Joe Hirsch

Make your message matter

Feedback needs to deliver more than just a strong message.

In case you haven’t noticed, feedback has made a comeback.

What was once a system of “command and control” has shifted to a dynamic of “converse and connect.” Leaders are paying more attention to the message of feedback by holding themselves accountable to basic norms: Is it clear? Is it intentional? Does it tackle the tough issues, or simply dodge and disguise them? Feedback today is exchanged more frequently and with greater frequency than in years past. And more people, particularly individual contributors, now feel empowered to ask for feedback instead of waiting breathlessly for it to arrive.

That’s all very encouraging, but it’s not enough. Feedback isn’t just a report. It’s a relationship. Our job isn’t just to tell others about their work — it’s to show them how their works matters. How they matter.

We need a message that matters.

When we recognize the unique knowledge, expertise and experience of others, we show them two things:

  1. Your work matters.
  2. You matter.

Mattering is the currency of connection. When people sense that they matter, they’re more likely to feel a stronger sense of being and belonging. They experience a surge in oxytocin, the chemical responsible for lowering social inhibition and heightening our desire to be with others. And the cycle of connection is self-sustaining: The more of it we enjoy, the more of it we seek.

The downstream effects are powerful. When leaders deliver a message of mattering, they build social capital and trust. They create environments where success is counted in team wins, not personal victories. And they instill a deeper sense of purpose in everyday practice. Feedback can fuel stronger results and relationships when we give more attention to why things matter, not just why things are.

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Account for expertise.

Feedback preferences change with time, especially at various career stages. For novices, it’s a desire for reassurance: They want more coaching and context to help them choose the right path. For experts, it’s a passion for progress: They look for candor and clarity to help them advance on their chosen path. Whether it’s honors foreign language students describing their ideal teacher or savvy shoppers looking for guidance on beauty care products, experts want bare-knuckled feedback. Novices want it delivered with white gloves.

Taking those preferences into account, feedback must look and sound different depending on who you’re talking to. Tailoring our message to someone’s preferred method shows that we understand what this person wants and needs from us at this moment. Not only will this be a welcomed gesture, but it’s more likely to bring desired results.

Hone your empathy.

Empathy is the signature skill of mattering, and the better we are at understanding how others are feeling, the stronger our feedback. For some, empathy comes naturally. For others, it takes intentional practice. But our capacity for empathy starts even at a young age.

In one study, researchers gave a group of infants ranging from 14 to 18 months old two bowls of food, one containing Goldfish crackers and the other filled with broccoli. Naturally, the infants showed a stronger preference for the crackers. As they ate, so did the adults — but they expressed visible disgust while eating the crackers and obvious delight while eating the broccoli. When researchers asked the infants to pass them food, nearly 70 percent gave them broccoli. The infants may have liked Goldfish more, but they sensed that their companions liked broccoli even better.

Deliver with care.

While it’s important to show others we know them, we also have to show them carefully. Individuals who received negative feedback with encouraging social cues (such as smiles and nods) were more likely to interpret the feedback positively, while those who got positive feedback with negative emotional signals (frowns and scowls) felt worse about their overall performance.

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Feedback thrives when the message finds the mattering. Tailoring our feedback to the unique needs of individuals and telegraphing our intentions carefully helps others feel more visible and valued at work. Feedback is ultimately about what do for others, not to them. And when they feel they matter, their work will matter, too.

Mental Health and Wellbeing Still Matter

The return to work has redefined the way leaders operate within and beyond the office, but one thing hasn’t changed: Mental health and wellbeing still matter. A recent study by Mind Share Partners, in partnership with Qualtrics and SAP, showed a decline in the mental health of nearly half of respondents since the onset of the pandemic. Nationwide, almost half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. We all know someone who’s reeling from a rise in workplace-related anxiety and stress. 

It could even be us.

While treatment of serious mental health concerns should be left to trained professionals, there are steps that every leader can take to alleviate the toll on employee wellbeing. These practices can provide a much-needed lift to those who may be experiencing heightened fears about their emotional and even physical health. 

Care for employees with high-touch communication.

