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  • Less than 760 words
  • Average Reading Time: Less than 3 minutes

Are You Having Fun at Work?

In Dr. Hallowell’s book Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011), his third step in the Cycle of Excellence refers to play in providing optimal working conditions for peak performance.

To recap, the author, a psychiatrist and behavior expert, draws on brain science, performance research and his own experience to present the Cycle of Excellence process for getting the best from your people:

  1. Select: Put the right people in the right job, and give them responsibilities that “light up” their brains.   
  2. Connect: Strengthen interpersonal bonds among team members.
  3. Play: Help people unleash their imaginations at work.
  4. Grapple and Grow: When the pressure’s on, enable employees to achieve mastery of their work.
  5. Shine: Use the right rewards to promote loyalty and stoke your people’s desire to excel.

One of the most important things leaders and managers can do for people is to help them expand and use their imagination.

Standards and Compliance Need a Little Creative License

My work coaching executive teams often involves rules, regulations, standards and compliance. When I begin working with my client, I often see one of two scenarios.

  1. An overemphasis on rules and regulations that blocks creative thinking and demoralizes employees who really want to perform beyond mediocrity. Bright performers are stifled when they hear “This is the way we do it around here.”  The message is “Don’t ask questions. Do it our way, or else.”  A throwback to “command and control”.
  2. Rules and regulations that are impossible to implement consistently because of a poor fit and/or the lack of commitment and energy to enforce.  The resulting message is that rules, regulations, and standards don’t really matter – it’s all lip service.  Leaders and managers lose face as employees ignore the rules and regulations.  One of the best examples I come across is the “Dress Code”.

Some would think there is no place for creative license in developing rules and regulations.  However, when implementing initiatives based on any standard, I coach my clients in interpreting the standard so that it fits and complements their business.  Forcing the business into the standard for the sake of compliance is like a forcing your foot into an ill-fitted shoe. There’s going to be pain! I stress that their work is to create policies, procedures, rules, and regulations that serve the business, the workplace environment, and the community that the business serves.

Rules and regulations that serve only to meet compliance squeeze the spark out of people, leaving them dull and disengaged.  A common symptom is the growing attitude of “I have to”.  Wouldn’t we all perform better if rules and regulations provided structure while cultivating the attitude of “I want to”?

Bear with me! You may be thinking there’s not much time or energy for socializing and having fun at work.  There is resounding evidence that much more can be accomplished with a sense of play.

In fact, the success of your business and your employees depends on it. Here’s why.

Step 3: Play

Play isn’t limited to break time. Play is any activity that involves tgroup of business people playing and being creative in the officehe imagination, lights up our brains, and produces creative thoughts and ideas.  Peak performance takes positive physical, mental, and emotional energy.  Play provides all of this by boosting morale, reducing fatigue, and bringing joy to our workdays.

Bringing play into daily workplace activities is not as difficult as some may think. Leaders and managers could encourage imaginative play more frequently with these steps:

  • Ask open-ended questions.

o   Expand thinking beyond “yes” and “no”.

  • Encourage everyone to produce three new ideas each month.

o   New ways of working.

o   New ways of making customers happy, etc.

  • Allow for irreverence or goofiness (without disrespect), and model this behaviour.

o   A breakout of laughter, song, or even dance will boost any business environment.

  • Brainstorm.

o   How can we do this better?

o   What’s missing?

  • Reward new ideas and innovations.

o   Acknowledgement with a sincere “thank you” is powerful whether in private or in public.  Small rewards often are more effective than a big production once or twice a year.  Don’t cancel your big celebrations; just add smaller and more frequent celebrations.  Make them sincere and meaningful.

  • Encourage people to question everything.

o   Accept the questions and open up for discussion.  Expand critical-thinking.  Make it safe for everyone to learn from sharing and questioning.

What do you think about this?

  1. Do you pay attention to playfulness and opportunities to be creative and imaginative?
  2. Do you have fun at work?

Books and Audiobooks

Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011)

On iTunes Audiobook

Fun is Good: How to Create Joy & Passion in Your Workplace & Career, Mike Veeck & Pete Williams (Rodale Books, 2005)

Photo © iStock.com / ParkerDeen

Stay positive

  • Less than 550 words
  • Average Reading Time:  Less than 2 minutes

In reading Dr. Hallowell’s book Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011), I was drawn to the 2nd step of his Cycle of Excellence, about connection.

To recap, the author, a psychiatrist and behavior expert, draws on brain science, performance research, and his own experience to present a process for getting the best from your people:

  1. Select: Put the right people in the right job and give them responsibilities that “light up” their brains.
  2. Connect: Strengthen interpersonal bonds among team members.
  3. Play: Help people unleash their imaginations at work.
  4. Grapple and Grow: When the pressure is on, enable employees to achieve mastery of their work.
  5. Shine: Use the right rewards to promote loyalty and stoke your people’s desire to excel.

