Quality Leadership Conversations

Quality Leadership Conversations
By Shannon Lee (she/her)
Executive Director, Leadership Columbus

When I ask folks, “What is your biggest challenge in managing your team(s)?” the most common answer is communication.

We’ve all heard the sayings about communication. Here are a few common ones in meme form:




Information, or the what of communication, abounds. So why does the art of communicating at work remain such a huge challenge?

I believe the two most significant barriers to effective communication are:

  • Lack of knowledge about individuals on the team
  • Lack of structure for having high-quality conversations within teams


Knowing our teammates is essential to effective communication. And I’m not just referring to knowing and understanding their role on the team, but knowing and understanding them as human beings. 

Every one of us possesses specific natural drives. Those drives create needs in every area of our life, including work. Our needs are what inspire behavior. The fact that we have drives and needs does not mean we don’t or can’t adapt our behavior despite our drives or needs. Still, it does mean that generally speaking, those needs are greatly influencing what behaviors we do without thinking. Socialization and conditioning have taught each of us differently, which of those needs to act on and how.

According to the Predictive Index Assessment, we all have four basic drives:

  1. Dominance: How collaborative or independent we are
  2. Extraversion: If we process internally or externally; the extent to which we are energized or drained by interactions with others
  3. Patience: How quickly we prefer to get things done; the need for a steady vs. driving pace.
  4. Formality: Do we prefer a lot or a little structure? How much do we like rules vs. winging it?

I like to use the Predictive Index as a tool to understand myself better, the individuals on my team, and our team dynamics. Of course, the Predictive Index is not the only tool to provide such data. Still, it’s one of the most prominent, most widely used tools globally, with tons of research to back up the efficacy of their validated results. (If you are interested in a free Predictive Index for your team, I can help! Email me at

Regardless of what tool you use, gathering data is one of the ways to increase knowledge about your team. Data collection is supremely important because understanding drives, needs, and behaviors, can help everyone suspend judgment and see behaviors for what they are: a response to a need. And sometimes, a response to an unmet need. 

We can look at teammates and address behavior from a neutral space with this mindset. Starting from a neutral space removes (as much as possible) the biased landscape of conclusions about the behavior. I believe most workplace drama stems not from the situation itself but from the meaning and conclusions we make about the problem (a separate blog post). Conclusions and assumptions around behavior in the workplace can lead to a lack of equity for all and are not helpful for a couple of reasons.

First, conclusions rely on the history, background, experiences, and emotional make-up of the person making the conclusion. For this reason, they are unreliable, as one’s own biases may heavily influence the conclusion. 

Second, conclusions prevent us from addressing the actual issues at hand. When we focus on conclusions about a person versus their actual behavior, we subconsciously create solutions focused on eliminating the conclusion. As a result, we will spend little to no time solving the undesirable behavior.

Sample Situation:

“My teammate is repeatedly turning in written documents full of errors and omissions. I’ve talked to them several times about this situation. Because it keeps happening, they must be insubordinate, uncaring, and disrespectful.”

Notice the conclusions versus the behavior.

Conclusions: insubordinate, uncaring, disrespectful

Behaviors: Repeatedly turning in written documents with errors and omissions, even after reminders.

Most folks talk about the conclusions (which are probably causing an emotional response, fueling the conversation) and then begin to solve those issues. The conversation may sound like this: “I don’t understand why they are being so disrespectful and uncaring about their work output. Their attitude is a repeated issue, and we need to figure out how to stop this disrespect.”

Drawing conclusions wastes time by creating drama and moves nothing forward toward improving behavior. Sure, you can talk to the team member and share your conclusion; but this choice runs the risk of putting the team member in a place of defense and even shame. Neither of those places is a healthy starting point for behavior change. 

If we want to help folks learn and grow, we must also understand that how and what we communicate impacts their desire (or lack thereof) to make a change. I have found that removing the conclusion and focusing on the behavior is the key to wasting less time and increasing quality conversations. But there is another roadblock for leaders: having a structure for discussions around a need for changed behavior.


I’ve used a structure for quality conversations at work for several years now, and I have to say, I love it. I did not create this structure; I learned it as a part of my training to become certified to teach Situational Leadership (SLII) through the Ken Blanchard Companies. This structure is, in many ways, the tactical approach to servant leadership. 

The structure SLII recommends is based on a 4-part model that I’ll explain below. Those four parts are: Connect, Align, Learn, and Reconnect. 

Here’s a breakdown of that conversation structure. For this example, we will assume the person you are talking with is new to a task or goal. The conversation changes depending on those items:





This process is very prescriptive and may seem time-consuming. Still, in my experience, this structure creates a high-quality conversation that saves lots of time further down the road. Of course, communication is a challenge, but a solid communication process can take a team from surviving to thriving with effort and intentionality. 

