Diving Into The Rich Tapestry Of Team Success
Let’s talk about building amazing teams! In the current corporate jungle where diversity, equity, and inclusion can be buzzwords, we often miss the real game-changer- embracing diverse thinking styles. The road to realizing the power of different perspectives usually starts with personal stories, shaping our understanding of inclusivity in this interconnected world.

My Unconventional Journey: Embracing My Quirkiness
So, picture this- I grew up with a mishmash of cultures: Saudi, Native Indigenous, Spanish, and American vibes all swirling around. Moving across countries, I constantly felt like the odd one out. Take Thanksgiving, for instance; my family rocks the turkey with our traditional rice and ground beef stuffing, and that turkey stuffing (rice) is served with yogurt on top. Yeah, we’re all about mixing it up. I always felt a bit offbeat to the other kids, no matter which country we were living in.

Fast forward to my career as an Industrial-Organizational consultant and coach, where I realized that my quirks were my strengths. Unique perspectives became my fuel, and mantra became breaking the mold. No one-size-fits-all leadership here. Your style should be as unique as you are, blending your individual strengths with some savvy best practices.

Cracking The Code Of Cognitive Diversity  
In a recent team building session with a church leadership team, we dug into their communication styles using the HBDI too. It was like opening a treasure chest of insights. The key takeaway? “Meet people where they are at, then guide them through your door.” Understanding the four cognitive diversity preferences is gold for leaders looking to level up their communication game. The four different selves include: Analyze, Organize, Personalize, and Strategize.

Beyond Skin-Deep Diversity
Diversity isn’t just about looks; it’s about varied thinking styles that are crucial for supercharging team dynamics and ramping up productivity. The Whole Brain Thinking Model is like the wizard behind the curtain, making conflict vanish and decisions a breeze. It’s all about embodying those four different thinking styles-analyzing facts, channeling your inner feelings, plotting your course, and mapping out the steps to get there. It’s a real walk in the park once you get the hang of it. Teams can increase productivity by a whopping 66% with diversity, including diversity of thinking styles. So spice up your team with individuals with diverse thinking styles.

Wrapping It Up: Harnessing Differences For The Win
Let’s drive this point home- the value of cognitive diversity in teams is off the charts. Embrace those different thinking styles, and you’re on the fast track to success in today’s wild world landscape. Cheers to those who don’t fit the mold!

At Steople we believe that leaders bring the weather, both sunshine and storms. In fact, a client I was recently coaching inadvertently brought the rain clouds to the office every time she walked in the room. Janet was an experienced manager, but new to her company. She came in eager to make a positive impression and quickly identified inefficiencies in her department.  She created a plan, and to ensure that it was implemented according to her vision, she spent several hours sitting with each of her employees, showing them how to work more efficiently.

It didn’t take long before she noticed a low pressure in the office atmosphere and stormy attitudes around every corner.Janet had good intentions but failed to consider how her actions could affect the drive and engagement of her employees. Dr. David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, created a model describing five social motivators that affect an employee’s perception of how psychologically safe they are in their workplace.

Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness are the characteristics that make up the SCARF model and when employees feel satisfied their needs are being met in each of these areas, dopamine is released and the part of the brain that recognizes rewards is activated. When employees find themselves in workplace situations that threaten their sense of security in these areas, they tend to retreat in an effort to find shelter from the storm.

Simply put, when we are in a mental state of security we tend to operate from the fontal cortex or the “thinking” part of our brain. When we are threatened, our reactions are dictated by the limbic system where our flight, fight, or freeze tendencies take over.

Janet and I talked about the SCARF model in relationship to her department, her employees, and her behavior. Janet took some time for self-reflection and considered which of the motivators were most important to her and how they might be different for her employees. She also had to step back and consider how her behavior might have threatened the psychological safety of her employees.

  1. Status – Janet decided that while it wasn’t her intention, her actions did not empower her team and could have threatened people’s need to be seen as valuable contributors.  Epidemiologist Michael Marmot’s research suggests that “status is the most significant determinant of human longevity and health, even when controlling for education and income.”  Long story short- everyone wants to feel important and by sweeping in and “solving” the problems without consulting others, several of the team members felt unimportant, devalued, and a diminished sense of self.
  1. Certainty – If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that the work environment is inherently volatile, complex, and full of ambiguity. Janet questioned how the immediate changes she implemented could have affected the security and stability team members felt over their own futures on the team and in the environment.
  1. Autonomy –Again,  Janet’s intention was good, but when she stepped back from the situation, she questioned whether some people might have felt micromanaged by her presence as she individually walked people through her vision of how the processes should work rather then getting their buy-in and trusting their technical competence.
  1. Relatedness –When we don’t know someone well enough to understand their motivations, our tendency as human beings is to assume negative intent. Janet asked herself, “Did I do enough in my individual interactions to build a sense of relatedness and rapport to ensure that people understand my intentions in facilitating rapid change?”
  1. Fairness – The perception that an event has been unfair, Rock writes, generates a strong response in the brain stirring hostility and undermining trust. According to his research, “People who perceive others as unfair don’t feel empathy for the pain of others.” What may feel fair to one person, may not feel fair to another person. Without asking Janet wasn’t sure, but she did begin to see how people could have perceived the changes, the timing, or the methods of implementation as unfair.

Using the SCARF model as a guide for self reflection, Janet was able to recognize and deliberately shape future interactions to provide a safe harbor in which her employees were able to relax, thrive, and do their best work.

