Leader, full of grace

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Chip Bell

Fireside chats can generally yield surprising depth and insights. When the chat leader is a CEO and the audience include high-potential leaders at an executive training retreat, it can be doubly poignant and powerful. Fireside chats afford a crucible for candor and a forum for authenticity.

Ten years ago, I was a trainer at the retreat and a guest at the after-dinner fireside chat.

“What are the most crucial qualities of a great leader?” was the question from an armchair participant, shot point-blank at her charismatic CEO. The CEO catalogued the typical top-10 leader features you might expect would accompany such an answer. Then, after a long pause, he added, “ and, grace.”

It provoked silence. Everyone in the room waited on the edge of their armchairs to learn more about this unexpected addition.

“Grace is about acceptance, the opposite of judgment. It is the building block of a culture that nurtures innovation and invention. It is ironically the same word we use for elegance with a sense of purity,” he explained.

No one in the conference center living room expected this tough, results-oriented leader to suddenly turn philosophical. But he did. And they were clearly moved.

He briefly highlighted a tragic story many in the room had heard on the news. I later Googled the story for the facts, and this is what I learned.

The milk delivery man in Georgetown, Pa., had lost his infant daughter. He never got over it. Nine years later, that delivery man — Charles Roberts, who was married and the father of three children — burst into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., with a handgun, 12-gauge shotgun, rifle, cans of black powder, stun gun, two knives, a toolbox and restraint devices. He told the boys and teacher to leave the room. He lined up the girls and shot them. Five died and several more were severely wounded. He later shot himself.

But what followed the tragedy was the centerpiece of the CEO’s point about the power of grace. The Amish community visited the widow of the murderer to offer their heartfelt condolences. The day of the funeral, the same week after burying five of their children, the Amish community attended the funeral of the murderer. There were nearly as many Amish at the funeral as non-Amish. On the one-year anniversary of the massacre, the Amish community quietly made a cash donation to the widow of the man who had slain five of their children.

I never forgot the example and the way he tied it to leadership.

We live in an era when disruptors thrive, and marketplace followers struggle just to keep up. Incremental improvement, once the standard for progressive leadership, has been replaced with, “If it ain’t broke, break it.” Warp speed to market has become a table stake. And those in constant pursuit of innovation are the only ones likely to end the race in the winner’s circle. It means leaders must foster inventiveness as well as its “fail fast, learn fast” corollary as their keystones of success.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in a Business Insider interview: “I’ve made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon. None of those things are fun. But they also don’t matter. What really matters is, companies that don’t continue to experiment, companies that don’t embrace failure, they eventually get in a desperate position where the only thing they can do is a ‘Hail Mary’ bet at the very end of their corporate existence.”

Leaders with grace lead with deep confidence. They exhibit no need to resort to creating fear or relying on authority as the mantle for their influence. They imbed the spirit of encouragement in their pronouncements meant to challenge. They know that humility is more powerful than vanity, concern is more influential than command.

And the leader with grace can release the finest from employees ensuring the perseverance of their brand.


Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker, trainer, and the author of several award-winning, best-selling books. His newest book is "Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles." Visit his website.

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14 ideas for entrepreneurs who need beta testers

The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBrief posts by YEC.

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Q. What's the key to getting as many beta testers as possible for a new launch?

1. In the beginning, reach out through social media

Reaching out to groups in social media is a good way to start. They're a lot of paid methods such as crowdsourcing tools like Mechanical Turk or the website usertesting.com. Working to connect with mid-level influencer is a good way as well to push to more testers. The thing is, you want beta testers in your market, so it might be worth launching a sponsored campaign and testing that out, too. -- Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now

2. Personally recruit an audience to test your product

Reach out to people who you've connected with at industry events or people you know within your target market. By personally recruiting beta testers, you can get a first-hand look at how they respond to your product and get direct feedback from them. -- Jared Brown, Hubstaff Talent

3. Start an email list ASAP

Create a landing page to capture emails as soon as possible. To capture the most emails, start blogging about your industry, answering questions your ideal customers are looking for. Experiment with the placements of your email capture forms through A/B testing to get the best results. This will make it so much easier for you when you're ready for beta testers, and eventually launch the product. -- Syed Balkhi, OptinMonster

4. Build a community early on

The key to a strong early beta tester group is building relationships with potential users as early as you can. That usually demands that you find a way to offer them some value in exchange for their attention and time, which could be a useful newsletter or blog, in-person events, chatrooms or something unique and specific to your brand. Start early and treat your earliest users well. -- Derek Shanahan, SuperRewards

5. Look for a wide range of skills

The best beta testers are often neophiles — they want exclusive access to new features. Send invitations to the most active and committed users, those who engage with the company via social media and in forums. But make sure to invite ordinary users too: The power-user take is important, but you also need to hear about the average user’s experience. -- Vik Patel, Future Hosting

