How To Not Be A Mrs. Fidget (A Lesson on Micromanagement)

In his classic work on understanding the four human loves, CS Lewis tells a very interesting tale of a mother named Mrs. Fidget.

The story starts out at Mrs. Fidget’s funeral.

What Lewis writes really caught my attention:

The faces on the members of her family had all “brightened up.”

  • The drawn look from her husband’s face was gone and he was laughing again.

  • The young, embittered son who caused such havoc it seems was quite human.

  • The daughter who seemingly was out all hours of the night, if she ever came home at all, was seen organizing the garden in the middle of the day.

  • Another daughter you didn’t even know was around because she was treated so delicately was off taking horseback riding lessons.

  • Even the dog, who was never allowed out except on a leash, was seen from time to time wandering around the neighborhood with the pack.

What Lewis describes next is what I found to be so profound and so applicable to our thoughts on leadership today:

“Mrs. Fidget very often said she lived for her family. And it was not untrue. Everyone knew it.”

  • She did all the laundry. She did it poorly and they could have afforded to send it out. But she did it. They begged her not to, but she insisted.

  • There was always a hot meal for anyone who was around. At all times of the day or night. They implored her not to do it. They even told her they liked cold meals once in a while. The pleaded with her to just make a sandwich once in a while. But no. She insisted. She was living for her family.

  • She always sat up and waited for you to “welcome” you home no matter what hour of the night; two or three in the morning. It did not matter the time of day or night, you always came home to that vey tired, weary face awaiting you like a silent accusation. This meant, of course, that you just didn’t go out very often, or if you did you just didn’t come home at all.

  • In addition, she was always making things, as she fashioned herself as quite the amateur seamstress. And Lewis says, unless you were a heartless brute, you wore what was made for you. (It was said by the minister at the homeless shelter that her family had donated more clothes on one day than all the other families in town for an entire year…and we all know ministers don’t lie or exaggerate).

Mrs. Fidget was often heard saying she would work her fingers to the bone for her family. There was nothing she would not do for them. In fact, there was so much to do that she needed help.

So, they pitched in and helped.

According to Lewis, “They did things for her to help her do things for them that they didn’t want done.”

At her funeral, the minister said Mrs. Fidget was now at rest.

Lewis laments, “Let us hope she is. What's quite certain is that her family are."

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Leadership Application

You probably don’t need my comments after reading the highlights from the story above, but I feel it is my duty. So here goes...

In my executive coaching practice I am called on at least twice a year to work with someone who turns out to be a micromanager.

I am also honored to teach at Concordia University in the Executive Coaching program where I facilitate the Internship course. In this course, students learn the executive coaching process from start to finish, including collecting 360 degree feedback. What I have observed is at least 40% will end up with a client who is in some way a micromanager…A Mrs. Fidget.

As I process 360 degree feedback with my clients and listen to my students stories, there are three pretty consistent themes that emerge:

  1. Shock - I think the emotion I see expressed most often is surprise. The person who is seen as the micromanager had no idea that people on the team felt that way. “Who me?” they say…”... I would, and in fact do, sacrifice so much for this team. There is nothing that I would not do for any of them. I am as close if not closer to them than my own family.”

  2. Dismay - The emotion that follows the initial shock of the feedback is denial. “No, this can’t be right. Something is missing here because I would never intend to harm or control anyone. I just want what is best for them and to keep them out of trouble with senior management."

  3. Overwhelmed - As the emotions continue processing in the feedback session, the micromanager becomes overwhelmed and there is a real sense of loss. A feeling of "what do I do now?” The knee jerk reaction is to control the situation by pulling the team together and coming up with more strategies and tactics that no one is asking for.

  4. Embarrassment - As the feedback is slowly processed, the shame starts to set in. This is why you need a professional coach to help process this kind of feedback. People who want to change have to process loss before they can turn and move to a new future.

  5. Stuck - "Okay, now what do I do? I don’t want to be seen this way, but obviously my desire to help is being misinterpreted so I feel like I am in quicksand. The more I might try and move to get out, the deeper I sink in.”

What’s to be done?

At the core of micromanagement is a need to give to others. Some may call it control, as that is at times exactly what it feels like. However, the micromanager who has good ethical boundaries rarely has an evil desire to control others. Rather, they have a real GIFT. The gift they have is that they care. They care so much and they have such a strong need to give the gift of caring the only thing they desire in return is that their gift is needed.

Hence the cycle of micromanagement is established:

  • Manager has a gift

  • Manager needs to give the gift

  • Follower doesn’t need the gift

  • Follower feels need for peace at all costs

  • Follower “accepts” gift

  • Manager feels needed as gift is “accepted"

Those on the team end up enabling the micromanagement. This thought of the team having some culpability in enabling the micromanaging behavior is often left out of the solution on how to fix the problem. No one needs the boss hanging over their shoulder telling them exactly what to do and say, but they don’t want to tell them for fear of causing the boss to feel rejected. After all, a rejected boss can be more difficult to live with. With all the passive-aggressive behavior, it is better to just tolerate it. So, the culture becomes one of fear and control and neither the leader or the followers want it to be this way.

