Sandbar Coaching & Consulting Blog

Reflections and experiences in leadership, management, coaching, relationship building and more...

So You Want to Be a Coach?

January 15, 2017

I've met many people who are drawn to the field of coaching for a variety of reasons. In my experience, the folks who are drawn to it because "I like helping people" or "I'm good at giving advice" or "It's easier than getting a counseling degree" or "I enjoy fixing people and/or solving their problems" are not going to last in this profession. While those might be good reasons to explore the profession as a possibility, research will hopefully quickly uncover the essentials of what coaching is and what it isn't. Here's a short list:


Coaching is:

  • Asking great open-ended questions to inspire thought or exploration
  • Listening more than you talk
  • Hearing what isn't being said
  • Resisting the temptation to say "Do this..." or "I've done that and here's what I think..."
  • Becoming comfortable with silence and not rushing to fill it
  • Giving and receiving feedback in a constructive, non-judgmental way
  • Focusing on your client's goals/needs/desired outcomes, not yours
  • Knowing the difference and boundaries between coaching, counseling, chatting, and professional and personal interactions
  • Helping a client move forward
  • Holding accountability - yours and your client's
  • Building relationships within the coach/client boundaries

Coaching isn't:

  • Counseling or therapy
  • The opportunity to espouse wisdom
  • Fixing clients
  • Steering a client toward what you think s/he should do/think/say/feel
  • A complaint session without growth or forward movement
Now that you know the difference, know this. Some people DO naturally come into this profession with little documented experience but one thing a good coach becomes is a sponge. S/he seeks opportunities to learn and grow, to explore various aspects of his/her coaching practice, to receive feedback from a trusted source about her/his coaching practice. Coaching is not something that a person can ever confidently say they've mastered fully because with every new client, you'll find yourself challenged by something new and that's a GOOD thing!


So you want to be a coach? Great! It's a wonderful way to make a living! 


If you want to explore your coaching practice whether you are new to the profession or a seasoned veteran, please contact me to see how we might work together to reach the next level.

Letting the Silence Ride

February 14, 2017

If silence is golden then silence after a powerful question is platinum!


Nothing ruins a great question like running over it because the silence makes you uncomfortable. Here's an example:


Coach: Tell me how that feedback from your boss made you feel.

Client: Silence. More silence.

Coach: I mean, getting feedback like that can be really hard so I'm just curious about what it felt like for you. Did anything come up for you? Did you feel it in your body? Did you respond?

Client: Silence. More silence. Clears throat. More silence.

Coach: So, how's the weather?


Meanwhile, the client has been using the silence to formulate an answer because the feedback she received brought up so many feelings she doesn't know where to begin and she isn't sure how to talk about it without getting emotional. Now there are multiple questions out there, at least one of which has guided her thoughts to the answer of "It was hard" and another of which has her thinking "Oh gosh, did I respond to my boss? Did my face flush? Did my supervisor know that I was almost in tears?" and another question has let her off the hook completely and she can simply say, "It's rainy."


Imagine that the conversation went this way instead...


Coach: Tell me how that feedback from your boss made you feel.

Client: Silent.

Coach: Silent (or, in case there's a concern of a lost connection, "Take your time answering" and then silence)

Client: (Choking back tears) "It was so embarrassing because I take such pride in my work that I felt like my boss doesn't know who I am or value me. And then I was angry and too upset to talk so I left the room."
Coach: "How have you felt in the past when your boss or someone else has given you difficult feedback?" OR "Tell me what upset you about what your boss said." OR "How do you show your pride in your work?" OR "What would make this situation feel like a growth opportunity for you?" or... or...or... There are so many options for questions!


In this second scenario, the Coach let the client come to the feeling on her own, listened, and in doing so had several different lines of questioning that she could go down rather than feeling stumped and falling back to the weather.


Silence, especially on the phone, can be tough. The best thing to do is to practice. Practice with a friend. A colleague. A family member. Practice and, if at all possible, listen to your recorded call (remember, different states have different requirements about recording calls so be sure to be clear about the laws where you AND your client each live and it's always a good idea to make sure they know it's being recorded for your self-improvement purposes). 


Listening to yourself is painful. I get it. I once had a developing Coach that I was mentoring who said "Um, you know..." whenever she was nervous, stuck, unsure, or explaining something she didn't think was landing well with a client. In short, she did it a LOT because she was still finding her coaching legs. We talked about it a few times and then I asked her to listen to three of her own calls with different students. She came back to our next meeting appalled at how much she said, "Um, you know" and admitted that until she heard it herself, she thought I was just being nit-picky. She didn't wipe it out in one fell swoop but she became more aware of the habit and paid closer attention to allowing for silence when it was needed and getting to the bottom line more quickly to allow the client more time to process.


Listen to your ability to let the silence ride. As humans, we've been trained to keep the conversation going or end it so one of those two thing tend to become a go-to comfort zone when we are stuck, nervous, or unsure. Practice the silence. Breaking the silence can sometimes derail the brewing of a powerful answer.


Do you want objective feedback on your coaching practice? Let's set up a time to listen to a call and see if I can help!

The Art of the Open-ended Coaching Conversation 

March 15, 2017

Have you ever noticed when you are talking with someone - a friend, a colleague, a family member - that when you ask them a question, you tend to ask one of two types of questions?


1) The yes or no, true or false question. 
2) The multiple choice question. 


Here are some examples:

  • Did you have a good weekend?
  • Did you finish that project?
  • Is it hot or cold outside?
  • Are you excited about the trip?
  • Is the movie funny or sad?

These are some basic examples to illustrate how we often close conversations before they get started and how sometimes people walk away saying, "I asked a bunch of questions but s/he didn't seem to want to talk."


Imagine asking "What did you do this weekend?" instead and the person is more likely to answer with something more than "Yes." Maybe you'll learn that in her free time she is a competitive bull rider or that she added a rare bird to her birdwatching log or that she is studying to become a pharmacist in her free time.


Imagine asking "How is it going with that project?" instead and you might hear, "I'm really struggling with the section about ___________. Do you know anything about that? You do? Great! Can I ask you some questions?" The former question implies an expectation about the project completion and might infer that the person has let you down by not yet completing it.


Imagine asking, "What's it like outside?" and instead of getting either hot or cold, you might get "It's really humid and the bugs are terrible. I have some bug repellant in my bag if you need it." What if asking the right question saved you from a night of scratching bites all over your body? Yes, questions have the power to do just that - change the course of the future!


Imagine asking, "How are you feeling about the trip?" and hearing, "I'm really nervous. I've never flown internationally before and I'm not sure what to expect with customs and everything." Perhaps you've flown internationally so you can be helpful in putting his nerves to rest. Boom. Powerful question saves the day!


Imagine asking, "What can I expect from this movie?" and hearing, "It's hilarious and really touching but I know that you just lost your dog recently so it might be a little hard for you but that part doesn't last too long."


What happens when we give someone multiple choice options in a conversation is that they will most often choose one of the options presented rather than spending a moment or two formulating their own thought about something. The conversation often flattens out from there.


Open-ended questions lead to far more interesting conversations. You learn more. You connect more. You find more to talk about and the awkward "What's up?" "Nothing" standard exchange quickly becomes a thing of the past.


Want to practice asking open-ended questions? Try it on friends and family. If you find yourself asking closed questions (Yes/No or offering a list of options) stop yourself and rephrase the question to be more open. You'll find that once you start framing questions that way intentionally, it will become a natural part of your conversational intelligence. I would venture to say that it'll improve your communication with everyone in your life. 



Managing Like a Coach

April 15, 2017

Managing like a coach is a methodology that is growing among forward-thinking organizations when they want to inspire growth and engagement rather than relying on traditional means of management that can feel stifling and counter-productive. But what does it mean?


To put it simply, coaching is about helping a client find strengths and remove obstacles. So translating that to management is relatively easy if you can put aside some of the old management methods that ring out like "I'm the boss!", "Do as I say and don't ask questions!", and "Because I said so!" Yes, you can manage like a coach in any job/field/industry. You can parent like a coach. You can teach like a coach. You can be a CEO like a coach. You can even coach like a coach. Coaching is powerful and it comes in handy in pretty much every facet of life.


Here's an example: An employee who wasn't meeting expectations reached the level where a manager needed to act. In the organization, the expectations were clear and the accountabilities were outlined definitively. A traditional manager might have brought the employee in and said, "These are all of the ways that you have failed to meet the expectations and accountabilities. You will now be put on a warning and if it happens again, you will be written up/suspended/terminated."


Someone who manages like a coach might say, "Samantha, I noticed that this three times in the last month you haven't submitted your weekly activity summary on time. In the past you were usually on time with this report. Can you tell me what's going on?" This gives the employee the opportunity to explain that the recent upgrade of the data system is different than it used to be and it is taking her longer to figure out how to run that report now. She hadn't asked the manager for help because she felt like she was figuring it out and would soon have it mastered. She also tells the manager that she has reached out to the tech support team to get assistance for an issue that is making the upload of her summary more challenging as well. The manager thanks her for that information and encourages Samantha to let her know sooner if she's facing challenges that are getting in the way of meeting the expectations. Later the manager follows up with the entire team to see if they are experiencing any of the same challenges so she can manage finding a solution.  The manager then might ask Samantha and any other struggling employee, "Are there any other areas that you are having trouble and need additional training?" Given that opening, an employee says, "You know... to be honest, I've been feeling really overwhelmed lately with all of the changes going on with the data system. Do you know if or when the changes will be complete? I feel like I'm falling behind because I'm always learning a new process with the system rather than producing my work." Managing like a coach did a few things: 

  1. It built a relationship between the manager and employee that fostered a professional openness because the employee felt safe to admit her struggles.
  2. It gave the manager the insight she needed to address an issue that is causing distraction and distress for at least one employee and to explore if the issue is global or limited to Samantha.
  3. It approached the conversation from an information-seeking angle rather than in judgment or with punitive measures looming without losing sight of the expectations and accountabilities.

In what parts of your life do you think that you "manage like a coach"? Are there ways that you can incorporate it into your management practice? 

Ode to the Custodian

May 15, 2017

My mother always reminded my siblings and me that we were to be as kind to the custodian as we would be to the President of the United States because everyone is important in his or her own way and everyone deserves respect. I never forgot that. Be kind to the custodian.


When I was a child, I had a particularly delightful custodian at my elementary school. He was much more than a janitor and so we called him the custodian because he took care of every thing and every one within the school bounds. 


In hind sight, it turns out that I learned a lot about leadership from our custodian although at the time, I didn't even realize it. 

  • He was kind to everyone. 
  • He was funny which made him approachable. 
  • He took his work seriously. 
  • He was proud of a job well-done. 
  • He took the time to explain things to us like why he didn't want us to drag chairs across the carefully-finished wood gymnasium floor or why the school buses picked up and dropped off kids in a particular order. 
  • He was patient. 
  • He took the time to greet every member of the school community by name and to know each one personally. 
  • He treated everyone with respect from the principal to the parents to the tiniest Pre-K student. 
  • He ran toward trouble, not away from it - whether it was a broken arm on the playground (mine) or a flooded toilet in the boys room (those rascals!).
  • He took initiative.
  • He was a team player.
  • He never asked someone to do anything that he wasn't willing to do himself.
  • He planned ahead for contingencies and communicated them.
  • He never asked for praise but he showered it on others.
  • He sought ways to be of service without being asked.

