The One Thing That Makes You A Better Leader

Most of you know I do not do any promotion of products or advertising on my blog. The only thing I am interested in is helping you become the best leader that you can be, so this blog dedicates itself to leadership and leadership development ideas.

That said, I am so excited about a new tool that I have been using that I wanted you to all know about it.

The reason I think this tool is so cool is that it would benefit any leader, no matter what point they are in their journey. In fact, I believe in the power of journaling as it pertains to development so much that almost all of the clients I work with in my executive coaching practice will at some point receive an assignment from me to keep a journal.

I find journaling to be such a powerful way to reflect on and organize my thoughts. Leadership Icons such as Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Abraham Lincoln all kept journals. Journaling for me is very rewarding. I learn a lot about myself and what I am thinking and feeling in the moment. I like having somewhat of a permanent record that I can go back to and review those thoughts and feelings. I am amazed at times how much differently I felt about something 4 weeks ago in my journal versus how I feel about it now.

My journal is really my personal forum for self-expression. You might even call it cheap therapy.


While there are many ways to journal, I have always found writing in a paper journal with a good fountain pen to be the most satisfying and rewarding way to write. However, since I travel so much it is sometimes hard to remember to take my journal with me and even harder to remember to pack my good fountain pen.

I tried typing into a journal for a while on Evernote, but typing just didn’t do it for me. I get lost in all the key strokes and it is not nearly as therapeutic. I even purchased a journaling app about a year ago, but that was even worse than typing on my computer.

New Paradigm

A while back I was sitting with a client and we were talking about journaling. I was a little hesitant to bring it up because his personality type is an extreme Type A. He is a real driver, take charge, get it done kind of leader. Always going, always on the move, and at times completely running over people in his organization. He realized that he needed to slow down his thoughts and just spend some time thinking and reflecting.  

It was great getting him to this moment of awareness that some of his behaviors were not healthy for his organization and that he needed to change. He was ripe for journaling as a way to not only slow him down, but to become more reflective in his leadership practice. 

Even so, I was nervous to suggest the practice of journaling because I have had Type A personalities look at me over the years like I had three eyeballs all planted in the middle of my forehead when I suggested they begin to journal. I even had one client tell me that he just “isn’t much for writing things down”, and asked what else I had in my bag of tricks instead. 

However, in this case, when I brought it up, I got an unexpected response. He said to me, “Okay, great! I just ordered this new gadget called reMarkable and keeping a journal would be so easy.”  After I got over the shock of the immediate agreement to journaling, I asked him to explain what this gadget was. Rather than me explain it, you can watch a quick video about reMarkable here.

Scotts Top 10 Journaling Prompts

Whether you journal with pen and paper, typing on your computer, utilizing an app on your mobile device or tablet, or, if you choose to give reMarkable a try, here are my top 10 journaling prompts that will help get you started:

  1. What are the things you are really grateful for in life?

  2. What do you need to affirm about yourself? Perhaps your level of confidence or any positive relationships, or positive outlooks you are experiencing.

  3. What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

  4. How would you describe your leadership style?

  5. How do you lead change in your organization?

  6. What is your biggest obstacle to improving your performance?

  7. What is something you would like to reinvent in your leadership?

  8. What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?

  9. What puts you in a good mood at work?

  10. How do you plan on using your top leadership strengths today?

If you do this journaling exercise please let me know. I would love to hear of your experience.  Also, if you have favorite journaling prompts, please send them my way. I would love to see other topics and ideas that leaders find valuable to reflect upon.

If you decide you want one of the reMarkable tablets for your journaling and other writings, here is a link you can use to order one. They usually take 2 or 3 days to come to you and you can also purchase some neat protective covers.

Happy Journaling!

5 Strategic Inflection Points for Leadership Development

“A strategic inflection point for a business is when its fundamentals are about to change. They are the result of an event which changes the way we think or act.”

- Andy Grove, ex-Chairman, Intel

An awful lot has been written over the years about the growth curve for business. We tend to marvel at the meteoric rise of organizations like Amazon while at the same time wondering what happened to great powerhouses like Sears.  

It is so fascinating that for years before Amazon came on the scene we could order things from Sears and have them mailed to our house. While I understand that Amazon has created a digitized experience, I can’t help but wonder how the executives at Sears did not see this trend and buy Amazon in its first year.

It really is amazing that some of the real organizational giants in our world have struggled, even becoming eclipsed, by small, innovative organizations that captured the hearts and minds of us all. 

I was reading an article recently that tried to give some rationale as to how and why something like this could occur. I mean, who would have ever thought that the powerful General Electric (GE) would be removed from the Dow 30?

But in June of 2018, this very thing happened when Walgreens was added. GE was taken off because it no longer reflected the market, which was going up while GE was going down.

In fairness, GE is still a viable organization with lots of dedicated employees, yet there is no denying it is not doing as well as it had in the past. The reality is they never recovered from the 2009 crash. It took a bailout from Warren Buffet and the government to keep them solvent and they haven’t recovered overall since that downturn. 

Application for Leaders

As I was reflecting I began to wonder… if this could happen to GE, could it also happen to the leaders I interact with and coach?

And the truth is, it could! 

Here are 5 things to consider as you innovate and develop:

  1. Find one way to innovate within your current role.

    When most of us think about innovation we begin to feel overwhelmed and find it hard to conceptualize. Some consultants tell us to “think outside the box” if you want to innovate. However, Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg recommend just the opposite. They claim in their book, Inside the Box, that more and quicker innovation happens when you think inside the box. Rather than having to create a whole new job for yourself that no one understands, why not just put a couple of Boyd and Goldenberg’s strategies together and innovate your current role?

    1. Option 1: Stop doing one thing in your role that that was likely essential at some point but no longer is. Perhaps you work on a budget every month that no one looks at or makes comment on. What if that task just went away? Would anyone miss it?

    2. Option 2: Unify tasks. Maybe there are meetings you are having with 3 different people that you could combine into one meeting. Or maybe you are traveling to meetings in person and you could be doing it over video conference.

  2. What one piece of critical feedback are you lacking?

    In a recent experiment people were asked to skip a meal and then entered a room where chocolate chip cookies had been baking. Half of the people were asked to eat 2 or 3 of the delicious cookies and the other half of the folks were asked to refrain from eating cookies and eat 2 or 3 radishes instead. Later all participants where asked to solve some fairly complex geometry problems. Those asked to refrain from eating cookies gave up twice as fast on the geometry problems as their counterparts. The researchers concluded that attention and effort goes into resisting temptation and leaves less energy and attention for other tasks. Douglas Stone and Shelia Heen, in their book Thanks for the Feedback, say this has important implications for our efforts to act on feedback we get and to change behavior. Feedback can be “accurate, timely, perceptive, and beautifully conveyed” (p. 258), but if it involves too many ideas to keep track of or too many decisions or changes, it is too much and nothing will happen. Instead of seeking out complicated feedback and writing complicated development plans, simply get feedback on the one thing you could do better and innovate around that.

  3. Read the Organizational Signposts

    What are the trends in your organization that are destined to become imminent inflection points? Are you noticing that more emphasis is being put on relating to the customer rather than driving sales? If so, what changes do you need to make to become an innovator in this new behavior? Maybe you were the top performer in whatever you did 3 years ago, but it might not be relevant today unless you continue to innovate and grow.

  4. Play Your Strength Card

    A lot has been said about this one over the past few years regarding how important it is to be yourself and focus on your gifts and talents. I agree with most of this, but what often gets left out of the equation is how to use these strengths to do the little things really well, better than everyone else, without drawing attention to yourself. I harken back to the great John Wooden, basketball coach for UCLA, who said, “High performance and production are achieved only through the identification and perfection of small but relevant details, little things done well.” How are you using your strengths to do the little things really well?

  5. Take a 3 year view on the future.

    We all get caught up in the day to day and the quarter to quarter, but I wonder what would happen if we set our pride aside and really asked ourself what might be different in the next three years that could make our career obsolete. What about 5 years or 10 years down the road? At some point, someone is going to come along and do your job better, faster, or cheaper than you are.  I think what my wife is doing right now is a great example. She is an online teacher for VIP Kids, a company that gives english lessons to children in China. Sitting in our home in Orlando Florida at 6:30am she is doing half hour lessons for children in Bejing who have just finished dinner at 6:30pm. Teachers, if you don’t think that your students couldn’t be sitting at home getting the same lesson, I ask you…why not?  All of us need to be ready to upgrade our skills to prepare for whatever revolution is coming our way.

I can remember reading a book by Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, on the topic of management and leadership back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Organizations were changing how they evaluated performance based upon what Jack was doing at GE. After all, between 1981 and 2001 during Welch’s tenure the company gained 4,000% in value. Then 2009 hit and today GE has lost more value since 2016 than it is worth today, only about $88B from an all-time high of around $500B.

If it can happen to GE, Sears, and other icons, it can happen to you, no matter what kind of performer you are currently in your organization.

Start innovating and developing your own career today.

The Cost of Paying Attention

Recently a client of mine received feedback from his organization that he needed to become more self-aware of the impact of his behavior on others.

When I probed for what behavior seemed out of line, he told me that he had been rewarded his entire career for being a critical thinker and deliberate in decision-making. The organization needed to undergo changes to be more responsive in the marketplace and his caution was now being viewed as inflexibility. The feedback he was receiving from the organization was that he needed to be more self-aware of his inability to see things in other ways. He told me, “I need to pay attention to when I am being overly cautious and evaluate if I really am being inflexible or if my caution is warranted."

Paying attention. An interesting phrase…

Paying attention, as it relates to being self-aware, implies that there is a cost involved. When you sharpen your focus on something, you will inherently need to give something up in exchange.  In the example above, if my client is to be self-aware and pay attention to a behavior to elicit change, he will have to give up something in exchange for the attention he is going to give the new behavior.