If you are looking for opportunities to grow your leader’s skills or to create a psychologically safe work environment for your team, reach out. At Steople we equip your leaders to avoid stormy conditions and bring smooth-sailing weather.

When the doorbell rang, I couldn’t help but grin because it meant my all-time favorite meal was here! My workspace was set up like a pro, ready for the evening’s Zoom call. Each year, the Steople team pulls off this amazing global planning session, spanning time zones from Australia to New Zealand and, of course, the U.S. It’s a night (for us in the U.S.) and a morning (for our Aussie and Kiwi buddies) filled with connection, planning, and, most importantly, amazing food. This is hands down one of the best times of the year for us because not only do we get to shape the company’s future, but we also get to hang out with our colleagues from around the world.

Picture this: the U.S. team was soaking up the late afternoon sun, donning short sleeves and sandals, while our mates down under in Australia were all cozied up in sweaters, enjoying fireside chats. This year, our global planning session had a laser focus on our Employee Value Proposition (EVP), and it was a blast exploring all the reasons that make our company so special, backed up by stories from our valued team members.

Now, as for the EVP champions, they’re still rounding up the data from our offsite adventure, but certain themes have already emerged. These themes are all about the heart and soul of our organization: our fantastic people, the flexibility we offer, and the endless chances to learn and grow, just to name a few.

Speaking from my own experience, our company has an incredible knack for supporting our folks when they’re going through tough times. If someone needs to take medical leave or deal with a family emergency, we all pitch in to help with work and anything they need on the personal front. We’ve done everything from sharing food to helping with chores, and I’ll never forget the time a tornado left many without power, and a colleague offered up their fridge space to save everyone’s food from spoiling. That’s what we call integrity and teamwork at Steople.

Now, let me share a heartwarming story I stumbled upon while diving into the world of EVPs. It’s about a former Dodgers player named Andrew Toles. Despite his battles with schizophrenia, the team leadership’s response was nothing short of inspiring. Instead of parting ways with him, they extended a helping hand, allowing him to continue working with the team year after year, primarily for the sake of maintaining his health insurance coverage to address his mental health needs. Talk about taking care of your people!

Ever wondered what makes your company stand out in the crowd? Check out Mark Mortensen and Amy Edmondson’s article, “Rethinking Your Employee Value Proposition.” They break it down into four super interesting categories:

1. Material Goods: These include things like pay, physical office space, location, commuting perks, cool tech gear, flexible work hours, and a bunch of other awesome extras.

2. Opportunities to Grow and Shine: Think about all the ways your company nurtures its employees’ skill sets and enabling them to become more valuable in the job market. It could be through new roles, job rotations, training, or promotions.

3. Feeling Connected and Part of a Community: This is about being appreciated for who you are, having a sense of belonging, and forming great relationships at work. It all starts with having a vibrant culture that lets people be themselves and encourages a sense of togetherness or belonging.

4. Finding Meaning and Purpose: This is your company’s aspirational objectives, aligning with employees’ desire to make a positive impact on local and global communities. These objectives answer the fundamental question of why employees dedicate themselves to the work they do. It’s all about matching your team’s desire to make the world a better place with the work they do every day.

Remember, your Employee Value Proposition isn’t just about the money. Sure, we all need to pay the bills, but think about all the other cool reasons people might want to join your company. We recently helped out an organization with their EVP by doing something called “listening tours.” Basically, we gave every employee a chance to share their thoughts. After a couple of weeks of daily sessions, we collected all their stories (anonymously, of course) and shared them with the big bosses for a day of “sense-checking.” This day was all about understanding the stories and figuring out what truly makes the company special and why people choose to be a part of it.

It was a privilege to be a part of these listening tours, and it was an incredible experience hearing stories from all levels of the company. When the senior leaders joined the sense-checking session, they were blown away by the stories and distilled them into five overarching themes. These themes now guide their talent acquisition playbook, from hiring to development, engagement, and career transitions. So, having a clear Employee Value Proposition can really set the stage for everyone involved.

So, what’s your secret sauce that makes you stand out in the business world? What forms your unique moat in the business landscape?

In the depths of my heart, there exists a profound connection to tribal cultures that has guided my journey, both personally and professionally. This inexplicable bond finds its roots in the remarkable experiences of my early years, where I had the privilege of growing up alongside a diverse community, including a significant percentage of Native Americans, with the Kickapoo Tribe making up a quarter of my schoolmates. This immersion in tribal traditions, such a food, pow wows, spiritual practices, etc. left an indelible mark on the way that I conceptualize the world.

As a psychologist, my fascination with tribal culture runs even deeper, anchored in the rich tapestry of human behavior and our innate reliance on one another. It’s intriguing to consider that, for the better part of the past 100,000 years, our ancestors thrived in tribal societies, where cooperation within tight-knit groups was the cornerstone of survival. These societies, with their unique languages, rituals, and distinctive attire, symbolically marked the boundaries of in-group unity. It’s here, in these ancient lessons, that I believe we can find profound insights that resonate in the modern world of business.