Our custodian was pretty special. His subtle but effective leadership style ended up being a life-long influence on me because I was also kind to the custodian's son and we eventually got married. That custodian, that leader, that positive influence in my life became my father in-law.


Be kind to the custodian.


Who are the leaders in your life? When we think of leaders, we tend to look toward the front of the room, the top of the organizational chart, or the title as the identifier. But in reality, true leaders can be anywhere - even in the back of the room resting an elbow on a broom handle surveying the scene.

Separation Anxiety

June 1, 2017

One of the skills that I feel is essential to teach a new manager is how to fire someone. It's not because I particularly enjoy the discomfort and disruption a terminated-for-cause employee endures but because long long long before it gets to this point, the manager must be confident that s/he has touched all of the check points along the way before getting to the ultimate discussion to end employment.


At the end of a termination discussion, the manager should not feel guilty. If s/he does feel guilty, that should be a sign that it might not yet be time for termination. Being able to sleep at night knowing that you did the right thing comes from being confident that the manager has done everything they could do to set the employee up for success. I boil it down to two major buckets:

  1. Ensure that you and the employee were clear about and fully understood the expectations and accountabilities associated with the job.
  2. Ensure that you/your organization provided training, support, and interventions to allow the employee to get up to speed in order to meet the expectations and accountabilities.

Once those criteria are met and the employee still isn't meeting expectations, it's time to move on to the termination process.


Anxiety for the upcoming conversation is common. It's actually good to be a little anxious about it. If you aren't a bit anxious about it, you might be experiencing burnout or be disconnected from the work at hand. I've terminated the employment of a lot of people with varying degrees of success and guilt over the years. The first few that I can remember were tough. I didn't have anyone to walk me through it or to bounce my thoughts off of prior to making the decision or having the talk with the employee. I had to do my best gut check and dive right in. I've learned a lot since those early days and it's just NOT necessary or fair for new managers to have to learn this skill via the "trial by fire" method. That's why I like to tackle the subject early and often with new managers to alleviate as much pre-firing anxiety and post-firing guilt as possible.


My standard coaching questions to a manager stuck in the anxiety or guilt loop are, "If you don't fire him today, what do you expect to be different tomorrow?", "Tell me the steps you followed to make this decision.", "What haven't you tried to support this employee toward meeting the expectations?" By the time a manager works their way through questions like these, the anxiety has generally been quelled as they realize that they have done all the right things and that termination is the only option at this point.


Firing someone is much more than sitting down at a table and saying, "This is hard for me. You consistently haven't met the expectation. Today is your last day employed at this organization." The process starts long long long before this discussion comes into view. As a manager, your best tactic toward managing someone to success is to notice issues before they are Issues with a capital I - when they are larvae; when they are microscopic; when they are a whisper, not a shout, not even a murmur. If you wait until it's a nugget or even larger, the work that must be done is more complex. The conversation is harder. The likelihood of success is lessened. The recovery from difficult discussions is more complicated.


Management of people is hard. No two people are the same. People -employees, managers - everyone - comes in with baggage, preconceived notions, bad habits and more. Management, good management, is a skill that comes with practice but with the right guidance, input, and feedback, developing a strong management practice doesn't have to take years and lots of scrapes and bumps. I can help.


What was your most uncomfortable management moment? (We've all had them.) What did you learn from it?

Engaging the Growth Mindset

June 15, 2017

I recently met with a client who has been really struggling at work. She is in a difficult position on her team because she has a manager who has a "figure it out yourselves, leave me out of it" approach to management and he isn't supportive of her while she is trying to serve her company to the best of her ability. On top of that, her manager has joined in on the ridicule that some of the rest of the team aims at her fairly regularly. It's a bad situation.


Early in our sessions, we talked through some of the things that she had tried in order to sort it out and she felt defeated that nothing had worked. She felt like she was backed into a corner and she was considering quitting her job despite really enjoying the work. It took a few sessions for her to transition from a fixed mindset into a growth mindset and to begin examining her efforts with an objective view. In early conversations, when I started to ask questions to explore alternative ideas on how to approach her manager, she came back with "I've done that. It didn't work" or "He'd never listen to me if I tried that" or "That's too hard". So, instead of diving directly into her work situation, we dove into exploring and finding her growth mindset - her learner mindset. 

After a few sessions, she began to gradually shift her thinking and she moved from a fixed mindset "Nothing will ever change" to a growth mindset "If I want different results, I have to try something new. It's worth a try". As her shift happened, her attitude at work began to shift and she started to feel tiny, incremental changes in how she could influence how her team was treating her without ever calling them out or getting into a "he said, she said" or revisiting of the past with them or her manager. As her presence shifted slowly, she realized that she began to have a more open relationship with her manager. She began to coach him, in fact, by asking him questions that helped to build their relationship. 

Eventually, although it wasn't a magic fix and it didn't happen over night, she noticed that she no longer felt a pit in her stomach on the way to the office every day. She realized that although her team didn't invite her out for drinks after work, at least the ridicule had subsided and taken a more playful tone that she could see as affectionate rather than insulting. 

She realized that although she couldn't march in one Monday morning and pronounce "From this point forward, this shall be different!", she could go in every morning and with her new mindset, identify opportunities to guide, influence and even coach her team and manager to a healthier place.


In a recent session, she let me know that she is now being considered for a management position which she had never thought possible.


A growth mindset changes perspectives and therefore, it changes lives.

The First Step Can Be a Doozy

June 25, 2017

A few years ago I did some work with a client who came into the relationship completely unsure of how a coach might help her or what she could or should expect from our relationship. She was overwhelmed to learn that I was there for her interests only - not those of her husband, not those of her employer, not those of her children or mother in-law or anyone else. She didn't know where to begin.


A simple question from me stating "Tell me about yourself" yielded the standard answers of work title, marital status, number of children, and geographical location. It almost always does. It's as if we all develop the 30 second elevator speech that boils down the "who we are" elements into these four major buckets which filters out the parts that really make each of us unique. But I digress...


I then asked her to tell me about a typical day - what does a typical day look like? She answered with a bit more detail but it was still pretty boilerplate in terms of answers - Wake, eat, work, sleep, repeat. Then I asked her, What makes you get out of bed every morning?

She took a deep breath and launched into what kept her in bed for many mornings - the loss of a child. This was a clear, but tender, opening for us. She then ventured into what finally made her get out of bed once her grief became more manageable - her other children and her extreme desire to lose weight and become healthy especially to honor her lost child. In her elevator speech, she never mentioned having lost over 200 lbs. She never mentioned that in her spare time she coached other people on how to lose weight too. This was a HUGE opening for us and I quickly began to learn about who she was as a person through her values and her goals. 

It turned out that nobody had ever asked her about her goals. Nobody had ever recognized her values. Nobody had ever noticed her strengths or her resiliency or her ambition. She didn't need me to tell her what they were, she just needed me to be curious about them and allow her to dust them off and polish them up. My curiosity was exactly what she needed to fan the flames of her desire to get unstuck from where she was - in a job she disliked, in a marriage that left her cold and feeling like a house servant, and in constant danger of slipping back into the grief hole that had wholly consumed her for so long. 


She didn't need me to tell her what to do. She didn't need me to solve her problems or create the plan for her next steps. She needed me to be non-judgmental, to listen, to ask curious questions, to reflect back what I was hearing. 


With each session, she sounded stronger - Not just stronger in her conviction of what she needed to do for herself but her voice sounded stronger. She sounded as if she were sitting up straighter, smiling more broadly, and carrying herself with a greater sense of herself.


In our second to last session, she announced that she had moved her over-bearing mother in-law out of her house, filed divorce papers, given her notice at work so she could become a full-time weight loss and wellness coach, and that after nearly two years, she had finally hit her weight loss goal.


Now and then I hear from her and she continues to shine and life is going well for her. The "gremlins" of the past are still there but she knows how to tune them out now and to use her intuition, values, and passion to take the lead of her life.

The Learning is in the Struggle

July 10, 2017

When I was a Student Success Learning Coach and later when I was training managers and coaches in that role, I often said the words, "The most impactful learning often comes from the biggest struggle" to help coaches and mangers know that giving answers isn't really going to help develop a resourceful learner in the long run. Sometimes you just have to just bear down and work through the hard part.


Recently I've been reflecting on moments when my biggest learning came from struggle. One situation came zooming forward so I'm compelled to share it. Learning to be a skilled leader and manager comes with bumps. It's not easy or linear but I do think that sharing the struggle can enhance the learning so, with open arms to feedback, here's a struggle of mine that helped shape me and left an indelible mark on my leadership style.


Years ago I worked in an organization that required full focus and unparalleled stamina for about seven months of the year. The heaviest demand on personal time (and sanity) came in the first 6-8 weeks of those seven months. I was new to my role leading the program but I had a team of mostly seasoned folks to guide me through the nuances that training and imagination couldn't bring to light. We were about five weeks into this seven-month stint when it became clear that one of my team members - someone new to the program - wasn't keeping the same pace or commitment to excellence as the others. I knew that I had to do something about it because the next several months required sustained commitment and energy and we couldn't afford to lose anyone midstream.


My first attempt at correction was to revisit the expectations of the job. The team member assured me that those were clear but continued not to meet them. 


My next attempt was to model what I expected. The team member mirrored my actions while I was working alongside but dropped off when I stepped away. 


My next attempt was to create a plan with the team member about how to meet the expectations and sustain that improvement. The team member agreed the plan was feasible but the effort never seemed to be invested in a continuous way.


At this point, you might be thinking, "Those are all totally reasonable means of addressing poor performance. Where's the bump?" And you'd be right. Up until this point, I went the distance as a manager. This is the point in the learning struggle where I got off track. 


I started taking the perceived lack of effort personally. I became frustrated. I began to let my candle-burned-at-both-ends tiredness take over my best judgment. I felt the frustrations of other team members and I let their frustration cloud my judgment as a leader and a manager. I presumed that the team member just didn't want to improve. I presumed the team member didn't actually care about getting the job done effectively. I made assumptions about how the team member's poor performance was reflecting on me in my new role. I reverted to tactics I had learned from people that I saw as "people who get things done by hook or by crook" but not as "leaders".


I couldn't terminate the team member because of the critical nature of the role so I did the only thing I could think of... I focused all of my attention on every aspect of the problem. I made the team member come back to work when critical deadlines weren't met. I compared the team member to other employees and used them as examples of what should be happening. I pointed out each and every item missed or messed up. I pushed that team member harder than the rest of the team. I let the rest of the team push too. I stopped seeing the person and only saw the job and the missteps and the missed opportunities. 


Can you guess what happened as a result of this management style (I use this phrase loosely...)? 


By some miracle, the team member made it to the end of the seven months but when the final bell rang, I had a fiery letter of resignation on my desk within minutes. I shouldn't have been surprised but in some ways, I was. I felt like I had invested so much effort during that seven months that quitting was an insult. I couldn't see the forest through the trees. I had become so tunnel-visioned that I couldn't see what I had done to inspire the venom spewed in the resignation letter or in the exit survey.


