Build Your Leadership Legacy

Pensive businessman
I recently witnessed the retirement of a Fortune 100 Senior Executive. In his farewell speech, he described the wealth of life experiences he gained during his years with the company. The next day when he gathered his final things from this office it was a sad day for those of us who witnessed his departure. As we watched him through the corporate lobby for the last time, his broad shoulders seemed to slump a bit with every step. It is not where he is going that we should be considering; where are we going without him?

Legacy Lost

What he worriedly confided during a brief meeting to prepare for his retirement dinner is his concern that the many efforts he championed were now in jeopardy. Who would pick up the baton, view issues with a broad and experienced vision to provide continuity as the business culture continues on its evolutionary path?

Wisdom Shared

As Susan Scott states in her book FIERCE CONVERSATIONS1 “When you leave a room, your image remains…”
Have you thought about what you leave behind when you end a phone call, leave a meeting, or retire after investing your life in your company? No doubt that your actions contributed to the current company culture, the traditions, and the foundation on which the future will be built. How wise it would be for you to take the time to consider what you will leave behind when you are ready to retire.
A popular television show has the villain cutting open the heads of those with skills he admires to draw their essence and assume their knowledge. How can we effectively “pick the brains” of today’s business leaders short of medically cloning our senior managers? How do we tap, retain, and deploy the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of those who currently lead our organization?
There are two ways to share your wisdom. One is to look forward by planning, teaching and engaging others: contribute to the development of staff on all levels. Another way to continue to impact the future of the company is to look back: preserve the history and traditions as a reliable and ethical foundation upon which agile change and new achievements can be made.

Delegate & Involve

The opportunity for a leader to share knowledge begins by delegating: training and mentoring younger staff. Of course, delegating does not remove the responsibility from you as those in the learning stages are bound to make mistakes you will have to correct. Inherent in this process is a remarkable learning opportunity to model how to handle frustration, possibly anger, the pressure of deadlines and the difficulty of moving past mishaps.
A leader is a role model. The way you respond, plan, and act is observed by those below you, and often quickly emulated. Much as parents influence their children—just as you most likely have shocked yourself by saying something using the words and inflection you witnessed one of your parents using—you will hear others repeat your statements. Because you are aware that your actions influence how current young employees will act when they are in your role, you have the opportunity to consciously choose how you respond, to model a professional and ethical approach to the situation. This might mean dropping a few old habits you picked up on the way into a leadership position and maintaining an awareness of your impact on others.
You can maximize the learning process by providing opportunities for the less experienced to observe you. Take them along with you to meetings with clients as well as others in your field. Give them some small role in the meeting, a short contribution to the discussion as they watch you to see firsthand how you work through complex business situations.

Tell Your Story

Stories and analogies can create a deep understanding of a situation or event, just as a picture tells a full story on one page. Whether it is a story told about you or a repeat of a story your shared with your team, stories live beyond the moment of telling.
One of my favorite clients is a constant story teller. When we first met it was because there were complaints from his staff that his stories often meandered, taking up unnecessary time and often lacking relevance to the topic he was attempting to address. Stories and analogies, like all good habits that get abused form overuse, can become a derailer for you. Be certain you have something short and to the point to offer by using these tips:

  • Ask for feedback. Be open and vulnerable by seeking comments from those you work with. Try to get their view of how often you hit the mark with a story or analogy.
  • Monitor yourself. Set a time limit for how long it takes you to tell a story or offer an analogy. If you are not confident that you can express your concept quickly and be understood immediately, don’t do it.  You do not need to continually provide information with the flourish of a story or analogy.

As we worked on my client’s story telling abilities, he developed three guidelines to stay on track as he endeavored to connect with his staff and effectively explain his purpose:

  1. State why you want to offer the story or analogy –its relevant goal
  2. Present the story/analogy in two minutes or less –just the facts without sidebars
  3. Sum-up the story – restate the learning moment in a short sentence

Or as my acting friends say: Tell them what you are going to do; Do it; Tell them what you did. The key is to be certain you are connected with those you are speaking with by telling them a story they want to hear because it has value to them.
If you are not confident in your story telling abilities, or wonder when an analogy would be more effective than attempting to explain a complex concept, there are several excellent experts in the field you can turn to for help.
Story telling will enable you to connect with others, preserve tradition and maintain the fluid culture of your organization.

The DNA of the Human Psyche

The tales of merger, acquisition, conquest, or convergence are timeless case studies for those seeking advancement, knowledge, success. Of course, not every senior leader is an orator, writer, or scholar. Peter Drucker and Jack Welch, for example, were not described as ‘polished’ speakers.
Whether you are drawing from natural talent or skill developed by necessity and passion, you must be ready to articulate your personal sense of values and life wisdom. Expressing your sense, your perspective, identifies your harmony with the latest business, social and cultural trends, guiding those who observe you to develop deeper respect and trust.
One of today’s leading researchers on storytelling, David Thornburg, Ph.D, states:

A key aspect of archetypal learning environments can be found in a tale….
One day someone sat at a computer keyboard and entered the following question: “Do you suppose that computers will one day think like humans?” After processing this request for some time, the computer displayed the following response: “That reminds me of a story…,”
…with the possible exception of certain marine mammals, we may be the only storytelling species in existence. This capacity of humans is so important that Jean Houston referred to myth as the DNA of the human psyche.

