Category Archives: Executive Coaching

Beginning to See your Way Out of the Box

boxed inIn my last two 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 that you have found yourself in.  The first one 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.

And, the second psychological truth is:

“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. This seems to be easier for us than it is for us to objectively reconsider our assessments of people. None of us can escape this truth. However, in order to be more effective we must be more aware it’s existence and how it affects us and others around us.

These are just a couple of reasons that it’s so hard to get out of the box that we find ourselves in, whether we are their because of misperceptions, rumors, or our own mistakes and failures.

The next psychological truth is a little more challenging to understand as it relates to getting out of the box. And like all these truths, it too has many more applications than simply helping you find your way out of the box.   This truth states:

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

We are probably more familiar with this truth on other levels than that of changing people’s perception of us. We have all be in situations where we presented a new, and what we thought to be, brilliant idea to a group, only to have one or more of them shut it down with negative responses about how it won’t work. Even if the idea truly is brilliant and could be highly effective, there is no way it can make sense to the receivers of novel or “new” information. That’s because they have no paradigm or “paradigmatic hooks” on which to hang this new idea. It simply does not seem to resonate with what they already know, their current way of thinking about the situation, or with what they have already bought into or attached themselves to.

The good news is that those who hear the new information or ideas do not necessarily dismiss them altogether. The information tends to stay floating around in the whirlwind of the mind from which we make sense of information. Frequently as the information floats around, it eventually lands on paradigmatic hooks that finally allow them to make sense of it. However, when they do make sense of it, to them, it doesn’t resemble what they heard from you. That’s why, six months after you presented an idea that got shot down, someone else presents a strikingly similar idea as if it were his or her own. When you tell them that this is the same thing that you presented earlier that got shot down, they may actually swear that its not.

So you ask, how does this relate to helping me get out of the box? You have to accept the truth that new behaviors, just like novel information is difficult for the receiver to incorporate. To see you in a different light requires a paradigm shift, or shift in their thinking and in belief system. And as we all know, such a shift or change is hard. In fact we are masters at resisting these changes on so many levels. That’s why there is an entire disciplined dedicated to “change management.”  Now your probably beginning to see the value of engaging an Executive Coach to guide you along this journey.

Now that you’re beginning to see that there is a way out of the box, there is one more psychological truth that is critical to helping you find your way. It is the one truth that allows us to tie all these together and begin the work of digging ourselves out of the box or hole that we are in. We will cover that truth in our next post.


I’m In a Box and I Want Out!

In a recent post (I’m in a Box and I Can’t Get Out!) I described how everyone who works in an organization is in a box, the box of perceptions that others hold of us. Sometimes those boboxed inxes are favorable and we want to preserve them. At other times we are actually surprised by the box we find ourselves in, because our heart and intentions have been so different than how we are being perceived. Then there are times we are in a box because of mistakes we have made that we simply can’t seem to recover from. It’s these latter boxes we want so desperately get out of.

In order to get out of these negative boxes I suggested that there are a few psychological truths that you must first come to grips with. The first of which I discussed in the previous post:

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

As fair or unfair as this may seem, it is a reality. But, thankfully, it is a reality you can change. In my earlier post we discussed several options that may be helpful, from changing jobs or managers, to changing behaviors and waiting it out until people change their perceptions of you. Some of you are saying, “I don’t want to change jobs, and I don’t have time to wait this out.  Help me out here. I mean, some of these perceptions are career killers.”

To answer your obvious question, yes there is a way to accelerate the process, but there are a couple of more psychological truths you will have to wrestle with to make that happen. And believe me, it requires some “wrestling”, and it takes time, persistence, consistency and patience.  This is also where working with an Executive Coach can be incredibly helpful. So let’s get started.

