Steven's Own Words

Did You Ask How It Works?

Did You Ask How It Works?

When I first heard about coaching, my impression of it (as I mentioned last week) was that it was a bit of an inbred profession — coaches coaching coaches and people who wanted to be coaches.  I struggled to find people who were effectively doing it in the real world to change real lives for real people.  Despite that, I was intrigued and insatiably curious about the theory of it — the idea behind it seemed right, and very much in line with my personality and objectives, but I needed to see real examples. I needed to witness it — or at least that’s what I told myself. That’s when I came across the “Wings” seminars in Eugene. These were deep-dive weekend coaching programs, and I decided to attend — purely observationally, of course. I mean, I didn’t “need” coaching, so I wasn’t going because I wanted to “fix” something in my life, I just wanted to study the science of coaching — observationally, you know, quietly from the back of the room kinda thing. This made perfect sense to me. I’m someone who likes to know how things work. I want to tinker under the hood and see the real connections, how one thing affects another — the art and the science of things. For instance, recently I started drinking coffee in the form of lattes and cappuccinos, and now all of a sudden I just really want to learn how to brew the perfect espresso with just the right flavor, and how to make coffee art (which is really hard by the way). I mean, drinking a perfect cappuccino is fun, but understanding what makes it great, to me, is so much better.  I like...
A Shift In Perspective

A Shift In Perspective

I know I reference my coaching clients a lot in these blog posts, but for those of you who haven’t experienced it, you might be feeling a little skeptical. And I get it.  When I first explored coaching it felt very incestuous – coaches always coaching coaches and coach wanna-bees. I wondered, can coaching really make a difference in the real world, or is it just a lot of feel-good hooey? After 15 years in the profession, however, I’ve seen enough results to know it is real. Take a recent client of mine. For her, the choices she was making got in the way of how she was showing up, and the impact was profound. Throughout her career, she’d kind of lost touch with the person she always saw herself to be. Then, she got wrapped up and spun around with other people’s stories of who she was; she got a little high on her horse because of her position and title. Then, one day, someone triggered her in a really bad way, and created the issue that brought me in. Our work wasn’t exactly required by her job, but when it started, it was seen by many as a last ditch effort. Some weren’t sure they even wanted to keep her on. But they committed to six months, and so did she. Together in those six months, we worked on getting her back to her core self, to who she really was, and how she lost her way and why she was triggered in the first place. Now, this is exactly the kind of stuff that can sound sort of new-agey, woo-woo, and leaves people feeling skeptical — but it’s exactly this kind of...

How To Find Your Motivation

“I’m having a hard time staying motivated!” “I lack the energy.” “Ughhh.” Sound familiar? It’s quite the common refrain of folks who seek out coaching. When we hate our job, or feel lost or out of control, it’s motivation (or the lack thereof) that’s often to blame. And many of us understand that motivation is an inside job. No one can motivate us but us. They can inspire us, teach us, maybe even threaten us, but we are motivated by the things that matter to us — not by the external forces. So how do you tap into it when it appears nowhere in sight? It’s all about reframing. If you’re not motivated to complete a project, it’s usually because you don’t care about that project. So reframe it, and tie it to something you do care about. If you’re a relationally-motivated person who’s stuck doing a job that’s not relational at all, find a different connection.  Remind yourself: This is not a data entry project that I’m doing to get a paycheck. No way; that’s simply not motivating. Rather: This is a project I’m in charge of because my boss trusted me with it. My boss and my team care about me, and if I can do this well I will make their lives easier. Now that dull project is about the relationships you have at work, and if relationships are what drive you, well, you’ve just built yourself a lot more motivation. It doesn’t have to be relationships. Take some time to reflect on what really motivates you, the parts of your job and/or life that make you smile and feel joy. Name those and some of the underlying reasons why they have this impact...

Cultivating a Culture of Collaboration Part 2: “I Don’t Know” is NOT a Death Sentence!

