3 Tips for Handling Feedback

For many leaders, it can be a challenge not to take feedback personally or view it as criticism. If this is something you experience, your instinct may be to react by becoming self-conscious and defensive or shutting down. These reactions, however, are not serving you. When you shutdown, you may be missing out on the opportunity to learn and improve.

So how do you grow your ability to take criticism in earnest without personalizing it? Here are three tips that might help you to deal with feedback in a less painful way.

Change the mindset from “being criticized” to “receiving feedback.”

What seems like a small change in wording can have an impact on your perception. Webster’s Dictionary defines criticized and feedback as follows:

  • Criticized – to find fault; judge unfavorably or harshly.
  • Feedback – knowledge of the results of any behavior, considered as influencing or modifying further performance

In the definition of feedback is a key point: influencing or modifying further performance. Change your mindset from being criticized – responsible for my faults – to receiving feedback – find nuggets from which to grow.

Externalize the feedback.

The feedback is not direct at you personally, but at the role of the leader to which you have committed. Thus, for purposes of growth, you want to look at it objectively, without a personal connection and emotional response.

Your ability to be objective hinges on disconnecting emotionally from the reaction to what you are taking in. One tool for disconnecting is your breath. This tool allows time for the gut reaction to pass. Rather than becoming immersed in your emotional response of defensiveness, you become occupied by attention on your breath and the emotion you are experiencing.

  • Inhale and visualize the breath moving toward your emotional reaction
  • See in your mind’s eye your breath grabbing on to that defensiveness.
  • Exhale and visualize the defensiveness going out of the body.

As you disconnect, you cultivate an ability to externalize the experience. By externalizing, you are able to take in the feedback objectively. With objectivity, you can begin to make sense of what you are receiving.

Take what you agree with and discard the rest.

Recognize that feedback is intended to improve key areas of your leadership. That being said, not all of it is helpful.

Feedback is delivered from a point of view. In that point of view are judgments, experiences, values, strengths, beliefs and feelings – all wrapped upon into opinions.

Those opinions may or may not be valid from your point of view. With an eye toward objectivity, be curious. Ask questions. Interact with what you are receiving in order to clarify and understand. Hone in on specifics that align with a direction of growth you have already identified yourself.

With knowledge, you can decide what you want to take and what you want to discard. Ask yourself the following five questions:

  • Might there be any truth in this feedback?
  • If yes, what are truths I agree with?
  • How can I use those truths to my benefit as a leader?
  • Do I want to do anything with it right now?
  • If yes, what do I want to do in order to improve, develop and stretch?

Overcoming defensiveness and learning not to shut down don’t happen overnight. Taking feedback in earnest without personalizing it requires courage and practice.

Why not be begin to practice now? Go out there and ask for it.

Emotions at Work: How to be Credible and Authentic

There is no doubt that female leaders are judged differently than their male counterparts when it comes to the display of emotions at work. But the truth is that emotions are constantly being expressed by both genders. That’s why emotional intelligence (EQ) is hot topic. How emotions are handled matters.

The Key to Expressing Emotions at Work

The key is to express emotions credibly and authentically, but not based on what you alone are experiencing. Rather emotions conveyed in relation to what others are feeling is the differentiator.

As a leader, you want to express feelings that show you are concerned and care about what others are concerned and care about. People don’t want to see you experiencing emotions relevant to you. They relate when you are expressing emotion shared by them and relevant to them.

Illustrations to Differentiate Emotions at Work

For example, tearing up over a colleague’s health crisis or another round of lay offs affecting people you care about may give permission for others to experience their emotions around those same issues.

Whereas over reacting to a project delay with tears rooted in a situation at home may not go over well. This situation is one that may result in the “over emotional” feedback you want to avoid. The emotion communicated was not effective for handling the situation nor was it serving to those you were leading.

Tips for Holding Emotions at Work in Check

A good rule of thumb is to hold your demeanor in check. The following 3 points, which all relate to heightened emotional intelligence, get to the heart of handling emotions at work:

  1. Identify your emotions and the emotional field of those around you.
  2. Channel your emotions and note if and how they apply to the situation at hand.
  3. Manage emotions, by regulating your own and conveying them appropriately in relation to others.

The bottom line is not to stymie your emotions at work. Rather keep them in check by employing your emotional intelligence to the situation. For more on enhancing emotional intelligence, I recommend Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves.

