Courage: Ditch the Armor (Part II)Posted on January 12, 2020

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Other forms of armor in leadership that are not as obvious, but could have adverse effects on a team’s high performance, are the self-protection behaviors of being “right,” cynicism/sarcasm, and criticism.  These protection behaviors are challenging to let go of because they provide a false sense of self-esteem – “I am right, “I am witty,” and “I can pick apart obvious problems.”  If you have been rewarded in the past for being the person who always knows the answers or has the best comebacks, then these protection behaviors can become the “go-to” when under stress or when being challenged.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

A high-performance team will not have the confidence to learn or speak up with new ideas if the leader of that team regularly deploys this type of protective armor.  Having always to be the “knower” or the “right” one is defensive and posturing.  This type of armored leadership can stifle the flow of new ideas on a team.    The armored leadership of cynicism (or its relative, sarcasm) can often leave behind hurt, confusion and resentment among teams if misunderstood or unchecked.  Criticism often arises from feelings of fear and unworthiness.  This behavior is identified as leadership armor because it shifts the spotlight off of the leader and onto someone or something else, allowing the leader’s brain to feel safe and “better than.” 

How can you do it? 

Aim to “get it right” versus “be right.” Actively practice curiosity.  Stephen Covey’s 5th habit of effectiveness is to “seek first to understand before seeking to be understood.”  Rather than leading with the desire to answer everything for your team, lead with questions.  The more input we can encourage when facing an issue, the better our chances are at a practical solution and an engaged team.  

Model clarity and kindness. It is hard to admit that sarcasm and cynicism are a form of armor that I use.  When I learned that the word sarcasm is from the Greek word sarkazein, meaning “to tear flesh,” I said, “ouch.”   Remember that being clear is kind.  If we have something to say, let’s not hide behind a sarcastic remark.  Be straight with your team.

Focus on making contributions instead of criticizing. At the end of each day, aim to have contributed more than you have criticized.  Before picking apart another’s idea, contribute a few of your own.  Be aware of languishing in “nostalgia” as it may be perceived as a resistance to try or a criticism of new ideas.

What are some additional strategies you have used with success to minimize these self-protection behaviors? Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/leadership.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.


Courage: Ditch the Armor (Part I)Posted on January 5, 2020

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Having a teenage son, I have had the pleasure of watching every Marvel movie known to humankind.   Every superhero and villain has some version of armor to protect themselves from harm.  While there is rarely a threat of “physical” danger in our organizations, leaders who allow their feelings of fear, uncertainty, or discomfort to call the shots are at risk of responding with protective armor.  When “armored up,” a leader closes themselves off from options, limits their openness to new ideas, and dulls their curiosity for learning and taking risks…and their teams will follow their lead.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

A high-performance team cannot thrive if the leader of that team hides under their protective armor.  Armored leadership fosters an environment where only “perfection” (not excellence) is acceptable, which creates a culture where the team is afraid to fail and take risks.  Armored leadership is putting scarcity into action (“only so many good things can happen before bad, so armor up”), which squanders the joy out of work.  Armored leadership aims to stay safe, or “numb,” to the effects of discomfort by tuning out or hiding from change.  Teams in this environment stall out, get bored, and coast through work without clear goals or challenges.  As a part of our New Year’s resolutions, let’s commit to ditching our armor.

How can you do it? 

Model healthy failure. Perfectionism is not the same as self-improvement or growth; it is about trying to earn approval. To avoid this type of armor and promote an environment where teams can speak up and accept failure, leaders must model healthy failure.  Talk openly about failures you have had in the past and what you learned from them.  When you have made a mistake, admit it to your team and apologize.  When you fail, be kind to yourself; when members of your team try something and fail, demonstrate grace and acceptance.

Practice gratitude and celebrate progress. Armored leaders hesitate to celebrate milestones or recognize others until they are “safe,” or sure everything will work.  Our teams need a “little somethin’” on occasion, or “food” as I refer to it often.  Examples of leading with gratitude include sending a personal note/text of encouragement or holding a department huddle of thanks when the team made it through a tough situation or incrementally improved a result.  Every person/team is different concerning recognition, so know your audience. 

