As we climb the corporate ladder, we soon realize that the managers we encounter along the way differ greatly in competency. Some are a joy to report to and inspire us to give our all, and others may be so difficult to deal with that quitting seems our only option. Most, however, fall somewhere in between.

So, why do some leaders inspire commitment and productivity, while others create misery and chaos? We have all seen the news headlines when leadership goes very wrong. What is it, exactly, that makes the difference? This has been a topic of opinion and research for centuries.

Why strong leaders are important:

Strong leadership is vital to the success of any organization. It helps ensure a healthy, equitable, and inclusive culture, with a diverse, engaged, and content workforce that mirrors the customer base it serves. Smart organizations know that such a workforce is every bit as important to its competitiveness and profitability as the quality of its products or services. Previously, employers and their HR departments looked for competency-based leadership qualities and character was either ignored or underestimated. Today, we know more about the significant role of personality in determining great leaders, and specifically how certain personality traits can mean the difference between a good leader and a great one.

While personality traits are formed prior to birth, it is possible to develop our more desirable traits and learn to suppress those that can impede our success. Just like working on a particular muscle set in the gym, we can work on specific aspects of our personality and become better leaders with practice. To do this, we must first take a brutally honest look within ourselves to assess our strengths and weaknesses. A 360-degree assessment from those we work with would be particularly helpful here.

Over the years, certain traits or qualities have become associated with great leaders, let’s review some of the key ones here.

*Key traits of a strong leader:

Drive: It would be hard to be an effective leader without drive. Leaders must be passionate and results- orientated, tenacious, self-motivated, and determined to succeed.

Courage: It may not be a literal battlefield at the office, but some days may feel like it. Making an unpopular decision, challenging a long-held way of doing things, or going against the group opinion, can require great courage. It’s important to understand that courage is not the absence of fear; it’s about overcoming the fear to do what needs to be done.

Accountability: Taking ownership and accepting the consequences of one’s decisions and actions is an integral part of strong leadership. Blame-shifting, finger-pointing and other such pettiness, are not qualities associated with a strong leader. One cannot build trust among one’s reports or peers without accountability.

Collaboration: Strong leaders understand that more can be achieved by collaborating than by working in silos or creating fiefdoms. Co-operating, sharing knowledge, and creating success together comes naturally to the collaborative leader. This trait fosters trust and collegiality, both of which are contagious.

Humility: This entails more than being modest. It includes being self-aware, respectful of others, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Humility requires us to accept that we can never know it all, and that we must be continually curious and never stop learning.

Humanity: Strong leaders embody sensitivity, empathy and compassion. They are considerate of others and do not think only of themselves. They understand that humanity is not a sign of weakness. History has provided many examples of what can happen when a leader lacks this critical trait.

Integrity: Honest, consistent, authentic, transparent – all vital characteristics of a great leader, and all traits that inspire, trust, loyalty, and respect.

Fairness: this entails demonstrating fairness, being even-handed, striving for equity, and ensuring justice where it is needed.

Self-Controlled: leaders must be able to control how they express their emotions, particularly negative ones. They must exhibit discipline, patience, maturity, and calm, particularly when those around them are doing the opposite. They are role models for how to behave in challenging times.

Judgement: Great leaders can be relied upon to show sound judgement, even under duress. This trait is the linchpin that connects to, and draws upon their other traits, as the circumstances dictate. Solid judgement enables a leader to quickly grasp complex situations, adapt to the latest information, analyze and make decisions based on facts as well as intuition. Without sound judgement, none of the other traits can be fully leveraged.

Going from good to great

Many organizations pride themselves in having good leaders, but how many have great leaders? Many good leaders are perfectly capable of becoming great leaders, but what is their motivation? They have already risen to the top, so surely, they are “good enough”.  As Jim Collins once said, “Good is the enemy of great,” yet “great” does not have to be reserved for those who are famously great at what they do. In today’s digital world, where change and competition are relentless, and new challenges with far-reaching implications such as artificial intelligence abound, we need great leaders! It’s up to organizations and the leaders themselves to not be satisfied with good and strive for great. While great is never easy, it can be your reality if you want it badly enough and are willing to put the effort in.

