thoughts on leadership


By Anthony T. Eaton | December 2019

As a Human Resource professional, I have worked with all kinds of formal and informal leaders every day. I have had the opportunity to see the good and the bad in leaders and leadership. As a result, I have developed my own thoughts on what makes a great leader and it has nothing to do with having a title. 

I don’t know who said it, but I believe it, leaders are made not born. Great leadership is a set of skills and actions developed over time through personal development, introspection and self-awareness. Great leaders have an ability to not only communicate effectively, but also listen with intent and engagement. They can strike the balance between contemplation and action, firmness and kindness along with the understanding that no one individual is more important than another. 

Great leadership may seem rare, but it is there if you look for it. While you can find it in the boardroom, it most often exists quietly in our day to day world and can be found in the teacher, janitor or even a child. Great leadership is often overlooked and does not garner the spotlight but still shines bright.

Great leadership can be the extraordinary, but it is also found in the ordinary. Standing up for those who need a champion, speaking for those who need a voice as well as the kindness of a gesture, a caring word and a helping hand. As I thought about what I think makes a great leader, I wondered what others think makes one, and so I asked some of my LinkedIn connections.

Dave Buzanko

Business Development Manager | Ironman Triathlete | Employee Engagement Strategist

I have always believed that leadership qualities are learned at home at a very young age and developed individually as you grow older. As a parent, I have demonstrated to my kids that I value health and happiness as part of my normal everyday life, and I have taught my kids how to make informed choices. They don’t always make the best decisions, none of us do, but in order to make the best possible choices, you need to have all the facts and you need to know where to find those. Being a parent is great training ground for leadership. It teaches you to take care of the person to the left and right of you so that they can go on to be something greater than yourself. The only thing you look for in return is the joy and pride you feel having played a small yet important role in their journey.

Troy Stellinwerff

Franchisee | Business owner | Construction Worker

It’s easy to find someone’s faults…what I try to do is look for someone’s gifts. If I don’t see it right away, I look harder.

Davida Ginter

Co-founder & CEO | Author

I used to think that a great leader is a person with charisma; I don’t buy into that anymore. During years of working with leaders who mobilize social change, I’ve recognized two main traits of great leaders: the ability to articulate a compelling vision that makes other people care too, and the avility to listen both to people and to the social field. The combination of the two – listening intentionally and crafting a powerful vision around it – is key to great leadership. 

Andy Kaufman

Speaker | Author | Coach

One way to look at great leadership is to look at it from the lens of their followers. It’s difficult to call someone a great leader if they don’t have willing followers. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have studied this extensively with consistent findings over decades. What do people most want in order to willingly follow a great leader? Four characteristics have persisted across cultures, industries, and time: honesty, forward-thinking, inspiring and competence. 

Jeffrey Ross

Human Resource Manager

If you properly invest in the growth and sustainability of yourself and your team, you’ll find they need you less and less. I can’t think of a better indicator of a great leader.

Great leaders have teams that work with them rather than for them.

Good leaders aren’t afraid to take risks. Great leaders take the risk knowing they will own the results, whether good or bad, and grow from it.

Phil Strazzulla

Founder |  CEO | Board Member

A great leader is someone who can empathize with the challenges inherent in their team’s jobs, as well as the events that happen to us outside of work. Empathy allows leaders to get inside the head of someone and help them figure out the best path forward in a caring way.

Of course, a way to understand how impactful empathy is in leaders is to look at the role for this type of leader. We’ve all worked with someone who lives by the saying “my way or the highway” – it’s stressful, toxic and leads to a lack of achievement. 

Troy Stellinwerff

Franchisee | Owner | Construction Worker

I believe you’ve got to keep it simple. Leadership is “Influencing someone in a positive manner.”

Patrick McMullan

Business Owner

A great leader has charisma and appears to enjoy life and has inner strength. They wouldn’t ask someone to do something they wouldn’t.

In summary, great leadership means different things to different people and there are two things I know for sure.

1. There are many things that make a great leader

2. Great leadership is about relationships

Special thanks to the contributors to this article. Learn more about them by clicking on their names.



By Anthony T. Eaton | September 2019

Employee development can seem overwhelming to leaders but it doesn’t have to be. Here are four steps any leader can use towards employee development.


Have regular conversations with your employees about their development. I recommend managers have dedicated one on one’s with their employees that incorporates ongoing development discussion. If regular one on one’s aren’t your thing at least meet with your employees quarterly to talk about their development. The worst approach you can take is to have a once a year performance discussion that includes development.


