The #1 Crippling Behavior That Will Cause You Failure In Leadership and Life


The one crippling behavior that will cause you failure in leadership and in life, (and by life, I mean as a partner, a parent, a friend etc.) is the lack of empathy.

Empathy, which is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence, specifically social awareness, is often misunderstood as sharing other people’s emotions and concerns and caring deeply about them. That innate caring and concern is more representative of compassion.

Empathy, particularly in the realm of leadership, is about the willingness to genuinely and respectfully take the time to understand another person’s emotions and points of view and to use that understanding to create mutually beneficial relationships.

Empathy does not require agreement, liking someone or wanting someone to be your friend. It requires an intellectual curiosity that is unburdened by an over-active ego which is trying only to prove its own point.

It is said that we have 27 emotional experiences every hour, which is 500 emotional experiences daily. Emotions drive behavior. If we don’t understand our emotions and/or lack the ability to understand others, it is like driving a car with no wheels.

Emotions Drive Behavior: Ignore At Your Own Peril 

Leadership cannot be effective or sustainable without empathy because if we do not take the time to understand those whom we lead, we cannot create a relationship with them. Without a relationship, we cannot possibly understand what inspires them or how best to develop or deploy them to execute tasks.

The degree to which we are empathetic will directly correlate to the degree to which we can successfully manage teams, negotiate well, resolve conflict constructively, collaborate and inspire innovation. In fact, according to research done by the Center For Creative Leadership, the top five reasons executives fail in the first 18 months are directly tied to shortfalls in these areas, not to a leader’s lack of technical know-how.

Without empathy, getting work done through others becomes a long hard slog. If the lack of empathy on a leader’s part is severe, it can also cause a whiplash effect that can be as minor as passive aggressive behavior or as severe as sabotage; all points in between can cost real money and potentially derail a business.

The Best Performers Have The Highest Emotional Intelligence

Many people are leaders in their organizations but don’t have people reporting directly to them. Their leadership comes from their ability to influence others. Anyone who has ever tried to get buy-in from a boss, a Board or a life-partner, knows that without the ability to understand the other’s point of view, the chances of a successful outcome decrease dramatically.

How many of us have sat in meetings where we witness people trying to convince others who disagree with them by repeating their same arguments? The empathetically wise person doesn’t keep making the same points, they ask a few questions so that they can pivot and move the conversation forward:

  • What is it about my solution/proposal that doesn’t work for you?
  • What are you seeing that I may be missing?
  • What is it you want to see happen?

With empathetic questions such as these, we give ourselves the opportunity to gain insight into what is motivating, worrying or of priority to the other party. This leads to gaining intelligence with which we can negotiate win/win solutions.

We Are On A Slippery Slope 

The problem is that empathy is on a sharp decline. An article in Scientific American cites a study done by Sara Konrath of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor which found that there was a 40% decline in college students’ self-reported empathy. During that same time, research done by Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State, found students’ self-reported narcissism is reaching new heights. And according to Konrath, Obrien and Hsing, there is a direct correlation between the rise in narcissism and decline in empathy because narcissism results in the diminished willingness and ability to be empathetic.

The very salient point here is that the people studied in this research are the group from which our future leaders will emerge. My hypothesis is that this generation does not inherently lack empathy. I believe that it is an unintended consequence of having been the first generation who have grown up completely immersed in technology and social media. No matter what the cause, it is paramount that we shift this trend.

6 Ways to Develop Empathy 

The good news is that empathy is a competency that can be developed. With practice, we can literally create new neural pathways that can make empathy a strength and a habit.

Here are some fun things to develop greater empathy skill:

  1. Read literary fiction including short stories. Yes, you read that right. Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, have proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, which is crucial in navigating complex social relationships. Unfortunately, over the past 10 years the number of adults who read literature for pleasure has sunk to below 50%, its lowest point ever. The decline is occurring most sharply among the same group studied in the aforementioned research, college age adults. Raymond Mark of York University in Toronto has also shown that adults who read less fiction report themselves to be less empathetic. So drop the guilt and put your feet up and read.
  2. Pretend to be an anthropologist. Watch and listen to people when you are waiting to see the doctor or in the line at the bank or grocery store. Practice seeing if you can pick up their emotions and what kind of day they’re having. Talk with them and see if you read it right. This requires intentionally putting your phone away and relating live and in the moment with others.

