REFLECTIONS ON THE ROAD TO RESPECT is my complementary monthly e-newsletter.  I started writing these articles in 2006 to support my clients in building a respectful workplace culture. You will find all of them posted here.


I love to write and am fortunate to get many opportunities to do so. You will find lots of valuable information in articles I have written for business focused publications.

Erica Pinsky




2009    |    2010    |    2011    |    2012    |    2013 - 14

Respect,  Innovation and Creativity

February 15, 2013

Like most of us, I assumed that the ability to be innovative what somewhat innate, like creativity.  If we’re left brain we’re creative and innovative, if we’re right brain we’re not.


It seems I was wrong, affirming that old expression about assumptions and how they make a ‘you know what’ of you and me.  Jeff Dyner, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christesen, authors of The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators   claim that innovation relies on five skills: skills that can be learned by anyone interested in fostering innovative thinking and problem solving.

The book, published by Harvard Business Review Press, is based on the authors research on some of the world’s most innovative companies.  They discovered five skills common to all innovative leaders: questioning, observing, networking, experimenting and associating.


At the foundation of developing an innovative mindset is the requirement to move away from a fear based, ‘support the status quo’ mindset, to an attitude of curiosity, openness and engagement.

The innovative leaders ask challenging questions.  They watch the behaviour of customers, suppliers and competitors to identify new ways of doing things.  Rather than network with others  that “look like them,” they embrace the true wealth offered by diversity. They seek opportunities to talk to people with different life experiences and perspectives.  They try new things, construct interactive experiences and build prototypes to gain new insights.  They look for associations within unrelated fields to discover unexpected connection in places one might not expect to find them.


The authors term these skills as discovery skills.  Their research shows that CEOs in innovative companies spend 50% more of their personal time engaged in discovery skills than do CEOs in less innovative companies.


I often talk  about curiosity being the foundation of a respectful attitude.  Questioning and observing allow us to demonstrate  both curiosity and respect.  As I argue in Road to Respect, a respectful,  relationship based (associating)  leadership promotes creativity and innovation.  The workplace culture is characterized by relationships that cross both functional  and hierarchical power  lines as well as constructive conflict, where different or divergent opinions can be openly expressed and discussed.


So next time you have a challenging problem to solve, adopt a respectful attitude characterized by the five discovery skills described above.  Not only will you end up with an unexpected and innovative solution, you’ll reap the added bonus of developing relationship in the process.



Extracting Accountability

April 10, 2013

Have you given much thought to the notion of behavioural accountability in your workplace?


One thing I discovered when I conducted my interviews with Employers of Choice for Road to Respect was a commonality with respect to an expectation of behavioural accountability.  It starts with a proactive approach, which focuses on ensuring that everyone understands what is expected of them, not just with respect to their job duties but with respect to their personal behaviour and workplace conduct.  The conversation about behavioural accountability, the notion of each individual being responsible for her/his workplace behaviour, and beyond that, responsible for acting in accordance with organizational values, starts in the hiring process.


I recently conducted an interview with Janine North, CEO of Northern Development Trust, the fifth interview for a series I am doing called Are We There Yet? Women, Position &  Power.   Ms. North talked about the importance of leaders “extracting accountability.”


We often hear about the importance of holding employees accountable.  That expression seems to imply  that something, or more commonly, someone  external to that employee, is responsible for ensuring that an employee lives up to her/his end of the employment contract.   It expresses a cultural norm with respect to power and empowerment within an organization.


Take a moment to consider the difference between a leader who “holds others accountable” and one who “extracts accountability” from her/his direct reports.  It implies a very different kind of power dynamic as well as a different kind of leadership style.


I asked Ms. North to share how she “extracts accountability”, particularly with respect to empowering employees to speak up about workplace disrespect and conflict.


What I learned is that one of the cultural norms Ms. North institutes wherever she works is what she referred to as “keeping short accounts.”   Consistent with what I heard from other Employers of Choice I interviewed for Road to Respect, the conversation about personal accountability starts in the hiring process.  “One of the things we talk about in the hiring interview is how we keep short accounts with each other: we don’t allow things to fester.  When we have an issue with someone, we always raise the issue with that person privately.  It’s about making sure to put the snakes on the table; you don’t let them crawl around in the grass and bite you.  The idea is to bring daylight to every issue.  We keep short accounts: we bring issues up respectfully and we celebrate how good that makes us feel.”


Ms. North told me that early in her career she heard that expression about putting the snakes on the table and “ it really resonated with me.”    Soon afterwards she was vacationing in Mexico and found a colourful snake, which has been on her desk ever since.   It serves as a visual reminder both to her and her team.  “It is a piece of humour that you can use to have an honest respectful workplace where people feel free to work through issues. It is a phrase that brings lots of coachable moments.”


As a result, everyone knows what is meant by the phrases “keep short accounts” and “put the snakes on the table.”  They have become part of the corporate vernacular.  “If anyone is griping we remind them to keep short accounts.  It is ingrained in our culture – put the snakes on the table.”


Here’s what I heard when I asked Ms. North about her choice to bring the snake to work and keep it on her desk. “I instituted this because it is who I am.  I want to work with people who are caring and upfront with each other and are accountable to each other.”


