• Read The Power of a Great Question

    Leader as Coach

    The Power of a Great Question

    We all know we should ask good questions.  The problem is that a lot of the time we don’t do it.  We default to the things that are more comfortable. When I’m teaching coaching skills to leadership, I often have them do a very simple exercise. Advice versus open ended questions In pairs, they take turns listening to a colleague, but in the first round, they do it with the hat of a mentor.  They can give advice.  And boy do they.  These conversations typically descend into, “here’s what I’ve tried that’s worked.  You should do this.”  I hear loads of closed ended questions, lots of yeses and nos as they probe their colleague for what they tried and what they didn’t try. In the second round, they can’t give any advice, and only can ask open ended questions.  (An open-ended question is one that can’t be answered with a yes or a no just in case you were wondering.). They really struggle with this one.  But during the debrief, the folks with the issue typically report that the latter exercise, the one where only open-ended questions could be asked, was the one that really expanded their thinking or got them to see something from a different perspective. Why are open ended questions so powerful? I’ve often seen the light bulb go off after I debrief this exercise.  If I’m asking an open-ended empowering question, the person on the receiving end comes to their own conclusion, not the conclusion that I think could be best for them.  The benefit of this is that the person being questioned takes more ownership of whatever the solution is.  Have you ever had a great piece of advice which you willingly gave to someone and just couldn’t understand why they didn’t take the idea and run with it?  Well, it may have been great for you, but it probably wasn’t great for them.  The ability to create one’s own solution creates natural by-in in the problem-solving process.  It gives the person with the problem a sense they also have autonomy, which is something that greatly motivates folks and many of us desperately crave this in our work.  I can’t tell you how many coaching clients I’ve had who are looking to leave a job who say they don’t have enough creativity in their work.  They feel micromanaged.  They feel condescended to.  It’s not surprising considering it’s sometimes just easier in the short run to “tell” someone how they should do something.  The problem is that this way of communicating creates loads of longer-term issues. Powerful open-ended questions also create engagement.  If I’m telling someone what I think they should do, how engaged do you really think they will be in the conversation?  Asking a powerful open-ended question opens the dialogue, I am engaging this person on a deep level, getting them to think critically and creatively about the issues they face.  And if you don’t think engagement is important, think again.  According to Gallup, […]

    May 11, 2022

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    4.3 min read

  • Read An important caveat to vulnerability: Don’t throw your pearls before swine

    Authenticity

    An important caveat to vulnerability: Don’t throw your pearls before swine

    The other day I shared something deep and personal I had written in a very public forum, and then found myself freaking out about it.  Social media is a strange thing, and I’m not sure there are many of us who have completely mastered the art of using it.  I felt that funny feeling in my stomach.  You know the one, when you’ve been caught with your proverbial pants down.  The embarrassment, the shame, like when the teacher called on you in the second grade and you didn’t have the answer and you looked like a fool in front of your entire class. I’ve always been told by others that they admire my vulnerability.  My rawness.  My ability to put myself out there and let it all hang out, so to speak.  And so, I often do, and therefore was quite taken aback by my emotional response to sharing a seemingly innocent article the other day. Perhaps I’m not as comfortable with vulnerability as I thought I was? Vulnerability is a funny thing.  It’s a big buzzword at the moment, we’re all told we should do it.  We should lead with it and practice vulnerable moments with co-workers.  We should practice vulnerability daily in our personal lives.  Brene brown says vulnerability is the key to living a wholehearted life, whatever that means.  And I get it on many levels, it is an amazing way of creating connection with other people.  Think about it, how can anyone ever really know you if they don’t know the real, unpolished, not-so-perfect you?  It’s also important when it comes to letting go of perfectionism and practicing compassion for oneself.  Overall, vulnerability can be a really great thing. There are limits to vulnerability But there are limits.  And frankly, there should be limits to it.  Which is the lesson that hit me like a ton of bricks the other day.  You may have heard the phrase, “Don’t show your pearls with swine?”  It’s a popular piece of advice, and is adapted from a phrase in the Gospel, “Cast not pearls before swine.” Okay, I know where your thinking just went.  So the point of this is to not call other people a pig, no matter how much you may believe someone deserves it.  Or to start preaching at you.  The point is to carefully distinguish amongst who it is appropriate to share your heart with and who it makes sense to keep it more closed.  To make a conscious choice to share or not to share.  And then share it only with people who will really appreciate your message. I think every person and every culture struggles with this, but I do think having lived in many different countries, that we Americans often take the cake with this one.  We share and share and share because we think we’re supposed to.  We share things with our family for instance because they’re family and we think this is what family is supposed to look like, and […]

