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?

Spring-Cleaning Your Office: Why It Is Important?

Spring is almost here! And for some of us, that means spring-cleaning will be added as an item on our to-do lists. Spring-cleaning is, after all, one of the rites of the season.

My spring-cleaning ritual has always included my office environment. Over the years, I have carved out time to organize, de-clutter and refresh my space. By doing so, I created a space with a “fresh start” so to speak.

After each spring-cleaning initiative, I felt energized and renewed. It turns out that my external surrounding was more important than I realized. It was linked to the way in which I sustained my leadership vitality. When my space was clean, I experienced reduced stress and enhanced productivity.

These spring-cleaning habits date back to my days as a young professional. I started my career with IBM where a clean desk policy was enforced. Each night, before leaving the office, I organized my space. Some nights it was my turn to be “on duty” as the clean desk administrator, writing up those who failed to maintain standards. Thus, I learned early on the habits of and reasons for maintaining a clean office environment.

Spring-cleaning benefits:

  • Presentable spaces leave a good impression.
  • Less clutter means less distraction and more efficiency.
  • Private and confidential information is handled as appropriate.
  • Stress is reduced when the excessive stimuli (clutter) is eliminated.
  • Productivity and creativity can be enhanced by “opening” the surroundings.

Maintaining a daily and weekly ritual helped reduce clutter with papers and my inbox. By itself, it wasn’t sufficient for keeping me on top of things.

The spring-clean gave me the opportunity to create a space that was lean and clean for the year ahead. I eliminated what no longer mattered, was outdated and would be better served elsewhere.

Here are five tips worth sharing for spring-cleaning to create a physical environment that is organized, de-cluttered and refreshed.

Spring-cleaning tips:

  1. Go through your papers – desk drawers, file cabinets, shelves with binders. Get rid of those papers you no longer need. Organize the papers, files and binders that need to be kept in a way that puts them within reach or makes it readily accessible.
  2. Look at books, newspapers and magazines for their on-going relevance. Recycle outdated newspapers and magazines. Donate books that have served their purpose or are never going to be read.
  3. Sort out your supplies – pens, pencils, markers, paper clips, binder clips, etc. Determine how many are needed against how many you have. Discard what doesn’t work and return extras to the supply room.
  4. Clean your phone, keyboard and screen / monitor. If you use a mouse pad, assess whether or not it is time to get a new one.
  5. Evaluate your space for visual clutter. Determine if it is time for a refresh of wall hangings, plants, coffee cups, photos and keepsakes. Note whether office supplies are best served out in the space or within a desk drawer. Maybe a lamp with soft, more ambient lighting would be a good addition.

Is it time for your office spring clean? And what about your daily and weekly rituals? Do they need to become habits for helping you reduce stress and enhance productivity?


Improv Techniques Beneficial in Leadership

A colleague and I recently sat down to watch a webinar together. The topic was interesting. The content was informative. The two speakers were esteemed in their professions. And the delivery between the co-leaders was well done. That is until it wasn’t ….

With a sharp and curt vocal tone, we heard one of them interrupt the other and chirp, “I take exception to what you are saying and must jump in here.” In that instant, the webinar lost something. An uncomfortable pause filled the space. The respectful exchange between the co-leaders hit a bump. In a short minute, the momentum that had been building during the program began to evaporate.

My colleague and I turned toward each other. One of us muttered, “that was bad” as the other nodded in agreement. Both of us had recently completed a leadership development program that incorporated improvisation (improv) in its curriculum. Thus, we recognized how helpful improv guidelines could have been for those co-leaders.

Improv? you might ask. Yes, improv is associated with comedy, but its methods have a place in leadership. Setting up for success in improv is much like setting up for success in business.

At the core of improv is acting and reacting with spontaneity. To do that well, a performer must be present and aware of all that is going on around him. The same holds true for leaders. They must be present and aware.

According to Kip Kelly at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, improv requires the ability to listen and be aware of others. It entails clarity in communication and confidence to proceed unscripted according to a few basic guidelines. In the case of this webinar and in most workplaces, leaders must be agile in order to respond to the unexpected and facilitate a community among participants.

Let’s look at three basic improv guidelines and how they help build cohesion and agility among teammates.

  1. The first rule is to ensure your teammates remain credible.

Cutting a person off to challenge the “facts” is rarely an engaging tactic. Rather it can throw up a block and bring things to a halt.

It is human nature to want to look good. But when done at the expense of others, it can be unproductive. In teamwork, credibility is not about one versus the others. Rather it is the system as a whole that matters.

  1. The second rule is to say “yes, and ….”

The importance here is that one does not have to agree with or even like what was said. “Yes, and” is simply language that demonstrates respect and paves the way for brainstorming, collaboration and problem solving. Those two words act as a builder from which another point of view can flow without discrediting others.

The “yes” simply acknowledges the point that was made by others. It also indicates openness to another perspective. The “and” then gives the opportunity to make a point or clarify what was said: “Yes and another way to think about it is …..”

