Spring Cleaning

Everyone has incomplete projects.  Perhaps it is sorting the recycling from last year.  Cleaning the storage area.  Fixing the bicycle. Submitting the expense report.  The question is:  is there a reason it is incomplete, (i.e. you have scheduled time to do it, with a plan for an end date) or is it just not done?

In addition to projects, it is normal to have unresolved matters, too.  Relationships require both give and take from both parties.  But…well, you know what I am going to ask.  Have you done what YOU can do regarding the unresolved situation?  Or are you just walking around it, wishing it would go away, or holding your breath that the “issue” at least stays dormant until you get somewhere else?

Carrying around old, unresolved matters and incomplete projects takes a lot of your energy.  I contend that it takes much more than you’ve allowed yourself to realize!  Imagine an old resentment as a 5 lb bag of flour you are carrying around.  And the unpainted hallway, the phone calls you owe, the un-filed taxes, the clothes strewn across the floor are each a 5 lb sack to carry, too.  Imagine all your other “incompletions” too, and how each is an additional 5 lb bag.  Envision how you have to maneuver with these bags. Perhaps you need to tie them together, hoist them from one arm to the other. You need to repair some if you’ve dragged them on the ground for a long time, since they are starting to tear. You’re carrying a lot…do you need to get a wagon?  You have to stop to rest, frequently, from the weariness of the weight, but invariably, you still keep adding more bags.  Ugh.

You can develop the skills to clean it all up, completely.  The ultimate goal is to be clean and clear, so that you may fully handle new situations as they occur.  Don’t you want the benefit of more time, more space and more energy?

Make a list of all your incompletions…from home, from work, and in your relationships, too.  Consider your environments (house, car, office):  what is undone?  What’s incomplete in your activities (membership dues?  Car pool schedule?)  Think about your well-being (how new is that toothbrush?  When was the last time you had a checkup?)

One concept that completely captivated me when I began my coach training over a dozen years ago is the distinction between doing something 95% and doing it 100%. The extra oomph is significant!  The satisfaction of completely handling a project or an issue is worth reveling in.  Try it yourself.  Rather than attempting to do a little bit of some of the things on your incompletion list, do one COMPLETELY.

  • Be thorough.  Imagine what it would take to not only complete the task, but to ensure it won’t recur for a long time.  What is required?
  • Delight yourself.  Sometimes, to be sure, “done is better than not done.”  But for this exercise, do it to delight yourself!  If you’re sorting your vintage collection of vinyl records, what order would delight YOU? Alpha, or by artist?  By year, or by genre?  Go ahead, completely delight yourself!
  • Make it permanent.  Is what you’re doing to clean up this past unresolved issue a “quick fix,” or can it be repeated and systematized?  Choose to create a system of success!

Don’t waste the opportunity!

If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness—don’t waste the opportunity!
From Andrew Mason’s letter to Groupon employees, after being fired as CEO, February 28, 2013

Rather than tossing out excuses and blaming others on his departure, Andrew Mason shared with his employees essential wisdom and earnest encouragement. There is both personal and professional relief in assessing what works, what doesn’t, and what to do about it (ask anyone who is working with a coach!). Whether you work at Groupon or not, his advice is worth considering. ..and it is REALLY worth your review if your business is to serve others.

I’d summarize it like this:

The question: What is best for the customer?
The guide: Trust your intuition
What’s needed now: Assess your habits, and break the bad ones.
Why: To deliver sustainable customer happiness!

So, what did you learn about your own service effectiveness by following this rubric? Have you been forgetting about your customers? Ignoring your intuition? Are you guilty of bad habits? Do you have an answer to the “Why?” of your work?

Andrew Mason has given us all a gift. Don’t wait to be fired to learn what he’s learned.

Want to be a Better Leader?

The very best thing to you can do to become a better leader is to stop talking and start listening.  And by “listen,” please don’t just wait for the person to stop so you can then get back to dominating the airwaves! 

Listen, and then listen even more:

  • Get beyond what you hear as words
  • Listen to learn
  • Ask questions which help the other person clarify her point
    • Hint:  such questions begin with How and What, never WHY
  • Pay close attention to how the other is talking, in addition to what he is saying
    • The above will help you avoid the preoccupation of planning your reply, too!
  • Listen for the heart of the matter
  • When it seems he or she is done, take a breath (ok, take TWO) before talking
    • And when you do, paraphrase what you have heard, and ask if you “got” it

There you go!  Creating the space to allow others to express their thoughts, and show that you care to hear them, transforms the working relationship from “transactional” to one of respect, trust and care.   

Not only will contributions be better understood, they will be of greater quality.  And guess what?  YOU will be seen as a much better boss!

What is Coaching?

People ask me what is the difference between executive coaching, corporate coaching, organizational coaching, life coaching, and other types of coaching.  In the dozen-plus years since I’ve been a coach, my answer to this question has gotten simpler and simpler!