As teams continue to work in hybrid and flexible arrangements, it’s crucial that managers remain visible by communicating with frequency and intention. By staying in regular contact with employees, leaders can spot signs of emotional wear-and-tear before they become more pronounced. More importantly, dedicating time and resources to these check-ins sends a clear message to people that their emotional health matters. 

Scarcity of time is no excuse. For especially busy clients, I’ve recommended a “15-2-1” approach: Spend 15 minutes once a week talking to two members of your team. Making these conversations ritualized and routine eases some of the discomfort and stigma that may arise when discussing mental health (“This doesn’t apply to me” or “I’m doing fine, why bother?”) and can yield positive, business-oriented results for managers and employees alike. 

For high-touch communication that goes beyond trite greetings, try these helpful prompts:

  • Do you feel like you have enough time to get your work done in a reasonable manner?
  • How do you feel at the start and end of your day?
  • Are you finding ways to stay connected to the team? 
  • How can I support you?

Allow others to reframe and refocus.

Researchers have demonstrated the restorative effects of reframing and refocusing in alleviating emotional pain. According to one study, individuals who suffered setbacks but then envisioned a brighter future through “prospective writing” experienced a sense of post-traumatic growth. Other studies  have shown that individuals coped better with significant life changes when they actively focused on their core values and beliefs. 

These are not clever tricks to bypass real concerns. Rather, they are powerful frameworks for helping your employees gain control over fears both real and imagined by enlisting the support of those closest to them. Leaders can play a pivotal role in facilitating this process simply by showing up for their employees with offers of compassion, concern and commitment. Just knowing that someone is there to help is all the reassurance we need.

Pay attention to physical indicators and nonverbal cues.

Individuals who are struggling with stress and anxiety often show signs of distress. Early indicators include changes in behavior and mood, as well as nonverbal cues like alienating body language and disposition. Attentive leaders should be aware of the following red-flag behaviors by employees:

  • Exhibiting excessive nervousness, restlessness, or irritability
  • Acting overly passive, worried or tense
  • Avoiding group gatherings, whether in-person or virtual
  • Showing visible signs of fatigue, aches or pains

For leaders, paying attention pays off: Researchers have found that people volunteer less information and speak less articulately when talking to inattentive bosses, whereas attentive bosses — as measured by their awareness of nonverbal cues — receive more relevant and detailed information even without having to ask for it. Before you can advocate for others, you need to notice how they communicate their unspoken needs. 

Just because we’re back together doesn’t mean that people are back to their old selves. Now’s the time for leaders to prioritize the mental and emotional wellbeing of their employees as a matter of sound practice. Organizations achieve a higher order of purpose when they help individuals experience a deeper sense of wholeness. 

Prepare for difficult conversations

conversation

Bring a high-touch approach to high stakes encounters.

You’re about to have a difficult conversation with your boss, colleague or loved one. Are you ready?

Succeeding at high-stakes communication takes skill and savvy, but it also requires a plan of action — an intentional effort to understand what others need and how to meet and manage their expectations.

With the right amount of planning and preparation, it’s possible to engage others with greater calm and control. Using some behavioral science and a bit of common sense, you can take charge of these delicate conversation before they happen.

Define your desired outcome.

It’s critical to define your goals and objectives up front. Spend time before the conversation getting clear about your larger purpose: Are you sharing critical feedback? Asking your boss for more flexible hours? Defending an unpopular decision with members of your team? Different situations demand nuanced shifts in communication, and gaining this clarity will help you convey your message with conviction.

To do that, try seeing things from another person’s view. This act of perspective taking has been shown to produce numerous benefits, including increased altruismdecreased stereotyping, and stronger social bonds

To widen your view of others, ask yourself:

  • How is this person likely to respond?
  • Who else will be impacted by this conversation?
  • What would others say or do if they knew about this?

Words take on new meaning when you’re clear about who and what is at stake. 

Anticipate what will be seen and said.

Mental preparation helps, too. Brain scans show that people use the same neural networks whether they are actually moving or simply thinking about movement. And there’s research that suggests that merely rehearsing the steps and sequences of an action can lead to concrete improvement — all the more reason to think through these conversations ahead of time.

Before entering into a highly charged conversation, try engaging in shadow practice. Imagine you’re in the moment. What are you saying and doing? How do you look and sound? Does your message seem to be landing strong or falling flat?

