Brenda's Blog

Does negative feedback really work?

When it comes to leadership, there is one topic that most people either love or hate.  What is it?  That ever-so-dreaded, eight-letter “f” word – feedback (~smile~). In fact, pause right now and reflect on how you feel about feedback, either giving or receiving it …. Where do you place yourself on the love-it-hate-it scale?

The aspect of feedback that  leaders often dread most is having to give “negative” feedback to someone who just isn’t performing at the level needed. How do you get that person to deliver what is required while still helping him or her stay motivated? That’s key to strengthening your brand as a leader. But…. how can it be done?

Here’s a story from my own past about trying to correct poor performance through feedback and what did – and did not – work. 

Pam was a team member who worked for me for many years. A multi-talented individual, she was creative, diligent, fun to work with, and capable of visualizing the big picture. All in all, Pam was a joy to have as an employee.

Unfortunately, though, Pam was challenged in one area that was important for her job: She lacked good attention to detail. She regularly made a number of small mistakes that added up to a big problem for me, given the time and attention those errors and the resulting rework caused.

Not wanting Pam’s lack of detail to derail what was otherwise a stellar performance, I tried many ways to help Pam develop in this area. She showed a strong willingness to do whatever it took to improve, so I coached her quite frequently on this improvement area. This went on for a long time, but those attempts didn’t seem to be working.

An Out-of-The-Box Approach

I finally sat down with Pam and said, “We’ve tried a number of approaches, Pam, but they haven’t worked. Be honest – what would you do if you were in my shoes?”

After a brief pause, she responded, “Well, I’m motivated by money,” she told me, “so why don’t you charge me $5 for every mistake I make? Keep track of the mistakes, and I’ll actually pay you for them.”

Surprised by Pam’s unique suggestion, I asked, “Are you sure? After all, I am supposed to be paying you, not the other way around!” We both chuckled, but Pam assured me she wanted to pursue this approach.

I offered to reduce the penalty to $1 per mistake instead, but Pam was adamant: “The stakes need to be high for my motivation.” She said, “Let’s keep it at $5 per error.”

It was the beginning of a new calendar year, so Pam and I agreed to try this error-tracking system until the end of the first quarter. Per Pam’s request, I set up an Excel sheet and tracked her mistakes for the following three months.

“Money Motivation” Failure

The results? In a word: disastrous. Pam ended up making even more mistakes than usual that quarter, and by the end of the 90-day period, she owed me close to $400!

When I shared the results with Pam, she was crushed and even shed a few tears. But she was also very determined to prove that she could bring down that amount in the coming quarter. So, I agreed to keep tracking mistakes for another 90 days.

Unfortunately, at the end of that second quarter of the year, Pam had made even more mistakes and owed me an even larger amount of money than the previous quarter. Once again, this was a big disappointment for both of us.

By this time, I was more frustrated than ever with Pam’s performance. She was not only making more mistakes, but now, she was also more demoralized than ever, too. For me as a team leader, watching for mistakes had created far more work for me than it was worth – I definitely didn’t like my role as “error-tracker.”

Pam and I sat down to discuss. “Clearly, this isn’t working,” I shared with her. “We can’t keep this up. How about we give this a rest?” We both gladly agreed and said that we would talk about it some more later on.

A Critical Shift

When I look back on it now, surprisingly, Pam and I never really discussed how to move forward after that. We both got very busy and forgot about tracking errors. I just embraced what Pam was doing well and – even more than normal – let her know how much I appreciated her good work and all of the qualities that made her a great team member.

Suddenly, three months had gone by and – guess what? – Pam had only made a few minor mistakes. Fast forward to yet another three months after that, and Pam hadn’t made any mistakes at all! So, as we closed out that calendar year, the back-half represented six whole months of mistake-free work. It was a complete turnaround!

What had happened to cause that shift? I sat back and reflected.

The Futility of Negative Feedback

Why didn’t the mistake-tracking system work to prevent Pam’s errors? Because it forced us both to focus on the negative aspects of Pam’s performance rather than on the positive.

It was a testament to the adage: What you focus on grows. Subconsciously, Pam knew she was being watched and that she had the $5-per-mistake penalty hanging over her head. She knew that she was being judged and that the two of us were focusing on the errors she was making. This moved her into a place of fear, her confidence dropped, and that caused her to stop believing in herself. It became a negative spiral.

As a leader, I also ended up in that same spiral because the more I looked for Pam’s mistakes, the more mistakes I expected, and – sure enough – the more mistakes I found.

Lesson Learned

This experience reinforced an incredibly important lesson for leaders to keep in mind:

Negative feedback never works.

Only forward-focused, constructive feedback works.

When both Pam and I shifted our mindset toward concentrating on what she was doing well, she let go of her self-judgment, and I stopped judging her, too. As a result, she began to make dramatically fewer mistakes.

Certainly, if an employee needs to improve in a specific area, it’s important to address it. But I encourage leaders to start by focusing on what the team member is doing right. Then, when you bring up an area that needs developing, do it without placing blame or finding fault. Be objectively curious. Ask questions. See the development as an opportunity to improve rather than a problem that “has to be fixed – or else.”

Remember: What you focus on grows, so focusing on the negative will only ever bring you more negativity, which is counterproductive for everyone involved. When you place your attention on what’s going well, you’ll have a much better shot at helping an employee improve performance.

