My Alphabet Of Right Now

I feel like my posts over the last few moths have been pretty status quo, so in the spirit of spring here’s a lighter post that describes the “alphabet” of my life at this moment. Inspiration: Lindsey Mead’s post on The Alphabet Of Right Now here .

Appetite- I’ve been practicing intermittent fasting lately. Stop eating at 7:00 pm and eat again at 10:00 am. It’s been super interesting to see how it affects me- I still LOVE breakfast, I just love it a little later now.

Books – Always and forever, my first love. This week I finished reading The Goal for a new work project, and now I see constraints everywhere.

Crown- We just started binge-watching The Crown on Netflix. Super interesting and we’re learning stuff too!

Davis - My happy place. I’ve been missing it lately. Road trip may be in order soon.

Enneagram- It took me a few years, but I am now a fangirl of this hundreds-of-years old model of the human psyche. Since finding out my number in January (I’m a 6), my eyes have been opened in a new way to how my “type” — skeptical, doubting, anxious — affects every. single. choice. I. make. It’s been a journey to extend grace and healing to myself as I seek to do better with what I know now; that I am safe, that I am not without resources or guidance.

Florrick- I watched The Good Wife before we started The Crown, and after 7 seasons I felt pretty connected to the main character, Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies). We are very different; she’s an atheist lawyer with an open marriage and I’m….not at all, yet I can relate to her in some ways. She’s a driven, professional woman and mom with great taste in clothes but (sometimes) bad hair. Also, I’m Team Will all the way.

Girls Weekend - Annual trip coming up next weekend and  I  c a n n o t  w a i t.

Here If You Need Me – A GREAT memoir that I’m reading now. It’s the true story of Kate Braestrop; a chaplain in Maine, mom of four kids, and a widow. Triumphant.

Introvert - Always trying to convince people that yes, I am. Really. I really am. Really. Yes, really. Yes. Really.

Jewelry - I ordered some necklaces online last week. When one orders online, one can order 5 necklaces very quickly.

Kristin- It was my dear sweet high school friend – and fellow alto-  Krissy’s birthday so the girls went out for sangria and chips last week. Good times celebrating her and laughing like fools in public. Where did the last 27 years go?

Lacrosse- Our new family sport. Jesse is loving the game and we’re enjoying learning the (few and confusing) rules.

Moving- My mom just moved and it was rough. People seem to consistently underestimate the amount of time, energy and emotions involved in moving. Major source of stress and decision fatigue.

Nephew- Mine is the cutest 20 month old ever. He was at my house for about 9 minutes on Easter Sunday before he threw up on my table, and I still could not love him more.

One to say yes, two to say no. A business article I read recently positioned this as a decision-making model. When front-line employees make a decision, say whether to give extra blankets or juice on an airline flight- it should take one person to decide if the answer is yes. If the answer is no, then it should be agreed upon by two (or more) people, for validation. I think this could also apply to parenting.

Paint- I’d like to repaint the inside of my house. I have a hunch it will change the world.

Quiet- There’s never enough in my life. See: Introvert.

Radical Candor- Another great book I read recently. Favorite line: “It’s not mean. It’s clear.”

Shattered- The book I can’t wait to read next, about Hilary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign.

Theatre-  Sam and I are making the rounds of all the spring High School plays. It makes me joyous to see him love what I love(d), and also nostalgic for what a meaningful difference theatre made in my formative years. How fortunate I was, to have the friends and opportunities that I did.

Unfair advantage- My friend Lisa asked me last month: “What’s your unfair advantage?” I’ve thought about it every day since. Do you know what yours is?

Vacation- This is the time every year when I start wishing our vacation was in June instead of July. I always think there’s no way I can wait until July. But then I do.

Women- I heard a conference speaker say recently: “If you ask a woman to pick between work and home, and she picks work, then that’s the end of civilization. So you need to figure out a way for your company to support work-life balance.”

X-Ray - I got an X-ray of my hip last month. Good news, nothing wrong that a foam roller can’t fix. Getting old can be a literal pain.