Here is a simple example, if I go to the grocery store to pick up a banana, a transaction takes place. I give the clerk something of value to me, in this case, money, before receiving the product I desire more than the money I possess, the banana. Pretty simple.

When leaders are told they need to be self-aware of their actions or behaviors, it seems to get a bit more complicated than buying a banana. The process of becoming a self-aware leader requires that we give something up in order to draw attention to what we desire to change or better understand. This change in behavior must have more value to us than what we need to give up in order to obtain it.

When purchasing a banana, I know what I need to give up to own the fruit. In the same way, if I need to pay attention in order to become more self-aware of what is seen as inflexibility. For example, what must I give up in order to obtain this behavior change? To pay attention to this kind of behavior change will require humility to even get the process started. You have to recognize that you desire the banana more than you desire money and be willing to give up one in exchange for the other.

What does it take for you to humble yourself as a leader?

In this context, to be humble is really about having a clear perspective of your place in the context of your situation.  My client had to get to a point where he could be objective when situations arose. It is quite probable that because he had been rewarded (or at least had the feeling of such reward) in the past for his display of caution, that he installed it as a permanent successful behavior. After all, who does not like a positive feeling?

His first step in becoming self-aware had already occurred. He recognized the spectrum of behavior he was trying to distinguish. He had described the poles as being deliberate on one end and inflexible on the other. He gave up the freedom to just behave as he had been rewarded. He had to pay, in this case, his normal feeling of being cautious to precipitate a desired change or even recognize the spectrum that he was asked to change along.

Now he must understand the strength of his deliberateness and the weakness of his inflexibility.

Let me illustrate:

To stay in shape, I like to jog. I started having some knee pain. Once a week I work out with a personal trainer for 30 minutes, so I was telling him about the pain I was having in my knee. One of his thoughts was that I had some muscle imbalance, meaning one of the muscles in my leg had become stronger than another. The tension, caused by one muscle being stronger than another, caused a pulling at the joint and, therefore, the pain.

According to my trainer, this weakness causes an imbalance and puts stress on other muscles to become stronger and overcompensate for the weakness.  According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine there are many reasons that one muscle might be stronger than another, such as past trauma, repetitive movements, lack of core strength, poor training technique, emotional duress, and poor posture. He said, “Scott, you have to pay attention to strengthening all your muscle groups so that you don’t have knee pain."

There it was again, pay attention. What was I going to have to give up in order to relieve the pain? The same is true for my client, and for you.

What do you need to give up when you are working with those who follow your leadership so that you “pay attention” to them? If you are trying to listen better to what your followers are telling you, what is the cost to you? What do you need to give up to become a better listener? Have you identified the cost that may be involved for the change to occur?

Feel free to comment on this question. I would love to know what you are thinking.

Are You Using These 2 Factors To Align Organizational Culture?

Last week’s blog post on the 7 Step Organization Culture Checklist created a lot of stir in our faithful readers. If you happened to miss it, you can click here to give it a read before you finish this post.

I received several emails from folks who had some very interesting stories about how the organization they work in has a clear mission and vision, but then there is a seemingly huge gap in how leaders behave. This misalignment puts followers in a quandary. 

They say things like, “We are supposed to be delegating more and taking bureaucracy and senseless meetings out of our work flow. One expectation is that we are to have fewer group meetings. ‘You don’t need to collaborate on everything' is the mantra. Yet what is occurring is that the number of individual meetings I now have with people affected by my work has tripled. We still need to talk with everyone affected by our work, but now instead of getting a group together to do it once, we have three separate meetings with individuals. Then, if the last person I talk with doesn’t agree, I now have six meetings instead of one.”

This is an example of how the guiding principles, those objective structures that guide behavior, can be misaligned when culture is shifting.

Regarding the above example, the previous expectation was collaboration, so the behavior was to get everyone together and decide. The culture shift is toward speed and innovation, resulting in fewer meetings. However, enough of the old culture is still present that people continue feeling the need to collaborate, and change becomes hard. Lack of clarity and surprise are the worst things in a collaborative culture. What an innovative culture needs is speed, so not everyone can know everything.  


2 Factors to Align Organizational Culture

It is not that people do not want to embrace and change to a new way of doing things. More often than not, they really do. But, as creatures of habit, we all know how hard this is.

If you are a leader or have been with an organization for any significant period of time, you have been successful and rewarded for doing things the old way. Your brain, at a neurochemical level, has fallen in love with all the positive endorphins you received doing things the old way.

Enter change.

At the highest level it will start with a new vision and mission for the organization. My experience is that most people get the high level mantra’s, even if only intellectually. “We are customer centric,” “We bring innovation to our marketplace,” “A world without Alzheimers Disease.”

Captivating, aren’t they? Who doesn’t want a world without disease? What a great mission to be on and vision to set. 

Frankly, thats the easy part.

The hard part is understanding how you make this a reality at the behavioral level for everyone in the organization. This is where things like having fewer meetings comes in. While it is a good idea, it does not honor the old culture, nor does it really address the behavior being asked for by the new culture.

Here are two strategies for you to consider as you drive organizational change:

  1. Incorporate “I will” statements.  

    This blog generally hits people’s inbox on Monday mornings at 6am. I am usually in the office between 8 and 9 to start my day. Last week on Monday, my phone rang at 11:15am. It was an old friend who I had worked with many years ago. He was fired up about the culture post and couldn’t wait to share with me his best tip for assessing and supporting culture change. The idea is simple, but the impact is profound. He relayed to me that in his role he had observed many different shifts in culture over the years. The best strategy he found was to ask people to articulate what they see themselves doing as a result of the change.  He called them “I will” statements. For example, a midlevel manger would say to followers, “I will support you if you get negative backlash for moving forward without checking with all the people you used to check with.”  These “I will” statements are powerful indicators to ensure that everyone in the organization aligns with the new behaviors.  Leaders have to get really good at listening to make sure the I will fits the behavior that supports the new culture. Thanks, Gerry, for the tip!

  2. Believe in the person you are coaching.  

    Leaders have to realize that most changes we ask people to make take some degree of time to implement. It is not easy to go from being collaborative one day to speedy and innovative the next. A recent article in the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research really brought home the criticality around the idea of the impact of positive communication practices in coaching. Psychologists call it self-efficacy. The idea is that a person’s beliefs shape how they behave. It doesn’t matter if they are optimistic or pessimistic. High belief in self translates to greater confidence and enabling a person to completely devote themselves to the change. Some researchers believe that high belief in self is the golden ticket to performance. The higher the self-confidence in a given skill, the more effective the person will be.  I happen to think there are other factors that balance self-confidence, such as empathy, but for the most part if a person doesn’t believe they can change, then they likely will not.  Enter coaching, which means having frequent interactions with the person who is in a change process and supporting and believing in them all along. This doesn’t mean they won’t stumble or make mistakes, but it does let them know that as their coach you have their back and that you support them. Who doesn’t want that?

If you have other ideas on this, I would love to hear from you. Send me an email, or better yet, give me a cal - I would love to chat.

7 Step Organization Culture Checklist

I have been thinking a lot about organization culture this week because a client I have worked with for a number of years has been given the opportunity to build an organization from the ground up.  When she asked for my help with this project I was simultaneously excited and terrified.  

I was excited because I have a lot of education and experience in working on organization culture. When I was first named a manager 25 years ago I learned what it was like to be inserted into an existing culture. As a consultant, I have had several projects where I helped leaders better identify cultures they have created, then worked with them to make changes in those cultures.

On the other hand, I have never built an organization of any size from the ground up, and being presented with the opportunity to help do so was terrifying.

At this point I had a choice to make.  

I could see myself as an expert and rely on my experience. Experts have very narrow mindsets. They rely heavily on their knowledge and experience to inform the decisions they are making.


I could take on the mindset of a beginner.  Those who have the mindset of a newbie know nothing, literally nothing, about the topic.

I decided to forget what I know about culture and take on a beginner’s mindset.  To do this I thought it might help for me to experience what it is like to be new at something I know nothing about. 


Playing a Guitar

I have to admit to you all that I literally know nothing about music unless it is how to turn on my TV and watch The Voice on NBC.  Seriously, that’s it.

I thought this fit the definition pretty well for me of having a beginner’s mindset, so I did what most of us do these days when we know nothing - I went to YouTube and searched for “guitar lesson 1.”

The expert I clicked on took for granted way too much for a person who knows nothing! He started talking about using three fingers to make a D note and to not get your fingers directly on the fret and said you count the number of fret’s from the nut.

This is exactly what I wanted! I wanted to experience what it was like to have a beginner’s mindset and experience an expert’s teaching from a level that is too high. My goal was to experience what it felt like to know nothing, struggling to learn something new when you don’t comprehend.

Being a beginner is really humbling. It takes patience, persistence, and a real thirst to learn what it is you are trying to better understand.

Building a Culture

I am hopeful that my approach to learning how to build a culture goes a bit more smoothly than what I am experiencing with the guitar. 

I also realize that many of you are not building a culture from nothing; so I wanted to reframe my search as a checklist you can use to assess how the culture of your team is growing.

As always, I started my quest in culture building in the academic literature. I found a lot of information on organization culture, but surprisingly little on building culture from the ground up. What I did find were ideas on what needs to be incorporated into organizational culture.  

Here are seven of the items that stood out and seemed to flow together for me:

  1. Mission: Should describe what you are doing and who your team is designed to serve.

  2. Vision: Articulates succinctly your future destination.

  3. Purpose: The unselfish reason for being; who you are impacting and how lives are being changed by what you do.

  4. Values: The fundamental subjective beliefs that guide behavior through emotional investment giving guidance to right and wrong, good and bad, how to interact with constituents and engage with customers.