Last week we talked about cultivating an environment of openness and questioning within your team. Embedded in that idea is developing an environment of safety: a place where people can come and say ‘I don’t know.’ A place where they can come and think out loud with you. What we’re doing is helping your team recognize their own leadership and ability to answer their own questions, but in the process come to see you, the leader, as a resource and partner — not an ogre or dictator. Remember: it can be very difficult, vulnerable, and embarrassing for a team member to acknowledge they don’t know an answer and need to ask for help. It can be doubly so when you are in a position of authority and believe you are supposed to know. Typically, we are conditioned to see the lack of knowing as a sign of weakness. That’s why we have expressions such as “fake it ‘til you make it” — but it doesn’t have to be that way. When I was a front line salesperson, (which is an odd way to phrase it because we are all salespeople, especially leaders — who are constantly selling their vision and culture) people would ask questions that I didn’t know the answer to — and you know what? Some of the most powerful and long term relationships with clients were built on my lack of knowledge. My inability to answer made me look human and made them feel smart — smart enough to ask a question that I hadn’t heard before. Then, together, we figured it out — strengthening our relationship in the process. The funny thing is, when I got stumped, a sale would almost...

Cultivating a Culture of Collaboration Part 1: When NOT to Give Advice

Look, we don’t have to look far to see prime examples of the failure to collaborate. Let’s face it: if you are a leader of power and control, and your team is nothing more to you than a set of tools you use to carry out your goals regardless of their perspectives or inputs, then collaboration isn’t even in your vocabulary, much less your team. If people are tools, this is not your article. When your culture lacks collaboration, it is often because team members’ ideas are shot down, disrespected, or never even solicited in the first place. When that is the case, people tend to approach their leaders looking for answers to questions they are more than capable of answering, because they are either afraid to make the decision themselves or they’ve been taught their opinion doesn’t matter anyway. (OK, perhaps I oversimplify a little, but not by much — and you get the point.) When your team comes to you with questions, those are nothing less than opportunities to engage, inspire, build a culture of collaboration and cultivate their growth — not necessarily opportunities to answer. Some people put a great deal of emphasis on the importance of being able to answer a question, to be the wise sage, which can come from a good place: we want to offer good counsel to our team when they come to us with questions. After all, isn’t that why we get the big bucks? But here’s the problem: just because we say it, that doesn’t make it right — but our position might imply otherwise. Worse, it squashes any insight or creativity your team has to offer. If you just blurt out...

The Monster In The Dark

Do you remember as a child, waking in the middle of the night, scared and convinced there was a monster at the end of your bed?  Wow, it gives me shivers just writing that memory. We cry out in the night, mom rushes in, and the instant she turns on the light the monster disappears — and we see it was nothing more than our robe hanging on the bedpost.  As children, we begin realizing those shadows in the dark evaporate in the light and our fear fades away into obscurity. The problem is, once we’re adults, we discover that sometimes the monster that wakes us in the night is not so easily vanquished. It may not be 8’ tall and hairy with 9” claws and 5” fangs and a roar that shakes the earth — no, that kind of monster would almost be easier to handle.  Our monsters are deeper, more emotional, in our head, and they don’t evaporate in the light; it doesn’t just scare us because of the dark. It scares us because it can keep us in the dark, believing untruths, buying into an illogical fear that has become bigger than life. And it’s up to us to face it head-on. I’m facing a monster myself these days, and it’s two-pronged. First, I’m looking at another year gone by, and facing the reality that I haven’t accomplished all I’ve wanted to by the time I thought I would. So few of us have, I realize, which makes this a familiar, if deeply uncomfortable, monster to face. Second, I’m looking at my work and the careful...

Can You Hear What’s In Your Heart This Christmas?

Merry Christmas!May your days be joyful, playful and bright, and no matter what this season throws at you: lead with your heart and all it holds.Speaking of the heart, have you ever noticed that embedded in the word “Heart” are a bunch of other words?heher ear hear heatart That might seem like just a simple play on words — and ok, I admit it, it was kinda fun noticing and looking for all that is embedded in our heart. And I know, there are more; tea, tar, and even one of the most horrible words and emotions there is; dare I write it?  h-a-t-e.  Oh how I cringe just writing the letters, but when it comes to how we show up and lead, even that word is a powerful reminder of the choices our heart faces every day when we have the courage to lead through it.When we lead through our heart, we’re listening, and listening is the courage to truly heart, not just want we want to hear but what is actually being said regardless of how clumsily it may be conveyed. Genuine listening uses most of our heart because true hearing is to heart both sides, mine and yours, that’s why it contains heart and heart, masculine and feminine. Yes, hearing is an act requiring the mechanics of the heart but in the end, true listening is an heart, an abstract emotional expression that moves beyond words and requires feeling.  And when the heart of hearing is practiced through the heart of the heart, there’s room for it all.   We use the expression “the heart of a relationship”  because at the heart of relationship is the courage to...

