Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

5 Steps To Personal Empowerment

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

As a kid, personal empowerment was a foreign concept. I had no influence over any sphere of my life.

My summer job was to pull fifty-pound bales of hay on our meadow into piles so Dad could scoop them up with his loader tractor. Mom and my brother arranged bales on the haystack as dad dumped them. When I looked around, there was nothing but miles of bales lined up on the meadow for as far as I could see.

Life on a cattle ranch in Wyoming meant I worked alongside my parents to keep our cows fed and watered twelve months a year. I escaped my dreary world by day-dreaming of how I would call all the shots as an adult. All of a sudden, I found myself buried in a cloud of dust as my Grandmother put on the truck brakes and stopped beside me. She had noticed that my mind was elsewhere and I wasn’t paying much attention to my job.

My Grandmother spent the day in the hayfield as well. Her job was to set the irrigation after the hay bales had been picked up. She was a very practical person; she knew how to rebuild engines and her salad bowls all said Cool Whip on the side.

Grandmother was also the epitome of personal empowerment.  She focused on what she could control, which was her attitude, her work ethic, her willingness to hustle, and her commitment to the ranch. In doing so, she also empowered all those around her.

“Don’t monkey around,” she said to me. “You can complain all you want, but those bales of hay aren’t going to pull themselves into piles.” She left me choking in the dust when she spun the back tires getting back onto the road. I never argued with my Grandmother. Her favorite back scratcher was a toilet brush and she never hesitated using it to spank me either.

Her words reminded me that I needed to get the job done. Right now. Not later, after dreams had been explored, questions asked, and distractions dismantled into small pieces. I needed to take responsibility for the next step.

Personal empowerment is often represented as something we feel about ourselves at any given moment, as if it exists only within ourselves. That’s self-esteem. Personal empowerment, however, is something much bigger. It includes self-esteem and self-respect, but also includes our ability to have an impact on relationships and our social surroundings.

This is why my Grandmother had personal empowerment. She knew how to have conversations that led to real changes and improvements. Recent psychological research suggests that personal empowerment is an interactive process that takes action, gets feedback, makes adjustments, takes further action, and attains real results.

Unless leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs can have discussions that lead to real improvement, they’re not very empowered at all. To have personal empowerment, they need to find ways to increase influence within their social sphere, both in business and life.

Here are 5 step to personal empowerment:


Either you control your destiny, or it will control you. Life doesn’t stop for uncertainty or fear. It marches right on. Life won’t stop for your birthday even though you might wish it did. Age and wisdom don’t always travel together; sometimes age shows up all by itself. 

While there are many things that lead to personal empowerment, one of the most effective is to have this mindset: I am willing. I am willing to live the life I want. That means I am willing to stop doing the things that don’t produce life the life I want.

I was unwilling to pile the bales of hay; it wasn’t as if I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t want to. My Grandmother’s kick in the butt jolted me back to reality. When I moved back into action, I didn’t see myself as lazy and unmotivated.

TIP: Dreaming of the future is a waste of time and is always an impediment to personal empowerment. Not because we shouldn’t have dreams, but because we need to take responsibility for what is right in front of us. There will be opportunities to think of the future, but always pay attention to what is happening in life right now.


A goal is a something that you want and are willing to achieve. This is different from a value, because a value is something we find important. Good goals are related to our values. It’s up to us to set the course of action. For example, healthy living can be a value. Our goals related to healthy living can be a change in our diet or regular exercise.

Bad values are those determined by someone or something else. No amount of goal setting will guarantee you’ll hit your mark. For example, maybe one of your values is to get rich. That goal is not within your control because you are not in control of the stock market, the competition, etc.

Instead, identify a goal that will provide you with personal empowerment. This means your goal will increase your level of influence at many levels of social interaction. For example, if you run a business and face stiff competition, your goal is to win the battle. That is, you need to find ways to maintain satisfied and loyal customers.

TIP: If you run afoul of a relative or friend, your goal is to win that battle as well. Have the awkward conversation that will help you both understand what is going on. Remember, to create personal empowerment, your goal is to have a positive impact on relationships that are meaningful and significant.


My Grandmother knew I was monkeying around in the meadow instead of doing my job. Personal empowerment happens when we take responsibility for our own life. This is what generates self-esteem. Personal empowerment can be developed, and when it is, self-respect is the result. This requires that we get serious about the pursuit of our goals.

We take action and when we do, it enables us to prove our influence over others. I don’t mean exert our influence because that is akin to manipulation. Remember that personal empowerment is an interactive process where we take action, get feedback, make adjustments, take further action, and attain real results.

Failures are OK. Just remember to fail forward. Each failure should bring you closer to understanding how the setback happened and how you can overcome it next time. Failures often impede personal empowerment at first but they should be welcomed because they contain vital information that will help us fine tune our efforts.

TIP: Answer these questions:

  • How you can measure progress toward your goal?
  • Can you identify specific things you are already doing, or have already achieved, to help you reach your goal?
  • What are the next steps needed to achieve your goal? If the steps are large, you may want to break them into small sub-steps.
  • What do you need to develop, learn, or prepare to take these steps?
  • What can you do today to move forward?


Personal empowerment is the ability to make an impact on the lives of other people. Don’t confuse it with being bossy. To have personal empowerment, you must interact with others, not boss them around. Their feedback is essential, so don’t let your ego get in the way of making tweaks and changes to your action plan.

In other words, you’ve got to care about something other than yourself. My Grandmother cared about the ranch and her family.

It’s unrealistic to believe that you will achieve personal empowerment in a few short months. What is realistic is to believe that personal empowerment is a process that might take much longer so you will need the mental toughness to persevere. Once you find yourself able to influence one sphere of your life, expect something to happen that upsets the balance and you find yourself back at square one. Only this time, you’re smarter about how to to proceed; the learning curve is shorter.

TIP: The most accurate way to assess your impact is to ask for feedback from the people with whom you work or associate. They will tell you everything you need to know about how to refine your approach and improve future efforts.


Personal empowerment will lead to self-esteem and self-respect, not vice versa. This is what Joan Didion wrote about self-respect: “To live without self-respect is lie awake some night…counting up the sins of commission and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises more subtle, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice or carelessness.”

We can be so much better than that.

TIP: Personal empowerment pushes you to be the best person you can be. Ask yourself, “What if…?” It’s a phrase full of promise and anticipation. Or ask yourself, “What’s next…?” When you are empowered from within, you ignite the hunger that knows how to roll with the punches.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

How Empathy Makes You A More Effective Leader

Monday, January 8th, 2018

Empathy is one of the most popular topics brought up for discussion by my executive coaching clients. It’s not surprising because empathy is the most important instrument in a leader’s toolbox.

