Key Changes Leaders Need To Make Now To Help Their Organizations Thrive

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Supporting Today’s Workforce”

Errol Gardner: Over the past 6 months of remote work, we have solved for or adapted to many of the challenges that initially arose– technical, logistical, getting the right people connected with their clients and internally there are still some unavoidable challenges. Our younger staff may not have as much space at home to work effectively and those with young children or with home schooling, may have a harder time committing to a predictable work pattern. At this moment, we and our clients have a degree of stability when it comes to working remotely—which underscores our human resiliency and ability to work in a dynamic state.

In a way, remote work has eased some work burdens for us. In the past, you had to find a way to physically be in the same place or be prepared to lose intimacy through a phone call. Now, the norm is to take video calls allowing us to see people’s facial expressions and respond accordingly. By doing so, you can broadly emulate what happens in most face-to-face situations, particularly if you have an existing relationship with the person and can understand their body language.

I think the biggest challenge we are facing is managing new relationships. So far, we have adapted many of our existing working relationships both internally and with clients to function virtually and many continue to thrive. However, over the next 6 to 12 months we will have new hires, new managers and managees to connect. This type of relationship building—forming trust and ultimately teaming is what will be hardest to achieve in the virtual world. When we meet in person, we spend the first few interactions getting to know each other’s personality and working style. We develop bonds and collaborate with a level of trust that will be difficult to replicate from a solely virtual starting point.

Caprino: How can leaders overcome those challenges, and helping remote employees and teams collaborate closely and thrive?

Gardner: As social creatures, humans still crave connection and friendship, even at work. Making time for virtual games or team bonding exercises is still important when remote in order to form those connections. Various studies tell us that a large proportion of an individual’s behavior is driven by their manager, so it is important to maintain those relationships.

Moving forward, depending on government guidelines, it will be important for us to come together again and invest time in our teams to the extent that it is safe. I feel that once a month or once a quarter it’s important to make time to get everyone in the same location—perhaps outside given the challenges of the pandemic, to build a baseline that is needed to continue the momentum of working remotely.

Caprino: Talk about great leaders who are tackling the tough conversations we need to have today, about issues that are at the forefront of people’s minds. What are leaders doing well and not so well, in helping people feel heard and understood?

Gardner: The hallmark of a good leader is deep listening and transparent communication. If you look at various studies that are created its often the case that only a small percentage of employees think that the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. So, in regards to the pandemic, those leaders that shared information across their company, prepared offices and individuals to face the challenges ahead but then also took a step back to listen to their employees’ needs were the organizations that have adapted more quickly in these challenging times.

Now more than ever, making conversations accessible about mental health is vital. At EY, we have put a focus on investing and making sure we have the right facilities available to support people if they’re struggling with the impacts of working in this kind of environment, or if they have experienced Covid-19 first hand or through their family.

Another conversation at the forefront globally is the racial unrest and inequity we are all grappling with. Companies who addressed the issues head on and made organizational commitments to being anti-racist are faring the best. At EY, for instance, leaders in the US and globally came together to take a stance, contributing $3M to organizations fighting social injustices and $4M to HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and evaluating internal talent and business processes to further advance equity across race. Organizations need to articulate clearly what they think is right and what they cannot support.

For leaders across all organizations, it is important to host listening events to hear the lived experiences and injustices colleagues have faced. Some experiences happen within the work environment and exposing those to the highest level of leadership does allow real and genuine change to develop.

Caprino: How important is it today that leaders do what is necessary to move managers out of the organization who are toxic, narcissistic, abusive or otherwise harmful to the culture?

Gardner: If a manager is not aligned with the values of an organization and is stifling the growth of their colleagues, it should be a quick decision to remove them. Increasingly, there is recognition among leaders that a candidate’s fit with organizational culture is as important as their skills and experience.

At EY, we always try to take our people through a process of education and enlightenment in order to increase awareness and understanding. We have found many missteps come through lack of knowledge or lack of self-awareness as very few people get up each morning wanting to upset fellow human beings. But, if that doesn’t work, it is important to send a message. We are a values-based organization, and inclusivity is at the heart of our organization. Effective leaders embrace diversity to challenge the status quo. Making it a comfortable, safe and equitable environment to get work done is of the utmost importance to us.

Caprino: How can leaders better identify when their own behavior and communication as a leader and manager needs to change?

Gardner: Having the self-awareness to look internally at your own behavior and communication is one of the trickiest parts of being a good leader. Something I think the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates is that most leaders really didn’t recognize—and may still not be aware of—just how unjust the society is for people of color.

By listening to colleagues of all levels in an unfiltered fashion, engaging in reverse mentoring and frankly just giving people the opportunity to share their lived experience, leaders can go on an educational journey and act as a catalyst for behavioral change.

Leaders need to be comfortable to get uncomfortable seeing their words and actions from a different perspective. A lot of leaders have very little exposure to the prejudices societally entrenched against people of color or the LGBTQ+ community. Without exposure there is a lack of understanding and a lack of self-awareness. So as a leader, put yourself in uncomfortable situations, ask questions and take feedback graciously on an ongoing basis in order to change when needed.

Caprino: What must leaders do differently today than ever before and how will that strengthen their leadership, communication and ability to inspire action towards a shared vision?

Gardner: We’ve talked a lot about empathy, but it is also about connecting with people. Leaders need to communicate to a certain extent and then be active listeners. Managers are used to being brought into conversations to offer advice and opinions but that means it can sometimes be easy to forget to listen to what people are saying and capture the sentiment of employees and even wider society.

At EY, for instance, we talk a lot about keeping humans at the center of everything we do. That means our employees, our customers, our stakeholders matter most. If you don’t understand them, what is motivating them, making them happy or sad, it is really hard to move the business forward.

In an era where uncertainty and change are the norm, it’s imperative for leaders to create a compelling story framed in the future—and you can bring employees together this way. And the future is all about transformation and being comfortable with it.

By focusing on realizing transformation from the inside out, leaders can unlock meaningful change for people, customers and other stakeholders.

Learn more about the EY transformation journey here.

To build your leadership and career strength in today’s times, read Kathy Caprino’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, and subscribe to her LinkedIn newsletter The Finding Brave Circle.

How To Reduce Divisiveness And Build Trust And Unity In Our Workplaces

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Supporting Today’s Workforce”

As almost everyone has read, seen or experienced directly, our country has grown more divisive, angry and ununified in recent months. Hate-crime violence has hit a 16-year high, political polarization has increased, and a majority (55%) of adult social media users are “worn out” by political posts and discussions. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing racial inequalities that have been rooted in systemic racism in our nation. We’re facing extreme challenges in our organizations and institutions where increased trust and unity are critical if we’re to make progress to address and solve these pressing dilemmas.

