Category Archives: Executive Coaching

She wanted to change the world!

 

She dreamed of changing the world. After considerable thought she decided to focus on healthcare. Rather than becoming a physician she chose to pursue a track that would allow her to lead teams of people in hospital operations and administration.

She went to school. She completed her master’s degree with honors. She was smart and confident. She had all the answers. The test scores said so. She was ready to take what she learned and bring it to an organization that could benefit from her expertise.   She hired on in an internship program that was certain to open the door for her to lead her own hospital. She learned pretty quickly that having all the answers was not sufficient.

Many perceived her as overconfident. Others dismissed her as simply arrogant. Her career quickly hit the wall. But, she didn’t give up. She engaged an executive coach who helped her discover pretty quickly that with all the information available at the touch of button, and with all the experience imbedded within the long term employees of the hospital, that having all the answers was not going to help her to become an effective CEO.

Through the coaching process she learned that the right questions are often more important than the right answers. As she began leading with questions, she was able to draw from team members the answers that lay deeply within them. By tapping into the competencies, creativity, and energy through asking right questions, she grew confident in their abilities, released them to perform their jobs, witnessed their increased engagement, and watched their performance soar. She began to get great satisfaction from helping people discover their capabilities and challenging them to achieve more than they dreamed possible.

By the way, she also started to realize her dream as she began to see how she could change her small corner of the world in more ways than she initially envisioned!

Scripts

Most of us have one or more scripts that plays over and over in our head. These scripts shape our lives and our leadership. They motivate us, paralyze us, shape our reactions and responses to Scriptsauthority figures, employees and colleagues, and even propel us to success or derail us as leaders.

One particular script I received from my dad was his constant reminder to me that “You could tear up a steel ball!” When he said this, I knew I had disappointed him. The message left an indelible imprint on me reminding me of my own inability to get things done to his standards. Maybe that is one of the reasons that I work so hard to ensure that I never hear that message from any of my clients.

I once worked for a person whose script was that no one would ever out perform her; that she would do what ever was necessary to have the top spot. She once shared with a group of us how this script had almost derailed her from her high school basketball team because she couldn’t play well with others. While she thought she had licked this problem, it was obvious from everyone who worked with and for her that that script was still screaming inside her head. That may be the reason she kept on losing great talent and that her department had an annual turnover rate of over 50%. It is certainly the reason I chose to leave her employment.

A senior executive once revealed to me that one of his scripts came from a time he had once disappointed his mother by revealing a surprise that he was told to keep secret. That message resulted in this person being intensely risk-averse and to second-guess his decisions, to the point that it was impacting his ability to lead his team effectively.

Another executive revealed to me that his script was that it was safer to sit quiet, to be seen and not heard, and maybe not even to be seen very much. As a result he is quite the introvert, does not want to be the center of attention, keeps quiet when he would do well to speak up, and does not communicate with others as well as expected. He said that this script is having a considerable impact on his capacity to lead well.

A highly qualified professional informed me that his script began when he received a bad mark on a paper when he was in grade school. His script resulted in his determination to never receive another bad mark ever again, leading him to be somewhat of a perfectionist. The up side is that this has driven him to the highest achievements in his profession. The downside is that he doesn’t deal very well with mistakes or failures that are common to the human condition or to his profession. As hard as he works to do things right, when something goes wrong, he quickly becomes overstressed.

These scripts drive behavior, some good and some, not so good. The challenge is rewriting the script to ensure that the “not so good” behavior does not dominate your leadership. I have come to realize that being able to “tear up a steel ball” is quite a feat that only a few people can do single handedly, and that accomplishing seemingly impossible tasks are well within my capability.

What are you doing to reframe or rewrite the script 

that’s getting in your way?

Wham!

I was backing up in the parking lot of the Sonic Drive-In and I was confident I was iRear End Crashn the clear. Then “Wham!” He was in my blind spot. Thank goodness it was only a car and that the damage was minimal.

I really had good intentions when I was backing up. I was hoping to allow another car to back out of a stall and get going to their destination. I’d love to tell you that it was purely altruistic, but the truth is I really wanted that last spot in the lot, so I could get a drink and relax a while before I was off to my next meeting.

That’s the way it is with blind spots.   More often than not, we fail to see them until they have a negative impact.  And sometimes we are surprised by the impact, because they not at all what we intended.

I was coaching a leader recently whose peers and superiors indicated that her communication style was limiting her growth and advancement. I immediately noticed that she would constantly interrupt me with various terms of agreement all the while I was talking. It felt to me as if she was convinced that she already knew what I was planning to say and that she simply wanted me to hurry and finish. I felt rushed and thought she was not listening. This was the same feedback she had received on her 360 and from her manager. When I brought this to her attention she had what I call an “aha” moment, finally able to see this blind spot.

In her culture of origin it is perfectly acceptable and expected for these various terms of continuous agreement to be given during a conversation to demonstrate that one is truly listening and paying attention. The “aha” for her was that this was being perceived as rude and possibly even arrogant in a North American culture.