When people care about each other, when they are accountable to each other, fear diminishes as a behavioural motivator.   There is a norm of behavioural accountability:  a shared responsibility to “hold ourselves and other accountable.”   The result is an empowered workplace, where employees feel a sense of personal responsibility and ownership;  a workplace where the obligation to speak up about issues, concerns, problems and business opportunities simply becomes “ the way it is around here.”


I’ve worked with many leaders over the past 15 years.  Very few spring out of bed in the morning eagerly anticipating a conversation where they have to “hold someone accountable.”


Make a choice to start a different conversation in your workplace – one that focuses on creating a culture of behavioural accountability where everyone feels a sense of personal responsibility for speaking up, resolving issues and creating a respectful, high performing culture.


I’m pretty sure you could find a snake at the dollar store to keep on your desk.  I am quite confident that Ms. North won’t mind if you do.



The Respect Effect

April 19, 2013

I’ve been a regular contributor for since 2009. While I have never personally met either Melanie Sklarz or Paul Meshanko, I consider them colleagues and friends.  I see us as “respect collaborators”, sharing  a core belief in the “transformational” power of respect to create both individual and organizational health and success.


A couple of months ago Melanie sent me a copy of The Respect Effect, Paul Meshanko‘s new book.  I read it and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It is an accessible, engaging and thoughtful book about a subject I remain passionately interested in.   Here’s what I found most interesting and compelling.


The sub-heading of The Respect Effect is  “Leveraging Emotions, Culture & Neuroscience to Build a Better Business.”  Neuroscience is a topic we are hearing more and more about these days.   It is a subject that I, like many of you I am certain, find quite fascinating.


Neuroscience is a field of study that looks at how the brain functions and influences behaviour.   The Neuroleadership movement is intended to help individuals and organizations fulfill their potential through better understanding how the human brain functions at individual, team and systemic levels.


In the introduction of The Respect Effect, Paul Meshanko asks the reader to consider “Why Focus on Respect.”  The first two reasons cited, the bottom line cost of disrespect, and the case for social justice, are familiar to most of us.  The third reason he cites is biology.  Now that was news to me. Given that I have been focusing on this topic for over 20 years now, I am thinking that this might be news to you as well.


What I learned is that neuroscience has taught us that “each of our brains is profoundly influenced by how we’re treated by others…. When we’re treated with respect, our brains literally light up and perform at the highest levels at which they’re capable.”  On the other hand “When we’re treated with disrespect, the higher thought processes in our brains go dormant.  Hijacked by our primitive survival wiring, we become diminished assets to our employers and their organizations.”


Meshanko explores this theme throughout book and it makes for fascinating and enlightening reading. He describes   how our brain, “the world’s most sophisticated survival computer ever developed,”  responds when we are on the receiving end of disrespect. Our brains react just as the brains of our ancestors did when confronted by a sabre toothed tiger or a woolly mammoth – we go right into fight or flight mode.  Why?  Because disrespectful, power based behaviours like bullying and harassment cause us to feel unsafe. Our brains are wired to respond and protect us when we feel threatened.


As Meshanko explains our brains are so powerfully programmed to protect us from danger that when we perceive a threat all of our non-essential thinking functions become dormant.  “This means that all of our higher-order brain capabilities, such as problem solving, reasoning, evaluating alternatives, planning, socializing and empathizing are subordinated to protecting ourselves in the presence of perceived threats.”    It’s not like we even have a choice.  When we work in a disrespectful environment, our brains work to keep us safe.  As a result, we spend increasing amounts of time at work operating in that primitive flight or fight mode.


One of the statistics I cite in Chapter 6 of Road to Respect is that individuals who are targeted by harassment and bullying spend up to 50% of their time at work dealing with the effects of disrespect. While I understood that disrespectful behaviour was the reason for that incredible drop in productivity, until I read The Respect Effect, I didn’t fully understand the “why” of that statistic.  Now I know that it is because our brain prevents us from being able to focus on work when the environment we work in feels unsafe to us.


Conversely, Meshanko goes on to argue, when we feel safe at work our higher –level thought processes are dominant. When we feel safe we are able to focus on work and be fully productive.   To experience what Meshanko terms “The Respect Effect” organizations need to go one step further.  We need to create work environments where employees feel valued and appreciated, where each employee appreciates how what she/he does contributes to the overall success of the business.  In that kind of   environment the brain supports us to achieve superior level of productivity.


Creating a respectful workplace culture where employees felt valued, esteemed and connected to the overall success of the organizational was a commonality I discovered in my research on Employers of Choice. The other commonality of those companies is their ongoing, sustainable profitability and success.  When I wrote Road to Respect I purposefully looked for companies that could correlate their success to their decisions to create a truly respectful workplace culture.    Now I have powerful new insights into the correlation between respect and profitability.


In Part 1 of his book (Part 1 is entitled The Road to Respect – don’t you love that sub-title?)  Meshanko present evidence to establish that respect matters because it translates into significant organizational advantages including: higher job satisfaction and employee engagement, improved physical and emotional health of associates, improved ability to attract and retain talented employees,   improved information flow and organizational learning, improved customer satisfaction, and higher organizational productivity, profitability and resilience.


As Mashenko writes “There are numerous examples of companies who have made great progress in their pursuit of respect with healthier bottom lines to show for it.”