Quite honestly, for that team member, quitting sooner would have made more sense. Not because the job wasn't getting done effectively but because that team member was being treated poorly by a manager who SHOULD have known better - someone who SHOULD have managed the situation better.


During the (truly brutal) exit interview I was told to... well... let's just say there were pretty explicit directions to go somewhere eternally very very hot... and I deserved it. I didn't realize it then. I didn't even fully realize it when I read and re-read the exit survey or rehashed the exit interview in my mind. But I kept coming back to both of those things in the months after the team member left. At first I scoffed at the accusations about how I had managed the situation but then, one day, I revisited the situation from the perspective of the employee and I was awash with shame that I had allowed my exhaustion, frustration, and determination to not let the organization down to derail me from seeing this employee as a person first, an employee second, and a challenging situation third. 


As I reflected on two simple questions, "What did I want? What did I do to get it?", I realized that what I wanted from that team member was NEVER going to happen because I was doing the exact opposite of inspiring growth, development, ownership, and pride in my work. It was a light bulb moment.


The learning from that experience certainly came through struggle and when the light went on for me, I vowed to never ever treat another human being in that way no matter what influences or pressures came to bear. The lesson has served me well in the development of my leadership and management style and for that I'm grateful but I do wish that I could go back and re-do that entire relationship. I don't think that that team member was destined to be a long-term match with the organization but I do believe that the experience could have been much more of a positive growth opportunity if I'd had my authentic leadership style fully formed at the time. 

Taming the Tee Hee

July 24, 2017

Have you ever felt like you aren’t taken seriously in conversations whether at work or socially? You might have a "tee hee" to tame.


A few years ago I was working with a new coach who had a hard time breaking out of the superficial chatter and into a coaching conversation. She had no idea why she was getting feedback that she was “nice but not effective”. She came to our sessions with good insight about her clients. She knew their goals well and could identify their values. She just had a really hard time getting to the heart of the matter with them and she couldn’t figure out why.


I asked her to bring me a couple of recordings of her coaching calls* and it didn’t take long to discover the problem. It was her tee hee. Her tee hee made clients believe that she wasn’t really asking a question that the client was expected to answer or answer seriously. It also seemed to leave some of the clients believing that she wasn’t very competent or capable as a coach. She was, she had great instincts about people and where to take conversations in training but she just hadn’t wrangled her tee hee with clients yet.


We listened to a couple of calls together and I stopped the first call after a series of statements or questions that had been punctuated with a laugh and I asked her what she noticed. “I laugh a LOT”, she said. I then asked her to pay close attention to the client’s responses to questions that had a tee hee and those that didn’t. It sank in pretty quickly that she needed to get this laugh under control.


But here’s the thing. She wasn’t laughing because it was funny. She wasn’t laughing because it filled the space. She was laughing because she wasn’t confident in what she was doing. The tee hee was her nervous “tell”. So we didn’t tackle techniques on how to stop the tee hee, we dove deeper into the source of the confidence issue and worked our way forward from there.


She’s still a bit of a tee hee’er but it’s much more under control now and she is more aware of when it’s happening and negatively impacting moving the coaching conversation forward. She's got tools to recognize what's triggering the nerves and how to quell them to meet the needs of her clients.


Recently I was chatting with someone at a social event and she was lamenting a very difficult issue she was having with her supervisor. She punctuated some very hard statements with a tee hee. I couldn’t help myself and dove into a coaching conversation right there and then. “I noticed that you are laughing at the end of each sentence that contains some tough stuff. Are you aware of that?” She wasn’t. I explained to her what I do for work and offered an on-the-spot quick session which she accepted readily. 


I asked her to tell me more about the relationship with her boss and as she did, she tee hee’d, caught herself, stopped, and looked at me. She was instantly more aware of it. I asked her to say each tee-hee-punctuated sentence again and again until she could do it without the laugh punctuation. She did and she found that without the laugh, she got emotional instead and there were even tears involved. Through a series of questions, the laugh that had covered real emotion which was discovered to be anger, frustration, and embarrassment that she had NO idea what to do about her relationship with her boss. I told her we can work on that. And we are.


*[NOTE: Recording coaching or any other calls must be done legally and with consent from the client to share for training purposes.]

Women in Leadership... Balance vs Struggle

July 26, 2017

Yesterday I had brunch with a woman who is a former colleague (now a good friend) and, in my opinion, amazingly talented. As we chatted over coffee and breakfast sandwiches at her dining room table, I suddenly realized that right in front of me was the epitome of a professional woman's balancing act - quite literally. Stacked next to her two year old son's placemat and puzzle was a pile that summarized her current journey as a recently laid-off woman who is a wife and mother, is pregnant with her second child, and is an incredibly gifted and motivated professional.


The pile included from the bottom up:

  • Paperwork for her new healthcare coverage after losing it from her former employer.
  • A notebook for jotting downs ideas, brainstorming job prospects, networking opportunities etc.
  • A portfolio to contain her documents for interviews and meetings.
  • A book about pregnancy - in case she forgot in the two years since she was last pregnant.
  • A book about women in leadership.
  • Another notebook because she is a planner, list-maker, and note-taker.
  • Her computer.
  • Worksheets etc that she's using to actively find and apply for jobs.

How do women do it? How DO we juggle all of the responsibilities that come with motherhood, wife-dom, employment, and more all while being an engaged member of our families and/or communities?

It's a LOT to juggle! In my opinion, the answer is motivation. What gets you out of bed every morning and fires you up? For this woman, she loves being a mom and a wife and a sister and an aunt (her sister arrived mid-visit with 5-week old baby Johnny) but she also finds tremendous satisfaction, connection, and joy in being in the workforce. 


When she received her layoff notice, she had recently found out that she was pregnant (but hadn't told anyone quite yet). She was clear from the get-go that although her severance package and unemployment insurance could certainly carry her financially through her delivery date, she wasn't interested in doing that unless it was the only option. Six weeks into her job search, she continues to be motivated to find not just a job but a next step in her career that she can feel enthusiastic and excited about while feeling like she's making a significant contribution and feeling enriched by her daily activities. Her son goes to day care a few days per week to give her time to focus on her career search and she was dressed and ready for the day - no yoga pants and bed-head for her! 


Why do women juggle it all? I'm not intentionally trying to sideline men from this question because they have their own things to juggle but women tend to be more centric to the issue of work-life balance/harmony when it comes to parenting and partnering.


Some women do it well. Some struggle. Okay, many struggle. Most often the struggle comes because there is an expectation placed upon them (real or imagined) to do it all, to make it look easy, and to end the day with "Please, sir, I want some more!" regardless of how they truly feel.


But the reality is that struggling through life is just coping - it's just getting through it. It's hard to look back and feel good or fulfilled or nostalgic when every day started with the question, "How the heck am I going to do ALL of this today?" and every day ended with, "Well, I failed again today. Maybe tomorrow."


Wouldn't life be more appealing if we just gave ourselves a break? It got easier for me when I finally did.


I grew up a people-pleaser. A placater. I had unrealistic expectations about how much I'd have myself together when I grew up. When I got married, I was in my mid-30s and decidedly had NOT hit the "grown up" feeling that I assumed I'd wake up to one day. In the early days of marriage, I tried really hard to never run out of toilet paper (thanks to wholesale clubs, I have actually mastered this), have a clean house, be a superb employee and the best wife I could dream up.


Here's where I've landed after more than a decade of marriage... At this present moment, I have enough dog hair in my house to knit a blanket big enough to cover Fenway Park - not just the infield. And I don't care. No, I DO care... It just hasn't risen above the other choices that I've made. Instead of vacuuming, I chose to meet with a potential client. I chose to walk to the beach and do a mini photo shoot with some silly things my friend and I send each other. I chose to work on my website and business. I chose to go listen to live fiddle music, meet a friend for dinner, sweat myself to near exhaustion at a yoga class, and do some organizing in the basement. So, there the dog hair sits (actually, it's taken the form of tumble weeds now so it's actually become a mesmerizing kinetic life form of sorts...). I will eventually get out the vacuum and knock it back but the reality is, minutes after I'm done, there will be more dog hair. And I'll step over it again.


A few years ago my husband and I were caught in the throes of whose turn it was to clean the bathroom. We hadn't been married long (5-6 years) but we were both busy professionals with a child and an active extended family life. One day we said, "Why are we doing this? We can afford to not wash these floors ourselves!" We agreed that with the precious little time we have to enjoy each other's company, we did NOT want to kick off every day off together with the perennial "Do you want to vacuum or clean the bathroom" toss up to divvy up the duties before we could relax and enjoy the day. 


We hired a woman to clean our house. Yes, I work from home. Yes, I have time between meetings that I could pull out the scrubbies and clean things. Yes, I could vacuum for 10 minutes a day. But I didn't want to and neither did my husband. So we hired someone to clean our house and it was the BEST thing we ever did with our "disposable" income! Gone are the days of rock-paper-scissoring for toilet-scrubbing responsibilities and I don't feel one bit bad about it!


I've explained this philosophy to several women since then - other professional women in a similar struggle - and they have one of two reactions: 


1) What??? How can you DO that??? (As in give up the pretense of loving to clean my home for my family - not the actual logistics of hiring someone.) 


OR 


2) BRILLIANT! Can I hire her too???


I let go of the expectations that I had placed on myself to be a great housekeeper AND a top-notch professional AND an amazing wife/mom/aunt/daughter/sister/friend/neighbor etc etc etc. Now I am selective about what is fueling me that day/moment and I do the heck out of it and then I move on when I'm ready. Sometimes I don't do anything. Sometimes I binge watch Netflix or sit on my deck and watch the ducks on our pond. Sometimes I work until 2am because I'm on a roll. It works for us!


In short, I've figured out that cleaning my house doesn't fill my bucket (I will tidy and organize the heck out of it but if it involves a mop or a cleaning product - meh - I'm out) but there are so many other things that do that leave me feeling much more in tune with the real me and aligned with my personal values. And I take that as a win. I don't miss the struggle. Will you?


PS - I have related philosophies about weeding my garden as well. But that's another story...

Deciding between a fix and a solution...

August 16, 2017

I have the great fortune to have married into a family with a tiny cottage on the National Seashore on Cape Cod. It's been in the family for over 80 years and will continue to be handed down for many generations. Anyone familiar with the disappearing cottages on Cape Cod's coastline will understand that this is truly a treasure!


Years before I was even on the earth, the cottage sat out on the beach - a beach that due to wind, tide, and storms no longer exists as it did then. When my father in-law told me the story, he pointed to an area well off-shore where the cottage originally sat. At some point in the cottage's history, it became clear that if it remained where it was originally placed, it would wash into the sea. Nobody wanted to lose this treasure so they moved it back from the ocean's edge to a new location on the beach.


Years later, it became clear that this new site also put the cottage at risk as the beach continued to erode and shift. It became apparent that there were three choices:


1) Let it get swallowed by the sea. (Not even an option!) 

2) Move it farther back on the beach again. 

3) Purchase a new piece of land above the edge of the dunes and move the cottage way back from the constantly shifting sands.


My in-law's family chose the third option and here we are decades and two and three generations later still enjoying this rustic, tiny cottage with majestic views of the sea. 


