Who Knows What is Good and What is Bad – Taoist Parable

Most of us consider our life experience to be either good or bad, mostly based on whether we like them or not. The Taoist masters invite us to look beyond, to look deeper. In the flow of life, where everything is constantly changing, the more we live with awareness of the inevitable tides of the Tao, the less linear and obvious our life experiences become.


This Taoist parable illustrates this:


When an old farmer’s stallion won a prize at a country show, his neighbour called round to congratulate him, but the old farmer said, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”


The next day some thieves came and stole the valuable animal. When the neighbour came to commiserate with him, the old man replied, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”


A few days later the spirited stallion escaped from the thieves and joined a herd of wild mares, leading them back to the farm. The neighbour called in to share the farmer’s joy, but the farmer responded, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”


The following day, while trying to break in one of the mares, the farmer’s son got thrown and fractured his leg. The neighbour called to share the farmer’s sorrow, but the old man’s attitude remained the same as before.


The following week the army passed by, forcibly conscripting soldiers for the war, but they did not take the farmer’s son because he couldn’t walk. And the neighbour thought to himself, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” realising that the old farmer must be a Taoist sage.


Image by Vincent Botta from Unsplash

(I was) Not Allowed

(I was) Not Allowed
I was not allowed
To eat
When I ate
When hungry
When full
To be hungry
And the fridge
Was full of promise
That bitch.
I was not allowed
To curse
Like I did
Then slam the door
In my mother’s face
Cause good girls,
Therefore, they won’t.
I was not allowed
To fear
Or feel
Need or want
Cry hot tears
Be in love
Dream the dreams
Average people like us,
I was not allowed
To keep things private
Cause why would
Be allowed
What I hide
From their
Grabby fingers
Greedy eyes
Jealous hearts.
I was not allowed
To be wicked
Deny Jesus
Stand up straight
Sing my tune
Have my way
Cause my way
Was a stubborn way.
Now that I am allowed
I still won’t
Cause I haven’t learnt
How to want
What I want.
Agnieszka Walczuk
19 March 2020

Are you a Boss or a Leader? – the power and insight of the Leadership Circle

“Effective leaders outperform ineffective leaders every time” (Bill Adams, CEO of the Leadership Circle Group), and leadership effectiveness is responsible for as much as 40% of overall business performance.

The Universal Model of Leadership developed by Bob Anderson of the Leadership Circle is the backbone of the assessment tools, coaching practices and methodology that we us at LeaderKind to develop truly outstanding leaders.


Why the Leadership Circle?

If we want to develop more mature leaders, we need a comprehensive approach to leadership development. The Leadership Circle Profile (LCP) has taken a fragmented collection of theories and practices in the field of psychology and leadership development learned over the last half century, and woven them all into the first unified theory of leadership development to arise in the field.

It’s been recognised by global organisations such as Roche, Pixar Animation Studios, American Express and Accenture, The Leadership Circle is truly the Gold Standard in Leadership Development.



You have a choice of 4 assessments:

  • Free Leadership Circle Self-Assessment available via the Leadership Circle website (click the icon above) – a powerful first dive for those who are curious about the model. There is more to it than meets the eye though, well worth a one-off debrief of the results. Let us know if we can help.
  • Leadership Circle 360 Feedback & Assessment for Executive Leaders used for 1:1 coaching programmes (suitable for corporate programmes)
  • Leadership Circle 360 Feedback & Assessment (Manager Edition) for Managers & Team Leaders used for 1:1 coaching programmes (suitable for corporate programmes)
  • Culture Survey Feedback & Assessment used to measure collective effectiveness of teams.

The Leadership Circle gives powerful and provocative insights into the perception of the leader’s impact in the given context in which she/he operates at a given time.


“Despite tremendous amount of research, Leadership still feels more like art than science and a having a map proves helpful.” (Bob Anderson) The Leadership Circle Profile, with its profound and elegant architecture, is the most faithful companion on the journey to Leadership Mastery. For better or worse, it lingers in our mind’s eye guiding our thoughts, inviting adjustments and pointing us to our growth edges again and again. It’s the only model I know that actually answers the questions: So What? and Now What? 


Leadership Circle is a strengths based, 3-dimensional approach that tells us about:

  1. What is happening – strengths, development gaps and derailers
  2. Why it is happening – what prevents us from stepping fully into powerful & inspiring leadership
  3. Pathways for positive change – what we can do about it, it’s a map and a compass in one.

