How to Avoid Being Misunderstood

misunderstoodDo you feel misunderstood by your direct reports or colleagues? Do they think you’re an ogre when you’re really fun and fair? Or maybe they think you’re a pushover when you’re really purposeful and committed.

There might be a disconnect between what you intend and how you’re coming across. Here are four ways avoid misunderstandings by closing any gap between your intentions and your actual impact on others.Get clear about what you want to happen. Conventional wisdom says that we are on auto-pilot about 95% of the time. Which means we are consciously thinking about or aware of what we are doing very little during the day.

  • Get clear. Know what you want to accomplish before you go into a meeting, have a conversation with a co-worker, or work on a project. Ask yourself what you want to get out your time spent.
  • State your intentions. Based on the outcome you want to create, state your intentions out loud, especially when interacting with others. By doing so when going into a meeting or conversation, you are not leaving to chance how the other person will interpret what you say or do.
  • Ask for the other person’s perspective first. As a leader, when you speak, your words carry weight, and that weight often shuts down others who are further down the food chain. Additionally, listening first will give you a chance to tune in to the other’s perspective.
  • Seek to reconcile different perspectives. With a clearly stated intention and after sharing perspectives, you will have a better understanding of how the different perspectives overlap or don’t. Revisit your intention again, and ask for how you can move forward by using what most important from each perspective.

By consciously focusing on a clear intention and being open with your perspective, you can create conditions that allow others to “see” you for who you are.


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Leadership Development: Using Your Fate as a Clue to Your Destiny

impactYou encounter leadership problems or challenges all the time. Did you ever notice that they end up being the exact circumstances you need in order to evolve as a person and a leader? You may have issues with people who don’t respond to you as you’d like. You might experience frustrations with initiatives that don’t go as planned. Whenever there is a “rub” that bothers you, it often shows you something about yourself now and who you can become. It is as though these leadership challenges are put in your path as part of your fate.

Fate: Past and Present

In Ancient Greece, the well-known mythology of the Three Fates explained why life unfolded as it did. Lachesis was the Fate who drew the lots, giving each person certain characteristics and conditions along with a plot line for their life. Clotho spun the thread of each person’s life into the larger tapestry of time, giving each human a “twist of fate”. And Atropos decided how each human life would end and presided at the finish to cut the thread of life.

Today, we often use the terms “fate” and “destiny” interchangeably, but these terms can be thought of as two different things. According to mythologist and storyteller, Michael Meade, “fate” is all of the limitations and challenges we encounter throughout our lives (conditions along the path); while “destiny” is our purpose or the ultimate contribution we make to the world (the destination).

Using Your Fate to Achieve Your Destiny

This distinction is key. Reflecting on your fate allows you to examine your past experience (your fate thus far) to maximize the impact you can have now while increasing your potential for achieving your destiny or potential.

So, if you find yourself repeatedly encountering the same frustrating situations, you could think of the irritation as your “fate” poking you to take a look at things more closely. Maybe there are characteristics you could change or evolve further. Maybe there are new ways of thinking that could emerge from those particular circumstances. Often in leadership, we are asked to reflect by looking inward to question our approach, to throw off old patterns, and to step into new learning that will better serve us and those around us.

When reflecting on your “fate” to date, look back on your experiences thus far and take notice of the following:

  • People who were hugely influential to you;
  • People who showed up randomly or “out of the blue” to provide guidance or assistance;
  • Odd or surprising twists that put you in certain places or positions;
  • Odd events that might not even make sense yet;
  • Themes that keep coming up (whether or not you’ve figured out what to do with them yet); and
  • Situations that, at the time, seemed negative, but that turned out best in the long run.

As you look backward, what sense can you make of any of it? What clues does this emerging story provide for where you might go next? What kind of support or new learning would benefit you as you forge ahead?


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders who want to enhance their leadership abilities to drive bottom-line results. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at:

6 Behaviors That Move You from “Pretender” to “Leader”

It’s very easy to go along, get along, with the fear that if you really showed others who you are and what you really believed about your company’s current strategy and tactics, others would question your loyalty or competence. To be grounded and sure of yourself, however, you need to be authentic about who you are. Here are six behaviors that will move you from being an inauthentic “pretender” to a true leader:

Know Your Motives for Leading. There are many reasons for taking on a leadership position. What are yours? Reflect on the underlying fears and/or aspirations that drove you to accept a leadership role. Look at how these underlying (and even hidden) motivations have shaped the difference you strive to make as a leader. Being aware of your personal leadership “why” will serve as a compass to guide you when the going gets tough.

