GREAT RESOURCES for the Road Ahead After this pandemic

Hello friends,

There is plenty of nonsense from online extremists. I’m sick of it. You may be frustrated too.

One of my clients said, “I’m just paralyzed. I’ve submitted my PPP application to Wells Fargo because I trusted them to deliver. Now they say I should consider a new bank. I don’t know who to trust.”

Another client said, “We have adopted new norms for remote work. Everyone has a laptop with a secure virtual private network (VPN). But, people are late for meetings. WebEx doesn’t work. We get interrupted by crying children and barking dogs. Our deliverables are down 20% in 3 weeks.”

That’s why I want to give you these 6 great resources:

  1. As a species we have always adapted to aversive stimuli with resilience. 100 years ago over 600,000 people died as a result of the Spanish Flu Pandemic.  Our grandparents survived. 100 years from now we will have new global health protocols. You and I will not be alive, but our children will learn from our work today. Resilience defines us. We can adapt. Some great resources are at the Greater Good Science Center.
  2. Teams are stronger than individuals. They always have been stronger. Consider any project team, family team, virtual or direct team… Teams will always will be stronger because teams provide different perspectives, tension, innovation, results. Social isolation leads to anxiety and depression, and kills more people than cardio-vascular disease, obesity and smoking. Combined. Lately I have been calling at least 5 old friends every day. Physical isolation is critical. Social isolation occurs when we do not reach out to one another.  Some great free resources are here.  You can strengthen your teams today.
  3. Networks of teams are stronger than individuals. Networks look like spiderwebs or a map of your favorite highways. Networked organizational maps make it possible for anyone to be a leader. One good article on the road ahead using networks of teams is from McKinsey. It’s worth sharing with your teams.
  4. The road ahead is paved with new leaders, from many networks. Consider recent examples of healthcare leaders like your local physicians and nurses, or Dr. Anthony Fauci. Consider thousands of leaders in education who quickly migrated course content online and are encouraging songs across the physical distance. Leaders emerge when teams practice using OKRs. Objectives and Key Results (OKR) increase accountability and engagement, especially with over 50% of the workforce who are millennials. Recently, over 20% of the U.S. workforce has lost their job or is underemployed. Please share this link from my newest book with anyone in a career transition. For anyone interested in learning about OKR Leadership, please share this link to chapter 1 in audio or digital format.  You may be a great leader for your loved ones.
  5. We finally have a new language to describe our virtues and character strengths. Over 7 million people use the language of signature strengths to describe themselves or others “At your best.” For the past two years I have listed my signature strengths in my email signature as a small experiment.  I strongly recommend that you take the free VIA assessment here and practice developing your strengths daily.  When we leverage our strengths, then we are more capable of flourishing. The science and practice of character strengths has gained momentum during this pandemic, because people want to know, “What really works?”

Just thinking of you, today, at your best.

Doug Gray, PhD, PCC

CEO, Action Learning Associates, LLC
704.995.6647 mobile, 615.236.9845 office.  Calendar Me.
My top signature strengths: creativity, hope, perspective, honesty, zest

Mindfulness or Mindlessness? Some good links…


My friend Steve, in Charlotte, NC, is very intentional about his daily practice of mindful-ness.  As an executive coach and yoga master, he has achieved a state of awareness that others cannot imagine.  Yes, this is his car…

Steve would ask, “What daily practice do you adopt to increase mindfulness?”

Prayer? Meditation?  Random acts of kindness?  Daily expressions of gratitude?  Generosity?

Throughout 4,500 years of recorded history, humans have sought insight from such daily practices.

Yoga teaches the value of breathing and moving.   Just like any hard physical activity.   Gardening.  Running ultra marathons.  Doing 10-day expedition adventure races.


Now we have social media triggers such as this clip from Alan Watts to take us on a virtual adventure…



Alternately, for those who need a provocative clip from Alan Watts, consider this:



More importantly, a coaching question is “What daily practice do you adopt to increase mindfulness?”



Invitation to join the Positive Organizational Leadership Project

TO:  Positive Psychology practitioners/ leaders/ consultants

FR:  Doug Gray,   

RE:  The Positive Organizational Leadership Project (POLP)


Invite practitioners/ leaders/ consultants to share digital stories of HOW they are applying Positive Psychology individually and organizationally.


  1. Leaders practice leadership.  We can all be better leaders.
  2. We can leverage technology and our communities.
  3. Relationships matter.  When we model relationships that matter, then we increase awareness and learning.


