Never Underestimate the Effect of Change

I recently shared a laugh with a client – we’ll call him Jon – because as he so eloquently said, “You just can’t win.” Here’s what happened.

Jon, by profession an accountant, is head of tax for a global manufacturing company. A lovely human being, he is nevertheless analytical and cerebral, and a 360-degree feedback process revealed that his people perceived him to be cold and unapproachable.

We worked together on practicing some new behaviors: making the effort to get to know folks, stopping to say hello to people in his area – all of whom report to people who report to him.

He worked on and shared his Leadership Point of View (his beliefs about leadership and his leadership values) which his people told him made him much more accessible.

Jon was really enjoying letting people see a little more of him, he was having more fun at work, he was literally wondering what took him so long to experience this very important side of himself.

You would think this could only be good right?

I certainly did.

3D Hand Giving Thumbs DownBut, you can never underestimate the power of change, even good change, to distress someone. Not everyone was thrilled with the change. One of Jon’s direct reports, Emilia, asked for a private meeting during which she reported that she was upset with this new softer, friendlier Jon.

He was shocked – of all people he had thought she would appreciate it the most.

It turns out that she was enjoying the change for herself, but she was worried that Jon’s new accessibility was “undermining” her position with her direct reports. She was concerned that people might feel comfortable going straight to Jon instead of having to get things done through her.

Of course this presented a great coaching opportunity for Jon. But we had to laugh…I had thought in 25 years of coaching that I had heard everything, but this was a first.

Appreciative Leadership

ai vs prob

The problem with becoming known as a good “problem solver” is that you get really good at looking at situations as, well, problems!   Your focus is on what has failed.   Your goal is to correct, save, or restore a broken system to a state where it will again provide acceptable results.  You get a reputation as the “fixer,” and are dispatched again and again to solve different problems.  Where is the fun in that?

There is a better way to contribute to organizations.

David Cooperrider invented Appreciative Inquiry when he was a graduate student studying Organizational Development at Case Western Reserve University in the late 1980’s.  You can read all about him, and the AI Movement, at http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/.  (The work he began with Professor Suresh Srivastva transformed me and my leadership research.  I cited their initial work in my 1990 dissertation when I posited that having dialogue rather than debate can help groups work together to come to better decisions.)

I have continued to follow AI in the ensuing 25 years, and unabashedly say the reason coaching works is because the inquiry of the coach uncovers the wisdom in the leader.  Appreciative Inquiry is the underpinning of Positive Psychology, a theoretical foundation in the Coaching Profession, and is essential in understanding the impact of language in the field of Neuroscience.

Here is why Appreciative Inquiry matters for leaders:

  • Appreciative Inquiry has a positive core:  it focuses on the strengths and peak experiences in an organization.  AI focuses on the best of what is, and then stretches further to imagine the ideal future state.
  • Appreciative Inquiry is co-creative:  Rather than one “Mr. Fixit,” with AI everyone can be involved in the discovery, the dream, the design, and the destiny of the ideal state of the organization.
  • Appreciative Inquiry is generative:  with a focus on “what works,” a leader is aligned towards new possibilities for the organization.

You don’t have to wait for an AI intervention in your organization to benefit from this approach.  Simply shifting your focus from seeking problems to seeking what works well has an immediate, positive, and generative effect:  on you, on your group, and on your effectiveness.  Have at it!

Veterans Need Coaching Too…!

Memorial Day is a holiday in which we honor our service men and women who have given ultimate sacrifice. This day is also a great time to honor those who continue to serve.  Memorial Day-american-soldier-saluting

As veterans transition from years of armed conflict, many of them are pursuing civilian careers. Coaching is one of the professional services provided to veterans during this transition period. Coaching services include specific focus areas such as financial, educational, family dynamics, career, and health. Professional coaches are assisting service members in their transition by helping them identify and achieve their personal and professional goals. Many coaches volunteer their time to support veterans through group and one-on-one coaching.

I was contacted earlier this year to coach veteran women on transitioning back into the civilian workforce. I am looking forward to donating my time to support women veterans in identifying their career and life goals as well as creating action plans that move them toward accomplishing their goals.

Military service men and women have paved the way for our freedom.

What ways can you support our service men and women?

I salute all veterans and active service members!

Your Strengths are a Powerful Ally

As some may know, May 4th is considered an unofficial holiday by Star Wars fans, who celebrate the classic movie franchise, books and culture.  The date was chosen for the easy pun to the well-known movie phrase “May the Force be with you” – “May the fourth be with you.”  As a fan myself, I pay tribute, by following the wise advise of Jedi Master Yoda, who said to his young apprentice, Luke Skywalker, “Always pass on what you have learned.”

Superhero opening suit

I recently completed a strengths-based assessment, and although the results of my top five strengths weren’t overly surprising, I did still learn a few things about my strengths, the strengths of my team and how I can leverage my strengths and my team’s strengths in order to help me achieve my goals.