If you are struggling with communication, we can help. Both Predictive Index and SLII are programs we endorse. We’d be happy to chat with anyone interested in these tools. All you need to do is reach out to me at


Recognizing A Healthy Workplace

Recognizing A Healthy Workplace
By Karen Hewitt (ze/hir/she/her)
Associate Director, Leadership Columbus

I am a strong believer in work-life balance. I also know we spend, at minimum 40 hours of a 168 hour week working. It is significant. This pandemic has caused us to look at work with a different lens of late, however, we needed to. As a whole, our current relationship with work could be considered unhealthy. Our society has historically unhealthy, exploitive, and even abusive relationships with capitalism, racism, patriarchy, ageism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia (amongst other isms and phobias), and of course, all of that impacts the workplace experience. 

This awareness of societal relationship with isms, phobias, and oppression is noted to bring a reflective lens to the conversation of capitalism and how that plays into our individual and collective relationship with work. Because these isms and phobias exist, we are forced into the conversation of discovering what having a healthy relationship with these isms looks like. At this point in history, I think the best we can do is to work to dismantle the isms and phobias in our own lives and in the workplace. There is no loving relationship available with racism or capitalism, more so working towards awareness of the impacts and dismantling the historical and current disparities created by all these isms and phobias on us as a society. ‘The Great Resignation’ has asked us to look at our professional relationships with a critical eye. 

This begs the question: what does a healthy workplace look like? 

My career path has been anything but orthodox. Beginning my career as a math major turned adjunct teacher and assistant women’s basketball college coach in the hills of Pennsylvania was an interesting start. I went on to teach high school mathematics and coach high school girls basketball for a year before returning to college athletics. Coaching at that level was taxing and intense. I have shoeboxes full of lessons and journal entries from the first eight years of my professional life. College coaching is a lifestyle. The calendar is different. The hours are long and full of putting your success in the hands of 18-23 year olds. It’s a profession of young people, and people are the wild card in all experiments. 

I decided to come back to Ohio to get my Masters in Educational Policy and Leadership where I thought the idea of being a principal may be the thing that would get me back in the classroom. What I found at The Ohio State University was that I did not have to be on a principal licensure path and I could (mostly) create the coursework of my dreams. It was there that I explored and minored in Workforce Development, Strategic Human Capital and Diversity and Inclusion. I got to hear, learn, and observe, in theory, what it meant to create and lead a healthy organization. 

What I actually learned was the disparities that prevent organizations from being healthy and fulfilling spaces for all. I learned that–more times than not–it’s profit over people. As I continued my career in Human Resource Management and Organizational Development, I began to idealize a healthy workplace. I would pick specific parts of each place I worked in to keep while also remembering what not to do for when I would move on. 

I am now, thankfully, in roles where I can create the workspaces I once longed for as a mid level manager. I take the responsibility of senior leadership very seriously and work to be perpetually flexible and accountable as the workplace and people change over time. 

I have toiled with perfectionism over the course of my life. grappled with its meaning and implication since I was young. I was raised to be as close to perfect as possible. Perfection at the cost of rest, sanity, and a false understanding of meritocracy. In unlearning all of that socialization, I have come to understand that perfection is relative, that it includes human error and mostly means exactly what I need or want vs. some arbitrary definition of what perfect should mean. 

How does this practice of perfection inform my experience professionally? I am less likely to look for a “perfect workplace”. I look for and work to create a workplace that is perfect for me. That may look different for different minds and different processes and leadership styles. 

It is important to get clear on what the perfect workplace would look like for you. We often are able to so quickly say what we don’t want. Our experiences create protective barriers for us. Put us in survival mode. The mind is powerful and protective. In this article I will discuss some of the characteristics I look for in a healthy workplace in an effort to shine a light on practices and cultural tones of a workplace that are equitable, inclusive, and affirming. 

Healthy is defined here as a safe place for all (willing and eager) people to work, grow, develop, challenge the status quo, and experience belonging. Willing and eager is a very important piece to this. I would say all people, but the truth is: if you are not committed and willing to grow and change as needed, it becomes challenging to work with others as the world changes around you. For those involved in the conversation, we are acknowledging diversity, equity, inclusion, and advancement opportunities as understood quantitatively (performance metrics) and qualitatively (through survey and discussion). A healthy workplace can be messy, it very well should be when it comes to humans. It has a culture that allows for reconciliation and repair for fractured relationships and conflict and also is a learning environment. Finally, and most importantly, a healthy workplace would allow for accountability and sustainability. 

What are traits of a healthy workplace? 

  • Representative and Diverse Leadership that is doing ‘the work’- Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility. 

As a Black, Queer, Woman presenting individual, I get very curious on the diversity dimensions present in senior leadership of an organization. I am aware that for me this means visible diversity around race and gender expression. I think you can tell a lot about an organization by the placement of Black Women. Currently, Black Women serve as 4% of C-Suite leadership corporately. This number may be slightly higher in human service and non-profit work, but not by much. I pay close attention and use how the organization positions Black, Queer, Trans and/or Disabled folx as a barometer for my own potential success (talk to your friends about what words they prefer you use to speak about different physical and mental abilities. Personally, I prefer the term disabled and I identify this way as well). 