6. Involve testers from the start

Start collecting beta testers the moment you decide to go forward so they can provide input along the way rather than wait for the end of product development. This gets rid of issues much sooner, and offers some great advice that can deliver a better product overall. -- Drew Hendricks, Buttercup

7. Seek complete saturation

In addition to encouraging employees to pull from their friends and family members for the purposes of beta testing, I will often incorporate native advertisements on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to attract further testers. Doing this in conjunction with postings on sites such as Craigslist, I can ensure that we find the largest and most diverse sample size possible. -- Bryce Welker, Beat The CPA

8. Make them feel special

The key is to focus on the benefits to them rather than on the usefulness to you. Rather than talking about needing beta testers, talk about the advantage of being an early adopter or the first to discover something new. It also helps to offer incentives, such as free samples or discounts when you officially launch the product or service. -- Shawn Porat, Scorely

9. Offer a giveaway

There are a lot of people out there that have tons of time on their hands who would do anything for a tchotchke. A small fidget spinner, for example, sourced from China can cost you $0.50 and will attract a lot of eyeballs. Post recruitment listings on Craigslist or job boards where people are looking to get involved in something, offer them a small giveaway for their time. Fifty cents can go a long way. -- Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

10. Give it away for free

Give your app away for free or at an incredibly low price that is, in essence, free for a limited amount of time. Generally getting good feedback is more important than profiting off customers, so we try to give away beta software at a significant discount or sometimes free, so that customers can work with the software and give us the feedback we need. -- Liam Martin, TimeDoctor.com

11. Go to the right websites and forums

Your best bet is to do as much research and investigating as possible online to look for beta testers for your new launch. You can typically find them at websites like Hacker News, Product Hunt, and even forums such as Reddit and Quora. There are also plenty of beta directory sites which should help in landing more testers. -- Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

12. Tap the industry to find a large pool of beta testers

A successful beta test hinges on a good community of beta testers. But how do you find them? The best way to locate a large number of beta testers is to contact other, more established software companies, websites, forums, or blogs, or within the industry that offer similar technologies that don’t compete with your products and services. -- Blair Thomas, eMerchantBroker

13. Ask for a referral

The best way to get more beta testers is to ask the people you're currently working with for referrals. It's likely that they have friends or family that fit the bill, or at the very least can point you in the right direction. You can incentive the referrals, but you may find that it's not necessary because many people are happy just to share what they've been trying. -- Kyle Goguen, Pawstruck

14. Leverage your crowdfunding campaign

Crowdfunding helps entrepreneurs assess the potential value of a business idea, but a successful crowdfunding campaign also provides a great resource for beta testing. The participants have already expressed an interest in the product and they're invested in it being the best it can be — the perfect beta testers. -- Justin Blanchard, ServerMania Inc.

6 ways to find success through emotional intelligence

Few could accuse FBI agents of being soft and fluffy, and yet emotional intelligence is at the heart of most successful FBI investigations.

The ability to recognize, control and express emotions was often the single factor that led to my success as I recruited foreign intelligence officers to work for the US government. I remained alert for how people reacted to different topics of conversation so I could gain insight into how their emotions and thoughts drove their behavior.

While the FBI constantly trains agents on how to do their job better, I learned about the importance of emotional intelligence by observing squad mates who failed to demonstrate it. They were the ones who could not break through barriers and develop rapport with people. Not only that, they often had a particular lack of self-awareness so they were unaware of what they were doing wrong — a wreck waiting to happen to anyone, not just those in law enforcement.

Research points to emotional intelligence as the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence. On the flip side, just 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence. You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.

This same study found that people with a high degree of emotional intelligence also make more money. This finding holds true for people in all industries, at all levels, in every region of the world.

Emotional intelligence affects how we manage our behavior, handle social complications and make effective decisions that will achieve positive results. Awareness and curiosity about our own emotions, as well as those of others, places us in a stronger position to not only recognize the negative ones but to anticipate how they could spin out of control.

Our reactions to obstacles, misfortune and adversity are often habitual rather than deliberate. A little training and awareness can help us develop the emotional intelligence we need to make smarter choices and be more succes

Here are six ways successful people use emotional intelligence to predict their success:

1. Engage in psychological fortune-telling

Our preoccupation with being happy all the time can actually lead us to expect too much from everyday experiences.

Psychologist Maya Tamir recommends that, instead of making the pursuit of happiness your guiding principle in stressful situations, you should think about your long-term goal first. Once you’ve clearly identified your long-term goal, you can choose the emotion you want to experience in that situation.

For example, leaders who are under pressure to make a compromise can use emotional intelligence to opt for the emotion or feeling that will help them be more successful.