In my own recent reflections, I’ve turned my attention to the dynamic of teams, recognizing that, like tribal communities, they too require periods of reorganization and reconnection. There are these little unwritten rules or boundaries that may be negatively impacting the team and need to be brought to the surface. If you have ever experienced issues on a team, you were a part of or leading, I want you to know that all of us are right in there with you! I have and will continue to face challenges that need to be addressed, much like you have. Most recently, I sought external guidance, and with my coach, I gleaned a significant ah-ha moment: for me to be an effective leader, I must stand unwaveringly on the battlefield, laser-focused on the vision. Distractions, whether past grievances, internal struggles, or external disruptions, can divert my attention from our Core Purpose. In essence, a cohesive team is only as strong as its weakest member, and the strength of the tribe hinges on each member’s commitment to supporting one another.  The old saying of you can’t see the forest for the trees is absolutely applicable here.  And those small revelations can help any leader course correct.

Tribal Laws That Must Be in Place for a Successful Team

This reflection brings me to the heart of the matter—tribal leadership. To navigate the complex landscape of modern business, we can draw inspiration from the timeless wisdom of tribal norms and unwritten rules that have evolved over centuries. Let’s explore some of these norms and their profound relevance in the context of contemporary business leadership and teams:

1. Lead by Example: In tribal cultures, leaders didn’t just command; they led through actions and deeds, setting a standard for others to follow. Today, effective leaders inspire and motivate by exemplifying the qualities they expect from their team.

2. Collective Responsibility: Tribal communities understood that every member bore responsibility for the tribe’s well-being. In business, fostering a sense of collective responsibility among team members encourages them to take ownership of shared goals…and for the team members to address individual issues that are holding the team back.

3. Conflict Resolution Within the Group: Tribes prioritized resolving disputes within the community to maintain unity. In today’s workplace, addressing conflicts directly and constructively is vital for a positive and productive environment.  A friend once told me that unresolved conflict is the biggest source of waste on teams.

4. Respect for Differences: Tribal societies celebrated the diversity of skills and roles within the group. Modern teams should embrace diversity, recognizing that varied perspectives enhance innovation and problem-solving.  Diversity increases productivity by 66% and should be part of the team fabric.

5. Interdependence: Tribes thrived on the contributions of every member. In business, emphasizing interdependence reinforces the importance of each team member’s role in achieving collective goals. Knowing strengths and weaknesses of each member and accounting for that is crucial.

6. Trust and Loyalty: Trust was the bedrock of tribal leadership, earned through actions and fairness. Trust remains the cornerstone of effective leadership today.  Trust is so intertwined with loyalty and is the bedrock of great teams throughout history.

7. Protection and Provision: Tribes cared for vulnerable members, fostering empathy. In organizations, promoting a culture of support enhances employee well-being.  Ensuring that team members feel a sense of community and care is key and should be reciprocated across all levels of the organization.

8. Celebration of Achievements: Tribes celebrated together, reinforcing unity. Recognizing and celebrating accomplishments boosts employee morale and motivation.  This one is so important, but so neglected in most organizations we work with, unfortunately.

Incorporating these tribal principles into modern business teams can create a more inclusive, cooperative, and engaged workforce. These principles instill a sense of shared purpose, unity, and responsibility, forming the foundation upon which strong and successful organizations are built in our rapidly evolving world.  Learn from the past so you can build a stronger future!

As we venture forth in the dynamic landscape of business, let us remember the lessons of our tribal ancestors. Let us lead by example, nurture collective responsibility, resolve conflicts constructively, celebrate diversity, embrace interdependence, build trust, provide support, and never forget to celebrate our collective achievements. In doing so, we can forge bonds that transcend the ordinary, transforming our teams into tribes of resilience and excellence.


Over the last couple of years, I have been awed by the dominance of the University of Oklahoma women’s softball team.  As many of you know, I’ve been a huge college football fan since I was a kid, but with recent changes such as the player portal (giving players the ability to easily transfer to another school) and the NIL rules (allowing players to get paid for their Name, Image, and Likeness) it just doesn’t feel the same.  It feels like college football went from selfless teams with individuals you felt were like family members to feeling disconnected from the “team” concept and uninspired by some of the “what’s in it for me” stories coming out about the players.   Super disappointing to millions of us fans.  There is definitely a gravitational pull to finding sports that feels a little more authentic and inspiring…

But, hold on, this blog is not able college football, it is actually about leadership and building a high-performing team.  Research tells us that, at best, 20% of leadership teams are high performing. It also tells us that at least 50% of teams in organizations are underperforming.  So, of course, one of the best routes to success a leader can take is being able to build an effective team.  A high-performing team can be a game-changer for any company as it can significantly impact productivity, engagement, innovation, and profitability.  So, today I am going to introduce you to the  OU Women’s Softball program (if you don’t already know of them) and understand what nuggets of wisdom we can glean from the leader of that team to use in your own leadership journey.

The Background
When Patty Gasso first arrived in Norman, Oklahoma in 1995, she was overwhelmed.  After five years at Long Beach City College, this Californian was hired to take over Oklahoma’s softball program. While the work was the same, the grind and heightened workload of being a Division I coach left Gasso feeling underwater. “I thought going from junior college to Division I was kind of the natural step, but I found out it is absolutely not a natural step,” Gasso said. “The workload, the stress factor, the recruiting, everything is magnified by 1,000. And I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect it to be as tough as it was.”

Back in those days, before OU softball called their current Marita Hynes Field home, it had Reaves Park.  Don’t be fooled by the name. Reaves Park stretches from Timberdell Road to Constitution Street, just east of Jenkins Avenue, in Norman but was no mecca for softball. Yes, it’s where OU played its home games and even hosted postseason events before its current stadium opened in 1998.