    May 4, 2022

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    4.8 min read

  • Read Nothing Worth Splitting Hairs Over

    Authenticity, Well Being

    Nothing Worth Splitting Hairs Over

    I normally don’t share my creative writing that I do for fun, but this piece I want to share with you.  It’s a vulnerable one recently published in the spring 2022 issue of Please See Me, an online literary journal dedicated to health and wellness.  While the topic deals with an anxiety disorder related to hair pulling ( the technical name is Trichotrillomania) I’ve suffered with over the years, the deeper themes in the piece relate to things we all struggle with.  I hope you enjoy a humorous dive into an important topic, and how learning to laugh at ourselves and how ironically, sometimes surrendering and letting go can open the door to something very special indeed… Nothing Worth Splitting Hairs Over I remember the first time it happened. I was sixteen and it was advanced algebra class. It was our final exam, and I was struggling as usual. I’d never liked math. I looked down at the floor at the end of the period and there it was. A large pile of thick, curly, blond hair was lying innocently on the floor. I looked around the room, wondering whose it was—had some poor soul lost a wig? The confusion was quickly replaced with a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was my hair. But how? Why? I didn’t have time to make sense of it. My face flushed with shame, my eyes darted nervously around the room, looking for my nemesis, Shannon Clark. Had she seen? She’d be sure to tell everyone. I reached down to the floor with all the nonchalance I could muster, quickly grabbed the pile, and stuffed it into my backpack. I disposed of the blond wad later in the girls’ bathroom. I wondered later how many pieces of hair it was. One hundred, two hundred? It was a lot. I didn’t think to stop and count each strand in my mad dash to destroy the evidence. And then panic set in. Did I have a bald spot now? Frantic, I checked my hair in the bathroom mirror multiple times for signs, searching for little patches of scalp peeking out from underneath my frizzy mop. But there were none. My secret was at least safe for now. Up to that point I had craved the long, straight, luxuriously silky-smooth hair many of my classmates sported, like the girls in the Pantene commercials: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” I hated them. But in that moment, I was secretly thankful for my big, blond mop, which Shannon often referred to as a blonde afro. I had more than enough hair to spare. I was in my early thirties when I finally went in for treatment. I kept pulling out my hair all through the remainder of high school, all through college and my first master’s degree, all through my first job and my second master’s degree. Never enough to be bald. I always conveniently pulled from the underneath on the left side of my head. The result was the […]

    April 26, 2022

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    12.8 min read

  • Read The cost of believing the bad things about yourself

    Motivation

    The cost of believing the bad things about yourself

    I recently participated in a leadership 360.  If you’re not familiar, it’s one of those annoying survey things where you rate yourself on a bunch of subjective questions and a bunch of other people you nominate on your behalf rate you as well.  Then you get your results and some fancy, overpaid consultant (like myself) helps you get a sense of your strengths as well as your opportunities for development (the latter meaning weaknesses in organizational development speak) and helps you put together a development plan to address the gaps. It’s interesting because as a leadership coach and trainer, I’ve administered them on other people’s behalf’s so many times, I just never had the opportunity to take one myself.  I wasn’t sure to expect.  I figured there would be a few things I would need to work on and had formed some assumptions in my mind as to what those things were.  But about halfway through the debrief, something strange happened.  I broke down in tears.  Not because I was sad, but because I was overwhelmed.  On every single measure (and there were a lot) I had rated myself significantly lower than my colleagues and peers had rated me.  Every single one. We do not see ourselves clearly How can this be?  I even course corrected for this.  I know I tend to be hard on myself, the recovering perfection junkie that I am.  I even took that tendency into account when I was rating myself and cut myself some slack.  Or so I thought… But the results say what the results say.  Here I am thinking that I have a fair degree of awareness, and yet clearly do not see myself in the same way that others do. I see this all the time in my clients.  The problem isn’t as much that we are often doing all these horrible things we are completely unaware of.  There are many assessments I’ve debriefed where a person has “soft spots.”  Qualities they rate themselves low on that others believe to be much higher.  When you think about the consequence and the cost of that, it’s huge.  If I don’t believe I’m good at something, maybe I don’t put myself forward for an opportunity.  Maybe I don’t dare to dream that big dream because I’m not sure I have the capacity to achieve it.  Maybe I find myself talking myself out of things.  I’ll go after it when I feel like I’m ready.  But what does “ready” even mean and how would I know if I’m there?  This is the circular thinking we often engage in that keeps us stuck in a rut. Life is funny like this…while every coaching client is very different, many of us are really searching for and working on the same exact things.  I’ve often explained the practice of coaching as helping others see the incredible value they bring to the world and step into their greatness.  And who better than a neutral third party, as we […]

