The Office Blend Blog

When the Boss Needs Mentoring


We all benefit from mentorship. Even those that hold lofty, leadership roles experience this need. When we look back on preparation for our current role for example, we can all identify training gaps. Ultimately, these gaps can come to roost over our paths in unsettling ways.

Early in my career, a VP in my firm pulled me into his office. Realizing that he wasn’t as popular as he might have hoped — he asked — in no uncertain terms where he had gone wrong. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. He was reviled by many, feared by most, and known for being a hard-lined leader with absolutely no heart. He had a reputation for choosing clients over team members in a manner where resentment and anger were bound to grow. Sadly, I had been on the receiving end of this dynamic.

I surmised the conversation was precipitated by a “lively” discussion months earlier concerning a client situation where I had felt grossly unsupported. The situation had led to some very harsh words and much stress. In that moment, I realized that this sentiment was shared on both sides. For some reason, he realized that this was a growing pattern — and he likely lived in the center of that storm.

In retrospect, we invest a lot of time building our leaders, but fail to offer the same attention to management skills as they move through supervisory roles. When management skills are neglected, leaders often walk a fine line between expressing power and remaining relatable, which is difficult to master. This can be exacerbated if an individual possesses a temperament or demeanor that can misconstrued as “cold” — where building a warm feeling toward that leader can be very, very difficult. His overt displays of power, were undermining the potential afforded by his role.

He needed to express his own humanity. However, this was a tall order when trust was already undermined. Appearing “false” or “contrived” was of course a risk. The core of existing relationships was likely damaged or weakened.

What I said:

  • Celebrate the work. After a project was delivered, there was only silence from leadership, and a sense of relief/exhaustion from team members. Marking our successes in a positive manner, was fundamental for the team to stay energized longer-term. This fell on him, to do so.

What I would add today:

  • Acknowledge our challenges. Share that he understood that our line of work was challenging. With tough clients and looming deadlines, the work was — even in the best of situations — rigorous.
  • Respect what excellence demands. The quality of the work that was delivered was exceptional. However, this became routine and was demanded/expected with little thought of the impact on the team’s psychological resources.

As a final note, I have to commend this individual for coming forward and expressing the need for guidance. Why he chose me, I’ll never know. However, I respect his request whole-hardheartedly.

Reverse-mentoring is a beautiful thing.

Remember that eflection is the first step in the path to development and change. If you have identified a possible gap in your training — seek the mentor who can shed the most light on that gap. Your role, level and age are irrelevant.

Have you ever been asked to mentor your boss? What did you do?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She explores the need for Core Stability at work. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

How to Get “Unstuck” When You Just Can’t Seem to Move Forward

Photo by Aubrey Odom on Unsplash

There are times in work life when things slow to such a lethargic pace — that forward progress can only be measured in levels of frustration. As you likely feel, I find this state extremely disheartening. Yet in the end, these phases can prove fundamental to our progress. This occurs because the situation is telling us (in no uncertain terms), that there is something vital we should be attending to.

Motivation isn’t a topic to be taken lightly. Primarily because it is not only complicated, but insanely personal.

No one can begin exploring the reasons behind the stall, but you.

To start the sorting process, consider the following questions:

  • What’s missing? If we forget to include a leavening agent when baking (such as baking powder), cakes fail to rise. This doesn’t necessarily cast aspersion on the quality of the other ingredients — it’s simply basic chemistry. What or whom, might you need to bring toward your work life to expand? (BTW, I cover this thoroughly in The Core.)
  • What needs to go? Forward progress is often stymied when our attention is divided. In a world where we collect goals like sea shells — we fail to realize that juggling too many can hold us back. Instead, we should re-visit their individual value to our work life well-being. When multiple goals siphon focus away from a truly meaningful endeavor, we set ourselves up to lose.
  • Are you practicing self-care? In my years of experience as a coach, I’ve found that exhaustion (mental, physical, spiritual) leads the pack of reasons that might explain a lack of forward progress. Remember that creativity is fueled by a well-rested brain. If you can walk away from your challenge for a bit of time (even a mere 24 hours) — invest in that diversion.

How do you manage yourself when you feel stuck? What works for you?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.