But it’s quite literally a park. Home to family picnics, youth sports leagues, and the city’s annual Medieval Fair, Reaves Park provided humble beginnings to the Gasso era. OU’s dugout wasn’t big enough to hold its entire team, forcing a few players to sit on nearby wooden benches, meant for spectators. Recruiting was tough.  Team activities often included picking up trash, such as beer cans from the adult baseball and softball leagues that shared the venue, often before and after practice and games. Games, mind you, that the team could hardly charge fans money to attend, because, well, there weren’t exactly gates to keep anyone out.  And, worst of all, no excitement for the sport.

Today’s Reality
Fast forward to what Gasso’s Sooners have done since those early days.  It is dynastic. They’ve won six national titles in the past decade, starting with the 2013 championship, and continuing their latest last week. So, what exactly does this leader do to create such extraordinary results?  Here are three of the most relevant lessons from Gasso:

1. Surround Yourself with Great People
Gasso learned in her early years that the rigor of being a Division I coach could not be taken on by one person alone —  it required an elite staff working together.  The ability to craft a staff that’s able to execute her vision has been crucial in maintaining success.  “It’s about trusting your assistant, trusting your staff, appreciating your staff so that they’ll work for you,” Gasso said. “And when I first was here, I was trying to do everything myself, and that’s part of why I was so underwater. When I started to bring in coaches and give them bigger responsibilities that allowed me to oversee things versus trying to control everything, which was not working well for me.”

Gasso cultivates that trust in her staff by keeping those duties in the family of OU softball, and sometimes even within the Gasso family.  All of Gasso’s assistants in 2019 had some connection to the program before being hired as coaches. Her oldest son JT is an assistant, and her youngest son DJ is a graduate assistant. Associate head coach Jennifer Rocha played at Oklahoma from 1996 to 1998 and was a graduate assistant from 1999 to 2001 and Gasso hired five recent former players as assistants this season.  That’s no accident. Gasso intentionally and proactively hires people who have seen her coaching style —  a unique combination of tough love, compassion, and life lessons — up close and personal.

Business Questions:  Are you surrounding yourself with the best talent?  Do you trust people on your team?  Is there diversity on your team?  Are team members loyal to one another? Do you feel people on your team are competent and do what they say they will do?  Are people motivated and passionate about what you are trying to accomplish?

2. Evolution is Necessary for Survival
Gasso has evolved over time as a leader and attributes that change to part of the formula for success.  “When I got here, I wasn’t a player’s coach,” Gasso said. “I pushed, pushed, pushed. I was a discipline coach. I didn’t let players get away with a lot of things. I just ran a very tight ship.”

Kelli Braitsch, a freshman on Gasso’s first national championship team, knows that version of Gasso well. Following an expo tournament at Reaves Park, Braitsch and her mother, Judy, met with Gasso, who was still recruiting her at the time. Judy Braitsch inquired what position Gasso envisioned her daughter playing at the next level and received an answer her daughter can’t forget. “Coach Gasso looked directly at me,” Kelli Braitsch said, “even though my mom asked the question, and she said, ‘Kelli will play whatever position she earns.”  Braitsch now admits “In the end, I earned the spot that I deserved and that is one thing that I love and respect still to this day about Coach Gasso. She doesn’t care who you are, she doesn’t care what stats you had the year before or what you did in high school or whatever. Who cares that you’re an All-American one season, because the next season, you could be the worst player on the team.”

Gasso saw a need to change. She didn’t want to compromise her authenticity, but she understood coaching the way she did in the late 1990s wasn’t the way her program would sustain. “I knew that there was a generation change happening, and I knew that my style was not going to fit them,” Gasso said. “That’s when I knew I had to meet my players halfway. ”  Yep, she had to tweak her style to fit new circumstances.

During this time, Gasso naturally became the coach recruits wanted to talk to — a stark contrast from when Gasso was first cutting her teeth in big-time college softball, doing all she could to convince players to come to Norman at a time when softball championships ran through UCLA and Arizona.  Perhaps as important to anything she’s done as a coach, Gasso has learned how to uphold her lofty standards, while also building those meaningful bonds with her players and staff.  “The goals from my side are to make them understand that, win or lose, you’re loved, you’re appreciated and you’re fabulous.”  Players matter to this coach.

Business Questions: Do you emphasize the results AND the relationship?  Are the “goalposts” established so people know how to succeed?  Does your team have one another’s back?  Do people perceive that you really listen to their feedback?  Are members of the team continually growing?

3. Remember, There is Life Beyond Work
For those who have played for, coached with, and been raised by Gasso, the part of her style that stands out most has nothing to do with batting stances, throwing motions, or base running techniques — it’s her emphasis on preparing players for life beyond softball.  The crux of Gasso’s coaching isn’t separating teaching the minutia of softball and teaching broader concepts about life, she combines the two and uses athletic lessons to inform life lessons.

“It’s cool to be able to see how things correlate on and off the field —  she teaches us to be tough on the field and to stand our ground,” said Keilani Ricketts, who played for Gasso from 2010 to 2013. “And she teaches us off the field to have a voice and stand up for ourselves whenever we’re dealing with conflict… It inspires us to advocate for ourselves.”  Inspiring her players to advocate for themselves is exactly what Gasso aims to do. A coach directs, instructs, and trains her players to succeed on the field. But as an advocate, Gasso tries to transform her players from teenage girls to young women ready for professional softball, coaching, the workforce, or whatever else may await them.

