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 remember the very moment as if it was yesterday. New Year’s Eve 2019, a magical moment. After two years of all-nighters full of research, legal documents and development, I was sitting on my couch in my living room.

I just came back from putting my little daughter to bed and my husband was waiting for me with a glass of champagne to celebrate 2020. We have been planning the launch of DUŠA & KAMEN down to every detail and were very confident that 15th of February we will be going live, selling our products.

Fast forward 3 months – 1st of March 2020, me sitting on the exact same couch, crying my eyes out. What has happened? Well, the world is in the middle of the worst pandemic we have experienced since the Spanish flu. All my launch plans are scattered in pieces.

The product couldn’t be bottled because the suppliers were only working part-time and need to bottle disinfectant with maximum priority. The legal processes came to a hold because government agencies are not processing these non-priority files now. Our packaging was waiting for us at borders within the EU because the EU customs processes and the Schengen Convention are at an absolute freeze to fight the spread of COVID-19.

I thought to myself: “This is it. We are never going to launch our products in 2020. We will be running out of money before the first product is even packaged.”

Fast forward 5 months into the future. 31st of August 2020, we have been live since July and have sold more bundles of our new skincare line than I could have imagined. Our customers are leaving top reviews every day and even during an ongoing global pandemic we were able not only to get everything done but also excel at customer service and selling luxury skincare products all over the world.

This was no easy task and I was about to throw everything under the bus every other day. I fought the battles and I won, I made it.

There are five key lessons that I learned launching my company in these crazy times and these will help me to grow my company and maybe will help you, too.

Plan ahead – what is the worst-case scenario?

I know, I know, nobody could have predicted what was happening in 2020 and most businesses and startups have been hit hard by all the issues and problems that this pandemic has caused. However, one of the biggest learnings for myself was that I did not even have a worst-case scenario. I was so pumped up with positive feelings and my can-do-attitude that I made a crucial mistake. I was not looking at my plan and asking myself: “What could go wrong”. I think that most businesses and startups operate that way and that is something we must change in the future.

My advice, we cannot predict what exactly will be happing, but I am pretty sure something will go wrong along the way – so plan for it.

Control your bottom line

This might be a no-brainer for most of you, but I have neglected it for my entire startup process, so I need to mention it. Manage your costs. It is crucial to look at your monthly expenses and write down all your overhead. And then try to reduce it. I was astonished when I found out what I was spending exactly, and I was able to reduce it by 50%.

My advice is to check your costs monthly and eliminate everything that is not currently needed.

Be careful when adding dependencies to your production process

That is a big one, also it is hard work to do it. Before COVID-19 it was quite easy to log into some portals searching for suppliers all over the world and adding them your supply chain. Every supplier and every new country you add to your supply chain adds dependencies to your production process.

So, my advice here is wherever you want to start your business, it is always a good idea to work with local businesses because complex supply chains and production processes can really harm you when something goes wrong – like a global pandemic.

Manage your mindset and yourself

This might have been the biggest challenge for me. When my initial plan failed I was devasted. I had a task list with a couple of hundred items and a lot of priority 1 issues. I also had to take care of my daughter because our kindergartens have been closed.

I thought about cutting my loses multiple times this year and getting back to my old job. Some days I was not even able to write a single e-mail before 9pm because it was just a crazy situation to be in.

To overcome this I started to work on my mindset and started to do meditation daily. I was able to control my fears and focus on the happy moments even in the worst of times. That really helped me get going again and work through that pile of issues to get everything ready for my launch in July.

So, my advice here is that there will be issues along the way that is something that every founder will tell you but the way you cope with those issues will determine if you are successful or not. There are some tools like meditation or mentoring that will help you to work on your mindset and you should if you want to be successful even if the whole world seems to be against you.

Hana Boppre

When Hana’s friends and family started to see the change in her skin most of her friends started to ask for their own little toners and oils. Every night for more than six months she started crafting new formulas and was tweaking the existing ones multiple times until DUŠA & KAMEN was created.


