The Leader’s Treasure Map in Navigating Business Cultures


How many times have you wondered whether the person you were talking with really grasped the meaning of your message as well as its intent? What was your response? Did you summarize your point again with the hope that this time they would get your message? Do you look for validation that you’ve been heard correctly? What does it mean when people just politely listen, say nothing, and gently nod their heads while you speak? The answer? It depends on the environment in which the person was culturized.

In this global workforce with intertwined business relationships, the most effective and successful leaders will be culturally savvy. First, they will understand their cultural bias and the culture of those with whom they work. Second, the best leaders will modify their style to bridge these cultural gaps. Although technology will continue to shape the business landscape, those who understand how to successfully influence people across cultures will be valued and highly sought after by companies.

Early in my career, I experienced being part of American business teams that left negotiations with an Asian companies either questioning how well the meeting went or being overly confident in the outcome. Why the uncertainty? We typically viewed and interpreted the outcome through our own cultural lenses. Only when we returned home did we learn we hadn’t made as much progress as we thought. How can a team or even an experienced business person successfully navigate these international waters?

The answer lies in reading the treasure map of cultural behaviors, which Erin Meyer spoke about at the 2016 Global Leadership Summit (GLS). Meyer (2014) has studied business cultures and seen “the sad truth…that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work” (Meyer, 2014, p. 10). Meyer concludes that without cultural literacy, your default position will be to judge or misjudge others through your own cultural lens and assume that differences, controversy, and misunderstandings are rooted in individual personalities. The truth? Cultural patterns of belief and behavior frequently impact our perceptions, mindset, and actions (Meyer, 2014).

In her book The Culture Map, Meyer defines the 8 scales that map the world’s cultures and their location on the continuum.

  • Communicating: low-context vs. high-context
  • Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback
  • Persuading: principles-first vs. application-first
  • Leading: egalitarian vs. hierarchical
  • Deciding: consensual vs. top-down
  • Trusting: task-based vs. relationship-based
  • Disagreeing: confrontational vs. avoids confrontation
  • Scheduling: linear-time vs. flexible time

Today we no longer fly to another country to experience different cultures, because diversity sits in the office next door. You may be an American supervisor of an ethnically diverse group, whose style reflects the United States Culture Map. Believing in treating everyone equally, you may be left confused when trying to coach each of your team members who come from China, Japan, Asia, and Europe. You may wonder whether your coaching is making any impact outside of your circle of American colleagues. Your coaching style is likely straightforward with specific concrete examples (low-context) to back up your feedback couched with soft qualifiers (slightly indirect feedback). You probably sandwich negative feedback between two positives. Your Dutch subordinate expects direct feedback, so he may likely misinterpret the degree and importance of your message as he expects you to be straight forward with any negative criticism. You may feel frustrated at his lack of effort and progress in affecting change. Perhaps, you may even start to stereotype Dutch behaviors based on repeated experiences with that ethnic culture. It’s not uncommon for people to routinely experience a clash or misunderstanding of cultures. If we learn about culture, suspend judgment, and build bridges between these cultures to facilitate trust, communication, and ideas, we would harness the potential of every team member.

Giving and receiving constructive feedback is a necessary component of business but sometimes riddled with insecurity for both the giver and receiver. How should constructive criticism be given and taken? How should feedback be delivered to get the best result? How much feedback is lost in translation? How do the words absolutely, strongly, kind of, and sort of play out when delivering criticism? The answer depends on the culturalization of the giver and receiver. Certain phrases and qualifiers have different meanings. Take for example a British colleague providing feedback to his Dutch counterpart. He says, “Please think about that some more,” implying “That’s a bad idea.” A Dutch or German colleague, who expects and is comfortable with direct constructive feedback, would likely interpret that as “It’s a good idea. Keep developing it.”


In business etiquette classes, we are instructed on the ceremonies which demonstrate respect. In Japanese business culture, it’s customary to exchange small gifts with visitors and present a business card with both hands towards the receiver who respectfully reads it upon presentation versus immediately putting it into his portfolio. Americans easily embrace these cultural mannerisms but fail to realize how communication and language may be used differently.

Frequently in my coaching practice, I reference scales from 1 to 10. Regardless of the attribute measured, when an issue between two people is greater than 2 units apart, the two parties will need concentrated effort to resolve differences. Meyer (2014) confirms my informal conclusion when she states that “what matters is not the absolute position of either culture on the scale but rather the relative position of the two cultures” (p. 22). Relative positioning determines how people will view each other.

Meyer’s (2014) first piece of advice when interacting with someone from another culture is to “listen before you speak and learn before you act” (p. 27). Understand how culture will impact the conversation. For example, the United States is the lowest context culture with Japan having the highest context in its communication. In simplest terms, the people culturized in America tend to communicate literally and explicitly. They value clarity and place accountability of the intended message on the communicator to accurately convey the meaning of the message (Meyer, 2014). On the other extreme, Asian cultures often convey messages implicitly which requires the listener to read between the lines. Good communication is layered and subtle, and the responsibility of its accurate transmission is shared between the sender and receiver. The Japanese have been culturalized over many generations to become skilled at “reading the atmosphere.”

