Category Archives: Featured

Caterpillars and Butterflies

I’d rather be surrounded by a room full of butterflies than a box full of caterpillars.


The second half of my personal mission is to help people achieve their God-given potential.  We recently capped off the Monarch Butterfly migration.  The beauty of thousands of these creatures hang from trees like leaves is a sight to behold.  And to think, all this beauty comes from a worm like creature called a caterpillar hanging from a tree.

People are not unlike caterpillars in this regard.  Caterpillars have potential to become beautiful butterflies.  However, this potential is not realized by every caterpillar.  Some get stuck in the wrong environment; some are devoured by predators, and I suppose some get plucked from their cocoon at the wrong time.  I believe that people, like caterpillars have untapped potential, but not everyone realizes theirs.  And, like caterpillars, I suppose there are a lot of reasons for this.

I could go into many reasons people get stuck in downward spirals or stagnant states, but I can also share numerous stories of resilience that demonstrate that it is not the circumstances, negative life scripts, or even the intentions of abusive predators that determine the outcome of a person’s life. Like caterpillars, resilient people continue to shed the old and reinvent themselves on their journey to flight.

One of the greatest privileges of leadership is helping those you lead achieve their potential.  Here are a few things you might consider as you turn your team into a room full of butterflies.

Look for the butterfly within everyone you lead, then find ways to unleash them to fly.

Begin by seeing their potential, even if they don’t quite see it themselves.  Nearly every successful person I know can tell stories where those leading them encouraged them to rise to challenges beyond what they believed they were capable of at the time.  That encouragement created focus, determination and motivation to give their best, and ultimately to achieve more than they dreamed possible.

Look for the butterfly even within those where it is not so evident.

Some people come to you so beaten and broken by previous experiences that they seem to have lost their motivation, drive and commitment to achieve their potential.  Their wings may not have completely withered, but you can tell that they are not far from the heap of cynical “has beens”.  If you have the time and resources, you may be able to reenergize them again, and in doing so, you may actually see the unfolding of one of the best employees you have ever had.

Consider Jim.  Jim was brilliant in his chosen field.  He was thought of as a subject matter expert and looked to as a problem solver in his area of expertise.  When a senior position opened up he was enraged that he was not selected for the role to which he felt entitled.  He had the credentials.  He had the education.  He had the required expertise.  He had the years of experience.  He looked right on paper.  However, he had not exhibited the kind of leadership his organization required for him to lead a team effectively.  After his exhibited outrage, it would have been easy and justifiable to simply terminate him, but I knew there was a butterfly in him, if we could nurture it to the surface.

His former direct report eventually became his boss.  While he did not have the same high level of education and credentials, he did have the necessary leadership skills to not only lead across the organization, but to unleash the butterfly that we both saw in Jim.   Jim is now happier than he has ever been, doing what he is the very best at.  He is now serving the organization with a servant’s heart, and the organization continues to benefit by his expertise.  He is also actively learning some valuable leadership lessons that will definitely benefit him in future roles.

Remember, every caterpillar is possessed by an internal motivation to become a butterfly.

Every caterpillar wants to be a butterfly.  They have an internal drive to grow and flourish.  They don’t have to be told what to do.  They just have to be in an environment conducive to becoming a butterfly.

Team members with similar qualities rise to challenges, learn everything they can about the business, are driven toward excellence, and are constantly looking for ways to make things better.  What I love so much about leading them is that they are filled with ideas about how to do things better, sometimes more ideas than your organization can embrace, sometimes more than you can afford, and sometimes ideas that your organization is simply not yet ready for.

People like these are not driven by more money, bigger titles, or bigger perks.  What seems to drive them was their desire to be an awesome butterfly.

As leaders of these kinds of team members you have the opportunity to create an environment where they can flourish.  Embrace as many of their ideas as possible.  Ensure that they know that you believe in them.  When their idea will not take you off the rails, consider going with them.  If the idea is problematic, help them explore it further, taking into account your thoughts and the organization’s constraints.

