Tap Your Emotional Intelligence To Support Your Remote Team


In responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, many work teams are facing the new need to work remotely.

Along with this change come feelings of isolation, uncertainty about new rules of engagement, a short-term loss of team engagement, and a loss of commitment to the critical outcomes in their care. 

Leaders of newly remote teams can utilize their emotional intelligence as they lead their teams through this disruption.  Here are some tips for how to put your EQ to use.

Stay in frequent communication

  • Use a variety of ways to communicate: 1-1, group email/texts, individual YouTube videos, etc. Take the time to figure which different media work best for each member and switch up your choice of medium.
  • Turn Webcams on.  That will give them an increased sense of the emotions on the other end of the connection.
  • Create social and “fun” moments
  • Encourage them to identify collaboration partners, both on the team and outside the team

Take the opportunity to get to know them better.

  • When leaders take the time to show interest and take the time to learn about their team members, they build trust and confidence on both personal and business levels. They can take advantage of increased trust to uncover new ways for the team to view the new environment and apply their creativity to improve the situation. 
  • Look for ways to inject fun and “water cooler time” into their interaction with their teams
  • Start each conversation by checking in on a personal basis, before diving right into the business problem or opportunity
  • Ask about their frame of mind and their sense of well-being; openly discuss their sense of connectedness with colleagues, family, and friends

Ask questions about how the Covid-19 situation is impacting them personally.

  • Respectfully notice how they’re feeling, and listen for any new and strong emotions
  • Help them think through and articulate what the changes mean to them, and specifically what have they “lost” in the current situation
  • Identify “what’s getting in the way” of their happiness and success, and coach with them to identify ways to remove those barriers
  • Investigate where they are coming from as they view the Covid-19 situation. What new starting points might help them consider the problem with new eyes, helping them to reframe their situation and find their hidden wins?

“People don’t care about what you know until they know about how much you care”  (Theodore Roosevelt)

Know your client’s business in order to serve it

Understanding your client’s business

One of the best ways to make a strong impression with a new prospect or customer, is to demonstrate that you’ve done all the homework on them that you reasonably can.

Above all, they want to know that you understand their business, and you have good reason to believe you can help them… before the initial approach.

I’ve found a good place to start is to understand their competitive landscape.  There’s a simple but very effective model you can use as a checklist to be sure you’re covering all the bases.

I’m referring to what is known as the “Five Forces Model”.  It was described by Michael Porter in his 1980 book, Competitive Strategy.  It’s a staple for business school strategy courses.

The Model and Starter Questions

Here’s the model and some starter questions for you to research for the company and executive you’ll be meeting with:

Competitive Rivaries

Which companies compete for the same customers your prospect cares about?

Large companies operate in multiple segments.  Be sure you’re researching competitors in the same segment your prospect works in.

How much market share does your prospect business enjoy? 

Are they gaining ground or losing ground?    Their strategy will be different if they’re a leader, or a new entrant.

Threat of New Entry

What other companies are positioning themselves to compete in this space? 

At one time, IBM was the runaway leader in computers.  But along came DEC, HP, and a host of others.

What is your prospect doing to create “barriers to entry” to make it hard for others to enter? 

Unique technology, strong reputation, global support capability, other ways?

Threat of Substitution

What could be a substitute in the market that winds up competing for the same users? 

The first portable radio was a substitute for a record player.  The record player was a substitute for live concerts…  You get it!  What competitors are finding a new way to serve the same market need?

Buyer Power

How are their biggest customers influencing their product and service strategies? 

When I worked for HP, we spent a lot of time and energy visiting with our largest accounts to understand their emerging needs.  That yielded a better understanding of the market trends of that customer category, which allowed us to get out ahead or our competitors in designing solutions to meet those emerging needs.

Supplier Power

Who supplies critical technology, raw materials, and human resources to your prospect’s firm?

Oil producing companies and countries wield considerable power over companies such as refineries, distributors, and automobile companies.


Understanding your prospect and asking well informed questions gives you a leg up on your competitors who rely on lame “what keeps you up at night?” questions.

Customers reward the consultants who invest in understanding them.  You don’t have to be an industry expert to ask a better question.  You just have to do some basic research and personalize it to the person you will be sitting across from and the industry segment they serve.

Emotional Intelligence Enables Great Leadership

The research is compelling.  Emotional intelligence is a powerful enabler to being a great leader.