Build your brand as an inspiring leader – in 3 minutes or less

As we head deeper into the year 2019, I have some exciting news to share with you and a thank-you gift, too!


First, the news: The 2019 Global Gurus lists have just been released, and I am happy to share with you that I have been ranked #7 among the World’s Top 30 Coaching Professionals and #4 among the World’s Top 30 Branding Professionals. Wow!

It is such an honor to be in the company of amazing coaches like Marshall Goldsmith, Tony Robbins, and Jack Canfield, and I am beyond grateful to you for your votes and for your ongoing support through the years.

I genuinely don’t know how to thank you enough.

As one way to show my appreciation, I wanted to share a dozen, short-duration video clips that have just been posted – each 3 minutes or less. These videos are excerpted from an interview I did last year, addressing the topic of how to be an inspiring leader of others and build a strong brand for yourself.

So many of my clients say they want to learn and grow as leaders, but how do you do that while facing a seemingly constant shortage of time?  I hope these short, to-the-point videos will not only help in that regard, but that they will also serve to inspire you.

How to build your brand as an inspiring leader – in 3 minutes or less

Time, time, time.  We save time, make time, find time, waste time. We say “time flies.” And most leaders tell me they are seemingly always short of it – they never seem to have enough time.

In the middle of all that, you still want to grow and learn as a professional and to build a strong brand as an inspiring leader.

So, how do you do that, given limited time?

In response to that, the team here at Brenda Bence International has put together a series of 12, short-duration videos.  In these 1-3-minute videos excerpted from a recent online interview with Sha Nacito from the HR Summit Global, I share many simple yet powerful tips, tools, and techniques to help you build an inspiring brand for yourself as a leader.

Chock-full of learnings I’ve gained through almost two decades of working with hundreds of successful leaders, you’ll hear answers to questions such as:

Thank you again for your support, and I hope you will find these videos both helpful and inspiring!  I’ll be posting more videos through the year, so feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel, if you’re interested.   I look forward to hearing from you.

Seven Ways to Make Sure Your Vision for the Future Becomes Reality


Happy 2019! At this time of the year, most of us think about what we want to achieve in the coming 365 days. Where do YOU™ want to be by December 31, 2019?

One of the key ways to get from where you are to where you want to be is to be crystal clear on your vision for the future – not just in terms of your career, but in all areas of your life. That’s why a part of my Executive Coaching program involves helping senior leaders gain clarity on what they really want their future to look like.

To do this, clients create what I call “A Day in the Life.” As a result of this exercise, clients walk through, then capture in writing, what their ideal day would be like once they have achieved their coaching goals.

I’m sure you’ve heard of visioning exercises similar to this, and maybe you’ve even tried one or two. Perhaps they didn’t work for you, so you’ve decided it’s not effective at all. I hear that often: “I tried visioning, Brenda, but it just doesn’t work.”

That’s not my experience. Countless numbers of clients have seen their visions come to life – in every detail, word for word. So why do some people succeed at visioning while others fail?

In this post, I share how you can make your vision come true, too.  This is key to strengthening your leadership brand and to setting yourself up for even greater success in the future.

I’ve learned through years of working with clients that the reason some people succeed in achieving their visions and some don’t is all about how the vision is crafted. If you don’t create your vision properly, you’ll struggle to turn it into reality.

Below are the seven most common mistakes I see clients make while in the visioning process. Avoid these, and you’ll be on your way to turning your vision for the future into reality.


The 7 Most Common Visioning Mistakes – and How to Avoid Them

 Mistake #1: Creating your vision in future tense, rather than in the present tense. Words like “I will,” “My life will be,” “I hope to,” or “I anticipate” only create more hope and anticipation. Instead, use phrases like, “I am” and “My job is…” When you create your vision as if it’s already a reality, before you know it, it will be.

Mistake #2: Focusing only on “doing” and ignoring feelings. Most visions I see reflect what people will “do” in their ideal state – the activities they’ll undertake. But it’s critically important to focus as well on how your vision day makes you feel when you’re experiencing it.

  • You don’t want a promotion simply for the sake of a promotion. You want how that promotion makes you feel.
  • You don’t want more money just to have those pieces of paper with numbers on them. No, you want money because it helps you feel more secure, gives you a sense of freedom in order to do what you love to do, etc.

So, the key is to focus on what you are feeling when you are living your ideal life. What emotion do you experience when you wake up? When you walk into your office? When you observe your dedicated and capable team doing their jobs with excellence? Add feelings to every step of your ideal vision – it’s a vital part of the process. After all, we are not human “doings,” we are human beings, and we experience our work and life through feelings.

Mistake #3: Talking about others’ feelings but not your own. When creating visions, don’t fall into the trap of thinking about others’ emotions, such as, “My team feels great” or “The Board is happy with my contributions.” Instead, your vision can reflect how others are showing you how they feel. Do they smile more? Is there more laughter at work? Have you received a congratulatory note from a Board member? Once you’ve defined that, add in how these experiences make you feel.


Mistake #4: Stating your vision with the absence of a negative rather than the presence of a positive. “I leave work early without feeling guilty” is an example of a vision statement sentence which focuses on the absence of a negative. In this case, you’re trying to avoid the negativity of guilt. Instead, turn things around, and state your vision with the presence of a positive: “I leave work early with a sense of peace, knowing that my team has everything under control.” Here are other examples of negative-versus-positive vision sentences:

  • Negative: “I don’t have to micromanage my team.”
  • Positive: “My team members handle their tasks expertly and independently.”
  • Negative: “I don’t have conflict with my peers.”
  • Positive: “Interactions with my peers are harmonious and easy.”