The roots of storytelling are in our elemental being, providing an essential channel to connect with others. How do you recognize events worthy to be preserved?
2 Two often referenced sources: Susan Scott. FIERCE LEADERSHIP, Berkeley Publishers, 2011 and Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS, McGraw Hill, 2011.

Examples of Campfire Tales

Whether the newer members of your company are quoting Machiavelli or the former CFO, what is important is that they have they are making a connection between an event and an outcome, between someone’s thoughts and their present: connecting now and then. According to Thornburg:

“The often tangential nature of storytelling, its use of metaphor, its indirect attack on a topic all combine to make storytelling an effective way to address topics that might be too confrontational to address head on. Story crafts its own helix around a topic. As Robert Frost said, “We sit in the circle and suppose, while the truth sits in the center and knows.”

Just as we are attracted to the campfire, we intuitively recognize the truth of a tale shared in that golden circle. Stories that resonate with your personal experiences cast new light on previous encounters and as the tale emerges, we empathize with either the speaker or the story characters.
Thornburg describes ‘campfire’ storytelling as an information-based tale relayed by the expert to the novice.

…the wisdom of elders passed to the next generation. Good stories have always embodied a blend of the cognitive and affective domains – in fact, in story, there is no separation between the two.
This quality of nuance and multiple interpretations is common to storytelling. It is one reason that adults and children can enjoy the same story together – each age takes from the story the elements that are appropriate.
The power of storytelling is so great that even in more recent times (c. 250 BC,) we find Socrates responding to his students on occasion with the Greek equivalent of “That reminds me of a story.”


It is critical for all leaders to accept their role and impact in the organization. Kris Finnin states:

“Your legacy will be defined by the passion and impact of the people you influence.
What do you want your legacy to be?”

To achieve your legacy a leader must invest in the development and growth of individuals on all levels. Share your power and passion to develop their skills, understand their role in the organization and prepare a talented bench of future leaders to call upon.

Stories can bridge gaps and form bonds – even between people who never meet or speak face-to-face – as well as between those of different levels in a corporation.
Larry Prusak of IBM’s Institute of Knowledge Management, identified ten categories of stories in organizations and offered the following perspective:

I’d say the most important thing you can do is to deal with the issue of connectivity….
If you can improve sense-making in any organization, by one percent, you’ve earned your salary for life. Sense-making is really more than information-seeking. It’s more than knowledge-seeking. It’s helping people make sense of their own organization for action.

Preserving the Legacy

Preserving the stories of your business’ founders and leaders is developing a warehouse of knowledge. You will be capturing the wisdom and insight of those whose decisions forged the environment you now occupy: Each story saved is one more connection between past and present, contributing to future decisions by sustaining awareness of the foundation for today’s beliefs, motivations, and commitments.
As you consider potential contributors to your new stock-pile of corporate stories, keep your goal clearly in mind. Your task is to gather and share existing wisdom: truth and experience serving as a catalyst to future action.

References and Additional Reading

  • Betof, Edward Betof. T&D Magazine. “Teachable Points of View for Leadership”. March 2007 ’Becton, Dickinson and Company’s Advanced Leadership Development Program acknowledges the role of story telling in leadership training.
  • Finnin, Kris. “Live Forever? How Ethical Leadership and A Legacy Definition Makes You Timeless. 2017
  • Mount, Ian. “America’s 25 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs” Inc. Magazine , 2004.
  • Prusak, Larry. Executive Director, IBM Institute of Knowledge Management. Presentation at the Smithsonian, 2001.
  • Thornburg, David, Ph.D, “Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphor’s for Learning in the 21st Century” in the October 2004 issue of Instruction Technology & Distance Learning.

Mindful Connections

Anxious to get through a meeting, complete negotiations, or deliver bad news? Connecting subjects too quickly can create a threatening situation that will delay or prevent decision making. Learn which 3-letter words can derail any meeting.

Sometimes it is the small things that make the big difference: a pause in the conversation, a reassuring smile, the turn of a phrase. In this article we will look at how three-letter words cast big shadows, often preventing the effective exchange of ideas, hindering decision making and possibly creating adversarial relationships.
Corporate leaders often find themselves in stressful adversarial situations from contract negotiations to selling situations. Two common discussions that require an immense investment of time are PERFORMANCE REVIEWS and IDEA GENERATION. Often described as constructive guidance and brainstorming, these activities are embedded in our management development processes. What can be done to reduce the angst created and maximize the value of the time invested in these conversations? Perhaps applying a meditative approach will enable us to develop communication skills that convey the mindfulness and agility necessary for leadership and thus team success.
Michael Carroll, in his article MEDITATING YOUR WAY TO MORE EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP addresses the power of mindfulness:
For example, lawyers who practice mindfulness meditation speak to an ability to more readily drop adversarial mindsets, better comprehend the intent of a challenge, and self-regulate emotions during conflict. As Professor Leonard Riskin observes in his seminal study of practicing attorneys:

“Mindfulness can play a role in helping the lawyers… observe — without attachment — the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that typically make up and support (contrasting) mindsets. Consequently, the lawyer can adopt an attitude of curiosity, consider other options and make a discerning decision. Mindfulness can help the lawyer simply notice the manifestations of the feelings of being threatened…and decide to let them go and maybe learn from them.”