This short video explores research by the Center for Creative Leadership, Multi-Health Systems, and Google which demonstrates the power of emotional intelligence (EQ) to strong leadership and employee engagement.

What’s your experience?

Ascendent is a certified to deliver the Hogan family of personality assessments, including EQ, as well the Multi-Health Systems EQ-i 2.0 assessments.  Maybe we should talk!

How to Ask Powerful Follow-Up Questions

Differentiate your credibility by how you respond to what clients tell you

The best advisors are adept at asking powerful follow-up questions.  They  use a well framed follow-up to signal that they not only heard the previous answer, but have processed it to a preliminary understanding, and are now seeking to go farther and deeper to understand the speaker’s full meaning.

Respond to the listener’s expectation

If you’re having a serious discussion with someone, they want to know that you’re really engaged in what they are saying and want to know more.  Your caring approach to listening makes them feel heard, and that you are respecting their knowledge.

The speakers feel honored, and they want to continue the dialogue.  This not only creates a link with the listener but opens the door for deepening the conversation and the underlying relationship.

What’s my investment?

All of these advantages come at a price.

Skillful tennis players anticipate where their opponent will return the volley and begin moving there as their opponent gets into position for their hit.  That form of in-the-instant judgment comes after years of playing, and thousands of volleys.  The equivalent experience from a consultant comes from years of learning and practicing their craft.

Many of the readers of this piece have that level of experience in their domain.  The trick is to be intentional about taking advantage of it as the conversation flows back and forth.  Newcomers to a domain can prepare by tapping into  experienced colleagues in advance of their meeting.  They can ask about the most critical topics likely to come up, and how those topics best relate to customer those challenges.

Steps for great follow-up questions

  1. Do your homework on what you believe will be the critical topics you will discuss in this discussion.
  2. Take advantage of what you already have experienced in those areas to anticipate how the conversation might flow.
  3. If you don’t have direct experience, interview colleagues or available experts to understand the most critical aspects of the topics.
  4. Be realistic about how far you can take a topic.  Maybe ask a question about its relative importance, so .  At a level that you will at least you will know they are critical, without going into any depth.
  5. Invite a more experienced colleague to make the meeting with you.

Then, relax and play the match.  If you’ve done this  level of prep, you will most likely sound more credible than most of your competitors.

Great Reads:

HBR: The Surprising Power of Questions

Developing executives – What’s the coaching business case?

A strong coaching business case for a leadership development  project keeps all parties motivated and driving toward success.

Virtually all of my coaching with business leaders is funded by their firms.  There are three parties to the agreement.  The leader has to deliver the effort to fully work on their development.  The stakeholder has to invest the resources to hire the coach and support the leader and their development effort.  The coach has to deliver a coaching process that is effective.

While the firm is investing in the individual, it is also wanting the coaching investment to result in some “return” to the company, reflected in improved business outcomes.

It helps leaders and their stakeholders to align quickly on the coaching goals if they think about the engagement as an investment and use investment language to describe the return.  For an example, if an executive successfully improves employee engagement on his team, research says that team firm will enjoy higher productivity, and up to 20% higher profitability.

I use a four phased “business case” approach to create the development plan.  The client and stakeholder see the outcome in their terms.   In the client’s mind, “I’ll get to know my team better and we’ll all work better together.”  In the stakeholder’s mind, “Sam’s coaching could increase the productivity of his team, maybe by as much as 20%.”

Here’s a description of my approach:

First Base: Name the development goal

Use assessments and stakeholder interviews to yield a list of potential objectives.  Narrow the list to frame a very short list of general development objectives and guesstimate the outcomes.    No more than five candidates should make it this far.  Through discussion, we narrow the list to one or two that have the most compelling outcomes.

I ask the client to “name” each finalist with a short phrase that is meaningful to them.  We discuss projected outcomes of the finalists and choose the one or two which have the most compelling outcomes.

Trap!  Clients typically want to go straight to problem solving.    It’s easier, more concrete, and it’s what everyone is clamoring for at the time.  It’s important to differentiate between helping a client solve a specific problem (you’re a consultant) and helping them develop into the person that can accomplish what is demanded by their role (you’re a coach).  Help them take the time to envision the future, by exploring who they need to be.

Second Base: Discover with the client “who” they will have to become, to achieve the outcomes they are hoping for.  

 What new skills, concepts, values and beliefs will they possess after the coaching engagement?  I help them explore the personal shifts that must occur for them to grow in the direction they’re seeking.