  5. Guiding Principles: Objective, prescriptive truths around expectations that provide a sense of direction for all involved.

  6. Projected Story in 3 segments:

    1. Adventure-Three years from now what do we want to be said about us?

    2. Legend-Seven years from now what to we want emulated by those copying our success?

    3. Epitaph-Fifteen years from now what do we want to be remembered for?

  7. Behavior: Observable actions that can be articulated accurately by people

    1. Who are new to the organization

    2. Who just left the organization

    3. Who are outside the organization

      These behaviors should ultimately match the first 6 descriptors if we are managing our culture accurately.  

I would love to know what you all think on this topic. Drop me a line and give me some feedback on what you think about this checklist. If any of you use this as a checklist with your teams, I am interested in what you found. Until next week….

Reverse Inspiration: 3 Ways to Work With A Bad Supervisor

About a week ago I had a coaching client ask me an interesting question. It is not the first time I have been asked this question, nor is it always framed in the same way, but the root of the question is this:

“What should a person do if they think they are better qualified than their boss?”

Other times this question is asked the word “qualified” may be exchanged for smarter, more effective, more energy, more effective, better…  I think you get the idea.

Most of the time the person is asking this question because they are frustrated with some level of competence their supervisor is exhibiting and questioning the value the supervisor brings to the organization. Sometimes the person asking this question is a bit immature, but other times, I have to be honest, I wonder myself if I am coaching the wrong person.


Intersection of Questions

I have been reflecting recently over my own career after a speaking engagement at a leadership gathering a few weeks ago. The person who asked me to speak said they were as much interested in my life journey as any leadership theory I might want to present.  I was told that the audience wanted to hear how a poor kid from Peoria, Illinois who went to pharmacy school ended up as an executive coach working with top leaders across several different disciplines. How does that even happen?  

I have asked my self this question many times.

Last week I was sitting on my patio enjoying a cup of coffee and watching the sun come up. I was having some really great quiet time in meditation prior to going to my exercise class when the question about an incompetent boss and my own leadership journey were rolling around in my head at the same time.  

As these questions percolated together I realized how blessed I was to have had so many great bosses throughout my life.

I don’t say that lightly - I really worked for some great women and men who taught me many valuable lessons that helped develop that poor kid from Peoria into a guy who speaks into the ear of many great leaders today.

What an honor and a privilege it is to have worked with such great leaders, both as an employee and as a coach.

Except One

Over the course of these 30 some years of work I really only had one supervisor who…well…lets just say was hard for me to respect.

As I am reflecting on the question I was asked by my client, the emotion of how frustrated I was at the time all came flooding back to me:  

  • I was annoyed at how selfish this person was, grabbing all the credit for the work the team had done. 

  • I was discouraged by the lack of empathy and compassion that was shown.

  • I was embittered by how aggressive every conversation was.

  • I was disheartened and resentful by how much joy was received in putting others down.

I have told this story to several of my clients over the years to show them some empathy and let them know they are not the only ones who experience this struggle.

While relating to their struggle helps us to connect and build trust, what my clients really want to know is “What did you do? How did you handle it?”

Ultimately, I left the organization and started this coaching and leadership development practice focused on emotional intelligence. I realized I couldn’t get my boss to change, and I wanted to do something to help other leaders who didn’t always connect well with subordinates, or had changes they wanted to make in their approach but they didn’t quite know how.  

And although that is how my story ended, here are three things I tried to focus on while I still had to report to my “Bad Boss”:

  1. Maintain Confidence.  It was important for me to remember that someone in the organization had hired me. In fact, most people get interviewed by a lot of people before they get a job. Not only did my hiring boss like me, but a whole group of other people did as well. I also had to cling to my past performance. I was fortunate enough to have been really successful in my company and that success had been recognized by many of the folks I worked with and for. Remembering those truths helped me to remain confident despite the difficulty.

  2. Ascertain My Accountability. Most of us who find ourselves working with a boss who doesn’t get us will go into defensive mode to protect ourselves, especially those top performers who get a lot of personal satisfaction of achieving and getting things done.  As a result, you may find yourself with a boss who wants you to socialize more or slow down and think more before acting.  It is important to recognize that even you, over achiever, will  have ups and downs in careers; good days and bad days. It is really hard to maintain any kind of peak performance over a long run. Some of you who have been recognized your entire life may have to step back and ask yourself what your role is in this dysfunction.  I found myself constantly asking, “What am I supposed to be learning here?”

  3. Monitor Stress. There are three main points inside of this thought. First is to make sure you are taking really good care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is critical to raise your stress tolerance level so you do not have a meltdown at the wrong time. Second is to become more flexible in how you see your boss.  If you are really serious, then perhaps it is time to get more playful? If you always come in to work and go straight to your desk, maybe you pop in to your bosses office to say hello and strike up some small talk.  You have to flex your approach, because clearly what you are doing now is not working. The third thing is keep an optimistic outlook. Your career is a long term play. Don’t get impulsive and do something stupid. Think about all the opportunities that await you three or five years from now.  None of us knows the future, so don’t do something crazy in the present that could screw it all up.

I know many of you have stories about working with people you didn't like, respect, appreciate, or esteem. If you have some suggestions on how you got through this and made it to the other side I would love to hear from you.

An Open Letter on the Leadership Skill of Coaching

“Every now and then, someone asks me for advice on how to become a writer. If I am on my game, I don’t offer advice. Instead, I ask questions in hopes of evoking my conversation partner’s inner teacher, the most reliable source of guidance anyone has.” 
Parker Palmer, “On the brink of everything; Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old”

I really love this quote by Parker Palmer because his world of being a writer is my exact experience of being an executive coach.

Last week’s blog discussed the topic of coaching and helping others see what behaviors they need to change by thinking about what things they need to stop doing, start doing, and continue doing.

I received the following note from one of my readers who is a nursing leader at a rather large hospital system in the midwest:

Great timely article!!  You know how each year God seems to pound you with a “word” for growing? Well I would not say this is my spiritual word, (although it could be lol), but I  do believe this is my professional one.  COACHING….  Coaching women is so much more comfortable for me spiritually than coaching my young employees professionally.   

Because they have all have been doing their jobs much longer than I have their knowledge base about standards, compliance, and overall  ambulatory (verses hospital) experience far outweighs mine.  For the first time in my career I feel gun shy on this skill. 

Question:  Should coaching be incognito?  Meaning, do I say “this is coaching”?  When I read the three questions in today’s blog, I wonder… are these my reflection/ assessment of them or are these behaviors that they believe need to change?  


Here was my reply:

Dear Carolyn,

I always love your insight and your interaction with my writing. I want you to know you make me a better writer when you ask probing questions like this.

I actually think "coaching" has become a catch all phrase for interacting with people. So I do think it is important to know how you distinguish coaching from other types of conversations.  I actually had someone say to me one time that coaching is nothing more than what we used to do with friends when we had a deep conversation.  Frankly, I completely disagree with that sentiment!

Coaching is a specific set of skills that allow you to take someone from where they currently are (think behavior or performance) to a place THEY want to be.  It can be formal or informal, but the focus is THEY have to want it. 

The coachee has to see the need to change the behavior and then want help in getting there. 

When deciding whether or not I am going to coach someone, the first thing I must understand is their motivation for change. If they are motivated, then I can help. If they are not motivated, then I will decline the client gracefully. 

I know this is different in my world than yours. You are often asked to coach people who may not (at least at first) want or even see the need for the change.  I am of the opinion then that your task becomes helping them see the need for change.  Not motivating them, but inspiring them to see the change which could be of such great benefit to them. 

The more I am in the field of executive coaching the more convinced I become that if the person is not motivated, then the likelihood of getting any kind of sustainable change is negligible. You can get short-term behavioral compliance when offering extrinsic motivation like more money or time off, but this is transactional and possibly even a bit coercive. At best, it is authoritarian with an obvious power gradient.  As coaches what we want to be is inspirational and transformational for those we work with.

Now to a second element in your question I noticed: experience.  You have more than enough through your long career in nursing and leadership. They may have more functional experience based upon your current assignment, but you have more leadership experience.  

We must start to see leadership (of which coaching is a tool) as a discipline, just like nursing is a discipline.  Just because someone has more nursing experience does not make them a better leader. These are very different disciplines.

Have confidence in yourself that you can lead them and lean on your faith and your experience as a leader. 

This is why when people ask me if someone will be a good executive leader the first question I ask myself is “If I take them out of their functional area as a leader and drop them in another functional area, could they thrive?”

So, for example, could I take someone like you out of nursing and put you in another area in the hospital to lead? Say outpatient Emergency Room (ER). You may not have functional ER experience, but you have leadership. In a short time you can learn the management or functional side of ER.

I may not put you in as an ER nurse, or a nurse unit manager, but I would put you in as a leader. Knowing you like I do, I would have no hesitation in doing this tomorrow.

Finally, a third element you asked about are the 3 questions (Getting people to Start, Stop, Continue behaviors); are they reflections or discussions.  I think the answer is yes! 

As a coach you need to have in mind what behavior someone needs to stop doing. The interesting thing here is you can not ask a human to stop doing something without starting a new behavior.  Think getting people to stop smoking. We can not just ask them to stop, but we need to give them something else, something less harmful to do, like START chewing gum.

The one thing I have learned over my years in coaching is behaviors have to be substituted to get the change desired.

I think a good coach will have reflected on this and then thought through the STOP and START needed. This reflection is vital if you are going to serve the person you are coaching well. Then, after reflection, I think you enter into discussion with the person to gauge their level of motivation and desire for the change you are going to ask them to make.

My Goal

As a coach I want to be more like Parker Palmer.  

