Tag Archives: leading

Steve’s Favorites: The Hot Seat

This post was originally posted on Steve Gutzler and Leadership Quest’s blog on February 14th, 2012.

I’ve been a part of dozens of corporate and business events and retreats. After a while they kind of blur together. It is the same hotel conference rooms. The same curiously similar buffet tables. Always the ridiculously poor lighting at the podium. But the people, they are who make it special. Yes the people!

Recently I was presenting at a corporate leadership retreat on Emotional Intelligence for Extraordinary Leadership. It was a really great morning of dynamic interaction. The CEO of the organization was truly exceptional; he had stunning leadership execution. But honestly, he captivates you with his people skills. His smile, his wit, and his unique ability to involve each person. You feel yourself elevating in thought and conversation just by being in his presence. Plus, my personal favorite, he had a contagious laugh that you just couldn’t get enough of.

The Defining Moment of the Retreat

On the second day of our retreat (the CEO actually called them “Advances” because his company never retreats) the CEO came up to the front to address everyone in the room. The previous morning I had described an example of a company where they take time each month to place a team member in the “Hot Seat.” When the team member is sitting in the Hot Seat, everyone goes around the room and talks about how that person contributes, shines, makes a difference and works hard to put skin on their goals as a company. It is a “your special. Thank you” Moment.


Sometimes when I share that story I can almost feel people rolling their eyes, sometimes I even see them. Tough minded types don’t like warm and fuzzy moments. Business and leadership is not for the weak of heart. It is a jungle out there and if you can’t step up and perform then you will find yourself in the junk yard!


So here was this CEO in front of his team. He stood and addressed the room stating that he would like to do the Hot Seat activity, but with a little twist. Then he walked around the room, stopping at each person. He literally placed his hand on each team member’s shoulder and talked about the stunning success contributions that each person had made. I kept thinking, “Where are his cheat sheets?” But he didn’t have any. I watched in wonder as the faces of each person lit up at his words. Each person looked newly inspired. I was witnessing the power of communicating personal value. Its transforming power, just those two or three minutes of recognition healed, emboldened, and filled hearts with a renewed courage to continue on!

Emotional Intelligence 401 in action! What a leader. What a magical moment.

And then the Surprise!

If that moment wasn’t enough, he turned to me. Yes, little ol’ me, in the corner taking it all in. He actually said, and I won’t forget the words, “And now I left the best at the end, Steve Gutzler.”

As he walked toward me, my heart started pounding. My eyes moistened. When he placed his hand on my shoulder and spoke glowingly, I melted. I faked a cool demeanor and a soft smile. But inside, I was a puddle. I have those words recorded in my mind. I return to them often because in my world, as I am sure it is in yours, I have many small voices. Sometimes even my own voice is speaking small to me.

But on that day I found myself driving to live up to those words of greatness. Emotional Intelligence can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For me it is something you experience and I attempt to deliver to one person at a time. One conversation, one smile, one handshake, one leadership moment at a time. I guess that is one reason at the end of my posts I say “You matter to me!”

Tying my best to be emotionally intelligent,

Steve Gutzler

“Leaders understand emotions drive behaviors, performance, and greatness!”

How to Manage Emotional Hijacking…Sleepless in Seattle

limitlis deviant art

“I have a shotgun and I will use it! Get out of my house!”

Sleepless in Seattle… Julie, my wife, and I couldn’t sleep. Nowadays we have air conditioning, but back then it was just us and the salty heat. It was mid-august. No breeze. Felt like the South even though we live in the Pacific Northwest. We were laying on our backs with a single sheet sticking to us. And then it happened. A distinct noise came from the living room. We had wood blinds on the window. Their rattling was unmistakable. And then a big “THUD!”

Julie and I both sat straight up in bed and looked at each other. “Someone is in our house!” In an instant, less than a second really, my pulse quickened, my heart started to pound, and my palms dampened. I looked over at my wife and said, “Look, you go check it out and I’ll provide cover and back up.” I don’t remember her exact response, but I am sure there were a few choice words in response to my battle plan. Then she asked me “Are you a man or a mouse, Steve?” I let out the biggest, most convincing mouse-squeak I could, but she wasn’t buying it.

Finally, I rolled myself out of bed and grabbed my grandfather’s shotgun from our closet (I’ve never shot a gun in my life!) I peeked out the door and down the hallway. Then, to my surprise, I saw him: two big beady eyes staring right at me. I yelled “I have a shotgun! I will use it! Get out of my house!”

I was in complete panic-mode. The hormone Cortisol was flooding my blood stream. It was an emotional hijacking on steroids!

I just knew that this guy was huge. He was a blood-sucking psycho! He was going to tie us both us and tear us limb from limb. I knew it. My mind was racing. My hands were shaking. My eyes were staring straight back into his unblinking eyes.

I flipped the light on.

To my utter and complete amazement, those two big, terrifying eyes were my own.