Is there token diversity or is there actual representation? Tokenization is when people have one representative for a given diversity dimension instead of a rich mix of diverse people and looks more  like a box that is checked off in terms of diversity quotas. That one person is often asked to speak for the entire demographic they supposedly represent. This can be done to create the perception that there is diversity present. Tokenization is also an ideology where people have no interest in actually diversifying the space, only to appear so to the public. This is much harder to discern in the sense that we are talking about leadership’s intent to actually diversify vs. just saying all the right things, hiring enough folks here and there, and not actually working towards diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging in senior leadership. 

How do people talk about their experiences? It is really hard to work in a space where the proverbial glass ceiling is middle management before you even sign your contract. Pay close attention to the leaders and the voices that are amplified and followed. That will always determine how far you are able to go in any diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts. 

As a DEI and Anti-Racism facilitator, I often get asked what ‘the work’ means. At its simplest, it means consistently checking in with yourself around your personal contributions to harm in oppressive systems. It means getting in ‘Right Relationship’ with the people in your life personally and professionally. Right Relationship comes from the Principle of Oneness stating that we are all connected and we impact each other. Right relationship is about being aligned and in integrity with yourself and others.It means addressing and unlearning your biases and how that shows up in your behaviors. It means advocacy for yourself and others. It means learning how to consider the most vulnerable in the room and making them feel welcomed. Is this happening culturally in the workplace you are observing or working in?

  • Development and Advancement Opportunities

This also can allude back to visibility and representation. The question I ask here is, “are there equitable pathways to professionally develop all employees?” I also ask the question, “are supervisors equipped to support their employees to develop in the ways that best serve them?” Get curious on how performance evaluations are conducted. Ask about coaching and professional development opportunities outside of the organization L&D itself. Is there a budget for PD? All of these questions will hopefully help you understand what is available to you in terms of development and advancement. I am personally very committed to PD and L&D, so this is a non-negotiable in my healthy workplace. It also shows a spirit of a learning environment which is great to see in adults. 

  • Transparent and Open Communication

I believe we confuse transparency with telling all. The most important aspect of communication is consistency. My observations here automatically go to the systems in place for leadership to communicate with their organizations. This may have levels and idiosyncrasies. How are messages delivered to employees, candidates, internal staff and external clients? Are the messages consistent internally and externally? Do the messages share the right amount of context and clarity? An example of this is sharing the company budget. Many don’t understand how to read a budget. I would be more appreciative if I was told what the gaps were in funding and what my role is (individually and departmentally) in closing the gap. Also, does leadership follow up in communication when projects are completed or when we are going in a different direction? 

I understand privacy in HR grievances and when people leave an organization. How leadership and HR handles someone leaving is a huge indicator for me of what the standard is on how much dignity we provide people in times of conflict, up to separation. 

  • Healthy Work/Life Boundaries

It is incredibly important to have healthy boundaries modeled by your supervisor and leadership. As a member of senior leadership teams, I can say to make sure you take care of yourself, but if I do not model that behavior, then how can you take me seriously? If I am constantly exhausted or burned out, how can you not think that is the way to get to where I am? Do people send emails to each other past closing time? What do ‘out of office’ messages look like? Do people actually take vacation? Are you encouraged to simply say yes when something is asked of you or do you reflect and feel safe to say whether you actually have capacity to complete the task? How do you communicate with your co-workers? Are jokes culturally appropriate or at others’ expense? Boundaries is a lifelong journey of checking in with yourself and then being honest about what that means to the world. You want to make sure you are in an environment that does not require you to disregard or ignore what is healthy for you personally and professionally in terms of boundary setting.

  • A Culture of Accountability

This is important personally and professionally. In the healthy workplace, a culture of accountability means that people understand when they may be out of line and are called into what is possible when they step outside of that agreed upon expectation. For example, if someone seems exhausted or maybe even burnt out, a team member could say to them, “Hey, you seem a little exhausted, is there an opportunity for you to go home early? How can I support you getting some rest?” This also means if something harmful is happening, maybe someone keeps interrupting another co-worker and someone steps in and says. “We don’t interrupt our co-workers here. It is really important we let them finish.” An effective leader steps in and says that is not how we do things around here as opposed to focusing on their behavior or the individual. 

Accountability is challenging especially with leadership. In the healthy workplace with leadership that is willing to grow, I am constantly watching how leadership handles mistakes or conflict. How do they express when they have misstepped individually and collectively? You can have all the policies around accountability, but if the culture does not hold anyone responsible for upholding it, then it is simply ideas on paper. 