A Quick and Easy Mindfulness Practice at the Office

No longer considered as “woo-woo” as it once was, mindfulness is now getting the attention it is due. Its benefits are documented and confirmed by empirical research. Well-known and high performing leaders such as Jack Dorsey, Russell Simmons and Tim Ferriss are naming mindfulness practices as part of their daily rituals. Like those leaders, you too can add to your high performance with a daily mindfulness practice. And that practice can be quick and easy – right in your office.

So what exactly is mindfulness? Put simply, it’s being conscious of the present. Mindfulness practices come in a variety of forms such as mediation, yoga and qigong, just to name a few. Even walking, which is easily accessed, can be done with mindfulness. Regardless of format, the practices center around a state where attention is not distracted by anything other than what is happening right now.

An awareness to your energy offers a painless way to be present at and during work. Tapping into the  the present state of your energy involves awareness of the four centers as described below:

  • Physical Energy: awareness of body sensations
  • Mental Energy: awareness of thoughts
  • Emotional Energy: awareness of feelings
  • Spiritual Energy: awareness of breath

By learning to observe these energy centers without passing judgment, you can cultivate the skill of mindfulness. That skill is what helps you manage energy, which as Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz note underlies high performance.

“Managing energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance. Performance is grounded in the skillful management of energy.” – Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

As a meditator and yogi, I know first-hand that managing energy can be challenging. I also know that with practice, the constant flux of energy between balance and imbalance becomes readily noticed and more easily adjusted. How?

The walking meditation below offers an easygoing way to start. This  meditation can be done in your office, in a hallway or outside. A couple of minutes is all you need to tune-in and recalibrate. Are you ready to give it a try?

Mindfulness – Walking Meditation

Begin by  releasing expectations of what your practice should be and what it should provide. Set an intention to be in the moment as an oberver:

  • Be where you are in the moment. You are not where you were yesterday or where you hope to be tomorrow. You are here in the now.
  • Be an observer, like a fly on the wall, to what is transpiring in the four energy centers. Avoid getting caught up in what you notice.

Next prepare to move into the walking meditation.

  1. Stand and let your feet ground into the earth below.
  2. Close your eyes or gaze softly ahead.
  3. Bring awareness to your four energy centers:
    • Body: notice physical sensations such as hunger, soreness, fatigue as you move your awareness from head to toes. Label what you notice and let the labels go.
    • Mind: notice thoughts coming and going. Are they clear or cloudy? Racing or smooth? Do your thoughts want to stick around? Are they distracting? Label what you notice and let the labels go.
    • Emotions: notice the emotional state you are experiencing. Where are you feeling that state in your body? Are you satisfied with the state? If not, tune into the state you want to experience. Label what you notice and let the label go.
    • Spirit: notice the sensation of your breath. Is the texture smooth and even or jerky and uneven? Is your breath fast, slow, somewhere in between? Does it feel deep or shallow? Label what you notice and let the labels go.
  4. Keep your your eyes closed or maintain the soft gaze. Take two deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale
  5. Begin to walk, taking steps that correspond to inhales and exhales. Inhale while stepping forward with one foot. Exhale while stepping forward with the other foot. Continue this mindful walking pattern of synchronizing the breath with each step you take.
  6. If you find that you have stopped synchronization, that’s ok. Observe without judgment. Turn in the opposite direction and begin again.
  7. After a couple of minutes, return to a standing position and scan your energy centers again.
  8. Make note of any shifts from the first scan to the second. What did you notice about your awareness during the walking meditation?

Try this a couple times a day for a week. See what happens. Breaking in the day for mindfulness is healthy. You may notice you are more attentive, more focused and more vibrant after a break. With practice, you can grow your ability to tune into what is happening within you and around you. In turn, you will be better at using the information you have gathered to recalibrate your energy throughout the day.

With the many benefits of a mindfulness practice, might there be a place for it in your leadership?

GATE – A Tool for More Effective Leadership

One of the areas in which I spend considerable time is emotional intelligence (EQ). It is top of mind for many of my clients, and it is an elective class I teach to high school students, our future leaders. Regardless of the age, title or phase of life, EQ practices help with many things, including response flexibility.

Response flexibility refers to the ways in which your emotional responses inform decisions. An emotional response begins when the brain is triggered:

  • The nervous system produces feelings (emotions) in the body.
  • The mind creates thoughts.