Education can further exacerbate the cultural divide, by moving people more towards the extreme version of their dominant culture. Highly educated Americans are taught and encouraged to communicate more effectively in writing and orally and to take more responsibility for the messages they send. American leaders are typically rewarded for having and implementing the answers within their organizations. On the other hand, Japanese leaders are listening more to what is meant as opposed to what is said. In my informal survey of American and Japanese business people attending a meeting, I find that at least 75% of the words spoken are by the Americans and 25% by the Japanese. The Japanese typically spend more time reflecting and reading body language and other non-verbal clues. When they do speak, it typically includes more clarifying questions. Frequently, my American colleagues have misinterpreted the meaning of a nod, assuming their Japanese counterparts are in agreement. In truth, head nodding is more confirmation of being heard.

In past decades, businesses have relied on preference tests such as Myers Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) as the source of team-building activities to help team members communicate, process ideas, handle data, and make decisions. These business teams were more homogenized in culture, but today’s global business environment demands everyone to be equipped with a new set of skills that embrace diversity in the workplace. Meyer (2014) delves deep into communication and evaluating and also takes the reader through a journey to explore other important cultural attributes. Understanding, respecting, and working with the deep roots of various cultures will forge and strengthen relationships and performance. Culturally diverse teams will continue to populate the business landscape and every leader would benefit from learning more about cultural diversity and its impact on business success.


Meyer, E. (2014). The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business.   New York, NY: Published Affairs. ISBN: 978-1-61039-250-1.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a business and life coach with an extensive background in business development and leadership. She partners with clients to help them develop and grow successful businesses. She also works with individuals to create their life plans and build better relationships by identifying and living out their personal values, enhancing their skills and competencies, and holding them accountable to execute their defined goals. Sandra welcomes comments, questions, and feedback at

The 3-R Strategy for B2B Selling

The new virtual work world is forcing a pivot in selling strategy. In the past, most salespeople focused on building a relationship first with the expectation of a product sale later. Unfortunately, the days of private, face-to-face, distraction-free conversations in the privacy of a client’s office are minimized or even over for some. If you can still get your foot in the door and build a relationship first, go for it! However, don’t be surprised if you need to use some of the 3-R strategy to build your sales portfolio.

Today, you’ll likely be growing the relationship in parallel with another selling strategy. What’s this new selling strategy? A focused conversation around the 3 R’s: RISK, REGULATION, and RETURN. Salespeople shouldn’t focus on selling product but instead solving problems around risk and regulations and finding those opportunities for a meaningful return on investment. Why the important distinction? When you focus on the product, you may not truly understand its value. Value is variable and contextual.

The selling environment is changing with studies showing that buyers are doing more research on their own before approaching a seller. They are not relying on the seller’s expertise like they might have done in the past. Many of today’s buyers are driving the buy-sell process to a simple impersonal transaction. However, it’s still important to know your audience. There are still buyers who consider the relationship as a factor in their decision-making. A one-size approach does not fit all.

Regardless of how much your client values the buyer-sell relationship, a “coaching” seller can’t go wrong if he or she:

(1) has a working knowledge of the buyer’s industry to understand regulations, trends, and talk the lingo,

(2) asks open-ended questions that bring the buyer to a higher level of thinking about an issue impacting the buyer’s business,

(3) listens and learns of the buyers’ pain points, thoughts, and ideas,

(4) discusses and recommends solutions that drive on the 3 Rs.

The best sellers help buyers see problems they weren’t aware of or from a different perspective as well as highlight opportunities to save money, reduce risk, and meet regulation. If you’d like to explore specific sales situations, brainstorm selling approaches, and perhaps develop an inventory of powerful questions that can make a difference in your pivot sales strategy, reach out to schedule your private coaching session.

About the Author:Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership, sales, and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

The 4Ps of Success: Purpose, Passion, Pursuit and Persistence

People often ask, “Is there a formula an entrepreneur follows that helps assure success?” An established company may focus on the 4Ps of product, place, price, and promotion; however, in my experience the 4Ps that a self-made person drives on are purpose, passion, pursuit, and persistence.

Becoming an entrepreneur who plans on making a living as a self-employed entity truly needs a business plan. This plan goes far beyond the requirements that might be asked by a venture capitalist investor. Speaking as an entrepreneur, starting a business is rough and not for the faint of heart. As the old saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That’s the mantra of the successful entrepreneur.

What does that really mean in today’s business terms? Although I haven’t studied the statistics in the coaching profession, I imagine they would be similar to real estate. My realtor friends say that 90% of licensed agents quit, because the walk is too long before seeing any sustainable income. That’s why it’s important to build a foundation on the 4Ps.

Purpose: I was called into this profession while still working in Corporate America in the chemical industry. I had a deep desire to apply my skills, knowledge, and competencies to help other people be successful in their lives. This was truly a calling. I had a deep sense of purpose.

Passion: This purpose was fueled by my passion. What’s my fuel? Feedback from my clients describing how I had a hand in changing their lives for the better. Their words are the premium unleaded that fills my tank after driving on fumes. After nearly 40 decades of work, there’s nothing more rewarding than knowing you changed a life.

Pursuit: People may not know what I do, the value I bring, or that they even need my services. Days of frustration naturally come with the territory. Clients don’t line up at the front door after hanging up the “open for business” shingle. An entrepreneur must be a go-getter and connector. The law of pursuit is critical to success, just like it’s critical in all relationships.

