January 28

Episode 20: Learn How to Self-Lead with Kristen Harcourt


In this week’s episode, Kristen Harcourt teaches us about self-leadership. She’s an accredited coach that has a passion for leadership development and creating positive work cultures.

In This Episode, You’ll Learn…

  • How to take a look inside yourself and think about who you are, what you want, and who you want to be in the world aspirationally so you can be the best version of yourself when it comes to leadership.
  • How to break through mental barriers that are holding you back so you can get out of your head and connect with your heart and body.
  • How to be effective in different situations and environments — especially with so many people working from home now.


  • “I believe every single one of us has an opportunity to show up and lead every day and model what’s possible. And if you don’t start by taking a look inside and understanding yourself from a self-leadership perspective around who you are, what you want, who you want to be in the world aspirationally, then you’re not going to be able to be the best version of yourself when it comes to leadership.” — Kristen Harcourt
  • “I think as people become more aware of who they are, how they’re showing up their own emotions from their own awareness, but then also understanding how their emotions impact others and then understanding the emotions of the people around them.” — Kristen Harcourt
  • “I think the word mindfulness is used a lot, and people don’t necessarily know what that means, or they assume mindfulness means meditation and you’re sitting on them for hours. And that’s your only way of being productive, which is absolutely not what I’m saying. So mindfulness, as we start to train, our brain is about being more in the present moment, day to day.” — Kristen Harcourt
  • “I actually think there’s lots of benefits for them actually, working remotely and being able to lead remotely. I know a lot of people during this global pandemic have actually recognized how much they enjoy working from home.” — Kristen Harcourt
  • “I love the question ‘what’s on your mind’ because it opens up so many options and opportunities. That individual might say what’s on my mind is I’m feeling super stressed about, I have kids at home and I’m trying to teach my kids while I’m working. And so they start to talk about some personal things that might be happening.” — Kristen Harcourt

Links & Resources Mentioned…

Guest Bio…

For more than a decade, Kristen has partnered with executives and emerging leaders in hundreds of organizations worldwide to achieve extraordinary and sustainable results through increased self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness. 

In addition to being an in-demand speaker and facilitator, she is also an accredited coach, empowering leaders to become more aware of their strengths, blind spots, values, and purpose so they can build lives and organizations of success, sustainability, and health.

A keen student of human nature, Kristen graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Psychology at McMaster University. She holds her CPCC & ACC designation through The International Coach Federation (ICF), considered the “gold standard” in global coaching certification. She’s also a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS). 

She has worked with a diverse range of organizations, including Cineplex, Ontario Power Generation, Toyota, Economical Insurance, Meridian, OLG, Canadian Tire, CAA, Metroland Media, Heart & Stroke Foundation, Spin Master, DB Schenker, and more.

Kristen hosts a bi-weekly podcast called Inspirational Leadership where she interviews progressive CEO’s, strategic HR leaders, and forward-thinking experts who share her passion for leadership development and creating positive work cultures.

A big believer in compassion, authenticity, and conscious leadership, Kristen’s mission is to help leaders transform from the inside out, creating a meaningful career and purpose-driven life where they reach their full potential.

Don’t Miss an Episode!

We provide every episode in audio, text, and video so you can learn what you need to get unstuck no matter how you learn best. Head to http://unstuck.show to subscribe and view past episodes.

Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill:  

Hello and welcome back to the Get Unstuck & On Target show. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders, and we're speaking with thought leaders to uncover tips to help you break down the barriers that may be keeping you or your business stuck. Joining me today from Toronto it's Kristen Harcourt. Kristen is an in demand speaker and facilitator.

She's also an accredited coach. Welcome Kristen.

Kristen Harcourt: Hi Mike. Wonderful to be here.

Mike O'Neill: I want to also plug something that you do very, very well. And that is you host an excellent bi-weekly podcast called Inspirational Leadership. And for those who don't know what she does on this podcast, and I've listened to several of them, she interviews progressive CEOs, strategic HR leaders, and forward thinker experts.

