When it comes to leadership and management style there are two categories most people fall into. Those are sledgehammer or velvet hammer leaders. 

If you’re reading this post, you are likely a high-performing professional who takes pride in your work, and you’re extremely attentive to your own personal and professional development. 

You are the type of woman who wants to climb the ladder and be a part of a team that works together to achieve greatness. 

I’m also going to bet that many of you have likely had a boss at some point in your career who has pushed you beyond what you thought you were capable of — and the outcome was either one of two things. 

1) You felt that you were likely smarter than the boss and could do a much better job of leading the team and getting the job done. OR 

2) You felt your boss was the most awesome, compassionate, and highly intelligent (both emotional and academic) person in the room and you looked forward to the next interaction. 

The first boss is what we call a sledgehammer leader. The second was a velvet hammer leader — and that’s the goal to shoot for in your professional development. An effective leadership style uses a velvet hammer approach to bring out the best in a team. 

These experiences definitely set the tone for how we end up leading our own teams and businesses. If you missed out on having a velvet hammer leadership example, that’s okay. I’m going to give you three practical tips to develop this effective management style. 

THE VELVET HAMMER LEADER VS. THE SLEDGEHAMMER LEADER

How many of you consider yourself to be a sledgehammer or a velvet hammer leader when it comes to your leadership style? 

Let me break this down for you. 

The sledgehammer leader tells it how it is, regardless of their audience. I’m talking about no filter – what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of style. The sledgehammer doesn’t consider what other people might be thinking or feeling, nor does this person care to hear another perspective. It’s more of a my-way-or-the-highway approach.

(Haven’t we all had a boss like that in our past lives?) 

The velvet hammer leader takes into consideration the audience and actively listens to them. They think about how people may perceive a message. They ask themselves questions like: How would this person feel if I said things a certain way? What would that audience think if I approached things a certain way? The velvet hammer leader puts themselves into the mindset of their audience. 

3 TIPS TO BE AN EFFECTIVE VELVET HAMMER LEADER 

As the leader of your business or organization, you have three primary functions:

  1. Listen to others

Even if you decide to stick with your original message or plan, if you sincerely listened and genuinely took into consideration a possible alternative, that’s what matters. People want to be heard. 

  1. Develop a high level of self-awareness

This is critical to your success. Your team is relying on you to understand where they’re coming from and to know their strengths and weaknesses. They want you to lean on them and solicit their input. They want to please and give you great results. But, the only way you’ll really achieve this is to have a thorough understanding of your own tendencies and leadership style. 

  1. Communicate with empathy

The most beloved leaders are those who communicate with clarity and take into consideration how a message will be perceived. I love how Brene Brown writes in Dare to Lead, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” 

The fact of the matter is, when you’re not clear about your expectations or requirements, you’re not leading with integrity and ultimately will not garner the results you desire. Remember, being clear doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk. 

Your team takes its cues from the leader. If you come across like a sledgehammer — they will too over time. If that happens, don’t ever expect to build community and camaraderie as a sledgehammer. It’ll never happen. 

The velvet hammer, on the other hand, tends to win people over, tends to build community better, and tends to retain excellent staff and clients too. 

Take this opportunity to review what leadership style you have been using and make adjustments where needed to listen, be self-aware, and communicate with empathy as a velvet hammer leader. 

About the author

Heather Lisle is a professional problem-solver, business coach, and entrepreneur with 20 plus years of experience helping business owners and leaders identify their biggest pain points and develop a fast track for growth and success.

Get to know her at @heatherlisleco on FB and IG and at http://www.heatherlisle.com


During your career as a manager, you may encounter sensitive situations with colleagues and employees. Often these problems don’t resolve themselves on their own and employees may be upset, confused and the list of potential situations you may face is endless.

When difficult situations arise it often falls to the manager to have the hard conversation with their direct report. No one told me this when I became a manager and I have had to teach myself this skill, apply knowledge gleaned from others, and consolidate what I have learnt on the job. It’s my hope that with this post I’ll leave you with tips you can use the next time you find yourself in a “what the heck do I do with this?” type of dilemma.

My top five strategies for having tough work conversations:

  1. Ask someone you trust for their suggestions and approach.

Ask them what they would say given the scenario. You can ask your HR department, your supervisor, a mentor or a colleague in another department. Sometimes, though, your workplace resources aren’t enough. After consulting my colleagues, my go-to person for management advice is my mother who held a high-ranking position at a chemical company for decades before she retired last year. Over the years she managed several unique personalities and encountered every situation under the sun. Whenever I have an issue with a direct report, I change the details and don’t reveal any personal information, but I ask her how she would handle the situation. Usually, the advice from people around you is spot-on, but needs to be tweaked for the specific matter at hand.

