Find the Support You’ve Secretly Longed For

If you’ve ever seen the video “First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy,” you know how important it is to have a leadership wingman (wing person?).

If you haven’t seen it, here are “the lessons”:

  1. Be public. Be easy to follow!
  2. There is no movement without the first follower.
  3. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow.
  4. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Being the “lone nut” can be rough on a person. Maybe you lose yourself in the dance for awhile, but eventually you can’t help but notice you’re out there all alone, and you may start to question the value of your nuttiness.

Every successful “lone nut” I’ve known can communicate well (be easy to follow!), but they do a couple of other things that are not so visible:

One, they build support behind the scenes.

Building support behind the scenes is about building your home base, a place that nurtures you, with activities that enable your recovery. The colors, (lack of) clutter, furniture, and habits associated with this place are life-giving.

When you’ve built your self-support behind the scenes, you can give give give when you’re out there, being visible. But when you are home, you rebuild yourself.

Examples of what a person might find in a home base that supports you include high-nutrition (but not high-calorie) homemade meals, tea, clutter-free spaces, beautiful paintings, and soothing sounds.

If your home base is cluttered, carb-loaded, and Netflix-oriented, you have built a cocoon, not a sanctuary. A cocoon can protect you from new attacks, but it will not help you actually recover from the last one.

(Note: I offer this noticing from my own personal experience of both states, as well as the data I’ve collected from clients.)

Two, they know how to work with the inner voice of criticism.

Most of us carry within ourselves an inner voice of criticism. It serves us because it helps us to notice when our performance is not up to snuff, and we will make efforts to improve.

However, that inner voice of criticism stops serving us when it continues to criticize after the improvements have been made.

I have noticed that when my inner voice of criticism flies unchecked — when it’s busy telling me about everything in me, in others, and in my circumstances is wrong or bad or insufficient — I begin to slow down and withdraw.

When I withdraw, I pull into the protective but not-nurturing cocoon I described above. I come out slightly less frazzled, but not healed.

When I notice that the inner voice of criticism is running things, though, I can engage with practices that help me to sort out what will serve me, what is aligned with my values, and what I can just set aside.

These practices include meditation, straightening up, getting exercise, limiting caloric intake, talking through difficulties with an empathetic listening friend, and sleeping on a pretty regular schedule.

If you do all of this, even as a “lone nut,” your first follower won’t get scared off–and then your leadership will really take flight!

What about you? What helps you to really recover from high-visibility, low-support days? Leave me a comment below!

Do you wish you were braver on the job?

LIVE event! (with me!)

Tell it Like it is Thursday (TM) Webinar

from WELD (Women for Economic and Leadership Development)
February 23, 2017

Amy Kay Watson: Choosing Courage in Corporate Life

We face many situations in corporate life that challenge our courage: applying for a job or promotion, confronting bad behavior, giving presentations, and speaking up in a meeting are just a few.

But many of us manage to live day after day without drawing on our courage banks. We avoid confrontation, “pick our battles,” and let opportunities pass us by, believing that (unlike others) we just aren’t “that type of person.” Is that all there is?

Join WELD for their February Tell It Like It Is Thursday (TM )webinar which will feature Amy Kay Watson, M.Div., CEBC, ACC, Career and Leadership Coach, Career Leadership Alignment, LLC.

This presentation is designed to support you in exploring courage and the key practices that will help you to move forward so you can be the person you most wish you could be, approaching your work with both compassion and accountability for the best possible outcomes. It will inform, involve, and inspire you to change your approach so that courage is closer at hand.

By the end of this 60-minute presentation you will:

  • Recognize your imperfections as part of your unique value in the workplace and in life
  • Discover the relationship between discomfort and boundaries
  • Learn how to map contributions (including your own), and then clarify and follow through on consequences when boundaries are violated
  • Learn a process for healing after loss/hurt/disappointment

Thursday, February 23, 2017

  • 11:00am – 12:00pm CST
  • 12:00pm – 1:00pm EST

Limited spaces are available. Click here to register for this national event! Registration closes at noon on February 20th! Late fees apply after registration closes.


When you should do the “unacceptable.”

The definitions seem to be changing, what is or isn’t acceptable.

Do you have clarity?

