• Sarah E. Brown

Post-Traumatic Growth: Increasing Use of Self with Lisa J. Koss


Are you finding it hard to navigate your way into a man-dominated business world? Do you want to know how you can use your own authentic self to rise to the top? Do you want to know how you can grow and increase your use of self through the power of groundedness and reflection? Are you ready to find your authenticity and bring it into your workplace to inspire and grow as a better woman leader?

Fears, problems, and traumas never make us, but the lessons and growth it holds do. What makes you authentic, different? How can you take your opportunities to grow, inspire, and lead others by what you believe in? Your surroundings, your past, or the people around you cannot define who you truly are. Your internal being, choices, beliefs, and history builds up to make you authentic, and beautifully different from others. With this, you are able to grow and increase your use of self. You are able to lead, inspire, and motivate others. So, are you ready to dive deeper into your inner self and grow in order to be a more authentic, present, and grounded woman leader?

Lisa J. Koss is the co-founder and a partner at Ontos Global. She has 25 years of experience in global leadership, team development, talent management, executive coaching, and design and organizational change initiatives. Her proprietary coaching model has been taught in 9 different languages across the globe. Her clients include Kaiser Permanente, ITT, Xylem, British Petroleum, Honeywell, Hewlett Packard, General Electric, Ernst & Young, and many more. Her new book is Leading for Learning: How Managers Can Get Business Results through Developmental Coaching and Inspire Deep Employee Commitment.

In this episode, Lisa talks about the use of self and how we can use it to understand and maximize ourselves more in our workplace. She shares tips on how to find our own authenticity and increase our use of self through reflection and growth from our past traumas and problems.


What you will learn from this episode:

  • Discover the mistakes women leaders make in finding their authenticity

  • Learn more about the power of self and how it is a key to internal growth

  • Find out why groundedness and authenticity is needed by female leaders in the workplace


Use of self is an intentional decision about moment to moment, how do you want to use yourself at the moment to have the impact that you'd like to have? And so, it comes from an authentic place. And it is about your presence.
- Lisa J. Koss


Valuable Free Resource:


How you can be more authentic and grounded as a woman leader in your workplace: Have a chat with Lisa through her LinkedIn or Website



Topics Covered:


01:39 - Challenge is identifying what your use of self is and understanding and increasing your authentic presence in the workplace

10:35 - Not working on other skills or being limited to certain strategies only: one of the common mistakes business women leaders make when working on themselves

12:33 - One free and actionable tip you can do to understand your use of self more: One thing that comes to mind is this concept of hanging out with yourself in a reflective mode. For me, it's first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee. But that is on how you feel, what you've accomplished, what's working for you, and battling those societal expectations that there's always more to do, that you're never done, that it's never good enough.

14:49 - One valuable resource to help you be more authentic and grounded as a woman leader in your workplace: Have a chat with Lisa through her LinkedIn or Website

15:57 - Q: What is the relationship between resilience and presence, and this groundedness I've been talking about, authenticity? A: I don't believe that resilience, or grit, as it sometimes called, or all of the names that are coming up around this area of trauma and post-traumatic, PTSD, whatever- however you relate to this topic, I don't think this is something we need to manufacture, that we need to like, go take a class in resilience. I think that when we feel traumatized, we, as humans, tend to have all kinds of emotional reactions. And in some cases, we tend to disconnect from our previously held goals.



Key Takeaways:


“Use of self is an intentional decision about moment to moment, how do you want to use yourself at the moment to have the impact that you'd like to have? And so, it comes from an authentic place. And it is about your presence.” - Lisa J. Koss

“Presence is one of the most beautiful concepts that exists and correlates with where I think the world is moving right now. And so, your use of self is kind of how well do you use your range of abilities and your range of presence in order to have an intended impact.” - Lisa J. Koss

“When you present yourself in a grounded way, and in a confident way, because of the interior work that you've done, it is so compelling, and it is the one thing that we can work on as leaders that really makes a difference in every single context in every single moment.”