A manager or leader’s first step for bringing out the best in people is ensuring a person is well matched to a job. Step 1. The Right Fit provided many great assessment tools that help to identify an employee’s talents and strengths in order to then evaluate the fit with the tasks he or she is responsible to perform.

Now let’s turn our attention to finding connection and interpersonal relationships at work.

Step 2: Connectinterpersonal relationships in organizations

A positive working environment arises from the way leaders and managers handle negativity, failure and problems. They set the tone and model preferred behaviors and reactions. Employees take their cues from those who lead them.

Leaders, managers, and employees require a mutual atmosphere of trust, optimism, openness, transparency, creativity and positive energy. Each group can contribute to reducing toxic fear and worry, insecurity, backbiting, backstabbing, gossip and disconnection.

As a leader and manager, here’s what you can do to encourage connection:

  • Look for the spark of brilliance within everyone.
  • Encourage a learning mindset.  Share what you are learning.
  • Model and teach optimism for overall wellbeing of the employees and the organization
  • Model the belief that interpersonal relationships are key to effective teamwork and can overcome any problem.
  • Use human moments instead of relying on electronic communication.
  • Learn more about each person. Get beyond what makes them tick and learn what makes them shine.
  • Treat everyone with respect  ̶  especially those you dislike.
  • Meet people where they are and know that most will do their best with what they have.
  • Encourage reality testing.
  • Use humor without sarcasm or at others’ expense.
  • Seek out the quiet ones.  Bring them in.

In the work I do as an Executive Coach focusing on Emotional Intelligence and Positive Psychology in the workplace, many hours are devoted to exploring how my client wants to develop connections with and among people at work.

What do you think about this?

  1. What ways can you improve connection with your people?
  2. What resources do you need to improve interpersonal relationships with and among your employees?

Books and Audiobooks

Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011)

On iTunes

The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, Third Edition, Steven J. Stein, Ph.D. and Howard E. Book, M.D.

On iTunes

Assessments for effective connection

For information about qualified administration and briefing of the following assessments, contact Patricia at patricia@maestoquality.com or call 905-858-7566

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

DISC Behaviour Assessment – Thomas International

EQ – Emotional Intelligence – EQi 2.0 and EQ 360

Stay positive


  • employee engagementLess than 950 words
  • Quoted Studies and Statistics
  •  Average Reading Time: Less than 5 minutes

I am fortunate to work with many talented and smart people: savvy women business owners; high-volume automotive dealer principals; dedicated surgeons and physicians; their hard-working executive teams – and their employees. The troubling trend is the unrelenting hard work and effort wasted following management gurus and fads du jour. As mentioned in a previous blog, I have seen many “quality”, “customer-experience”, and “employee-engagement” programs come and go in the past few decades. The programs are sound for building capacity and capability. However, implementation and sustainability is THE challenge. What’s the golden key?

While no management guru has found the golden key to unlocking the full panoply of human potential at work, several diverse areas of research shed new light on the possibilities.

golden key
I recently retreated to listen to the audiobook, Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011). The author, Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, synthesizes such new research into five sequential steps leaders and managers can apply to maximize employees’ peak performance.

A psychiatrist and ADD expert, he draws on brain science, performance research, and his own experience to present a proven process for getting the best from your people:

  1. Select: Put the right people in the right job and give them responsibilities that “light up” their brains.
  2. Connect: Strengthen interpersonal bonds among team members.
  3. Play: Help people unleash their imaginations at work.
  4. Grapple and Grow: When the pressure is on, enable employees to achieve mastery of their work.
  5. Shine: Use the right rewards to promote loyalty and stoke your people’s desire to excel.

“Neither the individual nor the job holds the magic,” Hallowell writes. “But the right person doing the right job creates the magical interaction that leads to peak performance.”

Hallowell refers to the five cited essential ingredients as “The Cycle of Excellence,” which works because it exploits the powerful interaction between an individual’s intrinsic capabilities and extrinsic environment. These ingredients will be explored in a series of blogs beginning here with “Step 1. The Right Fit”.

1. The Right Fit

A manager or leader’s first step for bringing out the best in people is ensuring a person is well matched to a job. Without that, disengagement is inevitable. People either have no interest in what they are doing or they aren’t skilled at it. Subsequently, they give little effort, apply passive resistance, or they give up entirely.

To match the right person to the right job, examine how three key questions intersect:

  1. At what tasks or jobs does this person excel?
  2. What does he/she like to do?
  3. How does he/she add value to the organization?

These questions set the stage for your employees to do well with responsibilities they enjoy. You can then determine how they will add the greatest possible value to your organization.

