Category Archives: Influence

Creating an Inspired Workplace: 3 Examples to Light Your Way

As an executive coach, I work with leaders in both large and small organizations – who are passionate about creating inspired workplaces.

They aren’t sure how to do it. They aren’t sure peoplDianeBolden_FB_08.28.17e will respond favorably. They aren’t sure it will work at all.

They want to break the unspoken, unwritten rules of organizations that say…

  • …that the version of yourself you bring to work is different than who you are at home.
  • …that work is a place where you do what your boss says and don’t ask a lot of questions.
  • …that you have to suck it up when what you are tasked to do doesn’t jive with who you are.
  • …that you have to keep your head down and just make it through the day, the week, the month, the year and collect your paycheck regularly enough to feed your family and make ends meet.

These leaders inspire me.

They have come to a place where they know there has to be more to life than just going through the motions, getting through the day, doing what’s required, going home and turning on the TV until the next day comes. They want more for themselves and they want more for their people.

Some of them are in organizations with traditional structures and old paradigms.

Not intentionally designed to limit people, but born of cultures that despite the latest management trends and empowerment classes on possibility thinking and shared vision still reward command and control, lead to power plays and foster the idea that if you don’t watch your back you could get stabbed.

One of my clients was discouraged by his boss from getting too close to his subordinates.

He was told doing so could cause him to lose his “edge” with them. He was told he may not be viewed as a leader if his people know too much about him and see him as a real person with fears and dreams and idiosyncrasies and humor.

But he knows that kind of leadership won’t unlock the potential in his organization. He knows that won’t light people up. He knows that won’t foster trust. He knows that isn’t what makes people go the extra mile when they are already tired and beaten. And he’s sick of playing that game.

So he’s trying something new. He’s sharing more of himself. More of his vision. More of his hopes and concerns and experiences for better or worse. He is encouraging dialogue. He’s asking what people think and sticking around long enough to hear (and really listen to) what they have to say. He is helping them find ways to breathe life into their greatest ideas and visions. And he is learning to get out of the way and trade the illusion of control for embracing possibilities that lead people (including himself) to enter into and navigate through uncertainty.

Another client is getting ready to engage his leadership team in ways that they aren’t used to.

He wants to roll out a whole new paradigm of doing things. And he is quite aware that words like “increasing shareholder value,” “fostering excellence” and “exceeding customer expectations” – while good concepts, tend to make people’s eyes glaze over and dismiss what is being said as the latest corporate speak, rah rah, Dilbert like rant.

He realizes that he needs to get very clear about what he sees as possible for his organization and all the people in it. He needs to be able to distinguish what they are moving away from and moving toward and find out what they think is important and what it will take to get them there.

He wants to encourage dissention and constructive disagreement. He knows that if they don’t voice their concerns and questions and hesitations to him, they will do it with each other in a way that could invoke fear and resistance and squash the seeds of possibility as they begin to germinate and grow. He knows that a silent room doesn’t mean everyone agrees. He has the courage to delve underneath the surface to find out what’s really going on – even, and perhaps especially if it means they don’t agree with anything he is saying.

A third client heads up an organization already known as the very best at what they do.

They have customers lining up at the door. They have been recognized in their community as the go to for what they do. They are well respected in their industry. And yet, they are burned out. They are overwhelmed and just trying to make it through the day. Things fall through the cracks. Important details get overlooked.

And my client has run around fixing things as they break, preventing undesirable consequences and instituting practices that keep the organization profitable, efficient and effective. But his partners haven’t embraced them – in fact, in some cases they even harbor resentment. He knows he cannot create an inspired workplace singlehandedly. But he realizes his partners aren’t inspired – and that no amount of talking at them will get them there. So he is slowing down and beginning to have authentic conversations with each of them.

He wants to connect with them as people, to see what they believe in, what they are passionate about, what they want to create together, and what they think needs to be done to make it fly. He is opening himself up to their criticism, their doubts, their worries and also hoping to hear about their dreams. He doesn’t know if it is going to work. He isn’t sure how to begin these conversations, or whether people will really engage with him. But he is willing to do it anyway.

This is the essence of true leadership.

Some call it conscious leadership. It is the ability to authentically engage with people in the workplace in a way that promotes shared value, meaning and purpose and leads them to work together in service to something greater than themselves. It requires courage, patience, faith, trust, intuition, and self awareness.

And I salute them.


