5 Ways Emotional Courage Will Help You Navigate COVID-19 & Beyond


TED is doing a “TED Connects” series of conversations with some key leaders offering wisdom for navigating through the coronavirus.

TED CEO, Chris Anderson, opened the series pointing out that we are not only battling the pandemic externally, but we are all, in a way, battling it internally.
With that in mind the first guest was Psychologist Susan David talking about Emotional Agility and Courage, which is the ability to be with our emotions in healthy ways. The insights she shared are particularly important for what we are facing now, but are equally true for life in “normal times”. In fact, as she said, this time is giving us the opportunity to really practice ways to build and sustain emotional courage and to move into a place of wisdom within us.

So, with that in mind, here is my summary of her 5 Key Take-a-ways

1. Don’t move away from the hard emotions you are feeling. Life’s beauty is not separated from life’s fragility. For example, we cannot experience deep enduring love without also experiencing grief and loss when that love as we know it ends either by death or circumstance. We have a social narrative around “Don’t worry, be happy”. The messages we always get are around seeking happiness as the prized emotion rather than accepting the whole of life, which includes pain, grief, fear, anxiety, anger etc. Learn to accept the full spectrum of emotions, which more accurately represents the experience of life.

2. Watch your language! Emotions are data, they aren’t who we are. We might say something like, “I am scared”, that implies that 100% of us is scared. But we are not the emotion of fear instead we are experiencing the feeling of fear. It doesn’t define who we are, rather, something we are going through. The shift in language to “I notice that I’m feeling scared” allows us to label the emotion which is the essential first step. Now we have created a space to begin to problem solve: What is that emotion telling me about what is important to me? How can I get the help I may need? What can I do to help myself and move forward and through this?

 3. We own our emotions; they do not own us. It is important to not let the negative emotions take control of our lives. Instead, approach emotions with curiosity: “What is my frustration telling me about what is important to me? With the answer to that question you can move to problem solving: What can I do to address that core issue? How can I, in the midst of fear, anger or anxiety or whatever the emotion is, develop a way to find courage? We typically either bottle negative emotions up or get stuck in them. Either strategy will cause more pain, so approach with compassion and curiosity because this leads us to the next step of problem solving. Getting this frontal cortex of the brain working gets us out of of the fight or flight syndrome.

4. Decide if you are going to own your narrative or if you are going to give your power up and let the media own it. Often when people are anxious or fearful, they keep consuming information. STOP! Pick the data sources that give you what you need and manage the frequency and time you spend taking information in. If it is making you more anxious and more fearful, cut back or stop altogether for a while.

5. Find focus with the things you can control. Remember the amazing wisdom of Viktor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust: There is a space between stimulus and response. That is the space in which we have the chance to choose how we want to respond. We always have control over how we respond. We control how much information we take in. We control if we turn the phone or computer off for media breaks. We control filling ourselves with what we love; gardening, nature, music, comedy. Whatever you can control, do it.

I hope you find these points helpful. I know I did. I send them to you with love and blessings to all and with the vision of us all being connected, heart to heart, in courage, kindness and determination. Be well!

2020 Copyright. All Rights Reserved

10 Habits of The Most Successful Leaders


Being a leader isn’t as simple as being the one who knows what to do and who deploys people to do it. People are the most complex technology in the world and unless we come to leadership with a healthy respect for that complexity and what it takes to have people follow us, things can go awry pretty quickly. In reality, leadership is a form of service and devotion that requires a ton of work to drive truly extraordinary results.

For many years I have worked with and coached successful leaders. They are all different, yet over time, patterns of behaviors that lead to consistent success have emerged. Here are 10 habits that I have observed great leaders embody and that will help you be a memorable and effective leader:

1. Be crystal clear on your vision and use your unique gifts to catalyze beneficial results for all stakeholders.

2. “People are everything.” (Indra Nooyi) Never forget that all success comes through your team. Pay close attention to others. Know what they care about, what they dream of being/doing, what scares them, what makes them come alive. Use this information to support their success and the achievement of mutual goals.

3. Know what triggers you and have strategies to mitigate those triggers so that they don’t negatively impact your decisions, actions or those around you.

4. Be courageous. The most painful failure is one where you stand down instead of standing up.

5. Become a masterful coach to unlock the potential of those around you.

6. Never forget that the world is a system and everything is connected, so think through the ramifications of your decisions.

7. Relentlessly do the right thing and say “No” when something lacks integrity or doesn’t serve the cause for which you are working.