Having a plan is important and writing that plan down is essential. Having an individual development plan will enable your employee to stay on task and give you something to reference in those development discussions. It is proven that writing down goals makes individuals more likely to achieve them.


We all need and want feedback and it should be part of the development conversation. The key here is that it needs to be honest, relevant and timely. When done correctly the feedback you give will help to enhance your employee’s development and improve their overall job performance. Some discussion points include: what do you think the employee needs, what do they think they need? If they have a plan what are the milestone goals and where are they in relation to meeting them?


Be a role model for your employees; show them what the behaviors you expect look like. Treat them the way you want to be treated. Development is not a one size fits all; it is a custom tailored suite. When it comes to development think in terms of work tasks, work ethics, communication, honesty and politics. If your employee can see proper modeling of behaviors they are more likely to do them.

These steps need not be overly complicated; however any employee development efforts require thought, effort and commitment if the desired outcomes are to be achieved. 




By Anthony T. Eaton  |  September 2019

 Every interaction we have with another person involves communication in one form or another. All relationships are based on communication, whether it is the casual exchange with the person behind the drycleaner counter or a high stakes conversation with our boss or employee. Unfortunately, it is very easy to take communication for granted and as a result we too often get it wrong.

Communication is a skill that is learned and only through intentional application and practice can we perfect it. Whether you have had communication failures in the past or are experiencing one now, it is never too late to improve by keeping in mind a few things.

Create Safety

It doesn’t matter if you are the giver or the receiver, effective communication is a matter of trust, and you build trust by making the other person feel safe. Trust and safety are created not just by what you say, but also what you do. Your actions and words must align; here are some tips:

· Be nice – even when you deliver a difficult message

· Keep your promises – if you say you are going to do something do it

· Keep confidences whenever you can – if you can’t say so in advance

These tips and those that follow will help you build a solid foundation of trust and safety and make your communication more effective and meaningful.

“Real communication happens when people feel safe.”  ~Ken Blanchard

Pay Attention

If you are not consciously and actively paying attention, you are discouraging open communication. It is essential to show people that you are paying attention, here are some tips:

· Eliminate Distractions – phone, computer, interruptions. 

· Lean in

· Make eye contact

· Paraphrase and restate 

Really Listen

Listening is a skill that is learned but of no value unless the skill is practiced and honed. With the barrage of information and distractions, we are subjected to listening has become harder than ever. The sills for listening are the same used to pay attention.

“If God had wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us two mouths rather than two ears.”  ~Ken Blanchard

Accept Feedback

Don’t confuse accepting feedback and agreeing with it; they are not the same, however, accepting feedback allows you the opportunity to consider the perception and perspective of others. 

If there are things you are doing or saying that makes people feel bad, unhappy, or uncomfortable, don’t you want to know about it? It may not be your intention, but perception is the reality. Here are some tips:

· Ask for feedback – how am I doing, anything I can do differently?

· Don’t defend whatever it is your being given feedback about

· Afterwards, ask yourself how you are creating those perceptions

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” ~Rick Tate

Have Interactive Communication

Communication is a two-way street and requires participants to be actively engaged to get the most from it. Part of that process is seeking out additional information by asking questions, here are some you can use:

· Explain what you mean

· Why do you feel that way?

· Why do you think that?

· Why is that important to you?

· What would be a satisfactory solution?

· What can I do?

Remember you own 50% of the communication process. When possible prepare in advance, the more you do it, the more natural it will become.

“Take responsibility for making relationships work.” ~Unknown

Putting some thought into what we want to accomplish from our interactions will allow us to approach situations with the end in mind. This in turn will increase the chances the communication exchange will be successful.em to where they are.





By Anthony T. Eaton

Originally published 2016

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
~Wayne Dyer

Change is difficult for most people and leaders are no exception to that.

Change is also inevitable and the first step in making change work for you is to understand what kind of change it is. To successfully handle and navigate change leaders need tools and insight. Change falls into four categories:

 This is the change that affects us directly such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, career change, and promotion.

Group: Here we have change that affects similarly situated groups of people like a department, a business unit or team.

Organizational: Change within the organization affects individuals and groups across different levels and can include reorganizations, divestitures, acquisitions, layoffs or expansions.

Environmental: No less important than the rest, environmental change can be office moves, buying or selling a home.

Change is not random and doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  We are not powerless over change unless we choose to be and while we may not be able to control change there are some things we can do to understand it and make it easier:

Question: The most often asked question is “Why is this happening to me?” It’s key to not stop with just that question but to go on and ask yourself “What am I supposed to learn from this?” Everything happens for a reason and there are lessons in all of it.