It was never anyone’s intention. It is the explicit culture that describes the team.

This is also why those who have strong, independent streaks in their nature, (like the daughter who stayed out all night), will feel like such an outsider on the team. They would rather just stay away than get sucked into the dysfunction.

This micromanager needs to learn that there is a time that the gift they have is valued. And that the proper use of the gift is to put teammates in a position where the gift of control is no longer needed. It is like, in some respects, teaching a child to dress themselves. You teach them, and then you celebrate it when they can do it on their own. You as the parent begin to think about what the next skill is that the person is going to need to be able to be successful in life.

Yeah, But…

But wait…the micromanager says, if they can dress themselves…now what do I do? What about my need to give?

Here are some thoughts for you to consider after you have taught them to dress themselves:

  • Get them ready for the future. Turn your face to what lies ahead. Start working with your peers on developing strategies that your organization is going to need in the future. What talent is missing? How can folks on your team start to fill those gaps?

  • Coach to their strengths. Find places where you see teammates really shining and celebrate them with everyone.

  • Create a culture of delight. Who doesn’t like the feeling of delight? That sense of being pleased to the point of desiring it. Make the place where you lead one that people can’t wait to sign up to work in.

We all have gifts. Why not use yours to become a MacroLeader rather than a MicroManager?

Do you know someone who needs to read this? Why not send them a link and then invite them to coffee for a chat?

Here is some ADVICE...or not...

From time to time I receive questions from readers asking for advice on how to handle certain leadership situations.

One thing you have to know is that I am not big on giving advice. To be able to advise, I think you need a lot of details on the situation the person finds themselves in. There are usually so many details that would sway something one way or another.

Douglas Stone and Sheila Henn in Thanks for the Feedback say that the problem with advice is that it is not specific enough. We tend to give some sage quip without enough detail to implement. Or, we are such experts in something we assume everyone knows our jargon. “When you deliver your presentation make sure it stands out.” Interesting, but what does “stand out” even mean?

The other thing that makes advice hard is that when I give it I now own the result. Since it was my idea, it is in some way on me if it doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter if the person didn’t follow my advice the way I laid it out, or they took some of it, but not all of it. The advice didn’t work and I am in some way responsible.

That is usually why I prefer to coach and to help people find options that seem reasonable and doable for them to try.

One thing I had to learn as I was growing as an executive coach, mostly the hard way, is that while coaching is in some respects about helping people solve problems, it is far from telling them what to do. It is more about what Parker Palmer calls “pulling out their inner teacher.” Helping them see options and then supporting the options they choose is, to me, more of what coaching is about.

So, when I get a question from a reader seeking advice, I usually will read it and ponder it for a week or more. I am not thinking about what the person should do in the situation described, or what I would do if I were them. Instead, my thoughts usually turn more to trying to understand the context of the situation they might be in and then coming up with some general guidelines or options they could choose.

With that in mind, I did receive a fantastic question from someone who has read this blog for years.

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The Question

“How do leaders know when to intervene to promote better collaboration (aka stop all the group in-fighting) verses just reorganize the department? Is there a tipping point where a simple intervention can help to resolve the issue rather than incur an expensive reorganization?”

My Thoughts

As I have been pondering this question I am really seeing two very distinct ideas emerging. The first is organizational and the second has to do with how teams function.

The organizational aspect has to do with the needs of the organization and strategically how the group is put together to meet the needs of the organization, while the team function is more about the relationships amongst the members of the group. I want to tackle these areas independently, then bring it together at the end.

The Organization

Teams are formed to meet some specific need the organization has realized. Teams of people come together in an organized fashion to accomplish a specific set of goals or tasks. They can also come together as change agents moving the organization from an old set of objectives to new goals that move the organization closer to completing its mission and making the vision a reality.

As I step back and think about the question above, if I am going to reorganize a department then there needs to be a strategic reason. There will likely have been some change, either internally, like a new or redefined mission, or externally, like a shift in customer demands. This type of change to reorganize will be driven by forces external to the team. Something has happened somewhere that causes what the team is doing to not be as valuable to the organization. Rather than dismantle the team completely (reorganize), the team is given a new set of goals and objectives that match the external reality.

Reorganizations are chaotic, emotional, and expensive. The external pressures being experienced need to be greater than the emotional and financial cost to reorganize.

Reorganizing dysfunctional people on a team only sends the dysfunction to another part of the organization. The analogy I hear most often for dysfunctional people in an organization is that they are a cancer. The attitudes and behaviors are destructive and left to their own devices will have a very bad effect on the organization. So, if the analogy works, why would you take a cancer in one part of the body and move it to another part to infect it there? Just because an organization can afford to do it doesn’t mean that is the right thing to do.