Better Fit; Better Performance

brain lit up

Image © ktsimage / Crestock

In a 2013, GfK’s Globobus and Monster.ca conducted a survey based on 8,000 workers in seven countries. The results highlighted that Canadian workers are the most satisfied with their jobs. However, only 24 percent of Canadians expressed that they “love their job”. Young Canadian workers under the age of 25 are most unhappy, with 13 per cent confessing that they “dislike their jobs” and think they can do better.

According to a 2005 Harris Interactive poll, 33 percent of 7,718 U.S. employees surveyed believed they had reached a dead end in their jobs and 21 percent were eager to change careers. Only 20 percent felt passionate about their work.

In a previous blog “Positive Spin on Disengaged Employees”, I shared the results of two other studies that reveal how well we are doing at focusing on better fit for better performance.

  1. 2012 Towers Watson. A study of employee attitudes and concerns around the world. 33 percent of Canadian workers are “sustainably engaged”. 24 percent are “the unsupported” – willing to put in the effort, but held back by organizational barriers.
  2. 2013 Gallup “State of the American Workplace”. A study approximately 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs. 30 million (30%) are engaged and inspired at work. We can assume they have great leaders who focus on better fit for better performance. At the other end of the spectrum are roughly 20 million (20%) employees who are actively disengaged. These employees, who have bosses from hell or leaders that make them miserable, roam the halls spreading discontent. The other 50 million (50%) American workers are not engaged. They’re just kind of present, but not inspired by their work or the people who are charged with leading them.

When so many skilled and motivated people spend decades roaming the “job” market and not building peak performance in a “career”, something is wrong. They clearly have not landed in the right outlets for their talents and strengths. Their brains never “light up”.

The better the fit, the better the performance. People require clear roles that allow them to succeed, while also providing room to learn, grow, and be challenged.

What do you think about this?

  1. Are you devoting enough time to assessing the right fit?
  2. What can you do to improve the right fit for people?
  3. What resources do you need to assess the right fit?

Here are a few resources to “light up” your interest and commitment to helping your employees reach peak performance.

Books and Audiobooks

Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011)
On iTunes

Assessments for ensuring the right fit

For information about qualified administration and briefing of the following assessments, contact Patricia at patricia@maestoquality.com or call 905-858-7566
Holland Occupational Themes (RIASEC)
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
DISC Behaviour Assessment – Thomas International

Stay positive


Fairmont Chateau Laurier, Ottawa

Fairmont Chateau Laurier, Ottawa

Off to Ottawa, Ontario for the

2nd Canadian Conference on Positive Psychology

July 16th – 18th

From July 16 – 18, I will join over 100 leading positive psychology experts who will reveal the latest research and best practices on the science of well-being, happiness, and human flourishing.

I will be in the great company of teachers, coaches, psychologist/psychotherapists, counsellors, social workers, researchers, organizational consultants and other professionals from across Canada and the world who want to get deep on the topic of psychological well-being and happiness. The conference goal is to share leading-edge research and best practices in the application of positive psychology across disciplines.

Applied positive psychology has been demonstrated to

  • Improve mental and physical health;
  • Deepen the quality of our relationships and strengthen team bonds;
  • Increase employee productivity, sales, creativity, and retention;
  • Identify and nurture a strengths-based approach to coaching, counselling, and performance management;
  • Improve mental health in schools;
  • Shorten the time it takes to bounce back from setbacks;
  • Provide skills to deal with stress, pain, and loss;
  • Help discover greater meaning in life.

Positive psychology is about finding ways to recognize and foster the things that lead to flourishing individuals.

I am looking forward to learning from more than 100 of the world’s top experts who have proven approaches to using positive psychology in a variety of settings.

My intentions are to…

  • Explore different formats and approaches for integrating positive psychology into our lives and the workplace
  • Walk away with practical positive psychology strategies and activities
  • Join the dialogue with other experts, researchers, and practitioners, and
  • Expand my knowledge on the latest research in positive psychology

For more information and to register: http://www.positivepsychologycanada.com/conference2014

  • Less than 550 words
  • Average Reading Time: Less than 2 minutes

Businesswoman Star Performer

Help Others Achieve and Succeed!

Disengaged employees often appear to lack commitment. In reality, many of them crave re-engagement. Many are high-achievers just waiting for the opportunity to step out in the spotlight and become Star Performers. No one enjoys working without passion or joy.

While many factors cause disengagement, the most prevalent is feeling overwhelmed (or, conversely, underwhelmed). Disconnection and overload pose obstacles to performance and yet often go undetected or ignored because neither qualifies as a disciplinary issue.