Effective leaders make it a priority to take care of their people. In return, their people give everything to protect and advance the mission of the organization. They know how to inspire and motivate by tapping into what their team truly value and want. And, as the Millennials enter the workplace, this will only become more important.

A recent study by Weber Shandwick found that Millennials, more than any other generation, expect the organization’s core values to be reflected by senior leadership. Their early schooling in social media is changing the way we do business. Companies can no longer get away with simply providing goods or services. They are also expected to deliver their message with honesty and compassion—in other words, empathy.

But here’s the rub: while we crave being heard and valued, we have become so caught up in technology that we are dumbing down our social skills. Psychologist Sara Konrath at Michigan University found that young people are becoming less empathic than ever; American College students showed a 48% decrease in empathic concern and a 34% drop in their ability to see other people’s perspectives.

87% of the same Millennials who expect to be understood and appreciated at work also admit to missing out on a conversation because they were distracted by a phone.

In a world that becomes increasingly automated and computerised, we are losing the very skills that are essential for effective leadership. How can we stop this shipwreck? Let’s take a look:

1. Understand The Meaning Of Empathy

I have always found empathy to be intriguing because it allows you to read minds, something that came in handy as an FBI agent. By listening to another person’s words and reading their body language, you can figure out what they are feeling and thinking.

Empathy is not sympathy, nor is it feeling sorry for others. Instead, it is understanding what others are feeling or thinking. People tend to focus on the touchy-feely aspect of empathy, and indeed it is important to understand where another person is coming from. However, an empathetic leader is also capable of sensing what another person is thinking. This can be extremely helpful in everything from negotiating a salary to planning a social event for the office.

The solution: It’s important to examine your own attitude when dealing with others. Are you more concerned with getting your way, winning, or being right? Put aside your viewpoint, and try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Maybe you aren’t the center of the world after all.

2. Realize That Empathy Is Driven By Our Brain

Neuroscience explains that our brain produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is a major contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.  Other neurotransmitters, like oxytocin, contribute to emotions like pride, trust, and connection with others.

Both serotonin and oxytocin have long term effects that become stronger over time. Research on neuroplasticity shows that our brains can be rewired and that neurotransmitters can actually change the brain. On a deep level, we need to feel that we and our work is valued and appreciated by others.

All of these brain chemicals work together to help us bond with others. It’s why we feel safer when we’re part of a group. Back in the caveman days, our safety literally depended upon a group with whom we felt safe and comfortable.

The Solution: Validate the other person’s perspective. People have different opinions from your own and they may have good reasons for them. If you’re stuck on what to say, try this: “Is everything OK?”

3. Develop Emotionally Literate Geeks

There are more Millennials in the workplace today than Boomers. They are the generation raised on social media, automation, and digitalization. Things that take time or slow are seen as a weakness. A large percentage feel that texting is as effective as one-on-one conversations.

We need to find ways to turn empathetic slobs into empowered leaders who can integrate technical expertise with emotional intelligence.

The Solution: Take the time to embed the skills associated with empathy into every level of your organization. These are the skills that will differentiate automated machines from their human counterparts. Teach your people mental toughness so they will know how to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set them up for success. 

4. Pay Attention

Neuroscientists have discovered that humans are wired to experience empathy through mirror neurons in our brain. These mirror neurons reflect back what we observe in others and cause us to mimic those observations in our own brains.

As it happens, mirror neurons are strongest when we observe a person’s emotions. We see facial expressions, eye movements, body movements, and gestures. Consciously and unconsciously, we mimic many of those same expressions, body movements, and gestures as we talk to others.

The Solution: Do not multi-task when observing another person. Turn off the cellphone and laptop and pay attention to what they are saying and doing.

5. Communicate Empathetically

When interviewing an FBI suspect, I always paid more attention to their body language than to the words they used. When there is a conflict between verbal and non-verbal cues, always trust the non-verbal. They are usually more accurate.

I also noticed the voice tone of politicians, newscasters, and friends to understand how they used their voices to express empathy.

The Solution: Practice on yourself by noticing what you are doing nonverbally when interacting with others. Notice with whom you have difficulty being empathetic. Examine why.

6. Fake It If Nothing Else

I was once put in a situation where I needed to develop rapport with a convicted child molester. The victim was his own daughter. However, it was necessary for me to act empathically to achieve the desired outcome. What is interesting is that after several minutes I actually started to feel some empathy toward the man as a result of “acting” empathic.

The need for you to develop rapport and show empathy with a child molester is remote, but you may need to win over a creep who is also an important client.

The Solution: You can disagree, or even dislike, an individual and still be capable of understanding what they are feeling and thinking. Listening without judgment can also convey empathy. Communicate to them that you understand what they are experiencing. Practice empathy even when you don’t feel like it and it will help you become a more effective leader.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

Why Most CEO’s Lack Emotional Intelligence

Monday, December 18th, 2017

As I looked into Igor’s face, it was imperative that I accurately interpret his reaction to my words. Emotional intelligence is not taught at the FBI Academy, but it was essential for me to understand the difference between anxiety and sadness when interviewing people like Igor. I needed to know whether I could trust him to help me in my investigation.

You may never need to interview an individual whom you suspect of being a foreign spy. It is possible, however, that you will need to impress a new client or calm down an frustrated customer.

Emotional intelligence allows you to recognize and accurately interpret what is going on with colleagues, employees and clients. As a leader, you need to excel at handling conflict, and the need for this skill grows more important as you climb the ladder of success.

Can you tell if a team member is frustrated? Or, if they angry? It’s an important distinction because frustration happens when people feel blocked from achieving a goal. Whereas anger is a response to a perceived wrong done to them or to another. Yet too often leaders, managers, and supervisors cannot tell the difference.

Top level executives lead the pack when it comes to being direct and assertive, but research suggests that emotional intelligence diminishes as they move up the corporate ladder. Emotional intelligence scores from this study indicate a decline as people move above middle management—with CEOs having the lowest emotional intelligence scores in the workplace!

Emotional competency is a major component of mental toughness. Leaders who are mentally tough are able to manage their emotions so negative ones don’t control their behavior and thoughts. While mentally tough leaders experience bad moods and impulses like everyone else, they do not act upon them without thinking them through.

People feel before they think, so leaders who constantly react to their emotional states never develop the discipline to allow their thoughts to moderate their emotions.