This lawyerly agility that Professor Riskin is observing here free from fixed mindsets is the very same agileness that thousands of business leaders are discovering through mindfulness awareness meditation: a poised yet flexible confidence that is ready to learn, reassess, and adapt in the face of novel problems, dissonant voices, and unforeseen opportunities.


Riskin’s point to “adopt an attitude of curiosity, consider other options, and make a discerning decision” contains a wealth of advice for us. When faced with a difficult conversation, we may attempt conflicting actions: reaching out to present the topic from our perspective, while at the same time installing conversational barriers to protect us from assault. We want to quickly move through the difficult part, make our statement and move on. Ignoring or minimizing the thoughts of others at this juncture blocks our ability to build a connection with the listener.

I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and
kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers. Khalil Gibran

Maintaining a one-way discourse, not giving the other person time to reply and speaking without regard for a shared perspective does give you the airtime to express your thoughts. The question is: are you being heard and will you achieve your goal during the time invested? Most often, ‘talking at’ someone only delays the full discussion to a future event when the listener becomes the speaker.
In any powerful interaction with one person or a as part of a group, you will benefit by being mindful of your use of the most common three-letter conjunctions, “and” and “but”….

(1) Connecting unrelated subjects with an ‘and’. You may not have all the facts or the information you have could be biased or outdated. A one-sided dialogue is stilted and lacks engagement. It is likely that you will be asked to revisit topics to hear opposite views or defend opinions, extending the amount of time before reaching a conclusion.
(2) The acknowledging/challenging “yes, but” statement. Agreeing to something someone said then offering a counterpoint minimizes the first point to emphasize the second. This discounting of what is deemed important results in the “manifestations of the feelings of being threatened” or assuming an adversarial position — as in “I acknowledge that you have that fact, now listen to how I interpret it”.
(3) Dramatically stating a positive to be overcome by a negative using ‘but’ or ‘and’. This well-abused technique briefly refers to a positive action before focusing in-depth on a negative event.

Mislabeled as ‘feedback’, listeners quickly learn to become alert when hearing false or weak praise and will tense for the expected punch. The commonly-used example is “Your work has been good, but it does not meet the required standards”. The speaker has created a threatening situation devoid of trust or mutual respect.
These three-letter words, and other conjunctions of various length, may seem to be a quick way to get the message out. As with any skill, abuse of the process can have a negative effect. You may have created a communication bad habit that distracts and adds irrelevant words that circle the issue rather than convey a message. When you combine disparate thoughts into one sentence, particularly both a positive and a negative message, you will derail your focus and confuse the listener.


Let’s apply Riskin’s approach to ‘mindfulness’ to the way you express yourself and your ideas. Start by envisioning a trail in the wilderness. You are confidently walking along the path, speaking your advice as you lead the listener to safety by dropping a trail of bread crumbs.
The spacing between the crumbs becomes important – too far apart and the listener may turn away, too close together and the listener may become confused by which to examine first. Seeking to move more quickly you connect two thoughts with an ‘and’ or ‘but’, creating a small pile of bread crumbs. The listener must now decide how to proceed: should the top layer be digested first or go to the bottom to examine the initial concept now buried in the pile?
You and the listener are not communicating until you both address the same topic. For the listener, too much content in one sentence is a pile of bread crumbs. Everyone’s mind is busy and distracted. Typically body language becomes stiff as the listener becomes defensive, guarded, uncertain of where you are leading, and what options are open to them.
You do not know which element of your message was received until you obtain feedback. As you fill the air with your thoughts and perspective, the receiver’s mind is absorbing, refuting or ignoring the messages delivered both verbally and nonverbally. Each phrase and gesture is evaluated for content, then assorted for relevance before being discarded, filed away for later attention, or selected as a subject for immediate response. Most often the ‘short cut’ of connecting subjects by inserting a small three-letter conjunction evolves into a multi-stage repartee lengthening the time required to achieve resolution or consensus.
To build rapport, take a moment to empathize by reflecting on how the information could be interpreted by the listener. Contemplate your motivations as well as the possible outcomes of the conversation.
As a leader and role model, continue to challenge yourself by asking yourself and the listener(s):

  • What is the purpose and value of the discussion?
  • What are my intentions in this moment?
  • What outcome do I seek for the long-term?

Grant yourself the freedom to be agile, to respond honestly and with good will as you seek to create an environment of trust for an open exchange of information.