From my perspective the only question that bears consideration at this point is the final one posed by Meshanko in The Respect Effect: “What’s holding you back from joining them?”



The Value of Meditation

June 10, 2013

Work related stress is now the leading cause of workplace disability, costing  America businesses up to $300 billion a year, according to the World Health Organization.  Doing more with less is the mantra in many of today`s workplaces.  Change is the name of the game.  Given those realities, the likelihood that work related stress is going to end anytime soon is slim to none.


So what`s an employer to do?


How about offering a weekly, 30 minute meditation class?


Wendy Quan, Organizational Change Manager at Pacific Blue Cross ,  in Vancouver, BC,  has been leading  a weekly meditation class for her colleagues for the past 2 years.  The class has grown from 12 attendees to over 150.  And it is producing tangible results.


Wendy has been conducting research In order to quantify the business benefits of her meditation classes.  Despite that fact that PBC is in year 7 of a 7 year system change project that impacts  everyone in the organization, the latest study found a 400% increase in attendees’ self-reported ability to handle workplace stress.  There was a 530% increase in how employees rated their personal resilience.


Employees report being able to handle conflicts more easily, being able to focus more easily, think more clearly and make better decisions.  They feel calmer and don’t get as upset as they used to: they are not as easily triggered.  They are experiencing less anxiety.  Employees that have been diagnosed with clinical depression are finding they are able to reduce their medication and/or have less need for counselling.  Many are finding more joy in their lives and are going home after each class to share what they are learning  with  their families.


All because they are making the choice to attend one meditation class a week, held on company premises, facilitated by one of their colleagues,  during their lunch hour.


The benefits are enormous.  The costs to the organization are nil.


I had the opportunity to attend one of Wendy’s classes recently and sat down with her afterwards to find out more about how the meditation program at PBC got started.


Wendy’s personal  story is inspirational.  She is a cancer survivor who credits the benefits of a meditation and mindfulness practice as critical to her healing.  “When you go through  a change, when you go through something you have no control over,  like a cancer diagnosis, you have a choice in how you react.”   The practice of meditation and mindfulness offers the opportunity to increase our personal resilience – “the ability to handle what life throws at you and the ability to bounce back more quickly or not fall as deep.”


Increased personal resilience means employees are better able to deal with change at work.   In order to support her colleagues in dealing with the “huge system change” that PBC has been involved in, Wendy has focused on developing personal resilience in her meditation classes.  “There is always change at every work place. Increasing personal resilience and increasing perspective is about realizing that there is a lot that is going to change but you are going to get through it. It is ok. You can handle it by developing a sense of peace and calm, and the building of personal joy.”


Attendees learn simple techniques to practice mindfulness and reduce stress at work. Wendy teaches  many different meditation techniques so employees can find ones that work well for them personally. “ It can be as simple as focusing on your breath for 5 breaths: you are rushing to a meeting -  breathe.  Or  you can do walking meditation:  whether you  walk slowly or quickly  just put 100% of your attention on what your body is doing when you are stepping.  You  can add an internal mantra: right,  left with each foot. Focus on each step, where you weight is,  on what part of your foot: your toe or your heel.“


PBC has a host of wellness options available for its employees: regular yoga classes,  fitness classes every day at 4:30,  lunch and learns on health related subjects.   The meditation class has been the most popular among all of these offerings.  I asked Wendy what she attributed that to. “People see the benefits. Four out of seven on our senior executive team come on a regular basis because they see the benefits.  Even those that are only coming once a week are seeing benefits.  Someone gives you a funny look at a meeting – you can use a silent mantra like Let it Happen, Let it Go.  You can choose to let go and move on.”


In 1960 the US Navy coined the phrase “Keep it simple stupid.”   While I instinctively object to the insulting name calling, the idea of adopting simple solutions to manage the myriad of challenges we face in our ever changing workplaces is most appealing.  The success of Wendy’s meditation classes at PBC was somewhat accidental.  It was a result of her sharing her personal story in dealing with her illness when she returned to work that colleagues asked  if she could show them her “secret."


Her secret is a simple practice that is thousands of years old: one that might have even more relevance, more value in our contemporary workplaces than at any time in our history.


What struck me on hearing about the success of the meditation program at PBC is that such strategies don’t t have to be complex, elaborate or expensive.


It can start with a simple conversation with your employees, soliciting their input and ideas for dealing with change and managing stress.   It might be as simple as reminding your colleagues to breathe and to take time to celebrate success.


Effective change management strategies are a requirement for any organization looking to achieve sustainable business success.   Why not take a page from PBC’s playbook and  get the meditation conversation started at your workplace.



Leadership Lessons from Hilary Rodham Clinton

August 21, 2013

In June I had the opportunity to present at the annual SHRM conference in Chicago. One of the highlights of that experience was being in the audience for the opening keynote delivered by former US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton.


Ms. Clinton was recently named number 5 on Forbes 100 most powerful women list. The magazine selects women who “go beyond the traditional taxonomy of the power elite (political and economic might). These change-agents are actually shifting our very idea of clout and authority and, in the process, transforming the world in fresh and exhilarating ways."


Ms. Clinton clearly illustrated this notion in her keynote by sharing five key leadership lessons illustrated with stories from her time as Secretary of State from 2009 to February 2013.