Understand: You questions should lead you to some sort of understanding. Is what is happening within your control or not? What is the lesson you will take away from the experience? How will this affect you?

Decide: Once you have asked the important questions and have some sense of understanding of the change, why it is occurring, what you might take away from it and how it will affect you, you can decide how to react to it. Will there be some kind of action on your part?

Trust: Finally you must trust that things will always work out the way they are supposed to. It may not be the way we want or hope for, but it is always going to be what it is going to be.

The change will always affect you, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. Regardless, if you take some time to think about it, you will be better equipped to approach and handle change the best way possible.

“Change is not only likely, it's inevitable.”  ~Barbara Sher



By Anthony T. Eaton

Originally posted 2016

I believe everyone has the potential and opportunity to be a leader no matter their status, education or position they hold. Everything we do has the potential to affect, influence and potentially change someone else’s life. Sooner or later we will be a role model to someone else. It is our choice if it is a positive or negative experience for them and us.

If you don’t think this is true, consider the following.

Katherine and Isabell Adams were 5 and 8 years old when they had a goal to raise $500 to help fund a well in Ethiopia by giving handcrafted origami Christmas ornaments at a local Starbucks to anyone that would make a donation. Within two months they had not only met their goal of $500 but exceeded that amount with donations totaling over$10K. As a result, they were able to more than fund a whole well, not just contribute to it.

Today their non-profit organization Paper For Water raises money for wells all over the world. They were 5 and 8 years old when they started!

Anne Frank is one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust having gained fame posthumously following the publication of her diary in 1947 three years after her death. Yet in the years she spent in hiding she could have had no idea that her fate would stand as not only a record of the holocaust but also serve as a lesson in perseverance under unimaginable circumstances. Anne’s diary is not just a record and lesson but a testament to the strength and faith of a child as illustrated in the following quote.

“I keep my ideals because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

It is often the smallest of things that make the biggest difference. Jaden Hayes lost both of his parents by the time he was six, first his dad and then unexpectedly his mom. In the story about him by Steve Hartman Jaden said,

"I tried and I tried and I tried to get her awake -- I couldn't," and "Anybody can die, just anybody,"

The grief of a child is inconsolable. Yet Jaden did not let his own grief stand in the way of his bringing smiles to those he encountered who themselves seemed sad. With the help of his aunt, he purchased small toys and gave them to strangers to make them smile. A six-year old who lost both of his parents helped not only ease his own grief and sadness but that of others through the simple gesture of a token gift to bring a smile.

Leadership comes in all kinds of ways big and small, loud and quiet. It is not calculated but organic and grows from a sense of purpose and service. These three examples exemplify leadership at its core and if a child can do it then anyone can.





By Anthony T. Eaton | April 2019

Companies with happy employees outperform the competition by 20%

No one want’s to be unhappy. When it comes to happiness at work it is not just a “nice to have” benefit for employees, it affects the bottom line. Leaders have a huge impact on workplace happiness and there are some simple things they can do to create an environment where happiness flourishes.

Praise and Recognition

Lack of appreciation is the #1 reason why Americans quit their jobs

We all want to feel appreciated because it affirms that we are doing a good job. If you’re a leader it is important to incorporate praise and recognition of those you lead.

Don’t underestimate the power of a handwritten note and take it a notch higher by sending it to your employee’s home. 

Provide impromptu recognition and encourage others to do it as well. Praise from peers is just as important as it is from leaders. 

Provide Purpose

Show employees how their skills and the work they do add value to the success of the organization.

Employees need to understand the purpose of the business, why it exists, it’s service.

Having purpose let’s people feel their value and that leads to engagement.

Invest in Success

Growth and opportunity are essential; even your superstars want need the opportunity to expand their skills. 

Professional development is not only fulfilling to the individual, it allows the organization more flexibility because people have the ability to do more things.

Learning and development can take a variety of different forms from formal training to less structured self learning. The key is to understand what your people want and need and then finding a way to give it to them.

Make Work Fun

Work should not be drudgery and fun is not a four letter word. Find things that are appropriate to the business.

Fun means different things to different people so involve your employees. It can be a simple as lunchtime games or something more elaborate.

These are just a few way’s to foster happiness in the workplace, the possibilities are endless and the payoff is great.




By Anthony T. Eaton

What makes a positive work experience? First and foremost, the work needs to be fulfilling by bringing a sense of accomplishment. Secondly, the environment needs to be one that brings out the best both personally and professionally.  So how does that happen? 

