is to cease the action of living.

Learn about Insights in Everyday Scenarios.

Insights in Everyday Scenarios

Let’s pose an example where you might experience an AHA moment. You have a website and are writing a monthly blog.  Consistently, you have about 100 clicks a month.  You decide to shake things up a bit with a new topic or by adding graphics instead of just text.  The next month, your readership jumps to 500.  AHA, you think to yourself, let me do more of that.  

According to the Harvard Business Review, those brilliant “AHA!” moments that reshape our thinking tend to happen unexpectedly. They occur when our minds are quiet and engaged in unrelated activities, not when we’re actively searching for them. Creating an atmosphere of silence and solitude can enhance the chances of experiencing these transformative insights.

Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist, delved into peak experiences, describing them as invaluable and life-changing revelations. According to him, these moments hold intrinsic value, making life truly worthwhile due to their occasional occurrence.

Learn how to Create Your Own AHA Moments.

Create Your Own AHA Moments

“I live in the land of delight – of just walking in the street, and the sun is shining, and I’m on my way to Starbucks and I’m feeling good. I also live for those AHA! moments when you understand something new when you see two things fitting together to make a surprising third. There’s actually a chemical that’s produced in the brain by learning that gives you that little ecstatic moment of, Oh, that’s why.” – Gloria Steinem

Whether or not you define a thought or experience as an AHA moment, I think you can agree that there are times when things come into alignment. Those ideas that pop into your head, the instinct to go in one direction or another, or just looking up and having something catch your eye and trigger us to pause.

Cultivating more AHA moments in your work and personal life often involves slowing down and listening.  A message on a billboard could be the catalyst for a new idea at work. Stopping and listening to the voices in your head could provide the answer to a troubling question that’s been nagging at you for weeks.  AHA moments can be found anywhere and my mission is to provide the tools you can use to discover them.  Book a free call and you might just find an AHA moment by the end.

Founders Corner – Breaking Patterns

“We all require and want respect, man or woman, Black or White. It’s our basic human right.” These are the words from singer, songwriter and pianist, the late Aretha Franklin. Her music can often be heard coming from my classroom wherever in the world I’m developing leaders.

We begin February celebrating Black History month. We are also celebrating American Heart Month, Cancer Prevention Month, Valentine’s Day, and Self-Check Month. Also later in February we are celebrating National Entrepreneurship Week.

What’s the significance of these celebrations to Triple Axel Executive Coaching? Each celebration speaks to the anniversary of our February 2022 blog on Restorative Self-Care.

Here at Triple Axel Executive Coaching we urge you to tend to your heart, prevent cancer, love others and yourselves this valentines with a restorative self-care, self-check!

Hi, I’m Byron Darden welcoming you to another edition of Leading with Purpose on Purpose. In this installment of our continuing series on Transition our focus is on Breaking Patterns: The Neuroscience of Facing Change

The one constant in all our lives is change. So we’ll take deeper dive into how we’ve come to resist change. Then explore how to manage it more effectively and hopefully minimizing being triggered by it when change presents its inevitable face. Enjoy.

This month’s blog begins with Breaking Patterns: The Neuroscience of Facing Change.

Breaking Patterns: The Neuroscience of Facing Change

Change is inevitable. At times, it is welcomed. At other times, it comes unexpectedly. The key is how we react to it. We base our actions on past experiences and our parents are often models for our behavior. The fact that your parents may have gone to college and worked a corporate job likely influenced your choice of profession. They may have set overt expectations or disapproved of your unconventional choice. 

Today’s job market and career possibilities are vastly different than when past generations entered the job market. Gone are the days when one started their career with one company and stayed until retirement. Enter times of uncertainty where one will likely change jobs and careers several times between age 18 and retirement. I have experienced this in my career – from professional ice skater to executive coach (and a few more deviations in between). I’ve experienced a lot of change and made numerous transitions.

In this blog, we will talk about facing change and what we can do when faced with modifying or altering the current state. We can embrace it and work through the discomfort, run from it, or freeze and stay with the status quo. 

Why do we fear change and how can we push through to achieve our purpose and goals?

Next up – The Role of the Brain in change.

The Role of the Brain

Change involves facing the unknown. As human beings, we like the familiar. It offers a sense of security. Even when we can clearly see that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, we stay in our lane because we know what to expect. 

The neuroscience of change involves examining how the brain reacts to and deals with shifts in the environment. When change occurs, different parts of the brain, like the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, come into action. The prefrontal cortex assesses the new situation and potential benefits, while the amygdala, responsible for emotions, may trigger feelings of fear or anxiety due to uncertainty. 

The brain’s ability to reorganize itself, known as neuroplasticity, is crucial for adapting to change by forming new connections and acquiring skills needed for new situations. Understanding this neuroscience can help develop strategies to manage resistance, improve adaptability, and encourage positive responses during times of transition.

Curious as to why you might fear change? Keep reading to learn about Change Factors.

Change Factors

Fear of Change by Byron Darden

The fear of change, known as metathesiophobia or neophobia, is the discomfort or anxiety people feel when they anticipate alterations in their familiar environment or routines. It’s a common human reaction as change often brings uncertainty and the unknown, causing unease.

This fear can appear in different ways, from mild discomfort to intense anxiety. When we fear change, we may resist or avoid new elements in our lives or systems of which we are a part. We may be driven by a desire to maintain the current state because we fear negative outcomes.

The fear of change is a complex emotion influenced by personal experiences, personality traits, cultural background, indoctrination, and the nature of the change itself. Understanding and addressing this fear is crucial for personal development, organizational management, and societal progress since change is a constant and inevitable part of life.

This fear of the unknown is often rooted in various factors:

  • Stepping Outside one’s comfort zone: A key principle in my coaching as I’ve been coaching clients to do this for over 20 years. Learning from years of examples too numerous to count, I’ve discovered that doing so allows us to grow and develop new skills, ways of thinking, and approaches to problem-solving. Stirring things up serves as a path through transitions. 
  • Loss of control is a fascinating concept given the only thing we have control of is our response to life as it happens. Even though I know this all too well, I still get caught up in the ‘need to control’ mindset which I find is an ineffective use of time and energy.
  • Fear of failure can stop us mostly because of our belief that we are unworthy. Nothing could be further from the truth. It would be great to have the opportunity to sit down with a group of close friends and have them remind us why they are in our lives. Should failure be true, why would they stick around? I recall the 1991 movie Soapdish when Sally Field’s character, Maggie, the actress, conspired with one of her friends to go to the local mall and pretend to be a fan who spots her on the escalator, making a big deal about the star being out in public. It was a boost to her ego and emotional grounding that afforded her the ability to return to her life with more confidence.
  • Lack of confidence is a constant companion we learn to shake over and over again. It is a process much like learning to figure skate or learning to meditate. It is through repetition that we learn to master whatever it is we wish to accomplish. It can be seen as a test of our ability to overcome discomfort. Yet the road to overcome discomfort is to feel the fear and do it anyway. Much the same way, we will find discomfort in healing and feel discomfort should we choose not to heal. Either way, there will be discomfort. The difference is how that discomfort will grow in negative ways should we choose not to heal. 
  • Break in routine or predictability is not easy for most of us. We find this in the patterns we develop neurologically as the synapses connect our patterns of thinking, behaving, speaking, and reacting to any one of these or all four.
  • Loss or change of social dynamics is something anyone experiences from time to time, particularly when we move from one geographical location to another. I know this for myself to be true as I’ve lived in nine different places in my life. 
  • Past trauma can trigger the fight, flight, freeze, fawn, or friend reactions. I urge you to explore our January 2024 blog on Trauma.
  • Cultural factors can play a role in adapting to change, especially when the change goes against our cultural norms.
  • Overwhelm is a recognized response to dealing with the fear that comes with the unknown. I speak to this in my November 2023 blog on Leadership and Resilience. What can be comforting in the midst of one’s overwhelm is the fact that the breakdowns we face when things get tough at the office or at home are evidence that a breakthrough is about to occur. When you think about it, our entire being is responding to what is happening to us. Which is significantly informed by our neurological patterns that sometimes send us down the rabbit hole of anxiety.
  • Uncertainty about the future is a concern for many of us . The best advice I can give here is to keep learning and growing and focus on the present while preparing for the future. Action might involve continuing education and networking to ensure you are aware of opportunities.

Click here to learn how to Reframe Your Beliefs.

Reframing Your Beliefs

Reframe by Byron Darden

Changing often involves rewriting the stories we’ve been told or lessons we’ve been taught. You’ve probably heard the saying “money doesn’t grow on trees”, meaning that there are finite financial resources and that you’ll need to work hard and say no to a lot of things and experiences to be successful in life when defined by the amount of money you have. This phrase limits your beliefs about abundance. Here are some more examples of well-known phrases and alternative ways to reframe these beliefs:

Instead of Consider This
At the end of the dayWhen the sun sets
Think outside the boxPush the walls of the box out
Bring to the tableShare your thoughts
Break down the silosWork together
Ducks in a rowCome prepared
Push the envelopeTest the limits
Pain PointChallenge
Circle BackLet’s Revisit This
Keep Me in the LoopProvide regular updates 
On my RadarIn my Focus

Reframing is a useful approach when you are feeling stuck. It allows you to imagine a larger variety of outcomes, and connect with others on a different level. Reframing allows you to shift from a mindset of judgment to one of curiosity. Once you get a different perspective on change, you can adapt to it more easily.

Keep reading to discover ways to Reduce Stress.

Reducing Stress

There are coping skills based on evidence that we can draw upon to turn the tide, help us overcome the overwhelm, and get us back on track. Here are some suggestions. 

Just Breathe

Breathing exercises are a powerful way to combat what is getting in your way of recovery. Different ways of breathing can provide us with the stress reduction we need to help our thinking simply by reoxygenating the blood. Not just for our bodies, breathing techniques and also for our brains. Fresh oxygen to the brain helps clear the cloudiness and provides what our brain needs most. Shortness of breath can be a major factor in contributing to the overwhelm that leads to the fear of the unknown. 

Get Social

Expanding our social connections with others is another way to deal with what is happening to our being that can plague our performance. I know for myself that when I feel this way, I tend not to be as social. I’ve learned to change that mindset and get out among people. You might very well come across someone else who’s having a difficult time. Just because you made the effort and found them, the connection could be just what you both needed to heal. The old saying, ‘misery loves company’ is not my favorite way to look at it and yet, there is comfort in the sentiment considering how much more effectively we deal with anxiety when we discover we are not the only one. 

Trust Yourself

Demonstrating self-compassion is another antidote to overcome the sometimes debilitating impact of facing change. In my February 2022 blog on Restorative Self-Care, I map out ways you can develop your practice of self-compassion. 

Write it Out

Journaling is yet another useful tool in getting back on track. I urge all of my clients at the start of every coaching engagement to start and maintain a leadership journal. It is a powerful way to gain insight and support from within, from which all our needs can be met with a little practice and discipline. 

One of the most helpful ways to journal is not by typing, but rather by picking up a pen and paper. A direct connection between the body and heart comes from the physical act of writing, for which a keyboard relationship becomes a wall between you and your inner self. As much as I value my keyboard to write – when it comes to journaling, writing is a therapeutic activity in and of itself. 

Read about My Reaction to Change.

My Reaction to Change

I recall a time, not very long ago when I too experienced the temporary setback that comes from facing change and the unknown that accompanies it. I’d begun working on a certification to enhance my coaching when I discovered there was more to the curriculum than I originally thought. The process required much more time than I allotted. 

Not having had eyes on the extent of what I’d agreed to and thought I was finished with the coursework, I began working on my MBA. Weeks after the course began, I discovered I was nowhere near done with the first certification and now I had committed to the rigor of a Masters in Business Administration. In addition, I was also facing a huge marketing project for my coaching work and barely had time to sleep and study. By the time I finished my MBA, the coursework for the certification, and reached the halfway point of my marketing project, I hit rock bottom. I knew I had to implement some type of recovery plan. 

What did I do? 

I didn’t strike out for Disneyland! Instead, I dropped everything and decided to visit my family. 12 days of nothing except family and close family friends, I immersed myself in the familiar company of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Doing so did not help matters at work because I was getting further behind. Yet those twelve days made a huge difference in restoring my energy and providing me time for plenty of rest with high doses of relaxation and laughter. 

I was also planning a trip to Egypt that was thwarted by compromises I did not want to accept. Instead, I postponed my trip and went to France for a week with one of my cousins. Did that help me get ahead? No! Yet, by doing the unthinkable and getting away, I was able to return to work and sense a renewal of my spirit and energy that I desperately needed to cope. All of that to say, sometimes pushing forward is the most unproductive choice we can make when what we really need is a break.

Discover the dynamics of moving from Judgment to Curiosity.

Judgment to Curiosity

According to a report by Gartner, 73% of change-affected employees experience moderate to high stress levels. Tools such as breathing, journaling, connecting with others, and developing a greater sense of compassion can alleviate stress. 

Over 80% of employees report difficulty with competing priorities during a change and struggle to find balance. This stress affects performance. Culture-informed judgment is one of the biggest factors to consider. In a nutshell, culture-informed judgment is the influence of one’s cultural background, values, and beliefs in the decision-making process.

Understanding the role of culture in judgment is crucial for fostering effective communication, collaboration, and mutual understanding among individuals from diverse backgrounds. It helps to recognize that what may be considered appropriate or rational in one culture might be perceived differently in another. Moreover, acknowledging cultural nuances in judgment can lead to more inclusive and respectful interactions.

This is where thoughtful transitions can help us manage change because a solid plan for how to get from the current state to the desired future state is established from the start. There are times when our plans are thwarted or interrupted. That is just a part of life. Our next step is to revisit our plan and make mindful adjustments to keep us moving on our desired path.

Find out how to embrace and Thrive Through Change.

Thrive Through Change

“Healing involves discomfort, but so does refusing to heal. And, over time, refusing to heal is always more painful.” -Resmaa Menakem

Our instinct when faced with a change is to react. A more effective action is to stop and take a moment to think about the change. By doing so, we allow ourselves to gain a deeper understanding of the situation, consider potential consequences, and make informed decisions rather than simply reacting on instinct alone.

Embracing change can be a transformative journey, and understanding its impact on your life is crucial. When you find yourself grappling with significant changes in your life and would like a supportive space to explore their effects, I encourage you to take the next step. 

Booking a call with me provides an opportunity for us to engage in a thoughtful conversation about the changes in your life, how those changes are affecting you and your career, and explore strategies to navigate them successfully. Your well-being is important, and a conversation can be the first step toward clarity and empowerment. Schedule a call, and let’s navigate this journey together.

Founder’s Corner – January 2024

At some point or another we’ve all suffered from trauma. Be it at home or work.

In his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Menakem talks about racialized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies.

As leaders, facing trauma in the workplace is not an easy thing. And yet the reality is we cannot expect to lead people effectively unless we are prepared to recognize how much of a role trauma plays in our professional lives.

Hi I’m Byron Darden with another installment of Leading with Purpose on Purpose

In our continuing series on Transitions we turn our attention to the Five Fs of Trauma, Fight, Flight Freeze, Flop, Friend

Join me as we explore challenges we face with trauma and the opportunities we have to deal with them. Enjoy!

The Unseen Struggle:  Understanding the Impact of Trauma on Workplace Performance

Leaders, despite their authoritative roles, are not immune to the impact of trauma.  Individuals in leadership positions may face additional challenges due to the expectations and responsibilities associated with their roles.  Trauma responses, such as fight or flight can compromise a leader’s decision-making abilities, interpersonal skills, and overall effectiveness.

Trauma can manifest itself in different ways, including self-perception, reactions, interpersonal communications, mental fatigue, and overall stress management.  

An individual’s ability to handle change and guide their subordinates is affected by the trauma they’ve endured.  As we continue our exploration into the impacts of change, we’ll examine how hidden traumas affect leadership ability and give you some concrete techniques to recognize how the trauma affects you and your performance in the workplace.

The Nature of Trauma

When you think of trauma, you might picture physical injuries. Trauma encompasses so much more. Trauma is the response to a shocking, distressing, or harmful situation.  Defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it is an emotional injury that affects performance and well-being. It could manifest itself in mental, psychological, or spiritual conflict. It’s important to note that trauma is very individualistic – what one considers trauma, another might consider a normal part of life. 

Trauma is most easily described as the aftermath we experience in our bodies, following a heightened state event in our lives, triggering the fight or flight response. It is that moment when we are faced with danger – evolutionarily known as when we are faced with possible inhalation or imminent danger to our lives – when we determine whether to fight that which is threatening our lives or recognize that the only other option is to run for our lives.

Typically our physiological response to these types of threats runs the gamut of experiencing shock, or disbelief. During such times we may find ourselves confused, our body temperature rises, and we begin to sweat. Our heart begins to pound. Our breathing rate increases. 

We typically experience muscle tension during such times. Perhaps you are about to have a challenging conversation with a direct report or even your boss. Or you may be about to deliver a high-stakes presentation and you feel your nerves raging with anxiety. Imagine how this would affect the muscles in your throat, impacting your speech as you speak! Sound familiar?  

The result of your voice cracking or straining when speaking could easily negatively impact your delivery. This is no time to have what scientists refer to as the Amygdala Hijack. Your cognitive function is overridden and your only consideration is to survive. 

Even more so when faced with the trauma of mergers, acquisitions, and layoffs, the uncertainty in the workplace caused by COVID, and racial tension that triggered a deep pain like a bandaid being ripped off a scar dating back to 1619. That was the beginning of a social upheaval that expanded from fight or flight to the five hardwired Fs of trauma: fight, flight, freeze, flop, and fawn. It’s imperative that we recognize the severity of the impact of trauma in the workplace. 

  • Fight: physical fighting, pushing, struggling, and verbal assault.
  • Flight: choosing to put a distance between you and danger, running away, hiding out of sight, or backing away from the situation.
  • Freeze: becoming tense, very still, and silent. Commonly the reaction to rape and sexual violence. Frozen in fear is not consensual, it is an instinctive survival response. The freeze response is an animal’s potential avoidance of fights e.g. ‘play dead’ to minimize the interest of the predator.
  • Flop: much like freezing, the difference is muscle flaccidity. This is an automatic reaction that can reduce the physical pain of what’s happening to you. Your mind shuts down in self-protection mode.
  • Friend: locate a ‘friend’ or bystander for support, by shouting or screaming, ‘befriending’ the dangerous person; placating, negotiating, bribing, or pleading. 

Trauma is not just from what happens in the office. It is also what happens outside the office that employees bring with them to the workplace. It is those issues that come up in everyone’s life that are virtually impossible to avoid allowing the impact to play out wherever we are, in some form or fashion. The workplace is no exception.

It is the loss of a parent or spouse that we must face. The issues that come up with our children that haunt us in the office. When the school calls letting you know that little Johnny is acting up in class. Or little Suzy had her first period and got laughed at or bullied by classmates. It’s the failed relationship that we endure. Or the job we are in that we hate and cannot seem to find a way out. 

These moments define your leadership and impact your reactions to the conflicting priorities of the job. This can trigger the mindset of ‘business as usual’, get over it, and get it done. Or weigh the possibility that a team member is reacting to past trauma at the moment and needs an empathetic leader.

The Unseen Impact of Trauma

When your team does encounter conflicting priorities between personal issues and business deadlines, consider what could be going on that contributes to job performance. There are many ways in which we are triggered by a comment from someone. Or a disagreeable body gesture from another. There are infinitely greater stressors we face that need to be met, so take a step back to consider how fast-paced life is now more than ever before. 

The reality is that the fight or flight response is there to protect us. Without it, we would not have evolved as the human species we are today. From our time as cavemen, we would not have survived and evolved into our current existence without that amygdala protecting us from the threat of everyday life we have today. We would be extinct already and replaced in the ecosystem.

No one wants to experience an amygdala hijack. Do they? Why would you want to experience all that comes with it unless you might be a thrill seeker? I admit, I love roller coasters and a similar feeling is had when experiencing the rush of adrenaline that goes along with such rides. Yet, when it comes to my day-to-day, seeking thrills is not my first focus. Relaxation and calm are what I desire most.

The contemporary lives we lead now are no match for what our ancestors, cavemen faced with animals ready to pounce on them at a moment’s notice. Yet, we still react to that prehistoric, roughly almond-shaped mass of gray matter at the base of our brainstem, that alerts us of lurking danger. The difference is that danger now comes in the form of someone losing their temper with us, causing us to respond aggressively. 

The coworker insists on talking to you when you are trying to concentrate, which triggers you to shout back at them. Consider your reaction when someone on the subway bumps you yet again when your fuse is already short, the weather is hot, you’re tired and frustrated and you’ve had enough! Then you lash out. Or the way a person is looking at you or something about them reminds you of the time you were molested or attacked. A flood of memories overtakes you and your reaction may seem foreign to others who do not share your reference to a violent act in your past.

These are some of the ways we experience that moment when our cognitive function is overridden and we react in such a way that could be avoided. Suppose we had another way to stop or reverse the fight or flight response and choose a different path.

Recognizing the impact of trauma in the workplace is crucial for fostering a supportive and inclusive professional environment. Employees’ mental and emotional well-being directly affects their productivity, engagement, and overall job satisfaction. Ignoring the effects of trauma can lead to or compound difficulties in the workplace.

Leadership positions come with added responsibilities and stressors. Trauma can have a profound impact on leaders, affecting their ability to make decisions, manage teams, and maintain a positive organizational culture. Leaders who experience trauma may also face challenges in balancing personal well-being with professional obligations.

Some of these areas affected by trauma include:

  • Decision-making – Leaders are expected to make timely and effective decisions, and trauma may hinder this ability, resulting in missed opportunities.
  • Team dynamics – Leaders may struggle to provide the necessary support and guidance to their teams.
  • Organizational culture – Leaders are the face of the organization and their behavior guides the culture of the organization.  They may portray an image with unintentional consequences.

An individual who is striving for a leadership position may lack confidence or even unwittingly sabotage their chances at a role and become baffled by their own behavior.  A coach, therapist, and self-exploration provide valuable insights.

Recognize Trauma

Extreme consequences can occur from pent-up trauma, including workplace violence. Often more subtle events occur. Here are some examples of how trauma can manifest itself in the workplace:

  • Decreased Productivity – individuals may experience difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and completing tasks.
  • Increased Absenteeism – individuals may take more personal days.
  • Presenteeism – physically present individuals in the workplace may be emotionally disengaged from their tasks.
  • Communication Difficulties – Individuals may become irritable and have difficulty interacting with colleagues and supervisors. This can lead to conflicts or problems with authority.
  • Decision-making Impacts – Individuals may experience lapses in judgment or difficulty in problem-solving.
  • Increased Sensitivity – Individuals may react inappropriately to stressors in the workplace.
  • Perfectionism or Overachievement – To gain control of their situation, individuals may feel the need to be perfect.

When you recognize these traits, in yourself or others, practice empathy.  Awareness is the first step and a willingness to change is the next.  

There are many ways you can develop your ability to face trauma in healthy ways. You might try meditation, yoga, walks out in nature, silent retreats, running, and regular physical exercise. Aromatherapy is another healthy way to help develop your less stressful response to stress. Massage therapy can be very helpful, particularly after sitting in front of a computer for hours or spending time cramped in a plane to visit clients.

Conscious Leadership

Conscious leadership emphasizes self-awareness, authenticity, and a deep understanding of the impact of one’s actions on others and the organization.  Leaders can become more conscious of their impact by considering these behaviors.

Move Away FromMove Toward
Emotional ReactivityEmotional Intelligence Responses
Acting on ImpulseMindfulness
Hiding Behind a FacadeAuthenticity
Self-LeadershipServant Leadership
Gray AreasEthical Decision Making
Task-oriented LeadershipPurpose Driven Leadership
ComplacencyContinuous Learning
Internal FocusSocial and Environmental Responsibility
IndividualismCollaboration and Inclusivity

After awareness comes action. Conscious leadership involves recognizing when employees need extra support and providing resources for them to release stress.  

Here is a mindfulness activity to help you begin training the mind to strengthen your resolve in how you respond to traumatic situations.

  • Find a comfortable chair or cushion to sit on that you might lay on the ground
  • Should you be in a chair, have your feet flat on the floor, and hands in your lap hold an erect yet not stiff posture
  • Once you get settled, close your eyes and begin paying close attention to the breath
  • Say to yourself, ‘Breathe in, I feel my body. Breathe out, I feel my body
  • Begin with your feet performing a body scan sensing each part of your body as you move your focus to the crown of the head
  • Say to yourself, ‘Breathe in, I calm my body. Breathe out, I calm my body
  • Should you start thinking, acknowledge the thinking, and like a helium balloon, let go of the string and the thought, allowing it to float away, returning your attention to the breath
  • No need to judge yourself for thinking. That is what the mind does. 

Lessons From Life

I was reading the book Working With Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goldman and read an account of a senior leader who was rather cross with the staff he led. 

There was so much commotion in the room with the leader ranting about some issue they were having when one of the team members calmly shared a different perspective. It took a great deal of courage for this individual to speak up. When they did, the senior leader seemed to speak over the staff member and that person continued in a calm and focused manner to state their case. Eventually, the senior leader acquiesced and allowed the individual to share their perspective. 

When I read the account I recalled what I had learned in meditation and wondered whether or not this person had meditation as a practice in their lives that allowed them to manage the volatile situation at hand. 

Similarly, I was teaching a group of junior consultants in a firm about developing their personal presence when a senior leader walked into the room and admonished one of their underlings for taking time away from work to attend such a class. 

The leader inquired about the topic of the class and the junior consultant responded about deepening their learning about presence. The senior leader scoffed, “I can teach you that in just a few minutes, and then you can get back to work.” The senior leader then closed the door and left.

I found that to be a disruptive and counterproductive act in front of the group considering their goals, particularly for me as a coach and for the junior consultant to whom the comment was made. I was also quite shocked that someone, particularly a senior leader at the firm, would do such a thing. I remember asking who that was and then excused myself from the class and followed the senior leader to their office. I calmly expressed my displeasure with what they just did and shared my concern that while possibly humorous to them, it was destructive to what I was there to accomplish for the sake of the organization. The senior leader was clearly caught off guard and apologized. 

When I returned to the class, they asked what had happened and I told them. You could have heard a pin drop in the room for the remainder of the training. The lesson learned is that there is a way to stand your ground when you are calm and collected rather than allow an amygdala hijack to render you ineffective in handling challenging situations.

I began my meditative practice at the age of thirteen when I began practicing my compulsory school figures as an ice skater. I did not know it at the time, though I believe my coaches knew what they were doing when practice time began with Hawaiian music that inspired my body to move in smooth and deliberately focused ways that allowed me to master the art of figure skating. That training prepared me well for an incident that took place many years later when I was living in Boston.