After attending  the International Positive Psychology Association conference in Montreal, Canada, in July, 2017 one theme stood clear.  Marketing and branding for practitioners using positive psychology is NOT well defined.  Market confusion abounds.  This Positive Organizational Leadership Project emerged as one initiative to help practitioners share HOW they serve clients in our global marketplace.  Join us?


(a) share this invitation broadly,  (b) schedule a 30-minute session with Doug Gray here or at   (c) receive Time Trade confirmation with calendar link (d) encourage participants to write responses to the 5-7 questions below and email them to  24 hours prior to our scheduled call so that we can each be well prepared, (e) download software and familiarize yourself with software on YouTube, (f) at the scheduled time, record 5-10 minutes of video session using  (g) send MP4 recording to practitioners for their distribution, (h) post on channel with invitation to be included in the project.

Possible questions:

  1. Self-introduction: Who are you, what do you do, where are you located, do you have a website or invitation to share with others?
  2. Self- awareness: If you have taken the assessment at, what are your top 5 signature strengths?  How would you describe yourself, at your best, using those top 5 signature strengths? (FYI, my top signature strengths are creativity, hope, perspective, honesty, zest.)
  3. Definition: One common definition of positive psychology is the science and practicing of flourishing or thriving… how do you typically define positive psychology?
  4. What attracts you to the science or practice of positive psychology?
  5. Clients: Who do you typically serve in your PP consulting work?   Please share 2-3 examples/ case studies/ successful interventions or client experiences.
  6. Trends: What trends or market opportunities do you see in the future for positive psychology consulting?
  7. Referrals: Who else can you refer me to who (a) is a Positive Psychology consultant and (b) might be willing to be interviewed in this project?

How can you help?  Share this invitation broadly.   Thank you in advance for your participation.

Here’s to you, at your best…

Introducing the AD-FIT model for positive psychology coaching, managers, leaders

Please share this short video with any coaches, managers, or leaders who care about business outcomes.  

Our research indicates that the AD-FIT model works.  Contact us today for details.

Then apply this model to your clients ASAP.

How do I learn from experience?

The American educator John Dewey (1938) stated, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”  That fact remains unchanged (for at least the last 79 years) because it describes the need to reflect on how leaders develop.  For instance, a leadership shortage may be described by demographic shifts (millennials or global diversity), insufficient training (after promotions) or discouraging mindsets (low engagement or trust measures).  In response to that shortage, leaders need to practice desired behaviors more frequently (Kouzes & Posner, 2016).  Consider this example.  When I recently asked a room full of leaders, “How many of you describe yourself as a leader?” only about 10% raised their hands.  My experience is that many potential leaders do not regard themselves as leaders, largely because they do not trust their personal experiences.  Leaders can learn from experiences, but not all experiences are meaningful (Yip & Wilson, 2010).  This short paper explains how the two top processes of leader development can be applied to executive leadership.  Those two processes, 1) challenging assignments and 2) developmental relationships, described 64% of leader development experiences in the United States 24 years ago (McCall, Lombardo & Morrison, 1998) and are just as critical today.


Challenging assignments


As a species, humans have always adapted to environmental stimuli.  As leaders, humans adapt to environmental stimuli with internal change (Schein, 2010).  When I ask leaders to share their “personal best leadership story” the results may range from parenting to global reorganizations.  The unifying characteristic of those stories is that they describe challenging assignments; all leaders model initiative, take risks and innovate new behaviors (Kouzes & Posner, 2016).  One useful framework for practicing more leadership behaviors includes these five steps:  1) model the way, 2) inspire a shared vision, 3) challenge the process, 4) enable others to act, and 5) encourage the heart (show appreciation and celebrate successes; Kouzes & Posner, 2016).  That framework focuses on learning leadership behaviors, like a road map, and consequently I have shared that framework with dozens of executive leaders.  Any leader cited throughout history (in any reference book or in any story) has embraced challenging assignments.


So, what are useful challenging assignments?  Yip & Wilson (2010) list five types of assignments; 1) increase in job scope, 2) creating changes, 3) job rotation, 4) stakeholder engagement, and 5) cultural exchanges.  Examples of an increase in job scope include redesigning roles or responsibilities, adding people or budget to a current assignment, a career succession pipeline or a job succession ladder.  Examples of creating change abound as leaders respond to technological changes, market adaptations, global choices of suppliers and providers, diverse stakeholders, demands for improved efficiency, effectiveness or new outcomes.  Examples of job rotation include formal systems with regular shifts, as physicians and healthcare leaders often do when training, or informal rotations when leaders shadow colleagues in a different work group or culture.   Examples of stakeholder engagement include cross functional teams (sales and operations) or new market negotiations (vendors, clients, government officials) designed to develop awareness of cultural complexity and the need to negotiate desired outcomes.  Examples of cultural exchanges include foreign assignments, foreign responsibilities, cultural awareness assessments, organizational culture development, language skills, and understanding of global leadership behaviors.


