Creating a Wide-Awake and Engaged Workplace


The Conscious Leader

We’ve all seen the depressing statistics about employee engagement.  People are not fully engaged at work, not happy, not being utilized, and not fully using their talents.

What’s a leader to do?

Dr. Shelley Reciniello is the author of The Conscious Leader: Nine Principles and Practices to Create a Wide-Awake and Productive Workplace, a leadership approach designed to apply psychological tools to improve individuals and corporate culture.  She works with senior leaders in a wide variety of fields.  She has provided services ranging from employee assistance programs, executive coaching, leadership and diversity training seminars.


“What is going on unconsciously is often more important than what is on the surface.” -Dr. Reciniello


What is a conscious leader?

A conscious leader is someone who understands that people don’t leave their psychological selves at home when they come into the workplace and that includes the leader.  This kind of leader accepts that all human beings are not rational and that our rational minds are constantly influenced by our unconscious motivations, hidden agendas, unresolved childhood issues, fears, anxieties, fantasies, prejudices, obsessions, and complicated emotions like anger and guilt.  Conscious leaders understand that what is going on unconsciously, out of awareness, is often more important than what is happening on the surface. They know that the rational mind, both the individual one and the corporate one, can only be strengthened by dealing with unconscious issues, not by pretending that they don’t exist.

Starting with themselves, conscious leaders seek to make what is unconscious conscious.  They want to know the whole story about themselves – what emotional baggage they carry, what defenses they habitually use, how others really see them, what their Achilles’ heels are. They are committed to self-development and increasing self-awareness.

Conscious leaders know that in order to create workplaces where people will want to be, they must understand the psychological principles of people at work and apply them daily.


The Power of Honest Feedback

Give us an example of one way a leader can be more conscious.

A leader who is open to honest feedback is going to really know how others see him or her.  They may not like what they hear, but they dig down deep in themselves to understand the root of the behavior in question, and then they can begin to fix it.  We have a lot of what we refer to as “narcissistic leaders” — probably the same amount that we have always had, but our culture seems to condone and even admire their grandiosity and bravura.  When I work with a leader like that, it is usually because the board or some other entity has insisted that this person curtail their behavior.  It is not easy for them to change because they cannot believe that their charisma and success aren’t enough.

Cub_TheConsciousLeader-altaI worked with someone like this and I knew that underneath the fascinating façade, he was quite damaged, never felt loved for himself from an early age, so he compensated by creating a larger than life self that he believed would be worthy of love.  In the coaching, he worked hard to understand how others saw him and how he made them feel. He began to see what good behavior looked like. So although we couldn’t change the structure of his personality at such a late age, he was able to become conscious of what the right behavior would be and he would mimic it.

He is actively engaged in trying to modify his behavior and his impact on others.  He uses techniques like active listening to help him have real conversations with his direct reports.  He understands that it isn’t “all about me,” and the discipline it takes for him to listen has been rewarded by the input and ideas that are growing his company.  He tells me that he reminds himself of his story every two hours!


Understanding How We Deal With Change

What is one commonly misunderstood psychological principle? How does it relate to organizational leadership?

It is generally acknowledged that more change has occurred in the last decade, largely due to the advances of technology, than at any other time in human history. And there appears to be no end in sight. Principle 8 focuses on the fact that change is a constant in every workplace. Whether the change is initiated by a world event, the marketplace, or comes from within, it will require a particular kind of leadership if it is going to be accepted and implemented on both an organizational and individual level.


“All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” -Harry Levinson


Our natural, evolutionary response as human beings is to fear change and to resist it. It represents the unknown and unfamiliar and carries with it the possibility that we will suffer harm. Over time, we have learned that change can also be positive and lead to good things. The complete truth about change is that it is always hydra-headed; it is about both winning and losing.  In corporate restructuring, for example, change usually results in two groups, those who will win and stay and those who will lose and leave.  But it isn’t as simple as that in reality.  For even the people who get to stay often talk about how things were before the restructuring because something was gained but something was also lost.

