When Hard Power Leadership Fails; Soft Power Prevails

When Hard Power Leadership Fails; Soft Power Prevails

The only thing certain today is uncertainty.

The global pandemic upended the things we knew as certain: opening business each day, getting on a plane, hugging your parents or best friends, or walking through a grocery store.

Nothing is certain today. Not the effects of re-opening the US economy. Not the timeline for children to safely return to school. Not which data, information, or source is credible or accurate.

The uncertainty that we experience is, in my opinion, the outcome of hard power leadership.

Hard Power Leadership

What is hard power leadership?

I see hard power leadership as coercive, divisive, authoritarian, self-serving, narrowly focused, and opportunistic. This leadership form increases distrust, disbelief, discord, and uncertainty among followers.

My leadership foundation comes from my training as a U.S. Marine. My company works with leaders all over the world. Crisis reveals a person’s true leadership style. I have witnessed leaders’ use soft power and hard power. Both styles impact how people experience and recover from crisis.  

Soft Power Leadership                                                           

What is soft power leadership?

I believe soft power leadership is reassuring, authentic, empathetic, community-focused, steady, accountable, and decisive. Soft power leadership tends to listen to diverse voice and provide consistency.

This form of leadership unites, communicates a common mission/goal, and rallies people to do difficult things. Soft power leadership enrolls people into a greater vision. A belief in a hopeful future. Soft power leaders are not weak or ineffective. They engage and collaborate in ways that are compassionate.

Hard Power Fails

Over the past few months, we have witnessed the results of soft power and hard power leaders. What I have seen in this catastrophic pandemic is that soft power prevails and hard power fails.

It’s in the numbers.

There are hard power leaders like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro minimized the coronavirus. From his public criticism of Governors’ lock down policies, firing officials who advocate tougher protections, to attending public events mask-less, Bolsonaro exercises hard power leadership. Today, Bolsonaro leads a country with the most citizens infected and dying in Latin America. Bolsonaro’s use of hard power leaves his citizens at severe risk, as well as, adjacent countries.

Similarly, the US’s President, Donald Trump has denied the severity of COVID-19, minimized is severity, shirked responsibility to help. This has left more U.S. citizens infected and dying than any other country (developed or developing) in the world.

Both leaders have fired, silenced, and denied voices that sounded the alarm. Citizens in both countries suffer from anxiety, confusion, frustration, apathy—while others have resorted to violence.

Hard power leadership has direct and devastating consequences.

Soft Power Prevails

Contrast these countries’ leaders with Taiwan’s vice president, Chen Chien-jin (an epidemiologist).  He took direct, decisive action to protect Taiwan’s citizens. His personality is described as one that ‘pulls people together’ and exudes a sense of reliability and trustworthiness. Taiwan has under 500 COVID cases and only 6 deaths.

Another world leader, who uses soft power leadership in her countries’ COVID-19 response, is New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Prime Minister Ardern took decisive action imposing a strict national lock down.

Her soft power leadership is evident in her neighbor-next-door style of communication via Facebook Live chats. She explained why she took action, why it was important, where it would take the country, and how even she was impacted. She conveyed a sense that everyone is in it together.

Ardern consistently spoke to the fears people had bringing a sense of trust, calm, and confidence. Her soft power leadership as tangible results. New Zealand has had less than 1,500 COVID-19 cases and just 20 deaths. Recently, New Zealand reported eliminating COVID-19. No new infections are reported.

Leadership Expectations

My leadership observations are not to focus on politics or political affiliations. There will always be a political figure or party that someone does not like or believe in. My training as a U.S. Marine reminds me that leaders “lead by example”. Our political leaders are the most visible leaders with the most wide-ranging influence. The pandemic crystalizes the point: leadership really matters.

We are counting the numerical results of hard and soft power leadership.

My interest is squarely on raising awareness and discussion about leadership. Leadership matters—absolutely. Leadership can give life or facilitate death; physical death or death of opportunity. The coronavirus as made that statement sharply evident.

I believe it is time to reflect deeply on what we need and expect from leadership.

There seems to be little time analyzing a leader’s character and style. Too much time is spent explaining away a leader’s character flaws or drowning out anyone who dares to question the impact of those flaws.

