Tag: Emotional Intelligence

The Lost Art of Empathy

The Lost Art of Empathy

Empathy at Work

She had lost her husband; her sadness weighed her down as she walked out of the grocery store. The little boy held his father’s hand as they walked by and watched the elderly lady walk towards her car. After a moment of thinking, he asked his father, “What’s wrong with Mrs. Clare?”

“She lost her husband?”

“Oh. Can’t she get another?”

“How would you feel if our dog, Jake died?” The father asked.

“Sad. Terrible.”

“Would you want another Jake?”

The boy looked at his father, point well made, and said, “She is sad.”

They walked into the grocery store and started shopping. As the boy walked by the boxes of macaroni and cheese, he stopped and put a few boxes into the cart.

“Put them back,” his father said.

“No,” the boy responded. “We need to make them for Mrs. Clare.”


“When I am sad, you always make me, Mac and Cheese to cheer me up. I want to do the same for Mrs. Clare.”

Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, thoughts, and situations and to experience them as your own. In the above story, the boy’s father guided him to understand how Mrs. Clare felt by imagining what it would be like if he lost something dear to him. Unfortunately, the ability to see the world from another’s perspective is becoming a lost art.

We no longer take the time to think about how the other person might be feeling; how their situation may be different from ours; how their perspective is unique to them. We create mental short cuts to say this group acts this way or that group always behaves this way. It is easier than taking the time to get to know the person.

At a large corporation, I worked at there was a program called “Walk-a-Mile.” Each employee had the opportunity to work in another department for the afternoon with the hope that if they better understood what the other department did, they would be more than willing to help them out. Guess what? It worked. Employees would come back and explain the challenges the other department had and how their department could help them out.

Can we increase Empathy at work?

I believe so, and I am not the only one. In his article, Six Habits of Highly Empathic People, Roman Krznaric provides us insights on how to do precisely that.

  1. Cultivate Curiosity: People who are talking to individuals outside of our usual social circles have a higher level of empathy. Increase opportunities for your employees to interact with each other. In one situation, a manufacturing company moved their offices to the center of the manufacturing floor; this allowed the management staff more opportunities to interact with the production employees and to see the work through their eyes.  
  2. Discover Commonalities: We have more in common than we don’t. Create opportunities for employees to discover things that they have in common through work activities or team building. (Note: I am working on a program to do this; let me know if you are interested in beta testing this in your organization.)
  3. Teach Active Listening Skills: Active listening skills help the listener understand not only the words the speaker is saying but also the non-verbal cues as well to have fully enriched conversations. Being able to sense other’s emotions will help employees be more empathic in their responses.
  4. Build Trust: When two employees trust each other, they are willing to be more open and to share their perspective with others. Trust is a critical element in the success of high performing teams.
  5. Provide New Experience: As I mentioned above, the “Walk-A-Mile” program we used, provided opportunities for our employees to see things from another perspective. It doesn’t have to be limited to inside the business; give the employees opportunities to experience how a customer uses your services and products.
  6. Tell Stories: Stories help people relate. Go back and read the story above. Did you feel for Mrs. Clare? Did you feel for the father? How about the boy? Stories help people relate to others.

If we can’t measure it, we can’t improve it. Use this quick quiz at Berkely’s Greater Good to measure your level of empathy. If your empathy is high, how can you help others be empathic? If your empathy is low, use the six habits above to increase it.

In the world filled with misunderstanding, empathy is the antidote. It builds a positive corporate culture; it reduces stereotyping; it improves team performance; it teaches kindness.

Enjoy the Journey

John Thalheimer

PS: Are your managers effective in leading their teams to a high level of performance? According to the Gallup Organization, eighty-one percent of managers are not successfully leading their teams. This needs to change. I work with organizational managers so they can be a positive influence on their employees’ performance. At True Star Leadership, we coach, workshop, and mastermind with your management team to improve their leadership skills.  To learn more reach out to me at john@johnthalheimer.com

There is no law against stupid

There is no law against stupid

There is no law against stupid

For the past few weeks, I have been traveling the United States talking to Human Resources Professionals, and Business Leaders about Employment Law. What I learned from listening to the audience is that there are stupid people in the world. Of course, this was no surprised.