Creating an inspired workplace and exercising conscious leadership is something that doesn’t happen overnight. If you are interested learning about approaches and strategies for building an engaged, enthusiastic work culture that leads to high performance without burning people out in the process (starting with yourself), check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.  Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 to take advantage of the early bird discount!

Performance Alchemy: How to Combine Inspiration and Motivation to Rocket Launch Your Success

Diane Bolden | Executive Leadership Coach in Phoenix Arizona


“The key thing to remember is not that we need to be fast but that we are running a race that has no finish line. So the fuel that drives us needs to be made of something substantial — something for the heart that the head can also follow.”

~ Vincent Kralyevich, American film producer, director, author, art director and composer

 Have you ever had an idea that made the hair on your arms stand up?

Maybe it’s a dream that beckons to you – one that holds promise for your future and that of others as well. When you think of the possibilities, you may find yourself feeling light, energized, and connected to something greater than yourself.

This is what inspiration feel like.

It is buoyant and powerful. Simple, yet strong. And it is contagious. Inspired action tends to touch others in a way that activates something inside of them as well. It connects them not only to you, but also to themselves. I like to think of inspiration as a pull – like a magnet that draws us toward something and gives us the power to bridge the gap – even if we aren’t sure exactly how to do it. Inspiration is something we receive and it comes to us when we are receptive to it. It requires trust, faith and patience.

Sometimes inspiration gets blocked.

What gets in the way of inspiration is our doubts, fears and faulty assumptions about what we can or cannot do, or what is even possible. These doubts are like layers of stuff that dilute the magnetic force of inspiration. Inspiration still beckons to us, but something stands in our way. This is where motivation comes in. It is something we summon up inside ourselves to get us to overcome the obstacles that are in front of us. And as leaders (regardless of your vocation, title, or role), it is something we often try to summon up in others to get them to do the same.

Motivation often takes the form of the carrot or the stick.

What gets us off the dime when we are balled up in our own fear is the willingness and the will to take action. Where inspiration is the pull, motivation is the push. The word motive is derived from motivation. Our motives can be in service to a higher good, or they can be in service to ourselves alone.

When motivation is aligned with inspiration, miracles can happen.

But when it is not, we will find ourselves feeling out of sync. Inspiration (a higher calling) without motivation (the will to act on it) leaves us feeling stagnant, stuck, and/or unfulfilled. When we refuse to answer our calls to greatness and play small instead, it is often because we have let our fear and doubt get the better of us. Though we may be very busy, we will likely feel as though we are not accomplishing anything of great significance.

Motivation serves us best when it works through obstacles in our own thinking that get in the way of acting on our inspiration.

Motivation without inspiration feels a lot like driving a car without power steering. Or it can be like trying to run through mud. It requires a lot of effort and strength and leaves us feeling exhausted. When motivation serves a higher purpose (that provided by inspiration), the load is lightened and the way becomes clear. But when the object of our desire is one that derives solely from our ego’s need for things like power, prestige, control, approval, or wealth, the push of motivation is not aligned with the pull of inspiration and we stray off course. That’s when things get difficult – we may feel as though we are exerting a lot of effort but not really getting anywhere.

Sometimes motivation and inspiration begin in alignment and then gradually become disconnected.

We start out feeling in sync, making great progress and experiencing a state of flow, and then hit a bump in the road. The bump may be a fear or some other kind of assumption that we need to examine and disempower before we can move on. Or, it may be that we simply need to wait awhile.

The cool thing about inspiration is that it comes from a higher source.

One that sees a bigger picture than we do. Sometimes there will be delays that we do not understand. Our egos can become impatient and steal the show – trying to push through these barriers with sheer force and exhausting us and everyone around us in the process. And once our egos are in charge, things have a way of deteriorating. Our motivation (or motive) mutates from being in service to a greater good to being in service to ourselves – or some ego need.

What do you do when things stall out?

It can be tough to discern what kind of action (or inaction) is required when we encounter an impasse. But if we get quiet, we can tap our source of inner wisdom to find the answers we need. When we purify our motives (motivation) so that they are in service to a higher calling (inspiration) we get back on the path that leads to greatest fulfillment for ourselves and everyone around us. And using motivation to remove the blocks that stand in our way will ensure that we actually make progress on that path and bring our greatness into the world in a way that inspires others to do the same.

My life’s work has largely been around unleashing inspiration in my own work and helping others to do the same.