And what she's trying to do is find people who share her passion for leadership development and created positive work cultures. And so I really recommend our listeners to check out Inspirational Leadership and we'll include a link to her podcast in the show notes. Kristen shared with me before we started recording that her mission is to help leaders transform from the inside out.

Creating a meaningful career and purpose driven life, where they reach their full potential. I love the visual of transforming from the inside out. Can you elaborate? Why does that mission statement really resonate with you?

Kristen Harcourt: It does. It really has my whole heart and soul. When I say that, because I truly believe that it's for all leaders and leaders are not necessarily leaders by title.

I believe every single one of us has an opportunity to show up and lead every day and model what's possible. And if you don't start by taking a look inside and understanding yourself from a self-leadership perspective around who you are, what you want, who you want to be in the world aspirationally, then you're not going to be able to be the best version of yourself when it comes to leadership.

And I think some people miss that stuff and they don't spend enough time going inside and reflecting. And so to me, that's where it all begins.

Mike O'Neill: I love that mission statement. And you mentioned self-leadership you work as an executive coach and when you're working with a leader, how do you try to get them to be thinking about why it's important to understand themselves.

And it starts with self leadership. How do you kind of frame that up with your clients?

Kristen Harcourt: Yeah, it's a great question. And it, it shows up in a couple of ways. I think one is just helping them understand why it's important and how.

Benefit them and others. And so one of the things I talk about right from the beginning when I'm working with leaders is really helping them to understand their core values. And so that's about like, when they're really feeling in alignment and feeling fulfilled, who are they and what are those values that are most important to them?

And they start to recognize so many times where things felt off where things didn't feel as good for them. It really was because a value wasn't being honored. So that's the place that I love to start off with leaders. And then I'm also super passionate around emotional intelligence, mindfulness mindset, because I think as people become more aware of who they are, how they're showing up their own emotions from their own awareness, but then also understanding how their emotions impact others and then understanding the emotions of the people around them.

It's just starts to become a superpower because once you get really, really good at doing that, you, first of all, start to understand yourself and you know, one of the things I like to say, Mike is it's so many leaders, you know, I'm working with a lot of these executives, super smart. And so a lot can be linear thinkers.

So they spend a lot of time here, but for the listeners, you could see me, I'm pointing at my head right now because there's so much, time spent up in the head, but I'm trying to get them to come down a bit and spend more time also connecting with their heart. But also connecting with their body. Right.

Because their body is so good at really, as we tune in and letting you know what's going on, why does something feel right? Why does something feel wrong? And it's, it's just so much power and understanding that. And so let me be, let me give you clear at the beginning for some of my leaders, this is very new to them.

And so I start with baby steps, getting them more and more comfortable and going on that kind of journey.

Mike O'Neill: Well, you anticipated my next question and that is, you may be asking them to go places that they might not want to go. So you approach it more with baby steps. And then ease into, and I think we're talking primarily about emotional intelligence.

You also slipped the word mindfulness in a little while ago, and I'm hearing that word batted around a lot.  When you use the term mindfulness an your working with your clients, what is it you're trying to convey? What are you trying to make sure that they understand as leaders.

Kristen Harcourt: Yes. Yeah. And you're right.

I think the word mindfulness is used a lot and people don't necessarily know what that means, or they assume mindfulness means meditation and you're sitting on them for hours. And that's your only way of being productive, which is absolutely not what I'm saying. So mindfulness, as we start to train, our brain is about being more in the present moment, day to day.

 And all of your interactions as you're taking actions throughout your day. So when I think of mindfulness, I think of it is helping you to become more focused on what's happening right in front of you moment by moment by moment, and what ends up happening so often, and I'm sure you've experienced this Mike in your work and it's that we are,  we like to talk about how we're such good multitaskers.

We aren't actually very good multitaskers and there's so much research to show that when you're trying to multitask, you're not actually as effective to really single task and be focused on one thing and then move to the next thing. I'm also realistic that we live in a world where things are coming up at coming at us all the time, but sometimes mindfulness is also about creating practices.

So there are windows of time throughout your day, where you can be single focused on one thing because you end up being so much more productive, more creative, more focused. The output ends up being a lot faster and more effective when you're really super focused on the thing in front of you. So I like to describe it as really mindfulness is training your brain to try to be fully present and really present with the people in front of you  present with the task in front of you and doing one thing at a time, as opposed to being all over the place, which as, you know, you end up being distracted and less focused when that's happening.