When they run into obstacles, do your best to help remove them so they could make progress toward their goals.  Recognize that some of those obstacles are entrenched in the culture of your organization.  When that’s the case help them understand how to lead change in and through those obstacles, to get small wins that may lead to greater change, until they get traction and momentum.

Recognize and reward them

While these types of employees are not driven by money and status, a leader must know that these things are important even to these highly motivated individuals, and must treat them fairly and pay them appropriately.  Additionally, leaders must talk to these people regularly about their future and commit to helping them achieve those goals.

If you are fortunate you may get to keep these people on your team, or at least on the larger company team.  However, you and I both know that there are not always enough opportunities in your organization for all of your high potential leaders.   Even then, there is great satisfaction in knowing these caterpillars that have become butterflies were once a part of your team.  Most of them will count their experience under your leadership as a highlight of their career.

That’s the thing about butterflies.  They do love to fly, and it is a beautiful sight to behold.






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.

Reasons to Employ an Executive Coach. And the Greatest of These is?

Marshall Goldsmith, in his book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, outlines twenty-two things that leaders do that cause them problems in their leadership.  Most of these are not done with intent to harm others in the organization,or their own career, but too frequently, that is the result.  I highly recommend his book.
I would like to add the following list of things that I have experienced in my executive coaching career that frequently have similar results.  This blog does not allow much room to expand on them, but each of these is accompanied by multiple stories of the impact on real leaders.  Those who reached out to an executive coach to assist were much more successful than those who allowed these issues to persist unchecked. That is why I site the last of these as the greatest problem of all for leadership effectiveness.

  • Becoming too far removed from those they lead
    • They lose the capacity for empathy
  • Being unaware of the needs of others.
    • Whether this is unintentional, due to their personality, or being overly focused on the scoreboard, it leads to the same impact, loss of credibility, and being seen as cold, insensitive or even psychopathic.
  • Falling in love with the illusion of themselves.
    • As ugly as this sounds, most leaders plagued by it don’t even see this in themselves, because few are willing to provide them with honest feedback. And that’s for a lot of good reasons.
  • Ignoring the power gap that comes with their position and authority.
    • Again, often unintentional, but leaders who think they are just one of the guys, or fail to understand the magnitude of the impact of their words and actions are destined to either run good people off, cause them to freeze up, or derail themselves.
  • Impatience with the processes required for their organization to function effectively.
    • These are leaders who keep throwing, what I have come to call E-Grenades, into their organization, blowing it up and being surprised or frustrated with their people or the result.
  • An absence of, or an ill-defined philosophy of leadership.
    • These leaders either lead by the seat of their pants, or who hold to a philosophy that believes their employees are less than competent and unmotivated to succeed.
  •   Being too insecure to lead.
    • These leaders are threatened by the competence of the people they hire.   The result is they lose good people, their department remains in chaos, and they ultimately derail, all while frantically trying to keep that from happening.
  •  Forgetting that they, too, are human.
    • I guess it’s my Biblical up-bringing, but I believe and have witnessed our natural tendency toward self-centeredness and self-protection.  Without a clear acceptance of this and a concerted effort to change, leaders are headed for disaster.
    • This is the greatest challenge facing most executives and leaders.  Some of it is due to the position.  Some of it is due to a unique personality style.  Some of it is self-imposed due to fear or pride.  Leaders who don’t have a true confidant who will provide them with candid feedback and coaching regarding their professional life, and their personal life where it impacts their professional life, are flirting with disaster.
The easiest thing to say when reading this is, “Whew, I am glad that I don’t do any of those things.”  But the reality is, that leaders often have blind spots in these areas, where they don’t see these things in themselves.  They simply see their intentions, and believe they are okay.  An executive coach, utilizing assessments and 360 surveys can help leaders break through the blind spots and ensure they stay on the path to effectiveness. So whether its these issues, those outlined by Marshall Goldsmith, or simply for a leadership tune up, consider engaging an executive coach, if for no other purpose than to prevent isolation, which is often the precursor to greater problems down the road.