Personal Development: Being a Self-ish Leader

If you’re someone who views “personal development” as a check-the-box requirement on an annual performance plan I’m going to stop you right there. That attitude is at its best self-limiting. At its worst, it’s a sure road to nowhere. Here’s why: Personal development consists of activities that develop a person’s capabilities and potential, builds human capital, facilitates employability, and enhances quality of life and the realization of dreams and aspirations. Far from being a bothersome or meaningless task – or a luxury you just can’t afford to have, it’s actually the biggest tool you have in your leadership toolkit.

The Ability to Monitor Yourself

Do you know what triggers you? What are those peculiar circumstances that “all of a sudden” you are not behaving according to your own set of standards? I am sorry, but even the best of us have people or circumstances that are “red hot buttons” that for some reason stimulate our negative emotions. As a leader, having good Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a game changer. “EI is the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, an to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Daniel Goleman helped popularize the concept of EI in his 1995 bestselling book: Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ.”

You Can’t Be Aware by Yourself

Being aware of ourselves is one of the biggest challenges leaders face. Everyone is watching you all the time and you need to recognize what they’re seeing. You need to be intentional about the messages you’re sending, and you can’t do that if you don’t know what some of those messages are.

Gain Commitment, Gain Everything

When providing leadership to a single person or a group of people, it is important to take the time to gain their commitment to the endeavor. You have to help them see the overwhelming vision that where you are leading them will ultimately be a better place. How? Here are a few of Hopkinson’s tips.

Active Influence: Essential for Leaders

Much has been written “tactically” on how to influence others. Yet little has been explained on how to actively influence outcomes. How can you become more proactive and even predictive in reaching your most preferred future? It’s not by relentlessly executing tactic, after tactic, after tactic. Go to Amazon and you’ll find hundreds of books that offer tactics to “make” you a better influencer, but you won’t find many that provide real fundamental baseline concepts to change your behaviors.

The 3 Key Habits of Top Leaders on High-Performing Teams

The crossroads experienced over the last 12 months undoubtedly tested each and every person’s mindset, decision-making and leadership skills. All parts of dairy operations were impacted, especially the most valued asset: the people.

In the middle of a mountain of uncertainty and challenge, the key habits of top leaders on high-performing teams really surfaced. What was once a simple decision was now one that required additional thought, like deciding whether or not to hold routine team meetings or group trainings to developing a backup crisis plan ensuring that all the work could be completed if and/or when coronavirus surfaced on the farm. It meant figuring out and determining how to adjust to office staff working remotely while schooling their kids from home. These top leaders managed the same, yet differently.

Read more here.

Please note- this blog post correlates with an article written by Kristy Pagel for Progressive Dairy and can be viewed in its entirety at the link above. 

Inspirational or Authoritarian Leadership?

I am sure everyone has had the experience of working or living with someone who is all about authority. They use their position to extract compliance or obedience from you.

How did that feel? If you would, indulge me for a few minutes in a simple little exercise. Try standing up and look into a full-length mirror as you reflect on that experience. As you look into the mirror, notice your posture, the position of your shoulders, any tension in your back or abdomen. What does the expression on your face look like? Jot down what you notice; what you are feeling.

Now, think about someone who has inspired you; really feel how you are when you think about that person. Again, look into the mirror- notice your posture, the tension or lack of tension in your back or abdomen. Now what does the expression on your face look like? Jot down what you noticed and what you felt.

I am confident there was a big difference between the two lists. I know when I have worked with an inspirational leader, there is no limit to how hard I would try to get the results we were working toward. With the authoritarian leader who just tells me what to do, I am resistant from the beginning.

So, what kind of leader are you? Would the people in your workplace describe you as inspirational? How would they describe you? This is an example of how valuable it is to get open and honest feedback from people in your organization. How can we improve if we are unaware of how we affect others and don’t have any awareness of our blind spots?

Everyone knows the saying “1+1=3” in regards to teamwork. If there is a challenge at hand, taking the time for the team to be involved in developing the plan and creating the solution is a way to be inspirational. You are demonstrating your trust and confidence in them. You are demonstrating the ability to listen to solutions that are not your idea.