Persistence: I know some entrepreneurs who have purpose, passion, and pursuit, and yet, don’t have the staying power for the long-haul. Although there’s always exceptions to the rule, many entrepreneurs underestimate the time and effort it takes to achieve critical business thresholds. Studies show that people don’t accurately estimate schedule or fully absorbed cost. I believe people don’t identify all risk factors, calculate and apply probabilities, and/or know how best to mitigate risk. Hence, one of the best tools of the entrepreneur is persistence and resilience.

The 4Ps are fundamental not just in business but in life as well. These 4Ps apply to my life coaching clients who are identifying purpose with passion and receiving coaching accountability for pursuit and persistence. Of the four 4Ps, which ones are missing or shining dimly in your life? Which ones need more attention to propel you forward? If you’d like some help mapping out your 4Ps in life, reach out for a conversation.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

Virtual Leadership: Remote Working Best Practices

The new virtual work world has created new work rules, which in turn should cause virtual leaders to pivot. The days of having a private, face-to-face, distraction-free conversation in the privacy of a manager’s office are minimized or even over for some. Now many leaders see their people through a computer screen, and only if the camera is on. You could say virtual leaders have lost their peripheral vision.

What does that mean for a leader? It means that a virtual leader can’t see what’s going on in the shadows. Virtual work calls for the leader to shine a spotlight in more dark spaces. Yes, there’s plenty going on in the shadows of the people you may be talking with on Zoom that’s affecting their mindset, attention, focus, and engagement.

Virtual leaders, whether of their staff or teams, need to adopt new leadership skills, because the demands and pulls on people look different than when they worked in the office. People are more stressed out, burned out, pulled away, and working in ad-hoc home offices. Before virtual work, employees were already complaining about death-by-meeting. Just when they thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Many say they’d trade a virtual meeting for an office meeting any day.

Virtual leaders have a greater responsibility than ever before to run productive and meaningful meetings as well as lead people through the distractions. Below are some of the best practices of the best virtual leaders.

  1. Check in on people through a call, email, text, or card, having nothing to do with work. This helps to compensate for the hallway and water cooler talk where people connected beyond the scope of work.
  2. Call a virtual meeting, only when it’s the best choice of communication, feedback, dissemination of information, or problem solving. Our work culture has gotten lazy in thinking through how to best communicate, and they readily adopt a “let’s call a meeting and get everyone together”.
  3. Clearly state up front the meeting objectives and the decisions that need to be made before adjourning.
  4. Invite only those who contribute in some way to the meeting’s objective. Others who need to know the decision can be informed later by other means.
  5. Distribute a meeting agenda beforehand, so all attendees can prepare and focus on the objectives when they sign on.
  6. Ask attendees if there are any issues or distractions that may come up during the virtual meeting. If so, give them permission to leave the meeting at their discretion. This shines the spotlight in the dark places that distract attendees and shows empathy and support as a leader.
  7. Give attendees permission to drop visually, if connectivity bandwidth becomes faulty.
  8. Manage the meeting to the designated schedule.
  9. Invite people to engage in the conversation. People are more apt to speak up in a face-to-face meeting and tend to be more reserved in virtual settings. Ask specific people what they think.
  10. Ask how the meeting could have been improved before adjourning. The best question: “What could we have done more or less of to make it a more effective meeting?”

Many of these virtual leader best practices are powerful even outside of the remote work environment. However, the new normal requires leaders to show more empathy and respect for people’s distractions and time. The best remote leaders also ask their employees what they need more or less of to be successful in their jobs and working in their home environments.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

Your Core Values: How They Show Up at Work

Our core values, whether we realize it or not, drive how we feel, what we think, and more importantly what we do. If companies operate by a standard set of values, stated or not, how do your core values align with your employer’s? Where do they complement, co-exist, or rub each other the wrong way?

Most people haven’t intentionally thought of identifying and unpacking their core values. However, when they do take the time, my clients have light bulb moments: “Ah-ha, that explains it.” The opportunity to express core values is a significant contributor toward your feelings of fulfillment and ultimate success at work, and on the flipside, the suppression of your core values can produce feelings of dread when you think about another day of work.  

We all have triggers that let us know something’s not right. Perhaps mine are like yours. When I can jump out of bed early on weekend mornings but need 3 or 4 hits of the snooze bar during the work week, that’s my signal I need a core value check and possible adjustment.

Wearing my hat as a life coach, clients ask me for help in changing careers. Our first step is to separate work from the company. For instance, one of my clients wanted to get out of sales, because it was too frustrating. After we unpacked his current situation, he concluded that he loved sales, building relationships, and the thrill of the hunt. What he also realized was how his employer tied his hands, dictated his process, and his current boss knew only how to supervise account managers but had no skill in leading business development.   

Once my client clearly understood that three of his top five core values were leadership, creativity, and independence, he agreed that sales/business development was the right career for him. He just needed to find a company whose values aligned with his, so he could perform at his best. Instead of switching careers, he switched companies by learning how to interview for the right company culture and boss for a win-win.

If you don’t know what your top core values are and how to unpack them in a meaningful way for future decision-making, reach out for a coaching conversation.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

Everyone Should Work for a Bad Boss … at Least Once

heather-ford-6fiz86Ql3UA-unsplashYou’ve likely heard the statement that employees don’t leave companies, they leave bad bosses. Despite how troubling this can be for those playing the character in a story ruled by a “bad boss”, I also subscribe to the theory that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You can become the hero of your own work story.