Mistake #5: Only including your business or professional life in your vision, leaving out your personal life.  A great leader is well-rounded, so it’s key to include all the various aspects of your desired life in your vision. What do you want for yourself personally, as well as in your career? Some of my clients, for example, will leave out important personal steps, beginning their day in their vision by going to work. But what about family interactions in the morning before leaving for work, or connecting with friends after work? Be sure to include your life mate/spouse, family, friends, hobbies, charity work, etc. as an integral part of your ideal day.


Mistake #6: Struggling to make your vision truly “ideal.” Living your ideal reality may seem so far off that it’s hard to even imagine what such a future would be like. I see that in phrases such as “only a few mistakes are made by my direct reports,” or “I start my day reading emails.” Is that what you really believe is “ideal?” Wouldn’t you rather envision no mistakes made and/or starting your day with a reflective walk in the park? Check yourself if you start to make your vision less than perfect. This is your chance to create a future that you truly desire.

Mistake #7: Not stretching your vision enough. If your vision only brings incremental improvement instead of significant improvement, it’s time to stretch yourself more. Go for the career and life you really want. Make note of everything that has changed in this ideal life, including what you’re doing that’s very different from today, how you relate to others differently, how different work and life feel, and how others relate to you. Do you have your usual work meetings, or does your ideal vision mean you can skip certain meetings? How many hours do you spend at the office? Be specific and stretch yourself.

Make Your Vision Come to Life


You’ve written your vision according to these guidelines above… now what? Here are a few simple starter tips for how to turn your vision into reality:

  • Carry your vision around with you at all times. Keep it in your pocket or your purse as a constant reminder of what you are aiming for.
  • Read it at least every other day, but don’t just read the words. Take time to let the vision sink in, and remember to feel what it’s like to live this, day in and day out.
  • Act, react, look, sound, and think as though that visionary life is how your life is now. Live your vision. Embody it 24/7 – now.

If you avoid the seven most common mistakes in crafting your vision and follow the simple tips outlined above, you’ll soon find your vision has turned into your life.

I wish you a 2019 filled with the joy of possibility.



In 2019, will you let this anchor hold you back?


Do any of these situations sound familiar to you?

  • Deepa kept going back over something she had said to her boss, reliving it again and again in her head, caused herself angst, and beating herself up relentlessly about it.
  • Wang Wei had a bad experience presenting to the Board of his company and had convinced himself that they thought he was incapable and that he would never do well in front of the Board again.
  • Sarah had made a poor investment choice and, since then, continued to believe she was bad at managing money, to the point where it consistently and negatively impacted her financial situation.
  • William was in a car accident which resulted in bad back problems, and he complained about it so often that his brand at work had become “the guy with the bad back who always complains about that accident he had.”

If you can relate to any of the examples outlined above, you may be letting a past situation keep you stuck, well… in the past! I’ve seen this occur in many coaching clients over the years.

Here’s a powerful truth about the past: Can you change it? No. Yet every time we go back to something that happened in our history – every time we let a memory of some long-ago situation cause us angst or worry – we are actually “honoring” that experience. Whether it happened last week, last month, or even several years ago, every time we relive it or refer back to it, we are further ingraining that experience into our system. In doing so, we are allowing that experience to serve as an anchor, keeping us stuck in the past.


What’s the implication? As long as we are doing that, we can’t truly move forward to the future. Constantly referring to your past is like having a ball and chain permanently clasped around your ankle.

And, just who is this bothering, really? No one else knows you are going through this private angst, so the only person these past regrets are keeping up at night is you… keeping you in fear and frustration, anger and irritation, regret and sorrow. I ask sincerely: How is that serving you?

The Case of Jacob

Jacob was a client who, years ago, had gotten fired by a disgruntled boss. Jacob was ashamed – mortified even – about the experience, so he kept his past firing hidden, a secret that he hadn’t even shared with his wife or family. And he certainly hadn’t let any of the bosses he had had since then know that he had been fired.

In the years that followed, Jacob had actually become a good performer. He had been hired by a couple of great companies and was offered promotions and increasingly higher salaries along the way.

But there was always a fear lurking in Jacob: Would he be fired again? As a result, Jacob was letting that past situation anchor him, always worried that – at any moment – he could suddenly lose his job.

He came to me, saying that he was tired of the constant worry, the angst. He realized it wasn’t serving him and wondered how to let it go.

The Process of Releasing Past Anchors

“First, Jacob,” I said, “let’s make a list of all the ways your past firing has made you who you are today. Don’t overthink it.  Let the list roll off the top of your head.”


It took him a while to get started, but then Jacob surfaced a few points. Getting fired in the past had made Jacob…

… stronger in character, which he pointed out was key to success in today’s ever-changing world.

…more resilient, realizing now that he could handle anything that came his way.

…clearer about the kinds of jobs he wanted, ultimately leading to greater success.

…smarter in his choices about the types of bosses he wanted to work for.

…more determined to succeed and to demonstrate to himself and others that he was good at what he did.

“Excellent start,” I said. “Now, keep this list handy and continue adding to it in the coming days. Your goal is to make the longest list possible of how the experience of being fired has helped shape who you are today.”