We must ask new questions. What is the person’s character? Does the person unite everyone or create divides? Is the leader self-absorbed or globally minded? Does everyone feel included in the vision of the future? Does the leader’s communication bring calm, consistency, and confidence?

Courageous Followers  

Leadership matters—absolutely. Absolute use of hard power fails absolutely. In the face of a catastrophic pandemic, true leadership is revealed in the results that citizens experience.

We must become courageous followers. Courageous followers demand leaders to be responsible to the duties of their office or role. The vitality of our world demands that we cast a new vision for leaders and their leadership—elected, appointed, or hired.

Our lives depend on it.

Jenny DuFresne, CEO, DuFresne Solutions Group, a training and leadership development firm helping leaders and teams grow people, profit, and impact. Jenny served for 10-years as a U.S. Marine. Learn more at www.SeekLeadership.com.

How to Engage Your Virtual Team in Stressful Times

How to Engage Your Virtual Team in Stressful Times

Part 2 of a 3-part series

Leaders are stretched in unfamiliar ways as the coronavirus forces a “new” normal into our lives.

Thousands of employees suddenly working from home or anxiously wondering about their employment status require a different leadership style. Leaders must rise to this new normal.

The first tip from part 1 of this 3 article series, 3 Tips to Rally Your Team, is communication. Consistent communication can be the first thing to vanish as stress escalates. In my first article, I share several communication strategies to help rally and inform your team.

Social Isolation Kills Momentum

Consider that coming to work and into an office centers around social connection. Even in challenging work environments, people are connected.

Our new normal is “social distancing” with the COVID-29 pandemic. Imagine the employees, who in the matter of a few days, lost social connection with colleagues as companies started telework programs.

Employees who have never worked from home for days on end may start to feel the effects of social isolation. Social isolation affects mental and emotional health. 

Meaningful Engagement

Team member engagement is key to maintain a sense of belonging. Belonging lowers mental and emotional health impacts. Meaningful connections strengthen relationships, give team members opportunities to learn about each other, improves personal wellbeing, and builds trust. Positive, trusting relationships are the outgrowth of meaningful engagement.

Team Building Games

If you’ve used team building games when in-person, you can adapt for telework use. The goal is to give people an opportunity to learn something about each other. There are tons of remote work team building games online to use with your teams.

Team building activities spark meaningful engagement and team bonding (and fun). A couple of key ideas to keep in mind. Schedule team bonding activities weekly (maybe kick off meetings with a team building activity). Ask for ideas from your team (you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting). Set clear expectations for appropriate talk and activities (don’t need HR called!).


I wrote about communication in part 1 of this 3-part series. It is important to go beyond information sharing.

Meaningful engagement involves asking for team member ideas. If your goal is to strengthen team collaboration, you could divide people into solution-finding teams. Maybe there is a pressing problem your company needs solved. Start a team competition to find a great solution. Video meetings are a great way to allow people to connect. Teams can ideas or solutions during video meetings to increase interest, participation, and engagement.

Impact Opportunities

Remote work can leave people feeling limited to just delivering on their tasks. There are a few things leaders can do to expand and grow engagement. I call these impact opportunities. A cross-training program can help individual contributors share specific expertise with the entire team or select team members.

Another impact opportunity is for your various departments to do a short skit or fun presentation using just symbols or pictures to teach three important ideas for the department. We often believe everyone understands our respective departments, but they do not. This can be a great time to create meaningful engagement through department sharing. A note here: It can’t be dry or dull PowerPoint presentation. Push creativity.

You could consider rotating leadership for team meeting among staff members. The key idea is to identify ways that people can feel valued for their contributions outside their main role.

Inspired Engagement

Meaningful engagement increase productivity, a sense of value, and reduces social isolation. Leaders must deliberately create fun, engagement experiences for team members. It increases a confidence and sense of belonging.

When we work with clients to help build remote team engagement strategies, our clients discover real benefits in focusing on intentionally strengthening the relationships to remote teams.  Trust, genuine connections, strong relationships are important team dynamics that can be built with remote teams with a little creativity.

Jenny DuFresne, CEO, DuFresne Solutions Group, a training and leadership development firm helping leaders and teams grow people, profit, and impact. Jenny served for 10-years as a U.S. Marine. Learn more at www.SeekLeadership.com.