My mentor, Harry Levinson, used to say it this way: “All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” When we do not allow for the mourning appropriate to the occurrence, successful change is jeopardized. Mourning seems like a natural thing to do.  Think about the crying and other shows of sentimentality at any high school or college graduation.  If leaders jump the gun and demand the swift, dispassionate adherence to change, resistance will kick in and there will be corporate consequences.  The recent recession brought dire economic consequences to many, accompanied by anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicide. The extent of the changes that occurred, and the speed with which they happened, did not give people the time and resources they needed to adjust to their drastically altered circumstances.

A swift-moving, action-oriented business model leaves little time for people, whether they are going or staying, to readjust and acclimate to a changed environment.  No one is immune and everyone feels vulnerable.  The unspoken contract between employer and employee, and the trust that goes with it, are forever broken.


The Family Dynamic at Work

Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.” -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

The Only Question that Matters in Personal Branding

Managing A Personal Brand

My friend Robert D. Smith is a master of branding and a creative force. For decades, he has managed the career of best-selling author and speaker Andy Andrews.  In addition to his work with Andy, he is regularly sought after by some of the biggest names for his expert advice, creativity, and innovative approaches.


“Whether you think it or not, you are a brand.” @TheRobertD


Recently, I spent some time visiting with him in his home and office in Tennessee.  Most people know Robert as THE Robert D.  His energy is so intense that, to prepare, I downed a double espresso before our interview.  I shouldn’t have bothered because just talking with him is like plugging into an unending energy source.

In our video interview, you will hear THE Robert D’s advice on building a personal brand.

What’s the number one question that THE Robert D asks himself to know whether a person will succeed?  Drum roll….

Are you coachable?

Interestingly, when I hire an executive, that is also my number one question. Because if you are not teachable, it usually means you are arrogant. If you aspire to serve others, you are always trying to remain coachable.


“Winning is defined by the legacy you create.” @TheRobertD


Here are a few highlights from our discussion:

  • Anyone can have a personal brand. “Whether you think it or not, you are a brand.” How you look, dress, talk is part of your brand.

How to Envision Your Limitless Potential

Hand held medal against a stormy sky

Tune in to the Power of Blind Ambition

Many of us start a new year with a list of resolutions and aspirations.  Those goals can quickly disappear as we replace goals with excuses.  A regular diet of motivation helps me redouble my efforts, so I regularly look for inspiring people, books, speeches, and songs.

That’s why I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Patricia Walsh.  Talk about overcoming obstacles, pursuing dreams, and not letting an excuse derail goals.

At age five, she was blind from a brain tumor.  Later, fighting depression and hopelessness, she made a decision to reclaim her quality of life.  Now, she has written an inspiring book, Blind Ambition: How to Envision Your Limitless Potential and Achieve the Success You Want .  She has a successful career as an entrepreneur, a software engineer, and a professional speaker.  And I almost forgot to mention she is a champion athlete.

Don’t listen to the voice telling you to give up on your goals.  Don’t settle for mediocrity.  Don’t limit your potential.

Instead, tune in to the power of Blind Ambition.


“You can never go wrong by lifting someone up.” -Patricia Walsh


Shatter Expectations

I’ve interviewed another female Ironman, Chrissie Wellington.  Reading her book was the closest I’ve come to understanding what it takes to compete.  It’s a grueling challenge.  And you’re blind and you did it.  What motivated you to shatter expectations?

I stumbled into shattering: I think my friends and family assume that I set out with a determination to turn the world on its ear from the get go.  Truly the spirit of the initial events was more of a, “What could possibly go wrong?” to which the response was. “Everything could go wrong,” to which I then responded, “Even if everything does go wrong, this won’t kill me.”