These things will require real discipline and behavior change:

  1.  Measure your current level of empathy. You can do this by getting the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry  and Jean Greaves Take the assessment for free and use the book to put together a development plan and work the empathy muscle.
  2. Make a deliberate plan to cut back on social media and technology and interact personally with people more. Increase it daily.
  3. Stop hiding behind email and texts when conversations are uncomfortable. It is the worst time to use email and texts and usually results in an escalation of a situation that would have been resolved more efficiently with a phone call or face to face discussion.
  4. For every meeting you are going into where you are trying to influence the outcome, do research on your audience and prepare several questions beforehand that will help you understand the different points of view in the room so that you can navigate successful compromises and/or resolutions.

Empathy is not only a foundational skill for leadership but for being a responsible citizen of the world. Remember, whatever success you experience as a leader, a partner, a friend or a parent is going to expand or contract with your ability to be empathetic.

Sheila Madden is the CEO of Madden Coaching & Consulting and Author and Founder of Craving Fiction: Short Stories For Busy People.

Copyright 2017, Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved

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6 Things Courageous Leaders Never Fail To Do


90% of the problems that leaders face, and their subsequent solutions, are ambiguous, according to a study done by Korn Ferry/Lominger. To deal with this ambiguity requires spaciousness in thinking and being. It is not about always having the answer and proving to be the smartest person in the room. Rather, it requires having humility and respect for the responsibility of creating an environment where people can learn to  think, innovate and problem solve successfully while navigating through the unknown.

With great leadership there is the ability to be with silence, to ask questions that come genuinely from curiosity and to listen. There is the profound willingness to be wrong and to set aside prejudice and bias no matter how uncomfortable this may feel in order that the best solutions may be found.

Great leaders have an inherent belief in those who surround them. They work to be the catalyst that allows for the collective wisdom of the group to emerge. There is an understanding that one person rarely, if ever, finds the best outcomes. Courageous leaders know that it is the synergy of divergent minds that creates something that no one person could do alone. And yet, they also accept the burden of their responsibility and know that it is they, who after facilitating and listening to all the input, must make the final decisions and take responsibility for the subsequent results.

Someone somewhere has allowed every great leader to experience this and that is how and why they are able to do it for others. Such leadership requires a clear inner compass and  teaches something profound: Courage, which given the velocity and volume of change in our world today, is a critical success factor for any leader.

 6 Things That Courageous Leaders Never Fail To Do:

  1. Invite opposing points of view
  2. Listen more than they talk
  3. Ask questions that teach people to think and catalyze solutions
  4. Keep their ego and need to be right in check
  5. Tell their teams explicitly that they have confidence in them
  6. Take responsibility for their decisions

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Sheila Madden is CEO of Madden Coaching & Consulting.  She is an executive and career coach, author and organization effectiveness consultant.

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Kindness: The Surprising X Factor For Successful Leaders


“My Religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”    The Dalai Lama

Kindness is a leadership characteristic that will deliver financial and humanitarian returns beyond imagination. It helps us create work environments that are based on trust and that allow people to express and experience meaning and purpose at work.

Kindness is the willingness to open one’s heart to another and to do so as instinct, not as calculation. Kindness is a show of respect for someone, whether you agree with their point of view or not. Kindness leads to listening, to curiosity and to the creation of environments at work, home and in the community, where there is an unspoken covenant of honor and of worthiness. It helps us internalize and cultivate an understanding that none of us can survive or achieve organizational success alone.

We work in teams, live in families and grow up in communities. As people, sometimes we triumph and sometimes we fail. But if we can always be kind, we will lead and live in a manner which unlocks possibilities, opening us deeply to the world and to people and ideas beyond ourselves.