The main reason I wrote this post is that I realized after I had hit the send button on my email back to Carolyn that I did not ask her one question about the email she had sent.  I fell right into giving some light advice.  While I will admit that doing this really stroked my own ego and made me feel pretty good that someone in a leadership position like Carolyn would ask me a question about a topic I am passionate enough to write about.

But I quickly realized that I fell right into that old trap of giving advice instead of stimulating Carolyn’s “inner teacher.”

Carolyn, I do hope you will forgive me.

Parker, I will try and do better next time.

7 Steps To Effective Coaching

There are times when I want to start new things but hesitate because I am afraid I won’t know what to do. I felt this way for a long time with Facebook and LinkedIn. Everyone was doing it, it seemed simple and fun, but I didn’t want to look silly if I couldn't figure it out. I didn't know what to do, so I sat on the sideline and watched rather than jumping in and learning. I felt with same way with this blog. For over a year, I wrestled with the idea. Should I start blogging? What would I say? What would other people think about what I had to say? All this negativity swirled around in my mind.

Then one day I listened to a podcast by Michael Hyatt. I remember Michael saying something like, “Stop thinking about it and start doing it." He gave 5 simple steps that I followed to start my blog. And shazam! Here we are today. Those steps gave me the confidence I needed to start something I wanted to do.

This got me thinking; There are probably people out there that have this similar problem. Maybe there are people hesitant to coach others simply because they don’t know where to start. Maybe this is you! If only you had an outline of steps to take that would give you the confidence you need to do it.

This led me to reflect on what I do when I get a coaching client for the first time and outline the major ingredients that go into every coaching engagement that I do. Please enjoy my recipe for a successful coaching engagement in 7 simple steps below and try putting them to practice.

(I think this model is transferable. So if you are a professional coach, a supervisor of employees, or a Mom or Dad coaching a youth soccer team, following these 7 steps can mean the difference for your outcome being successful!)

7 Steps To Successful Coaching

  • Begin With an Open Mind Coaching never begins in a vacuum. We all come into coaching relationships with biases. Coaches must come to clients with an open mind. The client must be seen as being a whole and healthy person. While there are times when you will have received information from others, focus on what the client is saying to you.

  • Get to Know Your Client It is hard to coach without knowing more information about your client. Find out more about who they are, what they do, their life story, and what they hope to accomplish. Consider putting together a series of questions that could apply to any client you serve. Personally, I use multiple types of assessments with my clients.

  • Confirm With the Client It is always important that you validate the collected data with the client. You want the client to be confident that you understand their perspective on what is happening, why the did what they did, or what is the genesis of how they are thinking or feeling.

  • Compare the Data to a Standard Once the client agrees with the collected data, you'll compare it to an acceptable standard. The client must agree that the standard is acceptable. If they do not, then the data may become meaningless because the objective of what the data revealed could become irrelevant. For example, I had a client who gave the appearance of being arrogant. The data we collected from others in the organization said this person’s primary objective was to get their own way all the time. This behavior is the polar opposite of what is expected in the organization: being collaborative. Before I can coach the person to a more collaborative style, they have to agree that collaboration is the right standard. Once this happens we can begin work on the arrogance. If collaboration isn’t the mutually agreed upon goal then it is tough to improve the behavior.

  • Identify Gaps Gaps are the space that exist between the client's current behavior and the agreed upon standard. They are the difference between where the client is now and where they would like to be in the future.It is useful to talk these gaps out and to get examples of where they have taken place. Coaches should always be looking for gaps between current and expected performance.

  • Set a Plan to Close the Gaps When planning with your clients, develop a simple plan that is laser focused on one or two items. When we give people too much we lose focus and the person runs the risk of being overwhelmed. When examining the performance standard I use the Stop/Start/Continue model. Here's how it works:

    • What behaviors do they need to stop?

    • What behaviors do they need to start?

    • What behaviors need to continue?

      • Do not short change the "continue" aspect. Often by stopping and starting a few simple things, people will see dramatic change. Most of the time they are doing a lot of things right, which you want to encourage to continue.

      • Establish a Date to Follow-Up It is my opinion that this step is where most coaching fails. There is no date set to follow-up, no check-in’s to see how the person is doing, and little to no interaction at all once a plan is put in place. Follow-up with those you coach is the most important part of the coaching relationship! I recommend scheduling all follow-up meetings with your client at the end of your sessions together. This will enforce some accountability on their end and help you maintain the relationship.

Coaching is a valuable skill for helping others become the best person they desire to become. Coaching skills are important tools that anyone in a leadership position needs to possess. Whether you have employees on your team or you are responsible for a group of 8-year-old girls on a soccer field, coaching is the transportation vehicle you use to help an idea become a behavior.


Identify a person in your life who needs your coaching, or better yet someone who is already getting your coaching. Think about whether you have followed all 7 steps to successful coaching within that relationship. Is there any step that you have missed? How can you use these 7 steps to coach yourself to improve your own coaching outcomes? We would love to hear from you regarding what you think about this process. Leave us a comment below!

Are You Ensuring This Happens After People Are Trained?

I have recently been working my way through a very interesting book by Ben Horowitz called The Hard Thing About Hard Things. It is a very interesting perspective on founding, buying, selling, running, and investing in technology companies. The book is not really steeped in a lot of sound leadership theory, but is more about his own practical wisdom in working and leading in the technology space. 

One of the things that caught my eye was in a small section he wrote about employee retention. According to Ben, during his tenure at one of the tech companies he founded he decided to read all of the exit interviews for the entire company. He was amazed at the amount of money they were spending on talent recruiting, hiring, and on-boarding only to see this open drain on the back end of the company. It seemed they were losing people as fast as they could hire them.

According to Horowitz, when you put the economics aside (I assume he means people who say they are leaving for higher paying jobs that his organization couldn’t compete with) there were two primary reasons why people left:

  1. They hated their direct manager. They often cited things like:

    • Lack of guidance

    • No career development

    • Feedback they received

  2. They were not learning anything. 

He then goes on to make a case for the importance of training new employees to resolve some of these turnover issues.


Insert Coaching Here

While I am all for making sure that all employees get adequate training in their role, my experience is that training is just not enough. You can’t simply send employees to a training program and expect that your turnover numbers are going to go down. 

Horowitz quotes Andy Grove, the legendary CEO at Intel, who makes the economic case for training by saying that if a manager did a series of 4 lectures for their department, assuming 3 hours of prep for each hour of material, that is 12 hours of work in total. Say you have a department of 10 folks and next year they will work about 20,000 hours for the organization. If you get a 1 percent improvement in performance, the company gains about 200 hours of work as a result. It is easy to see the ROI by inserting a salary for the department and subtracting the managers salary-time.

I would like to take Grove’s ROI calculation one step further and insert coaching after the completion of training. 

Let’s assume that a manager then does two one-one one meetings each month with each of the employees on the team. Half of the time for these meetings is dedicated to coaching the employees after the training.

The manager has had plenty of time to observe the employees, evaluating their use of the training delivered. The manager can now use the observed behaviors to coach any little improvements that will help the employee become more productive.  

Let’s assume that this manager is really not that good of a coach, but is able to eke out another 1% of productivity from each of the employees as a result of the coaching. This becomes another 12 hours of work on the part of the manager (2hrs/month/employee + 10 minutes of prep on what coaching is needed).  Now another 200 hours of work improvement has just occurred as a result. 

Now we see that 4 hours of training (a one hour training session per quarter) and one hour of dedicated coaching to the training results in a net increase in 400 hours of productivity for the organization!

No Time for Training or Coaching

I had a client tell me one time that he just really didn’t have time to train or do one on one meetings with his team. The team had way too many tasks and priorities to take a break from their work to do any of this kind of development.  

The interesting thing to me was that I was hired as an executive coach to work with this person because the turnover rate in his organization was so high that those who were left were forced to take on the projects of the folks who were exiting.

This manager was symptomatically trying to solve his productivity issues by moving projects around on some kind of organizational chess board.

Instead of making the investment in the people to reduce the turn-over rate, the manager just wanted the folks who were left to work longer and harder. 

When I did an interview 360 and talked to this manager’s peers and the folks on his team, he was not very well liked or respected. One person I interviewed told me the manager was often quoted as stating “The workload will stay high until the teams performance improves.”

There was no coaching, no positive feedback, and no feeling of being developed. 

My job as this manager’s coach was to help him see that his unwillingness to invest in coaching the team was the productivity drag on the department. 

How about you?

Do you have 1 hour per quarter to provide a training for your team and 3 hours of follow-up after the training to get a 400% increase in your team’s productivity? 

Or does your team have so much to do that there is no time for training and coaching? 

Stay tuned for next week’s post where I am going to take on the topic of Good Coach/Bad Coach. I think this is a really important topic for those of you who buy into the importance of training and coaching and think you are good at it... Just because you do it, does that mean you are skilled?

Spoiler Alert: Valentines Day Is in 3 Days

Hey, I know you are busy! We all are busy! My mom is 82 years old and when I call her even she will often say to me how busy she is. But being busy is no excuse for not letting the most important relationships in your life know how important they are to you.

The thing I love about this day set aside to celebrate love is the intentionality of it all. 

Valentines day is a day where I can celebrate the women who are important to me: my wife, my daughter, my daughters-in-law, my mom, my mother-in-law, and my granddaughter. These are all very special relationships to me and I want them to know how much I cherish the relationship I have with each of them.

While I have not decided at the time I am writing this what I am going to intentionally do for each of them, I guarantee there will be something for each of them that lets them know on this special day of celebration that they are on my mind and in my heart.


Being Intentional

One thing I have really noticed over the last few years is the value of my relationships. I am a bit ashamed to admit that in the past I have put the idea of money or commerce above relationship. Thankfully, I can honestly say that I no longer do this. Not that making a living in my work is not important, because it is! However, money is simply no longer the thing I want to be intentional about.  