There is no law against stupid.

However, there are thousands of laws that govern the relationship between employer and employee.

Listening to the Human Resource Professionals and Business Leaders in my seminar, I realize that stupidity is not reserved just for our front-line employees. These professionals told me about hiring manager’s asking questions of applicants about their family life. The one I heard most often was, “Do you have any children or are you planning to have any children?” (Just in case – you are not allowed to ask people about their family life during the interview process?)

Are your managers, supervisors, and HR people up to date on the laws that govern the relationship between you as an employer and your employees?

I will admit what I call the alphabet soup of acronyms used to describe employment law, can be confusing. ADA, HIPPA, COBRA, FLSA, FMLA, OSHA, GINA, etc. However, ignorance of the law is not a legal excuse. It is our responsibility to make sure we are familiar with the rules that govern our relationship with our employees.

Here are the seven examples of the most misunderstood laws based on my seminars over the last few weeks.

Employment Verification: All Employers must use the I-9 form to verify the employee’s identity and ability to work in the United States. This document must be kept on site and be available if the USCIS request it. Click here for more information.

Interview Questions: As employers, we need to know what to questions we can ask and what ones we can’t ask. For instance, do you know that it is illegal to ask if a person owns or rent their home, or what year did you graduate from high school? Click here for more information

Concerted Activities: when our workers gather and discuss compensation, working conditions or shift schedules, what could go wrong? Though it might be a thorn in our side, employees can join in these concerted activities with their co-workers as protected by the National Labor Relations Act. (click here for more information)

Employment at Will: According to most states, our relationship with our employees is at will. Employment at will means that either party can sever the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, no reason, with or without notice. It sounds to go to be true, and it probably is by the number of wrongful termination suits in the news. For us to keep the privilege of employment at will, we need to be very careful with the information we put in our employee handbooks and the conversations with our employees. For instance, if you say something like, “We treat everyone as family, you will never be fired unless you mess up,” you are telling the employee that you will only fire them for just cause, no longer employment-at-will situation.

 Job Advertisements: If you read any of the summers want ads you might see hiring college age or young people for the summer. These ads are illegal under Title VII because they discriminate against a protected class. In this case, people who are over 40 years old. If you are not aware of Title VII and how it protects certain types of people, read more about it here.

Sexual Harassment: How are you training your managers/leaders to understand, prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace? Do you have an anti-harassment policy? The EEOC states, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” More importantly, your organization can be held liable for the actions of your supervisors and managers, specifically if you haven’t offered them any training or provided a process for employees to report sexual harassment on the job. Learn more here.

Family Medical Leave Act: Do you have over 50 people in your organization that are working within 75 miles of each other? If so your organization falls under the FMLA, which means that you need to provide to your employees up to twelve weeks of unprotected unpaid job leave. According to many managers and supervisors, this is one of the most confusing law governing the relationship between employer and employee. If your employee is welcoming a new child into his family, did you let him have off? Learn More here.

​There are thousand laws and regulations that regulate the relationship between employer and employee. The more I travel the more I realize that leaders, managers and supervisors are unaware of how these laws impact them. And as my friend the judge says, ignorance is not a legal excuse.

Then again, there is no law against stupid.


John Thalheimer is the Executive Director of True Star Leadership and has been traveling the country talking to business owners and leaders about the importance of understanding the laws that govern the relationship between employer and employee. He has a master’s in organizational leadership and dual-certified in leadership coaching. He believes that every organization and every employee deserve a great leader. Are you prepared?

The Myth of the Alpha Dog

The Myth of the Alpha Dog

My wife and I have adopted two puppies this year, and as I was researching how to potty train our younger dog, I came across the headline, “The Myth of the Alpha Dog.” The article discussed how our belief that dog packs structures are based on an alpha dog or dominant dog is false. And that dogs have a more cooperative approach to pack structure.

