Leadership Coaches for Steady Hands on the Nuclear Codes [New Post]

I won’t coach a leader with an untreated mental illness. They need to be in a different room with a different person.
It’s a basic standard in executive coaching.
I never thought I’d need to apply the same principle to voting for President. Every major party candidate in my lifetime has been relatively sane. I may disagree vociferously with their politics, but I don’t fear giving them access to the nuclear codes.
This year it’s different.
That’s why I’m choosing today to write to you today about national politics. It’s a topic I rarely bring up in my work with leaders because our success together depends on mutual trust. Talking politics can get in the way of that.
But the choice we face in this year’s Presidential election isn’t about liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican, or even light versus dark.
It’s about sanity versus insanity. Having a balanced temperament versus constantly coming unhinged.
One candidate in this race has, at minimum, an untreated personality disorder. When he speaks for more than thirty seconds, I think to myself, “This man is not well.”
Do you know what I’m talking about?
I’m confident you do.
The other candidate is unmistakably sane. You may or may not love the thoughts in her head, but it’s clear that her head is on straight.
This difference matters. A lot.
For example, the President of the United States has access to many things that you and I don’t. One of those is the codes to launch nuclear missiles. These codes follow the President around everywhere he or she goes. When the President chooses to use these codes, big stuff happens.
Saying “big stuff”sounds funny but we all know it’s not a joke. That’s why we want the person with access to the nuclear codes to have steady hands and a sane mind.
It’s the bare minimum prerequisite for the office, more so even than relevant experience, knowledge of how government works, aligned worldviews, or basic competence.
Steady hands and a sane mind. This description applies to only one major party nominee in this race.
She happens to be a Democrat. And her opponent, the one whose mind is not well, is running in this race as a Republican. However, for once, those party distinctions don’t really matter to me. If he were running as a Democrat (which is not implausible given his current views on trade and past views on social issues), I’d vote for the Republican.
That’s why I’ve chosen today to speak up. And why I’m starting a group called Leadership Coaches for Steady Hands on the Nuclear Codes.
Yeah, I know, that’s a long name, but it’s a start, and it captures what we stand for:
  • People with expertise in leadership speaking up at an important moment in history
  • Naming the key distinction between the two major candidates
  • Applying it to a monumental power of the Presidency
  • Doing this in a way that emphasizes we are for something good rather than just against something dangerous

Stay tuned for more as this group takes shape.

Episode 50: Chris Chittenden on Real Accountability [The Amiel Show]

Think that accountability is just about the organizational structure–about who reports to whom?

Think again.


Listen to the Podcast

This is a key message of Chris Chittenden, my guest this week on the podcast.

When you look at how work actually gets done, it lives in the conversations between people.

  • If you’re upset at someone for not carrying out a promise, consider this: did they make a promise in the first place?
  • If somebody asks you to do something, are you aware that a negotiation has just begun–even if that person is your boss?
  • Have you ever noticed that the reason breakdowns happen is that others see the world differently from you?

Chris is a master ontological coach based in Australia. I’ve admired his writings for years and enjoyed this opportunity to dig in and ask: what does true accountability look like?

I think you’ll find this interview to have immediate practical impact. Please share with your friends.


  • 15:30 What’s missing in traditional leadership programs
  • 20:00 Accountability is about the interactions between people
  • 24:00 What kind of conversation are you in?
  • 29:00 Amiel’s confusion in high school about fuzzy promises
  • 32:00 The ways we respond to requests–most are unclear!
  • 39:30 Making effective offers in the workplace
  • 42:30 Why people give feedback
  • 46:30 Other people have different interests and interpretations from you!
  • 56:00 People send email requests with the assumption they’ve been accepted
  • 1:00:00 It’s also about managing risks
  • 1:04:00 Four ways you can respond to a request
  • 1:07:30 Managing promises is about creating points of choice
  • 1:13:30 How to create a proactive day


Tweet a Quote

“People send email requests assuming they’ve been accepted.”

–Chris Chittenden   Tweet this quote

“Promises underpin the relationships we have with others.”

–Chris Chittenden  Tweet this quote

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Episode 32: Turn Toward Others, A Jedi Leadership Trick [The Amiel Show]

In this 7 minute episode, I describe a simple and powerful method for increasing trust with others.

Learn how to improve relationships even while disagreeing with others.

And how to turn microscopic interactions into positive changes in your public identity.

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe to the Show on iTunes (It’s Easy!)

  1. Sign into iTunes using your ID and password
  2. Search the iTunes store for “Amiel Show”
  3. Click on the Subscribe button. It’s in the upper left corner of the screen.

Give Me a Rating or Review on iTunes (It’s Also Easy!)

  1. Sign into iTunes using your ID and password
  2. Search the iTunes store for “Amiel Show”
  3. Click on “Ratings and Reviews”
  4. Give it a rating. Bonus for a review

READ: Episode 26: Help Me Understand, A Jedi Leadership Trick [The Amiel Show]

What to do when you stand someone up

It happens to the best of us.

Amiel looks at watch

You make a commitment to meet someone. Then an interruption happens in your world–a lengthy meeting, calendar mishap, traffic, or a mental mistake–so you don’t make it. And–now here is the key point–you don’t or can’t contact them in advance to say that you won’t be there.

We call this “standing someone up.”

If people were dogs, the person stood up would wait a few minutes, then look for a new bone to chew. If people were turtles, they’d withdraw their neck back into the shell. If we were bonobos, they’d find some nearby genitals to rub.

But people are human beings.

So the person you stood up is likely to have a very human and very predictable response. They’ll feel surprised (unless you always do this to them, which is another story entirely) and upset (unless they didn’t want to see you right now, which is still another tale). Then, depending on how they tend to interpret their experiences–which differs by gender, cultural background, and Enneagram type– they will experience some combination of anger, frustration, and hurt.

