The power of connection

My typical Friday includes going to the bank. I’m old school. I go in, and I talk to the tellers. I ask after them and their families. I get an update on a teller who was in a serious car accident, but mending well. They know my name. They greet me, even if I’m going to another window. Now, they know my daughter by name too. I have noticed over time, that , as I leave, I find myself smiling and feeling good. Why? Because I made a human connection. They remember that I recently went on college tours with my daughter. They know she’s saving up for a computer. They know I work from home. So, why did that make me smile? Because making those connections feels GOOD. The first element of Blanchard’s coaching model is all about connection. Creating connection is the ability to demonstrate that you care about and are interested in the person you are speaking with. As a coach, you must remain fully present. Ignoring or mitigating the mental distractions, and listening deeply to what the client says. Like so many coaching skills, connecting is applicable in every area of our lives. Making connections can happen anywhere. Smiling at the person behind you at the grocery store. Picking up the phone instead of sending yet another email to a colleague, looking your spouse in the eyes and really listening when you ask “how was your day”?, Staying up for a midnight chat with your teenager, and of course, the brilliant connections we make with clients. Every single one puts a smile on my face.

Failing is Good

I am sure no one wants to fail. Failing is not pretty or fun. I know if I fail at something what usually follows is a feeling of disappointment and shame. The speculated thoughts of what others are thinking about me clouds my mind. I mentally beat myself up. This feeling is unpleasant and very distracting. Have you ever experienced these feelings?

Failure-imagesA66EGFIRFor example, I was coaching a senior manager who expressed she no longer wanted to continue the coaching engagement. The coaching, which I interpreted “I,” was not meeting her expectations and she needed something different. My internal voice immediately yelled, “You failed! You are not a skilled Coach! You will not have another executive assignment again! You did not meet your client’s expectation!” My internal voice was beating me up! Of course, I had to get a handle on it while speaking to my client.

As a coach, I know clients are not always open to coaching, expect the coach to be more of a consultant, and may resist action/accountability. I also know my role as a coach is to ensure clients have a clear understanding of coaching and to design the coaching relationship in the beginning. Even if I followed every detail in creating a perfect coaching relationship (note the word ‘perfect’ – nothing is perfect!) and it appears to be unsuccessful, my internal voice will tell me I failed.

I know the key is to quiet the internal negative voice and learn from the experience. In the above example, I responded to the client with questions such as “What do you need to move forward? What do I need to do differently to serve you?” During our discussion, I believe we both learned from this experience and gained increased self-awareness that will lead to professional growth.

Through my training as a coach and hearing and reading Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability, I know with confidence that one must fail to grow. One must be vulnerable and courageous knowing there will be unsuccessful times. What sets the strong from the weak are those who brush themselves off when they fall, look for the learning, and are willing to jump in again.Failure Key to Success

Note…I am being vulnerable with sharing this story. I am quieting my negative self talk about how others may be judging me as they read this blog and choosing to think about how my story may help others. I am brushing myself off and jumping in.

 

Be The Goat

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“Goat” is short for scapegoat, which is a person or thing that is given all the blame or responsibility for a negative event. A “goat” is the opposite of a hero. Suffice it to say, a goat is someone who is blamed when things go wrong.

Rather than a focus on the historical, religious or etymological connotations of a goat, I instead want you to consider the species itself. A goat is agile, a goat is intelligent. Goats are social creatures who can also work well independently, as long as they frequently return to their herd. Here’s something: goats will not move away from pressure, they move into it! Hmmmm. Sounds like I’m listing the traits of a confident and successful professional!

It was in observing a neighbor’s goats that I thought of the “be the goat” concept. The goats were removing poison ivy and invasive vines from her yard. Rather than just nibble at the choicest leaves, the goats were completely devouring the plants. They were committed to removing the leaves, the vines, and the roots of each plant.

With a number of my coaching clients, the concept of completely handling something is new to them. Rather than giving 89% of effort, or 76% feedback, I ask them what would it be like to fully engage? To be complete in their endeavors and communications? To “be complete” is powerful! Incompletions drain energy, require maintenance of the façade, and never address the issue.