When it Comes to Conflict at Work — Consider the Danger of Avoiding It

Photo by Tristan Billet on Unsplash

Conflict Debt is the sum of all the contentious issues that need to be addressed to be able to move forward, but instead remain undisclosed and unresolved.” – Liane Davey

Over the past years, I’ve been on a quiet mission exploring the elements that contribute to stability within our work lives. I refer to core stability as a confluence of elements, such as psychological safety and the psychological contract, that contribute to a strong work life foundation. Their presence help us to become (and remain) engaged and productive — even in the face of challenge. To some, stability may seem an odd path, in an age of relentless innovation and digital transformation. However, for those of us who are troubled by enduring workplace problems, such as poor fit and lack of engagement, stability offers fertile ground.

When you consider the topics that affect stability, conflict — and more specifically the absence of healthy conflict — land on the short list. When we think of conflict in our own work lives, we might recall the odd argument or heated discussion concerning a project or client. However, those memories are only part of the conflict story. We also must consider all of the moments where we failed to confront an issue. Instances where we hesitated because of the imagined aftermath. Those “forward flashes” can resemble a work life apocalypse.

In her new book, The Good Fight, Liane Davey lets us know that avoiding conflict comes with a clear cost — something she brilliantly named “Conflict Debt”. Conflict debt is the accumulation of emotions and resentment that can occur when we fail to broach the topic. Davey takes our hand and leads us through the emotions that come with that dynamic. The Good Fight explores the idea that when mastered, conflict builds both courage and confidence. She also explores the roots of why we feel the way we do. (Her personal conflict story is like so many of our own— laden with judgement, avoidance and outright fear.)

There is a certain hell that we quickly correlate with work-related conflict. In fact, that is enough to relegate conflict into near oblivion. We should be doing the polar opposite — dancing with it. “Normalizing healthy conflict” is the goal, Davey explains.

Ultimately, we sacrifice ourselves when we avoid conflict. We also negatively affect the strength and quality of our work.

Unresolved conflict doesn’t fully dissipate.

Sadly, it can take on a festering life of its own.

Purchase The Good Fight here:

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

To Tell Your Own Work Life Story — Discover Your Mentors

Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

Most of us would like to inject the wisdom of a mentor into our work lives. As we read the stories of successful individuals describing the impact of these “guiding forces”,  we might find yourself feeling a bit left behind. Real mentors — those that can can shape our work lives — are few and far between. To coin an old adage, they “don’t grow on trees”.

On a related note, I happened upon this incredible post by Nancy Duarte, who instructs us how to the tell the stories that matter. She shares techniques, that have helped her clients build life stories that engage and motivate others. (The process involves active reflection.) Most of us are challenged to recall the events and conversations that are no longer in the forefront of our minds. Through her process, we might recall pivotal moments and possibly identify those in our lives that have served as mentors (yet we haven’t identified them as such).

She calls these bits and pieces, “latent stories”. I love this idea.

One of Duarte’s techniques involves placing your name in the center of a piece of paper and then mapping connection between people, places and things — ensuring the we also describe the dynamic of each relationship. As I began the process, names ended up on the paper that I hadn’t thought of in years. In fact, their positive impact had been buried under a number of negative experiences that hovered (and clouded) over more positive experiences. For example, my schematic revealed a middle school teacher who instilled a real sense of pride concerning my strengths in math and science. She encouraged me to make a lasting contribution to the world, although at 13 my wish was simply to be accepted and blend in.

Bingo. Pay dirt.

I hadn’t really labeled her as a mentor — but there she was. What were the lasting lessons she taught? To take pride in who I was, even if I seemed different. There were many others as well. Those that shared the candid “one-liners” along the way, that did shift my self-view, my behavior or my path ever so slightly.

You may not think that you have a strong mentoring backstory.

However, exploring the past may reveal the individuals who saw potential within you. (Isn’t that what a mentor does?)

They showed us— by taking the time to share.

That is certainly a story worth retelling.

Who are the unsung heroes of your work life?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.




When Delivering Feedback — Should We Dwell on Our Strengths?

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

For some odd reason — performance feedback often becomes an exercise in dwelling upon our shortcomings. (Read a recent HBR post on feedback here.) As a psychologist, this concerns me deeply. I’m sure many of us agree that we learn more from shared feedback concerning our strengths. This likely occurs for a number of reasons, including not only how the information is delivered, but how we process the negative bits. We remain acutely aware that information about weaknesses shouldn’t be ignored. Yet when negative information enters the picture, things seem to go off the rails.

On the delivery side, we know we should be addressing both sides of the coin. As recipients, most of us really do want to hear the whole story (even as we brace for it, gritting our teeth.)

Still — we haven’t mastered the art. I fear that on many occasions we simply avoid it.