Another leader I was coaching was convinced that he was not risk averse. However, his 360 and personality profile indicated the opposite, i.e. a high level of caution and a perfectionist tendency that insisted that everything be just right. His blind spot! His “aha” moment came when he understood that what felt risky to him and pushed his “caution button”, was low-level risks for others in the organization who needed him to push the envelope a little further. He realized that this would require him to step out of his comfort zone, but he also came to feel more reassured that his organization would have his back when he tested the waters.

Another entrepreneur I was coaching was a perfectionist with the best of intentions. Her primary method of management was to point out the small percentage of the things that her team was not doing exactly right. She did this in a manner that left people feeling scolded and beaten down, an outcome that she really didn’t like. Her “aha” moment came when she realized that her leadership team was at risk of bailing on her.

These “aha” moments came because this is the first time they actually realized the impact of their blind spots. This generated a high level of motivation for all three of these leaders to change.   But will they be successful? The biggest challenged they face going forward is whether they can catch themselves prior to exhibiting these behaviors, and change them before they result in further negative impact. Not only are these behaviors ingrained due to years of repetition, they have served a valuable purpose in their lives.

For some, the “aha” moment is enough to help them complete the transformation. Others will need help, support and accountability to alert them when these behaviors show up. Others will need to dive a little deeper to determine the purpose these behaviors have served for them and then determine whether they can relinquish them.

Blind spots! We all have a few. These three leaders have demonstrated openness to discovering theirs and a commitment to changing all that is required to ensure that their damaging behaviors are extinguished.

How about you? Have you discovered your blind spots? Be really careful before you say “yes”, because blind spots are almost impossible to see. That’s why we call them “blind spots”.   What do you need to do before you hear the “Wham!”?

Success at Last: Stepping out of the Box

We have been talking about what it means to be in a box of negative perceptions in your Out-of-the-Boxorganization. In this post we are going to walk through steps you can take to get out of that box.

In a quick review of previous posts you have become familiar with a few of psychological truths that you must grasp if you hope to find your way out of the box.

The first of these four truths is:

“If you are in a box, you don’t get out until they let you out.”

Meaning, regardless of how you got there, or whether it is fair, you often find yourself in a box that only they can let you out of.

The second truth:

“People buy with their emotions and justify with facts.”

Meaning that it is either human nature or human laziness that lead us to look for facts or behaviors that confirm what we already hold to be true or to which we are emotionally attached. It seems to be easier for us to keep people in their box than it is for us to reconsider our assessments of them.

The third psychological truth:

“The receiver of novel information has no paradigmatic hooks to make sense of the new information (or behavior) they have just heard (or seen).”

Meaning that people are not accustomed to incorporating new ideas or behaviors that will change their assumptions, paradigms or belief systems. And until they do so, they will not let you out of the box; regardless of how hard you work at it.

The fourth psychological truth that is foundational to the strategy for getting out of the box states:

“People learn to believe what they hear themselves say.”

Meaning, we have to change the conversations that are being perpetuated about us in the hallways, evaluation sessions, succession planning meetings, etc. Because, until the conversation changes you will remain in the box.

You’ve got to be asking, “How in the world do I change the conversation people are having about me?” There are actually eight steps you can take to launch your own PR campaign within an organization that will lead you out of the box, and help others let you out.