To learn more about how we all can reduce divisiveness today and work to build that needed trust and unity, I caught up this month with Dr. Laura Gallaher who has worked in the field of professional and personal development since 2005. Laura is an organizational psychologist, speaker, facilitator and executive coach and she is the founder and CEO of Gallaher Edge, which she started in 2013 and rebranded in 2018.

Her noteworthy career began after the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded upon re-entry in 2003, killing everybody aboard. Following the tragedy, NASA hired Gallaher and a team of organizational psychologists to change the cultural influences that were deemed to play a role in the accident. She worked for eight years to positively influence culture, develop leadership capacity, and improve organizational performance at Kennedy Space Center. Gallaher was also hired to help manage the change associated with radical changes in the performance management process and philosophy at Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.

At Gallaher Edge, Gallaher helps leaders across a variety of industries navigate changes and improve their organizational culture through workshops that build trust, grow self-awareness, and align strategically from the inside out.

Here’s what Dr. Gallaher shares:

Kathy Caprino: So, Laura, from your work and research perspective, why do humans struggle so much with change?

Laura Gallaher: We often hear that people resist change—but if I gave you $10 million, you’d probably agree that would change your life – so would you resist it? Assuming there’s no “catch”—no! You wouldn’t resist that. So it isn’t really that humans resist or struggle with change, it is that change tends to bring loss, and loss is painful. We call those losses the “costs” of change. When we hear that change is coming, we attune to the costs associated with that change. People only respond to their own perceived costs to changes in their lives. Evolutionarily speaking, we are programmed to avoid loss.

An endowment effect study by Knetsch showcases how we humans can be irrational in our own decision making. When participants in the study completed a task, they were rewarded with their choice of either a mug or a chocolate bar. About half chose the chocolate bar and half chose the mug. However, a different group was only given mugs as a reward after completing a task. When given the option to switch for a chocolate bar, only 10% of people took up that offer because most people had formed an ownership bond with their mugs.

When change is coming, it is valuable to remember that we are the ones putting the value on both the gains and the losses associated with the change, and we have control and choice over our own perceptions. Use that power of choice to shift focus—even change that initially feels unwelcomed will always bring both gains and losses.

The best way to deal with change is to focus on what will be gained. For example, unemployment is unfortunately skyrocketing due to the impact of Covid-19. If someone lost their job, the gain could be finding a different job that is better for their skills or lifestyle, or potentially the push they needed to start a business.

On the other hand, it could also be an opportunity to slow down and reconnect with their families or even themselves, helping them be the best version of themselves possible.

Caprino: During these times that are so difficult to handle, what tips and strategies can help us?

Gallaher: The environment today can make us feel that we’re in survival mode—constantly stressed, feeling like we can’t do enough and that we’re falling behind. While the news today is almost on a constant loop of negativity, we need to remember that we can still thrive in this environment. It’s all relative—it’s hard to believe, but there were days even pre-pandemic that were tough to get through, too.

We all evolved to be survivors, so our default mode is to survive—to shift into thrive mode, you’ll want to override your brain’s auto-pilot and retake control of our thoughts, your attitude and your chosen environment.

To do this, set aside some time for self-investment. Choose to practice gratitude multiple times a day and feel the meaning of it. In addition, choose to focus on some tangible action items. Limit how much news is watched if it limits your overall happiness. We have far more choices in life than we tend to realize. Everyone has a choice with what to do with their time, so determine where attention is given.

Caprino: What is the importance of the culture we’re in and how does that impact our resilience?

Gallaher: Culture has a huge impact on human behavior. It is where we learn what is OK and how we pick up on how things are done. The United States has a somewhat fragmented culture at this period in time, which means that different segments of the country have different ideas of what is OK and not OK. The pandemic and its impact on the economy is creating a scarcity mentality, which can lead people to start focusing more on themselves and less on others, which inhibits a society’s ability to collaborate and grow to reach new heights.

The flip side is that this pandemic is significantly increasing the generosity and desire to come together in other groups of people. Some are using this as a time to give to others when they see them struggling. Our healthcare workers, for example, are fighting every day for the lives of others.

Awareness of systemic racism has also elevated, and while it creates division and can trigger insecurity in white people, the murder of George Floyd has served as a catalyst to correct previous injustices. Now, the majority of adult Americans believe in the fight for what is right.

Many times it is darkest before the dawn, and when we can connect to a purpose (like fighting racism) and connect with each other (through generosity and caring for those who are ill), resilience abounds. Additionally, these experiences are creating deep wells of resilience that we will all be able to pull from in future life challenges. We are all more resilient than we think.

Caprino: Talking culture, so many of us are fighting with each other politically and ideologically, and in hateful ways that are devoid of compassion and understanding. How does that situation impact people and what can we do differently to thrive through this?

Gallaher:  Underneath all of this is vulnerability. When we feel vulnerable and afraid, especially subconsciously, we tend to rely on defense mechanisms to cope. I believe that as humans, our most natural way of being is kind and compassionate, but as we are all raised imperfectly by imperfect humans to become imperfect adults ourselves, we each develop ways to defend ourselves against unpleasant feelings internally.

So in the face of human suffering, especially if there is a subconscious feeling of helplessness (i.e. I can’t do anything to fix this), people may respond in ways to reduce their negative internal feelings. This can look like blaming the victim (i.e. if I can convince myself that they somehow deserve it, then I don’t have to cope with the painful discomfort of injustice).

On top of that, our desire to feel good about ourselves means that our egos often keep us in a place of wanting to feel right, instead of wanting to learn. So, we often tend to dig in our heels in the face of opposition, preserving the good feeling about ourselves as being “right” and also a “good person.”

Thriving in these times stems first and foremost from our ability to practice self-acceptance and courage. Lean into the vulnerability that underlies the anger, accept that you are wrong sometimes (we all are), and focus yourself on learning and listening.

Societally, from the top, it would look like politicians learning how to communicate in a way that is less polarizing. We are all far more alike than we are different, and we all tend to agree on way more than we realize—we just don’t highlight the similarities and the agreements, especially when there is vulnerability and discomfort.