Jacob kept adding more points over the next couple of weeks, until he couldn’t think of anything more. When he and I reconnected, he handed me his list, which had grown considerably.

I read out loud to Jacob the points he had written, emphasizing clearly each benefit. When done, I asked him, “Hearing all of the ways being fired has made you better, Jacob, how do you feel about that experience now?”

“Honestly, I’m amazed,” he responded. “I realize now that being fired really did help shape who I am today. I would never have thought of it that way.”

“Consider this: How would you be different today if that firing hadn’t ever happened?” I asked.

Jacob paused. “Whoa… now that’s a new way to think about it,” he said slowly. “Well, if I hadn’t been fired, I wouldn’t be as strong, capable, nor as successful as I have become.”

I paused to let that soak in. “And all of that comes from something you had thought was a bad situation. With that in mind, Jacob, what is one word you would use to describe how you feel now toward the experience of having been fired?”


It didn’t take Jacob long to respond. “Grateful,” he replied, “and almost … well, ‘fortunate!?’ That seems so hard to believe, but it’s true.”

“If that past experience were a person, what would you say to that person today?”

“Thank you,” he responded, then added with a twinkle in his eye, “and good riddance!”

Jacob’s firing had served its purpose. It was time to appreciate all of the learning gained from that past scenario so that he could focus solely on the future – on the joy of what “could be” rather than on the regret of what “had been.”

Let’s Apply This to YOU™ ®


It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t have some negative experience that they relive over and over again. Pause right now, and be honest with yourself: What is one negative situation about the past that you keep replaying in your mind?

As we approach the end of 2018, I encourage you to let go of that experience, once and for all. How would 2019 be a different year for you if you were to completely release that negative from your past?

If you’re ready to drop-kick something that happened to you in your history, walk yourself through the same approach I used with Jacob. Because the best year-end gift you can give yourself is the gift of learning from – and letting go of – the anchor called “the past.” That’s what will allow you to approach 2019 focused on the joy of what “could be,” not the ball-and-chain of what “was.”



The Power of Your Thoughts, as a Leader


I am fascinated by just how easily most of us dismiss the power of thoughts. How, more often than not, we are unaware of what we are thinking or believing at any given time – and therefore also unaware of the tremendous impact those thoughts and beliefs can have in the way our jobs, our careers, and our lives unfold.

Take for example an incident I experienced while I was living and working in Poland a little over 20 years ago. I was a brand leader at Procter & Gamble (“P&G”), and it was an amazing time to be in that part of the world. Not long after the wall had fallen in Berlin, I had been tasked with helping to establish P&G’s Eastern European operations. My job was to launch and grow key brands and to develop people. Given the circumstances at that time in history, “leading people” essentially meant teaching ex-communists to be capitalists. (What an experience that was!)


On this particular morning, I was rushing to get to the office for an important meeting that was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Due to bad traffic, I arrived ten minutes late – and I hate to be late! So, I rushed straight into my office, grabbed the materials I needed, and headed to the conference room to join the meeting already in progress.

Two hours later, as I returned to my office, I found one of my direct reports, Nadia, waiting for me.

Based on her red nose, large, swollen eyes, and facial tissues she was clutching in her hand, it was obvious that Nadia had been crying – a lot.

By way of background, Nadia was my shining star – one of the smartest, most capable and enjoyable team members I had. She embraced a positive attitude and was always focused on winning.

But “that” Nadia was not the clearly upset, nose-blowing Nadia who sat in my office that morning.

I immediately pulled up a chair across from her, sat down, leaned in, and said, “Nadia, what’s wrong?”

Through her tears, she managed to get the words out, “Why are you firing me?”

I was shocked. “What?” I replied.

“Why are you firing me?” she repeated.

I was dumbfounded. Where was this coming from?

As it turns out, in communist-Poland times, if a boss was going to fire someone, the boss would walk past that person on the morning they were to be fired, without saying hello.

In my attempt to get to my meeting on time, I had apparently rushed right by Nadia and had not even realized it.The result? Nadia had read that as a sign of her impending unemployment – resulting in her losing an entire morning due to confusion, panic, disappointment, and grief.


I learned so much from that experience (for one thing, focus on relationships more than tasks!). Mainly, this incident illustrated for me just how important ingrained beliefs are. Think about it: All that turmoil for Nadia was caused by one single belief – just one simple thought.

And what had “really” happened? I had simply walked by Nadia without saying anything (I honestly hadn’t noticed her!). It was the interpretation of that action – the belief that Nadia held about that action – which caused her an entire morning of angst.

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you ever heard something secondhand at work – you either misunderstood what you heard, or what you were told was misrepresented – and, as a result, you were full of worry, upset, anger… only to find out later that you were completely mistaken?

As leaders on the job, we are being driven by hundreds of assumptions every single day, and they can often steer us incorrectly.

It all comes down to the way we think as leaders – the underlying ingrained beliefs we have. And these beliefs are fueling us all day, every day. They impact the way we feel, which in turn impacts the actions we take, and – ultimately – drives the outcomes we get.


Yet we often ignore thoughts and beliefs, simply because they are intangible. In general, we pay more attention to behaviors and words. “But those are just thoughts,” clients will tell me. “It’s what I say or do that matters most, right?”

No. I believe we underestimate and underutilize the tremendous power and the amazing impact that our thoughts and beliefs carry.