Trained negotiators understand the importance of creating ‘dead air’: a pause in the conversation for the listener to absorb the message and evaluate alternatives. You can apply this technique by replacing a comma and inserting a period at the end of each phrase. The pause created in the conversation allows the listener time to think about the specific subject and possibly respond with information of value to the speaker.
Whatever was said before the ‘and’ or ‘but’ is ignored: the listener is focused on the action statement that follows. Take a moment to test this approach, to give power to each concept, and to maximize the impact of each thought by following these three steps:

a) Recall a sentence incorporating a ‘but’ and write it down.
b) Edit the sentence by deleting the ‘but’. Replace the comma with a period after the first phrase. Capitalize the first word of the second phrase, forming two sentences.
c) After each sentence insert a probing question that is relevant and significant to the individual. You have now expanded the initial concepts into separate paragraphs.

PERFORMANCE REVIEWS. You can use this technique when you in a performance review by introducing your perception of positive and negative actions in two separate paragraphs. First, state successful actions that should continue, then invite the listener to become the speaker and share additional noteworthy actions. At the close of that discussion, provide a summation. Pause for a moment before informing the listener that you will change tracks by moving the conversation to a discussion of issues that require improvement. Begin the second discussion by clearly stating each issue that requires change separately, providing and asking for examples to each. Invite comment and identify action steps before moving to a different issue or closing the discussion. During an open exchange you will gain relevant information to make a better decision. The interaction creates a supportive coaching opportunity to offer effective guidance.
IDEA GENERATION. Share in-the-moment reactions to a new idea while remaining open to other speakers. Removing distractions gives your message impact: eliminating unnecessary placating phrases before the ‘and’ or ‘but’ emphasizes the content of your message. Use the time you have to speak to provide greater descriptive depth of your concept. Evaluate the reaction you have inspired to identify and employ selected concepts, terminology, and approaches of others into your presentation. Your ability to be both mindful and agile in your response will enhance your communication effectiveness.


When you ask questions in the role of listener, you are displaying curiosity to learn the origins of the other person’s response. Exchanging roles of speaker and listener during the interaction creates a connection, a collaboration, as each person learns what is important to the other. You are developing trust, building rapport and showing empathy.
Being mindful and agile by listening and engaging will enable you to connect with others, to initiate collaborative discussion, to seek a mutually beneficial conclusion. Consider how you can guide potentially stressful adversarial situations to become productive sharing and learning experiences that conclude in a compatible outcome.


Listeners quickly learn to become alert when hearing false or weak praise and will tense for the expected punch. The commonly-used example is “Your work has been good, but it does not meet the required standards”. The speaker has created a threatening situation devoid of trust or mutual respect.


Stay in the Moment

The day before Emmy-award winning authors and producers Chis Miller and Phil Lord spoke at Monmouth University, I was lucky enough to dine with the duo. Their creative work includes the LEGO MOVIE, 21 & 22 JUMPSTREET, CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and they will be the directors of the next adventure in the Anthology series of STARWARS films.

They shared experiences of their incredible journey, the successes, the stresses and the joy at seeing their ideas captured in brilliant new forms of media. Upon learning that I was an Executive Coach, Phil asked for one piece of advice as a ‘take away’ from our conversation. After considerable thought, I said to ‘breathe’.

Most weeks I send two or three texts to clients with one word: breathe. A proponent of Yoga, Phil immediately understood the concept and was intrigued by the application I recommend: to keep calm, provide oxygen to the brain by inhaling deeply through the nose with back straight and head held high. Hold the breath a moment then slowly exhale through the mouth.

There is another benefit to this simple process: it buys you time to think. If you are in an uncomfortable conversation with someone, you can use the out-breath to gain information before reacting, by asking a thoughtful open question. You will gain additional information useful in any decision making scenario.

The extra few minutes you take to breathe could make the difference. You may need to ask several questions to maintain your poise and contemplate the full issue at hand.

Today’s leaders are rediscovering how meditation enables them to more successfully build rapport, collaboration and consensus by phrasing questions in a mindful manner. Working with corporate clients, we discuss how these meditation skills, in the context of mindfulness and agility, contribute to individual and thus team success. Contemplative situations inspire decisions based on respect and empathy for others as well as providing important benefits for our personal health and welfare.

Phil and Chris described fast-paced project and contract discussions, negotiations and idea generation, emphasizing the importance of having private ‘down time’. Rob Asgar agrees in his article Why The World’s Best Leaders Want To ‘Meditate On It acknowledging mental and physical health “seems to be a bottom-line benefit to this ‘shutting up and sitting still’ business”. He then poses the question:

“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself” –Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (Steven Mitchell translation).