  1. Accept Reality:   Accept the reality of the perceptions people hold of you. Until you do, you will continue with a victim mentality as you consider how unfair it is that people won’t give you a break. And victims never get out of the box. They simply perpetuate it.  And that’s not pretty.
  2. Own it if you’ve blown it!  If you have actually made mistakes or “blown it” in some manner, then you’ve got to own it. Stop rationalizing, justifying and blaming.  That’s not pretty either.  These behaviors will keep you in the box. You actually have to step up, humble yourself and offer some apologies to the people you’ve offended or harmed.
  3. Learn how to Apologize:  Many of you don’t actually know what an apology sounds like. “I’m sorry if you were offended” is not an apology. You are blaming them for their over-sensitivity “I’m sorry that was hurtful, but . . .” is not an apology. You are deflecting blame elsewhere or are about to rationalize your behavior or justify your intentions. These backhanded apologies will not get you where you want to go, but will only serve to reinforce the negative perceptions you are trying to overcome. An apology sounds something like this: “When I did . . ., acted like . . . or said . . . I realize I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.”
  4. Get Help:  Get with an Executive Coach, your Organizational Development or your Human Resources Department and ask them for their help. There is nothing quite like a 360 survey and a psychological assessment in the hands of a trained professional to give you insight into how you are being perceived and why. These trained professionals are also equipped to help you narrow your focus on the one or two things you can change that will make the greatest impact. You don’t need a total personality makeover. In fact, you need to build on the strengths of your personality and personal style. But you do need to be aware that even your strengths have what I call “a shadow side”.  Too often people see your shadow before they see the real you, and that’s a little unfortunate.
  5. Set Goals:  Establish some specific development goals regarding things that you want to change or improve. I am talking no more than 2-3 specific goals.
  6. Get Change Enforcers:  Along with accountability to your Executive Coach, share those goals with three to five people in your organization whom you trust, who are invested in your success and who have the potential to influence the conversation about you in your organization. I call these people your “change enforcers”. Let them know what you’re working on and why, and ask them to simply be an observer of you over the next several months as you work your plan. Let them know that you will check with them sometime later to see what differences they are noticing.
  7. Work your plan: Now this is hard work that requires patience. You may believe you are making every effort to change and don’t seem to see any change in perceptions or in the conversations about you. You may even get frustrated that people don’t seem to be letting you out of the box fast enough. However, if the changes are significant and visible enough, the conversation about you may well be changing and you are simply not yet aware of it.
    • If you have been perceived as a self-interested self-promoter you may not get the feedback directly. No one wants to feed an inflated ego with more compliments.
    • Consider an Accountability Jar, where you place a significant amount of money into the jar every time you behave in a manner that is inconsistent with your desired goals. “Significant amount” means that it needs to hurt enough to get your attention. The money will be donated to a favorite non-profit.  Make the jar clear.  Set it on the front of your desk so others can see it and ask you about it.
    • One of my clients used foul language to the point that it had become very offensive to others in his organization. He was perceived as an arrogant, condescending, self-promoter that few people wanted to work with. Now this would get you fired in most organizations, but his executives had extended more patience than most. He put a “Cuss Jar” on his desk that he put $10 in every time he let out a swear word.  His behavior was modified within months.
    • Another client was loud and boisterous and he used a “Loud Mouth” jar in a similar manner.
    • Another executive was perceived to be a “teller” rather than a “teacher”, and he used his jar as a way to remind himself to not get carried away, telling his colleagues what was wrong with their work and telling them how to do it “right”.  His contributions to his jar reminded him to ask better questions and become a better teacher.
  8. Solicit New Conversation:  Four to six months after you have shared your goals and after you have been working on these behaviors, return to these same three to five “change enforcers” and ask them this question: “What behaviors have you noticed over the last few months that let you know that I am making progress toward achieving my development goals?”
    • The goal of this question is to jump start the new conversation about you. Because psychological truth #4 says they won’t believe it until they hear themselves say it.
    • While they may still see that you have some work to do, you have begun to change the conversation, and can continue to work on the behaviors that will help reinforce the new conversations they are having.

Good luck on thriving and surviving life in your organization.

Getting Out of the Box: Not for the Faint of Heart.

In previous posts you have become familiar with a couple of psychological truths that you must grasp if you hope to find your way out of the box in which you have found yourself.

The first of these four truths is:

“If you are in a box, you don’t get out until they let you out.”

Meaning, regardless of how you got there, or whether it is fair, you often find yourself in a box that only they can let you out of.

The second truth:

“People buy with their emotions and justify with facts.”

Meaning that it is either human nature or human laziness that lead us to look for facts or behaviors that confirm what we already hold to be true, or to which we are emotionally attached. It seems to be easier for us to keep people in the box we have them in than it is for us to objectively reconsider our assessments of them.

The third psychological truth:

“The receiver of novel information has no paradigmatic hooks to make sense of the new information (or behavior) they have just heard (or seen).”

Meaning that people are not accustomed to incorporating new ideas or behaviors that will change their assumptions, paradigms or belief systems.  Until they do so, they will not let you out of the box, regardless of how hard you work at it.

But thankfully there is a fourth psychological truth that is foundational to the strategy for getting out of the box. That truth states:

“People learn to believe what they hear themselves say.”

Those rumors, those evaluations, those conversations in the hallways, management meetings, or succession planning discussions . . . those are the things that keep you in the box. You cannot get out of the box until the conversation about you changes.  Because people do not believe what they cannot hear themselves say with confidence.

Those of you who are in business can accept this truth on a public relations level. Once again, there is an entire discipline, dedicated to one of this truth.  Companies spend billions of dollars each year ensuring that the conversations that people are sharing about them or their products are positive and accurate depictions, that will keep consumers engaged.  Think Apple! What’s the conversation about Apple and their products? It would take a lot to sway the public’s opinion of them.

I saw a humorous satirical cartoon that depicted PR at its worst:

Hillary Propped by Media

Now, in order to get out of the box, we are not talking about putting a political spin or cover up on our mistakes. But we are talking about changing the conversation so that it takes into account the new behaviors we are working on and trying to exhibit more consistently.

After covering these four psychological truths, you at least know what got you in the box, what keeps you there, and the challenges you face in developing a strategy to get out of the box.   Or maybe these truths are new to you and you can see how easy it is to be placed in a box, and now you are going to use everything at your disposal to keep from ever being put in a negative box that you don’t want to be in.

Like a true Executive Coach, I don’t want to leave you in the dark.  Our next post will outline some steps you can take to get out of the box you find yourself in. Or should I say, the steps you can take to increase the likelihood that they will let you out of the negative box, and at place you in a more positive one.