Even if you disagree with the moral code your parents or teachers or the society of your childhood and young adulthood tried to instill in you, I am willing to bet that you have strong feelings about what is or is not “acceptable.”

For instance–

  • Should people drive after four alcoholic drinks?
  • Should people treat strangers with respect?
  • Should you expect a large company to act in the best interests of its employees?
  • Should you support the president of the United States because of the title and the responsibilities he has accepted?
  • Should you hold the door open for a woman?

How do you react to these questions? Do some trigger bigger feelings than others?

We shift and change over time, and we aren’t all the same. Questions like these help reveal our values, and if you discussed it with a friend (and listened closely) you would likely discover that you each have different ideas about how to answer the question, even if those differences are subtle.

In many cases, questions like these trigger one emotion over any other —


We feel angry when our sense of right and wrong (or of fairness) is offended.

We want things to be fair. We want things to be done right. And when they aren’t, we get angry.

But we are not always willing to feel anger, or to accept it in others.

Should you feel angry?

Should you feel and express anger about what is (or was) happening in our political and social environment?

How about this? Should your mother feel angry with you (for that which she usually feels angry with you)?

Should your child feel angry with you (for that which your child usually feels angry)?

Your coworker?

What about another driver experiencing you on the road get angry?


Most of us feel pretty justified when we ourselves feel anger. We’re less comfortable when someone else is directing the anger at us.

But tell me if this rings true: Sometimes when you feel anger, you’re not comfortable with it.

You’d rather mush it down. Squish it into the mayonnaise jar in your stomach and force the lid on. Screw it on tight, no matter what the consequences to your health.

Why do you accept some of your anger and completely reject other experiences?

Here’s my guess:

You don’t want to do damage, and if you can’t make everything right (right now), then it just isn’t worth it.

Does that feel familiar?

Man, can I relate!

I have a family member (bet you have one, too) whose political ideas are so different from mine that I’ve decided that I’ll just never go there. Just considering the possibility of engaging him in “dialogue” (such as it is), right away I can feel my stomach tightening up. My heart rate starts to pick up. My breathing is more shallow. My vision gets just a touch narrower, like my peripheral vision is just going to take a break until this is all over.

Could it be worthwhile for me to go ahead and have a conversation? OF COURSE NOT! I’ve learned that this “conversation” is going to go nowhere.

It’s a powerful feeling. But I admit I laugh at this, too.

I have learned (in the past) that this conversation will (in the future) go nowhere. Look at me, the amazing Kreskin. I can now predict the future.

I laugh because I know humans can’t predict the future, but man, my stomach TOTALLY CAN. That tightness in my stomach is the feeling of the sucker punch from my future self, looking back and saying, “Seriously? This is not worth it. If you do it anyway I am going to hit you in the stomach so hard….”

Should I feel this anger and frustration?

Trick question. I DO feel this anger and frustration. I’m feeling it in anticipation of something that I’ve decided will not happen. I am feeling it in response to a reality I cannot have decided not to accept.

My upbringing tells me that I should try to squish it down. Let it go. Try to ignore it or control it.

What about yours? Were you raised to tell yourself “Just don’t.”

Okay. Maybe they were right about some of it. I really don’t think it will help anything for me to go toe-to-toe with my politically-inclined family member. But that does not mean my anger has no place nor that it should be tamped down.

The anger itself is fuel. Fuel to power action. And if I’m going to power action, I want my action to make a difference.

Anger is information. It tells you that something important to you is on the line.

These days, we need action to be more than just active. It needs to make a difference. We need to stand up for our values when they are being threatened. My anger can fuel me to lock arms with others who feel the same, whose values land similarly to my own. Going toe-to-toe with my family member is a non-starter, but joining with others? That makes waves.

On November 27, 1978, a former police officer whose political aspirations were being frustrated shot and killed the first gay elected official in the United States, Harvey Milk. When 30,000 LGBT folks and allies joined in an impromptu candlelight march to City Hall, folk singer Holly Near composed “Song for Harvey Milk,” which has since been renamed “We are a gentle, angry people”–the first line of the song. It has since been recast for many different social justice causes.

Gentle, angry people. I’m willing to bet that describes you much of the time.

I know it describes me.