She also utilizes some other interesting tactics for life skills.  “What we have started to do now is create like a blue-collar day, where after practice, they’re all given job responsibilities. Last night, we were raking leaves, we were blowing out the dugouts, we were down on our hands and knees picking up little pieces of trash from the indoors. They’re picking up trash behind the grandstands. I mean, they are sweeping off the turf.  Everybody’s got jobs. Like, you get to learn how to take care of your house. So this is our house. You want to know what it means to keep your house in order. This stadium is going to be in order as long as we’re here. So we’ve changed a few things and put them to work.”  It’s probably not the most popular thing she’s ever done, but for this team, there are new opportunities for team bonding, building a sense of pride, and taking care of the “little things.”

Business Questions:  Do you care about your employees beyond what they bring to the job?  Do you have a mentorship program?  Does your team think outside the box when creating team bonding experiences?  Can everyone on the team tell you what the purpose is of what they do every day?  Do you spend informal time together as a team?

In leadership, you always hear the stories.  The tough road that had to be traveled, the grit and determination that was needed, and the lessons learned along the way.  I’m sure you have many of those same stories.  Patty Gasso is no different and we can learn a lot from her experiences.  She would tell you the word “lukewarm” is a dirty word in the OU program. To her, it means someone is either half in or half out…They need to be either all in or not be in at all.  I actually feel that way about leadership.  Of course, there will be days you feel a little “off”, but if you are not totally committed to those three tenets laid out by Gasso… surround yourself with great talent, adapt your leadership when needed, and truly care about your employees…it will be tough to build that high-performing team you are working towards.

*Interview excerpts from OU Daily News

Have you ever had a month when the same themes keep coming up over and over?  It happens to me often…not sure if that is because I am looking for it or if the universe is trying to get a message to me.  This month has been like that.  The theme seems to be…take the time to focus on relationships, not tasks.  The first evidence of this theme was a story by Pam Berg that I read on Instagram:

Make the Chili
“A good friend of mine unexpectedly lost her husband.  A couple of months later we were running together chatting about nothing.  She asked what my dinner plans were, and I told her my husband wanted chili, but I didn’t feel like stopping at the store.  We ran a few more minutes when she quietly said, “Make the chili.”  It took me a few minutes to realize we were no longer talking about dinner. It was about going out of your way to do something for someone you love because, at any moment, they could unexpectedly be taken from you.

So today I’m sharing with you that wisdom handed to me by my dear friend, that I’ve thought of many times since that day.  Next time someone you love wants to go for a walk or watch a football game or talk to you about their struggles or just put your phone down and give them your undivided attention, just do it.  Make the chili.  Love deeply and selflessly.”

Post Malone 
A couple of weeks ago, Layla and I traveled to deliver a leadership program at an LNG company in Houston. The fourth business quarter is always a race to the finish as a consultant.  We are completing work that needs to be delivered before the holidays (everyone using their budget when they can) while also ramping up to deliver the needed work in the new year.  We often refer to it as “semesters” where sometimes there is a little more leisurely pace and other times it is finals.  It is easy to get burned out at this time and we all take a breath during our time off over the holidays.

The last couple of months had been incredibly busy so I knew I wanted to do something fun so that we could relax and re-energize together.  We were going to be staying downtown which just happened to be within walking distance of the Toyota Center.  Fortunately, there was a concert – Post Malone… which we both love…so I purchased tickets for us with dinner and drinks before the concert.  We had SO much fun.  We had a great dinner, the margaritas flowed, and we got to sing and dance, cutting loose to one of our favorite artists.  And you know what Layla said to me while one of the last songs was playing?  “I really needed this”.  So grateful we took the time because guess what?  So did I.  This was my second piece of evidence that a theme was developing.

Hanging Out and Feeling Loved
Opening up the mail one evening, I received an invitation from a friend to a “Girl’s Night Out”.  That friend, Candice, is an amazing woman in the community whose family has always been dear to me.  They are a hard-working family whose son played basketball with my son and, since graduating high school, has had an amazing professional career.  I’ve always been incredibly happy for their success and, at the same time, admired Candice because of her authenticity and dedication to the community.  Of course, I immediately texted her and told her I would be there.

As I approached the front steps of her house, I still wasn’t exactly sure what this evening was about.  Fundraiser?  A longstanding party with women I didn’t know?  I wasn’t sure, but I was up for the adventure.  I was greeted with a hug, a glass of wine, and a quick spin around the room.  There was amazing food, a fresh flower station where you could build your own bouquet, a permanent jewelry booth, a tree with a present for everyone, a photo booth, and a room full of about 50 new friends.  Once all of her guests arrived, Candice clinked a glass for attention and shared a story about a dear friend of hers who had ended up ill in the hospital.  She spoke of the regret she felt standing at her friend’s bedside.  The truth was, they were great friends, but with small children and a busy life, they had not made enough time to get to together.  She talked about how busy all of us get…moms, wives, and daughters… and how her intention for the evening was to create an amazing night for each of us to get to know one another, get a bit pampered, and build a community of strong women.

As Candice spoke, I teared up.  Here was my friend taking the time to make a difference in our lives. She was reminding each of us how much we mean to one another and how little we value it enough to slow down and take time together.  During that evening, I met new friends, felt loved and valued, and, overall, was inspired!  She had done an incredible job of making people her priority with a generous spirit and a few beautiful indulgences that touched our hearts.  The third evidence of a theme, do you see it?