What is coaching, really?  It’s all about getting out of your own way.  I work with people who want to assess the impact of their behaviors, and examine if their behaviors are reaping the results they want.  Then they CHOOSE to continue to do the same things, or to behave differently.

Consider a really smart person who quickly ascends the corporate ladder and now is the boss of a bunch of people.  This leader, however, is miserable, as are the folks on her team.  Essentially, she LOVED always being “the smart one” and never learned how to share the role.  She now is squashing the “smarts” of the folks on her team by hoarding information, micromanaging, and getting the last word.  Her efforts make her team feel insignificant and demoralized, and they are becoming passive and compliant.  How smart is that?

My job as her coach is to ask her provocative questions to illuminate the juxtaposition between where she is, and where she really wants to be!  As Marshall Goldsmith stated right on the cover of his book: “What Got you Here Won’t Get You There.”  The only professional feedback she’d ever received was praise regarding her individual efforts to figure things out.  The concept that the entire team could shine brightly was unfathomable to her.

The good news for her, and for her team, was her declaration to me that the discomfort of the current situation needed to end.  Through coaching, she saw that her new leadership position required not just the cultivation of new behaviors–developing others–but an END to her old behaviors!  She was willing to STOP behaving as the sole contributor, and committed to START creating an environment to bring out the best in all of her team members.

How about you?  Are you still employing behaviors that once served you in the past but now need to end?  What do you need to do (or stop doing) to get out of your own way?


Understanding gifts is the heart of coaching.

The first step is to understand that a gift IS a gift. Unfortunately, a lot of us have learned to “gloss over” what we do well, to minimize it, or even to deny it. Just because it comes naturally to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t special!

Blanchard and Homan (Leverage your best, ditch the rest) created an excellent process for identifying your gifts. Please answer the following questions:
 • What do I naturally, easily, and effortlessly do when no one is looking?
• What about me inspires others, even though it is easy for me?
• What did I learn easily and continue to develop effortlessly?
• What do I get compliments on that I never even have to think about? (Some examples include humor, perceptiveness, style, logical thinking, physical courage, a flair for design.)
• What about me makes people jealous?
• What do I know is special about me but try to hide?
• What about me gives me guilty pleasure?
• What is my secret vanity?

Do you feel too squeamish to do the above?  

If you’re timid, here is another approach:  What do you admire in others?  Appreciating that which is special is something we more easily do when we see it in another than when we see it in ourselves.   There is a GREAT BIG CHANCE that when you review the list of what you admire in others, some of the gifts you are endowed with are on the list. 

Now, go back and make a list of YOUR gifts, and begin to embrace the value they bring to you, to others, and to the world.

Less is More

I was in a training program all day. Devoting an entire day to a learning event takes a lot of planning: first to hold the day clear, and second, to KEEP the day clear! What added to the challenge was that it was a virtual training. I sat at my desk in Massachusetts, the trainer was in a studio in California, and the other participants were across multiple time zones, too.

Learning in this kind of environment requires additional devotion to being fully present, and to being an active rather than a passive learner. It helped that I am committed to the training topic, I have great respect and admiration for the presenter, and I was excited to get the chance to learn with some people I’ve never worked with before.

As I reflect on this very full day, my big “take-away” was the aphorism espoused by the trainer a number of times: less is more. Certainly, she stated it regarding the writing activity we were devoting ourselves to completing. At scheduled times, we would read our drafts aloud and receive feedback. Invariably, the writer would state that he/she wrote the feedback in the margins.

That’s my learning: we need margins. The trainer wanted us to write as succinctly and clearly as possible, hence her less is more advice. But in the frame of margins, I see less is more as a gift for other facets of my life, too. With margins, what matters is surrounded and protected. With margins, we can add, or expand, when needed. With margins, we can highlight what impacts us. This happens with the written word, of course. It also happens with the manner we schedule our days (is it too full?) or share in conversations (is enough time afforded for thoughtful response?).

From planning to devote a day to writing, to taking the time to talk to a family member, to delivering service to a client, do you have margins? Are you allowing less to be more?

Curiosity as a Navigational Device

One of the best ways to stay stuck, to be fussy, and to feel frustrated is to see life as a problem to be solved. An either/or or a right/wrong paradigm of perspective is quite limiting, and it guarantees stress. Unfortunately, many of us were raised to search for the one right way to answer a question, or the only way to address–excuse me– to solve a situation.

The ability to judge, to discern, to assess and to conclude are all essential qualities and they are important for adults to possess. However, maybe it is time to give some thought to how we think!

As they lament about their workplace struggles, some of my coaching clients have heard me observe, “The problem with being a good problem solver is that everything looks like a problem!” These good folks want to assist their colleagues and their direct reports by fixing what they perceive needs fixing. However, they are met with resistance, with defensiveness, and with non-cooperation.

Rather than as problems to be solved, what is another way to look at the issues and challenges at work, at home, and in life?