1 – “Good decisions are based on evidence and not ideology.”   Ms. Clinton chose the issue of gender equality to illustrate this principle.  Many countries, including the US, are jeopardizing both economic growth and productivity because of customs and/or practices that keep women from fully participating at work.  Beyond being “ just the right thing to do” educating women and girls has been shown empirically to be an economic driver.  Using the US to emphasize the relevance of the issue, Ms. Clinton stated that   domestic  GDP would increase by an estimated 9 % if all the barriers to women in the US were removed.

2 – “Leadership is a team sport.”   One’s success as a leader is measured by “how well you can get people to work together.”  Ms. Clinton said that numerous individuals asked her how she could accept the position of Secretary of State working with President Barak Obama when they had been rivals for the leadership of the Democratic party.  She stated that  both she and President Obama were interested in  “putting the common good ahead of our  personal competition.”  That shared interest allowed them to go from “a team of rivals to an unrivalled team.”


3 – “You can’t win if you don’t show up.”  Ms. Clinton quoted filmmaker and actor Wood Allan who once said “80% of life is showing up.”  It was this concepts that motivated her  to visit 112 countries during her tenure as Secretary of State.  One of these was the West African country of Togo.  Her reason for going was to build relationship,  something else Ms. Clinton cited as critical for leaders.   While she often faced  challenges,  she continued to “show up”, focusing on being welcoming,  listening (another critical leadership skill)  and gathering “clues” that would assist her in developing relationship in spite of the myriad of difference she encountered, in Togo and elsewhere.  “ It is not always easy but you do have to show up.”


4 – “A whisper can be louder than a shout.”  Resolving concerns and conflicts often requires  what Ms. Clinton referred to as “quiet diplomacy.”  She shared a story of being in Saudi Arabia and learning about an 8 year old girl who was being forced to marry a 50 year old for monetary reasons.   As was customary when Ms. Clinton was travelling, there was a lot of American and European press around who were quick to pick up the story. Rather than use the press  to pressure those in positions of power to take action,   Ms. Clinton focused on finding a way  to fix the situation and still allow public officials to “save face”.   She chose to have a number of “quiet conversations” where her message was “ please fix this and we won't say anything publicly.”  The real success in such situation, stated Ms. Clinton,  is to find a way to resolve the situation or conflict while working to enhance or  build relationship.  “Public humiliation is not the way.”


5 – “Follow and pay attention to the trend lines, not the headlines.”  Ms. Clinton talked about American values being the key to what makes the US the country that it is and stressed the importance of keeping those values top of mind, and using them to guide behaviour in daily life.   At the same time it is important to  remain open and respectful, rather than judgemental  with those that might not share those values.   She talked about the challenge of building relationship with the President of country where violence against women was commonplace and widely accepted as reasonable.  In one public conversation this individual told her that if a man comes home and his dinner is not on the table, then he has the right to beat his wife.  Needless to say this is not a perspective that aligns with Ms. Clinton, or North American values.   Ms. Clinton worked by developing relationship with women’s groups and other  official  in positions of power to  encourage a shift in those attitudes.  It was both gratifying and inspirational to hear her share how she was able to do so, and witnessed the passage of a bill that profited violence against women when a new administration was elected.  It was “4 years of hard work to strengthen the relationship;  getting them to see our point of view, and learning more about theirs.”


While Ms. Clinton never mentioned the word respect, the leadership behaviours she described; listening, building relationship, focusing on the shared good, being curious and interested in the perspective of others, including those with whom we might have major cultural and philosophical differences are all characteristics of respectful, values based leadership.


I look forward to the day when Ms. Clinton’s leadership style becomes the norm, rather than the exception. What about you?




The Power of Possibility

October 14, 2013

Would it surprise you to learn that over 95% of workplace disputes can be resolved within the first 3 – 5 of occurrence: if someone makes a choice to speak up.


The problem is that the vast majority of us don’t make that choice.   Research, confirmed by my own experience, confirms that individuals on the receiving end of disrespect at work generally make the choice to avoid, ignore, to, as I refer to it, “put up and shut up.”  That choice often leads to one of these outcomes: the employee goes off on a medical (stress) leave and/or quits his/her job.


One of my most popular presentations Speak Up: Speak Out – Personal Power and Respect at Work examines the choices we make when dealing with workplace conflict, including those that can be defined as harassment and bullying.   The objective is to inform and inspire the audience to make a different choice – a choice to step into their power and speak up with respect.


Last spring  I had the opportunity to develop a new training session for a client for whom I had already delivered multiple sessions of Speak Up: Speak Out.   The client was interested in having a session that focused more specifically on the skill piece – the how of respectful communication.   We chose the title Conquer Conflict – Step into Your Power and Resolve with Respect.


A couple of weeks prior to the first delivery date, I travelled to Las Vegas to attend a business development event with Lisa Sasevich, the Queen of Sales Conversion.  Ms. Sasevich,  who I interviewed last fall for Canadian Small Business Week built  a multi-million dollar business in four short years.   She shares  her systems and  formula for success with other  “heart centered entrepreneurs”  in her live events, on line offerings  and  products.


Throughout the 3 day event, Ms. Sasevich  showed us, gave us examples  of,  and shared ideas about what might be possible for us in our businesses.     On the second day I noticed that my response upon hearing these ideas was both negative and defensive.  I realized that I had all kinds of excuses and reasons that were  almost like auto-responders – ‘that won’t work for me because’…, ‘I can’t do that because’….