As companies look to reduce their office footprints, what does the future of working from home look like?

We started the year with a resurgence of posts on LinkedIn about research findings that highlighted the benefits of individual offices over open-plan workspaces. Skipping forward to August, the language has shifted to some describing offices as a relic of the past.

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by surprise. The upheaval of our normal lives has meant that much of the business world has had to adapt at a blistering pace too.

The trend towards flexibility and remote working has continued to grow over the past 15 years with Europe and the US previously leading the way, but in the face of a global pandemic for those who were able to pivot to a virtual workforce, the if/how/when debate quickly evaporated in the face of ‘now’.

It’s clear that this trend is bad for commercial landlords, but there are many positive indicators that working from home can have a number of positive outcomes for employers and employees.

So how can companies, and employees, thrive in this new world of virtual work?

Are people productive working from home?

One of the traditional critiques of virtual work is that employees are slacking off, the alternate being that the ‘busy-ness’ visible in an office equals productiveness.

This pessimism could not be further from the truth, a finding which is not only good news for businesses but for employees too. The research overwhelmingly tells us that people are more productive working from home. In a recent study of 5,000 workers across five countries, workers felt less stressed and got more done than they could in an office environment.

Setting aside the recent experiences of those juggling homeschooling whilst also working from home, workers, in particular, reported increased levels of productivity resulting from no commute, with many also feeling happier because of the additional time they were able to spend with their families or on leisure pursuits.

I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of the OpenLearning office and my daughter’s school, but the shift to all team members working from home has resulted in productivity benefits such as: team members being more refreshed from not having to commute, a more conscious approach to meeting schedules and agendas to avoid teleconference fatigue, and efficiencies for the team members who pre COVID-19 were often out of the office at face-to-face meetings which required factoring in travel time.

Whilst being able to track and measure productivity within businesses is important, combined with culture and organisational theory grounding, the jury is in; when employees are given agency, freedom, and are empowered to do their best work, both their productivity and engagement soars. The change in location as to where that work occurs is secondary to the trust and support bestowed.

Virtual leadership & company culture

When we work from home, it’s true that we can lack the camaraderie of our peers and the presence of our leaders. For some, this is a relief, but in general, the question is whether it is a conducive working arrangement for building a strong and cohesive company culture?

It’s a known fact that when a leader is absent for extended periods, their team suffers, and so does company culture. Considering the full gamut of ‘readiness’ that businesses were in for their staff to move to a work from home model, it’s fair to say that virtual leadership and fostering the company culture requires some adaptations if the increased productivity is to be maintained in the medium to long-term.

For OpenLearning, our approach to leadership during COVID-19 is much akin to our approach to learning – one size does not (and should not) fit all. As such, different techniques have been tried and amended as needed for each team – from daily stand-ups for our Learning Services team who are working on a range of projects at the moment, more regular 1:1’s for our Partnerships team who are generally more social personalities, through to virtual ‘drop-in/coffee’ sessions with the CEO each Wednesday afternoon.

At a whole organisation level, structured monthly town halls have continued as usual, and cross team collaboration has been sustained via a range of tools and processes. Digging deeper though, sharing of common experiences with the team about what our ‘working from home’ reality is, insights into what is working for them, and being more conscientious about the frequency of communication flow or tweaks (or pivots) in strategy are important considerations in maintaining human connections, trust, and loyalty.

Working from home or living at work?

I’m aware of a number of organisations that have asked their employees for input on what a ‘return to office’ world would look like. In general, their findings have been that many would prefer working from home 2-3 days per week. So, if we know that productivity is up and many are up for it to continue longer-term, what’s the downside?

With increased flexibility and the fact that most businesses had to pivot quickly in order to continue operating, the challenge is for companies to help employees in establishing healthy boundaries and techniques for separating work from home in order to avoid burnout.