You Tube- I watch a lot of YouTube, for work and also because teenagers. This is a good 3 minutes:

Zinc- Chris has been sick for a while now. Lots of zinc and echinacea floating around our house currently.

Are You Living The Life You Want?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Showing Empathy To Yourself

GWH

 

Hi, my name is Michele, and I over-function. Among other things, this means that when I have to face some hard truths about myself and can’t see myself as a victim of others, I step in and judge myself –usually as harshly as possible. I condemn myself for being an unappreciative shrew, or a bitchy nag of an employee/friend/colleague.

In my work, I often hear indecisive people calling themselves “weak”, emotional individuals calling themselves “wrecks”, those who make mistakes calling themselves “idiots.”  One cannot consider and make use of constructive criticism from yourself or others if all criticisms are received as harsh pronouncements of how terrible you are.

It is impossible to lead yourself without having empathy for yourself. Empathy is different from forgiveness. Empathizing with yourself means standing in your own shoes in a tough time. It means opening the door of that room that you closed so long ago and seeing what it was that made you develop the story you did.

When we look at ourselves without judging, some of the stuff we don’t like about ourselves becomes much more understandable. Of course it was easier for me to be passive-aggressive at work than to accept responsibility and look for the next right action to take.  The practice of empathy leads to forgiveness as it allows me to see myself more clearly. And then we get to say: “Oh, now I see why I do that. Now I get where that came from.”

Once we see the source of our choices with empathy’s help,  we can separate and say; I am not that child or person any more. I’m a grown up now. I have control over my life. I don’t have to keep repeating the same patterns over and over again.

Without empathy, though, that’s almost too big of a leap to take. When we revisit our original stories, we have to remember that our issues resulted from us wanting good things, and we can’t begin to untangle those threads without showing ourselves compassion.

Also, when we are gentle with ourselves, it helps us to not get defensive when we encounter the truth.  Yes, I can be a shrew and a nag. I don’t need to waste my energy defending myself on those points. When I am able to look at my behavior without criticizing it, I won’t get sidetracked by the need to judge.

The goal is simply to understand. Not to beat ourselves up or make a list of areas to improve on or get more insight into what we need to work on or fix. Instead, we want to be able to explore our self-judgments, examine them, and expose how inconsistent they are with reality. That’s when the real change can begin.

Try this: Think of a common judgment you level against yourself.

Imagine yourself giving those messages to another person. You would probably think that you were being overly harsh and critical. Are you really so undeserving of love and recognition? Why is it okay for you to think of yourself that way?

As we practice empathy, we will find that we become aware of how and when our inner story controls your actions. Once we become aware of that story,  we will start to see its influence on every relationship we have—work, loved ones, ourselves.

When we are able to extend empathy to ourselves, we will start to make different decisions—based on who we are what we need today. We will start to get a glimpse of the freedom and authenticity that lie ahead. This is an exciting moment, and readies us for what’s next; writing a new story, and leading a new life.

Are You Leading The Life You Want?

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A Fresh Start for Relationships

Thank you for the feedback on my last post. It’s great to know that the suggestions for key phrases to say in a stressful moment resonated with so many of you. I’ve seen them work in so many different environments already– I can’t wait to hear how they help each of you.

This time of year can indeed be challenging. Even when there’s not direct conflict, it’s often difficult and draining to navigate the expectations of ourselves and others. What follows are 5 approaches that one can take in the face of a relationship that needs help.

Strategy #1- Give up hope

My spouse and I had a discussion just this morning about the age-old question of whether people can really, truly change.  That’s what so many of us want—for “them” to change, to cease and desist from all the things we don’t like. We don’t think we are asking them to do any more than what is reasonable—any more than we are willing to do.

But expecting that others will act the way we want sets us up to jump right into the quicksand of relational despair. Instead, try taking a few moments to sit quietly and acknowledge what you wish they were like. Then prepare to accept them as they behave exactly the way they have behaved in the past. That way, at best, you may be surprised and discover that the others may in fact behave differently. At worst, you’ll be more healthfully detached from those that previously had too much control over you.

Strategy #2 – Set secure boundaries

Given that the other people will probably go on being their same old selves, you need to decide how much contact with them you really want. Are there certain behaviors you really can’t tolerate? Are there others you can handle in group settings but not one-on-one? Think like Goldilocks; how much is too much, how much is just enough?