Mike O'Neill: I love your description, your contrasting multitasking with, with focus. And what I'm understanding you to say is you have to do the best of your ability, tune out the distractions to be present with not only whoever you're with, but whatever you may be working on. What practical tips might you offer our listeners?

If they find, boy, they struggle with that. They're, they're drawn like most of us to multitasking. What could be a baby step that you would recommend that people would take to begin that focus to begin looking at things for more mindfulness standpoint?

Kristen Harcourt: Absolutely. So a couple of things that jumped out at me right away is a practice is just every hour taking a couple of seconds to just take some deep breaths, just doing that. Taking that deep breath, a couple of deep breaths every hour. It just starts to bring you back to the present moment because you're running around doing things that your breath is always available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

So I think your breath is such a really great place to go to. Some other things that you can do is starting to even have rituals. So in the morning before, you're going to start your day to just give yourself a couple of seconds to just be breathing, reflecting on what you want to do in your day ahead, thinking about those priorities.

Another thing that I really, really recommend to individuals is anything you can do to make it so that your owning your day instead of the day owning you. And so what I mean by that is for myself, as soon as I got a computer and there's notifications, I turn those notifications off. So there's never this beep or noise or, volume, trying to get my attention every time an email comes in. And then whenever possible, closing off your email when you're working on tasks where you need to be really focused. So that again, those email notifications, those pings are not getting your attention. When you're working on a task that you want to be super focused on putting your phone in airplane mode.

So again, your notifications on your phone are not getting your attention. Some of the leaders that I work with that even have them, because they still have to be working on things within their email inbox. You can actually be in your email.  And then put notifications on hold. So you're working on, what's there getting your attention because what ends up happening a lot is that those start to feel like you're fired.

And so you're always focusing on priorities.

Boy, you've mentioned a number of very, very practical tips. That's why I love about you and that is you reduce it to just good, common sense. Excellent. One of the things that we have discussed before we started recording is the challenge of listening and leading in an environment where our folks that we are listening and leading aren't there in front of you.

Mike O'Neill: You're managing remotely and leading remotely is very, very different. Can we go along that path for a little bit?  What have you found COVID for us here in the States hit hard in March. And many people found themselves thrust into that and we're approaching goodness almost a year at the time of this recording, or when this recording might be posted here, we're approaching a year of major, major changes when you're working with clients, be it individuals or organizations,

What tips might you have for how to lead effectively while managing remotely?

Kristen Harcourt: Yeah, it's a big question because I think there's a lot of things that come up with, I think two different things. One is, what does it look like to lead remotely? And what does it look like to also be aware that there's a global pandemic as you're leading remotely?

And I think those are two different challenges that can present themselves. I actually think there's lots of benefits for them actually, working remotely and being able to lead remotely. I know a lot of people during this global pandemic have actually recognized how much they enjoy working from home.

From a work-life integration perspective, they have much shorter commutes. They're recognizing that they can actually be more productive working from home. Organizations who previously believed, oh, there's no way that we can do this from home. This stuff, you, we have to have employees in the office.

They're recognizing. Oh, wow. Actually, this is much more effective than we thought. So there, there are a lot of advantages, but I think the first thing that comes up for me, Mike, when we start to think about working remotely, I think communication is always such a big, important component of leadership. But when you start to have people working remotely, we really need to amp this up. Because what tends to happen at least when you're in an organization, we just, we go by each other.

We kind of do those check-ins,  where we're going by somebody's office door. We naturally, without even having scheduled meetings, tend to see one another and just have those check-ins. Well, all of that really starts to change when we're in this remote workplace situation. And especially for leaders who are not used to this, and haven't done this in the past, we really need to make sure as leaders that there is ongoing check-ins happening with all of the individuals on your team.

And, and when we're doing check-ins, check-ins are not just work-focused, it's about asking questions to saying, you know, how are you doing? One of the questions that I like, that comes from the book called the coaching habit is just even saying, as you're having a conversation with someone what's on your mind.