I arrive home in the middle of the day. Dressed in khakis, a blue button-down shirt, with penny loafers on my feet. A very New England look at the time. There is a torn screen door on the front of my home. Another on the back door. I plan to remove the screens. Time to take them both in for repair. It’s a bit warm, so I take off my shirt leaving me with just an undershirt to stay cool without changing entirely before moving on to the repair shop. 

I complete the effort of taking off the screen at the front of the property, the door propped open to allow the breeze to move easily through the house. I move to the back door, repeating the removal there as well, sweat beginning to run down my back. Suddenly a police officer appears in my backyard, hand on his gun, questioning a report he received from a neighbor that someone was taking screens off the doors of my house. I confirmed that was exactly what I was doing. He asks who I am in relation to the property. “This is my house and I am taking screens off the doors. Would you like to see my identification to confirm? It is sitting on the kitchen counter. Is it alright that I go and get it? Or do you wish to accompany me to do so?” A bit shaken, the police officer begins to relax and expresses his trust that I am safe to move out of his sight. 

Frankly, I was surprised by his response. Having grown up with an attorney for a father and having traveled with him a few times to get depositions from incarcerated defendants that he represented, I knew the lay of the land in managing law enforcement. I remained calm and respectful of his authority, having grown up to carry a slight fear of police when it comes to being a man of color. This is no time for an amygdala hijack!

I return with my identification to show the police officer that I indeed reside at this residence. He is satisfied that all is well when I calmly and matter-of-factly ask which neighbor was kind enough to look out for the safety of our neighbors. I want to express my gratitude that they are looking out for those of us on our block.

Typically an officer should never reveal such information. Yet, I was able to disarm him by remaining cool and calm and by not being reactive to the situation that suggested I was being accused of breaking and entering my own home. He willingly tells me the address. Another surprise! 

Lesson learned, when stimulated to the level of an Amygdala Hijack, one profits greatly from remembering that we are not being chased by prehistoric predators. We are reacting to a pre-historic part of our bodies that remains to protect us. We need this protection, even in cases when our lives are not being threatened. Though it may feel as though that is exactly what is happening.

Creating a Trauma-Aware Workplace

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 6 in 10 men and 5 in 10 women will experience some sort of trauma in their lives.  Moreover, most of us will experience a trauma that could lead to PTSD.  

Of those who experience trauma, 70-90 percent of individuals will not do the work to move past their trauma.  Less than 30% of individuals will take the steps to manage their adversity and 5% of individuals truly take the time to heal from their traumas and harness their true potential.  I truly believe it’s that 5% that become leaders that others look up to.  Those leaders are tough, yet vulnerable.  They possess a presence that encourages others to listen and follow.  They provide hope for a fruitful future.

Most importantly, these 5% recognize the need for trauma-aware workplaces.  Here are some ways to create a trauma-informed workplace:

  • Provide opportunities to learn about trauma and how to act around each other.
  • Create a workplace culture that prioritizes safety, trust, and open communication.
  • Practice empathy and compassion – learn what to say and do when confronted with someone experiencing the effects of trauma.
  • Provide and promote resources such as counseling, employee assistance programs, or mental health support.
  • Be flexible and accommodating for team members who need support.
  • Promote self-care in the workplace and a work/life balance.
  • Address or minimize triggers in the workplace.
  • Assess what is working and adapt policies to address weak points.

Unearth and Move Forward

“There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.”  –Michael Phelps

You’ve probably heard stories of leaders who faced adversity either in childhood or during the course of serving their company. They come from tough childhoods, drop out of college, or face bankruptcy. They didn’t let that stop them. They persevered and became leaders in their industry.  Some examples, are Colonel Sanders, Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling, Michael Jordan, and so many more.

At Triple Axel, we focus on overcoming obstacles and helping you become the next great leader. A big part of that is providing tools to move past what is holding you back, and that includes healing trauma.

Scheduling a coaching session can unearth a level of awareness that will put you on the path to success. Book a session with Byron today and start your journey past fight or flight to conscious leadership.

Founders Corner

You’ve had your eye on a new role in your company and you want to do everything possible to prepare yourself to be the ideal candidate in the eyes of the decision-maker to ensure that you get the job. You study the requirements, comb through the job description, and confirm you’ve got what it takes to shine in this new position. You feel right for the opportunity. This will be a change for you – an event to go from one role to another. This is the ideal time to do something different that will challenge you in such a way that allows you to grow and develop your abilities. 

You also recognize there are a few skills you might want to develop to seal the deal. It could be highlighting your strengths in building relationships, or perhaps tweaking your ability to coach others given this new opportunity puts you in a leadership role. You may even find it helpful to develop your ability to effectively engage others on a team, while at the same time, impressing upper management that they can count on you to lead new lines of business. 

You might ask yourself, what will it take to enhance building relationships, coaching others, and engaging audiences of one to one hundred or even a thousand? What steps will you need to take? Which new techniques will aid you best? How will you go from being an individual contributor to developing others’ ability to contribute to business objectives and desired outcomes? The answers to those questions will serve as your transitions. 

Hi, I’m Byron Darden. Welcome to the start of our series on Transitions. I thought it fitting to start this series at the Gateway Arch here in Saint Louis, Missouri which physically illustrates the transition from one foundation to another. For those of you already familiar with my background in figure skating, you might have guessed that transitions are my specialty. 

Skating on ice is all about making transitions from one skate to another, from edge to edge, and often from one discipline in the sport to another. For over 40 years I’ve mastered transitions in the Olympic sport of figure skating. And for over 20 years I’ve applied that mastery to executives all over the world in honing their ability to become more effective leaders. 

I look forward to helping you make effective transitions in your career trajectory as well.

Working Through Transitions

Our lives pass through many phases.  We go from living with our parents to striking out on our own.  We graduate from grade school, then high school, then college.  We move from one job to another or from one department to another, climbing the corporate ladder.  Some of us marry and have children.  Some of us move to a different state or country. People come and go in our lives.  

All of these require going through transitions that we face over time.  We experience them at different times or rates of frequency and they all change us – one way or another.

This month begins our series on Transitions in the workplace and beyond – recognizing them, dealing with them, and thriving through them.

Change Can Be Uncomfortable

There are numerous ways of looking at the concept of transitions.  It could be used in general to explain the process of someone moving, or being moved, from one set of services to another.  It could also encompass the adoption of a new look – such is the case for dress for success – or way of being – as we might adopt new behaviors and alternative mindsets.  

In the end, transition refers to the movement from a current state to a future state.  Whatever it is we are doing now, we plan to do it differently in the future, or possibly not at all.

What makes a transition most challenging is that it can be emotionally triggering to make a change. Most of us have a desire to stay in our comfort zone and most often that means staying the same…or so we believe! 

I have found that change is not really what haunts us the most.  It is that we have developed patterns that allow us to seemingly work on autopilot doing something repeatedly without thinking too much about it.  We are compared to machines that were designed to do just that.

We are not machines, we are living, breathing beings that need change to thrive and survive.

When burnout occurs due to monotony or high stress, ask yourself – “Has the lack of change contributed to the feeling?  Should you answer yes, then step out of your comfort zone and work through a transition. 

Pushing Through Discomfort

I am in the business of change.  Anyone reading this article right now might be looking to make a change and are wondering how to do it effectively, efficiently, and with as little disruption to the current day-to-day as possible.  

Once we make whatever change seems the most necessary, we want to feel positive about the change and feel it is worth what it will take to sustain the change we have in mind.

Change is important for several reasons:

  • Change teaches us things about ourselves. It opens the doors to new possibilities.
  • Change enables us to adapt to new situations. It allows us to meet people and step into new environments.
  • Change allows us to look at things from a new perspective. These views may reinforce or challenge our life values.
  • Change gives us the strength to make it through tough times. It helps us put one foot in front of the other.  

What most of us fail to realize is that in between the decision to change and the execution of the change is the art of the transition.  The smoother the transition, the easier the change.  When a transition becomes bumpy and disruptive, we feel off balance and would rather go back to the way we used to do it so the feeling of comfort returns. 

The challenge with that thinking is that we soon return to the feeling that got us thinking about making a change in the first place.

Transitions will take you on a roller coaster of emotions.  It’s important to step back and understand the why of the change and envision the future state after the change.  

Fight, Flight, or Freeze

At its essence, transitions are what allow us to simply walk.  We move one foot in front of the other every time we stroll somewhere. It could be from our bedroom to our bathroom. We move from breakfast to lunch. We go from home to work and back again at the end of the day.  Our work lives require us to work on one project and then move to the next. Or as many of us experience, working on more than one project at a time. 

We acknowledge how we behave and note that we can benefit from choosing new ways of behaving in the world to make living in it easier, more fruitful, and pleasing as an end game.

We are making these transitions every day, all day, and in several different aspects of living our lives. Most of them we give little thought to and yet, when the word change comes into our reality, we cringe. Some feel the sensations associated with the flight, fight, or freeze response to a perceived threat. 

Understanding these responses will help you work through them. In all three, your defenses are up and you anticipate a threat or sense of danger.  That danger could be the perceived change that affects your comfort level.

  • Fight – You are ready to stand your ground! You might feel intense emotions and a knot in your stomach, and you are prepared to fight the danger head-on.
  • Flight – You are restless, tense, and feel trapped. You are ready to head in the opposite direction. 
  • Freeze – You feel stuck in place.  Your heart is pounding and you may not know what action to take, so you end up not taking any.

When you feel one of these stress responses, it’s important to take a deep breath and consider what is happening.  Stepping back until you feel comfortable with the change or talking to a trusted advisor before making a final decision can prove helpful.

The flip side of responding to a decision by stepping back first is when you are faced with a decision that must be made now! Your option to weigh the pros and cons is short-changed. Think on your feet. 

Life is a Journey

What will make a transition most seamless is to determine what set of steps you will use to move forward to the future state. The movement from state to state is the change. 

What happens during that change is the transition that serves as the vehicle to differentiate and accomplish the change from one event to another. The more well-defined the transition is, the easier the acceptance of the new state or event we enter. 

It isn’t reaching the destination that is the goal. It is the journey towards that goal where our focus must stay. 

Keep in mind that change can happen suddenly or gradually.  The steps to the pinnacle of leadership can take longer than you like.  Those steps are there for a reason – to prepare you.  While some leaders have an innate ability to respond to challenges effectively, the rest of us follow a bumpier road with many twists and turns.  Every setback makes you stronger and/or wiser.

From the Ice to the Boardroom

Many of my readers know of my four decades in the sport of figure skating. I refer to that time often in my work because those forty years were all about how to make smooth transitions. 

At the core of figure skating is the transition from one edge to another, from one stroke of one blade on the ice to the next stroke of the other blade on the ice. Everything I learned in figure skating is about mastering the transition of weight from one part of the body or edge to another, as seamlessly and as controlled as possible.

I’ve taken what I’ve learned from skating and applied it to coaching executives on how to make changes in their behavior that will inspire change in the outcome of their leadership. When they see the benefit, they also find it easier to maintain the shift they’ve made. 

You will notice that Triple Axel executive coaching is also in transition. Over the next several months you will notice changes we are making – from our new website to our new offerings – and to how we interact with you and all our clients in making your experience one that is meaningful, fruitful and will increase the bottom line of business in order to continue surviving and thriving.

Change is Inevitable

The fast pace of today’s business world means that people face many more changes.  Sixty-seven percent of leaders report that their organizations now experience “some or many more” changes than they did in the previous year.

These changes tend to start at the top and then cascade through the senior ranks.  69 percent of new CEOs reshuffle their management teams within the first two years. While this may mean more opportunity for someone looking for a change, it disrupts those who hoped to stay in their position for a long period.

When stability is what you seek from an employment situation, actively seek out companies that demonstrate these traits.  If you thrive in fast-paced environments, a company with a track record of taking chances might be worth pursuing.

Not every business operates in this fashion.  Many fail to have a change plan at all.  According to a recent survey, 78% of business owners said they enjoy managing their company too much to start thinking about a future change. In addition, 42% said they were too busy to start planning, while 44% felt that a change was too far in the future to establish a plan.

A big part of legacy planning for business owners is changing to new ownership when life takes a turn.  Even passing the business to a family member has a small chance of a successful change.  When you have strong intentions about the future, it’s prudent to plan it now.

Use a Support System

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”Rainer Maria Rilke

Change is the one constant in our lives. Even those who stay in a position for a long period of time are changing.  Changes can be big or small. They do keep us moving. The question that emerges is whether the movement is backward or forward.

While you might be clear about the reasons for the change and convinced that it is the ideal decision for your future state, the steps to getting there might be muddled with perceived or real obstacles, either physical or otherwise.  

Immersion in the middle of a transition can lead to feelings of confusion and a loss of direction, causing us to lose focus on the big picture. Don’t go it alone, book a call and see how creating a support system can ease the discomfort of change. 

Founder’s Corner

Bouncing back as a leader has never been more timely a topic as it is for me in this present moment.

“It’s 2:40pm on a week day afternoon. I just boarded my plane after missing an earlier flight because I arrived at the gate too late. Too late to board my flight that left 10 minutes earlier than scheduled. I’ve had a challenging week already and this is how it comes to a close. As though I haven’t already stumbled my way through a week of setbacks. Extending a three hour travel day into a ten hour one brings me to recognize the universe is telling me to make a change.”

Hi I’m Byron Darden welcoming you to the latest edition of Leading with Purpose on Purpose. In this installment my focus is on dealing with setbacks. We all have them and we all have stories about how some setbacks we overcame while others, well, not so much.

It seems not so long ago I learned the valuable lesson that a setback, often referred to as a breakdown is what happens right before a breakthrough. Now when I experience a breakdown of some kind, I’m reminded that a breakthrough is on the horizon.

I also discovered five simple tips to overcoming setbacks. First and foremost, acknowledge it. We’re not immune to setbacks. Therefore recognize them so you can begin transforming them into the breakthrough up ahead. Second, rather than succumb to the blame game, focus that energy on how to move forward. Third, while everyone may have a different approach, mine is to ground myself in my spirituality. It is through my faith that I have been able to see beyond whatever setback I’m facing. Fourth, one of my greatest challenges is to allow time for the wounds of setbacks to heal.

Leadership and Resilience: Bouncing Back from Setbacks

Think about a time when things didn’t go quite as planned.  It could be something as small as missing the bus to work. Or something bigger – like preparing weeks for a presentation and once you got up in front of the group, they changed the parameters, scraped the project, or completely rejected your ideas. 

We’ve all been there. Recently, I had a family emergency that required travel across the country. My priorities were not questioned; however, the trip threw my business life into a tailspin – missed classes, calls, invoices, and deadlines. Once I shifted my focus back to business and checked my emails and texts, I experienced what could have felt like overwhelmed, making me want to crawl up into a ball and go to sleep. It turned out to be a time of great learning and inspiration to write this month’s blog.

Bouncing back from setbacks, whether due to self-imposed expectations, the guilt of disappointing others, or losing a client or a job, is a test of your resilience.

When Things Get Tough

Resilience is the ability to bounce back with ease from whatever might throw you off balance unexpectedly. In leadership, this can happen in any number of ways too numerous to count, and it can happen on a routine basis.

  • Did the coffee shop screw up your latte again?
  • Did the client change their requirements?
  • Did you miss out on getting the promotion you deserved?
  • Did you get laid off or fired?

Resilience is one of the table stakes of becoming an effective leader. One thing to remind ourselves of is that no matter how skilled you are, remaining grounded when losing your balance as a leader is as much a part of the role as regaining your footing when you find yourself careening into a tailspin; something pilots must learn how to overcome before getting their wings to fly.

No matter what your situation, the next step after the setback defines your leadership resiliency.

We see this displayed in the news. A company faces a situation that causes its stock to plummet, or its image to falter in the consumer’s eyes. This could be due to a natural disaster, past business decisions that are now questioned by employees or the public, or a myriad of other events.

The resilient CEO gets up in front of their employees and explains the situation and how the company plans to mediate the damage or bounce back. The stronger the relationship is between leaders and their followers, the greater possibility for overcoming setbacks.

Meeting Others Where They Are

When I was a young boy growing up in San Antonio, Texas, my father took me with him to Austin where he worked as a state attorney. I had the honor of meeting the late Barbara Jordan, the first African American elected to the Texas Senate who invited me to be an honorary page. I had no idea what a page did; I was just excited to have a day away from school and hang out with my dad in the state’s capital.

We are making our way to the capital building on State Street in Austin. My dad and I are standing on a street corner waiting for the light to change. My dad is a big man. He’s tall and dark. People say he’s handsome. He’s also a person who easily can be scary looking at first sight. You notice him when he walks into a room. The kind of person who gets attention without saying a word. He strikes up a conversation with another man also waiting to cross the street. For those who are unaware, back then it was illegal to cross the street when the walk light blazed red, “Don’t Walk.”

As my dad stands with the posture of former military, he and another man begin to talk. I don’t pay much attention to what they are saying. I am feeling the warm sun as my eyes dart up and down the street, watching cars go by, and people all dressed up. So glad I get to miss a day of school. Suddenly I heard my dad’s voice. “This is my son Byron”, I hear my dad’s base baritone voice rumble from above my head. It is as though heaven opens and God speaks my name to get my attention. I am 7- or 8-years-old. A chubby, soon-to-be a Weblow Scout. We shop in the husky department at Sears for all my pants. That‘s the only place that has pants I can wear. I’m not all that comfortable in my own skin. Not like my dad.

“Shake the man’s hand,” Dad’s voice thunders. I slowly stretch out my hand as I look down to the ground. “Look the man in the eye when you shake his hand,” I hear my dad’s voice again. I slowly lift my head, looking up at a man. I don’t know him. Trying to remember how I know him. I feel a little scared inside. He’s a stranger. I don’t speak to strangers. I can hardly wait to leave the corner. Just my dad and me.

After a few moments, the light turns green. The man walks one way. Dad and I go another. “Who is that man Daddy? I ask lots of questions, as usual, wondering what the answer will be. I don’t know, he replies. I am surprised that my dad does the very thing my mother and he warn me not to do; speak to strangers. Confusing! This is my earliest memory of building relationships. You just talk to a man on the street you don’t know?”

What I learned from that experience is that there are exceptions to rules. First, you learn what the rules are. So that by the time you choose to break them, you’ve built the confidence in your resilience to face the consequences.

Today, just as my father demonstrated, I’ll talk to just about anyone on just about any topic without hesitation. It was a long road to travel to get comfortable enough to speak to people. Let alone strangers. Today, no one is a stranger to me once I introduce myself and engage them.

How did I overcome the fear of speaking to people? Years as a musical theater actor exposed me to all types of characters, playing all types of roles and having a director tell me, “Think of everyone in the first row sitting there in their underwear. How can you be nervous when you are on stage fully dressed!” Or my mother’s encouragement, “They put on their pants just like you do; one leg at a time. No need to be afraid of people.”


When something fails to work out as expected – leaving us with a negative outcome, it’s learned behavior to react by pointing the finger at someone or something. While there may be outside influences that contribute to the issue, the one thing that you can control is your choice of response. Effective leaders take ownership of their part of the problem, learn from setbacks, and create opportunities for improvement.  It’s important to keep things in perspective and consult your team for solutions. 

Developing your resilience soft skills involves self-reflection.  Take time to reflect on the situation, brainstorm possible solutions, and determine your next steps.

  1. Setbacks are often unexpected – or at least they seem that way.  Give yourself time to reflect on the situation.  This often results in the “Why me?” or “Life is unfair” inner criticism we fall prey to at times. Just avoid remaining in this state for too long.
  2. After some reflection, you might realize that there are things you could have done differently.  Identify the buttons that were pushed and your shortcomings in averting the situation.
  3. In many situations, there are elements out of your control and those that you can control.  Realize the difference and capitalize on what you learn.
  4. Make a plan moving forward and be prepared to work on your plan.
  5. Give yourself grace.  Setbacks happen to everyone and how you handle them will define you.
  6. While it’s tempting to blame outside circumstances, you gain more by looking at the situation from different perspectives.  Remember that when you point a finger at others, three fingers are pointing back at you.
  7. Throughout the process, stop and reflect on choices you make or decisions that led to the current unsatisfying situation. 
  8. Resolve to learn from the setback and recognize how you can choose differently in the future.

Building Relationships

You may be all too familiar with the saying: Life happens when we are busy making plans. I once worked with a client to create a Life Plan. This client shared with me their reluctance to plan ahead, stating, “I want to stay open to the unexpected that is bound to happen. So why punish myself by planning ahead when I know something is bound to arise that causes me to throw out my plans because the unexpected happened leaving me to change my course anyway.” You may ask yourself – Why bother?

For over 50 years I’ve been steeped in consulting, which has taught me the value of formulating a plan so that course correcting takes less time and energy than starting from scratch when Mother Nature has her way with your plans.

Any time I stumble onto an unexpected set of circumstances, it is my resilient mindset that allows me to develop a client solution that I believe will make all the difference in solving my client’s problem.

Sure, there will be unknowns to consider. Yet, the basis of planning is the ART of determining how to approach a problem, figuring out the best tools and techniques to resolve the problem, and then demonstrating how to release the tension that was created when the problem presented itself, so we become more flexible to move through a similar reoccurrence the next time. I’ve come to learn that there will be a next time!

From Fear to Triumph

I once worked with a client to develop storytelling techniques for use in business situations. Typically, these are stories with a teachable point of view. They are often told from the point of view of a life lesson learned. It could be a surprising insight gained from an otherwise unflattering light shown on the storytellers themselves, or perhaps a learning we have from watching the failure of another person’s actions.

They were petrified at the thought of standing before colleagues, sharing a less than proud moment from their lives. At the encouragement of the cohort with whom they were aligned, the moment came to stand in front of a classroom of high-powered executives and share the story they crafted over the course of an afternoon.

When the story reached its end, their fellow executives from all over the world, representing a wide variety of different industries, rose to their feet with the precision of the Rockets at Radio City Music Hall applauding that seemed to go on for some time. In all the years I’ve taught this program, I do not recall experiencing such a heartwarming appreciation for a story well told. The lesson learned is that we can be our own worst critic and when we simply trust in the process, something wonderful can emerge. In addition, we also grow in confidence the more we do the things that challenge us the most. Each building block that contributes to our courage makes us stronger and more willing to tackle the next.

It isn’t from theory that I draw lessons to help leaders overcome hurdles in their careers. It is from being in the trenches and learning from doing that comforts me in lifting others up.

Handling Setbacks

Harvard Business Review looked at 450 CEO successions in 4 years.  35% of the CEOs who were ousted from one company proceeded to take a similar role at a larger company where they ended up being the same or more successful.  What is the difference between those who bounce back and those who do not?

Often it comes down to mindset and how the leader handles the setback.  Getting fired from a high-profile position can happen for a variety of reasons – some of which are out of the leader’s control.  Because they are at the top, they can be the fall guy or girl when times are tough.

After this happens, the leader has some choices – step down into a lower executive position, move into a lower-profile position out of the public eye (such as to the Board of Directors), or seek out a new company. 

When leaders have a well-constructed plan and follow the steps that we’ve mentioned above, they can fight back and convince others of their worthiness to lead again.  Other leaders choose a different path, albeit not at the top position.  Others are never heard from again.  The difference comes down to resilience and their plan to bounce back how they choose to. In the end, it always comes down to a choice.

Bounce Back

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.” – Jamais Cascio

History books are filled with those that overcame adversity.  Abraham Lincoln faced adversity from his very early career, failing as a shopkeeper, and failing to be elected to Congress several times.  Imagine if he had given up – instead, he became one of our greatest Presidents.  Colonel Sanders didn’t succeed with Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was in his late 60’s.  JK Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by 12 major publishers before becoming one of the bestselling book series of all time.  The list goes on. 

Whether your setback is small or seemingly insurmountable, people rarely remember the circumstances of the setback; they remember how you stood up, dusted the dirt off your knees, and made a plan. 

Are you facing a setback and need assistance working out the details – someone to bounce ideas off and gain perspective, book a call on my calendar.  Together we’ll work on tools to help you bounce back.

Founder’s Corner

Reaching the pinnacle of excellence is not an end game. It’s a journey we begin with the hope of becoming better today than we were yesterday. It’s how we build our relationships with one another. It’s how we improve our approach, processes, and procedures. It’s also how we look at the choices we make that refreshes our memory to choose more wisely over time.

Hi, I’m Byron Darden and I welcome you to yet another edition of Leading with Purpose On Purpose. A dear friend of mine often reminds me how fortunate we all are to wake up each morning allowing us another day to get it right. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by the late Bob Saget, an American stand-up comedian, actor, and television host of the Today show who said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life. And if that doesn’t work out for you, tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.” This quote reflects that the past is gone, unchangeable, and inaccessible, leaving this present moment the most significant moment in our lives when we get to choose how much better we will be than we were a moment ago. It is this belief that allows us the opportunity to strive for what could be even more beneficial when we choose to lift whatever it is, to higher levels of excellence.

Excellence is not a quality we settle for. It is what great leaders continue to seek in working toward the pinnacle. Whether it is the pinnacle of your own leadership or the pinnacle of developing new leaders as Jack Welch, former CEO of GE believed, is one of the most important jobs of a leader.

My Leadership challenge to you; when it comes to leading others and developing other leaders, is to focus on something you do really well and strive to do it better.

Reaching the Pinnacle of Leadership Presence

Many leaders strive to be at the top of their organization. They may think, “Once I reach the top, I’ll be a success.” Often, this is accompanied by a sense of complacency or asking themselves, “Now what? What else is there?”

I experienced this firsthand when I achieved my first master’s rating as a figure skating coach. I remember receiving the news upon completing my oral exam in front of three master-rated coaches, one of whom was a friend, now deceased. “Congratulations, Byron! You’ve now accomplished your first master rating.” I recall being somewhat petrified at the news, wondering when everyone would figure out that I had no idea how I’d become a master of my craft. I spent the next several years trying to live up to the new title. It took that long for me to settle into the fact that I truly had mastered the ability to teach skaters at the pinnacle of excellence in skating and mentor other coaches to the same degree.

How do you define reaching the pinnacle of success?  Is it when you reach the CEO position or is it an intangible feeling? 

Possessing a title does not make you an effective leader.  The ability to connect, engage and inspire those you lead along your visionary path is achieved through leadership presence. 

Leadership presence refers to the ability of a leader to project a sense of confidence, authenticity, and authority when interacting with those they lead.  It’s a leader’s impression and impact on their team, colleagues, and other stakeholders. Leadership presence goes beyond having a title or position of authority; it’s about how a leader carries themselves and influences those around them.

In the past months, we’ve explored unique characteristics that lead to leadership presence, including intentionality, your speaking voice, how open you are, how you engage with your teams, and how consistent you are. 