Give Constructive Feedback. Without being a jerk, a true leader is expected to give feedback that serves the good of the company by providing opportunities to improve. At times, however, you might find yourself withholding constructive feedback from a colleague or direct report simply to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Remember: there is no movement without friction. Go back to your leadership “why” and see whether remaining silent serves the company and everyone else involved.

Engage in Disagreement. As with giving feedback, you may be able to help resolve an issue but are avoiding it. If you find yourself avoiding a situation, examine your reasons for steering clear of the potential conflict. If you determine the avoidance isn’t serving you or the company in the long run, determine the most appropriate and respectful way to address it. Also help co-workers and team members who don’t work well together move through past issues or conflicts.

Share an Alternate Opinion. A true leader speaks up when concerned about the direction the company is going. When you think it’s heading in the wrong direction, you must express your point of view as effectively as possible. Whether or not, the company alters its path based on your opinion is not the point. It’s the fact that you didn’t act like a sheep and spoke up when you believed it was warranted.

Bolster Professional Relationships with Authenticity. The higher up the corporate ladder you are, the more important building and maintaining relationships becomes. Often relationships are weak because you have not been open and honest about the way the relationship is working (more conflict avoidance). Find ways to strengthen those relationships by revealing your real assumptions and beliefs about important issues that come up.

Amplify Misaligned Mission and Company Action. When your company doesn’t walk its collective talk about its mission and values, weigh the cost of going along, rather than highlighting the disconnects. Determine what you can do to encourage your company to bring its “walk” and “talk” into alignment.

You’re a “leader” not an “avoider”. Stop pretending to agree and step forward into the uncomfortable space where motives, thoughts, and opinions differ. Lead out to acknowledge and resolve issues for the good of your company.


You can, as long as you include this information with it:

Beth Strathman works with leaders who are willing and courageous enough to shake up business as usual by understanding themselves, aligning their businesses, and expressing ideas clearly. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at:

Is Your Company Culture “Incognito”?

 Incognito:  with your true identity kept secret.

lack of trustIn 2013, the Miami Dolphins released Richie Incognito after an investigation concluded that he bullied and made racial slurs against a teammate. Although the sport recognized Incognito as a top player, he had a history of a explosive emotional outbursts and “dirty play” against other players, coaches, and fans.

Lately, example after example of a leader or star performer with a long history of “bad” conduct have come to light, showing time after time, that company boards, leaders, and practices dismissed it, enabled it, and allowed it. It highlights the conundrum that many companies face: How to balance the equation when a leader or star performer gets results but behaves badly and counter to your stated company values.

“Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch”

Culture is those shared norms, assumptions, experiences, and beliefs that distinguish your company from others. Peter Drucker’s quote, “Culture eats strategy for lunch,” underscores how influential a company culture is.

The question is, is the company culture you describe in your mission, vision, and values, the same culture that shows up in your workplace every day? In short, is your company or team culture evident  . . . or is it “incognito”?

As a leader, whether formal or informal, you must go first. You reinforce and redefine cultural norms based on how you act, what you pay attention to, what you praise and reinforce in others, and how you react when challenges occur. In spite of what you say about who you are as a company, is there an unwritten assumption that the ability to produce excellent results will “hide a multitude of sins”? At least for your leaders and top performers.

All employees — especially leaders and top performers —  must be held to the same behavioral standards as everyone else; otherwise, employees get a mixed message. This muddies the waters about what is expected for how they should treat co-workers and what kind of treatment they should expect in return. If the stated culture isn’t evident in how people work together, such a mixed message can signal to employees that it’s “everyone for himself”, which leads to a lack of the necessary trust and team camaraderie.

If your leaders and superstars are not displaying the kind of behavior that reinforces your team culture on a consistent basis, what are you prepared to do about it?

Postscript on Incognito

After being released by the Dolphins, the Bills signed Richie Incognito in 2015, where he has been elected to the ProBowl each year since (2015-2018). In 2017, an opposing player accused Incognito of using racial slurs. After an investigation, the NFL is not expected to impose any consequences.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders to maximize the “people side” of business and evolve into the leader they want to become. Learn more about her at:

Don’t Rely on Employment At Will

Most managers operate under the delusion that the concept of “employment at will” will save their bacon when they don’t want to mess with an employee anymore.  Just fire them.  Done.  After all, that’s what employment “at will” is all about right?


It’s true that, in general, “employment at will” means that either the employer or the employee can end the work relationship for any reason or . . . no reason at all . . . as long it there wasn’t an illegal reason.  Just like that.  You can be free to work with other employers.