What does this have to do with coaching or life or leadership? The correlation becomes clear when you ask yourself "What is the problem? How will I fix it?" and determine that there are often two options: The Band-aid Fix - something that will get the job in the short-term but doesn't actually fix the problem. Or The Solution - something that eliminates the problem by solving it permanently.


I often have people come to me with problems and initially they are seeking band-aid fixes because they just want to put it behind them and move on. However, my job as a coach is often to help them identify the real root of the issue and then help them to find a solution. It's my job to help clients not just kick the can down the road, so to speak, but to actually examine what's happening and why the short-term fix, while often easier, less expensive, less time-consuming etc, might do the trick for now, the problem still exists and you'll stumble on it again at some point. Sometimes the problem is even bigger by the time it surfaces again.


Seeking out and implementing real solutions often takes guts. Sometimes it's not "How can I like my job better?" but "How can I find a job that I love?". Sometimes it's not "How can I get my team member to be more productive?" but "How can I find team members who will inherently and intrinsically want to kick butt on my team?" 


Radical solutions require planning combined with fearlessness. You have to trust yourself that regardless of the outcome, you'll be okay! 


I'm quite certain that when the cottage was moved the first time, my in-laws never expected to have to move it again. But when the time came for the next move, they invested time, money and effort into protecting their treasure. You are your greatest treasure. Will you invest in yourself?

From lone duck to team member...

August 26, 2017

Recently I was on the beach near my home visiting with some friends and a duck walked up to me. No, this isn't the start of a joke. It just walked up like it wanted to be part of the conversation. She was a female Mallard with no male or other ducks around so I suspect that she was lonely. She stood next to my chair within arm's reach for about a minute before I turned to get a better look at her. As soon as I moved, she scooted back about five feet just out of reach but still close. She continued this yo-yo association with me for several minutes before waddling to the water's edge to eat all while less than 10 feet from kids playing the water. She reminded me of someone I used to have on my team.


This woman joined my team in quite a hurried fashion due to some sudden changes happening. I hadn't had time to sit with her to properly welcome her before we had a big multi-day meeting with the entire team. During the first day of the meeting, she was like that duck. She clearly wanted to be involved but anytime any member of the team focused attention on her she shut down and distanced herself from the group. The meeting lasted several days and because I was in the lead, I didn't have a lot of time to really dive into my usual relationship-building efforts. Soon the rest of the team was coming to me with concerns. "Is she mad? Does she not believe in the work we do? Why is she so stand-offish?" I asked them to reflect on their welcome to my team and they soon realized that she was in a really awkward position having joined without the benefit of a thoughtful on-boarding or really even knowing what she was getting into on the team. 


Throughout the meetings, I had gained some insight into what her concerns were and she had good reasons for being reserved. Not only had she not had the same on-boarding to my team due to the timing but she was also stepping into a job that her predecessor had outlined for her as being totally miserable and unsustainable. With that information, I was able to adjust some of my messaging and framed things in the meetings using that context and she began to soften. By day three of the meetings, she was visibly different. Her face had relaxed, her body posture had eased, her intensity had mellowed, she willingly joined working sessions or lunch groups. In addition to indirectly addressing her concerns in the group meetings, I took the opportunity to chat with her one-on-one during breaks, pair her with solid members of my team for breakout sessions, and addressed her worries with her directly. 


By the time we got back to work and were able to do my "real on-boarding process" with her, she was in a much different place. Over time she admitted to having trust issues with leaders - particularly female leaders - due to some unpleasant experiences in the past. We worked on those together and when we came to the end of our road together, she told me that I had renewed her faith in the fact that there ARE good leaders out there. (That's a HUGE win for her as far as I'm concerned!)


Imagine what it would have been like if I had assumed the worst by her stand-offish attitude instead of digging in to learn what was happening? Imagine if I hadn't adjusted my messaging in the meetings and one-on-ones to address her concerns or if I had let her stay at the periphery of the great things that were happening on my team? She likely wouldn't have remained with my team for long and that truly would have been my loss because as she settled in, she became a top performer on my team. She just needed to be heard and valued.


The ending to the duck's story isn't much different as after sticking around us for a while, she spotted some feathered friends on the adjacent beach and off she went to join them and they welcomed her. Thankfully, my team member found her flock with my team!

Embracing the 'Gremlins'...

September 7, 2017

Let's be honest, we all have at least one thing that paralyzes us as the voices in our heads crank up the volume and chant, "You're not good enough to do this. You're not smart enough. You don't have the skills", or something along those lines. I don't care who you are, every single person I've ever met, if pressed, can come up with something that stops them in their tracks. What happens once the gremlins are chanting and cranking up the volume is what really matters though.


I'm preparing to take a class and I have to take an entrance exam for the class. When I found out that it included a math portion, I panicked. I am the person that sees a word problem and it turns into gobbledy gook right in front of my eyes. I have never been successful at math but unlike many people, I can actually trace it back to why. During the formative years of my math foundations, I had a lovely man who talked more about World War II than he did about math. When I left his classroom and headed to high school, he signed off that I was prepared for Algebra I. I wasn't. I wasn't even close to prepared. Sending me into a high school algebra class was like saying to someone, "This is a pool. It has water in it. To swim you move your arms and legs. Good luck!" and then tossing them into the deep end.


By the time I got to my senior year in high school, I'd been called stupid, had chalk and erasers thrown at me, and I froze with every single math problem that came my way. When I entered college, I continued to freeze but there, my Gremlins (notice the capital G) were in total control and, because I needed math credits to graduate, I would enroll in a math class and then drop out before the enrollment period was closed. I just could NOT get through the basic requirements in college. Then I went to a different school to finish up my last couple of classes and when I took the math placement exam to determine which math class I should be in, it was determined that I should be in "Math R" (remedial math). I wasn't too insulted because I knew I was missing the basics. I'd been silently drowning for years and Math R was my pool noodle. That class set me up to pass and actually understand the math requirements necessary to get my degree. Yay! 


But Math R was a few years ago. Well... almost 20 years ago now to be honest and because my jobs have relied very little on math, my foundation has become a little unstable.


Tomorrow is the exam. I spent time preparing for it. I have the option of pushing it off to another test date or just going for it. This morning I actually started typing the email to reschedule the class and then I deleted it without sending it. I needed to get square with the "why" of what I would accomplish by pushing it off. 


Here's what I know about me and my gremlins. If I push off the test date, this will loom larger and larger in my head until I am in full paralysis and decide "I didn't want to take that class anyway!" and walk away. So, because I've learned how to listen to my gremlins, my negative self talk, my voices from the past that look and sound a lot like a certain teacher in high school when it comes to math, I know that I can't give in. I need to just go in there and give it my very best shot. I know what my strengths are and one little math test and the inability to hold exponents, quotients, and geometry in my head doesn't define me or my ability to learn or contribute. It used to! And to be honest, while my husband was trying to help me prepare, I did start to slide down the old path of negative self-talk around math. But it's within my power to put this into perspective and move forward giving it my best effort and letting that land where it may. 


Gremlins come in different forms for different reasons for everyone but if you fight against them, ignore them, or cow-tow to them, they only grow in power and intensity. However, if you listen to them to sift through and decide what is truth, what is fiction, and where you have opportunities for growth, you can eventually turn your Gremlins to gremlins and learn to control the volume. They can become incredible tools toward empowerment!


PS: I passed the test with flying colors - even the math portion! Take THAT math gremlins! 

The key word in management relationship is 'relationship'...

September 27, 2017

Please raise your hand if you have ever encountered one of these uncomfortable situations as a manager (or something similar) that you weren't quite sure how to handle:

  • One of your employees is walking around the open work space inviting everyone out for a beer after work. He intentionally averts his gaze and walks quickly past your desk without inviting you.
  • An employee sees you at your son's soccer game and begins talking about a conflict she's having with another employee. She is clearly trying to get you on her side.
  • While waiting for a meeting to begin your team is chatting about each others' pictures on Instagram. As soon as you walk in, they clam up. Nobody has ever requested to follow you on Instagram.

Any hands in the air? Well... mine is! My hand is definitely raised. Every one of these things has happened to me as a manager. The first one happened when I was a new manager. I was friendly with my entire team so I was pretty insulted that I was intentionally not invited over and over again. It took me a while to realize that it was the right thing to do and I'm glad that I never told them that I was insulted. 


The other situations happened when I was a much more seasoned manager and I handled each on head-on. To the sideline sidler, I simply said, "It sounds like this is a bigger conversation that we should talk about at work. I'd be happy to meet with you about this in the office on Monday." (She never requested time with me in the office and when I asked her if she wanted to discuss it, she said, "Oh no. It's no big deal.") To the Instagrammers, I said, "That's great that you all have connected with each other outside of work. That tells me that you trust each other. It's clear that building those relationships has brought you all closer together as a team." One person uncomfortably asked, "Do you use Instagram?" I said, "Yes, but I never request to follow anyone that I work with so they don't feel uncomfortable about deciding to accept or reject the invitation." They were all visibly relieved that I didn't feel left out or guilt them into joining their social media circles. It was a powerful teaching moment for some of the newer managers on my team as well.


So... back to the beer drinkers... Why was it the right thing to do to leave me out? Because until you are an extremely savvy and confident manager who can appropriately manage the overlap of your business and professional life, you need to keep them pretty distinctly separate. 


For example... What if, when that group of employees got together for a beer, one of them passed the filter stage of boozing and started mouthing off about your company or your boss or you as their manager. Is that something you should hold them accountable for at work or is it someone just venting with friends in a safe space?


What if the person who is trying to schmooze you at the soccer game is actually working on getting someone fired and therefore fills your head with inaccurate, inflammatory information? Is that information that you could/would/should take back to the office and look into or should you leave it on the sidelines?


What if your team did add you on social media and you started seeing things about their personal lives that altered your professional opinion of them. Could you un-see what you've seen and carry on as before?


If you are chummy and friendly with someone outside of work, could you still hold them accountable? What if they learned something about you that was unsavory or questionable - would you still be able to function effectively as their manager without blinking?


I've seen it go bad too many times and once it's gone bad, it's really really hard to right the ship. For example, I mentored a new manager whose team was made up of people he'd known from a variety of professional and personal relationships previously. This was his first time as a manager and it was the first time that these folks were managed by someone they knew. The team felt entitled to walk all over him because he was their buddy. He felt guilty about holding them accountable because it might impact their friendship. It was a sticky situation all the way around that required a lot of coaching to navigate.


It IS possible to have great relationships with people that you supervise (or are supervised by) but it IS a highly developed skill that takes time and investment. 

Being a good manager is about being open to a relationship that remains productive and professional but still allows you to see and treat each member of your team fairly as an individual with strengths, challenges, and needs. It's tricky. 


At one point in my career, I was hired to work in the same department as someone that I had been dear friends with for 20+ years. The director was rightly cautious about not allowing us to be in any kind of supervisor/supervisee role when I first started. But we quickly demonstrated that part of what makes our friendship successful is the ability to give each other feedback, hold each other accountable, communicate respectfully, and manage our feelings appropriately. After just a few months, due to changes that were happening quickly, there was no choice but for me to report to her. We both made the case to the director that not only was it the only choice but we COULD and WOULD make it work. And we did. We committed to being professionals while on the clock and it worked out beautifully. Many of our colleagues had no idea for quite some time that she and I were even friends outside of work much less how close we were.