Envision yourself in prime communication form:

  • Voice: Is it calm and steady?
  • Tone: Are you using direct and casual language?
  • Body language: Do you have an open and inviting posture?

Besides establishing your presence, plan for contingencies. Draw up a list of talking points and positions you’re likely to encounter from the other side:

  • What objections will be raised?
  • What evidence will be shared?
  • What experiences or expectations will they bring to the table?

Laying out the conversation ahead of time will help you stay calm and focused, even if the exchange turns tense. Shadow practice isn’t real, but its effects are.

Script before you speak.

NFL coaches draw up their team’s first 15 offensive plays before they take the field. They don’t leave their opening moves to chance. If you are bracing for a particularly rough conversation, it may be helpful to play offense and script what you plan to say, especially if you’re worried about finding the right words under pressure. 

For greater candor and clarity, try a feedback WRAP. This four-step framework can help you address issues without dodging or disguising important details and can lead to more collaborative conversations.

Make sure to vent first.

Don’t let pent-up emotions get in the way of positive dialogue. Over time, these tense feelings bubble up until they burst, spilling all over our words and actions. Psychologists call this emotional leakage, and it’s the reason why so many conversations quickly fly off the rails with pain and blame.  

You can contain the damage by finding a productive outlet to vent: Talk things through with a trusted colleague or loved one. Put your thoughts to paper by journaling or through some other reflective exercise. The release will help you feel more grounded and clear-minded during the conversation, and might just prevent you from saying or doing something you’ll later come to regret.

We can’t guarantee how others will take to our words, but having a proactive communication plan can improve our odds of success. By clarifying our goals, anticipating our moves, scripting our message and broadening our perspective, we can raise the prospects for healthier dynamics and more constructive conversation.

Turn stress into strength

Stress can be a tool, not just a toxin. Here’s how to re-work your relationship with stress.

We often hear about the negative impact of stress—how it can raise our blood pressure, interfere with sleep, increase our anxiety levels, and even damage the brain. And it’s true: Stress can have a negative impact on our overall state of health.

But is all stress bad? Could it be that the stress you’re feeling as you struggle to meet a deadline, brace for performance feedback, or fret over your child’s math homework can actually be good for you?

Turns out there’s an upside to stress. In fact, the right amount of stress might be just what you need to increase your productivity, foster better relationships, and increase your quality of life.

Surprised?

Stress forces us to solve problems more effectively, which helps us build skills we may need for future experiences. It also primes us for peak performance. The hormone that’s responsible for causing stress is the same hormone that primes us to get in the zone. Stress has been shown to sharpen our memory, strengthen our social bonds and even make us more creative.

So how can we start saying “yes” to stress and turn it into a strength?

With these three mind-shifts:

Reframe it to tame it

That thing you’re calling “stress” actually goes by another name: excitement. The same feelings you get before doing something exciting look a lot like the physiological signs of stress: Faster heart rate. Increased energy. Deeper breathing. Racing heartbeat.

A simple way to get control over stress is to start labeling it as excitement. Not everything that feels stressful is actually harmful. Not everything that feels weighty is cause for worry. Reframing stressful situations as exciting moments can help you navigate challenging experiences more confidently.

Listen to my conversation with West Point’s Dr. Nate Zinsser on reframing stress

Create a healthy relationship with control

Stress often results from a perceived loss of control. But there are things in life that we simply can’t control: other people’s behavior, a financial crisis, or just plain bad timing. So before you let stress take over, it’s worth asking yourself:

Is there anything I’m doing that’s contributing to this situation?

If the answer is yes, then start making adjustments where you can.

If the answer is no, then stressing over a situation is utterly pointless. If you worry about things that never happen, you’ve wasted your time. If you worry about things that do happen, you’ve still wasted your time!

A healthier way to manage your stress is to control what you can and accept what you can’t.

Listen to my conversation with resilience expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa on making stress a tool for growth

Make sense out of stress

A good way to turn stress into strength is to treat difficult circumstances as learn­ing opportunities. Stress is not an excuse to shut down. It’s an opportunity to open up. It’s our chance to absorb the teachable moments brought on by adversity. Turn challenge into your advantage. Instead of fixating on why something happened, focus on how you can grow from the experience. Maybe it forced you to become more adaptable. Maybe it prompted you to learn a different set of skills. Or maybe stress provided the nudge you needed to stretch outside your comfort zone and try something new. Don’t try to make sense of why stressful situations are suddenly in your life. Take that energy and make sense of how stress can improve your life.