Here’s a closer look at why CEOs lack emotional intelligence and what can be done to enhance it.

1. Workaholism Has Become A Desirable Lifestyle

A new prosperity gospel has sprung up that believes there is no higher calling than starting your own business. The catch is this: To succeed, you must be willing to give up everything. This charge is led by entrepreneurs like Gary Vaynerchuk, who tells his followers they shouldn’t avoid working 18-hour days.

I was brought up to believe in the virtue of hard work. It’s got me to where I am today, but to create a lifestyle based on values like money and success is shallow. It is devoid of meaningful relationships or family life. It’s a madness that permeates the C-suite—“I’ll become rich and successful or die trying.”

Because of our focus on tasks, entrepreneurs often don’t have the time to develop the emotional intelligence they need take their success to the next level.

How to make it work for you: Find a trusted friend or family member and have them ask you this question: Are you are willing to give up your youth, sleep, vacations, health, family, or morals for this job? Think long and hard about your answers because it is possible to succeed without working yourself to death.

2. Outsized Ego

As we climb the ladder of success, egos can grow. We are proud of the strides we’ve made, and we should be. While ego may be part of what drives us, we should never give it more than what it deserves.

Ego traps talented professionals. Executive leaders reach a point where the only opinion that matters is their own. They stop listening. They stop learning and this is where ego becomes a trap for suckers. Once you stop being curious about yourself and others, you stop seeing the world as it really is.

The first thing I learned as an FBI agent was that “reading other people” would be essential if I hoped to live long enough to retire from my job. The second thing I learned was that “understanding myself” would be critical if I wanted to predict my response when confronted with the unknown.

Emotionally competent leaders do not let their ego keep them from recognizing their weaknesses. In fact, they know it’s essential to find ways to manage these weaknesses so they can focus on building upon their strengths.

Ignorance of your competition makes you vulnerable; ignorance of yourself makes you stupid—LaRae Quy

How to make it work for you: If you’ve made it to the top, you should be too smart to fall into the ego trap so there is no one to blame but yourself. The good news is it’s easy to get out of this trap. All you need to do is suck up a little humility and start to be as concerned about the needs of others as you are with your own.

3. Pressure To Have All The Answers

Executive leaders are paid the big bucks to have all the answers. When the stakes are high, successful people maintain their poise and perform. But pressure situations can either empower or imprison; we all know what it’s like to have the perfect answer pop into our head 20 minutes after an important conversation.

There are people who can face all kinds of conflict and seem to know exactly what to say. Faced with an uncooperative employee, an angry customer or a tense negotiation with a competitor, they are confident in their response. They remain calm and don’t get upset.

Leaders with high emotional intelligence have the ability to wait until their emotions pass so they can chose their response rather than react with gut feelings.

How to make it work for you: Train yourself to perform while under pressure. Mental toughness is the ability to be resilient in uncomfortable conditions:


Always have a petri dish in your life that is full of experiences and situations where you are experimenting with the answer.

Welcome failure

When you are constantly confronting situations where you don’t know the answer, the chances are greater that you will fail. Learn to fail well so you can approach the situation in smarter ways the next time.


Interpret your pressure in a positive way by reframing the way you look at it. Instead of saying “I don’t know the answer,” replace it with “I may not know the answer right now, but I will find it.” Your brain will interpret pressure in a new way if you reframe the question and use positive words.

Move into your discomfort zone

Too often we fine tune our skills in non-pressure situations. We don’t know how we’ll respond when placed in a real pressure situation, so seek out opportunities—yes, it will be unpleasant—where you are out of your comfort zone.

Practice under less-than-perfect conditions

You know by now that the world is not perfect so stop pretending that it is. Practice in imperfect conditions where there are lots of interruptions, disturbances, and surprises. This will help you land on your feet when in real situations where you are confronted with the unknown and the unexpected.

4. Lack Of Feedback

It’s true that it’s lonely at the top. Executive leaders have fewer opportunities for honest and constructive feedback. Managers and staff further down the food chain are hesitant to give feedback to senior colleagues.

As a result, many executive leaders find themselves confused about their performance and how to develop the skills they need. They are often isolated from constructive criticism because subordinates do not want to risk offending the boss.

Emotionally intelligence leaders who are aware of and acknowledge their weaknesses will hire good people to surround them. When the stress is high, they can depend on the people around them to compliment their strengths and counter their weaknesses.

How to make it work for you: To cultivate the feedback you need, interview at least five of your direct reports and others around you. Ask this question: “What advice would you offer to help me improve my effectiveness?” Try to listen with open and ears and a closed mouth.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

4 Traits Essential For Success

Monday, November 27th, 2017

When I was 12 years old, I learned a big lesson about some of the traits essential for success.

We got word around noon that my Dad’s father was in the hospital and not expected to live. Earlier that week, 4 feet of thick, wet snow fell on our remote Wyoming cattle ranch, burrowed in the shadow of Laramie Peak. The roads were impassable. The little town where Grandpa was hospitalized was 30 miles away as the crow flies.

They had a testy relationship, but Dad felt it very important to see Grandpa before he died. I suspect he hoped to make amends. Dad saddled his favorite horse, a tall bay with a black mane and tail named Fireball, and started out at 1:00pm.

The Laramie Range of mountains are rough, so my Dad followed a riverbed until he got to an old abandoned road. We had trailed our cattle on that road many times and Fireball sensed he was in familiar territory. At one point, Dad got off to lighten Fireball’s load, but the snow was crotch deep, forcing Dad to get back on his horse.

Darkness hit but they plowed onward. As they moved out of the mountains, bare patches of dead grass showed up through the snow. Dad tried to get Fireball to move beyond a walk but the horse was so tired, the most he could muster was a slow trot.

Wind had created a snowbank around a wire gate. Dad wrapped one end of his rope around the gate post and tied the other end to his saddle horn. As he led Fireball away, the gate post pulled from the ground. Both man and horse rode through the snowbank to the other side.

They arrived at my Grandpa’s ranch house in complete darkness. It had taken them 7 hours non-stop to make the trip. Fireball was so weary his legs shook. Dad found keys to a truck and headed to the hospital. He got there before his father died.

There are many traits essential for success no matter your circumstances or situation. Here are 4 that I learned from this experience:

1. Courage Will Move You Out Of Your Rut

It took courage for Dad to put his life in jeopardy by doing the hard thing. The easy thing would have been to stay at home. He had faith in Fireball to save his life.