Define options and set a course. Sometimes leaders are uncertain what to do and they stall out or “numb” for armor protection.  One way to ditch this armor is just to start a list of options.  There are ALWAYS options for next steps, even though none of them might be good.  Engage your team in brainstorming options.  You do not have to have all of the answers.  Try SOMETHING.  Take a step.     

What are strategies you have used with success to model healthy failure, celebrate achievements, or getting out of a stall? Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/leadership.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.


Courage: When Fear “Interferes” With RumblingPosted on December 29, 2019

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

I have observed and personally experienced, different thoughts or beliefs that feed the flames of fear that have been a barrier to effectively leading a high-performance team.  I have shied away from criticism – “what if I put my thoughts out there and my team doesn’t agree?”  I have feared failure – “what if the direction I am leading my team does not work?”  I have hesitated to take the step to a final decision – “I need more data than reasonable before making a final recommendation.”  I have withdrawn from speaking up – “What if I speak up, and I look stupid?”  The emotion of fear reinforces the belief of self-doubt and results in hesitancy or inaction to do what needs to be done.    

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Here’s the deal.  Leadership is primarily about managing feelings – our feelings and those of our team.  As described above, fear appears to be one of the most disruptive feelings in my workplace.  When the emotion of fear influences our leadership behavior, we hesitate to act and delay necessary tough conversations (or rumbling).  When we don’t act when needed, we reinforce the belief that we are not good enough, lose confidence, and the cycle of fear continues.  Leaders cannot help our teams overcome the impact of fear in their work if we are not willing to have the courage to examine the effects of fear, anxiety, or doubt on our behavior.

How can you do it? 

Understand the beliefs that drive our feelings and behaviors. If you are serious about getting to the root of your feelings and behaviors, read The Cognitive Behavior Leadership Model.  This model, crafted for SOMC by Dr. Kendall Stewart, is at the core of developing the self-awareness necessary to toughen our leadership skills and skins.  Socrates’s statement of “know thyself” is genuinely the first step.

Practice “practical optimism” when facing your beliefs that drive the emotion, and resulting behaviors, of fear. Who will survive a crisis – the pessimist, the optimist, or the practical optimist/realist?  I lay bets on the realist.  Changing beliefs is REALLY hard.  Be realistic and patient with yourself and your team as you work through the beliefs driving fear in your workplace.

Give yourself (and others) permission to try new behaviors, despite your fear. Most adults learn through trial and error.  Write a checklist of possible realistic changes you might make in behavior or positive behaviors you want to sustain and permit yourself to try them and to fail at them.  In essence, this is a written “permission slip” to face and overcome the fear of change.

What is one strategy you have used successfully to change a belief driving a feeling of fear? Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/leadership.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.


Courage: Being Clear is KindPosted on December 22, 2019

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

In my experience, leaders hesitate to be clear with those they work with because they fear their team will not like them or concerned they may violate our organization’s “culture of politeness.”  Leaders tell people half-truths not to hurt a colleague’s feelings.  Leaders fail to make their expectations clear because of being perceived to be “too hard” on the team member, yet blame them for not delivering on those same expectations.  Leaders are resistant to have tough conversations with a colleague for fear of how they might react, yet talk to other colleagues about their frustrations.  This ineffective leadership behavior hides out under the veil of “just being polite” but in practice, this behavior is disrespectful, unkind and does not promote the trust necessary to be a high-performance team.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Kindness, or in our organization “being a respectful team player, is a culmination of behaviors that build trust in a high-performing team.  For a team to produce at their highest potential, they need to know where their leader and teammates stand.  If you had to wonder if your leader is telling you the whole truth, or if she has been clear about her expectations, it would be challenging to trust enough in the direction of the leader to give 100%.  When we are honest with ourselves, we genuinely want someone around us to tell us the truth, so we don’t fail.  We want a teammate to tell us straight that our idea stinks before we get too far along in the development, even if it might hurt our feelings.  Being kind is telling someone the truth BECAUSE we care, despite how we feel or how others feel.  And besides, it’s Christmas! HA!  Be kind, for goodness’s sake.