The next psychological truth you will need to grasp is:

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

As a business professional, you know the truth of this statement as it relates to marketing. Every consumer product company in the world spends billions of dollars annually appealing to your emotions to sway you to justify the purchase of their product.  They are pretty good at it too. All of us have made purchases of things we didn’t need and some of which we really couldn’t afford, all because of our emotions. That is one of the reasons that Americans are in debt up to their hairline and aren’t saving anything for retirement.

I know, you’re asking what this has to do with me getting out of this box. It has everything to do with it.

The reason you are in the box you are in is because of the emotions people have attached to you. If people see you as a prickly, volatile person, they will look for the facts or behaviors that confirm their emotions and perceptions of you. The strength of the emotion they attach to their perceptions will determine whether they are open to adjusting their view based on any positive behaviors you may exhibit, or whether they simply discount those behaviors in order to leave you in their box. Unfortunately, leaving you in the box is so much easier and more convenient for those who hold these perceptions. It is easier for people to confirm what they already think than it is for them to change their mind. And changing their mind is a significant challenge, but not impossible.

I know you are saying, “Tony, this is all well and good, but I am not out of my box yet?” Before you can work your way out of the box there is are one or two more psychological truths that you will have to accept and wrestle with. Only then can you begin building a strategy for getting out. And those psychological truths are topics for another post.

In a Box and Can’t Get Out?

boxed inIf you happen to work in an organization, like most of the audience who reads this post, there is a reality you must come to grips with.  We are all in a box.  That box is constructed out of the perceptions others have of us.  Right or wrong, fair or unfair, it seems like it’s just human nature for us to put people in boxes.  We tend to categorize people into boxes based on past experience, personal observations and hearsay from others with whom we and/or they interact.  I guess it’s simply easier for us to put people in boxes and leave them there than it is for us to keep an open mind and continually and objectively reevaluate our assessments.

Please understand, not all boxes are bad.  If you are perceived as an exceptional leader for all the right reasons, then you may like the box you’re in, and work hard to maintain it.  If you are perceived as a kind and generous person or a valued mentor, you may want to work hard to preserve that box as well.  But through years of Executive Coaching I have noticed how easy it is for people to be placed in a box that they don’t necessarily like, and how difficult it is for them to get out.  I have also seen leaders surprised by the box they have found themselves in. Never in their wildest dreams did they think they would ever be perceived in such a way.

People get “boxed in” for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it is your new boss who does not like your style, so your evaluations begin to plummet.  Sometimes it is the new team you’ve have been assigned to lead who resist your new management style, or it’s your peers who thought they should have been selected for the job instead of you who tend to “throw you under the bus”.  Sometimes it is a mistake you made from which you cannot seem to recover. Sometimes it is unfounded rumors that wreak havoc on your reputation.  Sometimes a colleague you worked with or were close to blew it, and people judge you by association.  Sometimes, you have simply blown it in your interactions with others, and regardless of your efforts, that cloud keeps hanging over you, locking you into your box.

Sometimes the box you are, that you don’t necessarily like, is actually the right box for you at this time. For example, you may be a strong individual contributor who aspires to be a leader, but cannot seem to get out of the box you have been assigned to in order to demonstrate your leadership capabilities.  Maybe your personal style calls for significant changes that you have not quite mastered yet that prevent you from being seen in a different light.  The sooner your accept that this is the box you are in, the sooner you can create strategies for getting out.

Regardless of how you ended up in the box you’re in, there is a psychological truth that you must know:

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

The true challenge then is how to get out of the box you don’t want to be in.  Some simply chose to leave their boss, team or organization for a fresh start with a new box.  That can be good option that turns out well.  But if you have not accepted this psychological truth, you’re likely to find yourself facing the same situation again.  Others work really hard to change their behavior and claw their way out of the box.  This is also a good option.  Given time, this change in behavior can lead to a change in people’s perceptions of you and can result in them letting you out of the box.

However, I have seen many leaders work hard to change their behaviors, and be incredibly disappointed that they were not allowed out of their box.  The negative perceptions persisted and their careers seemed to stall.