It’s critical that we can answer these questions before we are with these people, not during the gathering or event. You want to think through various boundary options until you come up with a situation that you are as comfortable with as possible. Do you need to plan to leave after a certain amount of time, do you need your own transportation, do you need a friend to join you or to place a strategic phone call?

The point of thinking through your boundaries is not to harm or compromise your relationships, but to strengthen them. Once you have put the time and consideration into what you want and then can take action by setting limits that help you feel emotionally safe, you’ll find that the other people seem much more tolerable.

 Strategy #3 – Lose control

A boss once used the Tour de France as a metaphor for telling me I would never be like Lance Armstrong (this was before he was exposed as a fraud). I’d never be a leader, never the one in charge, never win. It was a crushing conversation.

You may feel desperate to make someone recognize all you have accomplished. You’ll want to argue, to explain, to get right in there and force them to agree with you. Everything in you is saying that once they see what you see, they will finally embrace everything you are and offer.

Remember this: Any attempt we make to control other people actually puts us under their control. If you decide you can’t be happy until your boss finally promotes you, her decision-making process will rule your life. You could spend the next 20 years working 100-hour weeks and winning every industry award available, and she still might not. You could even do an end run around your boss and get transferred or promoted out of the department, but you’ll probably never hear that person say what you most craved hearing her say. You’ll never control her real thoughts and feelings. Same goes for former romantic partners, Facebook friends who “ghosted” you, and that friend IRL who stopped sending Christmas cards.

The only way we can avoid getting stuck in other people’s craziness is to follow codependency author Melody Beatties counterintuitive advice: “Unhook from their systems by refusing to try to control them.” Don’t violate your own code of values and ethics, but don’t waste energy trying to get other people to violate theirs. If you’ve become convinced of your own value, don’t let anyone else’s opposing opinion compromise that. Feel what you feel, know what you know, and set others free to do the same.

If you have been deeply wounded by other people, you can stop trying to control them by accepting full responsibility for your healing. I’m not in any way suggesting that you shoulder all the blame; I am advocating for you to accept that you and only you have the ability to respond to painful situations by seeking cures instead of making it all worse. Whatever the situation, accepting that you can control only your own thoughts and actions will help you mend more quickly and thoroughly.

Strategy #4 –  Become a Participant Observer

The social science technique called participant observation is when the observer/scientist joins groups of people in order to watch and report on whatever those groups of people do. People we might normally avoid become fascinating when we are watching them in this manner, and almost any group activity becomes interesting when you’re planning to describe it to someone later.

I had a college friend who was a gold-medalist at this. People would be losing their minds all around her, and she would narrate to herself (not out loud): “Oh, look. They seem to be really upset about this. How interesting. This is clearly very hard for them. Looks like it will take some time to process all that this decision means and how it will all play out.  I wonder what next steps they will choose to take?” For. Reals.

The emotional distance described here is much easier said than done. Still, this is an area where our feelings can follow our behavior, if we don’t give up too soon. Try putting on your anthropologist hat/vest/monocle only in your mind, and see what happens.

Strategy #5 – Debrief

Whether or not you are able to implement any of these strategies, it’s essential to be able to debrief these kinds of situations with someone you trust. Connecting with someone who has an outside perspective and is in your corner can make all the difference. Be sure that you schedule plenty of time for it and do not compromise this essential element of taking care of yourself.

This may look different for different people– when I worked at a church, I made sure to have “safe people” who weren’t a part of that organization who could provide me with valuable insight. Same goes for offices, departments, friend groups, families, work teams. Looking at your relationship through new/other lenses may even prompt one of my all-time favorite expressions; “I’ve never seen it that way before.”

May 2017 be the year you experience true growth, peace and love in your relationships and your life.

Lead The Life You Want

 

 

 

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Making Peace

Conversations can be like trains travelling along tracks. They seem to be proceeding along fine and then something happens- a little shimmy, a little shake, and then no one can say exactly how or why or when but suddenly the train jumps the tracks and careens over the cliff, crashing on the rocks below with dramatic flames and twisted metal.

