To Beat Defeat is Really Neat

The last couple of days I’ve been doing some redesign work on our department intranet site. Things were moving along pretty well until I encountered a problem. I knew what I wanted to do and felt confident I knew how to make it happen but, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working.

I was puzzled and slightly frustrated since everything appeared to be done correctly. I had reviewed and analyzed all the little details of my work to see if I missed something. I couldn’t find anything. So I started experimenting with different settings that might have contributed to my problem. That didn’t work either. At this point, slight frustration turned into genuine frustration.

I picked the brain of my colleague in the office next door as he’s worked on a similar project. He couldn’t find anything out of place either and suggested I call our expert up in the I.T. department. But by this point, I was committed to figuring this one out. I refused to admit defeat!

After attempting every possible minor adjustment without success, I discarded ALL my work and decided to start over again from scratch. As far as I know, I did everything the same the second time around only this time, it worked! I threw my hands up in victory and danced around my office while laughing uncontrollably. (OK, so I may have exaggerated that a bit but I was obviously pretty pleased with myself.) Even though I can’t tell you exactly why it worked the second time but not the first, I did learn some new techniques and approaches throughout the problem-solving process.

The takeaway here is that there is a huge learning opportunity and an enormous level of satisfaction to be gained from solving a problem. And in order to solve a problem, you need to allow for the extra time involved. In this instance, I spent an extra two or three hours that I hadn’t originally planned for but the emotional return far outweighed the time investment. Had I escalated the issue to our I.T. department, the problem may have been solved a little quicker, though no guarantees, but I wouldn’t have the same emotional attachment to the outcome that I am currently experiencing. I’m still smiling!

What emotions do you experience when you solve a difficult problem? Do you learn best by doing? If not, what type of learner are you? And finally, leaders, are you allowing room for your people to problem solve?

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Learn to Love Chaos

The second book in my series on books that knocked my socks off and made an appreciable impact on my coaching practice:  Leadership and The New Science

In the early 90’s I was having lunch with a friend and mentor Alex Caillet and I asked him what one book would make the biggest difference for me and he recommended Meg Wheatley’s Leadership and The New Science.  One of the things I had noticed working with clients is that they were desperate for answers.  The right answers.  Of course, as a coach, it was not my job to be the truth dispenser with all of the right answers.  But I did feel an obligation to help clients articulate a set of internal values that they could use to make decisions no matter what the situation.  But I was still at a loss for a set of Universal Laws that were consistent, were not beholden to any particular world view or religious law.  I kept coming back to quantum physics – there had been a recent splash in the news about complexity theory and I had been noodling on how to apply those laws to regular life and work for my clients.  Well – Meg beat me to it, and what an amazing job she did.  Her breakthrough book made a huge impact on me and in the business world at the time, but as happens with many great books, it has fallen out of circulation.  I say, it is time to bring it back.  Some of the earth shaking concepts:

  • Order will naturally emerge out of chaos.  You have to be patient and order will come naturally from within.  Good leaders accept occasional chaos as a revitalizing and renewing step.
  • Relationships are the only things that matter- it is critical to develop a diversity of relationships.
  • Information is the organizing force in the universe; it is the life blood of any system.  If it is not flowing freely, the system will not self organize properly.
  • Vision is an invisible field and it is the leader’s job to hold this field.

Is that all?  Isn’t that enough?  Going back to re-read this book to create this blog post, it has once again rocked my world. 

Click here for a terrific, oldie but goodie interview with Meg Wheatley

PS I think it is important to give credit to whomever introduces us to great books.  The person who introduced me to the Angeles Arrien book mentioned in the previous post is an old, dear friend Belle Linda Halpern, founding partner of The Ariel Group.

Paying Attention

Like a lot of people, I spend a fair amount of time reading my favorite blogs and following friends and colleagues on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.  I have even been guilty of reading emails or texting while on the phone (not my proudest moment, for sure).  In this age of communication, with such a wide variety of technology available, doesn’t it seem unusual when you encounter someone who doesn’t really use it?  Perhaps a better descriptor is the “age of distraction”?  Because, honestly, I can’t say that the quality of my communications has improved, but the frequency certainly has.

With this in mind, I was in the audience of a meeting where Margie Blanchard shared how she begins her day.  She told us that each morning, she asks herself four questions:

  • What am I excited about?
  • What am I proud of?
  • What am I thankful for?
  • Who loves me and who do I love?

The self-reflection from paying attention to these four questions, gives her perspective and clarity in her interactions throughout the day.  Listening carefully to discover how these four things might be important to others builds trust and rapport over time.  It’s no wonder that paying attention is a key step in building a coaching relationship with team members.  The questions are simple, but I have found that in thinking about them, my communications have become more intentional and helped me rediscover the joy of thoughtful solitude…even though I am still tempted to tweet about it.


