Archive for the 'Executive Coaching' Category

Turn of a Phrase….

Monday, October 13th, 2008

The way we use words reflects our internal world, affects our external environment and shifts world-view as well. Snap comments, judgments and reactions can reverberate in unintended ways.

For example, take the word “devastation” related to our economic crisis. Would the impact be the same if we used “disquieting,” “disruptive” or “dissatisfying?” When we complain about our political, financial or personal futures, what messages are we absorbing and expanding? Are we attending to the impact of our words on the listener as we spill out our reactions and conclusions?

In his New Years sermon, Rabbi Peter Rubinstein of Central Synagogue in New York City reminded us of past truly devastating events: the destruction of the Temple, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Holocaust. He entreated his congregation to remember its roots: decency, kindness, optimism, friendship, family and faith. He invited each of us to think of one thing we each could do to re-establish our sense of self-worth in the face of our shaken financial wealth.

We each, in our own worlds, can create a sense of control, commitment and competence by consciously choosing how we speak in our own heads and out loud. We have a choice of stemming or spreading the fear and foreboding. We create our moment by moment life by how we think and how we speak.

So, I pass on to you the Rabbi’s suggestion: think of one thing you can do, plan or talk about with your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors that is meaningful/purposeful for you right now. Choose something small, and within your control, an activity or relationship you may have put aside in the interest of forwarding your career.

Every day, practice considering what you say, how you frame your current view of our changing world. Think about ways you can revise your perspective in light of what you have and can build rather than what you have lost.

A conscious, positive shift will influence the responses you get and create a cycle of hope to replace what is becoming a national cyclone of fear.


Thursday, July 5th, 2007
Ah, the lazy days of summer are here again. These past few days of beautiful weather in NYC are certainly an incentive to hanging out and doing as little work as possible.
Thinking of being lazy, however, I am mindful of the causes and consequences of hanging back, relaxing and just letting things happen around oneself.
I just read Eat, Pray, Love, (great summer read). The writer, Elizabeth Gilbert, is clear that there is a time and place for what we might call laziness; the act of just drifting and receiving in place of ambitiously pursuing a goal. I am reminded that in life, one often needs time to be a little self-indulgent, to take time to reflect, heal and dive deep within before moving on. Gilbert’s “time out” permitted an open mind which attracted and integrated new ideas and insights otherwise blocked by anger, resistance and habit.
The critical factor in distinguishing constructive respite from destructive laziness is the underlying motivation. Gilbert Brim in a recent article, Ambition in Psychology Today, notes the dynamics of goal setting connected to capacity, risk potential and motivation: “The ideal and the minimum are the “best case” and ‘worst case’ scenarios. The realistic level usually is the level of just manageable difficulty. To achieve more requires a performance/capacity ratio that is too demanding; below this level, we are underloaded.”
Recently, my friend Dave Option talked in his blog about “fear induced lethargy” in job search, which is rejection avoiding inaction that we all experience in any “putting yourself out there” endeavor. As I see it, destructive laziness based on fear of rejection is not just limited to job seekers: it keeps artists from showing, aspiring performers from performing, single people from dating, the shy from initiating…you get the drift.
The irony of protecting yourself from rejection is you get no exposure, no feedback…and no information on which to build self-awareness and self-esteem. My suggestion for overcoming fear induced lethargy is to substitute curiosity for fear, and to calibrate action so that you get incremental reinforcement. This way you can accelerate or cut back based on small victories or minuscule defeats.
In career management, focus on the information or action needed rather than the rejection feared…..and, everything changes! Changing “how do I avoid risk, rejection, or failure” to “how can I find a way to bring my value to an organization’s need” is a most productive re-framing. Sharing a mutual interest and focusing on another person’s interest related to what you have to offer, rather than the position you want someone to help you get, reduces the fear of rejection and creates a meaningful connection.
In life, as in art, the most satisfied people are so engaged in the creative act that the action seems effortless. And when performing, flow comes from a focus on the joy of the creativity and connection with the observer’s enjoyment. As my wonderful cabaret director, Helen Baldassare says, make it about the meaning of the song for you and the audience….and stage fright vanishes.

Dream a Little Dream

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

When you dream about your future, what comes to mind?