I chose to get curious about those auto-responders.  It occurred to me that these were simply excuses that allowed me to avoid stepping out of my comfort zone, taking a risk, playing bigger, increasing my sphere of influence and achieving  a greater level of success.  I realized that these auto-responders supported a whole host of beliefs around what I thought might be possible for me.


On the trip home, as I imagined all of the new products, strategies and initiatives I could develop and implement to support growth in my business,  I began to appreciate how transformative it can when one is really open to what might be possible; when one chooses to believe that a certain outcome can  in fact happen.


It occurred to me that Ms. Sasevich had allowed me to discover the Power of Possibility.


As I resumed preparing for my upcoming Conquer Conflict workshop I started thinking about the choices we make in conflict: the choice to “put up and shut up”, the choice to accept that this conflict will never be resolved, to  give up, identified as the resignation stage in the conflict cycle.


The choice to give up,  like our choice to “put up and shut up”  is one that does not serve or support us. Such choices contribute to a whole host of undesirable personal and organizational outcomes.


As I started to wonder about what causes so many of us to make these choices, I had one of those “light bulb” moments.   It became clear to me that the reason so many of us make such choices is because we fail to access the Power of Possibility.


If  we can’t aren’t open to the possibility that a conflict can be resolved,  the  possibility that behaviour can change, the possibility that a toxic relationship can be rebuilt, the possibility that the status quo can shift,  the possibility that we can learn to speak up with respect, chance are we probably won’t choose  to  step into our power and  speak up about what is happening to us. I mean, what would motivate us to make that choice, given that our underlying belief is it would be pointless to do so because there is no possibility that our choice to speak up will make any difference.


One of the characteristics that makes Lisa Sasevich such a powerful and influential leader is her ability to inspires others to action by sharing her experience and vision of what is possible.


Workplace leaders– managers, supervisors, HR professionals and union reps are typically the first point of contact in organizational complaint processes. I often hear from these leaders that one of the most challenging situations they face is when an employee comes to speak to them about a problem but frames it as “I don’t want you to do anything about it.”  Leaders can choose to be curious about what is behind that statement.  Is it fear about what might happen if…  or does the employee believe  that taking action won’t make any difference.   A leader can help an employee to question that belief and realize that a change is possible.  In doing so, that leader can inspire and empower that employee to choose to be part of the solution to their problem or conflict.


Assisting an employee to  believe that resolution is possible   might prove to be one of the most valuable tools in a leaders’ tool kit.   Why wait?  The next conversation you have may be an opportunity to access the Power of Possibility.




The Gift of Respect

December 16, 2013

For many of us December means holiday preparations and celebrations.  For me, it has also come to mean the rather demoralizing task of having to read story after story of disrespect and abuse

Now you might be wondering, Erica: why on earth would you want to subject yourself to such a depressing task during the season of light and joy?  The short answer is that I am a  panel member charged with the task of ranking America’s worst leaders for the eBossWatch America’s Worst Bosses list.


Our task as panel members is to read through the 100 or so cases of leaders who harass and bully those they are hired to lead, and rank them from 1 – 10: 1 being worst, 10 being the best.

Let me be clear here.  When I say best, I don’t actually mean best as in good; I mean best as in the least awful.


Whatever the ranking one commonality in these cases  is abuse of power by those in positions of power.   Another commonality is that the targets are overwhelmingly women, members of visible minorities or LGBT individuals.  The most aggravating commonality is that when targets chose to speak up, they are either ignored or retaliated against.


As depressing a task as it is, I choose to remain a part of this panel because I support the work of individuals like Asher Adelman, founder of eBossWatch.  His  goal is to empower job seekers with information about potential workplaces and what it's really like to work there.  As I learned when I interviewed Asher a number of years ago, it was his first-hand, nightmare experience of working in a hostile work environment that inspired him to find a way for people to evaluate prospective employers and avoid bad bosses.


Being a panel member affirms for me why I am in the Respect Business.  Like Asher, I want individuals to be empowered to choose respect rather than disrespect. I want us to use our collective power to create change by saying no to abusive bosses and disrespectful workplace cultures.


It struck me as an  interesting coincidence  that on the same day I was ranking abusive leaders, the world had gathered to say farewell to Nelson Mandela, a leader who personified what it means to ‘Model the Behaviour’, to walk the talk of respect.


Mandela once said that he felt “morally obliged” to do what he did in his life.  While it can be argued that there are vast differences in how individuals interpret morality,  our values are the foundation for  acts and behaviours which can be  described as moral obligations.


I believe that we can get some clear insights as to the values that inspired Mandela’s moral obligation from this quote “No one person is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”


The values of love, joy, peace, respect and compassion are the values of enlightenment.  When we align our behaviour with these values, we manifest our divine destiny; our soul’s purpose. It is no coincidence that these are the values that come to the fore during the “Christmas” season.


Something else many of us do at this time of year is reflect on the past year and think about  “resolutions”, changes we can implement in the New Year. How might we, and by extension, our workplaces and our communities be transformed if  more of us choose respect over disrespect, love over hate, peace over conflict?  I invite you to consider your values in relation to the concept of moral obligation and how that might translate to leadership.