Tip: Successful people with high emotional intelligence do not always choose the pleasant emotion; instead, they opt for the one that will move them down the road and toward their long-term goals. When you are faced with making a decision, don’t shy away from the one that won’t feel the easiest. Instead, make sure it’s the one that will lead you toward your long-term goal.

2. Early intervention is key

Sometimes we’re thrown into situations where there is no exit strategy. If we can anticipate a negative situation, we can take proactive measures. We're better off if we can nip the monster in the bud before it overtakes us.

Emotionally intelligent people study their triggers and use this knowledge to sidestep situations and people before they get the best of them. There is always someone with an irksome laugh or annoying habit to deal with, so develop buffers if you know you’re going to be in their company. Situations that trigger negative emotions often leave people feeling depressed, especially when you know they could have been averted.

Many events that produce stress and negative emotions are uncontrollable, such as accidents or illnesses. Many of them, however, can be managed if you are savvy about how to anticipate them and intervene.

Tip: Identify and address a potential source of stress that you know will arise in the next few days. Develop an exit strategy now so you’re not stuck with an emotional fallout later.

3. Avoidance is not an option

However, it’s not always possible to run from a negative situation. Given a choice, most of us would choose to avoid recurring situations that evoke unpleasant or sad feelings. When we are forced to deal with people or situations that we know will bleed out negative emotions, it’s exhausting. It’s no wonder we seek distractions or look away with relief.

We all have emotional triggers -- situations and people that push our buttons and cause us to act in ways that can sabotage our success. But studies have shown that those who anticipate a negative situation often respond in ways that are constructive. They develop the grit to pierce through the negativity.

The reason is this: When the situation is recurring, you bolster your brain’s ability to observe and detach from inner reactions so you can strengthen emotional management, which acts as a buffer between yourself and the negative situation or person.

Tip: Identify those situations in your life where avoidance is not an option. Grit up and punch through the negativity of the situation so you can find ways to manage your emotional reactions.

Stress exit strategy

4. Reframe your emotion

Often, we can manage our emotions if we simply reframe them. Anger and fear are both freighted with energy; so, rather than express them in a negative way, channel them into a more positive one. Is it a lump of coal, or is it a diamond in the making?

For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, reframe that nervous energy as “getting pumped” for the next performance.

It takes skill to manage your emotions; you learn it better when you practice it over time. The same goes for the way you reframe your situation. It takes intentional training. Often, we let the energy from our emotions decide how we react. We do not intentionally cultivate the emotions that will serve us best.

Tip: Research in neuroplasticity has shown us that we can literally re-wire our brain by changing the way we think about negative situations. If we can take responsibility for own brain, then we can also take responsibility for our own emotions.

5. Let it all hang out

But what if someone insults you? You cannot avoid feeling hurt no matter how hard you try to control your response. There are times when we need to express our emotions because, if we hold them back, it takes an even worse toll.

Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister conducted a series of experiments where people who suppressed their emotions, both happy and sad. He found they tended to give up sooner on projects. When they resisted their natural emotional responses, it taxed their willpower and energy.

Maya Tamir found that if we are able to accept and even welcome the emotions that we have, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, we are likely to be happier and more satisfied.

TIP: Do not suppress your negative emotions all the time. Research has found that people who do so have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Suppressing all negative emotions can also lead to more broken relationships, chronic pain, tinnitus, and diabetes.

6. Get clued in

Among the first steps in any FBI investigation is to put the subject under surveillance. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is to identify their patterns of behavior. In other words, agents need to be clued in to the thoughts, emotions, and behavior of the subject under investigation.

Our success is often the result of our ability to pick apart and analyze what makes people tick. Doing so becomes a mindset, and it is something that can be practiced by anyone at anytime.

Law enforcement officers often look at people around them in restaurants and airports and attempt to figure out their stories -- what they do for a living, their mood, what they’re thinking -- based solely on observation. This simple focused-awareness drill can train a person’s mind to be clued in on what is going on with the people around them. Getting clued in means you move your awareness level up a notch or two.

Learn more about yourself, as well. Ask yourself, “What preoccupies my thinking?” “When am I most comfortable with myself?” “What do I notice first in others?”

Tip: Get curious! Curiosity is an important trait for geniuses, FBI agents, and anyone who wants to be emotionally intelligent. Curious people have active minds and are always asking questions and searching for answers.

Successful people who use emotional intelligence to anticipate their reactions, visualize the outcomes, and identify the actions that could change future feelings are in a better position to predict their success.


LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Quy is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.

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Shopping centers use aerial maps for site location analysis

As shopping center executives look for an edge over the competition, many are turning to new technologies to help them better manage properties, control costs and operate more efficiently. One emerging area is the use of high-resolution aerial maps to help with everything from developing to managing to expanding centers. In this post, we talk with Tony Agresta, vice president of marketing at Nearmap US, about the ways shopping center executives can use new technology.


