Don’t worry, you’ve been hijacked

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I’ve been accused of over simplifying things. It’s a fair criticism but often helps me put what I perceive to be an insurmountable or overwhelming issue into context. That brief moment of simplicity and clarity can buy me enough time to take a deep breath, relax, and realize that maybe things aren’t as bad as I originally thought … and then I can focus on dealing with the problem at hand and coming up with a solution.

I’ve also found this approach helps me interact with colleagues in a more patient and thoughtful manner. There’s nothing like a boss who blows up at bad news to discourage you from ever sharing bad news again … and that’s obviously not a good leadership climate especially if we’re trying to lead with mercy.

With all that said, here’s a very simple (I warned you) flow chart that helps me put problems in perspective.

It’s clearly not rocket science but it’s amazing how we can lose perspective when the stress of the day takes over. The reality is, however, that we can indeed lose perspective. And that reality is indeed science … not rocket science but neurological science. In cases of high stress we can lose the ability of higher order thinking or reasoning. This is known as an amygdala hijack.

The amygdalae are part of the brain responsible for processing threats. If you’ve ever heard of Stressed manfight or flight (some literature includes freeze) as threat responses, it’s the amygdalae that dictate this response. Once the hijack occurs it is extremely difficult to do anything other than address the threat. When faced with a physical threat, this is a good thing. But in our day to day lives we encounter stressors that often aren’t physical threats … but upon reaching a certain threshold of stress our body can react to the threat in the same fashion resulting in an inability to think or speak (either not being able to utter a coherent sentence; or saying some things you later regret) in a manner that might be expected in an environment like the workplace (especially if you’re a leader charged with making a decision).

So what does my simple sketch have to do with an amygdala hijack? Well, it might actually help you avoid it! Experts believe that through experience and self-awareness you can actually train yourself to feel the hijack coming on (or perhaps more accurately, know the stressors in your life that might trigger a hijack) … and if you can predict the hijack you might be able to stop it. [1] And for me, mentally walking myself through the simple flow chart above buys me the time to gain perspective and (hopefully) avoid being hijacked.

So as Bobby McFerrin would say, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

Second image courtesy of Master/

[1] Palmer W. and Crawford J (2013). Leadership Embodiment: How the Way We Sit and Stand Can Change the Way We Think and Speak. CreateSpace.

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Tough love

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Often when discussing merciful or compassionate leadership the conversation turns to taking care of our people. This is certainly a worthy topic and is one we as leaders must navigate thoughtfully. In my early experiences as a young leader and as someone who has mentored and coached other leaders, one of the common mistakes of an inexperienced leader is believing that “taking care of my people” means shielding them from tough love and simply giving them what they want. Sometimes it is an innocent and well-intended practice of an inexperienced leader. Other times it is an excuse, even for a more experienced leader, to avoid conflict and difficult conversations. For me, it was a little bit of both. I’d like to share an analogy to illustrate tough love while still being a merciful leader.
For many years I have practiced and studied (unfortunately more study than practice recently) the Japanese martial art, Aikido. Aikido is primarily an art of self-defense where the practitioner rarely initiates an attack. Rather, in Aikido you defend yourself by redirecting your opponent’s energy or otherwise using it against him or her, resulting in hip throws, joint locks or manipulation, and other interesting techniques. The attack ideally ends with the attacker in a precarious situation such as a joint lock where the defender could easily inflict more pain or even permanent damage. This, however, is where Aikido differs from other martial arts. In the case of Aikido the defender applies only enough force and pain to control and hopefully deescalate the situation. Students of Aikido feel a great responsibility to not hurt their attacker (or partner in a training situation) any more than necessary. I offer my experience with Aikido as an example analogous to practicing tough love within the framework of leading with mercy.

As we lead with mercy there will be times where we have to inflict some figurative pain. In the world of leadership this “pain” comes in the form of communicating and maintaining standards, correcting and disciplining poor behavior or practices, but always allowing for room to experience and learn from mistakes. Just as the Aikidoist feels responsible for the well-being of the attacker, we as the leader are responsible for the well-being and development of our people even when inflicting some tough love.