It doesn’t matter if you are a CEO or a Janitor; everyone wants to be respected not for their position or title, but a person with something to offer and feelings. 

As human beings, we have a need to feel cared for and that does not stop when we go to work. Care means taking an interest in employees as whole people, not just a means to an end. 

Everyone wants recognition for their contribution; just not in the same way. Recognition in and of itself is not enough, it needs to be personal and meaningful. 

We all want to feel like we are valued. Respect, care, and recognition are building blocks of feeling valued. This also sets the stage for creating a positive work experience.  

When we are part of a team we feel we are part of something bigger than ourselves. True teamwork is each person being able to contribute to the greater good and supporting the rest of the players. 

Leaders don’t create inspiration, they foster it and support an environment where it will take hold and grow. They do this by setting the example of respect, care, recognition, value, and teamwork and by holding others accountable.

The adage that when you take care of your employees they, in turn, take care of your customers is true and it starts with those at the top setting the example. A positive work experience is a culmination of many things that takes work, dedication and intention and the ingredients are like a recipe, everything must be present for it to turn out.




Some key points can make our employees a factory of positive experiences and the best ambassadors of the company. Then, through technology, it will be easier to make this a constant activity over time.

Meeting the well-being of their employees is not just a question of benefits or social responsibility: it is a conditio sine qua non for the business to achieve the set results in the best possible way. Not to mention the advantages obtainable in terms of efficiency and cost management. Flexible organizational models are in fact those on which the so-called extended enterprise can be created and social collaboration tools can be applied, which by now, at the turn of internationalization and tasks that cannot be relegated to specific geographical areas or limited to the traditional office, is not plus an option.

Extended enterprise means putting employees at the center of a flexible organization, facilitating work everywhere (smart working) while ensuring usability and above all security: it means sharing of documents, collaboration tools, access to central systems, new architectures and applications , all coordinated through new organizational models. ~Aldo Deli Paoli


By Anthony T. Eaton | March 2019

According to a study by McKinsey & Company, people spend 28 percent of their working week reading and replying to emails. However, despite the risk of becoming overloaded with messages, it remains one of the most powerful and efficient communication tools. Email allows workers to stay connected with team members, customers and in particular those who are spread out across a wide geographical location. 

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Although using email is quick and easy, many emails are ineffective, create the wrong impression, sending the wrong message or even damage the reputation of individuals and companies. The internet is full of examples of common mistakes people make with an email from poor grammar to terse and even offensive emails sent in the heat of the moment. Who hasn’t been either the sender or receiver of one at least once? 

A 2005 study found that people often incorrectly assume that the recipient of their e-mail will correctly get their intended tone. Senders estimated nearly 80 percent accurately interpreted the intended tone when in reality it was only 56 percent of the time. This is due in large part because when we don’t know the story, in this case, the tone, we make it up and most of us always imagine the worst.

Email has become so ingrained in our daily life that we tend to take it for granted and as a result become lax in the way we use it regardless of if we are writing one or reading one. Before anyone ever even thought of a thing like an email, if you wanted to tell someone something you could either communicate in person, pick up the phone or write. And while the latter would seem similar to email, the act of writing or even typing a memo and then sending it required time which more often than not caused us to pause and think about the words we were using and the intention behind them.

As the world and our ability to communicate continues to move faster and faster we must step back and use a common-sense approach and that means thinking before we hit send because once it is gone there is no taking it back. The best thing you can do before hitting the send button is to hold that thought by:

  • Save it as a draft and then step away. Return to it later and re-read. This gives you the opportunity to look at what you have written from a new perspective.
  • Get a second look. Have someone else read what you intend to send before you send it. How do they perceive what you have written, how does it make them feel? 

The simple act of not hitting send right away can save you a lot of embarrassment or misery and allow you to convey a message with professionalism. 




By Anthony T. Eaton

Originally posted December 2017

The adage, “I have an open door policy” is a cliché! 

If you are a leader, you should be challenging yourself on this regularly. It is not a matter of whether you think you have an open door policy; it is a matter of whether your employees believe you do.  

  • Before you were in a leadership position did your boss have an open door policy? 
  • Was/is their door open more than closed? 
  • Did/does an open door feel like an invitation or an invisible barrier?
  • If you went to them at any time with something important would they welcome you?  

If you are in a leadership position take a moment and ask yourself; 

  • Do you, welcome people, in, make time for them? 
  • Are you accessible or do you sit behind a closed door? 
  • Do those you lead feel like they approach you anytime without fear of being rebuffed? 

How do you know?

Have you asked them? 

I know for sure that some leaders reading this right now are saying there is no way they can have a “real” open door; they would never get anything done.