For each of us as humans, what we can do is listen. Listening is one of the most powerful tools to facilitate connection, change and growth. Listen like it’s not about you. Listen to your friend share their personal experience with racism. Listen to your employee talk about their fear of falling ill. Listen to your co-worker talk about the fear of the decision of what is best for their children.

It is harder to hate people up close, so move communication to phone or video call and away from text-based communication—like email—as often as you can. Remember our common humanity.

Caprino: Should business leaders encourage and tackle head-on the difficult and sensitive conversations that today’s times are demanding?

Gallaher: While business leaders regularly face the potential for difficult conversations, 2020 has brought this to a whole new level. From navigating racial conversations to deciding how to keep employees safe amid the global pandemic, people are experiencing difficulty separating their personal lives from the workplace. This may make leaders nervous, wondering how can I help employees feel heard, understood and safe during these times of uncertainty?

As a leader, this is the time to actively listen to what employees need and not shy away from topics that seem difficult to address on the surface. Do your employees have kids and now have to decide between working full-time or home schooling their children? Does an employee have Covid-19 or is close to someone with the virus? Is an employee passionate about bringing more awareness to the systemic racism in the United States?

Hear what employees are saying, but also note what isn’t being said. If what employees are relaying isn’t perfectly clear, follow up by saying “Tell me more; I want to understand,” or try paraphrasing what you think they’re trying to say.

If employees’ concerns haven’t been addressed yet, these are all conversations that business leaders need to be having now. Having an effective conversation means it’s time to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. These uncomfortable conversations create room for growth in the workplace. No one needs to know all the answers, but being willing to facilitate these conversations fosters a more inclusive organization.

More importantly, don’t let the conversations die out once the world regains a bit of normalcy. Create the space for conversations to take place within the workplace and mediate as appropriate to ensure these conversations remain respectful. Having an ongoing, open dialogue in the workplace leads to a culture of learning and understanding and can help eliminate issues, like systemic racism, nationwide.

Caprino: Why do people become more divisive and critical of each other in crisis like this pandemic?

Gallaher: There’s a saying that the best way to assess an organization is to try to change it. In your work culture or organization in this time of crisis, are people pulling together or are they dividing? Are people leaning into the change to identify how they can adapt, or are they digging their heels in to avoid the pain associated with change?

Fear can be dominating. People start to look out for themselves, so fear of losing money or power creates an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality.

Most fundamentally, whether someone reacts in fear or unity comes down to trust. When people trust one another to act not only in their own best interest but also prioritize the interests of others, then people will unite even more in difficult times.

When trust has been damaged, or is lacking, people move into a state of assessing and evaluating the environment and people around them to gauge if they can proceed with trust, or if it is dangerous to trust others.

The best way to get through the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality is to state collaborative intent and actively listen.

Caprino: What are the best strategies you can offer to help us thrive through dramatic change and uncertainty?

Gallaher: Leading through dramatic change and uncertainty is no easy feat, but the reward is monumental. Not only does it build trust, but it also increases productivity and efficiency.

First, as a human, it is valuable to remind yourself that even though your brain often triggers your body to react as though survival is genuinely at risk, most of the time, you really are OK—you can breathe, you are alive and you are going to be fine. Use your brain to overcome the fear-based visceral reaction that comes in times of stress and uncertainty.

Second, as a leader, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. A crisis is a crucial time for a business that demands true leadership and the willingness to be decisive. Handle the pressing tasks first and practice self-compassion. When you take care of yourself, you are your best self for others; trying to put others before you means that they end up getting what’s left of you instead of the best of you.

When communicating with employees on these tough matters, project confidence and optimism while staying grounded in reality. Being authentic as a leader is powerful. Also provide the context people need for current events and what the business is going through.

These conversations need to happen on a consistent basis rather than just reacting as the environment shifts; employees want to hear from you more than you realize. Be intentional about each change put in place and recognize the impact that it has on the emotional state of employees.

Consider gains and losses in the face of change once again: a significant gain we can all take away from this time of uncertainty is that we’ve now been encouraged to speak with others and self-reflect in a way many of us hadn’t done previously.

Now that those doors are open, we can continue allowing ourselves to find comfort in the uncomfortable and have these conversations on a long-term, ongoing basis.

For more information, visit: Gallaher Edge

To build a more positive and impactful career and more effective leadership approach, read Kathy Caprino’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, and work with Kathy in her Career Breakthrough Programs.

How To Get Exceptional Results In Your Career Through Authority, Warmth And Energy

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Today’s True Leadership”

Ever wonder why some people who have the same level of technical skill and ability as you do seem to catapult forward fast while you stay stagnant, at the same level or compensation, for years? As a career and leadership coach, I’ve connected with many professionals around the globe who, while extremely talented and accomplished, don’t seem to achieve the high-level success, impact and recognition they feel they deserve. And they are often extremely confused as to why this is happening.

To explore more about behaviors and traits that can propel us forward quickly and powerfully in our careers, I caught up with Steve Herz this month, who has a new book on just this topic. In Don’t Take Yes For an Answer: Using Authority, Warmth and Energy To Get Exceptional Results, Herz explores how we can catapult our careers and lives forward with three key communication strategies―authority, warmth, and energy, and how we often need some tough critique and feedback to let us know how to shift our ways for more success

Herz is President of The Montag Group, a sports and entertainment talent and marketing consultancy. He is also a career advisor to CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and young professionals. Prior to joining TMG, Steve was the President and Founding Partner of IF Management, an industry leader whose broadcasting division became one of the largest in the space, representing over 200 television and radio personalities. The agency represents some of the biggest names in sports and news media, including NBC Sports Mike Tirico, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and Dan Shulman and CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward.

Here’s what he shares:

Kathy Caprino: You argue that we don’t get enough honest feedback at work, so it’s crucial to proactively ask your boss how you’re doing. Is this especially true right now, when we’re all working remotely and lacking valuable face time? What’s your advice on how to ask for feedback?

Steve Herz: We should be trying to get feedback all the time, pandemic or not. For reasons I explore in the book, we get a lot of positive feedback that we don’t actually deserve. Mixed messaging, or flat-out omissions, have generally replaced direct dialogue and tough conversations in the workplace and in nearly every space we inhabit, resulting in a lifetime of what negotiator Christopher Voss calls “the counterfeit yes,” in which we hear a fuzzy “yes” all while life is actually delivering an all-caps “NO”:

You didn’t get the promotion; you didn’t get the sale; you didn’t get the girl or guy. You can’t trust all the yesses you hear. In fact, if you’ve checked off all the obvious boxes necessary for a stellar career in your field – education, credentials, years of experience – but you still aren’t where you want to be, that lack of honest feedback is probably part of what’s holding you back.