- Lisa J. Koss

“It's just being aware and deliberate about what we are doing, and understanding that there is a boundary between me and the rest of the world and managing that boundary, but doing it intentionally.” - Lisa J. Koss

“Capacity building is about doing more in every moment so that you accelerate trust-building, you know how to accelerate trust-building that is by being present.” - Lisa J. Koss

“It's really just taking time out to become connected with yourself so that as you move into the day, and have your zoom calls, and your call after call and your business topics, you always stay grounded in who you are and what you believe in. And without those times where we slow ourselves down and get connected to ourselves, it's very difficult to develop your use of self.” - Lisa J. Koss

“When we feel traumatized, we, as humans, tend to have all kinds of emotional reactions. And in some cases, we tend to disconnect from our previously held goals. We actually tend to start questioning our values, what we care about, what's important, maybe even where we work, how we're spending our time.” - Lisa J. Koss

“I'm making what's possible bigger for everyone, as I demonstrate who I am through my use of self.” - Lisa J. Koss



Ways to Connect with Lisa J. Koss



Ways to Connect with Sarah E. Brown



Full Episode Transcript:

Sarah E. Brown 0:39

My guest today is Lisa Koss. She is the co-founder and a partner at Ontos Global. She has 25 years of experience in global leadership, team development, talent management, executive coaching and design, and organizational change initiatives. Her clients include Kaiser Permanente, ITT, Xylem, British Petroleum, Honeywell, Hewlett Packard, General Electric, and Ernst & Young. And she has a new book. It's called, Leading for Learning: How Managers Can Get Business Results to Developmental Coaching and Inspire Deep Employee Commitment. Welcome, Lisa.

Lisa J. Koss 1:27

Thank you, Dr. Sarah. How are you?

Sarah E. Brown 1:29

I'm good. So, tell me, what is the biggest challenge you help female leaders face in business today? And what might be the symptoms of that challenge?

Lisa J. Koss 1:39

One of the topics that I am very fond of is that of the idea of the use of self. Now, you might ask, "What is the use of self?" and that is a way to talk about the concept of what many people think about as "presence", or "executive presence". Executive presence is, when you look historically, has often been about leaders who want to adopt behaviors to come across in a particular way. And I've had clients, a number of years ago, actually hire me to have these conversations where people are really expecting information about what to wear, and how to hold themselves and all that kind of stuff, kind of the, "How to Fit into a Man's World" and kind of to stand on the balance beam and be just enough, but not too much. And all that for me is, there's some relevance there, but it's also depressing, because it's really, you know, it's so counter to what the world really needs right now. And I think there's a better approach to it, there's a better way to be thinking about it. And for me, it is about presence. And I take off the word "executive", because I think we're all executives and on some level in our lives. And it is a topic around power. But it is, I think, best addressed through the concept of becoming more of who you are in the world in a way that, "Yes, mine's the boundaries that exist in the world that pays attention to them, that's aware of the system that you're working in." And therefore, what will- how things will land understanding your impact that you're having. But in general, is always a movement toward becoming more of who you are, and that doing so in a way that's very grounded, is so attractive to organizations and others when you really lead with the confidence that really comes from the inside. So, it's a big ask of people to find time in their lives to explore this topic. But there's nothing more powerful in my mind than somebody who is well-grounded and becomes more of who they are every day in the world.

Sarah E. Brown 4:06

So, the use of self is the same as becoming more of who you are. Would that be accurate?

Lisa J. Koss 4:12

Use of self is an intentional decision about, kind of, moment to moment, how do you want to use yourself at the moment to have the impact that you'd like to have? And so, it comes from an authentic place. And it is about your presence. Presence, I think, is one of the most beautiful concepts that exists and correlates with where I think the world is moving right now. And so, your use of self is kind of how well do you use your range of abilities and your range of presence in order to have an intended impact.

Sarah E. Brown 4:48

Okay, I get that. And so, then, the biggest challenge that female leaders have is doing more of that? Would that be accurate?