  • I would always be interrupted by things that don’t matter. 
  • I don’t have time for that. And to this, 

I say, hogwash! If in fact, that is the case then you are not correctly setting expectations or managing, you are making excuses, and you don’t have time not to have an open door.  

Strong leaders are accessible whenever those they lead need them, and if it is a “social” call, they manage it as if it is no less critical than an impending disaster.  

The best leaders I have had let me do what they hired me for and knew that when I called them or came to their office, it was because I needed them and they were always available. In contrast, the not so great leaders I have had not only sat behind their closed office door but also avoided any direct contact were unresponsive to emails, voicemails and left me feeling as if I was on an island to fend for myself.  

So how do they/I do it? Here are some tips.  

Set Expectations Don’t assume that people know what it means to have an open door. I rarely close my door, but when I do my direct reports know that I am either on a conference call or working on something that requires my undivided attention. Even then, if it is urgent, they know they can interrupt.  When my door is open, they are free to approach for business or social interactions, and if I cannot accommodate them I ask them if it can wait, but most of the time I stop what I am doing to give them the attention they need. I do this because it makes them feel valuable and in return, they are also more responsive to me and engaged.  •    

Make yourself seen When is the last time you walked through your department and said hello to everyone, even those that don’t report to you? When is the last time your leader did this?  Although I am in before some of my employees, I always say good morning, even to those who work around us. For those who come in later, when I step out of my office for any reason and pass by them I do the same. It is a simple acknowledgment of their presence and helps set the tone for the day. In contrast, I have had and know of leaders that will go out of their way to get to their office unseen to avoid any interaction with their employees or others, and this sends an even stronger message to employees about their value.  

Be available As I stated above, I make myself accessible, but I also let those around me know that they can reach out at any time, for any reason, day or night. Whenever needed they can come to my office, email me, call me, text me, whatever they need to do to get me if they need me.  In return, they do the same for me. 

Be responsive To be responsive, you have to be actively engaged. Just because you are physically there, have email, voicemail or text it doesn't mean you are present. Even if you cannot give a specific answer, talk at that moment or address the need, an acknowledgment of some kind is a response.  How often have you wondered if someone got your text, email or voicemail? Or worse yet, they blew you off in person? Sometimes I am busy, I can’t answer without giving it thought or consulting with others, but I always try my best to provide some acknowledgment.  

Manage behaviors You may set expectations, make yourself seen, be available and be responsive but still encounter the person that feels everything is urgent, an emergency or just wants to be social at all the wrong times. Hopefully, it is rare, but in these cases, you must be able to manage behaviors and hold people accountable for your expectations. 

 I model the behaviors I expect; I don’t enter an office or cubicle without being acknowledged and invited even when the door is open, and I ask the same from others. When someone approaches and I am busy I pause to ask them if it can wait, can they come back or motion them to hold on. I never ignore them.  

Even as I write this, I know that sometimes I miss the mark, but I recognize when I do, I make corrections and apologies when it is needed. It is not always easy, but as a leader, it is essential that I model the correct behaviors so that those who will rise to be future leaders know how to do it, and those who don’t feel the same value as those who will and already are.




By Anthony T. Eaton | January 2019

The purpose of performance management is to enable individuals to perform at their best under all circumstances. 

An individuals performance is never really static, there is a continuum. The goal is to drive performance to the positive end of the spectrum and it is the approach that will determine the effectiveness. 

As an HR professional, I have trained and coached hundreds of leaders in the art of performance management from the day to day leadership, reviews, corrective actions, and terminations of their direct reports. My approach is not only effective but simple when

applied consistently.

1. Set clear expectations and gain an understanding of the employee of what is expected and what happens if expectations are not met.

2. Communicate on a regular and consistent basis. I encourage leaders to have one on ones with their employees so the employee has the opportunity to bring forth any roadblocks or challenges.

3. Address problems right away. There should be no surprises when it comes to individual performance and it is much easier to correct course early than it is later.

4. Hold individuals accountable. If clear expectations have been set it is much easier than if they have not.

5. Documentation is everything, always follow up with the individual in writing so you have a record of what was discussed. This will make things much easier if things don't improve.

6. Follow the process, especially when it comes to corrective action, don't skip steps unless it is warranted.

7. Don't make it personal. There is no reason to ever raise your voice or make a judgment about the person's character. Keep in mind that the goal is to improve performance.

When done correctly performance management can turn a situation around and protect you if things don't work out. The key is to remember that the purpose of performance management is to achieve consistent long-term engagement and optimal performance.