3 Tips to Rally Your Team in Stressful Times

3 Tips to Rally Your Team in Stressful Times

Part 1 of a 3-part series

We are living in uncharted waters. The coronavirus pandemic is radically altering our workplace and relationships. Leaders are overextended as we try to address a rapidly evolving situation.

Everyone is uncertain. The uncertainty cripples getting things done. Team members are faced with learning how to work virtually. While for some employees, balancing working at home and navigating a child’s education is adding to an already stressful situation.

In normal times, leaders struggle with the ambiguity of a change. In this unprecedented global pandemic, leaders are faced with rapidly evolving situations for which there is no roadmap.  Our “new normal” requires leaders to dig deep and create stability and calm for their teams.  

When the pandemic is controlled and our global economy recovers, it will be largely because leaders were able to rally their teams to navigate the uncharted waters.

Rally Your Team

In times of extreme stress, leaders must communicate, engage, and celebrate to create calm and clarity.  Below I explore communication tips to help your team thrive and excel.


People default to self-preservation in times of high stress. People in leadership roles are no different. Leaders, overwhelmed with putting out so many fires, may overlook the critical importance of communication.

Consider this. Rumors are born from a lack of clear and consistent messaging. Either a leader controls the message, or the rumor mill will.

During a crisis, leaders must over communicate. Here are four daily actions to help support your teams.

  • Give daily informational briefings to keep employees up-to-date on the latest changes. Be transparent about what you know and what you do not know. Keep the briefings to 5 to 7-minutes. Focus on the most critical information and avoid speculation. Use a script to keep messaging consistent.


  • Over communicate critical information. Host a team Zoom call (or similar) so team members can see you and each other. Follow up with short, clear email recapping the information. Ask a question in the email to activate engagement and responsiveness.


  • Check-in and listen to individual team member’s concerns, needs, and identify if additional support is needed. It is important to ask questions about your team member’s well-being or deep concerns. Listen deeply. A check-in can be 5 – 7 minutes long.


  • Host virtual team connect times to increase social connection and build relationships. Working at home can be very lonely and isolating for team members who are doing this for the first time. This connect time can be structured around a simple question like “What’s up for you today?” Depending on your team’s size, dedicate 10-15 minutes for your team connect time once or twice a week.

I recommend leaders plan out a structure for each of these engagements. Consistent communication must planned and not left to chance. That might seem awkward, but the reality is that structure gives us freedom. Plan your scripts and put the communication activity, team and individual check-ins on a shared calendar. The more stressful a situation, the more likely we will forget to do what we promise.

In part 2 of this series, I will explore how to engage your team experiencing high stress.

Stay upbeat and positive in your communication and messages. Reassure the team that it has your support. Building confidence in the face of uncertainty is a game changer to keeping your team engaged.  

Jenny DuFresne, CEO, DuFresne Solutions Group, a training and leadership development firm helping leaders and teams grow people, profit, and impact. Jenny served for 10-years as a U.S. Marine. Learn more at www.SeekLeadership.com.

Do We Have the Right Team Members?

Do We Have the Right Team Members?

One of my favorite business leadership books is Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”. A mantra from the book, “get the right people on the bus—in the right seats” (with the right training), guides the leadership, team, and company culture development work we do with our clients.

We find that companies who engage the right people in the right seats enjoy increased profits, strong teams, and staff retention.  But, too many companies experience just the opposite. Why? There are a few reasons. I’ll share two here.

Fuzzy Core Values

Core values are the essential beliefs that every action is measured against. These beliefs are crystal clear and lived minute-by-minute. A company’s values are so strong that every single person—no matter their role—needs to align with those values.

Sadly, too many companies do the “core values exercise”, whip the values up on the website, make a few beautiful posters to hang around the office, and put a check mark next to “Write Core Values” on the to-do list. They might be dusted off during a new employee onboarding process, then forgotten.

Clear, impactful, and livable core values are essential to building great teams. If a candidate doesn’t fully align with the company core values this is probably a sign that the wrong person may get on the bus (aka your company) and drive it off the cliff!

Does your company have “ride or die” core values? Hiring team members who are a great fit, ready to rock results, and achieve company goals rests on the foundation of unshakable core values. Are your company core values rock solid and lived every day?