Lisa J. Koss 4:57

I think that that is a key challenge that females have. And I think, you know, you know it. I know it. I think that it's an opportunity that everyone has, male or female, to use themselves in more powerful ways. And I think women in particular, who are, you know, we're so socialized to show up in just a particular way that is, "not to this", "not to that". It's that fine line that we are all trying to be successful in a male-dominated world. And I just think that when you present yourself in a grounded way, and in a confident way, because of the interior work that you've done, it is so compelling, and it is the one thing that we can work on as leaders that really makes a difference in every single context in every single moment. So, you can take a negotiation class, you can take an influence class, you can take this class, and then that class, they may help you in different scenarios and different distinct contexts, but there's something about walking around with yourself that allows you to be able to bring yourself forth in a way that is in line with what you want to have happened because it comes from a development that's inside that, I think, is this beautiful opportunity for everyone to really shine. So, it's really about authenticity, and it's about developmentally, you know, being very deliberate and working on how do you do that? How do you become that grounded person that has an attraction mechanism, because people love people who own who they are? And there's so much there for individuals and groups and organizations to benefit from if we can just get our arms wrapped around this notion that we are enough. We do have the skills that we need if we can believe in them. We have the knowledge. We have the experience. And I think women, oftentimes, are just told so many times that it's not quite right, or it's not enough. And I think that's just a shame.

Sarah E. Brown 6:54

Well, one of the things that you said previously was about women wanting to or habitually show- you didn't use that word, I'm using that word, habitually showing up the way they think they're supposed to show up. Would that they are a symptom of not having fully developed the use of self?

Lisa J. Koss 7:12

I do think it's a lack of confidence if it creates any sort of internal friction. So, if I'm not showing up the way that has me telling my full truth, then yeah. I think that there is- there needs to be an ownership, that if I'm making a choice, I'm aware of it, and I'm doing that intentionally, and I have all the right to make any choice I want. But I- you know, awareness is a big deal. And for me to understand, I was just, this morning, on a call with a whole group of C suite people who I do not know. I've met them for the very first time, and I was introducing an executive development program concept. And so, it was the first opportunity. And they started talking about this idea of high-performing teams, and about this concept of being in a trustworthy community of people who can actually dare to take risks. And all of that is based on the idea that, like, "I can't take a risk right now in front of you", I said, "because you don't know me. I don't know what you're going to do with that information. I'm being a little bit mindful and intentional about what I share with you because you don't know me yet." So, it's not that we always want to be all out there in the world and just show everybody everything we've got. But it's just being aware and deliberate about what we are doing, and understanding that there is a boundary between me and the rest of the world and managing that boundary, but doing it intentionally. So, I know, that a little bit, perhaps, you know, esoteric, but it's very concrete and real when you really get into an example of somebody and how they hold themselves back or when they put themselves forward. And those examples start to be life-changing when you explore them in the context of coaching or the context of any personal/professional development, and it's transformational.

Sarah E. Brown 8:57

Okay, so if I summarize what you said, it can show up as lack of confidence, and it can show up that feeling internal friction, but the more aware or someone is in the moment of their decision and how they're choosing to be, the more developed sense they have of the use of self. Would that be accurate?

Lisa J. Koss 9:17

That's right. And the impact is very likely going to be positive on the other side, because with your full awareness, you're making these decisions, and you're getting the result that you wanted to more of the time, instead of just succumbing to the pressure to conform. There is a line of thought that says, “Leadership is about not conforming.” And that doesn't mean that you're wild or that you're a rebel. But it is something about understanding that your presence matters, and when you expand the boundaries of what's possible because you're fully yourself and you straddle that line between what everyone's doing and what everybody's not doing, that's a place for a change agent to stand, which is, "I'm not so different that you don't get me or you don't relate to me. I have one foot inside of what people expect from me. But I also have a step outside of that." And I am showing up to expand the norm of what's possible in this room with this group of people. And I'm going to show up a little bit different, and that's going to be about who I am. And if I can straddle that line, that's a very good place to be because I am creating change. I'm creating a difference. I'm making what's possible bigger for everyone, as I demonstrate who I am through my use of self.

