When You Feel Offended - Get Offensive!

Have you ever noticed how quickly a conversation can get uncomfortable when someone says something that is rude, insensitive or simply contrary?  A cold hush comes over the room or a heated rush to battle makes innocent bystanders want to escape.  

What fascinates me is how the offended can so quickly get defensive.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not immune to this scenario.  I don't like it when someone takes a shot at me and I'm inclined to go into a "let's settle this right here and now" mode.  Which isn't always the best approach.  And that's what has me thinking today - "What is really going on in those awkward moments and what would be a better approach?"

The way I see it, these moments are similar to what happens in most sports.  There is offense and defense.  Each has a specific purpose and strategy.  The difference however, is that we don't approach conflict with purpose and strategy - we just react or over-react.  Let me explain:

When a team goes on offense - the goal is to make a point.  The same is true in life.  When we are "offended" it is typically because someone made a point that we don't like.  Whatever their intentions, we are unhappy.  

So we get defensive and try to protect our rights, dignity and pride.  We want to naturally "even the score"!  But defense is not about making points, it's about protecting our turf and preventing others from making any more points.

BasketballThink about that for a moment.  What do we do in a sporting event when the opposing team makes a point? Do we stay in a defense posture?  No!  We shift quickly into an offense strategy and seek to make our own points.  If we play only in a defensive mode, we'd never have control or opportunity to score.  A basketball team in defense is focused on preventing a score and getting the ball back.  If they succeed in that, they pivot their strategy immediately to offense.  Staying in defense at all times would be a guaranteed loss.  They would always be running backwards and being pressured by the competitor.  Might as well just sit on the bench and let the other team demonstrate their slam-dunk skills.

That's what I see happen all the time in corporate environments.  People get offended by a point made by another and in turn they immediately try to defend themselves.  Usually by attempting to discredit the other person or by arguing that the opposing view is wrong.  That is not an effective strategy.

When you feel offended - get offensive!  

Don't attack the person or their perspective.  Instead, use this offensive strategy:

1) Shift your thinking.  Give thought to how you can best communicate your ideas and make your next point.

2) Stay focused on the facts.   Being factual, not emotional is the best game plan.

3) Stand your ground.  If there has been a foul or an attack, don't retaliate.  I believe that if you stay professional, others will come to your defense and stand up for your integrity.  

4) State your position and make your point.  Be brief and tactful.

5) Step away.  Sometimes after the point has been expressed people need time to think. In other situations, if the "offender" is simply being a bully or trying to instigate a fight - it's time to walk way.  

Just one more thought.  Don't keep score.  It's much more rewarding to work with others for a desired team outcome, then it is to be constant competitors.

- Steven Iwersen

Five Reasons to Keep Your Staff Informed During Times of Change

Henry:  “Steven, I am really concerned about the changes the company is initiating and how the employees in my division are going to react.”  (He rolled his eyes, took a deep breath and continued.)  “I came here 5 years ago and we’ve seen 5 new directors come and go during that time.  Every one of those directors had a new idea or plan that we had to embrace, only to see all of our efforts thrown out when the company decided to get a new director.”   

Me:  “Tell me why you’re concerned about the new initiatives.”

Henry:  “Well in the past, every decision that introduced a change in our process was made in secret and handed down at the last moment.  No time for questions, buy-in or troubleshooting.  The morale takes another hit, there is no trust and the complainers get a little louder.”

That conversation sounds too familiar, doesn’t it?  I hear the same thing all over the country as I coach leaders in different industries - manufacturing, high-tech, offices, and non-profits.  However, on occasion I hear a different story.  There are organizations and leaders that have discovered that having an open dialogue and including people in the early stages of change is a successful strategy.  


Sharing important information with the people of your organization will generate five significant outcomes.

  1. It provides a foundation for them to understand the issues and decisions that have to be made.
  2. It minimizes the potential for speculation and misunderstandings.
  3. The “power brokers” in the organization that try to generate fear will have their leverage minimized.
  4. It creates opportunity for meaningful discussions and opportunity for people to offer suggestions/ideas on how to make the transitions successful.
  5. And most importantly, it sends a clear message that they are important enough to be trusted with the information.