Bad Boss Benefits

Since working for a bad boss isn’t life threatening, I believe working for one in the early stages of your career helps bring gratitude for the good bosses you’re sure to have later, and more importantly, the experience builds your muscle of resilience. Bad bosses provide an opportunity to strategize and build stamina as well as develop skills in communication and conflict resolution. They also help you get clarity on personal boundaries.

You may say, “This all sounds good in theory, but you have no idea how bad a boss can be. I work for the worst of the worst.” After I share my brief story, you be the judge. Regardless of which one of us claims the prize, you’re obviously a survivor of a bad boss. My hope is that your bad boss experience allowed you to take away some valuable insights into who you are and how to lead better.

My Bad Boss Story*

I was in a position for nearly a year, when my boss moved into another management position, leaving the opening to be backfilled by Mr. Smith*. I’d casually known Mr. Smith for several years as a colleague at the same site. He had quite the reputation as a bully, and his views of women were a bit disturbing. I felt fortunate not to report through his group, especially after hearing some of his beliefs during lunch table conversation: “Women have to work three times as hard to get the credit that a man does.” He didn’t say it as if it was an injustice, but rather that women were intellectually inferior and had to put forth more effort to produce the same results.

Fast forward into the story six months. One employee from Mr. Smith’s previous department told me people had waged bets on who was going to survive: Mr. Smith or me. And the odds were not in my favor.

Now back to the beginning of my story. Several days after the announcement, I walked into my office to find a FACT Sheet tucked neatly into the corner of my desk blotter. In case you think I might have made this up, I’ve included the original note with my bad boss’s name blacked out for privacy. The FACT Sheet was a black comedy note, more ominously black than funny. What would you think if you found this note on your desk?

FACT Sheet

….Mr. Smith’s people are more apt to gain or loose body weight in an undesirable fashion

…Work priorities change on a minute by minute basis

…Work priorities are inversely proportional to the order you accomplish goals and complete tasks

…Long term health risks include hair loss, anorexia, obesity, insomnia, paranoia, mental and physical burnout

…Mr. Smith is ALWAYS RIGHT

…If Mr. Smith is wrong, see above

…Most people have a better chance of seeing God than an easy day in the Mr. Smith’s group

Although I knew it wouldn’t be a best seller, I soon started a journal because of the deteriorating relationship with Mr. Smith. I tried forcing clarity of priorities, definition of work quality, deliverables, timing, and expectations. Nothing seemed to work. It was like trying to reason with the unreasonable.

I swore to myself I wouldn’t give up; I was cutting my teeth as a manager. I knew if I could survive Mr. Smith, I could survive any boss. At this point, I didn’t know about the big bet against my survival. If I had known, it probably would have incentivized me even more.

2020-08-30_155112I never thought to go to Human Resources. The HR staff knew of Mr. Smith’s reputation, and I didn’t want to be considered the trouble-maker. I needed to figure this out on my own. Mr. Smith’s bullying style was not so much verbal abuse as it was written beratement, accusations, and name calling through the email system. On some level, I appreciated that Mr. Smith hid behind the email system, because it made for perfect journal documentation.

Deep down inside, bullies are cowards and deeply disconnected from people. One “undisclosable” email was the straw that broke the proverbially camel’s back, and I found a voice that I didn’t know I had. My response to Mr. Smith’s email was that I wasn’t going to tolerate any more of his abusive emails, and I demanded an in-person meeting. He sheepishly agreed to meet, and I firmly told him my boundaries going forward. All disagreements were to be in-person, behind closed doors. I demanded clarity in writing from him and boundaries on my decision-making. I told him in no uncertain terms how I expected to be treated. I also asked him to write down what he expected of me—everything. He could always add more to his list later.

You could say that I gave the bully a bit of his own medicine. I would say I gave it to him firmly and respectfully. I said I was here to serve him and help make this team look good, and these were my boundaries in how I expected him to treat me. I would do anything he asked to the best of my ability as long as it was not illegal, immoral, or detrimental to the company. Guess what happened next? I never had another issue with Mr. Smith again. I was a bit worried when the next performance cycle came around. What would be on my appraisal? Answer: HIGHLY EXCEEDS.

Bad Boss Lessons

Today, reflecting back on my bad boss story, it’s more comedy than it is black. More seriously, the daily hardship in working for a bad boss was a blessing in disguise. I got to strategize, try different approaches, learn how resilient I was, and ultimately, I got clarity on what I was and wasn’t willing to tolerate in a work relationship. I consider that a win.

Now that you’ve heard my bad boss story, what’s yours? It’s not that I want to take home the trophy, but I hope in the retelling of yours that you can see the good things that came out of your experience. Perhaps you needed to report to a bad boss, because you were becoming stagnant and needed a kick in the butt to go look for another job. Maybe you were getting complacent in the quality of your work. Or just maybe you needed to get clear on your boundaries and find your voice.

Nothing excuses the behaviors of the bad boss, but bad bosses will be here until end times, and it’s only a matter of time before you work for one. Better to have the mindset that you can learn something from the unpleasant process by stepping through it.

*Some details and his name were changed to protect the identity of my bad boss.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

What Lies Do You Believe About Work?


