By Thomas Thompson, LSLO Certified Leadership Coach

Knowing who you are helps you lead how you are.  As you begin to unlock how you are hardwired, you gain two invaluable tools for your self leadership:  Awareness and Adjustment.

Years ago I had an executive coach take me through an instrument called the Birkman®.  That tool helped me identify some of the hidden needs motivating me in my relationships and workplace.  And it showed me how when these needs were met in my life, I behaved at my best.  But when these were unmet, I responded in stress, limiting my effectiveness.

For example, I deal with others in a very direct manner.  And people assume I like to be dealt with in the same way, but the Birkman® helped me become aware that I tend to interpret other people’s straight-forwardness as challenge, and even disrespect.

I never knew that, but it explained so much.  This was why I kept getting stuck in conversations when someone would question my decisions.  Without knowing why, I often found myself getting defensive.  I’d fire off lengthy emails in response to questions, laying out my reasons and fortifying my decisions.  But I was inferring disrespect when none was intended.  People were not challenging my authority.  They just wanted clarity.

Armed with awareness, it was now time to adjust.

My coach helped me come up with a simple hack.  Three words:  Don’t Assume Disrespect.  It was a tiny tool to use when I felt challenged in a conversation.  So, in a spot in my office only I could see, I wrote out “Don’t Assume Disrespect.”  During meetings I would shoot a quick glance to these words when I needed them.  Before responding to an email, I’d repeat my mantra.  It completely changed the way I related to my coworkers.  I could relax, listen, and respond well.

What did it take to make that change?  It took learning about myself and my hardwiring.  It took a coach to help me see myself in a new way.  And that brought me the twin tools of Awareness and Adjustment.  Because to lead how you are, you have to know who you are.

This is why I am thrilled to use the Birkman® in my own coaching of others.  I love that moment when a client says what I call the Awareness Aha:  “I never knew that about myself…but that explains so much.”  Armed with awareness, we can begin to adjust for true change.

If you find yourself repeating the same actions, yet are confused about what the change step is, take a moment and think through these three questions:

  • Where are you struggling?
  • What is going on under your hood that is affecting your drive?
  • Who is helping you unlock who you are so you can lead how you are?


Thomas helps people have the conversations they are not having, so they can move towards the life they would love.  If he can serve your story, please reach out to him at