  • Culturally Responsive and Trauma Informed

This is a very specific request I have of organizations. I work with people and it is important to understand in the human service space that people are going through things we don’t always understand. In crisis and relationship, it is important to be aware of trauma responses and cultural responses to threats. This information does not only make it easier to work with clients, it also makes it easier to understand and connect with your teammates and co-workers. This awareness is very supportive to you individually as you unpack systems of oppression, evaluate how they impact you, and work towards finding your own healing. 

  • Compensation packages

I would be remiss not to mention the basics in a compensation package. To me this includes: a flexible work schedule (virtual and in person), PTO policies, competitive pay, bonus opportunities, affirming health care plans, mental health opportunities, professional development opportunities, and 401K and IRA opportunities with matches. This may seem like a lot and for smaller organizations it is harder to achieve.There is also a lot that goes beyond policies, procedures and pay. Sometimes people stay because of a feeling of belonging. Maybe they are appreciated in ways that they value deeply. I always believed that love languages translate into the workplace. I appreciate acts of service and words of affirmation. What would your work love languages be? What would need to be in a compensation package for you to feel adequately compensated for your time, expertise, and energy?

  • Succession Plans for leadership

This is something that is often seen as taboo in the workplace unless there is a family lineage and everyone knows the line of succession. Is there a plan when the CEO, COO, HR manager, or Executive Director steps down? Do people know what that would mean for them and their professional development plan? Oftentimes we get surprised when someone is leaving. What if that changed culturally and people felt comfortable sharing their dreams and 5-year or 10-year plans? What if people were able to pursue what they are passionate about within and outside of work? How wonderful would it be to be able to say, “I got this dream job and I think I am going to take it,” and then give a month’s notice instead of two weeks and create a succession plan with your team. Then when you leave there is no vacuum or scrambling around trying to fill the gap of what you left undone in a hurry. People could leave in peace, knowing that everything was in place for their departure and the team is sad to see them go but happy to see them thrive. We don’t see this in workplace culture often. This was my positive experience leaving my last job to come to Leadership Columbus and it made my transition very smooth and affirming. 

  • Fun

I will always advocate that work can be fun. As someone who spends more than 40 hours a week working, it is essential to enjoy the people I work with and be able to have fun. This requires ‘Right Relationship’ and knowing your teammates, however it is worth it. In environments where humor lives and people know that it is okay to laugh out loud or share a meme or a GIF with a coworker, they are the most life-giving. 

These are all traits that I have found in my most healthy workplace experiences. Professionally this is my wish list. I also utilize my power when I am in senior leadership to create spaces that are inclusive and affirming and have many of the traits listed above. Oftentimes I am faced with employees that come to work with me and have never experienced a healthy workplace. This presents a different challenge. It takes time to settle into an environment that is safe compared to an unhealthy environment. It can also come with its own resistance. People will not be prepared for calm, ease, and peace. They will be prepared for a fight, for compliance and endurance. Also as a leader, it took me years to get healthy myself.  I was not always creating the best spaces and culture and I know what that looks like. We all know what it looks like when it is not healthy and those lived experiences give us insight on what to look for. As a leader, have patience for this and reiterate your intent and opportunities that may be present for yourself AND the employee as they settle in.

In reflection, I am constantly considering what I need in an environment to create space for a generative experience. It is like having a clean home or room so now you can do your work in peace. Culture is essential to creating a work environment conducive to creativity, inclusion and affirmation. 

What are traits that would create the healthiest environment for you?

Why Being a Servant Leader is Transformational: For the leader and those they lead

Why Being a Servant Leader is Transformational: For the leader and those they lead
By Shannon Lee (she/her)
Executive Director, Leadership Columbus

I am a fan of Servant Leadership, a superfan. And the reason for my passion for Servant Leadership is because it has transformed my entire life. I don’t think anyone can ‘just decide’ to be a Servant Leader and then be one. The reason is that Servant Leadership requires such a heart and mind shift on the part of the leader. We simply aren’t born this way.

Also, let’s get a shared understanding of what I mean when I say ‘Servant Leadership.’ Words matter, and the term Servant Leadership gets tossed around quite a bit. This leadership style is challenging to adopt widely because the term ‘Servant Leadership’ gets used to describe behaviors not genuinely associated with Servant Leadership at all. So, let’s examine first what I mean when I say ‘What is Servant Leadership?’ (There are many varied definitions of Servant Leadership. What I share below represents my experience with Servant Leadership. I don’t aim to deliver the only definition of the term.)

Servant Leadership is a style of leadership where the leader essentially changes the old hierarchy to bring the wants and needs of all stakeholders into harmony. The servant leader believes in their core; this is possible. This belief drives their need to create this harmony. The servant leader seeks the win-win in every situation, however, not through rose-tinted glasses, ignoring reality. Instead, the Servant leader faces reality and leverages it to bring everyone into harmony as much as possible. To create this new environment, the Servant Leader looks at old problems in new ways. These new mindsets require a transformation in thinking and feeling, resulting in behaviors occurring more organically. Finally, the Servant Leader believes the internal change that occurs by creating the new mindsets necessary to think this way is just as rewarding as the results of the leadership style itself. 