The next question may be, “how do leaders increase their probability of success in challenging assignments?”  The answer includes feedback from developmental relationships.


Developmental relationships


       No leader succeeds alone.  We all need meaningful relational feedback such as coaching, peer or group mentoring, or one-on-one mentoring.  Yip & Wilson (2010) list three types of developmental relationships; 1) constructive managers, 2) difficult relationships, and 3) other venerated leaders.   Examples of constructive managers include regular one-to-one feedback sessions, performance reviews, based on critical organizational competencies or developmental states validated by a career development plan.   Examples of difficult relationships are those conflicts or disputes that were handled poorly, remain memorable as instructive reminders of “what not to do next time”, or lessons from unethical or inappropriate behavior.   Examples of relational feedback from other venerated leaders may include a mentoring session from an elder or historically wise leader, or an exemplary role model in a community or organization.


     How do leaders increase developmental relationships?  The most effective answer is to actively seek out wise mentors and regularly ask for feedback.  As Kaplan (2007) states, the person in the mirror may be able to respond to seven key questions with candid feedback.  However, my experience is that executive leaders require external, objective relationships with experienced mentors and coaches who can “speak truth to power” or model new desired behaviors.  The most requested topics for executive coaching engagements have not changed for many years; those topics are (1) executive presence and influencing skills, (2) ability in leading teams and people development, and (3) relationship management (TCB, 2014).  Managers and supervisors may be able to provide insights into those topics, but only executive coaches can observe and recommend new desired behaviors.


     The coach training industry is now estimated at 53,500 global coach practitioners and over $2B in annual revenue, with 115 accredited coach training programs (ICF, 2016). The International Coaching Federation (ICF) hosted the largest global survey (n=15,380, with 38% non-members) of coaching practitioners (internal, external or both) and managers or leaders using coaching skills (within Human Resources, Talent Development, or any line of business; ICF, 2016).  That survey identified the top future obstacles for coaching as (1) untrained individuals and (2) marketplace confusion (ICF, 2016). The survey also identified the top future opportunities for coaching as (1) increased awareness of the benefits of coaching, and (2) credible data on ROI/ROE/outcomes (ICF, 2016).  Those findings suggest a significant need for research on the efficacy of coach training.




When Dewey revolutionized American educational systems, he caused leaders to challenge the status quo and provide developmental relationships for students.  In a similar way, leaders have always accepted challenging assignments and sought candid, relational feedback of their performance.  In recent months I have applied the model from Kouzes & Posner (2016) to several executive leaders because it focuses on frequency of desired leadership behaviors.  If we assume that any leader needs to 1) model the way, 2) inspire a shared vision, 3) challenge the process, 4) enable others to act, and 5) encourage the heart (show appreciation and celebrate successes; Kouzes & Posner, 2016), then we can help more leaders to increase the frequency of desired leadership behaviors.  In other words, we can help leaders practice leadership.


Contact Doug Gray, PCC, for details at 615.905.1892 today.



Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Macmillan.

ICF (2016).  2016 ICF Global Coaching Study; Executive summary.  International Coaching Federation.

Kaplan, R. S. (January 2007). What to ask the person in the mirror. In On managing yourself (pp. 135- 156, 2010). Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (2016).  Learning leadership; The five fundamentals of becoming an extraordinary leader.  San Francisco, CA: Wiley.

McCall, Lombardo & Morrison (1988).  The lessons of experience; How successful executive develop on the job.  (reference not included in text, but cited on p. 64). In Velsor, E.V., McCauley, C.D. & Ruderman, M.N. (2010). Handbook for leadership development, 3rd Ed.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass Publications.

TCB (2014).  The 2014 Executive Coaching Survey.  The Conference Board, Report #R-1568-14-RR.

Yip, J. & Wilson, M.S. (2010).  Learning from experience.  Pp. 63-95.  In Velsor, E.V., McCauley, C.D. & Ruderman, M.N. (2010). Handbook for leadership development, 3rd Ed.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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Yikes. How do I lead a virtual team?