When asked about leadership Mandela stated “ Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front.”


 If this style of respectful, empowered leadership becomes the norm in our workplaces, I am quite certain that the eBossWatch worst bosses list would become history.  Imagine a world where disrespect is history.  Wouldn’t that be the ultimate Christmas gift for all of us, whatever tradition we are part of?



Do You Know Where Your Culture Is?

February 17, 2014

A number of years ago I heard a story from a participant in a respectful workplace workshop.  On her third or fourth day at work she joined a table with in the lunchroom with a few other members of her new team.  A supervisor walked in, heated up her lunch, and left.   When the supervisor left,  everyone at the table began to talk about her in a very insulting and  degrading manner.  The new employee interrupted and told her colleagues that she was really uncomfortable with what she was hearing.  She said that they all stopped talking and looked at her. They seemed completely taken aback by her comment.  It was as if, she told me, they had no idea what they were saying.  Speaking negatively, gossiping, maligning someone was a habit, what they routinely did; a “cultural norm” in that workplace.

So the question I would like you to consider is this: do you know where your culture is?


Are you aware of how people in your workplace interact with each other?   Are you aware of the conversational norms, the  way they talk, the jokes they share, what I call the micro-behaviours that characterize our workplace relationships and shape our cultures?


The fact is that our vernacular is sprinkled with conversational “norms” that have discriminatory roots that serve to perpetuate disrespect.  Popular humour in particular often focuses on gender, religion or ethnicity.


The subject of joking comes up a lot when I am doing respectful workplace training.   What’s wrong with telling an “off colour” joke if everyone is ok with it?  The assumption is that if people laugh and don’t raise an objection to what they are hearing that means they are ok with it.


My experience working with issues of workplace disrespect has proven otherwise.  Most employees will not make the choice that young woman made to speak up and object to what she was hearing.  As a rule most of us “put up and shut up” rather than speak up.


As I share with my audiences,  even if people laugh, or don’t object, that doesn’t mean that they are comfortable with the joke, or comment, or that they don’t find it offensive.  It just might mean they’d rather laugh and be considered part of the group, than be the person who speaks up and spoils everyone’s fun.  Or they’re worried that if they speak up, they’ll be the next one targeted.


You want to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to workplace respect.  Try these Respect Tips to ensure you know where your culture is.


1. Shift from Assumption to Curiosity – don’t assume that the fact that you are not hearing anything about problems means there aren’t any.  Instead, make a choice to get curious about your cultural norms, the characteristics of relationships,  the status quo in your workplace.


2. Get the Respect Conversation started - Create a safe environment to talk about the micro-behaviours that can damage workplace relationships, productivity and teams.  Start asking others to share their workplace reality with you, “what it’s like to work around here” from their perspective.  If no one seems willing to talk, it could be that people are fearful to speak up.


3. Take an honest look at the dynamic of power in your workplace:  how it is expressed, how it is manifested and how it impacts workplace relationships. Power and respect are two sides of the same coin.

When power based behaviours are “cultural norms,” fear characterizes workplace relationships.  That is a problem for a number of reasons.  Fear causes people not to speak up about issues and problems that are affecting them at work.  In addition, neuroscience has established that fear inhibits focus, productivity and creativity.  There is a direct correlation between workplace disrespect, fear and the organizational bottom line.


4. Don’t ignore disrespect – deal with it - Make sure employees know that you want to hear about, and are prepared to take action to deal with workplace disrespect.  Taking action does not mean a direct path to termination.  It means starting the conversation, normalizing conflict, and setting respectful behavioural expectations for everyone, in particular workplace leaders.  Coach and support them to be able to demonstrate respectful behavioural norms and hold everyone, and I mean everyone, accountable for doing so.   Look to HR to support, not own, the conversation.


5.  Lead by Example - As Albert Schweitzer wrote “Example is not the main thing in influencing others.  It is the only thing.”


Think about your belief systems, behavioural norms and leadership style.  How do you express and manifest your power?  What choice do you make if you hear an off colour joke, gender based comment, or witness bullying behaviour?


Model the respectful behaviour you want others to emulate. Build relationship and trust.  Empower  employees to make the choice that session participant did – to speak up  and walk  the talk of respect at work.



The Business Case for Feminism

April 10, 2014

”Your voice is a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets.” - Emily Bennington


Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, first talked about being a woman and mother in the C-suite  on the TED stage in 2010.   What followed was the release of her bestselling book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead in 2013,  the establishment of the Lean In foundation and in 2014, and, as she recently disclosed in her latest TED talk,1  the realization that she identifies as a feminist.


Feminist: a truly five alarm word. Conjures up visions of man hating, bra burning, aggressive, disgruntled unhappy women.


It was a term that Ms. Sandberg admits she shied away from until recently.  What changed her mind about the importance of embracing that term has been her realization that the problem of women and leadership is much more global than she had originally thought.


The solution is going to require more than women making the choice to Lean In.  It requires men and women to come together and talk about gender inequality and the reality of systemic discrimination.

The challenge is how to get that conversation started.  Not many of us spring out of bed in the morning eagerly anticipating a conversation about an emotionally charged and sensitive subject like gender equality with a bunch of “feminists."