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

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I’m sorry

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This is a short excerpt from the chapter in my upcoming book about responsibility as a leader:

I can think of no more appropriate way to end a chapter on responsibility within the framework of leading with mercy, than a section on apologizing. Just like a sincere, “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?” is incredibly powerful in a personal relationship, it is also a powerful leadership tool.

Marshall Goldsmith, a prominent executive coach, regards apologizing as “the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make.” He goes on to say it is the foundation of his work in coaching executives to be even more successful.[1] Pretty powerful stuff with a direct correlation to business.ID-100129134

In the previous section I offered that a leader gets credit for his team’s success and should therefore take responsibility for his team’s failures. Like all of us, leaders make mistakes. It does not have to be as egregious as avoiding responsibility. It could be forgetting to follow up on a promised action or a voicemail. It could be chronic tardiness to meetings. I have witnessed no more humble and impactful an act than a leader who offers colleagues a sincere apology for a mistake. Critics might counter that apologizing makes the leader appear weak or not confident in his actions. I offer that it makes the leader more respected and makes team members feel valued (to my earlier point, business is personal).

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Photokanok/

[1] Goldsmith, M. (2007). What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful! Hyperion.

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It’s personal

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One of my least favorite phrases in professional life is: It’s not personal, it’s just business. It is a trite phrase offered – often without ill intent – as justification for a decision that has a direct impact on someone’s life (and not just their professional life) such as terminating employment. If a person is involved, it is by definition personal. This is more than a semantic argument. It is at the essence of why we should lead with mercy and compassion. I am not arguing difficult decisions that affect people’s livelihood are not necessary in business – they are unfortunately unavoidable in some cases and I have had to make them myself. They are however, no less personal even if necessary. So if it is unavoidable how can we lead with mercy in this situation? How would you like to be treated in this situation? ID-10029725

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of dan/

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Top 10 secrets to happiness

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I happened upon this Top 10 list which I enjoyed so thought I’d pass along. While this list is in the context of the spiritual life, I think several of the “secrets” are quite applicable to leadership and the workplace, especially #2, #3, #4, #7, and #8. I’ve added a little commentary after those particular ones. What are your thoughts?

1. “Live and let live.” (There’s a little more detail for each “secret” in the original article, the link to which I posted above).

2. “Be giving of yourself to others.” Giving time to your employees is important. This is time to develop direct reports and other up and coming leaders. It’s also time to acknowledge the efforts, accomplishments, and sacrifices of your team.

3. “Proceed calmly” in life. Employees often look to leaders for calmness and stability especially in times of change, high stress, or other organizational turmoil.

4. “A healthy sense of leisure.” In the context of business and work, this is about the elusive “work/life balance.” Everyone needs time to recharge and enjoy things other than work like family, significant others, hobbies, and passions.

5. Sundays should be holidays.

6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people.

7. Respect and take care of nature. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a popular buzzword in business circles. CSR includes sustainability (respect and care for nature) but also corporate giving and volunteerism.

8. Stop being negative. Like #3, employees look to their leaders for the positive. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be frank with employees … but why not accentuate the positive that is present in almost any matter?

9. Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs.

10. Work for peace.


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What is mercy?

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You may have read the inspiration for this blog under the “About Lead With Mercy” tab. That moment also inspired me to write a book. As I finalize the book I’m previewing sections. I’d love to get your feedback on the posts … questions, thoughts, observations. Here we go!

What is mercy? As I read several definitions of the word, I came upon one in Webster’s that seemed apropos to leadership and business: “Compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power.” It’s the part about showing compassion to someone who is subject to your power that intrigues me. It’s intriguing because it is a deliberate choice. Nothing is forcing the person in power to show mercy to the person subject to his power.