Would you like to go from good to great? We can help you! Contact Forge Coaching and Consulting at 905.703.0003 or

*These character dimensions were identified and defined by J.Gandz, M.Crossan, G. Seijts, and M. Reno. “Leadership Character and Corporate Governance”. Director 167, May-June 2013. Reprinted in Ivey Business Journal (online), accessed March 17, 2014.

This year, I celebrate three major career milestones: 35 years as a practicing psychotherapist, 25 years in private practice, and 20 years providing executive coaching services! To mark these achievements, I thought I would share a little about my journey.

From psychotherapy to executive coaching

I entered executive coaching after approximately 15 years as a practicing psychotherapist. As a Critical Incident Stress De-briefer and in my private practice, I found myself increasingly in contact with individuals in leadership roles who wanted to talk about mindset, conflict resolution, and managing complexity and change in the workplace. These individuals spent their time with me reflecting on their leadership practices — they did not need therapy. This led me to explore the training I needed to better assist them on their journey. In 2002, when coaching was still an emerging field, I started training as a coach. In 2012, I completed my Ph.D. in Human Development and Coaching. I enjoy working both as a coach and as a psychotherapist. I love the balance it gives me. I use my energy very differently in each setting and I find both enriching. I am as intrigued about my work today as I was 35 years ago.

How my background in psychotherapy supports my work as a coach

While psychotherapy and coaching are distinct areas of practice, the two worlds complement each other well. Having a mental health background helps me better understand human development and behaviour, including the dynamics of intra-personal and inter-personal struggles that my coaching clients may be dealing with. As a coach, I create a white space for coachees to begin a process of reflection, where mindset, beliefs, assumptions, and perceptions are uncovered. Often, people just need a nudge to get them out of “doing mode” and shift to “reflection mode”. When they do so, they engage in a more flexible thought process, consider new perspectives, and create unexpected solutions. That is when personal and professional growth occurs.

Change and uncertainty remain constant challenges for leaders!

In my 20 years of coaching, one thing has been clear; leaders are constantly dealing with change and complexity. While the nature of the challenge may differ over time, human reaction to change is quite consistent. Some feel excited and curious, others feel reluctance and resistance. I have found that coaching helps individuals shift from a closed to an opened mindset. I also have observed that coaching helps people refocus on what they can control and influence and create a plan to navigate the new waters. Over time, I have come to appreciate that leaders must keep growing their emotional resilience, develop their competencies, expand their mindset, and learn to zoom in and out from the problem to balance tactical and strategic thinking as they support their team.

There are many similarities in my coachees’ conversations. Leaders talk about having doubts about their abilities to take on the new challenge and struggle with operating from the right mindset to tackle the situation at hand. An important thing to know is that when adults face new and difficult situations, they actually revert to a different stage of adult development. While we have our centre of gravity in adult development, we can fall back in times of stress and lean into the next stage when we are in our zone. When leaders fall back, they are likely to feel more stressed and less competent. They will likely spend their energy focusing on mastering their environment and situation. Working with a coach who understands Vertical Leadership Development, can be helpful to normalize a leader’s reaction and help them recalibrate how they use their mindset, time, energy, and focus.

Speaking both official languages finally pays off

After years living in the Greater Toronto Area, where my native French language was not so in demand, I am happy to say, that being bilingual has been very helpful in my coaching work. It has allowed me to work with a broad spectrum of organizations including government, crown corporations, financial institutions, and major retailers. These organizations have leaders who speak either language and I have often found myself helping these professionals find their way when working with colleagues from the other culture.

Speaking two languages gives me a lot of words and expressions to draw from to convey ideas. I love words. They are so helpful in creating nuances and transforming perspectives. I also love metaphors. They enable us to create a mental image that can be very effective in provoking a shift in thinking and mindset.

Career highlights

I have always believed in the value of life-long learning, and when I look back on my career, I am most proud of having completed my Ph.D. in Human Development and Coaching. It required a lot of time and dedication. I loved the learning process and the people I worked with while completing my research project.