Your Work Engagement

I bet there’s been a time or two in your work history, where you’ve shaken your head and thought or maybe even said, “What’s the purpose of spending time on creating annual goals? They’re not relevant one quarter into the new year.” How many times have you wished you were working for [fill in the market leader in your industry]? Maybe a few times over the course of your career you said to a trusted colleague, “This is a grind; I need to find a better work-life balance.” Statistics show that less than 20% of employees are fully engaged at work. What side do you live on? And what are you doing as a leader to move the needle for you and your team toward the side of full engagement?

Nines Lies About Work

I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham, who is a leading researcher of team performance. His book Nines Lies About Work, co-authored with Ashley Goodall, explains most all you knew to be true but didn’t have the data to prove it. What does Marcus mean by lies at work? These are the truths that companies buy into and operate by to manage people.

Why do they buy into the lies? Buckingham would have you believe it satisfies the organization’s need for control. There’s truth in that statement, but I also believe from my own personal history working in Corporate America that many employees, who laddered into the C-suite, got there by successfully navigating through the lies. They now suffer from faulty thinking, believing in the validity of the lies that worked for them but don’t for most. What they don’t fully appreciate is that operating under these lies pull the organization down by attaching a ball and chain to the employees’ ankles.

Based on decades of working in Fortune 1000 companies, I have my own personal favorite work lies but I’d like to share my top three favorite of Buckingham’s nine: (1) people care which company they work for, (2) the best companies cascade goals, and (3) work-life balance matters most.


Lie: People Care Which Company They Work For

It’s true people are attracted to certain companies based on name, reputation, and supposed culture. I was certainly attracted to the big Exxon name as a chemical engineering graduating from college. Who wouldn’t want to work for one of the biggest chemical companies—Exxon Chemical—like I did? However, whether an employee stays will be less about the company and more about the opportunities to do their best and the team’s cohesion.

Teams are a home for people, and its only when we work on teams that our best is put to highest use and unlocks our highest potential. “Local team experiences have far more bearing on whether we stay in the tribe or leave it…” (p. 28). Teams matter more than the company. “Teams make work real; they ground us in the day-to-day…and, teams, paradoxically, make homes for individuals” (p.30). People care about what team they belong to and what they’re working on.


Lie: The Best Companies Cascade Goals

Years ago, the typical annual performance review and goal-setting process had your supervisor ask you to write up how you did on your goals in the current year and create new ones for the upcoming year. These would roll-up the organizational ladder. Today, its more fashionable for leadership to first create theirs from the company goals and then cascade them down through each level of the organization. You see your boss’s goals and then create yours. Was that approach any more effective?

Did you feel like you were checking a box? Did you say your yourself, “I’ll let the dust settle and work on what’s truly important regardless of what’s written and approved.” Your assumption is that by the end of the year it won’t matter, because you’ll be able to rewrite your goals to reflect what you actually did.

We spend so much time on this process, and for what practical reason? There’s no data that supports that goals set from above stimulate greater productivity. In fact, “…evidence suggests that cascaded goals do the opposite: they limit performance. They slow your boat down” (p. 55). What’s a company to do, if it’s not cascading goals? “The best companies cascade meaning” (p. 62). People should not be told the what to do but the why, so they can be released to use their best gifts to perform on behalf of the company.


Lie: Work-life Balance Matters Most

People crave work with meaning and purpose—bottom line—and yet research shows that “…only 16-17 percent of workers say they have a chance to play to their strengths every day” (p. 197). When this happens, our pay becomes the price that we accept for the inherent badness of work. Think of it as a bribe to grin and bear it.

Work doesn’t have to be categorized as work is bad, the rest of life is good, and we have to find a balance. Let’s get real: “neither you nor your life are in balance, nor will you ever be” (p. 188). Life is ever changing, not static.

What’s an employee to do? The common mantra is to do what you love. Actually, for most of us, it should be find love in what you do. Surveys from U.S. working populations show that “…72 percent of workers say, ‘I have the freedom to modify my role to fit my strengths better’” (p. 197). Over the course of my career in Corporate America, I convinced my employer no less than three times to create a specific position for me that allowed me to drive on my strengths and create value for the company, all the while finding love in what I do.

If any of these intrigues you, make sure to pick up this book and learn of the other six lies.


Buckingham, M., and Goodall, A. (2019). Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

Best Leadership Messages from Global Leadership Summit 2020


Since 2014, the year I was first introduced to the Global Leadership Summit (GLS), I’ve been a faithful attender because of the research and stories shared by the best world leaders. With 2020 shaping up to be one of the most “memorable” years in modern history, I was keen to hear from the faculty on leadership topics relevant to our current times.

Many messages touched on how leaders can deal with fear, deepen human connection, and create psychological safety while leading forward. I share a few of the best leadership messages from some of the most renowned experts on why leadership is so important, how to lead better, and what people want from their leaders.

You need to push through fear, because your greatest success is on the other side.

Speaker Messages

Craig Groeschel

For years, Craig’s been saying, “Everyone wins when a leader gets better.” At its core, leadership is influence, never title or position. Everyone has influence, and leaders can learn from anyone as long as they have humility. Craig’s encouragement is for leaders to lead through the dip.

All organizations move through 5 life cycle stages:

  • Birth: painful, don’t know if you have the energy or right resources
  • Growth: difficult for different reasons, need right people, cash flow struggles, fun
  • Maturity/Prime/The Flow: this is really working, have right people and systems
  • Decline/Rut/Treadmill: low morale, high frustration
  • Death: the end

When organizations enter the decline stage, leaders typically revert to what they did in the prime/growth phases, doing it even harder with the false belief the organization will return to its former self.