Combined, these two responses to the trigger help you assess and encapsulate your experience. The way in which you appraise, summarize and respond is done with great speed. Thus without awareness, discerning the cause and effect of your triggers is difficult.

Practices for self-awareness to discern the cause and effect raise your EQ. With an elevated EQ, you are better able to choose how you will respond to a trigger. One simple practice for raising your EQ is the GATE model. This model brings awareness to the following:

G – Goals

A – Actions

T – Thoughts

E – Emotions

With GATE, you bring attention to the webs that are created with the continuous stream of goals (G), actions (A), thoughts (T) and emotions (E) that run through your mind. An initial thought leads to an emotional feeling. That emotion produces an action. The action causes a new thought, which prompts another thought and then an emotional feeling. That feeling is followed by the establishment of a goal.

On and on it goes. GATE webs are being spun from almost every thought you have. The thoughts you use to make the webs result from behaving with either a “reaction to” or “action from.”

“Reacting to” is not the preferred response for an effective leader. But how to move from “reaction to” to “action from?”

Employing response flexibility – that is what enables a shift from “reaction” to “action.” This flexibility comes about from slowing down and distancing yourself from the GATE web. Specifically, you are cultivating self-awareness.

You are removing yourself from the center of the GATE web and stepping to the sidelines. From this position, you can observe the causes and effects in the chain of events from three perspectives:

  • Inside yourself
  • Outside yourself
  • With the goals, actions, thoughts, emotions (GATE)

To illustrate observing the cause and effect from the GATE, let’s look at two examples. The first example is reactive, and the second is active. Both examples are in response to the same initial thought and emotion:

  • Example 1 – Reactive response that builds on the initial emotion and does not discern cause and effect:

T: Initial Thought – There is much to do with time running down to the wire.

E: Initial Emotion – Panicky feeling in the gut


G: Goal – Make them see I am serious about on time completion of the project

A: Action – Threaten to fire the team if they don’t deliver results on time

T: New Thoughts – Poor performers. They deserve to be fired.

E: Emotion – Seething

This GATE web is being made with negative emotion, management by intimidation and disengaged employees.

  • Example 2: Active response that comes from self-awareness, shifting emotional response and discerning triggers for “cognizant” decision.

T: Initial Thought – There is much to do with time running down to the wire.

E: Initial Emotion – Panicky feeling in the gut


G: Goal – Work together to complete the project on time

A: Action – Serve the team. How do I help them with issues and risks?

T: New Thought – With focus, we can push this to completion.

E: Emotion – Determined

This GATE web is being spun with a shift to positive emotion. From that emotion, servant leadership and engaged employees are possible.


By fully embracing what is going on, shifting emotion and discerning cause and effect can help you with “conscious” choice. Instead of being helplessly dragged by the GATE web into reactive behavior, you are able to choose how to react to your triggers.

How well do you discern cause and effect for “conscious” decisions about your leadership behavior?

4 Steps for Emotional Agility and Resilience

The study of emotional agility and resilience is no doubt an interesting place to land, especially for our future leaders. Each morning I head to a local high school to work with students in an elective called “The United States of You.” This elective, which is 5 days a week for an entire semester, helping students understand and tune into the wide-range of “States” or emotional experiences they have.

This study centers around self-awareness, self-compassion and self-regulation. Guided meditations, body movement, breath work, journaling, image art and group discussions are tools used for exploring and transforming emotional states.

The program is a powerful one. Three months into it, I have observed transformation in each of the students. I also know that I am transforming in ways I could not have imagined. I learn through preparation for each class. I learn from what the students have to say. And I learn from practicing each day’s lesson outside the classroom.

There is no doubt that the universe conspires to assist me with this learning. Each week it seems I am given situations that align with the lessons and challenge me to grow. This week is not an exception. In fact, it has been my most challenging week since the start of this semester. But like the students, I am better equipped to handle what has come my way because of persistence with tools and practices.

The practices are worth sharing. These four steps are practiced by the students to help with self-awareness, self-compassion and self-regulation:

Notice – Rather than to suppress thoughts and feelings, they are taught practices for observing and experiencing them without judgment. They observe the thoughts as they come and go and notice thoughts that want to stick around. They experience the sensations and feelings in their bodies. And they notice where exactly in the body different feelings live. Through observation and experience, they are training themselves not interact with or get caught up in their thoughts and feelings. With mindfulness, they simply learn to notice by bringing their attention inward to what is in the moment with the mind, body and breath.