The main idea behind “employment at will” is that neither party is required to continue working together for a specific amount of time.  And you’re thinking, so what? Isn’t that how it’s always been?


Employment at will evolved in the 1870’s, when laissez faire capitalism was starting to gather steam.  Before this time most employment relationships were presumed to be for a year at a time.  There was no quitting after a few weeks because you got a better offer. The doctrine of “employment at will” simply eliminated the presumption of a one-year employment term, allowing worker and employer to end the relationship whenever it didn’t suit either any longer.

Today in many states, “employment at will” has qualifiers.  In Utah, “employment at will” is still subject to notions of fairness regarding the reason an employment relationship ends.  In Utah, when you terminate an employee, the decision is subject to 3 notions of fairness, including (1) whether there was an implied contract (like making explicit verbal or written promises to an employee about job security) , (2) an implied covenant of “good faith and fair dealing” (aka requiring “just cause” to let someone go), or (3) whether the termination violates explicit, well-establish public policy (e.g., you can’t fire someone just because they filed a workers’ comp claim).

So, the next time, you’re fed up and just want to make an employee go away, hoping “employment at will” will be the reason.  Think again.  Here are 4 suggestions for laying groundwork just in case you end up firing someone:

1.            Have an “employment at will” statement in your employee handbook or employee policies.  Make sure all employees receive a copy of the handbook or policies when they are hired.

2.            Be honest with an employee about how he is not meeting your expectations.

3.            Don’t delay in addressing employee issues, thinking they will go away on their own.  They won’t.

4.            Talk to the employee in private about the issue(s).  AND summarize this conversation in the form of a memo of understanding (on company letterhead & dated) that clearly states the issue and what the employee is expected to do to conform to your expectations or to company policy.

5.            If the problem persists, issue a written warning to the employee(on company letterhead & dated), re-stating the problem , when you addressed it before with him, and noting that it is a serious matter that the employee must correct.  State in the warning that the employee will be “subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal”, if he doesn’t correct the problem.  Get the employee’s signature on this warning or at least have someone witness that you gave him the written warning if he refuses to sign it (and some employees will refuse to sign).

If the employee doesn’t correct the problem after getting a warning, you could discipline with an unpaid suspension or even termination.

With this basic documentation in place, an employer has a good chance of prevailing on an unemployment claim or even a workplace discrimination claim these basic with documents, showing the employee knew there was a problem and failed to correct it.

Nothing is a sure bet when dealing with employees. But don’t rely on “employment at will” as your only reason for terminating an employee.

You Versus Your Management Role

management roleI once worked with an elementary school principal had learned from credible sources that this long-term substitute was a fairly regular user of marijuana.

The principal pondered, “This isn’t a problem, is it?  I mean, I haven’t really seen her smoke pot. She’s a great employee – she’s here on time every day, the students like her, and she’s doing a good job.  I mean, there’s nothing I can do, right?  I would be violating her employment rights if I told her she couldn’t work here any longer, right?”

Heavy sigh.  Obviously, this school principal was trying to convince himself that he didn’t need to address the situation.  (I mean, really . . . how many of us know someone who smokes a little weed from time to time.)  I knew I had to offer this principal a quick lesson on the difference between his personal boundaries and those required of him as school principal.

When you accept a job in any organization, you are not paid simply to show up and be your sweet little ol’ self; rather, you are paid to step into a role that serves the organization.  Moreover, in a management or other leadership position, you are paid to represent the interests of the company.  I like to think of it as literally stepping into a suit of clothing that represents the position.  For example, this individual was required to step into the role of “manager” or “school principal”.  Sounds simple enough.

When stepping into a managerial role, it can be really easy to make the transition from yourself as “individual person” to “manager”. But  your personal values, beliefs and ways of operating must align to a great degree with those required in the work role.  The rub comes when your personal values, beliefs, and ways of operating are either more expansive or restrictive than those required of your company and/or role.

This is where this school principal was having a hard time:  He saw this substitute teacher as a “good employee”, so why would the school district care about whether or not she smoked pot at home.  After all, weren’t dependable employees hard to come by?  Why would he need to do anything as long as the substitute wasn’t bringing pot into the workplace?

In short, he was looking at the situation using his more “open” personal values and beliefs, instead of viewing the situation through the lens required of his position as school principal (which dictated that he enforce the school district’s drug policy along with the public policy consideration of holding those working with students to a higher standard than the average Joe).