And I’m so excited about a new program I’m about to launch where I will partner with a very small group (limited to eight people) in a highly transformational process. If you are interested in delving deeper into how you can infuse your life and leadership with inspiration and experience a greater sense of meaning, higher level of performance, and lasting fulfillment, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow Group Intensive, an exclusive twelve-week group mastermind/coaching program/online training course kicking off on March 20. Sign up before March 10 and receive a 15% early bird discount!

Why Losing Your Passion for Work is a Bigger Problem Than You Might Think

Diane Bolden Executive Leadership Coach


Has work become a bit of a grind?

You might tell yourself that work isn’t supposed to be fun – that’s why they call it work. But when you spend the majority of your waking hours just getting through the day or counting down to the weekend, you have a bigger problem than you might think.

Most of us don’t start our professions that way, but over the years disappointment, frustration and pressure can lead to disillusionment, disengagement, and burnout. Lack of passion and joy on the job will hit you hard in three major areas:

  1. Personally
  2. Professionally
  3. Organizationally

Let’s take a look at how work becoming a grind affects you personally.

You might think that as long as you can enjoy yourself after five (or six, or seven) and on the weekends, you will be just fine. But when you spend the better part of your day on a kind of autopilot, feeling like you’d rather be somewhere else, it’s hard to keep that negativity from spilling over to the rest of your life.

You may find yourself irritable, preoccupied, exhausted or just brain dead.

And whether you know it or not, that infringes on your ability to fully enjoy the things, experiences, and people in your personal life that you hold most precious.

You may even have a decent paycheck and enjoy a position of influence and status in your organization. But when the work you spend more of your waking hours doing is a continual grind, it’s easy to begin feeling as though life itself lacks meaning and fulfillment.

Perhaps you’ve made the decision (consciously or unconsciously) to put your personal happiness on the backburner in the name of your professional success and upward mobility.

Well, unfortunately lack of passion and joy on the job has a negative impact on your professional effectiveness as well. Let’s take a closer look at that.


 You can try all you want, but when you are exhausted and overwhelmed you will work very long days spinning your wheels without getting a whole lot done. You may think you just don’t have enough time to finish everything on your plate. And while it is true that time is finite, your real problem is lack of energy.

Creativity and Problem Solving

Lack of energy makes everything take far longer than it should. It blocks you from accessing your creativity, leads you to unnecessarily complicate things, and pushes the solutions to your problems just out of reach. All of this will contribute to a feeling of being unable to get important things done, which will cause you to work longer hours and become even more exhausted.


If your job requires you to have even the slightest degree of influence over others, consider this: getting someone excited about doing something is largely a matter of sharing your enthusiasm. But enthusiasm isn’t something that is easily feigned. And when you try to fake it, you will come across as being disingenuous, which will keep others from trusting you.

It’s exceedingly difficult to get anyone — whether they are your coworkers, your direct reports, or your customers — to become excited about something you can’t muster up the passion for yourself. And while we’re on the subject of coworkers, direct reports, and customers, let’s talk about the impact lack of passion and joy on the job has organizationally.

If you are a leader of others whether you know it or not you are setting the tone for the entire organization.

If you are not feeling emotionally committed, passionate, enthusiastic and connected to your work and the people you partner with to do it, chances are the people you lead will not be feeling it either.

Employee Engagement

Research indicates that as much as 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged. That translates into people who are physically present on the job, but not emotionally or mentally all there. When people are disengaged they go through the motions, doing as little as possible to fly under the radar.

The Cost of Complacency

This complacency causes all kinds of problems, including low quality products and services, plummeting productivity, low creativity and innovation, strained customer relationships, intra and interdepartmental conflict, absenteeism, high turnover, and ultimately low profitability. It does little to attract key talent, and certainly does not contribute to having a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

What does that have to do with you?

Engaged employees are people who feel part of something bigger than themselves — an organization with a shared purpose that has meaning to them. And they want to work for a boss who is turned on and tuned in to the organization and them as people.

If you have no passion or joy for your own work, you will be hard pressed to inspire it in others. In fact, you could end up unwittingly sucking the joy from those who already are engaged, and/or driving them to look for work elsewhere.

In Summary

Losing your passion and joy at work has significant implications for you on three different levels:

(1) Personally. You just can’t turn it on and off like a light switch. If you are feeling a lack of passion and joy at work, chances are good it will translate into your personal life, like a dark cloud that follows you around despite your insistence that you can shoe it away. You deserve more out of life than that.

