Keep the Fire Burning!


Are You Coaching The Person Or The Problem?

“I am dreading this conversation!” Anna (an executive coaching client) had a tone of resignation in her voice. She was not looking forward to yet another conversation with Bob (her direct report) about how he was going to resolve his people issues.

Bob has an issue with micro-managing his people. Three people in his department have recently resigned. Anna had a conversation with Bob about how he was going to fix the issue two weeks ago, but nothing has changed. The rest of his people seem to be in a state of resignation.

Sort of like Anna. She’s resigned to having to go in and fix the problem herself. You see, Anna’s really good at fixing problems (finding root causes, thinking through solutions, getting results).

Clearly, Anna’s coaching with Bob is not getting results and it’s frustrating Anna. Most high-achievers like Anna are energized by fixing the problem.

How about you? Is your coaching getting results?

When coaching isn’t working, the question to ask is: “Am I coaching the person or fixing the problem?” . The coaching conversation is very different, depending upon whether your focus is on the person or the problem.

How To Be A Succession Plan Star

It’s that time of the year. Most organizations are going through their talent review cycles and succession planning discussions. During these discussions leaders decide on their succession pipeline. Will you be promoted into the next opening? Will you hang out in the box that says “Ready in 1-2 Years”? Do you know which box you are in?

One of my executive coaching clients (let’s call him Mark) is a succession plan star. In a recent conversation we were in with his sponsor, the sponsor said (somewhat in disbelief): “The conversation on you has really shifted”. Mark has always been a high performer but he had been stuck in the “Ready 1-2 Years” box for the next big role for him. Then he did one simple thing that moved him from the purgatory box to the “Ready Now” box. He reached out and made personal connection with the key people he needed to influence.

Your 2017 Personal Year-End Review

Smarter goals start with better self-reflection. This exercise can help you assess what’s truly important and authentic to you. It can help you tap into your motivators so when goals get tough you can persevere.

Here are seven questions I recommend we each ask ourselves:

What were moments of greatest joy and fulfillment? This is a great question to start with as it puts us in a positive and appreciative state of mind. It helps us reflect on what is good in our lives as well as gives us insight on what’s fulfilling to us. As we reflect on the people and activities that brought us this fulfillment we learn about what energizes us in both our personal and professional lives. We may find clues to our leadership purpose within what serves others while also energizing us. We remind ourselves about what we want more of in the coming year.

What was challenging? As we reflect on the challenges we faced, we can remind ourselves that life doesn’t always bring us what we desire. We also remind ourselves that we can be resilient in the face of challenge. Our taking time to acknowledge challenges can also help unlock difficult emotions which we may have avoided. As we process this emotion, we recognize that some of our best qualities of courage, perseverance, patience, selflessness, grace, and strength are borne out of challenge. Without those challenges we wouldn’t be who we are today. This question helps us notice and honor our qualities of character, celebrate who are becoming, and be more grounded in values that are important to us.

How did I do on my goals? As you assess how you did, pay attention to what your strengths are that helped you accomplish your goals. For goals you didn’t meet, what did you learn?

How satisfied am I with different aspects of my life? For most of us a full and balanced life includes the following: our health and well-being, relationships, professional or career growth, financial priorities, spiritual or personal growth, community service. As you examine each area that is important to you, look at what’s working well and what do you want more of?

Who are the people and relationships that matter? Sometimes in our pursuit of goals, we don’t pay attention to the people and relationships that matter. This question is to help us step back and be more intentional about the attention and presence we want to bring to the relationships that matter most. What are the practices and habits that we want to establish to nurture these relationships?

When am I my most inspired selfWhen do I feel disempowered? This question is about getting to know ourselves in our most inspired moments (What am I doing? Who am I being?). It’s also about bringing awareness to when we are our smallest selves. It’s about having compassion for ourselves when we are least empowered, so we can face important truths about our lives.

As I imagine myself as an 80-year old looking back at a life well-lived what do I see? This is a great question to examine our longer-term priorities, values, and goals. As I do this exercise every year, I find it fun to go back and see what’s changed and what’s remained constant in my vision of my best self.

As you look back through your answers, jot down what you’ve learned from this self-reflection. What’s important as you set goals for the upcoming year? What other questions have you found useful for your self-reflection?

Stay tuned for my personal 2017 self-reflection and how it’s helped me set smarter goals for 2018!


For Engaged Employees, Say Thanks

How do you express gratitude to the people you work with. Do you?

In my corporate career I would say “thank you” walking out of a meeting or during a performance review discussion. But I never took the time to write a thank you note. Recently I got one from an executive coaching client and it made my day. I realized how big a difference a small thank you note can make.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I gave myself the challenge of writing three thank you notes this week.

Here’s what I discovered. They are easy to write (see below). They made me stop and notice what I value in others. The very act of pausing to ask myself what I appreciated in others helped me feel great.

And if these aren’t reasons enough, know that it will help you build more connection and engagement with any team member you work with. Two of Gallup’s 12 employee engagement survey questions are related to expressing appreciation: “In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?” and “Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?”. In his Harvard Business Review cover article former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, likens loneliness and weak social connections to the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day in terms of impact on lifespan.