8. Be intentional and disciplined in your thoughts, words and actions. Leadership is explicit not improvisational.

9. Never stop learning and growing. That example will inspire others to do the same.

10. Keep your sense of humor and if you don’t have one, develop one because if you can’t laugh at the chaos and craziness of leadership, it will eat you alive.

Copyright 2019, Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.


Napa Fires Offer Powerful Lesson on Leadership, Courage and Connection


Napa Fire near Atlas Peak, October 2017


A client of mine lives near Atlas Peak in Napa. He and his family were evacuated during the horrific fires that descended upon the Napa Valley recently. When they returned to their home, miraculously, the raging fire had stopped 150 feet from his home.

A friend of his wasn’t so lucky.

My client and several friends gathered for safety at another family’s house after they had all been evacuated. One friend was devastated when he and his wife told the others that his family’s home and winery were literally in the line of fire and that he was certain their home would be lost. Their children were in the next room waiting helplessly.

My client and his friends and their families sat quietly for a while, all stunned by what was happening. The sorrow for this family’s loss was just about to consume them when my client and his buddies looked at their friend, his wife and kids and back to each other and said, “Hell, no, it isn’t going to take your house. Let’s go fight it!”

The wind was blowing at 70 mph, flames were jumping wildly across the landscape. Propane tanks were whistling and exploding without warning throughout the area. Flames shot up through unseen wells.

These men, bonded by love, friendship and a deep connection to the land, gathered with plows, chainsaws, buckets, hacksaws. They descended on their friend’s property and began to fight to put the fire out. The firefighters told them they were on their own.

They worked relentlessly and courageously into the night. The tall burning eucalyptus trees across the property rained fire down on their heads. There was no power, no cell service and no lights other than the surreal and ethereal glow coming from other homes that were on fire in the area. One of them fell into a well and when he was rescued, got right back to work, despite injury. They plowed motes to create fire breaks, they cut away burning trees and shrubs and stumps that threated to spread and destroy the home. My client was in tennis shoes and shorts. The ground was so hot it melted the bottom of his shoes, but he kept on. They carried five-gallon buckets of water in each hand and repeatedly filled and poured water onto the fire. They all continued working for many hours straight until they successfully stopped the fire.

Relieved and exhausted, they returned to the friend’s house where they had all gathered earlier in safety. They didn’t get much rest, though, as they soon found out that the fire had restarted. They returned for another several hours of battling until at last, and for certain, they had saved the home.

My client was modest and reflective as he told me this story. He said none of them thought twice about fighting the fire even though none were trained to do so. They never even considered the very real possibility of being injured. He said their anger at the fire fueled them. They refused to let it beat them. They channeled their anger in the most productive way possible. They joined together: friends, neighbors, fellow human beings. And as crazy as the experience was, he said it was a powerful experience, one of purpose and connection. In addition to saving his friend’s house, throughout the week as others were fighting to save their homes, he met neighbors whom he hadn’t met before. The “old timers” who had lived in the country for years taught him ways to protect his home and property. The tragedy created new bonds and brought a profound sense of community and shared purpose.

In the last sixty days we have witnessed an unnerving number of heart-wrenching catastrophes and we have heard similar stories of people helping others selflessly and without hesitation. I wept when I read the account of the woman in Las Vegas who held the hand of another concert goer whom she did not know, as he died. He did not die alone, she would not let him.

What is it that causes us to forget that we are inextricably connected to one another and need each other for survival in this world? It is so ironic that bias, judgement and hatred, which I believe all have their genesis in fear, fall completely away when we are scared for real, scared for our lives. Why does it take extreme situations for us to remember our common humanity and recognize the vulnerability present in every single one of us?

If there is any good that can come out of the tragedies and madness that is so pervasive right now in the U.S. and the world, perhaps it is an awareness that we can no longer fool ourselves into thinking that we are safe and that we can manage as stand-alone islands, merely co-existing with others. We cannot survive alone. We need each other, not just our families, friends and neighbors. We need each other across the globe. And not just in times of crisis. And not just because of economic and other interdependencies. I believe there is a universal soul of humanity and that soul is in desperate need of connection and of ongoing care and feeding.

Let’s be like my client and his friends in their refusal to let their buddy’s house burn down. Let’s daily make a point of showing our respect and love for others and refuse to accept anything less. Let’s look for ways to be nice, thoughtful, united and caring, especially when we disagree about issues. Let’s put our smart phones away for a while and make a point of talking to each other and building relationships. Let’s start each day with a grateful heart and intentionally share that heart with others in any way that we can. And then, let’s take measure of how it changes us. I’m betting it will be for the better. How about you?

Copyright 2017 Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved.

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.
Continue reading → 6 Things Courageous Leaders Never Fail To Do