It’s critical to ask for—and be open to—an honest assessment of your performance. And this is more important than ever right now, given the massive unemployment we’ve seen and the increased job insecurity. So, if your company is thinking (as many are) about layoffs, you want to make sure there’s nothing about your performance that you’re blissfully unaware of – that could doom your immediate future.

When you ask for feedback, make it simple. Ask – “what is one thing you think I could improve upon?” This is especially important if you usually only receive positive feedback from your manager. Or make it fun – if the situation is appropriate – and ask, “if you were a genie, what is one thing you would change about me that would improve my performance?”

For example, a young agent in our company who, after a few weeks as a trainee, asked me how he was doing. I told him he was doing great, to which he said, “Oh no, I’m not taking that from you. I know the book you are writing. And I hear how to talk to other people. I want to know what you think I’m not great at.”

So, I told him he said the word “like” way too often and that the filler word compromised his authority, especially as a young professional. He asked in a way that showed he was sincere about improving and saw it as an opportunity to grow and advance his life and career. I advise everyone to do the same. Look at feedback as a gift.

Caprino: The premise of your book is that the number one thing that determines your success is not your education or skills, but your ability to connect with people. I think we’re all really longing for that connection right now, as we’ve been social distancing for months. What’s the role of “connectability” in one’s career success, and what are its key elements?

Herz : In my work, I discuss the 85/15 rule. Based on a seminal 1918 study by The Carnegie Foundation, this rule states that only 15% of your professional success is correlated to your technical (hard) skills. In my view, the huge overlooked 85% is that ability to connect, persuade, and gain influence and respect from your boss, colleagues, clients.

The key elements of “connectability” are authority, warmth and energy, aka AWE. If you’re competing against people in your field who are all roughly perceived as equal in the technical skills, your AWE is the only differentiator. AWE is about your ability to have that technical substance and the stylistic sizzle; to be seen as one who knows their stuff, is trustworthy and makes others want to follow their lead. There is no other path to maximum influence without those traits.

Caprino: Unemployment is at a historic high right now. What’s your advice to people who have lost their jobs or who are worried about holding onto the job they still have?

Herz: If you are unemployed, try to make sure you have skills that are in demand. While technical skills only account for 15% of your success, that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. It’s crucial to have good technical skills – but the point of the 85/15 rule is that they only get you a seat at the table.

If you realize that your skills aren’t in demand or up to date, the first step is to retrain yourself with the myriad of free or low-cost tools available online. And if you still have a job, make yourself as indispensable as possible. Stay in close communication with your customers, your colleagues, and your manager and make sure you’re doing your job effectively and with very little friction. This is not the time to be the squeaky wheel. And try to use whatever free time you have (outside of family and other key interests) to improve your skill set, as well as your authority, warmth and energy. If you show up (remotely) as a better you, your bosses will notice.

Caprino: As our work interactions move from in-person to video, what should we be paying attention to as we try to connect with people when we don’t have the benefit of being together in the same room?

Herz: Pay attention to the way people are reacting to you. It’s harder to gauge this when you’re communicating virtually, yet you will still receive responsive cues from others. If you notice someone tuning out – like when they stop looking at the camera, start typing, or they’re not nodding at all or asking any questions – you may have to turn up your energy to keep their attention.

Try speaking more loudly or in faster bursts or show that you’re emotionally committed to your message. And sometimes calling out someone and soliciting their opinion also keeps them on their toes and energizes them. If they are not responding, you may have to become more inquisitive and interactive. It’s much easier to lose someone’s attention over Zoom, so it’s paramount to use every tool you have to keep them engaged.

Caprino: You’re an agent for some of the most successful broadcast journalists in the country. How did you come to identify these three elements as the key to getting ahead?

Herz: It was an evolutionary process. I started out working exclusively with sports broadcasters and media talent to other professionals in various fields because I discovered that the key to becoming a superstar manager, salesperson, or CEO is no different than the key to becoming a superstar broadcaster: you have to get your audience, of one or a million, to trust and believe in you.

Over the past two decades, AWE has become the prism through which I observe, assess, coach and grow every single one of my clients. I listen for it when we’re analyzing recordings of their voice, and I look for it while observing them perform simulated interviews, meetings, or sales calls. It takes a special person with a thick skin to work with me. I’m always respectful, but I pull no punches. Because of this, I’ve been hired and fired in the same day by people who were too accustomed to hearing “yes.”

But those professionals who have stuck with me, who have refused to take “yes” for an answer, have seen their stars rise. Anyone in any job can do the same.

Caprino: Is there one element of AWE that is most commonly underappreciated?

Herz: Energy is both underappreciated and probably most misunderstood. Energy is not just your energetic output. It’s the dynamic you create in your interactions. It’s most important to have the kind of energy that energizes other people. And you can sometimes energize others with relatively low energetic output. It’s a question of having the presence of mind to understand what is necessary in the moment. One example is Jeff Feig, who rose to the executive suite and built a billion-dollar business at Citibank based on his key strength: listening to and acknowledging others. He had record low turnover in his tenure because his team felt so energized by his caring ways. It is counterintuitive to think of a low-key person like Feig as energizing. But when I spoke to many of his colleagues, that was the unanimous feedback from all of them.

For more information, visit

To build a more impactful career, work with Kathy Caprino in her Career Breakthrough programs and read her new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss.

Banishing Our Nation’s Blind Spot About Blue-Collar Economic Potential

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Supporting Today’s Workforce”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released the nation’s July Jobs Report on August 7, and despite the recession and Covid-19 crisis leaving millions unemployed, a quiet revolution is underway. An ongoing blue-collar expansion continues as business leaders, entrepreneurs and job seekers find growth in this emerging sector. This revolution is what blue-collar entrepreneur Ken Rusk calls the “blue-collar boom.”

According to the Center for Economic Policy & Research (CEPR)’s Blue Collar Job Tracker, employment in construction, manufacturing, and mining and logging increased by 669,000 or 3.58 % in May. The construction sector gained 464,000 jobs in May, a 7.05 % increase, albeit largely a recovery from April’s losses.

To learn more about the blue-collar boom and the economic potential it represents, I caught up with Rusk, the author of the new book Blue-Collar Cash: Love Your Work, Secure Your Future, and Find Happiness for LifeFounder of Toledo, OH-based Rusk Industries, Rusk is a self-made millionaire. He skipped college and started out digging ditches, then worked his way up to buying the business and becoming a successful entrepreneur. Passionate about helping other people achieve their dreams regardless of their educational background or past experience, Rusk has coached hundreds of people without college degrees.