Asgar explains that Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s official ‘Jolly Good Fellow’ “…believes meditation, done right, doesn’t simply boost performance in some amoral fashion. It creates the healthy relationships that make for a better world. The brand of “mindful meditation” that Meng teaches to ambitious Googlers …isn’t just about silence or stillness. It’s about cultivating a certain attitude that changes how we see so-called intractable problems and so-called problem people.” Further, Asgar identifies three benefits of mindfulness:

  1. Mindfulness can turn office politics from a jungle to a garden. Meng has “seen how the way we mentally frame our work community improves how we perform. And it’s not about being passively nice. He favors healthy and aggressive competition, within a workplace or with other companies; and he favors competition in doing good things for customers or the community.”
  2. Mindfulness can build an environment for Aha! moments. “There’s a paradox of creativity. Just as you can’t catch a tennis ball if you tense up your hand too much, you can’t have a great idea if you’re spraining your grey matter while trying to force it. A practice of meditation helps considerably here.”
  3. Mindfulness can keep you sane and healthy. “Stockbrokers are three times more likely to suffer from depression than the general adult population,’ Yahoo News reported this year. ‘Excess stress is a leading cause of heart and brain disease.’ That’s one reason meditation is catching on along Wall Street.”

Few of us will be involved with Hollywood negotiations over major films like Chris and Phil. The lesson here is to think about how we can maintain our health as we pursue our goals to perform to a higher standard. What can we do to hold true to our course and forge our own trail? Take the time to step aside, contemplate and consider how you can ‘stay in the moment’ of reflection and creativity.

Seaside Coaching

Seaside Coaching

Have you ever watched people simply stand and stare at the sea for hours?  I often wonder where their minds have wandered, their eyes mesmerized with the rolling movement, their bodies warmed by the sun and their skin cooled by the soft ocean breezes.  To my surprise, events of the past few months seem to be revealing an answer to this musing.

For the past twenty years I have worked as a management consultant, supporting executives advancing in the corporate culture.  A few years ago I learned that part of what I have been doing is now called coaching, based on the obvious sports analogy.

Personally, I wish there were a better word for that private interaction to support one individual‘s growth or to guide a group to engage in a reveal team experience.  We are meeting at the point in someone‘s life when they are experiencing a unique transition. Facing major decisions, this life juncture forces changes that question and challenge basic perceptions, arousing deep emotions and self-doubt.  It is a time of personal development, as our growth thrives on success and loss, dreams and foundations, desires and compromises—with a few surprises in the mix.

When you are at a transition point in your life, do you seek the familiarity of your current surroundings, or would it be useful for you to reach out to tap resources and experiences from your own past as well? More importantly, how do you sort through the turmoil that accompanies change to discover your own revelations?


Last summer I relocated to a small beach community, a comfortable walking distance to the beach, fabulous restaurants, the library, post office and Main Street stores—all I need to walk, work and enjoy life.  What has truly startled me is that many of my clients no longer ask that I meet with them at their office or a local restaurant.  The request is to allow them to make the one hour-or-so ride to visit me at the sea!

The first time a distinguished company CEO suggested making the trip, I admit to being caught a bit off guard.  A reserved and focused individual who preferred three-piece suits and never missed a day of work, he arrived as if he were going to the golf course to cover a few links.  When I commented on his attire he explained that he does not have the time for golf. I learned that his joy is researching historical war skirmishes at sea during the colonial period.  Perhaps he was aware of my insecurity in the new routine we were to employ when he quoted an old proverb to me:

Smooth seas do not skillful sailors make!

Recalling that first coaching experience, I was not certain it went well as I did not take the copious notes for the client to review after our discussion.  Preoccupied with maneuvering us through the environment, I wasn‘t certain when the useful dialogue began.  I was distracted by choosing the quickest route to the boardwalk, and the most efficient way to pack a bag to carry sunscreen and a towel should my guest choose to take a walk in the surf. Fortunately, the environment itself made the meeting a success.

Involving a colleague in any type of outdoors activity has its concerns.  Although the attire must casual, I still try to prevent my client from returning to the office sweaty or sun burned, much less exhausted from the walk.  Because the one thing I insist is that we walk.  We don‘t have to walk on the sand or to the water’s edge, we can stay on the boardwalk, or head directly to a restaurant, but we must walk.


In addition to the physical benefits, walking to the beach while talking allows my guest to adjust to the new environment promising a different perspective to examine current pressures.  Only hours before, this guest was sitting at a desk plodding through numerous demands for immediate attention. Now the person is in a quiet, peaceful environment that recalls pleasant memories often of youthful exuberance, family adventures and gentle summer days.

My task is to partner with each guest, to understand the unique story and relationships that combine to form their work situations. Joining me at the beach changes their perspective.  Guests are able to share personal vignettes, drawing from a more intimate, elemental source of strength and appear more capable of objectively considering their daily activities.  Interestingly, a process appears to be emerging as my guests seem to go through several phases during the three block walk to the beach.

On the first block there are general questions about the weather, the commute, the community. The conversation is light as we discuss tour surroundings and our various living situations, exchanging private revelations that strengthen and bond our association.

On the second block there is a slight tenseness to the conversation.  The signs of pressure slip into the discussion when we begin to gossip and express petty annoyances. Each step on the sidewalk is deliberate, expressing our earnest intent to address the issue.

By the third block, the volume of our voices rise and the speech patterns are fast and reactive.  The door is open to a wide variety of topics and we quickly touch on each as if experimenting with the weight and value of that subject at this moment.  Our pace is quick and sentences are often left unfinished, with short, terse expressions of verbal release.