But how do you start a professional relationship from scratch? How do you walk the fine line of close and too close? It's a very delicate balance to ask how an employee's family is doing, for example, without getting drawn deeply into his/her personal drama. 


If you are having trouble navigating this, I can help! It comes down clarity, boundaries, and respectful communication. Please contact me to discover how I can help you move to a more comfortable means of creating, developing, and maintaining relationships with your team members.

Fried eggs...

October 15, 2017

Do one thing today that you didn't think that you could do yesterday. This is how you develop "range". What is range? Think of it like trying to bend down and touch your toes. If you are only in the habit of reaching your feet to put your socks on, you probably aren't doing it in a way that causes you to truly test how far down you can bend down to touch your toes. But if you started reaching for your toes every day, within a period of time, you will probably be able to touch your toes. That's what it means to develop range. You aren't necessarily going to reach the goal all at once but with work, each day you'll develop another skill or habit to achieve the goal you've set for yourself.


My example for today is fried eggs. I have never been successful at making an over-easy fried egg. Because I can't stand it if it's undercooked, I usually end up with over-rock-hard fried eggs. But my husband is exceptional at making any style egg I want - poached, over-easy, scrambled etc. So, because I have built-in chef, I stopped trying to make myself the perfect over-easy egg thus relegating myself to scrambled eggs when left to my own devices.


Today I decided that if I'm going to coach my clients to extend their range, I better practice it myself. So, I thought about the zillions of times I've watched my husband make the perfect egg and tried to mirror his every action. It wasn't perfect. But! I did get one of the two egg yolks to be cooked to the right consistency even though the whites were a mess and the second egg was the victim of vigorous turning and therefore ended up with a broken yolk. 


But from this partial success, I am determined to try again tomorrow. So I've developed some range simply by having some success and by feeling inspired to keep trying!


What do you lean away from in your life that could be beneficial if you leaned into it and eventually mastered it? What step can you take toward that today?

Impressions...

November 1, 2017

My early career was spent working in adventure education, summer camps, residential education and event planning. These are jobs that require a different set of skills than an office-type job and one of the big differences is that in those settings, there's rarely a clock-in, clock-out process because of the 24 hour nature of the work. I decided one day that I needed to expand my skills and my horizons and I applied for a position with an alumni development office at a prestigious private school. The director saw something in me that he liked because despite my total lack of experience in database management (a key function of the job I had applied for), he hired me. It was a whole new world for me. Arriving at a specific time. Departing at a specific time. Eating lunch at a specific time. This was all new! In previous jobs, the day started when the need started whether that was at 4am or 10am and it ended when the work was done whether that was 6pm or 11pm. Eight hour work days were mythical in my previous world and to say that I needed time to adjust is a fair statement.


I'd worked at this new job for about 10 months when my director, with whom I had an open and honest relationship, called me into his office. What he said to me had an impact on my professional life so profound that every single person I have ever managed has had the same conversation with me in some form or another.


I've boiled it down to, "The impression speech". 


My director asked me, "Do you enjoy working here?" I answered carefully but honestly by saying, "I really enjoy the people and the school but the job responsibilities don't exactly rev me up." He said, "I want to share with you that the impression that you are giving is that you don't enjoy working here. Is that the impression that you want people to have about you?" That made me sit up straighter in my chair and ask a few questions to determine what gave people that impression.


Through that conversation, I realized that what I was struggling with personally had seeped into my professional life and I didn't even realize it. I had overcommitted myself by having a full-time job, two part-time jobs, and I was in fire school with the local volunteer fire department. I barely slept. I wasn't eating well. I wasn't taking care of myself. I was burned out and it was showing in my work. That was a huge wake up call!


It was hard to hear. Please don't get the impression that what he said just magically made sense and I skipped gleefully from the room showering him with thanks. I did thank him, of course, but inside my stomach was churning and I considered quitting so I wouldn't have to suffer the shame of being imperfect. But I didn't quit. Instead, I thought about everything that he said and realized that he had put ME in control by telling me that this was the impression that I was giving not the impression that people had formed without my input. I realized that if I had given that impression, I had the power to change that impression. It was the first piece of feedback in a professional setting that I ever received that was manageable, actionable, and empowering! 


Armed with this new insight, a few days later I sat down with the director again and asked him, "What exactly is giving the impression that I don't like working here?" He was direct and said that my loose interpretation of the work hours was the first indication. Easy! I was rolling in between 8 and 8:30am because I was under the impression that was the norm. 8am? Yep, I can do that. What else? I had called out sick a fair amount (not in excess of my allotted sick leave) in those 10 months because of the burn out. I explained the reasons that I was working two additional part-time jobs and that I was in fire school and I vowed to adjust my schedule to be more manageable. What else? Because I was burned out, I wasn't asking for more responsibility and his impression was that I learned the job quickly and then just hit coasting mode. Every job I had ever had before had heaped more work on me when I had achieved success with my expected duties so it never occurred to me to ask for more. Given this new information, I started expressing interest in classes that I could take to enhance my skills, offering assistance to other department members when I had time, and reaching out to my director simply asking, "What else can I do?" or offering ideas to further streamline our processes etc.


The "impression speech" is one that I've used in so many situations - with teenagers, with parents, with friends, and, as mentioned above, with every single person I've ever managed in the past. I haven't always had to use it because the person was struggling - sometimes I've used it as a tool to help them move up in an organization or to find a different job elsewhere. 


Impressions are tricky because you can't always manage every aspect of them. However, with practice, you can achieve enough insight and self awareness to control the majority if the impression others have of you. By developing skills in being aware of how others perceive you, you up the ante of being able to deliver the desired impression.

How Do You Know?

November 15, 2017

Recently I was giving a presentation about my coaching practice with managers who are new, struggling, or stuck and therefore under performing or letting the team down. One of the participants asked me, "How do you know what it's like for those managers?" My answer stopped him in his tracks. I said, "Because I was one of them." Silence fell across the room as I let that sink in.


Yes, I used to be a manager who had done such a great job on the front lines of my job that I got made a manager. The problem was, I had never managed another person before. I hadn't been given any training or guidelines. I was just suddenly a manager that needed to figure it out. Unfortunately for some of my previous team members, I didn't always get it right. I struggled with finding my voice as a manager. I struggled with things like "But I'm younger than them" and "But I've been here less time than the rest of the team" and "I really hope nobody can tell that I have NO CLUE what I'm doing!" And I didn't ask for help.


Unfortunately, there are TOO MANY managers in this exact same situation. They were excellent cashiers, carpenters, tech support agents, bank tellers, customer service representatives etc and because they excelled in those roles, they have been promoted into management positions often with little or no support or training on how to manage that transition.


Here are a couple of challenges that are common for people in this position:


1) I have never managed people so I'm using my past experience (good or bad) with people who have managed me to manage my new team. The training sessions/manuals tell me what to do but not how to do it. I'm struggling with each new aspect so I feel like I'm falling behind and failing.


2) I used to be ON the team that now I'm managing and now I'm expected to manage them. Some of them are bitter that I got promoted and they didn't. Others are my good friends who think that they can get away with anything. I have no idea how to handle this.


3) I'm afraid that if I ask for help, I will look weak and the upper level management will regret hiring me into this position.


Chances are that if you did a completely anonymous poll at your workplace, at least one person would be able to identify with at least one of those common challenges. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that more than one person has more than one of these feelings. 


How does coaching help? Coaching is about finding the strengths that exist and building on them while exploring the areas for growth and reinforcing the skills needed to be successful. Learning to be an effective manager is pretty tricky to do from generic training sessions or manuals. Again, they focus on the "what to do and what not to do" but they rarely provide an opportunity to explore HOW to do things. 


"Terminate someone who isn't meeting the expectations" might be outlined in a training manual. How do you know if they are/aren't meeting the expectations? What should you do to support them to meet the expectations? How do you go about terminating them if that's what's really called for? Coaching gives the coachee the safe space to explore these questions and determine where his/her skills, knowledge and abilities intersect with the expectations of the organization and it gives the coachee the opportunity to practice the skills prior to "going live" with them.


Managing people is hard. There will never be one formula for management because it's a function of working with people and no two people are exactly the same. However, building a baseline of management skills will allow you to adjust your approach accordingly when someone new walks through your door.


I can help take the anxiety out of being a new manager! Contact me to learn how we might work together.

You Know What They Say About Assumptions...

December 2, 2017

Years ago I got called into the office by the Executive Director (ED) for a meeting at a mid-sized organization that I had worked at for about a year. I worked from home 2-3 days per week and the balance of the time I split between two office sites. To be called into the office by the ED was very odd because I had only had a handful of conversations with him since he had hired me and most of those were just superficial non-work topics or, at best, big big picture work topics. 


I rearranged my day to meet his request and came into the office. He sat me down at a round table less than ten feet from the office manager's desk in the reception area instead of going to my office or his just down the hall. He started the meeting by saying, "It's not working out with you working from home. We need to end that immediately." I was stunned. I had accepted the job because I had to have the flexibility to work from home as I had some high-intensity family obligations and lived over an hour away. I had carefully crafted my work and home schedule to meet this need so I was quite taken aback that this was suddenly being yanked out of the agreement.


After catching my breath, I asked, "What is it that's not working?" He said, "You aren't getting any work done. We need to move things forward but your time at home isn't productive enough so we need to have you come into the office full time."


This was the FIRST TIME the ED had ever even talked to me about my workload. He wasn't my supervisor and his interactions with me had been brief leaving me with the impression that my daily work wasn't even on his radar. My supervisor wasn't included in this conversation so I was unsure if she had informed or influenced this discussion or not. 


I was blindsided and mortified. The office manager was sitting at her desk just feet away working hard to appear to be working hard and doing her best to will herself into being deaf. This was clearly uncomfortable for her as well. My other colleagues, with open doors just feet away, could also hear what was happening and the usual banter and office hum had screeched to a halt. Mortified barely covers how I felt.


Backed into a corner, there was little I could do. I asked if my supervisor, who wasn't in the office so I couldn't invite her into the conversation, had updated him on the work that I was doing and he dismissed that as an irrelevant question. I knew that the only way that I could keep the job was to maintain my current schedule. If they required me to come in full-time, I was going to have to resign and find another job that could fit my needs at the time. I wasn't being petulant, I simply could not be flexible on this point because of my family responsibilities. So, given no other choice, I calmly walked to my office and got an armload of stuff and my work bag and proceeded to lay out and explain in detail everything I'd been working on:

  • The ~40 page (and growing) management manual that I had constructed from scratch;
  • The training plan that I had built from scratch and clearly documented so that it could be carried forward after I left (When I was hired I had been clear that I would only be there a maximum of three years because of my family obligation.);
  • The monthly educational and professional development series I had established from scratch;
  • The HR management database tool that I had developed to manage my 13 employees because none existed prior;
  • The schedule of the weekly meetings that I had with my 13 employees and the bi-weekly meetings I had with my partners;
  • The performance evaluation process that I had developed;
  • The "Facebook" (before the real Facebook - darn, I missed that boat!) that I had created to share the real-time ever-evolving skills, successes, and contributions of my employees with the partners that sponsored them;
  • And more...