The Relationships of the Team

If teams are not functioning well, a leader or coach has to be able to step into this moment. It takes both personal courage and a mindset that the needs of the organization outweigh any personal agendas that might exist. The leader must have the courage to call out behaviors that are not conducive to good team functioning.

General Stanley McChrystal, in his book Team of Teams writes that “superteams” are able to construct a strong lattice of trusting relationships. He makes the point that in a true team environment the leader needs to be less concerned with hierarchy and command; what their position is and telling individuals what to do, and more concerned with ensuring trusting relationships are forming so there is a supportive network to perform.

Trust amongst team member is ensuring people are comfortable being vulnerable about weakness, mistakes, fears, and behaviors without fear of reprisal. So that if someone doesn’t know something, they are not judged for the lack of knowledge, but supported in getting the knowledge they need. A teammate should feel a sense of confidence to admit a weakness and have someone on the team come alongside them and say “Here, let me help you with that.”

There are three things I find vital for a team to be able to trust each other:

  1. Cultural integrity - That as a group, we are always going to do the right thing. If someone on the team is being mean, as a team we go to the person and let them know that is not how this team behaves. We want to have them on the team, but the culture here is one of kindness and respect. Integrity matters. Always!

  2. Comfort with Vulnerability - Teammates have to be willing to admit weakness and mistakes and can never be penalized or punished when they do. If you are a person who avoids conflict, you should be able to admit this to your team and they need to come alongside and help you get better at this. The team has to believe in you and that you can improve. It all starts with a culture of realizing we are all human and we all fall short somewhere.

  3. Confidence in the members - Not one of us holds all the answers. Teams have to believe in the mission and have confidence in each other to tackle whatever is put before them. As individual humans we crave safety and security. Taking risks is not always a safe feeling. This is the value of the team. As an individual, my need is for safety. The team is there to support each other to take risks and achieve much more than an individual ever could. High performing teams have confidence in each other.

Now, back to the question at hand. I would argue one of the main purposes of the leader of a team is to foster a culture of collaboration that leads to results.

Not collaboration so that every person touches every thing, but trusting each other enough to know I don’t have to touch something if you were running with it.

The leader is the person accountable if someone is not living up to the team charter of expectations. The leader ought to rally the team to their responsibility of pulling the person back in line. If the team won’t do it, then the leader has two jobs. One with the team to create the culture of team discipline, and another with the person who is not living up to team standards by coaching them individually.

My position is that if there is group infighting, then the leader is accountable. Maybe if there has to be a reorganization because of this very non-strategic reason, it should come out of the leader’s bonus.

What about you? What advice would you share in response to this very interesting question? I would love your input.

Thank you, Jenny, for helping us all think.

How Can Curiosity Help Your Leadership Journey?

When a child builds a Lego creation, they rarely step back and say, "This is my masterpiece, my life's work is finished!" Instead, they allow their curiosity to grow and they often improve their handiwork or build something entirely different. Kids are open to the possibilities of their creations.

Leadership is also this way. Cast a vision, identify your followers, build your team up, but do not stop there. Become curious about your team, how you work together, and the goal you are working toward. Learn about your followers and look at your projects from different angles. This will allow you to gain perspective of how others see your leadership versus how you see it and allow you to revel in this curiosity.

WHAT IF YOU’VE LOST YOUR PASSION FOR THE JOB?

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, says one of the grand misconceptions about quitting your boring job so you can have a creative life is that 90% of what you will find in your new life will be boring too. It is mundane. It is slugging it out. In my own life, I left my job to pursue my passion and do what I felt would be more exciting. Today, I get entrepreneurs and business people who come up to me and say, "I want to do what you do, it seems so cool." Now, helping my clients become more effective in their leadership is awesome.

But I want to let you in on a secret.

90% of what I do is boring.

I have contracting and invoicing, and managing expectations, and TSA, and delayed flights. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything because I enjoy the 10% that allows me to interact with interesting people. The one thing that motivates me through the mundane are those people, as well as one simple word: curiosity.

CURE IT WITH CURIOSITY

I treat the boring by igniting curiosity. I take myself and my needs out of it, and instead, make it an exploration. Always learning, always curious.

I encourage you to add this to your leadership experience: a journey of curiosity with the discipline of organizational leadership. Leadership is an arrangement between you and your followers. After some time, this relationship can become very boring, if you don’t remain curious.

Through curiosity and learning, you'll strengthen your leadership and build strong relationships with your followers. Your newfound understanding will allow you to work in sync and you'll see your vision arise. When this happens, there will be moments where the passion is reignited. Until those moments arrive, remain curious and be eager to learn. This is a safe and wonderful place for you to explore.

What would it take for you to ignite curiosity about your team? What can you learn from them? What insights could they offer on your current project that you hadn't thought about?

Let me know what you learn by emailing me or leaving a comment below.