So, if you are not already doing so, as a coach I encourage you to watch your thoughts like a hawk – and with objective curiosity. Look at what you are thinking as if you were an objective outsider, as if they were not “your” thoughts. Is what you are thinking really serving you? If not, choose to change those thoughts. Because what you think – and believe – is ultimately driving the outcomes you get. And that is what will help you be a better self-leader and a greater leader of others, which of course will help you build a strong brand as a leader on the job.

How to Successfully Manage Up to Your Boss and Across to Your Peers

A potential new executive coaching client, Ethan, came to my office one day, confused and distressed due to the results of his 360-degree feedback report.


The good news was that his direct reports adored him. “Best boss ever!” one had written. Another gushed, “I love coming to work because I get to work for him!” They described him as open-minded, friendly, sincere, a good listener, firm when he needs to be, a boss who clearly communicates his objectives, and then follows up effectively. Without a doubt, Ethan was doing things right when it came to leading his team.

The not-so-good news came from two other sources—first, from Ethan’s two bosses, one direct and one dotted line. These two superiors saw him in a completely different way, evidenced by their critical comments. Here are just a few examples:

  • Lacks initiative
  • Lacks visibility
  • Doesn’t facilitate discussions
  • Doesn’t offer visionary ideas or examples
  • Needs to be more tenacious
  • Doesn’t lead from the front
  • Needs to develop a broader network among his peers and next-level managers

The second source of not-so-good feedback news came from Ethan’s peers who were equally critical:

  • Should get involved more
  • Needs to hold discussions to resolve matters
  • Doesn’t engage the broader group
  • Has unclear objectives
  • Communicates poorly
  • Doesn’t get enough support to make things happen
  • Shows a lack of ownership

Ethan was shocked and upset with the results. “How can the outcomes amongst the three groups be so different?”

I asked Ethan to reflect on how much time he spent—in any given week—with direct reports vs. his boss and/or peers. He paused for a second, and then responded, “Come to think of it, I probably spend about 95% of my time with my direct reports.”

The “penny dropped,” as they say, and Ethan realized he was spending much less time managing “up and across,” which automatically meant that his bosses and his peers simply didn’t see him in action all that much. The feedback was a clear indication that Ethan wasn’t managing all of his stakeholders with the same level of focus.

I have seen this challenge with multiple coaching clients. When you are at the mid-level of an organization, you are learning how to get results from the individuals and teams you supervise. So, it’s understandable that, up to that point, you would focus on “managing down.” After all, early in your career, leading staff is a major factor in your success; it helps you get promotions, raises, and gain status and a good reputation within the organization.

But that isn’t how it works as you move up to higher positions in an organization. With increasing necessity, balancing time with all stakeholders becomes more critical. Indeed, managing superiors and same-level colleagues—managing up and across—becomes just as important to your career as managing down. Let’s explore this common gap in a senior leader’s self-leadership arsenal.

Managing Across to Peers: How “Connected” Are YOU™?


Two of my coaching clients, Joelle and Hritesh, were partners in the same law firm. Their styles and priorities were vastly different: Joelle consistently built her internal network, taking time for peer lunches, connecting with fellow partners for dinners, and setting aside work for five-minute chats with colleagues in the office. She also took time to connect people in her network with each other, helping them build their own networks and relationships. In short, she demonstrated good self-leadership when it came to managing across.

Hritesh’s focus, however, was primarily external, and he spent the bulk of his time keeping clients satisfied and bringing in business. He didn’t really see the importance of building internal relationships—after all, he had cases and files to move off his desk, and there never seemed to be enough hours in the day for anything else.

Both partners brought in roughly the same amount of revenues, and for a while, they were at the same level in the firm’s organizational structure. But within just three years, Joelle had advanced very quickly, catapulting herself up not just one, but two levels higher within the firm. Hritesh, on the other hand, remained in the same post despite his aspirations to move up. His one central mistake: He hadn’t built solid internal relationships.

It isn’t uncommon for people to reach levels close to the C-Suite and not make it to the highest levels of the organization because of one thing: They didn’t cultivate positive relationships with their peers on the way up. So, learning to manage across is a very important self-leadership skill. After all, a peer today may become your subordinate – or your boss – tomorrow.

How Do You Coach “Up?”

If you’re like most leaders, you probably think of “coaching” as what you do when you lead and direct others who work for you. But it can also be an extremely effective tool when applied to any relationship, including coaching up to bosses and across to peers. Here are a few tips to follow:


 1.  One of the best techniques for coaching up and across—that is, for guiding bosses and peers to new, more effective behaviors—is to first, make an objective, factual statement, and then ask powerful, open-ended questions that are aimed toward the big-picture, higher-level arena within the organization. It takes a bit more time and creativity than simply telling bosses and peers what’s on your mind, but asking good, strategic, open-ended questions builds relationships, trust, and transparency and can have positive, long-lasting effects.

By open-ended questions, I mean questions that don’t elicit a one-word “yes” or “no” response but require the other person to elaborate. By asking and not telling, you will get others to pause, reflect, grow, and come up with answers.

2.  Pick the right time. Neither you, your superior, or your peer should be in a rush or tired at the end of a long day.

3.  Get into a good frame of mind. Approach the conversation with curiosity. You’re here to explore, so don’t go into the discussion attached to a specific desired outcome or expectation.