The goats are all about completely consuming the vines. To the root. And when a new shoot emerges, it will be swiftly eradicated. Completely. Because of this, my neighbor can spend her energy on her flower and vegetable gardens.

What issue or challenge do you need to completely handle? What pressures have you been avoiding, when moving into the pressure would actually eradicate it? What requires your agility and intelligence? What opportunity will become available to you once the challenge is vanquished? Go ahead now, and be the goat!

Goat: “Greatest of all time.” Thank you, Muhammad Ali!

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!

Commencement

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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!

Managerial Courage

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What does it take to be able to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said, and to whom it must be said? Managerial Courage. This leadership competency is an essential topic for leadership development programs, and is a central focus for many executive coaching initiatives.

I’ve recently been coaching two leaders who’ve been identified as possessing “high potential” for advancement in their organization. In assessing which leadership competencies they must develop, each leader, along with their respective bosses, has aligned on the topic Managerial Courage. But that is where the similarities end! When asked, each leader defines the stuff of managerial courage differently. And each of their bosses do, too.

Listening to each, I hear assorted aspects of what is to be achieved through our coaching:

  • To respond more swiftly in real time (because they are over-thinking and staying silent)
  • To trust they will be listened to when speaking (because they are accustomed to NOT talking)
  • To believe their contributions are “legitimate” (because they over-value others, and under-value their own contributions)
  • To learn to be uncomfortable, and more visible (because they have become too comfortable in familiar spaces)
  • To behave more authentically (because they hide behind their positions and titles)

Discomfort abounds when a leader has to “get out of a comfort zone,” and that’s ok. However, anxieties increase when leaders fear “managerial courage” means they have to change their essence. I assure them they do NOT have to trade their stripes for spots! Their essence is who they are—and our coaching is to have them increase their own knowledge of who they are, what matters to them, why, and why that should matter to the people in their workplace. Courage begets courage—and the etymology of the word says it all—it comes from the heart.

The first step to increase managerial courage isn’t to “just do” the things I’ve bulleted above.  The first step to increase managerial courage calls on the leader to examine his or her heart, and see what really matters. The second step is to share it.  Heart speaks to heart.

3 classic basics of coaching – proven to get results

I have the privilege and honor to coach many different types of people. In fact, as a coach I often coach informally with colleagues, friends, and family members. People seem to call me when they need support, when they are upset, when they need to be talked down off a metaphorical ledge.
Yesterday I answered the phone thinking I was going to have one conversation, and ended up having a completely different one. A colleague was extremely upset about a particular situation where she felt powerless. She knew things might not go her way and she recognized that she needed to shift her perspective, but was really stuck in the hurt. Last week a colleague called me needing a sounding board. She was super angry and knew that any actions she might take “in the moment” could be a mistake.
Last night my teen-aged daughter came home shaking with anger at the unjust treatment one of her friends faced from a teacher. In every instance three basic coaching skills came into play with incredible results.
1. Listen. It is astounding and continually amazing to me how the simple act of giving someone your full and undivided attention – listening at the cellular level – can have such a profound effect. It seems like we are all starved to be “seen” and “heard” by other humans. Never underestimate the power and value of listening.
2. Acknowledgement – yes, people need and want to be heard but they also want to know that someone “gets” why they feel the way they feel. This isn’t’ about agreement or complicity in the feelings being felt. It’s about “yes I see/hear/feel that you are happy/sad/angry”. An acknowledgement is an affirmation that you, the coach, recognize and understand another’s worldview, if even for those moments that you are coaching.
3. Belief – Ah, the beauty of believing with your client in the possibilities. Perhaps the possibility of calmness and rational thought. Maybe the belief that things WILL get better. Or the belief that your client has tremendous value in the world. Belief is the real and honest conviction that the goal CAN be achieved, the shift CAN be made, the outcome WILL be the desired one. Belief is a powerful thing and it’s a gift we give our clients every time we coach them.
Coaching is amazing. With these simple and elegant (but not always easy!) tools, we make a different in people lives. How great is that???!!!