This same myth is pervasive throughout our discussions on leadership. In the west, we have mythologized the single person as the saver of the world. The man on the white horse who comes in to save the day. When we talk about great discoveries, we talk about them as if a single person made the discovery. Admiral Peary had over 50 people with him as he tried to reach the North Pole in 1909 but the names of the other people have all been forgotten. We talk about great inventions; we talk as if a single person invented the light bulb. However, Thomas Edison had a team of “young muckers” working with him at Menlo Park. In the world of leadership, we talk of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, both who are famous for the companies they started. However both had strong partners working with them; Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates had Paul Allen. This isn’t to say that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are not brilliant men, it is just to say that rarely do we do anything in isolation.

My research and experience have led me to the conclusion that the leadership team is more important than the single leader of an organization. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about the importance of having the right people on the bus. This is even more important the closer you get to the top of any organization.


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead


Why are leadership teams more valuable than a single leader?

  1. They provide a greater level of experience.
  2. They provide balance against a singular strength or limitation
  3. They offer diversity of thought.
  4. They provide the ability to delegate work
  5. They provide increased touch points to an organization

This does not mean that a leader can abdicate her responsibility for the team. It means that she has more resources to make the best decisions, create the best strategic vision and build the best team.

When I work to improve leadership teams, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Are the right individuals on the leadership team?
  • What behavioral changes will make them a better leadership team?
  • What is their level of motivation to improve the working dynamics?
  • How do they discuss different points of views?
  • Are they focused on the same vision of the organization?

Always start with an assessment of the team’s strengths and limitations. This gives a good understanding of what is working well together and what is not. I usually use an assessment tool, followed up with individual interviews. This provides an excellent groundwork to start working with the team to improve their team dynamic. Working with the leader and the team, we create a path to developing the leadership team dynamic. The goal is to understand the strengths and limitations of each member and that of the team. If you can create positive connections and a desire to move the organization forward, the team dynamic will improve.

The goal here is not to remove the leader or to dismiss the leader. The goal here is to provide a team of individuals working together to assist the leader in their challenges of running a large organization.  To create a cooperative approach to the team structure.


Together we are stronger than we are alone.

Walter Payton



What Light Do You Cast?

What Light Do You Cast?

He and I had worked together for a few years when he stopped by my office. He needed an unbiased ear to help with a staff issue. His team had taken on the habit of always criticizing each other. At first, he thought it was a good sign because he believed that they had started to bond. But the more he listened, the less he liked what he heard. They were disrespectful to each other.

He didn’t know what to do.


The people that you have around you are your biggest influence.

RJ Mitte


I asked him how their performances were. He described a litany of issues that each of his team members was having. Listening to him, I would not have believed there was a good one in the bunch.

“How valuable are the players on your team to the organization’s goals?”

“Valuable,” he replied, “we have accomplished so much.”

“When was the last time you told them?” He stopped, pausing, “It had been awhile.”

“When you talk about their performance do you focus on how well they are doing or what they can be doing better?”

“I want them to be better so we can keep doing amazing things.”

“I get that,” I explained, “but let me ask you this, why do you think they criticize each other?”

It took him a moment, but he realized that they were following his lead.

Our job as leaders is to influence those individuals around us. And we do this by our behaviors. Studies have shown that people adopt similar patterns of behaviors from those they respect and those that are in positions of power. I separated respect and power because they are different qualities. Respect is something that is earned within an organization. Power is something that is given due to a higher level of authority. Great leaders get their power through respect. Bad leaders get their respect through power.

In either case, we are apt to imitate the behaviors of those around us. We can see this easily in our families. Think about your parents, what behaviors of theirs, do you do? For example, my father is an avid hiker, each week leading hikes through the mountains of South and North Carolina’s. I too am an avid hiker and enjoy hiking in the woods whenever I get a chance.