How can you do it? 

Be clear by talking TO people, not ABOUT them. Nothing destroys trust and is more unkind than gossip.  Sometimes we do need coaching on how to have conversations with our teammates.  But respectful leaders commit to talk TO the other person, instead of just talking ABOUT them, as soon as reasonably possible. 

Be clear about your expectations. If you need something different to happen, say it.  If you have a specific way for something to get done, share it.  The people you work with cannot read your mind.  Which is worse?  The momentary discomfort of having a clear expectations conversation, or your team not meeting your expectations, again?  As my Assistant has clearly stated to me, “Use your words.”

Be clear about the “big picture,” not about how you are affected. When you can be clear with yourself of the “why” or the big picture for an outcome, rather than focusing on your feelings, the path to being more explicit with your team is a little bit easier.  Leadership is about affecting change for a much higher purpose than ourselves.  When we can keep that present, we can stay focused on what needs to be done/said despite how we feel.

What are other strategies you have used to be clear with your team?Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.


Courage: Leadership Myths About VulnerabilityPosted on December 15, 2019

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

There are many misguided myths about vulnerability in leadership that exist in organizations.  Some of them I have even thought to myself or worked with leaders that have expressed these sentiments:  “If you demonstrate vulnerability, you are weak.”  “I just don’t do vulnerability.”  “I’m a strong leader and don’t need anyone else’s insight.”  “I just don’t trust my team enough to show vulnerability.”  “I’m not willing to disclose what is necessary to show vulnerability.” 

What is the case for doing it anyway?

These myths, or scapegoats for our psyches, let us off of the hook.  When we think hard about people in our lives or individuals in history that have demonstrated what we describe as “courage,” could any of those actions have been taken without risk of failing?  Without some level of vulnerability?  I cannot think of a single example.  Leading in a way that pushes ourselves to be better people, and that creates a high-performance team environment takes courage and lots of it.  So let’s debunk a few of the myths and stop using them as shields.

How can you do it? 

Myth #1: Vulnerability is weakness. The dictionary definition of vulnerability is “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”. Brene Brown states that vulnerability “is uncertainty. It’s not knowing but doing it anyway because it’s the brave thing to do.” Vulnerability is synonymous with courage. Vulnerability is the strength to do what is necessary despite how we feel.

Myth#2:  I don’t “do” this whole vulnerability thing. Um…yes, you do.  No person is free from uncertainty or risk of emotional exposure.  Not if you are alive.  The real choice is, are you going to “do” vulnerability, or let it “do” you.  A courageous leader learns how to wrestle with this emotion and how it connects to our beliefs and drives our behavior.  Pretending that we don’t “do” vulnerability means we are letting fear drive our beliefs and behaviors without any input or self-awareness.

Myth #3:  I can go it alone. Well yes, if we didn’t need others to get work done, then go for it!  But the hard truth is that our human brains are hardwired for connection.  We do not gain strength or achieve amazing results from going it alone. Instead, a team working collectively and communicating effectively has a much higher chance of accomplishing tough goals.  Do you risk miscommunications, misunderstandings, or disappointments?  Sure.  But the risk is worth the reward.

Myth #4:  Vulnerability is over the top disclosure. Some leaders may perceive that being vulnerable means you must over-share deeply personal experiences or emotions in all situations.  In some cases, that level of sharing might be what is necessary for the moment.  But a leader should be mindful of boundaries concerning disclosure.  Vulnerability without boundaries is desperation, confession, and manipulation, not vulnerability.

How have you overcome one of these myths, or other barriers, to vulnerability in leadership? Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.