I covered that table with binders, spreadsheets, file folders, and reams of paper in a pile so high that I could barely see him on the other side.


I explained that working from home was hard but that I had set up a private office and had set very clear "office hours" and rules with the children that I was raising at the time. I explained that my schedule was carefully constructed around a myriad of responsibilities but at the end of the day, I often topped 50+ hours of work rather than the expected 35-40 hours because I worked late at night and many weekends.


It was his turn to be stunned. I ended the impromptu presentation/justification by saying, "When you hired me, I was clear that this is the schedule that I needed in order to work here. I still want to work here but if you are going to require me to come in full-time then I will need to give my notice." He was silent for a few moments and then said, "I see that you've gotten much more done than I thought. We can keep the current arrangement... for now" and he pushed back his chair and walked down the hall to his office without another word. He never apologized. He never checked back in with me. We never talked about it again.


Later I learned that my supervisor had NO idea that he was going to have that conversation with me and that he had never asked her for updates on my work or production.


Before you finish the rest of this post, please take a moment to jot down the key areas where this "manager" missed the mark.



I learned so much from this ED - mostly from the "What not to do" column. Here's a quick summary:

  • Don't be a manager that is so out of touch with employees that you are completely clueless about what they are doing;
  • Don't make assumptions about what someone is or isn't doing; 
  • Don't make negative interactions the only interactions you have with your staff/team members;
  • Do your homework before you tackle any tough conversation;
  • Approach conversations with a resolution mindset rather than a cannon ball that causes irreparable damages;
  • If you have to change a fundamental part of someone's job, plan ahead and give them the opportunity to weigh in if possible;
  • Don't torture people by calling them out in a public place. If you need a witness, get one but take it behind a closed door to have the conversation and make sure that you aren't blindsiding the witness either.
I can tell you that the tension in that office was so thick after that day that I never recovered fully from it while I worked there. Even the hug from the office manager after the ED left on his daily two hour coffee amble couldn't put aside my feelings of being ambushed and humiliated. The upside is that I added more tools to my management toolkit that day!

What Aren't You Saying That Your Team Is Hearing?

December 18, 2017

A couple of years ago I was working for a program that was "building the plane while flying". It was something that I was passionate about and I absolutely LOVED my team and the work that we were doing. It was intense and there were many moments of feeling overwhelmed and uncertain that there would ever be the moment of satisfaction that the plane was complete. I worked hard. REALLY hard. 


My "shift" was technically 11am to 7pm so that we could have a member of the management team available to our remote teams spread across the United States. But because most of the management team was on a more normal schedule of 8am to 4pm, I often agreed to meetings outside of my scheduled work time. And because much of my work required intense focus and concentration, I would work well after 7pm when things quieted down and the urgent emails, chat messages, and phone calls were done for the day. I didn't really mind the schedule because my husband was in graduate school on top of his day job and a busy volunteer schedule and my son was grown and had moved out. So the long hours didn't really bother me too much. It gave me a great excuse to ignore the dog hair tumbleweeds and un-weeded gardens.


My team worked hard too. REALLY hard. I hadn't questioned it because at that point, despite the intensity, we all really loved our jobs.


But despite loving our jobs, I ALWAYS encouraged my team to use their vacation time, to take breaks, to go to their kids' games/recitals/appointments, to hit the gym/yoga mat/trail - to do whatever will help them feel balanced, fresh, and whole. This is a huge personal value to me that work/life harmony HAS to be in place otherwise the intensity will wear you out at some point. And I adored and treasured my team so I didn't want any of them to burn out.


One day I was meeting with one of my absolute top performers. She's the kind of rock star that rock stars envy. She's smart, diversely talented, ambitious, passionate... she's incredible! She was leaving on vacation the next day and hadn't yet finished a project that we had set a tentative due date for before her vacation. She had just barely finished the sentence of "It's not done yet" when she cut me off by saying, "But don't worry! The flight to Aruba is a few hours long and I'll finish it then and email it as soon as we land." This had NEVER been how I managed my team. I would never ask them them to work on their vacation or do anything like that. 


I came right back with, "Don't. You. Dare! You are NOT doing work on the plane - you are going to enjoy your husband and your kids. You're going to nap, maybe have a glass of wine. You will NOT be working! Remember, the due date was tentative!" She sputtered, "But... but... it's no big deal. I'll just wrap it up on the plane and..." It was my turn to cut her off. I said, "You are not even taking your computer with you to Aruba. If I have to, I'll have the tech team disable your access to the database and your email. I'm serious. When you clock out this afternoon, you are done until you come back in a week. A week is precious short enough without chiseling into it with work on either end." (It should be noted that we had an excellent relationship so this type of communication worked well for us.) She took me seriously at that point and didn't take her computer with her. It was hard for her to walk away with unfinished work hanging out there but ultimately she admitted to being grateful that I'd been so directive about it.


A few weeks later in a group meeting, another member of my team preparing for vacation made mention that she was going to take work with her on her trip as well. I asked my Aruba vacationer to outline what I had told her and she regaled them with my, "I'll lock you out if I have to!" speech, giving everyone quite a chuckle. 


I took the opportunity to dive in with my team and ask, "What's going on? I tell you ALL the time that your time is YOUR time. I don't want you working while on vacation. I want you resting. Enjoying. Cutting loose. My motto is that no small children will die if this work isn't done today so why are you putting this pressure on yourselves?"


Now... know this... I had worked HARD to cultivate a wonderful, open, respectfully-communicative relationship with this team and we were very close (as close as you can be while maintaining professional boundaries, that is) so they had no bones about telling me exactly why they did it.


"Because YOU do it, Polly. Remember when you were on vacation in Alaska and dialed in to those meetings? Remember when you were at that conference and managed the emergency that came up with the installation of  the new phone system from there? Remember when we had to fire that guy and you helped us through it from a hotel room in Washington, DC? You answer emails at all hours of the day. You are available to us practically 24 hours a day. You never stop so... we kinda... sorta... feel like we shouldn't either..."


WHOA! Now THAT was a wake up call for me. Long had I poo-pooed the "Do as I say, not as I do" mentality but it never occurred to me that they would choose to follow my example of their own accord simply because they wanted to show that they were as invested and engaged as I was.


So, I made a concerted effort to change that behavior. When I left on vacation, I gave out my cell number in case of dire emergencies but I didn't check email (okay - I glanced at it to forward any fiery issues to another manager). When I wasn't on vacation, I made a conscious effort to only send and respond to emails during reasonably acceptable business hours. I did what I needed to do to ensure they had the support that they needed and then I tagged out. And when they saw me doing it, they started doing it too.


I realized that they had been hearing me say, "I want you to take time for yourself" but what they were interpreting from my actions was that if I wasn't following my own advice, they shouldn't either. 


It got me thinking about what else I had been giving conflicting messages about so I paid much closer attention. I was able to shift my perspective to see what they saw, hear what they heard, and make sure that my actions and words were in alignment. We all grew from that experience and occasionally when someone was at risk of violating the working-on-vacation ban, someone would emphatically cheer, "Remember Aruba!". (Gosh, I miss that team!)

Is the writing on the wall? Can you read it?

January 5, 2018

Long before a layoff or some other major shift in your employment, there are often signs. A savvy employee can begin to read the signs in advance so that they aren't caught standing there with their pink slip saying, "Uh. What just happened?" and having no plan on what they are going to do next.


The truth is that all employees should be preparing in small but meaningful ways for that just-in-case scenario at all times. The scenario might be that the company is downsizing and you get laid off or it might be that you've become aware that your personal values are no longer in alignment with the company and it's your decision that it's time to go. Sometimes these things take us by surprise but sometimes when we look back at clues along the way we can see the faintly dotted line that brought us to this moment. 

How do you find the dotted line? Awareness is really your only safeguard against getting blindsided. 


How do you prepare for the end of the dotted line? Preparation is the key.


Awareness:

Long before big scary hairy ugly decisions are made by companies, there are usually some shifts in the playing field. They might be minor shifts that barely register in the Richter scale but you'll notice them if you pay attention. Or they might be significant seismic shifts that leave everyone looking for the nearest exit. But how do you know when to run for the door? You have to pay attention to what is happening. Ask questions. Listen. Listen between the lines. Spend time with your head not buried in your desk and be observant. Clues are there. Even if you don't recognize them as big scary hairy clues, they are clues nonetheless and you should take note of them.


And usually well before you make a big scary hairy decision to leave a company, somewhere in your gut you know it's going to happen eventually. It's okay. Not every job is a great fit. Not every job lasts forever. Sometimes the best way to approach a job is by giving it all you've got while also getting every learning opportunity that you can out of it. Which leads us to...


Preparation:

The best way to get prepared is to stay prepared. I live in a flood, hurricane, nor'easter, and heavy-winds-just-because zone and I remember attending an Emergency Preparedness for Pets session offered at work. The big takeaway for me was that when The Big One hits and we have to join thousands of other people making our way off Cape Cod on the only road that is an evacuation route, we don't want to have to be measuring out three days worth of dog food, finding leashes, collars, veterinary papers etc in addition to packing clothes and supplies for myself and my family. So I packed them a bag that stays in the mudroom with everything they would need for three days away from home. Every couple of months I empty out the kibble and put in fresh kibble. I get prepared by staying prepared.


The same is true of our professional portfolio. It's important to not only have a current resume on hand but it's also important to refresh its content now and then. Review it every few months and add in new accomplishments at your current job. Delete things that have gotten stale or rusty. And while you're at it, take a look at the things that might make you attractive to an employer and start adding to your toolkit. Does your current employer offer trainings, workshops or certifications? Add those to your resume or sign up for as many as you can take. Look outside your employer at local colleges, training sites or adult education programs and see what they have to offer. Being a life-long learner is a GOOD thing and it's a great thing to demonstrate on your resume.


Big changes happen. Life changes. As Epictetus said, "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."

Introducing Coaching to the Corporate Culture...

January 20, 2018

Many of the companies that I meet with are just beginning to introduce the idea of coaching to their teams and I spend a good deal of time helping them to fully understand the difference between coaching, mentoring, managing, and training. Many coaches in private practice really dislike this part of the process but I happen to really enjoy it! The part I love is helping companies that are new to coaching learn how coaching can support the work they are doing to train and develop their teams. It's clear that training and development supported by coaching helps to lock in the learning in a meaningful way.


The most common desire for companies that I talk with is to help develop their managers to use coaching as part of their management practice. This is the sweet spot for developing people - both the managers and the people they manage!


"...according to recent research, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching." - Harvard Business Review


But there is an important distinction when executives are shifting to a coaching culture. Managers can manage like a coach but they can't manage as a coach. This can be a complex concept to convey but here's a short list of reasons why the separation must be clear:

  • In a pure coaching relationship, there is no power differential. The coach has no power to punish or reward the employee.
  • In a pure coaching relationship, there is complete confidentiality and the coach may not share anything with anyone else that they have spoken about. Because a manager is a fiduciary to his or her company, that automatically nullifies a pure coaching relationship.
  • In a pure coaching relationship, the coach must be willing to allow the coachee to determine the direction and content of the sessions without being committed to a particular outcome. A manager doesn't have that luxury to allow such a wide open field as s/he has accountabilities to uphold and expectations to meet.