How are aerial maps helping address challenges shopping centers face today?

That age-old adage “location, location, location” has taken on new meaning in the last two years as aerial mapping is changing the way retail site planners, architects, construction companies and maintenance teams access information.

Until now, anyone interested in retail site location would either use low-resolution satellite imagery or use a drone to photograph a small area. Today, companies involved in commercial real estate services, property management and real estate brokerage are accessing tens or hundreds of thousands of square miles of aerial maps from their desktop or mobile device.  They visualize locations using groundbreaking photography that shows details down to cracks in the pavement, standing water, neighboring communities, streets and competitor locations. And all this information is instantly accessible in the cloud – current and consistently high resolution.

Nearmap high-resolution aerial maps are used in planning with data overlays from OMG Aerials.


How is the shopping center industry applying aerial maps?

When you consider an end-to-end project lifecycle in retail or shopping centers, it includes site location analysis, proposal development, planning and measurement, collaboration with an ecosystem of partners including architects and designers, construction, maintenance and possibly expansion when the center is modified.  

High resolution aerial maps add clear definition to each step of the lifecycle. Organizations that apply this technology build confidence with their customers, win more business and optimize resources. In addition, location content applications with high definition imagery inside guide these consumers on their journey.

Professionals in this industry should consider aerial mapping as a “location content storefront” with instant access to current visuals of single properties, large panoramas or anything in between. It’s this showcase of aerial photography, and the historical archive that goes with it, that organizations visualize to see top-down views and oblique perspectives that show height and dimension. Because everyone in the ecosystem sees the exact same imagery, users multiple their efforts and work more efficiently. 

Oblique image for a section of the Mall of America shows roofing detail, storefronts, parking lots and access roads.


What’s the science behind aerial maps and how do users gain access?

Instead of relying on satellite imagery that lacks precision, aerial maps are captured using special camera systems mounted in the bellies of planes. Flight patterns are well-planned and automated. Imagery is captured and processed using pre-built services that leverage massive data pipes that allow for any volume. Because the entire process – capture, manage and delivery – is streamlined, the aerial imagery is online within days of the flights.  

Often, users simply launch the Nearmap MapBrowser from their desktop, search for a location using an address, city or place, and then navigate, zoom, measure and export the image for use in presentations and proposals. In other words, access is instant and can be adopted by many people.

Mapping specialists interested in advanced functions typically access Nearmap from one of Esri’s products such as ArcGIS Online. Civil engineers might use the imagery from an Autodesk product like AutoCAD Civil 3D or InfraWorks. 


Aerial maps can help the full spectrum of users in the shopping center world transform the way they work. Next month’s post will review specific features associated with aerial mapping that has transformed the way a Houston commercial real estate company operates. For more information, visit Nearmap.


Tony Agresta is vice president of marketing for Nearmap. He has 30 years of experience building high-performing teams in the analytics, mapping and aerial imagery markets.

Taylor Farms and the expectation of innovation

SmartBrief illustrationThis is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question "What is it like to be a leader?"

They are ubiquitous today, those bag-salad kits you find in the produce section of most grocery stores. But they are a recent innovation, one that truly disrupted a category. Since 1995, Taylor Farms has been doing just that: disrupting the produce department with bagged salads, salad kits, fresh-cut vegetables and other healthy foods.

Bruce Taylor serves as chairman and CEO of Taylor Farms, headquartered in America’s lettuce bowl, Salinas, Calif. Taylor Farms has 14 facilities in North America. I had the opportunity to talk with Taylor about human capital, innovation, leadership and entrepreneurialism. I found his answers both insightful and profound. I hope you enjoy the interview.

What keeps you up at night?

Bruce Taylor
Taylor (photo provided by Taylor Foods)

“Trying to figure out how to generate the human capital to keep growing at a fairly rapid rate. We have a very complicated business, and it has been difficult to find transferable industries where we can just re-pot someone. So, we tend to be homegrown leaders.

"When you're growing at 10%, 12% a year off a large base, you need a lot of new leaders, and that's the challenge we're finding right now. The people we have are great people and we're particular in terms of who we bring on. So, in a way, it's a problem that we've created ourselves.”

What are some of the steps that you've taken to try to address it or overcome it?

“As an industry effort, the Produce Marketing Association has a center for growing industry talent. They're going out to colleges around the country, getting people interested in the produce business. The message really for those college graduates is what used to be the produce business is now the food business. It's a very sophisticated, high-tech business.

"People, as they become exposed to our business, suddenly get very interested. People love the thought of growing and producing food for fellow Americans. They understand the challenges and the opportunities from a career perspective. What we try to do is spread our story so people understand that, at Taylor Farms, there are software jobs, there are engineering jobs, there are marketing jobs, there are social media jobs.”