I recently spent seven days on a deserted island with just my husband. No children, no family, no friends, no cellphones, no iPhone, no blackberry, no computers, no internet, no TV. No work projects that make us feel guilty that we said we would do but don’t. This is the 6th year we have done this, we try to do it every year but with work and four kids, sometimes we just can’t swing it. We walked, we read, we paddled around in the water, my husband played his guitar. We did some light snorkeling. When we walked, we talked.  About our kids – we have four 22,19,14 and 12, all of whom need something different from us. About our jobs – we work together and we work constantly- about our health, about our disappointments and dreams. How we are different today that we were 6 months or a year ago. How we are growing, how we would like to grow. We always have a few epiphanies. This year I realized that I had let my work dictate my schedule and that my health is suffering because of it. Now, some folks don’t have a choice in this area, but I specifically built my life so that I would, so it is completely my own doing.   How is it possible that I had not seen this?  I needed some distance.

The jury is out on the topic of what this modern 24/7 connectedness is doing to our brains. I am quite certain it is making us smarter in a lot of ways, and that my children’s brains will literally be wired differently from my own. But I do know this for sure: taking seven days to completely unplug is one of the healthiest things you can do to refresh yourself and get some perspective. If you are married, doing it with your spouse will result in a healthier marriage. You don’t have to go anyplace fancy or expensive. It is really hard to get coverage for work and kids but it is so worth it. Nobody died because I didn’t answer my phone for seven days. No, a four day weekend won’t do it. If you give yourself permission, and save up vacation days, you can actually do it.

Out of the office

In the last few years an interesting phenomena has arisen. Technology has provided us with ways to stay connected to the point where we are expected to be connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Long gone is the forty hour work week. We are inundated with email, voice mail, tweets, and blogs. In fact, we have made Facebook a verb. We post about what we are doing and how we are feeling.

A few weeks ago I headed out of town for a short business trip. I planned on being in meetings or traveling all day. As a result not only did I put an “out of office” automatic response on my email, I found myself writing that I would have no access to email or voicemail while I was gone. I would not be able to access my email while on the plane, or return a phone call while in a meeting. I planned to be “unplugged.” It was necessary yet uncomfortable.

I have a colleague that plans intensely for a week long “completely unplugged” vacation. We all applaud (and envy) her for her strong boundaries! How crazy is that? We treat being disconnected as something unusual, and yet…

Unplugged? YES! That is when I do my best thinking. Unplugged? YES! That’s when I am fully present. Unplugged? YES! That is when I re-charge, rejuvenate, reconnect and relax.

So I say to everyone who has ever agonized over an out of office message – unplug and enjoy.

Are You Embracing Technology?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled into an opportunity to reconnect with a former colleague, Laura Goodrich. For a number of years, Laura partnered with Blanchard as an Executive Coach. I hadn’t spoken with her in a couple years but we are connected through LinkedIn. I noticed that she had a book release coming up and decided to send her an e-mail to show my support.

To my surprise, an hour later my phone rang and it was Laura. By chance, she happened to be in town for a conference. This was kind of a big deal since we’re based on opposite sides of the country. The next morning, we were catching up in person over breakfast!

This chance encounter resulted only because of the incredible technologies we currently have at our disposal. I saw an update on LinkedIn, I sent an e-mail, which she received on her cell phone, and then she called me during a break while attending a conference. Think about that for a moment. How possible is it that this would have occurred say 10-15 short years ago? Not likely. How radically different will this scenario play out 10-15 short years from now? To borrow a quote from a friend, “It boggles the mind.”

Now, think about how you use technology in your professional and personal life. Would a scenario such as the one I’ve described be possible for you today through your use of technology? More to the point, do you embrace technology or do you let it intimidate you?

In her new book, Seeing Red Cars: Driving Yourself, Your Team, and Your Organization to a Positive Future, Laura recommends, “Become fluid with technology so you can continue to learn, connect, and remain relevant – and, in many cases, remain employed. Confidence and competence in technology is becoming much more of a  requirement than an option.”

From the ever-expanding and always-enhancing software applications in the workplace, to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs (such as this one), cell phone apps, and the like, there are countless ways to utilize technology to stay connected and to get ahead, both personally and professionally. How are you embracing technology?

If you have a technology-related success story or strategy, we’d love to hear about it! Please share in the comment area below.


My phone rang the other day. In fact, it rings a lot and I have it set to ring only two times before voicemail picks up.  My husband jumped up, promptly tripped over the dog, and then got pretty upset. When I politely inquired why, he growled in frustration “The phone was ringing!”  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that we have become a society that responds to the ringing telephone, the beep of new email, and the vibration meaning a new text message. I feel the need, nay the URGE , to respond instantly, as if I am the most important person in the world, or as if I might miss out on something world changing.  So I did a little experiment. I went for a whole weekend without answering the phone or reading my email.  48 hours.  47 excruciating, unplugged hours. But here’s what I discovered in that last hour. Greeenbay won the Super bowl.  My roses are already in bud. My dog still loves to play fetch.  My teenager really does still need Mom.  That fidgety anxious feeling went away and I had time. Real time, to recharge. I accomplished more on Monday morning that I thought possible.  So I challenge you. Unplug. What will you discover?