We will explore what it means to reach the pinnacle of leadership presence and how you can strive to get there.

The Unpaved Path

Like climbing a mountain, the path to the top is neither straight nor free of obstacles.  It takes hard work, the ability to change and adapt, and the right mindset.  There are measurable markers along the way.

According to John Maxwell, in his book by the same name, there are five basic levels of leadership:

  1. Position – A person has been asked to manage a team.  This person might be considered a boss. They have the title and the subordinates. They can enforce rules and regulations. Yet, they may not have developed the leadership skills that cause them to be effective.
  2. Permission – This person begins to develop trust and respect from their team.  This is the start of leadership, where you build relationships and connections and start to develop influence.
  3. Production – This leader builds a cohesive team that gets things done.  They produce results for the organization while handling challenging situations.  At this point, true leaders start to emerge.
  4. People Development – This leader nurtures and mentors their team members, developing them into future leaders through observation, feedback loops and coaching.
  5. Pinnacle – Leaders at this level have mastered skills at the lower levels and are crucial figures in the entire organization’s success and even the industry.  They create opportunities for others and leave a legacy.  “Pinnacle leaders stand out from everyone else. They are a cut above, and they seem to bring success with them wherever they go.”

The pinnacle of leadership presence is the most successful point. Who you are and what it represents commands the respect of others.  You have the opportunity for fulfillment as you successfully establish a vision, live as an example that inspires others, and serve to achieve goals.

Reaching the pinnacle level requires much more than an MBA and hard skills; it involves taking risks and setting yourself apart through any number of ways.

Value and Worth

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the fourth point on the pyramid is the need to be recognized.  Here’s where becoming a leader may play a part in fulfilling this need.  After all, when someone becomes a leader, they expect others to hold them in a higher esteem. 

When a person rises through the ranks at a rapid pace or fails to develop the right mindset, those who are supposed to look up to them may not respond in the way the leader expects. The leader has not earned their place and has a greater challenge to earn their respect.  The development of mindset happens way before the pinnacle of success. 

Here’s a typical example I often hear:  Employees expressing their displeasure at being asked to do something outside their job description.  They say things such as, “That’s not my job. I’m not working for free and doing their dirty work, just because they think they can get away with it! I won’t allow myself to be abused.”  We must take care of ourselves and not allow the boss to abuse us with unpaid work, unappreciated effort, and unfair responsibilities that can sabotage the quality of the work we produce. That said, playing it safe does not earn promotions.

Waiting for the promotion before you demonstrate you can succeed at the role is working backward. That mindset will not move you forward.

By contrast, to earn a promotion, you must demonstrate your value to the organization before you apply.  Work to stand apart from the pack by demonstrating your leadership ability and mastery.  Instead of waiting for a job opening and trying to convince management that you are the best candidate, exhibit behaviors showing management they do not need to post a job unless that is an established protocol within the organization.

When we work to stand out from the pack by demonstrating our ability and mastery in leading, we are more apt to gain the promotion associated with those skills. Be the likely choice, and you’ll become the likely candidate.

Change Your Mindset

Progressing from “position to pinnacle” is no easy task.  Even born leaders need to become fully aware of their mindset and actions.  Looking honestly at where you are and where you wish to be often uncovers traits to improve.  Instead of looking at an activity beyond your job description, consider how performing the task could benefit your perception.  Turn a mundane task into an opportunity to showcase your talents.

Move Away FromMove Toward
Death by PowerPointMasterful Platform Skills
Telling People What to DoInspiring People to Do
Autocratic Leadership StyleCoaching Leadership Style
Being GuardedBeing Vulnerable
  • Think about how you respond and are perceived by your leaders.  When you are asked to make a presentation, use the opportunity to practice your platform skills instead of reading and flipping through a mundane PowerPoint presentation.
  • When your team is assigned a project, structure the tasks in an inspiring way rather than just telling your team what to do.
  • Act as a coach instead of just the boss.
  • Be your authentic self with your team; demonstrate your vulnerable side through stories with a teachable point of view.

Reaching the leadership pinnacle is not just about your actions, it is also about your mindset. How you see situations based on your core values, consciously or subconsciously, affects the outcome. Many leaders use what Roger Schwartz calls a “unilateral control” mindset, trying to achieve goals by trying to control the situation. 

When you use this type of thinking, you assume you are correct, and those who disagree with you are incorrect.  When they disagree with your approach or decisions, they may not understand the variables. Problems are inevitable because of the actions of others. Not yours! 

There are perceived benefits in unilateral thinking, including the fact that you often win while acting rationally and keeping unpleasant feelings out of the conversation.  These may come at a risk to the process.  You risk alienating team members and creating an environment where there is less enthusiasm for the project.  You may not hear valuable feedback your team has to offer.

A better approach is called Mutual Learning, whereby you are curious, transparent, accountable, make informed choices, and use compassion.  Leaders work with their teams to achieve results by listening to and incorporating feedback.

The Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a three to four-sentence summary that you can use to get someone interested in an idea, product, company, or what you have to offer. It can garner attention and open the doors to possibilities.

When I first began developing my elevator pitch back in 2015, when someone would ask: What do you do? My response went something like this…

“You know how someone who wants to go into business, might begin by earning an MBA? They would master creating and administering some type of business. Yet, not every MBA is as focused on the people side of a business. I help business leaders master the people side of an organization. It is the most underdeveloped, least attended to, and by far the most challenging aspect of a business.”

Evidence of that is the advent of artificial intelligence. Who needs to deal with people with AI at their fingertips? The thing about AI is it physically only requires your fingertips, jamming away on that keyboard, cranking out code to get what looks like a person, sounds like a person, seemingly responds like a person, and isn’t a person at all.

A slightly different and to-the-point elevator pitch I developed painted a picture of great necessity:

“While a business-minded person may go to college to earn an MBA to learn how to start a successful business, they come to me to learn how to keep the lights on in that business.”

Set Yourself Apart

Leadership Presence is the factor that sets a great leader apart from their peers.  According to a study by the think-tank Coqual, executive presence accounts for 26% of what it takes to get promoted into leadership positions.  Furthermore, 67% of senior executives feel that executive presence is a top factor when evaluating high-potential employees for advancement.

Two candidates working at the same company with MBAs from top schools, equal years of experience, and an impressive track record of results.  The difference comes down to leadership presence. 

  • Which candidate takes command of the room or a meeting just by showing up?
  • Which candidate listens, learns, and then makes informed, thoughtful, confident choices?
  • Which candidate has earned the respect of their colleagues and the public?
  • Which candidate strives to better themselves?

Everything else being equal, the platform skills make a difference.

When choosing someone for a leadership position, the words confident, decisive, and commanding come to mind.  When you want to exude these qualities, here’s one bit of insight:

Consider the avoidance of following up a statement with the word “but…” It negates whatever was said prior and tends to create a sensation of withdrawal and a sense of dread. No matter what the grammar rules may lead us to believe that the word is absolutely appropriate in some settings, the impact of the word can feel like a punch in the gut for the listener.

Develop Your Presence

“I had to adapt my presence and develop it in a way that really exuded leadership.”
Muriel Maignan Wilkins

Leadership presence comes naturally to very few.  You might be surprised to learn that 98% of leaders must take steps to develop executive presence.  Persistent work, often with the help of an executive presence coach, can bring noticeable results within weeks and a significant transformation in as little as a few months.  An individual approach emphasizes your strengths and pinpoints areas for improvement.  Continuous fine-tuning of executive-presence qualities keeps you sharp and able to meet challenges head-on.  Want to learn more?  Book a one-on-one session to find out how.

Founder’s Corner

In the advent of the Xerox corporation forming the National Black Employee Caucus, what started off as an effort by the marginalized community to confront racial prejudice in the workplace back in the 1960s, has evolved into what are now called Employee Recourse Groups or ERGs, also barring the name, Infinity groups.

This evolution presents many different ways to identify communities within the workplace that have historically not been distinguished or segmented. We’ve now come to see the value of us all being acknowledged and recognized for who we are, what is unique about each of us and how we are a contribution to the health and welfare of our companies and organizations.

Hi, I’m Byron Darden and welcome to this installment of Leading with Purpose On Purpose. We are going to look at what ERGs are, why they are important to us as individuals and as members of an entity where we want to feel welcomed to participate so we can develop and thrive.

This is especially true of the many immigrants who have come to American soil to seek refuge and opportunity, and in some cases meet their demise. One can say that the American system fails many socially and economically with limited opportunities for some and riches for a select few. And yet, we are living in an unprecedented time when it is no longer incentive enough to just have a job, now the workforce demands to be happy, find fulfillment in order to remain motivated to do our work and engaged by colleagues, managers and leadership.

This puts new pressure on leadership to ensure that employee turnover is kept low, greater appreciation for what are contributing differences in the marketplace by each employee and that engagement is kept high in order for staff to remain inspired to be an asset to the company’s growth and prosperity.

While there is no way to always do right by the workforce, ERGs do offer the possibility of employees gaining the greatest chance to be seen and respected for what they bring to the table.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Chances are you gravitate towards those with whom you have something in common. It’s no different when joining the workforce. In larger companies, you are likely to work with diverse individuals. While the work expectations may be clear, many struggle to be understood because of different values, beliefs, gender influences, ethnicity, and/or a host of other differences that distinguish us. Finding common ground and thriving with underlying feelings and past experiences can be challenging and gratifying at the same time.

In the 1960s, African American workers, looking for a way to organize in order to confront the social issue of racial prejudice in the workplace, formed groups where they could come together and tackle issues in their working environment. This was the birth of Employee Resource Groups or ERGs (the first of which was the National Black Employee Caucus at Xerox in 1970).

Since then, ERGs (sometimes called affinity groups) have become common in the workplace. They are a place where those with similar characteristics can gather and discuss issues affecting them. They can provide a united front to bridge the gap between management and employees and between peers. Done effectively, ERGs can provide a unified environment that promotes communication and provides a path for career advancement.

What Are ERGs?

Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs, are stand-alone groups within an organization of employees that share characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, faith, social economics, intellect, lifestyle, or other specific aspects with which members identify.

ERGs are found in 90% of Fortune 500 companies, creating a space where employees with common interests can foster understanding.

ERGs are not meant to segregate or separate employees based on their backgrounds. The purpose is to create an inclusive work environment that values diversity and promotes a sense of unity among all employees.

Common ERGs are:

  • Diversity groups centered around ethnic, cultural, or faith-based backgrounds.
  • Gender groups supporting women, men, or non-binary individuals.
  • LGBTQ+ inclusion groups advocating for the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals.
  • Disabilities groups dedicated to supporting employees with disabilities and promoting accessibility.
  • Generational groups for employees from different age groups, like millennials or baby boomers.
  • Veteran’s groups focused on supporting and recognizing military veterans in the workplace.
  • Parental or family groups, such as working parents or caregivers, assist employees with family responsibilities.
  • Environmental groups are promoting sustainability and environmental initiatives within the company.

Create an Impact

ERGs are believed crucial in creating more inclusive, inviting, and nurturing opportunities for its members. As an outcome, active members provide and gain support from one another, allowing them the sense of belonging that can elude an organization without the keen focus that ERGs bring to the table.

Built on the concept of “strength in numbers,” ERGs are better equipped to highlight areas of need in shoring up an organization’s policymaking, bringing challenging issues to light, creating growth opportunities, and heightening employee engagement.

Companies can leverage the power of ERGs in their DEI strategy by paying close attention to what employees are seeking. Aligning DEI with ERGs can foster inclusion, improve diversity, and promote an external impact. Potential employees may include these factors in deciding where to work. Current employees looking for a purpose in their vocation might look to ERGs to feel included before jumping ship.

It’s not enough to form an ERG; they must be effective in their goal. Evaluate ERGs based on these criteria:

  • Does management support the ERGs?
  • Does leadership recognize concerns brought up by the ERG and take steps to address agreed upon critical issues raised?
  • Do the ERGs build community among employees or create division?
  • Does leadership support the advancement of members of each ERG?
  • Are employees who lead ERGs unequivocally recognized for their roles?
  • To what extent, in the event, any financial support is provided by the organization?

Based on these answers, look at how ERGs and management interact and how they can work together for a common goal.

ERGs can contribute to a company in many ways.

  • A diversity of perspectives helps in crafting more inclusive and effective policies and practices.
  • Employees who join ERGs feel heard and valued, resulting in increased motivation and dedication to the organization.
  • Executives can draw on the ERGs’ insights to inform strategic decision-making.
  • Top management can look to ERGs to identify opportunities for improvement when facing organizational challenges.
  • ERGs can foster leadership development in the organization.  Mentorship opportunities can be nurtured with active leadership involvement, paving the way toward more diversity in leadership positions.
  • ERGs can enhance an organization’s cultural competence.
  • Embracing ERGs and promoting inclusivity positively impacts brand reputation.  This can affect the bottom line in dealings with consumers and suppliers and attracting new talent.

Yet just because ERGs can contribute to a company, to what extent do they succeed, and what might be getting in the way?

Shift Your Focus

While ERGs have been around for decades, their focus has changed. What was once focused on diversity and inclusion, more recent studies reveal a heightened focus on organizational challenges. Now the aim is more on leadership development, innovation, and change management, our sweet spot here at Triple Axel Executive Coaching.

Move Away From    Move More Toward
Exclusivity on IndividualsInclusivity in Organizational Change
Focused on Racial tensionFocused on Alienated Workers
You Fit UsWe Fit One Another
Career StagnationLeadership Development
Hidden AdvancementOpen Advancement
Working in SiloWorking in Community
Physical DisabilitiesDisability Inclusivity
What’s Wrong/RightWhat’s Working/Needs Work
Limiting LanguageGenerative Language

Now with greater attention focused on making the workplace an inviting environment for employees, drawing on the strength of ERGs is an executive’s wellspring of knowledge and insight that leads to positive changes making a difference in organizations.

By valuing and collaborating with ERGs, organizations can build a stronger and more resilient workforce, leading to increased productivity, innovation, and overall success. Sounds progressive, and yet, just how innovative do company leaders wish their organization to be? Particularly when the focus seems more on the status quo as long as it increases the bottom line. After all, creating an environment for change necessary for innovation to flourish can be risky.

Let Your Light Shine

Being ignored has a greater impact on us than others can possibly know. While we all have experiences in life where we may sense nobody notices or cares, we all also have a different threshold for insecurity.

We strive to be liked, heard, and valued to “fit in” to our community, school, work, and organizations. Yet, fitting in is not always what is being served up to us. I experienced this often as I yearned to be accepted just as I am. Yet, being an African American man in the US, where my forefathers were enslaved, mistreated, killed, and marginalized, my American story lacks interest in a country that seems to look the other way rather than celebrate my presence. That is until George Floyd experienced an officer of the law kneeling on his neck, leading to his death, who was then charged with second-degree murder.

My story differs because of the level of confidence instilled in me as a child, during which time I was taught that where a door was closed, I should look for an open window. Where opportunity passed me by, I created my own. When so-called friends turned their backs, I became my greatest supporter. This is not easy when you feel you’re doing it alone.

The reminder I live with is that I am never alone; I am always with myself. This inspires me to get to know, like, and trust myself. In doing so, I move away from the need to blame others for my predicament, whatever it may be. Instead, I consider what I can do differently to change my course or outcome. That is precisely the mindset I bring to developing leaders.

We tend to live our lives externally focused, missing what is right in front of our faces; a mirror reflecting back at us what we need to know to accomplish what we are here to do, as well as showing us what we have yet to learn. That does not necessarily include pleasing other people. Instead, our lives are meant to be a contribution.

Exactly in what way we are to contribute is our life’s journey to discover. I find it next to impossible to navigate when focused outside of myself. When I can bring a leader around to this way of thinking, it’s as though they turn a corner where the light shines brightly on what to do next.

A Measurable Difference

In a survey by Gitnux (a company that explores the latest trends in software, HR, marketing, and business management), 57% of US employees reported benefits from participating in ERGs, such as professional development and career advancement.  The same survey highlights up to a 4% increase in minority representation within an organization.

ERGs are a valuable tool for those looking to climb the corporate ladder.  They provide networking opportunities with leadership and an ability to showcase talents outside of their regular job functions.

This can only happen when employees are made aware of ERGs, given the opportunities to participate fully with supportive managers, and company leaders recognize the benefits of an ERG and then make an effort to rally the support of these communities.

A study by A Great Place to Work, illustrates the disconnect between what executive sponsors of ERGs think and what ERG participants feel.  For example, 78% of sponsors believe that involvement in ERGs supports career advancement, while only 40% of ERG leaders agree. 

Leaders can change this:

  • Recognize ERG leaders and their contributions.
  • Reach out and have hard conversations about how the goals and objectives of the ERG align with the organization.
  • Provide a meaningful budget, involvement from senior leaders, and help with career advancement.
  • Promote ERGs at a company level, encouraging more employee participation.

A Worthwhile Endeavor

“The way to achieve your success is to be willing to help somebody else get it first.” – Iyanla Vanzant.

Throughout history, there have been trailblazers and impactful leaders.  While we often attribute their success to singular geniuses, this is rarely true.  Behind every successful person is an army of support.  It might be their family, an investment company, assistant, or a stranger in the coffee shop who was kind enough to listen to a crazy idea and step up to support it.

ERGs provide a level of support often missing from what can be felt in the corporate world.  It reminds you that someone is in your corner, and you do indeed “fit in.”

There are two sides of the aisle.  Employees look to strengthen the impact of an ERG as a group that creates real change in your organization.  Leaders look to strategize with ERGs to create a more cohesive working environment.  At Triple Axel, our goal is to bridge that gap for the benefit of the entire organization.  Book a call to learn how.

Founder’s Corner

What do Eleanor Roosevelt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Warren Buffet, and Beyonce Knolls have in common? They all possess a challenge with speaking to an audience.

Hello, I’m Byron Darden and welcome to this addition of Leading with Purpose On Purpose.

Throughout the course of our 7 month series on The Executive VOICE we’ve covered values based leadership, when leaders focus on achieving goals seen through the lens of their personal values much of which aligns with the values their organizations hold dear.

We’ve addressed openness that a leader profits from demonstrating by taking the time and interest to tap into their team’s views and opinions regarding whatever project in which they are all jointly engaged.

We even explored the need for leaders to practice the principles of intentionality in all aspects of their lives with the hope that being intentional becomes their default way of leading.

There’s also the concept of consistency in leadership delving into the idea that consistency is the name of game. Especially when you want customers to develop the grow, like and trust factor in products and services offered to them.

And there’s the overwhelming amount of data that greatly suggests that, when a leader succeeds at engaging their stakeholders, be them customers, employees, suppliers, communities and in the case of publicly held companies, shareholders . . . So much more can be accomplished in building a healthy bottom line.

This all leads to grounding the all inclusive Executive Voice. Which we complete in this final installment addressing what we hear and see from a leader who exemplifies The Executive VOICE.


Branding Your Executive Voice

August is about how we show up for others and how that presentation of ourselves impacts those around us.

It is said that you have 7 seconds to make a first impression. Any time you stand in front of a new group of people to introduce yourself or make a sales pitch, you are being judged – how you hold your posture, your appearance, the grip of your handshake, and how you sound.

Your speaking voice can make the difference in whether someone takes you seriously or their attention wanders to the next meeting. Your voice is unique and authentic to you. It is how people perceive you – the most crucial part of your brand.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is running for president, and the first time people hear his voice, they are taken aback. He has a vocal impediment that makes him sound old due to the frequency of sudden involuntary pauses. For this reason, some take his candidacy less seriously as a result. They have limited faith in his ability to be authoritative enough to represent the United States on the world stage. He may or may not have the most suitable ideas or be the appropriate person for the job, and the way his voice sounds makes people pause – which can be an advantage when used strategically.

Some aspects of your voice cannot be controlled, and several others can. You can change the meaning of your words by changing the tempo, quality or pitch, volume, accent, or enunciation. How you speak can make a difference in whether you are taken seriously and whether your message is heard. Your speaking voice is also a vital part of your personal brand.

Crafting Your Voice

Learning to convey compelling messages to your audience takes practice, and the benefits far outweigh the effort required to become an effective speaker.

Communication is an art form that is not only about what you say. It includes how you speak and express yourself, which, in turn, determines how others perceive you.

Aligning your intention with the desired impact is crucial, as how you are remembered when you are not present in the room determines your success. Using your voice, whether in person, virtually, or in print, is about shaping the perception of your character and the way you want to be thought of when your name is mentioned. It delves into the core question of who you want to be.

When your audience hears you speak for the first time, they automatically assess your social and economic status, intelligence level, and willingness to listen to what you have to say.

Perceptions are based on how you ACT:

  1. How authentic you are, the image you portray, and whether your audience can personally relate to you based on your likeness or resemblance to them.
  2. The content of your words, including word choice, phrases, and sentence structure, derived from your experiences, background, understanding, or wisdom that led you to your position.
  3. The timing of your message, including how you verbally deliver the message, derived from your training, education, knowledge, insight, observation, or judgment based on the topic.

Your challenge is bridging the gap between what you say and what your audience hears.

A speaker’s voice plays a significant role in triggering personal and aesthetic biases. Different aspects of the voice impact our perception of the speaker.

  1. The intensity of your voice, including volume and loudness, can evoke certain emotions or convey authority.
  2. The rate at which you speak – the speed and pace – can influence others’ perception of your intelligence and confidence.
  3. The frequency of your voice – encompassing pitch and quality – contributes to the overall impression of your personality and emotional state.
  4. The inflection, which relates to the voice’s emphasis, contrast, and energy, adds depth and nuance to your communication.
  5. The clarity of your enunciation and articulation affects how easily the audience can understand your message and determines their level of engagement with your words.

Incorporating the Speaking Voice into Your Brand

An integral aspect of The Executive VOICE is its relationship to personal brand and persona. When branding a product or service, we often think of fonts, colors, images, and logos. Each component is critical in crafting a distinct and impactful written message that resonates with the audience. We can extend our branding further by considering how we present our brand to others through our speaking voice.

While fonts determine the quality and style of the message, colors evoke specific emotions and set the overall mood, and images capture attention and convey powerful messages, your speaking voice does all this and more.

Earlier, we outlined several characteristics of the spoken voice that shape the speaker’s perception (clarity, inflection, intensity, inflection, and rate). Non-verbal communication is also important when people are speaking. Think about how you move your body and hands, your facial expressions, what you wear, and how you interact with your audience. Each of these can reinforce the intended message or cause a distraction.

The cohesive interplay of these factors forms a holistic representation of The Executive VOICE, ensuring a memorable and influential presence.

Finding Your Speaking Voice

Our audible voice is a powerful tool that allows us to convey our thoughts, emotions, and intentions. However, sometimes we feel the need to improve certain aspects of our voice to make a greater impact on our audience. Whether you are a public speaker, an actor, or simply someone who wants to communicate more clearly and effectively, these transformations will guide you on your journey to finding your voice.

Move Away fromTowards
High PitchLow Pitch
Fast SpeedSlower Speed
High IntensityLower Intensity
MonotoneVoice Variation

In the next section, I’ll provide an exercise to help you explore these transitions.

A Lesson from the Coach’s Corner

At the height of my career as an Olympic coach, I also coached business executives worldwide. The father of one of my students was a partner in one of the seventeen global consulting firms with which I worked. As a leadership consultant, I coached their junior and senior consultants on how to climb the ladder into management and principal roles.

One day my skater’s head coach approached me, lamenting, “Some of my parents don’t take me seriously when I offer advice on how best to support their skaters.” I listen attentively as the coach shares their frustration with the parents.

When my fellow skating coach finishes sharing their challenging relationship with their clientele, I suggest bringing the pitch down in the voice when speaking. My advice isn’t taken well.

That was when I learned a valuable lesson. It isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it. I didn’t heed that warning and missed the opportunity for my advice to be heard. As a result, my coaching partner changed nothing and continued to struggle to be taken seriously.

The Ideal Pitch

The ideal voice pitch varies from person to person. For men, a lower to middle-range pitch can exude confidence, authority, and masculinity. For women, an ideal pitch is perceived as feminine, expressive, and engaging. While some women tend to lower their voices to fit cultural norms, your job is to find out what works for you and your audience.

Let’s revisit our example about RFK, Jr. and his voice. A survey by the American Scientist found that pitch matters to voters when choosing a leader. Candidates with a lower voice (male or female) were 13% more likely to win office than those with other voice pitches. This bias might be enough to switch favor from one candidate to another in a close election. It would be prudent to choose a candidate based on their message rather than the tone of their voice.

The same rationale can be applied to a CEO, a high-level executive, or an entry-level employee pitching an idea to their boss. When we determine what we need to say, how the message is conveyed can make a huge difference in its impact. Speak with confidence and authority and see how people respond to you.

Action Steps

It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it” – Mae West.

Your voice is an integral part of your personal brand. Recruiters looking to fill a position often eliminate candidates based solely on how they sound over the phone. It’s worth the time and effort to put your best voice forward.

Did you listen to my Founder’s Corner at the beginning of this article series? Would you believe I grew up in the heart of Texas with a strong southern drawl? Once I joined the world of coaching and professional speaking and relocated to the east coast, I found it advantageous to spend time with a voice coach and retrain my voice to reflect my personal brand.

Whether you embark on formal voice training or make a few adjustments, there are steps you can take to hone your voice.

One last example – James Earl Jones has a distinctive voice. Few people know he grew up with a stutter and sharpened his voice onstage. James Earl Jones went from struggling to talk to becoming an icon known for his voice.

My 50+ years of acting and coaching have taught me the importance of a strong voice. Schedule time on my calendar to discuss how your voice is helping or hindering your success (or another leadership topic on your mind).

Founder’s Corner

What it means to be engaging and what it takes to heighten employee engagement boils down to Four crucial considerations.

  1. A leader’s ability to be present enough to notice when engagement exists and when it may fall short.
  2. A focus on how best to approach engagement whether it be through tools such as personal check-Ins with their team, The ART of storytelling, through feedback loops that are; specific, authentic and supportive, and through strategic conversations about what is and is not working.
  3. Addressing early and often what might need to be resolved that is getting in the way. Rather than figuring it out all on your own, instead, include your team in finding answers to what at times, might be tough questions.
  4. Helping your teams release the tension from the loss of engagement with the promise that it can be restored.

After all, no leader is perfect. In fact, a leader’s lack of perfection makes them more human in the eyes of their teams. And having a leader who can admit to their own shortcomings can build a much stronger and sustainable connection to the people who do the work in an organization.

Hi, I’m Byron Darden and I want to welcome you to this edition of Leading with Purpose on Purpose. In this installment, we are focusing on the E in our series of The Executive VOICE, Engagement. I thought it appropriate to use the setting of Harvard Business School here in Boston where I began my journey 20 years ago in Leadership Development and where I started learning and coaching on the importance of engagement.