In the heat of work there is pressure to deliver products, meet revenue targets and deliver ROI and this is the precise time when many of us are susceptible to acting in ways that are less than our best. So why not experiment with a practice of kindness to avoid such pitfalls? A practice of kindness can help us avoid behavior that is triggered by our own stress such as being rude, having temper tantrums or acting inconsiderate. Instead, be kind. The return on that investment is the most scalable and sustainable characteristic of leadership because it creates trust between you and those with whom you have shown kindness.

Here are 5 Ways to Cultivate Kindness And Be An Extraordinary Leader: 

  1. Seek to understand first before making assumptions or decisions.
  2. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Walk toward people when they fail, not away.
  4. Speak about what is in your heart, not just what is in your head.
  5. Learn to be kind to yourself first: You will find it easier to be kind to others

2015 Copyright, Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved.

Sheila Madden is CEO of Madden Coaching & Consulting.  She is an executive and career coach, author and organization effectiveness consultant. For exclusive coaching promotions and events, please follow us so we can stay connected with you!

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5 Ways Super Successful Leaders Operate


“I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details.” Albert Einstein

Einstein believed that God’s thoughts were accessible and that he could hear them if he got himself into a certain state of mind, the mind of imagination. When he said that imagination is more important than knowledge, my guess is that he came to that insight after he experienced what many of us have experienced: Knowledge can only take us so far.

The world of genuine discovery lives beyond our egos and thinking minds. Accessing it requires a leap of faith into the unknown where possibility, intuition and potential await. Leaders courageous enough to take this leap themselves will experience levels of performance that they never dreamed of, including having an extraordinary capability to enable their teams to do the same.

Here are 5 Ways Super Successful Leaders Operate:

  1. They establish a practiced leadership state of mind that creates great results. This includes having a clear vision of what they want to achieve, who they want to be as leaders and how they want to operate, communicate and coach others. It comes from the inside, not the outside. Change is constant, so they train themselves to stay centered and focused and to respond mindfully to external situations, not react from a place of surprise or imbalance.
  2. They have developed the art of listening for inspiration. They believe in the power of possibilities. They know that insights can show up as subtle intuitions or thunderbolts of creative innovations, so they take the time to tap into this realm in order to hear them. They create the opportunity for solitude or a walk in nature or for meditation. They quiet their minds in order to cultivate the expansiveness where new ideas are awaiting their discovery.
  3. They focus on what they want, not on the absence of it. This is not easy. Even when, perhaps, revenues aren’t growing as fast as desired or team members aren’t engaged or investors aren’t willing to fund another round, they don’t keep asking, “What is wrong?” They don’t let their thinking take their emotions into worry, defensiveness or fear. Instead, they keep their thoughts focused and they have developed the habit of asking, “What are the other possibilities here?”
  4. They focus on seeking, finding and nurturing the best in people. Peak performance is never achieved by leaders who are skeptics and critics. It is achieved by leaders who see potential, not fault, and who love and have fun coaching people to achieve what they are capable of accomplishing.
  5. They understand that adversity is the catalyst for finding greatness. They know its sole purpose is to clarify the pathway to achievement. They don’t let themselves get distracted by the event itself. They know that if they get stuck on the problem, the problem gets stuck with them, so they let them go, always moving forward toward discovery.

Sometimes leadership can seem elusive, but it really is not. It is a practiced discipline of opening fully to “God’s thoughts” and letting the successes unfold.

Sheila Madden is the CEO of Madden Coaching & Consulting. She is an Executive and Career Coach and an Organization Effectiveness Consultant. For exclusive coaching promotions, conversations and events with Sheila click link:

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5 Questions Leadership Teams Should Be Asking Themselves Everyday


womenexecconvoLeadership = Fierce Conversations Required

Our lives are a series of relationships, the success or failure of which happens one conversation at a time.  The same is true for our organizations. The quality of the conversations that executive teams have among themselves will either help  their organization succeed, under-perform or potentially fail.