By making conscious choices that help us build a new relationship with stress, we’ll be better equipped to turn life’s most challenging moments into our most exciting opportunities!

Feedforward: Look forward, not back

Good feedback look forward, not back.

Getting others to accept our feedback can prove challenging, especially when it’s critical. Worried that their feedback may lead to hurt feelings or diminished productivity, managers resort to face-saving techniques like the “praise sandwich” that end up doing more harm than good. The result is a wobbly feedback culture built largely upon evasion, confusion, and self-delusion.

This dynamic can change with a better message — and a bolder mindset. Based on my research and work with leadership teams, I’ve found that when performance conversations are powered by partnership, the landscape shifts. Not only do managers enjoy better relationships with their teams, but their feedback becomes a cause for joy, not fear.

If we want to move people forward, they need a sense of forward progress: 

Feedforward. 

Feedforward is a partnership model that distributes power and increases two-way conversation between managers and their employees — leading to a more authentic and revealing feedback experience that fosters trust, flows with the rhythm of work, and sets the conditions for positive, lasting change. It’s a humbler approach to managing people that focuses on asking questions, not giving orders. I call it the difference between “window gazing” and “mirror holding.”

Windows and mirrors: Two views of who people are

“Window gazing” is a process of telling and selling. Ask two people gazing out the same window to describe what they see, and you’re likely to get two different but valid views. Not so in the context of work, where the imbalance of power allows only one view — the manager’s — to prevail. This limited picture of performance is often riddled with subjectivity and bias, as managers ignore, distort, and overlook details related to an employee’s work. That view becomes muddled over time, often resembling a “forgetting curve” punctuated by a sharp initial drop, followed by a slow and steady loss. How can we evaluate something we can barely remember?

The picture begins to change with “mirror holding,” a deliberate shift to listening and learning. Instead of telling their employees what to see, managers guide them where to look. They engage employees in thoughtful conversation about their current strengths, future goals, and how to bring those elements closer in line. Rather than offer directives, managers ask probing questions that help them better understand the picture of work and entrust their employees with opportunities to shape the way forward.

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In my work with leaders at all levels, I’ve seen the power of a humbler approach. Mirror holding enlarges employees’ perspectives while expanding their opportunities for dialogue and reflection. It relieves managers of the prescriptive and often uncomfortable rituals of feedback — a hasty run-through of recent accomplishments, followed by a much longer list of deficits. And it transforms managers into people champions who actively promote the growth and agency of their employees. If the sign of a good leader is someone who creates other leaders, then mirror holding is the mark of transformational leadership.

Start expanding someone’s view

Making the transition from window gazing to mirror holding takes deliberate practice, but it’s something every leader can do with the right amount of effort and intent. Here are a few recommendations for developing more mirror-holding in your touchpoint conversations:

Ask “hero questions”

Unlock the potential of your employees by asking “hero questions” that focus on their strengths and stories of success. These questions cut to the heart of employee experience — how individuals perceive their competencies and contributions.

Some of my favorite hero questions include:

  • Tell me about a time this month you felt energized.
  • What have you learned about yourself from working on this project?
  • What strengths have you found most useful on this project?
  • Who have you recently helped, and what difference did it make in their work and yours?

Asking employees to look back at these peak moments helps managers better understand what it took to get there — and, more importantly, what it will take to get there again.

Diagnose challenges

When employees hint to a challenge, pay attention to their cues. Is this person holding back? What does that individual’s body language and tone of voice convey? This process of scanning and listening can alert managers to the unseen emotional toll of work and how it is affecting performance.

Try to uncover the employee’s perception of the challenge and how to address it with these prompts:

  • What outcome are you trying to achieve?
  • What is happening? Why do you think it’s happening?
  • What have you tried so far? How have you handled similar challenges in the past?
  • Have you tried to resolve this challenge? What happened as a result?