(2) Professionally. The overwhelm, frustration, and exhaustion you feel is likely keeping you from performing at your best. While you may be working very long hours, your problem is not lack of time but rather lack of energy. Lack of energy is accompanied by lack of creativity, problem solving and influence. Energy comes with passion and joy. And when passion and joy are lacking, your performance will be lacking too.

(3) Organizationally. Just as passion and joy can be contagious, so too is the lack of it. A leader’s lack of passion and joy gets translated into disengagement, both for the leader, and the followers. Disengagement negatively impacts productivity, innovation, customer satisfaction, employee recruitment and retention — and ultimately profitability.

So if you feel like work has become a grind — but not a problem you have the luxury to address right now, think again. It may well be that you can’t afford not to. Rejuvenating your passion and joy on the job is easier than you think. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to find another job.

Consider making reigniting your passion at work a priority.

And if you are interested in receiving some support and guidance, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow Group Intensive, an exclusive twelve-week small group mastermind/coaching program/online training course kicking off on March 20. Sign up before March 10 and receive a 15% early bird discount!


Harness the Power of Possibility in Your Work and Your Life

Disney - All Starts With an Idea - Diane Bolden - Professional Business Coach


“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

~ Walt Disney

Over the holidays, I had the delightful experience of traveling to Disneyland with family.

Every time I go there, it is like stepping into an alternate reality—one where the stresses and anxieties of the week before simply dissolve and the child in me emerges.

I am mesmerized by every intricate detail so carefully attended to by the multitude of people that make Disneyland what it is—from the enchanting castles and belly-dropping rides, to the perfectly manicured gardens and the warm smiles and tireless energy of every cast member.

And I can’t help but revel in a deliciously goose-bump-building thought.

All the wonder, delight and magic of this place—as well as everything that is associated with it (the movies, cartoons, storybooks and associated media)—ALL OF THIS began with a single thought in the mind of a man who took action to make it real.

I don’t know a lot about Walt Disney, but I imagine he was gripped by an idea—a dream that captured his heart and burst inside of him until he was compelled to gather the people and resources to make it happen.

This guy had a vision that couldn’t help but be embraced by others.

It spoke to their hearts and their spirits, and allowed them to be a part of something that does the same for everyone who encounters it. Disneyland is the “happiest place on earth” because it brings out the best in everyone who experiences it. It unleashes the magic each of us carries somewhere deep within us, and the most traditional of fairy tales are about that very subject. Even the performers on the various stages throughout the park sing refrains about looking within to find our heroes. What an amazing creation!

We all get inspirations from time to time. And the more we act on them the more we seem to receive them.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. When was the last time you got one that gave you goose bumps? And what did you do to take it to the next level of creation? Were you overwhelmed, thinking it was too big, or unrealistic to actually achieve? Perhaps it is too big for one person. But what if you were able to create a vision like Walt Disney did, that resonated in the very core of people who would gladly partner with you to make it real?

You have something inside of you that is waiting to be unleashed into the world.

The very act of doing it will rock your world, and that of others as well. Maybe it isn’t a multimillion dollar theme park, or a screenplay, or an organization. But whatever it is will carry the unique essence of you—who you are—and the compilation of everything each of your individual experiences has prepared you for. And if you bring it forward with the intention of making the world a better place, you will.

Who are you to deny that you are meant for greatness?

 The beginning of every new year brings with it questions of what we most want to create in our lives and our work. If you are interested in strategies for better connecting with your vision and taking steps to bring it to fruition in a way that feeds and fulfills you, stay tuned for more information on my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow, or click here to get on the waiting list and get first priority (with no obligation) at the limited spots that will soon be available.

How to Lead Through Uncertainty

How do I motivate and inspire my team in the midst of uncertainty that could lead to the whole department being eliminated?  I mean, I’m not even sure I’ll have a job myself!

This is a question a client of mine recently asked.  A tough one.  I didn’t have an immediate answer for him.  He didn’t want to blow smoke in their faces or hand them a bunch of rose colored glasses.  Nor should he.  It is a scary time for a lot of people right now.  And there are no easy answers.  But in times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever to rest in the certainty that each one of us has what it takes to rise above anything life may bring us.