Imagine if you just gave out assignments and declared “this is how we are going to do it.” Think back to the first exercise – how did you look in the mirror; how did you feel when you were imagining the authoritarian leader?

Creating a winning environment is everyone’s job, every day. Inspiring and empowering the people in your workplace to prioritize creating a winning environment maybe a lofty goal, but it will be a game changer for your organization.

What Does Leading Look Like?

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists.  When his work is done, his aims fulfilled, they will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’ “ – Lao Tzu

There are a lot of ways to look at leadership. For centuries, it almost meant something like “dictator”. Leaders ordered people around and people did what they were ordered to do. If they didn’t, there was usually some kind of punishment.

That is not the world we’re living in today. The majority of today’s workforce won’t just do what they’re told because you said so. You’re not just ordering people around; What you’re really doing when you lead in today’s world is influence those who are following.

Sometimes as leaders we prefer the old way; It’s definitely simpler. We say what we want and that’s that. Everybody gets the same message, and if they don’t understand it, too bad for them. We don’t have to take time thinking about what motivates and energizes people, and we certainly don’t have to worry about the fact that they’re all motivated and energized by something a little bit different.

If that’s what you’re hoping for, too bad. That method is gone and it’s not coming back. If you really want to influence people, you have to actually think about the best way to do that.

A good first step is thinking about the person or people you’re trying to influence. What gets them out of bed in the morning? If you’re asking them to change, or to try something different, or do something more, you have to understand what would make them want to do that. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but “because the boss wants me to” doesn’t motivate people. They’re not really interested in what’s in it for you. They need to hear what’s in it for them.

And why shouldn’t they? As leaders we all know we’re not some all-knowing being that people should blindly follow. People’s lives are their own and they have a right to know why they’re doing things. Besides, if you can’t explain why, then maybe you don’t really know either.

Your job isn’t to order people around, it’s to influence them. You don’t influence by making demands, you influence by helping others see why it’s in their interest to do what needs to be done, and then helping them do it.

Interpersonal Skills: Your Leadership Brand

Your interpersonal (relational) skills influence how people experience you as a leader. The reality is that others’ perception of you is your leadership brand. I like the concept of “brand” with leaders because it is a universal concept. We all know brands we like and dislike. The brands we like give us positive feelings and experiences. The brands we dislike have poor experiences associated with them.

In the world of online reviews, how many 5-star reviews would you get? Or would you cringe at the comments section? Can you consciously influence other’s perceptions or experience of you? Of course, your leadership brand is enhanced by how you consistently AND skillfully relate to others! If I asked your people to use words to describe you; would they use words like great listener, organized, consistent and dependable? 5 stars!

Interpersonal skills are “people” skills. They involve your ability to communicate and build relationships. If yours are sharp, you have an invaluable asset. If they’re not, your brand as a leader will suffer and you won’t influence others in the ways you want. There are several areas to develop, but here are my top three — get good at these and your brand will shine.

Active Listening

Stephen Covey hit the nail on the head when he said that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” You can’t benefit from someone else’s knowledge, experience or perspective if you don’t listen to what they say and how they say it. Listening with intention is a skill many leaders don’t have. If you can master it,  your brand of leadership will stand head and shoulders above others. Listening is leading.

Follow this simple process to improve your active listening exponentially.

  • Be in the moment with whomever is speaking.
    • Set down your phone and look at them. Let them know they are getting your attention.
    • Eliminate distractions by removing yourself from a busy environment if you need to.
    • ALWAYS make your people the main attraction when they communicate with you.
  • Be willing to go “off course” from what you anticipated.
    • Show you’re listening with your body language, nod or acknowledge ideas.
    • Don’t interrupt.
    • Take notes if the conversation warrants it so you can come back to key points.
  • Acknowledge their point of view/thoughts.
    • Don’t shoot the messenger when they tell you something, otherwise they will stop bringing anything to you.
    • Summarize and check for your understanding. Simple and powerful practice.


Next is organization. These skills are about structure and efficiency and are so fundamental that we often don’t give them the time and attention they deserve. Start with your desk or workspace (which could be your vehicle). Keep it clear and orderly. Know where stuff is and have a system for it. Our work environment in a sense organizes us – it can “coach” us to be organized or disorganized.