 Third Base:  Envision what behavior changes will be noticeable if the development is successful

Focusing on behaviors sets them up to measure the success of the coaching.  On their own, clients can ask their key relationships, mentors, and teammates what new behaviors they’re noticing.  In my practice, I ask my clients to come to each coaching session prepared to share the behavioral feedback they’re getting from others and noticing on their own.

Bonus!   By encouraging our clients to gather their own accountability data, we’re setting them up to ultimately transition to self-coaching.  They will be able to “pull” the coaching they need from managers and colleagues and measure if they’re making progress.

Home Base:  Ask, “So what?”   Refine the business impact.

If all goes well, what needles move?  How are things different?

The client will probably take a more personal view.  “I’ll be a stronger leader and a better boss, and I’ll be more promotable.”

The stakeholders will more likely focus on business metrics.  “They will be more productive, more profitable, and uncover best practices for the company.”


There’s no magic about where you start!  Just start…  Unlike baseball, you don’t have to run the bases in order, and you’re seldom done until you’ve visited each base a few times.   Desired outcomes can drive the naming of goals.  Goals drive the who’s… and the behaviors… behaviors drive outcomes and milestones…  milestones drive actions and accountability…

What’s important is that you explore all the bases.  Give yourself time to put it aside and come back to it with fresh eyes.

As you move through the coaching, refresh the business case continuously and validate your investment decision.

 Drop me a note if you’d like a copy of a Microsoft Word template I use to discuss and refine the business case and create an action plan for the next steps of the development plan.

Trust and Credibility: Research on the top five relating skills

Consulting customers more often buy complex solutions from people with trust and credibility.  

The research:

Since August of 2016, Ascendent Leadership and colleagues at Partners International and Discovery Consulting have teamed up to discover what successful consultants consider to be the critical soft skills to generate trust and credibility.  They are asking which of 20 commonly accepted consulting best practices rank as the most important in creating authentic advisory relationships.  (Original blog article introducing the research.)  While the research is continuing, we believe that the interim results are clear and reflect the consulting community.  (Top five have been unchanged since we hit about 30 responses.  The total number of responses is now approaching one hundred.)

Active Listening was the runaway favorite. 

Top Five Skills Driving Trust, Accountability

84 percent of respondents rated Active Listening as Critically Important, the top quartile of importance.  That was over 30 percentage points higher than the runner up, Asking Powerful Questions.

Here are the results for the top five, ranked by the number of total selections in the top quartile, as a percentage of total responses:Ability

It’s all about discovery!

All of the top five could easily fit under the umbrella term “discovery”:

Ability to establish trust and credibility through their focus and presence

Carrying on on a well-informed conversation about the clients’ business and their underlying success factors

Building on the trust/credibility foundation to discover how the consultant’s value can align with the  client’s most compelling opportunities and challenges


When we invest the time to really understand our client before we interact, and continuously during our relationship, and when we …

Bring our best level of customer focus and presence to every interaction, and when we…

Are confident enough to open up with what makes sense to us, and what doesn’t, …

Then we earn our client’s trust and credibility, and …

Very often, their business.

Team Development – Four Questions to Frame Your Plan

Team Development

When I begin a development engagement, I spend time to understand their situation and help them align their growth outcomes.  I’m helping them balance what is personally satisfying to them, with what is high impact for their organization and its mission.

Usually, that begins with an overarching question (How do you want to develop?) to articulate the development goal.  That can be on stakeholder feedback, a recent performance discussion, 360 degree assessments and the like. What I’ve learned about this discussion is to approach the discovery with three additional questions which build the business case for the effort time and resources to achieve the goal.

Here are the the four questions:

What’s your goal for development?

This is the starting point.  They’re getting feedback from somewhere that there’s a benefit from developing some aspect of their world.  Where’s that input coming from?  How much energy are they feeling about the importance of the goal.

How will you change through your investment?

The major premise behind this question:  We achieve success based on who we are as well as what we do.  Performance discussions tend to focus most of their energy on the action part:  hat will we do?  The best coaches focus first on who we are.  Who we are makes what we do possible (or impossible!)

What new skills will you build? What new insights or subject matter expertise will you gain? Will there be any new attitudes or beliefs that occur because of your development investment? With these questions and others like them, we are trying to establish how the client will change and evolve as a person. Development isn’t so much about attaining specific tactical goals as it is about growing as a person in becoming more capable and more motivated to achieve those goals.

What new behaviors will others observe in you?