As gentle, angry people, we need to find ways to focus our anger in ways that make a difference.

I coach gentle, angry people to discover their destiny, own their power, and live their purpose with courage, humor, and compassion. Here is my commitment to you: I will focus my energy in the service of helping you to be more effective. Helping you to make a difference. Helping you to focus.

Please tell me what you think by leaving a comment below!

4 Mistakes You’re Making in Relationships at Work

You didn’t sleep well, but you’ve made it to work anyway, hopeful that you will be able to get at least one task from your list actually completed. If things go well, maybe you’ll even make a little progress on a few more.

Before you’ve set your things down in your office, a familiar face appears at your door. “Guess who called already?”  You close your eyes as you feel the day already slipping from your grasp.

When we’re tired and overworked and yet dedicated, we can push ourselves into situations others know how to avoid. Here’s what you’re doing wrong and what alternatives to aim for instead.

1. Let them know you’ve had enough.

When you’ve had it up to here with all the demands, the unrealistic expectations, the pushing, and the excuses, are you more likely to lash out or pull away? These two classic reactions are known as “fight or flight,” and most of us have a preference for one or the other. Some of us prefer to withdraw until we’ve been pushed or nagged too much, and then our inner Kraken is released.

When we are under so much stress, it feels good and right to fight back (sometimes) or to withdraw into a cocoon of avoidance (other times), and yet both of these reactions hurt our work relationships. (Home, too.) What are you supposed to do?

Instead, aim for calm engagement. Cultivate the skill of noticing and acknowledging your feelings. Express your feelings (tired, worried, confused, anxious, disappointed) in words to yourself or to an empathetic listener so those feelings won’t be driving you in hidden ways. Focus on your breathing and channel your energy into the effort to stay calm in the moment.

As much as possible, stay focused mentally on the other person and ask with genuine curiosity for them to explain the situation from their point of view — even if (or especially if) you think you already know everything they might say. As you stay mentally focused on what they are saying, try to pick up on anything new and different. Seek to be surprised and informed by their perspective instead of proving yourself right.

2. Remind them of your authority, power, or status.

Those of us who have attended school for decades, earned degrees and certifications, tolerated inhuman living conditions to earn a title, and accepted so much responsibility that it keeps us up at night — sometimes we feel justified in throwing our weight around a little.

“Call me Dr when you address me.”

“You need to remember it’s my responsibility to make the decisions.”

“Who do you think you are?”

We don’t like to acknowledge this when it’s our own authority in question, but status is simply never enough to create influence. People whose authority seems to move mountains have other characteristics going for them that earns the respect they now wield.

Status affects us so deeply that, when we feel anxious or threatened, we can be so tempted to use it to restore our own sense of safety. Doing so is understandable, but unfortunately ineffective precisely because it then threatens others and their own sense of personal status.

Rather than reassert your own authority or position to others, thank yourself for having learned so much under such difficult circumstances. Look for ways you can restore your own sense of safety without belittling others. Remember also that your experience is needed in this circumstance. Focus on being helpful and supportive toward getting others’ needs met.

3. Martyr yourself to the cause

People who have devoted their lives to serving others, whether in medicine, politics, education, religion, or something else frequently struggle to establish boundaries in service to their own self-care. The organization may have too little money to hire in extra helping hands, and so the sacrificial servant leader puts in a few too many hours, skips meals, or ignores inner warning signs that someone is getting too close.

The thinking behind such martyrdom tends towards, “I’ll show them. I’ll become so haggard and ill that they’ll regret having expected so much of me! They’ll rue the day they ignored my request for assistance!”

Unfortunately, pity does not lead to greater influence.

That’s so obvious to us. And yet! Don’t we sometimes act as if we think it will?  Joan of Arc ain’t here.

I’m not talking about a strategically planned hunger strike that calls attention to the plight of ignored issues. I’m talking about the thinking that drives us into garden-variety burnout. There’s nothing noble, and nothing gained.

Rather than giving in to this way of thinking, establish positive practices for your health.

Exercise. Sleep. Eat. Play.

Tune in to your inner voice of wisdom.

Say no when your inner voice of wisdom tells you to.