In short, most people who get stood up are not happy campers.

Like all broken promises, this moment can go one of several ways. If you flub it, the relationship can take a dip south. If you handle it skillfully, you can maintain or even build trust.

So what do you do?

  1. Calm and center yourself. It happens rarely, but when I stand someone up, I tend to feel shame because keeping promises is very important to me. It’s an instantaneous and habitual reaction. So I’ve learned it’s important for me to calm and center myself before I do anything else. Two Feet, Five Breaths or a similar practice works well.
  2. Get clear on what happened. What is the true reason why you weren’t able to make it? What is the real story behind why you didn’t give them a heads up? Get clear on what kept you from keeping your promise, because you’ll need this in a moment.
  3. Decide how you will contact them. The classic advice is to pick up the phone because this makes it personal and live. So this is a good default. However, we now have many ways of contacting people, so ask yourself: what medium will this person most appreciate? Also, if the goal now is to mend the relationship, maybe it’s time to question the conventional wisdom of calling someone when they’re upset. Does this really serve them and the relationship? Only if you are capable of staying cool when they express their upset. Otherwise, a text, email, or handwritten note that you can drop off that day might produce better results. What if you get their voice mail? This can be a blessing because you can can be real and personal without the other person having to respond right away.
  4. Apologize. A short and direct apology often works better than a long and indirect one. Here’s why: the reason you stood them up is rarely complicated. And if it is, there should be a simple way to sum it up. The longer you blather on, the more likely the other person is to question whether you (a) understood what happened and (b) are taking responsibility for it.
  5. Listen and acknowledge. Mending a broken promise isn’t a one-way act. The goal isn’t to speak until you’ve dissolved your guilt and then move on. The goal is to mend the broken promise. So if the other person expresses upset or tells you the impact on them, acknowledge their words. For this, repeating the words “I’m sorry” is less important than paraphrasing what you hear and telling them it makes total sense. For example, two decades ago I was helping run a gubernatorial race in Michigan. One day the candidate cancelled a meet-and-greet with thirty sharp young lawyers, veritable rising stars, at the top two law firms in the state. I was able to reach the three organizers by phone so they could cancel an hour in advance. So it wasn’t a pure example of standing someone up. Still, when I met the organizers for tea, they were furious. One explained that she had carefully reached out one-on-one to a dozen colleagues from both political parties to get them to come. She also put her reputation on the line by saying, “This guy’s for real.” So, when she had to look each person in the eye and say, “The event is cancelled,” she felt embarrassed. So she really let me have it. (The fact that I was also angry at the candidate for cancelling was irrelevant, and I don’t believe I mentioned it). The others were less angry but equally vocal. I spent over an hour listening, paraphrasing what I heard, and acknowledging that their experience was totally understandable. Boy, was that a challenge for me! This was two years before I started meditating, so it took every ounce of patience to stay grounded and centered. And the upshot? I never heard from the most angry lawyer again. However, one of the others became a regular volunteer for the campaign and the third invited me to a couple social gatherings.
  6. Make a new offer. This step is really important. You’ve broken a commitment, so it’s important to make a new one. An offer is a commitment to bring about a particular result by a specific time frame if the other person accepts. The offer could be as simple as rescheduling to a different date. In some cases, this is enough. However, you may want to offer something extra to further acknowledge the impact you have caused and “make it up” to the other person. If the meeting you missed was at your office or a neutral location, offer to go to them. If you were going to each pay your own way, offer to treat them. Or think of something else you could offer that they would value. And if you don’t know, ask. In fact, regardless of what you offer, you will be asking if they’d like to accept it. (“Will this work for you” or “How about it?”) So you might as well include an extra phrase that lets them tell you what they would value most. You say, “Would this work for you, or is there a better way I can make this up to you?” You don’t have to accept their counteroffer, but it’s nice to invite it.
  7. Fulfill the new promise. Do what you say you are going to do. To ensure this happens, remind yourself of the conditions that caused you to break the original promise, and change the conditions.

That’s my take. Anything you want to add that has worked (or bombed) for you? Shoot me an email at amiel at amielhandelsman.com.


Flipping Complaints to Commitments (Jedi Leadership Tricks)

As you spend more time watching how you interact with others, you may notice something about your conversations.

Specifically, that you bitch and moan about things that bother you. Maybe not every minute, but probably a few times a day.

What’s the problem with bitching and moaning? After all, everybody does it.

flip pancakes

Three things:

  1. You feel lousy. Maybe not at first, but within a few minutes, kind of like eating french fries with ice cream—something I loved doing after high school soccer games at Wendy’s fast food restaurant.
  2. People see you differently. It’s the weirdest thing: even though we all complain, when we hear somebody else doing it, we quickly make a judgment about them. You can lose credibility that you worked so hard to build up.
  3. It dampens the mood of your team. When people hear you making negative comments, it affects their emotional state. This is because, as brain science teaches us, our nervous systems are intertwined. Your periodic complaints about, say, how IT or HR let you down, can shift others into moods of resignation, resentment, or fear.

Teaching Doctors How to Say “I’m Sorry”

Seven years ago, on a hill overlooking Portland, I taught fifteen medical students how to apologize. It wasn’t part of their curriculum. It wasn’t why I was invited to speak.

But life is about seizing opportunities. In this case, the opportunity was to transform the grief of losing a child into a teachable moment. Not by lecturing. Not even by telling a story. But by cajoling future doctors to say out loud the words I wished I had heard six months before.

What followed was a test case for the notion that you are what you say—and that what you say matters—a lot.


The invitation came from an OB/GYN known in the community for being compassionate with patients, particularly those with difficult pregnancies. He wasn’t our physician, but he heard about us through the grapevine. And we knew him by reputation.