Ignore Red Flags

Many companies we work with are in fast growth phases. The pressure to hire people can silence the “red flags” about a candidate’s character or culture fit.  What is the company culture? It is guided by core values, as well as, the practices, policies, and expectations that shape interactions? If a core value is teamwork and a candidate is lukewarm about working on a team (which is discovered during interview process), don’t ignore that red flag.

Great teams are built on trust, accountability, transparency. As finding great candidates is more difficult, ignoring candidate red flags in any three of these areas can undo everyone’s hard work, trigger profit loss, and missed milestones.

Technical skill and competency are not sufficient reasons to hire. Leaders who’ve faced the ugly impact of hiring the wrong people always say: “We can train technical skills and support competency development in a role, but we can never train or develop character or make someone a good culture fit.”

Right People Right Seats

Develop and test company core values is key. But the work doesn’t stop there. To get (and keep) the right people in the right seats, invest and consistently train those values at every level of the company. Develop teams that are built on trust, accountability, and transparency. This set of key action steps supports increasing revenue and building great teams that do impactful work.

Jenny DuFresne is the CEO of DuFresne Solutions Group, a training and leadership development firm, helping companies develop mid-level leaders, emerging leaders, and shape company culture for success. Learn more at www.SeekLeadership.com.

3 Ways Women Veterans Inspired America This Week

3 Ways Women Veterans Inspired America This Week

Today, November 10th, is the 243rd birthday of the United States Marine Corps. In August 2018, the Marine Corps celebrated 100 years of women serving in the Corps. The Marine Corps has a distinguished history securing freedom on land, air, and sea.

I am proudly a woman Marine veteran.

Unfortunately, many women veterans who served in the five branches of the U.S. military, our service is often forgotten or overlooked. As Sarah Maples elaborates in her article, The Inconvenience of Being a Woman Veteran, women veterans are mostly invisible in our country.

But this week something historical happened. An exciting change that is worthy of recognition and acknowledgement. The highest number of women veterans ran for local, state, and national office ever in the 2018 midterm elections.

There are three reasons I find this is compelling and inspiring.

Dismantling Barriers

When I was in uniform, barely 5% of Marines were women. There were no women Marine pilots. One of my responsibilities was assigning new officers to flight school. I never saw a woman’s name on my roster. I recall that the intense debate centered on women lacking the strength, intelligence, and grit to be combat pilots. Women just couldn’t handle an F-18 Hornet (fighter aircraft) let alone the rigors of battle were the frequent justifications to keep women out of the cockpit.

In the midterms, many of the women veterans who ran for office were combat pilots. They flew helicopters or fighter jets in Iraq or Afghanistan. Several women are combat-wounded having lost limbs while executing their missions.

Through their service in roles once closed to women, they dismantled barriers while still facing and navigating obstacles that are the “norm” for every woman who serves.

Visibility Counts

Women veterans are invisible. A common question we get is “What branch did your husband serve in?” Rarely are we asked, “What branch of the military did you serve in?” There are many women who served during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Invisible. Today, thousands of women veterans with multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are invisible.

With the history-making number of women veterans who ran for office—whether they won, lost, or races are still too close to call—the visibility is inspiring for women veterans. With elected leaders who’ve traveled in our shoes, our issues and needs can be included in policy-making and budget decisions. This visibility counts for our healthcare, mental health, housing, education, job-reintegration, disability support, and other service related issues that women veterans uniquely face.

Work Together. Get the Job Done!

A military mission has no political party. Our women veterans who will assume public office understand this. Women veterans bring to elected office several important perspectives. Women veterans know how to work together to complete a mission. There are critical solutions needed to address issues in our country. Women veterans are trained to accomplish the mission by evaluating multiple concerns and setting a path of action. From a gender perspective, women view solution-finding from a holistic perspective. Women collaborate, include different voices and perspectives to find common ground. We work together to get the job done. Our country needs this dynamic leadership more than ever.

As our sisters-in-arms take office or recalibrate for another run, I trust that women veterans will see the incredible value in our service and sacrifice. I trust that this great country will recognize that we have women warriors among us whose sacrifice is instrumental to maintaining the freedom that we all enjoy. Our leadership as women veterans is valuable and critical to discover and implement solutions.

Jenny DuFresne, CEO, DuFresne Solutions Group, a training and leadership development firm helping leaders and teams grow people, profit, and impact. Jenny served for 10-years as a U.S. Marine. Learn more at www.SeekLeadership.com.

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