This is what the greatest leaders have done throughout history.  It’s easy to lead when things are stable and successful.  It’s when all chaos breaks loose and the chances of survival are slim that the world’s heroes have risen up to help people remember who they are and to rise up to their most daunting challenges.

Here are three things to remember when you find yourself in a situation similar to the one my client was in:

(1) There is nothing that will come your way that you cannot handle.  If you want proof, consider the fact that you are still here.  Think back to the last struggle or setback you faced.  What did you do?  How did you get through it?  What did you learn?  In retrospect, what would you tell yourself in order to help you get through that?  And what will you tell yourself now?

Sometimes it helps to think of the worst case scenario.  What would you do?  Really.  What would you do?  If you sit with that question and allow yourself to remain calm, you will find an answer.  Because when you get quiet, you summon up that which is timeless within you – that which will not change with the uncertainty, but rather grow stronger in the face of it – your inner strength, resilience, creativity and ingenuity.  Benjamin Franklin said it well many years ago:  “To be thrown upon one’s own resources, is to be cast into the very lap of fortune; for our faculties then undergo a development and display an energy of which they were previously unsusceptible.”

Getting connected to your core strength is essential and must be done before you can provide any real inspiration and motivation to others.  Your confidence will emanate at a level that people will feel – before you even say a word.

(2)  Once you have reconnected with your own inner reserves, help others reconnect with theirs as well.  Extraordinary leaders have the ability to connect with people at a deeper level.  They see not only what each person they lead has done in the past, but also what they are capable of doing in the future.  In times of chaos and uncertainty, people need to be reminded of their strengths because trying times tend to lead us to doubt ourselves and forget how very capable and strong we really are.

Speaking to people in terms of what they are capable of as a group can be helpful, but speaking to each person individually will have a far more powerful impact.  Think about each person you lead.  What has he or she done in the past that has impressed you?  What natural talents have you noticed – what does each person do that seems to come easily?  What does each tend to do that has a positive impact on themselves and everyone around them?  Maybe it is a sense of humor.  Perhaps it is an ability to foresee obstacles no one anticipated and create a plan for overcoming them.  Maybe it is an ability to think outside the box, a dogged determination to make things work, or a natural tendency to partner with others.  What is it that gives you faith that no matter what happens, this person will rise above it?  Speak to it with sincere appreciation and encouragement.  Help that person to embody those qualities once again.

(3)  Keep people’s focus (including your own) on possibilities rather than frustrations.  As with everything in life, whatever we focus on has a way of becoming amplified.  When we allow ourselves to become consumed with fear and doubt, our brains have a way of finding things that feed those states and we find that there seems to be even more to be afraid of or frustrated by.  This phenomenon often happens without our conscious awareness, and it is a vicious cycle that can keep us falling deeper and deeper into despair.

Reversing this cycle requires a conscious effort.  When we notice we are feeling upset by a certain thought, the first step is to become aware of the thought that has caused the reaction and deliberately choose another one to focus on.  There is always something positive or hopeful to focus on.  Sometimes finding it takes a bit of work, but that effort will be met with rich rewards.  A man named Ambrose Redmoon once said “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important.”  We need to figure out what is more important – more worthy of our attention and energy and focus on that.  As we do, our innate talents and strengths have a way of rising to the occasion.

With any change that brings uncertainty, there is a process of renewal involved.  The old must fall way in order for the new to be revealed.  This is true in nature as well as in our communities, organizations and in our very selves.  We can focus on what we are losing and experience a great deal of sadness and grief, or we can focus on what is newly emerging around us – and within us.  Sometimes the most difficult changes are the very things we need to experience to get closer to what we really want in life.  We may not realize the gifts change and uncertainty bring for weeks, months, and even years.  But we can recognize how it has served us in the past and trust in the process, in each other, and in ourselves.

What the Best Leaders Know About Getting Feedback (that the worst ignore)


Diane Bolden | Executive Leadership Coach in Phoenix ArizonaThere is a little sushi restaurant that opened up in my neighborhood a few months ago. Being sushi lovers, we were delighted — and equally excited when we came upon a grand opening offer to buy vouchers for this new restaurant through a third party at a discounted price. Eager to do what we could to support a small neighborhood business, we bought several of them.

We enjoyed our first meal there and looked forward to returning. But when we did, we encountered a sign on the door indicating the restaurant would no longer honor the vouchers we had bought. We later discovered that the only option for recovering our expense was to apply it toward other establishments we had no interest in.