4.  Get out of the “me vs. you” mindset, and rise up into “we.” Ask yourself:  What positive outcomes can come from this conversation that will not just help us work together more effectively, but will support the overall objectives of our team, our function, and the company?

5.  Prepare—and practice out loud—the words you want to say until they sound natural and you feel comfortable.

As you can see, self-leadership requires that you make a conscious effort to regularly manage up to your boss and across to your peers.

Reflect… Are you spending enough time with each of your various stakeholder groups?  Assess your current situation, and devise a plan to start managing more effectively up and across within the next two weeks.

For more self-leadership tips, pick up a copy of my book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.



What Does It Mean to Be a Great “Self-Leader”?

Often, when we hear the word “leader,” we think of an individual who leads others. But people-leadership is only one part of an executive’s journey. Yes, people-leadership skills are absolutely critical to success … but on their own, they are not enough to help you reach your full potential. Before you can effectively lead subordinates, you must first effectively lead yourself.

Self-leadership is the missing piece for so many executives—
a key area of leadership that often gets neglected.

In other words, you cannot successfully manage others until you’re adept at managing your own mindset, actions, and reactions.


How do I know this is true? It has become clear to me in my career as an executive coach, during which I have worked with hundreds of leaders from more than 60 nationalities and a wide variety of industries. Before that, I was an executive myself in multinational corporations, building brands across dozens of countries on four continents.

My first lesson about self-leadership occurred years ago during an unexpected encounter with John Pepper, then-Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble (P&G). It was a hot August night in Cincinnati, Ohio, the home of P&G’s world headquarters. I had just flown in the day before from China, where I was living and working for P&G as an expat, to attend a global meeting for the company’s marketing leaders. Once the all-day event was over, I holed myself up in a corner of the darkened 9th floor—my old stomping grounds when I worked there—in order to catch up on emails.

Glancing at my watch, I realized it was almost 9:30 p.m., so I packed up my things to head back to the hotel. Making my way through a half-lit hallway, I reached the elevator bank and pushed the “down” button. As I glanced up, I realized the elevator was descending from the 11th floor.

Back then, the 11th floor of P&G’s world headquarters was called “Mahogany Row” due to the beautiful mahogany desks that graced the space. Those desks belonged to the highest-level leaders in the multibillion-dollar corporation—P&G’s C-Suite Executives: the CEO, the COO, the CFO, the CMO, the CIO, the C-I-E-I-O (you get my drift).


Standing there watching the elevator numbers counting down from 11 … to 10 … to 9, a thought flashed through my mind: “I wonder if anybody from the 11th floor will be sharing the car with me.”

As if on cue, the elevator doors opened, and sure enough, there stood John Pepper. As I stepped inside, it suddenly hit me: I was going to have nine floors—count ‘em, nine—of one-on-one time with the company’s #1 executive.

Because I had presented to John many times, I knew he was aware that I was managing key company brands in Greater China, an important strategic location for the company. I also knew that after 30 hours of long-haul travel and attending an all-day meeting, the pistons of my brain-engine weren’t exactly hitting on all cylinders. That’s when I heard inside my head the wise voice of one of my favorite mentors, saying, “Brenda, always be prepared with a question for upper management in case you run into them. Because if you don’t ask them a question, they will ask you one.”

So, to avoid being faced with a brain-challenging inquiry in my exhausted state, I turned and said, “Good evening, John. It’s nice to see you. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Not at all,” he answered. “Feel free.”

“There’s something I’ve been wondering about,” I said. “I understand what it takes to progress from Assistant Brand Manager to Brand Manager. And I’m clear about what’s required to move from Brand Manager to Associate Marketing Manager and from there to Marketing Manager. I’m even clear on what it takes to advance from Marketing Manager to Marketing Director and from Marketing Director to Vice President. But above those levels, what is required to get promoted from, say, Executive Vice President to Senior Executive Vice President? In other words, at the most senior levels of the company, why do some leaders keep moving up the ladder and others don’t?”


I’ve never forgotten what Mr. Pepper shared with me late that August evening. “Those who do not make it to the highest levels of the organization are the executives who stop being ‘coachable.’ They believe they no longer need to accept feedback. They don’t try to keep learning or growing, and they don’t believe they need to stretch themselves anymore. They sit back, earn the big paycheck, and take in all the perks that come with a grand title. They believe they’ve ‘made it.’ Those are the leaders who don’t last long because being coachable is fundamental to leadership success.”

Mr. Pepper’s powerful advice has influenced me ever since. Since then, I have tried to emulate great self-leaders by initiating a daily habit of asking myself, “How coachable am I today?” And I have suggested that my executive coaching clients do the same.

Break the “CCODE”

I believe great self-leaders also follow what I call the “CCODE,” an acronym that is a recipe for self-leadership success. The ingredients are as follows