How easy is it for you to accept and live by the values and beliefs of your company?  As a manager or leader in your company, are you aware of your responsibility to represent the company’s interests even if you don’t fully agree with them?  When you hire new employees (management or otherwise), how do you determine whether or not there is alignment between their personal values and beliefs and those of the company?  And how does your company convey its expectations to managers about carrying out the role as company representative?


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders to maximize the “people side” of business and evolve into the leader they are meant to become. Learn more about her at:

Do You Have What It Takes to Manage People?

It happens everyday:  someone is put in the position of managing people for the first time and finds it is daunting and very different from what they expected.  New managers often find they are completely unprepared for what it takes to be the supervisor because they were counting on the fact that just being the one in charge coupled with their own sparkling personality was going to make them a hit with employees.

Au contraire, mon frere.

What does it take to supervise employees in the workplace successfully?  In addition to things you can learn (how to interview, how to address behavior and performance issues, how to communicate better, etc.), it takes a couple of other attributes that are sometimes not as easily acquired:

1.       Self-Awareness.  To maintain your composure under stressful situations at work (and at home), you must be aware of your underlying assumptions about people and work, your motivations, your own hot buttons, your talents, and your limitations.  A tall order, I know, but without this basic awareness, you are prone to react (and over-react) to situation after situation in the workplace without producing the results you desire.  In fact, without self-awareness, you’ll probably make the same mistakes over and over, produing exactly the opposite of what you desire.  Becoming a manager is a great experience for learning these things about yourself.  Managing others will help you increase your self-awareness, but you have to be willing to recognize and own your “stuff”.

You also must be self-aware enough to realize that even though you would like to believe you “deserved” the promotion to manager, the workplace is not always about merit.  Maybe there are others who would be as good or an even better manager, but you were in the right place at the right time to be selected.  Realize this, have some humility about it, and keep focusing on your own growth as a person to enhance your growth as a supervisor of people.

2.       Flexible Personal and Professional Boundaries.  Having flexible boundaries means you decide what to let into “your space” and what to keep out.  Good but flexible boundaries make you resistant to influences that will get in the way of your ability to function as a healthy manager.  As you understand your role as manager, you should come to understand that your role is to get maximum production out of those who work with you while enforcing all the rules of the organization.  (Sometimes that means you will not be the most popular person around.  You have to be OK with that.) As you create professional boundaries with your employees, you are establishing the ground rules for how you will behave and others are to behave around you.  Having flexible boundaries means . . .

·         You build trust with your employees as you maintain confidences, are firm, fair, and consistent in your dealings with others, and admit when you make a mistake.

·         You understand that you have a role to play, and your employees have roles to play and that the decisions made and the actions taken at work are not designed to personally favor you or another individual.

·         You do not make decisions out of pity for others or just so your employees will like you.

·         You hold yourself and your employees accountable for expected performance and behavior in the workplace based on the business objectives for your work group.

3.       Realize Forms and Structures Don’t Manage For You.  I work with managers who frequently ask for a form to use to address an issue with an employee – whether it’s for evaluation, discipline, etc.  I often balk at this request because for some managers, I sense they want the form, so they can say every critical thing they want to say to the employee on paper, then slide it across the desk to them and feel like the problem is solved without a conversation.  This is not management.  This desire to let the forms do the talking can indicate conflict avoidance that protects the manager from dealing with messy and often ambiguous people issues.

Yes, issues should be documented in writing.  But while the structured information on forms can help managers make sure they are addressing the right things when working with employees, the form itself is not the magic – the manager’s interaction with the employee is.  Instead of managing by remote control through a form, you must look someone in the eye (or hear their voice on the phone if you’re in different cities) and talk about what’s going right and what’s not working then continually follow up to make sure the employee stays on track.  And yes, you have to be self-aware enough to recognize the baggage you might bring to the conversation.  Yes, you must keep within your flexible boundaries.

4.       Remember You’re Working with Other Adults.   Due to the hierarchy of most organizations, we often fall into the trap of believing that those at the top know more than those toward the bottom.  Not so.  There is plenty of knowledge and experience that must be tapped to make any organization successful.  So, remember you are working with adults who know a thing or two about work and life. Some of your employees are more knowledgeable and more experienced that you are, too.  You don’t have to be the one with all the answers – you’re there to help others discover the answers (whether you already know them or not).

Taking on the role of manager will be challenging and rewarding.  Instead of validating your talent and wonderfulness, it is for most a wake-up call and growth opportunity.  Enjoy!

Copyright – Beth Strathman 2011
All rights reserved