The next skill is even simpler. KEEP A CALENDAR. And keep it updated. Use whatever tool works for you.

And finally (hopefully you learned this one early on) – show up on time. Be predictably prompt. Start and end meetings on time. Manage time the way you manage money (or better) – it’s even more valuable.

Keep Your Commitments

The word “C-O-M-M-I-T-M-E-N-T” scares many people for various reasons. For your brand as a leader, ground zero is the ability to make and keep commitments repeatedly over time. Leaders make decisions, decisions require commitment and a leader’s commitments are gold. I define commitment as a way of being intellectually and emotionally bound to a purposeful action. Once you say you are committed, that means you will do whatever it takes to deliver. Aristotle really hit the nail on the head when he said — “we are what we repeatedly do — excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”

Make a habit of keeping your commitments – those large and small. Do it repeatedly and see how much power and capacity you begin to create for yourself and those depending on your leadership. And watch your leadership brand grow stronger.

Leading with Empathy

Everyone communicates, yet few truly connect.

Ask anyone to talk about a memorable leader that they have worked with and it is unlikely they will speak about the step-by-step protocol that they developed or their ability to create the annual budget. I’m not suggesting that technical skills are not important, far from it. Although very necessary, they are not sufficient alone when it comes to truly great leadership.

It is your interpersonal skills, often referred to as ‘soft skills,’ and your ability to relate to others that will determine how successful of a leader you become. You can be the most knowledgeable leader in the world, but if you are unable to relate or interact well with those around you, especially those in your team, you are unlikely to be totally effective in your role.

So, what is it that great leaders do to build strong relationships with those around them? They commit to developing and mastering the ‘soft skills’ of leadership. There are several and this commitment is an ongoing journey of learning and practice. You’ve heard the saying “People won’t always remember what you say; they do, however, remember how you made them feel.” Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them. A key leadership skill that advances your ability to ‘connect’ is empathy.

While empathy is a basic human quality, it often is lacking in our day-to-day lives and workplaces. According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of and being sensitive to one’s feelings, emotions, or pain vicariously as if it was experienced by themselves.” In short, empathy means imagining, or having the capacity to imagine, feelings that a person is feeling.

For leaders that have encountered some “life experiences” being empathic may come naturally and imagining isn’t needed. Here’s an example:

Imagine a member of your team goes through a tragic situation; for instance, she loses a close family member in an accident. We naturally feel sympathy for her and her family. We may send a text or write a card to express those feelings somehow. For the most part, though, we carry on and move forward with our lives.

But when we show empathy, we take more time…time to remember how we felt when we lost someone close to us (or how we would feel if we haven’t had this experience).

We think about how this affected our work and our relationships with others. Even further, we can or try to imagine specifically how this member of our team feels in this situation. We recognize that she (like every individual) will deal with the trauma in her own unique way.

Empathy has been described as “your pain in my heart.” The challenge is, as a leader, we are not always ready and for various reasons. If a leader can demonstrate true empathy to individual team members it will go a long way toward building that strong relationship and encourages an “all-in culture” for them to perform at their best. It likely will pay dividends inspiring the team to show empathy toward the leader, if and when it is needed.

So how can you, as a leader, practice being more empathetic?

  • The next time a member of your team comes to you with a problem or complaint; resist saying to yourself, “Not again. What now?” and having that negative attitude. Rather, try to think back to when you had a similar problem and if not you, someone you respect that has and ask yourself: “Why does this person feel this way? What can I do to help make the situation better?”
  • If it is a specific task or process that is causing problems to arise, try to work alongside the disgruntled team member, to better understand the person’s point of view. This does require you as the leader to slow down and it takes time. Showing empathy in this way will often motivate the one(s) you are trying to help. Not to mention the benefits this will bring to your working relationship.

Simply put, empathy begins by giving others the benefit of the doubt. When you display this pause, presence, and compassion; in the eyes of others, it makes us more human, approachable and easier to work with.

Leadership requires learning a number of skills and interpersonal (or ‘soft skills’) transform good leaders into great leaders. Empathy is one key leadership skill that will allow you to truly connect with others and likely, you will find that your ability to identify, relate, and increase your influence advances.