What Role Do You Want Me To Play?

What role do you want me to play? When I began coaching, I had to resist the urge to coach every conversation. So my wife and I made a pact: if it wasn’t abundantly clear (and I’m male, so most times it wasn’t) I would ask, “Which role would you like me to play: Husband, Friend or Coach?” You know us husband types — we want to fix and protect. If she brings a problem to me, obviously she wants me to jump into action and fix it, right? This is easy to interpret with some comments, like, “Honey, the ice maker is stuck again.”  But if it’s about her tough day, or a problem with her boss, she may not want me to fix it — she may just want a friend.   A friend is someone who commiserates. They’re the person with whom you grab a glass of wine and vent, just to get it off your chest. There’s nothing to fix; you just want someone who will join you in your misery and agree that you boss is a jerk. “I can’t believe he did that to you! Ugh!” Whether you’re right or wrong is irrelevant; your friend just listens, and you feel better because you’ve been seen and heard. Fixing the problem had nothing to do with it. Even though most spouses consider each other their best friend, this can be a difficult role for a spouse to play, especially if their partner seems to be hurting. Coaching, on the other hand, isn’t about me doing anything, or commiserating. It’s about asking powerful questions, working together, and discussing the options in order to solve the problem. It’s not about what the coach...

The Problem With Accountability

In truth, January 1 is no different than any other day of the year. And yet, it holds a remarkable power for fresh starts and cleansing. Many of us dare to dream, seeing the New Year as a blank slate upon which we can write the story of our life. Whether we believe it’s possible or not, it’s a beginning — a beginning that, for a glimmer of time we tell ourselves we have the power to control; the power to create; the power to bend to our will. Then comes January 17th: “Ditch The New Year’s Resolution Day.” The date believed to be the point in this new beginning the highest number of people will realize it’s just another version of each year before, nothing really changes, there are too many factors beyond our control, and to hell with those damn resolutions. “I didn’t really mean it anyway.”And yet, the secret to success is remarkably simple, though consistently misunderstood and misused. Accountability. You want your resolutions in business and in life to succeed? Be held accountable. But why are people so resistant to accountability? It’s supposed to be a good thing, right? Well, one thing I’ve noticed: Accountability is often used as a weapon, when it should be used as a tool. It’s a bit like having an expensive piece of cutlery — perfect for gourmet meals, but it can also be used to mortally wound someone. Yikes. And accountability is often used for the injury rather than the nourishment, both in the workplace and at home. Too often, accountability is saved for too late in the game, when we’re beyond the point of no return....

Change Is Easy

Change is easy, right? Ok, you go first! I love that line because, as we all know, we always feel like it’s the other person who needs to change first. You don’t trust that they will change, too, if you go first, so you want them to go first so you can j̶u̶d̶g̶e̶ I mean, trust them. That’s part of what makes it really hard being a manager. When there’s a problem, your name comes up! It’s easy for employees to lay blame on you for any problems happening in the office. And sure, relationships are a two-way street. It can feel unfair when that team judgement lands on you. But guess what? If anything is going to change, it’s your role to move first, to build that trust, to take that risk. That’s part of being a leader. Being a leader is a huge amount of work. No question. You are required to be different. You are required to be more patient, ask better questions & positively engage with people, even if they can’t — or won’t. If someone’s going to change a negative situation, it’s you. You can hope that someone else will step up, but you can’t bank on it. Employees may not think they have the authority or influence, and they may not. They may not be aware of the boundaries or might be worried about losing their job. When something needs to change, it’s our opportunity as leaders, in the words of Gandhi, to be the change. You are just as human as the rest of the team, just as nervous or afraid of making a mistake, perhaps. And...

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