Now we’re at the boardwalk overlooking the ocean. Either the guest‘s endorphins are functioning or the impact of the stunning view silences us both.  It is impossible to talk or even breathe for that first moment, as we step up to the majesty before us.  The sea breeze fills our lungs –magically, all trivial complaints are gone.

 Wide sea, that one continuous murmur breeds along the pebbled shore of memory!  — John Keats 


For me, this is when the real work begins.  Empathizing with my guest, I feel my own stress leave as I inhale the salt air, and we comfortably assume our roles of coach and client.  We continue our path, now on the boardwalk, to allow the first flow of stressors to emerge.  Each item is presented, contemplated and marked for future action.  As we walk and talk, we are passed by joggers and runners yet our steps are quicker than those strolling privately or enjoying silent companionship of another.

For my guest, it is the time to reveal the innocence, the vulnerable individual carefully preserved by layers of training, education, experience, loss and success.  We talk about those vague, soft topics that are too difficult or embarrassing to grasp in public situations:  values, ethics, passion, creativity, commitment, and dedication.  We slowly work our way to issues of seeming importance: expectations, professionalism, goals, obstacles and priorities.

The close to our conversation always comes down to choices. This is our conversation as we dine by the sea.  The task begins with all due gravity and seriousness; soon the natural flow beams with the joy of spontaneous creativity.  Decision paths, options and outcomes are laid as we often resort to writing our designs and plans on napkins to preserve the treasure of unrestricted ideas.


Savoring the satisfaction of completing a good meal, we know our meeting is almost at an end.  If we were in an office, I would formally adjourn the meeting and prepare for my next appointment.

Our environment is still in control as we select our path home.  Some guests prefer to walk barefoot to the water‘s edge unconcerned that we will return with seawater in our clothing and windblown hair.  Others choose to stand or sit on the boardwalk to look at the ocean, allowing private thoughts to pass in silence.  It is with a feeling of freedom and peace that we retrace our steps.

On this short return walk along the ocean front we talk very little, still caught in our own thoughts uncovered in the same way as the water retreats from the shore.   Guests that prefer to visit the edge of the foam line respond naturally, moving toward and away from the breaking waves.  Our conversation seems to surf over our issues and concerns, releasing our ambitions and our goals to simply revere in the sun and salt air.

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul, if either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction – Kahill Gibran


Relaxed and rejuvenated, we accept the sorrow of moving from this spot of comfort just as quickly as we embrace the future.  Our steps are lighter, our conversation is grounded.  Many of the topics we spoke about when we first began the trek to the beach resurface.  Now we find closure.  Now we only seek the satisfaction of our efforts and the wisdom that comes from our experiences.

Could we have achieved this same ending sitting in an office, meeting room, company cafeteria, or in a local park?  Possibly.  Perhaps the key to confronting your emotions is to put yourself in an environment with the same passion you are feeling, that brings together your past with your future and allows you to expend the energy to explore what lies beneath.

My guests visit me when they are moving through some phase of transition in their lives.  I encourage them to freely express, and thus release their frustrations and anger while preserving the heart of what has moved them.  The emotions that erupt from change are pivotal to success: seek what you learned from the price you paid.  Whether it is yoga, golf, sailing or simply walking, find a way to move pass the distractions to discover the essence of what your passion has revealed.

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.—Mother Theresa of Calcutta

Best wishes for continued success, LM

c2009 L. Maddalena All Rights Reserved –

Choosing a Personality Assessment

Choosing a Personality Assessment

As an Executive Coach to leaders at major firms for over twenty years I am often asked to recommend an Assessment Instrument to identify employee competencies, behaviors, personality traits and characteristics that will hinder or support on-the-job performance. To best describe how I make my selections, I have outlined here the three preliminary steps I employ as well as providing a list of the popular assessment tools. And the notes of a colleague well respected for his knowledge of assessment theory and instruments.

Before I begin to compare the available tools, I must develop a thorough understanding of the corporate culture, Mission, Vision and work environment. The selection of an instrument to reveal specific behaviors or traits must be compatible with the existing organization norms, as well as the expectations of those responsible for administering and monitoring the application of information acquired as a result of an effective assessment.

Step 1: Learn the Organization’s History of Assessment

Assessments have been used in major firms for many years, it is important to gather a history of which instruments have been used and which are currently offered and monitored. In a decentralized company it is not uncommon to find that all of the popular available instruments are in use, each at a different location and with unique expectations for the information provided. Although you may be focusing on only one division, it is important to remember that employees move between departments and divisions, sharing their experiences as well as impression of the value of assessments they have taken.

I recommend that you prepare a time-line of the assessments used with the employees you will work with and obtain feedback from both HR as well as the employees as to the perceived effectiveness and appropriateness of the tools, noting any identified strengths or weaknesses to the instrument and the way it was administered.

Step 2. Evaluate the Organization’s Current Culture

The working environment has a major influence on performance and productivity. You must select an instrument that has an approach and gathers information that will be useful in the existing corporate culture. Some of the questions I pose to the corporate leaders include:

  1. What do you hope to achieve as a result of this Assessment implementation?
  2. How do you value and employ the data gathered from Assessment tools?
  3. How often do you administer Assessment tools and what level of employee is involved?
  4. Do you share trends and general findings from Assessments with specific groups of employees?