At work, this influence may not be as easily recognized but does happen. I collaborated with a group of individuals who were all fantastic about being open about their strengths and their limitations. At first, I was guarded and spoke more of my strengths, but as time passed, I noticed that I too was talking about my limitations. This built trust up in the group and allowed us to work together to get the best possible outcomes.

Our behaviors influence those around us.

The good news is that we also positively affect people. Have you ever worked for a manager who was good at going on break, leaving on time and taking vacations? I bet, in time, you started to get these habits as well.


There is no influence like the influence of habit.

Gilbert Parker


The aim is to know that your behaviors affect those around you and to make the best effort to influence their behaviors positively. When you have a behavior that is negatively impacting the team, focus on it and work to improve it. If you can share your work to change your behavior with the team, even better. This action will stop them from imitating you and may also provide you feedback so you can continue to improve.

The Leadership Team

The Leadership Team

Donald Trump has been elected 45th President of the United States of America. The moment Hilary Clinton conceded, his transition team started working in overdrive to figure out who would serve on his Leadership Team.

In his Book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about how important it is to have the right people on the bus as you lead an organization to greatness. Mr. Collins stresses, and I whole heartily agree, it is not about having one genius and a thousand soldiers. It is about having a team of equals working together to achieve greatness. In his cabinet, Abraham Lincoln had a team of rivals because he wanted to get best people for his team.


“We” multiplies the power of “I”.”
― Aniekee Tochukwu Ezekiel


Below is a crucial list of items to consider when building your leadership team;

Diversity of thought: One person, no matter his/her experience, cannot have as great of perspective as a group of individuals. Having a diversity of thought allows old ideas to be challenged and for new ideas to be advanced. In one instance, I was working with a group of leaders to discuss the potential of a major reorganization of the broadcasting division of a major electronic retailer. We stood in a conference room, talking, arguing, challenging and finally agreeing on the best organizational structure for the department. It was not easy work, but by having a group of individuals, we got to see and hear from a greater perspective than if one person made the decision.

Balance of Strengths: All of us have strengths that we offer to the world, we also have limitations that hold us back. By creating a balance of strengths in a team, we can offset the limitations and build on our individual’s strengths. Working with a small manufacturing company, I noticed that the leadership team was a diverse group of people who had various strengths and limitations. One member was good at communicating and getting messages across; one was an idea generator; one was process driven; one as good at working with people. Separately they could not have succeeded, but together they did some amazing things.  When you are looking to build a team, consider the following strengths: Social + Emotional Intelligence, Communication, Systemic Thinking, Operational and Process Excellence, Technical Expertise, Problem Solving and idea generator. What other strengths should be on your team?

Trust: Trust among team members is crucial to the success of the team. Will the individuals on the team trust each other? Trust is multifaceted. There is trust that each can and will do their job to the best of their ability. Trust that when a team member has limitations they will ask for assistance. Trust that each is working for the betterment of the team and objective. Trust that although we may disagree, we will continue together to find the best solution. Trust that we can share our concerns and not hear them on the nightly news. Trust happens not by expecting it but by building it. By showing you are trustworthy and in return trusting others.

Work Ethic: Have you ever worked on a project and one individual did a lot less work than all of the others? This lack of work ethic or more precisely this unequal work ethic can negatively impact the team. Work ethic is not just about the amount of time; it is about the amount of effort an individual is willing to dedicate to reaching success for the team. This may mean working long hours. It also may be sacrificing other corporate activities to support the team. When you become a member of a President’s Administration, there is a lot of challenging work to accomplished; you cannot expect to work only forty hours each week.

Common Vision: This may challenge the notion of diversity of thought but when you are working together, a shared vision of a better future is necessary so the team is working toward a single objective. For instance, I served on a non-profit board, and we had the goal of improving our infrastructure. In all of our meetings, we were able to keep this as a focus. However, we had spirit discussion on how best to do this. The shared vision grounds the team on what they are working towards and what they will accomplish.