This question goes to measurement and accountability. Discussion of this question helps the learner clarify the goals in terms of what others will see.  How will current behaviors change as the learner and coach work on the development objective.

What mission outcome will you enable when you accomplish your objective?

This is the “So, what?” question, often stated in terms of the deliverable performance metrics for the organization or business.  Business metrics like revenue, profit, expanding the customer base, new and different service lines, time to market….  Personal metrics like leadership confidence, promotability, employee engagement, and so on.

If you like the Covey habits, it’s “Begin with the end in mind.

Some outcomes are more easily quantified than others. But whether it’s a tangible outcome or intangible outcome, it should be realistic and compelling to all concerned. It nails down the business case for the development project.  As well, it helps the learner and stakeholders choose between several potential learning objectives.  Which one will have the biggest “bang for the buck.”


When goals and outcomes are well aligned, everyone associated with the development project will be more motivated to do what it takes to make the learner succeed in their development project.

We can help!  Ascendent Leadership offers executive coaching for for individuals and teams from high potentials to the C-Suite.

If you want the business, find the spark!

I have a friend of mine who likes to use the term “spark” to describe the emotional connection between two people beginning a romantic relationship. Most of us can recall a situation in our past where all the “specifications” for a new relationship were perfectly met, but where the chemistry between the two people just wasn’t strong enough to create an authentic romantic connection.

I’d like to suggest that, as we are talking about a business opportunity with a client or prospect, some of the same emotional wiring that creates a romantic spark is going to be very influential in whether or not we find the energy to support working together.

People have said, and I completely agree, that most people make decisions based on emotions, and then rearrange the facts and logic path to support a decision they’ve already made on an emotional basis.

Here are two questions to consider as we are talking with a client or prospect about a new project they are considering:

Can we feel the emotion they are carrying for the project?

Can we find a complementary emotion in both our client and ourselves that could become the chemistry that drives our working together on that project and others to come?

The answers to these questions could help us understand how committed our contact is to this business outcome.   Often, someone may have reached out to us to discuss a project which, frankly, they don’t care a flip about.   They’re only engaging us to satisfy a commitment to someone else to “look into it”.  That’s a long way from “get ‘er done!”  On their side of the equation, there is no “spark”.   That could be a good sign that this project is a nonstarter. Wish them well, pick up your hat, and walk (maybe run!) for the door.

On the other hand, if we believe that the value proposition for the project is genuinely compelling for this company, then we need to find someone else in the organization to become our champion, someone who has the spark (maybe even created the spark) and who provide the emotional energy for the project to move forward.   Continue the conversation and probe to find that person.  If you can engage that person in the conversation, your chances for success become infinitely better.

Epilogue:  The chances for creating a winning value proposition and a long term client relationship get infinitely better if we can find the emotional “spark” for both the project at hand and the on-going consultant-client relationship between us.


Before You Say No, Five Steps to Find Your Yes

After the final no, there comes a yes and on that yes, the future of the world hangs.    (Wallace Stevens)

A sales executive friend of mine likes to say that the selling only begins after you’ve heard the first “No”.  I always liked the expression, but it’s only recently that I’ve been thinking more about how great consultants move past a client’s reluctance to move forward on their recommendations… how they move past that initial No.  As I have thought more about it, I have begun to really appreciate the wisdom in my friend’s saying.

Salespeople call an early attempt to gain customer commitment a “trial close”. When the answer to that trial close is No, many (maybe most) of them decide that the deal is not likely to happen and they walk away. The skilled salespeople use that first “no” to energize themselves. They become intensely interested in understanding what it will take to get to the Yes.  And then, the real selling begins…

In many of his talks, Peter Block tells a story about a young man who asks his beloved, “Will you marry me?” She energetically says, “No!”   His response:  “Great, then we can talk!”   Inwardly, he is thinking, “Game On!!!”   He’s obviously been listening to my sales friend.

Block also speaks eloquently about the usefulness of well managed conflict to define the win-win crucial to effective consulting.  I love his quote, “Insight resides in moments of tension.” (Block 2011 )

William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s program on negotiation and author of “The Power of A Positive No”(Ury 2007) , says it this way:

“Perhaps the single biggest mistake we make when we say No is to start from No. We derive our No from what we are against – the other’s demand or behavior. A Positive No calls on us to do the exact opposite and base our No on what we are for. Instead of starting from No, start from Yes. Root your No in a deeper Yes – a Yes to your core interests and to what really matters.”