You ask, is there a solution? Yes, there is a way out of the box.  In order to get out of the box you must change the conversation about you in the organization.  While that’s a challenge, it is not impossible. And there are ways to accelerate that change, but there are a couple of more psychological truths that you will have to come to grips with first.  Those we will cover in a future post.

Getting it Together

Geese in FormationWhen it comes to leaders getting it together, developing Emotional Intelligence, or EQ is a critical success factor.

As an Executive Coach I spend a lot of time talking to clients about EQ, especially as they become more aware of the research that indicates that a leader’s effectiveness and their team’s performance is directly correlated to and significantly impacted by the leader’s EQ.

EQ is a leader’s ability to understand and manage their own emotions, moods and behaviors, and to understand how these impact others.  EQ also involves a leader’s ability to read the emotional cues from others, and manage their relationships for the greatest effectiveness.

The first step in improving EQ is “Self-Awareness”.  Being able to know the impact you have on others is critical to your success as a leader.  This is probably the most challenging stage of improving your EQ.  The problem is that how a leader thinks they are coming across and the reality of how they are actually perceived by others are often very different.  Sometimes that’s due to egotistical blindness that leads a person to believe that they are better than they are.  However, this is not the primary problem I encounter.  Companies tend to be pretty good at spotting this pretty quickly and purging it from the system, unless, of course this fault lies in the CEO who does not have an objective board of directors, or has a board who is afraid of speaking the truth.  (That, however, is a worthy topic for an entirely different discussion).

I have found that the best way to help a leader increase their Self-Awareness is to help them ask for feedback.  In some environments this works great.  However, sometimes people are afraid to tell their leader how they actually perceive them, how they are coming across, or how their behaviors are impacting the team.  Sometimes that’s because the leader is so admired that no one wants to tell him or her the truth, or they may have a history of negative reactions such that people are  fearful of the consequences, or the leader responds by quickly defending or dismissing feedback altogether.  Without feedback, however, leaders continue to do what they have always done, even if it has been ineffective, demoralizing, or creates a toxic work environment.  This is where anonymous 360 degree feedback can be most helpful.  This can be gained through qualitative interviews as well as through the administration of objective online assessments that allow the leader to hear from their supervisors, peers, direct reports and others.  This feedback in the hands of a highly competent Executive Coach can be powerful.

Another means of improving Self-Awareness is through psychological assessments that help a leader identify the internal and underlying drivers of emotions and behavior, and how those drivers may or may not be working for them.  These assessments combined with the 360 degree feedback can lay the groundwork for incredible self-awareness and change.  Once a leader is aware of how they are impacting others they can build a plan for sustaining the behaviors that are working for them, and managing those few that tend to have a less than desirable impact.  I say “few” because most leaders I work with only have two or three issues that they need to modify to become more effective.  Those behaviors or issues may be the most difficult to change because they have been ingrained as deeply held beliefs or long term habits.  They may even be the behaviors that the leader believes to have led to their past success, so modifying them may seem a little risky.

That is why companies and leaders engage Executive Coaches and create Leadership Accountability Groups.  I was once engaged by the CEO of a half billion dollar company to serve as his executive coach and to also provide coaching for the rest of his executive team.  Toward the end of that year long process I facilitated a Team Alignment session where we would take look at their aggregate scores on the assessments and learn how the team could help each other take their leadership to the next level.  The following are a few of the commitments that this team made to each other:

We WILL……..

  • Address the “elephant in the room” and openly share perspectives.
  • Be less defensive in order to gain better collaboration and unity.
  • Explain changes in more pragmatic and understandable terms so the people on the front lines are not flying blind.
  • Purposely not second guess decisions made by this team once the final decision has been made.
  • Timely communicate any point of concern/contention that we may be thinking in order to avoid bottling it up and later exploding.
  • Listen more intently so that we can ask clarifying questions before jumping to conclusions.
  • More openly voice concerns in our meetings to ensure all critical issues are addressed.
  • Be more aware of, and manage people’s perceptions of us as leaders.