Likewise, it takes courage to place your career in jeopardy when moving ahead holds no promises. The future looks bleak and the road will be hard. If things don’t work out, it might mean your career will stall and die. But if you don’t try it, your spirit might be the thing to die.

Courage is one of the traits essential for success because it’s fundamental to propelling change and motivating people—even if the idea sounds crazy. Benjamin Franklin must have looked crazy as he chased after thunderstorms and lightning.

If you want to inspire others to achieve what may look impossible, you need the courage to move into the unknown. Innovative companies such as Uber and Airbnb didn’t wait until tried-and-tested models were developed before they moved ahead. Both companies had the courage to change the way their two industries serviced their clients. 

TIP: Courage is not always easy but its essential if you plan to be successful in both business and life. If it scares you, do it. Every time you do something scary or uncomfortable, you learn so much about yourself and your character. That awareness is something you will take with you wherever you go. Self-awareness is a major part of mental toughness.

2. Take A Risk If You Don’t Know The Answer

About 5 miles after he started, Dad rode by the ranch house of Uncle Stanley. Uncle Stanley took one look at Fireball and said, “That horse will never make it. You’ll die out there.” Dad knew he was taking a risk, but it was a calculated one. He had picked his best horse, and he had lived in the mountains his entire life so he understood the terrain.

The willingness to take a risk is one of the traits essential for success because it requires that you embrace the belief you have what it takes. Belief in yourself, and your team, will take you where you want to go. The smallest amount of doubt can ruin your chances of success.

Assessing risk also relies on knowledge and experience. It makes no sense to take a risk unless you have underlying knowledge that will help in deciding. Whether you add a new item to a menu, test a new product, or add a service, you need to have a deep understanding of the move that is being considered.

TIP: Be smart about your risks, be logical, be rational and calculating, and always improve your skills. But most importantly, always believe in yourself. As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.”

3. Resilience Is Needed When Life Gets Hard

Dad understood the risk he was taking. He could freeze to death if Fireball broke a leg in the deep snow and couldn’t continue. Dad assessed the risk and decided. He remained positive and focused on what was going right rather than on the negative.

Resilience is one of the traits essential for success because an adaptable and flexible mindset can find ways around obstacles. Resilient people cultivate a strong sense of opportunity during periods of turbulence. They cope well because they see challenges as part of life’s journey; they embrace them rather than fight them.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from whatever adversity you are facing. Often the only way out—is through the adversity. We must push through a bad situation that faces us. We need to be positive thinkers. The best time to nip negative emotions is when they first appear because this is when they are the weakest.

TIP: A resilient individual is not someone who avoids stress; rather, it is someone who learns how to tame it. Psychologists distinguish between good stress, or “eustress” and bad stress. Positive experiences cause eustress while negative experiences cause bad stress. A new body of research suggests that stress is not bad for you unless you believe it is bad for you. Seeing stressors as challenges rather than threats invites physiological responses that can improve thinking and cause less physical wear and tear.       

4. Confidence Is Needed To Manage Ambiguity

Fireball and Dad stepped into the unknown as they made tracks through the thick, heavy snow. Dad had no way of knowing what to expect but he had confidence in Fireball. He also had confidence in himself because this was not his first rodeo. Although the stakes had never been this high, he well knew of the danger that lay ahead. He was also confident he would make it.

The ability to manage ambiguity is one of the traits essential for success because change is the only certainty in this world today. Ambiguity creates complexity and confusion around the decision-making process.

To deal with ambiguity you must be comfortable with uncertainty. You cannot control everything so make peace with it and prepare as best you can. A great deal of learning how to deal with ambiguity is having confidence in yourself so you can land on your feet when confronted with the unknown.

TIP: Confident people are not afraid to take a stand, even when surrounded by uncertainty. Prepare as best you can. Lean into your own experiences and knowledge, reach out to others with more experience and different ideas, and be a good listener.

P.S. While Fireball lived another 10 years, he was never the same because tendons in his legs had torn. He walked with difficulty so Dad kept him on good feed and never rode him again.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

5 Strategies To Deal With Difficult Colleagues

Monday, September 11th, 2017

It is hard to put difficult colleagues into a one-size-fits-all box. After all, they come in so many shapes and sizes. No workplace is without them.

What about the passive-aggressive who feeds on bullying others? How about the know-it-all corporate climber who walks all over people in her 5 inch stilettos? Or the two-faced backstabber who delights in betraying confidences?

Difficult colleagues create stressful environments and unpleasant working conditions. A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 65% of Americans cited work as a top source of stress. Only 37% of Americans surveyed said they were doing an excellent or very good job managing stress. In fact, work-related problems significantly outpaced other leading causes of stress such as health concerns or family responsibilities.

Not all stress at work can be blamed on difficult colleagues, but our workplace is a perfect breeding ground for people who push our buttons. A gossip who might not ordinarily get on our nerves becomes toxic when we are forced to work with them on a daily basis.

Unfortunately for entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders, difficult employees are not always bad employees. They may be highly skilled or very talented. They may add to the bottom line of your company, but they can also create stress for your other team members which reduces overall productivity.

The way your team deals with difficult colleagues will have a major impact on their careers and their well-being. Here are 5 strategies to deal with difficult colleagues:

1. Keep Friends Close, Enemies Even Closer

A difficult colleague may not be your enemy, but the more you know about them, the better you can understand them.

I will admit that, as an FBI agent, there are people out there who considered me to be the difficult colleague. I (sometimes) regret that I left casualties in the squadroom, but I also know I had reasons for taking my stance. I’m not justifying my behavior; I make this point to underscore the importance of trying to understand the difficult colleague.

A Buddhist practice suggests that if someone is causing you to suffer, it’s because they’re suffering as well.

If someone had taken the time to ask me about my behavior, I would have pointed out that I am an overachiever. As such, I put so much pressure on myself to excel that, at times, I had no time for the pettiness of common courtesy! The stress I put on myself to run undercover operations and develop human intelligence (humint) sources caught up with me; I ended up incredibly sick for several months.

TIP: Take the time to understand that your workplace antagonist is an imperfect person, just like you. You don’t have to like them but if you can understand why they act like a jerk, you might be able to prevent yourself from adding fuel to the fire.

2. Know What Pushes Your Buttons




No one escapes childhood without a few bruises and scrapes. We all have flash points that stem from our upbringing, family life, and relationships. Anger or frustration can be triggered when we least expect it. We react to a situation or individual rather than choose our response.

Our buttons are our responsibility to uncover. It’s so much easier to blame the difficult colleague or stupid supervisor rather than admit we have our own flaws.