Remember:  You are not leading change, you are leading people.

— Steven Iwersen

The Influence of Your Words

The words may be true, but what about the attitude?

People don’t process spoken words like they do when they read words.  The influence of the tone and inflection is the audible version of bold or italicized words.  What people hear causes them to interpret those words in ways we may not have intended.  A good manager knows how to filter their words through the screen of common sense and good judgement.

Here are two strategic ways to use the influence of your words.

1. Timing -  

Have you ever noticed how influential music is to the setting of a scene in a movie?   You can tell when something explosive is about to happen.  The music begins quietly and then gently builds in volume until the climatic moment.  Sometimes after a powerful dramatic encounter the music playfully offers a little relief.  And sometimes there is no music at all, but a pause of silence so that the viewer has a chance to think or breathe.


Your words are like music to your employees and team.  The timing of your words is just as important as what you say.  Great leaders know that in times of crisis or stress they should be speaking as soon as possible, providing a sense of direction or assurance.  They also know that when someone accomplishes a goal the words of praise need to be offered quickly.  And the power of the pause gives a leader the advantage of building the anticipation and attention of those that need to hear what is said.  

Another important timing tip - when you notice that the employee is focused on accomplishing a task or is in the middle of a conflict, consider offering them the courtesy of some time to personally complete their own thoughts and reflection before introducing yours.

2.  Questions

The questions you ask reveal what is important to you and sets the expectations.  

The manager of a retail store is constantly asking if the trash was taken out, the floors swept and the displays updated.  If those are the first questions the manager asks of the employees when they come to work, that is what they are going to focus upon.  What do you think those employees are going to do when a customer walks into the store - stop cleaning or start serving?  The manager that is always asking customer-related questions first is training the employees to put a high priority on service. 

Your questions establish the priorities of your employees.  What questions are you asking your team members today?

- Steven Iwersen

Self-Leadership (Revisited)

(This post is back by popular demand.  Thanks to all you who have shared that it was meaningful in your personal journey.  ENJOY!)

Leadership is not simply the task and responsibility of leading other people or setting the course for a groups success.  It must also include the determination and responsibility of self leadership.  A leader that expends all their time in the pursuit of leading others, building a company or creating a vision for a better future; and yet, spends no time in examining their own personal well being, will discover too late how off course they truly have become.  Great leadership must start with personal decisions and disciplines that keep the leader authentic, approachable and adventurous.

Step for a few moments into the musty cabin of your thoughts.  There on the desk is a brown leather book, IMG_2401 the corners crumpled and smudged with the frequent thumbing of the pages.  Open it respectfully and read the hand scribbled notes on the first page.  The thoughts of self leadership...

"I am the captain of my own ship.  No one else can command her.  I am the only one responsible for this vessel.  I am the one who determines her ports of call, when she sails, and where.

Destinations vary.  Some are familiar.  Some are uncharted waters.  And a few are beyond the horizon. I choose the direction.  And once a destination or direction is chosen, I am the one who chooses to stay the course or divert.

No one is allowed on board without my permission.  No cargo may be stored without my clearance.

The condition of my ship -- it's cleanliness, repair, appearance and readiness is a direct result of my attention.

Morale on board my ship is directly related to my disposition and choices.  My "inner" crew, (the officers: mind, attitude and heart) take their lead from me.  If I am of a foul mood and run aground in poor attitude, they begin to reflect that spirit.  However, if I am of good spirit (full sail and flags flying), they rally together for the greatest adventure - in spite of the odds or conditions.

I am the captain of my own ship.  I am in command or I am not.  And if I am not, than my ship is subject to all kinds of influences: impostors, scoundrels, negative men, winds of pessimism, torrents of undisciplined thoughts, breakers of unproven and impatient people, and unfit cargo pirated aboard.  All that which weighs a ship down.  A ship like that eventually sinks or is left tattered and weathered beyond recognition.

I am the captain of my own ship.  I set the course.  Today, I choose to set sail for new lands.  Welcome aboard!