Sarah E. Brown 10:29

I got it. Okay. So, what are the biggest mistakes your clients make before working with you?

Lisa J. Koss 10:35

Well, I won't say that, you know, if you looked at my website, you're going to see, "Oh, here's a program on the use of self." No, I'm talking today about a particular aspect of development and of executive development that is, I think, one of the most powerful concepts we can work within these kinds of programs, and it goes, of course, with having other skills. It has to do with building your capacity. It's, you know, these days, it's not about adding more and more knowledge into your head about everything from AI to negotiation to any skill set that we might be interested in developing, it's really about building the capacity to hold more without adding more days to your month or more hours in your day. Their capacity building is really useful for people who think about that every time they start something new, it's just going to- they're going to be busier and busier and busier. The old way we used to talk about this was, you know, "Work smarter, not harder." It's a little bit of that. But actually, capacity building is about doing more in every moment, so that you accelerate trust-building, you know how to accelerate trust-building that is by being present. It's about really having more high bandwidth between two people when they're talking. How can you both build trust at the same time as get the business results done at the same time? So, if you're still working, say you have that meeting from 1 pm, to 2 pm, but you're doing two or three things at once instead of just one thing, and that's what we talked about regarding using yourself and using your skill sets fully, and actually tuning in to yourself, tuning into others, and tuning into what's going on around you. And there are all kinds of strategies for that, that people are never taught.

Sarah E. Brown 12:22

Hmm. Okay, so what would be one free and actionable tip you can give our audience today to understand this better?

Lisa J. Koss 12:33

Well, given that we're talking about authenticity, and groundedness, one thing that comes to mind is this concept of hanging out with yourself in a reflective mode. For me, it's first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee. But that is on how you feel, what you've accomplished, what's working for you, and battling those societal expectations that there's always more to do, that you're never done, that it's never good enough. You know, all of these kinds of messages that we receive to counterbalance them with the other side, to beef up the other side of you're, really what you could think of, as a spiritual practice around paying attention to yourself in a quiet place, and reflecting on what's important to you. And for me, sometimes I begin with, you know, how do I feel everything from physically and emotionally and spiritually, like, "Where am I at?" You know, acknowledging myself in lots of different ways in terms of just keeping myself strong, and thinking about my intention for the day or for the month or even for the year or even for my life. And really developing that spiritual side of yourself, maybe, put some things around you that are supportive in some way, maybe an image of somebody who inspires you. Maybe for some people, it's a candle, but it's really just taking time out, to become connected with yourself, so that as you move into the day, and have your zoom calls, and your call after call and your business topics, you always stay grounded in who you are and what you believe in. And without those times where we slow ourselves down and get connected to ourselves, it's very difficult to develop your use of self.

Sarah E. Brown 14:24

I resonate with that completely. And I do that first thing in the morning, also. But I do recognize that some people are not morning birds and need to do it later in the day, but it is, in fact, a critical component.

Lisa J. Koss 14:39

Sure.

Sarah E. Brown 14:40

So, what's the valuable free resource you can share with the women who are listening today to help them address this challenge right, or even just understand it better?

Lisa J. Koss 14:49

Well, one thing, as I was thinking about this, and I mentioned a few minutes ago, that it's generally in the course of a discussion about a real scenario. It is very, very powerful. And I mentioned that you know, in an executive coaching situation, this stuff becomes very, very rich. And so, I certainly want to offer that if somebody wants to talk about this, let's say, you know, wants to take 30 minutes and explore this topic about themselves and what they want. I am completely open to doing that with no strings attached. Just sort of like, "Who are you? What is your challenge?", and actually having that conversation, so whether it's on LinkedIn or on my website, I am more than happy to meet people who are interested in this topic. So that's my offer.

Sarah E. Brown 15:35

Terrific, and we will have your website and LinkedIn listed in the show notes. So, what a generous offer! Thank you very much.

Lisa J. Koss 15:43

You're welcome.