The days of dangling a paycheck in front of a team member followed by, here, move forward with this next project. Hoping that the idea of getting paid to do a job is inspiration enough, no longer serves as a leading factor for employees to get work done and done well.

Research has uncovered concerning statistics that point to the need for more focused and consciences effort around engaging those in the workplace. By doing so, leaders find that they can:

  • More effectively keep employee turnover down to a minimum
  • Develop the talent you already have, you also keep employees interested and enthusiastic about their roles
  • Work to promote from within rather than from outside, you provide employees reasons to stay and grow in your organizations.

I trust you will enjoy this edition of The Executive VOICE as we round out our series with Engagement.


Value of Engagement in Leadership

When a person decides to leave their position at a company, it is often not because the work is overwhelming or unfulfilling. The main reason is that they experience a disconnect with their leader or the work. They may feel they are not heard or understood, their contributions are not valued, or they may have lost faith in the organization’s leadership. Employees who are not free to express their ideas or concerns can become disengaged or unmotivated. They begin to seek opportunities to feel like they are making an impact.

Recognizing when you do not have the full commitment of your employees is a critical skill of a leader, and you can do this by practicing the art of engagement. Ideally, you’ll want to engage before the situation becomes critical; however, increasing engagement is helpful at any time. Managers can promote employee engagement in various ways – from asking for input to hands-on involvement in projects while fostering a sense of ownership and accountability. The value of engagement is apparent when employees are motivated to contribute to the team and company goals.

In this fifth installment of the Executive VOICE, we explore leadership engagement – what it is, why it is critical for the success of any organization, and what you can do to engage yourself and your team.

Are You Engaged?

Leadership engagement is critical for the success of any organization, from the CEO to the entry level of management. A leader is involved in various aspects of the organization’s operations, including its strategy, culture, and people. Leadership behavior facilitates, strengthens, connects, and inspires employees to increase engagement. Engagement can be achieved through various behaviors and measured with a reliable and valid self-report scale.

Here are some traits that will contribute to your effectiveness as an engaged leader:

  • Active Listening – Give your full attention, maintain eye contact, and genuinely seek to understand your team members’ perspectives, ideas, and concerns. Encourage open and honest communication, refraining from judgment.
  • Clarify your Vision – Before engaging with your team, define your role, team, and expectations. Articulate expectations, goals, and objectives, ensuring everyone understands their role and how it aligns with the organization’s goals. Provide timely feedback, recognition, and constructive criticism. Keep your team apprised of important information and encourage open dialogue.
  • Resilience and Adaptability – Remain positive and calm in the face of challenges and change, providing stability and support to your team.
  • Continuous Learning and Growth – Commit to your own learning and growth as well as your team members. Provide opportunities for development and support professional growth, that will inspire and engage your team to continuously improve and strive for excellence.
  • Accountability – Set clear expectations and follow through on commitments creating a culture of ownership and responsibility.
  • Empathy and Understanding – Put yourself in your team members’ shoes, considering their emotions, challenges, and experiences. Show compassion and support and be willing to offer help when needed.
  • Collaboration and Inclusion – Create opportunities for teamwork and brainstorming, encouraging all employees to contribute their unique skills and knowledge.

These traits create trust, honesty, ownership, and engagement, where individuals can thrive and reach their full potential.

Bring Your BEST Forward

When someone is engaged in an activity, they exhibit these characteristics, or what I like to call Being Your BEST Forward:

  • Being absorbed in what you are doing.
  • Energized to initiate, continue or exchange one behavior for another.
  • Signals passion and dedication to one’s work.
  • Thoroughness in exhibiting ownership and accountability.

Being your Best Forward means being authentic, professional, and continuously striving for growth and improvement. By embodying these principles, you can make a lasting positive impression and create opportunities for success.

Connect with me to learn how you can implement these principles to become more engaged in your work and with your team.

Impacts of Leadership Engagement

Leadership engagement creates a ripple effect on your team that radiates throughout your organization.

Without engagement, leadership fails at accomplishing one of its principal responsibilities of motivating its followers to perform well. Leadership engagement can be transformative to an organization. There are several ways where your engagement makes a significant difference:

  • Employee Engagement and Well-Being – There is a direct correlation between leadership engagement and your employees’ engagement levels. Leadership engagement creates a ripple effect on your team that radiates throughout your organization. Demonstrating enthusiasm, passion, and dedication to your work creates a positive environment that motivates your team to do the same, creating satisfied employees who feel supported and valued.
  • Cultural Impact – Engaged leaders ensure that everyone in the organization is aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives. They communicate the vision and mission and create unity within the team. This creates a culture of innovation, learning, and continuous improvement, resulting in an empowering workplace where everyone feels they have a role in the team’s success.
  • Performance and Productivity –Through leading by example, engaged leaders tend to create a positive work environment, which leads to increased motivation and higher levels of job satisfaction. By providing clear direction, setting challenging goals, and providing the necessary resources and support for success, engaged leaders inspire their teams to perform at their best and produce results.
  • Leadership Development – Engaged leaders recognize the strengths of their employees. You can set up your employees for future success by engaging in mentoring, coaching, and providing growth opportunities. You can ensure a pipeline of skilled and engaged leaders who can drive the organization forward.
  • Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty – Engaged leaders and employees go the extra mile to understand customer needs, provide personalized solutions, and build stronger relationships. The result is increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Is My Team Engaged?

There are a few ways to measure engagement among your team.

  • Employee Feedback – Observation often shows whether an employee is engaged. How do they react to the other team members? Are they enthused about their tasks? Speak to your employees individually and as a group to identify factors that drive or hinder engagement.
  • Performance Metrics – Measure productivity levels, work quality, and attendance. Higher-performing employees consistently meet or exceed expectations, which correlates to a higher level of engagement.
  • Feedback and Recognition Programs – When others speak highly of an employee, they are engaged.
  • Social Network Analysis – Observing the connection and interaction between team members is another indicator of collaboration and engagement.
  • Pulse Surveys – Short and frequent surveys capture real-time feedback. Conduct these regularly to assess employee sentiment and identify areas of concern or improvement.

Reach out for a short consultation and I’ll send you a link to a survey you can ask your employees their opinion on how well you engage with your team.

How Can I Foster Engagement?

There are several ways to foster engagement in yourself and as a part of your organization. Here are the Four Rules of Engagement and how they might affect your behavior.

Four Rules of Engagement:

  1. Lead by Example – Act with integrity, accountability, and professionalism. Engage in the work, and your team will follow. Be personally inclusive when addressing issues of human behavior.
  2. Communicate Clearly and Consistently – Provide regular updates and information relevant to their tasks and responsibilities. Be approachable and open to feedback and questions. Refrain from absolutes because they are rarely accurate.
  3. Empower and Develop Others – Acknowledge and endorse others for their point of view, opinions, and understanding. Provide opportunities for learning and skill-building, offer constructive feedback and guidance, and delegate tasks and responsibilities that allow individuals to take ownership and showcase their abilities.
  4. Build Relationships and Foster Collaboration – Show genuine interest in well-being and personal growth. Leave room for possibility when framing an alternative perspective. Create an environment where individuals feel supported, valued, and motivated to contribute their best.

Let me illustrate how I experienced engagement first-hand while attending an event:

I once attended a fireside chat for women of color focused on Empowering Authentic Corporate Women. Four panelists spoke on various themes, including breaking the glass ceiling, my mantra for women in leadership, embracing one’s authentic self, and overcoming imposter syndrome and self-doubt. As these women shared their personal experiences in a world where navigating the complexities of corporate culture is crucial – yet another beacon of light I shine in my work as an executive coach – the host invited questions from the audience.

I raised my hand, and the host brought the mic to me so that all attendees could hear my question. I began by introducing myself and sharing that I support corporate women in navigating company politics so that they can break the glass ceiling and gain a seat at the decision-making table. Immediately all eyes turned to me as I asked how these women overcome the indoctrination of us all that teaches us what to say, what to think, what to believe, and how to respond, which begins as we leave the womb and continues throughout our lives.

There was a flurry of activity as each panelist grabbed the mic and shared their thoughts. I was so inspired by what these women spoke of that I developed a framework and pathway to help executive leaders deal with indoctrination and overcome its crippling effect on women wanting to move up the leadership ladder.

As the discussion ended, several women surrounded me, asking for my contact information.

Here is an example of what engagement can foster.

  • Connecting with the audience and the panelist by tapping into the team spirit of the event – I’m there to support you on these very topics.
  • Strengthening the bond between what I do and what they want more of – coaching this audience on these issues.
  • Empowering the panelist to share their opinion and the audience by sharing myself – thus offering insight on how to free themselves of the chains of indoctrination and take up the responsibility to seek change.

The Numbers to Back It Up

According to the People-Element-2023-Engagement-Report, high employee engagement correlates strongly with positive performance outcomes. Organizations that focus on increasing employee engagement see growth and profits.

Lower employee engagement can lead to turnover, accidents, and absenteeism. Higher engagement rates lead to a 14% increase in productivity, an 18% increase in sales, and an astonishing 68% increase in well-being. Higher engagement leads to a “healthy” workplace where employees are connected to their work and culture. A healthy organization is 2.2x more likely to exceed its business goals.

Ask employees who leave a company the main reason for their departure, and they will likely mention how engaged they were with their leader or organization. While the aftereffects of the Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to the increasing discontent, the numbers of highly engaged employees were lower before 2020. As we put the past two years in our rearview mirror, we can change how we view and organize our teams, and a part of this involves how we engage as leaders.

Your Turn

“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”  – Anne M. Mulcahy

Anne M. Mulcahy is the former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corporation. She has also been a member of the board of directors of Catalyst, Citigroup Inc., Fuji Xerox Co. Ltd., and Target Corporation.

Ms. Mulcahy beautifully summarizes the sentiment we’ve been striving to communicate here. The more engaged a leader is, the more engaged their employees will be. Once a person is committed to the culture and vision of the organization and feels like their contributions are meaningful and gain fulfillment in their work, this directly correlates to the bottom line of the company as a whole.

Now it’s your turn. Start by asking yourself a few basic questions:

  • Am I engaged with my work and employees?
  • How do I demonstrate this using the Four Rules of Engagement?
  • How can I bring my BEST forward?
  • Are my employees engaged?
  • How can I nurture engagement in my team?

When you note there is room for improvement, I encourage you to reach out. I’ve helped many leaders enhance engagement and create a more engaged workforce—book time on my calendar to discuss how to improve your Executive VOICE.

Founder’s Corner

Consistency is the name of the game! – Billie Norris, Writer and Luxury Lifestyle Specialist

As you can see by these images that depict that very concept. In this addition of Leading With Purpose On Purpose we are continuing our series on The Executive VOICE and we are addressing what many of us struggle to do day in and day out and that is to do whatever we do well, regularly!

Particularly when it comes to leading teams, our businesses and ourselves.

In a world of constant change, the only thing that actually remains the same, we are charged with finding a way to nurture an environment where employees, managers and leaders can function knowing that, while change is always taking place, there are some things we can count on. Clients still need what we have to offer. Employees can count on one another to make the effort to accomplish necessary and continually lengthening list of tasks and To Dos. Managers continue to show up to guide their teams through projects. And leaders are counted on to keep the fire burning on the vision for which we work so hard to bring more fully into focus.

The types of things that do tend to remain as a constant are how we show up as leaders. For example, while expectations may change their need for clarity remains. The desire for balance and trust remain paramount. And the ongoing support necessary for the front line of employees and managers are without question, crucial in order to keep the productivity of teams moving down the railroad track into the next station.

There’s an old saying in New England, particularly in the state of Maine, “you can’t get there from here!” Meaning, that when you want to reach some far away location, gaining access can be rather extensive, and the directions can be so complicated, that it leaves some flustered enough to give up. That can sound like a work situation that causes people to quit.

The aspect of complication in this context is the ever changing landscape requiring a break in consistency we yearn for that allow us to get from point A to B. This constant state of flux is all the more reason for leaders to show up consistently creating space to help teams thrive. It could be living up to your personal brand to show up when you say you will and do what you say you will do. That’s easier said than done!

As leaders, maintaining as stable a foundation as possible, helps those we lead stay grounded and confident that they can get the job done and done well, and in most cases, meeting deadlines.

Value of Consistency in Leadership

When we head to the grocery store, we expect (every time) to find our favorite yogurt and snack foods. When it is not there, we experience confusion and head to the manager to find out when or where to obtain our desire. Human nature yearns for predictability– a place to come home to, steady work, an easy commute, a great meal, etc. It’s no different in leadership, where consistency affords employees and peers knowing what to expect and the freedom to act accordingly.

“Consistency is the name of the game.” as one wise friend reminds me well, . . . consistently! Though it may be helpful to determine what game is in question. When it comes to leadership, the game is about becoming and maintaining viability as an organization. The players are of a professional nature as employees, managers, directors, and leaders.

The organization may include a board, where members recommend how people and projects in different positions could most effectively provide the greatest optimization to maintain organizational viability. This context sets the stage most effectively for implementing education to gain the desired outcome.

Clear Expectations

Employees can perform to expectations when they know what to expect from your behavior. When you constantly change your mind, there is chaos. Consistency brings with it a sense of logic and regularity. These are all concepts we tend to cling to in a life full of change. Consistency has a grounding nature that allows us to deal with change more effectively.

At the same time, when inclusivity is of global significance, it is worth noting that consistency is a form of conformity, seemingly the opposite of showing up as our authentic selves. It may help to see the framing of consistency through the lens of steadiness and uniformity. This adds a sense of stability in which we find comfort in something we can count on while so many things are in flux.

Balance and Trust

In the marketplace, we tend not to trust when consistency is absent. We hold back and sometimes pivot in a new direction for substantive familiarity. We may prefer to deal with the devil we know rather than the one we do not know. Because of this, the game of consistency tends to rule. The more you can be counted on as a leader, the more comfort you generate for your team.

In a world of impermanence, how do we create balance with consistency? Here are some questions to consider. See how they resonate with putting you in the comfort zone of consistency that seems to count for so much to reach success.

  • Do I communicate my expectations clearly and consistently to team members?
  • Do I consistently demonstrate clear values and ethics in my decision-making?
  • Am I reliable in meeting deadlines and following through on commitments?
  • Do I treat everyone on my team fairly, regardless of background or personality?
  • Do I consistently seek feedback from team members and use it to improve myself and the team?
  • Do I hold myself accountable for actions and mistakes and hold my team members to the same standards?
  • Do I consistently support my team in their professional growth and development?
  • Do I consistently strive for excellence and encourage my team to do the same?

After answering these questions, do you see yourself as a consistent leader? Or are there areas for improvement? Consistency is a skill you can nurture.

Helping Your Team Thrive

Consistency is essential to your team dynamics. We cling to consistency as it saves time, money, energy, and as much avoidance of anxiety as possible. That is when it does not stifle innovation. It is also a positive quality in your brand persona, given the benefits of its offer of the abovementioned elements.

When we lack consistency, we tend to be less favored by those for whom consistency rules supreme. This allows us to make an informed choice knowing the probability is most likely in our favor with specific audiences.

Here are some more benefits to your team:

  • Being consistent builds trust and respect. Your team can count on you to communicate expectations, follow through on commitments, and demonstrate clear values.
  • Being consistent encourages accountability. As a leader who holds their team in high regard and has instilled a sense of ownership, your team tends to respond with accountability and excellence.
  • Consistency enhances communication. When your team knows what to expect, they can skip to discussing important things about the project and team strategy.
  • Consistency fosters innovation. Without guessing intentions, time is freed up to present new ideas. Leaders who support this trait encourage their employees to take risks and brainstorm different approaches.
  • Consistency supports growth and development. As long as it’s part of the leader’s game plan, time freed up by consistency can be spent on the team or individual growth opportunities, whether training, new tools, or fun, enriching activities.

Small Changes Lead to Big Results

Sometimes we get feedback that suggests something needs to change in how we do what we do. In those instances, it is helpful to consider the issue’s root that prompts the feedback to find its way to our front door.

Once you’ve done a root cause analysis – a fancy way of saying what’s causing the problem – you can identify solutions to ensure the problem gets solved and determine steps to prevent it from reoccurring. While it can be a noted effort to tackle, the first step is overshadowed by what it takes to avoid the reoccurrence. That is where your discipline is crucial.

These examples may trigger behaviors to replace, what to do instead, and a quick technique on how you might tackle this change.

Move FromMove ToWhat to Do
Late to meetingsEarly to meetings15-minute calendar buffer
Talk muchTalk lessListen more
Full agendasSpacious agendasLessen agenda items
Work weekendsAvoid weekend workSchedule nonwork weekend activities
No ME timeRegular ME timeSelf-Appointments
Heavy workloadDelegate workloadDiscuss deadlines and workload as a team

Creating Space

I recently worked with a group of high-level managers from across the globe. I appreciate this audience, in part, due to the richly diverse cultural exchange alone. Add to that the varied perspectives from which we all can learn and the different ways of thinking that opens our minds.

At some point, one of the managers approached me on a break and shared how fascinated they were at how I managed the flow of the work and the individual dynamics that come with a hugely diverse group of people. I recall smiling as I responded, “…how important it is to create space for everyone to feel invited and even encouraged to participate and share.” I shared this as a response and as an answer to their inquiry about how to do what I do.

Later that same day, another manager approached me to let me know how grateful they were for how I navigated the group through an experiential day of leadership development while making sure everyone was heard and that each person could express themselves and feel valued. Again, I smiled. Only this time, I noted that my brand is at work and serving me well.

The questions for you are: What is it about You that is consistent, time-tested, and always a part of how you show up to others? What is your superpower that allows others to count on your leadership?

Consistency and the Bottom Line

Consistency plays a role in all aspects of business, including brand presentation. Think about these numbers. Consistent brand presentation can increase revenue by as much as 23%. 54% of businesses say that brand consistency substantially contributes to the growth of a business. 95% of companies have some form of brand guidelines.

When you are consistent with your individual brand, these same principles apply. Business grows, and your team knows what to expect and acts accordingly. In turn, there is a correlation between productivity and the bottom line.

Here’s a more concrete example. Let’s say you call a team meeting and arrive 15 minutes late. You think it’s not a big deal. Suppose your employees make $150 per hour, and eight people are waiting for you – that 15-minute delay translates to $300! Plus, that’s 15 minutes where they could have been more productive, AND you now appear unreliable. Consistency is important.

A Stable Foundation

“Consistency is a key element, without which a leader is incapable of getting respect, success or even developing confidence in others.” -Daniel Transon

Consistent leadership provides a stable foundation for team members to work towards a common goal, ultimately leading to greater success and achievement. Therefore, leaders strive to demonstrate consistency in their actions and behaviors.

While creating a sense of consistency in the work environment is essential, it’s worth mentioning that consistency in all other aspects of your life contributes to these behaviors. These might include meditation to calm and clear your mind, a nourishing breakfast to provide energy, or a fitness routine to relax and destress.

Over the past few months, we’ve ‘brought together the Executive VOICE principles – Values, Openness, Intentionality, and Consistency. While all of these are crucial in enabling your success, consistency is the glue that holds it together. How will you create more consistent practices in your life or team? Book a session on my calendar to discuss your situation and help create a more consistent environment that will benefit you and your team.

Founder’s Corner

You’re on a tight schedule. No time to waste and little time to fit something more into your busy life. You race to the grocery store to pick up a few items and race back home in time for your next call. Suddenly you feel the coming of hunger pains. Thank goodness you went food shopping when you did. Although you forgot a few essentials you were planning on to ease those lunch time hunger pains. Does this sound familiar. You’re not alone.

I did a bit of research and discovered that over 50 percent of food shopping is unplanned. What does that say about our intention? Or for that matter, our effectiveness in budgeting groceries. How much time have you invested by not having a grocery list prepared and a clear intention about what you’ll eat? It’s happen to me, so I know first-hand. Yet would you lead a line of business without an intention?

I’m Byron Darden and I want to welcome you to another addition of Leading with Purpose on Purpose. Today we’re going to talk about intention.

I recently attended a fireside chat for woman of color by woman of color. Empowering Authentic Corporate woman. Five women, five inspiring stories that spoke to the need for intentionality when you have your eye on the next executive move you want to make toward the C-Suite in your career. I was inspired by the stories many of these women shared about being a scientist in an environment dominated by men. The challenges overcome by women who struggle with Dyslexia and yet find a way to thrive. The story of increasing representation of black women in industry. And the heartbreaking wakeup call about the distinction between a mentor and a sponsor, the latter of which holds significant benefits when navigating the corporate ladder.

I invite you to take a closer look at who these women are and why their stories matter to us all. And while you’re exploring, take time to learn more about Intentionality. The third installment of my series on the Executive Voice. Enjoy!

Value of Intentionality in Leadership

Think of your last big project, how you approached the work and the outcome. Did you jump in with both feet, and where you landed was where you started? Or did you look at the big picture, create a plan, and determine a logical approach based on due dates and company goals? Taking time to think about a project and speaking and acting deliberately and intentionally each step of the way will make you a more effective leader.

Intentionality goes beyond the boardroom and is present in all aspects of your life. When you practice the principles of intentionality in your personal life, you become a more intentional leader by default. According to entrepreneur Finnian Kelly, here are five ways to bring your focus inward:

  • Practice being present,
  • Leverage time instead of energy,
  • Experience fulfillment by focusing on desired feelings, not success and outcomes,
  • Create frictionless freedom through self-made boundaries,
  • Experience joy by choosing love over fear,

When you take time to slow down and act purposefully, you will carry these behaviors into your professional life. Let’s explore the value of intentionality in leadership.

On Purpose With Purpose

Intentionality is being about something. It is the deliberate performance of an action executed consciously and with one’s full awareness. Essentially intentionality can be summed up in four words, “on purpose with purpose.” So, what does this mean?

Suppose that you were in a meeting about a big project. Your boss discusses the purpose, due date, and why upper management believes it is essential. By the end of the meeting, you are excited about the project and a bit unclear about what you should do next. Likely, your boss was not intentional in their directions. When you come out of the meeting with clear action steps, timelines, and responsibilities, your boss has clarified the project’s intentions.

While being intentional, consider the impact of your thoughts, words, and actions. One can intentionally harm, yet that is certainly not the goal of an insightful leader.

Intentional Mindfulness

Let me pose another scenario to illustrate the importance of intentionality and mindfulness.

A surgeon is educated to perform a precise task. When you learn that you require surgery, you naturally want a surgeon who instills confidence, has the skills, and who has plans to proceed. Most of us would quickly point out our unwillingness to go forward into surgery with an ill-prepared surgeon.

Yet we often speak before we think. Then it is too late for us to put the sharp scalpel we refer to as our tongue back into our mouths that wagged too soon. We wish we could have a second chance. You may hear the familiar ring of the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” – Oscar Wild or Will Rogers.

Once a surgeon has cut off the wrong limb or removed the body part that was not infected, the damage is done. Likewise, when we blurt out words or reactions without considering their consequences, we may cause irreparable damage. Thoughtless words spoken in the heat of the moment are easier said and challenging to undo.

We have much influence over what and how we say what’s on our minds. We do this by mastering the art of mindfulness. We use it as performing artists to sing and dance. It steadies the hand of a sculptor and sharpens the eye of the designer to capture the just right drape, colors, and fabrics in a collection of garments.

For those unaware of my background, my formative years were spent as a figure skater, then a coach. Mindfulness is paramount for a figure skater executing multi-revolution jumps with the goal of landing gracefully on less than a quarter inch of steel. It equally supports executives who are consistently on the go, leading teams of people through complex projects that require an eye on the budget, another on the client, and still another on the company and its competing priorities.

Mindfulness ultimately boils down to how effectively you execute your responsibilities as a leader and communicate in such a way that engages and inspires people to take pride in their work and put in the time necessary. It’s about being deliberate and mindful of what we say and do to accomplish the set goal.

Follow the Recipe

Intentionality is a recipe for a successful business and a well-prepared meal. It is crucial to remember that leading with a purpose on purpose will carry you just as far as preparing a meal with the correct recipes, proper ingredients, ample time, and focus on what happens when and for how long.

Since intentionality’s prime components are based on mental categories, our beliefs, awareness, and desires can be socially evaluated for their impact on assessing blame and responsibility.

Being intentional is about bringing focus and attention to the task at hand. It’s getting clear on the results – the how and the why. It allows you to build trust, create space for others, recognize contributions, and achieve goals.

Being intentional is also about being your true self. Get clear on what you want and pinpoint your purpose. Determine your values and limits. When life throws you lemons, will you make lemonade or throw the lemons back? Becoming clear on your beliefs and feelings will make bringing focus much more accessible.

Authenticity and Self-Awareness

Intentionality sometimes challenges my clients. For them, it is devoid of authenticity. The question is how you can be deliberate and still be authentic. Being intentional and deliberate is about making choices. We can still be our authentic selves and make mindful choices.

Intentional leaders are confident in their execution and transparent in their direction. They still allow their team flexibility on how to meet set objectives. Your team is involved in the discussion leading to the decision, and the final say is clear and concise.

Intentionality means heightened self-awareness, which can parallel what it means to be on stage acting in a play. It can seem exhausting to be “on” when acting in a play. Yet in corporate, we too have our costumes (professional dress, business casual), our stages (offices, conference rooms, and Town Hall podiums), and our scripts (presentations, conversations, coaching, and mentoring).

Intentionality also means planning and yet being prepared for the unexpected. We see this in the consulting world, where much planning and preparation takes place with the understanding that when we walk into a client to present, we are prepared to throw all our planning out of the window and deal with what is in the moment. While we may base our next move on the plans we had, we execute based on our ability to think on our feet.

Think, Say, Do

As a leader striving to be more purposeful, you want to remember a few things. To get the engagement, we will want to put forth the effort. A keynote speaker rarely speaks off the cuff. They may allow room for improvisation at specific points in their presentation. Yet most improvisation is carefully rehearsed in our intentional preparation for thinking on our feet, being in the moment, and simply remaining present to whatever is around us. That way, we can easily use the world around us because we are steeped in the present moment.

When you strive to be a more intentional leader, think about development in these areas:

  1. Approach each situation with a clear mission, goals, objectives, and priorities: Know the big picture and why your team should care.
  2. Control the speed of the decision: Ensure you have the facts and opinions of others before making a final decision. This is where you give your team a say and get buy-in. This is also a time when you shine. It’s perfectly acceptable to step back and clarify details as needed rather than heading off in a direction based on the heat of the moment.
  3. Keep lines of communication open: Conversations and relationships among your team ebb and flow. Emotions, feelings, and thoughts all factor into the process. As an intentional leader, you are aware and react with mindfulness.