I was excited to catch up with Rusk to tackle the myth that career success requires a college degree (and college debt). Rusk explores how Americans still have a blind spot for the nation’s talent gap and sustained blue-collar growth—a viewed shared by many others including Mike Rowe, dubbed “The Dirtiest Man on TV”—and Rusk contends that despite significant overall job losses, blue-collar workers remain in greater demand than their white-collar counterparts, earning up to six-figure salaries without a college degree or the debt that follows it.

Below Rusk shares about this blue-collar boom and the opportunities it provides for workers everywhere:

Kathy Caprino: Ken, in your new book Blue-Collar Cash, you talk all about a new “blue-collar boom.” Can you share more about this and what it means for professionals today?

Ken Rusk: Long before the Covid-19 pandemic and widespread recession, blue-collar fields have enjoyed a resurgence due to high demand for trained professionals to replace a generation of retiring trades professionals, from plumbers and construction workers, to carpenters and welders, and anyone skilled or willing to work with their hands.  And most people are surprised to learn the earning potential for these professions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources detail a range of occupations and median annual salaries, many in the six-figures, such as:

  • Construction Manager: $93,370 (top earners: $159,560)
  • Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers: $92,460 (top earners: $156,710)
  • Wind Turbine Service Technician: a “green-collar” job where experienced top earners often exceed $104,000

Kathy Caprino: With today’s blue-collar boom, why should people without college degrees have more reason than ever to be optimistic about their future and proud to be in blue-collar work?

Ken Rusk: Despite the serious economic challenges facing us today, and their profound impact on the nation’s outlook, a perfect storm of positive influences now casts widespread optimism across blue-collar industries. This powerful sector of our economy now thrives, with high consumer confidence, huge demand for its services, full employment (with high disposable income) and the highest personal satisfaction numbers in generations. Combined with a serious labor shortage, there has never been a better time to be in the blue-collar world.

Caprino: What did it take for you to end up a millionaire after starting your career as a ditch digger?

Rusk: I could easily answer this question with expected traits: character, persistence and resilience. Though the answer goes much deeper than that, and something I wish educators would teach our youth as they prepare to enter the world.

I created a proactive life plan for myself: I sat down early in life and sketched what I wanted in life, down to the smallest detail, and then worked relentlessly to achieve it, always keeping my eyes open for opportunities to advance. Your life plan, if clearly envisioned, will provide all the motivation you need. You just have to be open to opportunities and seize them as they arise. Earning wealth wasn’t a main focus for me; I prioritized building a life of comfort, peace and freedom, and hit my goals, one at a time.

Caprino: Why do you think so many people overlook blue-collar jobs despite shrinking demand for white collar jobs?

Rusk: The blue-collar life has long suffered an undeserved stigma. With origins in the digital era of our economic transformation in the 80’s, an emerging trend was the beginning of the crisis of the American worker. The tradition of shop class, with woodworking machines, plumbing, electrical, car mechanics and home economics, was soon replaced with personal computing. While computer training was necessary for our kids to learn, it should not have been a binary choice.

The unintended consequence: millions of kids were eliminated from the necessary discovery of learning how to use everyday hand tools in favor of punching keyboards. Colleges, in turn jumped on board to funnel everyone into thinking a college education was the only path to success. Pursuing a trade was somehow gradually perceived as settling for less. And based on the rewarding opportunities that exist today, nothing could be further from the truth. And quite simply, working with your hands is enormously gratifying. The secret is that you can build an amazing life in an industry many others overlook.

Caprino: How did you end up training blue-collar workers to get on the right life path and why do you do this? 

Rusk: Initially it came out of necessity. Some 33 years ago, I started a company with 12 employees we convinced to believe in our mission, stick with us through all the uncertainties, and work very hard in a tough business, all with the promise of making their lives better for it. We came up with effective strategies that we still use today, ideas we continue to modify and improve upon.

With over 200 employees today, I see unwavering loyalty and ever-lengthening tenure of our team members. Over time, the need for constant recruiting slowed significantly as people realized they could build the life they wanted for themselves within the organization. Helping to mold effective goal-driven team members is a key part of my “coaching” outside our organization. I enjoy playing a role in people improving their lives. And this should be a standard practice in any business. The ideas themselves are quite simple; it’s the execution of those ideas where most people fail.

Caprino: So, in your view, what holds back so many blue-collar workers from achieving the comfortable life they deserve?

Rusk: Unfortunately, some people in blue-collar professions haven’t yet seen who they are or who they’re meant to be. So many of us live by the if/then rule. For instance, “If this could happen in my life, then I’d be set. Or “If I could catch a break, then my life would be better.”

We wait for life to happen to us, instead of us happening to life—as it should be. But it’s amazing how much this can change once they have a vision of their future, and then plan it out accordingly. For example, we are all familiar with planning a vacation: pick a destination, maybe book a flight, rental cars, hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc.  And then we wait in joyous anticipation of that day to come. We can see the week unfolding in our minds in crystal clear detail. And yet most of us live our daily lives in much too present fashion.

Research shows how effective a solid visualization strategy can be. According to a study conducted by Virginia Tech professor Dave Kohl (see his book Where Will You Be 5 Years from Now?) ), in a typical group of 100 people, 80 of them readily admit to not having any real goals.  The remaining twenty do have goals but break themselves down in an interesting way: Sixteen of them have goals, however, they remain in their minds—like most hopes, wishes, or dreams, not documented in any real way.

The final four do write them down, yet three of them leave their goals in a drawer somewhere, rarely looking at them again. It’s interesting that the remaining one person not only visualizes their goals but writes them down in very clear fashion and then posts them somewhere where they can be seen daily and therefore reviewed often. They also tend to earn nine times as much in their lifetimes as those who do not follow this practice.  And here’s the best part—anyone can do this.

You have the ability to be that one percent. We all do. With the right habits, you can design and achieve the life you want for yourself.

Caprino: What skills and training have you found to be essential to become an independent blue-collar worker?

Rusk: Historically, trainees would work for years before advancing. Not true today. With the high demand for anyone willing to work with their hands, one can enter the field of his or her choice, and quickly gain the experience needed to rise through the ranks of their chosen trade. So many business owners are in need of quality candidates, they now offer employees everything they can (competitive pay, training, bonuses, etc.) to keep them engaged. It is a workers’ market in today’s blue-collar industry and that bodes well for those looking to change or advance their careers.

