Michelle Braden, CEO

Michelle Braden, CEO

Michelle has trained leaders for over 20 years. She is a certified coach and the author of three leadership books Stand OutDare to Make A Difference, and Bottom Lineas well as a thought-leadership contributor to several blogs/publications including: Forbes Coahes Council, Thought Leaders, Lead Change and Leadership Courseware... read more


When's the Last Time You Checked Your Alignment?

Written by Michelle Braden, CEO Posted in Blog, All Posts

walkthewalk“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”, Mahatma Gandhi.  This is a meaningful quote and one I find to be true.  I have worked in leadership and with leaders for over 20 years and I am still surprised (although I should not be) when I work with a smart, experienced, and a well read (in leadership) leader who knows all the right things to say, yet does not practice what they preach.  For a leader’s credibility and influence, it is invaluable that their words and behaviors align.  Nothing will destroy trust in the leader and the organization faster than this lack of alignment. Several years ago I had a colleague who worked with an organization that was having many challenges.  This colleague worked for several years trying to get to the root of the problem.  She slowly peeled the onion, building trust and uncovering the source of the “cancer”.  Eventually the true root was revealed.  The CEO constantly spoke of honesty, integrity, and family values, and how important all of these things were to him and the organization, and all the while he was having an affair with a subordinate within the organization.  His lack of alignment was not hidden, even though he thought it was… and even when people do not know exactly “why”, they can usually discern when sincerity is not “real”. This is one extreme example of words and actions not aligning.  However, misalignment shows up in many forms, such as respecting people, valuing time, being dependable, not gossiping, taking care of your mental and physical health… just to name a few.  The truth is that none of us are 100% perfect at leadership alignment, but we should always be striving to be as close to perfection as possible. Are there any places in your personal or professional leadership that are out of alignment?  Are there things (even the smallest things) that you do not want others to know about?  If so, I challenge and encourage you to ask yourself “why? “ Remember the quote we opened with:  “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”.  You will not only be a better leader when you are in alignment, but you will also sleep better at night, be healthier, and enjoy more meaningful work and personal relationships.  To thine own self be true first. Below are 5 questions for the “thought leaders” to ask themselves:

  1. What are your values?
  2. How do your leadership behaviors reflect these values?
  3. When have you been out of alignment?
  4. Are you usually in alignment?
  5. If I asked your team members, colleagues, bosses, friends and family members this question, would they give the same answer that you did?

If you would like an accountability partner to work with you on your leadership alignment, you can read more here or contact us.  Having a leadership coach is a meaningful way to begin or enhance this journey, and “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, Lao-tzu.

Are you feeling energized or exhausted at the end of the day?

Written by Michelle Braden, CEO Posted in Blog, All Posts

A few days ago I was sitting at my desk after dinner going through a few emails.  I was really tired, but it was not a draining tired, it was an energizing tired.  I started thinking on this a little more.  Recently I have been very tired and also exhausted, but this was different.  What had changed? I started thinking about where I am in my personal and professional life to connect the dots and identify what makes me tired and pulls the life out of me versus what makes me tired but still motivates me.  

If you think about it, you may be able to reflect on times when you have felt the same way. For example, when I completed my first half marathon, I was wiped out but also exhilarated from completing something:

  • I wanted to do,
  • I had trained for,
  • I had years of practice doing, and
  • I had set a goal to accomplish.

Life is much like this.  I appreciate the human behavior tool Emergenetics  because it helps us to identify what give us energy and what drains our energy, and not just what we are good at (it is important to know the difference).  Have you ever noticed you can be good at something and it still drains your energy?  That is because we develop competencies (skills) and become better at those skills through practice, but that does not necessarily mean that those skills are energizing. For example, I may not be good at innovation so I take some classes, read books, and surround myself with innovators.  The truth is, if this is not a natural talent for me, it will not move to strength .  That does not mean we do not develop skills in areas that are not energizing talent areas.  Sometimes we have to in order to be successful or move to the next level in our leadership roles.  However, we need to be aware that skills that are not 'raw talents' will likely not move to 'strengths'.  Further, even though we may develop competencies around them, they will most likely still drain our energy.

I realize every role we fill will have a combination of things we love to do that give us energy and things we do not like to do (even if we are good at them) that drain our energy.  This is not necessarily about getting the things off your plate that you do not like to do.  The point I hope you walk away with is one of balance.  Recognizing what gives you energy and what drains your energy and then learning how to manage yourself as well as your schedule to have a balance in your life rather than high highs of energy days and low lows of draining days.