Instead, take a look at why you react to certain people or situations in a negative way. Mental toughness is managing your emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set you up for success. You need to be brave enough to look at yourself with honesty and compassion. This might mean going back to childhood hurts to discover the patterns of thinking that are sabotaging you now.

TIP: Don’t be a wimp. Get a handle on what those buttons are and who, or what, pushes them. Rather than seeing difficult colleagues as a burden, they could actually be your ticket to dramatic professional growth.

3. Save The Fight For What Matters

Analyze the person and situation so you can rule out “false triggers” that create unnecessary stress in your environment. If you can’t, you will be at the mercy of the office bullies because they will know how to manipulate you. By pushing one of your buttons, you can be made to look oversensitive, weak, or gullible.

TIP: Be responsive, not reactive when someone pushes your buttons. A knee-jerk reaction is never a good choice.

4. Keep A Lid On Anger

Anger flares up when we feel that we, or another co-worker, have been unjustly treated by the difficult colleague. There are several reasons anger is not a good reaction:

  • An unpleasant emotion
  • Bad for your health
  • Clouds your judgment
  • Makes you look unprofessional

Avoid anger in the workplace. If you are embroiled in a constant conflict at work, you risk being seen as unable to handle the situation like a seasoned professional. Worse yet, you may get labeled as being a difficult colleague as well.

TIP: Don’t flare up in the immediate heat of a confrontation. Instead, allow yourself to observe what is happening without getting caught up in it (meditation can help you with this). If you feel you can’t control your anger, try stalling for time. Here are some suggestions:

“Can I have a little more time to think this through? I’ll get back to you with an answer.”

“This isn’t on today’s agenda. Can we talk about it later?”

“I have a deadline. Can I get back to you on that?”

Bottom line: get out of the situation as quick as you can so you can decide if this is the hill you want to die on. If not, wait until your emotions are under control and then choose your response rather than reacting with negativity.

5. Face Conflict

Conflict avoidance is not always a great idea, either. Staying away from disagreements and conflict creates stress as well.

If you’re faced with a difficult colleague, take some time out to reflect on the situation. Think about what the ideal outcome would be for you. What would you hope to accomplish from a conversation with your colleague?

Talk the situation out with other co-workers to gage their assessment of it. They might be able to offer constructive advice and observations.

Don’t criticize, blame, or judge. Point out what you both agree upon at the beginning of the conversation.

TIP: Things might not change between you and the difficult colleague at first, but it’s worth a try. In a corporate environment that is known for tactics and playing games, develop a reputation of someone who is direct, personal and genuine. You’ll stand out!

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

How To Gain More Clarity Of Goals

Monday, September 4th, 2017

As a kid, my parents gave me no choice—I was going to go to college after I graduated from high school. I had no clarity of goals for my life, so I followed the blueprint laid out by my parents.

I followed the path chosen for me all through school, and when I graduated, some fool told me to follow my passion. Clothes were fun and interesting to me, so I looked for a job in retail. I was miserable, bored, and restless. To get out of the rut I had dug for myself, I went back to school to pursue a Masters degree—but in what?

I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Most of my friends had gotten married and started families. Was I supposed to do the same thing? I’d had enough of the “follow your passion” crap advice so I set out to pinpoint when and where I found joy in my life. Not vacuous happiness experiences, but deep and meaningful joy.

Two things came to mind: I loved history and books. Did that mean I was to be a writer of historical fiction? Or were history and books to be my favorite hobbies?

Leadership is understanding how to help people plot out clarity of goals. It can be a difficult and messy process and it takes mental toughness to work through the uncertainty. 

Do you follow the blueprint of someone else’s life or create one of your own? Parker Palmer wrote in his book, Let Your Life Speak, that he grew up admiring people like Martin Luther King and Ghandi. He set out to change the educational system from within. His goal was to become the president of UC Berkeley, and he was almost able to achieve his goal.

The problem was that he hated his job. Palmer finally realized that he could be inspired by people like King and Ghandi, but he didn’t have to walk their path. He resigned and started another career that was more authentic to him.

There are powerful and wonderful voices in the world that provide ideas of what we can do and where we should go. Ultimately, however, you must choose to create your own unique blueprint and not try and imitate the lives of others.

At the age of 25 I became an FBI agent. I had found a path that resonated with me. The values held closest by this venerable organization are Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity. I loved the grit in integrity because I grew up a scrappy kid on a Wyoming cattle ranch. My new career wasn’t in history or books, but I didn’t leave them behind, either.

It was a trade-off, but the values of the FBI were also important to me. I cut myself a deal: I was living in alignment with my goals even though not everything was in perfect order. There were connections between what I was doing and what I believed to be true.

I retired from the FBI after almost 25 years and wrote 2 books about leadership development. And we’ll see where my love of history takes me in the future.

Here are 5 ways you can gain clarity of goals that are important to you:

1. Create The Right Morning Ritual

Research confirms that our brain is most active and creative immediately following sleep. Unfortunately, 80 percent of people between the ages of 18-44 check their smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up, thereby losing those precious creative moments.

In Morning Papers, Julia Cameron suggests we sit down every morning and write out 3 pages of whatever is on our mind. It might sound like a time-waster at first, but neuroscience backs up Cameron. Your brain is most creative upon waking up; use this time wisely to gain clarity on goals.

How To Make It Work For You: Go to a quiet place and grab a journal. Data dump whatever is on your mind but loosely direct your thoughts on how to gain clarity of goals. Write down whatever comes to mind about those things.

2. Focus Your Energy

Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca states that, “it’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”

Today’s entertainment-on-demand world provides instant distractions. It’s easy to catch ourselves getting off track. As a result, our clarity of goals tend to rolled over by those distractions.

Steve Jobs suggested that we ask this question everyday: ”If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?” It’s a powerful question because it forces us to focus on what we want to accomplish each day. Our approach to our day is purposeful because we identify which tasks are essential.

How To Make It Work For You: Say “no” to opportunities that do not align with your goals for the day. Forget the “busy work” that doesn’t move you toward your goals. Leave social media until the important work is done.

3. Align Immediate And Long-Term Goals

Psychologists Ken Sheldon and Tim Kasser have found that people who are mentally healthy and satisfied with life have a higher degree of vertical coherence among their goals. Long-term and immediate goals all fit together. The connection, even if loose, is important. The pursuit of short-term goals also advances the pursuit of long-term ones.

How To Make It Work For You: Always keep in mind that successful people achieve their goals not because of who they are, but because of what they do.