Especially among family, which many of us will be during the holidays, but also at work, where recent political events may have significant impacts on those we see every day for most of the day. It’s enough to cause one to second-guess making an innocent comment or asking a harmless question. Who knows how this initially superficial chat will end?

How do we avoid the “Small Talk Tango” but also keep conversations meaningful and sincere?

How do we make sure we aren’t taking stress out on those closest to us?

How do we navigate the trip wires of tension in conversations?

Below are 10 phrases that can come in handy when you find yourself in situations that could use some peace-making*:

1)    “Thank you for your opinion. I’ll think about that.”

When we receive unhelpful or unsolicited advice, we can simply smile and respond with this neutral statement. The goal is to be polite and exit the conversation; no need to be rude or defensive.

2)    “Is this a good time for you?”

Would that every conversation could start this way. It demonstrates consideration and preparedness, two elements all good conversations should have. If people say “no,” then follow up with: “What would be a better time?’

3)    “Would you like my thoughts?”

Again, starting like this is so simple and yet so powerful. If the person you are hoping to speak to answers yes, it means they are ready to listen. If they say no, then zip your lip.

4)    “Do we have all the facts?”

Some people tend to argue about anything and everything they can, including things that could be easily resolved. Making sure we know how much that program actually cost, who was at the meeting, etc. can help people move on to what’s important and get around a potential land mine.

5)    “I need your help. Can you please……?”

This is a great way to approach someone who is not pulling their weight (in your opinion). Instead of accusing or hoping they will read your mind, ask directly for what you want and be specific.

6)    “Do we have all of the information?”

Know when to table a discussion. Often, pausing in order to make sure that we have all the information – when does the contract run out, do we have the authority to make this decision, how will this impact another priority- helps avoid a premature argument.

7)    “Can you tell me more about that?”

Sometimes asking the right question is all it takes to dodge the drama. We all make assumptions about people’s intentions; asking this question in a genuinely interested (versus passive-aggressive) way, this question encourages your conversation partner to explain themselves before you jump to conclusions.

8)   “I don’t like that, can we try this instead?”

Direct communication FTW. Rather than complain (internally) or nag (externally), this phrase is solution-focused. It’s empowering for you and for your conversation partner,  as it invites both of you to own and use the power you have to make decisions.

9)   “I’m sorry”

We tend to overestimate apologies. We resist them, fearing that apologizing will invite the other person to run rampant over our independence and free will. But ask yourself how many times you have left a situation saying: “If only they had said they were sorry,” and remember that you don’t want to be that kind of person.

10)   “I’ll let you know”

We all need a standard phrase to respond with when we feel put on the spot. Keep this line with you at all times, especially in a group situation. Best to let the person know a time when they can expect a response—but only if you will indeed reply by that time.

Good luck in your conversations. Hopefully these phrases – and even more, the intentions behind them- will make a difference for you and your relationships. As the good book says, “As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.” May it be so.

Are You Leading The Life You Want?

* Modified from article by Laurie Puhn in Real Simple November 2008

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Be Still

I once had a coaching client who hated the way she acted in certain meetings. She felt like she always talked too much, got over-invested in whatever was being discussed, became strident and inflexible no matter what.

She knew she always felt irritated and upset after the meetings, but she couldn’t seem to figure out a way to change. She didn’t know how to train herself to do anything differently. She said to me: “I know this about myself. I hate this about myself. What am I supposed to do?”

First, we don’t do anything. We can’t manufacture a process. What we can try is sitting quietly and committing to making different choices the next time we find ourselves in a familiar situation. For most of us, this means that instead of turning on the TV or opening the fridge or jumping on Instagram we’re going to have to get still and think about what’s really bothering us, and try to become aware of our actions and (automatic) reactions.

Sometimes I react so swiftly to something that it doesn’t feel like I have a choice of whether or not to respond that way. Does that ever happen to you? At first, it can be very challenging to stop myself.  It’s hard to interrupt years of practice.