    April 19, 2022

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    4.3 min read

  • Read What you gain when you let go of needing to prove

    Authenticity

    What you gain when you let go of needing to prove

    Yesterday I had a long overdue catch-up with a woman I used to work with years ago at BP.  She’s been retired many years now, and at one time I was lucky enough to call her my line manager.  Hardworking, ethical, kind, and compassionate, to date she’s one of the best bosses I’ve ever had.  We got the polite pleasantries out of the way, in terms of where she’s settled, I’ve settled and what we’re up to these days, and then the conversation got much deeper and she said, “You know, when I think back to those times, I created so much stress for myself.  I was always thinking I had to prove something.  It was never enough to simply appreciate what I had achieved, I believed that each morning I had to wake up and do it all over again, like all that had come before had been erased.” It’s hard to imagine that when I think of Brenda, always elegant in her designer suits, hair perfectly coiffed, she was the pinnacle of success.  A young woman of color who had started as a secretary and worked her way up to a senior level leader at a large corporation.  Her story is an incredibly inspiring one.  And yet, here she was, suffering all those years with impostor syndrome, desperate to prove her worth. We all have impostor syndrome I admitted that I too, had suffered greatly at the hands of impostor syndrome.  That nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach that you’re really a fraud.  That eventually the lights will come on and everyone in the room will realize the mental equivalent of you sitting there with your pants down – that you don’t really deserve to be here, you have no idea what you’re doing, get the heck out of here.  That kind of thing. In case you were there thinking you’re all alone with this ailment, I have yet to have a single client who doesn’t have at least a small dose of this.  Call it part of the amazing experience of being human. It’s interesting how impostor syndrome manifests.  In Brenda’s case it was surrounding herself with expensive clothes, handbags and jewelry.  If she looked the part, then maybe she’d fool other people into thinking she was the part.  I took a slightly different tack.  I reckoned the key to kicking the impostor syndrome’s butt lied in beefing up my self-esteem.  I sought out credentials and accomplishments I could tout to others so I could feel better about myself.  She wore a mask of Chanel, and I wore a mask of credentials like any well intentioned over achiever. It even spilled over into when I started my own coaching practice.  It was never enough initially to work with a single client who needed help transitioning their career.  I had to be traveling the world, reinventing organizations.  My client list was everything to me.  How many fortune 500’s had I worked with?  Whose faculty was I […]

    April 13, 2022

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    4.6 min read

  • Read Don’t worry about the metrics, a tip on how to measure success

    Motivation

    Don’t worry about the metrics, a tip on how to measure success

    Begin with the end in mind Steven Covey said it, many moon’s ago – “Begin with the end in mind.”  I’ve touted this over the years, I utilize this advice as a coach to help me ensure that client sessions are focused and relevant.  I remember this to ensure I measure success.  I often remind folks of the immortal words of the Cheshire cat in Alice and Wonderland’s, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”  Sage words for sure! Back when I worked in internal audit, I wrote finding after finding pertaining to a lack of clear, tangible targets and organizational metrics.  It was such a common issue, at one point I just started copying and pasting the recommendation and changing the organization name.  Work smarter not harder I’ve always said! All this to say, it’s important to be focused on an outcome, a direction, a notable and tangible measure of success and to think about how to measure success on an ongoing basis.  Whether that pertains to your career, your leadership, your organization, your business, or an important goal that you have that doesn’t fit into any of these neat little categories. But it’s not enough unfortunately.  Back when I was teaching coach training, I used to tell the story of a baseball player that was intently focused on hitting the ball as hard as they could, and when the moment came, the bat connected with the ball and off it went, high into the sky.  It flew and flew and flew, high up into the cloudless sky while everyone in the stands watched on. How do you measure success? And then one of the outfielders caught the ball in their glove.  The batter was out. Here’s the question I would ask aspiring coaches – Was the batter successful or not?  Many said no, the batter was clearly out.  They would score no home run that day.  But some said yes.  And as the conversation would evolve, it inevitably came down to this trite little piece of advice that I’ve tried to disregard so many times over the years – it’s the journey that really matters, not the destination. But how can that be?  There was no score to be had, no victorious run.  Well, it all hinges on how we measure success.  The batter was all in.  The batter had played with their heart.  The batter had performed the best they could at that particular moment in time.  At some point when I started this blog, I used to think about the number of people who read it, how many conversions this was creating for the calls of action on my website, how I could convert this activity into a tangible metric to measure.  I will tell you it sucked the joy out of the enterprise faster than you can down the last dregs of your drink when the bartender yells, “Last call for happy hour!”  Not that I’ve ever done that… […]

    April 7, 2022

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    4 min read