Leadership In The Age Of Duck

I recently came across a post by Kate Thome “Got Executive Presence? Part 2 Be A Duck” where she talks about one of the coaching gems from her mother. “When you watch a duck on water, it’s moving all over the pond but completely still above the water. Underneath, the duck’s paddling like crazy to keep it calm above the surface. Be a duck. Keep the swirl underneath you. It won’t go away, you just have to put it somewhere else.”

It seemed like a great introduction to the follow up post on Leading Under Pressure since I want to talk about the importance of keeping your emotions under check to project confidence and positivity towards your team even when you have a bad day.

Having a bad mood

It happens to all of us. Every now and then even the most positive person doesn’t feel all that good. It might be you just had an argument with your spouse, your children don’t do well at school or your car broke down. Whatever the cause the moment you step through the door to the office you need to get to your “usual self”. If you are close to your team they will always read the signals. It is ok not to smile if you don’t feel like it but you need to let the environment around you know that it is not them, it is you. So what do you do? Either you are able to “forget” and flip the switch in your head that tells your body that everything is fine or you should just apologize to your team that you have problems that may impact your work and ask them for patience with you.

Taking things personally

This is big NO in business setting. In fact, in any setting. You should never take things personally or assume that the sole purpose of existence of other people is to hurt you. In most cases if you feel that others did something that harms you they didn’t mean to. In fact, they may not even realize that their actions impacted you in negative way. There are two things you can do. You can sit with the person and calmly analyze what just happened and let them know how their actions or words impacted you and ask them not to do it again. If that is not for whatever reasons practical you can at least try to find positive explanation of their actions. Just the fact that you can imagine that they meant good and just didn’t realize the negative impact on you can help you get to more positive and quiet mood.

Being distracted

Having way too many things on our mind is yet another reason why we have negative impact on the others around us. If you ever forget someone’s name the moment he told it to you, or you constantly switching between tasks and then not remembering what is the status of any of them, or if you just sit through a meeting without having a clue what was it about you know what I’m talking about. For a leader this is one of the things that can eventually destroy your relationship with your team as they would just say “he never listens”. The only way to change that is to force yourself to live in the moment. If you are talking to someone, remind yourself not to think about what you will have for dinner. If you sit on a meeting, stop responding to emails. And of course learn to say “no” to things that you know you won’t have time to deal with.

Feeling pressured and frustrated

The ultimate destroyer of your productivity or the productivity of your team is feeling of pressure and frustration. Both are strong emotions not easily handled but both can be tackled with a bit of mental gymnastics. The easiest way how to deal with frustrations is not to get to that state in the first place. And that doesn’t mean changing the people around you. It means having a positive outlook at life and have the internal acceptance that not everything in the world will bend the way you would like it to. And if you really get frustrated then not taking it personally, having face to face discussion with the source of your frustration, asking for help, razor sharp focus on resolution, or just acceptance that there are things in the world you cannot change and therefore should worry about are all good tactics how to deal with frustrations.

Being a duck

So if you want to be seen as a strong leader who people can rely on you should be like a duck. You will be still required to work hard, deal with your daily issues and problems under water, but on the surface you are the happy mother duck who leads by example and gives her offspring confidence and abilities to survive in today’s world


How do you ensure that you are able to lead by example and keep you team focused and motivated even when you are in bad mood?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Real Leaders Are Vulnerable

Who do you think are the best leaders? Those with superhuman powers or those with a bit of human touch? I guess it depends. In the time of crisis you want a superhero at your side so you feel safe and you trust things will get better. However, we don’t live in a constant crisis and most of the time you want a leader who is more approachable, who is more human, who is more like you.


In my life I worked with couple of guys who would fit this category. They had some sort of superhuman ability, being an incredibly good linguists or software developers. They shared two common traits. First one was an incredible ability to focus on the stuff they were good at. This ability magnified their already great talent to the new heights. Second aspect of their personalities was rather low patience with people who were not able to keep up with them. Unfortunately, these traits made it for them also a bit too difficult to lead. In fact, they were not even interested in becoming leaders that people would follow at all. They saw their professional mission as being the experts in their given fields and cared little of what the others around them think. You want to have people like this around you in the times of emergencies but if you want to lead others you cannot really have an attitude like this yourself. If you are trying to be the best at everything, chances are that your team will feel that there is very little they can bring to the table, and eventually it will demotivate them. You need to make sure you give others opportunity to contribute and they need to feel valued and be proud on bringing something no one else brings.


Show emotions. Pretty much any emotion is better than no emotion at all but obviously some are more preferable. Which ones? The positive ones. Being able to open up and visibly enjoy the successes of your team. Being able to laugh with your team or cry when life brings a tragedy in your way makes you human. Human being like to be around other human beings. If you are a robot who never shows any emotions you won’t be able to empathize with your team members and you won’t be able to create a good rapport.

People also tend to look with distrust at someone who is unreadable. If you never ever show any emotions you become a puzzle for your team. They will never be sure what you like or don’t like and whether something meets with your approval or not. Yes, you can try to vocalize every thought of yours but it would still look insincere if not accompanied by the appropriate show of emotions. As a leader you need to be consistent, predictable and authentic. Lack of emotions will bring the authenticity into question.


As a leader you need to be approachable and the best way to build approachability is to be vulnerable like everyone else. People won’t come to a superhero with their small unimportant human problems. It is different if they know that you are like them, that you deal with the same problems in your life as they do. To show a bit of vulnerability will make you easier to talk to and will build a stronger emotional bond with your team. Obviously, I’m not someone who believes you need to keep your team at arm’s length. I strongly believe that good performing teams need to have leaders who are part of the team, who experience the same ups and downs and who should have emotional stake in the success of the team. You just need to make sure that your relationship with your team doesn’t cloud your judgment in situations when unpopular decisions needs to be made. In fact, being emotionally close to the team will help you to give bad news and make unpopular decisions that will be accepted by the team more easily. Or to put it another way, it will make it more difficult for you to make the decision but much easier for the team to accept it.


The one vulnerability you cannot show is doubt. You are here to lead others, to marshal your forces, to give them a vision and goal to follow. No one will enthusiastically follow you if you keep saying things like “I’m not sure”, “I will try”, “I guess”. Be sure! Don’t try but do! Don’t guess but know! You need to project confidence that you know what you are doing. It is fine to show vulnerability as a person but you need to maintain a posture of a strong leader who knows what he or she is doing. And never mind that you are not sure. No one is! One thing I learned as I climbed the corporate ladder is the higher you get the more uncertainty you have to deal with. The ability to deal with ambiguity, being able to make tough decisions and still make others to follow you is called leadership.

Twitter type summary: “No one will eagerly follow a robot. If you lead others you need to show your human face and heartfelt convictions.”

Do you show vulnerability or do you rather hide it? Do you prefer to be seen as strong and infallible to lead your troops or do you prefer to show a human side of yourself?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.