Being still means thinking about what’s making us anxious before we act to discharge that anxiety through automatic and unconscious behaviors. When we don’t get invited to the meeting, when our boss doesn’t give us the credit we deserve, when a colleague makes an innocent comment about our work product; all of these can call up old stories about how inadequate or forgotten we feel.

Being still means we learn to stop before reactively acting out those old stories. It means stepping out of the action to ask yourself; “What am I about to do here? Why do I want to do this?” With practice, these quick questions can help us manually override the system.

Doing this is not a guarantee that you won’t say the wrong thing at the presentation or will never offend a co-worker, but it will help reinforce that we have a choice in all our reactions.

I suggested my client start by simply noticing whenever she felt a certain way or wanted to do a certain thing in those meetings. Whenever she found herself wanting to disagree with someone or to defend herself. That’s all she had to do, look for patterns in this one area of her life. Just notice.

Awareness is one of the first steps in leading your own life. Exposing these habits to the light makes them visible, and able to be dealt with. Until we do that, they remain hidden away in our subconscious and while they are there we can’t decide to stop using them.

A word of warning here. While awareness is great, it can make us so anxious that we become willing to do ANYTHING—spend money, eat, drink, lie, run away, numb out- to not have to sit through the feelings. It’s like anxiety is the starting gun at the opening gate of our dysfunctional habits. So my first advice is to not act out on any urgent feelings. Just feel them, for starters.

For example, if I asked you to think about the biggest problem in your life today, most likely, it would be something that is shrouded with anxiety. You won’t want to think about it, and in a few minutes you will feel an uncontrollable urge to go outside and check the oil in your car/do some online shopping/call your college roommate/clean out your medicine cabinet/learn origami/watch all three Godfather movies in a row/match all your socks.

When we’re anxious, sitting without acting is one of the hardest tasks imaginable. On the inside, it literally feels like a life-or-death situation. But we can do it.

The only way to change is to interrupt the automatic nature of our lives. Be still. Notice. With awareness comes the courage to change, and to begin leading your own life.

Are You Leading The Life You Want? 

 

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Spider Love vs. Real Love

My older son is in love. First love. Nicholas Sparks novel kind of love. My younger son just started junior high, so we’ll be on this road of navigating romantic relationships for a while. I was recently reminded of an essay by Martha Beck that offers a helpful metaphor for how to identify unhealthy forms of love in relationship, and I realized it applies all forms of relationship, including family and work. Edited version below.

If you went into a garden, recruited a spider, and asked it what do you love most? The spider would answer, I love flies. This is true. Spiders destroy a tasty fly the way I destroy a cheeseburger. And how does this love cause a spider to behave? It makes a sticky web, catches flies alive, wraps them up to keep them from escaping, and keeps them there, conscious but helpless. Then, whenever the spider needs a snack, it scurries over to the fly, injects it with venom to dissolve some of its insides, and slurps out some of its life force.

This is the way many people think of “love”. They will say, in all honesty, that they love their children, their friends, their family, more than anything in the world. But their love is consumptive, not productive or giving. They need their “loved ones” to feed them emotionally, so they imprison people, trap them in webs of obligation or guilt, paralyze them to keep them from going away. They love other people the way spiders love flies.

Before we try to lead ourselves in (or out of) a relationship where conflict is occurring, we need to remember this; the goal of real love is always to set the beloved free. If someone else’s “love” requires that you abandon your own soul, it’s a spider love. if you find yourself trying to control a loved one, sorry but you’re a spider. That’s not really love at all but a form of fear and a perceived need to control.

There are two red flags that will usually start to wave when real love disappears and spider behavior begins. The first is the deception, by which I mean saying or doing anything at all that is not honest for you. The second is the word make. When you do something even slightly dishonest because you’re trying to make someone do or feel something, love is no longer running the show. This is just as true when you’re trying to make people feel good and loved as it is when you’re trying to make them follow your orders. People-pleasing and guilt-inducing are control strategies too, just less direct ones.

If you’re on the giving end of spider love, you’ll feel grasping, needy, angry, wounded, or all of the above. If you’re on the receiving end, you’ll feel a desperate desire to escape, often muted by your own rationalizations. You might think stuff like “Mom’s just trying to make me happy, that’s why she offered me a house if I take this job/get plastic surgery/leave this girlfriend.”  Or: “Coach only screams at me because he’s trying to make me achieve my potential.” Or: “My colleague just wants to make sure I get home safe, thats why he texts me every night after work for hours.”