Changing the Paradigm

When I first started giving talks and delivering workshops about Servant Leadership, I noticed there was little to no cognitive dissonance around most of the ideas within the leadership style. Most of the high-level ideas in Servant Leadership are quite agreeable and desirable. And we like being associated with things that seem positive and ‘good for others’ so we cognitively agree when we hear a concept that sounds good. 

The problem with this reaction in my workshops is, the data did not support this reaction. The research that went into creating the content told me most managers and supervisors struggled to embody the behaviors of Servant Leadership even though they cognitively agreed with the concepts.

Why was and is this true? While I do not have all the answers, as behavior and values alignment is a nuanced issue, one shift in my workshop made all the difference in helping managers see the gap. By helping folx uncover their most honest reactions to Servant Leader behaviors, I was able to find their underlying belief systems. Our belief systems often drive our behaviors subconsciously. I would call these ‘Pushbacks’ in the workshop and we used a process often used in other modalities called Identify, Challenge, Change.  

In ‘Identify’, we identified the pushback to a concept then challenged the pushback with lots of questions to test the validity of the pushback. Finally, we considered some other truths (Change) that could also be true to expand our thinking on the topic.

Below, I’ve chosen some common ways Servant Leadership is transformative and then I’ve identified some common pushback I’ve heard in the past. The pushback may not be true for you, however, asking yourself what is your pushback, is valuable. Wait for the answer and see what comes up. Maybe there is none. Also maybe there is a wonderful discovery.

Finally, I’ve included some cultural considerations for each section because my experiences are just that: my experiences. And while my experiences are valid, we all need to be aware of how concepts such as these impact and/or need to take into account cultures that have experiences other than our own.

Work Is Generative, Not Punishment
The concept of work traditionally is “effort against resistance.” The very notion of that definition brings up negative visions of labor associated with stress, hardship, and maybe even oppression. Most certainly, work was and is still used to do those very things. No wonder going to work is referred to undesirably by many and viewed as a punishment. But what if work is redeemable? What if the very essence of work is life-giving and generative?

How could this be? When work ties to something bigger than we are, we feel inspired. The work takes on a larger purpose and becomes missional. You may argue that the person just starting in their career and/or at an entry level job could never feel missional about their work. My response to you is, ‘why not?’ Also, why are we viewing specific jobs as not worthy of mission?

Next question: Whose job is it to connect the day-to-day work to the mission and vision? The leader. The Servant Leader intuitively sees value in all work and can creatively combine the work to the mission, helping folx see value in their job by connecting it to something bigger. If you are having trouble doing this, it might be because you do not yet believe in the value and dignity of all work. Don’t worry. You can transform your thinking over time.

Common pushback: “Trying to reframe work as life-giving is counterproductive. People just need to work harder.” 

Reflective questions: From where did this narrative come? Who taught me this? Who benefits the most from this mindset? Is it true that people can’t produce and feel a life-giving presence in the process at the same time? Why not?

Alternate Perspective: I’m not suggesting we abandon rigor in our daily work. However, there seems to be an equivalency with hard work and success here. I am suggesting that this equivalency is not what engages folx, but rather, being inspired and tied to a mission. I’m sure there are people who are driven to that bottom line and that’s what inspires them. Servant Leaders are primarily inspired by bringing people together around a common purpose and that common purpose is not working harder for the sake of hard work.

Cultural Considerations: The notion that work is generative may be difficult for folx who do not have opportunities to work in environments that are generative and/or have access to support to help with their own personal growth in this area. From a leadership perspective, the idea that people just need to work harder to be successful (from the pushback) is a fallacy. It’s a fallacy because it is unfalsifiable. No matter how hard someone works, if they failed, anyone could just say, ‘Well, they didn’t work hard enough.’ How much work is needed exactly? This belief system could create inequity in the workplace and cause disparate treatment.


Disillusionment is Progression, Not Regression
Every time a staff member gets discouraged or disillusioned, I get excited. You may think this is strange but hear me out. As humans, we naturally believe when something feels wrong, it is terrible. So, when we are faced with a new goal, task, job, or role and hit a barrier, we assume we are not progressing, and our performance is poor. As a collective, we generally see challenge and discomfort as a negative thing. Furthermore, we expect that our progress is linear when learning something new.

The expectation of linear growth is unrealistic and has rarely been true over the span of our lives.