Just like the theory in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, workers who can gain 4,000+ hours’ experience in a skilled trade, especially within a small company, can propel themselves to the top in both wages and responsibilities. This can also set them up to take the next step—starting their own company. And today it has never been easier to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Caprino: Why do you think women are helping drive today’s blue-collar boom—even in areas like welding and mechanics that were rarely considered in the past?

Rusk: In a not unexpected yet still somewhat surprising development, women are not so quietly moving into lucrative blue-collar positions traditionally held by men. Why? The answer is simple—they’re smart and they see the opportunity in front of them.  Remember Rosie the Riveter? Savvy women are now making six figures in jobs that are in high demand, and both technology and their command of precise details and quality opens many doors. They realize their country needs them, maybe not under wartime duress, but they are now more critical than ever.

Caprino: In your view, what are the keys to comfort, peace, and financial freedom as a blue-collar worker or entrepreneur?

Rusk: I would start by imagining your life the way you want it. Everyone’s picture is different so there are no wrong answers. Only you know who (and what) you are meant to be. And only you know how to live the life you want.

Build on your expectations as you achieve each goal. Begin with the end in mind and forge a clear path to get there. Turn your if goals into when goals, and set exact, precise stepping-stones to measure your progress.

Build your plan with certainty and share it with your trusted support system (friends, family, or trusted coworkers). Once you start to make progress on this plan, you will mentally click into overdrive on your way to achieving your entire picture. Here’s a simple formula to make this point clear: Vocational Passion + Life Vision = Comfort, Peace and Freedom.

Further, I would recommend the following actions:

  • Commit to your goals: get all in and be accountable
  • Turn IF goals into WHEN goals by breaking them down into small, doable steps
  • Apply discipline to make financial goals a reality, using tactics like weekly payroll deductions
  • Envision your best life and sketch it out for yourself … then display it in a place you can’t miss (refrigerator door, bedroom, mirror)
  • Ensure your success by sharing your goals with trusted peers, friends and family.

For more information, visit and Blue-Collar Cash.

To build a happier, more impactful career, read Kathy Caprino’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, and work with Kathy in her Career Breakthrough programs.

How To Reduce Damaging Conflict In Your Life, Work And Relationships

Part of the series “Accessing the Most Powerful You”

As we all know, some degree of conflict in our work and personal relationships is unavoidable. Human beings are organisms with very different values, upbringings beliefs, mindsets and approaches to achieving their goals. And living and working together inevitably generates disagreements in how we see life and the challenges in front of us, and the ways we wish to achieve our goals and visions. But some people seem to have a special ability to manage conflict in ways that create avenues for collaboration and success, while others do the opposite—they escalate and exacerbate conflict so it becomes more destructive and demoralizing.

To learn more about this important topic, I was excited to catch up with Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, an expert in helping teams and organizations experience conflict resolution and freedom. Goldman-Wetzler is founder and CEO of Alignment Strategies Group, the premier New York-based consulting firm that counsels CEOs and their executive teams on how to optimize organizational health and growth.

Author of the new book Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life, Goldman-Wetzler is a keynote speaker at Fortune 500 companies, public institutions and innovative, fast-growing startups, where she inspires audiences of all kinds, including those at Google, Harvard and TEDx, and in her popular course at Columbia University.

A former counter-terrorism research fellow with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, she is a graduate of Tufts University and holds a Ph.D. in Social-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. In her book, Goldman-Wetzler shares that, in order to free ourselves from recurring conflict, we have to break the pattern of the conflict loop by doing something different from what we’ve been doing in the past.

Here’s what she shares:

Kathy Caprino: What’s the number one mistake people make when faced with a conflict?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler: The number one mistake people make when faced with conflict is dealing with a situation the same way we have before, yet expecting a different result. In my work and book, I identify four common conflict habits that get us into trouble: blaming others, blaming ourselves, avoiding others, and relentlessly trying to collaborate even when others refuse to cooperate. We engage in these habits with the best of intentions. We goodnaturedly want to learn from our experiences, or stay focused on what really matters, or achieve “win-win” solutions. But when we habitually rely on these strategies regardless of whether they’re appropriate for the particular situations we face, they become overused and of limited use over time.

Rather than dealing with conflict based on habitual reflexes, the Optimal Outcomes practices help us notice how we’ve been operating, and learn how to take different actions to achieve the results we seek.

Caprino: What drew you to work that specializes in conflict?

Goldman-Wetzler: I was drawn to a career specializing in conflict from a very young age, way before I even knew it was possible to formally work in this area.

My father’s parents escaped Nazi Europe, tragically leaving behind family they’d never see again. This came with the emotional and psychological baggage you’d expect: lifelong fear and grief. Like many immigrants of their generation, my grandparents never had access to professional counselors or therapists to help them process their emotions. Instead, their pain sometimes came out in unhelpful ways; in my grandfather’s case, in bursts of anger and rage.

On the other side of my family, my maternal grandmother was the quintessential “conflict whisperer.” Every Sunday, my grandmother, parents, brother and I would drive from our apartment in the Bronx to the Connecticut suburbs to visit my aunt and uncle. When screaming and yelling inevitably broke out in the car, my grandmother would stop the bickering. She’d simply whisper “Sha, sha, sha,” and then she’d tell us a simple story. Everyone would quiet down. Her very presence and the sound of her voice were enough to soothe our nerves.

Learning to deal with my grandfather’s rage, and through my grandmother’s example, I naturally became the “conflict whisperer” of my family, too. I eventually made it a formal career path.

Caprino: Why do so many people get stuck in what you call a “conflict loop?”

Goldman-Wetzler: Half a century of research has shown that conflict is naturally cyclical. Conflict begets conflict. It’s the nature of the beast.

We get stuck in conflict loops when our conflict habits interact with other people’s conflict habits, forming a pattern of interaction that becomes very hard to break. The conflict loop is self-reinforcing. Unless we introduce something different—what I call “pattern-breaking action”—the loop will continue to go around and around.

But we can identify and revise the conflict habits—our own, and others’—that create a pattern. Using these specific practices helps us think about situations from a different point of view, and take new actions to create breaks in the pattern so we can ultimately free ourselves from the loop entirely.

Caprino: You place a priority on conflict freedom over conflict resolution. Would you clarify the difference?