Our enthusiasm toward the sushi restaurant turned to bitterness and we never ate there again. Stories of the restaurant’s actions circulated quickly and we learned of many others in our neighborhood who were equally miffed. Months later, their parking lot is almost always empty.

Who in their right mind would be so careless with the very people they need in order to succeed?

Leaders who solicit feedback without considering the implications run this risk all the time. In this article, we’ll explore three surefire ways to destroy trust through feedback efforts — and what to do instead.

Why gather feedback?

Soliciting feedback is a good idea for a leader because everyone has blind spots. Blind spots are areas of your effectiveness (and lack thereof) that other people see but you do not. Typically the more senior the leader, the higher the number of blind spots. This is because senior leaders are often only told what others believe they want to hear.

Additionally, we often undervalue our strengths and what we have the ability accomplish if we just apply them in a broader context or with a slightly different twist. A little bit of acknowledgment and encouragement from others on how to do this can go a long way in helping you to play a bigger game by bringing more of your true self to your work.

Bosses, subordinates, peers and even customers tend to have great insight into how leaders might be sabotaging their own success and what they could do to be more effective. But most of these people rarely share their thoughts because they do not have occasion to do so. And more often than not, it just seems uncalled for and potentially inappropriate.

To benefit from the insight of others, leaders must proactively solicit it.

So how do you gather feedback?

Often companies gather feedback as part of an annual performance review. However, this is most commonly done via a survey instrument that doesn’t provide the clarity and level of specificity most leaders need. In addition, feedback is often only solicited from a leader’s direct reports, rather than from peers or customers, which can be a bit lopsided.

Leaders can attempt to gather their own feedback, but often despite their best intentions they will get polite, politically correct responses that either contribute to blind spots or create new ones.

One of the best ways to gather feedback is to engage the services of a third party such as an executive coach to interview a variety of stakeholders you interact with. A good interviewer will probe into people’s responses to get the level of detail and specificity required for feedback to be meaningful.

Additionally, inquiries should be made not only about what is going well or needs to be improved, but also about the impact of current behavior and suggestions for enhancing performance. This feedback is then consolidated into a report that identifies themes and recommendations.

Why do leaders need to take care in soliciting feedback?

Asking people to provide feedback for you is a lot like selling vouchers to support the grand opening of a restaurant. It requires them to give you something (their time and honest feedback) that they would otherwise not be inclined to provide — in an effort to support you. It also raises the expectation that they will get a return.

Their return could be as simple as a thank you, but more often than not when people provide feedback they do so in the hope that you will actually do something with it. When this unspoken agreement is not honored, people providing feedback feel slighted in much the same way customers who buy vouchers that will not be honored would.

And when people you need in order to succeed (like your employees, peers and customers) feel slighted, you destroy their trust and risk that their goodwill toward you will sour. You miss out on a vital opportunity to improve your own effectiveness as well as that of your organization. And you may create problems for yourself you could have prevented.

Take the example of Sara

Sara heard rumors that people had complaints about the way she was managing her team. Try as she might, she could not get people to give her a straight answer. In her curiosity to find out what others were saying about her, she engaged the services of an executive coach to gather feedback.

When Sara received her feedback report, she grew angry and defensive

She called a meeting of her staff during which she demanded to know who said what and why. In the meeting, people looked at each other in stunned silence. When no one spoke up, Sara launched into a diatribe defending each point in the report, citing examples in an effort to discredit what she had heard.

Sara ended the meeting admonishing her team for not being willing to say what they needed to say to her face and challenged them to come to her next time instead of talking behind her back.

While she may have felt vindicated after that meeting, she alienated her people and actually destroyed what little trust she may have had with them. Rather than feeling encouraged to share their insights, her direct reports went to great lengths to mask what they really thought of her and did whatever they could to keep her off their backs. Some of them started looking for other jobs.

What did Sara do wrong?

She made three critical errors:

– First, her reasons for gathering feedback were not constructive. She had no intention of evaluating her own behavior and no desire to change it in any way.

– Second, the time and thought people provided to give Sara feedback was received with irritation and potentially negative consequences rather than appreciation and openness.

– And third, rather than using the feedback as a lever to improve herself, she made her people wrong and became even more entrenched in her current behavior.

Most executives don’t make such glaring and potentially damaging errors. But without careful thought and consideration they can fall into these traps without even realizing it.