Managing like a coach is doable and is exactly what the Harvard Business Review is referring to in its article linked above. Learning the skills of how to do the following (and more!): 

  • Ask not tell - Guide the conversation through questions rather than directives
  • Focus on the employee vs the task
  • Accept that coaching isn't about "fixing" someone
  • Incorporate feedback in a growth-oriented way
  • Engage the employee is a cycle of discovery rather than pointing out "the right way"

Every company is different about how they want to begin the shift to a coaching culture but the one thing that remains the same is that when a company decides to go this route, they are clearly committed to the growth and development of their team. In this way, it quickly becomes clear to the team that coaching is a positive addition to their development, not punitive.


For more discussion about how to bring managing like a coach to your company or organization, please contact me.

Cultivating Leadership Presence Through Awareness...

January 31, 2018

As Dr. Phil says, "You can't change what you don't acknowledge." This can be applied to many things in life and is especially true when examining your leadership presence.


What is "leadership presence"? Well, that's hard to define because it is made up of so many different facets that each person, industry, or company might have a completely different definition. In short, leadership presence is how you carry yourself when you are in a role that requires you to lead. Most people would agree that leadership presence is a good thing but I think it's important to take it a step farther to call it "positive leadership presence" so one can differentiate between the desired and the actual. 


We've all been around people whose very presence changes the vibe in a room. S/he enters and suddenly something shifts. Is it a positive shift? Is it a negative shift? I've experienced enough "leaders" whose presence carries a negative vibe and while they might get a lot done, is anyone happy? Is everyone as productive as they could be?


To really begin to cultivate a positive leadership presence, one must first be completely aware of how s/he is perceived in a genuine way. "Am I a good leader? Do I inspire you? What are my best/worst qualities? What can I do differently?" You're probably not going to get much insight from the answers if you just start wandering the halls and asking your team these questions.


To truly put yourself in a position where you can learn about the current state of your leadership presence, you're going to have to be willing to put yourself into a pretty vulnerable position. You'll need to give people the space, avenue and anonymity that it takes for them to share what they really see, feel, hear, and experience. That's hard. Really hard. But it's absolutely necessary if you truly want to get feedback that you can look at and act upon if necessary.


There are tools to do this but what tools don't provide is the opportunity to talk through the information with someone that doesn't have a pony in the race. That's where coaching can come in very handy!


A coach is there to help you to unpack the feedback, find themes, identify action steps, and help you through any of the challenges that this can bring up. 


Do you know what your team thinks, feels, sees, and experiences with your leadership style? Are you brave enough to find out? Most leaders find that although the process can be challenging, it's incredibly freeing to dive into this process and that the end results are essential to their continued growth and that of their team.


Do you want to begin a process like this? Contact me and let's dive in. We can wade at first if that's helpful!

What's mindfulness got to do with leadership?

February 7, 2018

Years ago, before I really had developed much of an intentional mindfulness practice, I had a really challenging decision to make at work. On one hand, the decision would forever significantly change the way that we would do business. On the other hand, the decision could leave the organization at great and immediate risk. 


I was in a pickle. I was new to the organization by only a few months and unfortunately my Executive Director was literally off the grid and unavailable for consultation. I didn't have anyone at my level with whom to discuss the situation. The Board of Directors had listened to my quandary and responded with, "We don't have the answer. You'll need to decide. Good luck."


To add to the pressure, I had a handful of managers that I supervised who had more experience with the organization than I did. Each of them had very strong, conflicting opinions about what they thought was the right thing to do. Each made sure to get their thoughts known to me - some rather emphatically. I needed to make the decision on my own and I needed to make it within a few hours.


I gathered the pertinent information and went home to sit beside my pond. But I didn't think about the decision. Instead I made myself notice everything around me. I noticed the water bugs skimming the surface of the pond. I noticed the sound of a chain saw in the distance. I noticed the prickle of the sharp grass on the skin of my legs. I noticed the smell of freshly cut grass. I didn't have a clue that this was the very essence of mindfulness but I learned later that that's what it was. I sat there for a while just noticing everything there was to notice - I'm not sure for how long. 


When I felt completely at peace, I got up, went in the house and made the call that set in motion a chain of events that would change the way that we would do business going forward. It was done. I couldn't take it back and I was okay with the decision despite one manager saying, "If you do this, I'll NEVER respect you again!" I don't regret it. I have no idea if he respects me or not but I do know that when my Executive Director returned, I was told, "I would have done the exact same thing. Good job." (Phew!)

 

I hadn't intended to learn a new skill through that situation but I'm grateful that I did!


Mindfulness isn't about shutting off your brain. It's about focusing on the present moment. How does this relate to leadership and management? I can tell you that when I shifted from being tuned into everything at once (phone, email, multiple projects, deadlines etc) and focused on being tuned into the person in front of me or the task at hand, I became much more productive and in tune with things that were going on at multiple levels. I learned to sort out the most important things that needed my immediate attention.


Try bringing some mindfulness into your work environment by taking a moment at the beginning or end of each day to notice things. How are you feeling? Is your body experiencing a sensation? Are there things that you can intentionally shut down as you leave the office so that you can be more present with your family or at home? 


Welcoming a mindfulness practice into my life has helped me through so many situations - layoffs, grief, uncertainty, big decisions... and more. How could it help you?

Opportunities dressed in 'problem employee' clothing...

February 21, 2018

When I meet with new managers, I often hear things like, "I inherited this problem employee. Nobody was able to fix the issue before so I don't think I can do anything about it."

NEWS FLASH! This is a perfect opportunity to stretch those management muscles and maybe build some new ones!

  • What if the idea behind hiring a new manager was to finally address the problem with that employee?
  • What if this is the time to shine as a new manager?
  • What if the new manager is the first person to ever approach the employee about the problem?
New managers often shy away from these issues because they might think, "Mary was a great manager and she couldn't fix it so why should I get my hands dirty even trying?" Well... Mary might just be a great manager. But Mary might not have had the skills, relationship or approach that would ever get through to that employee but a new manager just might.


Another common response is, "She's been doing that behavior for 10+ years. It can't be fixed." What if it can? What if that employee only knows that people steer clear of working with her but she has no idea why?


Can it get worse if a new manager tackles it? It could. But chances are that if this person has been saddled with the "Problem employee" label, it's not going to get much worse. But what if the new manager was the first person to ever sit that employee down and say, "I'm interested in what's happening. I'm interested in removing this label. I'm interested in you."? 


Problem employees = opportunities. 

Leadership presence begins with communication...

March 7, 2018

One of the most common situations I work with managers on is their 'leadership presence'. They often come into the relationship saying, "I want people to take me more seriously. I want them to see me as a leader, not just as a person in the crowd."


The first thing that I do as a coach or consultant is I listen. I wrote an earlier blog post about "Taming the tee hee" which is a dead giveaway to nerves but there is another very common but more subtle issue that often shows up in the communication style of someone striving to be taken more seriously. I call them, "Watering down words".


"If you could get this done by Friday, that would be great" is a suggestion, not a deadline. Firmed up, it could look like this: "I need you to have this done by Friday. Do you foresee anything that could get in the way of meeting that deadline?"


"Maybe we should add this wording to the website so the customers won't be confused about it" can be firmed up by saying, "Customers are getting confused by this wording, here is some copy that would make it clear for them."


"Could you do me a favor and print these copies for the meeting today?" Is it really a favor to you or is it a task that is part of their job and needs to be completed? Tighten it up by saying, "We need these copies for the meeting today. Can you print them by 2pm?" or, "Please print these by 2pm for the meeting today."


Here's how it looks in a feedback scenario:

"I sort of needed you to complete this project last week. What got in the way?" Did you need it completed then or not? 'Sort of' negates the need. Without the watering down words, it could look like this, "What got in the way of getting this done by the deadline last week?"


The other day I was in a two-hour meeting shadowing a CEO who wants to work on her leadership presence. She said, "I wonder if... Maybe we should... It might be good if..." at the beginning of most of her requests and then walked away from the meeting completely oblivious to the fact that her team wasn't sure if they were in idea phase or action phase. While there are times when these statements can be used as an invitation to brainstorm or discuss a situation, they are often tossed in places they don't belong and thereby muddy the messaging.

Watering down words often are intentionally used to "soften the blow" or come off as less directive. They are particularly pervasive when making a request in writing to lessen the chance of coming off as demanding. However, there are other words or phrases that can meet that criteria without creating a wishy-washy request or leaving people thinking they've got the option to not do what they've been asked to do. The key is to consider the tone in which the new wording is delivered. If a demanding tone is heard, it will come off as a demand. If an apologetic tone is delivered, an apology is heard. When it's delivered in writing, people who know the manager will most often hear the manager's voice or usual tone to interpret the written words.


When the watering down words are toned down or removed, managers often start to see immediate shifts in how other are perceiving him/her.


Watering down words can slip into any conversation. Pay attention and see if you've got them hiding in your communications and what happens when you reel them in.  

Efficiency Grenade or Agent for Developmental Growth?

March 15, 2018

I've been working with a client who is in the midst of exploring what else he might be skilled and interested in doing. He's been with his current job for over six years and although he likes the work, he is absolutely frustrated by his manager. It's a small business and the opportunities to sidestep working with this manager are extraordinarily slim. The manager has been with the company for almost 30 years and often uses the seven dreaded words, "We have always done it that way." My client feels stuck. He knows, firsthand, that things could be different because he's experienced it.


About two months ago, the manager was out on medical leave for several weeks and because my client is the most experienced and senior employee, he was tapped to be the interim manager for about six weeks. The first week was challenging but he felt proud that he'd been asked to step up and he leveraged his relationships with his co-workers effectively to shift them into more of a teamwork mindset than a hierarchical "because I said so" environment. By the second week, they had hit their stride. By week four, upper level management noticed that this team had increased their production and had increased their billable hours noticeably and that there had been many positive statements from customers. By the end of week six, my client felt confident that when the manager returned, he would see how effectively and efficiently the team was functioning. He was proud to show the manager the advances they'd made as a team and felt pretty confident that the manager would welcome the stepped-up productivity and maintain the new workflow processes that the team was now used to using.


The next time that we met after the manager returned, my client had returned to being tight-faced and having an edge of anger to him. He described the manager as an "Efficiency grenade" and was seething that the manager has actually told him and the team to slow down their work. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the company and the culture of their small business, although the upper management saw the improvements during the manager's absence, they haven't (and very likely won't) addressed the situation. My client is now relatively certain that his only course of action is to find a new job.


Recently I read an article that said, "Employees don't leave companies, they leave managers" and that is spot on! 

If you are seeing constant turnover, a high rate of absenteeism, or other disengaged behavior, the first place to look is at the management of those people. Most often, the issue can be uncovered pretty quickly. The good news is that most people want to do the right thing but many people have no idea how to make a change it so they cling tight to what has worked (even if it's just barely worked) in the past. Given some coaching and training, even this problem can be addressed to stem the tide of departures and create happy, healthy teams with happy, healthy managers.

"I've Tried Everything..."

April 1, 2018

Sometimes I meet with prospective clients who say things like, "I don't think you can help me. I've tried everything! There's nothing else I can do." Through a series of questions, most often a little light comes into the picture for them as they begin to discover that it's not that they've tried everything, it's that they've tried everything that they've thought of up to that point.