Many recent studies of employee engagement claim that as many of 70% are spending work time pursuing or considering changing careers. On good days and challenging ones, you may be among those who are living in the world of “if only”, chasing an illusive dream, looking for passion, reinvention, or change.

Often, I find that people who are struggling with this issue are so busy doing what is expected of them…or chasing an ideal…that they have never taken the time to listen to themselves. Or, they are among the many for whom life or other people have conspired to cause them to bury their inner voice. Many look for techniques, systems and books to provide the answer to their career quandary; or focus on changing their career to resolve the existential issues in life….that have no “solution”, but require working through/accepting.

Pay attention to your dreams. Deconstruct, interpret, explore, write down, go beyond the evident to uncover the symbols or implications of your visions. The dream itself may be trying to tell you something. In my experience, people who want to discover or recover their passions have a sense of what they love to do/want to do but have buried, sidelined, dismissed or avoided it. Use your dreams to start an internal dialogue, gain insight, broaden your self-awareness. A career/life investigation takes courage. Often working with a career consultant will help you uncover and integrate hidden or buried desires and dreams. You may not have to change the work you do…you may find that you need to change the way you work, or expand your sense of occupation to include unmet elements with volunteer or avocational options.

Here are some thoughts to help you maximize your contemplation:

  • Career dreams are symbols, that when deconstructed, can light the way to many real career options. They often need further analysis to convert them from unconscious and ambiguous images, ruminations or fantasies into grounded areas to explore.
  • Thoughts about a career ideal or choice may really be about an occupation you wish to pursue or the dream may represent a need or an unfulfilled piece of your self that can be integrated into your current work/life.
  • Taken literally, or acted on impulsively, a career dream can throw you off course, lead to an exhaustive search, or land you in a poor fit, with unsatisfying results.
  • Dreams without action become fantasy–and this can can lead to a cycle of unmet desires and disappointment.
  • Explore your career dreams with your career management consultant to help distinguish desired but unrealistic ideas from possibilities that can be actualized. For example, you can work on:

Turning dreams into occupations
Turning your unfulfilled career around
Turning weaknesses to strengths
Turning professional conflicts into collaborations
Turning an dream into a business solution

Pleasant dreams!

Send It?

Monday, April 30th, 2007

To respond or not respond…that is the modern conundrum.

I hear a lot, as I gather 360 information about emails that appear to be a call to action. Response emails sent when pressured for time ends up taking more time in the aftermath of impersonal immediacy because the reader cannot “read” the nuance of expression that voice to voice or face to face communication enables. In their book, Send, The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, David Shipley and Will Schwalbe quote Bob Geldof, the humanitarian rock musician, as saying: “email is dangerous because it gives us ‘a feeling of action’–even when nothing is happening.”

They say: “In a face-to-face (or voice-to voice) conversation, our emotional brains are constantly monitoring the reactions of the person to whom we’re speaking. We discern what they like and what they don’t like. Email, by contrast, doesn’t provide a speedy real-time channel for feedback. Yet the technology somehow lulls us into thinking that such a channel exists. As Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence, told us, emailing puts people, in neurological terms, in a state of disinhibition.(In our nonscientific terms, it’s cluelessness.) When we’re on email, the inhibiting circuits in our brain–which help us monitor and adapt to our audience’s responses–have checked out. The big problem, of course, is that we aren’t always aware of this. And by the time we are? Well, we’ve probably already hit that Send key.”

It seems that an email which takes less than 5 minutes to compose and send often results in hours or even days of repercussions. Jules Halpern, who heads up Halpern Law Advisors has recently put together a very helpful list in his newsletter. His “Ten Ways to Avoid the Hazards of Email” lists recommendations that cover a legal as well as an interpersonal perspective. He reminds us that email is a formal communication which becomes part of the legal record and that deleting does not make it truly disappear. In addition to its permanence, email can cause the recipient to react with unintended consequences. Brief and curt communications or sarcastic “jokes” may create a different impression than anticipated, leading to unnecessary misunderstandings or even contentious outcomes. Thus, counting to 10 before sending, speaking in person rather than writing and restricting emails to announcing and explaining, not communicating emotionally laden topics are advisable. Halperin reminds us that: “Talking is still the best form of communication, especially when emotions are involved. The old saying, ‘write it, regret it’ certainly applies to electronic communications.”