What is missing from developing leaders in your organization?

I had a great day last Wednesday!

I was a guest speaker for a client of mine who is working with their leadership team on exposing and overcoming implicit bias. I recently wrote a post on this topic and if you missed it you can click here to get my take.

Wednesday morning, I was one of two speakers. The first speaker was from the organization’s insurance company and he was there to discuss ways to help the organization be the safest at building high quality products.

I am not much of an engineering safety type, but I did find the lecture to be very interesting and applicable to those of us interested in organizational leadership.

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THREE MAIN POINTS

There were three main points to the speaker’s presentation:

  1. It is vital to measure safety performance.

  2. Most safety measurement is historical.

  3. What we measure is how safe we are not, and not how safe we are.

What was so interesting to me is that what organizations usually track in the safety world are serious major injuries & minor injuries. His point was that this is not measuring how safe an organization is but how unsafe it is. He made the point that what the organization needs to become better aware of are the “near misses” and “unsafe behaviors.”

He made the point that while not every “unsafe behavior” will turn into a serious major injury, every serious major injury started with an unsafe behavior!

LEADERSHIP APPLICATIONS

As I listened to him speak I asked myself… what about leadership? If I was giving this lecture and using leadership, what would it look like?

  1. It is vital to measure leadership performance. While I do think this domain gets overplayed at times, performance is always going to be a part of what leaders are expected to do. At times we are a bit short sighted in what we measure, but it is hard to argue with performance being one aspect of leadership that is vital to success.

  2. Most leadership measurement is historical. I think this is true both of performance and of behaviors. In the behavioral world we use things like personality assessments and 360 feedback to show how leaders have behaved in the past.

  3. What we measure is when we are “not leaders”, and not what great leadership looks like. Most of the feedback leaders get is trying to nourish (feed) the leader from history. While it is important to understand where you have been, it is just as important to think about where we want leaders to go in the future. Teach them continually what great looks like in your organization.

UNSAFE BEHAVIORS

I think the final “ah ha” moment I experienced was when I turned my thoughts toward wondering if organizations “turn a blind eye” to near misses or allowing unsafe behaviors.

I didn’t have to think too long…

Immediately, I began to think about a client I had coached last year whose career had stalled out because he was seen as being too assertive and not enough of a collaborator to sit on an executive team. I was asked to collect feedback for him so that he could gain some self-awareness around this and hopefully change these behaviors so that he could be considered for the executive team in the future.

As we sat together processing his feedback, he looked up at me from his notes and said, “You know, Scott, for years this organization praised me for my assertiveness. They awarded me for my ability to get things done. I got bonuses for my ability to solve problems and i have made this company a lot of money. Now when it is my time to move to the executive team, the thing that I was applauded for becomes an issue.”

Classic. Really.

What got you here, won’t get you there.

From a leadership perspective, the organization failed to recognize the “near misses” and the “unsafe behaviors.”

In this case, they even rewarded them.

I am very interested in this idea of how we can proactively grow and develop young leaders. How do we help them identify these types of issues that, when in an individual contributor role we applaud, but that as a leader we strive to fix?

Looking forward to continuing this thinking and conversation. I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on this idea or topic.

4 Factors to a Longer and More Successful Leadership Life

One of my clients had a profound impact on my life this week. What I heard him say is:

"Scott I realized that I have to take care of me. I am at my best when I am taking care of myself. I decided that I am going to do yoga when I get up in the morning, and I am going to exercise at noon. I am going to be conscious of my diet and make good choices about what goes into my body."

When I probed for the reason, he continued,

"There has been a lot of negativity in my life recently, and I am just not going to allow it to get me down any longer. I am going to choose the leader I want to be and not be a victim of circumstance."

Absolutely Profound.

According to the National Wellness Institute, wellness is "an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence."

Four things to notice about wellness:

  • It is an active process. It is something you devote energy to making happen. It is intentional on your part as a leader.

  • It starts with self-awareness. Are you aware of the moment when health choices present themselves?

  • Wellness is a choice. You decide to be well in the moment, or you become a victim of your circumstance.

  • There is an end game: A successful existence. This is your life, and you only get one. Why not make it the very best that it can be?

The National Wellness Institute describes six different dimensions for us to consider as we examine our own wellbeing:

  • Emotional

  • Occupational

  • Physical

  • Social

  • Intellectual

  • Spiritual

This week I want to focus on your emotional wellbeing as a leader.

The Story

One of my favorite authors is Martin Seligman. As a past president of the American Psychological Association, he has the credibility from a research standpoint that is really meaningful for me. In addition, Martin is a gifted storyteller who can weave a story together and then bring home a point that has real impact and causes me to pause and examine my own life.

One of my favorite stories that Martin tells is in his book Authentic Happiness. He details the stories of two of 180 nuns who are the subjects of an impactful and noteworthy study on longevity and happiness. If you want all the details, you really need to get the book, it is a great read. Here is the bottom line:

  • 90% of the most cheerful 25% of the nuns was alive at age 85 vs. only 34% of the least cheerful 25%.