The world of business, however, is not about salvation … it’s about the bottom-line and soft, intangible words like mercy, compassion, patience, and forgiveness don’t really have a logical place in business. In a 24/7 global business cycle, leaders don’t have time for forgiveness – they are being held accountable for results, not compassion, by boards, customers, investors, and other stakeholders. Right? Or, is there a place for mercy and should we as leaders make time to show it? ID-100129084-1

I’m confident there is a compelling case for mercy in the world of business and especially amongst the leaders of business. It is especially compelling for leaders because we set the tone for culture and behavior in our organizations.

The case for leading with mercy is made even more compelling when you consider the common traits or characteristics often found in successful leaders. These characteristics do not guarantee successful leadership nor are they found in all successful leaders. A significant body of research as summarized in Bruce Peltier’s, The Psychology of Executive Coaching, however, concludes that many successful leaders bear these traits that I associate to leading with mercy. These relevant traits of successful leaders include:

Integrity: If I were asked to pick one trait most greatly associated with leading with mercy I would choose integrity. From leading by example, delegating responsibility, to encouraging risk taking … the foundation is trust in the leader.

Emotional maturity: While this trait has broad meaning, the component that I associate with mercy is the ability to “care about others” and empathize.

Vision: The capacity of a leader for organizational vision and to articulate that vision is a common trait amongst successful leaders … and as we will discuss, clarity of vision is a key component of the Lead With Mercy framework.[i]

So am I saying that leading with mercy has true return on investment or ROI? Yes, I am. In fact, I am saying the ROI can be quite significant because the monetary investment is nominal at best and the return can be substantial – both the tangible and intangible return. And I am not the only one saying it. Phrases like compassionate management, managing compassionately, and conscious capitalism are rolling off the tongues of chief executives like LinkedIn’s, Jeff Weiner; and the blogs of leading business magazines like Harvard Business Review. [ii] [iii] [iv] The former CEO of PUMA (an international sportswear brand), Jochen Zeitz – who turned around a corporation near bankruptcy – believes a leader’s job is “to exercise authority with the greatest possible understanding and circumspection.”[v]

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Photokanok/

[i] Peltier, B. (2010). The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application (2nd Edition). Routledge (Taylor and Francis Group).

[ii] Weiner, J (2012). “Managing Compassionately.” Available at

[iii] Fryer, B. (2013). “The Rise of Compassionate Management (Finally).”Available at

[iv] Schwartz, T. (2013). Companies that Practice “Conscious Capitalism” Perform 10x Better. Available at

[v] Zeitz, J. and Grün, A. (2010). The Manager and The Monk: A Discourse on Prayer, Profit, and Principles. Jossey-Bass.

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An introduction

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Welcome to my first post. Thank you very much for visiting my blog. If you haven’t yet, please take a minute to look at the “About Lead With Mercy” and “About the Author” tabs. Hopefully they’ll give you some initial insight into me and my vision for this blog. This is my first foray into blogging so wish me luck, please. If you’re the praying type, those would be most welcome as well. As you’ve gleaned by now, this blog is about leadership, the development of leaders, executive coaching as it pertains to the two former topics, and I’m sure we’ll evolve into other related topics as well (a framework for guiding the transition of military veterans into the civilian workforce is one potential “other” topic I’m considering). I’d welcome your suggestions on any topics. In marketing any business, they tell you to consider your target audience. So who is my target audience? My hope is you will be a diverse audience from various walks of life (public sector, private sector, non-profit, non-governmental, religious). I hope I can attract leaders – current and future – with various levels of experience who are interested in thoughtful conversations and content about leadership, leaders, and their (our) development. As I get my feet under me I hope to start a podcast of interviews with leaders from various walks of life with the intent of hearing their perspectives on leadership. I hope to share additional useful content as well (potentially my perspectives on leadership, especially the idea of leading with mercy and my framework that defines and guides such leadership). I will also test the waters on some ideas for a book on the same topic. Again, thanks for joining me on this journey. I sincerely welcome your participation and feedback. I’m sure we’ll have some growing pains but that’s all part of the learning and discovery process … so please be merciful!

– Rob

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

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