For me, beyond the giving of a gift like flowers or chocolate, this Valentines Day I will intentionally focus on ensuring my relationships are well formed and intact.

Being intentional requires being meaningful and purposeful. It requires aligning my goals and my choices so that what am I doing reflects that which is important to me.

Valentines Day is a great way that I can bring meaning and purpose into both my life and the lives of the relationships that are most important to me by practicing intentionality in the area of emotional connection.

Emotional Communication

One way to show your significant other that you care is to purchase them something that is a token expression of your love. This is probably the easiest for most of us to do and in the end probably communicates the least how we really feel about the other person.

By no means am I saying that you should stiff your loved one on this day, but why not consider taking an additional step toward deeper emotional connection with your loved one?

A great way to show your significant other how much you care is to do something for them. In addition to buying something, why not actually create something? There are not many things that say “I love you” more than the other person knowing you spent time on something, thinking of them the entire time you are doing it.

Maybe you could sit for an hour and write them a poem? Or, if you are so inclined, maybe you could step in and take care of a task that they would normally do themselves.

The big idea around emotional connection is that you are noticing them and thinking about them.

Perhaps the best way to connect with someone emotionally is to simply spend time with them.

Try engaging in some conversation about a subject they enjoy but that you might not know so much about. Maybe there is a TV show that your partner really enjoys or a sports team that they follow. The idea around small talk is that you become inquisitive about all aspects of their lives. Psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan developed an approach that he called “detailed inquiry,” where you get curious with others about all aspects of their lives.

What research is showing is that these small insignificant conversations actually create more of an emotional connection than the deeper conversations about life most significant issues. Even something as simple as making a grocery list together or going over in detail all the movies playing at the theater before deciding which one to see can draw you closer to another person.  

Once you have talked about these small insignificant experiences, then go out and share them together!

For example, sit with your significant other and create some small talk around what a great valentine dinner might look like for the two of you. Things like what the meal will consist of, what kind of candles should there be, do you want a table cloth or a runner, cloth or paper napkins? Just get curious together about the insignificant details. Then on the 13th of February go to the store together and buy all the things you talked about. Buy the napkins, the steaks, the candles, etc. On Valentine’s Day, put the entire dinner on the table together. Fix the meal together. Pour each other a glass of wine. Just be together in the same moment.

These are the things of deep emotional connections.

Too many times we think these types of connections require deep topics that are serious in nature, but if you want to connect with another person on an emotional level try to spend some time just chatting about the small stuff and then create an experience around the small conversation.

You will be glad you did.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Coaching Was a Turning Point for Me as a Leader

A few days ago I was on a video conference beginning a new coaching engagement with a client, Robert. In this initial meeting I walk the client through my typical coaching expectations; what Robert can expect from me as well as what I am expecting from him.  

In addition to myself and Robert, his supervisor is on the call, along with someone from Human Resources. It is really important that all of these parties are engaged in Robert’s development so that there is clarity of expectations and organizational support for Robert’s development.

When we had finished aligning expectations I asked Robert if he had any questions. He did not.

I asked if the HR rep had any questions. She did not.

Last, I asked Robert’s supervisor, Sam, if he had any questions. He did not, but he did have something powerful to say: ”I went through some coaching several years back and it was a turning point for me as a leader…” 

I couldn’t wait for Sam to finish the story and tell us all why the coaching he had received was so impactful, but there was dead silence on the phone.  In true coaching form, I waited through the silence, suppressing every urge inside of me to fill the air with noise just so the silence didn’t feel so lonely. 

After what seemed to me to be an eternity, Sam continued in a rather subdued tone that the coaching he received had uncovered that his strength had a dark side to it. 


Sam shared that his strength had always been in understanding and interpreting data. He possessed very strong analytical skills and a belief that the numbers told the story of the situation. He was a very rational thinker and an excellent long-term planner.  In addition to the scientific approach that he brought to his work, he was very self-confident - sure of himself with a strong ability to keep his composure.

Robert chimed in at this point and said, “I can see all of these things in you today. I have never worked with anyone whose analytical skills were as sharp as yours. In fact, there are times where I triple check things before I bring them to you because I want to make sure they are right.”

Sam replied, “And that is a good thing. We want to make sure the data is correct. However, for me, these strong analytical skills also came with a dark side. I was very skeptical of other people on the leadership team. I was distrustful of them and very cynical if they had an idea or wanted to change something without data to support their rationale. My focus on the negative became a real distraction to the point that people would stop coming to me with problems I could help them solve.”

At this point, the call seemed like a conversation between Robert and Sam. A conversation maybe they should have had a long time ago, but this coaching kick-off was giving them the safe space to talk. 

Robert said, “Sam, I don’t sense that in you at all. I do not see you as negative. I see people coming to you all the time to help them solve issues.”

To that, with a bit of pride in his voice, Said said, “Coaching was a turning point for me as a leader.”

What a powerful moment I had just witnessed. 

Sam’s coach was able to help him see how his strengths, while for sure personality assets, had also been holding him back in ways that he just didn’t see.

His coach helped him identify this dark side, or blind spot, then helped him put together a plan to take advantage of his strength while not over playing it to the point of dysfunction.

I am sure most of you can self-identify with Sam in this story. Like Sam, we all have strengths and weaknesses. You may be really confident in what you are good at, but can you identify some places where your strengths are not serving you? Are you overplaying them?

Perhaps you are really good at relationship building, but there are times you are overly cooperative and say yes when you should say no.

Perhaps you are a real risk taker, but there are times where your thrill seeking has landed you in a bad place.

Perhaps you are very colorful and the life of the party, but you walk away from conversations not having heard what the others in the room have even said. (And that is if you even consider there were other people in the room at all.)

One of the great things coaching can do for you is to help you focus on your strengths so that you use them to the best of your ability, but not over play them. I hope you are able to use your coach in this manner. It is one of the true values that coaching can bring to any relationship.

Does Your Organization Implement All Three of These Ideas in Developing Leaders?

Even as a guy who loves to read and write about the topic of leadership development, I have some real empathetic understanding for those who do not think the investment in leaders is worth the return on the investment (ROI). While I do not totally agree, I am open to listening to their perspective.

Barbara Kellerman, leadership guru out of Harvard University, has entered into the discussion on the value of leadership development. In her new book, Professionalizing Leadership., she takes issue with the leadership development industry because of the message that it sends; “Take my course, or come to my workshop, or take my executive program, and you too can learn to be a leader.” Kellerman’s main beef with the leadership development industry is that other professions take the task of learning or mastering a field and a particular set of skills much more seriously and much more thoroughly. The main concern as I understand Kellerman’s point is that leadership development is packaged as an event rather than a discipline.

I agree with this summation.


Those of us in leadership development have to get away from positioning our value proposition as an event and start thinking more about how we approach leadership as a life long discipline.

For example, a training course in personality or emotional intelligence can give a leader a self-awareness tool. Nothing more. It is up to the leader to take this information and become a student of how it informs their understanding and approach to the practice of leadership.  

If you are going to lead, you can not just wake up and say “Today I think I will try to instill some vision into the group I am with.” Leadership is a discipline, just like chemistry, finance, or project management. According to Donald Schon in his book The Reflective Practitioner, these professions are “essential to the very functioning of our society.”

No person in any organization can be a leader without some other set of skills. If you want to be a sales leader, then you have to become skillful at sales and at leadership. If you want to be a leader in finance, then you must learn both disciplines, leadership and finance.

Interestingly, what I find in most organizations is that we take those who are most successful in a functional discipline, like finance, and once they show proficiency and skill at financial reporting and the inner workings of EBITA then the discussion turns to giving that person a team to lead. Most often, there is no thought of what the leadership experience or knowledge or education of that person is.

The mistake that is made is in the thinking that because this person has excelled in a particular skill, or because they were number one in their class at an Ivy League School, they must be a leader.

While I am not saying it is impossible for this person who has proven mastery of a skill to be a leader, the mistake is one Robert Sternberg ,in his chapter on foolishness in The Handbook of Wisdom, calls “fallacies of relevance.”

These errors are committed when the premise of an argument has no bearing on its conclusion. For example, just because Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever play the sport does not mean he can coach. 

Sternberg would call this all too common behavior in organizations: foolishness. It means that intelligence is no protection agains bad decisions. 

Let’s say you had an opening in your organization for a financial analyst. A resume comes across your desk for a person  with no education in finance, no knowledge of terms or how financial data fits together, and zero experience in finance. Would you hire this person for your opening and expect them to meet organizational expectations?

No, of course you wouldn’t!

You would be looking for resumes of people who went to school for a number of years to learn the academic ins and outs of finance, then got a job in the field, had some people in an organization show them the ropes, maybe even was assigned a mentor. At the very least, they had the ability to learn from the “school of hard knocks” about what works and what doesn’t work.

Let’s think of it another way. Would you ever hire someone for a finance role who was an organizational leadership major? Let them lead the team and say, “No worries, they will just learn the finance piece.” Outside of an introductory sales or administrative role, I have never heard of this happening!

The Reason for Wrong Thinking In Leadership Development

There are three things I believe those who want to be effective organizational leaders need to focus on when making decisions about who is in a leadership role in an organization:

  1. Leadership Education.

    Education is about gathering general knowledge as part of facilitating the learning process. It comprises important elements such as grounded theory, core values, accepted beliefs, socially acceptable habits, and proven skills.  A leader should know the difference between transactional and servant leadership and how followers react to each. Basic education is a necessity prior to someone going into training. If you try to train someone without some knowledge they may be able to learn the skill, but will not be able to transfer that learning to complex situations that arise.

