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Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: Improving Relationships


Ever witnessed a child being told they must share their toys with another child? Their reaction to this news wasn’t too pretty, was it?

Although we’ve grown to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us and we don’t always get our way, that small child’s voice is still inside us, protesting whenever things don’t go how we want them to.

But the truth is, in order to lead in any real sense of the word, you must learn the art of making compromises. It’s easy to say that, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but how do you actually do it?

1. Express yourself fully, and listen intently. Explain your reasoning behind your viewpoint. Often our views are skewed by our emotions, which make it harder to make effective decisions. Articulating your view to another person forces you to take a good long look at your position, and in many cases this allows you to see where your view may not be perfect. By the same token, listen to what the other person is actually saying, not what you think they’re saying. Hear them out before you rush to judgment. Open communication is crucial to getting things done.

2. Think from the other person’s perspective. If it continues to be difficult for you to accept the other person’s position, do your best to put yourself in their shoes. What’s the reasoning behind their thoughts, ideas, and opinions? Even if you disagree, can you see why they hold these views?

3. Be committed to results. Compromising pushes two opposing viewpoints past a gridlock into a region where they can move from ideas into actions. In this way, compromise is one of the most powerful tools we have to getting results. A compromise is a mature way of acknowledging that we can never fully get what we want all of the time, but we can get more of what we want if we work together to achieve it.

4. Be prepared to be disappointed, but give it time. At first, you’ll only see what you didn’t get out of a compromise. This is understandable, but don’t give up on it just yet. In the longterm, compromising pays off for both parties, as you’ve established an alliance and proven to one another that you are capable of working together and taking steps forward.

Have a great week!

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time to adapt

I once collaborated on a project with a few people from my department. We all had different areas of expertise, so we relied on each other equally in order to get it off the ground.

The problem was, our visions of not only how we were going to execute the project, but what the project even looked like, were all over the board. It took weeks of frustrating debate just to come to an agreement on the project itself.

Then, there was the tug-of-war between us at every step of the process. One person wanted to draft specific, detailed assignments for each of us to follow verbatim. Since a few of us worked better in a more fluid, open style, that became a point of contention. Another member of the team insisted we meet in person multiple times a week, while there was one individual who thrived working on her own time.

Of course, we eventually got the job done. Once we had time to settle down and look back on the project, we admitted we could have all been more flexible.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision in situations like these. So easy, in fact, that I’ve witnessed the calmest, most professional leaders become almost hysterical when they’re in the middle of a collaborative project. Why is this?

I think it’s mainly due to pride. When we have a task before us, we all visualize how the end result will look, which is very necessary. But we unintentionally force our personal vision onto everyone else, even when we’re unaware that we’re doing it.

Think of a time when you resisted a suggestion from someone in a collaborative situation. I’m willing to bet that your resistance to their suggestion wasn’t necessarily because it was a bad idea. I’ll go so far as to say you objected because deep down, you were convinced that your vision was inherently better than theirs.

This is where the tunnel vision happens. Assuming that you have the better vision, you are unwilling/unable to truly give their idea a fair chance. Often, you’ll realize after the fact that they actually had a great idea, and you may scratch your head and wonder, “Why didn’t I see that at the time?”

The remedy? Remind yourself every step of the way that your vision isn’t inherently perfect. Remind yourself that you are one person, working in a team. Listen to your collaborators. Accept that the product won’t ever be exactly as you envision it. Allow yourself to change your mind and see alternatives.

The good news: having this skill enhances your end product. Flexibility leads to innovation and dynamic results well past what you expected. This is because the ability to be flexible unleashes the awesome power of collaborative work between many talented minds.

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These past few weeks I’ve been attending quite a lot of weddings. It seems couples have wisely planned their wedding days around the time Minnesota has (finally!) given us some much-needed warm weather.

I love weddings, and it’s been a privilege to participate in the Big Days of young folks I’ve known from all corners of my life. But these past couple of weeks have made me think two, very related thoughts:

1. I’m busy as it is with my work–toss a few weddings in the mix and things can get hectic real quick.

2. Weddings are the platform from which two people jump off into a new life together. A big part of this is learning to balance and sustain their personal lives and their careers.

I’ve found that there tend to be periods of relative calm in my life, where my biggest concern is keeping myself from being bored. And then, all at once, life throws ten things at me and I’m scrambling to stay afloat.

If you’re a parent, you know that life doesn’t relent just because you’re tired or overworked. Kids still need feeding, dishes need doing, and that stack of work on your desk isn’t going to magically disappear. So it’s important to your sanity and quality of life that you develop a work flow that keeps things manageable.

Here’s how:

1. Take advantage of downtime. It’s easy to sit back and idle the engine, to use a car metaphor, when work and home life relents and you find yourself with an open schedule. But you can’t take a car from first gear to fifth. The engine just can’t handle that big of a transition. In the same way, if you relax too much during the lulls, it makes it that much more difficult to be ready to perform your best when things begin to pile up. So, use downtime to prepare for the next onslaught. It’ll keep you productive when there’s not much going on, and it’ll make things much easier for you when things get busy.

2. Focus on one task at a time. Here’s a post I wrote about the myth of multitasking. It may feel like you’re able to get more done faster, but in reality you aren’t.