Helping others recognize work challenges can provide the first measure of relief. When issues are brought into the open, both sides gain clarity and can begin working towards a shared solution.

Shape the path

If performance is a journey, then it’s the manager’s job to help shape a path towards commitment. Once employees suggest a way forward, managers should guide their next steps. This steers the conversation towards actionable progress, making feedback more concrete.

Try closing the feedback exchange with questions like:

  • How do you think you’ll act on this?
  • What is holding you back from achieving your goals?
  • What would happen if you tried this?
  • How can I help you recreate the conditions of your success?

The best feedback helps others understand their strengths and provides the encouragement and guidance to build on those strengths. Feedforward sets the conditions for positive and lasting change. Making a small adjustment in your mindset can produce a world of difference in your message — and just might help others see themselves in an entirely new way.

Find and Keep Your Motivation

Motivation isn’t a secret. It’s a strategy.

Do you lack the motivation to succeed today? Then you’ve probably bought into the motivation myth.

The truth is, motivation isn’t a secret. It’s a strategy. And with the right techniques, you’ll find your stride and keep it, too.

Find the meaning

A good goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot. And it’s not just about making your quotas. Choose a goal that personally meaningful for you, like “I want to make three people happier today with this product” or “I want to change one person’s mind about this service.” When goals are fueled by passion and purpose, they won’t run out of gas.

Shrink the process

Nothing builds success like success. Break big goals into smaller chunks and start building quick wins.  Aiming for 500 sales this quarter is a broad goal that doesn’t give you a lot to aim for in the short-term. Shrinking your long-term goals into more immediate targets – like closing 40 sales a week – can deliver a thrill of accomplishment, boost your winning streak, and keep you motivated to reach even higher.  

Hold yourself accountable

It’s easy to fall off the wagon when you’re riding alone. Stay on track by sharing your success and setbacks with others. Knowing that others are counting on you – and counting with you – will push you to do your best.

Shift your view

To stay primed, try changing your view of progress. Instead of looking at what’s ahead of you, set a midpoint goal and focus on reaching it. Once you’re there, count down what’s left. It’s a mental trick shown to boost motivation all by changing the way we perceive our gains and growth.

So remember, motivation isn’t something you find. It’s something you create. Follow these four techniques, and you’ll be ready to take action, every time.

Your future self

Your future self is waiting for you. What will it look like?

What if you could fast forward five years from now, ten years from now – and meet your future self?

What would your future self look like? Would it be happy and successful? Thriving at work? Doing well in life?  Or would your future self be discouraged? Disappointed? Missing out on all that life has to offer?

If you met your future self, would you discover that the decisions you’re making right now are creating future obstacles….or opportunities?

Things are the way they are because we allow them to be that way. Nothing is life is destined, predetermined or meant to be. It’s decided. Life is chosen. Paths are taken. We are the product of our priorities. We’re the ones, right now, who get to make the decisions, define the terms, shape the roads that ultimately become our future.

Because the future is happening right now.

We don’t get to choose what the world brings to us. But we always get to choose what we bring to the world.

What you look for is what you see. What you believe is what you become.

When you skid a rock across the water, it creates a ripple. It spreads across the surface well beyond its point of impact.

The decisions we make today ripple across time. They reverberate into tomorrow. They become our future. Because our future starts today.

Today – start changing your view of yourself. Start changing your view of the future.  Others are looking to you. They are looking at you. And so the question you need to ask yourself is this:

When people meet your future self, what do you want them to see?

The Art of Persuasion

Persuasion works best when you help others convince themselves.

Really good salespeople know how to persuade their prospects. But they don’t do it by pushing them harder. Instead, they push away the hard issues — the barriers that keep others from taking action. You don’t need to be manipulative to win people over. All it takes is a better understanding of how people make decisions.

Persuasion is part art, part smarts. Stick with these principles of persuasion, and you’ll end up getting more of what you want by giving others more of what they need.

Highlight the gap.

When people are pushed, they tend to push back. It’s called reactance, and it’s a hardwired human trait. The best way to convince others is to help them convince themselves. Start by highlighting the gap between the present and future — what is and what could be. Describe the benefits of your product or service — not just the features — and guide others to imagine future possibilities that can come from closing that gap.

Surface the costs.