  2. Leadership Training.

    Training is about acquiring skills and behaviors with the goal of improving performance. A leader might go to a training class to learn about personality types and be trained in how to use personality to improve communication. Without some education on what personality theory is, the leader is armed with a tool they do not understand and, therefore, cannot use to the benefit of themselves or the organization.

  3. Leadership Development.

    Leadership Development is the ongoing use of leadership education and training that is building and expanding the persons capacity to lead. This idea of development starts with the individual and then must expand to the broader organization to ensure healthy organizational growth.

These three very distinct aspects of leadership are all critical to growing leaders in organizations.

Back to the “Is it worth It” Question

While ROI is pretty easy to calculate on an investment like a stock, the calculation gets messy when we start to try and calculate the complexity of human behavior.

While many have offered formulas, the deterministic approach often leaves readers scratching their heads as a small investment in leadership development ends up showing 600% returns. It is so unbelievable that most people just dismiss the numbers out of hand. 

Maybe instead of being so deterministically calculating we ought to rely on another mathematic discipline to determine value of developing our leaders; statistics. More specifically, probability. 

What are the chances that without investing fully in developing leaders that our business will succeed? Before you start developing assumptions to generate your answer, why don’t we turn to logic to answer the question for us?

What are the chances that without investing in the education, training, and development of our finance department that our business will succeed?

I think you have your answer.

Do You Have Enough Relational Empathy?

Last week’s blog post was really cathartic for me. I wrote a reflection on 2018 from the work I had done with clients and the kinds of big picture things I was noticing. If you haven’t seen it yet you can take a look here.

One of the things I have been observing is how important relational empathy is becoming in organizations.

Clarifying Question

After that post, I got an email from a reader that pushed back on the idea of needing more relational empathy. The point this person was making was that they had a job to do, and it was their job to “stay in their lane” and represent sales. That if marketing had a problem, well, that was up to them to solve.

I have to admit, I used to think this way as well. When our organizations were silos of departments and functional expertise was valued over anything else, this “stay in your lane” mentality ruled.

But I would argue that our world is changing too fast to keep this line of thinking. 

I am finishing a book now by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Thomas Friedman, titled Thank You For Being Late. Friedman spends a lot of time unpacking the idea of Moore’s Law, which is really more of an observation from the technology world-the expectation that the power of microchips would double roughly every two years-giving exponential growth to computing power. 


The silo organization is dead. Individuals working in teams is the only way to achieve success.

Last week in my blog I wrote this about Relational Empathy:

I don’t know if this is a symptom of our political climate or not, but people have become so polar. They have an idea or a framework for how the world should be and they stick to it no matter how silly it makes them look. Maybe this is a natural outcome of divisions of labor, where those trained in finance wear finance glasses and only see the world through finance. Or, how those who are trained and educated in marketing only see the world through a marketing lens.  As leaders we seem to have lost the skill of trying to understand where the other person is coming from, and, even more important, what it is like to be them. We are so concerned with our own selfish ambition and desires that we have lost sight of the perspective of other ways of seeing and doing.


Let me unpack the relational part of this concept. 

Maureen O’Hara from the Center for Studies of the Person writes of two distinct frameworks for thinking about the self. There is the Western view that sees the self as ego-centric. This is an individualistic, self-centered perspective. 

There is also a pre-European (i.e. India or Mexico) view that sees the self as socio-centric. The person is seen as participating in the world around them.

O’Hara gives a great example by observing the family.

Those from the West, when they speak of family, will often say that they “have a family”. Note the possessiveness.

Those from the pre-European perspective say that they “belong to a family.” Notice the inclusiveness.

Most of the readers of this blog are from a Western perspective of the self. So, when it comes to relationships, we think in terms of possessing or “having friends” as opposed to “belonging to” a friend group.

To be relational, leaders need to have the ability to establish and maintain mutually satisfying relationships that have both “give” and “take” where compassion and trust are expressed in both word and deed.


According to American psychologist Carl Rogers, "The state of empathy or being empathetic is to perceive the internal from of reference of another with accuracy, and with the emotional components and meaning which pertain thereto, as if one were the other person, but without ever losing the “as if” condition.” 

This means that as a leader you are aware of and sense the emotion (disappointment, hurt, rejection) of someone on your team AND you perceive this emotion just like they do without losing the awareness that it is “AS IF” you were disappointed, hurt, or rejected. This is what differentiates empathy and sympathy.

Relational Empathy

Relational empathy is about establishing and maintaining mutually satisfying relationships “AS IF” you were the other person.  One of the best examples of a leader having relational empathy that I have seen in a long time is in a book by Ben Horowitz titled The Hard Thing About Hard Things. The story is on page 47 if you get a copy of the book. 

Allow me to paraphrase:

Ben is the CEO of a tech company in Silicon Valley and had bought a small technology company in North Carolina, Tangram. During the deal, the CEO of Tangram, John, started experiencing headaches. In addition, as part of the purchase, John would not be joining Ben’s company. Turns out, John had brain cancer and since he was not joining the new company would not have health insurance, as it was ruled a pre-existing condition. Ben did not owe John anything and the cost to the company for COBRA was over $200,000. Ben’s company was in no financial shape to be merciful. Bottom line, this was not Ben’s problem.

Ben’s company was in a fight for its life, but then, Ben realized, so was John.

So Ben decided to pay for John’s health cost. “We will find the money elsewhere in the budget,” he said.

John died 15 months later.

Ben reflects, “I guess I did it because i knew what desperation felt like.”

Now that is relational empathy!

Do You Share These Observations Regarding Leadership Momentum?

There are not many folks from about mid-December through mid-January who are wanting to engage in new coaching or training opportunities, so each year I use those weeks for reflection and planning. 

In addition the clients I am currently working with, I am regularly adding new coaching clients into my practice throughout the year. With that in mind, an important area to reflect on as one year ends a new one begins is the future of my coaching practice. How many new clients will I engage this year? Who will they be? What will my coaching practice look like in the coming months? It is important to thoughtfully reflect on these questions in order to determine how I can proactively plan for a successful year for both myself and my clients.

Another area of my professional life that I reflect on is the work my clients have asked me to do with them. I begin by looking at my calendar to observe all the work I did in the past 12 months. I look at all the times I spent teaching, training, facilitating, coaching, creating content, etc. Then, I ask myself a really hard question: Is the work I am doing still relevant? Is it meaningful for those who call on me to work with leaders in their organization?

Finally, I spend time in personal reflection and journaling. Perhaps most importantly, reflecting on how I spend my time, then comparing this data with what I really enjoy doing in my work life.



One way to look at whether or not I am relevant is by using the idea of momentum. This is a concept that I borrow from the world of personal investing and finance.

One of the personal finance newsletters I read on a very regular basis is Sound Mind Investing. (You can learn more about them at

In the January 2019 newsletter, Matt Bell writes about the concept of momentum. According to Matt:

“A fundamental mistake many investors make is to move too quickly in choosing investments. They read about a hot stock or this year’s best performing mutual fund and jump in. It’s all very ad hoc and reactive.”

Matt goes on to write that “Momentum is the idea that the recent past performance tends to persist-that is, it tends to continue, at least into the near term future.”

This means that what has happened in the recent past is likely to continue into the near future. It is what we know to be true from the world of physics; that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, while an object at rest stays at rest.

Momentum in the financial world becomes an objective measure of what is going on in the marketplace so that the investor can build a strategy based on real data and not just turn on the TV and be moved to buy a stock by some talking head in the moment.

Momentum Analysis

As I analyzed my journaling from this past year, here are 4 things I noticed:

  1. Emotional Intelligence remains an important leadership construct. This is true for both the training work I do as well as the coaching. Most of the time when leaders hire me there is some growth desired in this area. I think Dan Goleman got it right when he wrote, “What really matters for success, character, happiness, and life long achievements is a definite set of emotional skills - your EQ - not just purely cognitive abilities…” Organizations put so much emphasis on how smart and skillful people are that they often miss this other very important dynamic of the “how” they work with others.

  2. Relational empathy. I don’t know if this is a symptom of our political climate or not, but people have become so polar. They have an idea or a framework for how the world should be and they stick to it no matter how silly it makes them look. Maybe this is a natural outcome of divisions of labor, where those trained in finance wear finance glasses and only see the world through finance. Or, how those who are trained and educated in marketing only see the world through a marketing lens.  As leaders we seem to have lost the skill of trying to understand where the other person is coming from, and, even more important, what it is like to be them. We are so concerned with our own selfish ambition and desires that we have lost sight of the perspective of other ways of seeing and doing.

  3. Being flexible in ambiguous times. I was on a call with a potential client toward the end of the year whose organization has been turned upside down. Half of the people have either been laid off or reassigned new roles. There is a tremendous amount of ambiguity about what certain jobs actually are and what people are supposed to do everyday. I was asked to talk with the team about the impact of emotions during times of tension and what to watch for as leaders when working with others. I was interrupted with a question in the middle of my presentation when one well meaning soul said, “Dr. Livingston, enough already about helping people process the loss they have experienced, can you just help us get to a place where things are normal and we can all just get back to work?” My response? “This is your new normal. Learning to be emotionally flexible and helping people deal with where they are in the moment is a new calling for leaders.”

  4. Connecting with talent. The December stock market slide, not withstanding the economic outlook and, more specifically, the jobs outlook, is really robust. Senior leaders need to make sure they are connecting with talent, because my sense is that talent is itching for new opportunities. I think senior leaders need to get much better at proactively scheduling time to connect and care about the talent in the organization. Take them for coffee. Schedule a lunch. Learn what is on their mind. You do not need to do another ROI calculation on some process. What you really need to do is ensure you have the talent on your team to turn the future you are planning for into a reality.