One of my favorite leadership books on this topic is Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott. Does the word “Fierce” scare you? It shouldn’t. The lack of it is what should scare the living daylights out of you. As defined on the book’s cover “fierce” means “robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager and unbridled.”

I must admit, I like these words a lot. I would go so far as to suggest that these words describe some of the core competencies of life, let alone leadership.

Gradually, Then Suddenly

The book starts with a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s, The Sun Also Rises where one of the characters is asked:

“How did you go bankrupt?”

He answers, “Gradually, then suddenly.”

If you think about businesses that fail, this is what often happens. Leaders have not been willing or are unable to have fierce conversations with themselves and therefore don’t make the tough and timely decisions required in a global marketplace characterized by high velocity change. This inability lulls everyone into a false sense of reality and  gradually, then suddenly, the bottom can drop out.

Master The Courage To Interrogate Reality

Life, markets, plans, people and everything else you can possibly think of, changes. That is reality.  An executive teams ability to constantly converse about the changes that they face takes courage. Successful executives  know that this is true and that they as individuals, and the executive teams that they are on, have to have guts to lead. That means mastering the courage to interrogate reality and  having the ability to say what needs to be said at the right time, in the right place, to the right people and in the right ways that create the right results.

5 Questions Executive Teams Should Be Asking Themselves Everyday

If you want to sleep well at night knowing that you are fulfilling your responsibility as an executive, make sure that you and your team are asking one another the following questions which are outlined in Susan’s book:

  1. What are we pretending not to know?
  2. What is the most important thing we should be talking about today?
  3. How are we behaving in ways guaranteed to produce the results we don’t want?
  4.  What topics are we hoping don’t come up?
  5.  What is the most important decision we’re facing? What is keeping us from making it?

Which Kind Of Organization Do You Want Create?

Executive teams set the tone and culture of an organization.  If you commit to these questions and this process of interrogating reality, you will create a high performance organization.  It will have these characteristics:

  1. Focused on results not just activities
  2. High levels of engagement (employee and customer) instead of “us versus them”
  3. Able to resolve issues collaboratively, succinctly and quickly as opposed to being overwhelmed by complexity and stuck
  4. Effectively confronting and transforming negative behaviors instead of a culture of either  “terminal niceness” or worse, “the co-conspiracy of silence”

Which organization do you want to create?

Copyright 2014, Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.

Sheila Madden is an Executive and Career Coach  and an Organization Effectiveness Consultant. She works with individual contributors and leaders at all stages of their careers to maximize performance, impact and happiness.

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Seven Things Successful People Do When Interviewing

panel interview

From Interview To Conversation

I’ve been doing quite a bit of career coaching in the last three years, particularly working with people on developing their professional brand and their go-to market strategy.

When I coach my clients on how to be their best in interviews the intention is to transform the interview into a conversation.   A conversation is when people, either one-on-one or in the case of panel interviews one-on-many, show up on equal ground to talk about problems that need to be solved, skills required and potential partnerships/opportunities to be had.

To achieve this, I’ve done what I like doing which is to break things down into simple formulas that anyone can follow and achieve success.

Seven crucial things to do when  interviewing for another role, or even having exploratory conversations about potential career opportunities:

  1. Go in curious, not selling. You don’t know if you want the role yet or if it is the best match for you.
  2. Know what you want to learn from the other party and know what you want them to learn about you.
  3. Don’t assume that anyone will be a good interviewer. Be prepared to collaboratively lead the interview to get the information you will need to make a decision to continue in the process or not.
  4. Know who you are talking to, find common ground, and create a relationship and let the conversation start from there.
  5. Write down some questions that are provocative and conversational that allow you to shine.
  6. Substantiate everything you say with tangible results you have achieved previously and connect the dots between your achievements and what the role requires.
  7. Listen to what is said, not to what you want to hear.

These things may seem like common sense, but you know what they say about common sense….not so common!