In addition, Halperin cautions us to avoid anything that is sexually suggestive, racist or otherwise harassing and to assure that our important emails have been received by calling to verify receipt. A final recommendation is to keep our emails organized so that they are easily found if a record of communication is needed in the future.

One last thought, my clients tell me that they actually have benefited from the Blackberry blackout, and technology shut downs. They like the opportunity to think before speaking, reaching out personally, and not feeling compelled to respond before consideration and composition. Think about it!

Learning to Lead

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

This, being performance and bonus time, you may have been given feedback about your “leadership”, “teamwork” and “people” skills. And of course, you are committed to make big changes in 2007. Many executives believe that 360 and management feedback given to smart, capable and ambitious individuals results in desired change. Would that it were so simple.

Have you ever watched a baby learning a new skill? At first s/he demonstrates random movements. Getting a pleasurable result (making a parent smile, hearing a noise, setting something in motion, grabbing a toy, tasting something sweet, getting praised) results in repetition and eventually a new habit. It takes time, trial and error, and reinforcement, to create a new behavior. Yet, so many adults think they will learn to lead, change perceptions of themselves, develop new people skills just as a result of getting feedback. It does not happen.

An article in Fortune entitled Five Levels of Greatness last October outlines the stages required for developing new behaviors.

To take that model a little further, I recently created a Leadership Development Process tool (download here) for my clients mainly in response to unrealistic expectations for leadership development coaching. Many of my clients, having been successful in turning around businesses, executing strategy, and displaying complex professional expertise believe that learning to lead well is simply executed based on data. But, the truth is that, even when we are all grown up, every new skill starts with awareness and then moves through a set of developmental steps to eventually become habit.

So, congratulate yourself on having achieved the first stage. Then, provide yourself with the input, reinforcement mechanisms and patience you will need to convert the data to a deliverable!

Don’t Just Hang in There….Do Something!

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

One of the worst parts of job search is to be in a “wait” situation.

Joanne Lublin’s article, “How to Cope When a Would-Be Employer Takes Forever to Hire”, in the December 5, 2006 Wall Street Journal got me thinking about additional ways job seekers can manage this potentially frustrating experience. Here are 5 strategies to consider:

1. Gain agreement from the prospective employer about follow up and place yourself in control by suggesting a time/date for you to give them a call. Then, initiate other opportunities even if you continue to be interested in the position you are waiting to hear about. Creating multiple opportunities to pursue diminishes the frustration.

2. Follow up and ask for a meeting to review your candidacy. Get some information about what is causing the long duration. For example, consider these alternatives:

  • Are they interviewing new candidates (in which case they may not be “sold” on you),
  • Do they need more information about you (find out what they need to know to make you an offer) Are they re-considering the position (ask what changes they are thinking about).
  • Are they re-directing the business (learn a little more if possible about their plans/strategy)?
  • Are there be some other management changes which may be confidential and they may not share with you (in which case, do more research and networking to unearth causes if possible).
  • Is there an incumbent (ask what is the status with this person’s future)?

Based on the causation, make your own plans, offer additional information, consider how long you are interested in/willing to wait for a resolution and create mental deadlines for yourself so that the limbo does not go on beyond your comfort level.

3. Many organizations put out searches that then do not get completed because the role has not been clearly defined against strategy, the manager is not sure what kind of person s/he wants to hire, the company is just “fishing for talent” and then decides to re-organize or hire internally, or because business needs or circumstances change mid stream. Search consultants and internal talent management professionals are sometimes not in the loop about these changes and continue encouraging a candidate. Sometimes your network can give you valuable information about what is really going on.

4. The challenge of a long search is that once you are in play or think another opportunity could be of interest, your focus on your present position might suffer. There is a tendency to fantasize about the new potential position and make decisions in your mind when there is not yet an offer on the table. The longer you wait, the unhappy you can become with your current job. If this starts to happen, use the opportunity presented to you as a spring board to re-invest in your work or launch a full scale search for another job. Otherwise you can invest too much in vacant hope and then be very demoralized if the job does not materialize.

5. Find a clever way to follow up: Once when I was in a protracted interview process, the conversations stalled for several months because of a very confidential management change that I did not know about. During this time I was interviewed for a magazine article and I recommended that the writer contact the president of the company for a quote since I knew he would have interesting things to say. When the article was published, I sent a copy to him with a note saying “looks like we belong together!” He immediately called, said he was sorry that our discussions had stopped. We re-opened up our discussions, and I was made an offer.