I love the question 'what's on your mind' because it opens up so many options and opportunities. That individual might say what's on my mind is I'm feeling super stressed about, I have kids at home and I'm trying to teach my kids while I'm working. And so they start to talk about some personal things that might be happening.

They might say what's on my mind. I'm thinking about some projects. We have six months out and I'm feeling a little bit nervous or anxious about it. So it just really opens up the possibility of having a really open conversation. So number one is I really want to encourage leaders to be doing regular check-ins and to really, give them an opportunity to not just make it about work, but personal as well.

To be asking individuals, what do they need more from you? Where are they struggling? What's going really well? There's no one size fits all where one individual might be really liking the way things are working. Somebody else might be completely struggling. We have different learning styles. We have different personality styles.

We have different situations and environments that we're working when at home. So I think that's a really important piece that, needs to be stressed and emphasized. I think another one is when we start to think about teams, cause we don't just want the one-on-one the individual, but we also want to think about those team dynamics and how are we making sure that the team's having conversations.

So that's another thing when we're having our team meetings, whether that's, I've heard some clients where they're having a happy hour.  And the happy hour doesn't have to be around alcohol when we hear happy hour, but, or they might be having a check-in hour or something where they're getting together regularly.

And just having some fun checking in, they might be doing an activity, lots of different things. I've seen organizations doing great opportunity to creative.  Ask your employees, Hey, what do you want to be doing for this meeting? What kind of ideas do you have around some creative ways that we can be having fun, playful connecting with one another?

Also making sure at some point when you're having meetings, that there is a question around, you know, maybe everyone's just taking a couple of seconds to say how they're feeling what's going on with them. Because as people start to share where they might be having some struggles at home, it gives other people permission to also share what they're experiencing.

And realizing that they're not alone. So I think that whole collaborative environment and having teetering what's going on be really, really conscious of. And, when I think about inclusive workplaces each individual and what their circumstances might look like. So maybe with the remote work, some people's hours might be changing. Some people might need to have one day a week off.  Some people might have to, you know, just being, having a lot of flexibility around this, this current situation.

And I think this is a little bit more. Or around the global pandemic as well.  But we need to just really be cognizant of, the struggles look different for all of us when it comes to a mental health perspective,  during COVID and working remotely.

Mike O'Neill: You know, you made a number of suggestions. One of the ones you mentioned a moment ago was a question that you could just ask.

And what was the exact phrase that you're encouraging us to use? What was, what's on your mind?

Kristen Harcourt:  What's on your mind?

Mike O'Neill:  So when you said that, what was really interesting?  Most folks were probably listening, but what I hear the word what's on your mind. I'm now pointing to my head and that is my first thought is a kind of cognitive kind of thinking.

But what comes out oftentimes in response is not so much what they're thinking, but what comes out is how does it make them feel? When you use those two examples, that's exactly what kind of came to mind. And you use that same technique even later on. And that is in team meetings. You're trying to create space where people can express feelings. Particularly acknowledging that feelings right now are probably very mixed.

Kristen Harcourt: Absolutely. You know, the, the, my slogan or mantra the last year has been, you have permission to feel. We are all, we are all having feelings that are the waves and, for some, the waves are bigger and they're rollercoaster could be another way of describing it. But every single one of us is experiencing feelings and a variety of feelings.

And I think. Sometimes, of course there's, there are people who will be talking about, you know, trying to have a positive mindset and recognizing there's things to be grateful for. And that's wonderful. But we also want to recognize, having empathy and compassion for others because we don't all have the same tools in our toolkit.

We don't all deal with stress the same way. We don't necessarily all have the same coping strategies. So. It's really about having tons of compassion, but also it's okay to have the full range of emotions. One day you might just feel really angry. You might be angry around I wish it wasn't like this. It's okay to feel like that.

And so what I notice a lot is, people are repressing the emotions. Well, who am I to feel like this? There are people who are single moms with, with three children and trying to work three jobs. They're the ones who are struggling. I don't have permission to be struggling. I shouldn't be struggling.