Who do you think with?

“I tend to be very curious, and so I'm always asking people questions, always trying to understand how people do things, how businesses do things. It doesn't need to be in our industry, it can be in the computer industry or the car industry or whatever else. You can learn from every industry."

“Every day, I try to discover something new that I can then use in our business. I've got a board of directors who I think are great financially and strategically. I really enjoy the strategy part of it. I set a clear vision for what we're trying to do, what products we produce, who our customers are, who we want our partners to be and drive the business that way. Hopefully, people feel that if they think we're headed in the wrong direction they've got permission to say, ‘Wait a minute, this isn't working.’”

How do you foster innovation?

“I create an expectation of innovation. In other words, I expect that everyone in our organization is thinking about that every day, even down to the accounts-payable person. What I keep telling them is if you're doing the same thing next year that you're doing today, we probably just fell behind. Innovation really is the lifeblood of our success.”

“We celebrate successes, obviously, and have permission to fail. You don't get beat up for failure because obviously, that will discourage innovation.”

“We don't have a department of innovation, if you will. Yes, we've got a deli engineering group and a retail engineering group, but they're only one part of the solution. There are amazing opportunities for innovation throughout our organization and throughout our partner base with products and processes to improve what we do every day. People are really tuned into that. All I really ask is that, when you fail, and you will fail occasionally, you learn from it and communicate that learning to everybody else.”

What have you learned about connecting with and motivating people?

“From a leadership perspective, it's finding what people are passionate about. Because, as you know, when you work on something you love, you don't feel like you're working. If we can get 20,000 people doing what they love, then we're going to be successful.”

What advice would you give aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs?

“The food business as a career is a terrific opportunity for people, and particularly the fresh-food industry. Because you've got just a groundswell movement towards healthier fresh food. You've got a groundswell towards convenience. People don't want to spend as much time in the kitchen. We're really at the confluence of those two major mega-trends. The business opportunity then creates the personal opportunity for growth. It's just a wonderful place to be. I think that people are going to jump on board.

"I remember Sheryl Sandburg talked at one of our kids' graduations back east, and she said that if you're trying to get a position on a rocket ship, don't argue about what seat you're going to get, just take a seat, take a seat and you'll find the right spot.”

He ended by adding, “If it's right for you, you chase it until you catch it. If it's not right for you, figure out what is right for you and go chase that."


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Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow and become sustainable and investable. He works with clients to design and execute customized route-to-market and go-to-market strategies that build velocity, gain distribution, and win share of stomach. Catch him at FoodBytes in his role as a mentor and find his articles in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and FoodDive.

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How willing is your organization to go above and beyond to take care of its associates?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How willing is your organization to go above and beyond to take care of its associates?

  • Extremely. We’ve done amazing things to take care of people: 10.1%
  • Very. We’ll go well above expectations for our people: 26.9%
  • Kind of. We’ll do special things in extraordinary circumstances: 34.9%
  • Not very. It’s rare that we’d go out of our way for our people: 19.2%
  • Not at all. I’m surprised people are still willing to work here: 8.9%

Putting people first. It’s a tired old trope that “our people are our most valuable asset.” What makes that ring hollow is the fact that we don’t do all we can to help our associates. While a solid portion of poll respondents state that their organizations do a lot for their people, a scary number of you say that you don’t go out of your way to take care of your team. While you don’t have to take on extraordinary gestures to make your team members feel important and valued, some gestures do help. Consider that your employees know there are other organizations out there that will take care of them. Factor that into your decision on whether or not to go out of your way to help that person. If not, they might not stick around.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

5 qualities of emotionally intelligent leaders

Some of the most revered leaders in business today share common traits that attract great staff and inspire the best work. These people are often described as warm, personable, approachable and just plain real.

What do they have in common? The qualities can best be described as emotional intelligence -- the ability to be aware of their own and others' emotions, giving them the capacity to better handle interpersonal work relationships.

If you aspire to be a better leader, you would do well to work on your emotional intelligence quotient. While these traits may seem natural and inborn, they can also be learned, fostered, developed and honed. If you’re looking to better connect with others, draw the best resources and keep your team happy and focused, read on to learn about identifying and developing these qualities.

1. Empathetic

Empathy is the ability to understand how another person is feeling. Great leaders are able to look at issues from many different perspectives and to consider the effects from other points of view. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when viewing a problem can be invaluable to finding a solution and gaining consensus. With a bit of effort, there may even be a solution where everyone ends up happy.

How to practice: Make a concerted effort to visualize yourself in the other person’s position. What would the problem look like? What would your attitude be? How would it differ from yours? This helps validates and understand their perspective. Even if the answer to a problem is not the best outcome from any given viewpoint, acknowledging the positions and feelings of others can go a long way to creating acceptance and understanding.