4. Pretend you’ve got it all together.

This article is written for human beings. I believe you are human. And that means you are vulnerable. You may hate the feeling of vulnerability, but you’ve got it just like all the rest of us.

The more you hide it away, the less human you appear to be. And the less of your humanity we see, the less of a leader you are.

Yes, there are people out there who are looking for signs of weakness. Yes, there are people who want to exploit your vulnerabilities. But the reason for that is their own weakness, their own vulnerability. Anybody who is trying to tear you down is only doing so because of their own fear.

What if you were to respond to their fear with compassion rather than this artificial front?

What if you sought to understand their deepest needs?

When we look and listen with genuine care and compassion, it’s like taking them by the hand, removing their weapon and setting it on the floor, looking them in the eye, and saying, “I’m not buying it any more.”

We can own our frailty as human beings.

We can own our needs for connection and autonomy and safety and care.

It’s harder, honestly, to hold all of that instead of pretending and blustering. But it’s possible. We can lead from the strength that is grounded in vulnerability. It is so much more effective.

You can get people to listen by seeing them as human. By letting them know you see them. By caring about their needs and dreams.

Leadership is genuine care and concern for others. It is wanting to help. It is being aware of our own feelings and expressing them without threatening others.

If that all sounds good to you but you can’t see how it could happen for you, send me a note. Maybe we could hop on the phone and talk for a few minutes and see what might help you the most. I have a few options up my sleeve — one of which is coaching, and there are others.

If your heart is crying out to become this kind of leader, let me know. I would love to help you get there.

Amy Kay Watson coaches talented, brilliant, tender-hearted professionals (like you!) to discover their destiny, own their power, and live their purpose with humor, courage, and compassion — even in a corporate environment.

If you would like to learn more, send a note to Amy @ She’ll hook you right up.



Getting people to listen


A few weeks ago I mentioned to my doctor that I wanted to focus on losing weight. [Always a good thing to do before changing your diet and exercise, right?]

She heard my statement and immediately began lecturing me about steps I needed to take in order to lose weight. She told me to cook for myself instead of going out to eat (I already cook for myself 98% of the time). She told me to use healthy fats such as olive oil instead of butter (I buy olive oil by the gallon and shun butter religiously).  When I told her I already know my problem is portion control, she dismissed this simple explanation and launched into the horrors of pizza and dessert.

The entire conversation was (I am sure) very frustrating for both of us. I wasn’t interested in hearing what she had to say because her message wasn’t tailored to me, and she wasn’t interested in what I had to say because she didn’t believe someone at my BMI would already be doing most of the best practices.

In most of the conversations I have with people, I hear frustrations with other people who aren’t listening. It seems none of us is listening enough, and all of us want to be heard. We may wish to be heard by

  • loved ones — about our lives and inner experiences,
  • children, clients, colleagues or employees — about our wisdom or expertise,
  • parents, employers, or service providers — about what we do and don’t need, or
  • decision-makers — about the unintended negative consequences their decisions will have, or the positive intended consequences their decisions could have.

So this brings me to my 2017 strategic shift.

In 2016, I started listening to people who are passionate about making a difference in this world. I asked for folks who consider themselves to be “idealists” to let me interview them so I could find out what they need, what challenges them the most. And more than anything else I heard a fervent desire to be heard.

And I realized that’s all of us.

So in 2017, my blog, my coaching, my writing, my speaking, and any new courses will be focused on these core needs — the need to be heard, the need to influence others (even if it’s only “to get them to listen”).

I firmly believe that if we want others to change, we must begin with ourselves. And so this year I will be diving deep into these questions: What must I do if I want you to listen? What must you do if you want others to listen?

Do you already have an idea about how to answer these questions? Leave me a comment below!

Turning goals into plans

Each year, when I start considering what goals I want to pursue in the next year, I start feeling uncomfortably pressured.

My subconscious seems to obsess over the question: When am I supposed to do all this then?

But that comes up only because I am still living in the old life, making the same choices I’ve made since the previous year. My time is still taken up pursuing my former goals.

Somewhere through the goalsetting process, however, a kind of magic switch gets flicked. I let go of the old goals, the old life, the old way of doing things. And suddenly there is room for the new. And usually it happens at the last part of the goalsetting process.