As well, I am proud to be associated with UBC Sauder Executive Education and Ivey Academy at the Ivey School of Business. Being part of the coaching team at these business schools enables me to connect with academic leaders, coaches, and executives who, like me, are committed to personal and professional development.

Over the years, I have served as a volunteer on the credentialing committee with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and created two programs that are ICF-approved for the continuing education of coaches. I also mentor new coaches on their credentialing process. I love supporting “La relève”.

Out of Covid

Covid was hugely disruptive. Coaching my clients during that time brought a myriad of new challenges and, more than ever, the emphasis was on supporting mental health. My deep knowledge of resilience and mental health came into play in many coaching conversations.

I am inspired by the potential of the future. Here is one of my favourite metaphors; I hope we can all live life the way we drive a car. We look in the rear-view mirror occasionally to keep track of what’s behind us but, mostly, we need to keep our eyes on the road ahead. I coach people to live and work in the present and the future. I believe we should focus on what we want for ourselves personally and professionally in the next five to 10 years. Let’s forge ahead.

Looking ahead

Being part of the conversation about what the workplace will look like in the future is an intriguing proposition. I hope it will return to being a vibrant place where people come to connect, inspire, and motivate each other. As for my road ahead, I plan to continue to support people on their journey, and associate with other professionals who enrich my learning. I want to acknowledge and thank my mentors and colleagues for their support and friendship over the years, and of course, thank my clients who have been a privilege to know and assist. I feel fortunate to have chosen a path that really suits me, and to this day, I remain completely fulfilled in my work to the extent that it does not feel like work at all!

Quiet quitting is a relatively new term in the workplace. It occurs when an employee who has lost all interest and motivation in their work, decides to not actually quit, but stay in the job and do the absolute minimum, while still receiving a pay cheque. This has become a real problem for employers because, with many people now working from home in the wake of COVID, quiet quitting is easier to get away with. This lack of employee engagement is detrimental to healthy team dynamics and productivity, damages morale, and impacts the bottom line.  So, why do employees quietly quit, and what can managers do to prevent it?

Here are some of the key causes of quiet quitting:

1. The employee does not understand their impact on the business

Not every employee has a clear understanding of how their role contributes to the overall success of the company. Employees in junior positions, and employees in very large organizations, are particularly vulnerable to feeling that what they do does not matter much in the scheme of things. Every employee makes a contribution and every employee who does their job diligently should feel valued.

Action: Managers can help their team members connect the dots between their specific job responsibilities and business success. You can do this casually during day-to-day contact, and more formally during performance reviews. Positive feedback when merited can go a long way to preventing quiet quitting, so do not assume your employee knows they are doing a good job and is valued.

2. No clear career path seems to exist

Nothing crushes motivation more than a sense of futility. If an employee with ambition comes to realize there is no hope of advancement they may feel let down and resentful, particularly if organizational changes they cannot control have impacted a once-promising career path.

Action: Engage your team members in conversations about their career objectives and explore how you can facilitate their access to training and development opportunities. If advancement in their current field of expertise does not seem possible, would they consider a move into another area of the business to broaden their knowledge base? A bright and committed employee is worth keeping.

3. Their salary has become uncompetitive

Money talks, and so do employees, especially millennials, who are more open to discussing with colleagues this once super-confidential aspect of their employment, their pay.  It is hard not to make comparisons and feel offended if, for example, a new hire doing the same or similar work is earning significantly more than someone in the job for years.

Action: Where possible, ensure your team members’ pay remains competitive. Not everyone will ask for a raise but may feel hugely resentful if they do not get one. If a raise is not possible, ensure employees fully understand all of their benefits and what this can mean in monetary terms, for example, dollars saved on health and dental costs, and employee dollar-matching savings programs.  Salary is a major driver of employee motivation, but not all employees understand the value of a strong benefits package.

4. The employee is suffering from burnout

A big mistake is to assume that all those who quietly quit are inherently selfish or lazy. There are many reasons for quiet quitting and being a striver who has become exhausted, is one of them.