2. Self-aware

Do you know the situations that bring out the best in you? What about the worst? Have you considered your biases, preferences and general dislikes? Self-awareness is having an understanding of your own feelings and an active knowledge of the history you bring to the table. When you’re self-aware, you can add your own ideas but also be aware of how your past experiences and current emotions play into the situation. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and when you can and can’t trust your own instincts can make you an even better leader.

How to practice: When faced with a problem or situation, examine how you feel in the moment, and try to determine why. If you can identify the emotions that are at play in your attitude and your assessment of the issue, you can determine whether they need to be tempered or modified by other factors.

3. Positive

Can you call yourself an optimist? The art of being truly optimistic lies not only in the ability to keep a positive attitude in adverse situations, but also in being able to offer sincere, realistic leadership that gets the team through the hardship in one piece. No one is looking to have sunny platitudes hashed out or unrealistic predictions made. Great leaders can be positive in the face of difficulty and still be very much in touch with the situation. 

How to practice: When a problem arises, you’re frustrated or the situation is difficult, take a moment to consider the positive aspects of the issue -- whether you’re building a stronger team, providing a learning opportunity for someone, or uncovering and fixing a deeper problem, there’s always something to be gleaned. When conveying optimism to the team, be sincere: The situation might not be great right now, but you have confidence that you’ll all find a solution and, in the end, it’s all going to be OK. Be authentic and positive, and people will want to help you make it right.

4. Considerate

Caring and consideration can go a long way to creating a cohesive, high-functioning team. Taking the time to acknowledge others, nothing their contributions and making sure they’re heard can be invaluable in drawing people to you and bringing out their best work. Great leaders know that getting to know their team members -- professionally and personally -- and caring about them and their careers will mean that everyone works better together in the long run.

How to practice: Take the time to check in with others, even when (especially when!) the pressure is off and there’s time to talk. Concentrate on giving others your full attention when discussing them and their careers, and follow up to help them meet their goals. In meetings, make sure everyone at the table has had a chance to talk. Seek out the opinions of anyone you may have missed. If your memory isn’t great, be sure to take notes that you can refer to later, and give credit where it’s due.

5. Authentic

No leader can apply any of the tenants of emotional intelligence without being sincere. Authenticity is critical in leadership – be an open book with your intentions and your agenda. No amount of other leadership behaviors will make up for a lack of truthfulness in what you say in do.

How to practice: Your integrity is paramount to your reputation as a leader, so only say what you mean and don’t make promises you can’t keep. Be trustworthy and follow through with your statements. It may seem counterintuitive, but when you make a mistake, admit it honestly, and follow through with the actions needed to make amends. It is a lot easier to recover from a misstep than from a loss of trust.

Take every opportunity to practice your emotional intelligence skills. Beyond work, think of ways to apply yourself at home, in social and community situations. Every chance to work on your skills will make you a better leader, no matter the location.


Joel Garfinkle conducts executive coaching and is the author of "Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level." Garfinkle recently coached a senior vice president who struggled with emotional intelligence. He was inflexible with others’ points of view and had trouble reading and responding to nonverbal communications. With coaching, he improved his empathy and emotional awareness, and improved the cohesiveness of his team. More than 10,000 people subscribe to his FulfillmentATWork newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!”

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Great leaders are great listeners

If you were asked to describe the characteristics of a great leader, you’d probably include things like visionary or strategic thinking, the ability to inspire and motivate others, passion and drive to achieve.

Few, however, would think to add the one trait that truly sets great leaders apart: their ability to listen.

Leaders of high-performing teams know that hiring top talent is not enough. They want to know what their employees have to say. The benefits are twofold. First, if you have invested in recruiting high-caliber employees, you stand to gain from their knowledge, experience and creativity. Second, high-quality team members want to contribute. That’s why they signed on in the first place. Employees who feel like they are sharing in a common goal will bring their best to the table.

It’s not rocket science. Just take a minute to think about how you feel when you know that someone you are talking to is really listening to you? You feel terrific, right? The simple act of listening to employees across your organization will give you a ground-up view of everything that is happening in your organization. You will obtain valuable information about how they think and feel about key issues.

Chances are, you will find out that your employees have been thinking a lot about your company or organization, and they may even have a few ideas about how to improve what you do.

When I first became the president and CEO of a major medical center a few decades ago, I had to make numerous changes in an organizational culture that was highly resistant to change. The staff had become comfortable with the status quo, even though the center’s future was at risk due to poor financial performance and a negative customer-service reputation.

At one point, my executive assistant took me aside to say, “Dennis, I know who you are and that you have a heart of gold, but people working here are scared to death with all of the changes being made.”