Why Making People Your #1 Priority is Your #1 Priority
Now, why am I telling you about these little reminders that I seemed to be getting this last month?  Well, first, because I care about you, and second because I care about the people you are called to serve.  As a leader, I want you to get the same message I have been getting – slow down and be intentional in how you spend your time – especially these last few weeks of the year.  I know we all fall into the hustle and bustle of the season…but how can you relax a little and make it more meaningful with those you care about?

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others,” including the capacity to identify emotions, harness emotions, and apply them to tasks like problem-solving, and the capacity to regulate emotions and support others in the regulation of their own emotions.  I’m sure you have heard this before, but it is a very important concept for people who are in positions of leadership.  Our belief here at Steople is that as a leader you need EI to handle the time and energy that you must invest in your team.

Leaders must develop the capacity to care for and support team members as they encounter personal and professional challenges, from failed initiatives to failed marriages. This capacity changes the lens through which a leader looks at every meeting and interaction. Instead of approaching time with employees as solely a business-oriented strategy conversation, high culture/high-profit leaders focus on the support they provide to the team members involved. Certainly, much of that support is strictly professional (what resources do I need to expend, for this effort to be successful?) but a significant proportion is emotional as well (what support can I expend, for this person to be successful?). There is a business case for truly caring about and investing time in those who stand by you day in and day out reaching for your combined goals.

Being Intentional with a Plan
To me, it is great news that studies have found that CEOs (and all leaders)  who spend more time with their employees lead more productive companies.   It makes our job so much easier as we speak with each of you in your respective companies making the case that keeping people the priority pays dividends.  So what can you do to be more intentional?  Well, my recommendation is to start today and consider implementing the following:

  • Do your people know how relevant they are to the success of the team?  Do you take time to get to know them on a personal basis?  It should be part of your vocabulary and routine.
  • Prepare for each meeting on your calendar by asking the question, “Who is in this meeting, and how can I help them succeed as an individual and as a team member?”
  • Review your routine: does it reflect an orientation toward people? How would you get feedback if you are unsure?
  • What new habits could you start to make clear your prioritization of people? Office walk-throughs? Handwritten notes? Informal time together?
  • Among your executive team, who is the best at caring for people? How do they illustrate this care? Has it made them more successful? How could you celebrate their approach publicly, to encourage others to do the same?
  • Do you ever have someone say “I know you are busy…” Do you impress on people how busy you are which then somehow sends the message you don’t have time?  Do you leave “white space” on your calendar?

I’ll be totally transparent, much of the time, I choose what I write about based on what I am “feeling” now.  I’m working on this “slowing down” right along with you.  It is SO easy to get pulled into the running of the business and delivering to our clients.  Even as an organizational psychologist who knows all of this, I must continue to work on it.  It is easy for me to tell myself that people are busy, they don’t want interference, they don’t value the time to pause, and that I have other things that take precedence.  But even worse than that…one day can just roll into another without INTENTIONALLY making the time.  I believe that being honest and normalizing what our tendencies are is the first step to changing for the better.  So my question is, what are you going to tweak over the next few crazy weeks either personally or professionally?  Let us know how we can help continue to build those great leadership habits as we close out this year and move into 2023.  Remember, the next time someone you love wants to go for a walk or watch a football game or talk to you about their struggles or just put your phone down and give them your undivided attention, just do it.  Make the chili.  Love deeply and selflessly.

I woke up the other morning to the news that Bob Iger is returning as CEO of Disney.  Iger came up through the ranks in a 50-year career at Disney and has an almost mythical status as the leader. He spent 15 years as CEO and was instrumental in acquiring major brands like Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, the home to Star Wars. Iger also closed the $71 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox and kicked off the streaming revolution with Disney Plus. Most people would say that anyone would be hard-pressed to find someone who says a bad word about Iger.  And what does he attribute his success to? Building relationships, demanding excellence, and sweating the small stuff.

I’m sure most of you have been to the magical world of Disney. It is a rite of passage as a parent that you bring your kiddos to Disney to see that look of wonder when they set eyes on Mickey and the Princesses for the first time in person. We did that as a family…staying on property at The Animal Kingdom, getting Fast Passes, chasing after those character autographs, and watching Tinkerbell float across the sky during the evening light show. It was magical! But one of the memories I have of that trip has nothing to do with the Disney characters and more to do with a mistake I made that Disney helped me correct with their legendary service.

We had been having a great day in the Magic Kingdom…until I realized I didn’t have my phone. Now, this was in the early days of cell phones, and I remember that phone well…it was small and had a black and white checkered Coach phone case. Of course, panic struck and as I made my way to Lost and Found, I had very little hope that it would be there. But guess what I walked into? A room filled with cell phones…and there was mine sitting on the shelf!  I couldn’t believe it and automatically told the lady at the front desk…if this was any other theme park, it would have never been found. She nodded and said they had a swift protocol of how to handle a lost phone. They had even shut it off so that it wouldn’t drive the employees crazy and so that the battery would be saved when found by its owner. That was a WOW experience for this customer. It perfectly illustrated the care and planning for every single detail that Disney is known for.

The Story Behind Disney’s Trash Cans
Along with this “small catch” the theme park had implemented, there are 1,000 other small things that are tended to. At Disney, attention to detail is something of an art form, stemming from the founder, Walt Disney. His passion, which one could argue is at the very core of the company’s values, was famous for his eye for detail, and he made sure that everyone paid the same attention that he did. As an example, Disney trash cans are legendary. It Is rumored that there are holes underneath the cans where the trash is swept away in underground tunnels. It isn’t true, but what is true is that each and every can is created to be a piece of art that is specific to the part of the park that it is located. The cans are ever present in the background of Disney vacation photos. They’re a vital necessity to a pleasant guest experience. Yet, they’re barely noticed. The humble Disney trash can might be easily overlooked, but actually has celebrity status with people vying for the trash can merchandise and swag that can be found in the Disney stores.