Both the horizontal arc of the Creative Competences and the vertical path through the Adult Stages of Development: Egocentric, Reactive, Creative and beyond, offer a truly multidimensional lens to our growth. As a developmental tool, it may and should be repeated to assess the leader’s evolution and progress.


“Sitting in front of my Leadership Circle Profile and having a debrief of my results felt like I was being shown around a room in my house I never knew existed. By no means was I a newbie to Leadership but the impact of the profile took my breath away. For the first time in my life I really understood the difference between being a Boss and being a Leader.”  – to date this is the most powerful endorsement of the LCP by a client a mine during their debrief.


Finally… this…

Me with Bob Anderson during his Scaling Leadership tour around Europe in the summer of 2018. Such a humble and noble man.

The more excited I get, the goofier the face becomes, I can’t help it. I am deeply grateful to be a part of this amazing Community of Visionaries and Change Makers.


Please check the Leadership Circle *website* for a full and comprehensive overview of the model.


If you want to learn more about the vertical leadership development, keep an eye out for my next Blog “I have been lost and now I am found – Adult Development and why they should teach this at school”…

If you would like to explore your Leadership map, take the Free Self-Assessment and contact us for a debrief.

“To Cry or Not to Cry” – What Are Your T&C’s of Psychological Safety?

I’ve been thinking about psychological safety recently. It’s talked about loads in HR & business forums but to me it reads a little dry. How about this as a personal example?

I recently re-connected with a colleague to collaborate on a new venture. He is SUPER smart & BIG-hearted and I want to do something together. 

– Why me? – says he.

– Because if things go to shit, I know I’ll be able to cry in front of you without shame. – says me.

– That’s a lovely definition of psychological safety. – says my super smart, big-hearted friend. 

That’s it for me. No matter how smart people are, if they one-up me, I shut down. If they judge me for saying something stupid when I think and ideate out loud, I shut down. If I try something new and it fails and they tell me I should’ve thought it through, I shut down. 

Daniel Goleman (the author of all things Emotional Intelligence related) offers this: 

“Psychological and emotional safety is the understanding that being honest and open is okay and won’t have negative repercussions. When we feel safe, we’re able to shut down the brain’s hardwiring for defensiveness. This, in turn, fosters healthy risk taking & innovation, etc.”

Turns out, in order to take risks, we need to feel safe. These days, when someone says they want to challenge me, I respond:

– Don’t challenge me. Help me.


Communication is a Collective Competence

In my HR and L&D days, folk would often complain that so-and-so doesn’t communicate and can we please send them on a Communication Skills course. Hmm… These were the days… of L&D budget being regularly misspent…

This is what I have learnt since…


Communication is a relational skill, it does not exist in isolation.

People talking to themselves turn heads and not in a good way.

To communicate is to express who we are, how we see the world, what we value, what we think we deserve, what we need, what we believe we can contribute, what we are prepared to give, what we dare to ask for.

When we communicate, we share ourselves with others and therefore to communicate well has more to do with our sense of self and the level of self-awareness than the timbre of our voice.


Communication is not a soft skill, it’s a core skill.

What makes it so?

About 35 years ago, John Gottman (PhD) of the Gottman Institute, initiated a piece of research that changed the perception of what we thought of the impact of communication in relationships. Gottman’s initial research was done with couples and has since been applied to other relationships. What Gottman discovered, after years of meticulous research and observations, is that he could predict with over 90% accuracy, which couple would stay married and which would divorce in the next 10 years.    

In relationships that broke down, the pattern of communication would invariably include 4 toxic styles or elements, which Gottman later called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

Toxic Communication Style


Impact on Another

Blame & Criticism

  • Harsh start-up, accusatory rather than inquiring
  • Attack on the person rather than behaviour – ‘character assassination’
  • Hurt, fear, feeling attacked or bullied, losing one’s voice, rabbit in headlights, no space to think
  • Embarrassment at attempts to explain or justify, feeling like an idiot, resentment

Frequently leads to Defensiveness


  • It’s not my fault’, refusal to take responsibility for even a small part
  • Victim mindset, disempowerment
  • Anger, powerlessness and frustration at not being able to get through to someone
  • Feeling enraged by ‘talking to a brick wall’, resorting to blame and pushing responsibility even harder