The topic of leadership in virtual teams is increasingly popular, so this conversation requires a few definitions. Leadership can be defined as the act of influencing others through socially acceptable behaviors that encourage desired behavior and the pursuit of a common goal. Virtual teams can be defined as (1) physically dispersed people, (2) using some digital connectivity process or software, (3) with a shared task or outcome, and (4) some groupware, hardware or computer-mediated communication (CMC).  An example would be four authors collaborating to design a website. The focus of this conversation topic is an exploration of leadership in virtual teams.


Research findings

Leading virtual teams has become a popular topic, with research focused on  how virtual teams differ from face-to-face teams in terms of coordination, communication and collaboration (Malhotra, Majchrzak & Rosen, 2007). Special consideration  has been placed on communication technologies needed to facilitate virtual work and knowledge sharing; however, the skills required to lead teams that have both geographic dispersion and innovation problem-solving challenges have received little research attention to date.

Researchers tend to agree that leaders of all teams, whether geographically dispersed or collocated, need to be engaged.  Virtual teams are required to solve problems, adopt a range of responsibilities, including articulating a vision for the team, communicating that vision with passion, setting the executive plan and forming coalitions (Malhotra et al, 2007). Hence, leaders of virtual teams face some of the same issues as leaders of collocated teams. All teams struggle to maintain engagement levels when solving problems. However, leaders of collocated teams have the advantage of physical observation and can correct ineffective behaviors, or detect when the team needs a direct meeting to rebuild momentum, or when teams need to redirect resources; virtual team leaders do not have the same power of physical observation (Malhotra et al, 2007).

Virtual team leaders must establish norms, overcome team member feelings of isolation, build cohesion and motivate team members to make a major commitment to the team’s mission.  Malhotra et al, 2007 recommend six practices for effective virtual team leaders, which are: (1) establish and maintain trust through the use of communication technology, (2) ensure that diversity in the team is understood, appreciated and leveraged, (3) manage virtual work cycle and meetings, (4) monitor team progress through the use of technology, (5) enhance external visibility of the team and its members and (6) ensure individuals benefit from participating in virtual teams.

Kayworth and Leidner (2002) identify effective virtual leaders as those who demonstrate the capability to deal with paradox and contradiction by performing multiple leadership roles simultaneously while demonstrating a high degree of empathy toward team members. They also state that highly effective virtual team leaders should adopt a mentoring role and assert their authority without being overbearing or inflexible (Kayworth & Leidner, 2002). Finally, an effective virtual team leader must be efficient at providing regular, detailed and prompt communication with subordinates and peers when articulating role relationships among the virtual team. One conclusion from this research is the critical need for virtual leaders to model engagement in the work process, as well as optimism that the team members can complete the tasks as required.


Gaps in the research

A notable gap in the research to date is the ability of leaders to develop and maintain engagement for members in virtual teams. Most team members are familiar with direct face-to-face contact, direct relationship building, trust development and subsequent knowledge sharing.  Virtual team processes and technology may be less familiar to many team members.  Several studies have examined the role of knowledge sharing and the impact of IT on the engagement of virtual team members, but the studies to date have focused on the dichotomy of virtual teams communicating through technology versus collocated teams not utilizing technology as their primary form of communication. The field would benefit from further examination into the leadership styles, competencies and activities that develop and support engagement and knowledge sharing in virtual teams on a continuous (e.g., what type of IT, frequency of use, level of use, level of user training, level of IT support, availability of technical assistance) rather than dichotomous (e.g., have or have not) basis.


Practical application

  1.  Engagement surveys. Multiple vendors and researchers have validated engagement surveys that help to assess engagement levels within teams. Examples include pulse surveys, exit surveys, customer engagement surveys, employee satisfaction surveys. It is imperative that leadership is fully engaged in the team, and both expects and nurtures engaged team members. For details for additional consulting, please contact any of the authors of this blog.
  2.  Executive coaching. All leaders need to periodically objectively review their strengths, leadership behaviors and their derailers – the behaviors that prevent them from being effective leaders. Most organizations now expect managers to coach direct reports, which sometimes leads to a conflict of interest and lack of confidentiality. The advantage of internal coaches is cost effectiveness and alignment with organizational goals. The advantage of external coaches is objectivity, best practice knowledge from global clients and the capacity for global scale. All leaders need to invest in and be active practitioners of their leadership skills.

What are you waiting for?

Contact Doug Gray, PCC, today at 615.905.1892 or contact us.

Download this list of services and investment levels now:




Kayworth, T. R., & Leidner, D. E. (2002). Leadership effectiveness in global virtual teams. Journal of Management Information Systems, 18(3), 7-40.


Malhotra, A., Majchrzak, A., & Rosen, B. (2007). Leading virtual teams. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 21(1), 60-70.