Why did Disney focus on trash cans?  First, Walt realized that if you keep a place tidy, it’s more likely that guests will throw away their trash, so he did research into how far someone would walk before they dropped their trash on the ground. He found that 30 feet was the magic number, so wherever you go in a Disney Park, a trash can will never be more than 30 feet away from you. Second, every trash can is designed in a way that blends into its surroundings and doesn’t remove the guest from the immersion of their experience. They are works of art and are meant to enhance the customer experience.  Again, the little touches here and there truly make a difference.

Customers Notice Everything
You may not be consciously aware of it, but you are subjected to annoyances every day.  Some you might just filter out and move on, but others might really bug you over time and impact your satisfaction. Interestingly, there is a human premise that it’s always the little things people seem to notice and get annoyed about, not the big things. See if any of these annoyances resonate with you:

  • The dust ball in the corner after the professional cleaners “finished” their job.
  • The dirty marks on your cupboard door after the hinges have been replaced.
  • The realtor who didn’t remove their shoes when entering your home with a client.
  • The absence of free WIFI on the cruise you spent a lot of money on.
  • The appetizer you didn’t order on the restaurant bill.
  • The grease on the steering wheel after they have finished servicing your SUV.
  • The dropped call when we are trying to book a hotel room by phone.

These are the things we notice; they cause us to rethink whether we want to continue to do business with the guilty organization. These are the things they expect NOT to happen. They represent the basics of business, and we expect them to be performed without a flaw. But when things break down, we are emotionally caught up in the event and often behave in a way that doesn’t reflect who we really are. We confront the person who greets you at the phone store for not seeing us on time. It’s a small issue and shouldn’t matter, but it does. These are the things that we tell ourselves might indicate an organization is not concerned to do what’s necessary to finish the job completely for us. It says to us that they want to get it done and move on to the next customer.

Take Care of the Little Things
People get tired of the “big box culture”.  Someone once told me – people want to feel special and that they matter.  To be honest, that includes not just customers, but employees as well. That mantra has always stuck with me and has made me become more intentional in how we show up at Steople. My question to you is what small details in your company would frustrate customers? Not the big things, but the little things that might negatively impact your brand. How can you work on making the minute details as important as the big deliverables? What can be done?  Here are some sample actions that might be taken to implement strong “little things matter” values.

  • “They Notice Everything” posters should be plastered about the workplace to remind employees to take care of the little things for not only customers but their fellow employees.
  • Leaders should monitor every nook and cranny of the organization to pick up on and change “maybe they won’t notice” attitudes and behavior.
  • If customer surveys don’t already have questions relating to how well the little things are performed, add them. And include write-in comments to obtain a more personal customer perspective on what needs to be addressed.
  • Include “little things” as part of the internal quality control of your organization. If little things aren’t taken care of on the inside among employees, it won’t happen on the outside with customers. Set meaningful metrics to meet these.
  • Get input from frontline employees on the little things that are regularly missed and treat these as priorities for resolution. They know what the major issues are; listen to them.
  • Hold the leadership team in every function of the organization accountable for improving how well the little things are taken care of. Make it part of their annual performance and bonus plan.


Attention to detail is a culture that leads to sustainable competitive advantage because most organizations don’t have — or don’t desire to have — the competency.  They don’t understand the little things aren’t little at all, they’re HUGE and can make the difference between a wildly successful business and a mediocre or failed business.

This is the time of year for reflection on the last 12 months.  I encourage you to take stock of those things that might need to be focused on in the new year.  Here at Steople, we are always here to support you and help you with the things that matter most in your culture.  We are grateful for your partnership and wish you a great holiday weekend!


I know so many of you can relate to what I am about to say…we are looking for great talent!  It is the #1 need of our clients right now and we are in the exact same position.  We have about a 90% success rate so far and want to make sure that we keep our great record of hiring great talent alive and well.  Probably much like everyone else we are looking for people who are smart, diverse, caring, fun-loving, business-minded, entrepreneurial, team-oriented, and problem-solvers (I know what your thinking – is that it?). Well, since we talk to so many of you about your strategy, we thought we would give you a peek behind the curtain at what our talent strategy is and our thinking behind it.  It comes out of years of seeing best practices from other companies we have worked with:

1. We are highlighting that we are a great place to work in our branding.
If we don’t tell our story, others will do it for us—and it might not be the narrative we want. Having a clear job description was a prerequisite 10 years ago, but it’s time to up our game. Not only must we use our website as a platform to showcase what makes the work we do incredibly meaningful, but we must also carry our brand message across social media channels and in the stories we share in person. For example, recently we applied to the 2022 Best Places to Work, and on the question “How likely are you to recommend your organization to a friend or colleague?” we scored 100%.  We don’t highlight that enough! Doing so will paint an accurate picture of what we are about for prospective hires and let them know what it’s like to work for our company.

2. We are maximizing employee referrals.
An astonishing 96 percent of companies with 10,000 employees or more—and 80 percent of those with fewer than 100 workers—say referrals are their #1 source of new hires.  Honestly, if an employee is willing to put their reputation on the line and bring in one of their friends or family into the company, that is our best tactic! Every employee should be a recruiter for their company, but few think that way.  To fix that at Steople, we offer a large bonus check to any employee that provides a reference that is then successfully hired.  Then it makes it worth employees’ time to reach out to their contacts, rather than expecting them to do it out of the kindness of their hearts. We believe you must truly incent people, not just say “thank you”.