Coaching is about asking a client to consider possibilities that s/he may not have ever explored before.


I worked with a client for six sessions and she had made great headway on a lot of different things that were meaningful to her. At the beginning of her seventh session, when I asked her what she'd like to work on that day, she hesitantly brought up a situation that she was having with one of her employees. She said, "I doubt there's anything we can do because I'm at the end of my rope and I've tried everything!" She described her employee as being withdrawn from the rest of the team and that she makes simple mistakes repeatedly. She said that she felt like if the employee had better relationships with the rest of the team, she might be more willing to ask for help on things that tripped her up. 


I asked the supervisor to describe the setting and issue to me in detail. It turned out that the employee's physical office space is separated from the rest of the team, she takes a different lunch hour from the rest of the team because of the need to have office coverage, and she's older than most of the members of the team. As she described this to me, she began to say things like, "Maybe we should rearrange the office so she sits closer", "Maybe I could switch up the lunch rotation so that she's able to have some time to interact socially with other team members", "Maybe she's put off by the fact that there's a lot of chatter about things that she doesn't relate to by the younger members of the team - I wonder if I could facilitate something to find some common ground."


That's it. I didn't make any suggestions, I simply gave her the space to think out loud with someone who doesn't have a stake in the race and within that space, new ideas and observations came to her naturally.

How Can I Be A Good Coachee? 

April 15, 2018

During my coach certification training, we had to participate in practicum coaching sessions. Hours and hours of them! This means that in a room with your instructor/mentor coach with an audience of your learning group, you get to practice coaching. (Notice that I said, "get to" instead of "have to" because when you are hungry to learn more coaching skills, this is the perfect little incubator way to try new things, get helpful feedback, and learn from the styles of other coaches.) Perhaps because of prior experience as a coach and as a coach trainer, this format didn't scare me. What did make me nervous was being coached in that format.


I struggled for the first several sessions. I would toss out something to be coached on... and then back away from it. In my head I was thinking "That's too big to do in these short sessions" or "That doesn't feel like a real problem that I need coaching on" - I wanted to be fair to the person who was coaching me so I was trying to select "the right thing" to be coached on. I tend to be fairly self-aware and I could feel myself struggling with it but I couldn't figure out why. It was suggested that perhaps I was nervous to be vulnerable with new people... but that's not it. I pride myself on being very open. It took me a while to figure out what was really going on.


It finally hit me one day when I was chatting with some of the members of my learning group after another session of me seizing up on finding something to be coached on. I was caught up in trying to take care of my coach by "being a good coachee". I was spending so much time and effort weighing in my head if something was too big, manageable, appropriate for the setting etc etc etc that I wasn't letting myself just settle into the process. Something else hit me at the same time... I had all of these amazing coaches that I was able to get some real coaching from for free and I was blowing this opportunity! I needed to get out of my own way and just get coached!


As soon as this light bulb went on for me, a treasure trove of things that were real came up for me to get coached on. A past issue that still nagged me with my previous employer. A relationship that is plagued by imbalance. And more! I finally had tapped into my coachee self and it felt so freeing! 


One of the things that helped me was during one of our classes, one of the instructors said something about activating clients by asking, "What do you want to be better or different?" The word "help" is one that often freezes people up so using this simple question that rephrases the sentiment made all the difference for me which is why I use it in my own practice.


So... what do YOU want to be BETTER or DIFFERENT in your life? Don't worry about me as your coach - I've heard a wide range of things that people struggle with - from romantic intimacy issues to boss woes and everything in between! If you want it to be different or better, let's talk and see how I can be of assistance.

Celebrating Success!

April 30, 2018

Over the last seven months, I have been enrolled in the Gestalt International Study Center's "Competency Development Program for Coach Certification". It's a 132.5 hour course that requires three in-person five-day intensive trainings (here on Cape Cod which was fantastic!), several hours of practicum coaching, multiple sessions with my mentor coach, a dozen or so meetings with my learning group, a LOT of reading, completion of a research paper and its presentation, and at least 50 hours of coaching. I'm proud to say that I graduated and am now a certified coach! I've been coaching formally for the last five years but that was with a custom model at the university where I used to work. It was fantastic to go through a program and learn every facet of it to support and improve my coaching practice!


My next step is to sit for my International Coach Federation "Coach Knowledge Assessment" and become an Associate Certified Coach through that organization. I'm excited and a little nervous but I'm confident that it will go well!


It feels amazing to have met the first part of my goal that I set when I got laid off from the university in June of 2017 - to become a certified coach. Now on to part two!

Celebrating Success - Part Two!

May 23, 2018

If you read my last post about celebrating success, you'll know that in April 2018, I graduated with my coach certification from the Gestalt International Study Center and had set my sights on getting my Associate Certified Coach credential from the International Coach Federation. What I hadn't shared was that my goal was to complete both of these things prior to the one year anniversary of my layoff from a job that I loved that really set me on the track of coaching.


I'm excited to share that with a little over a week to spare, I did it! I successfully passed my Coach Knowledge Assessment and am now officially Polly Goddard, ACC!

The Power of "I don't know"...

June 6, 2018

<--- Do you see that horseshoe crab over there? In case you can't see what's happening with him, he's upside down! Without assistance, he would have fallen prey to the seagulls that were hovering nearby because the tide was going out and without the power of the water, he had no way to flip himself over. That fella, who has clearly been around for a while, was in deep trouble when my family and I arrived at Hardings Beach in Chatham one evening earlier this week. How was he going to survive? I'm sure that in his tiny brain he was processing some form of, "I don't know" but he was ready for help because he'd exhausted all options to get himself squared away!


Here is an example of one powerful way that "I don't know" can change your life... 


You have no idea how to move forward with something, like this horseshoe crab who was at the mercy of the tide and gulls. This fella really had no choice but to be open to the possibilities that presented themselves because alone, he had no way of changing his situation. When I approached him, he didn't fight back, he didn't pinch me with his claws or swing his tail at me - he just gave in to what happened to him and fortunately for him, I was there to help! 


The same is true with coaching. When you reach a moment in life when you are stuck on something, it's important to be open to all of the possibilities that come forward to help mobilize the situation. Unlike this horseshoe crab who really didn't have much of a choice, people have the choice to find a coach, select a coach who is a good fit, and then engage in a process that helps them move forward. There is no need to flail helplessly when coaching can help you identify the root of the issue and untangle it in a way that helps you move forward.

The Power of "I don't know"... Part 2

June 19, 2018

Years ago I worked at a job where I was the newest member of a training team. As the more seasoned members got me up to speed on their process, I was told several times, "Never say, 'I don't know'! Say, 'We will be covering that later.'" Their reasoning was that it was important for the trainees to believe that we had all of the answers. This didn't resonate with me but because I was new to the team, I went along with this for the first round of training on one condition: I asked the team to watch each of the trainees expressions and body language when they heard, "We will cover that later" instead of getting an answer to their question. 


During our debrief after the first round, we were able to engage in a conversation about how the trainees seemed to shut down each time they heard that and they actually stopped asking questions. I couldn't let it continue because an open dialogue and building relationships of trust in this setting was essential. So, in the second round with these same trainees, I had the team say, "I don't have the answer to that right now but we will get that answered by ______ (the end of the day/end of training/time you face that situation)." The response from the trainees was remarkable. Instead of recoiling from the lack of knowledge, they leaned into it. They wanted to help find the answer. They offered their experiences from similar situations. They participated in creating an answer in the cases when one hadn't previously existed. They were engaged in the process much more than previously when the message almost smacked of "It's on a need to know basis and you don't need to know right now."


Now... there were certainly times when "We will give you that information at a later time" was appropriate but the response could be coupled with an explanation such as, "We actually have an entire session dedicated to that topic. Can you take a note of your question and bring it to that session?" It gave information, allowed for appropriate sequencing of information, and created a space for them to get all of their questions answered.


"I don't know", when handled well, can be a powerful precursor to "I'm about to learn something!" 

The end of something...

October 11, 2018

My dad passed away this summer. It was pretty unexpected. I know that might sound funny to say about an 83-year old man but he passed away as a result of an accident and no matter how old you are, that's shocking. 

I'm sharing in part to explain the gap in my posts but also in part because I've been processing a lot lately about how easy it is to get caught up in the end of something and totally miss the beginning of something else. 


I'm grateful for my coach training that I've paired with my mindfulness practice (stopping to notice) because in the thick of things - mourning my dad, planning his services, juggling a huge family and trying to honor everyone's wishes, saying goodbye, facing the "what now?" - there were so many beautiful beginnings. 


There were two full weeks that I got to spend with my brand new three-month-old great-niece Clarabelle (she's a southern sweetie pie) that I wouldn't have had otherwise; there was the inception of a business plan that will keep our farm in the family; there were rekindled relationships in my hometown with people I hadn't shared more than a brief greeting with in years; there was the camaraderie that comes from tackling something hard together and achieving it. Also mixed in there was my husband's hard-earned promotion at work, visits from dear friends, a break on the coast of Maine... all great moments!


Had I let myself fall into the abyss of shock and grief, I would have missed all of that! My dad was a good-time guy. He enjoyed a laugh. He loved having people around. He was the very definition of an extrovert! He wasn't one for wallowing in the bad stuff and he wouldn't want me doing that either. So, although I miss him and am still getting used to a world without him, I'm grateful for the things that I noticed and enjoyed during a process where I couldn't change the outcome.


Rest in Joy, Dad! I'm here carrying it on for you. 


An Irish blessing:

"May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sunshine warm your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand."

Zoom in to zoom on...

October 15, 2018

The other day I got a call from a former client who, while I was working with her, was having a very hard time making a major decision about the direction of her life. She was caught up in a variety of common obstacles like: 


1) What people might think about the decision she would make. 

2) How her decision might impact people who may/may not be part of her life long-term. 

3) Starting the decision-making process at the exact opposite end from where she was ready to begin.


None of those things are entirely wrong or entirely right - they simply were not working for her. These were truly obstacles and she felt that she'd been spinning in place for over a year while trying to make a decision. I occasionally work with clients for very short, very intense periods based on their schedules and she was one of those clients so the "Aha!" moments during our engagement weren't as seismic as they might have been had we worked together for my typical 6-12 month engagement. But even when the sessions end, oftentimes, the work is still in full force.


So she called me the other day to excitedly tell me that she had made a decision and was was about two months into the process of moving in that direction. I asked her what helped her the most and she said that it boiled down to two questions:


1) "If you took all of those people out of the equation, what decision would you make?"

2) Instead of thinking about the big picture of your decision, tell me about all of the important facets that would need to be in place for you to know it was the right move for you. 


She said that those questions bounced around in her head over and over and she found herself practicing making decisions using them. It didn't take long for her to silence the opinions of others by inviting them to stay out of it and to begin imaging her decisions in nuanced details instead of big pictures.


It's easy to miss things if you stick at the 30,000 foot level all the time. We are encouraged to "multi-task", "think big", "go big or go home" but often it's the individuals threads in a fabric that bring its beauty forward. Without that level of detail, the fabric might be dull, colorless, or monochromatic. So, it seems, that zooming in and out on a regularly basis will give the varied perspectives necessary to see what needs to be seen.