  • C is first for Courage. The first step in your evolution as a capable self-leader is taking a good, hard look at yourselfyour work habits, your fears, your personal style, your relationships, where you thrive, and where you fall short. A true, no-holds-barred self-assessment takes guts. Confronting yourself and realizing that you have flaws that are holding you back can be painful. It takes courage to open your eyes, look in that mirror, and make changes that will have a powerful impact on your career.
  • C also stands for Commitment. Self-leadership isn’t a goal to which you can aspire “a bit.” It’s like being a “little” ethical; you either are, or you aren’t. Once you commit to being coachableonce you say you want to examine yourself and make whatever changes are necessary to be an effective self-leaderthen you must devote yourself to the process, embrace it, and keep it at the top of your priority list. It deserves your time,  focus, and attention.
  • O means you are Open to new ideas, new mindsets, and new ways of looking at your life, your work style, and your relationships. You’re also open to changing the way you work. As I mentioned earlier, self-leaders are willing to at least listen to new ideas.
  • D is for Discipline. This means putting systems in place and organizing yourself in a way that supports your progress. It involves arranging your schedule to find time for the changes you want to make. Disciplined self-leaders also make regular self-assessments a part of their routine so that they are continually checking progress and making adjustments.
  • E is for the Energy you must devote to this important mission. Don’t underestimate the amount of energy you’ll need to make changes to yourself. It amounts to conscientious self-care, and that’s not something senior executives are always good at. It’s too easy to blow off daily objectives like getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy foods, and fitting in regular exercise. But you cannot achieve your goals if your body and mind are tired. That’s why this might be the most important CCODE component because, without healthy energy, the other objectives will be out of your reach.

Those are some of the key basic attributes that make for a great self-leader. In my new book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, I reveal the 15 most damaging self-leadership behaviors that I regularly see in my executive coaching practice, and I provide dozens of tips and techniques you can immediately apply to correct or improve these behaviors.

In what ways do YOU want to improve in order to be a great self-leader?



Why we’re so excited – a note from Brenda’s team

We are excited to share that Brenda Bence has once again been nominated as a Top 30 Global Coaching Guru and a Top 30 Global Brand Guru!


Thanks to you, last year we were thrilled that Brenda was ranked in the Top 10 for both categories. This year, we would again be very grateful for your help in voting for Brenda (see below on how to do that).

As members of Brenda’s team, we know first-hand the amazing amount of care and hard work that she puts into everything she does, helping people all around the world grow as leaders.  We are very proud of Brenda, so we thought we would share just a few of the reasons why we would appreciate your vote:

  • After many years of leading billion-dollar global businesses as a Fortune 100 senior executive, Brenda then started her own company 16 years ago, which is now called Brenda Bence International.
  • Focused on helping companies and leaders achieve greater success through building strong brands for themselves, Brenda does this through executive coaching, keynote/motivational speaking, and delivering corporate learning programs all across the globe.
  • The proof is in the numbers! Brenda is trusted by dozens of the world’s most recognized companies, and she has a 97% customer repeat and referral rate.
  • Brenda’s clients refer to her as the “Executive Whisperer” for her down-to-earth, pragmatic ability to inspire long-lasting transformational change in her clients – all dished out with a high level of engagement and a good dose of humor.
  • Brenda is also the author of 10 award-winning books on leadership branding which have been sold into and translated for several countries around the world. Through her speaking, coaching, on-and off-line learning programs and books, she has impacted hundreds of thousands of leaders worldwide.

Those are just a few of the reasons that we think make Brenda a great choice for the Global Gurus list!  You can also read many of Brenda’s popular articles on her LinkedIn page and her Professional Facebook page.  You can also connect with Brenda there, to get a sense of her unique approach to leadership branding.


A portion of the final ranking by Global Gurus takes into account votes from Brenda’s clients, colleagues, and community. So, we would appreciate your support this year by visiting this website below and casting your vote for Brenda in both the Coaching and Branding categories!

Here’s How to Vote:

  • Go to
  • In the menu at the top of the home page, click on “VOTE HERE.”
  • You will then see the various voting categories in a drop-down menu. Select “COACHING.” [You can come back and choose BRANDING for a second vote, if you would like – thank you!]
  • Login via Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn [this step is required to keep the voting honest].
  • Scroll down to until you find my photo and name, then click on my photo.
  • Scroll down a bit more, and then select either Inspirational, Exceptional, Great, Very Good, or Good.
  • Once you have made your selection, click the blue “VOTE” button to confirm.

As mentioned above, the process is the same to vote in the Brand category, except at step #3, select “BRAND” from the drop-down menu.

Voting continues until December 30th, 2018. On behalf of Brenda and the rest of the Brenda Bence International team, we thank you again for your ongoing support!

Best regards,

Daniel Jackman, Director

Jagdish Kaur Gill

Karen Shively

Rachel Leslie

Swas Siripong

Tony Tyner

Eric Myhr



When Busy Becomes “Bad”

In today’s non-stop world, when you ask someone, “How are you doing?” – the answer is very often “Busy!” We’re all so busy these days, aren’t we?

Whenever I hear that response, I like to dive deeper and ask, “Are you good busy…or bad busy?” There’s a big difference between the two.

“Good” Busy


What is “good” busy like? Good busy is when you have work and life to deal with, but you feel inspired, excited, and happy to take on those tasks. You know they will lead to accomplishments, new heights, and enjoyable experiences, so you do them with a spring in your step and grounded in a sense of purpose.

Good busy is a feeling of being “in the zone.” You know what you’re doing, you have the support you need, you have a vision of where you’re headed, and every step moves you closer to your North Star. Even if some of the tasks on your list aren’t necessarily “fun,” you still don’t mind because you’re focused on the ultimate outcomes, fueled by the passion you feel for that vision. Your schedule may be full, but you feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction at the end of each day.

“Bad” Busy

By contrast, what about “bad” busy? This kind of busy occurs when you’re faced with tasks you don’t enjoy and that aren’t helping you move toward an inspiring vision that would keep your morale high, even if you get tired. As a result, bad busy can be physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting.