Emotions don't work like that. And so I've heard with what I call and Bernay Brown alludes to this as well, which is comparative suffering, where people say, well, I'm experiencing this, I don't have the rights to be feeling these emotions because I'm not experiencing when other people are experiencing. Emotions don't work like that.

We can't give a little note up to our emotions and say, excuse me, you are not allowed to feel that because your experience is not the same as this individual's experience. So I really been trying to help clients and it shows up with a lot of the leaders that I work with. That it's okay and I try to even be conscious of not saying positive or negative emotions because to be a human is to experience the full range of emotions and sadness and anger and anxiety and overwhelm and frustration.

They're all perfectly normal and acceptable emotions. It's what you do with the emotions, right? What do you do to be able to process them in a way that's going to be healthy so that you're not directing them at others, but giving yourself your space to work through what you're experiencing.

Mike O'Neill: You know, that dovetails very nicely to my next question.

And that is the emotion around getting stuck or feeling stuck. Would you share an example where perhaps a client got stuck or perhaps even you got stuck and what did it take to get unstuck?

Kristen Harcourt: Hmm. Yes. I, I really, really love that question. And I think we all have gotten stuck several times in our lives.

And, I'm going to give you, I'm going to give you two examples. One is something I've experienced in my life. And then another that I see with a lot of the individuals and leaders that I work with.  So when, when that really shows up for me, where I, I noticed I had felt quite stuck is after I went back to work having my second child.

So at that point I had a one-year-old and four year old, I was in a pretty demanding job, downtown Toronto, where I had to commute two hours in the morning, two hours at night. So that's four hours commuting. A demanding job, loved the work that I was doing.  But I started to notice where I felt stuck is that when I was at work, I was always thinking about my kids and feeling guilty that I should be at home with my kids.

And then when I was with my kids, I was feeling guilty about when I'm at work, I'm not super focused on work and I should be working and thinking about work when I'm at home. So I wasn't fully present in either place. And so I felt stuck because I started to feel like. Well, how, how I can't do anything to change this.

I love my kids and they're not going anywhere and I need to work and maybe I don't need to work, but I want to work and that's not going anywhere. How do I deal with this? And so that was actually Mike, when I started to work with my first coach. So that would have been, around seven and a half years ago.

And so when I started to delve into it and, you know, recognize that I was feeling stuck there and it took a step back and did some inward work, and self-reflection. One of the big things that I realized I was experiencing was guilt underneath it about really loving my job and loving, going to work.

And I recognize that there was a story and a limiting belief. That really to be a good mom, that I should be at home with my kids and I shouldn't be going to work, but that wasn't true for me that wasn't my story. That for some people that's absolutely their experience and they should be staying at home with their kids because that's what feels aligned for them and their values.

And for me, family is a very important value and I love my kids, but I really also have a strong value around growth mindset and contribution. And, the mission that I talked about to you to today. And so when I'm working, I feel incredibly fulfilled. So what I really had to do and where the shift happened for me and I got unstuck is I owned it.

I owned it, that it's okay to love working and to be able, and to be able to go out there and contribute and be doing what I feel like I'm called to do. But eventually I needed to figure out well, what does that look like? So that I have a little bit more work-life integration. Well, it ended up, I spent a little bit more time working from home. And then eventually I ended up starting my own business because then I really got to decide what work-life integration was because I was my own boss.

Mike O'Neill: That's I appreciate you sharing that personal, example where the, the sense of stuck was something that you've kind of placed on yourself, but you decided to just own it. And I, I recognize that this might've come to light in working one-on-one with a coach. So another example, how coaches can be so helpful on these types of limiting thoughts and helping getting them out of your head.

Now, you were willing to share a personal example, and I appreciate you doing that. How about maybe an organization or a client that you've worked with, that they got stuck?

Kristen Harcourt: Yeah. So the other place where I notice a pattern, a lot of times where executives get stuck is that they can get very much in absolute, or black and white thinking.

So it's the extremes. It's either like this or it's like that. And then I help them to see, guess what? It doesn't have to be an either or, and maybe there's some other possibilities that you haven't seen. So the reason why they're getting stuck is, it feels like this is the only way that it can be.