I listened, really listened, to my assistant. (See what I did there?) And then I decided to listen some more. I scheduled time with employees at all levels of the organization, called “dialogue with the president” meetings. At each session, I shared my management philosophy, making it clear that employee satisfaction and patient satisfaction go hand in hand. I asked them to rate their satisfaction as employees, on a scale of 1 to 10. Were they brutally honest? Oh yes.

Was it the beginning of change for the better? You bet. I promised them that we would work very hard -- together -- to implement many of their suggestions to increase employee satisfaction.

In just two years, we achieved an award from the country’s top medical center marketing and customer-service company because we had placed in the top 1% nationally for patient satisfaction.

Those who listen to their employees are in a much better position to lead their organizations to greater levels of success. By listening to people’s concerns and ideas, you can dramatically improve and remove obstacles to greater levels of business performance. Asking employees questions and listening to what they say makes them feel you care. And if they feel you care, they will be more productive. Their contributions to organizational success will grow.

Listening is a leadership responsibility that does not appear in the job description. It isn’t hard, either, but it does require commitment. Here are a few suggestions for using your listening skills in the workplace:

  • Make sure your employees feel they are valuable assets who bring unique capabilities and aptitudes to their job functions.
  • Engage your employees and encourage them to share their opinions on all aspects of the workplace.
  • Many leaders avoid emotional interactions, but the best leaders know how to make themselves approachable and show empathy when their employees are in need of attention.
  • Don’t judge or make harsh criticism when others show different ways of approaching or solving problems.
  • Make eye contact. Take note of what is being said and of how it is being said.
  • Compassionate leaders don’t interrupt the flow of conversation. They earn respect from their colleagues by being a patient listener.

By becoming a great listener, you will be well on your way to becoming an effective leader who knows how to bring out the best in others. Organizations reach their highest levels of success when every member feels that their voice, concerns, and actions matter.


Dennis C. Miller is the managing director of The Nonprofit Search Group and a nationally recognized strategic leadership coach with more than 35 years of experience working with nonprofit board leadership and chief executives across the country. Dennis is a sought-after motivational speaker, retreat facilitator and successful author. His new book is “A Guide to Recruiting Your Next CEO: The Executive Search Handbook for Nonprofit Boards."

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Vision: It’s a verb!

For decades, leaders have been advised to generate missions and visions as a way to focus and drive organizations into the future. Countless workshops and books outline the "how-tos" associated with arriving at those just-right words that will galvanize teams and deliver results.

Increasingly, however, many leaders are wondering if this vision writing exercise is still a valuable use of limited time and effort or a vestige of a more stable and predictable past. To them, I would recommend a quick review of fifth-grade English and the parts of speech. And, I would ask, ”Is vision a noun or a verb to you?”

Noun or verb

What often gets in the way of vision being a tool for guiding others toward the future is its treatment as a noun — a thing. Frequently, leaders create a vision, crossing it off their lists like too many other "one-and-done" activities. The words are printed on posters or mugs and that’s the end of the discussion, except perhaps for a little lip service. And, as a result, the vision offers little value to individuals or the organization.

But leaders who use vision as a verb see very different results. Verbs are action words, and when vision becomes a vibrant, living activity, tremendous benefits are possible. Visioning can:

  • Facilitate greater alignment throughout levels of the organization
  • Focus attention on what’s most important given the plethora of competing priorities facing most employees
  • Guide independent decision making (which becomes increasingly important as typical spans of control increase)
  • Create an emotional connection with the organization that supports enhanced engagement and retention.


Neuroscience of Vision

Advances in neuroscience shed new light on how and why vision (the verb) can be an important tool for organizations and for individuals. Evolving research offers insights for leaders who want to leverage the value of vision.

The visual nature of the brain responds to images. Painting a vivid picture of the future – and painting individuals into that picture – creates a powerful target in people’s minds.

According to Dustin Wax in "The Science of Setting Goals," setting that vision or goal “invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it” because “a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are — setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.”

Simply engaging others in visioning creates a subtle internal dynamic that prompts them unconsciously to bridge the gap between what is and what can be.

Vision quest

Visioning in its verb form is a team sport, an activity that involves the active participation and engagement of everyone involved. Commitment to an inclusive vision ensures the level of buy-in and ownership required to sustain the necessary attention and effort. Co-creating a picture of the future also deepens connections (to both the vision itself and co-workers), which enables groups to more effectively address the obstacles and setbacks that will inevitably arise.

Verb-ful (versus verbal) visions also share several other characteristics. They tap into something emotional — going beyond the head to speak to the heart. They’re inspirational while at the same time specific enough to offer a clear and compelling picture of the future.

Finally, consistent with the verb-based nature of the word, the most effective visions are actionable; they invite steps forward and facilitate momentum in a prescribed direction.