You can make excuses, or you can make progress, but you can’t do both. Don’t fight the old way but find the new way.

Every major crisis creates unexpected problems as well as unpredicted opportunities. Be agile and look for them. Do you have courage to succeed by adapting, pivoting, and leading through the dip to create the next growth curve?

  • Change how you think about change. People don’t mind change; they hate the way we try to change them. Great leaders never caste blame.
  • Have the courage to unmake promises such as “we will never” or “we will always”. If not careful, your boldest declarations could become your greatest limitations.
  • Obsess over the Why. People change over either desperation or inspiration. When you convey the why, you disarm the critics, educate the bystanders, and empower the advocates. If they know the purpose, people can tolerate the pain of change.

Lead with confidence through uncertainty. Feel the fear and lead anyway.

The pathway to the greatest outcome is through your fear. What is no longer working and needs to be changed? What’s one promise you need to unmake? What’s one risk you need to take even if you feel afraid?

Danielle Strickland

  • Hope is a strategy that is grown in the soil of gratitude and flourishes when we live out what we believe. We look to our leaders to create hope.
  • Eighty percent of your thought process is either in the past or the future. Hope is present tense. Leaders should focus on doing in the present what they hope for in the future.

Beth Comstock

  • Organizational longevity is influenced by how well leaders manage change—forcing people to confront things they normally wouldn’t.
  • Sometimes as a leader you need to admit that you’re afraid. Tell people what you know and don’t know. You don’t have to know everything.
  • If you’re to lead well, you need to ask for feedback. A powerful question to ask your team: “Tell me one thing I don’t want to hear?”

John Maxwell

  • The secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda. You’re already outside of your comfort zone, so now is the time to do those things you’re uncomfortable doing.
  • What we focus on is what expands. You don’t get rid of your fear. Feed your faith and hope, so that it expands over your fear, doubt, and feelings of uncertainty.

Everything you want and don’t have is outside of your comfort zone.

Marcus Buckingham

The answers to 10 statements will tell you how much resilience lives in your workplace. How would you describe your personal experiences?

  1. I have all the freedoms I need to decide how to get my work done
  2. No matter what else is going on around me, I can stay focused on getting my work done
  3. In the last week, I have felt excited to work every day
  4. I always believe that things are going to work out for the best
  5. My team leader tells me what I need to know before I need to know it
  6. I trust my team leader
  7. I am encouraged to take risks
  8. Senior leaders are one step ahead of events
  9. Senior leaders always do what they say they are going to do
  10. I completely trust my company’s senior leaders

Statements 1-4 focus on self, 5-7 with team leaders, and 8-10 with senior leaders.

  • Senior leaders can cultivate resilience though vivid foresight and follow through.
  • Team leaders can adopt anticipatory communication: check-in with people one-on-one at least once a week and build psychology safety.
  • Individual leaders can build resilience by understanding their agency: what parts of your world you can control and when. You should use your strengths in work, because that will fill you up.

Nona Jones

Injustice is never neutral. One side always benefits from the other even when that side didn’t design it. In leadership, safe is insufficient.

You cannot make lasting impact while still feeling safe. Impact and comfort are diametrically opposed.

Why do we retreat to the safe zone?

  • Fear: One end of the spectrum is the fear of losing your life [to something bigger] and on the other losing your livelihood. Fear is real. Our challenge as leaders is to explore what fear can teach us. Fear is a thermometer; fear is an invitation to prepare; fear cannot be an excuse for inactivity. When you prepare for the worst while working toward the best, fear changes from a paralyzer and becomes a mobilizer.
  • Inadequacy: It causes you to believe the lie that someone else is better equipped than you. Determine what you can change and change it. No one is called to change the entire world by himself.

It’s achievable when we take what’s possible and make it probable.

When things get difficult, we often retreat into isolation. You must build your pack to build your power. We were created to be in community. When things get challenging, rely on your pack. Your challenge: identify three people that you can invite into your pack as encouragers when things get difficult.

Juliet Funt

Exhaustion and denial? Soldier on. Ideas to help you refuel your tank.

  • Forgive and accept yourself more than you’re currently doing today.
  • Reconnect with your mission. Do the Ladder Up exercise! In a purposeful way, keep asking, “What is the best possible outcome of that?” for each answer until you reach a pinnacle outcome which might include (1) live longer, healthier, lives, (2) achieve close, connected, and loving families, and (3) achieve clear, clean, and close-by water.

When you ladder up to the best possible outcome, you’ll be infused with energy.

Vanessa Van Edwards

Studies show that people evaluate others upon first meeting them on warmth (trust) and competence (respect). Leaders rank off the charts in both these traits. Where are you on the continuum of warmth and competence? You can increase your warmth and trust by acting on the following behaviors.