How about you? Do you agree with these 4 observations? Leave a comment or send an email. I would love to connect with you to talk about these observations, or your unique observations regarding your organization.

Best hopes for the coming year,


Do Not Forget to Do This When You Turn to Setting Your 2019 Goals

Now that the Christmas season is behind us, many leaders will be turning their sights to goal setting for 2019.

A noble cause, to be sure.

Goals can help leaders:

  1. Stay focused on priorities.

  2. Ensure they are challenging themselves.

  3. Set milestones to measure progress.

And, according to the literature on goal setting theory:

  1. Give the leader a great deal of self-confidence in accomplishing the objectives.

If you are in need of some deep thinking time to better understand what your goals should be, you can download my Minimalist’s Guide to a 4-Hour Personal Leadership Retreat by clicking here. This guide is intended to give you some structure for a creative thinking process as you consider what you want to put the emphasis on in your life this year.


A Quick Story

A past client called me recently after being “downsized” from his organization. As we talked about his situation, he told me “Last time I took a job it was because it was convenient. I didn’t have to move and I knew I could do the work. I was not passionate about the work, but I knew I could do it.”

As we talked about what he wanted to do in this next transition he was much more clear and principled. “I want something where I can use my skills as a leader, doing what I am most passionate about. It really doesn’t matter where it it is or necessarily what industry it is in. If it is something I love getting up to do, that is what I am looking for.”

As I hung up the phone from talking to him I could really tell the difference between his first transition and this one. 

He was following his heart and he was principled in his quest.

Consider examining your principles prior to goal setting

One of my favorite leadership quotes of all time is from the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland:

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”

I think many leaders adopt this philosophy as a reason for goal setting, to give themselves some priorities on what they want to accomplish in a given year.

The problem is that we as leaders can often set goals that will get things done, but are not goals we truly believe in or are not important to us at all.

For example, I can set a goal to shoot an 80 for 18 holes in golf, but if I do not believe it is possible because I currently shoot 95, then what good is having the goal? Sure, it is a goal, but it is not principled.

What is a principle?

As I researched this question a few years ago for a leadership workshop I led, here is what the literature said about principles.  Most definitions include aspects of the following:

  • An accepted or professed rule of action, or a doctrine for conduct.

  • A truth that can be followed.

  • A guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct.

In summary, a principle is some type of relevant, moral, accepted standard that the leader believes in which guides their underlying behavior.

Your principles inform your development goals

If this idea of having a principle inform a goal is new to you, let me give you some steps you can use to create a principle that supports a behavior that you can then set a goal around.

  1. Find agreement and define the dimension you are setting a goal around.

    For example, if I want to improve my coaching skills as a goal, I would make sure that coaching is a leadership behavior and then give myself a definition for what coaching means to me.

    Coaching: An interaction between a coach and a coachee that unlocks the full potential of the person being coached. In a coaching relationships, the coachee is transformed in both belief and behavior in an encouraging, supportive manner.

  2. The next step in the process is to think about the Dominant Ideas that surround the leadership dimension. Ask yourself questions like:

    1. What are the important skills that support this behavior?

    2. How do I want my followers to feel when I am using this leadership dimension?

    3. Why is this dimension important to me as a leader?

  3. After you have answered these question then ask yourself:

    What does being a “good” coach (in this case) look like and how is that different from being a “great” coach?

    The idea is to let go of any outcomes here and to focus on quality inputs.  Resist the temptation to say that a great coach obtains a maximum bonus payout at the end of the year; or that a great coach wins championships. Instead, focus more on the behaviors of what a great coach actually does. Things like building rapport, attuning, and listening skill.

  4. Finally, go back and review these three steps and just sit and think about them. Meditate on them so that the primary ideas become really clear to you. After some time, write a single sentence that describes the principle so that it represents what your idea or belief is in coaching.

    Example: Create a safe environment for discussions where the coachee feels valued and heard, supported and challenged, and knows I have their best interest in mind.

The challenge I have for you as you are thinking about your goals for 2019 is to not only think about what you want to get done, but also why this goal is so important to you and how you want to go about reaching it.

As you think about the why and the how, I do hope you will become a principle centered leader as you set and attain your goals.

A Prescription for Being A Wise Leader

Because it is Christmas Eve I am fairly confident that if you are reading this post at all, you are in one of three places:

  1. At work regretting not saving one more vacation day this year.

  2. Others assume you are working, but that you have scheduled yourself at an “offsite meeting” of undisclosed location.

  3. On vacation, but just couldn’t help yourself and had to check your email because it is a Monday morning.

No matter where these thoughts find you this day, I want to note that this post is a little different than my usual organizational leadership musings. So, you have been warned.

Perhaps this is because as I am writing this my own heart and mind are turning to the Christmas holiday and the precious time my wife Kim and I will get to spend with our kids, their spouses, and my adorable granddaughter. However, our time with our family will not start until later on Christmas Day when our daughter and her husband arrive at our home in Florida.

This means that today, on Christmas Eve, if you are opening this post early, Kim and I will be at the gym for our morning workout. If you are reading midmorning I then will be having a brunch meeting with my good friends Bob and Pat who serve in ministry at Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU). Or, if you decided to sleep in and are reading this later in the day, I will likely be off to a matinee with Kim before we head to our Christmas Eve service at church.

I have to admit that one of my favorite church services all year is Christmas Eve. 

One thing I really I love about the Christmas Eve service at almost any church I have ever attended is that it is almost guaranteed that the song “O Holy Night” will be sung.

There is just something about this song that sends a chill down my spine. I get this huge adrenaline rush as the song begins slowly;

 “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of the dear saviors birth.”

Even as the song begins I find myself lost in the lyrics. Then the song builds in intensity as it moves along until it hits the crescendo verse still remembering that special night;

“O night divine,” the verse repeats softly and slowly, “O night divine.” 

What I love about this song is that it implores us to remember that night, and not only to acknowledge it but to remember it as something really unique in the history of the world: a savior was born for man to come back into relationship with God.

I have been thinking a lot recently about why that song is so impactful for me, and I think it is because the song takes me to a place in my mind that I do not go to enough…my imagination.


I am so evidence and fact based in my approach to leadership development (and life) that I often miss that creative, imaginative side of who I am.

So, why am I writing this to you as practitioners and gurus in the field of organizational leadership?

Because I don’t want you to miss this very important aspect in leadership that just does not get enough press these days…wisdom in leadership. 

We put so much focus on effective leadership I often wonder if we are missing the boat in doing so. I would argue that perhaps we need to be less concerned with how effective our leaders are and put more emphasis on how wise they are!

So, how do we evaluate wisdom in ourselves as leaders and in those we lead? Here are five things you can use from the wisdom leadership literature as a checklist:

  1.  Wise leaders use careful observations and reason to reach better decisions.

  2. Wise leaders take into account not only rational and factual evidence, but also non-rational aspects such as emotional intelligence, foresight, and imagination. 

  3. Wise leaders value humane and virtuous outcome. 

  4. Wise leaders make decisions that are practical and oriented towards everyday life.

  5. Wise leaders understand the aesthetic dimensions of their work, are articulate when communicating, and believe in contributing to the good life of all.

Perhaps the most notable in this list is number two, so don’t miss it -- wise leaders take into account both the rational and the imagination.

My hope for you this Christmas season is that you will be awestruck not only by the evidence that you can see, but also that you are amazed this season by your own imagination. And, in doing so, that you would find yourself growing in wisdom as a leader.

Take in every moment this holiday season and let your heart be filled with gratitude and wonder.

Be blessed.

Unless Someone Cares

I came across an interesting piece of research the other day in the International Journal of Manpower that I just cannot stop thinking about.

Carolyn Wiley is a researcher and professor of management at Roosevelt University. In 1995 she repeated a study that had been conducted in 1946, 1980, 1986, and then again in 1992. 

Over 40 years of survey data were analyzed to learn what factors really motivate people to do their best work.

I know what some of you analytical types are saying right now…Scott, that data is at least 25 years old…shouldn’t you write about something a little more current?

Before you stop reading, I would ask you to ponder for yourself; how much has your motivation to do your best work really changed?

Sure, we are all a bit different. The things happening in society when the data was collected was different. But when you look at the data as an aggregate, are things really all that different?

Some popular responses to the motivation question from the survey are:

  • Full appreciation of work done

  • Help with personal problems

  • Job security

  • Good wages

  • Interesting work

  • Personal or company loyalty

  • Promotion and growth in the company

  • Good working conditions

  • Tactful discipline

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When studying the 1992 data overall, there are a lot of differences between different groups:

  • Part-time workers placed more emphasis on interesting work, while full-time workers placed more value on personal loyalty.

  • Women placed greater importance on appreciation for work done, while men placed more value on interesting work.

  • There were no statistical differences in motivation by age group. All groups decided on good wages as their first choice.

What I found most interesting is that across the 40 years measured by the study, only one factor made the top two motivators when all of the data is combined. Take a look at the list at some of the top vote getters again and see if you can figure out which one matters most.

Here is the list for you to study:

  • Full appreciation of work done

  • Help with personal problems

  • Job security

  • Good wages

  • Interesting work

  • Personal or company loyalty

  • Promotion and growth in the company

  • Good working conditions

  • Tactful discipline

If you guessed “full appreciation of work done” then you either read the International Journal of Manpower or you are really in tune with what people in organizations want.

I guess that is why the picture in this post really caught my attention.

If I am not valuing and appreciating the folks that I interact with on a routine basis then I am leaving one of the two top motivators for those I work with out of the equation for obtaining whatever business objective I have in front of me.

It is so easy to say to yourself, “of course I do this,” but do you really? Do you really tell those in your organization “thank you" enough?

Perhaps and even better question is, do they feel it? Do they feel it to the point where it is a motivation for them to give their very best?