Copyright 2014, Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.

Sheila Madden is an Executive and Career Coach  and an Organization Effectiveness Consultant. She works with individual contributors and leaders at all stages of their careers to maximize performance, impact and happiness.    Career Coaching Package Summary

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Want To Be The best At What You Do? Take Naps, Seriously

polarsnappinFor 25 years my husband has been teasing me about my inability to take a decent nap. He can take a nap anywhere, anytime. The usual scenario for us is that we lie down and within two minutes he is sound asleep and snoring. Within five minutes I am twitching with restlessness. Within six minutes my mind has turned into a roller coaster of thoughts about what I should be doing, what I have forgotten to do, what I am worried about doing or not doing and a thousand “what ifs” that torture me unmercifully. In the meantime my husbands slumber continues and the deeper his innocent and effortless sleep goes the more agitated I get. Not just because he is right, I can’t take a decent nap, but because I want to and I haven’t been able to figure out why I can’t!

The Accidental Answer

Recently I cracked the code. I had major surgery several weeks ago  and every afternoon since I have been taking a blissful, cozy life enhancing nap with a heating pad wrapped around me. So why can I suddenly take such great naps and most importantly, why did I finally understand the necessity of this renewing ritual? The answer is two-fold: First, I gave myself permission. Well, actually the doctor gave me permission and then I gave it to myself. Once I did that, I was able to experience the positive impact that napping had on my focus and work performance. That is when the second barrier to my napping disappeared: the guilt.

Am I Being Delusional?

This napping thing really got me curious. Was it just my imagination or was there any scientific evidence to substantiate my experience, which is that I feel great, I think more clearly and have more energy when I take naps?  It turns out there is plenty of supporting evidence. At Harvard Medical, research on napping shows an increase in learning ability, memory and creative problem solving.  Those are all capabilities we need at work and in life.  And NASA did a study with military pilots and astronauts and found that a 40 minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%. Many companies are starting to understand this as well. Google provides its employees  with what they call “nap pods” which block out light and sound where their team members can get some quick shut-eye.

Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, works with Fortune 500 Companies around the world and advises them to create  cultures and facilities that support naps and many other energy enhancing activities. They take his advice because it makes good business sense.  Businesses are in the game to win and you win through sustainably increasing profits and productivity.  These goals are achieved when people are inspired, respected and given what they need to contribute in meaningful ways.  Research shows that particularly in our knowledge economy,  this is facilitated when people can refuel with naps.

Four Tips  For Getting The Most From Your Nap 

As a coach I always encourage my clients to try new behavioral strategies and approaches and then to  gather their own evidence as to the efficacy of their shifted behavior. If you are curious to see if naps can impact your productivity and impact, here are some tips from WebMD on how to get the most from naps:

1. Be consistent with the time of  naps and keep them between 1-3pm
2. Make them quick. Set your phone alarm for 20-30 minutes
3. Go dark, wear a mask or keep lights down or off
4. Stay warm (don’t underestimate the impact of the amazing $4 heating pad, my personal favorite!)

Renewable Energy Starts With Each of Us

We are all big on renewable energy but we forget that we have to start with ourselves. And, by the way, it doesn’t have to be napping. It can be any number of things: walking, riding the bike path, meditating, golf or surfing.

The important thing is for all of us to find out what renews us and start making a habit of incorporating those activities into our lives. Our individual and collective sustained happiness and success depend on it.

Can we achieve the same goals if we don’t nap or surf or ride? Of course, but when we renew ourselves along the way, we will achieve everything in life with much less effort and far more joy. Role modeling this practice for our children, friends, work teams and colleagues is a positive way to demonstrate personal and/or organizational leadership.

To read more research on the benefits of napping: 

The Wall Street ; The Guardian ; The National Sleep Foundation

Sheila Madden is the CEO of Madden Coaching & Consulting where she coaches and consults with leaders of high growth organizations, young professionals who want to accelerate their career success and individuals wanting to live an extraordinary life .

Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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