On a related note, this predisposition sets our managers up for the unsavory task of ripping us down. I’ve never heard a manager say, “I can’t wait to deliver performance appraisals”. I wonder in this moment, if negative information is the reason why. We know it is “loaded” and can drive a perfectly constructive conversation into the proverbial ditch.

Being honest about weaknesses while leaving our core fully intact, is not an easy stretch of the road to maneuver. Yet, we still need to complete the journey. As detailed here, confirmation bias can hide the deal-breaking flaws that affect our work (and organizations). But as human beings we have “tender” hearts when it comes to negative information. Resilience, that nifty quality that allows us to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, is about self-efficacy — not self-doubt. So, I suppose “radical transparency” can have its pitfalls.

I’m wondering is there is a way for the two goals to marry? How do we deliver negative information, yet leave our inner work life core intact? There are options that may help us.

One theory, is hitting a comfortable ratio of positive to negative feedback that is offered. (Hint: We should dwell on the positive much more than the negative and a little negative information goes a long, long way). Another strategy is to use less judgemental language and present alternative behaviors, so that change doesn’t appear unreachable. This also demands that we note where someone is on the learning curve.

This is all a very delicate process.

You may have your own theory as well. There is probably a wealth of information living out there. Strategies that we have learned along the way.

I do know that solving this is imperative. Let’s share both our experiences and ideas.


Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Have an Idea? Get Lost in Your Thoughts. Then Apply a Dose of Design Thinking.

Photo by Kris Chin on Unsplash

“We’re counting on you to trust yourself enough to speak your own version of our future.” – Seth Godin

I’d like to think we all have ideas worth sharing.

I also believe that our ideas deserve more than a random scribble or a passing thought. Somehow, when we fail to pause with an idea — there is often a lost opportunity.

However, developing our ideas is easier said than done. Anyone that has tried to bring an idea to fruition, realizes there are fundamental obstacles that cause us to leave an idea behind. First, both emotion and data are typically required to prove an idea’s worth. Yet early in the development process accurate data is often unavailable. Secondly, we must plan for the most common reaction to something new: fear of change. When these enduring obstacles are not at least considered, it can be a challenge to develop any modicum of “idea momentum”.

Borrowing the notion of a “user story” from design thinking, may help bridge the expanse of the “unknown”, left by fear and a lack of targeted data.

It may just save your idea from being scrapped.

Here is a collected set of elements to consider when reflecting on your idea (user stories are included):

  • Respect tenacity. Does the idea return to you over & over again? If you find that an idea simply won’t “leave you alone” pay attention. Elizabeth Gilbert describes this experience in her glorious Ted Talk (and it’s utterly amazing).
  • Clarification. There is a reason this idea found you. What are you solving? Does the idea build awareness, address a problem or correct a pain point?
  • Document the core. What comprises the core of your idea? Is it a collection of elements that haven’t yet been considered together? Is it a way to group people or things to build awareness? Is it something others have simply overlooked? Map its contents.
  • Build the emotional case. Explore if your idea resonates with others as a key litmus test. These discussions will help you refine the problem statement. You may shift your focus slightly — yet this might make all the difference going forward.
  • Develop the all-important user story. How might the idea positively affect you, your employees or a potential customer if brought to the world? What do you envision happening if the idea matures and is operationalized? Can you develop a prototype? What are the snafus or costs that might accompany implementation? The development of a user story can help build your case.
  • Offer structure. Attempt to design a framework that would organize your thoughts. (See how I organized an idea about how we differ when facing change, here.)
  • Master “the talk”. What is your idea elevator pitch? Think of a few, illustrative sentences that not only describe what you are trying to accomplish — but might stir a potential call to action.

An idea evolves over time.

Respect it.

Don’t dismiss an idea just because the world as we know it — fails to offer data to support the future state.

Now go.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Creativity Has Its Drama: Just Ask Amazon

Everyone in my house talked over the Super Bowl ads this year — which made it quite difficult to choose my favorite. (Did you notice there wasn’t a single ad from an American automaker?). I always hold out hope there will be a quirky workplace focused ad. This year, Amazon delivered with this gem, about the unavoidable perils that come along with creativity.

Named “Not Everything Makes the Cut”, it hilariously depicts a few would-be epic Alexa fails. As always, my hat is off to the failures that bring us to the ideas that soar!

If you have any interest you can see my list of “5 of the Funniest Workplace Commercials of All Time” here.


Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, where she currently serves as an Organizational Development Advisor at Gapingvoid. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program and her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, US News & World Report, Quartz and The World Economic Forum.