Lighten Up

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

Are you overwhelmed by overload?
Despite all your time-management and list making, do you find yourself in a constant crisis response mode?
Is your mind weighed down by piles of projects, constant email alerts, and interruptions?
When you are not listening to the endless internal task master inside your head does the constant drone of others’ demands drown out your ability to focus?

You are clearly not alone.

Nearly everyone I work with is looking for respite from the pressures of productivity. Recent articles in the news inform us about the dangers of being in a constant state of high alert resulting from urgency addiction and multi tasking. Reuters reported a study indicating that Americans are working more and accomplishing less. Sue Shellenbarger noted last week in the Wall Street Journal’s “Work and Family Mailbox” that anxiety and perhaps even emotional depression can result from too much multitasking and fatigue. When your mind and body are constantly overstressed, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol go into overdrive.

Sometimes, as with the injured conductor James Levine, a scheduled several month sabbatical presents the opportunity to create life-changing improvements. For those of us who wish to avoid such dire situations, there are numerous blogs and books offering methods to lighten up while achieving. While no one “system” is appropriate or sufficient for all situations, combining ideas and tools can help to lighten your load.

Recently, I listened to Getting It Done, by David Allen and then checked out his web site. Allen recommends expanding on goal setting through a process which involves an entire work-flow/life planning overhaul. He emphasizes the importance of a system to tear through all of the massive tasks and projects that clutter your desk and your mind. Allen’s technique is that people identify the “next action” for everything in their “in box”, organize stuff in project files and lists to be reviewed regularly, and do anything immediately that will take two minutes or less. It is very satisfying to get through those nagging tasks. However, I think that the risk in Allen’s system is that if you do everything in your in-box that takes two minutes right away, you can eat up a whole day with small tasks, eliminating the time to work on your long term initiatives and commitments. Unaddressed projects and goals will then hang over your head exacerbating stress–not to mention limiting your career.

In contrast to David Allen, Steven Shapiro, author of Goal-Free Living has posited a very interesting concept that questions our goal setting preoccupied culture. See whether you are a “Goalaholic” by taking his quiz . His idea is that rigid goals often limit creativity, exploration and innovation because goal related stress interferes with a willingness to open up to new ideas, to explore and feel flow in our work/lives. Rather, he suggests that people articulate their thematic passions and question goals that are not self-generated. Living for and measuring yourself against achieving a future goal, according to Shapiro, is not only stressful, but limits your potential. His blog is worth investigating.

I’ve summarized my favorite lighten up tips here:

1. Start with a clean sweep. Spring is a great time to get rid of all of those unattended projects, piles and visual distractions that weigh heavily on your mind every time you see them.

2. Don’t start your day in overload: Plan your days in advance and include time to handle unexpected demands, interruptions and crises. Build in flexibility, recovery and think time.

3. Spend 10 minutes each evening or morning to organize your workspace, review and revise your schedule and file away extraneous papers.

4. Evaluate the “incoming and “add on’s” to your plan rather than just doing everything that presents itself. If you have to add something, trade off something else.

5. Examine your own expectations and other’s demands. You cannot function in constant triage with impunity.

6. Avoid unnecessary interruptions. Plan to read email at three designated times during the day, and respond only to what is urgent. Register interruptions, your own mind memos and others’ requests in your to do or task list and then commit to a time to address them when you can properly focus.

7. Commit to sufficient time to think through and complete tasks without interruption.

8. Plan some down/fun/relaxation/reflection time every day. Even a short break will help you lighten up!

Please share your tips and comment!

That Time of Year…..Again

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

Suddenly, the weather is frightful and it almost seems like a cruel joke that we are pressured all at once with holiday preparations, on top of year-end demands and having to pile on more layers of clothing all at the same time! Understandably, multi-tasking and “tyranny of the shoulds” abound.

Overwhelmed and unfocused?

There is no way to avoid stress at this time of year, but here are some of my ideas for managing it:


1. Ask yourself: “What’s actually bothering me?” Then, investigate further. If you are feeling threatened, distrustful or imposed upon, look for an underlying fear. If you are anxious, see if there is some unconscious hurt or anger. What do you think you might lose?