Five steps to finding your Yes:

  1. When you first hear whatever it is that infuriates you and you want to scream “No” back, notice your emotions.  What are you feeling, and how intensely?
  2. Step back, and do whatever it takes to give yourself some time to recover and regain control. Feign a coughing spell, or decide to call a break for some coffee.  Whatever it takes.
  3. Remind yourself that managed conflict is the most positive step you can take to get to the outcome you want, to your Yes. This is a good thing!
  4. Ask yourself, what Yes are you seeking that is inconsistent with their No? Unpack and rediscover your most basic needs and the values.  Which are relevant, here?  Let these questions help you be clear about what you really want and need in this situation.  Your Yes.
  5. Distill your thinking down to a specific interest in this situation. When you get around to exploring that interest with your partner, it will give you confidence and it will make it easier for them to understand your Yes, and align it to theirs.

This series of steps has more moving parts that I can cover in a short article.  Check out Ury’s excellent chapter on Discover Your Yes (Ury 2007) for a much more complete discussion.


“A No uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘Yes” merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble”      (Mahatma Ghandi)

The young woman in Block’s story begins the real courtship with her honest “No”.  Her suitor wisely recognizes that No as the beginning of the dialogue that he hopes will get him to Yes.

How will you handle it, the next time someone tells you No?  And why did you wait so long to ask the question?

Great Reads:

Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.

Ury, W. (2007). The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. New York, Bantam Dell.

The network’s down! Five ways to empower your teams with Commanders’ Intent.

What would your people do if they were suddenly cut off from all ability to contact you?  … or their other leadership and sources of information, perspective, and resources?

Empower them to flex to the situation by understanding “Commander’s Intent”

Students of military strategy often use the term, “the fog of war” to describe a situation where leaders and troops lose contact with their chain of command and must deal with the ensuing confusion.  In order to enable their people to continue to press forward and take initiative without immediate guidance, the military has developed a concept what they call “commander’s intent”.  Through training and reinforcement, they give soldiers a clear vision of the intended outcome which enables them to take the initiative and tap their natural creativity to drive toward that vision.

What’s the benefit?

Military leaders have long understood that combat is a messy thing! Lines of communication are broken. Anticipated resources don’t show up. Key people become unavailable. Unexpected constraints pop-up and become problems to solve. Their enemies (and our competitors!) are planning, too. They may throw something at us that we didn’t expect.

The notion of commander’s intent enables our teams to take independent and continuous actionThey can move at the speed of the situation, They do not need to continuously check back with senior leadership to gain approval to take the next action.

The solution space

Great leaders create a “solution space” by the rules and constraints they impose on their team. That solution space is bounded by what the team can’t do. In business, the most common boundaries might be created by legal considerations, marketing strategy, ethics, or company policy.  An example might be a policy that requires CEO approval to authorize an engagement that will lose money for the firm. Once the leader establishes the relevant and compelling constraints, what is left are the millions of other combinations of available actions, the “solution space”.  All those options are available to the team member if they understand the space and feel empowered to operate in in all of it.

If they understand the ultimate desired end state, and if they know clearly the boundaries of their solution space, and if (this is big!) we have given them the flexibility and encouragement to operate freely in that space, then they can use their own initiative and creativity to realize the outcomes envisioned in the commander’s intent.

Five Ways to establish your Commander’s Intent:

  1. Paint the picture” of the end state in very clear, high contrast, colorful terms. Use relevant personal examples and stories liberally. Your team should be able to repeat it back to you instantly and accurately.
  1. Invest the time and effort to be sure that everyone understands in the most concrete terms your organization’s strategic goals. That understanding becomes the anchor for everything you ask them to do.  Use every means available to be sure your team understands the vision in the context of their individual roles. Great venues to do this are “coffee talks”, articles in your employee newsletters or blogs, and specific reference to the strategy in the resolution of real-time business issues.  (Obviously, there are many others…  Talk about your visions and specific goals incessantly!
  1. When delegating, take the time it requires for your people to understand the desired outcome. How does that outcome fit into a broader strategy you have already clarified for them?  With good questions, test their level of understanding and how they might apply that understanding in a real-time way.
  1. Carefully challenge any constraints or boundaries on your team’s actions. Limit constraints to the minimum necessary.  Be thoughtful about the constraining effects of any constraints you apply.
  1. If you are a manager of managers, take advantage of your “bully pulpit” to model to your middle managers the encouragement of new frames of reference, and challenging unnecessary constraints. Enlist candid feedback from your entire team about how well you are doing.