  1. Consult free literature that exists on the topic.

Harvard Business Review has a lot of articles that cover this very subject. HBR has a great Management Tip of the Day newsletter that covers a myriad of sticky issues that can be reviewed when needed. I also love Alison Green’s Ask a Manager web site which is my personal favourite. She has tons of archived content about every personnel issue you can think of; it’s easy to search by topic. Forbes and LinkedIn are also good resources.

  1. Schedule a time to chat with your employee and write up your talking points a few days in advance.

This isn’t a conversation you want to wing. You need to have a plan and make sure you hit on your key points. Are they showing up to work late and not completing their assignments? You better decide which is the larger issue you need to tackle. Are they being offensive to colleagues or harassing their own direct reports? Again, you want to come armed with specific examples and provide strategies or suggestions for them on how to handle themselves according to your standards and/or company guidelines. You want to be perfectly clear about what the problem is, why it’s a problem, and provide your employee with ideas on how to fix the problem. You can also ask them how they would address the issue.

  1. Practice the conversation out loud.

It can be to the wall or to your dog, but saying the words as if you are having the conversation will help you identify what parts of your script need work and what should be eliminated or added. Are you focusing on the wrong things? Wasting time with small talk? Stumbling over clunky wording? Is your message getting lost? Make sure to do a run-through a couple of times to find weak spots and smooth them out.

  1. Have your notes handy, but don’t recite them word-for-word.

Employees want to know that you’re being sincere and not just giving them the party line during these types of discussions. If they think you’re phoning it in they won’t understand the magnitude of the situation and what performance issues need to be corrected. Remember, no matter how difficult this conversation is for you, it’s undoubtedly hard on your employee, too. Let your employee ask questions and if needed, promise to schedule a follow-up meeting in two weeks to revisit the discussion and review what steps the employee has taken (or not) to address the issue you discussed.

In the end, if you take adequate time to prepare yourself for difficult conversations it will make them that much smoother and hopefully create an environment that fosters open communication. Do you have your own tips for tackling difficult conversations at work? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

About the Author
Deanna Cabinian is the director of consumer marketing for a global media company. She has six years of management experience and twelve years of experience working in the corporate world. When she isn’t working, she loves to write. She’s the author of a series of novels for young adult readers and is represented by Aevitas Creative Management. Find her online at https://deannacabinian.com/

 


I recently had the honour of connecting with a powerful leader and an incredibly creative business owner and interior design expert, Allison Crawford.  Allison is an interior designer and founder of Hotelette, an award-winning collection of luxury short-term rentals in Austin, Nashville and Dallas.

In this interview Allison shares with us about a bachelorette trip that inspired her business, why we do not need to have a huge budget to be effective in our marketing, and why the interior design doesn’t have to be a “fussy experience”.

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Over the many years since Leaders in Heels began, we have worked with hundreds of contributors, watched our six-figure community prosper and collaborated with so many talented experts. These experiences have taught us many things, including how different people hone their productivity. We’ve pooled some of this knowledge, including some hidden gems from super busy women, to create this guide for improving productivity.

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Great businesses are born and developed every day.  Yet with the constant pressure of making money, remaining ahead of trends, staying afloat and thriving in a competitive and overcrowded marketplace, it’s no wonder business owners turn their attention to ‘experts’ and outside opinions to improve their business.  As a business owner, what happens when a once-thriving business suddenly declines? Is it the market, the conditions or something even less conspicuous… you simply lost your way? 

How business owners can stay accountable and true to themselves

  1. Review your reasons for why you are in business

    List the reasons you decided to start your business in the first place. Once you have listed these reasons, ask yourself, are you still are aligned with these, or have things changed for you since you first established your business? Are you are still contributing in the same way you did when you first started? If not, what needs to change? Take the time to brainstorm to ensure you are really honest about your current feelings and reasons.

  2. Take a moment to get some honest feedback

    Our customers and clients can offer valuable feedback, as after all, they are the ones who already engage with you, and may continue to do so. These are the opinions other than your own, that you may need to explore.  Make a few phone calls to gather this information on their experiences with you. Listen to the feedback and consider the responses to this collective information. How can you adjust different areas of your business that may need improving, and strengthen the ones that are valued?

  3. Take time out for you

    What activities outside of your business make you happy? Ensuring we have regular time in our personal lives to exercise, connect with loved ones, engage in hobbies, or to simply rest, impacts our ability to feel happier, energised, and more engaged in our business. We are less reactive and more proactive in our business operations and decisions. This investment in ourselves is invaluable and allows for greater long-term sustainability to continue running a successful business.