Label – Instead of brushing off or minimizing impact, they are taught practices for naming what they observed and experienced. One practice for naming feelings involves dis-identifying: “I am experiencing anger in my neck” versus “I am angry” or “I am feeling anxious in my belly” versus “I am anxious.” The key here is for them not to tie the emotion to their identity or inner truths (i.e., I am courageous). This use of language helps them know that emotion is a fleeting experience. Thus, it should be labeled as such and not confused with an inner truth.

Accept – Once named, the process of acceptance can begin. In acceptance, they own their named “state.” They identify the emotions’ colors, textures and temperatures. They discern the thoughts that have triggered their feelings. They recognize an impulse to react that might be brewing. In that process, they begin to bring their emotions “to life.” Image art, journaling and group discussions are tools used to strength the muscle of acceptance. Through those three tools, they develop intelligence about their patterns, triggers and reactions.

Act – This intelligence enables them to employ self-compassion and self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to act instead of react. They are taught ACT:

  • A: Awareness to what is being experienced
  • C: Clarity that the experience is fleeting and the truth of who they are is constant,
  • T: Tune-In to the impulse to react and instead act

ACT is a short mental checklist used in conjunction with the breath to help them avoid an impulsive reaction. Instead, with practice, they are able to control their impulses and cope more rationally with what comes their way. Knowing their inner truths and values helps them act with integrity and empathy.

The four steps can be transformative because they help develop emotional agility and resilience. It is not easy to develop the agility and resilience. While transformative, these practices are not a quick fix to being hooked on thoughts and emotions or reacting instead of action. They have to be regularly practiced. Over time, these skills are strengthened. The benefits will be worth the time and commitment it takes.

3 Tips Central to Being Your Own Leader

Being your own leader begins with the acknowledgment that you are the creator of the leader you want to be. Once acknowledged, you can begin to lead from the inside, rather than striving for approval from the outside or mimicking another’s stye. You start empowering you, just as you are.

That means you begin to look inside yourself for who you are, how you want to show up and what you want to create. Said another way, “being your own leader” is stepping into the authenticity you were born with and custom-designing the way you are meant to lead around it.

The reality is your leadership is not happening without you. You are the captain of your ship. By being your own leader, you’ll find it’s easier to go with the current than it is to struggle to go upstream. And if you drift into unchartered water, encounter choppy waves or find yourself going against the current, you’ll recognize opportunities for learning, growth and course correction.

To be your own leader, you shed blame and let go of the desire to prove worth. Instead, you center on self-awareness and self-authority while recognizing imperfection is the nature of being human.

Here are three tips central to “being your own leader:”

  1. Check the intentions of being your own leader.

Your intentions create thoughts. Your thoughts form actions. And your actions produce consequences.

Intention –> Thoughts –> Actions –> Consequences

Think of intention as one with cause and effect. You are the source of your  power. You have the capacity to lead from within and create the experiences for you and your team. Become aware of the intentions that are informing your experiences. Begin to choose the intentions in accordance with the way in which you want to “be your own leader.”

  1. Challenge the beliefs you hold for your own leader.

You are where you are and you are going where you are going because of your beliefs. Your belief system shapes your leadership.

How you perceive is a result of your beliefs. What you know to be true is driven by your beliefs. Whether you move forward, go backwards or stay put is determined by your beliefs. The judgments you have about yourself and others are influenced by your beliefs.

What are your beliefs? How do those beliefs help you, limit you, empower you and shape you? Dig into the shadows for beliefs that you may be unaware of. Challenge beliefs that no longer serve. Gain clarity about beliefs that best serve “being your own leader.” Lean into those beliefs.

  1. Take responsibility for your own leader.

Circumstances in your leadership are not “happening out of the blue.” Rather they are unfolding in direct response to who you are being, what you are creating and how you are responding.

You are calling in joy, triumphs, trials and tribulations. Those results are not happening without your involvement. You are in the driver’s seat. That’s not to say that leadership is one easy road.

Take responsibility to dive into each moment and live the fullness of each experience – good and bad. Be your own leader with responsibility grounded in self-awareness, actions versus reactions and growth via continuous learning.

With these three tips, you cultivate the power in choosing to lead from the inside out rather than the outside in. In doing so, you claim your right to be your own leader.