Are You Draining Your Swamp or Whacking Alligators?

Toward the end of a recent coaching engagement with a client, I asked what he had gained from our time together.  He was very kind with the things he shared, and then he finished with a comment that caused me to laugh out loud and to think deeply. He said, “Even though I don’t always like it, thank you for pushing me to drain my swamp rather than just letting me whack alligators.” 

As I pondered his statement, it really made me think about how often we spend our time whacking alligators. If I’m honest, it’s fun to whack those alligators. I even brag about them to my friends and co-workers. But, what if…. 

What if the alligators are the small decisions and the swamp is the bigger decisions? We need to shift our focus to the bigger decisions, which make the smaller ones much easier.

What if the alligators represent the urgent decisions and the swamp represents the important?  The urgent can consume all of our time. Shifting to the important is important!

What if we do indeed drain our swamps? What happens to the alligators?  (That was my husband’s question when he reviewed this posting. I think it’s a very interesting one!)

There are so many things to think about with this metaphor.  Thinking isn’t action, though, so it’s time for me to push myself to drain my swamp.

Meeting with Spring Training CEO

During spring training a few weeks ago, my husband and I were invited to a baseball game. Before the game, we met with the CEO of the team who gave us a tour of the facility. We also sat with him during the game (guess which row we sat in!?).

Sitting next to him during a few innings of the game, I asked several questions about how he spends his time as CEO. His answer was very insightful. Here’s what he said:

  • As CEO, he spends a large amount of time networking and entertaining.
  • He has great people working for him, and he’s in contact with them on a regular basis.
  • He constantly has his eye on the financials, especially accounts receivable. Even though they have a great CFO, he still watches the numbers all the time.
  • He is in close touch with HR because he insists that everyone is treated respectfully, and he wants to know that this is being maintained.
  • He said that from his experience, every organization has one area that is their most important area (for example, Nintendo is primarily a marketing company and baseball teams are primarily focused on recruiting). He believes it’s critical to know which area it is for each company. This area defines who they are. Then, the other functional areas must work well together, which is partly his responsibility.

I thought this last part was very interesting. I thought about our company. As you’re reading this, think about yours.

  • What’s your “most important area?”
  • How much agreement is there about this?
  • How do other departments function together, knowing that one is the most important?
  • Who’s making sure that all areas are working together?

One Thing

Recently, I had the pleasure of working with an organization that has a very clear focus for 2011. The focus is on the “One Thing” that will make the biggest difference this year. As a company, each leader is identifying and sharing his/her “One Thing.” Each department head is also identifying the “One Thing” focus for the department. Each “One Thing” is aligned with the organization so everyone is rowing in the same direction.

I wonder what the difference might be if all teams and organizations knew their “One Thing.” And, if all the “One Things” were aligned….

This made me think about myself in 2011.  What could I come up with that would be my “One Thing” as an overarching focus for the year.  I wanted to incorporate business and personal, although the two normally are separate.  As soon as I thought about it, my “One Thing” emerged. It’s having reserves in all areas of my life – reserves of time (which means I’m reorganizing how I set up my work and personal life), reserves of energy (which means I’m exercising differently as well as paying attention to eating and sleeping), and of course, reserves in the financial arena (no comment here!).  My “One Thing” is already helping me to focus and be different at work and at home this year.

What about you? Whether at work, in your personal life, or both, what’s your “One Thing” that can help you order your life and ensure that all aspects of your life are “rowing in the same direction?”

Objectivity or Ponies?

I’ve had a very interesting 2 weeks in Ireland, just returning on Saturday. While there, Ireland announced its need for a financial bailout plan. Everyone was talking about it no matter where we were.  In all forms of news, “Bailout” was the headline.

Photographer: Tina Phillips

During my first day back, a client made a very interesting comment that made me think about organizations, coaching and Ireland.  He said that in his role, he did not have a pony in the race so he could advise his leadership team objectively and ask useful questions to make them think.  What a novel idea!  Having objective input.  Being asked powerful questions to make us think! When do ever we get that?

Almost everywhere, people have something to lose or something to gain when decisions are made – they have ponies in the race.  This means they aren’t objective in their advice and often in their questions. In Ireland, there wasn’t anyone without a pony.  In organizations, it’s the same way. Most people aren’t objective.