Meanwhile, business owners and executive leadership teams try to work around such problems, hoping for a miraculous turnaround or spark that re-ignites energy and drive. They try incentives, empowerment programs, or the management fad du jour.

I have seen many “quality”, “customer-experience”, and “employee-engagement” programs come and go in the past few decades.  As business owners and executive leadership teams search for the next best thing, they often overlook the essential key to making these programs deliver on promises – providing conditions that help people achieve and succeed.

Sparking Flow Moments in the Workplace

While it’s impossible to spark flow moments all day long, you can greatly improve your ability to help others achieve peak performance. In the 21st Century, you don’t need carrots or sticks and command and control management is obsolete – that’s progress!

You can’t sprint to peak performance, the brain needs careful management and rest. Brain science tells us that as knowledge workers, we need to manage our thinking minds with care.  No surprise that workplace health and safety standards and programs now recognize mental and emotional health as a key to maintaining a productive workforce.

You cannot expect a human being to sit at a desk for hours and produce quality work without providing these essential elements:

  • Food
  • Rest
  • Brain FatigueHuman engagement
  • Physical movement and exercise – a physical stretch
  • Challenge – a mental and intellectual stretch

We often forget that thinking is hard work. If you work too many hours, your brain’s supply of neurotransmitters will be depleted, and you won’t be able to sustain top performance. Without proper care, the brain will under-perform—and brain fatigue mimics disengagement and lack of commitment.

Emotional Intelligence and Peak Performance

Peak performance also depends on how we feel as individuals and is a by-product of our overall well-being.  The Well-Being Indicator in the EQ-i 2.0 Model of Emotional Intelligence includes self-regard, optimism, interpersonal relationships, and self-actualization.  Individuals with high levels of well-being exude cheerfulness at both work and play while participating in activities that they truly enjoy.  They experience and contribute passion and joy.  Add optimal working conditions and you have the ingredients for sparking flow moments.

What do you think about this?

  1. Are you providing optimal working conditions for your people to find flow moments in their work? Are you bringing out the best in them?
  2. What is the affect of individual well-being on your organization’s well-being?  What is the toll of low well-being?
  3. How would your employees and organization benefit from creating an environment that sparks flow moments and nurtures peak performance?

Related resources:

Stay Positive




TiredI am so tired of the misleading headlines misrepresenting the statistics on the state of the American Workplace (and by close association, the Canadian Workplace).  We all need to temper the media’s negative spin with our best critical-thinking before jumping on the bandwagon to despair or surging forward with engagement and retention strategies that just don’t work in today’s workplace.

Yes, Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report does state that only 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged and inspired at work.  20% are actively disengaged meaning that they are miserable and actively spreading discontent however they can. The remaining 50% are passively disengaged.  Quite different from being actively disengaged, they are simply not present, not inspired, and most likely demoralized by the latter 20%.

Canadian Workers Concur

Canadian Flag

In 2012, Towers Watson conducted a study of employee attitudes and concerns around the world. Canadian workers (albeit a small sampling) presented similar statistics – 33% of Canadian workers are sustainably engaged – disturbing because sustainable engagement affects absenteeism, presenteeism (being there, but not all there), and retention.  24% of Canadian workers are considered “the unsupported” – willing to put in the effort, but held back by organizational barriers to excelling and reserving energy (capability and capacity).

The Positive Spin – The Opportunity

Looking for the positive spin?  There’s huge potential to optimize our workforce. Well over 50% of employees in the U.S. and Canada crave opportunities to achieve full potential, experience peak performance moments, and achieve sustainable high performance. This is where we need to focus our attention – managing the personal growth of the 50+%.

Need more proof? 

  • Gallup’s research shows that employee engagement remains flat when unmanaged.
  • Towers Watson’s research shows that the steps that organizations are taking to improve engagement are falling short.
  • Current market research and statistics suggest that personal growth is a 64 billion dollar industry worldwide.  People are making the investment themselves.

The Disconnect

Clearly, the disconnect is between what today’s workers understand about their potential and what most employers are failing to recognize and value.  If employers cannot recognize and value potential, they are unable to bring out the best in their employees.

How do you bring out the best in your employees – especially for those who have the capacity and capability to be high performers, but have lost their spark and slipped into apathy?

For the majority of our executive team clients, this seems to be the number one critical challenge at the moment: keeping people actively engaged and passionate about their work to maintain levels of high performance.

Invasion of the Workplace Zombies

How do some executives and managers seem to have a knack for kindling peak performance in people and maintaining high performance, while others complain, “We are surrounded by zombies.”?

For those feeling invaded by zombies, a better understanding about peak performance and how to optimize peak-performance experiences will enhance their ability to bring out the best in their employees.

What is Peak Performance?