Level of Expertise: This may be challenging because it is easy to use this as the first measurement for the team. They must have a certain degree of competence in a particular area. And if this is use, you may eliminate diversity of thought, the balance of strengths and trust. However, I do agree that some level of expertise needs to be considered when building a team. In general, you would not want a middle school footballer on a college level team. However, at times, we hold individuals back because they don’t have a level of expertise but we could use their strengths in communication or emotional intelligence to balance out the team. In this case, knowing this person limitation as a subject matter expert helps you balance out the team with other subject matter experts.


“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”
― Phil Jackson


Building a leadership team is critical to the success of an organization. My research and experiences have shown me that a leadership team has more impact on an organization than a single leader. When leaders surround themselves with other excellent leaders, the team can achieve great things. There is a trend in the NFL to hire ex-head coaches as assistant coaches, not only can the head coach tap into their skill level and knowledge of the ex-head coach but can also tap into their experience and shorten their learning curve.

Is your leadership team set? Or do you need help building your leadership team?

Embrace Gratitude

Embrace Gratitude

Embrace Gratitude. Simple words in this time of Thanksgiving. This Thursday we will gather around tables small and large, and reflect if only for a moment, on the kindness and blessing in our lives. We will share food and fellowship. Football games will be won and lost. Turkeys stuffed. Vegetables roasted. Pies baked and meals blessed.

Studies show that when we embrace gratitude as a daily practice, we have more positive emotions, we sleep better and feel more alive. In turn, we express more compassion and kindness to others. When we do embrace gratitude, we turn from the discouraging towards the encouraging.

A daily practice of gratitude. Sit quietly in the early morning light and reflect upon the kindness and blessings in your life. Or in the warmth of the bedroom at night, write in a journal the goodness and blessings that have been granted to you. Or before a meal, take a moment to express the kindness and blessings of the day.

Share Gratitude: The essence of gratitude is that it is meant to be shared with those who have bestowed kindness and grace upon us. In this busy, hectic, self-indulgent world, we forget to pause and thank one another for their efforts for us, for their attention to us, for their love of us. Gratitude is not measured in syllables; it is measured in connection.

Some simple guidelines allow our gratitude to be felt:

  • Express gratitude when you feel gratitude. Don’t hesitate until a perfect time, do it at the moment. The flip side of this is not to express gratitude if you don’t feel gratitude. People will see you are insincere.
  • Be full-throated: A quick thank you may leave the recipient puzzled about your intent. Be specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Thank you for all that you do for me,” say, “Thank you so much for helping with Project A, especially your insights into how to improve delivery.” Gratitude is a deep rich feeling and should be expressed as such.
  • Reach the recipient. In today’s world, we have a thousand ways of communicating with each other. What I have found is that when I include gratitude in group communications be it a town hall, social media posts or an email, the impact on the recipient is lost. A direct connection between my gratitude and the recipient is best. This includes an e-card, handwriting thank you note or a personal conversation.

I worked with a leader who would send handwritten thank-you notes to her staff when she was grateful for a job well done. Walking around the office, I noticed that these cards lingered in their workspaces for weeks, if not months, after being received. What a measurable impact this leader was having on her team.

Embracing gratitude is the act of appreciation for the kindness and blessings in our lives. It allows us to focus on the hope instead of the fear. It allows us to welcome the possibilities of the future. It allows us to know we are not alone in our journey.

Embrace Gratitude.

Leadership: The Ostrich Myth

Leadership: The Ostrich Myth

Did you know that it is a myth that Ostriches hide their head in the sand when they face danger?

However, in the world of leadership, I find various behaviors that mimic the myth of Ostrich with their head in the sand. As leaders, we need to make the best possible decisions to lead our organization forward. At times, we continue not to accept a contrary position, either because we are isolated within our corporate headquarters, or don’t believe the information we are being presented is correct.

I worked with a vice President who spent a lot of time isolated in his office; developing ideas, concepts, and ways to move his organization forward. He was one of the smartest individuals I knew. He could analyze a problem and develop amazing solutions. Unfortunately, his solutions would routinely fail when implemented by his team. At first, my thought was that it was an implementation issue but the more I talked to him and his staff, I realize that his isolation was limiting the information he received. His results were good in theory but didn’t work within the real world of his organization.