4. Create A Work Blueprint

Psychologist Martin Seligman found that people who can make a connection between their work and something socially meaningful are more likely to be satisfied. They are better able to adapt to the inevitable compromises that we all have to make in our job because they have clarity of goals.

How To Make It Work For You: Take a look at the questions below. The answers to them shouldn’t be a job description of what you do. What you do for a living is not important because the real question here is: why do you work. This will give you a general idea of your view of work:

  • What is work for?
  • Is it just about the money?
  • How does my work relate to what I feel is important?
  • Is my work worthwhile?
  • How does work provide you opportunities for growth and fulfillment?

5. Place Yourself Under Surveillance

Surveillance can produce a mother-lode of accurate information. FBI agents surveil terrorist suspects to get answers; you can surveil yourself at work to get answers about yourself. Create your own surveillance log.

How To Make It Work For You: Each evening, go back over the day’s activities:

  • Pinpoint where you were most engaged and energized.
  • Zoom in where you were least engaged and energized.

Rate each on a scale from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest).

Reflect on “why” for each of the above. Did it have anything to do with environment, people, activities, or technology?

Now that you know where you are energized at your work, and where you are not, what can you do to change your situation? These are indicators of clarity of goals. Once you pinpoint the areas that breathe life into you, either look for ways to expand those areas in your current job, or start looking for a job where you can.

Remember that life is often a series of trade-offs between the values that are important and the opportunities in front of us. Many things in life are a compromise. Give yourself permission to cut a deal with yourself as long as there are connections between your short-term and long-term goals.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

5 Reasons Charisma Makes More Effective Leaders

Monday, August 28th, 2017

Charisma is seldom used to describe a necessary skill for effective leadership. Personal charm has its place in society, but is it needed in the boardroom?

People with charisma get their message across. It’s a trait that can be hard to define but easy to spot.

Several of the FBI agents with whom I worked had charisma. They had the ability to captivate and motivate other people. The audience could be a single person who gives their testimony. Or, it could be a room full of venture capitalists who learn about economic espionage.

As a leader, entrepreneur, or business owner, charisma will help you reassure your stakeholders—whether they are investors, employees, or clients. If you have charisma, it helps you to communicate that, as the person in charge, you have what it takes to make the vision happen.

Charisma is so powerful because it is rooted in values and emotions. To persuade others, or to motivate them, we need to use compelling language to rouse followers’ emotions and passions. This allows us to tap into the hopes and dreams of our employees, clients, and investors. The truly charismatic leader knows how to give his people a sense of purpose and inspire them to achieve great things.

Politicians know the importance of charisma, but few leaders or managers make an attempt to develop it. While a knowledge of technology and operating procedures is essential in today’s marketplace, the most effective leaders add a layer of charismatic leadership on top.

Recent research suggests that charisma can be learned. Scientists who study it say it’s less a natural gift and more a set of behaviors that anyone can learn.

Research was conducted with a group of midlevel European executives trained in charismatic leadership tactics. Researchers found that their leadership ratings rose by 60%. The researchers then repeated the charismatic leadership training tactics in a large Swiss firm. Overall, they found 65% of people trained received above average ratings. In contrast, among people who had not been trained, only 35% received above average ratings.

Let’s take a look at some charismatic training that can make you a more effective leader:

1. Empathize

Put yourself in another person’s shoes. Empathy is the ability to see things from another person’s perspective and to understand how that person is feeling.

Using a phrase like, “I feel your anger,” is much better than “I can relate to that.” Establishing an emotional connection with people is always a good idea, even in a business setting.

I often use the phrase, “I sense that you are disappointed.” It lets the other person know that I understand what they are going through without making it seem as though I feel sorry for them.

2. Focus

If charisma is making the other person feel understood, it’s important for you to turn off your inner voice and focus on them.

We tend to focus on what we’re going to say next or how the other person’s message will affect us. As a result, we fail to hear what is really being said. While we may hear words, their meaning might get lost.

Focus on the other person when they speak. You may forget how you wanted to respond but so what? It’ll come to you later. Your real goal is to let them know that they connected with you.

3. Listen

If we focus and turn off our inner voice, it is much easier to listen to the other person. Listening is another behavior that can be learned. When you listen to what the other person says, you can reflect back what you heard.

I often use a phrase like, “This is what I heard you say….” and then rephrase the conversation in my own words. This lets the other person know I was listening and that I care about what they said.

4. Enthusiasm

The ability to uplift another person through praise of their actions or ideas is an essential leadership skill. Enthusiasm is difficult to fake but if you need to at first, go ahead. Enthusiasm is contagious but it is most potent when you sincerely engage with what someone else is saying or doing.

One of the easiest ways to generate enthusiasm is to smile and ask questions. Even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying, ask questions to deepen your understanding of their position. This doesn’t mean you become a “yes person,” but do try to show a bit of real enthusiasm when an idea is presented. Give them their 15 minutes in the spotlight. Later, you can go back to them with specific reasons why the idea won’t fly.

5. Eye Contact

Eye contact is a powerful form of human connection. When someone’s gaze shifts away from us, we sense that their attention has also shifted away.

If you practice empathy and demonstrate good listening skills, people will want you to look at them. Remember eye contact requires you to meet and maintain another person’s gaze.

6. Expression

Stop the botox injections so that your face can show expressions. Show others that you are feeling empathy with their situation by being more expressive with your face.

The flipside of showing emotions in your face is knowing how to control them as well. Mental toughness is the ability to control emotions that can sabotage you when you’re not paying attention. Don’t let others see that you are angry or exasperated with them. Moderate what people see by being in control of your emotions.

To understand how you come across to others, practice having a conversation with yourself in front of a mirror. Notice how you express emotions in your face. If in doubt on how to act, watch charismatic people on TV and then mimic their expressions.

7. Stories

The Harvard Business Review reported that researchers have found that stories make our messages more engaging and help listeners connect with as the speaker.

In one example, a manager motivated her employees during a crisis by comparing the current situation to her experience climbing a mountain during dangerous weather conditions. She told them how working together saved her and the team on that mountain. Pulling it all together, she motivated her employees to work together so they could turn their immediate situation around as well.

8. Three-Part Lists

Three-part lists are good way to summarize your message into key takeaways. Most people can remember three things so make your pitch pithy and memorable. For example:

First, we need to look back and see what we did right. Next, we need to see where we went wrong. Then, we need to come up with a plan that will convince others to give us the resources to get it right next time.