If you find yourself repeatedly convincing yourself someone loves you, check yourself for spider blood. If your body tenses and your mood darkens when you think of the person who’s trying to “make you happy,” listen to it. If you feel wretched and panicky when you feel the need to control someone else, realize you may be a spider yourself.

Either way, walk away. Detach. Unhook. Whatever your role in the drama, drop it and begin focusing on real love, the kind that always frees the one who is loved. You can think of it as self-leading love because when you are leading your own life, you will naturally want to empower others to lead theirs. That’s a love worth leading for.

Are You Leading The Life You Want? 

 

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If I Could Turn Back Time

Much of my work involves helping people and organizations (which is really just a group of people) through times of change and transition. When you think about how ceaseless and inescapable change is, it’s helpful to see how almost anything in life can serve as a metaphor or grid with which to understand how we experience change.

For example, I recently read the book “Being Mortal,” by Atul Gawande. Gawande talks in the book about how to help people who are struggling to accept and manage their grief about aging— how they fight against the passage of time and struggle to control whatever they possibly can.

Some of his comments about grief resonated so strongly with me regarding people in any kind of transition. I don’t think, in general, that our (American, Western) culture is very good at grieving, and I wonder if Christians are the worst at it of all. There was much to consider in his gentle suggestions to pause, to take time and not race through decisions about later in life, but to reflect on what the passage of time means to a person.

There are probably many theories about why we avoid and rush through considerations about the ends of our days. Perhaps it’s something related to our preference for focusing on the glass half-full, making forward progress, Puritanical bootstrapping, commitment to happy endings, raging denial……..the list goes on. Still, I’ve been compelled by how universal the struggle with grief and change is, and how overriding the desire to push through the pain at highest possible speed.

Gawande talks about asking five questions of the people who are struggling with accepting the loss of their health:

1) What do you understand your prognosis to be?

2) What are your goals/hopes/most important commitments, going forward?

3) What kinds of trade-offs are you willing to make– how much are you willing to go through to have a shot at being alive, and what level of being alive is tolerable to you?

4) How do you want to spend your time if your health worsens?

5) Who do you want to make decisions if you can’t?

It occurs to me that, with a little editing, these are great questions to ask people undergoing any kind of change and transition.

The answers to these questions– and ultimately any conversation about the future and how it is perceived– can help identify and clarify what the individual in question is really wrestling with; the source of their emotional pain or angst about the change or process. From there, we can move forward with powerful choices, fueled by compassion and courage.

Are You Leading The Life You Want?

 

 

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Help me, Obi-Wan

A friend recently mentioned to me that she had hired an executive coach for her business. She’s super excited and it seems clear that even before she has gotten to do much work with her coach, the effect of committing has already improved her focus and spurred some momentum in her practice. I was reminded of how powerful investment can be – both in and from others—on our professional journeys.

And then I saw this post from Eric Kaufman (edited below) on why people DON’T hire coaches, and I just had to share. As one who has been coached and has also coached others, I agree that the positive effects of coaching are impossible to overstate. Read on for more insight.

Leadership/Executive coaching is an inside out process that helps leaders make better decisions, increase engagement, magnify team cohesion, and accelerate results.

Leaders engage in coaching because they:

• Recognize that leadership growth is more than just acquisition of knowledge
• Are willing to participate in a rigorous and honest self-appraisal
• Have the confidence to ask for support to become more effective
• Devote time, energy, and resources to make changes over time
• Have the courage and trust to discuss their strengths and challenges

So, why don’t all smart and driven leaders work with a coach?

Here are the top 7 reasons (excuses, really) NOT to hire a Coach:

7. “I don’t have time for coaching.”
Unless you have Hermione Granger’s time turner, we all have the same amount of time in a week. The question is, how do you choose to spend your time?
Coaching doesn’t take time, it nets time. Most coachees report that they stop doing other people’s work, start getting home earlier, and devote more time to the most important relationships in their lives.