I have a couple of ideas about what might motivate us to want to engage in this discourse.


If you’re in business, how about the overwhelming evidence that that gender equality will boost your  bottom line?  Study after study has established that companies with more women at the senior corporate officer level outperform those with fewer women by as much as 36%. 2  New research from the University of British Columbia shows the cost of a successful acquisition is reduced by 15.4 per cent with each female director added on a board. 3


If you’re not all that concerned with the bottom line, how about the fact that gender equality is good for families and communities? Whether you’re a man or a woman, your relationship with your spouse will improve.  Research shows that couples that share work and home responsibilities equally have a 50% lower divorce rate.  They also spend more intimate time together ( if you get my drift). 5

It is always helpful, and I would argue, respectful,  to be informed about an issue before diving in and offering our wisdom.   If you’re not quite ready to start talking, here are some issues you might want to get curious about.


1 - Get curious about the facts.

I have been talking and writing about women, position and power for a number of years.  My experience is that many of us, men and women alike, aren’t sure why we need to talk about gender, believing as did Ms. Sandberg, that it’s an issue that has been resolved.


The facts confirm that gender equity is an issue that is far from resolved. The percentage of women in C-suite positions and on corporate boards in both Canada and the US, hit a high of 15 – 16%, 20% in the non-profit sector,  and has been declining over the last several years. Research released in 2014 shows that women currently hold 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.6 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO positions. 4


The facts are that if a woman and man work full time outside the home, the woman does twice the amount housework than the man does and 3 times  the amount of childcare. 5


The fact is that the wage gap between men and women has not moved since 2002.  In the US women still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, despite the fact that, as I have already noted above, women earn a majority of university degrees. The gap increases if you are a woman of colour:  64 cents if you are African American, 54 cents if you are Latino. 1


2 - Get curious about assumptions and stereotypes

As I often share with my audiences, power based disrespectful behaviours like discrimination; harassment and bullying are embedded in human history.   Discrimination is a result of assumptions and beliefs that are deeply ingrained in our culture and our psyche, so deeply ingrained that we often fail to either recognize or  question them.


Since the release of Lean In, Ms. Sandberg has travelled the globe talking to men and women in a myriad of countries. Her experience has been that the one common cultural norm these vastly different cultures shared related to gender. “All over the world we think men should be strong, assertive, aggressive, and have a voice while women should speak when spoken to and help others.   There is a word for bossy that applies to little girls in every language in the world. It is a word that is not used for little boys because if a little boy leads there is no negative word for it. It is expected.  If a little girl leads, she is bossy.” 1


Ms. Sandberg cited the exhaustive research she has conducted. The data confirms that stereotypes are holding women back from leadership positions all over the world.


Systemic discrimination occurs when we judge women (or any identifiable group) through a different lens.  The research clearly establishes that this different lens negatively impacts women who aspire to leadership positions. Many of the character traits identified as those that leaders should use to get results are ones that we label being a “boss” when displayed by a man. When women exhibit those same character traits we label them as “bossy.”  Research shows that while less than 5% of men have been told they are too aggressive at work, women, particularly those in leadership positions, are routinely told they are too aggressive.


Success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.1


Curiosity informs us. Awareness empowers us. Cisco  CEO John Chambers got curious and decided to read Lean In. After reading the book he invited Ms. Sandberg to speak at Cisco and he joined her on stage. He had read Lean In, he told his employees, and acknowledged that all of their senior women had, at one point, been labelled as too aggressive.   The reason for his disclosure, according to Ms. Sandberg, was because that realization on his part, and public acknowledgment of it, would benefit not just the senior women, but his entire company. 1


3 - Get curious about who “Leans In”

In her recent interview Ms. Sandberg shares a story about an attending physician at John Hopkins who contacted her after he viewed her 2010 TEDWomen talk.  He told her it was only after hearing her that it occurred to him that even though half of his medical school students were women they were not speaking as much as the men.  He began noticing that when he asked questions the men raised their hands far more often than the women.


He decided to start encouraging the female students to speak up, but found that didn’t work. Curious as to what the reason might be, and wondering if the reason for the silence was that they didn’t know the answers, he told his students that going forward he would be calling on them individually rather than asking them to raise their hands.  He quickly discovered that the women were able to respond to his questions as well as, and in some cases better than, their male colleagues.


Ms. Sandberg shares another story about the Governor of a US state, who told her that after reading Lean In, he noticed how, just as she describes in her book, women were not sitting at the table.  He instituted a new rule that required everyone invited to a meeting to sit at the table.


4. Get curious about your voice

I have been a working Mother for almost 18 years; a single working Mother for almost 12.  Most of my friends are working Mothers; some are entrepreneurs, some in leadership positions.  We all know how hard it is.


What I notice though, is that our go to response when we ask each other how it’s going, is something like “Oh fine, good, really busy, but fine.”  Many of us believe, as Ms. Sandberg did, that to be successful we have to focus on facts and figures, and leave the fact that we are a woman, the emotion, including honesty about how hard it is, out of the conversation.


How is that belief serving us,  our workplaces, our families and our communities?


Does our silence create change or support the status quo?


According to Ms. Sandberg “Everywhere in the world women need more self-confidence because everywhere in the world women are told they are not equal to men.”