Consider the corporate culture:

  • Does the culture seem formal or informal?
  • Is there considerable importance on receiving approval from upper management before taking action?
  • How do employees evaluate risk?
  • Is it is flat organization with concern that newly trained employees will not have opportunities for upward advancement?

The last question listed, when left unanswered, is one that often stops corporations from moving ahead with plans to conduct assessments, training and employee development programs. A review of programs in organizations perceived as offering little opportunity for upward advancement will prove that this is an unwarranted concern but one that must be addressed. When the concern is revealed, it is a simple matter to provide real examples of how employee development inspires innovation and develops confidence to take on greater responsibility for horizontal and skill development, resulting in greater personal satisfaction and increased job productivity.

Further, addressing the concern about application is as important as acknowledging the formality or informality of relationships, displayed power of hierarchy, and internal decision-making. These factors provide clues as to what type of instrument will be most easily accepted and administered. For example, generally speaking, True Colors or DiSC could be seen as providing more visual materials and may be more easily accepted by some groups, while Hogan and MBTI present the data in a manner that higher level groups may find more acceptable.

Step 3. Confirm that results will support Corporate Goals

A September 2011 survey by healthcare executives identified a trend to employ assessments that will help meet their strategic goals and grow their talent management initiatives: cutting costs, improving employee satisfaction, boosting retention and enhancing training and development.[1]

For example, if you are seeking an instrument to support hiring or promotion, the Hogan Potential and DiSC would be the best choices from today’s most popular assessments listed later in this document, while the Hogan Challenge is effective to improve performance by recognizing and overcoming derailers.

The following is a check list of questions developed by PI Worldwide from feedback gathered during a Healthcare conference at which the survey was discussed:

  1. What is the assessment designed to measure and accomplish, and how will that benefit the organization?
  2. Does the assessment come with an accompanying job analysis tool that allows for the thorough identification of a job’s requirements?
  3. Is the assessment free of bias with respect to the respondent’s age, gender or ethnic group?
  4. Is the assessment reliable? That is, are people’s scores on it consistent and repeatable over time?
  5. Is the assessment valid? That is, does it effectively predict important workplace behaviors that drive metrics such as sales, customer satisfaction and turnover?
  6. Is documentation supporting questions 3, 4 and 5 available in the form of a technical manual or equivalent document?
  7. Is research on questions 3, 4 and 5 ongoing?
  8. What are the key “implementation issues” such as cost, time it takes to complete the assessment, data security, scalability across the organization (note that some personality assessments are only appropriate to be used with specific jobs or at certain hierarchical levels), ongoing support from the vendor (especially the degree to which the vendor understands your business challenges), and degree of client self-sufficiency/knowledge transfer?


The following are some of the currently popular personality assessment tools:


DiSC® is a personal assessment tool used to improve work productivity, teamwork, and communication. DiSC is non-judgmental and helps people discuss their behavioral differences. The test instrument and the profile results are designed so that it’s easy to understand and recall your behavioral style and insights. The writing is engaging and the visuals are memorable. Facilitation resources are available to guide and reinforce learning. DiSC assessments are extensively researched and time-tested. The DiSC is the most widely used assessment tool today; the new Everything DiSC has expanded its application and met with high success.

I recommend DiSC for groups that do not want a significant amount of reading or details to confirm results and for teams that are seeking greater affiliation and collaboration.

Hogan Assessments

All Hogan reports suggest a person’s natural advantages, or “edges,” and their potential problem areas, or “risks” in a job or business setting. For example, you will find that the Values Assessment addresses content similar to the MBTI and can be used with Management Teams; the Potential and Challenge Assessments are used for more detailed coaching cases.

VALUES ASSESSMENT – Core Values and Motivators for Leadership Roles

POTENTIAL ASSESSMENT – Strength and Competencies for Leadership

CHALLENGE ASSESSMENT – Derailers and Personality-Based Performance Risks

The Hogan Instruments were introduced in 1980 as the first measure of normal personality designed specifically for business applications and are based on tests scientifically designed for the workplace and rigorously validated with populations of working adults.

I recommend all three Hogan Assessments for high-level executives; the Value Assessment only for mid-managers and newly formed teams, the Potential for promotions and new hires, and the Challenge for performance issues.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The purpose of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory is to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives. The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment. The MBTI instrument sorts for preferences and does not measure trait, ability, or character. The MBTI was originally developed in the 1940’s by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, who thought that an understanding of personality preferences would help women who were entering the workforce for the first time to identify the sort of war-time jobs which would suit them best. By the early 1960’s, the initial questionnaire had become refined into the MBTI Step I and the newly revised MBTI Step II which provides multi-dimensional insight for the user. I recommend MBTI for individuals seeking a psychological self-analysis to gain a better understanding of how they react/respond in teams and pressure situations

Strengthfinders 2.0 by Tom Rath

The StrengthsFinders assessment is contained in a small and excellent book available for easy purchase by the individual. Tests are taken and analyzed on-line: participants receive a customized report that lists your top five talent themes, along with action items for development and suggestions about how you can use your talents to achieve academic, career, and personal success. StrengthsQuest and StrengthFinders is part of Gallup’s Education Practice and further supported by the book NOW, DISCOVER YOUR STRENGTHS by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton.

