The bravest thing a leader can do

What is the bravest thing any small business owner, leader, or manager can do? What is the boldest question a leader can ask? I propose that it’s this: “What’s my part of the problem?”


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Recently, a lifelong friend and small business owner contacted me for help with executive coaching, particularly in the area of soft skills training. He confessed that he felt overwhelmed by conflicts within his company related to internal communication, lack of collaboration, and systemic problems with corporate culture. What surprised me about our conversation is that he did not rant about his employees. He didn’t whine about their performance or attitudes. He did cite a few specific instances as examples of poor communication and difficulties in the workplace, but he primarily focused on his part of the problems.

Do you know how refreshing it is to offer executive career coaching and soft skills training to companies whose owners accept responsibility for their part of the problem? I think it’s incredibly brave when leaders step up to accept ownership of their  deficiencies. It’s even more powerful when they’re willing to do something to amend the situation by seeking help. “What can I do to make this right? How can I be a better boss?”

Brave questions lead to business solutions

These are the right questions! These are questions leading to solutions. These are questions generating return on investment, greater productivity, retention of excellent employees, improved morale, and better company culture.

This friend and business owner is willing to work on his part of the problem, and he will. But keep in mind that problems in the workplace typically involve multiple people. And when people are involved, things get messy. Each person usually contributes to the problems which exist in the workplace; you can’t pin a problem on one person most of the time. So each person, at some point, may need coaching or training (individually or as a group). For example, if a leader recognizes problems with communication within the company, it’s unlikely that there is only one team member responsible for the breakdown in communication. It takes at least two people to communicate.

Problem-solving is a collaborative process

While it’s great for a leader to take responsibility for his own actions, a leader cannot shoulder full responsibility for every single defect in the workplace, just as he can’t claim full responsibility for every single accomplishment. Teams fail and succeed collaboratively. Should the leader take initiative, step out bravely, and begin the process of coaching himself first? Certainly, if he desires to go that route. But he should not neglect to offer training/coaching to his team members either.

After the leader begins to see the results of coaching himself, it’s a good idea to pull the team in for training. I’ve always told people I manage, teach, coach, and mentor that I won’t expect them to do anything I haven’t done or am not willing to do myself. I think good leaders can operate by the same principle.

Undergoing executive coaching first—and then implementing team training for soft skills—works incredibly well. When the leader address his part of the problem first, seeks a solution, and takes actions to make changes, the team members see results. Why wouldn’t they want to follow the leader after they’ve seen him model problem-solving and solution-finding so well?

Can I help you identify your part of the problems within your team or small business? Contact me to discuss executive career coaching or soft skills training.

Part 1: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Have you been asked this common interview question repeatedly—“What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Chances are, you’ll hear it again. Recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, human resources professionals, and hiring managers will likely continue to include this common interview question in their repertoire.

Why? It works for them. It lets employers know whether you know yourself well (or not), and it demonstrates your ability to respond to tough personal questions without including a lot of clichés which drive employers crazy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, we’ll discuss how to respond to the first part of this common interview question—“What are your strengths?”


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Be careful when responding to this common interview question and discussing your strengths. There’s a fine line between bragging or stroking your own ego and simply sharing genuine, realistic strengths you possess. The difference comes down to the work you put into preparing your responses ahead of time (practice, practice, practice) and your communication skills.

  1. List more strengths than weaknesses (3:2 ratio is a safe bet).

This is common sense. Unless the recruiter specifically asks you to list the same number of strengths and weaknesses, why wouldn’t you list more strengths than weaknesses? Why would you rant on and on about your shortcomings? Play up your strengths. If you list two weaknesses, list three strengths. Even if you’re not the most confident person in the world, you want recruiters to believe you are. Spend a little more time talking about your strengths than you spend talking about your weaknesses, too.

  1. Highlight your soft skills.

Soft skills, by definition, are skills which combine talent and ability. By listing soft skills as your strengths, you’re setting yourself apart from candidates who may not have similar talents and abilities. There’s a little bit of intangible magic to soft skills, and employers know that. What makes a great leader? Can leadership be taught? Sure, to an extent. But there’s that talent component to every soft skill that is certainly a gift, and if you’ve got it, you certainly want to share about it during interviews.

Be sure to qualify and quantify your strengths when you share them. Don’t just respond by saying, “My strengths are communication skills, leadership ability, and great customer service skills.” Offer real-life examples to back up these claims just as you would on your resume. “One of my strengths is communication skills. I’m comfortable speaking to large groups. I have spoken to groups of up to 75 people at once and have done impromptu presentations. I talk to clients on the phone or face-to-face to solve problems and have often been called upon by my manager to resolve conflicts when my coworkers are having difficulty with difficult customers.”

  1. Tailor your strengths to the specific employment situation.

If you research the position, company culture, organization/employer, mission statement, etc., in advance, you’ll be well-positioned to tailor your strengths to the specific employment situation during the interview. Are you interviewing for a position requiring you to analyze data but which does not require you to interact with clients at all? Then it doesn’t make sense for you to highlight your communication skills as one of your strengths. It would make more sense for you to discuss your critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

Are you interviewing with a company that values work-life balance and encourages employees to volunteer in the community, offering incentives to those who do? You might want to mention community involvement as one of your strengths and discuss your participation in a non-profit organization or your contribution and service on a board of directors.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this two-part series because this common interview question involves strengths and weaknesses, and you need to prepare  to respond to the entire question.

If you’re searching for jobs, your best bet for a successful interview is plenty of preparation. Reach out to me if you’d like to schedule an interview prep session.