6. “I’ll wait until I get over this hump… (project, challenge, goal, etc.)”
Well, that’s a sweetly naive prediction of the future. Remember last year, last quarter, last month, last week? There are endless “humps” stacked up just behind the current one.
Generally, coaching clients wished they had started getting coaching six or 12 or 18 months earlier.

5. “I’m too busy running my business.”
Senior leaders report that spending time on their business (rather than in their business) with a seasoned coach makes them more effective leaders.
Within months of engaging in coaching, coachees are doing more in less time.

4. “I can’t afford coaching.”
Professional development is a normal line item for leaders. You must be willing to invest in your own growth as a leader because there is no organizational transformation without personal transformation.
Clients engage coaching for the ROI, not because they need to check a box or find some way to spend money.

3. “I already have advisers.”
Of course your friends, spouse, and colleagues give you advice; but it isn’t agenda-free advice. They have an angle: love and affection, desire to impress, or an axe to grind. Their advice might be good, but it isn’t free of some agenda.
As your coach, my only agenda for you is your best choice and, really, I’m less interested in answering your questions than questioning your answers.

2. “I can’t trust others with my secrets.”
Wait, are the cops after you? Or the IRS? Coaching is completely confidential because that is the necessary ingredient for true sharing. This would not work any other way.
Mature leaders develop clarity about what to share and what to keep. And more importantly, they cultivate the courage to trust others as a commitment to being trustworthy.

1. “I can’t possibly learn from other people.”
This is narcissism, blindness, or naiveté. None of us are totally self-made, we are all products of our relationships. JFK once said that leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
Every coaching client will tell you: I have learned fundamental lessons from my coach, and from the interventions we experienced together.

To summarize: Coaches can be found just about anywhere; from a respected professional acquaintance who is several steps ahead of you on their journey but has a generous spirit, to a Google search in your field. I encourage you to consider taking a step outside of your comfort zone and putting yourself in the position of a learner. You won’t regret it.

Are you leading the life you want?

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Carpe the Coffee

A few weeks ago I had coffee with a former student. You may think this happens all the time; there are hundreds of former students and coffee is everywhere. And yet, not so much with the all the time.

Whenever I speak to college students, I invite further connection; I declare myself open for coffee or meal dates, I encourage them to e-mail me or contact me through social media. I love the follow-up so much that the part after I speak is almost more fun for me than the speaking. It’s so great to hear individual stories.

With all this opportunity, you would think that my calendar would be, if not full, at least……occupied. Lattes with this young professional, lunch with this other new mom, a walk with someone considering graduate school. But no.

If one of these women ever does reach out to me, as happens every once in a while, I often find myself wishing that someone had given her a few tips on how to navigate the conversation.

So, for future reference, here are my suggestions for “How to Ask a Professional For Anything Related to Career/Life Advice Without Looking Like a Bad Millennial Stereotype:”

1) Reach out directly to the individual you want to meet with, don’t negotiate passively with a proxy go-between. This is not your mom’s informational interview.

2) Briefly request a meeting of no more than an hour at a time and place of their choosing (suggest a few options of locations and times but be clear that they pick).

3) Agree with whatever they respond with, including 7:00 a.m. at Gate 84 in Terminal 2 of the San Francisco Airport.

4) Arrive at least 20 minutes early and scope out a table where there is room to talk without being overheard or cramped. (If you are in fact at Gate 84 in Terminal 2 of the San Francisco Airport, I recommend the Buena Vista Cafe.)

5) Bring enough cash to purchase four full meals, even if you are just getting frozen yogurt.

6)  DO NOT look at your phone while you are waiting for them. Instead, watch the actual entrance and stand up as soon as you see the person you are meeting come through the doorway.

7) Initiate; introduce yourself again, strong handshake, thank them profusely for coming.

8) Offer to buy them anything they want from the actual or secret menu (hint: ordering “the largest shake in all the land” at In N Out is a home run).

9) Insist on buying them at least a coffee (they’ll want something to hold/distract themselves from you).

10) Commence with your questions for them.

11) Act fascinated.