  • Those who know me are aware that I’m not the most social person by nature.  However, developing my sociable skills could help me connect better with those I work with or want to influence.  When discussing our strengths amongst our team, I learned that at least one of our team members has four out of their top five strengths in the relationship area.
    Tip: Find your Jedi Master.  Find someone who excels in the strength areas that you want to develop for yourself and become their apprentice.  Observe their behavior, ask them questions and for honest feedback.
  • Some of my own personal strengths include such areas as achiever, consistency and discipline.  These strengths help me to be successful in my current role.  However, I realized these strengths don’t have to define me and I can chose to develop other strengths in order to support other areas of interest.
    Tip: Find opportunities to practice the ways of the Force in an environment where it is safe to fail.  Practicing a non-strength of yours will seem unnatural at first.  I shared recent examples of this in my two previous blogs. In an effort to try something completely outside my introverted comfort level, I decided to smile throughout an entire grocery buying experience as a way to be more approachable, while noticing the feelings within myself and the reactions that I was getting from other people.  The other experiment I performed was at a party, where I arrived with the intention of learning as much as I could, from as many people as I could, just by asking lots of questions and listening.  Again, I did this to practice being more sociable in order to develop those skills that aren’t natural strength areas of mine.  I performed both of these experiments in a relatively safe environment, where any consequences were either minimal or non-existent.

While these are just a few of the things I learned after evaluating the results of my strengths-based assessment, I conclude this blog with my last thought, conveyed through another wise quote from Jedi Master Yoda, “Much to learn I still have.” … “This is just the beginning!”

 

 

Commencement

ken

May is a great month.  Here in New England, winter’s grip is finally loosened and spring bursts forth.  The earth is resplendent with trees budding and flowers blooming.  Bears emerge from hibernation, and songbirds return.  Adding to these natural festivities (at least in this college town) are college commencements.  Graduations are achieved after the sheer determination and hard work of 8 or more semesters.

When I was younger, I always thought “commencement” was such an odd word.  My sense was we were celebrating what has (finally) been completed!  Commencement, of course, means to begin.  This focus on moving forward is essential.  No successful person is “done learning” when she or he graduates.  Understanding that learning is a life-long commitment is a powerful differentiator among people.  To value learning is to cultivate it at every opportunity.  To value learning means your life is enriched, and you enrich the lives of others, too.

One person who holds learning as one of his core values is Ken Blanchard.  Today, we celebrate Ken’s 75th birthday.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY KEN!  Thank you for your example of life-long learning.  Your curiosity, coupled with your interest in sharing your learnings, has truly unleashed “the greater good” in hundreds of thousands of leaders all over the world.

It is a happy concurrence to have Ken’s birthday during “commencement season.”  We can pause to recall our past opportunities for learning, and be grateful for all of them.  Moreover, we can assess the ways in which we continue to learn.  Mostly, today we can commit to ways we can increase these learning opportunities:  for ourselves, and for others.

Happy Commencement!

Are You Too Comfortable?

Man Relaxing In Easy Chair - Retro Clipart IllustrationUnder the category of “Everything I Need to Know, I Learn from My Clients”: one of them said a remarkable thing last week. We were talking about a new, high pressure, high visibility job he is settling into and the fact that his To Do list far exceeds the realities of the time/space continuum. As we brainstormed what he could let go, reprioritize, or delegate, he kept balking. Then—complete silence.
He took a deep breath in and said, “I was talking to a good friend who recently became CEO of his company. He told me he was struggling with the fact that regardless of what he was ‘supposed’ to be doing, the things he does naturally are the things he loves doing and is comfortable doing. I think that’s exactly what’s going on with me.”
Well, he certainly made my job easy.
When you step into a senior leadership role, the task list is never, ever done. The only way to keep from drowning is to stay focused only on the things that really matter. And the things that matter most are often things that are new to you and, therefore, uncomfortable. You will automatically engage in the behaviors and activities that are easy and relaxing unless you stop, breathe, pay very close attention, and choose to do the stuff that really needs doing—and that isn’t going to be easy or relaxing.
So what happened with the client, you might be wondering. He continued to self coach. He decided that his homework would be to look at everything he was supposed to be doing, delegate the things someone else could do, and focus on the things only he could do.
Feeling overwhelmed? Too much to do? Ask yourself: Am I defaulting to doing the easy stuff that can wait (or be delegated) instead of staying focused on what really matters, even if it is harder.

Be Big!

I took on the challenge to complete my first Half Marathon. The other day during my training as I struggled to run the next mile, the words that came to mind were “Be Big…BeFemale Runner Big!” I thought what caused me to think of these words? What does it mean to “Be Big?” In other words, what is it going to take for me to accomplish this goal? I was now focused on this question as I continued running. I came up with the following:

  • Envisioning the journey and destination: Running with ease and crossing over the finish line.
  • Being Honest and Clear about my Motivation: Competitiveness (I want to say I ran a “Half Marathon!”), proving to myself I have what it takes to accomplish the goal, knowing it will build my confidence and discipline that will transition into other professional and personal goals.
  • Maintaining Positivity: Being positive about training even on tough days that I fall short of my training goal.
  • Being Confident: Believing in my abilities and strength even if I do not see it right away.
  • Being Discipline: Sticking to the training plan even when I don’t feel like working out; pushing myself.
  • Acknowledging What I Need: Rest-no late nights; diet-specific foods that work for me not against me; the time of day to get the most from my workout.

As a result, I gained clarity and ran the furthest and longest since I began training!! Realizing what it means to “Be Big” are key factors for me to successfully accomplish goals. Of course, it is not always easy! I believe it begins with envisioning and being honest and clear on what will keep me motivated.

What does it mean for you to “Be Big?” What do you need to “Be Big” professionally and personally? What do you envision? What are your motivators?