But co-creating the vision is just the beginning. For visions to be useful tools, they can’t be relegated to posters and badge cards. They must become a living and breathing part of day-to-day work and interactions. Leaders can make this happen in a variety of ways:

  • Storytelling. Keep people connected to what matters most with stories from customers, colleagues and beyond. Reinforce or expand employees’ thinking with anecdotes that inspire and inform their sense of vision.
  • Acknowledge progress. Take a look at "Your Brain on Dopamine: The Science of Motivation."
  • Walk the talk. Demonstrate your own commitment to the vision by working each day in service of it. Let others know how your priorities and choices reinforce the future you’ve jointly outlined.
  • Talk the talk. Ongoing conversation about the vision is in large part what keeps it relevant and evolving. Rather than treating it like something sacred and cast in concrete, let others know that the vision is an iterative work in progress. Revisit it frequently, allowing it to morph as conditions change.

Organizations today need vision as much as they ever did — maybe more. But it’s an active, responsive, collaborative vision — something leaders and employees do rather than something they have. And when we view it as a verb, we’ll begin to see the vast value the vision can deliver.


Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog atJulieWinkleGiulioni.com.

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What’s your one sentence?

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

In his bestselling book "Drive" (pp. 154-155), Dank Pink references a 1962 conversation between Congresswoman Claire Boothe Luce and President John F. Kennedy. Sensing that the president had too many competing agendas, she sought to focus him by asking him to think about his “one sentence.”

As Pink wrote:

"In 1962, Clare Boothe Luce, on of the first women to serve in the U.S. Congress, offered some advice to President John F. Kennedy. ‘A great man,’ she told him, ‘is one sentence.’ Abraham Lincoln’s sentence was: ‘He preserved the union and freed the slaves.’ Franklin Roosevelt’s was: ‘He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win a world war.’ Luce feared that Kennedy’s attention was so splintered among different priorities that his sentence risked becoming a muddled paragraph."

We all can have single sentences that describe us, even if our contributions are not as deep and lasting as the aforementioned presidents. Whether they say something about us as individuals, as leaders or as community contributors, having the ability to construct a single sentence that captures our essence can serve as a great guidepost and motivator.

Pink (p.155) suggests some simple ones, such as:

  • “He raised four kids who became happy and healthy adults."
  • “She invented a device that made people’s lives easier.”
  • “He cared for every person who walked into his office.”

Pink ends the section by suggesting that we all contemplate our purpose by considering the question, “What’s your sentence?”

I would like to take this idea a bit further. As I understand it, having a single sentence means that we need to add more purposefulness to our lives. Purposefulness emerges from recognizing that our lives have meaning. We understand that we are here for a reason and appreciate our lives as a means through which to grow and serve others.

Still, while we recognize fundamentally that we exist to achieve a deep, meaningful purpose, we can struggle to make that association daily, and to recognize that every moment is a new opportunity for fulfillment.

How can we become more conscientious of our need to live purposeful lives? The following strategies may help us in achieving that goal.

Establish and clarify your core values

Values express our philosophy in life and guide us in our decision making and actions. Take the time to articulate and refine your values, to understand what truly motivates you. Share them with someone that you trust, someone who knows you well that could also serve as your moral compass when you lack clarity. Then, commit to live by them, in thought and deed.

Begin with the end in mind

This concept, made famous by the late Stephen Covey, focuses our attention on how we wish to be remembered. Covey’s imagery is that of one’s own funeral. What will people say about him? How did they perceive his life, actions and values? What can we be doing each day to cause other to reflect positively on our lives and say that we lived it to the fullest?

Expand your vision and act

People who lead purposeful lives often are people of vision. They see possibilities and growth opportunities where others see challenges. But vision alone is not enough. A person of consequence does not sit idly by. After developing his vision, he rolls up his sleeves, ready to take the steps needed to achieve his goals.


Every time you engage in an experience, ask yourself how it may have affected you. Did you grow from it? Could you have approached it differently and achieved better results? This includes interactions with family or your conduct on the road or in a store. In addition, take the time to take stock of your progress as it relates to your values and goals. Are you on target? How can you achieve even more?

No doubt, the items listed above demand time, energy and much focus. They may be somewhat uninspiring, at least at first, and may even feel burdensome. But they are worth it, as they offer the clarity and direction that we all need in our busy, distracting and confusing realities.

We all seek to live a purposeful existence framed by consistency and growth. As with all other noble endeavors, living purposefully requires a framework, a set of values and motivators that keep us along a straight and narrow path while we dream of future success. When we put those pieces together and then consistently live by them, we are living our one sentence that others will someday record for perpetuity.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) became an executive coach and organizational consultant following a career as an educator and school administrator. Check out his new leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog.

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