Goldman-Wetzler: Conflict resolution says that conflicts can be resolved by meeting our own and others’ interests in ways that allow all parties to win. But some conflicts are what I call “resolution-resistant.” No matter how many times we or others try to resolve these conflicts, even using “win-win” principled negotiation methodologies that have been successfully used in complex cases over the past 40 years, the conflict remains.

Conflict freedom is helpful in those cases where conflict resolution doesn’t work. Conflict freedom helps us stop trying to resolve something that has shown itself to be unresolvable. Instead, it shows us how to free ourselves from the mindsets, emotions and behaviors that have gotten us stuck. It helps us achieve optimal outcomes—those that take into account our imagined best-case scenario and the reality of the constraints we face. Optimal outcomes are often different from what we thought we wanted, but more satisfying than we ever imagined possible.

Caprino: What’s wrong with always striving for “win-win” solutions?

Goldman-Wetzler: Striving for “win-win” solutions is often a great thing to do. The problem happens when we always strive for them, regardless of whether our efforts are getting us the results we desire. Seeking to achieve “win-win” solutions when we’re dealing with people who refuse to cooperate, or who are simply not interested in doing so, can be a waste of time, energy, money and resources that could be better spent elsewhere. Brainstorming option after option with others who are not interested in them doesn’t resolve conflict. It just keeps us stuck, unable to move forward.

Caprino: Where and how can anyone struggling with recurring conflict begin to identify the unconscious habits that create destructive conflict patterns?

Goldman-Wetzler: To identify your conflict habits, you don’t need to do anything at all. You only need to stop and observe. It can help to take a pause; in other words, a moment to notice whatever is happening inside yourself and in the world around you.

I’ve identified two types of pauses: a proactive pause and a reactive pause. A proactive pause is when you plan to take a few minutes out of your day to stop and reflect, in this case, on your conflict habits. For example, a proactive pause might involve sitting quietly and asking yourself whether you’ve been blaming or avoiding others, blaming yourself, or seeking to collaborate with others.

A reactive pause is when you take a moment to notice what’s happening while it’s happening. You might catch yourself yelling at your kids, stewing in negative self-talk, or making yet another collaborative overture even though others are not responding in kind. It might feel as though you’re watching yourself in slow-motion on a movie screen, or looking down on yourself from above. This may feel good, or it may feel frustrating, as you watch yourself use your habit and get stuck in conflict. But the good news is that observing how you get stuck is the first step to becoming free.

It is helpful to identify your own and others’ conflict habits, and how those form patterns of interaction that keep you stuck. I’ve developed a free assessment you can take online to identify your primary conflict habit.

Caprino: Why isn’t simply walking away from a conflict, or ending a relationship, necessarily the best way to break free from recurring conflict?

Goldman-Wetzler: Sometimes walking away is the way to break free from conflict. Especially for those of us who are habitually collaborative, walking away can help us break free from a tough situation—because it represents doing something different than we’ve done before. It breaks the conflict pattern.

But much more often, the costs of walking away are so high that it seems nearly impossible to do so. For example, imagine the costs of never talking to your mother again, or of disowning your child. Or the costs of firing your best friend. You’re not going to be free from conflict if you’re living with regret, guilt, sadness or pain.

Walking away won’t help if we realize (either consciously or not) that the costs of walking away will cause yet another set of challenges, or we intuitively know that if we don’t develop the courage to deal with this situation now, it will only show up again in another relationship down the line.

Dealing directly with a conflict situation—rather than walking away—often takes a great dose of courage. It takes a willingness to be uncomfortable trying new ways of viewing things and new ways of operating. But when we do, the outcome can be better than we ever anticipated.

For more information, visit Optimal Outcomes.

To build a more conflict-free and rewarding career, join Kathy Caprino in a Career Breakthrough program and join her Amazing Career Project online course. 

3 Steps To Building Stronger Boundaries and a Happier Life

Part of my series “Finding Brave To Build Your Best Life”

One of the most powerful concepts I’ve learned in my life emerged from my training as a Marriage and Family Therapist. It’s about boundaries – the invisible barrier that separates you from the world around you. Boundaries define who you are, and they keep you safe and secure, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Having well-developed, appropriate boundaries ensures that you’re protected from behaviors and actions that are injurious, disrespectful, or invasive. People with healthy boundaries know their limits and are able to enforce them with quiet strength and authority. Healthy boundaries—well-established limits regarding what you expect and need from others and what you will and will not tolerate from others’— allow you to move forward on a fulfilling and satisfying path, both at work and at home.

Those who have insufficient boundaries, I’ve found, have almost always experienced some form of emotional manipulation or trauma in their childhoods and upbringing. Children who’ve been abused or mistreated (emotionally, sexually, physically, etc.), for instance, experience a violation of their boundaries before they had the power or ability to advocate for or protect themselves. Unless we recognize this later in life, and do the necessary work to strengthen our boundaries, we experience ongoing mistreatment from others, and a great deal of pain, confusion, and unhappiness as a result.

Of course, we can’t control other people’s actions and words, but we can control our responses to them, as well as our actions in the face of language and behavior that violate who we have defined ourselves to be in this world.

If your boundaries are weak, others can and will find a way to get under your skin and hurt you, invade your privacy, suck your energy, drain your resources, and wreak havoc on your life. Another way to say this is that without strong boundaries, we allow people to drain us parasitically, taking from us whatever we’ll allow them to.

Healthy, strong boundaries ensure that you:

• Experience and demonstrate self-respect and respect of others

• Understand and articulate effectively the limits you’ve set for yourself

• Know unequivocally when your limits have been overstepped

• Determine with surety and confidence the actions you wish to take when your boundaries have been violated

• Live and relate well with yourself and others, and build a rewarding life that matches what you value and believe in

A few basic steps are required to strengthen your boundaries, and for many people I’ve coached and spoken to, particular those who had narcissistic parents or emotionally abusive childhoods, these boundary-strengthening steps aren’t easy or at all comfortable. Boundary development requires courage, strength, patience, and time, but it’s an essential step toward a happier, more rewarding life and livelihood.

The 3 key steps developing stronger boundaries are:

#1: Gain Awareness Of What You Need More Of

First, it’s critical to understand more deeply what you need more of in your life and work, and what isn’t working today.

Ask yourself:

What do I desperately long for? Perhaps it’s more time, energy, honesty, compassion, respect, care, commitment, or power?

Begin the process of exploring when you feel thwarted, angry, resentful, drained, and undervalued. Most likely your boundaries need bolstering in these situations. Is your boss demanding that you’re available 24/7? Is your spouse refusing to do his/her part of the necessary work at home to help raise the children or manage the household responsibilities? Is your friend demanding, selfish, and critical, unable to relate to you in a caring way? Is your parent horrible to you?