Sarah E. Brown 15:44

So, what is one question, Lisa, that I should have asked you that I haven't that will help our audience take action to address this challenge now? And then would you answer the question?

Lisa J. Koss 15:57

Mhmm. One of the things I've been thinking about this week is this topic of resilience and this environment that we find ourselves in regarding this COVID era, and, depending on where you live in the world, things are either loosening up, or they're tightening down. It's been traumatic, I think, for many, many people. I think that's not going too far to say that it has been, I know, for me, and one of the things that I connect this topic to also is the ability to grow. And that's a tall order, depending on where you are, from an emotional perspective right now with so much tragedy. But I want to, I guess the question would be, what is the relationship between resilience and presence, and this groundedness I've been talking about, authenticity? I think that it's hard to deny that those concepts aren't important for everyone. And so, what is the connection? My answer would be that I don't believe that resilience, or grit, as it sometimes called, or all of the names that are coming up around this area of trauma and post-traumatic, PTSD, whatever- however you relate to this topic, I don't think this is something we need to manufacture, that we need to like, go take a class in resilience. I think that when we feel traumatized, we, as humans, tend to have all kinds of emotional reactions. And in some cases, we tend to disconnect from our previously held goals. We actually tend to start questioning our values, what we care about, what's important, maybe even where we work, how we're spending our time. I think a lot of people in my informal research seem to suggest that a lot of people are asking themselves lots of questions, "Where do they live?" You know, moving out of the big cities, I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you know, there's been an exodus from California right now. And so, I think people are questioning all of these things. And what I would say is, this is a great opportunity. First of all, according to the research, most people are resilient. There are some who get frozen and paralyzed. The majority are resilient. They find their way back to where they were before the trauma happened, eventually. And then there is a portion of people, not a small number, maybe a third of people who are actually experiencinged post-traumatic growth. And so, to the extent that anybody has been troubled of late, and are thinking about what's next for them, there is a bounty in when we do have this opportunity to re-evaluate our assumptions, and our goals, to detach from that which doesn't have meaning anymore for us, and to actually use this moment to schtart a new path. And so, this is kind of a wonderful time in the world on some level, if one is emotionally ready to do some major personal growth because you can re-evaluate right now what is important to you, and it's a perfect time for a growth spurt, as I like to call it.

Sarah E. Brown 19:07

I like that term, post-traumatic growth. Very, very interesting. So, Lisa, I have to ask you a follow-up question related to your book, Leading for Learning. So, what is developmental coaching?

Lisa J. Koss 19:21

Developmental coaching is specifically in the subtitle because people think about coaching in lots of different ways. And there's a very popular model out there for coaching and that many large organizations use that leaves aside this idea of developmental coaching. It's more like interactive problem solving, where you put, you know, you ask people questions, so that they solve their own problems, which is wonderful and it's a great way to get people thinking on their own and so on. But this book is basically a step-by-step approach which explicitly connects, how does the business result that you're looking for, the "need" that the business has connected with the development of the person? And that sounds maybe kind of, I don't know, maybe your mind is racing about? "Well, yeah. Yeah. I mean, conceptually, that makes sense." But in fact, much of the coaching that happens out there is not clearly explicitly tied to what is the reason that that is happening? What is the theory that I have? If I'm coaching you, and I noticed something about the way you're working, and I bring it to you, and I start inquiring about that with you, I'm able to transform what sounds like a barrier into something that is, for you, life-giving that something for you that you want to move toward. And in this way, the business result can happen at the same time as the development and the development must be for you something that's motivating. And so, this is like a formula of how do you do- it's like this capacity building idea that I was talking about, which as I show in the book, how to connect something meaningful with something that the business needs and how that happens in one conversation. And it changes the sustainability of the prod- the sustainability of, you know, making sure that this thing happens, because I'm personally engaged now in making sure it happens.

Sarah E. Brown 21:16

Mm-hmm. I get it. I get it! What a great concept. So, Lisa, thank you so much for being with me today.

Lisa J. Koss 21:24

You are welcome. It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much, Sarah.


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