When you are direct and spit out your message in clear and precise terms to your audience, it shows that you respect both their intelligence and their time.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

8 Powerful Ways To Deal With A Problem Employee

Monday, August 21st, 2017

The problem employee shows up in every aspect of life because they don’t leave their idiosyncrasies at work. They take them with them wherever they go.

I had to learn how to deal with people with irritating personalities as a counterintelligence FBI agent. Walking away just because an informant was unpleasant was not an option. I needed to work with them and bring them onto my team because often they had unique information of value.

As entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders you will encounter a problem employee at some point. They can waste a lot of your valuable time and sow discord among the other employees.

Don’t get sucked into a vortex of frustration. Sometimes you need mental toughness to understand how to best deal with these types of employees. Here’s a list of the 8 most common problem employees and how to motivate them to improve their behavior:

1. The One Who Expects Perfection

There is always that problem employee who knows the right way to do things and is only too willing to show you. They have a tendency to make you, and others, feel flawed and judged. Their bottom line is often something like, “Let’s get it done right,” not “Let’s all be friends.”

Perfectionists are people who operate by the book and like to follow standard operating procedures. They can be a pain the butt if your work environment is chaotic because they are not comfortable with change.

TIP: Set up a clear chain of command and insist everyone go through proper channels. Start and end meetings on time—a perfectionist likes schedules. Explain exactly how you want things done; this provides the structure that the employee needs.

2. The One Who Wants To Be Your Best Friend

This is the problem employee who feels it’s all about relationships rather than the bottom line. They can take up an inordinate amount of time talking to you, and others, in an attempt to build that relationship.

The insecure ones are suck ups. Their lack of confidence in their skill set is compensated by using flattery and ingratiating behavior. They feel more comfortable leaning into personal relationships than applying their skills to get the job done.

TIP: Be generous with praise, but don’t reward them for fawning. Stick to the facts and never confront them with the problem. Most of them do not realize they have crossed the line.

3. The One Who Is An Overachiever

There is one in every crowd. As a leader, you may not recognize the overachiever as a problem employee. Authority figures tend to respond well to them because—well, they get things done! They go above and beyond what is asked or expected of them.

Overachievers can be impatient, with you and others. They often are not good team players and chafe at following strict rules. Be cautious about putting a perfectionist and an overachiever together on a project.

TIP: Don’t appeal to the warm and fuzzy side of their personality; they may not have one. Don’t micromanage them or ask them to slow down. Pay attention to the tension they may create with your less overachieving employees.

4. The One Who Thrives On Drama

Feelings and emotions are usually fairly close to the surface with this type of problem employee. They spend a lot of time in the depth of their tragedy and are often moody when things are not going well.

Frequently in emotional flux, dramatics tend to be inconsistent because they are mood driven and take things personally.

TIP: Be empathetic; they will feel valued and understood. If they become hysterial or overly dramatic, take a look at what is triggering it in their work environment. This employee does not do well in bureacracies or repetitious work. Instead, put them in work spaces where they can express themselves to others.

5. The One Who Analyzes Everything

Nerds are usually intelligent and thrive on scientific-like methods. They tend to be loners and not good team players. They attain their power from collecting information and knowing more than you do about a project.

Nerdy types like to feel prepared so give them plenty of advance warning if you need something. They’ll love you if you feed them information because knowledge is the currency that gives them the edge.

TIP: Don’t place this employee in a fast-paced environment where there’s no time to think or collect information. They do best in closed door situations where there are fewer interpersonal demands and interruptions.

6. The One Who Is A Worrier

Worrywarts are the ones who fret about everything, from their own abilities to your competence as a leader. They also tend to complain or second guess your decisions as a leader.

Never tell this problem employee to “not worry!” They will mistrust you and worry even more. They can be great strategists because they are always thinking. If you direct their energy toward worrying about how the competition might get a leg up, they can be a great resource.

TIP: They do not do well in environments where change is sudden or without notice. They perform best when there are clear rules to follow and where change is not introduced without preparation, caution, and all questions are answered.

7. The One Who Is A Slacker

We all dislike this problem employee and it’s tempting to eliminate the problem by firing them. If they are lazy and/or incompetent, sooner rather than later is best. Before you do, though, make sure you’ve come to the right conclusion about them. Make sure they are not bored or under-challenged.

Very often what they really need is more structure. Work with them to set goals and make these goals appeal to their emotion. They need to find a way to connect with their interests and strengths.

TIP: Often these are the people who thrive in environments that are in constant flux and change. Ask them lots of questions to get their creative juices flowing and then give them permission to follow through with their ideas.

8. The One Who Is Bossy

You have your very own Attila the Hun—lucky you! They thrive on taking charge and will not hesitate to undermine you if they don’t have ownership in the project. They do not hesitate to talk over people, including you, and use very forceful and blunt language to get their ideas across.

Bossy people don’t like to waste time dithering about what should be done. They respect leaders who say what they mean, so spit your news out fast and straight.

TIP: First, you need to determine whether the employee is a blowhard or whether they really can get in front of a situation, take the heat, and assume responsibility. Second, earn their respect. If they respect you as a leader, you can come together as a team.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

4 Reasons Diversity Creates Teams That Are Mentally Tough

Monday, July 17th, 2017

Diversity was essential when putting together an FBI undercover operation because when I worked with people with different ideas and opinions, it sharpened my thinking.

My squad mates offered great advice on the basics of an investigation. Undercover work, however, requires creativity and strategic planning. I needed to work with people who would challenge my brain to overcome its stale and predictable ways I looked at an issue or project.

A study by McKinsey in 2015 in the public sector came to the same conclusion. Diverse teams were found to be 35% more likely to be successful. Another 2015 study of more than 20,000 firms in 91 countries found that companies with female executives were more profitable.

Many focus on diversity solely as a medley of genders, races, and ethnicity. However, it’s critical to also include differences in experience, age, intelligence, personality, background, and culture. True diversity brings together a team of people who think, feel, and behave differently from one another.

Mental toughness is managing our thoughts, emotions, and behavior in ways that set us up for success. Diverse teams overcome stagnant patterns of ways we think and sharpen performance.

Here are 4 reasons diversity creates teams that are mentally tough:


Diverse teams are often a combustible combination of thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Differing opinions can derail a team’s success if they’re not managed properly. This means diversity creates a need to focus on facts.

When teams focus on facts instead of personal differences, members are no longer outsiders. Instead, they unify to interpret the facts in ways that will move the project toward success.

TIP: Refocus the team’s conversations so they discuss available evidence or fact to counter mounting tensions. 