Peak performance is a combination of:

  • Excellence
    • Most leaders and managers want their people to achieve excellence at work.  Contrary to the beliefs of those who claim to be surrounded by zombies, employees want to achieve excellence at work as well.
  • Consistency
    • Employees look for consistency in expectations from and in their leaders and managers. Consistency reserves energy for better things – like improvement!
  • Ongoing improvement
    • Tapping into energy reserves to identify and implement ongoing improvement keeps employees fresh, engaged, and passionate about their work.  The added workplace benefits are improved relationships with co-workers, customers, and with their employer. “We’re all doing better together.”

Conditions for Peak Performance

The conditions for achieving personal peak performance differ for each person. To achieve peak performance, each person must take personal responsibility for identifying and finding the right job, tasks, and working environment that match his or her strengths

Facilitating the right fit is management’s responsibility. This is now recognized as one of the most crucial leadership and management responsibilities and it takes skill. While each employee has the potential to deliver peak performance, it’s up to management to find ways to make it happen.

How to Optimize Peak Performance Experiences

In the flow

Peak performance is easy to detect when it happens. In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008), psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the experience of working at optimum levels as a state of “flow”. People report that while experiencing a state of flow, they typically lose themselves in the project, meeting, or discussion. They may lose track of time and space. Flow feels effortless, yet energizing.

I relish such moments in my work and I know, I am not alone.

Those “flow” experiences are difficult to purposefully replicate.  As a leader or manager, you may often struggle to find the right words to rekindle motivation in people who appear to have lost their enthusiasm.

It’s even more frustrating when you know that your employees are capable and talented, yet you observe apathy in your workplace.  Your employees seem to be just going through the motions like zombies, without enthusiasm or joy.

Peak performance can be re-ignited to provide those optimal experiences in the workplace for everyone.  A combination of personal responsibility and management responsibility will rekindle the spark for peak performance and provide a foundation for sustainable high performance.

Take Action




Last week, I attended the WEBENC conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota as part of the Canadian delegation of WEConnect International. Always learning; always growing; and always  seeking opportunities to be in the company of high-achievers.

Target Field, Minneapolis, MN.  Home of the Minnesota Twins. Welcoming WEBENC Participants

Target Field, Minneapolis, MN. Home of the Minnesota Twins.
Welcoming WEBENC Participants

With thousands of women business owners from around the globe ascending on the Twin City area, hotels were at full capacity.  This provided an interesting personal challenge upon arrival when I learned that the B&B I booked into had been without power for three days due to a major power outage. The owners had no idea when power would return.  Although they risked revenue loss for the week on top of other losses, they scrambled to find alternative comfortable accommodation for me. They even chauffeured me to my new accommodation.

At the Embassy Suites, the staff rallied to serve my need for a room and soothe my weary soul. Every employee I encountered was empowered to make my stay comfortable, pleasant, and less stressful. They empathized and understood that living day-to-day with uncertainty (not having a place to stay) would affect my ability to enjoy the conference and their lovely city.  A day did come when there was no vacant room. As I was leaving the hotel, a staff member, Kristin, came to my rescue.  Kristin miraculously found a vacant room which guaranteed my stay throughout the rest of the week.

Safely back home and upon reflection, I recalled that rooms were given to some staff members because their own homes were without power. I suspect that Kristen gave up her own room. At the very least, I suspect that she took a stand to make things right for a guest.  Probably risking personal and professional consequences, she tapped into her own wisdom and judgment of what was best given the complexity of the situation.  She made a high-stress decision indicative of a Star Performer and a testament to her strength of character, personal leadership, and engagement in her profession.  Her decision is worthy of my glowing feedback, testimonial, and review.

The following feature article focuses on development of character, wisdom, and virtue – the markers of Star Performers and critical to taking the high road.

Developing Character and Wisdom

Mediocrity is the gateway to disengagement and boredom. To sustain high level of achievement, we each need to be continually learning and growing in spite of uncertainty and anxiety. Growth in character and wisdom is paramount to developing Star Performers who will make decisions based on what is “right”.

Anyone in a leadership role faces high-stress decisions each day. In the absence of a consistent commitment to growth and development of Star Performers in leadership roles, executive teams are prone to create a culture of “groupthink.”

With groupthink, group members try to minimize conflict, avoid consequences, and make decisions without critical evaluation of alternative ideas and viewpoints in complex situations. The safe road beckons strongly when there is accumulative stress and rising risk. The fear of stepping out of the group with a better way or speaking up for what is right holds many high-achievers back.

The Bumpy RoadBumpy Road

High-achievers travel a bumpy road.  They want to maintain the best path for their careers and yet still want to support organizational goals. Knowing how to navigate these tough environments is crucial for any achiever who wants to ascend to the top ranks and become a Star Performer.  A significant challenge for high-achievers is knowing who and when to ask for help and feedback to stay on the “high road”.  It takes development of character, wisdom, and virtue to stay on the high road.