My initial motivation was to reclaim my quality of life.  When this all began, I had a smoking habit, was the life of the party, and as a result was overweight and feeling lost in my own skin.  As my dad started struggling with his own health, I realized that my habits and patterns not only emulated his, in many ways they were worse than his.  I started running as an attempt to reclaim my health.  The result after months of trial and error and continuous improvement was not only a betterment of my physical health, but it had become a lifeline for what had been a shattered sense of self.

In completing my first marathon, I proved to myself that I was not and never have been damaged goods.  My sense of ability was through the roof.  When proposed the opportunity to take on ever increasing challenges I jumped at the chances.  After years of marathoning, a friend dared me to do an ironman.  When I took on ironman it was out of a curiosity and a wonder for my own capabilities.  I was in way over my head.  I had never swum or biked.  The amount of help and coaching I needed just to finish was daunting.

Walsh9780071833820It was after completing my first ironman, Lake Placid 2010, when I became the first blind female to have completed an ironman with a female guide, that I saw the opportunity to reclaim expectations.

There is a thriving prejudice of reduced expectations of persons with disability.  I feel it every day.  People are surprised when I am able to order for myself at a restaurant.  People approach my friends and congratulate them on their generosity for taking the blind kid out for an adventure. People do not see me as an accomplished adult.  The challenge for me every day is to fight the impulse to become a defensive person.  When faced with these reduced expectations, my want is to rattle off my resume.  My want is even to make that person feel lower, but what good would come of that?  I know better.  If I were to ever really have that honest reaction, everyone would walk away feeling awful.  I acknowledge my role has to be that of a gentle educator.  After my initial success in ironman, I had the opportunity to race with a hero of mine.  It was then that I saw the gleam of light that I could be a competitive athlete by any standard.

I believed that if I put in the time and effort to be among the top finishers for my age group, then I could offer up an example of appropriate expectations of the blind.  That is to say blind and disabled people are not lesser than, they are equal to, and in some cases even greater than those without disability.  Truly it isn’t about the comparison, it is about the assumption.  The efforts of persons with disability should be taken on their own merit, absent of the expectation of diminished value.


“Excuses are a mask for fear and self-doubt.” -Patricia Walsh


Finishing my second ironman in 11:40 was groundbreaking for me.  In 10 months I had reduced my own time by three hours.  I had set an example of an athlete with disability who two years into the sport could be ranked among the top 10 finishers for her age group.  I was then recruited to compete at a different distance for the US National team.  My secret hope is to come back to ironman after Paralympics, as I left wanting more.  I know I could be among the top finishers in following my own fuel-fire-blaze hierarchy with the emotionally intrinsic goal of continuing to chip away at the reduced expectations.


Limitations and Excuses

Why Your Leadership View Trumps Strategy

Open window with view to a snowy winter scene

Your View Impacts Your Success

It was 1984 when Roger Ulrich released the results of a study that changed the way modern medical science thought about patient recovery.  Patients who had gallbladder surgery were split between hospital rooms with a view of nature and rooms with a view of a brick wall.  Controlling for all other factors, Dr. Ulrich concluded that those with a view of the nature outside recovered faster, required less pain medicine, and had fewer negative comments recorded by the nurses.

Intuitively, the conclusions make sense.  A natural view creates a sense of peace, reduces stress and helps us relax.  The study had a wide-ranging impact on the environments of hospitals and other institutions.

Interesting, you say, and then you file this tidbit away should you ever find yourself healing from gallbladder surgery:  When that happens, I want a room with a view!

I believe that healing from surgery is not the only benefit of a good view.

The doctors in this study, working in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital, had the same strategy in mind for the patients.  But the results were different based on a factor that they were not controlling.  That difference was not the medicines, the care, nor the treatment strategy.

The difference was the view.


“What you view has impact on who you become.” -Skip Prichard


Same Goals, Different Outcomes

The same strategy, the same goals, the same execution may result in different outcomes.  Why?  The view.

Why do some teams have spectacular results?  Why do some leaders create sustainable energy?