People resist change because they place more value on what they already have, something known as endowment. In reality, the cost of not taking action — in terms of money, time and opportunity — can be much higher. To be more persuasive, you should surface the costs of sticking with the status quo. Help others recognize that they stand to gain much more by acting than not.

Make numbers sound human.

Some people need data to guide their decisions. Data is good, but data stories are even better. Use math to deliver a message. Instead of saying that your product decreases costs by 30%, put the savings in human terms: “Our customers are happier as a result of the savings we deliver.” Numbers count more when they tell a story.


Shorten the distance.

People have a hard time accepting ideas that exist in a faraway future. To be more persuasive, shorten the distance from concept to reality by asking for smaller commitments and creating easier points of entry. These shrinking strategies let others see progress unfold over shorter intervals, boosting their confidence in you and their willingness to stay the course.


The best way to change people’s minds is to open their minds. Highlight the gaps, surface the costs, make your numbers human and shorten the distance to action, and you’ll find that prospects are ready — and willing — to hear what you have to say.

Be a first-class noticer

Don’t overlook the obvious.

Have you ever faced a situation at work and wondered, “How could this have happened?” or “Why didn’t I see that coming?

  • You lose a bid for a project you assumed was a lock.
  • You learn employee engagement scores are much lower than expected.
  • You discover that your top salesperson is leaving for a competitor.

Even the best of us fail to recognize the signs that are hiding in plain sight. It could be the result of willful blindness. Or a lack of self-awareness. But when we aren’t picking up on the clues and cues around us, we get second-class data, make second-class decisions, and end up with second-class outcomes.

The solution? Become a first-class noticer.

First-class noticers do more than just pay attention. They observe and absorb situational and behavioral patterns. The term “noticer” was coined by Noble prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow in his 1997 novella, The Actual. In the story, Bellow’s protagonist, Harry Trellman, catches the eye of a wealthy financier, Sigmund Adletsky, who brings Harry into his inner circle because of his extraordinary “first class noticer” skills.

And for good reason: Noticing can be a competitive advantage. It allows us to spot trends before they emerge and consider the long-term consequences of short-term conditions. First-class noticing helps us become more aware of what others are thinking or feeling without them even saying a word. It spares us from making costly errors and enables us to size up business opportunities and threats. At its core, first-class noticing sharpens our understanding of people and situations and positions us for more informed decision-making.

Some people are natural-born noticers. They can recall the agitated look on a coworker’s face during a meeting. They can discern the non-verbal reactions of a client during a sales pitch. They remember who was taking notes during the all-hands meeting and who was checking social media. And then there’s everybody else, who somehow manage to overlook the obvious.

How can we become first-class noticers? By starting with small acts to build our awareness.

Set aside judgement

Too often, we pay more attention to what we’re looking for rather than what we’re looking at. (The “monkey business” illusion makes that abundantly clear.) These visual blinders keep us from seeing the whole picture, or worse, cause us to distort it entirely. A good rule of thumb: When you size up a situation – how people or places look, sound and feel – be a reporter, not an op-ed writer. Describe what you see, not what you think it means. Without that objectivity, it’s much harder to spot the patterns or connections hiding in plain sight.

Challenge initial assumptions

Sometimes we miss information simply because we don’t want to acknowledge it exists. Psychologists call this “bounded awareness” – the tendency to notice things that fit inside the bounds of our preconceived beliefs. As a countermeasure, it’s vital to challenge our assumptions. Are we seeing the picture clearly? Have we ignored something important?

A good way to stretch the bounds of awareness is to seek alternate perspectives. Ask a colleague or trusted partner to put forth their point of view.  Since different people have different bounds of awareness, getting multiple views can help us see past our blinders.

Build a noticing habit

Noticing is conscious choice. When we pay attention to the way we pay attention, our visual field become sharper and more deliberate. To train myself on becoming a first-class noticer, I designate time each day for “noticing bursts” – short, intentional periods of time when I heighten my visual awareness. At first, this can be very difficult. Given our bias for action, we’re more naturally drawn into a state of doing, not being. My initial “noticing bursts” lasted barely a minute. But with time and practice, I’ve managed to sustain my awareness for longer stretches of time.