Knowing what is the right thing to do is at the heart of personal and professional leadership.

History requires leaders to find and do the right things, in the right way, against the right time frame. It requires them to develop the capacity for executive wisdom and the ability to deploy it. It requires that they both see and pursue the development of virtue in their own characters.

Leaders routinely face situations for which they have no rules to guide them and all too often for which they have little or no knowledge. In these circumstances, they are always anxious and face incredible pressures to behave badly because they more often do not know what they do not know. Almost nothing is more difficult, anxiety arousing, and humiliating than for a leader to admit that he or she does not know the right thing to do.

~ Richard R. Kilburg, Executive Wisdom: Coaching and the Emergence of Virtuous Leaders, APA, 2006

Developing character, wisdom, virtue and true expertise in any domain takes time, a determined spirit, and the courage to act and then be accountable.  The high road is rife with risks and anxieties. BUT, it can be an exhilarating experience with opportunities for star performance.

Optimizing Performance for the High Road

Reflecting on my recent personal travel experience as an analogy, the journey can be less stressful in spite of the risks and anxieties.  Consider how a safe environment provided by a professional coach can help your high-achievers develop their character and wisdom and navigate the high road with high performance.



As an avid reader of Success magazine and follower of its publisher, Darren Hardy, I was drawn to Darren’s webinar “Productivity Secrets of Super-achievers” that was part of the 2013 World Business and Executive Coach Summit preview.

CEO Time Productivity

Did you know?

  • the average CEO logs about 28 minutes of genuine productivity each day;
  • 28% of productive focus is wasted on multi-tasking (switching focus);
  • switching your focus causes a 10-point drop in your IQ;  and
  • recovery from each time you switch focus takes 15 minutes.

Following these statics, Darren shared his concept of bookending the day: a formulated routine at the beginning and end of each day to get control of your attention.

  • The morning bookend includes inspirational activities and calibration (review) of long-term objectives and most valuable priorities (MVPs) followed by a 90-minute sprint working on your #1 MVP.
  • The evening bookend includes a review of the day, prep for the following day, choosing your #1 MVP for the next day, and closing with an inspirational activity like journaling or reading (no NEWS).

Like other great concepts, bookending is simple, but not easy. It needs to become routine and automatic just like brushing your teeth.  When the practice becomes automatic it frees up physical, mental, and emotional energy.  The concept is ideal for re-energizing high-achievers, encouraging periods of discipline followed by intermittent recovery to increase productivity and satisfaction of accomplishing what’s most important!  I’ve added bookending to my daily practice and it’s working. Read more about re-energizing your high-achievers in the following feature article.

Releasing Traps to Re-energize High Achievers

Following up on the last article, Releasing the Traps That Cripple Star Performers, this article concludes the 6-step plan for helping high-achievers come off their plateaus and re-energize their careers. Before moving forward, let’s revisit the first two steps:

  1. Forget the past: past achievements – and failures – to concentrate on what’s needed next.
  2. Develop and use a support network: a support network of peers, mentors, and a coach.  Being willing to ask for feedback can put high-achievers in touch with recurrent themes about what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to change.

Further to the second step, before people will help with honest and valuable feedback, high-achievers need to create trust. That’s where the following steps come into the plan for your high-achievers.

Become approachable in a high-achiever way:  Asking questions does not imply ignorance as long as the questions are phrased correctly. High-achievers need to learn how to ask questions. We all need to explore different perspectives and learn more about others’ opinions and thoughts.  Acknowledging uncertainty and being open to sharing missteps reveals our human side.  When we are more willing to show our human side, we become more approachable and trustworthy. Opening up to others with sincere intention to learn, sends a powerful message. Others will reciprocate with their own stories, and will be more willing to help.

Focus on the long term, but concentrate on next steps:  Long-term success requires a willingness to take short-term risks. Fear of failure or fear of appearing inept can stop high-achievers from taking chances. They must be willing to leave their comfort zone to complete the new tasks required for changing career demands. Long-term goals can withstand minor setbacks.  Encourage your high-achievers to look at the big picture, and give themselves the necessary latitude to make a few missteps along the way.

Stay PositiveAdopt a positive mindset:  Recent studies reveal that a happy positive mindset is a prerequisite for success — not a by-product. When we approach a project by focusing on what’s good about it, we set ourselves up for great results. By framing an assignment as a challenge instead of a problem, high-achievers are better able to think calmly and creatively. When given extra work, we all have two choices: feel put upon and overloaded, or take satisfaction in knowing we are trusted to get the job done. Encourage and empower a positive mindset culture by modelling a positive mindset yourself.  During a time of incredible change and uncertainty, this particular leadership behaviour is critical in the workplace and in our communities.