All month I’ve been blogging about how to do a year-end review and how to set new goals for the coming year, taking seriously the idea that we overestimate what we can do in a day, but we underestimate what we can do in a year.

It makes sense, then, to look at what we have done over the past year in order to see what’s possible to do in the coming year (post one). And it makes sense to see what kinds of things we’ve been spending our time doing so we can compare those activities to the kinds of activities we want to be doing (post two), or that we know we would be doing if we were actually advancing toward the kind of life we most want to live. And then it makes sense to start figuring out what would be involved in starting to engage in those activities, maintaining them, or achieving those goals (post three).

Once you’ve done all that, the last step (finally!?) is to lay out what all the categories of activity, goals, and action steps are in a way that you can review and update frequently.

I first learned how to do an annual review from Chris Guillebeau. I’m linking to his process because it might fit you better that my modifications do, but I quickly realized I needed:

  1. to be more purpose-centered, and
  2. to review much more frequently than once per quarter, and
  3. to be much more qualitative than quantitative.

Therefore, I have made the following modifications:

  1. To stay purpose-centered, I used a process created by Kary Oberbrunner and described in his book The Deeper Path. This process helps you create a purpose-centered vision for your work and life.
  2. To review more frequently, I don’t use Chris’s spreadsheet (which you can learn more about on his post). Instead, I list all my purpose-driven categories, goals, and action steps in a single column of a document table, and I review my list of goals and action steps every month.
  3. To be more qualitative than quantitative, I add a second column to that table for notes about what happened, how well I did, what I learned, etc., and then I add a third for any changes/tweaks I want to make for the next month. Each month I copy that older document into a new one, delete the middle column from the previous month and add a third & fourth for any additional notes and tweaks I want to make.


Here’s what my table looks like when I begin. (Don’t bother trying to read it–it’s only an example.)


You will see that everything is listed in one column. Each box contains the name of the category in bold, followed by the GOAL(s) and then the ACTION(s) for achieving that goal. This is how the table looks on December 31.

In about  month, I’ll open up this document do my first review. I’ll make sure I have two columns to make my notes in. The first column is for me to notate what I’ve done towards achieving that goal (and/or what I’ve learned in trying to do what I’d planned to do). The second open column is for me to notate any changes to the goal or action steps.

This second open column is important, because priorities can and do change, and lessons will be learned, and I will realize I need to alter my plans in some way. That’s fine to do. This is a lesson learned from people who sail. When they use a sail on a boat, they have to use the wind–no matter what direction the wind is going–in order to actually reach their destination. They wind up taking a kind of zig-zagging pattern as they shift the boat and the sails in order to catch the wind. But, despite the zig-zag, they get to where they were going. We can use the same process with moving towards a goal.


An important note: I actually schedule about 2-3 hours every month to go through my process of reviewing and tweaking. If I get it done faster than that, fantastic! But sometimes it takes that length of time to review everything and figure out what I want to do. It’s time very well spent.

So I review each set of categories, goals, and actions, and I make my notes:


By the time I’m done, I’ve made my decisions about what will be done differently for the next month, and very often that means making changes to how I schedule my time. As I go through and figure out what I do and don’t need, I make changes to my calendar. And then I close the document and I’m done!

Toward the end of February, I’ll do it all again. Only this time, instead of just one column to review, I’ll already have three.

Important note: If you are using document software (like I do), you may want to make a copy of the document at this point. Close the old one and just work on the new copy (named something like “February Review”). If you are using spreadsheet software like Chris does, then below when I start talking about deleting columns, you can just hide them.

I will go ahead and add a column to the right for my February notes, like this:


and then I’ll go ahead and delete the column from my table. (Again, if you’re in a spreadsheet, just hide that column.)

I’m left then with just my original goals and the tweaks I’d planned to make. So now I can start my February review and notate again what actions I took and what tweaks I need to make for March.


And so it goes, each month.

At the end of the year, you’ll be able to look at the original goals you set and see just how much progress you’ve made, how much you accomplished, and how much closer you are to creating the life you want!

This is the entire process that I follow and that I wanted to share with you. I do recommend you look at Chris Guillebeau‘s process in case that one works better for you, which it might if you are more of a quantitative thinker. (He’s big on metrics, counting, and measuring.)