  • 54% of the most cheerful quarter was alive at age 94, as opposed to only 11% of the least cheerful.

Studies of longevity are admittedly dicey and very complex from a pure science standpoint. Causality is extremely difficult to make a case for. However, one of the reasons this study is so impactful is that nuns lead very similar life. They eat similar food, they don’t smoke or drink alcohol, they have similar routines. Sure there are some other differences that could account for the results:

  • Different levels of intellect

  • Different depths of spirituality

  • Different outlooks on the future

However, none of these criteria in the research made any difference. The thing that Seligman points out that made a difference in the longevity of the nuns was the amount of positive feelings expressed.

If longevity is at least one measure of a successful existence, then the positive outlook you have on life matters!

Happiness and Emotional Intelligence

In the Emotional Intelligence training I do as a part of my consulting, one of the attributes we measure is that of happiness or wellbeing. In the model we use there are four factors that comprise wellbeing:

  • Self-Regard: Believing in yourself and living according to your values.

  • Self-Actualization: A willingness to learn and grow in accordance with your values.

  • Interpersonal Relationships: Engaging in mutually satisfying relationships.

  • Optimism: The ability to respond, recover, and claim a happy state from disappointments and setbacks in life

There are two important considerations as you evaluate your own level of well-being.

The first is that you display as much of these four attributes as you can. Believe in yourself and live according to your values. Learn and grow in areas that really matter to you. Have friends and ensure that there is reciprocity. Realize that things are not always going to go your way. It isn’t if you are going to have a setback in life, it is when. What counts is how you respond.

The second is that you have balance between these attributes. For example, you want to make sure that your self-regard is balanced with your interpersonal relationships. If you have a high level of self-regard and low levels of interpersonal relationships, you could come across as prideful and in it for yourself. If you have low levels of self-regard and high interpersonal relationships, then you could come across as needy and not fun to be around.

As you think about the successful life you want to live as a leader, are you choosing to maximize and balance these 4 attributes of emotional health?

Homework

Rate yourself on a scale from one (low) to 10 (high) on each of the 4 attributes of well-being. Are you maximizing each attribute? Are all four of the attributes in balance with each other? As you reflect on these, what changes would you need to make to live a long and successful life?

5 Coaching Mistakes Every Leader Should Avoid

As an executive coach, a common question I have to work through at the beginning of a new coaching engagement is

“Am I working with the right person?”

There are two reasons I find myself asking this question:

  1. The person I am working with seems to be just as talented as their supervisor.

  2. The people I coach are really good at what they do. They are technical experts in their field.

It doesn’t take me long to answer my own question. Yes, I am working with the right person. The higher you go in organizations, everyone is talented (for the most part) and the people are experts in their field. However, this does not mean they are experts in leadership.

Most of my coaching is helping to groom people for higher levels of leadership. Often there is some tactical, behavioral development that needs to occur.

It is the idea that Marshall Goldsmith writes about in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

I have had over 750 hours of coaching experience in the last 3 years and I have noticed something very interesting.

We all make mistakes.

Not a revelation, I know, but to me it is an interesting observation. Why? Because I wonder where organizations might be if not for the common mistakes I see them making in regard to coaching their leaders.

  • Would turnover decrease?

  • Would we unleash talent?

  • Would customers have more delight?

  • Would we ensure a solid foundation for future generations?

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Enough Philosophy

Here are 5 coaching mistakes I observe. As you reflect on these mistakes, ask yourself what traps you might be falling into.

  1. Confusing your needs with the needs of the person being coached

    Depending on your level of leadership, you are responsible for coaching your team to make one or more of the following connections:

    1. The mission of the organization to the vision

    2. The purpose of the organization to the mission

    3. The values you aspire to the purpose

    4. The guiding principles to the values

    5. The strategy to the guiding principles

    6. The tactics to the strategy

    7. Individual behaviors that implement tactics

    Let’s be honest, most of our coaching focuses on the last one. We are so in the weeds trying to control others that we often lose sight of what the person really needs.

    Rather than focusing always on whether or not they are “doing” things exactly as you want them, perhaps you need to go back and connect them to something that has more depth and meaning.

    I believe that most people get up in the morning and really want to do a good job for the company. Too many of us as leaders can not get out of our own way. We feel if we are not “doing,” we are not working.

    Before you coach someone, step back and ask yourself “What is really going on here? What does this person need from me today?"

  2. You say it (or yell it) and they produce

    I wrote about this one in my book a few years back 7 Secrets of an Emotionally Intelligent Coach.

    We live in such a fast paced world that we lose our sense of time. We have instant access to so many things today that 10 or 20 years ago might have taken weeks or months. I no longer have to go through an administrative assistant or send a letter to see if someone can meet with me. I knock out an email or send a text and have a response, often 5 minutes after I sent it.