My parent company is Triple Axel, the name of a jump in figure skating and adapted to a triad of what you think, say, and do. According to Consultant and Business Coach David Meltzer, these are three of the five levels of intention. Let’s take a look at them.

  1. What you do: Follow up with actions and ensure those actions align with your feelings, beliefs, thoughts, and words.
  2. What you say: Becoming intentional with our words is about controlling their impact. Consider how the recipient might respond. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  3. What you think: Beliefs lead to the formation of thoughts. We have many thoughts each day; not all are positive or helpful. Intention lies in sorting these thoughts and controlling which ones come from our mouths.
  4. What you believe: Beliefs are formed from feelings and our personal experiences. We have underlying subconscious beliefs that serve as our guide and limiting beliefs that do not serve us. It’s essential to examine our beliefs to discover how valid and valuable they truly are.
  5. What you feel: This is your intuition – that ache in your gut that screams, “Run!” or “Go for it!”. When we learn to listen to our gut, we can connect to our inner guidance.

Intentionality seeps through into each aspect of our leadership experience. Not only do we strive to become intentional with our feelings, beliefs, thoughts, words, and actions, we can cultivate these in our employees. We do this by creating a culture of continuous improvement. Here are a few ideas to put this into action.

  • Lead by example: Set your intentions and encourage your team to do the same.
  • Communicate regularly: Be clear in your requests and ask for input from your team. Encourage participation from all members.
  • Empower employees: Happy employees are the ones that feel heard. Be aware of your team’s thoughts and feelings and address issues as they arise.
  • Small steps lead to big success: While focusing on the big picture, it’s essential not to forget the process. Minor, incremental improvements are critical to the end result.
  • Celebrate successes: Results achieved through continuous improvement should be celebrated.

Set Yourself Apart

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 33% of American workers feel engaged in their work, and one of the primary reasons for this is their boss. We have already spoken of the importance of employees needing to be heard. Employees want the freedom to express their creativity, and they want to work for a leader who instills confidence and has their back. An intentional leader guides without holding anyone back.

Having one-to-one meetings with your team members also allows for curating their intentionality. Show up with a well-thought-through plan that involves concrete steps. Set goals together, and as a basis, answer three questions for each goal – what, why, and how. Encourage your team to think about these steps as well. This will create engagement as well as build an intentional relationship.

An Intentional Journey

“Choose your intention carefully and then practice holding your consciousness to it, so it becomes the guiding light in your life.”
— Roger Delano Hinkins

To some, living and speaking with intention comes naturally. For others, there are challenges due to limiting beliefs, past experiences, imposter syndrome, and more. Our stories define our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. Becoming intentional brings clarity.

It takes time to figure out what drives you and translate that into your behaviors. Rest assured that you are not alone in your journey. Through the years, I, too, have gone down this path, and I have a strong sense of how you might feel. I aim to help executive women like you and other high potentials for leadership positions navigate the sometimes-murky waters of the corporate world.

Together we can discuss intentionality and other leadership skills to help you thrive with your team and in life. Book a call to discuss your situation and see how I can help You become a leader with purpose on purpose.

Value of Openness in Leadership

How open-minded are you? Do you have tunnel vision and feel there is only one way to accomplish a goal, or are you open to diverse ideas? Do you tolerate other people’s views even when you disagree with what they say?

Openness is one of the five basic personality traits (the others are conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) used to measure one’s character and how they might respond to situations in the workplace.

Your level of openness is affected by how you were brought up, your education, the company you keep, and how you interact with others. Whether you are aware of it or not, your peers and subordinates recognize openness in your interactions. They react to you accordingly and adjust their behavior based on their perceptions.

In this installment of our leadership series, we explore the value of openness in leadership – what it is, how you can nurture it in your leadership style, and how it can benefit your working relationships.

Founder’s Corner

Openness is about acceptance rather than agreement.

It’s about broadmindedness rather than closed mindedness.

It encompasses tolerance rather than intolerance.

Openness is also about taking interest rather than being indifferent.

Openness is about Being in one place and yet willing to go to another.

The value in our willingness to be open, is what we profit from by taking a risk. By pivoting when circumstances suggested staying the way I was, just got me more of what no longer worked for me. Something I’ve been doing all my life, finding what works for me!

There’s a wonderful share by Vera Nazarian an Armenian-Russian American writer of fantasy, science fiction and other “wonder fiction” who says:

“It’s a fact—everyone is ignorant in some way or another.
Ignorance is our deepest secret.
And it is one of the scariest things out there, because those of us who are most ignorant are also the ones who often don’t know it or don’t want to admit it.

Here is a quick test:
If you have never changed your mind about some fundamental tenet of your belief, if you have never questioned the basics, and if you have no wish to do so, then you are likely ignorant.

Before it is too late, go out there and find someone who, in your opinion, believes, assumes, or considers certain things very strongly and very differently from you, and just have a basic honest conversation.

It will do both of you good.”

There is a quote by Kenneth Chenault, chairman of the board at American Express and one of the organization’s most beloved former CEOs.

Who Says, It’s not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but those most adaptive to change. Over the past 10 years, the need for, and focus on, adaptability has accelerated.”

On that note I’d like to share that I have taken notice of both Kenneth Chenault’s and Vere Nazarian’s thoughts related to openness. I’ve decided to be adaptative and change my mind! When I began this series on the Executive Voice, I focused on Values based leadership. From there I went to openness, the focus of this addition of Leading with purpose on purpose. Next comes Intentionality followed by Consistency and ending with a surprise change of thought, engagement. Stay tuned as I demonstrate what many of us avoid like the plague….Change!

What is Openness?

Let’s consider two managers. The first meets with their team and lays out a plan for a new marketing campaign. It’s not their first campaign, and therefore are well-versed in the target audience. Building on past success, they already decided on a course of action before stepping into the meeting. While the manager has an outstanding team in front of them, there is an unwillingness to accept alternatives. The team heads back to their desks and starts to work on the project, yet something is missing.

The second manager has the same goal. Armed with some data, they present the campaign concept to the team. The difference is that the team lead opens up the discussion when they’re done with the introduction and facts. The team brainstorms ideas that have worked in the past and new ones that would open up a whole new audience for the product. The team is ready to dive in by the time the meeting ends.

Same concept – two approaches. The critical difference is openness. Manager one appears narrow-minded. Their ideas might have merit, although this leader was unwilling to entertain other views. Their actions might have been unintentional, yet they demonstrate prejudice – something I believe we’ve all been victims of at one time or another.

Manager two encourages individuals to speak their minds and offer opinions. The team is encouraged to bring all ideas to the table without fearing judgment. Questions are asked, and discussions ensue. The team feels heard and part of a cohesive unit.

Contrast narrow-mindedness to openness, a state of being that lacks restriction and leads to transparency, a buzzword we hear more often in the business world in recent years. We tend to hear about transparency when it conveniently reframes a time when transparency was not a focus. We hear it when trust needs to be built or re-established.

What is helpful to note is that with such an effort in recent years to speak of transparency in the workplace, one might experience this with a more critical ear. Is transparency really happening, or is it a sign of “the lady doth protest too much, methinks?” When leading others, be mindful that you are truly being transparent rather than creating smokescreens for others to fumble through in an attempt to discern the difference.

When we as leaders fail at truly being transparent, such behavior will lead to team members’ doubting your intentions, ultimately generating a lack of trust. Then you have the opposite of openness to overcome.

The Opposite of Openness and Its Impact

Openness is counter to narrow-mindedness, defined as unwillingness and intolerance of other people’s views—essentially, this state of being demonstrates prejudice. Prejudice is an ongoing burden that many carry, like old baggage that would be more beneficial to put down. We have seen that bag of prejudice dragged out in politics, in communities across the globe, and within every organization in some way or another.

Because where there are people, there are conflicts. Where there are conflicts, there are sides taken. When sides are taken, it is worth some introspection to determine whether it’s based on preference or preconceived opinion with no basis in experience or reason that can be explained and understood.

Yet, it is much easier to build connections when we allow ourselves to be open to others, particularly when others demonstrate openness in return! Otherwise, we shut down and feel frustrated, angry, and fearful—these feelings we experience in our bodies. Surprisingly, I’ve discovered how few leaders easily relate to their bodies and how negative feelings impact us biologically.

It can be difficult for people to grasp the impact of negative feelings on the body. These are not emotions that fare well in the business world. I hear it all the time from leaders that “those are unwanted emotions in business.” Yet they turn up largely due to the human condition encompassing conflict and ill feelings.

Therefore the significant question born of this inevitable circumstance is what can be done about it? I believe it all boils down to one word, curiosity. When curiosity strikes, fear is typically put aside, and possibility is born.

When you consider the concepts of good & bad, right & wrong, it is wise to recognize that these are judgments. When you feel judged by others, what reactions come to mind as ones you’d have in moments of being judged?

For 100% of my clients, when I ask the above question, the responses are all grounded in negative, unmotivating outcomes. When you consider the impact of negativity, how do you imagine those feelings would manifest were they pebbles thrown randomly in still waters?

The ripple effect of waves in still water can become so significant and concerning when they cause a boat to capsize. Or when living animals surface to experience turbulence in the water that is unsettling. Or even fatal. So, what do you do?

Becoming More Open

After looking honestly at your leadership style and examining your biases, you might want to become more open or at least want to cultivate openness as a leader.

One of the fastest and most effective ways I’ve learned to practice openness is to master two things. Number one, be genuinely curious; number two, find something about what you learn or hear that resonates.

Want to know how I do it? Become fascinated with your limited knowledge about whatever the other person is sharing. An example of this might be that you do not relate to playing golf as your senior leadership might. You may not even like the game of golf, yet that is what senior leadership values. You might ask yourself how much you know about golf to connect with them. Instead, learn why they like the game so much. Here are six actions you can take:

  1. Expand your knowledge about the activity (in this case, golf).
  2. Gain insight about golf that you did not know. Showing your interest can go a long way when it’s genuine.
  3. Gain insight about the person or persons to whom you are opening up.
  4. Recognize this as an opportunity to learn about their passion. It could prove an ideal insight into building that relationship.
  5. Demonstrate compassion for what is meaningful to them.
  6. Look for something about what you learn that resonates with you or connects to your business issue.

I cannot stress enough the importance of finding something that resonates with you. Pretending to be curious is like an actor pretending to be a character. It won’t fly with an audience, and your reputation will suffer. Faking curiosity is like rotting fish; you smell its presence long before encountering the actual fish. As a dear friend reminds me, the fish rots from the head down. When you smell it, know that the rotting smell trickles down from its beginnings. Remember that when a leader is not genuine, that attitude will permeate the entire team over time in much the same way that rot spreads.

I learned this as an actor when I landed my first role, leading me to become a professional. It was a role that opened me up to the possibility that what I experienced in my personal life, I also experienced as my character interacting with other characters facing the same issue of being marginalized in the story unfolding on stage. That was a crossover moment for me.

Why is it Important to be Open?

Limiting thoughts nurture limiting words and actions that render little.

Should you find yourself closing down toward someone, that is an excellent time to ask yourself these questions.

  • What am I not aware of in this moment? Remain patient and allow insights to occur to you in their own time.
  • How can I respond to the other person by choosing to become curious? Demonstrate curiosity about what impassions this person rather than the topic alone.
  • How does this person’s experience resonate with me? Rather than dismissing and limiting your thoughts or opinions, identify with whatever engages you. Ex: Golf may not resonate. Being outside may!

There are numerous benefits of openness in the workplace:

  • Discover new perspectives. Those from different backgrounds from us tend to think differently or see a situation from a different angle. When you are open, you can hear ideas without prejudice and develop more than just your one point of view.
  • Promotes a friendly and collaborative environment. Being open means not taking things personally. It means open communication and the capacity for trust and teamwork.
  • Contributes to flexibility and teamwork. Openness encourages new perspectives and open-minded thinking. In addition to expanding your knowledge base, it will help you work well with others – a valuable soft skill in any environment.
  • Willingness to take risks. When you work in an open environment, you are more likely to feel comfortable expressing your opinions, and your authentic self will shine through.
  • Nurture leadership skills. Openness is a valuable leadership quality, so when you are ready to take the next step up the corporate ladder, being open is worthy of your portfolio of skills and behaviors.
  • Builds trust. As we open up to others, they are more likely to open up to us. Similar to taking risks, experiencing others taking risks builds our own faith in what we are capable of as well. When we discover that our environment is open to risk, we trust more in what we may have to contribute to it.

Nurturing the Openness Mindset

It isn’t necessary to agree with everything and everyone. You will want to be curious to understand more effectively why they think the way they do and how their thinking informs their actions. Then you will experience a favorable outcome for getting to know others as you want them to know you. Before long, you can let go of that baggage that no longer suits you.

You gain so much when you move from closed-minded thinking to openness. Liken it to opening the door to a whole new world of possibilities.

Nurturing the Openness Mindset

Old Way of ThinkingMoving Toward
Remains in the “Box”Expands the box by flexing Ideas
Lack of ImaginationAbundance of Creativity
Relies on What They’ve Been TaughtCuriosity for/about the Unknown
Limited to Concrete ConceptsThinks in the Abstract; Embraces Possibilities
Sticks to the Tried and TruePushes Boundaries; Takes Risks
Prefers to Stick with Like-Minded PeopleEmbraces Diversity and the Gems that Follow

What I’ve Learned From Becoming More Open

Openness has proven key to my leadership and success in everything I’ve done in my life. From my grandmother instilling the importance of taking risks to my parents continually repeating, “I can be whatever I want to be and do whatever I want to do.” Then living in New York, where such a diverse population relies on tolerance to live among one another.

What I’ve encountered over the years is that people who look like me are not often taught those valuable lessons early on. Should the opposite beliefs be passed on, self-limiting beliefs control our thoughts, words, actions, decisions, and feelings about what is possible.

Should it be true that we are what we eat, we are certainly what we think! As a result, I became chief of staff, cashier, entertainer, choreographer, instructor, coach, board member, committee chair, director, president, facilitator, business owner, and now leadership consultant. What is it that you want to become? Click on the button below, and let’s schedule a time to explore how open you are and how that aligns with the impact you want for your teams and projects.

Measuring Openness

Your openness is subjective based on how you feel and how others perceive you. A self-assessment quiz can gauge your level of openness. Read these statements and consider the degree to which you agree. You tend to be very open when you strongly agree with these statements. Disagreement with most of these statements indicates you are likely lower on the openness scale. Most people fall somewhere in the middle. The important outcome is a level of awareness.

  • I have an active imagination.
  • I have creative hobbies.
  • I enjoy being around people with diverse backgrounds.
  • I’m naturally curious about many things.
  • I thrive in brainstorming sessions.
  • I enjoy philosophical discussions.
  • I enjoy cultural events.
  • I’m more comfortable with theoretical discussions than with small talk.
  • I think of myself as an artistic person.
  • I can keep an open mind during discussions where I disagree with the other person or group.

Open Your Mind

When knowledge is power, we grow in responsibility for it. Then power is a source of comfort. We experience greater comfort in knowing.

When you find yourself on the lower end of the openness scale and desire to nurture the traits that will open you up to possibilities, there are several things you can do.

  • Get out of your comfort zone by engaging in activities you usually would not do. Go to the theater or art museum. Be curious enough to read a book about a subject you know nothing about. Strike up a conversation with someone outside your inner circle.
  • Spend more time listening rather than talking. Reserve judgment. You might be surprised at what you learn.
  • Schedule a call with me. Together we can nurture this critical personality trait that can give you the edge in the workplace.

“The only thing that permits human beings to collaborate with one another in a truly open-ended way is their willingness to have their beliefs modified by new facts. Only openness to evidence and argument will secure a common world for us.”    Sam Harris

Learn more about me at, and while you are there, schedule a breakthrough session where we can have an honest conversation about openness and elevating your leadership style.

Founder’s Corner

“Don’t be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so.” –Belva Davis

As we step into March to celebrate women’s month, I’m reminded of the first African-American woman to become a television reporter on the US west coast and winner of eight Emmy awards. Journalist Belva Davis shared these wise words to encourage all of us to live by, “Don’t be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so.”

Belva Davis and her wisdom inspired many journalist who came after her. The sentiment behind Davis’ words are familiar to me given the similar message I grew up hearing from my mother. I include her in this month’s celebration of women as March also represents the month of my mother’s birth. She was one of the most influential women in my life who inspired me to focus on women in my coaching practice along with other, often marginalized communities striving to be recognized for what (value) they bring to the table in leadership.

As we kick off this historic month devoted to women, we begin this 5 part series on The Executive VOICE. This month we are focusing on values. In April we will turn our attention to intentionality followed by May when we will focus on consistency. We will then wrap up the series discussing the importance of engagement.

I trust you will gain much from this month’s focus on values as we explore what values based leadership is and how to begin thinking about the values you hold dear. We will continue our journey taking a look at ways to measure the culture value in your organization. We will touch on what it means to evolve as a leader with a few tips and considerations for how to deepen your understanding for why leading from your values benefits your organization, the teams you lead, the customers you serve, and You!

Values-Based Leadership

Most companies have guiding values they expect every member to follow. These values set the tone and direction for every decision the company makes – from a decision on what product or service to sell; to how they deliver those goods and services; and with whom they choose to collaborate on their journey.

Successful companies have strong leaders that encompass values through their speaking, writing, and body language, which sets them apart from others. While values can evolve depending on a person’s experiences, there is an underlying thread of consistency that can be relied upon.

Effective leaders are genuine and lead with integrity and authenticity; they remove the mask they are hiding behind and share their true selves. Rather than focusing solely on the bottom line, a values-based leader focuses on achieving goals through a standard set of values.

They are successful without having to fake it until they make it. They know who they are and what they stand for. Whether you meet them in a boardroom or at Starbucks, their true nature shines through.

When a leader is authentic and leads by a known set of values, their employees intuitively sense this and want to follow.

What is values-based leadership, and how can you become a leader that encompasses these traits?

What Kind of Leader Are You?

Consider stereotypical leaders. Some are solely concerned with the bottom line and willing to do whatever it takes to turn a profit, including questionable or illegal actions. They fail to care about who or what gets impacted along the way – whether it be people or things.

Some leaders focus on the bottom line, and their manner is gentler. They are still the boss, profit reigns supreme, and they do their best to stay neutral and avoid controversy.

Then there are the leaders who inspire and lead by example. Values-based leadership requires a combination of ingredients that will cause your success to be realized and from which much profits. Your presence will permeate the air almost without you doing more than show up authentically as a value add to your organization.

The guiding principles of values-based leadership are:

  • Lead guided by purpose – the most crucial concept is about how you lead and how that choice speaks to your deeply held values.
  • Success is for all with the intension of being contagious – employees will take inspiration from the leader’s actions and want to join in the process.
  • People/Job – a values-based leader employs people that are able to follow the same values. In addition, they will ensure that the person is suitable for the job.
  • Character Fully Realized – take time to develop your beliefs and values. Ensure you know what you stand for and can articulate that to others.
  • Differences Fuel Innovation – recognize that differences encourage growth. When considering suitability, take into account diverse views.

What Are Your Values?

Take time to define your values through self-reflection, a balanced perspective, self-confidence, and humility. When any one of these aspects is less than authentic and genuine, the whole of values-based leadership is not realized.

Here are some action steps you can consider.

  • Self-reflection – take time to reflect on recent actions. What was your motivation? Did it align with your values? A change in perspective can make a big difference.
  • Balanced perspective – look at actions from all points of view. Do you understand opposing sides and are able to spot the silver lining of each?
  • Self-confidence – surround yourself with others that complement your values and can help you evolve as a leader. Understand your strengths and growing edges to realize what more you have to learn.
  • Humility – keep yourself grounded. Having a fancy title attached to your name, which gives you authority, also means carrying the responsibility to engage with others effectively. Pompous behavior can work against you as a leader.

Leaders who know and are connected to their values tend to show up more committed to their work. They demonstrate a positive influence with a primary role as support to their teams.

Be Authentic

The importance of authenticity lies in the shared beliefs and assumptions about you as a leader, providing greater alignment and benefits for higher productivity within a team or organization. This requires setting expectations for how you lead and what is expected of new hires from the start. You will also want to express your values with everyday folks. I also urge you to circle back periodically to stoke the fire of memory so that teams are routinely reminded of what is core to their success.

Even when you need to communicate that you are limited by what you can share, communicate early and often so that people remain in the know and are not left to stumble in the darkness of the unknown. This is a debilitating experience where forward movement and innovation are key drivers to be respected.

Here are some of the results of being a value-based leader.

  • Enhanced decision-making – with clarity, values-based leaders can make decisions that align with the company’s goals while setting an example for their teams to follow. Employees, managers, and leaders work together toward a common goal.
  • Improved communication – open lines of communication are strengthened when you have an authentic leader who isn’t afraid of tackling tough subjects. Values-based leadership leads to enduring relationships.
  • Increased productivity – when leaders encourage personnel to bring their ideas to the table, those employees tend to be more vested in the company’s success. A shared value system is one way to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Set up individuals for success – a values-based leader develops others and encourages them to move toward common goals.

Measuring the Value Culture

Barrett Value Center developed the standard for the measurement of culture. On a level of 1 to 7, the Barrett Model provides a map for understanding your organization’s values. You can use this model to nurture relationships and align the purpose within your organization.

Each level has action steps that fulfill the organization’s needs, followed by a developmental task that suggests who or what those needs serve.

Your role as a values-based leader is enhanced when you embrace your values and truly start to live them. This tool will ensure all areas are covered.

Visit the Barrett Value Center to learn more about this model.

Evolve as a Leader

“Leadership is autobiographical. If I don’t know your life story, I don’t know a thing about you as a leader.” -Noel Tichy

Your Autobiography is your only way to author your own leadership. When you fail to take the initiative to write it, your audience will write it themselves. Most likely, vital facts will be left out, and you will be framed based on someone else’s view of you…unabridged.

This is a lesson learned I share with principals in public school systems across the United States. I implore them to write their own story and share it generously with others as often as necessary to keep the story straight. As simple a question as, Why do you do what you do? It can spark the engine that drives the message of who you are to explain what you do and why it is significant to you. These are the stories that inspire our teams to follow our leadership vision. These images paint a clear picture of what others can expect from you. These are the expectations you’ve set for yourself that give rise to how others will take them up as their own.

Lead with Integrity

The most significant factor that improves employee engagement is trust in leaders. 77% of employees rank this ahead of relationships, culture, belief in the organization, and opportunities for career growth.

What I notice getting in the way of some leaders gaining that trust is their discomfort with sharing themselves personally. Fear of exposure, judgment, and having what they share used against them somehow brings down a wall for these individuals. Just about anywhere in the world where I find myself coaching leaders, I encounter those who resist getting personal with whom they lead. Yes, there is a perceived danger. Vulnerability equals weakness is the sentiment with which I’m most familiar.

“Vulnerability is our most accurate way to measure courage,” according to Brene’ Brown. She shares, “we can measure how brave you are by how vulnerable you’re willing to be.” This leads me to ask, how likely are you to follow a leader who demonstrates little bravery and is unwilling to take risks? How successful can you imagine one can be without much at stake? How likely are you to trust a leader you do not know?

Creating trust with your team takes time. Even when you have achieved a reputation, trust is built between each individual or organization.

Here are ways to build trust with your employees:

  1. Remember that all team members are a cohesive unit.
  2. Create work environments that are welcoming, friendly and inclusive.
  3. Encourage and support each other.
  4. Lead with the interests of the team equal to the topic at hand.
  5. Be accountable for your conduct and performance.
  6. Act as a mentor and a leader.
  7. Continue to be a life learner.
  8. Celebrate successes.
  9. Be consistent.
  10. Create a work experience that brings out the best in yourself and your teams.

Deepen Your Understanding

“Integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values rather than personal gains.”                                                                         – Chris Karcher

A values-based leader guides with intention, embodying what they believe in their work and relationships. They are invested in their mission and this is reflected in their values.  They lead by example with integrity, and authenticity.

Becoming a value-based leader sets you apart from the rest. These traits can be learned and cultivated, starting first with examining your own story and then living that story as your truth.

I believe in the power of equity in the workplace from leadership to the front line.  Our mission is to develop those in professionally and socially marginalized communities to gain the skills and competitive edge to climb the leadership ladder in business, community and family in this new world paradigm that values their work, diverse nature, and multiple perspectives, on all levels and all around the globe.

Book a call with me, and we will explore ways to unearth the values that make you unique as a leader. You can use these values to inspire your team to excellence. While waiting for your appointment, check out the growing library of leadership articles at, where we challenge leadership norms.

The Executive VOICE

A great leader of a company or movement has the ability to galvanize their followers, bring meaning and vision to their mission, and unite their team into a cohesive unit. Their words and actions are credible, provide clarity, inspire, and influence. They set the wheels in motion and create a level of trust that encourages employees to feel as though they are part of something special.

More than just a presence, The Executive VOICE is a crucial component of a trusted leader. It encompasses what they say, how they say it, and their supporting actions.

Defining Your Voice

The Executive VOICE is a framework that contains essential elements of a personal brand in content, body, and utterance. In addition, there are brand elements that encompass what it means to be a success. These have been developed over years of trial and error, formal and informal education, experts in numerous fields, and a lifetime of experience breathing years into my life.

VOICE stands for:

  • Values, which speak to a leader’s sound character
  • Openness, or the ability to embrace possibility
  • Intentionality, which means being deliberate in words, thoughts, and actions
  • Consistency, demonstrated by knowing what to expect and reliance on follow-through
  • Energy involves the ability to move work forward and get things done

Share Your Voice with the World

Let’s dive into each component of VOICE and what makes it so critical to an executive’s success.

What I’ve discovered about effective leadership is this.

  • Values: Character is considered an essential trait of a leader. When we know and understand one’s character, we have a greater sense of what they stand for, what moves them, and why they do what they do. It is intoxicating to be in the presence of a leader who is clear about who they are and what is necessary to accomplish goals and then gets it done! Demonstrating character makes it easier to gain the trust and respect of those they lead.
  • Openness: Leaders embrace possibility. Debbie Downer and the Devil’s Advocate are not welcome characteristics of someone who can inspire hope and assurance of getting through challenging issues that arise routinely. A leader breathes life into ideas, resulting in them taking action to move an initiative forward.
  • Intentionality: Being deliberate regarding your actions, words, and thoughts, informing those actions and words, so they have an intended impact. This level of consciousness in leadership allows you to hit the mark time after time.
  • Consistency is the name of the game in business. Consistency breeds its own. A Royal Family of consistency will set the stage for long-term impact and resiliency. Think of it as a powerful legacy-building tool.
  • Energy: You are measured by what you get done well! Otherwise, you are simply performative and lacking transformative leadership ability. Having a higher consciousness and heightening the consciousness of others to recognize and act for necessary change is the platinum rule; Find out what makes people tick and lead from there!