With recent news that Google and Facebook have updated their communication to employees that they will be able to choose to continue working from home until mid-2021, leaders will need to play an increasingly important role in ensuring that the team knows that being ‘always on’ isn’t a good thing, sick leave isn’t only reserved for when you are too sick to commute to a commercial office, and that taking annual leave shouldn’t just be saved for a date in the future for when travel is an option.

Embrace the new normal

A recent observation is that virtual meetings no longer open with the discussion about how many weeks it’s been since each organisation moved to a work from home policy, symbolising the ‘new normal’ taking effect.

With the trend towards remotely based teams longer-term and slimmed down office spaces accelerated by the pandemic, by embracing increased productivity and promoting greater flexibility, companies can build an even stronger culture than before.

Whilst we may not be catching up in a physical office kitchen or breakout space anytime soon, thankfully with the help of collaboration and connectivity tools available today, many companies are engaging in a genuine dialogue with their employees about what the ‘new normal’ should be.

About the author of ‘How can we thrive working from home?’
Cherie Diaz is the Managing Director of Australian operations at OpenLearning Limited (ASX:OLL). Cherie has over 15 years’ experience within education, including roles as the Head of Education Delivery at the Australian Institute of Company Directors And Director of Customer Success at Scentia, where she led the operational teams of four colleges. Cherie is the recipient of multiple individual and business awards for service excellence by the Customer Service Institute of Australia.


Some people love networking, others shudder at even the thought of it. While you may think that being an introvert is a drawback for those in business, it is actually an amazing quality for building relationships in business. Why? Because you are focused on where you’re headed, and what you need — and less distracted by the superficial ‘noise’ around you.

So don’t let the world convince you that building strong relationships in business requires you to be an extrovert!

Amanda Rose founder of Small Business Women Australia, has put together her top tricks to build relationships and strategically connect when networking doesn’t come naturally — or even worse, you loathe it.

1. Build up a strong online presence

This is THE easiest way to build a network and have a profile without having to constantly be out and about networking. For business professionals, you should be aware of all mediums however focusing on a handful and doing it well will reap benefits. LinkedIn is a necessity for anyone in business. Others which are beneficial are Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

2. Video

This may sound weird as a recommendation for an introvert. However, it is often easier and more comfortable to video yourself and have it edited, then distribute it in a controlled environment, than to deal with strangers face to face. Further, the messages and pitches you polish for video will actually make it easier when you have to network face-to-face at some time.

3. Leverage media (print & online)

There are many websites that will accept your content without you having to leave your laptop. Content is king and distributing that content is queen. So ‘get your writing on’ and produce quality pieces of educational information in your area of expertise. You can also respond to media call-outs, contact media outlets and offer yourself as a commentator on an area you are passionate about and experienced in.

4. Network in small groups/informal events

When life and network groups get back to normal, keep your networking to small groups or one-on-one meetings. If you don’t know of any, create your own. Invite a handful of people out to lunch. The smaller the group, the more detailed and immersed the discussions are — and the stronger the connections will be.

5. Buddy up at large events

Large events can’t be avoided; and if you go, they need to be leveraged. If you are uncomfortable in large crowds with whom you’re expected to mingle, take a buddy along. Someone who can help you work the room, support conversations you have and help you connect with new people. Remember that everyone in that room is there to meet you and everyone else in that room. Enjoy the process. Learn what you can about the people you engage with. If you are uncomfortable talking about yourself, ask questions about them!

6. Master the follow-up

Don’t fall into the trap of the follow-up freeze. You stare at people’s business cards and start overthinking whether you should be following them up. And if you do, what do you have to say? Do they care? Will they even remember you? Stop this! For starters, they would not have connected with you at an event if they didn’t care about what you had to say or offer.

Secondly, always consider this. Make it as easy as possible for someone to work with you. Remember you are an expert in what you do so help others understand that by educating others on ways you can help them, including examples of what you have done before.