    I heard best selling author, John Townsend, (author of Boundaries, and other great books) give a great analogy the other day. He said it is like standing in front of an apple tree and yelling at the fruit to grow faster; all because the leader wants bigger or more fruit.

    Some things just don’t work this way. Some things take time to grow, develop, and mature, no matter how fast you want them.

    I recommend you spend some time doing what psychologists call “attuning” with your folks. The idea is to bring into harmony; to tune. The skill required is to connect with others at a deeper and more vulnerable level. This goes beyond being nice or friendly to really be able to listen well and understand the emotions and motivations that are the foundations for behavior.

    People will do amazing things for leaders they feel connected with.

  3. This is their personality so they will always behave this way

    I have just about had it with personality profiling. All of them. From Myers-Briggs, to Insights, to the Enneagram, PDI, Horoscopes.

    What we are learning about human personality is that it is contextual. No one person is one way all the time.

    Those of you who love personality tests, especially those who are certified on them, will say that your model talks about how we need to be flexible and that this is an important aspect.

    Right. And if we need to flex, then we are not one way all the time.

    The problem is, as leaders, we put people in boxes. We create implicit biases around what people can and can not do based upon their level of introversion or extroversion. We judge, we label, we categorize, and way too often, we are dead wrong.


    According to Adam Grant, a leader in the psychology field out of the University of Pennsylvania, the statistical reliability and validity data around these assessments are just not strong enough to do with them the kinds of things organizations do. If you want to hear more on this topic and from Adam himself, you can click the podcast here (about 55 minute run time).

    As coaches, we need to stop making judgments on personality and understand the context the person is. None of us is always a certain way. Let’s get in and coach people to understand more of what is at the root of what they are doing, not doing, or more likely doing, just not the way you want them too.

  4. The person being coached is a robot

    Just because you run 24/7/365 and are always on, doesn’t mean everyone else is or that it is healthy. We have to start thinking more about corporate health, or better yet, the health of the people who work for us.

    How are you coaching your team to take better care of themselves?

    How are you modeling this behavior?

    If you give someone who already has a full place more to do, how are you helping them prioritize the work? They can not begin to know what is in your mind regarding how they should plan to deliver without your coaching and insights.

    Le’ts remember that the people we are working with are just that: people.

    They have families and other communities outside of work. They have spouses, parents, and kids. They have all kinds of relationships they care about and care for. So, if someone on your team has a family member pass away, they are going to need time to mourn this loss. Just because they are back at work in 3 days (which is a travesty) doesn’t mean they are all the way back. If someone just got a diagnosis of liver cancer, for crying out loud, they are really not thinking about when they will have that report on your desk.

    Sure, you have a job to do. I get it. A lot of people are depending on you to drive results. But really, come on…just have a heart.

  5. Your way is always the best way

    This one is a real mindset shift. It takes:

    1. Self-Awareness - Realize you don’t know what you don’t know. You might be really far removed from reality.

    2. Self-Regulation - Allow yourself the ability to think and not emotionally react.

    3. Humility - You don’t know everything so how can you get curious with others and develop a learn as we go frame of mind.

    4. Trust - Let them experiment with new and different ways and approaches.

    This really is about how you can create a learning organization, one that inspires people to creativity and innovation. At the very least, if there is a prescriptive way for them to work, be open to hearing other ideas on how the work could be done. People they will be more engaged if they know you want to hear their ideas.

As I reflect on this list, I realize it is very relationally focused.

That is because most of the time we hire smart, talented, skilled people who want to do a good job.

Therefore, it is the relationship with the leader that inhibits performance.

Humble thought.

If you are a leader, please read this NOW. It is affecting you, too.

I have recently been working on a project that will bring a lot of value to a client of mine, and in the process I have become more self-aware of some changes I need to make in my own journey.

Here is the background story:

My client asked me to develop a 90-minute training on the subject of Implicit Bias. 

The project sounded interesting to me for several reasons. First, I have not done anything with the topic since graduate school. Second, I have been reading in the mornings from a little book by Parker Palmer called, “On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old.” He has been speaking into my life as only Parker Palmer can about some baggage I am carrying around that I no longer need. These things started as unconscious biases, but through the work of Palmer, I have become more keenly aware of them.

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Now for this story to make sense you have to know, and you can probably tell, I am a huge Parker Palmer fan. I read everything he writes, and most of it two or three times. There is just something about how he speaks truth through his own journey in life that I cannot get enough of.

As I work on this project, I am researching the topic of Implicit Bias. The implicit part means unconscious, so what I am NOT talking about are biases we realize we have. One example of a known bias I hold is that if I have a choice between any kind of ethnic food I will always choose Asian, specifically Thai…even over tacos, which is not easy for me to say.  When eating ethnic food, I realize I have a bias toward Chicken Pad Thai, Coconut Rice, and Panang Curry!