Once you recognize exactly what you need that you’re not getting, and what you’re allowing that is no longer tolerable, start setting clear and unwavering limits – both out loud and to yourself – as to what you desire and need from others to feel respected and valued, and what you will no longer stand for.

Take some time this week to think about your boundaries, then write down what your rules will be going forward in terms of what you expect, need, and will allow from others. Then communicate these limits to the outside world calmly, clearly, and unemotionally. Know in your heart and mind what the consequences will be if people don’t respect your limits. And don’t be surprised when people react negatively to your asserting your boundaries. After all, they’ve become very used to being able to walk all over you.

Here’s a personal example: I remember in my 30’s, I made a decision to finally walk away from the habit of gossiping or speaking negatively of others in the chronic and mean way I had done previously.  I realized that in my life, I would habitually engage in  triangulation –  an emotional manipulation tactic where one person who is not comfortable communicating directly with another person or dealing directly about something challenging, uses a third party to relay communication to the second individual, or to intervene and get involved somehow. This allows the first person to relieve his/her own anxiety by complaining about the situation, but prevents the individual from actually taking the brave, direct action necessary to remedy the problem. Instead a triangle is formed.

To ease my own anxiety, I’d speak critically about one friend or colleague who was upsetting me, to the other. I realized finally that this was a destructive habit fed by my own insecurities, and I knew it always came back to hurt me. But since I’d been doing it for years, the people in my life were used to engaging in this with me, and I needed to change that.

The next time a friend spoke ill of another in front of me, I said, “I know I used to do this in the past, but I’m working really hard not to speak ill of my friends, or gossiping like I used it.  I’m just not comfortable speaking about Terry this way. Would you mind if we changed the subject?”

While a few people got annoyed or offended, most not only obliged my request, but also seemed to respect the decision and began to realize themselves how speaking ill of their colleagues, friends or family members just didn’t feel right or helpful. In fact, it made them feel worse.

#2: Stop Pleasing Others In Order To Feel Safe

Many hundreds of women I’ve worked with, especially those who grew up with parents who were emotionally manipulative or narcissistic, discover that as adults they are striving desperately to please others as a way to either feel safe from punishment or to fulfill their own neediness.

Accommodation to others can be healthy and caring in the right situations, but for those who’ve been culturally trained to be pleasing and self-sacrificing (as many women are today in our society), it is a self-demeaning act, and can destroy our chances for a happy, rewarding and empowered life.

Why do people overly accommodate and acquiesce to another’s wishes?

The key reason is fear. People are afraid that approval and acceptance will be withheld if they are their most authentic, truthful selves. They’re deathly afraid that others will become angry or reject them for being honest (because it actually happened to them again and again in the past).

Many people fear too that they are not worthy, smart, or strong enough to stand up for what they believe. They believe that if they stop giving in to the needs of others, they’ll cease to be loved, needed, cared for, or accepted.

We learn this acquiescence in our early lives. Many people have adopted this behavior to survive their childhoods. Narcissism is now rising in epidemic proportions, and thousands were raised in homes that did not allow expression of true thoughts and feelings. Punishment, sometimes severe, ensued when individuals asserted themselves and enforced their personal limits.

Sadly, I’ve seen as a coach and therapist that if you don’t address your habitual pattern of over-accommodation to others, it just won’t change. This damaging pattern will remain for a lifetime, forever tripping you up in your relationships, work and personal life.

#3: Get Help To Break The Cycle Of Mistreatment Or Abuse

When mistreatment is occurring, we often need outside support to help us recognize what’s really going on, and to explore what needs to be changed, and get help to take safe, appropriate action.

If you are experiencing abuse of any kind, help is available. Reach out and get the help you need. In the workplace, if you’re experiencing mistreatment, stop in your tracks, and make an evaluation of what’s transpiring. Also look at how you may be contributing to or allowing the situation. If any of the statements below are true for you, then proactive, empowered action is called for.

• I’m being harassed and made to do things that feel wrong.

• I’m being passed over or not treated fairly continually because I’m ___ (female, gay, African American, middle aged, disabled, pregnant, on leave, etc.).

• I’m being back-stabbed and maligned.

• I’ve been promised things by my supervisors that I’m not getting.

• My work is being sabotaged.

• Money is being withheld from me for no reason.

• I’m being punished or blamed for things I didn’t do.

• I’ve been forced into a position that I don’t want.

• I’m being excluded from meetings and other informational sources and networks that are essential for me to succeed at my job.

• My reviews have been great, but I’m not being rewarded as promised.

• I’ve been asked to do unethical/illegal things for the job/company.

• I have to work around the clock to get my job done, and I don’t want to.

If any of the above is happening, mistreatment possibly is occurring, and proactive measures are needed. But first, try to get in closer touch with who you are, what you will and will not accept, and understand with more clarity what you value in life and work, and what your limits are. Before you can act powerfully, you have to gain awareness of what feels wrong and right. Become very clear now—evaluate in detail anything that feels like a violation, and why, and document it.

The next critical step is to understand the role you may be playing in this negative situation.
Have you communicated clearly your discomfort or your lack of agreement with what’s been happening? Have you said “Yes” when “No” was the real answer? Or have you shared your discontent in ineffective ways (gossiping, self-sabotaging, passive aggressive actions, etc.)? How are you potentially participating in this situation, and maintaining the cycle by not standing up for your convictions or enforcing your limits? What pieces of yourself are you giving away, to be liked, accepted, or rewarded?

Once you have a clearer idea of where you stand, reach out for help to get a fresh, informed, neutral (outside) perspective. This could be a discussion with a mentor, a sponsor, a lawyer, a therapist, coach, your Human Resources representative, your city’s Social Services Department — whatever is called for in your particular situation. Once you share your situation with them, evaluate their perspective honestly and openly. If it resonates as true, then decide what action is called for. If not, seek another source of support. Find help that feels right for you, but make sure you’re open to the truth, even if it’s very difficult to hear.

In the end, strong, healthy boundaries are essential in giving us the strength and power to design our lives and careers as we want them. Knowing what’s critical to you to lead a happy life, then braving up to take the necessary action to enforce those needs and values, is the difference between building a happy, satisfying life versus struggling continually with dismal disappointment and mistreatment.

To develop stronger boundaries, work with me in a personal growth program, read my book Breakdown, Breakthrough and tune into my new podcast Finding Brave.