3. We are offering benefits based on our core values and being transparent about who we are.
We continually emphasize what sets us apart from our competitors and acknowledge that we are not the company for everyone.  For example, while we are a global company, we have smaller, more boutique offices in various regions that offer bespoke services to our clients.  Often, we have young college graduates who want to be at larger firms with Fortune 100 clients.  What I impress on them is that it depends on what they want…in a large firm they will learn a lot, but they will be a cog in the big wheel, while at our firm they will have a voice and essentially be able to “own” their own business.  Another differentiator is that, while we work hard, we have a lot of flexibility and aren’t the “road warriors” working 80+ hours a week that the big firms do.  See where I’m going?  Additionally, we are always revising our benefits package ensuring it aligns with our core values. Examples include offering a personal development budget because we are a learning culture and concierge medicine benefits, so employees can focus on their well-being.

4. We also love our committed contract workers and their need for flexibility.
Since 2009 we have utilized contractors who you would never know weren’t employees.  Their commitment and dedication are remarkable.  The pandemic has ignited the gig economy in other sectors and people are now embracing part-time talent especially since it is so difficult to find good talent or excessively costly to hire full-time employees. Since we are a service firm the nature of our work is flexible and project-oriented, so it really lends itself to part-time workers.  But what we have come to realize over time is that it isn’t the number of hours a week worked, but the commitment to the team, the clients, and excellent outcomes that is important to us.  Embracing “new” ways of working that aren’t a part of the typical employee pool is important, especially during times of low unemployment numbers when full-time talent is so difficult to find.

5. Remote work expanded our talent pool significantly.
We aren’t going to fight the relocation battle.  So much of the work we do in our firm now is either via Zoom for coaching or we travel to do in-person work with teams. We realize that talented candidates have myriad career choices, and many of them are going to opt against moving to pursue a job opportunity…in fact, over 80% of today’s workforce wants to work remotely in some fashion.  But what we also realize is that most organizations fail to effectively structure and manage remote workers which can turn a potential solution into a waste of resources as remote workers struggle to understand and complete their duties…that is something we are keenly aware could be an issue and want to guard against.  Yes, we really are organizational psychologists that are that self-aware!

Now, all we need is your help in finding our next great talent!  Send a great one our way today…
You will find a QR Code below to send on to anyone you know who might be a great fit for the Steople team!

As the leader walks into the room, people were greeting him with handshakes and smiles. You could feel his amazing presence the second he walked into the room. Everyone was anticipating what he was going to discuss. As I glanced around the room, I noted the dynamics of the different pairs and people on the team. Everyone was very cordial as they spoke together.

The ornate conference room was set up meticulously for the 24-member team. They were meeting together for the first time since several new individuals were hired. Team members started to arrive, and I could hear people greeting each other and mentioning their excitement that the whole team will be at the retreat. Mostly, they were excited to hear from their leader about their progress and looking forward to working together into the future.

The leader proceeded to kick-off the meeting with a brief story about himself – how he grew up and how he got started in the business many years ago. He had a PowerPoint deck prepared with numbers and statistics to back up his story.  However, the very inspiring moment came when he started to articulate his past, present, and future vision for this team and the organization. He then told the story of how this team consisted of only 3 people jotting down ideas of how to expand on his very ambitious long-term goal in the industry. He took his idea and consistently prodded the stakeholders to invest in his idea and him. It took several years for the stakeholders to finally buy in, but he was relentless.  The stakeholders finally accepted his challenge, and the team of 3 grew to the 24 individuals in the room.

One of the activities of the day was to share journey lines. They each discussed 8-10 life events made up of personal and professional events that have now shaped them into who they are today. You could feel the excitement around the room as the leader discussed his own life events. The theme was that of tenacity and perseverance. He set the tone for the rest of the team as they illustrated and spoke of their own journey lines. This was the “past” portion of the meeting.

He then proceeded to talk about the journey line of the business.  He honored the past, spoke of the challenges they have endured along the way, and shared what it took to become the strong business they are today. Lastly, he shared his own vision and articulated what he sees for the future of the work and his team. He discussed how every single person fit into the bigger picture, what they needed to accomplish, and why the work is important. Looking around the room, I saw people taking notes and listening in awe to this leader’s words.  It was inspiring.

The day progressed with some strategic milestone benchmarks and ended with an exercise of how the team is expected to collaborate and break down silos in order to achieve this ambitious goal that had been laid at their feet. A month later, and the update following the retreat is amazing. The 24 individuals have reported improved collaboration and productivity in addition to reaching one of their benchmarks goals within one month after meeting. It’s incredible!  Everyone knows the vision and why they do what they do. It is clearly engraved into their own vision of how they need to work together to achieve this common goal. They walked in cordial to each other and walked out as if they were old friends.

Remember, leaders bring the weather! Clearly articulating the vision and core purpose of the team enables everyone to understand their role and provides guidelines of expected behavior to achieve the larger goal. This leader started his team on their individual and collective journeys.  By sharing his own story, they were able to follow the signs he had clearly posted along the way that allowed them to gain alignment and ensure a clear path forward.

What is your story? Steople consultants are ready to begin the work of articulating your vision through storytelling. Will you accept the challenge?