Embrace humility, practice, patience, and mastery:  Doing something thing “not so well” is painful at first, but well worth the effort. Practice and patience is the foundation for growth and mastery. The real satisfaction comes from working through challenges in order to really master a behaviour, skill, or task. Mindless routine and easy success can be a set-up up for stagnation, boredom, and dissatisfaction.

Help your high-achievers move their game to the next level or in a new direction. Encourage them to be willing to exhibit vulnerability and even humility. People in general, high-achievers in particular, often hesitate showing their human side for fear people will see them as weak or incompetent.  Au contraire, to not share mistakes and missteps carries the risk of coming across as an arrogant know-it-all.  Not at all approachable or trustworthy.

Professional growth takes practice and patience. Provide opportunities for your high-achievers to move beyond their comfort zone and enjoy success at a new level.

For more about these steps, I suggest the book Flying without a Net: Turn Fear of Change into Fuel for Success, by Thomas J. Delong, Harvard Business Review Press, 2011.

Riding on the high of achievements early last week, I sat at my desk one morning to catch up on email.  An email came in with reviews from workshops that I facilitated recently.  Good news!  High scores. Nine positive comments!  Oops, a negative comment.  For the next couple of hours, I obsessed over the criticism, took it personal, and became immobilized.  Ignoring the positive feedback, I plummeted to a crippling low. I focused on what was negative rather than what was positive.

Then my “AHA” moment hit.  How prophetic!  I have been blogging about high-achiever behaviours that lead to traps and I had fallen into two very real traps myself.  Fortunately, I had a call scheduled with my coach and an opportunity to release the traps.

The following feature article begins our review of the 6-step plan for helping high-achievers avoid the behaviours that become traps.


Releasing the Traps – One Step at a Time!

The very strengths that lead high-achievers to the fast track can steer them toward poor performance. This paradox can be perplexing to high-achievers. Working through the strong pull of this contradiction is where a trusted professional coach is necessary.

High-achievers who have fallen into a high-potential career stall need and will appreciate a plan to get back on track for career success. A plan that includes strengthening personal foundation will work two-fold, personally and professionally.  Working with a professional coach and integrating their overall development plan will expedite the process and fortify sustainable results.  The following elements will serve as a springboard to creating Star Performers.

That Was Then; This is Now

Forget the past: In general, most of us make irrational comparisons between a past bad experience and a current situation. We are notoriously poor predictors of our future emotional states. 
Most of what we surmise about our past failures is circumstantial.

Several of the typical behaviours of high-achievers are breading grounds for comparing and measuring today based on yesterday. Bringing light to how much the high-achiever is basing his/her career decisions on past experiences, either good or bad, and the effects is an important part of the coaching process. The high-achiever is challenged to look at the past with a different perspective — one that takes into account randomness or luck.

We are never in control of situations as much we think.  Blaming — or crediting ourselves — is often irrational and inappropriate. Sure, we’ve accomplished great things and we’ve made mistakes. That was then; this is now.  What counts is stepping up to learn new tasks and skills. An open mind — one that is willing to admit limitations, as well as strengths — is a mind available for new challenges.

Coaching around conquering the fear of making new, and inevitable, mistakes will mobilize the high-achiever. Too much reliance on the past will stifle the courage needed to “fail upward” and use missteps as learning opportunities for growth.

No Need to Do It Alone

Develop and use a support network:  High-achievers who pride themselves on being independent self-starters have difficulty asking for help for several reasons.

They rationalize with self-talk such as “I don’t want to bother people unnecessarily”. 

They may fear feedback because they don’t want to risk hearing that their work is not up to par.  They may even choose to consult a colleague who they know will tell them what they want to hear. 
If so, they are hurting their chances of stretching and growing.

Challenging the high-achiever to ask respected individuals for regular feedback, even if it’s painful at first, will expand his/her comfort zone. 
Having a structured feedback process with a supportive network of people who are respectful and honest will make feedback easier to accept and process.

Additional support from an experienced mentor who is familiar with the high-achiever’s work can provide valuable feedback and input to the following questions posed by the high-achiever:

a.   What do I need to stop doing?

b.   What do I need to continue doing?

c.   What do I need to start doing?

Questions to Ponder:

  1. What has been your experience getting good feedback to improve your performance?
  2. What worked?
  3. What hindered your progress?

Call to Action:

  1. How can you create an environment that supports your quiet high-achievers in releasing the fear of “failing up”?
  2. What additional support can you provide to make feedback easier to receive and more effective?

Related topics:

Why coach credentialing is important.