Courage: Rumble with VulnerabilityPosted on December 8, 2019

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

A “rumble” is a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to be vulnerable.  During this type of interaction, we listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard so we can more effectively identify and solve a problem.  For many leaders, this is a scary and messy territory.  In healthcare, most of us were technically good at our jobs and therefore promoted to management roles.  The skills of effective communication and confrontation were not a part of our formal training.  The limited practice of putting ourselves out there, having crucial interactions where vulnerability plays a leading role, contributes to our lack of courage to risk exposure and failure.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

The short answer is you cannot get to courage without a willingness to take the risk of vulnerability.  Saying to yourself, “ok, I am willing to risk failing” is not quite there.  Courage is saying, “yep, I know I will eventually fail, and I’m still all in.”  We need this rumble ability in leadership today.  To achieve the high-level of results our patients deserve in healthcare, we must have leaders with the courage to show up and speak up even when we cannot control the outcome. 

How can you do it? 

Embrace the “suck.” If we are brave enough to enter these tough conversations, often enough, we are going to fail.  Understanding that trying, and sometimes sucking, is the only way to increase our courage is so important.  So…embrace the suck, ha!  Keep trying. Keep engaging.  Keep failing.  And keep learning what works and what doesn’t thanks to your willingness to be vulnerable.

Avoid the “cheap seats” feedback. I loved this when I read it the first time.  What this means is getting clear on whose opinion of you matters.  If you allow yourself and your actions to be influenced by the views of others, make sure those opinions are from people that you trust and who share in your values.  There will always be people from the cheap seats, willing to throw criticism and judgment your way while you are putting yourself out there.  Pay no mind to the peanut gallery and go for it!

Remain “armor free.” When we are vulnerable, the tendency to put armor on to minimize the hurt is real.  If we commit to taking in feedback from those that we trust and who invest in the outcome of a rumble, then we must attempt to keep the armor off.  When we shield ourselves from the feedback that matters, even when it is hard to hear, then we stop growing.

What additional strategies have you used to push yourself to “rumble” even when it was tough?

Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.


Courage: Leading the WayPosted on December 1, 2019

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Fear is one of the most debilitating emotions preventing effective leadership from developing and courageous cultures from thriving.  When fear rules us as leaders, we avoid tough conversations and giving honest feedback.  We avoid taking risks or putting our ideas out there for fear of being made fun of or failing.  We avoid conversations about diversity or inclusion for fear of saying something wrong.  We fear not being “perfect,” which can keep our teams locked in a safe box, not growing or trying new things.  Leading with courage is scary, messy and uncertain.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, is attributed to the quote “what stands in the way becomes the way.”  If we intend to become a high-reliability organization, we need leaders to have the courage to face the fear that stands in our way.  Courageous leaders bravely lead others to overcome, not succumb to those barriers. We must fearlessly lead the way through our own modeled behavior.

Unpacking fear and the effects courage, or the lack thereof, can have on leadership effectiveness is a personal leadership journey for me.  I had the pleasure of being introduced to Brene Brown, best selling author, and researcher, at a human resources conference last summer.  Her latest book, Dare to Lead, is a resource I have used to process this concept personally.   Over the next several weeks, I will reference this and other resources for leadership courage behaviors and how I might apply them to my life.  I hope you will do the same.  The blog series will explore the four categories of courageous leadership behaviors described below.

How can you do it? 

Courageous leaders “rumble” with vulnerability. Dealing with our fears and those of others requires someone to take the first step to “rumble.”  Rumble, in this strategy, refers to having a real conversation even if it is tough.  A courageous leader demonstrates their willingness to be vulnerable by remaining open, curiously listening and owning our junk we bring to the conversation. 

Courageous leaders live “into” their values. Daring leaders who live their values are never silent about hard things.  First, it is essential to identify what core values we have, but then living “into” them, or practicing them, will provide the strength to demonstrate behaviors that align with those beliefs.

Courageous leaders brave trust. Courageous leaders lead with integrity or chose courage over comfort.  Teams that serve with a leader they can trust have more confidence to take risks and innovate.

Courageous leaders own their own stories. Leaders that can own their stories of mistakes, failures, setbacks, and hurt have the power to write their ending, as opposed to the story owning them.

What questions about leading with courage would you like addressed during this blog series? Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.