2. Consider whether this is an isolated incident or a pattern of incidents. If it is isolated, or a one time event, you might be interested in delaying a response/reaction until you gain more information. If it is a repetitive issue, what do you think the pattern means? Has this happened with other individuals/situations, or does it tend to reoccur only with this person/condition?

3. Is this historical or grounded in the present? Does the stressful condition bring up memories or feelings of past, similar experiences? Are you having more difficulty dealing with it because of emotions or relationships which are unresolved from prior times?

4. Examine your expectations. Did you anticipate or expect a different reaction/action/or response? Is your expectation realistic considering the people/conditions?

5. Consider what you want to have happen. Is there anything you can do to create this preferred outcome? What would be the consequences to your taking this action? Are you willing to accept those consequences?

6. Go to the mat with yourself about what/whom you are trying to control. Investigate whether it is possible/useful to do so. Trying to control/change someone else’s attitude/behavior/feelings is usually a vacant effort. What can you change/control/accept in yourself?

7. Create an intellectual separation between the incident, your feelings and a reaction. Disengage from your desire to make something happen. Decide whether you want to fight this battle. Ask yourself, “is this worth doing anything about?” What if you do nothing? Sometimes a little creative procrastination saves a lot of future work or fix up efforts.

8. Apply the WIM test: Will it Matter in Matter in 24 seconds, 24 minutes, 24 hours? If you can delay a response/reaction for a day, sleep on it. To prepare for this wait, you can write a letter to save and review, make a list of action steps you can take, research your potential resources and support systems. Review these lists after 24 hours and consider other options before acting.

9. Ask a confidente/coach/mentor for his/her perspectives on your planned response/action. Listen and be open to the advice.

10. Identify one small step which will make a small change. Then, based on the result, build, shift gears, change direction.

Some practical help is available on the web, as well.

A major stressor for many of us is working our way through endless voice mail cues when we want to ask a simple question or resolve a problem that is not on the pre-defined menue. Trying to speak to a REAL person to resolve a bill or order a product? Here is a site that will help you bypass the system and connect:

Try the IVR Cheat Sheet by Paul English.

And try these sites for some stress relief tools:

Wishing you Peaceful and Happy Holidays!


Fashion and Leadership

Saturday, September 17th, 2005

It seems that clothing is on everyone’s mind right now. Fashion week dominated New York City’s midtown last week, fall magazines are filled with the latest fashions, the Wall Street Journal’s Carol Hymowitz’s article “In The Lead” featured opinions about attire and leadership effectiveness, and a recent article in Fast Company The CEO’s New Clothes by Linda Tischler, wonders whether current Aquarian leadership styles will be just passing trends or long-time standards.

All of this discussion about style reminds me of my grandmother’s housedress. Nana Stella was a true woman of her generation. She wore a baggy, colorless smock almost all the time. I remember my grandfather sitting in his chair, smoking a cigar and watching his sports shows on TV, never even noticing her as she emptied the ashtray, fed him, cleaned up after him. One day we were all going to a restaurant and Nana changed to a navy blue dress, did her hair and put on rouge for the occasion. What a difference: Grandpa suddenly noticed her, stood up and waltzed with her around the room.

Many executives wonder why no one is noticing them, why they are losing their edge…or why they are relegated to unremarkable careers, overlooked for promotions, or sidelined or misunderstood. One reason could be that they suffer from the “grandmother’s housedress syndrome”. Too many leaders stop paying attention to the way they come across, to how they comport themselves, forget to display courtesies or to demonstrate a confident, modern, stylish presence. They become comfortable at “home” in their workplaces.

Take a good look at your style today:

1. Notice how dynamic and respected leaders in your organization comport themselves, communicate and yes, dress. Are you reflecting the current style?

2. Look at your office. Does it demonstrate the brand you wish it to? If the CEO walked into your office today, what impression would s/he get?

3. Are you conscious about how you treat others? Are you positive, constructive, interactive, engaging? Are you included in important meetings and considered a “go to” person for your area of expertise?

4. Are you getting the results you want? Are you conscious of your leadership attitude, attributes and attire? Have you looked in the mirror lately and asked for feedback?

If your responses lead you to thinking about refreshing your own leadership image, it is probably time for you to think about ways to be more crisp, more present, more communicative….more positively noticable. Get dressed up and go out to lunch!