While mentoring young women in a leadership and social action program over the past year, I observed several high-achievers transform into Star Performers. They were the quiet ones….just waiting for someone to recognize their potential and for the opportunity to shine.

Quiet high-achievers have so much to contribute. However, often anxiety about their performance keeps them small and invisible. Identifying these high-achievers, understanding the traps that hold them back, and then implementing personal development and leadership plans are keys to developing them into Star Performers.

Bringing Star Performers to Centre-stage

The Girls for Safer Communities program empowered this group of young women to challenge the traps that often hold high-achievers back.  Over the year, through self-assessment, purpose-driven team action, and mentoring, they gained confidence in their personal power and strengthened their voice within their community. I was inspired and grateful for the opportunity to watch them as they ventured onto centre-stage.

Similarly, when working with business owners and executives, I notice the quiet high-achievers. Many have the potential to become Star Performers and yet are being held back by behaviours that become traps. I am inspired when a high-achiever commits to a personal development and leadership plan that acknowledges the strengths and helps address the traps of high-achievers. I receive an enormous source of satisfaction when these quiet high-achievers take their rightful place as Star Performers at centre-stage.

Investing in Developing Star Performers

More and more clients acknowledge that on-going investment in developing Star Performers delivers significant returns to their top-line business growth and reflects (quietly) on their bottom-line profit.  Do you have Star Performers ready to step out to centre-stage?  A development and leadership plan that includes Emotional Intelligence is a wise investment.  80% of workplace success is attributed to Emotional Intelligence (“Star Performer Study” by Hay/McBer).

8 Typical Behaviours of High-achievers - Watch for the Traps

Your high-achievers may exhibit several or all of the following eight typical behaviours that can spur personal and professional growth, but can also be traps that hold them back.

  1. Driven: Think of employees who are driven to achieve their own personal and professional goals and your organization’s goals. Nothing gets in the way of their goals.  The trap is that they become so caught up in goals that relationships get pushed aside and they miss the opportunities to contribute to what is most important in the present.
  2. Doers: They do it well; they do it quickly. However, because nobody can do it as well or as quickly as they can, they may appear bossy, alienate co-workers, or drift into poor delegation, micromanagement, and solitary overwhelm.
  3. Highly motivated: They take goals and achievement seriously. The trap is that they fail to see the difference between urgency and importance. They overlook what’s really important about the experience – personal development, relationships, and other elements that give them a source of satisfaction at work. This can lead to burnout and dropout.
  4. Crave positive feedback:  They are, simply, addicted.  They care how others perceive them and their accomplishments. However, they tend to obsess over criticism, take it personal, and become immobilized. They often ignore positive feedback and hence, miss opportunities to build on their strengths.
  5. Competitive:  They may not appear to be competitive at all. They possess a quiet competitive nature that contributes to growth if they are encouraged by effective leader to compete in a healthy, productive way.  The dark side of the high-achiever competitive style is that they obsessively compare themselves to others leading to a chronic sense of not being good enough and acute unhappiness.
  6. Passionate about their successes:  They feed on the highs of their successes – but, again, quietly.  Their passion is often bubbling up with high highs and crippling lows.  Subjected to crippling lows, they fall into the trap of giving more attention to what’s lacking (the negative), rather than what’s right (the positive).
  7. Safe risk-takers: They won’t cause you to go grey with the risks they take.  However, because they are so passionate about success, they shy away from risk. They won’t stray far from their comfort zone in order to grow which really puts a damper on what they could achieve if risk was reframed.
  8. Conscientious:  They won’t let you down. On the flip side, they are guilt-ridden. No matter how much they accomplish, they believe it’s never enough. Their need to have and do more is insatiable. This need will drain their energy. As they complete one milestone, they are onto the next. No pause to fully appreciate the joy of achievement.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. Do you recognize the quiet high-achievers in your organization who could venture out to centre-stage?
  2. How are these traps showing up and holding them back?
  3. What could these high-achievers contribute to your organization if you empowered them to step out and leave their comfort zone?

Call to Action:

  1. How you can provide opportunities for your quiet high-achievers and empower them to become Star Performers or even Rock Stars. They would certainly make you look good and they would enjoy their work much more.

8 Behaviours of high-achievers based on “The Paradox of Excellence” (HBR, June 2011) by Thomas J. DeLong and his daughter, Sara DeLong.

The Girls for Safer Communities (GFSC) is a program activity which aims to increase awareness about safety concerns of girls and women while mobilizing girls to become leaders in their communities. Pathfinders and Rangers receive leadership and safety training that prepares them to lead their peers or younger Units or community members on group safety audit walks to identify safety concerns in their communities. Girls go on to work with members of the community to make recommendations and create action plans that will improve safety.

MHS – Emotional Intelligence and Leadership