In addition to this list, each member of the executive team made a commitment to allow any of the other members to hold them accountable for these commitments.  It was obvious to everyone on the team that the assessment and coaching process had made a significant impact.  It was also obvious that the changes they were committing to could improve their leadership and the performance of the organization.  However, they also knew that the commitments could be difficult to achieve if each of them attempted to go it alone, so they committed to hold one another accountable.  When a group of people like this agrees on the results they want to achieve, and agree to hold one another accountable to the highest level of performance, there is no end to what they can accomplish.

As you move forward this year take some time to think about the impact of your leadership.

  • Are you having the kind of impact that you think you are?
  • Are you getting the truth about how you are coming across as a leader?
  • What habits could you be stuck in that are contributing to the challenges you are facing?
  • Are you making the few critical adjustments that will have the greatest impact on your effectiveness and on the performance of your team?
  • And finally, what outside resources do you need to help you identify and make the changes you and your team need to make?”

“My Life and Work is on the Skids. What do I do?”

railroaded-cn-derailment-photo-brampton-oct-7-2013I have coached many executive men and women, mostly from Fortune 500 companies, and the majority of these engagements begin with a statement similar to the title of this article.  More often than not, a Senior Executive calls and tells me about a valued executive whose performance and/or personal life are on the brink of derailment, with potential to negatively impact their future employment.  They call because they value the executive enough to invest the time and resources to help restore them to productivity before it is too late and they have to let them go.

There are a lot of reasons for leadership derailment, many of which I have addressed in previous blogs.  When the issues are primarily work related, I work with the individual and the organization to assess the situation and define the engagement.  These engagements often involve 360 assessments or interviews, a review of past performance reviews, and psychological and leadership style assessments, all of which help provide the client with greater insight and organizational awareness, which is the foundation for defining the goals and strategies for our coaching.

However, when the derailment has crossed into the personal, marriage and/or family dimensions, I work hard to include the spouse in the assessment and the solution.  When the spouse is willing (and I have never had one turn down this opportunity) potential to achieve positive outcomes increases exponentially.

My graduate training in marriage and family therapy is ideal for me as an Executive Coach, because it is a systems theory based training, which shows how all the systems and dimensions of life are interconnected and must be addressed systemically in order to find the best solutions and paths forward.

While this coaching engagement will also involve 360 assessments, interviews with superiors, a look at past performance reviews and psychological/style assessments, it also involves a two and a half day intensive coaching session with the executive and their spouse, and may even involve two coaches.

The intensive nature of this part of the coaching is ideal for the hard charging executive, who does not want to wait for a year’s worth of coaching to achieve momentum and results, especially when so much is at stake.  The intensity of the focus allows for much greater self-awareness and accountability.  What the executive might attempt to rationalize or deny in a one on one coaching conversation, is impossible when their spouse, who knows them best, is sitting there in the room.  I have also found that it takes a full day or day and a half of intensive coaching for the walls of self-protection and positioning to come down and authenticity to enter the room.   But when that happens, we are well on our way to a great outcome.

Once the goals are clearly identified, the coaching resumes its normal course of identifying strategies to achieve results.  Some of these strategies are solely focused on professional development.  Some include goals for achieving greater personal and relational success.  The remainder of the coaching engagement (which can last six months to a year) will be helping the executive stay on task and not let the whirlwind of their work and life derail them from what they have said is most important to them.

They come to me with the fears of losing their job.  They come with professional failures.  They come with divorce papers in hand.  They come with addictions.  They come after they have crossed personal and professional boundaries at work.  The good news is that in the vast majority of the cases, we have been able to find solutions that prevent their derailment, both professionally and personally.  And that’s fun stuff.  Hard work, but fun stuff.

What do you do, or where do you turn when you feel like your work and/or personal life is on the decline?