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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Communication

People talking around a table

As a professional, there are times when your integrity and values will be put to the test. Though it’s usually a good idea to be agreeable and go with the flow, there are moments when you should stand your ground and dare to have a differing opinion than others. These moments can be challenging (or downright frightening), but they are worth it.

If you feel strongly about something, it doesn’t pay to keep quiet. You’ll end up stewing about the situation, losing focus, and respecting yourself a little less for remaining silent.

I encourage you to speak up.

Keep in mind, it’s possible the rest of the group has simply glossed over something you find important. Maybe you have a different perspective than everyone else due to your age, race, gender, or background. Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation in the past, and the outcome was less-than-optimal. Whatever the case, it’s best to speak up and voice your concerns. Your perspective will help open others’ eyes to something potentially problematic and, at the very least, will establish that consent is not unanimous.

You might choose to voice your concerns in a group setting (at a team meeting or conference, for instance) or privately (to a team leader, co-worker, or other decision-maker). Though expressing yourself right away can serve to immediately add another perspective to the conversation, you may not always feel comfortable doing so. Sometimes it’s better to clarify your thoughts, write out what you’d like to say, and schedule a one-on-one meeting with the person/people in charge of the initiative. Try to make your case with both emotional and logical appeals (“I feel______ about the initiative because_____).

It may be uncomfortable to disagree with the majority of the room, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary. If you perceive something to be offensive (regardless if others realize it or not), if it violates your code of ethics, or if you are simply seeing a flaw that others are failing to notice, SPEAK UP. Be bold and dare to be the lone dissenter. If, for some reason, you get in trouble for speaking out, it’s entirely possible that your core worldviews do not align with your company’s, in which case it might be time to talk with a career coach…


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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two people talking in a waiting room

It’s no surprise that many of us tend to avoid difficult conversations. Why would we want to make ourselves uncomfortable or become the subject of someone’s wrath? Why would we want to potentially open a can of worms?

Though difficult conversations are just that—difficult—they are also sometimes necessary for improving the present climate or paving the way to a better future. Though you may be reluctant, or even a little scared, to engage in difficult conversations, oftentimes they are necessary and can actually improve things, going forward.

Here are 4 reasons to dare to hold difficult conversations:

[NOTE: In past blog posts I’ve talked about how to prepare for difficult conversations. See this post about the D4 Model and this newsletter about the 5 P’s of Courage for more…]

1. They can set the record straight

In many workplaces, rumors fly and reality can get twisted or obscured. If you’re in a situation where you’re uncertain of the truth, it’s best to sit down with the people involved and get to the bottom of it. It might be as simple as figuring out who was in charge of a certain report or who neglected to contact a client when that needed to happen. The purpose of this conversation isn’t to place blame, but rather to uncover the truth and begin to problem solve.

This type of conversation can also help you put safeguards in place so that the same unfortunate situation doesn’t happen again. It’s possible that it’s no one’s “fault” and the system simply needs a bit of an overhaul.

2. They can provide forward motion

Sometimes when we fail to confront a difficult situation, that can lead to stagnation. The office might be so hung up or distracted by a single person’s (or a group of people’s) actions that it becomes their primary focus. To get the wagon wheel out of the rut, you need to face the situation head-on and engage in a potentially difficult conversation(s).

EXAMPLE: Let’s say Kim hasn’t been turning in her reports on time, which, in turn affects the rest of her team’s progress. Everyone is upset and productivity is down. To get past this rut, you’ll have to bite the bullet and have a conversation with Kim. It could be that Kim was unaware of her responsibilities or didn’t understand the dominoes affect her tardiness was having. It’s possible Kim has felt unsupported or unmotivated lately (in which case, maybe she’s in the wrong role). Regardless, having this conversation can help move your entire team from a place of stagnation to forward movement and problem-solving.