Transitional Leadership: Helping Others Gain Confidence and Competence

It was an incredible day - sunny, just enough wind, and a 40' sail boat.  This was the first time my wife had been sailing.  And it was a big deal.  We were not sailing in a little lake in Kansas, this was San Diego and off the coast of Mexico. Why was this such a big deal?  She's not comfortable with deep water.  But this was her idea. I watched with delight throughout the day as she challenged her fear, transitioning from a tentative seated place in the stern to literally walking to the front of the boat and napping on the bow while we returned to Shelter Island in San Diego Bay.  Her comfort and confidence grew as the captain explained the features of the boat and proved his competence. 

This got me thinking about our role as leaders.  What can we do to help others gain self confidence in the deep waters of change and transition?  What do we need to understand about ourselves during times of transition?

Transitions.  An intriguing word.  The root is "transit."  It implies moving from one place to another.  Transition is the act of going from one point and arriving at a new point.

Sometimes transitions are the dramatic ending of an experience and the beginning of a new one.  At other times the transition is smooth and not at all a conclusion of something, but a quiet shifting of direction.

Whatever the means of your transitions, you are still the same person - same strengths, talents, hopes and fears.  Yes, there are times that the condition of the transition affects our lives and we are influenced by the cause of the change.  For example: a death, a move, a layoff, a divorce or a birth.  These do shape our perspective.  And yet, we are still the same.

If you step from a dock onto a boat, are you suddenly a different person?  No.  You can "transit" your life from a stationary, solid foundation to a new foundation that lifts and pitches according to the waves below.  You have not changed, but your physical experience has.  Your inner person, the core of who you are, did not stay on the dock.  You became fully engaged on the boat.  The transition does not change you.  However, the new experience brings a new point of reference and an opportunity to learn and grow.  That becomes the basis for a transition of mindset, beliefs and behaviors.

What happens on the boat?  Your behaviors change. You intuitively begin to adjust your balance according to the shifting of the physical environment.  On the dock, your body had no need to focus on keeping balance.  But on the boat, the circumstances are in constant change and your actions adjust to those changes.  If you remain rigid and make no adjustments to your personal position in relation to the on going changes, you will probably be tossed overboard.

Now, let's "transit" this understanding to our real world of leadership.  If we become rigid during times of transition, we're going to get tossed around.  However, if we begin to see change as an opportunity to learn new behaviors, the end result will be a greater comfort with new environments and the confidence to stretch a little more beyond our past "dock" experience.  The comfort and confidence we model during times of transition will become inspiration for those we lead - encouraging them to "transit" from the dock into new directions and understanding.  You and I will not be able to model that if we don't step off our own dock once in a while.

"I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it." - Picasso

Leaders ViewPointe:

  1. Challenge my own apprehensions.
  2. Help others overcome their apprehensions by informing them of the features and proving my own competence.
  3. See change as a transition, not a conclusion.
  4. Be willing to adjust to the circumstances and learn new behaviors.

Now it is your turn to step aboard.  What challenges are you seeing in your leadership environment?  What changes are you having to lead others through? 

Click on the "comments" link below, share with me and other leaders what is working as you lead others in times of transit.

(My wife can't wait to go sailing again!)


Ingredients You Need for Personal Innovation (Part 2)

I mentioned in Part 1 of this article that a key ingredient for personal growth is having the right attitude within you.  Let’s look now at the second most important ingredient:

The Right People Around You

I know, this seems obvious!  Let me ask you, though - who comes to your mind when you think about the “right” people?  Would your list include people who are:

  • Positive
  • Open-minded
  • Smart
  • Thoughtful
  • Creative
  • Artistic

Of course, I’d want to have people like that on my team.  However, we have a tendency to surround ourselves with people that we like and agree with our ideas.  It could be beneficial to have others on your team that don’t always agree or see things your way.  The differing perspective may help to identify a blind spot or divert us from a potential crisis.  We may not like it, but we could learn to appreciate the insights.  (Note:  They may not be someone you would usually like, but they should be likable in their approach.)