Cognitive Behavioral Leadership (CBL): Teach Fellow Leaders How to Use the SOMC CBL ModelPosted on November 24, 2019

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

People can’t teach lessons they have not learned themselves. Since leaders who are genuinely engaged in their lifelong struggle to improve realize how much more they still must learn, they often don’t view themselves as expert enough to teach others.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

But fellow strugglers are the best teachers. Their lessons are not academic speculations; their stories are based in real life. People relate to them more easily. With their slips and falls, they inspire others that they can survive their journey, too.

How can you do it?

  1. Present leadership case studies. You may think that your challenge and your ways of dealing with it don’t offer much insight for others; you would be wrong. Even the simplest leadership challenges contain rich opportunities for learning.
  2. Invite your colleagues to phone a friend. You will be surprised to see how much valuable insight you can offer a colleague who is temporarily blinded by emotional arousal.
  3. Ask clarifying questions. This wonderful learning technique can be helpfully applied to any leadership challenge. And you will probably think of important questions your troubled colleague has not thought to ask.

How have you used your own experiences to inspire other leadership learners?


Cognitive Behavioral Leadership (CBL): Celebrate Your Incremental ProgressPosted on November 17, 2019

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

By nature, most leaders are impatient. This longing for immediate gratification is a barrier successful leaders must face and overcome. No leader looks forward to the inevitable setbacks, mistakes, and failures that mark the path to eventual success. When the going is tough and progress stalls, it is easy to become discouraged and quit. Many do.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

By celebrating your small accomplishments, you can sustain your efforts despite the disappointments that would incline less hearty leaders to hoist a white flag.

How can you do it?

  1. Take nothing for granted. It is easy to overlook the little things such as a frontline staff member reporting a bigwig’s disruptive behavior, or a net-negative staff members’ decision to leave the organization instead of waiting to be forced out.
  2. Make a big deal of it. When an angry physician apologizes for this behavior, call this out as evidence that the organizational culture is evidently improving. And compliment the regretful physician. Positive reinforcement works a lot better than negative reinforcement anyway.
  3. Use incremental progress to teach persistence. People who are determined to lose 50 pounds and keep it off, celebrate every pound lost and every pound they have not regained. They understand their quest will demand a lifetime commitment to permanent changes to their lifestyle. And they understand they will have to slog through many relapses. The best leaders teach these critical lessons to their struggling colleagues.

How have you celebrated incremental progress on your leadership journey?


Cognitive Behavioral Leadership (CBL): Keep a Leadership JournalPosted on November 10, 2019

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

To be frank, most leaders don’t see the need to use such a tool. These average leaders are comfortable meeting the minimum requirements of their jobs, which they view as the way to finance their real lives outside work. Using a leadership journal consumes some time most leaders would rather use binge-watching TV or being emotionally aroused by social media. And this tool requires leaders to pursue uncomfortable reflection, a strenuous mental activity avoided by those whose mission in life is to not do what they don’t feel like doing.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

If you are one of those lucky leaders who view your opportunity to lead others as more than just a job, you will immediately see the value such a journal will add to your leadership journey. Recording your leadership reflections and insights will not be a chore, but an exciting opportunity to learn. Your journal will help you recognize and replace your flawed beliefs, and execute more effective behaviors. And it will serve as a repository for your research and as a rich source of material for sharing what you have learned about leadership with others.

How can you do it?

  1. View every uncomfortable leadership challenge as an opportunity to learn. Before the emotions of the moment disappear, make a brief note in your journal about what happened, how you felt, what you did, and what beliefs might have fueled your responses. Then, note what, with the value of hindsight, you might have done differently.
  2. Participate in a leadership learning group. You can learn a great deal on your own, but you will learn much more as a member of a group of passionate leaders who are determined to improve by sharing what they are learning with each other.
  3. Leverage technology to maximize your learning. Some will prefer paper and pen, but the advantages of a digital notebook such as OneNote are significant. Because your journal is stored in the cloud, your reflections are immediately available on any personal digital device within reach. And using this technology will help you stay on the digital learning curve. As a lifelong learner, you cannot afford to fall behind on the technology learning curve.

How have you used a leadership journal effectively?


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