While I might agree that many women could use more self-confidence my belief is that men and women are different but equal.  I proudly identify as a feminist. I believe that we would all benefit if we had more women in leadership positions.  I see it as my responsibility to use my voice to ignite conversations that will promote respect and meaningful equality for all human beings throughout the world community.


What about you?


Whatever your gender, will you add your voice to the conversation? Will you choose to speak up for equality and respect?


1 (Sheryl Sandberg: So we leaned in ... now what?)

2. Road to Respect: Path to Profit, How to Become an Employer of Choice by Building a Respectful Workplace Culture, Erica Pinsky, 2009,



5.  Lean In Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg, 2013



The Perceptual Disconnect  (or) Self-Awareness – A Critical Leadership Competency

June 17, 2014

One of my great joys in life is reading novels.  Call me old fashioned, but I prefer reading a physical book rather than an e-book.  I bike to my local library, and head straight to the staff picks section where I consistently find great reads.  Given the recent announcement about the phasing out of mail delivery to private homes in Canada, I no longer take the gift of a public library for granted.  As I scan the barcodes I always feel grateful to have access to these wonderful books.


On my last visit to the library for some reason I was compelled to turn left and peruse the shelf with the non-fiction staff picks.  I immediately noticed “Who Says It’s a Man’s World – The Girls’ Guide to Corporate Domination”, by Emily Bennington.


Those of you who regularly read my posts would know a book with a title like that would be irresistible to me.


Who Says it’s a Man’s World is worth reading for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is Ms. Bennington’s straightforward and humorous writing style.  I love the title of chapter 7: Seriously, Don’t Bring Sexy Back.


On page  4 of the introduction it became clear to me why,  on this occasion, I turned left rather than right; why this book literally called out to me.  Like many of us, women and men alike,  Ms. Bennington ponders  why it is that  while women earn the majority of university degrees and make up half the work force, they still account for only 4 % of Fortune 500 CEO’s,  6% of top earners and 16 % of board directors and corporate officers.  She undertook extensive research, interviewing more than 700 executive women as well as a whole host of super-achievers for Forbes magazine to figure out the answer to the question “ What does it take for a woman to win at the highest level of business?”


Surprising as it may seem,  Ms. Bennington’s conclusion is summed up in this simple sentence:  “You must be a magnificent woman first to have a magnificent career.”


Upon reading that I thought of something a coach once said to me – We are human beings, not human doings.


Think about this for a moment.  How many of us, regardless of our gender, focus on what we need to do to be successful, rather than who we need to be to be successful.


Who we need to be speaks directly to our values, (what Ms. Bennington frames as virtues), as well as  our level of self-awareness about our behaviours and whether or not we are willing to take responsibility for those behaviours.


Now think about this for a moment.   What is the level of self-awareness or responsibility that is demonstrated when “it’s not me it’s you” is our go to response when faced with workplace disrespect?


As I frequently share with my audiences:

Ask 100 people if they deserve to be treated with respect. The answer YES.

Ask that same 100 people if they are respectful in their treatment of others. The answer YES.

Then ask them if most of the people they interact with at work are respectful.

Chances are the answer will be NO.

Simply translated – it’s not me, it’s you.


This perceptual disconnect is directly related to our level of self-awareness.  When we are focused on what we do, rather than who we are, when we are focused on what we do rather than how we do what we do, the requirement for self-awareness is easily overlooked.


My experience is that most individuals who engage in disrespectful behaviour have absolutely no clue that they are behaving in a manner that is negatively impacting others. On the rare occasion that they are willing to acknowledge their behaviour, it is generally justified by framing it as a response to, provoked by,  something someone else did – “it’s not me it’s you.”


 Some time ago I was talking to an individual who wanted to understand more about my work.  Upon hearing that I dealt with bullying and harassment at work, this individual, who I would describe as a serial bully, said to me “ Really.  Adults bully other adults?  How do they do that?”


This person was highly intelligent and quite successful. Problem is that like many of the individuals I work with, self-awareness was NOT included in her skill set.


Ms. Bennington is among a field of esteemed leadership gurus, including neuroscience pioneer Dr. David Rock, and authentic leadership research professor Dr. Brene Brown, who are arguing that self-awareness is a foundational competency for leaders in the 21st century.


The exploration of self is a critical piece of the respect conversation.   You can’t create respectful workplace relationships or build a respectful workplace culture when “it’s not me, it’s you” is a cultural norm.

Ms. Bennington starts Chapter one of her book with this quote from Marianne Williamson.


Learning to take responsibility for the nature of our thoughts is the most powerful way to take responsibility for our lives.

Getting curious about the nature of our thoughts is the point of departure on the journey to self-awareness.  It is the first step on the path to personal responsibility and empowerment.


The challenge posed by Ms. Bennington’s simple conclusion is that taking responsibility for the nature of our thoughts, taking responsibility for our choices, our behaviours,  choosing to become, as I frame it, the hero or heroine of our story, can be really hard.  For many of us, accepting that it might  be me not you, is simply too scary, too threatening, too difficult.   Some of us, as I have learned through my work, simply cannot make the shift.


However, like everything in life, we really don’t know until we try.


Why not resolve to get curious about who you are and who you want to be?


You have nothing to lose and, if you accept Ms. Bennington’s conclusion, a magnificent career, and by extension, a magnificent life to gain.


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