Below are 8 steps to help you identify what gives you strengths and what zaps your energy:

  1. What time of day do you feel most energized?
  2. What are you doing when you feel motivated (example:  working at the computer on budgets, spread sheets, helping a colleague understand a work project, speaking in front of a group, etc.)?
  3. What time of day do you feel most drained?
  4. What part of your job sucks the life out of you (I usually do not have to give examples here)?
  5. How can you take responsibility over your schedule to balance having invigorating work to do during your most draining part of the day (in order to recharge your energy)?
  6. How can you take responsibility of your schedule to complete draining work during your most productive times of the day?
  7. How can you make sure you are balancing work that brings life to you each day with the things that drag you down?
  8. Is there someone on your team that would love to do the things you hate to do?  If so be purposeful and have a conversation with them about “trading” some work responsibilities.  You will be surprised how fun this conversation can be to the possibilities of bringing more stimulating work to both of you.

The bottom line is self-leadership which begins with self-awareness and moves to self-management.  Ned Herman said, “Information without application leads to fascination but information with application leads to transformation.”  We are striving for transformation.  We have too many “aha” moments and then do not do anything with them.  I would love to hear from you.  Have you ever found that you are exhausted but energized and/or exhausted and totally fatigued?  If so, what did you do with that discovery?  How do you balance your schedule for the things that give you energy versus the things that drain your energy?

Is There Room for Mercy in Leadership?

Written by Michelle Braden, CEO Posted in Blog, All Posts

“I am big on mercy”. This was the statement that caught my attention and sparked this blog. I was listening to the radio while getting ready for work a few mornings ago. The DJ made a statement about the poor performance and the mistakes being made by a certain athletic coach. The sports announcer responded with the surprising remark, “I don’t have a lot to say here… as you know…. I am big on mercy.”

I don’t remember who was talking or what was being talked about; however, this statement grabbed me, so I wrote it down. I asked myself throughout the day, “Michelle, how big are you on mercy?” I must say, mercy is not one of my strong suits. But I certainly appreciate it when I am given mercy. Mercy by definition (according to dictionary.com) means: Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm: "the boy was begging for mercy". An event to be grateful for, esp. because its occurrence prevents something unpleasant or provides relief from suffering. Mercy is also identified as a noun and an adjective. However, I would argue that mercy is a verb… it is only meaningful when it is put into action. As leaders, we have the opportunity everyday to show mercy and give compassion to someone who may not “deserve” it. I do believe that the same measuring stick which we use to measure other people’s deeds will be the same measuring stick which other people will “judge” ours. I also believe in the law of “sewing and reaping” or “good karma”, whatever you choose to call it. I hope there have been times when you have received mercy when you did not deserve it, because when any of us receive mercy, we are given the opportunity to right ourselves when we have gone down the wrong path. We could all use a break sometimes.

Below are five questions to ask yourself:

  1. As a leader, how can you choose to lead and still show mercy?
  2. When and to whom do you choose to give mercy?
  3. When would it not be wise as a leader to give mercy?
  4. Are you afraid you will appear “weak” or get taken advantage of if you give mercy?
  5. Where would you value some mercy in your own life?

This blog stirred inside me before I wrote it and continues to stir inside me as I finish it. I am striving to be more merciful…. What about you? Do you have a story of how you gifted someone with mercy when they did not deserve it, or a story where someone gifted you with mercy? If so, I hope you will share it with us! If you are a leader and interested in developing new behaviors, be it in mercy or another area, I invite you to contact us today. We specialize in working with leaders like you (and me)!

Does What I do Make me Who I Am?

Written by Michelle Braden, CEO Posted in Blog, All Posts

Here in America we define ourselves and those around us by what we do. Think about the first question we ask after introducing ourselves…. “So where do you work?” and “what do you do there?” In part, this is good small talk. We naturally ask these questions in succession. The other part has to do with sizing people up. We determine before we even get to know someone whether we think they are successful based on how they answer these questions. Is it any wonder why we personally define ourselves using this same measurement?

This type of stereotyping begs the question many are now facing, what happens when what we “do” is done away with? What happens when companies go bankrupt, jobs are outsourced, people are downsized or laid off? How then will we define ourselves, our friends, colleagues or family members? Although what we do is obviously important, we have to learn a better self-awareness, or who we are “being.” Who we are “being” is who we are, our character, values, beliefs and passions. It is not determined by titles, salary or prestige.

To discover who we really are beyond the titles we hold is a challenge. Think for a minute about who you are…. If I asked you to describe yourself could you do so without talking about what you do? The goal is that who we are being works collaboratively with what we do but it does not define us. I recently asked a client of mine while working through the “being” vs. “doing” question, “how would you respond if you lost your job for one reason or another and the only thing you could find was working at a fast food restaurant wiping down tables?” His answer was the best I have ever gotten. He said, “well I guess I would have to work hard and rise to the top in that industry!” Now that is knowing who you are being no matter what you are doing!