Implicit biases, however, are unconscious, inflexible beliefs about a particular category of people.  Implicit bias is basing our thinking on people not as individuals, but as a nameless, faceless group. Implicit bias is not what I like or don’t like about an individual person, but more about an attitude toward an entire group of people. 

To familiarize yourself with the idea of Implicit Bias and how it might be affecting your thinking, try this little thought experiment.

Thought Experiment

Record the first thought that comes to your head when you read the following list of words:

  • A person in a wheel chair

  • An immigrant from Mexico

  • A single mom with 4 kids

  • A person from New York City

As you completed this little thought experiment, a couple of things can happen:

  1. If you know someone who fits the description in some way, you use them as a substitute for an entire group of  people. This could be positive or negative.  For me, I do not personally know any single mothers with 4 kids. But I do have a mom who had 4 kids, who stayed at home until all the kids were out of the house. My personal experience then becomes part of the frame that shapes my thinking about single mothers with 4 kids: that they should stay home with the kids until they are grown.  Again, not a proud moment for me, but one that I have to realize is shaping how I view the world. I put all moms with 4 kids in a category in my mind that this is how they should all be, because this is what my experience has been.

  2. If you do not know someone in this category personally, then you likely have had some experience along the way that will be shaping your thoughts. For example, when I think of a person in a wheel chair, the first thought I have is “they slow me down in the airport.” I am not proud of this thought, but this is an Implicit Bias I have. After all, isn’t the entire world about me? If I see someone in a wheel chair, I have a knee jerk thought reaction that their time is not as valuable as mine. I just really want to make myself puke when I write this.

Okay, I am tired of self-disclosing right now so you can play with the rest of these categories of people to decide for yourself if you are proud of how you responded. The more honest you are with yourself, the more you can change your thinking with some self-awareness and dedicated thinking.

Now that I have completely exposed myself to some unconscious biases that I have…enter Parker Palmer into my life to bring some motivation for me to think differently.

In the book I mentioned above, on page 154, Palmer writes about self-awareness and self-examination. He states, “…this call [for self-examination and self-awareness] goes back as far as Socrates, who believed that the unexamined life is not worth living.” Palmer adds, “the unexamined life is a threat to others.”

Ouch!  That one hurts.

Especially since I do not mean to intentionally do harm to Mexican immigrants or single moms with 4 kids, or people in wheel chairs.

But the fact is, I might be harming them. And this is what I need to go to war with.

Because my implicit biases are unconscious, it is only by bringing them to my consciousness and going to war with them that I can make necessary changes in my life. 

My Recipe for Change

I am following a three step process in confronting my unconscious  biases:

  1. See
    I am really trying to watch out for unconscious bias in my life. I am trying to become more aware of when I categorize or group people and then apply wholesale thoughts about them to my situation.

  2. Think
    Once I recognize that I am judging people by groups, I am trying to become more empathetic toward them. To really ask myself what it would be like to be them?  Christian Kaisers, in his book, The Empathic Brain, writes that more empathic individuals activate their own actions more strongly than less empathic people while watching the actions of others. We need to practice flexing our empathic muscle to get better at it.

  3. Do
    Up until this point I have not taken any action. The only way I build stronger muscle is to do something positive to change my thoughts. Dr. Sondra Thiederman, in her book 3 Keys to Defeating Unconscious Bias, says “attitude follows behavior.” I need to be specific in seeing people as individuals, and then I need to take it a step further and get to know them. If I do not know any moms with 4 kids, then I need to find a few of them and learn what it is like in their world.  If I don’t know any Mexican immigrants, then I need to seek them out and ask what it is like to be them.

Thank you to my client and to Parker Palmer. You all have rocked my world, hopefully for the better.

Why emphasize emotional intelligence?

I have been on vacation this last week taking some time for personal reflection and rest. Here are a couple photos from my time in France with my wife, Kim, and some dear friends of ours:

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While on vacation, I spent time reflecting on my business over the past 5 years; what has gone well and what needs improved. I also spent some time expressing gratitude for those partners who have trusted me to work in their organizations; serving, coaching, and developing leaders at many levels.

Another area of reflection was actually sparked by a question I was asked recently by one of my students in an executive coaching course I teach:

“Dr Livingston, why do you put so much emphasis on using emotional intelligence in your coaching practice?”

This question lingered with me while on vacation so I allowed myself some time to think more deeply about my answer.

Here are four of the top reasons I emphasize Ei in my coaching practice:

  1. Because developing leaders always has three interesting aspects:

    1. The culture they work in

    2. The person they are

    3. The change they desire to make.  

      In all three of these aspects, recognition of the impact that emotion has on performance is critical. Leaders often receive feedback on what they are doing well or not so well, but have a difficult time understanding the emotion that is driving their behavior.