I will leave you to ponder this for yourself.  Let me know what you think by dropping a comment below.

Invest In Your Future Today

I received a call from a client the other day, let’s call him Steve, who I have not worked with in a couple years.  He had moved on to a new job with a new company and one of his assignments is to identify and prepare leaders for the growth his organization is planning over the next five to seven years.

As I listened to Steve talk about the challenges the organization will face, it became clear to both of us that the leadership talent needed for the future does not currently exist in the organization. 

At the end of the conversation, Steve said something that really stuck with me, “Sure, we can go out and get talent when we need it, but then we waste 12 to 18 months of them figuring things out and learning our culture. We need to grow our talent so that we can harvest it when we need it most!”

I hung up the phone from talking with Steve and my next call was with an old friend who I talk with once a month or so, we’ll call him Sam. Sam and I will usually spend some time talking about our IRA’s and retirement. What is interesting is that Sam and I had both spoken to our financial advisors the week prior regarding how nervous we are about the stock market moving up and down. Both of our advisors told us that the only way for us to reach our financial goals was to stay in the market.  

Both Sam and I heard loud and clear from two different sources that the only way for us to hit our financial goals was to stay invested. The reason for this is because of the value of investing and compound interest. You really do not see the value of compound interest for a few years, but once it kicks in the growth is quite substantial.


Then it hit me.

The conversation I had with Steve and the conversation I had with Sam were really the same conversation. 

One was about growing financial resources to achieve a goal, and the other was about growing human resources to achieve a goal.

Both of them require an initial investment. Both of them require some rides up and down the growth curve. This takes patience, impulse control, and a lot of putting fear in its proper place.

The question I am asking myself these days is how many senior executives have their retirement portfolio totally stashed in a money market account that is drawing 1% interest? My guess is zero of them. 

So, why are we not investing in talent in the same strategic way that we are investing for our retirement?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a comment below or shoot me an email.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Henry Kissinger is famous for saying that one of the most difficult things for a young leader to do is to “speak truth to power;' to go up the power gradient with information that is contrary to what the hierarchical, authoritative, and referent position believes to be true.

There is inherent organizational danger when communicating things to a leader that they may not be seeing:

  • You could be rejected, which leads to embarrassment.

  • You could be dismissed, which leads to self-doubt.

  • You could be humiliated, which leads to isolation.

  • You could be discounted, which leads to demoralization.

Alternately, there is huge upside in communicating to a leader what they are not seeing in the moment:

  • You could be celebrated for the input.

  • You could be included in the decision-making process.

  • You could be honored for your courage.

  • You could be valued for your contribution.

Whether a reality or a figment of our imagination as a young leader, “speaking truth to power” can be overwhelming. This is the risk tension that the young leader must face.

Receptivity of the Leader

No matter the current stage of our leadership journey, we have all been there at some point and can relate to emotion of the young leader when faced with the risky decision to “speak truth to power.”

However, it could be argued that the senior leader has even more at stake.

Unless they create a safe environment in which others feel the freedom to share, the senior leader runs the risk of missing key information that may never find its way to them. With that in mind, much of the burden falls on the senior leader to create an atmosphere that mitigates the risk for the young leader.

How are you doing in this area?


Here are my top 5 tips for leaders who want to improve their chances of hearing the information they need in order to make informed decisions and lead well:

  • Slow down your cadence.

    Most of the leadership mistakes I have made were because my world was moving too fast and I did not slow down in order to see more possibilities. The faster I went the more convinced I became that I was right, and the further away I got from the truth. Take a deep breath, count to 10, sip a warm beverage, pray, do whatever you need to do in order to slow your pace.

  • Become curious.

    Suspend your need to be right and work really hard to understand an alternate position. Before you jump to a conclusion or shoot down an opposing opinion, spend some time to discern the message they are bringing to you.

  • Always say thank you.

    You would be surprised how often I observe leaders who turn and walk away from an interaction without expressing gratitude. Very rarely, if ever, is their intent to be unkind or degrading, however, the pressure of the moment takes the brain to the next thing rather than allowing them to focus on being fully present in their current interaction, with awareness and sensitivity to the needs of the relationship. Researchers at USC found that simple acts of gratitude provide benefits ranging from feelings of reward and satisfaction to simply helping people to hold on to their humanity. Try the simple act of saying “thank you” more often and see how it might contribute to more open communication.

  • Spend time reflecting.

    At the end of your day, take the time to review. Play back the interactions you had with others, resisting the temptation to become defensive. Ask yourself questions such as, I wonder what they were really trying to ask me? Why did I feel such a strong need to defend myself? Why did I feel such a strong need to exert power in the moment? What unintended consequences could my actions have? Be honest with yourself as you learn and grow from the challenges and successes.

  • Do the inner work of developing your soul.

    Psychology data says you are as intelligent right now as you will ever be. Your personality is fully formed, so you know if you are extroverted or introverted. You have most of the skill you will ever need. With that in mind, what is your next step in development? Could it be that you need to work on developing the soul of your leadership?


Pick one of the 5 tips above and work on it every day for a week. For example, in every personal interaction and every email you send, say “thank you." Work on making your attitude heartfelt, and let me know what outcomes you see. I’d love to know how these tips contribute to more open communication within your team or organization.

5 Steps Toward Sustainable Change

This is a very busy time of year for many of us.  In the U.S. we just celebrated Thanksgiving, which means the ever-looming Christmas craziness is just around the corner.

For many of you, that can only mean one thing...

It is performance review time.

That time when you will sit down with your supervisor and go over the goals you set for the year and measure your performance against those standards. Or, at least that is how it is supposed to work in theory.

For all of you over-achievers out there, this can be an anxious time. Most of us who work in organizations get up every morning and our self-created goal is to do the very best we can every day. Sometimes what we are supposed to do isn’t very clear. Sometimes what we are supposed to do changes, it seems, on an hourly basis. Most times what we know is important to do gets hijacked by the tyranny of someone else's agenda. And sometimes what we were hired to do is not what we end up doing at all.  

No matter what your individual circumstance, I am confident that most of you show up wanting to do the very best that you can with the time you have available. You feel like you have exceeded your goals and far surpassed expectations. Yet you will sit down with your supervisor at some point and the reality is that only so many of you can get that top performance ranking in any given year.  The rules of statistics say that most of you will get an average performance rating every year even though you feel like you deserve much more.

The dilemma you face is that you had what you considered to be an excellent year. Your boss agrees but ranks you as having an average year and then challenges you to “step up your game” to get that top ranking.

I think when most of us get this kind of feedback, it makes us a little defensive, so for now, I want you to proactively be thinking about what it is that you need to change to get that top performance ranking next year. 

Maybe you need to add a skill to your toolbox. Maybe you need to be more assertive with your peers or show a little more empathy with your direct reports. Whatever the case, for most of you the problem isn’t finding what it is you need to change, the question is how to sustain the change you want to make.

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The issue of sustaining change is not a new concept. Kurt Lewen observed in the 1940s that making a change was often very short lived. It's like drinking a Monster energy drink. Sure, you are moving faster or have more focus, but so often, once the caffeine is out of your system, the energy level decreases back to its original level. Lewen noted that something more was needed than a shot-in-the-arm type of boost. Sure, changes can be made in the short-run, but how do you translate that change to long-term outcomes?

5 Steps Toward Sustainable Change

  1. Create a long-term value proposition. The coaching client has to see relevant longterm value in making any change that has been identified. Focusing on a value proposition will often cause the client to wrestle with their own belief system. Without changing what the person believes to be true, old behavioral habits return insidiously. In my health example, I have to associate overeating or eating the wrong foods as being bad for me ten years from now. It is too easy to succumb to temptation if you are focused on getting your short-term needs met. For my client from last week, who was always interrupting, he had to believe that his behavior was rude and that his intention was not to be seen this way. His need to be respected had to triumph over his need to be heard.

  2. Experiment with new behaviors to find a fit. So often I hear coaches talk about practicing new behaviors before they even know if the new behavior will work or not. I like for my clients to experiment with several options to see what will work for them. The fear I have is if this step is skipped then we could end up practicing the wrong behavior and have to go through the process of unlearning and relearning. For me, I had to experiment with reducing the size of my protein choice at dinner, giving up a snack before bed, working out an extra day a week and completely eliminating fried foods. I played with all of these and finally found that what I wanted to practice was reducing my protein size at dinner. I went from eating an entire chicken breast to only eating a portion size equal to the size of my fist.

  3. Practice the new behavior in a number of contexts. Then, I practiced this new behavior. When my wife and I grill, we split a chicken breast. When I go out to eat I ask for smaller sizes. When I travel I am conscious not to just go ahead and order the largest meal on the menu because I forgot to have an afternoon snack. To gain sustainability it is important to practice the new behavior across contexts. My client had to practice not interrupting his boss, his peers, his direct reports. He had to practice not interrupting during presentations, and one-on-ones, and on conference calls.

  4. Identify relational feedback loops. No change can happen in isolation. We all need constant feedback. We need safe places to see if people notice the changes we are making. This is where it can help to share your development goals across a broad number of relationships. This constant feedback loop is critical to making that new behavior a sticky habit. My client would actually say to his direct reports during one-on-one meetings, "My goal is not to interrupt you and finish your sentences during our meeting today. If I do this would you please just get up and put a tick mark on my whiteboard.” Feedback is a gift, all the way through the development process.

  5. Celebrate the noted change. Let the dopamine in your brain flow. You have worked long and hard to gain this change. Likely somewhere between 2 and 3 months at a minimum. Why not have a party? Why not let the good feeling of accomplishment and a job well-done flow through to those who have been with you on your development journey.

I would be really interested in knowing if you have other coaching sustainability tips. Why not leave a comment or share an experience below? I would love to hear from you!