12) Say: “Tell me more about………”

13) Repeat.

14) When there are 10 minutes left, say “I don’t want to take up too much more of your time and I am so very grateful for all of what you’ve shared. Is there anything else you think I should know about……”

15) Shake hands, thank profusely, let them leave first.

16) Immediately send a thank-you e-mail from your phone.

17) Go home and write an old fashioned thank you note; mail within 24 hours.

18) Within three days, Google topics that came up in your conversation; find an article that relates to something that you discussed. Can be a loose connection.

19) Send another e-mail with a link to that article. Add in well wishes for an upcoming holiday/project/goal that they mentioned when you met. Anything from a kids’ birthday to a new product rollout.

20) Find another professional you admire and start at #1

Are You Leading The Life You Want?

 

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Grateful

A week ago Friday, I was sitting in my car in a high school parking lot waiting for my son to get out of soccer practice. There were probably 20-30 other parents sitting in their cars; a few were standing around talking. Most were on their phones. Some were reading or looked like they were listening to the radio. It was approximately 4:20 in the afternoon.

Suddenly, an ambulance followed by a fire truck came racing around the corner and into the parking lot, sirens blaring, horns bleating. I felt like I was watching a slow motion video as the vehicles came to a stop near the theatre at the edge of the tennis courts, where the stairs led down to the pool, soccer and football fields.

Some students came running to meet the paramedics, who got out of the ambulance……..casually. When I saw that, I took a breath and realized I hadn’t taken one for a little while. Then I saw that the tee shirts the students were wearing had the name of the school play on them, and I took another breath. When my son got to the car about 8 minutes later, he said a young woman in the play had suffered a seizure but was going to be okay.

Before driving away, I took another look around the parking lot. I wondered if my face looked like the faces of the other parents I saw. No longer were they distracted, peaceful, even bored. Now I saw attention, emotion, concern. Who knows what they were all waiting for; I’m sure there were multiple practices and meetings and events happening on campus at that time of the day.

But for a moment, we were all doing the same thing. We were all thinking about those that we are responsible for. Those we care for. Those we love.

For the rest of the weekend, I was more present with my son than I have been in a while. I cheered just a little bit louder and longer at his soccer games. I looked into his eyes when we spoke. I made sure he saw me laugh at his jokes, instead of chuckling to myself, and I chose to do my random house stuff in the same room he was in, when possible. It was challenging, but I tried to not make the content of my communication be chores or tasks, but his opinions and experiences. My goal was to demonstrate my unconditional positive regard for my son as clearly as possible.

(Brief clarification: My husband and younger son were away for the weekend, so it was just myself and the teenager. We had the gift of time.)

I was reminded me of this blog post I wrote after watching this TED video of Ric Elias:

“In 5 minutes, this survivor of the plane that landed in the Hudson River in January of 2009 called out every lazy parenting choice or barely acceptable rationalization that I’ve ever had. He shared three realizations that he gained from his near-death experience on Flight 1549, and then encouraged the audience to consider what would change in their life if they left his talk and got on a plane that met the same fate his flight had. …… it was when he talked about his biggest lesson; that “Above all, I want to be a great dad”, that I really felt the impact of what it means to be a present parent.

Think about it. If you are a parent, when have been your best moments as a parent? I’m confident your first thought was of a time when you were completely present with your child(ren). Whatever you were doing or not doing, whatever was being said, eaten, or played with, you were present. You were there, not distracted or annoyed or self-conscious.

If you have a parent, I’m equally sure that your best moments with them were when they were 100% with you. It didn’t even matter what you were doing, where you were, or even who else was around, because you didn’t notice or care. You had the undivided attention of the person who was most important in the world.”

The weekend ended perfectly. A leisurely dinner with a dear friend chronicling the joys and challenges of watching our children grow into adulthood. Sunday was the perfect counterpoint to Friday; the wailing sirens transformed into wine and laughter.

Things won’t always be this way. Which makes this way, right now, so very sweet.

There is much to be thankful — and present– for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

What can you be present for this week? 

Lead Your Life

 

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susan

I met Michele at a transitional time in my life. I had grown up in a family structure that avoided…

Susan