3. They can start dialogues

You may not truly understand someone’s actions, or what is going on in their head, until you speak with them. It’s possible a situation is more complex than you realized (for instance, maybe someone is constantly late for their 8 a.m. Zoom meetings because they have to drop their kids off at daycare). It’s also possible that the other person hasn’t understood the consequences of their recent actions. Sitting down and having a conversation can help create a bridge of understanding. It can open dialogues and help both sides understand what is broken and how to go about fixing things.

4. They can earn you respect, as a leader

Effective leaders have to make hard decisions and engage in difficult conversations regularly. That’s the reality. If you gain a reputation as someone who avoids problems and lets things “work themselves out,” you won’t gain much respect. If, however, you are known to tackle problems head-on and address issues as soon as you notice them, you’ll be seen as a proactive leader who has a real stake in the wellbeing of your team. What’s more, people will come to understand that you will hold others accountable for their actions and you will act in the best interest of the team. Your people will know you have their backs.

Instead of shying away from difficult conversations, embrace them! Start seeing them as opportunities to have fruitful conversations that move your team forward. Tough conversations can be uncomfortable or daunting, but the rewards are ultimately worth it. This comes with the territory when you’re a leader, and it’s a good idea to make lemonade with whatever lemons the workplace throws at you.


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Let me state right away that if you’re looking for a shopping list, this isn’t the article for you! The “gifts” that I’m talking about today have to do with time, intention, and kindness. To me, these types of gifts are worth far more than any purchases you could make. They center on humanity and creating a more harmonious workspace, home, neighborhood, and world.

My list includes 6 different gifts you can easily give to others. How might life change if we all attempted to give each other these gifts every day?

1. The gift of attentiveness

People can usually tell when you’re listening…and they can tell when you’re more interested in your phone, your grocery list, or whatever is on your laptop screen. Practice being present for others. Tuck your distractions away and give them your full, undivided attention. In a world brimming with distractions, your attentiveness is truly a valuable gift.

[For more on good listening practices, click here!]

2. The gift of punctuality

Show others that you respect them and their time by making an effort to be punctual. If you were meeting with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, would you show up late? Almost certainly not! You wouldn’t dream of it. Then, why would you show up late for a Zoom meeting with a co-worker? That says something about how much you value and respect them and their time, doesn’t it? And if you are running late (it happens!), send a quick message to let that person know. It’s a quick and courteous thing to do.

3. The gift of follow-through

When you say you’re going to do something, do it. It really is that simple. Nothing can destroy trust faster than not following through with a promise. Conversely, if you do make an effort to stay true to your word, meet deadlines, and follow through, you will build yourself an excellent reputation. In other words, keeping your commitments is not only a gift to others, it is also a gift to yourself.

4. The gift of kind gestures

A small, kind gesture can make a world of difference. Help an elderly neighbor carry their groceries, tip your delivery driver well, give someone a compliment, donate a few dollars to a nonprofit or a “Go Fund Me.” When you wake up in the morning with the goal of practicing at least one or two acts of kindness, it makes your whole day better. You begin to think about opportunities to make positive change in the world, and THAT can improve your entire outlook on life.

5. The gift of gratitude

We often take the people in our lives for granted. Make an effort to say thank you for the little things, and genuinely mean it! Let others (your co-workers, your spouse, the cashier you regularly see at the grocery store) know that you appreciate their presence in your life.

When others go above and beyond, you may also want to send a handwritten thank you note to convey your gratitude. Let them know, specifically, why you appreciate them.

6. The gift of empathy

How might life improve if we all took the time to (at the very least) attempt to understand others? Even if you don’t quite understand another’s perspective, you can make a concerted effort to place yourself in their shoes, ask good questions, and try to empathize with their point of view. Before conversing with someone, do your best to set aside judgments and just listen. Even if you don’t end up agreeing, your efforts will open dialogues and create bridges.

Which gifts can you give others today? Pick a couple of items on this list, think about how you will incorporate them into your day, and start giving! Amazing things start to happen when we focus on being kind and understanding to others.


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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