I hope that coaching is different. I hope that coaching is a vehicle through which people can ask for and receive objective input and be asked powerful questions that challenge thinking, behaviors, attitudes.  What could happen if we all had partners like that in our lives?

Willingness to Change

In the past month, I’ve had some interesting conversations with people who don’t want to change.  They are either happy where they are, or they don’t like change, or they don’t know what to do differently.  They keep hoping that someone else will change and make it better.  Or, they resist changing because the new ways are unfamiliar. 

Think about this for yourself. What’s going on in your life that you could change, but you haven’t?  I know what you’re saying…. “You don’t understand. It’s more complicated than that!”  Yes, it is more complicated, and you still could try something entirely different than you’ve done before. If that doesn’t work, try something else. 

That’s what coaching is all about….

  • Challenging beliefs that no longer serve us
  • Partnering with people to stretch into new thoughts and behaviors that are more effective  
  • Being willing to say that it’s time for a new direction, even though it may be unfamiliar

Attitude – It’s Our Choice

I recently had a call from a coaching client who had just gone through a new experience very successfully. She’s just breaking into speaking, and she had completed her first paid speech. At the end of it, many people came up to her and thanked her for the content. She was pleased. But, when she got into the car to drive home with a family member, the family member shared two very minor areas for improvement. Very minor areas.

As my client was driving home, and for the rest of the day, what did she focus on? You guessed it….she focused on the “negative” feedback. Just like you and I would do.

When we connected at 5.00pm, she was still in self flagellation mode.

Isn’t it sad how easily we move to the negative place? This client is a great example. She’s a very accomplished person who spent endless hours preparing for the presentation, who delivered it beautifully, who received many positive comments. Yet, she easily slipped into a negative attitude.

When we talked that evening, our spontaneous coaching session was more of a refocusing session – refocusing on all the positives that had taken place. We looked at how much she had done to be ready to deliver paid presentations. We looked at what’s ahead in future talks. And we reframed the “negative” family member into a positive gift that kept her ego in check and gave her some valuable input.

When we left the call, she was in a much better place, and I had reminded both of us that even though we can’t control all the circumstances or what others say to us, we can choose our attitude.

Think Outside of the Box

Toward the end of a recent coaching session, my client said that she was shocked at where she is today compared to where she was just a few months ago. She said that she never dreamed of the changes that would be coming, and she linked the changes with coaching.

This made me think about how valuable it is to have someone ask us to think outside of the box. Do you have someone who pushes you to think differently? My husband is really great at that with me, as are some of my colleagues. What a gift!

Whether you are a coach, or a manager, or a friend, or a significant other, take a moment to encourage others to think outside of the box and then watch what happens!

The Value of Coaching II

Recently I had a coaching conversation with a colleague of mine who was trying to get ready for a difficult conversation. She decided to prepare for a worse-case scenario, and together we talked through options. In the end, she realized that it was her approach that was most critical, so we spent several minutes on how she would start the conversation.  (See pages 148-164 in Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations, for specifics on how to  approach difficult conversations.)

Today I received an email from her saying that the conversation went well. Knowing how to approach the topic gave her the confidence to get started. Knowing how to handle the worse-case scenario allowed her to relax during the conversation, and she was very pleased with the result.

This situation made me think about how often we focus on the points we want to make rather than the initial approach.  What’s been your experience with this?

Executive Coaching Objectives

Recently a poll was conducted by WJM Associates to find out what executive coaches are noticing about the objectives of their executive coaching clients. The current responses were compared to a similar survey done 10 years ago in 1999. In 1999, the responses were mostly around personal application. Today, the 70 respondents indicate that objectives are much more focused on business issues.

1999 2009
Self-Awareness Build/Align/Motivate Team
Personal Goal Setting Executive Presence
Work/Life Balance Effective Communications
Stress Management Interpersonal Savvy
Improve Quality of Life Strategic Thinking

We’d love to hear from you about the common objectives that you’re experiencing with executive coaching. Please take a moment to vote in the poll below and share your thoughts in the comments section.