  4. Do a ‘gap’ analysis

    Take an inventory of your business.  Where are you now and where do you want to be in one year, 10 years from now?  What are you good at? Who do you need to hire? Who are your clients now? What clients do you want to work with? Who are the clients you do you not want to work with? What products and services can you offer? Are there additional revenue streams? Take a broader look at your business, your life, your targets and be accountable.

  5. Project Manage Yourself

    Ask yourself what daily, weekly, and monthly action steps you can take today, that will create change or improvement in your business?  Use tools that can help you do this easily and successfully. Many digital applications now make this helpful to keep yourself, and your team, on track. This can reduce the feeling of overwhelm, improve efficiency, and develop a sense of achievement.

  6. Measure your success

    It is important to give yourself feedback about where you are now and where you are going. What activities are you doing now that will grow your business and help you achieve the targets you have set?  How can you measure those? Is it by looking at the numbers – an increase in revenue, profit or cash flow? Or is it looking at how much fun, joy and adventures are you having in your business? Or is it both? Whatever that measurement is will shine clarity on the choices and actions you would like to continue or adjust.

You create your experiences just as you create your business. You are also accountable for what you create. Be honest of where you need to improve, or become more efficient, and enjoy your business again.

Arlene Schmidek discusses businessAbout the author
Arlene Schmidek is a
Being You facilitator and has been in the industry of business, life and wellness development for more than 30 years. Arlene is co-owner of a multi-million dollar family-owned dealership, which is now celebrating its 44th year of operation, in addition to being a co-founder of a consulting and training business. She brings a wealth of experience across many disciplines, coupled with a passion for creating positive change with her work with Access Consciousness.

 


When thinking about hiring mums, I often reflect on years ago when I used to manage recruitment for a large online business. Whenever I’d get an application from an entrepreneur I’d immediately turn them down because I thought their skills wouldn’t be a good fit, they didn’t fit the brief and they wouldn’t want to work for someone else for too long. 

Wrong.  In fact, my mantra now is “Always hire the entrepreneurs!”. The skills, resilience and work ethic needed to be an entrepreneur means there’s a high chance they’ll be successful anywhere. 

Now my new hiring tip is mums. Why? Well, let’s look at the skills you want in an employee.

Time management

If you’re anything like me, chances are you get way more done on the last day before you head off on a holiday because you know exactly what you need to get done before you go and you have a hard deadline. This is how mums approach Every. Single. Day. They just don’t have time to muck around. 

Resilience

One thing you can be sure of in business that things will get hard on a regular basis. You want employees who can rise above the stress and keep a clear head. Being a mum dramatically changed my definition of stressful. Give me a tough day at work over dealing with a screaming, wriggling child whose nappy hasn’t been able to contain a truly astounding amount of explosive poo on less than four hours sleep over the past three days combined. Hiring mums cannot builds resilience in your team.

Flexibility

Things don’t always go to plan and the ability to be flexible and find a way around problems rather than grinding to a halt at the first sign of difficulty is a crucial skill. This pretty much describes every day of my life since becoming a mum. I feel like Macgyver half the time, using whatever is at hand to get the job done and changing plans at the last second to accommodate my daughter Izzy is the norm.

Empathy

In any team you need people with empathy, especially in your leaders. Empathy is the grease that keeps a team working well together, and customers happy. Needing to learn how to provide for a small human who can’t talk is a great lesson in empathy. And when they can talk, they’re still learning to control their emotions and feelings which can challenge and grow those empathy muscles in a big way.

Hiring mums is great for your leadership team

In my experience, mums tend to make strong leaders. Just like each child is different, with different needs and wants, the same is true of adults too and parents seem to intuitively get this with those they manage. It’s also pretty hard to get kids to do anything you want and you quickly develop mastery of creating a compelling vision and getting everyone on the same bus to get there as a team.

Ego

This is probably the most important one for me. Having Izzy quickly realigned what’s actually important in my life. So many things I used to feel were important suddenly didn’t feel all that important anymore. This has translated directly into business for me, I find it much easier to let things go and find myself asking questions like “is this the best for the business, or am I doing it for me?”. This is a trait I really look for in my team – the ability to check your ego at the door.

About Libby Babet

Libby is co-founder of upcoming immersive business and wellness retreat for women hosted, Nurture Her, hosted 18-22 October in Fiji, which has attracted fantastic speakers including Julie Bishop. A wellness guru who has appeared as a trainer on The Biggest Loser: Transformed, Libby also owns several fitness studios and a healthy snack business with two brands, Chief Bar and Beauty Food.