Frequently leads to Blame


  • Blame on steroids – added element being an air of superiority and looking down on someone
  • Sarcasm, belittling, cynicism, hostile humour, name calling, eye-rolling
  • Humiliation, fear, shock, numbing, unable to act, paralysis
  • Losing one’s voice, feeling small and worthless, hurt pride, resentment, hate

Frequently leads to Defensiveness or Stonewalling


  • Cutting off communication, silent treatment, blank face (while trying to regain composure)
  • Refusal to engage, withdrawal, lack of connection
  • Powerlessness, fear and despair at failure to establish a line of communication and connection
  • Frustration, anger, rage

Frequently leads Attack or Contempt

The element that often gets embedded in relationships that keeps them stuck, is the pattern of one toxin evoking another and so when blamed, we often resort to defensiveness, contempt leads to stonewalling and vice versa.


To communicate well is to allow ourselves to be seen and being seen is inherently vulnerable. 

What gets in the way and what can we do?

What gets in the way of us being seen, is the very fear of us being seen. We fear that what could be revealed is usually a tender underbelly of our human nature, our need to belong, to be loved, to be taken care of, respected, admired, appreciated and to feel like we are important and we matter. 

Seen through the lens of compassion, a useful perspective to hold on the function of a toxic communication pattern is its intention, however unskilfully expressed, to protect us. 

Toxic Style

How is it Trying to Help or Protect? 


Blame & Criticism

  • Needing to get something done and done well, focus on outcome, making something happen
  • A way to discharge pain and discomfort. If I blame you, I can’t blame myself. I can avoid feeling like I failed or I am deficient.
  • Soft start-up using curiosity: Talk me through it, what happened?
  • Sharing assumptions: The story I am making up is that you don’t care about this project. 
  • Feed Forward – making a request for the future: Next time when this happens, will you let me know sooner? 
  • Assume positive intent and shift critical focus from the person to behaviour: I know you meant well, but when you don’t ask for help, I assume everything is running smoothly. v Stop being so proud and cagey.


  • Space for processing, recovery and reflection.
  • Admitting I am an imperfect human being and that I might have failed is just too painful to process in the moment. 
  • Shift from I am a mistake to I made a mistake. Shifting from character to behaviour with curiosity softens perspective and enables us to learn and improve.   
  • If there was only 2% truth in what the other person is saying, what might you own?
  • Apologise for the wrongdoing. 


  • Attempt to protect a sense of identity – I am better than you because of xyz.  
  • Cutting humour and language may serve as a way to deflect pain and set boundary if more skilful strategies are not available.
  • Engage in personal development, contempt is the most harmful and trust eroding communication style for both the giver and receiver. It’s the most accurate predictor of divorce in Gottman’s research. 
  • Practise respectful communication.
  • Find and voice something that you appreciate about the other person.


  • Taking time and space to self-soothe and recover. Stonewalling is usually a response to contempt which is highly toxic and taking time out is appropriate. 
  • Waiting it out with the intention to pacify the situation later and prevent it escalating.
  • Space for processing, recovery and reflection.
  • Articulate that the need to take time out to process is important and non-negotiable and if possible re-engage at a later date. Transparency about one’s process prevents potential emotional escalation.
  • Respect your voice as being a fundamental voice in the relationship. 
  • If unable to resolve breakdown in communication, seek mediation.


In organisations, the compounding nature of toxic communication leads to toxic cultures and these, in order to shift, require a mighty collective endeavour. The way we communicate changes depending on who we talk to, the power dynamic between us and perceived level of psychological safety. The truth is, work places are rarely an example of a safe haven of psychological well-being.

It’s often also the case, that when working with a team, the 4 Horsemen become more frequent visitors. The truth is we made the invisible visible, and therefore through awareness both choice and change become accessible and relationships may shift and flourish. 

If you would like to watch the hilarious John Gottman in action, click here. He is a delight to listen to. 

If you would like to explore this topic further, please get in touch. Bringing these skills to life in a team dramatically enhances collaboration, connection and collective capability of the team.

Are You an Over-Breather?

This may be a somewhat technical post but most of my clients and friends have found this piece of information very useful.