Here’s my challenge to us for the Thanksgiving holidays. Pick three people at work to send heart-felt thank you notes to. Here’s how.

How To Avoid Derailing In A New Role

Congratulations! You just got promoted. You landed a new stretch assignment. You got a new job!

Just this month I witnessed three competent, hard-working, well-intentioned leaders get fired from their roles within 12 months. Based on my own experience of challenges and failures in a new role and observing many smart and competent leaders derail, there is usually one main culprit.

It’s called your blind spot. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Blind spots are even more precarious in these VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) times we work in. As the world changes rapidly, we need to value asking good questions rather than knowing all the answers. Yet, this may be hard to do, especially in a new role when you may be trying to prove yourself and look good.

Leading effectively in VUCA workplaces calls for us to develop new capacities. New assignments are a great way to do that. They call for us to actively learn about our defaults, uncover blind spots, and proactively question our assumptions.

In that context here are five questions to ask as you take on a new role. As you jump in to a new role, create a deliberate learning plan by asking these questions.

Got Change? Practice Leadership Agility

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the pace of change?

Here is what one of my clients very vulnerably shared with me:

“The big challenge I am facing is the uncertain world coming my way. My clients, suppliers, marketplace, technology. people, processes, financial targets, span of control, government politics are all now very complex. Due to the pace of change all over, it has created a new normal – an uncertain world. Constant change has become a part of our DNA especially at senior leadership levels. When I look at my training and experience (working across the matrix, applying lean six-sigma, industrial operations, financial skills, process management, people management) I see tools from two to three decades ago.

I am leading in an era where not only I do not know the answers, I also am not sure if I am asking the right questions.

“In this era of ambiguity then, your approach of driving authentic leadership resonates with me. We as leaders need to be confident with not knowing all the answers, comfortable with who we are at our core, to ask for help, figure out questions as we go along in this tsunami of change. We need to trust more and question more. We need to do all this while ensuring we ourselves do not get burned out. We need to pass on energy, confidence, trust to our teams. How do I do that?”

The answer to my client’s question is to grow our capacity as human beings and leaders. The book Leadership Agility by Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs presents an excellent validated leadership model to do just that.

Why You Need Truth Tellers At Work

Interracial businesswomen working on laptop.Sally, an executive coaching client, was beaming. She had just done what had been hard for her in past. She had given her direct report feedback that was 80% focused on the positive, and only 20% on what needed to be improved. Sally can see improvement opportunities all around her, and that shows up in how she gives feedback. She had been working really hard to give balanced feedback that builds people up. She was buoyant from the conversation she had had. She genuinely felt great about helping her direct report feel good.

Until one week later.

She found out that the conversation had been very demotivating to her direct report.

How To Get (And Be) A Better Boss

Your relationship with your boss is arguably the most important work relationship you have. Unfortunately for many people it is also one that is fraught with frustration, awkwardness, or simply lack of sufficient trust. In my executive coaching work, I find that 80% of the time the relationship with the boss can be improved significantly and is strengthened as part of the coaching process.

We often assume that the boss has significantly more power, and often this is the case. But, as a savvy leader, you can use the tool below to create a powerful partnership with your boss. This is not about who has more power in the relationship, but about how powerful the relationship is, and together what it can help you both accomplish. Here’s a great tool-kit to help you.

Practices To Power Your Executive Coaching Process

The good news is you have an executive coach. The bad news is that the process of personal change and transformation is not easy. It requires a great deal of personal commitment on the part of the leader being coached. I’ve found in my work as an executive coach as well as my personal growth work, that most changes we are seeking on the outside (for example to get promoted to the next level, to have greater influence with peers, etc.) require significant changes within ourselves.

The role of the coach is to bring their skills to raise self-awareness, to challenge the leader’s paradigms, to share insight, and to hold accountability. Yet, the heavy lifting is done by the leader. The leader brings their courage to dig deeper to understand themselves, to see how they stand in their own way. They bring their openness to experimenting with new ways of being and behaving. They bring their commitment when the going gets tough.

In my experience, there are three tools the turbo-charge the impact of the coaching process. My ask is that you commit to practicing these tools during our coaching process. As you practice these tools, you create excellent leadership habits that will sustain the behavior change, and also help you continue to lead and grow – well beyond the coaching process.

Ten Questions for Your Leadership Journal

Teddy Roosevelt did it. Harry Truman did it. Want to be an outstanding leader? Keep a leadership journal. As part of my executive coaching work, one of the most effective tools I recommend that powers up the coaching process is a leadership journal. The exercise of leadership is not unlike a sport you play. When you review your actions in the field you learn what worked, what didn’t, and adjust along the way. Leadership guru Peter Drucker said: “ Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action. ”

There are many benefits to reflection.

The biggest benefit of keeping a leadership journal is to expand your self-awareness. Self-awareness of your strengths, your energizers, what challenges you, what can derail you is a key driver of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (the ability to know and manage yourself and others) is a key driver of success in leadership.