Three tips for using feedback to increase your success (instead of derailing it):

– Ensure that your intention is constructive

– Make providing feedback is safe and gratifying for your stakeholders

– Follow up and follow through

Let’s talk about each of these.

Ensure that your intention is constructive

Don’t gather feedback unless you sincerely want to improve your effectiveness. It is important to set the stage in advance so that people have a good understanding of your rationale. They need to see that you are humble enough to acknowledge there is always room for improvement. They need to know that you are open to hearing what they have to say. And they need to believe that you have every intention of acting on it.

Asking people to provide feedback for you sends an affirming message that you value their unique perspectives and input and want to improve your leadership so that you can be of better service to them. It is important to let them know why you are want their input and what you plan to do with it. This brings us to the next tip.

Make providing feedback safe and gratifying for your stakeholders

It takes courage to give constructive feedback to another human being. Especially if that person is your boss. People who feel like something is at stake (like their job, their reputation, or their relationship with you) will hesitate to be honest or anything but flattering. There are a few things you can do to ensure this doesn’t happen.

One thing you can do is ensure that feedback will be kept anonymous

Unless you have gone to great lengths to seek dissenting views and encourage people to provide honest feedback, most people will say far more when their identity will be protected. A good coach will ask open-ended questions that allow themes shared by several feedback respondents to naturally emerge.

Encouraging people to speak candidly and reassuring them that you will not know who said what can go a long way. And so will expressing gratitude to them in advance for being willing to take time out of their busy schedule to provide feedback.

It is also important to let your stakeholders know in advance what the process of gathering feedback will entail and what will be done with it once it is gathered. This leads us to the next tip.

Follow up and follow through

Feedback gathering efforts done right generate a wealth of constructive information, insights and suggestions. It illuminates what people who are critical to your success appreciate and need most from you and may even spell out specific steps you can take to deliver.

Often feedback will confirm things you already suspect you need to work on. Other times it brings surprises you never could have anticipated. In any case, it is critical that you receive it with appreciation and gratitude.

The very act of gathering feedback raises the expectation that something will be done. Though you don’t need to share every detail of your report with people, it is vital that you thank them for taking the time to share their insights and let them know what actions you plan to take as a result of hearing them. You can also take the opportunity to ask for additional feedback.

But what if you don’t agree with the feedback?

While you may not necessarily agree with suggestions that emerge through the feedback, it is important to recognize that perceptions others have of you are based on their observations of your behavior.

If you don’t agree about a perception, following up with them in a spirit of curiosity can shed light on what you may be doing (or failing to do) that is contributing to a negative perception. This information will help you to determine the most constructive way of responding.

Failure to follow up at all leaves a void that people tend to fill with their own information and assumptions. You run the risk that people will assume you just don’t care about their feedback — or them. Additionally, your lack of follow through can lead people to question your integrity and reliability. They will doubt your sincerity and even begin to question your credibility.

In contrast, circling back with them once or more to acknowledge their input and invite continued feedback will reinforce the message that you value their perspectives and are serious about improving your effectiveness and being of greater service.

Let’s review what we’ve covered

– Soliciting feedback is good leadership development. It allows you to become aware of your strengths and opportunities for improvement that others may see but you do not, and to gain insight on what you can do to increase your effectiveness.

– Gathering feedback is best done by a third party such as an executive coach. Personal interviews with critical stakeholders are instrumental in getting the level of detail and specificity required for feedback to be meaningful.

– Proceed with great care. If soliciting feedback is done for the wrong reasons, received defensively, disregarded or refuted, it can destroy trust and create ill will.

– Ensure that your intentions for gathering feedback are constructive and clearly communicated. Make sure people know you are serious about improving your effectiveness and being of greater service and why you have selected them to provide feedback.

– Make providing feedback safe and gratifying. Ensure that your stakeholders will not be singled out and that they understand the process that will be used for gathering feedback and what will be done with it.

– Be sure to follow up and follow through. Show people that you appreciate their input and will not only take it to heart, but put it into action. Enlist them in providing you with ongoing feedback as you endeavor to improve your effectiveness.

To be successful, a leader needs stakeholders like a restaurant needs customers

Stakeholders, like customers, can give you great insight into what you need to do to succeed. Don’t leave them stuck with a bill for a meal they didn’t get to enjoy. Invite them to the table, listen to what they have to say, and then show your appreciation by acting on their suggestions and input to become a better leader.

No chopsticks required.