After working together, he implemented a new process where his team would present real world solutions to the organization’s challenges and the team as a group would discuss what the best option was. Not only did the solutions work better, but the vice president was also more in touch with his team and the challenges they faced. It also allowed the team to be more involved in the decision-making process, giving them ownership over the solution.

As humans, we are limited in our decision-making ability by the shared experiences we have in our lifetime. One of the reasons, our social and emotional intelligence continues to grow is that we continue to experience life and learn how to deal with the many challenges it offers. If we hide in our figurative office, we will not be receiving the experience we need to make the best decisions for ourselves. We need to step outside of our comfort zone and have new experiences that challenge us and create new perspectives.

The Ostrich with his head in the sand was an optical illusion. From a far distance because of the difference in size of the ostrich’s head and their body, when they are foraging for food, it may have looked as if the head is in the sand.

This is why it is important to change our perspective.

Emotional Intelligence: Awareness

Emotional Intelligence: Awareness

A little more than a year ago, Jeff Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles fired his head coach Chip Kelly before the end of the season, a rare act in the prestigious NFL football league. The reason Mr. Laurie gave for firing Mr. Kelly was Emotional Intelligence.

The term Emotional Intelligence has been used in the corporate world for years to help executive and managers to lead their organization better. It first became attention to the business community through the work of Daniel Goleman and his 1995 breakthrough book titled Emotional Intelligence.

According to Laura A. Belsten, Ph.D. of the Institute for Social & Emotional Intelligence, Social and Emotional Intelligence is the ability to be aware of our emotions and those of others, at the moment, and to use that information to manage ourselves and manage our relationships. Simply put Emotional Intelligence is your awareness of your emotions and making the appropriate behavioral choice for the situation.

As you define your goals for 2017, make sure to include increasing your Emotional Intelligence. The benefits include better relationships, handling change better, being a better leader and most importantly getting better results at work and home.

The first step to increasing your Emotional Intelligence is to become aware of your emotions and the behavioral choices you are making based on them.

One of the best ways to understand your emotions is to acknowledge the emotions you are experiencing. This can be done in a formal manner by writing down your emotions at regular intervals through the day. For example, in the morning, midmorning, early afternoon, later afternoon, after dinner and at bedtime. Or less formally you can recap your day writing down all the different emotions you experienced and when.

Secondly after acknowledging your emotions for a week or two, start to assessing when you are experiencing those different emotions. Do you consistently get anxious when meeting with your supervisor? Do you constantly feel grumpy when you first wake up? Are you happiest when you are making progress at work?

Now, think back to any behavior changes that can be contributed to those emotions. For instance, you tried to start your monthly results oriented staff meeting, and two of your managers came in fifteen minutes late. What emotions were you feeling? Were you frustrated; were you annoyed; were you incensed; did you feel disrespected?

How did you react? Did you berate them in from of your other staff? Did you ignore them to the detriment of the meeting? Later, did you cut them out of important decisions?

As the emotions and behaviors become more linked in your daily life, you can start making choices on how you want to handle certain situations. For instance, if you know when people are late to meetings, you will feel disrespected; you can make choices on how you want to react? You can get angry if you think that will benefit the situation but more likely, you can let the slight go at the moment and focus on the message you need to deliver.

This exercise takes practice and will not be easy at first but as time passes and you become more aware of your emotions you can start making better choices.

We are not sure what particular aspect of emotional intelligence Chip Kelly is missing. We do know that in the future that if Mr. Kelly works on his emotional intelligence, he can increase his performance; build a stronger relationship with his players; have the ability to handling conflicts and focus his energy on winning games.

If, in 2016, you would like to increase your emotional intelligence and achieve all the goals you have set for yourself, please reach out to me at john@o3consultingllc.com, or one of the many Institute of Social and Emotional Intelligence Coaches at ISEI.com.