Interpreting Your Voice

As with any character trait, there will be those with a different perception that misinterpret intentions. It is no different with the Executive VOICE.

Let me explain:

  • A leader’s character defines who they are and what they stand for. The other side is that they can be held to these values by a strict code. This makes it difficult for them to change and adapt. They can also be judged by their values. Feeling strongly about something, they risk alienating others.
  • A leader’s openness to embrace possibility may lead others to accuse them of being an idealist. Employees might think their ideas or deadlines are unrealistic when they are challenged.
  • Leaders may be deliberate in their thinking and actions and be accused of being inauthentic. A natural mistrust in leaders can undermine their ability to act.
  • In developing a personal brand, a leader runs the risk of dehumanizing themselves. Great leaders keep their sense of empathy while staying authentic to their values.
  • A leader’s “get-it-done” attitude can be misinterpreted as setting relentless and unrealistic team expectations.

Clear Communication is Key

I recently worked with a manager in a large global firm in developing their equity partnership skills. Early in our coaching relationship, I noticed a lack of partnership when setting up each professional development session. I found myself routinely exchanging numerous emails to get a session scheduled. Sometimes weeks would pass before we could settle on a firm date.

I discovered that the manager seemed to drag out the time between sessions by offering little detail or simply incomplete details. This required me to send numerous emails asking clarifying questions that rarely seemed to be answered the first time. It got to the point where I felt I was more responsible for their leadership development than they were willing to commit to for themselves. It was only a feeling, mind you.

The next time I received a cryptic email lacking the necessary information to book the next session, I drew from past behaviors instead of sending a response with numerous questions. I brought them to the manager’s attention as they applied the same challenges and goals we set to grow their leadership acumen. The manager acknowledged my point and provided the most detailed and complete correspondence, bringing back-and-forth emails to an abrupt end.

Lesson Learned: When developing your leadership capability, look at how your challenges and successes align with the growing edge goals you set for yourself to develop. We lead as we are and how we behave.

Effective Leadership Styles

There are two main branches of leadership – transactional and transformational. Transactional leaders use a system of rewards and punishments to ensure they achieve a goal. As long as the followers’ basic needs are met, they are compliant.

Transformational leaders inspire growth, promote loyalty, and instill confidence in their teams. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were well-known examples of transformational leaders. They stood out from the crowd and led companies and movements.

Those that work for transformational leaders show a 78.1% performance increase, and over half say their skills have improved under transformational leadership. Statistics also show that the number of true transformational leaders hovers at less than 10%. No wonder we gravitate towards those who even show some of their character traits.

A transformational leader models the ideal traits of the Executive VOICE.

  • Model the Way – a transformational leader acts in the same way they want their group to act. They can explain where they want to take the organization and how the success relies on each individual. Through inspiration and enthusiasm, a transformational leader can influence motivation in others.
  • Encourage the Heart – a transformational leader encourages and supports followers by keeping lines of communication open. They are engaged with their followers creating a sense of connection. They understand how personal life interacts with professional work, and teams are encouraged to use their life experiences to enhance their work.
  • Inspire Shared Vision – while a leader may be responsible for the overall vision, their strength lies in engaging their followers by helping them experience the same motivation and passion for achieving those goals. Transformational leaders bring meaning to work, inspiring a vested interest while challenging enough to keep their interest.
  • Enable Others to Act – when focused on long-term success, a transformational leader allows flexibility in how the teams get there. They empower their followers and trust them to rise to the occasion. Not everyone approaches a task the same way. Some offer a sense of urgency and thrive in completing the task. Others take a little longer and focus on the process. The result is often the same.
  • Challenge the Process – a transformational leader will not only think outside the box, they may also ignore the box altogether, pushing out the walls to make the box bigger and roomier. They challenge business as usual and encourage creativity. Other character traits include comfort with ambiguity and complexity.

Let Your Voice Be Heard

“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”    Steve Jobs

A transformational leader applies the Platinum Rule, which states to treat others as they want to be treated rather than how you want to be treated. This involves an awareness of each follower’s fundamental need for self-actualization. This is the top tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once you get a person on board with their heart and soul, they will do great things for your vision.

“A leader who fails to use their full voice will often share information that will go unheard and unseen for its significance.”  Byron Darden

With persistence, you can develop the traits of a transformational leader. Creativity can be learned. Empathy and a desire to make a difference can be strengthened. Do you want to know how? Book a call, and I’ll show you how to take the next step toward becoming a transformational leader and letting the world hear your voice.

The Power of the Pause

During the course of our day, we are pulled in many different directions. Many thoughts and action items are clamoring for our attention. When we slow down and concentrate on one project at a time, it’s incredible how much more we absorb and how much quicker we accomplish the task.

Carry that same perspective into a presentation. Unseasoned speakers tend to rush through their talks, pausing only to take a breath…sometimes not even then! They worry about losing the audience’s attention or their own train of thought. They do a disservice to their audience, who is there to listen and learn. A listener requires time to comprehend and reflect on the information provided. Great speakers slow down and use the power of pause to capture attention, create anticipation, and nurture connections.

A leader can use the same technique (And So Can You) when presenting information to their team, a boardroom, or a client presentation. The pause is a powerful way to build up to a crescendo, let the audience ponder the problem, and then wow them with your solution. As we continue, you’ll see the various ways the power of pause can be used in other communications – for emphasis, anticipation, providing a chance for their words to have an impact, or to allow the audience to interject their own thoughts – whether out loud or in their head.

What is a Pause?

There are many ways to define a pause. We can Explore Pause together.

  1. You can pause a project due to a lack of funds, a change of focus, to provide space to gain perspective, or in lieu of a more urgent task.
  2. You can pause your thoughts using breathwork, yoga, or meditation.
  3. You can pause while in the midst of an activity.

In all of these situations, the pause can be brief or lengthy.

From a leadership perspective, a pause is defined as a brief interruption of action or speech. Learning to use the pause will elevate your message and create confidence. One significant aspect of an effective leader is the use of pauses when listening, thinking, taking action, responding, and during overall speaking moments.

A simple pause is a powerful tool that you can learn to use.

Incorporating Pause In Your Speech

I’m going out on a limb to do the very thing I often encourage leaders to avoid. That is to assume you’ve experienced the pause in any number of ways, such as when a subordinate takes a beat, a term often used in the world of acting before a character continues the flow of crossing the stage. We often experience dramatic moments when a character on television or in a film allows silence to fill the moment before responding to a fellow actor. You may have experienced it when a senior leader goes silent just prior to asking a follow-up question during your presentation.

Quite different from pausing to think of the ideal or appropriate word, the leader uses the power of pause to emphasize a point or let their words sink in. Allow me to show you how Pausing For Emphasis can be your super power!

Here are some ways to build in natural pauses:

  1. Slow down. Less seasoned speakers are often nervous and tend to rush through their presentations. When starting to speak, take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and calm your nerves. Connect with your audience with a look of confidence. Remember that they are there to hear you speak; your message is essential. Practice in front of a mirror; practice where you will insert the pauses.
  2. Breathe. Natural breathing inserts pauses and forces you to slow down. Think of your audience. Is everyone on the same level? Are their members for which English is not their first language? As you connect with your audience, notice puzzling looks that might mean they are not present. Clarify your point and add pauses to allow them to process information.
  3. Use pauses in place of “um’s” or “uh’s”. You will sound infinitely more polished, and the audience will have more confidence in your message.
  4. Pauses are punctuation. Use a pause where you typically see a comma or period in your writing. As you practice your speech, exaggerate these pauses with a deeper breath. Where there would be a comma, insert a short pause. Use a longer pause when you reach the end of a sentence.
  5. Pause when changing thoughts. Use an even longer pause when shifting gears in your presentation. At the end of a central point, let the audience catch up and let yourself recharge. This pause creates a natural transition separating two points. Similarly, a pause can be used when citing an example or telling a story to indicate the change of pace.
  6. Pause when using visuals. When using slides or props, pause to let the audience read what is on the slide. Unless you are reading the slide word for word, the audience cannot read and listen to your point simultaneously. Pausing before diving into the material or moving on to the next point is an effective tool.
  7. Build in a Pause to Get a Drink or Check Your Notes. These pauses can be deliberate, allowing the material to sink in without appearing awkward. You can also use this type of pause to recover your own thoughts. Insert this pause to let your audience study a visual or after asking a rhetorical question.

It’s Important to Pause

In whatever way you may have experienced it, I’m willing to bet that you have also experienced just the opposite more often than you would like. Particularly in a business situation when the desire to move quickly is paramount for the speaker. In those moments, you’ve probably wished the speaker would pause to give you a chance to process what they have just shared. Yet, they speed through.

The power of pause invites your audience to experience what you already know. It gives them a stake in the action.

Here are the Benefits of Perfecting the Pause:

  1. Allow your audience to think about what has just been shared before a new point is made.
  2. Let the speaker gather their thoughts and think about their next point.
  3. Gives the speaker the opportunity to catch their breath. Deep breathing calms the nerves and the fresh oxygen to the brain maintains the speaker’s focus.
  4. Let the audience take that same deep breath and maintain their focus on the information they are processing.
  5. Creates a connection between the audience and the speaker.
  6. The speaker can read their audience to create that connection and build understanding of the material.
  7. Allowing the audience and speaker to interact with each other regarding the material.

Pause for Your Audience

How do I know? I’ve spent two decades hearing from numerous clients worldwide to help their managers and leaders develop stronger platform skills during presentations. They want their people to be more effective when presenting to senior leadership and to their customer base. Sometimes it is a matter of simply slowing down during presentations. Mastering your pause is something we can work on together.

An example of this may be that moment when a presentation is in action and the speaker stops to check for understanding before moving forward. It could be that moment when the speaker says something profound and then allows for a moment of silence to let their point land for the listener. Perhaps a moment when a presenter completes a share of content. Then chooses to move silently from one place to another before speaking again on a different point.

Practice the Power of Pause

Practically nothing can be more frustrating for the listener than to miss important information because the presenter is in such a rush to share and move on. The next time you spend hours creating a deck for a presentation, take time to actually practice delivering content related to each slide you show. Become benevolent towards your audience by planning pauses throughout your presentation as well as before and after answering questions. Click Here and I can show you how that is possible.

You will also want to pause to check for understanding. Doing so can drastically minimize missed information, time spent backtracking to clarify what was said, and time spent reiterating what you meant because your audience missed what you wanted them to think, how you want them to feel, or what actions you would like your audience to take.

I recall one particular keynote I delivered at an annual conference for a group of four-hundred professionals at the Waldorf-Astoria’s Starlight Roof in New York. The topic was the importance of engaging, inspiring and motivating others in their field. Over lunch one of the conference attendees sought me out and commented on how powerful it was for him when I often paused after sharing a key point. He noted the skill as key for him in establishing me as a truly professional speaker. I thanked him and smiled knowingly.

Pause to Consider This Fact

Most people speak around 150 words per minute in the course of a normal conversation. Those in places of authority such as a US president delivering a State of the Union address slow that down to 100 words per minute. That doesn’t mean that they spoke slower than everyone else, it means they built in pauses. Pauses do not take away from the meaning or target you as someone who doesn’t know what they are saying. The power of pause lies in delivery. Click Opportunity to Explore to learn about your delivery.

Pause for Excellence

“It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up space.”  

—Pema Chodron

Pausing is creative. When done with excellence, it’s an art form that grabs your audience’s attention and prompts them to bring their focus back to your message. It’s a sign of a confident speaker to be able to pause without discomfort. For the speaker or leader, the power of pause enhances their experience. More than just standing in front of a group of people and rattling off a speech, they are creating an emotional connection with the material and their audience. The speaker conveys thoughts and feelings in an informative and personal way. By slowing down and using the power of pause, this connection deepens.

I’m Byron Darden and I’ve been using the power of pause to communicate effectively with my clients and audience. It’s one of the tools you can add to your repertoire to make you a more effective leader. Click Here to book a call. Together we can perfect your power of pause or another roadblock to your success. Just click the button below to schedule your conversation with me to explore your leadership education needs.

Founder’s Corner

In this season of giving and celebration we found it fitting to give The Gift of Storytelling. One of the oldest traditions of communication, it is through storytelling that we share our beliefs, values and the rules by which we live. As a result, these three aspects of our lives control the way we think, feel and behave.

Therefore storytelling perpetuates life itself. It is a force so strong that we draw from it every day to support habits that keep us going. Stories are our teachers about everything from why it is important to floss daily and brush our teeth following meals, to how we interact with supervisors, peers and subordinates with whom we work.

Stories tell about who we are as individuals and as communities. They teach lessons such as why it is important to take risks in business in order to move initiatives forward. Stories motivate change. Whether it is a change in how you do business or how you will move into the next year as we will all do in just a few weeks as we embark on a new journey in 2023.

Storytelling also serves us in how we look at things. Stories can change the frame so that we are provided with a fresh or new outlook. For instance, one of the hallmarks of my work with leaders and managers is how we use language in ways to perpetuate positive work flows and accomplish business goals. One example is the use of the word perpetuate.

I’ve used the word perpetuate twice in this article. Typically the word is associated with undesirable situations or unfounded beliefs. Yet, when defined by Merriam Webster, it is also defined as: to make perpetual or cause to last indefinitely; eternalized, immortalized. Those are not necessarily negative ways of seeing things. Yet we can allow ourselves to over simplify what we mean without clarification.

As you read this month’s blog, think about how you can tap into your perpetuation of life by developing and telling Your story! To learn more about how we can work together to help shape your story to perpetuate what is important to you in your leadership, click the button below and let’s explore.

The Gift of Storytelling

When we were little, we told grand tales about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wanted to be a figure skater and join Ice Capades. Now that we are older, we tell stories about what we did over the weekend or what happened to us while fetching groceries. “You’ll never guess what happened to me today!” we exclaim to our partner as we burst into the door at the end of the day.

Everyone tells stories, and everyone has a story to tell.

This month, we examine how storytelling defines us as a person and a leader. We are looking at storytelling as a gift you can develop.

A good story draws in your audience. It has credibility and truth. It gets your message across and entertains you at the same time. It evokes emotions and inspires actions.

Storytelling impacts almost every aspect of society. Movies, sitcoms, documentaries, commercials, print ads, newspaper columns, TikTok videos, you name it – are all stories. Marketing a product, sales pitches, or even sharing stories about yourself in the boardroom to provide a particular point of view (POV) involves storytelling.

What is Storytelling?

I’ve been telling stories my entire life. Yet, when I thought about how I define storytelling, I was challenged to find words to describe one of the oldest forms of communication.

My approach is probably much like yours when you need quick information. Google it! I have to say, the definition that powerfully captures my thoughts and feelings on the topic comes from Olivier Serrat. “Storytelling is the vivid description of ideas, beliefs, personal experiences, and life lessons through stories or narratives that evoke powerful emotions and insights.”

This definition effectively covers the various aspects of storytelling. It inspires connection and imagination. It puts the speaker in command of their audience, and they hang on to each word with great attention. It gives storytelling a purpose.

Effective Storytelling

Storytelling is as old as humanity itself. Before the advent of paper and ink, stories were passed on from generation to generation. Sitting around telling stories was a way of passing history and sharing wisdom. I recall my grandfather’s wonderful stories about the horse that tried to get away and how he wrangled that mare into submission and got her to “simmer down” and fall in line with the rest of the horses on the family farm.

Evolving from the oldest form of communication, cave drawings transitioned to the spoken and then written word over time. It has since advanced to electronic mediums and through song, dance, cinematic treatments, and live theater. Living here in New York, I get numerous opportunities to see live theater and experience the telling of story in a multi-media treatment that includes song, dance, projected images, live performance, and other high-tech ways of bringing the story to life for the audience.

Effective storytelling is achieved by a number of devices, techniques, and processes. Back to that Google Search on what makes a compelling story. The results show some common themes.

  • A story must have a purpose. Otherwise, you are just speaking to be heard. When a CEO presents a concept to their company, the purpose is to motivate the team and increase the bottom line. To do this, the CEO sets the foundation with a story. It defines the why.
  • The story has to be geared toward a specific audience. Storytelling builds a relationship with the listener. Should your audience be software engineers, talking about baking cookies will probably not fly (I suppose this does depend on how well you tell a story.).
  • A story should connect you, your product, and your audience. Compelling stories resonate with the listener and evoke emotion. Pull your audience into the story by emphasizing what’s in it for them.
  • Cater your story to the medium you are using. You can use facial features and gestures to get your point across should you tell a story in person (or through a video). Use personal narratives and visual representation in the event you tell a story through email or print. Grab the audience’s attention and leave a lasting impression.
  • To sell a story, the most compelling message tends to come from your heart. You are the storyteller, and you are what makes the story authentic.

Importance of Your Story

We share our culture, beliefs, and ways of life through stories. We champion our strengths and successes, teach life lessons, and expose our vulnerabilities and shortcomings. These are the stories of leaders.

As people, we are believed to be hardwired to respond to stories most over alternative forms we use to share information. What’s more effective, a list of dry facts and figures or an interwoven story that puts us in the heart of the action?

The resulting impact of the story on the brain contributes to the production of “oxytocin.” The hormone, often referred to as the “love hormone,” increases during hugging and orgasm. It also benefits us in treating depression, anxiety, and intestinal discomforts. Oxytocin also contributes to maternal behavior and social bonding.

Oxytocin also builds trust, which is one of storytelling’s primary goals. I experience this when working with groups of leaders within an organization. When I share personal stories, each with a clear point focused on the topic, a connection emerges from the group that allows them to trust whatever lesson I am teaching at that given moment.

Case in point: I recently watched a short series on Netflix titled Luckiest Girl Alive. The lead character, TifAni, tells the story of how she was raped in a private boarding school. Soon after her essay is published in the New York Times Magazine, Ani (the shortened name she goes by as an adult) receives one message after another from other women praising her for her courage to tell the truth. This prompts each of the women who message her to share their own stories of being taken advantage of at some point in their lives.

Storytelling to Create Change

As we move from one extreme to another, we are granted the gift of a story to tell of how we journey as people in our personal lives and leaders in our business or community lives. We tell of our evolution as man and womankind and all the variation in between.

Here are some examples of extremes we may face in our lives and how we can journey from one to the other through story. These experiences impact us in specific ways and define our story. The examples below are just a few of my own that spark stories that brought me from one extreme to another:

Move awayGo ToFor the purpose of
Private TransportationPublic TransportationContributing to fewer emissions issues
ArguingReasoningLimiting unproductive fighting
RushingTaking our TimeLimiting the number of missteps or reducing anxiety
JudgingAffirmingBenefiting from greater curiosity
IndifferenceCompassionDemonstrating care for others
TextingTalkingDeveloping a more human connection
TalkingListeningAllowing others to be heard

How Does Your Story Define You?

Let’s say, for example, that you grew up with some challenges. You could look at your story in one of two ways. Either you are resentful that you didn’t have all of the advantages you felt you should have, OR you picked yourself up, brushed off the dust and moved forward in the face of adversity.

Same circumstances, yet two different stories can emerge. It’s all in the way you tell your story. An example is when I tell the story of visiting the family farm and accompanying my grandmother to gather eggs. It was the event I learned that one must take risks to move ahead in life. Told differently, it could also convey the importance of listening to your elders.

I encourage you to take some time to think about how you present your story to others/your audience. Is your story holding you back, or is it propelling you forward?

Here are some thoughts to get you thinking about your story:

  • How did you get to where you are today?
  • What traumas or triumphs have you experienced?
  • Who was your inspiration?
  • Why did you choose this career path?
  • Why should I listen to you?

No one has the same story – use this to your advantage – to bring a unique perspective to your leadership role.

“Leadership is autobiographical. If I don’t know your life story, I don’t know a thing about you as a leader.”

-Noel Tichy

If you are struggling in your role, defining your story can be a catalyst for change. It can unlock deeper relationships and unearth untapped resources.

Telling a More Effective Story

Want to learn how to tell a compelling story? Begin by telling your story to a child. They forgive your ability while you hone your technique. They will keep you honest when you stray from the tale. Children will also reflect back on what you may want to attend to most when telling them a story.

Draw stories from your experiences in life that have been impacted by where you’ve lived or traveled. Gain inspiration from those who have supported you or let you down. Take your listener on a journey through the events and watershed moments that have contributed to who you are today and map how you’ve come to this moment.

Use stories to convince others to take action in sticky situations, interpret the past, shape the future, address issues, resolve conflicts, or face challenges. Structure your story to fit your objectives and nail the delivery.

Impact of Storytelling

Whether it’s the 70% of companies investing in one form of content marketing or another to transfer knowledge about products, or the 65% of our social conversations that are grounded in personal sharing and gossip, we rely on a story as our main medium of telling our tales that speak to our humanity and our spirituality.

Storytelling can sell a product or alienate a brand. It can raise awareness of social issues and change the course of society. Storytelling can make complex topics more manageable.

Storytelling is a powerful tool when used correctly. Relating facts is not enough. Interweave those facts into something your audience can care for – is invested in. Deliver the story with impact.

Tell Me Your Story

You’re never going to kill storytelling because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.”

-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Those who have followed me may be familiar with my story and what brought me to this point in my career. In the event a Google Search landed you on this article, welcome! Click here to read my story.

My purpose here is to help you discover your gift of storytelling. Whether you tell your own story or use storytelling to accomplish a goal, there is no doubt that a well (or effectively) told story can make an incredible difference in perceptions and enthusiasm.

I’d love to hear your story. Click Here to book a 1:1 Executive Women Breakthrough Session – together, we can explore ways your story can benefit you in the boardroom.

Founder’s Corner

I recently spoke at a conference in Chicago on the topic of Navigating Bold Communication where the topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion were not the lead language desired. Instead the focus was on what makes us different and how we can boldly communicate in sometimes challenging conversations despite our differences without needing to turn to human resources for support. It was such a refreshing environment to work with a group who would like to avoid the need to reach out to the corporate mommy and daddy to facilitate how this should be done.

It was during that conference that I began to consider all the ways I am different and how all of us are different from one another along with those ways in which we are similar. That consideration brought me to ponder how differently we each address our capacity for change, learning, leading, and by being curious regarding what we don’t know of one another.

In this month’s blog as we celebrate the American Indian Heritage, I’m struck by how much change we have experienced in this country since 1776 when the US was renamed from its original, “United Colonies.” While the notion of “united” has wavered over time, there continues to be an effort to find new ways to reunite as we also continue to navigate our differences.

It all comes down to capacity for me and so goes what that means about our ability and aptitude to lead well. We all bring different skills, abilities and points of view to how we get work done. That is also true regarding how we lead.

So this month, I want to focus on how we can find ways to expand our capacity to lead, be open and curious about one another and ultimately remind ourselves that we can always learn more, grow more and lead more effectively as we flex our capacity to fit the needs presented to us at any given moment.

Leadership Capacity

What does Leadership Capacity mean? The term has several definitions. Envision a pitcher of water, and the capacity of thatcontainer is how much water it can hold. Capacity also addresses how much a machine (or person) can produce – they are operating at their full, maximum amount. A third definition is how capacity speaks to a person’s role or position.

Leadership Capacity encompasses all of the definitions in one way or another. It can mean many things to many different people. As a business environment ebbs and flows, so does a leader’s capacity.

Four Elements of Leadership Capacity

Four elements make up Leadership Capacity, and they are core to a leader’s journey:

  • Leadership Style
  • Leadership Skills/Behaviors
  • Leadership Character
  • Leadership Ability/Business Acumen

Let’s take a look at each of these.

Leadership Style

This is your approach to situations as a leader and how you will manage teams. In defining your leadership style, you will want to consider how to respond, plan, and guide your team. Effective leaders are able to adapt their style based on the need at the time.

Here are five leadership styles. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Autocratic – you like to be in charge
  • Consultative – you like to give advice or recommendations
  • Affiliative – you like to form social and emotional bonds with your team
  • Democratic – you consider the input of the team when making decisions
  • Coaching – your goal is to help your team grow and improve performance


Leadership Skills/Behaviors

These are the specific and concrete ways you act and conduct yourself while leading your team and performing your role. Some examples are compassion, adaptability, listening skills, confidence, time management, and your ability to handle details well or provide motivation.

Here are common leadership skills that effective leaders possess:

  • Communication
  • Organizational Change – this involves strategy and planning execution
  • Managing People
  • Visionary – you can see what is possible, necessary, or groundbreaking.

Leadership Character

Character combines your values, traits, and virtues. This gets to the heart of who you are and fuels your authentic self. Clarity regarding these qualities will help you build confidence in your abilities to handle situations and earn respect from your team. Spending time in self-reflection about your values and belief systems will significantly enhance your leadership skills.

Character traits of great leaders include:

  • Self-Knowing – this includes being vulnerable, authentic, and acting with integrity
  • Inspiring, Persuasive, Influential
  • Respectful
  • Discernment/Decision Making
  • Team Building/Empowering

Leadership Ability/Business Acumen

Business sense and savvy are crucial for making decisions that lead to effective outcomes. This encompasses industry knowledge accumulated over time and experience in similar situations. It includes understanding known and emerging processes and how to use that knowledge to lead and adapt successfully.

Areas that enhance business acumen are:

  • Education
  • Experience
  • Certifications
  • Continuing Education

Building Leadership Capacity

These four elements are used to build your capacity as a leader. Developing business acumen will lead to adaptability. Developing style will lead to confidence. One has to build a reservoir of capacity to have a foundation from which to draw.

At times, you may feel you’ve reached your limits and are at full capacity. Realize that you have room for more, which signals a time for you to step back to see the 10,000-foot view. Take inventory of what is and what more is needed so that you can step forward and plot how to grow beyond where you find yourself at the moment.

Take this opportunity to acknowledge your strengths and what you do well. Then examine your challenges and growing edges. Instead of attempting to resolve everything that needs work, you may find it more critical and time effective to surround yourself with those who possess the capacity you desire. Good leaders know their capabilities and shortcomings and seek to find answers. This may involve adding a new team member or consulting a subject matter expert to provide a different point of view. Or perhaps you will discover a world of experience from someone else that is not currently yours.

You can also seek professional development activities. The best leaders are continually learning and developing. Books, podcasts, seminars, and peers can provide growth opportunities. Here are some I can recommend:

  • Leadership Programs such as Columbia, Darden, Duke, Harvard, are a great source
  • Harvard Business Review
  • Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy
  • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  • Biographies of CEOs
  • Blogs from

The Importance of Building Leadership Capacity

Demonstrating your willingness to grow as a leader shows your team that you are committed. You are developing yourself as a resource they can rely on when situations become challenging. Enhanced problem-solving skills and communication techniques prepare you for unforeseen circumstances.