The Right People could include:

  • Younger Generation
  • Older Generation
  • Experts in subjects/professions outside of your expertise.
  • Business leaders in different industries.
  • Mentors / Leaders in your industry.
  • A friend or family member who is not afraid to point out that you have something hanging from your nose.  Honest because they care.

Your potential for developing personal innovation is stymied by solitude.  Surround your self with people who have a passion to discuss ideas and avoid those who only want to gossip.  Learn from other learners. 

How to Get People To Like You

Every one of us wants to be liked. 

Likability, like it or not, is a significant quality in personal and professional relationships.  If you have it, you have a greater potential of experiencing a fulfilling life.  If you don’t have it, it feels like you’re stuck and you can’t get ahead.

Yes, I know there are people that seem to be naturally easy to like.  But, likability is not a trait reserved just for those born with a pleasant disposition.  It is a skill that can be learned and mastered by anyone.

Let’s face it - we all enjoy doing business with pleasant people.  We enjoy spending time with people we like.  And, we politely go out of our way to avoid folks that are negative, obnoxious, self-centered, or just generally grumpy.

Which one are you?  

You might be likability-challenged if:

  • You are having a hard time connecting with others
  • You have been told that you need to work on your people skills
  • You attend parties/networking events but don’t mingle well
  • You leave a conversation wondering why you spent all the time talking about how bored, lonely or angry you are about circumstances.
  • People avoid you. 
  • You make excuses to not participate in activities or avoid team work.

Now, don’t blow this off and go look for an article that is more comfortable to read.  This is a critical component to your professional development.  

You can become a likable person.

 If you want to get people to like you, start by honestly asking yourself the right questions.   The TOP 21 LIKABILITY QUESTIONS include:

  1. Am I easy to talk to?
  2. Am I encouraging?
  3. Do I look happy?
  4. Do I greet others before they acknowledge me?
  5. Am I listening to understand or to refute them?

The answers to these questions will reveal how you perceive your self and give you a great starting point for making the changes that will create a more likable you!  It has been said, “If you want to change the world around you, first start by changing the world within you.”

Are you a person that people genuinely like?  

Well, take the next step in the LIKABILITY QUEST:

CLICK HERE for your FREE copy of the LIKABILITY ASSESSMENT and find out where you land in the Four Levels of Likability.  (You get the The Likability Questions, the Score Card and the Likability Scoring Chart which includes the Four Levels.)






Staying On Your Current Path May Not Be In Your Best Interest

Taking a turn for the worse could be better than staying on the current path.

The expression “took a turn for the worse” implies bad news.  But what if staying on the current path was not in your best interest?

Getting to our family cabin during the winter requires snowshoes or skis.  When you arrive you have to shovel out the door, start a fire and make some hot chocolate.  But sitting in the cabin is not the reason we go.  Playing in the snow is the mission.  

My kids favorite activity was sledding down the steep hillside road.  On one trip, hearing their joy as they plummeted downhill was contagious.  We only had three sleds and I have three boys.  If I was going to experience a frosty acceleration I had to improvise.  That’s when the proverbial light went on and I retrieved the canoe.  The boys watched as their mom and I carried everything up the hill.  We climbed in, pushed off and I used my paddle as a rudder to guide us down.  

We picked up tremendous speed in a short period of time.  The boys cheered as we flew past them.  I was screaming in pure delight.  This was better then an old sled!

Now, as you reach the bottom the road takes a hard right turn and levels off in front of the cabin.  On approach I began to dig the paddle into the snow hoping to navigate the turn.  We didn’t turn.  Our momentum launched us straight off the road into a thicket of bushes and trees.   

The canoe did not slow down.  It pushed through the branches carving out an unexpected path.  The front edge of that fiberglass projectile suddenly found an object that would not move out of the way - a fence post.  I know what it means to come to a “dead stop.”  Well, the canoe stopped.  We continued forward and slammed into the front.  A moment later we rolled out of the canoe breathless, dazed and bruised.

The boys were laughing in hysterics.  The doctor laughed uncontrollably when she asked me to explain how my injuries occurred.  It’s funny now, but I wasn’t laughing then.