  • Become purposeful in your cues. Our words are powerful primers to shape others’ behavior, thoughts, and actions. In the workplace, calendars are the biggest primers. Typical calendar invites for call, meeting, conference, agenda, or one-on-one are boring. Instead, use collaborative session, strategy session, mastery meeting, creative time, accountability hour, or goal session.
  • Think about how you want someone to feel before, during, and after interacting with you. When starting a conversation or answering the first question, avoid starting with “terrible traffic”, “bad weather”, “I’m so stressed”, “my schedule is crazy”, or “I’m so busy”.
  • Think positive and focus on “I’m so happy to see you”, “great weather”, “I’ve been looking forward to this”, “It’s great to be here”, and “It’s always a pleasure to speak with you”. Positive words change brain patterns and convey warmth such as Hi friend, Let’s connect, Cheers, I’m open, Together, Excited, Collaborate, Happy to be here, Best, and Both
  • Competent words include Productive, Let’s brainstorm, Effective, Get ready, We’ll power through it, Efficient, Lead knowledge, and Streamlined. Do an email audit to see how you prime. What changes will you make going forward?
  • Hands are trust indicators. Hands convey trust and intention, so get your hands up and make them visible and expressive. Hands also impact competence, not just warmth. Least popular TED talks had 272 gestures and most popular used 465 gestures in 18 minutes. Demo your talk with hand gestures. Speak with your hands and your words. The mind gives a lot of weight to hand gestures vs. words.
  • Influence: Avoid the question inflection at the end of your statement. Say, don’t ask with your voice inflection, because it diminishes your competence. Low tone: use the lowest natural end of your voice tone by speaking on the out-breath.

To learn more about how to signal others visit

Joseph Grenny

  • Progress is assured when leaders chose truth over power. Leaders become heroes to support those who challenge and disagree. Create feedback rituals; build space into the schedule for candor.
  • The health of a team is measured by the time elapsed between when a team sees a problem and when they talk about it.
  • Most pain is avoidable, and pain is fostered by a culture of silence. Silence is the playground of evil. Our day ends when we are silent about what matters.

Paula Faris

  • When leading yourself through life’s reset, look for peace to proceed, expect and anticipate fear, and give yourself permission to branch out.
  • Do you have a peace about it? Or are your values clashing with your choices? Are you finding significance in something that shifts (job, bank account)? If you have peace in your spirit, proceed.
  • Expect and anticipate fear: fear is normal. You will be scared during shifts, resets, and change. Know how to deal with your fear. What is the worst thing that could happen if you pressed into fear?
  • Ask yourself these questions: What are you scared of? What is the worst thing that could happen if you went for it? What is the best thing that could happen if you went for it? What are the times when you let fear paralyze you? When did you not allow your fear to paralyze you?
  • Value is not tied to relationship, job, bank account, etc. but in finding fulfillment in what you are good at and love. What are you good at? What do you love? What do trusted people notice you’re good at and love?

Fear is the great paralyzer to slay your dreams.

Chris McChesney

What if new priorities or change did not raise uncertainty? What if it made sense? People can handle change; it’s the uncertainty that people don’t like. Can you engage your team for an achievable and meaningful outcome? Can your team feel they can win? If so, change is not an issue. You’re a leader if you can create the 3 things team members look for:

  • Clear finish line
  • Influence on how to get to finish line (making progress)
  • Confirmation that the goal matters to the leader on daily basis (engage people to a cause that means something and is winnable)

Amy Edmondson

People’s orienting system is to achieve psychological safety (predictable, rational, and fair). We live in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, commonly referred to as VUCA.

  • Volatile: rapid changes, ups and downs, big swings
  • Uncertain: difficult to predict future events/values
  • Complex: multiple interconnect elements
  • Ambiguous: unclear meaning of signals/events

Psychological safety explains more about variability in team performance than any other factor.

What if you took it seriously as leader to help people adapt and navigate the VUCA world?

  • Anyone’s voice should be mission critical. Most people people feel that they can’t speak up.
  • Impression management at work is almost second nature. It causes us not to speak up or push for what we know is right. No one wants to look ignorant, incompetent, intrusive, or negative but would prefer to look smart and easy going, which means he or she doesn’t ask questions, admit weakness or mistakes, offer ideas, or critique the status quo.
  • Are you playing not to lose or are you playing to win? Organizations that play to win put the mission in charge and not impression management. They create psychologically safe cultures for people to take risks and speak up with ideas, questions, and concerns. Mistakes are welcomed and valued.
  • Studies show the higher your status in the company the more psychological safety you have but you can have pockets of poor psychological safety at any level. The hierarchical safety gap in your company is minimized when everyone has a voice at the table.
  • High performance standards and psychological safety can co-exist. As leaders we need to help the team move into the learning zone.
    • Comfort zone (low standards, high safety)
    • Apathy zone (Low standards, low safety)
    • Anxiety zone (high standards, low safety)
    • Learning zone (high standards, high safety)
  • What are the key signs that a workplace is psychologically safe? People on your team are willing to speak up when: (1) something goes wrong, (2) they disagree with what’s being said (especially the boss), (3) they have half of an idea, and (4) they need help
  • Leaders recognize that not all failure is bad. Failure comes in three types:
    • Preventable (mistakes): where we know how to do it right
    • Complex (accidents): a set of factors combine in novel ways to produce undesired outcomes in familiar contexts
    • Intelligent (discoveries): undesired results that nobody could have known without trying it
  • Leaders help the organization fail well: reducing preventable failures, anticipating and mitigating complex failures, and promoting intelligence
  • Create a psychological safe environment by framing the work, inviting/insisting engagement proactively, and responding productively
    • Insist on; give time to create disagreement (debate)
    • Model humility and candor
    • Ask good questions to broaden the discussion: (1) what do others think, (2) what are we missing, (3) what other options could we consider, (4) how would our competitor approach this, and (5) who has a different perspective. Good questions also deepen the discussion: (1) what leads you to think so, (2) what’s the concern that you have about that, (3) can you give us an example, and (4) can you explain that further?
    • When you get feedback you should be appreciative, positive, and forward looking. Respond productively by listening and showing empathy.