As mentioned earlier, you do not have to build capacity independently. When you are ready to hire a new employee or bring someone new to your team, choosing the ideal fit becomes imperative. Begin by looking at your needs and determine who can most effectively meet those needs. One way to do that is to consider the capacity a person must have for you to feel confident in your choice to bring them into the fold.

Leadership Capacity in an Organization

An essential role of top-level leadership is building leadership capacity across all tiers of your organization. The CEO of a company must have the capacity to be a leader and develop a pipeline of leaders down the chain of command. From senior executives to front-line managers, leadership development is an intense process.

Suppose one of your top-level executives decided to pursue another path. How prepared are you to replace them? Would it be a frantic search, or is a strong team member ready to step into the role? 

Nurturing leadership capacity at all levels of the organization ensures that gaps are minimized. Strategic planning can involve looking into the future and envisioning your desired leadership traits. Using that blueprint, develop future leaders by offering training, education, mentoring, and coaching opportunities. Check in often to see where leaders shine and where they can improve. Consider hiring new people for a fresh perspective in those areas where there is a lack of capacity.

Over time, build a culture that supports engagement. Show that you are willing to invest in people, and leaders will shine.

Your Turn

As you contemplate your leadership capacity and the next steps in your journey, I’d like to give you some questions to ponder:

  • How do you determine your everchanging approach to leadership?
  • What key behaviors and specific skills do you possess that make you an effective leader?
  • What is the content of your character that inspires confidence in others?
  • What do you know, and how well-equipped are you to run a line of business?

There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to your character; recognizing your strengths will help you grow as a leader.

Moving Forward

The past couple of years have been challenging for both employees and managers. Some managers have had to adapt to an environment where their team works Remotely.

Calls on Zoom and monitoring productivity from afar requires a sense of trust and reliance on communication. A recent Gallup poll states that only 19% of US employees feel that their organization communicates effectively. Without effective communication, employees become detached and are less engaged in their work. This can lead to an employee leaving the company.

This lack of communication can stem from the fact that managers may not have information to share, or they are afraid to say the wrong things. There is a fine line between contacting your employees and assuring them that you hear their concerns and sharing that you don’t have answers. Addressing issues early and often is wiser than staying silent. Lacking solid answers or simply repeat yourself regarding your current lack of intel will show employees that you care.

Building Leadership Capacity with a Coach

“To grow capacity in your career, you need to move from the place of position to a place of skill acquisition.”
― Olawale Daniel

Earlier in this article, I spoke about stretching yourself when it seems like you have reached your capacity. This is a chance to grow as a manager and as a person. Often this involves looking deep into yourself and identifying roadblocks. These could be perceived blocks in your organization or inside of yourself.

My name is Byron Darden, and I help women to break through the barriers that keep them from being their best selves. Through this website, seminars, workshops, and Masterminds, I provide a wealth of information that will get you out of your stuck place and encourage you to take charge of your career. Whether you are already in a leadership position or on your desired path, together we can look at what is holding you back and develop a plan to achieve your goals. Click on the button below to find out your leadership style and schedule a one-to-one discovery conversation to identify what your ideal next steps can do for you.

My name is Byron Darden, and I help women to break through the barriers that keep them from being their best selves. Through this website, seminars, workshops, and Masterminds, I provide a wealth of information that will get you out of your stuck place and encourage you to take charge of your career. Whether you are already in a leadership position or on your desired path, together we can look at what is holding you back and develop a plan to achieve your goals. Click on the button below to find out your leadership style and schedule a one-to-one discovery conversation to identify what your ideal next steps can do for you

Founder’s Corner

In the event you are reading this blog, you are most likely not asking the question, “how do I apply presence in real time to my leadership?” Instead you may be more curious to know in what specific ways and under what circumstances does your presence make a difference.

First and foremost, we have to show up in order for our presence to be known. How we show up will determine the impact and how long our presence is felt once we leave. In addition, the way we show up also determines how much the memory of our presence precedes us when we walk into that same room again or another room for that matter.

I recall one particular experience of a leader’s presence that to this day, marks one of the most significant and memorable for me. It was a Landmark Forum leader who led the class of three-hundred I attended back in 2012. At one point during the three days of the course, a participant became annoyed and decided to leave the course. As he walked toward the door vocally declaring he’d had enough and was done listening, our Forum leader stopped the participant in his tracks while standing on a stage approximately one-hundred feet away. She never left that spot the entire time that the two of them exchanged words with one another, he wanting to leave, her wanting him to stay.

I was amazed at her power as she continued to hold her authority in the room. No one else seemed to move a muscle during the altercation. The participant managed to break from the Forum leader’s power and leave. She then turned her power toward the rest of us, bringing to our attention that this fellow didn’t just leave the room, he left us behind. “Are you just going to let him walk out on all of the work we had just accomplished together?” She remarked to the rest of us, still not moving from where she stood in command on that stage. We all looked around at one another as though wondering who would move to do something about it. The Forum leader followed up her previous comment with a plea for us to take a stand and go after him.

Suddenly three of four other participants ran out of the room after the guy who left and brought him back. When the course came to an end a day and a half later, I noticed the fellow who had initially left the course seemed to be the most changed. He turned out to be one of the more successful stories of all the participants who finished the course with the rest of us. To this day I recall that experience of a leader who clearly knew who she was, knew her power and continues to be a reminder to me, what it takes to truly grab and hold an audiences’ attention.

Now I invite you to read on and learn a bit more about what Executive Leadership Presence is all about and how mastering your presence can make all the difference in your leadership. Enjoy the read and when you feel the urge to dive into your own developing leadership skills, do let me know and I will help you develop in ways you might find surprisingly beneficial to you, to your company and to your team.

Executive Leadership Presence

Rise to the occasion with support from an experienced corporate coach.

Great leaders have certain traits in common. One of the most common threads I’ve seen of every effective leader with whom I’ve worked throughout the world is their ability to know who they are. They know their strengths, what challenges them most and they are willing to articulate their strengths and challenges in just the right way and at the most opportune time. They are willing to be vulnerable when the situation calls for it. And most of all, they are incredible listeners. They are engaging, drawing you into their inner circle. They speak with authority and conviction yet use humility and empathy. They have a presence about them that results in an authentic connection that builds other’s perception of them as a person that can be trusted with the vision they have for a concept or organization. They inspire and motivate their listeners.

They carry themselves in a way that inspires us to admire their way of commanding a room, and we hang on to their every word, eager to hear what they have to say next.

Each one of these leaders that we admire has something called leadership presence. It’s in how they think, speak and act. The way they hold themselves and connect with people. It’s the self-confidence that commands respect without outright demanding it.

Leaders with such presence can be at the top of an organization or small-team managers. It’s not where you are; it’s how you act. A manager at McDonald’s can have a presence that inspires employees to perform their jobs with pride. In the same way, an effective CEO can inspire a large organization to execute a vision.

These leaders have executive leadership presence. Let’s explore what it is, how you can develop it, and how to add it to your toolkit. Click the button below and let’s explore what’s in your toolkit and determine what more you need.

What is Executive Leadership Presence?

Control is the power to influence. Power is the ability to direct or influence the behavior of others without force. Influence is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or behavior of someone or something. Trust must be built in order for the leader to forge the way toward executing the vision.

The type of presence that we refer to is a combination of many factors, including the ability to:

  • Authentically connect with other people’s thoughts
  • Empathize with their feelings
  • Influence actions in service
  • Motivate those being led to an established vision
  • Inspire those to want to contribute to the outcome
  • Get things done

You often see leadership presence and executive presence used interchangeably. I’d like to present a clearly distinct difference.

Leadership presence combines self-confidence, self-worth, self-respect, self-regard, and the ability to relate and connect on a personal level. It means striking a balance between speaking and listening and persuading others without becoming overbearing. 

Executive presence regards the ability to execute on a vision for the betterment of the organization. 

Executive leadership presence has aspects of both.  A leader who uses their presence to execute on ideas. 

While leadership presence is relatively easy to spot because you can see evidence, it’s more difficult to describe. 51% of HR practitioners that are well-versed in the topic say that it’s difficult to define.

What is paramount is that an organization arrive at their own definition of leadership presence. Then build the most appropriate course of action around that definition in order to bring it to life within the culture. The test for determining the effectiveness of leadership development is its workability in real time.

The Four Essential Elements of Leadership

At the center of every effective leader are the core essentials that serve as the north star illuminating the path toward a realized vision.

Some leaders have a natural ability to connect with others. When they enter a room, their presence is immediately felt. They can move large groups to a common goal. They can expand their effectiveness across an organization. This is done through:

  • Leadership Style
  • Leadership Skills/Behaviors
  • Leadership Character
  • Leadership Acumen

Does this mean you cannot develop this desired presence in the event you were not born with innate leadership abilities? Not at all. Although it will take dedication. You can examine, adopt and apply the four elements of leadership and develop your emotional intelligence, social skills, interpersonal communications, and scope of knowledge within your industry.

Each of the elements are equally important in your development.

When you Develop:This leads to the following:
Leadership StyleApproach/Discovery
Leadership Skills/BehaviorsPerformance/Development
Leadership CharacterDelivery/Deployment
Leadership AcumenIndustry Knowledge/Business Sense

Let’s take a look at each of these essential elements:

  • Leadership Style is unique to each individual. It speaks to how you lead and how flexible you are in a given situation. Leadership styles can vary daily and depend on what person or group with whom you’re engaged. While you can try to emulate another leader’s style, you will garner the most success by developing your own style.
  • Leadership Skills and Behaviors are how you show up physically and vocally. How effective you are and how you wish to be viewed are carefully thought out ahead of time. This could involve your tone of voice and how you dress.
  • Leadership Character portrays how you wish to be perceived by your clients or colleagues. It’s a component of a leader’s personal brand. For example, are you honest, aggressive, bold, or approachable? Which will inspire confidence in your abilities and allow you to relate effectively?
  • Leadership Ability is based on what you know. It might be based on your formal or informal education, training, experience in the field, certifications, or the amount of ongoing development on which you choose to embark. Faking it until you make it will only go so far – you’ll want to know your stuff.

The Importance of Executive Leadership Presence

Leaders facing crucial decision making are most effective when they keep their finger on the pulse within their organization and trust their instincts in identifying the real priorities.

To get the results you want as a leader, it’s crucial to have presence. When your presence falters, your leadership comes into question. When your presence soars, your leadership inspires and motivates others to want to be a part of something bigger than they are on their own. It inspires teams to form, develop their cohesive strength, and carry initiatives across the completion line to serve a particular population. It may be an initiative that serves the organization the team works for or consults.

A strong leader benefits the individual and the organization by keeping their finger on the pulse. These benefits include:

  • Strengthening company culture
  • Managing teams
  • Improving relationships with customers
  • Enhancing the performance of organizations
  • Achieving bottom line results and financial growth

When choosing a leader for your company or team, it’s essential to identify candidates with executive leadership presence. They are the voice of your organization and serve to inspire and motivate your teams to greatness. This is also true should you be focused on climbing the organizational ladder into higher leadership roles. We can help you establish the number one most important leadership skill necessary to guide your team or company toward getting things done! Click the button below and book a strategy session to determine how you can build that leadership muscle.

Applying Executive Leadership Presence

Learn how to make practical applications of your presence in real time to any leadership situation you encounter.

I recently worked with a consultant preparing to step into the principal role in their company. We discussed how one needs to develop specific skills to effectively communicate ideas with clients, inspire teams to get the work done, and motivate others to take appropriate action on their vision internally and externally. They felt overwhelmed with understanding what it takes to build their leadership muscle.

As we explored their overwhelm, it became clear that the heart of the matter was less about what to do and entirely about how to do it. We began by looking at the “how” through the lens of skills and behaviors that are specific and actionable in what needs to be developed. Once they got the hang of the idea – that the how depends on granular specificity – they recognized what needed to be done and the overwhelm subsided.

Are you finding yourself experiencing that moment known as the dear in the headlights? You know the one I mean. You’re delivering another PowerPoint presentation and your audience is looking at you with an expression on their faces that you can’t quite determine whether it is delight or disappointment. We can help you eliminate the anxiety of not knowing and turn those unclear facial expressions into appreciation for delivering a memorable and insightful presentation. Click the button below and book a strategy session to see how we might help you make that difference.

Develop Your Executive Leadership Presence

Leadership is autobiographical, if I don’t know who you are as a person, I don’t know who you are as a leader.” – Noel Tichy

There are numerous ways to develop your executive leadership presence. Keep these principles in mind:


There’s a difference between getting people to listen to your message and making an impact. This comes through in how authentic you are. Leaders with presence are genuine.  When you hear them speak, their words resonate with you, and you are compelled to take action.  Using their body language, intellect, and emotions, they draw you into their world and vision. You feel their commitment and passion in your heart and soul.

A valuable tool used in developing presence is by studying their emotional intelligence. The idea is to recognize how you feel and respond to situations. It will help you sense the emotions of your audience or team members. Leadership presence involves shifting techniques depending on the reactions of others.

Choose Your Subject

As a leader, your credibility is enhanced by your knowledge of the subject. The more you care about what you speak about or represent, the more confidence you have, and the more effectively you can convey your subject. As you communicate, you want to create curiosity with your audience and inspire them to want to live your mission. One effective technique is to tell a story from your heart. Use your body language congruently with your voice and relate to your audience.

Tell Your Story

The oldest known form of communication in the world were cave paintings. Through research we’ve learned that the configuration of the brain allows us to comprehend visuals quickly. You might say we think in pictures. Therefore it stands to reason why The ART of Storytelling is one of the earliest forms of human communication used by humankind. The ability to tell stories in a way that:

  • Engages your audience
  • Sets the context of a situation
  • Inspires the listener to learn and to take action and ultimately
  • Provides a teachable point of view.

Learning to tell an effective story in a business setting can make the difference between your point landing or being lost.

Be Flexible

An important trait to have or develop is flexibility. Selling your vision might be a challenge. You want to be able to determine what your audience or team is feeling and create reassurances. Being able to improvise is vital.

According to the Center for Talent and Innovation, 26% of what it takes to get to the next promotion level directly results from executive presence. What are you able to get done? Furthermore, 67% of senior executives surveyed say that confidence, poise under pressure, and decisiveness are the core characteristics of executive presence.

Quick ways to enhance your presence include:

  • Improve your posture. Leaders carry themselves with confidence; one way you can do this is through how you stand or present yourself. Practice power poses in front of a mirror. This will make you look and feel surer of yourself.
  • Study great leaders. Be aware of the company you keep and the information that you allow into your head. When there is someone that exudes the traits that you admire, observe how they communicate. What makes them different? What gets them results? Can you adopt some of the behaviors to your own style?
  • Get Feedback. Ask a trusted friend or colleague for their honest opinion of how you come across. Be willing to listen and have an open mind. What you think is confidence might appear to others as cocky. How you dress might be comfortable to you while it might look unkept to others.

Special Considerations for Women

Why work harder when you can simply work smarter!

Women in leadership can follow the same techniques, yet they often have extra challenges. As executives, women must overcome the imposter syndrome and believe in their abilities no matter the feedback. Women in top positions are often in the minority, so they feel they have to try twice as hard. They don’t! Although they may have to use some finesse. Here are some tips:

  • As a woman, you have a unique view of situations. Use this to your advantage. Exude confidence and know that you are the company’s most valuable asset.
  • Take your time delivering your message, ensuring you nail it the first time. Breathe, use silence, and use your intuition.
  • Assert boundaries and realize that you will not please everyone. At the same time, use your wit and humor to keep things personable.

What Carla Harris Has To Say

Learn what motivate you and use what you discover to make your mark in leadership.


How present you are as a leader is determined by how well you’ve developed your ability to be in the here and now. Rather than being focused on an upsetting call earlier or thinking about a meeting with a senior leader later, your ability and commitment to be in the moment and prepared for whatever it presents to you is key to your leadership.

For two decades I’ve worked with all levels of leaders in countless industries. What they all have in common is the challenge to remain in the present moment. It can be as taxing to do this as it is for an athlete to achieve Olympic levels in their sport. In both cases it takes practice, commitment to the work and training to achieve success.

One of the beautiful aspects of developing one’s ability to be present is your willingness to let go of the idea that you were bad when you were not present in a particular situation. Or that you were wrong to miss a comment or detail that got past you when a distraction led you elsewhere. What is essential to remember when developing your muscles around being present is to have compassion for yourself. In fact, the idea is to kindly and without judgement, simply return to the present moment. That is where the magic is! It is literally in recognizing when you are not present and taking action to return to the here and now.

This was one of the most powerful lessons I learned throughout my sixteen year journey through mindfulness meditation. It started a few years after I began working with corporate and non profit leaders. My practice strengthened over the years. Then when COVID struck, I depended on mediation to keep me grounded. It was not my strong suit. So I deepened my practice that much more.

Then I leaned, that is the case for nearly anyone I speak to about their meditation. That is why it is called a practice. We can always improve with practice. Meditation is a life long journey of strengthening the mind for the many uses for which it provides a great value. To anyone who wants to live more fully in their lives as a person, as a leader and as one whose presence can be felt before, during and after they’ve entered a room, join me for a preview of what is possible to gain as a leader with Mindful Meditation. Click the button below and enjoy a meditation session as my gift to you!

How Present Are You?

With all of the distractions in our world, it’s not surprising that many people lack focus. Think about when you sit down to write an email or blog post. Like clockwork, your phone pings with messages, that email you’ve been waiting for pops up, co-workers come into the office to chat, or the cat walks across your keyboard during a zoom call. This becomes even more challenging when you are not face-to-face with clients or co-workers.

In the event you’ve ever tried to meditate, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The instructor tells you to focus on the motion of your chest or the air coming in your mouth and out your nose. Your mind will inevitably wander – it’s natural. Breathe in – what’s for dinner – breathe out – what’s that itch on my left foot? It takes a lot of practice to focus the mind. It’s a journey for people to reach the point of Zen.

Last month, we talked about how multitasking is a myth and that focusing on each bite of your food aids digestion. Here, we’ll dive further into what it means to be in the present moment and how this serves you in all aspects of your life.

Breathe In

Being present is the ability to be in the here and now without being easily derailed by distractions. When you can think on your feet with ease and confidence in each moment, you can figure out what to say and do to cause a situation to flourish and thrive. You’ve then accomplished two outcomes: One, you’ve become more present and two, you’re more open to creativity and innovation.

Becoming more present can bring peace and calm, a state of being that is grounding and centering. Opening up to creativity and innovation enlivens the soul as we become steeped in purpose. Those are significant qualities to have especially given the hustle and bustle we are experiencing as we all figure out how to function in a world full of lightning speed change.

We are in a time of overflowing change that is so frequent that many of us are challenged with keeping up the pace. Some days can seem far from productive as the list of tasks rises and the number of people available to complete them stays the same or diminishes. When we do feel a since of accomplishment it can feel less satisfying due to the lack of volume and quality or substance. This is because we tend to lack focus and try to do more than is realistic in the time we have, eventually leading us to a state of overwhelm. Here’s a case in point:

As the world continues to open back up after COVID restrictions, one of the managers I spoke with shared what that triggered in them:

  • A sudden shift in the amount and frequency of travel
  • Perceived heightened client expectations that come with face-to-face interactions
  • Movement into overwhelm

Overwhelm distracts us from the here and now and induces an amygdala hijack that diminishes our presence and clouds thinking and judgment.

Developing Presence

Our PRESENCE guides us through life based on how well we develop ourselves. Whether we are leading teams in business, leading our communities through change, or simply leading by being an influence on the lives of others, how we play these roles determines our effectiveness.










The present moment is where all things are possible. It is the only controllable moment and where the future is designed. When you look at the difference between two people, being present is the quality that distinguishes one person and makes them stand out from the crowd. The present is fleeting and ever-changing and is the key to human potential.


So how does one stay in the present and take advantage of its power? In meditation, we observe what comes and goes. For the rest of our life, we must act. The primary way this is done is through reaction and response. Whereas reaction is impulsive, and response is thoughtful. As we proceed through our day, we oscillate between different states of mind – some are authentic, and some are inauthentic. They guide the way we connect and engage with one another and move us in emotional ways that are both unique and learned.


We use emotive ways when we take on different roles depending on our situation. For example, when we put on a suit (our costume) and head into a professional environment, we assume a role. We may take on a different tone of voice, carry ourselves in a certain way, and present goals we’ve set for ourselves; we are serving a purpose. One person can assume many roles such as a boss, direct report, spouse, parent, sibling, VP, etc.


Knowing oneself can lead to greater happiness, self-satisfaction, less inner conflict, and the ability to be sure in our interactions with others. Self-concept is largely a reflection of the reactions of others towards the individual. It is how we perceive our unique characteristics. Adjusting our self-concept opens up new possibilities, yet, it can be difficult.


Empowerment enables us or others to act on their own authority. We can empower ourselves by controlling our lives and claiming our rights. We can empower others by giving them the authority or power to do something. A great manager empowers their employees by giving them leverage in solving problems. Often called “thinking outside the box,” employees or managers with a sense of empowerment create breakthroughs.


To be nimble is defined as being quick and light in movement or action. This applies to our physical reactions and also our adaptations to changing circumstances. Nimbleness in the workplace means adapting to changing circumstances or creating a new strategy where the current thinking is not succeeding.


Caring is displaying kindness and concern for others. Caring is the work or practice of looking after those unable to care for themselves, especially sick and older adults. When we care for others, we open up empathy in our hearts. Those that care about the task they are asked to accomplish achieve desirable results and inevitably feel a heightened sensibility about themselves. This leads to pride in work and a more content workforce.


We need to be engaged to stay in the present moment. Items capture our interest, some fade to the background, and some keep us focused. A measure of success is in how we engage with others. In the workplace, this is illustrated by how well we listen and provide feedback.

Within our PRESENCE is the core of who we are which I’ve focused upon in the SELF Concept Model.

These four characteristics are an inroad to a deeper sense of self and revealing in how we are felt and seen by others. The exploration can lengthen the amount of time that we are being present and shorten the gaps representing when we are less present.





  • Sufficient

We are enough – perfect as we are this very minute.

  • Endogenous

We are continually growing and developing, and this growth happens from within.

  • Living

We are active or thriving human beings that are capable of great things.

  • Fascinate

We have a unique personal power, charm, nature, or another quality that makes us a curiosity to others and curious people ourselves.

Breathe Out

This brings about the subject of being present, which is knowing, understanding, managing, and caring for the self. Learning about self is a life’s journey full of discoveries. Some are difficult to understand, and others we sometimes choose not to understand or explore. SELF is the most essential being in the equation without whom there is no other. Without a sense of self, we tend to fall under the influence of others. Self needs loving kindness to flourish and to be all that is possible.

We must open ourselves to non-judgment. We must become curious and build confidence to take risks. We must be committed to our goals because, “If you want to reach your goals, you must shrink the size of your but” and choose to live in a “Yes, And…” world. How do you do that? Most simply put, live the question.

Your Story Leads to Authenticity

Those of you who have been following me for a while have read my Founder’s Corners and understand my story. Now, it’s time for you to tell your story.

To be present with your true authentic self, you must spend time discovering who you are and for what you stand. What makes you wholly sufficient as you are? Understanding our biology, pathology, and biochemical baseline, we create a picture we share with the world. We impact others whether we live in a box or the public eye. Living to fascinate those around us with our natural brilliance is how we show up at the table. Adopting a curiosity about ourselves and one another develops us as human beings and allows us to explore our true potential.

Distinguishing Yourself from Others

Here are some startling figures:

According to a recent Gallup report, only 36% of employees show engagement in the workplace. Surprisingly, this is not due to the pandemic (which did an excellent job of shaking up the status quo). In fact, since 2017, the number of employees who were disengaged dropped.

The same Gallup study indicates the benefits of an engaged workforce will increase profits by up to 21% and that employee disengagement costs the US Economy up to $500 billion per year. It serves companies to focus on engagement and work to increase the number of satisfied employees.

Earlier, we mentioned that being in the present will set you apart from your co-workers. Are you beginning to understand that it’s a numbers game – become one of those 36% engaged employees, and you are definitely going to be noticed.

Employee engagement can be boosted in several ways:

  • Cut down on virtual meetings. Instead of daily check-ins, trust your employees to deliver and cut that meeting time down to once a week.
  • Share company news and information that affects your employees regularly. Involve them in the company’s mission. This brings people together as a team, whether in the office or remote situations. 
  • Tracking software might encourage employees to focus on their tasks when they know they are being monitored. Be careful with this one that it doesn’t infringe on autonomy.
  • Working on your corporate culture also boosts employee satisfaction, creating a cohesive team working toward the same goals.
  • Many employees leave due to a lack of recognition and growth opportunities. Create career paths with professional development and praise achievements.

Creating a positive work environment will pay off in profits and happy employees. Encouraging employees to develop soft skills such as being present is key to that goal.

Should your employer not take action, it’s crucial to your well-being and growth as a person in and out of the workplace to develop your ability to be present in your life.

How to Be Present

“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

As you master the art of being present, you open up a whole new level of confidence and opportunities to thrive in the workplace, including:

  • Bring your focus to the present and on one task. Eliminate distractions and see how much you can get done.
  • Focus leads to breakthroughs in problem-solving. Clearing distracting thoughts frees up your mind to foster solutions.
  • Interactions with your co-workers or clients are more engaging. By focusing your attention on the other person or situation, they are heard and feel that you care about their project.

I’m Present for You

Are you struggling with roadblocks to becoming more present? I hear you, and I’m here for you. I’ve helped countless women in the trenches and the boardroom to break through their limitations and become more present in their roles. Whether developing listening skills, improving organizational tactics, navigating tough relationships, or cultivating focus, we can discuss these and uncover your true potential. Click here and scroll just below the banner of my home page to take the leadership styles quiz. At the end, you’ll be prompted to schedule an appointment to talk about your individual needs.


I LOVE FOOD! I also love to cook. There was a time when the topic of food centered more on survival and less on an epicurean delight. Foodie is the term often associated with me by friends and family. In fact, I was so well versed in food that I recall a time when I lived in Boston that I frequently was asked, “where is a good place to eat?”

Then the conversation turned to my inquiry of cuisine, atmosphere and budget. In just a few minutes I could recommend several options that would satisfy just about any craving callers had. I seemed to hit a home run each time. It was also a time when I spent hours in the kitchen preparing favorite dishes from ingredients I sourced all over town. I could easily travel to half a dozen different stores to acquire just what I needed to return to my kitchen and delight in the meal that was to come.

I also had a friend who had studied to become a social sommelier. I learned a great deal about wine during those years and discovered just how much I appreciated red wines. Food and wine had become a significant topic in my life and I was always excited to learn more about the foods I ate and the wines I drank. It was such an important development in my life that I eventually designed a kitchen where I could entertain my friends and family while I emersed myself in one of the most interesting hobbies I’ve ever had. Food preparation. I even spent years in the restaurant business where I could learn even more about my favorite topic.