Unexpected turns happen.  You can count on it.  The surprise of those experiences and the consequences are not always pleasant.  However, most people will tell you that the “turn for the worse” made them stronger, more thankful, and closer to their family than before.  The turn became the catalyst for a change of heart or a reality check of what is really important.  

In business and leadership, getting caught up in our own success may divert us from the turns we really need to take.  The momentum we’ve created could become our worst enemy.  The current path might be a dead end.  There are some turns we really should take.  Here are some lessons I learned from my missed turn:

  1. Every idea is not always a great idea.
  2. Test your ideas and equipment before you launch.
  3. Take time to consider the dangers.
  4. Be prepared with an exit strategy.
  5. Surround yourself with people who won’t mock you.
  6. Some turns in the journey are to be desired.
  7. Learn to laugh at your mistakes and move on.

 by Steven Iwersen, Keynote Speaker and Ambition Expert 

What Carlos Santana Can Teach Us About Servant Leadership and Collaboration

Collaboration is the art of working together to create something.  Leaders help the process when they view themselves as servant leaders.  They hinder the process when they see themselves as the ones to be served.

Carlos Santana, in the Forbes interview “Carlos Santana on Creativity in Business and Art” written by Kenneth Hein, reveals some great insights on how true collaboration is the result of self-less contribution.  Look at what Carlos said:

“Collaboration, partnership, friendship and marriage all take trust and willingness to allow willingness. When I collaborate on a song or on stage, I am here to complement, not compete.

A true collaboration only works when you complement what the other person is saying and inspire one another to go further.”

We’ve all known leaders who go through the motions of collaboration but push their own agendas.  In that case, people are less engaged and the best of their talents never make it to the table.

When a leader approaches the creation of ideas with an attitude of helping others develop their best contribution - the results will be inspiring and rewarding for everyone involved. The best way to advance remarkable performance in your organization is to use your talents to enhance your employees potential.

ASK YOURSELF - “Am I here to complement or to compete?”  

How would your employees view your interaction with them? 

Inspire your people to go further.  Complement them today!

To help you create this kind of collaborative environment for your team, I wrote the ebook - “The Checklist for Building A High Impact Team”.  Click here for an free excerpt.

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And here is a great interview with Santana that might spark some ideas for your creative process:


The Leadership Influence of Your Silence

Anyone who is a parent or has looked after kids knows that silence can be a good thing or a bad thing.  If you’re trying to get a small child to lay down and take a nap, silence can be good or bad.  It could mean they’ve finally fallen asleep or that they’ve gotten up to play with a favorite toy.  What is the first thing that goes through your mind when you have a group of kids playing rambunctiously in another room and the sounds drop from laughter to hushed whispers?  Silence.  Can be good or bad.

Employees can have the same reaction when their management gets quiet.  Your silence as a leader can influence in two different ways.  Good or bad.


Most leaders believe that their position requires them to be the “spokesperson” and to give direction when there are challenges to overcome.  But being silent could prove to be advantageous in developing the expectation and culture of problem solving.  You can communicate the facts about an issue, the parameters in which the team needs to operate and that you are interested in their ideas.  Being still allows them to think through the issues, to problem solve and discover potential solutions. Your silence begins to empower them and frees you from handling challenges they are capable of working through.


I’m sure that you’ve had an occasion when there was a misunderstanding with a close friend and when you’ve asked about it, you received no response.   Apparently silence is a preferred way of informing others that you’re angry and this is a way to punish them.  Your silence as a leader, in times of stress or disappointment, may cause them to think you are angry.  The feeling of isolation that results is very detrimental to the trust needed to work through those difficult times.

You might not be upset and simply need some time to gather the facts and consider the options.  It could also be that you are not even aware of an issue that needs to be discussed; and your perceived silence on the matter is interpreted as anger.  Whatever the circumstances, don’t let this kind of silence persist.  Engage the appropriate individuals in a conversation, ask the questions that need to be asked and practice the “GOOD” silence.

- Steven Iwersen

P.S. I'd really appreciate your thoughts and comments about this series on the Influence of a Leader.  Pick your favorite and join the conversation, I look forward to hearing from you.