In early childhood development, we first learned to walk by standing and holding onto something. Then gradually, we let go of that something. At this point, we probably fell—a lot. Mistakes were made. We repeatedly tried to make our legs hold the weight of our big heads until eventually we figured out our legs could move forward, one step at a time. But even then, we didn’t just begin walking. We walked and fell, got up again and fell. Again, mistakes were made. Bruised knees, tears on cheeks, and hopefully, encouragement to get up and try again. Why? Because the adults around us knew the disillusionment we felt was just a part of the progression. There is no walking without falling. And you can apply this same framework just by learning anything new.

The Servant Leader knows how to view mistakes, “dropped balls,” and the like as development needs, not personality issues or inherent flaws. From their core, the Servant Leader knows disillusionment and regression are a vital part of the development process because these setbacks reveal the gaps between where someone is and where they need and want to be. They indicate the actual developmental need. What a gift!

Common pushback: “If I hire someone to do a job, they should do it. Why should I hold someone’s hand and fix their problems?” This process is not about doing the work for others. Instead, this is about understanding and meeting the developmental needs of team members. Part of the job of the leader is to develop their team. Develop. Development doesn’t stop when you find the new hire, development begins there. I also want to mention, it makes a lot of sense to feel initial frustration and annoyance when a team member fails to perform in a desired way. Please do not feel shame or guilt around those initial feelings. Instead, turn it into a time to reflect and consider what pushbacks you are having.

Reflection questions: Have I given my team the direction and support they need? Am I fully committed to developing others? What are my motivations for leadership? Have I created clear goals for my team, communicated those goals, and then provided development opportunities that support the competencies needed to achieve those same goals? What is my part in their development process?

Alternative Perspective: Keep in mind we all have varying core drivers in our personalities impacting the way we naturally interact with our teams. I am quite an independent person, so I implement some tools (a work in progress) to ensure I check in with my team collectively and individually on their development in both formal and informal ways. This feels unnatural for me. Because of my individualistic nature, it feels like I’m doing “too much” but to my team it’s what they need. Sometimes, we fail to give our folx what they need when they need it, not because we don’t want to, but because we are viewing their needs through our own lens.

Cultural Considerations: As we begin to grow as Servant Leaders and develop our teams in the ways I’ve briefly touched on above, it’s important that we develop teams in ways that are inclusive and equitable. One of the best ways you can do this is to ask every team member what their development goals are (not the same as performance goals) and what the organization can do to support their goals. Also, ensure team and office tasks are distributed equitably. Finally, evaluate who you seek input from and who has the most influence on the team. More importantly, who has the least and why. Get clear on those inequities and address them.


Let-downs Aren’t Disappointments but Opportunities
Have you ever had someone tell you how disappointed they are in you or something you’ve done? Once I began to study Servant Leadership thoroughly, I realized the need to let go of being disappointed in other people. I learned how manipulative it was to say this to someone because disappointment is my feeling. Of course, I am free to feel disappointment. But to project my disappointment onto another person is unfair and manipulative. Servant Leaders take responsibility for their feelings, explore them, and determine what they want to do about them. Servant Leaders don’t make others responsible for their feelings.

So, as I sat with this new realization, my subsequent discovery was what to do with my feelings of disappointment? What am I saying if I am disappointed in someone or something that happened? For me, this was usually something not going the way I wanted. And you know what? That’s life. I am not so sure about your life, but I have not had many things go as planned in my life. So, the upside-down disappointment now is this: What does this make possible?

And do you know why this is so powerful? It puts my focus back on what I can control: me. I cannot control that you let me down. I only have control over identifying my choices, so I need to consider those choices. Choices = opportunities. I may not like all the choices available to me, but it is very empowering to realize what those choices are, all of them. Even the choice to not act. Plus, I like the energy created by identifying choices versus the energy of “You disappointed me.” 

Considering what is possible moves things forward. This question causes my brain to create, and it’s hard to be disappointed in a creative state. Am I saying ignore disappointment and not process those emotions? Not at all. Like I said above: I am free to feel disappointment. However, I believe processing that disappointment in productive ways is also essential. And this is the way that has created the most peace and energy for me.

Common pushback: “It’s important to hold people accountable when they let you down. People shouldn’t be able to just get away with things.” There’s some nuance here that I love about this pushback, and it has to do with motivation. I believe in holding people accountable, but if my motivation for that accountability is that the other person change, my motivation is manipulation, not accountability. I have a secret desire for an outcome. Hear me out.

The word ‘accountable’ is about seeking a justification, reason, or explanation. It is not about seeking a change. When we say we want accountability, most mean we want things to be different, and we want the other person to change. You know what I’m going to say, right? You can’t change people. Ask yourself, do I seek to change in the other person, or do I just want to understand their rationale? If you wish to know why and you are truly curious, then you do seek accountability. If you want the person to change behavior because you say something, it is not the accountability you seek. Instead, decide if this is worth your time and ask what does this makes possible for me?