Good questions make silence awkward.

Michael Todd

What can the right or wrong pace do for your leadership? Overworked, anxiety, and depression can be the results of a too fast, unsustainable leadership pace. If we get the right pace, everything changes. Will you find your stride—the walk with long decisive steps in a specific direction which can take you further than faster?

  • Pace of grace: when you find the right stride, everything starts working. Are you working fast in one area and nothing in another? When everything gets the measure of health that it needs, you’ve found the pace of grace.
  • Create a vision, make it visual, verbalize it, and don’t violate it

Poor pace produces missed moments, meaning, and miracles.

Henry Cloud

Your mission and organization can easily become fragmented curing a crisis. Anchor yourself and ensure your organization is paying attention to these critical four:

  • Are we making sure that fragmentation is not leading to disconnection? Show up enough and in the right way?
  • Do everything possible to let others have a sense of power and control. What can they control in driving the mission forward?
  • Managing shame and pain. You need to make room and space for people can talk about where they are failing and hurting.
  • Allow people a sense of accomplishment by allowing them to use their strengths and feel good about what they do.

Momma Maggie Gibran

The stronger the winds, the stronger the tree.

Albert Tate

Are you counterfeit or the Real McCoy? Ask yourself this question about your leadership. Am you a counterfeit or faking? Or are you trying to be the best version of some other person?

  • Leadership is not something you need to grasp from the outside but should be what you need to grow from inside you.
  • In crisis, it’s not about finding leadership but tapping into what is already within you in the moment.
  • What are the leadership essentials for us to have authentically growing within us?
    • We should be flipping tables as leaders (Jesus and the money changers). Look for injustice and turn systems over. It’s hard to flip a table of injustice, if you’re sitting comfortably at the table. Are you sitting at tables you should be flipping? Who is not at your table? Why? Are you making it hard for those to sit at your table?
    • We should be foot washing leaders (Jesus washing disciples’ feet, even Judas). Who would be surprised by your compassion if you poured it on them? Wash the feet of friends and foe, allies, and enemies.
    • We need to be a limping leader (you loose but God wins) by walking in vulnerability. Failure isn’t falling but an invitation for God’s grace to show up in your life. Limps are just the mark where you lost, and God won.

Lead a legacy for tomorrow.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

5 Principles for Designing Effective Workshops

 you-x-ventures-vbxyFxlgpjM-unsplashThe internet has a wealth of information available to anyone at the click of a mouse. You can read articles, view webinars, and watch videos on how to do just about everything. It seems like everyone is giving away their content for free. If there’s so much free information available on the web, why do businesses continue to invest in employee training? Why do people still hire coaches? Because training and coaching, if designed right, can provide a radically different experience that is more meaningful and has a greater likelihood of retention and being put into practice.

If you are designing a workshop, there a several principles to keep in mind that will produce a more impactful training session.

  1. Collaborate with the leader to plan, deliver, and execute the content. People will be more engaged when they have some control over the what, when, and how they learn.
  2. Make sure the information is applicable to the audience now. What are the challenges in the work environment today? What practical information can be put into practice immediately to improve outcomes? Information designed for future circumstances will easily be forgotten within 2 weeks.
  3. Draw out the audience’s past experiences into the learning process. When people can analyze and process information against previous failures and successes, the workshop content comes alive. The audience can make new connections, sees possibilities, and draw new conclusions.
  4. Have the group use reasoning and solve problems in the workshop. Most people hate or at best are bored with learning facts and figures. When people engage their minds with the material, they are more apt to retain the information and be excited to put it to use in their job.
  5. Use storytelling to bring the material alive. Storytelling has been used to pass along information and concepts since before pen and paper were invented. The human mind is programmed to learn through storytelling, share meaningful stories that drive home important points.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

Core Values: the Link Between Life and Business Coaching

lee-vue-Ik5V3W8y96Q-unsplashWhen I life coach, invariably my clients will complete a core values assessment. Why? Because whether they are aware of it or not, core values drive personal meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. And I want to help my clients understand why they make certain decisions, choose to act in specific ways, and feel joy as well as frustration. Discovering your core values will help you understand certain dynamics in your life and empower you to choose a new course for your future.

Businesses, like life coaching clients, also set visions and define missions. If you work for any size company, you’ve likely noticed vision and mission statements nicely framed and hung in conference rooms. Perhaps the leadership has gone so far as to laminate them on a business card for their employees to carry around. In most cases, however, there’s likely no values to complement the vision and mission.

I find that many businesses skip values and rush straight to developing their strategy. Wait! Values are an incredible part of defining who the company is when it grows up. Values shape culture, provide operating guidelines, and attract people who have a shared passion for the vision and mission. People tend to resonate more with values than they do with vision and mission statements. Current and future employees want to know what a company stands as they make a judgment on whether this is the place for them to work.

If you’re a business leader and your company hasn’t defined its values, I can help your team as a coaching facilitator. If you’re an individual who would like to learn more about what makes you tick, reach out for a conversation.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at