I had forgotten, at the end of the hallway Julie had hung a new mirror. I was staring at myself! No killer, no axes or being torn limb from limb. It was just little ol’ me with my empty shotgun and my boxers yelling at my reflection. So what was all the racket? Our cat, Amie, had jumped in through the open window.


I know this is a silly scary story in the Halloween spirit, but it does illustrate a powerful Play Big principle. Not only do emotions drive behaviors but emotional hijacks take place quite often in our everyday lives. Not all of them involve shotguns and home invasions. Most involve husbands, wives, children, friends, parents, co-workers or managers. Everyday people in everyday situations.

Better known as “fight or flight,” emotional hijacking involves your emotional and physical body chemistry. When you or I feel threatened physically, emotionally, or verbally, our physical bodies react. The stress hormone Cortisol is released into our blood stream and POW! things change.  When we are in a normal state, the human mind is fluid, relaxed, and open-minded. When we get emotionally hijacked, it narrows down quickly out of defense.  Our heart starts beating rapidly and we can easily jump to judgment. Words can fly that we don’t really mean. Emails can be sent that we wish we could retrieve. Conversations can quickly escalate and potentially sabotage relationships in minutes that we have spent years building.

This is why it is called “Play Big.” It is not easy to Play Big, it takes real effort and practice. It is easy to let emotions hijack us and tear apart something that is worth keeping together.  It is obvious, then, why a little emotional self-management is needed. When you feel yourself getting to the point of emotional hijacking, disengage so that you can re-engage in a healthier and more effective state of mind.

Play Big Tips for Emotional Hijacking

  • Cortisol stays in the blood stream for about 18 minutes. Learn to recognize the signs of its release and stop, disengage, and regain emotional clarity
  • Breath. Oxygen actually helps defuse the stress hormone, Cortisol
  • Practice disengaging so you can re-engage more powerfully in a few minutes
  • Do not push into conflict with someone who has been emotionally hijacked
  • Watch for physical signs in your self and in others and learn to wait before acting
  • Sleep on it. This will give you time to calm down and re-evaluate your choices
  • Understand that emotions are a bit of a mystery and a God-given gift
  • Practice appreciation
  • Look for solutions after you are in a calmer state of mind

Play Big takes effort but the cost of not dealing with emotions correctly is even more costly- it’s huge. Learn the power of emotional self-management. It leads to greater potential success!

What Makes a Good Leader?

State Library of Vicotoria

Human pyramid by members of the Ebenezer Gym Club

“Gaining trust and building teams is hardest”

Good Leaders tend to produce more good leaders.

Quick List of Valued Qualities in Good Leaders:
1. Adapts quickly to new situations; can handle bad news
2. Gives useful feedback; sets high ethical tone
3. Is positive, encouraging, and realistically optimistic

Recently, I was speaking at a large Microsoft Leadership Development Day and gave an opening example of what makes a good leader. I had read a report that asked that very same question by the Army War College in a study of highly regarded major generals in Iraq.
Below are the responses in order of importance:Good leaders produce more good leaders

  • Keeps cool under pressure
  • Clearly explains mission, standards and priorities
  • Sees the big picture; provides context and perspective
  • Makes tough, sound decisions on time

The study showed that even when tactical and technical competencies are excellent, interpersonal skills are critical. One of the authors of the study, retired General Walter Ulmer, said: “One thing we found is it’s still easier to teach technical skills than to teach people how to gain trust and build teams.” Ulmer also noted that many key behaviors are learned by example; therefore good leaders are able to create more good leaders.

I looked at every one of those leaders in that room at Microsoft and said “Look your technical skills and tactical abilities got you into the game. Now, how successful you’ll become will be determined by your ability to harness effective Emotional Intelligence and Play Big!”

Playing Big and Building your Leadership
The stuff that leaders are made of:

  • Emotional Self-Awareness:
    • Stays Calm Under pressure
  • Empathy
    • Is aware of other’s moods
    • Is a good listener
  • Personal Drive
    • Is energetic
    • Is goal oriented
  • Optimism
    • Handles set-backs effectively
    • Had a positive outlook
  • Coaches others
    • Is a good mentor
    • Gives clear feedback
  • Authenticity
    • Honest and open when presenting one’s self to others
    • Builds trust through actions
  • Communication
    • Gives adequate instruction
    • Doesn’t personalize disagreements
  • Impulse Control
    • Rarely acts impulsively
    • Maintains sense of humor under stress
  • Adaptability
    • Is open to change
    • Is effective through change

One thing I’ve learned about “Playing Big” and leadership throughout my life is that successful application of these skills is not something that happens instantly. But, with even a little improvement in one department, performance goes up, effectiveness goes up, and personal leadership goes up. That is why it is called “PLAYING BIG!”

Emotional Intelligence and Play Big-
How we handle ourselves and our relationships can determine life successes more than IQ.

THIS WEEK: Pick one of the EI Playing Big Competencies and practice it. Observe the differences your deliberate practice will make in your life at work and at home!