Another nuance to consider about accountability is speaking your truth, which I find incredibly valuable. Just consider your motivation for speaking your truth. What do you want the outcome to be? Sometimes I need my truth to be heard and I can speak it and let go of what happens. But other times, I will say I’m speaking my truth, but what I really want is for the other person to be hurt, I want to air a grievance, or discharge and project my anger. Those may not always be about just speaking my truth.

Reflection questions: What are my motivations for holding someone accountable? Am I seeking information, a reason or explanation? How am I feeling? Do I have something to prove? Do I envision a particular outcome? Will I be disappointed if I don’t get a particular outcome?

Alternative Perspective: As a supervisor, there are times I may feel disappointed and require that behavior change as well. But I do not use the manipulative tactic of projecting disappointment to get someone to change. Why is this not useful? I don’t want people to change because I’m disappointed in them. I want people to change because they see value in their developmental growth. Instead, I process my own emotions, and from a neutral state, I co-create a development plan for the direct report to help build competency in the area they are falling short. 

Cultural Considerations: Accountability has taken on a whole new meaning right now when it comes to racial equity and justice. You may have heard the terms ‘calling out’ and ‘calling in’ ) in reference to bringing accountability to people who have demonstrated damaging discriminatory behavior and speech. I believe that when a Black, Indigenous or person of Color takes their time to call someone out or in, it is important to listen and reflect. Our businesses and organizations, which are majority white-led, will benefit greatly from their experiences, wisdom, and education. Get clear on what accountability means to those you lead and how it should be integrated into your work environment. 


Conflict Doesn’t Have to Divide; It Can Bond
We all experience conflict in our lives and especially at work. There are those who tend to avoid conflict at all costs, and this avoidance creates more issues than it alleviates in the workplace. 

One of the reasons we avoid conflict is the perception that conflict is painful, and let’s face it, we prefer pleasure. I’ll be the first to admit I used to run from conflict. However, growing as a Servant Leader has helped me reimagine conflict to bonding with my team in ways I never thought possible. When we disagree, I now see this as a means of learning more about them, and they are learning more about me. Conflict allows us to work through complex issues and create common ground. 

Conflict doesn’t mean we all see exactly eye to eye, but it often means we have elevated respect. It almost always means we have a deeper understanding of one another’s perspective that was nonexistent before. These achievements on a team are hard to come by without conflict.

Please know I do not advocate staying in unsafe environments. When I refer to conflict, I refer to common workplace conflicts, like disagreements on projects, differing ideas on various topics, or timelines. I would not encourage anyone to enter a challenging conversation where they feel their emotional, psychological, or physical safety is at risk.

The more we know one another – even in conflicting ideas – the better off we are. The Servant Leader sees these experiences as exciting ways to grow the team and become better leaders at work and in the community.

Conscious Leadership uses several prompts to help teams use candor to own their thoughts and emotions in discussions, and I find their approach especially helpful in times of conflict. Two of the prompts are:

  • The thought I am having is __________.
  • The feeling I am having is __________.

These starter sentences get the individual thinking about their mental and emotional state in the moment of conflict and owning their thoughts and feelings. 

What does this accomplish? In conversations where conflict may arise, this approach helps the individual not project their thoughts and feelings on others, making the conflict worse. These statements allow others to respond in the same way and reveal that we all have thoughts and feelings in moments of conflict that are often not rooted in fact but speculation

Common pushback: “If I lean into conflict, I’m afraid I’ll say something I regret. I don’t want to offend or hurt anyone.” This pushback is so common. I’d guess most people consciously and subconsciously avoid conflict for this reason, all the time. However, I do not believe this is actually rooted in caring about other people’s feelings. This does not mean we do not care for others in general, however.

Reflection questions: Am I avoiding this conversation or situation to spare the other person’s feelings or to avoid my feelings of discomfort? Where did I learn that conflict avoidance was kind?

Alternate Perspective: If we are honest with ourselves, we do not want to feel the discomfort of the other person’s reaction. We do not want to feel the awkwardness of their response to our conflicting ideas. Our avoidance is all about self-preservation; it is a selfish act. The solution is to reframe conflict as an opportunity for growth, learn more about the other person, and be vulnerable to let others know us. In other words, enter a potentially conflict-ridden conversation with curiosity instead of fear and avoidance. 

Cultural Considerations: When it comes to conflict in the workplace, I believe it is usually a good practice to consider who is in conflict, why and are there patterns? If you find there are patterns around culture, race and/or ethnicity, be aware that bias plays a large role in how we interpret facial and other bodily cues from people. Are those two team members really having repeated conflicts about a project or is one person misconstruing the other person’s behavior as being aggressive because they have a hidden bias against a certain group of people? These are real, common issues affecting our ability to work on teams and the more aware we are, the more we can take action to dismantle the oppressive systems that perpetuate division.

If you are interested in diving deeper into Servant Leadership contact us about programming that can help you do just that!