3. Prioritize. Your family should be number one on your priority list, and if they aren’t, perhaps you should reevaluate what is most important in your life.

4. Learn to say no. You can’t do everything that people ask of you. There’ll be some projects at work you’ll have to pass up in order to spend time with your family. Similarly, there’ll be family activities that won’t mesh with your work schedule. After prioritizing, you’ll know what to turn down and what to take on.

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Human hand checking the checklist boxes

I’ll bet you can relate: It’s late evening, you’re starving, you just know that you’re about to be stuck in a god-awful amount of traffic, and the meeting you’re in is running later than you expected. What do you do? Why, you find yourself gazing out the window longingly the same way you did in grade school, just dying for the bell to ring and the day to be over.

It’s moments like these that our desperation to get the heck out of the office can take over, and we end up making the next day worse for ourselves by leaving tasks incomplete.

I know, it’s hard. I struggle with it myself. Sometimes the last place I want to be is the place I need to be, and no truer than when I’m anxious to end a long, hard day of work.

So, I’ve made a little mental checklist that I force myself to follow. I don’t set foot into the parking lot without having first checked everything off. As with anything, it took me a while to get into the habit. But soon, the ritual of it took over, and I found that my drives home became much less stressful, as I no longer worried about things like, “Oh no! I forgot to e-mail so-and-so!” or, “I hope I got that project outline in…I did get the darn thing turned in, right?” What is this end of the day checklist, you ask? Simple, and here it is:

1. Checking up on my co-workers and staff. Are we on the same page? Are we in a good place relationally? Is there any issue I need to address? Never let the sun go down on your anger, the old proverb goes, and boy is that true for maintaining a healthy workplace.

2. Checking off the tasks. Did I get everything done I planned on doing? It sounds like a no-brainer (you may be saying, “Obviously! That’s the whole point of a checklist!”), but here’s the important part: If you did not get everything done as you planned, what are you going to do to best set yourself up tomorrow? Set yourself up for success the next day.

3. Checking out of the workday. Look over your area, organize your desk perhaps, leave on a positive note with your people, and set yourself up for tomorrow. Have you done all that? Good! Now stop thinking about work! Once you set foot outside, you’re no longer allowed to worry about anything you might have missed, neglected, ignored or botched, because you know you went over the checklist. Now you have the rest of the evening to yourself.

Give yourself a pat on the back. And good luck with the traffic.

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A recent study found that across the board, the most effective leaders demonstrated the following characteristics:

1) acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes

2) empowering followers to learn and develop

3) acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good 

4) holding employees responsible for results

In other words, it is crucial to lead with humility. You may feel pressured to always have the right answer and to always take the reins, which is understandable. After all, the buck stops with you. But if you never allow your team room to find solutions in their own way, you’ll miss out on some amazing collaborations. I’ve witnessed some truly incredible things when I gave people room to learn, grow, ask questions and trust both me and one another.

In other news, the Star Tribune did a great piece on me. You can read it here.

Have a great week, all!

Margaret Smith




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Author and professor Brené Brown is a leading voice on leadership and personal growth. Watch the video below to get a snippet of her thoughts on the importance of being courageously vulnerable.

The Takeaway

In your life, take advantage of the opportunities to:

Speak up, even if you think it might make you look small or unintelligent. Chances are, it won’t.

Show up. Vulnerability means putting yourself out there precisely when you don’t know what will happen next.

Be honest. While not always easy to speak the truth in love, it’s always the better way to go.

Ask good questions, and often. Know the difference between open and closed questions, and when to use which. Click here for a solid explanation of these types of questions.


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friendship at work

Friendship on the job can be beneficial to everyone. It makes work a fun place to be. It brings unity and camaraderie to the business. 

But friendships can potentially make it hard on your responsibility as a leader to remain consistent and fair. It might be easy for you to give your friend a break, extend a deadline, or ignore or overlook a mistake. And this is where having friends in your business can be detrimental.

The recent Harvard Business Review article offers a few helpful insights on how to navigate the tricky waters of managing your friends.

1. You’ll make them angry sometimes, but this is okay.

You have a job to do. Above all, remember why you’re there, in the position you’re in. You’ll have to “turn up the heat” on everyone from time to time, and this includes your friends.

They probably won’t be too pleased at this, at least not at first. Remember that this is their problem, not yours. Stay consistent, compassionate, but firm with your staff, and in time your work friends will appreciate and respect your consistency.

2. Learn to disagree with friends while still being their friend.

Disagreements are a natural part of any relationship. You can be passionate about a disagreement without being disrespectful. It’s a tricky balance, but it’s possible.

3. Keep work out of it at the dinner party.

When you spend time with them outside the office, remember the rules and standards of the workplace do not apply outside.

4. This arrangement won’t always work.

In some cases, having friends that report to you just doesn’t work. As the article’s author, Peter Bregman, points out: “Even if you have clarity about your role as a leader, emotional mastery, and friendship skills, the other person may not be able to live with your decisions.” As tough as it is, it’s better for both parties in this case to accept the reality of the situation and move on.

On the flip side, there are countless instances where your friendship with a staff member motivates them to do their best work. This is why knowing your staff is so crucial, so that you’ll be able to determine the relational dynamics early on and avoid potential conflicts.


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