I want to encourage you, whether you are in the most secure position you have ever been in or whether you are having to re-define yourself due to job loss, search yourself to know who you are being in this world.

Here are some suggestions as you go through this process:

  • Be insightfully straight with yourself.
  • What transformations do you want?
  • What are your personal values, passions, beliefs?
  • Write a paper about who you are.
  • Write a paper about who you want to be.
  • Be in your possibilities.
  • Dream!

This can be an eye opening experience if you allow it to be. We would love to hear your feedback on this exercise and if it was beneficial.

Random Acts of Kindness and Influence

Written by Michelle Braden, CEO Posted in Blog, All Posts

I was recently at one of my favorite coffee shops, grabbing a cup of coffee, before hitting the road for a long drive. The shop was unusually busy that morning, which was not that big of a deal, other than that it took a long time and I was in a hurry.

I was having a great time "people-watching", as several of us waited with baited breath for our morning cup of joe. There was one woman in particular that stood out to me. We didn't speak to each other nor did I observe her talking to anyone else. She stood out to me because she had a sense of peace about her.

About the time I was trying to figure out what is was about her that made me feel this way, my drink was called and I was snapped out of my trance. I reached for my drink to discover it was very hot. I looked around but there was no sleeve for my cup, went to the condiment counter… no sleeves there either. I even tried to get a worker’s attention, again, to no avail. I was scurrying around looking for a cup sleeve and noticed this woman was watching me. I smiled and said, “I am trying to find a sleeve for my coffee… it is really hot.” She smiled back and that was that. I decided to give up the search for a sleeve and run to the restroom to wash my hands before leaving.

I left my coffee on the table right outside the restroom. When I came out, the lady was gone, but next to my cup of coffee, was a sleeve for my coffee. In that moment, my heart was warmed by the kindness of a stranger…. Nothing major, it didn’t even cost her anything, but it was just thoughtful.

I walked to my car and could not stop thinking about how such a little gesture brought so much joy to my hectic morning. Kindness is “indulgent, considerate or helpful.”1 This lady was all of these things. She was also being something else she didn’t even realize. She was being influential. Influential means “the act of producing effects on the actions, behaviors or opinions of others.” In that moment, and for the rest of the day, the kindness of a stranger influenced me to want to share kindness with others. I focused on just that for the rest of the day. In fact, she influenced me so much, I am writing this blog about it.

What about you? Have you ever had someone do something simple for you that had lasting impact – a random act or gesture of kindness? As leaders, it is important for us to remember the value in simple, arbitrary acts of kindness and the long-term effects they have to influence others.

The Dangers of Calling It Like You See It

Written by Michelle Braden, CEO Posted in Blog, All Posts

Have you ever found yourself making this statement, “I just call it like I see it” or have you known a leader, friend or family member who says this?

Calling something as you “see” it can be strength. People are not left wondering what you think or how you feel, which can be refreshing and provide clear communication. So many leaders “beat around the bush” and their teams are not clear on what they want.

The challenge in “calling it like I see it” is one key word, “I.” We all see things differently in the world. One of the most thought provoking movies I have seen that illustrates this is the movie, Crash. If you have not seen the movie, I highly recommend it. It will open your eyes to your own personal judgments and the importance of creating strong paradigm shifts. Just about the time you think you have a character figured out in the movie, something shifts and your paradigm is rocked. You will find yourself in deep thought and mentally stimulated at the end of the movie.

Similar to Crash, in our leadership when we “call it like I see it,” we may learn that the way we see it could be very different from how another person sees it based upon their perspective.

I could place 5 people at 5 different vantage points to view an automobile accident. Each person would come back with a different story of what happened, simply based on the location from where they were able to view the accident. I am confident each person viewing the accident in this experiment would feel quite confident in their story based upon what they saw. They would each be “calling it like I see it.”


As leaders we need to guard against “calling it like I see it” until we know exactly what “it” is that “I” just “saw.” To help you, try the stop, look and listen technique:
  • Stop – and think before you judge or speak and ask yourself “is there another way to see this?”
  • Look – inside to determine how your beliefs, judgments and personal opinions could be affecting your response
  • Listen – ask someone else what they think, saw or concluded about the situation


Thinking before speaking, drawing judgment and conclusions will help in the following areas:
  1. You will reduce the times you have to come back and clean up a mess made based upon wrong assumptions you made
  2. You will build trust with people by not going straight to conclusions
  3. You will learn to broadly scan and take in all that could be going on and not just what you see from where you stand
  4. You will build relationships through asking for feedback to learn whether what you saw, judged, viewed, etc., is the same as what others observed.


I am sure there are other benefits to thinking before speaking, judging or drawing conclusions. What are your thoughts?

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