We’re living in an age of busyness, distraction and disconnection. But when take time to engage with our surroundings, challenge our beliefs and assumptions, and reflect on what’s right in front of us, we can become first-class noticers. What we see might just surprise us.

Do:

  • Build a habit of being mindful of your surroundings, especially familiar ones.
  • Keep an observation journal detailing irregular occurrences, sounds, and events happening around you. This builds a habit of observing details. You can also do this conscientiously without writing everything down.
  • When talking to others, take into account their body language.

Don’t:

  • Overload yourself with stimuli to the point of distraction.
  • Check email/social media incessantly.
  • Schedule deep focus activities at high-activity moments in your day.

Managing your former coworkers

With clear and consistent leadership, it doesn’t have to be awkward.

So you just got promoted. Congrats! Moving into a leadership role can be an exciting and fulfilling career step. But it can also come with its share of complications. Whether it’s keeping projects on track or people in line, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the demands of a new position, especially if you’re managing your old colleagues.

Awkward!

One of hazards of leadership is neglecting the values and virtues that put you on that path. As you level up and demonstrate your leadership capacity, it’s important to stick to some of the basic people principles that got you here in the first place. Your former coworkers may be watching you closely, but with clear and consistent leadership, you can earn their trust and respect. Here’s how.

Ask for advice – and mean it.

Bringing your team into the decision-making process is smart practice: Not only does it improve the quality of your decisions, but it also motivates others to stand behind those ideas and implement them.

There’s just one caveat: You better mean it.

But when leaders ask for suggestions without really intending to follow through on those ideas, they engage in what psychologists have called “sham participation” – putting out a hollow call for ideas when a plan of action has already been determined.

This kind of deception wastes time and erodes trust. Once your former coworkers realize their opinions never really counted, they’ll quickly lose faith in you as their boss and doubt your motives for even seeking their input in the first place. Instead of winning support, you’ll enjoy up creating disappointment, confusion, and even resentment.  

To show your good intentions, be upfront about the decision-making process. Manage expectations by making sure others understand what needs to be decided, how information will be collected, and who will make the ultimate call. (If that’s you, then be clear about it.) People may not like the decision that’s reached, but they’ll respect the process – and you – for being transparent.

Reach a decision – and keep it.

Once decisions are made, it’s up to you to stand by them even when they’re unpopular. The rollout period can be fraught with grumblings, anxiety, and setbacks, but retreating from a decision not only weakens your plan – it also diminishes your credibility.

This can be especially challenging if you’ve been elevated to leadership from within your own team. People who were once your coworkers just a few days ago may second-guess your decisions, which can lead to self-doubt and insecurity. Even a hint of pushback can tempt some leaders to put projects on hold or cancel them entirely. This is the moment when you need to summon the courage to stand up and not give in.

I once worked with a leader who faced an early challenge from members of his team. They didn’t like his decision to move forward with a new feedback platform that required more frequent check-ins and documentation. But when this leader calmly listened to his team, addressed their concerns, and ultimately held is ground, he managed to keep the project moving forward without leaving others feeling left behind.

When promises are made and kept, leaders show their team they can be trusted to follow through. If new information emerges later, decisions can always be revisited – but now, it will come from a position of certitude, not weakness.

Pledge action – and do it.

The old adage of “say what you mean, and mean what you say” couldn’t be more true, especially for leaders managing former colleagues. It’s one thing to make a decision. It’s another to put that decision into action. The sooner ideas are executed, the better.

Once you’ve set a course in motion, it’s time to see it through. Project delays and bottlenecks create an opening for people to wonder and worry. Why are we holding off? Where did those resources end up going? And your former colleagues may start whispering, “See, I told you so!” To avoid second-guessing and uncertainty, get ready to launch as soon as possible.

Along the way, be sure to keep briefing your team to maintain clear lines of communication: Highlight upcoming deadlines and mile markers for projects. Give routine status updates. Create visibility by showing real-time results from the field. These are small gestures, but they’re great ways to make people feel informed and empowered.

To lead is to serve. Making the right investments as you begin your leadership role can make a world of difference to your team, especially if you have a long-standing relationship with them, When you serve others with clear messaging, consistent decision-making and candid communication, you’ll get better results for them — and yourself.