Enter to win!

If you do follow this process, I’d like to make an offer to you! Send a note to me via and let me know you’ve done it. I’ll put your name in a hat and do a drawing on December 31, 2016! One person will win a free review and coaching session regarding anything you’ve done as a part of this process.

And stay tuned — big changes coming to blog postings and newsletters in 2017! (Did you expect any less?)

The most useful trick for getting things done

Above image: Walking backwards through the snow. Photo courtesy of Ed Dunens. CC License.

10827993_10105245709692645_924453861790625259_oMy dog (isn’t he a cutie?!?) is a blessing in so many ways, not the least of which is his bathing schedule. He is not a collie, but like a collie he is pretty clean and odorless, and only should only be bathed about once per quarter, since his skin is sensitive.) Woo hoo!

Still, when I don’t have to do something all the time, it’s a little too easy to forget it altogether.

I noticed some time back that I’d been neglecting to give Charlie his bath, so as soon as I’d done it I set up a reminder on my phone to do so ever three months. Whew! I am a responsible pet-parent again!

Three months later the reminder popped up. Okay! Time to bathe the dog!

Every day I’d wake up and see this reminder on my phone. I hadn’t done it yet, so I couldn’t mark it as done. The reminder sat there while I did all my scheduled marketing tasks, attended all my scheduled meetings, completed all my scheduled responsibilities.

Day after day I would be reminded to bathe my dog whenever I was running out the door setting up my GPS directions, or whenever I needed to make an appointment, or whenever I was sitting and waiting for hubby outside his workplace to give him a ride home. It never popped up when I could say, “I guess I’ll just handle that hour-long process now!” (Yes, I could probably be more efficient.)

Finally, six weeks after the reminder first came up, I remembered this one basic “trick” that I ABSOLUTELY MUST DO if I’m going to get anything done.

I have to ask myself, “What do I have to do first before I can actually accomplish that?”

As soon as I asked myself that question I realized, “I have to make an appointment on my calendar–set the time aside–to bathe the dog.”

So I made the appointment, then at the appointed time gave Charlie a bath. And then I used my secret weapon: I changed my reminder. Every three months, I’ll be pinged to “Set an appointment to give Charlie a bath.”

(I have to do this with my volunteering, too. As soon as a volunteer coordinator asks me to do something, I have to set the time aside on my calendar or it’ll never get done.)

This month I’ve been walking my readers through a process designed to help you make 2017 an even more successful, even more productive year than 2016. It’s all about looking at what happened in 2016 with clear eyes (post one) and recognizing realistically what you actually can accomplish in a year, then (with a lens focused on who you want to be in future years (post two)) making arrangements to do that.

If you’ve been following along with each post, the last step you took was to start creating goals. For an example, this past year one of my goals was to learn business accounting and bookkeeping. Using the “What would I have to do first” technique, it looks like this:

What would I have to do in order to actually…

  • … learn business accounting & bookkeeping? Take a course or two.
  • …and in order to take a course? Find and register for (and pay for) the course.
  • …and in order to find a course? Do research.

Therefore, the first step I would have to take in order to achieve this goal is to Do Research into available/affordable business accounting & bookkeeping courses aimed at my stage of business development.

This same process applies to all goals. No matter where you want to wind up, what would you have to do in order to actually achieve that goal?

Keep asking yourself what you’d need to do in order to accomplish the step you’ve come up with until the step you are looking at is so brilliantly simple you could just do it right now.

Then, once you’ve accomplished that, look at the next step and ask if you can do it next. If not, ask “What would I need to do in order to actually _______________?”

This is how you break down the steps to get to your goal, just by walking backwards from the destination to your current location. Make sure that, for each one, you have an idea of the first actionable step you would have to take.

Create markers/reminders on a calendar or other reminder system once you have all the basic steps mapped out. Basic steps can include “figure out the next steps” if it’s a big enough goal. Sometimes you have to get partway there before you’ll know for certain what needs to happen next. I typically set up my reminders for the first half of the year in December/January, and then revisit my goals in June/July to map out the steps to take in the last half of the year.

Next week (after Christmas) I’ll introduce you to a spreadsheet where you can keep all your steps and goals organized for the coming year.