  1. The third rule is there are no mistakes, only opportunities.

Saying “I must take exception to what you are saying” is clearly throwing your teammate under the bus. That short sentence sheds light on incompetence and notes a mistake. Moreover, it might be what shuts down others and takes away what there was to build upon.

In improv, there is a responsibility to look for opportunities. That means trusting teammates and embracing what is going on in the moment. Engaging with the skill of real-time adapting as new information and situations emerge is critical. It will help to capitalize on the opportunity to say or create something new and then move on.

Strength and Satisfaction in Gratitude

Back in 2001 and 2002, I sank into pessimism, a deep and dark brand of negativity. The world seemed to be a mess with 9/11, terrorism and the aftermath of tech-stock bubble. I struggled to understand unfamiliar facets of a new era in which we unexpectedly found ourselves. Nothing about it felt familiar. And everything about it seemed upside down.

The more my thoughts drifted toward pessimism, the stronger and easier the pull into fear became. As a leader in troubling times, I recognized that I was wearing my attitude on my sleeve. I knew that it was not healthy for me. Nor was it fair to those who relied upon my leadership.

Before it became a downward spiral, I had to snap out of it. Thus, I began to devise a plan that centered on a healthy life-style: eating right, exercising religiously and breathing deeply. Those things helped considerably. But they weren’t enough.

I decided to add a gratitude journal into the mix. That gratitude journal was more of a challenge than I thought it would be. The rules I devised were simple:

  • Write down five things at the end of each day
  • Feel the depth in each of those five things
  • Keep it brief – a word or phrase
  • Make people a given and go beyond a name

On first-night of what would become a daily ritual, I sat there for two hours without moving my pen. That’s right. After two hours, I had not thought of one thing for which I was grateful. I was appalled and made a conscious decision to go beyond the motions.

The next day I opened my five senses to face everything around me in new ways. I kept it up, day after day. And the results were amazing. I began to experience the extra-ordinary in the ordinary. The world had not changed. My perspective on it had.

Eventually the appreciative-way of thinking was engrained into my essence. A new thought pattern was present in every day life. I brought a fresh frame of reference to life – in both the good aspects and the challenging situations.

Over a decade later, I no longer write in a gratitude journal. I let go of the rules. And I don’t have a set time to express gratitude.

Gratitude is woven throughout my day. I make the conscious choice each morning to open my senses. That choice drives me to be present and aware. With intentionality, I continue to experience the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.

I know from experience that you will be amazed at the shift you’ll experience with gratitude. Why not start a gratitude journal or establish times in the day to appreciate? Let gratitude start to work for you.

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.

Anchoring and Pledging for Effective Leadership


In Dear Terri, I respond to followers who send emails asking for leadership advice, practical solutions, or ideas. Your questions can be sent directly to me by clicking here.

Dear Terri,

I want to be the most effective leaders possible. What is the key to doing that? How do I “anchor” myself?   – Maggy S

Dear Maggy,

First and foremost, you must “anchor” yourself in your “why.” Why have you have chosen to be a leader?

Personal gains aren’t going to suffice. Your “why” must be rooted in your purpose for leading and clarity around your role. The answer to that question needs to ground you in the personal commitment you have made to do all that is necessary for your team to succeed.

Effective leadership begins with an “anchor” in the why and a pledge to focus on your well being, uphold your personal brand, serve others, and prioritize continuous development. In today’s hyper-dynamic world, things can change rapidly and test the capacity of your leadership.

Thus for effectiveness, developing strength in the following four practices will serve to anchor you:

  • Well-Being: Maintain a strong body and mind by adopting a healthy lifestyle.
  • Personal Brand: Capitalize on a sense of meaning by applying your purpose, strengths and values.
  • Servant Leadership: Serve the greater good by ensuring the highest priorities needs for employees, customers and stakeholders are being met.
  • Learning Leader: Carry out the continuous effort it takes to be the best leader possible.

Leadership is hard. It takes courage to step up and hold yourself accountable to those four practices. There is no easy way out when it comes to effectiveness. You have to have grit to do the heavy lifting.

Difficult decisions. Unpleasant feedback. Managing conflict. Evolving self-awareness. This list names just a few realities of what will come up and what will need to be handled. The point is to recognize that leadership is never easy.

Failure to do the heavy lifting in any one area makes you weak. And weak is not effective. Conflicts will happen. Tensions will arise. People will be trying. Decisions will be hard. That’s why being grounded in your “why” and following the four practices in earnest matter help to:

  • Define you as a leader
  • Work through your challenges
  • Give you appreciation for what is being accomplished
  • Fuel your high performance

Underlying each of those four points is full permission. You were asked to join the leadership team, and you chose to accept the opportunity. With that arrangement, you have been granted full permission to act as a leader and tackle the hard work of leadership.

  • Talent – check
  • Desire – check
  • Acceptance of change – check
  • Curiosity – check

The preconditions are there. Step into your role with full permission to be the effective leader you know you can be.