I recommend STRENGTHFINDERS for individuals seeking greater personal insight and to improve their ability to select the best words and descriptors to present themselves to others. It is a wonderful accompaniment to the MBTI and Hogan Assessments, adding more personal information.


There are several self-scored assessments available through Tracom, each packaged in a descriptive workbook.

Most popular is the SocialStyle: Improving Managerial Effectiveness with Versatility, an application of Social Style. Versatility concepts and techniques help you more effectively do such things and delegate, give corrective feedback, increase the personal productivity of your direct reports as well as coach and mentor them to help them grow in their capabilities and increase their value to the organization.

I recommend the SocialStyles workbooks and self-tests when it is possible to conduct a workshop to develop a team understanding of specific effective communication tools that can be immediately applied.

True Colors

True Colors™ is a model for understanding yourself and others based on your personality temperament. The colors of Orange, Green, Blue and Gold are used to differentiate the four central personality styles that each of us has a combination of these True Colors that make up our personality spectrum, usually with one of the styles being the most dominant. The number one reason employees are dissatisfied or leave their jobs is workplace relationship struggles, especially with their direct supervisor or team leader – followed by a lack of communication, trust, appreciation and fair treatment.

I recommend TrueColors for individuals and groups that are seeking a quick understanding of why and how we react in different situations, particularly with repeat conflict situations.

I hope these notes and comments are useful to help you select the best tool for your personal or team development. Please contact me directly to discuss your assessment options.

For further information or to order your assessment, send a note to

Also, you might enjoy reading the following…quoted directly from the

Notes of Dr. Paul Connolly, PERFORMANCE PROGRAMS. Please contact Dr. Connolly directly with questions:

Performance Programs Inc. is a 20 year old human resources consulting firm of industrial psychologists specializing in assessments. According to our research, there are five criteria that a quality personality test must meet:

  • Comprehensive: Does the test measure intelligence, motivation, learned skills, natural abilities included in personality, and organizational culture?
  • Systematic: Are the characteristics listed under the ‘comprehensive’ heading above described in a neutral, informational way? Also, can the motivation and learned skills assessments be repeated at reasonable intervals to identify changes?
  • Fast: Can the test results be analyzed and understood in a reasonable and practical time parameter? 360 feedback, in which everyone from every angle of interaction evaluates and gives feedback to the subject,can take years to become accurate. Organizational surveys can also be time consuming and costly. Also, the sooner the participants are able to understand and retain their analysis, the better.
  • Confidential: Are the results confidential? Although letting co-workers know the results of tests for teambuilding purposes can be productive, the participants need to have the ability to keep their test scores and conclusions confidential. The accuracy and integrity of the scores remain higher and the ultimate results turn out better.
  • Conducive to Improving Group Processes: Individuals need to be able to understand themselves better in order to improve their team-working abilities with their associates. Does the test give insight that is helpful to interpersonal communications?

The most well-known tests associated with the label ‘personality tests’ are not necessarily the best tests to take to understand oneself better for career growth purposes. According to James Hazen, Ph.D. of Applied Behavioral Insights, the most popular personality tests and their purposes are quite varied. Here is a summary:

  • The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is used to measure abnormal or deviant behavior and is known as being best used in court settings as a clinical instrument.
  • The California Psychological Inventory (CPI) measures personality traits including sociability and dominance. It is noted as having more subjective interpretation and needing a psychologist to interpret the results.
  • The Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness Test (DISC) measures style of personality and self-image, and is known to be useful for teambuilding, and assessing and addressing cultural fit and chemistry.
  • Profiles XT measures cognitive skills and job success potential and has been found useful for hiring, comparing jobs and succession planning.
  • The Myers-Briggs test measures personality type and how an individual processes information, and is best used to understand how one communicates. It is actually not recommended for hiring.

Why Personality Test Use is Increasing

Despite the controversy surrounding some of these personality tests, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of personality tests over the past ten years or so. The single most frequently given reason for increases in testing is the need to have a selection process which can withstand legal challenges. Increased test use can therefore be seen in part as a defensive strategy, adopted in response to regulation and legislation. Another factor is the ease with which these tests can now be delivered online. This approach has distinct advantages over paper-and-pencil tests:

  • There is no need to print and distribute printed material. This has dramatically lowered the cost of test administration.
  • Results can be processed immediately with no human input. The test administration software can produce very detailed and impressive looking reports. See Example.
  • There has been a growing acceptance of personality testing among the general public. Many people quite happily complete online personality profiles in their own time outside of the recruitment process.

There are now more suppliers producing a greater variety of tests. This has driven costs down even further and increased the choice of tests available to recruiting organizations.

Best wishes for continued success, LM

[1] Assessment.aspx