Confidence and Competence

Confidence and Competence
By Collin Ries (he/him)
Program & Marketing Manager, Leadership Columbus

When I was working with her, my mentor Dani often used to tell me, “you can be charming for fifteen minutes and after that, you better know something.” She first saw this quote over twenty years ago in a list of “40 things a woman should learn before they’re 40” and I find it more and more relevant as I progress in my career. There have been times where I’ve walked into a room or listened to a speaker and realized after a while that what they’re saying doesn’t really have much substance; it’s their charm that makes you think they know more than they do.

This quote Dani shared has stayed with me and makes me think about the connections between competence and confidence. Every time I walk into a meeting with people I don’t know, I find myself going back to the quote as a litmus test to determine who in the room knows something, and who is just charming. The quote is snappy, but it’s also full of wisdom. I’ve pulled three key lessons from it. They are: 1) Confidence and competence are not the same thing. 2) Confidence and competence can be used to accomplish different things. 3) I can learn to demonstrate both.

Confidence and Competence Are Not the Same Thing
Confidence is often mistaken for competence. When someone exudes lots of confidence, many people automatically assume that they are also competent on the topic they are confident about. But that isn’t necessarily the case. When I think of confidence, that’s the charm. It’s the way you show up, the way you present yourself, your words, and ideas. Do you have that natural knack of making small talk, of making people hear you, of dressing up your ideas in language? This isn’t a bad thing. It looks really nice and helps get the job done, but if it’s all you have, it will only take you so far and will only work for you for so long. You need competence, the “knowing something.” The ability to back up your charm and your words, with knowledge and action. 

Confidence and Competence Can Be Used to Accomplish Different Things
We’ve all been in meetings with people that demonstrate confidence without competence. They’re the ones that always have something to say that can dominate the conversation. At the same time, they don’t really offer up any concrete ideas or have the ability to back up what they’re saying. They come across as if they’re talking just to hear the sound of their own voice, and fail to listen to others. They’re not effective team contributors or communicators, and I always told myself that I never wanted to be a person that was all confidence and no competence.

However, that doesn’t mean you don’t need the confidence piece. Confidence and competence actually are a fantastic combination. Demonstrating competence without confidence can also lead to ineffective contributions. Recently, I was facilitating my first workshop. It was on a subject that I know a lot about and have formal education in. I, the facilitator, also happened to be the youngest person in the room, speaking to people who had more experience than I did. I felt a little insecure about this lack of experience and was hesitant to take hard stances, push back in discussion, or share my own opinions and beliefs based on the knowledge that I had. And it showed. I wasn’t able to connect as well with my audience and effectively communicate my ideas, quite simply because I didn’t have the confidence to be secure in what I was talking about.


I Can Learn to Demonstrate Both
So how can we get to a place where we can demonstrate both confidence and competence?

  • Own what you know

This requires some introspection and self awareness. Ask yourself: where do I shine? What are the areas that I have the most competency, that I know the most about? By getting clear on WHAT your strengths are, it’s much easier to be more confident in the knowledge that you have.

  • Know how you best convey information.

Another key to displaying confidence is the presentation. How can I most effectively convey what I know to other people? I used to get really nervous when I got up to speak in front of crowds or give a presentation. After a while, I realized why: I was trying to emulate the presentation style of some of my mentors, and that just wasn’t what came naturally to me. I like to be more conversational, connect with my audience (as appropriate). It’s what allows my personality to shine, for me to establish authenticity in my speech that lends credence to the words I’m saying. Get familiar with your own presentation style. Figure out what’s natural for you, what works, and what doesn’t. Take some time to practice with someone else. Not only will it help you determine what works best for you; the more times you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be once you have to do it for real.

  • Own what you don’t know.

What areas do I have some knowledge on, but I could learn more? Where am I out of my element and need help? I’m not saying this is easy. It’s hard to admit that you don’t know something, especially when you feel like you should. This is your ego talking, telling you that you need to know everything in order to feel superior/valued/worthy (insert whatever emotion applies to you). There have been times where I felt like I should know more about a subject than I actually did, and I wanted to feel secure by projecting confidence and charm.  In reality, this doesn’t accomplish anything, because again, you can only be charming for fifteen minutes. Eventually that charm will go away and you’ll be worse off than if you had just admitted that you didn’t know something and owned that. In those moments, I have to put my ego down, take my feelings out of the equation, and realize what would create the best outcome.

Which brings me to my final point:

  • Be willing to learn and listen to other perspectives.

We are never done learning and growing. Even if you have a competency in an area, there is always more for you to learn. We keep learning by looking out for teachable moments and having a curiosity and willingness to learn. By being willing to learn, you position yourself to not only learn and grow, but to also demonstrate to other people that you have the confidence to acknowledge that you have more to learn.

Competence and confidence go hand in hand, and my hope is that after reading this, you think further about how together, they can support you in your professional track. That way, you are able to walk into your next meeting and be comfortable in the knowledge that you can “be charming for that fifteen minutes” and “know something.”