In time my passion for food became even more important when I began training athletes. I learned how important it was to eat well and pay attention to the ingredients I used to make those delicious meals. One cuisine in particular that held my attention was Italian food. I eventually explored a host of different types of food and soon I became somewhat of an expert in the kitchen. Over time that changed.

Like so many of us in today’s hectic world, I learned to economize when shopping, cooking and eating. I also learned that where you live weighs heavily on what you can access and how often you have the ability to find what you are looking for in preparing a meal. It all takes time, money and commitment. Those are three things not all of us have in plenty. So changes must be made. One thing that does not change is that our bodies require attention when choosing what we eat. There are so many considerations to take into account that it can be easy to cut corners until what you are left with is fast food, cheap ingredients and eating on the run.

The fact is that when we stop paying attention to what we eat, the lack of attention shows in how we lead, how we look and feel, increased time spent addressing nutrition deficit from a medical standpoint, and how we treat one another. Leader remember, people don’t leave jobs. They leave the people who lead them into work despair. So in this month’s blog we are going to explore some of those consideration I mentioned above. Perhaps after you read my August blog, you will give the importance of food a higher priority.

Diversity and the Importance of Proper Nutrition

To thrive, we must feed our body what it needs. This includes physical, emotional, spiritual, and nutritional needs. Growing up, we are told to eat fruits, vegetables, proteins, and a little fat. Cut down on sweets and processed foods. While these are great guidelines, they don’t tell the whole story. What about the people who are unable to tolerate wheat? What about those with allergies? What do you do should your body react negatively to high levels of potassium? What course of action can you take for acid reflux?

While we are given the food pyramid and MyPlate, it’s essential to understand that you are unique, and what works for one person may not work for you. There are steps you can take in order to feel your best. And that will help you thrive for the rest of your life.

More than Just a Meal

Eating is much more than putting the right foods in your mouth. It is a way of thinking. Food has the power to heal or make you very sick. It also has the power to bring people together. Think of big family get-togethers with grandma’s cooking. There are traditional recipes and the company of kin. Think of neighborhoods in the city. When you want authentic tacos, you might head to a Hispanic neighborhood. Asian stores carry foods that remind you of a visit to China. It does require effort to source the food you like and sometimes that is not so easy. For example, you may not find collard greens just anywhere.

There is a challenge for some in food scarcity and economic availability. Food scarcity or food deserts is when no nutritious food is available in your area. The price of healthy foods precludes some from partaking in those choices. Boxes of ramen or macaroni and cheese hold little nutritional value, yet they are cheap and seem to go around the table. Fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce in some communities. Even when there are plenty of nutrient-dense foods, preparing can be challenging.

Back to our Food Roots

We must understand how men and women evolved throughout history in order to understand how we came to where we are today. Our early ancestors were hunter-gatherers. They moved from place to place and followed the food source. The men traditionally hunted enough game to feed the tribe. The women gathered berries and plants. There was no refrigeration – when they were hungry, they sought food. Today, the topic of weather is considered small talk, yet for early man, weather patterns were a matter of life and death. How we deal with environmental adaptations determines our health and success in the boardroom.

Later, farming was established, and the nomadic way of life became towns and villages. The community had to grow enough to support themselves, and our food sources changed.

Our modern food system is built upon volume and convenience. Processed foods are quick yet tend to lack essential vitamins and minerals. For example, farming and processing practices strip off the husks of rice and then replace those lost nutrients and fiber with chemicals and additives. They add flavors and dyes to make things palatable. Produce is shipped from all over the world and is often ripened artificially. Our bodies are not designed for this lifestyle, so making proper choices become challenging.

We can walk into the grocery store and pick out produce from halfway around the world. We can choose between frozen, packaged, boxed, or fresh fare. In the event cooking is not your thing (or passion), you can grab a frozen dinner and zap it in the microwave. When you find that too difficult, you can get food through the window of your vehicle.

The problem is that when you choose fast food options, you develop a fast-food body, mind, and spirit. Continuing on this path can cause you to miss the nutrients your body needs, and your body will eventually protest.

What and How You Eat Matters

You’ve heard the saying, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”  For many, this is true. It sets the tone for your day and provides a trajectory that puts you in motion until your day ends. Whether that breakfast consists of a cup of coffee and some fruit or eggs with toast depends on your body. 

Eating is an individual approach. What works for some doesn’t work for others. A person whose family grew up in the Southern United States has different nutritional requirements than someone who lives in France. Men and women have different requirements as well. There are studies that your blood type makes a difference as well. (Blood Type Diet: Eating for Types O, A, B, & AB (

Another aspect of good digestion is how you eat. Do you sit down with a family? Do you eat at your desk? Do you grab something while rushing to a meeting?

Mindful eating allows you to enjoy your food and provides your body with a calm environment to process food. What we tend to call multi-tasking while eating does not serve you well. The optimal mind concentrates on one thing at a time. This is the same whether you are working on a spreadsheet or digesting your food. 

Mindful meal preparation allows you to control what you put in your body. Consider these three scenarios on your way to better nutrition.

Do your own ShoppingThis is an investment of timeYou monitor what you buy
Cook your mealsIt takes practice and energyYou know the ingredients personally
Source IngredientsIt requires education and commitmentYou control what you consume

My Journey to Health During COVID

When COVID struck in March of 2020, I stopped going out to eat. I stopped shopping in crowds and began cooking all my meals at home. I treated myself with thoughtful plating. You never knew when COVID might strike, so I made each meal unique and elegant. By the twelfth month of COVID, I’d created a line of healthy nonalcoholic beverages and delightful meal options; I developed a variety of recipes that make for picturesque and nutritious meals. While you might not want to judge a book by its cover, meaning in this case – how food looks on a plate – yet, visuals are a significant component of healthy eating. It is its own art form. Much like we are inspired by art, you can inspire healthy eating through the senses, with sight representing over 50% of what attracts most people.

Why did I wait so long? I encourage you to try it if you are not on this path. Adopting a slow food lifestyle (and slowing down in general) will do wonders for your health and career. This doesn’t mean you must come home and cook a three-course meal every night. Meal prepping in advance makes it quick. 

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Organize your kitchen to be efficient for all aspects of preparing and storing meals
  • Choose one day to shop, plan, and prepare for large-scale cooking
  • Choose a day to cook your meals or split with a prep day
  • Portion food in small Ziplock bags and freeze/store
  • Plan menus in advance so that stored portions are ready when you are
  • Be sure to create a ritual around food preparation and mealtime. Honor the abundance of talent, knowledge, and grace you give yourself each time you invest in creating a meal for yourself. That is a beautiful gift to give oneself—the gift of a well-prepared and served meal that nourishes the mind, body, and soul.

When you walk into your house at the end of the day (or move from your home office to the kitchen) and are famished, having a plan will prevent you from dialing for delivery service. In which case, you bring the unknown and potentially harmful into your home and body.

Do you Still Need Help?

Eating right for your body or condition can be challenging. A nutrition coach or dietician can be the key. And here’s where we diverge into diversity and inclusion. Most of us tend to look for a professional with whom we can relate. Let’s say you grew up on a particular ethnicity of foods. When you search for someone to create a diet for you, you are more likely to find substitution suggestions from someone familiar with your heritage.

On the same note, let’s imagine you are a female in her 50s. You have completely different nutritional needs than a man aged 25. Ethnicity plays a role as well. Should your family hail from Asia, you have different health risks than a family heritage being African American.

The Role of Your Heritage

As a side note, heritage also plays a role in other aspects of life where nutrition is essential.

Diversity of a different nature was brought to my attention when figure skating coach icon Carlo Fassi asked me to research why he couldn’t get more African-American skaters interested in the sport. His premise was that our bodies are made for the sport, and he knew he could create champions out of our heritage. I didn’t need to research anything because I know, as an African American skater, that few families in my community would give a second thought to the idea of sending their children along with their hard-earned money to be spent on figure skating. They’d instead send them to an ivy league school – mainly a family with the means to do so – before most African-American families would invest in the sport. They’d rather see their children become doctors, lawyers, and executives. My family was similar. My dad was an attorney. My mother had her MSW and chose social work. My sister focused on business, and my parents reluctantly allowed me to follow my passion for figure skating. Carlo would be hard-pressed to get a flood of those within my community to figure skate back then. Since my day in skating, more African-Americans have found their way to the sport. Yet they still account for a small percentage of the skating population.

Here’s the challenge and what we must strive to correct – there is historically little diversity in nutrition health professionals. Over 90% are women and white. While a nutrition coach or dietician can do some research and provide you with suitable alternatives, more trust comes from someone like you. That means your search will be more challenging as a male looking for a nutritionist.

In addition, socio-economic status plays a huge role in nutrition. Those in food deserts or those on a fixed income have extra challenges when creating proper meals. A social program that serves these groups must take care to meet their needs as well.

We must remove biases that prevent all cultures from choosing to study nutrition and encourage those looking for help to seek out professionals to whom they can relate.

Benefits of Good Nutrition

Aside from a potentially longer life, more energy to accomplish our goals, and the absence of disease, good nutrition has many other benefits:

  • Nutritional benefit of preparing your own meals

We’ve touched a little bit on this earlier. Preparing your meals allows you to control exactly what goes into your body. Let’s take a simple meal of chicken, rice, and vegetables. You can choose organic chicken breast, wild rice, and steamed broccoli. Or you can choose a frozen chicken patty, uncle ben’s rice, and a can of corn. The nutritional difference between these two meals is astounding. In the first case, you control sodium levels and GMOs and get many more vitamins and minerals.

  • Meditative benefits of mindful cooking and eating

Spending time cooking at home can be a wonderful experience. Cutting ingredients, stirring them in the pot, and tasting them is rewarding. Your creativity is awakened. Your brain is engaged.

  • Physical benefit of preparing one’s own meals

Those who prepare their meals tend to eat fewer calories can control the allergens in their food and how food is handled. One-time cooking can also provide multiple meals, allowing you to take leftovers for lunch or freeze them for a future meal.

  • Spiritual connection to cooking

Knowing where your food comes from is essential to good nutrition. You have a more advantageous connection to your food by going to a farmer’s market and building a relationship with the person who grows the plants or raises the animal. Let’s say you buy a can packaged in China; the relationship to that food connection is lost. You can also learn to experiment with different foods. It’s time to try kale or raspberries grown in the wild. Start a garden or visit a farm and pick vegetables or fruits. That meal will then mean more.

  • Impact on mind, body, soul

There are many benefits of eating fresh, local food prepared at home. Should you have a family, get them involved in the process. Enjoy good food with great company. Your body will benefit, and your mind and soul will as well. Let’s also remember the impact on the planet through less waste, reducing carbon emissions, and fewer pollutants. Plus, you will feel more socially conscious supporting a local farmer than a big corporation.

You Are What You Eat

This is a phrase we can agree on. Nutrition affects every cell of our body. They define our structure and allow us to function. Nutrition affects our muscles, bones, digestion, and immune systems. Consume fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats and dairy, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and good fats, and your body will reward you with good energy and mental clarity. Your body may not respond well to chips and beer.

Ready to Treat Yourself Right?

The concepts that apply to nutrition apply to the executive lifestyle as well.   Slowing down, taking one task at a time, and applying what you learned about nutrition will help you develop facilitation skills. Want to know more?

I’m Byron Darden, and nutrition has been an important part of my life since I was a small child. I wouldn’t have been able to train as a championship figure skater or coach world-class skaters had I not nourished my body. Through life’s ups and downs, proper nutrition and caring for myself have allowed me to thrive. A big part of coaching women in business is to look at the big picture. Inconsistencies in nutrition even affect performance in the boardroom. While I am not a nutrition coach, seeing the overall picture is my specialty. Click on the button below to book a strategy session. We’ll discuss this and more and get you on the track to success.

Founder’s Corner

Recalling the day when my therapist shared her observation that I was not in touch with my emotions, triggered the memory of Goldie Hawn’s character, Elise Eliot-Atchison in the First Wives Club when she learns of a similar observation about her emotions.

“You think that because I’m a movie star I don’t have feelings. Well, you’re wrong. I’m an actress. I’ve got all of them.”

– Elise Eliot-Atchison

I’m not a movie star. I am an actor. So to hear about yourself that “you’re not in touch with your emotions” is on par with learning poor acting skills. It’s a bit of a mountain to face and climb. Yet, I took on the task to scale that mountainside which soon revealed evidence that Indeed, I was not demonstrating being in touch with my emotions.

Instead, I seemed to hide my emotions in a nonchalant way I responded to important news, issues, and happenings in my environment. It wasn’t that I wasn’t in touch with my emotions. It was that I managed them to the point of often leaving others unsure just how aware I was that being diagnosed with prostate cancer is severe news. I took the news in stride and I shared the news with equal parts of concern and confidence. I also knew that should I choose to go to a very dark emotional place about having it, the severity increases in my mind and body. Then it can be a matter of time before I head down a rabbit hole each time dark news passes through my life.

It is one thing to have a choice in expressing emotion and to decide not to express yourself. It is quite a different matter to consciously choose to emote or not because it will help you cause or hurt it. I know that heightening my expressiveness with a fellow enthusiast regarding how much I love chocolate will most likely inspire a desirable conversation about the heavenly brown, silky substance. Raising that level of expressiveness to a fan of Hershey is an example of lacking care or knowledge of your audience.

It takes a deliberate mindset to steer emotions in such a way that they bring value to a communication interaction. Less effort can easily bring about miscommunication. Or at best, a communication that comes across as foggy and non-specific.

It’s at the level of specificity that effective leaders go beneath the surface to what we really mean when we say what we say to others. At the level of meaning, we profit from mindful choices of language from which all things are born. Therefore we are wise to give thought to what we say given our words will manifest in a tangible way. Put another way, once we speak and take action, there’s no taking it back.

Leading with Emotion

A great leader guides, inspires, and motivate. They do not just bark orders and handle discipline for an organization – they are so much more! Ideally, personnel under their leadership thrive as they feel understood and appreciated.

Often, leaders are taught to take the harsher road – to leave their emotions out of decision-making processes. This approach is ineffective and outdated. At the same time, outbursts of emotions (i.e., your boss yelling at you for missing a deadline) are also detrimental. In addition to industry knowledge, today’s leaders need a high emotional intelligence level.

Emotional Intelligence is recognizing emotions that arise, understanding them, and how they affect those around you. Effective leaders use these emotional intelligence traits to lead their teams effectively.

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social skills

Each of these traits promotes a workplace where people feel heard and understood.

Defining Emotions

Successful businesses use the power of emotions to appeal to customers. These may include fear of missing out, the need to fit in, a way to make your lives easier, and more. The product or service seems disingenuous when emotions are not used in the creative process. The same logic applies to the use of emotions in the workplace.

Historically, we are taught that emotions do not have a role in the workplace – we are not to mix business and personal. The old way is to keep your feelings out of the decision-making process. Research finds that this is contrary to human nature and that businesses thrive when emotions are utilized correctly. Bringing a natural human aspect has immense positive effects.

A leader that utilizes emotional intelligence adapts to situations quicker and more effectively. Rather than react impulsively from an emotional place, a leader utilizing emotional intelligence responds thoughtfully and in control to authentically express emotions so that the message is received from a place of congruence.

Company culture thrives on empathy and inclusiveness. Conflicts are handled with honesty and fairness.

Emotional intelligence involves understanding your own emotions and using those emotions in your dealings with others. Included is an effective grasp of how others perceive the emotions of others and using this reasoning to understand and manage your teams.

Using Emotional Intelligence

For the past twenty years, I’ve personally coached executives in some of the biggest global businesses. Throughout those years, I’ve seen the changes and challenges in the “no emotion” era of business. I’ve found that what separates great leaders from the rest is how they can read a situation and respond appropriately.

“great leadership works through the emotions…even if they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it should or could.”

– Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee on Emotion Drives Expressiveness

As a leader, you can use emotions to your advantage by remembering some simple guidelines:

  1. Choose your words and respond wisely. Rather than using emotions to drive decisions, they can be an effective way to express the importance of the decisions to be made. You are missing half of the equation when decisions are made solely with emotion or with non at all. For example, in the heat of the moment, you lose your temper in a meeting. Once your words and actions are out in the open, there’s no taking it back.
  2. Look at the facts, discuss the situation with others, and ensure you lead with your heart and head, rather than raw emotions alone. Unmanaged emotions can cause the road to become foggy. They can cloud judgment and lead to ineffective decisions.
  3. Avoid carrying emotions from the rest of your life into your business decisions. Getting cut off in traffic on the way to work or getting your coffee with soured cream can affect the rest of your day. Find a place to calm yourself and approach work situations with a clear mind.
  4. Use your emotions to heighten your communication effectiveness and engage with empathy. Use intuition and listen to your heart. Keep an open mind and make decisions that align with your personal and organization’s values.

In the event you believe otherwise, then consider this. Why do you imagine so many generations of corporate employees have been told to “check your emotions at the door” unless emotions continued to show up despite the warning for all those generations?

Emotions can be threatening to some. They are uncomfortable and challenging to process. They can muddy the waters of the process. Avoiding emotions leads to other issues, including not being heard, fear of retribution, resentment, and shame.

The challenge is to strike a balance between how you are feeling and how you will productively articulate those feelings. Using emotional intelligence will help you recognize your feeling, understand why you feel the way you do, and allow you to reorient your thinking and actions to promote understanding.

Another important aspect of this is how a leader recognizes the emotions of their team members. From quiet types to more spirited members, leaders benefit from nurturing their responses in addition to how they disseminate information down the line. For example, a leader has a meeting with their next-line managers. Each manager is directed to take information to their team and, depending on how the managers feel about the information, they will determine how to communicate it to their team. A great leader will recognize the emotional blocks that might cause strife down the line.

DO NOT Check Your Emotions at the Door

I’m willing to bet that there’s not an ad agency in business that isn’t or hasn’t flooded the market relying on emotion to sell everything you can imagine. Their best tool appeals to our sense of fear, jealousy, or desire. Ad agencies do this with a great deal of research and a comprehensive understanding of their target audience. Without this forethought, they are likely to miss the target, because emotions are “an essential part of being human. Emotions drive us.”

In the event that indeed this emotional appeal is so effective for selling goods and services, then why have business leaders been expected to show up at work every day without their humanity? You might argue that selling with emotion has nothing to do with leading with emotion in business. I encourage you to seek a more worthy argument to have. Without emotions, you have created a robotic workforce that lacks creativity and will not appeal to customers. Hence one of the reasons why I often hear from leaders about their challenge with team’s inability to be innovative.

In addition to my years of coaching executives, from entry-level leaders to the C-Suite, I’ve studied the effects of expressed vulnerable emotion in the corporate environment. I’ve also studied the impact of changing emotional behavior in the Organizational Change Management work I’ve been leading for even longer, dating back to 1983 in the nonprofit space. Two decades before, I began working in the for-profit space.

The Effect of Emotions on your Bottom Line

Taking stock in what is known as a business’s intangible assets in classic terms does not include people. Yet when we read between the lines, while people may not qualify as such, according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), they represent what is known as “wetware,” which accounts for the mental capability, intelligence, and additional mental skills that employees possess.

Those qualities are a benefit to the company. Those benefits qualify as intangible assets. Consider that 349,000 associates work for Starbucks. Imagine the wetware that number turns out given the type of employee you’ll find worldwide that brings a level of people capability to that brand.

Essentially, the people behind a brand or, more aptly, the folks who run businesses account for a great deal of wetware. So how does this wetware relate to leading with emotion? I believe that is a question that can be answered in one word, humanity. When one brings their humanity to work, there is an expression of caring and appreciation that is shared, magnified, and measurable.

Expressions of humanity alter human energy creating a nurturing environment where growth, advancement, the rise of positive neurons, and effervescence exist in its immediate atmosphere.

Examples of expressed humanity are enthusiasm, passion, being present, vulnerable, empathetic, confident in its generative state, listening, and feedback. I can stop there because I could fill pages with more examples, and I believe the point is clear.

Recognize Your Emotions and Use Them to Your Advantage

Have you stopped to think about how emotionally intelligent you are? To determine where you need to progress in this topic, it’s essential to know where you are now. While I do not personally endorse a particular program, there are several quizzes available online that will determine your emotional intelligence baseline.

This article references five quizzes, ranging from very short to more involved.

Did you know that there are 34,000 defined emotions? Should you have trouble expressing yourself and are confused about defining your emotions, a tool such as Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions can help. Dr. Robert Plutchik defined eight primary emotions: joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation. These emotions can be further clarified throughout the wheel. Understanding how these emotions interact with each other leads to a better understanding of how we react.

Fact-Based Emotions

Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist, found that out of 95% of people who think they are self-aware, only 10-15% demonstrate awareness traits.

While we recommend thinking before speaking and not going off the emotional deep end, sometimes getting a little worked up can get results. Own up to your questionable choices and errors – you are human, and admitting your challenges often results in respect.

Continuing to grow as a leader is your purpose. Just keep in mind that it’s not always a smooth path. Since stepping into the world of leadership development, my mission has been to help female executives navigate the corporate path. Along the way, I’ve discovered the importance of emotional intelligence among leaders. Visit the blog at for resources, tips, and tricks to navigate the changing workplace situations. While there, take the leadership styles quiz and then make an appointment with me to discuss your unique situation. Together we can bridge the gap between emotions and leadership.

Recognizing and Dealing with Systemic Racism

What began as a school leadership development program ended with the question of how to eliminate systemic racism in a public school system. While this issue was top of mind for quite some time, I’d yet to find an opportunity to address it. Having a long history of experiencing the presence of inequality during my own formative years as a student, no one needed to caution me that this was a volatile conversation to raise. I elected to remain quiet, sighting that, like mastering figure skating in which timing means everything, calling out structured racism may fracture relationships rather than build them.

Instead, the topic was brought into sharper focus from within the pedagogical world of education. This particular occasion inspired me to take notice that the time had finally come for us to give voice to the silent past and raise awareness of the loud approaching future. As I see them, the facts are, that virtually all structured organizations inherited this issue through generations. The institution of education cannot escape. Eventually, the topic would surface, and I looked forward to one day creating the space to open what feels similar to an old war chest left forgotten in a musty attic to be discovered by someone willing to call foul and allow the unpleasant smell to be aired out for all to become aware.

Considering my work coaching executive women, I’m well aware that primary and secondary educators are historically female. Thus, the backbone of education is low salaries and high expectations, where women are often marginalized. I see power struggles and people staying in their plight. I witness the emotions and circumstances that often trigger the ills of racism to rise up like a rainbow after a rainstorm. Only it’s not as pretty a sight as the diversity of color we think of following rain showers. Here is yet another institution where women struggle to find their place and deal with the challenges of an environment where racism and sexism rises to meet their makers. This confrontation leaves people historically excluded from society to defend themselves with less than adequate means.

Defining Systemic Racism

I recently held a Masterclass on the topic, encouraging educators of a public school system to attend. We started by talking about the systemic nature of racism. It will help to explain the context of systemic racism. We hear it in the news and in conversations quite a bit. We hear the demand that systemic racism needs to end, yet what does that mean? NAACP President Derrick Johnson defines it as “systems and structures that have procedures or processes that disadvantage African Americans.” The president of Race Forward defines it as “the complex interaction of culture, policy, and institutions that holds in place the outcomes we see in our lives.” Read more.

While it is not a new concept, it has been brought to light in the past fifty years. Our country was built on certain principles that haven’t been fair to certain members of society. Remember that while our country was founded in 1776, slavery wasn’t abolished until 1865, women didn’t achieve the right to vote until 1920, and the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum in the 1960s. While putting these rights into the Constitution was a start, agreement with these actions was not unanimous.

The United States is a country composed of individual ideas and long traditions. Our beliefs and values are ingrained over generations, and they are difficult to change overnight. We struggle to be compassionate and understanding human beings. We may not realize our actions affect others. This is where awareness and education begin. Communication strategies and leadership tips spark dialog and ease the feelings of not being heard.

Systemic Racism vs. Oppression

To gain a deeper understanding of the systemic nature of racism, I’ve found that differentiating racism and oppression is an important distinction. We likely know what overt racism is. We cringe when we read history books that didn’t allow people of color to use the same drinking fountain or come to the public library. We agree that it’s discriminatory to decline someone’s employment because of their skin color. When we misspeak or mistreat someone, we might be ignorant of cultures and discover it necessary to correct our actions when it is pointed out to us. Yes, there are exceptions to these established norms, and I believe in the goodness of human nature. Yet, sometimes we need reminders.

Oppression, by contrast, means to be pressed down. It is a particular person or group being put in an unjust or cruel situation by a person of authority. It is a practice rooted in tradition that we can strive to end. When it is intentional, there are legal means of ending the behavior. When oppression is unintentional, each person can respond in ways that educate without judgment. This is where power comes back to the individual or group, and this is where we start. Simple and powerful tools are at your fingertips. Click the button below and schedule a time to connect with me to determine how we can put those tools in your executive toolkit.

The Power of Action

A discussion of systemic racism and oppression is vital for our society to advance. When one person or even a whole group of people feels disadvantaged, power struggles start to ensue.

A meeting takes place, and the group leader looks for new ideas. Ideally, all ideas are heard and debated, and participants listen and respond without bias.

When group members have unconscious biases, other members might feel shy in responding or think to themselves – “my ideas are never received, so I’m just going to nod and keep quiet.” Soon, this person feels a lack of belonging and purpose, and their work suffers. This feeling might perpetuate in home life or their encounters with other members. Soon, one seemingly small action in the meeting room has taken on the butterfly effect.

Every action we take has an effect. This is why this discussion is of the utmost importance.

Can You Relate?

In a workshop recently, a participant bravely spoke up and shared her story. Over the years in her job, she has experienced difficulties adapting to the culture of her workplace. Not wanting to “rock the boat,” she kept quiet. She needed her job and enjoyed the work for the most part. That said, she wasn’t thriving.

As a result, she started to show up ready for a fight. By her own omission, she would show up at work with walls built up, ready to defend herself against any perceived oppression. She was afraid to speak up and tell her truth, and her emotions couldn’t be contained.

Keep in mind that one of the leading causes of illness is stress! Bottling up those feelings takes its toll on your physical body, emotions, and spirit; it can also severely affect your health. It took some soul-searching and courage to speak up finally. 

The advice I would give this participant is to open themselves up to the possibilities of change within themselves. Show up with authenticity and pay attention to what has heart and meaning. Do the work and tell their truth without blame and judgment. Be open to the outcome without the attachment we tend to have out of the desire to avoid change. When confronted with a situation, remind yourself that it is not a competition with others; it is a chance for us to show the world our best se