  2. Emotional Intelligence has become a fashionable and accepted method to work on things that would otherwise be very difficult. Who likes being told they are seen as rude in certain situations? No one. But to study the results of an Emotional Intelligence self-assessment where the leader sees they are low in empathy can open the door for behavioral changes to occur.

  3. Receiving valid and reliable feedback on Emotional Intelligence is simple and cost effective. For under $100, in less than an hour, a client can receive a self-report of their Emotional Intelligence to provide a framework for their personal and professional development.

  4. Getting certified in a valid and reliable tool to measure emotional intelligence has become easy and cost effective. In 2 days (not counting about 6 hours of pre-work and a post exam) and for under $2500, leaders of all types can become certified themselves in emotional intelligence.

One of the things I have had the pleasure of doing over the last few years is certifying lots of different types of leaders on an emotional intelligence assessment (EQi 2.0 published by Multi Health Systems).  Here are just a few of the types of folks who have taken the time to get certified in the EQi 2.0:

  1. HR professionals
    Leaders who want to better understand the emotional intelligence model when a consultant uses such a tool in coaching organizational leaders. Some of these HR professionals are also doing some leader development using the tool in their own organizations.

  2. Executive Coaches
    People who are directly involved in leadership development and need a valid and reliable tool to support other types of feedback, such as a 360 interview, or even just to gain better insight into the emotional makeup of their client.

  3. Organizational Managers
    These leaders want to better understand the tools that drive organizational performance from a human perspective. The augmentation of individual development plans for those in their reporting structures is one very practical use.

  4. Pastors and Ministry Leaders
    These leaders often serve in counseling capacities or in the development of staff. The EI tool gives strong data for individual or team development at a very affordable price, depending on the report selected.

  5. Training and Development professionals
    These professionals are seeing the value of integrating emotional intelligence into behavior based training. Certification allows them to better understand the inner workings of an EI model and to work more closely with consultants who specialize in this work.

If you or someone in your organization is interested in becoming certified, please respond to this email and let me know. We offer certification classes every other month or so, with our next one being in June. I am happy to jump on a quick call and answer any questions you may have on becoming certified.

For more information on our Ei certifications, click here.

What Do You Mean They Don’t Trust Me?

I doubt that too many leaders wake up in the morning saying to themselves, “Gee, I wonder how I can erode my team’s trust today?” If they did they would either be pure evil or would be trying to get people to quit their team. To me, it is almost unconscionable that a person who was able to rise to a level of leadership in an organization would stoop to such madness.

The thing I find interesting in my executive coaching practice are the calls I receive asking for suggestions on what can be done when a leader has lost their team’s trust. So, I did some research on organizational leaders regaining trust and here is a brief summary of what I found.

Steps to Regaining Trust

  1. Discern the Error. Since most leaders do not get up in the morning hoping to erode the trust of the team, it is important to decipher what went wrong. How small or large is the impact? Did you go back on your word? Are you making changes that people do not understand? Were changes made that were thought to be temporary but now they seem permanent? If the violation of trust is two-sided then some type of conflict resolution will be needed.

  2. Assess the Impact. If the violation of trust is localized between one, or two, individuals then move as fast as you can to rectify the situation. Realize that even if it’s just a misunderstanding, word travels quickly in organizations. Try and remedy this as fast as possible. If the transgression is more systemic, then a more formal, systematic plan may need to be put in place.

  3. Admit Publicly The Error Of Your Way...Quickly. Once you’ve identified your error, be prepared to make it right. Perhaps one of the most common trust errors is the perception of the leader using inconsistent standards to evaluate contribution. When this happens a leader needs to apologize for any inconsistency and strive for clarity around the standards being set.

  4. Listen to Each Other. No matter if the erosion is localized or systemic, good listening skills by both parties are needed. Avoid trying to justify behavior or explaining your intention. There can be time for that level of clarification later. The thing that is needed most at this point is to sit down, show good empathy and try to understand where the other person is coming from.

  5. Be Prepared to Apologize. The leader must have a humble posture in order to grant someone else a higher position than they take for themselves. According to Edgar Schein, this can be difficult for a leader because of the formal power granted by the organization where the follower is just expected to implicitly comply.

  6. Follow Up with Compassion. According to trust and communication expert, Irina Schultheiss Radu, leaders need to build cognitive trust by showing they are reliable and dependable to work whatever plan has been put into place. At the same time, the leader needs to build affective trust by showing true care and compassion. (Click here to refresh your memory on cognitive and affective trust.)

When a leader finds themselves in trust-issues situations immediate action is needed in order for organizational effectiveness and efficiency to be restored. Are you currently rebuilding trust with your team members? What actions are you putting in place to recover the path toward trust?

If you are a leader who thinks you have lost trust, or you are forwarding this article to someone you feel has lost trust, take heart. In most cases the trust is recoverable. The path is not easy, but if approached with sincerity, restoration is possible.

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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

OR

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. 

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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.

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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:

Scott,
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?  

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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.

Homework

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.