Action: Employers need to adjust their expectations. Post COVID,  employees are less willing to do many hours of unpaid overtime and cope with enduring stress. Where possible, offer employees flexible working arrangements and hours.  Work towards enabling employees to recoup in their free time and not be bothered by emails and work that can wait until the next business day. Ask your team how you can together make the working environment better while still meeting goals. Senior leadership, with the help of Human Resources/Employee Communications, should set the tone for the company in this regard and be fully involved.

5. There are mismatched communication styles between employee and manager

People have different needs and wants when it comes to communication. Could it be your team member is at risk of checking out due to a lack of feedback from you? Do they feel unvalued or unheard? Conversely, perhaps you are micro-managing someone who simply does not need it and they are finding the situation untenable.

Action: If you sense you are not fully connecting with your team member, meet with them to discuss communication style and how they like to be communicated with. Accommodate their preferences as far as you reasonably can.

6. They don’t have a very good boss!

This is hard to accept, but could the problem be you? Tell-tale signs are high turn-over and disengagement in your team. While there may be other reasons for this, one of the considerations has to be that their manager is unaware of their impact on people.

Action: Take a good look at how you relate to your team members. Ask individuals for honest feedback with no risk of reprisal and be prepared to accept it. Participate in 360º leadership development surveys.  Seek out training and development opportunities that strengthen your leadership competencies. Consider executive coaching to help you identify areas for improvement and build on your strengths.

Quiet quitting may not be only a modern-day phenomenon, but with remote working, it can be much more difficult to prevent and treat.  Follow these tips to mitigate quiet quitting within your team. If you’d like to explore coaching in this area, connect with us at Forge at  905 703 0003.

  1. Have you ever been in a work situation where you wanted to speak up but held back?  Perhaps you were in a meeting where you kept your great idea to yourself.  Perhaps it was when your boss announced a decision you felt would be a mistake.  Perhaps you discovered an unsafe or unethical practice frequently performed by colleagues with more years on the job than you.  Most of us have experienced these types of situations, and the reason for our silence is fear.

Why Psychological Safety is Important

In her TEDx Talk, Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, and author discusses psychological safety and how its absence can cause a lack of voice among employees or “workplace silence”.  Her research has shown that if we don’t feel psychologically safe, we might not speak up — and that can be very bad for business.

So, what is psychological safety?  As Prof. Edmondson explains, even though we may not go to work each day in a state of fear, we may find ourselves in situations that threaten us.  The good news is that since childhood, we have been practicing how to protect ourselves in risky situations.  We have learned that if we don’t want to look ignorant, we shouldn’t ask questions.  If we don’t want to look incompetent, we shouldn’t admit a weakness or a mistake.  If we don’t want to appear intrusive, we shouldn’t offer ideas.  If we don’t want to look negative, we shouldn’t criticize the status quo.  However,  silence has a steep price; it costs the organization new ideas, innovation, learning, growth, a healthy and supportive culture,  and it can even impact physical safety.

How to Create Psychological Safety

We can all contribute towards creating a culture of psychological safety, but leaders must be the example.  Prof. Edmondson  sets out three simple ways this can be done:

  1. Frame the work being done as a learning exercise. As we cannot know the future, solving a problem through some degree of trial and error is to be expected. Positioning it this way helps create psychological safety because it tells employees they won’t be punished for failure because failure is simply part of the process.
  2. Acknowledge your fallibility, not just to your peers, but to your subordinates, too. This communicates that you and the organization accept that each employee, including their superiors, are all just human, and that humans don’t always get everything right.
  3. Model curiosity. Ask questions and encourage others to do the same; not just for clarification, but to elicit constructive criticism, new ideas, and new ways of doing things. Question-asking should be the norm and no-one should be afraid to ask one.

A workplace with psychological safety can free employees to be their full selves and contribute to the best of their ability. This can be hugely beneficial for the organization and even give it a competitive edge. In personal relationships, feeling psychologically safe can help foster honesty, trust, better communication,  and a closer, more satisfying relationship.

For more about psychological safety read  Amy C. Edmondson’s book The Fearless Organization  — Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth.  To arrange an appointment to discuss how you can create a more psychologically safe place for your team, or if you are feeling psychologically unsafe at work and need coaching, connect with us at (905) 703-0003.

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