One of the best ways to extricate oneself from this dynamic of “I’m right, you’re wrong” is to shift from being the expert to being the curious learner. When you resist the impulse to fix, you immediately succeed in removing the other person’s fearful and reflexive defensiveness. When you address the issue (remember: address it, don’t fix it!) you can employ new language, too.

Some suggested new phrases for your curiosity lexicon include:
• “hmmmmm, isn’t that interesting!”
• “What do you think?”
• “What else is important to consider?”
• “I wonder what we haven’t thought about yet…”
• “Who else could help us address this?”
• “What should we be sure NOT to do?”

Trying to NOT fix things might be hard (or it might feel like a relief!). You may fear your value to your workplace may evaporate, especially if you have defined yourself as the problem solver. Remember, you are YOU, and being a problem solver is but a skill, not an identity. Additionally, “problem-solvers” can carry the additional reputation as “know-it-all” or “ridged,” so that identity could be more of a hindrance than you might have realized.

#Positivity at Work

The entire January/February 2012 HBR issue was dedicated to “The Value of Happiness – How Employee Well-being Drives Profits.”   Why? Because a whopping 69% of employees believe their employers don’t inspire the best in them…and only 5% of workers strongly agree that their organizations help them build richer personal relationships.

Because workers spend more time weekly with work peers than with family and friends, creating positive workplaces makes sense!  Positive workplaces enable life-long service, joy, and success.  What can be done to shift from dire to inspired?

Here’s the good news: Blanchard Colleagues Chris Edmonds and Lisa Zigarmi just published a “tweet book” filled with 140 ideas to help create a positive organization.  Built for speed, each page in the book has two or three nuggets of wisdom for the reader to consider. Lisa and Chris encourage us all to consider one tweet a day so as to enable positivity and to encourage the development of a new perspective. As they state in the book: Healthy work places happen by design, not by default!

Taking their advice, I opened the book and found tweet 35:
Start your meetings off right by getting people into a thanksgiving mindset. Have team members share one thing they’re grateful for today.
The shift that occurs is palpable!
•   It makes people SLOW DOWN and that in itself is a gift in a busy day.
•   Also, teammates need to really listen to hear what will be said—instead of “presuming” what a colleague will report.
•   Finally, an attitude of gratitude fosters goodwill, cooperation, and greater productivity.

Give it a try! For more information, please visit their website at: http://www.positivity-works.com/

Devil’s Snare

My oldest child was the perfect age when JK Rowling was publishing her Harry Potter books. Together, we began learning about Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with me reading the stories to her at bedtime. And as Harry grew up, so did my daughter. By the time the final books were coming out, she was finishing High School, and I’d have to wait until she had devoured the latest novel on her own before I could have my turn.

The characters each have their individual challenges but always have the need for one another, which is a great life lesson—not just a coming of age lesson. Naturally, some of my favorite themes from the series are appropriate in Coaching.

In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry and his best friends are new students at Hogwarts, and are on a quest to find the Stone. They are continually thwarted by unexpected enchantments, and they are just learning how to use their magical skills. After quelling “Fluffy” (a three-headed snarling dog!) they are enmeshed in Devil’s Snare:

This plant uses its creepers and tendrils to ensnare anyone who touches it, binding their arms and legs and eventually choking them. The harder a person struggles against Devil’s Snare, the faster and more tightly it binds them; if they relax, it will not tighten as quickly.

This encounter with Devil’s Snare illustrates the character distinctions of Harry’s two best friends which plays out through the entire series: Hermione is a studious perfectionist and Ron is ill-prepared and emotional. Because of her research, Hermione recognizes the species and tells her friends to relax to get out of the clutches of the plant. At first Ron fights, causing more distress. Finally, despite his fear, he follows her advice and is freed.

  • What are the circumstances you face in which struggling is increasing your distress?
  • Have you relaxed in the face of fear?  What occurred?
  • Do you have associates who have knowledge to share with you?  Are you listening to them?

As the venerable Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, told Harry:  “It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Choose wisely!

Stop Adding Value

I was talking with a Blanchard Coach the other day about the topic of recognition. One leader she’s working with had noticed that although there were “formal” recognition programs in his company, he believed there was a need for informal, just-in-time recognition. I reminded the coach that Ken Blanchard calls that catching people doing things right.

As we continued on the topic, she told me how this leader wants to be very encouraging of other people in his company—and often joins team meetings to hear about the latest ideas, projects, and plans. In his enthusiasm to endorse the thinkers, he always adds value.

What happens when he “improves” on a decision? She’s going to ask him…but I’d say it’s a safe guess that when this leader speaks, others stop speaking. It’s pretty hard to disagree with the boss—especially when he’s not been part of the creative process.

This leader has a great idea—to recognize and endorse the good work of others. I’m glad he’s working with a coach to support him in this plan, because even the best of intentions can sometimes have the opposite impact! Rather than add his comments, the true value he could add in these meetings would be to really listen. Through listening, he could coax and encourage the ideas of others in these meetings. From his encouragement, better decisions can be added by members of the team.

By first stopping his own reflex to fix or improve, he will certainly then be able to catch people doing things right!