Why does bad busy happen? Here are a few reasons I’ve seen through clients in my executive coaching practice:

  • You’re doing your job because you have to. You need to pay your mortgage and your bills, and this is the way you’ve always accomplished that. Even though you aren’t passionate about your job, you don’t have faith that there’s another way to maintain the same standard of living. You simply feel obligated to continue with the familiar because, well, you just don’t see any other option.
  • You don’t know if you’re doing a good job at work because you aren’t getting enough honest feedback from anyone. Fueled by fear, your mind races 24/7, always nervous that you aren’t delivering well enough. “What if I’m not getting it right? What if I lose my job?” is the consistent, subconscious self-talk that underlies your days.
  • You have too many demands and not enough focus on priorities. As a result, you don’t spend enough time with your family, your direct reports, your boss…or yourself. You’re never really present, either. Instead, you worry about what happened in the last meeting or what might happen tomorrow, spending mental focus time concerned about the past or being anxious about the future.
  • You have to travel a lot, and you’re always packing and unpacking, running to and from airports, changing time zones and climates. This leaves you stressed and tired, with that ever-present feeling of never quite being “caught up.”

Reflecting objectively on your own situation, what would you say you have more of in your life right now – “good” busy days, or “bad” busy days?

Shifting “Bad” Busy to “Good” Busy

When I asked the good-bad-busy ratio question of Graham, a C-Suite client of mine, he reflected for a moment.

“I’m not honestly sure,” he finally shared.  “I really do enjoy my work and feel that most of the time I’m living life with purpose. But, I also admit there are times when I feel overwhelmed.  Would you consider being overwhelmed ‘bad’ busy?”

I shared with Graham the four above-outlined scenarios for how to define “bad busy” and asked him if any of those applied.

“On occasion, I experience #3,” he said. “I do have a lot of demands, so I guess I could prioritize better… In fact, now that I think of it, having clearer priorities would reduce my angst and help me get rid of that ‘drowning’ feeling I get occasionally, even if I do enjoy what I do.”

Graham and I then reviewed this toolbox of tips below, for how to turn a potential dose of “bad busy” into “good.”    How could YOU™ embrace these, too?

  • Get honest about your priorities. What is really most important in your life? In response to that question, clients almost always answer “family.” Yet, after doing a time analysis, they discover that they actually spend the least number of waking hours with family. Does that sound familiar to you, too? If so, how can you begin to shift your schedule to have more quality time with the people who mean the most to you?
  • Analyze how you really utilize your time. How many hours per week do you honestly spend doing the things that fuel your soul, help you feel good, and honor who you really are? If you’re spending too little time on these types of activities, look for ways to change. Life is too short to spend so much of it on activities you dislike.
  • Start small. Choose two hours per week to focus on doing something you love. Since busy-ness typically involves the left, logical side of your brain, try something that will inspire the right side of your brain – the creative side. I’m not necessarily suggesting you take a pottery or art class, but simply to do something that’s very different from what you do throughout your day. That change of habit can serve to reboot your sense of well-being.
  • Sit back and assess the end game for you. What do you want to achieve by the end of your career or life – greater success, financial security, making a difference in your community, having more personal satisfaction? If you keep your end game constantly in mind, you’ll make choices that will lead you there.
  • Recognize that you are not a victim. All that is happening to you is a matter of choice. No one has forced you into anything, so the good news is that you can change it. You may feel that you have little choice, but be honest with yourself – that’s just limited thinking. You can find ways to change your circumstances, leading to far more good-busy days than bad-busy days.

The #1 Antidote for “Bad-Busy”

What is the best strategy to combat “bad busy?” Make regular time to do nothing. (Be honest: When was the last time you allowed yourself to do absolutely nothing?)


Here’s what I do: I take 1-2 minutes a few times throughout the day to center myself, close my eyes, and take deep breaths. If necessary, I close myself off in a meeting room or find a quiet space in a hallway. These short breaks may seem simple and inconsequential, but you’ll be amazed how much even just a couple of minutes can re-energize you and help you feel better, more centered.

The Wisdom of Doing Nothing


My favorite line from the 2018 movie “Christopher Robin” is when Winnie the Pooh reminds Christopher that “doing nothing often leads to the very best something.” Very true.

So, when life gets busy, pause and ask yourself, “Is this good busy or bad?” If it’s leaning toward bad, remember Winnie the Pooh’s wise words, and make time to do nothing – so that the “very best something” can come your way.

Easy Self-Development – Grow While Listening

Clients often tell me that they don’t have enough time for self-development or that they don’t know how to grow and develop with the limited free time they do have.

For many of my clients, a favorite way to keep “good busy” is to listen to audio books.

Doing so provides the freedom to listen while exercising, while riding the train or driving your car to work, and when you want some positive, self-focused personal time.

If you are interested in exploring some audio books around the topics of leadership, coaching, and branding, feel free to check out the audio versions of some of my most popular books:


Leading YOU: The power of SELF-LEADERSHIP to build your executive brand and drive career success




Master the Brand Called YOU: The proven leadership personal branding system to help you earn more, do more, and be more at work




Would YOU Want to Work for YOU? How to build an executive leadership brand that inspires loyalty and drives employee performance




Smarter Branding Without Breaking The Bank: Five proven marketing strategies you can use right now to build your business at little or no cost



Happy listening to YOU™!