And this is where again, I think coaching can be so helpful in whether it's working with a coach or whether it's talking to a friend talking to a family member of somebody who you trust, mentor peer. When you start to talk through a situation you can have be in tunnel vision and feel like it just looks like this, that there's just this one option.

But as you start to talk to other people, they start to see these other options that you can't see because you're in that tunnel vision. So I always encourage when people are in that feeling where it feels really, really stuck an there are no other options. There are no other possibilities to share out loud with somebody else that you trust.

Sometimes that might be vulnerable. So that's why I say somebody who you trust.  And also be careful that it's somebody who is going to be going to trust, but also give you the space to have your thoughts on it. Like, so somebody who might not be too emotionally attached to their own agenda. Which is why I'm careful, you know, sometimes if you're talking with a family, a family, significant others, they might have their own agenda.

So be careful about, that's why I love with coaching. Your only agenda of your coach is to champion you. You want someone who's just wanting to champion you, but you start to see these other possibilities. And it's so interesting after we'll have the conversation, they'll say, and you'll feel the shift you'll feel this shift because they were so in something that it felt like they couldn't get out, but then all of the sudden.

This much, much more expanded view and much more, all of these possibilities that they really, really weren't able to see. And I think it's really, really common. So I think it's really important for a, when, when you're feeling really stuck and in your own head, talk to somebody else about it, because all of a sudden they offer another perspective and that brings you out of it.

And it starts to shift.

Mike O'Neill: Kristen, I'm just reflecting on what you've shared. In our time together, it's been pretty far ranging. You shared a bit about your mission and why that mission is so important to you and how it kind of guides your actions, both professionally and personally. You better define this notion of self-leadership and emotional intelligent as you describe it and kind of practical ways.

I particularly like the way that you define mindfulness and, how leaders can take a more focused approach and what practical things you can do there. And then we got into the topic of managing remotely. So we've covered a pretty far ranging number of topics. If you were to kind of step back and say, Gosh, I want to make sure that our listeners hear what might be any final thoughts or takeaways you want to make sure that we have.

I appreciate you asking that question, Mike, and thank you for reflecting that back to me so beautifully. I think as a final thought that I would really like to leave with the listeners is I'm such a big believer in encourager of creating a little bit of time every day for self-reflection. Because if you aren't creating the space for self reflection and asking yourself the questions, you're not going to be able to make that progress.

You're not going to be able to make changes. You're not going to be able to anticipate situations that,

 You weren't aware of? So I just like to tell people, you know, just spend, if you could just give yourself three to five minutes every day, asking yourself what was a win, what can I celebrate? Where was an area that I struggled? What did I learn from that struggle? And what am I going to do differently tomorrow with that information?

Good stuff. Very good stuff. Kristen, if people want to connect with you online, what's the best way for them to do that.

Kristen Harcourt: Absolutely. So I'm very active on social media. So you can find me on all the major platforms under Kristen Harcourt and then my website as well is kristenharcourt.com

Mike O'Neill: Do me a favor.

Would you spell that out? So people know how to type it in?

Kristen Harcourt: Absolutely. That would be my pleasure. So Kristin is K R I S T E N, Harcourt, H A R C O U R T.

Mike O'Neill: I want to encourage our listeners to go to that website as well. It's beautifully done. I love your introductory video by the way.  It really shows a personality behind the professional, Kristen.

Thank you for being with us today. I really enjoyed our time together.

Kristen Harcourt: I did as well. Mike, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

Mike O'Neill: I also want to thank our listeners for joining us for this episode of Get Unstuck & On Target. You know, Kristen is just typical of the great guests that we have lined up and we upload the latest episode every Thursday, and I hope you'll subscribe.

Be it, Apple, Spotify, whatever your favorite platform might be. But if you've been listening to my discussion with Kristen, and you're realizing, Hmm, something's kind of got me stuck. Then let's talk. Why don't you just visit unstuck.show and schedule a call? We'll explore, what's got you stuck. And perhaps what you or your company can do to overcome that.

 So I want to thank you for joining us, and I hope you've picked up on some tips that will help you Get Unstuck & On Target. Until next time.
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}