On a homogenous team, people understand each other and collaboration often flows smoothly—to a point. If everyone thinks the same way and says the same thing, is progress really being made?

On a diverse team, friction may be felt which can feel counterproductive at first. Neuroscientist David Rock states that working on diverse teams produces better outcomes precisely because it is harder.

Homogenous teams may feel more effective at first. The real truth is that people with different backgrounds bring new information and insight. Interacting with people who are different forces each team member to prepare better and anticipate alternative viewpoints.

TIP: Diversity forces teams to process information more carefully because they are not homogenous. Teams become mentally tough when they not only search for, but seriously consider, new insight from each team member. This leads to a more vigorous discussion before decisions are made. As a result, more options for problem solving are considered.


I brought in a variety of people to help me organize undercover operations because I needed informational diversity. I brought people together to solve the problem on how to structure an undercover operation against a foreign spy in the United States. Each one brought in different ideas, opinions, and perspectives.

People who are different in experience, culture, gender, age, race, and other areas bring unique information. Often this can change a stale way of thinking. Exposure to diversity can change the way your team thinks.

TIP: Research has shown that it is a good idea to highlight differences because this tends to make those differences be taken seriously by all members of the team. These were the teams that came up with better ideas than homogenous teams. But, only when they were told to listen to, and respect, the perspectives of their teammates.


A study in 2014 from MIT suggests that having a more diverse set of employees means you also have a more diverse set of skills. This means your team will function more productively. This same study confirms that more diversity meant a better bottom line.

Greater diversity implies a greater spread of experience which can add value and knowledge to a team’s productivity. However, I found that productivity also requires something else—a common goal.

A solid undercover operation requires everyone to have the same goal in mind—recruit a foreign spy. It was this common purpose that unified the diverse members of my team so we could create a proposal that would be successful.

TIP: Expect diverse teams to be more productive and creative but only if a common goal or purpose unifies them.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

How Women Leaders Can Use This Secret Weapon

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Women leaders have a secret weapon at their disposal. It’s called emotional intelligence. 

Emotional intelligence is your ability to 1) identify and manage your own emotions; 2) pick up on the emotions of others and manage them; and 3) in so doing, build trust and grow influence.

FBI counterintelligence agents like myself rely heavily upon emotional intelligence. It helps us to be successful as we identify foreign spies so we can stop them from stealing proprietary information from the U.S. Emotional intelligence is not necessarily a skill that people associate with FBI agents. Loud, boisterous, and pushy behavior may get attention, but it certainly does not get respect.

Meanwhile, a softer skill like emotional intelligence often goes unnoticed. It is not related to book smarts or a formula that includes aggressive behavior that relies upon intimidation to be effective.

I have never had a loud voice, but I’ve always had a strong one.

There is lots of bewilderment when either people get these two voices confused. Many entrepreneurs and business owners are men who follow a formula of aggression and intimidation to get to the top. Now many women leaders use that same formula to see where it can take them.

And here is how well it’s working: women die of heart disease at the same rate as men. Yet they still struggle not only rise to top level positions, but to stay there as well.

In my law enforcement career, I had a choice. I could try to be someone I am not and swagger around the FBI hallways with a gun strapped to my hip. Or, I could be the best version of me and develop my natural skills and not worry whether or not I fit in with others who rely upon intimidation.

Here are 4 reasons emotional intelligence can be a secret weapon for women leaders:


Women leaders in the workforce need to grab success however they can, but too many of them throw away their advantages because they try to be like men.

Society gives little girls permission to be empathetic. They use language that express emotions and place priorities on ways to develop deep and meaningful relationships. It starts with dolls.

Both girls and boys may develop mental toughness through sports activities. However, many boys tend to grow into men who rely on harder skills like aggression as their default reaction to stress. They don’t pay as much attention to softer skills like empathy and self-awareness.

Conversely, society encourages women to develop these softer skills.

The good news is that we can learn these essential skills as we climb up the career ladder. 

I’ve known a few touchy-feely men, and they were incredibly successful FBI agents. But they ran against the grain of the macho stereotype that people have of the FBI, which includes most new agents who show up at Quantico.

TIP: As a parent, encourage your child to develop a good vocabulary to describe their emotional state of mind at any given time. As an adult, explore words to describe how you feel in times of stress, joy, and relaxation. You may find this hard at first because we are simply not groomed to be fluent in the language of emotions.


It is too simplistic to describe men or women leaders as having innate advantages that better equips them to move into top level positions. In today’s competitive environment, leaders need to possess the collaborative traits that are the by-product of emotional intelligence.

The Hay Group produced an interesting study. They found that women leaders were most successful when they were required to lead by influence rather than by direct authority.

In this study, emotional intelligence skills were more prevalent in executive-level women than their male counterparts. It is believed that women often face the same barriers throughout their careers. Their work environment requires them to develop the emotional intelligence skills they need to advance in their organizations.

TIP: Scrappy women leaders will develop the skills necessary to move into the executive suite. Success in the future is going to depend a great deal upon a leader’s ability to leverage a variety of skills and approaches in order to grow their business.


There’s not much research or science to back up the common belief that women are naturally better at emotional intelligence than men. What matters most is the level of motivation of both men and women.

For example, this same Hay Group study indicated that among women and men below the executive level, differences between men and women were less pronounced.

The stars—leaders in the top ten percent of business performance—gender differences in emotional intelligence abilities wash out. The men are as good as the women, the women as good as the men, across the board.

TIP: If you have the mental toughness and grit to stick with it, you can acquire the emotional intelligence skills you need to be a top performer—male or female.


Women are considered to be more empathetic, however. According to neuroscientists, empathy is found in a region called the insula, which senses signals from our whole body. When we empathize with someone, our brain mimics what that person feels. The insula reads that pattern and identifies the feeling.

This is where women are different from men. If the other person is upset, women’s brains tend to stay with those feelings. Men’s brains do something else; they sense the feelings for a moment. And then tune out of the emotions and switch to other brain areas. These are the areas of the brain that try to solve the problem that’s creating the disturbance.

So when a woman complains that a man has tuned out emotionally, it usually means their brains are processing the information differently. 

When men tune-out, it can insulate them from distress so they remain calm while others are in a state of high drama. They focus on finding a solution to the urgent problem.

A woman’s tendency to stay tuned-in helps them nurture and support others when emotions are running high.

TIP: It’s important to remember that neither is better and both have advantages.

Women leaders who seek top level executive positions need to improve their emotional competency. It enlarges their ability to: cope with pressure, build trust, negotiate, influence others, navigate workplace politics, and take smart risks.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”