Scenario 1:

I get annoyed about something or just plain passionate and my opinion comes out stronger than recommended in polite circles. The atmosphere becomes heated and a fervent discussion ensues. A well meaning colleague with a pacifying nature says: ok, let’s take a deep breath people…

What happens next?… The colleague gets blown off planet Earth. 

Scenario 2:

A work colleague with a dynamic nature sometimes struggles with anxiety. She tends to go into overdrive and takes longer to calm down and relax. She has been told breathing helps… So she does breathing exercises before bed wondering why she gets more and more wound up.

Why, what happens?

Our body and nervous system have an innate capacity to self-regulate. What does it mean?

Our nervous system consists of (please bear with me):

The Central Nervous System (CNS):

  • the brain
  • the spinal cord

The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS):

  • somatic nervous system (muscles, reflexes)
  • autonomic nervous system (internal organs) – our focus for today:

The Autonomic Nervous System has two branches:

Sympathetic Branch (Accelerator) – causes the organs to prepare for action

Parasympathetic Branch (Break) – causes the organs to slow down and rest

The following happens:

The following happens:

  • Breathing rate goes up
  • Blood pressure increases 
  • Heart rate goes up
  • Pupils dilate
  • Sweating increases
  • Muscles tense up
  • Stress hormones enter blood stream
  • Digestion slows down
  • Saliva dries out
  • Breathing rate slows down
  • Blood pressure decreases 
  • Heart rate goes down
  • Pupils contract
  • Sweating decreases
  • Muscles relax
  • Stress hormones leave blood stream
  • Digestion goes up
  • Saliva increases

The two systems act together to maintain an equilibrium and are responsible for our mental and physical resilience, our superb ability to spring into action and relax when needed. They’re reciprocal, when one is up, the other is down. 

Action means running away from a lion, catching a bus, preparing for an exam or passionately defending your point of view. During such discussions it’s more than likely that my cheeks will pink up, my pupils will widen, palms will curl into fists and my breathing rate will go up…and just then my colleague will tell me to take a breath… and get blown off planet Earth. She will inadvertently ask me to further stimulate my body into action because an in-breath is a natural activator for our nervous system. 

But…breathing is a fairly regular occurrence, you might say. We have been breathing in and out since time immemorial. Yes, but now that we are asked to pay attention to our breath because we are so stressed, we sometimes get inadvertently overzealous and start to control or manipulate it a little. It’s completely natural, the meditators in the room can attest to that. And we tend to get more attentive to the in-breath and let the out-breath slide. And it is the out-breath that relaxes us. 

So what to do and what to say?

In a heated discussion, feedback is more meaningful e.g.:

  • Say “People, we are getting intense here, is it ok for everyone?” – Notice it or call attention to it without judgement. Awareness is naturally curative, when aware, people tend to adjust/shift themselves.
  • Say “People, we are getting intense here, I am getting overwhelmed or I am not sure if I am following the conversation.” – Self-disclosure is incredibly powerful as it points to the impact which acts as feedback and regulator. 

When it comes to the breath:

  • Don’t manipulate other people’s breathing for them. You may ask them to notice it but unless you’re a yoga teacher, therapist or a breath worker, a sentence like ‘Find your breath’ tends to sound patronising and annoying to people. 
  • If you want to calm down, make your out-breath longer than your in-breath, counting may help i.e. count to 3 on the in-breath and count to 5 on the out-breath. Repeat a few times. If it works for the military, it should work for the rest of us.  
  • If you want to relax before sleep – as above minus counting and instead start relaxing consecutive body parts on a long out-breath: forehead, eyes (they always tense up), cheeks, jaw (tense, tense), neck, shoulders (you may need to release them a few times), back, chest, arms, palms, belly, hips, legs, feet… My life-long insomniac husband now falls asleep by the time he gets to his belly, it’s unbelievably effective. 
  • Allow yourself to sigh… it’s such a powerful out-breath… I bet you didn’t know that! 


Something to bear in mind:

Our body has a natural ability to self-regulate unless we have suffered trauma (small or large) and our nervous system is out of sync. We seem to be activated all the time, or exhausted, depressed or appear numb or frozen, or depressed but anxious at the same time, tense, scan for danger, etc.  


“In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness” by Peter A. Levine (PhD) is a helpful and compassionate guide to healing trauma. 

Seek professional help e.g. Somatic Experiencing Association has a list of available practitioners, click here.