Next Level Blog

Simple, practical, applicable

Three Ways to Coach the Person, Not the Problem February 27 2015 one response

waterbottle2Back when we were co-teaching The Flow of Coaching module at the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program, my good friend, hero and fellow Davidson College alum Frank Ball used to do a funny bit with a bottle of water. To make the point that coaches and leaders should coach people and not problems, Frank would put a bottle of water on the table in the front of the room and say, “This bottle of water represents the problem.” Then he would start coaching the bottle of water. Needless to say, he never got very far. The bottle just didn’t have that many insights on what to change or how to change it.

That’s the thing. People have insights, problems don’t. If you’re a leader who cares about growing and developing your people, you have to coach them, not their problems.

That’s counterintuitive for a lot of leaders and even a lot of professional coaches. The solution to the problem is so obvious (to you) that you just want to jump in there and solve it for them.  That’s not coaching; that’s providing the answer. There’s not much growth in that approach. In fact, you might set growth back by creating a dependency that locks both of you into doing what you’ve always done. And of course when you do that, you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten.

So, the next time you feel the urge to coach the problem, try one or more of these three ways to coach the problem and not the person.

Mindful Mondays: What Would You Say In Your Acceptance Speech? February 23 2015 no responses

oprah-awardSo imagine this. You’re an Academy Awards nominee and you’ve just won a coveted Oscar. (Maybe even a super cool Lego Oscar like Oprah got.) You’ve got around 60 seconds at the podium to say what’s on your heart before the orchestra cranks it up and starts playing you off the stage.

What would you say?

Would you follow the lead of Best Supporting Actor winner J.K. Simmons and thank your wife and kids first and then wrap it up by encouraging people everywhere to call, not text, their parents and let them talk as long as they want?

Would you make a statement on societal issues like Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette did on equal pay for women or Best Song co-winner John Legend did on voting rights and sentencing and prison reform?

Perhaps you’d tell a moving personal story like Graham Moore, the winner of the Best Adapted Screenplay award for The Imitation Game. Making a connection between the life of the hero of the movie, Alan Turing, and his own journey, Moore disclosed:

“I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? If, in one of the most important moments of your life, you had 60 seconds to say what was most on your heart or on your mind what would it be?

This week, why not give some time to thinking through what you would say if you were giving that acceptance speech. The odds are that you’re not going to win an Oscar but what’s stopping you from going ahead and giving that speech anyway to the person or people with whom you want to share it?  There’s no time like the present.  Say what you want to say to them.

And, if the Oscar is a vital part of the picture for you, you can always build one out of Lego blocks.

Let me know how it goes. And please send me a pic of any Oscar statuettes you build.

Mindful Mondays: A Lesson on Managing Your Expectations February 16 2015 2 responses

brad-carMy son Brad and I spent a couple of hours at CarMax yesterday afternoon. After moving to a new apartment building without enough parking spaces for his car, he decided to sell it. He strongly prefers public transportation over driving in Los Angeles anyway so the decision to sell it was pretty easy. He had to move pretty quickly, though, because finding parking on the street around where we live is a very hit or miss proposition. The process of a private sale would have taken too long so he decided to sell it to a dealer. I went to a local CarMax with him to start the process and, within a couple of hours, got a great lesson from Brad on managing your expectations and not getting too attached to outcomes.

Brad was selling a 2005 Volkswagen Golf with pretty low miles for a car that old. He had bought it from his older brother a few years ago when Andy moved to San Francisco and concluded that having a car in the city there was going to be an expensive hassle. When he decided to sell it this weekend, Brad cleaned up the car and did the research on Kelly Blue Book’s web site to determine what the range should be on selling it to a dealer. It was somewhere between $2,500 and $3,000.

So, off to CarMax we went. After waiting around for a while, a nice guy named Duncan came over and introduced himself as the coordinator for the appraisal process. While his colleague, Joe, was actually outside doing the appraisal, Duncan walked Brad through the process, entered some key info in the computer and kept things moving along with a few questions. The last of those questions was if he had done any research. Brad said that he had looked up the price on Kelly Blue Book. Duncan said that at CarMax they have found that Edmunds.com is usually a little more accurate and asked if Brad would like to see what Edmunds had to say. Sure, why not? They entered all the specs into the page on Edmunds and the valuation that came back was around $3,500. This was shaping up to be a pretty great day for Brad. He had walked in with the expectation of getting a check for $2,500 and was now looking at the prospect of $1,000 more than that.

Duncan went off to check on how Joe was doing and came back a few minutes later with the big reveal on the no haggle offer from CarMax. He explained that because of its age the car would likely be sold at auction by CarMax and not on their sales lot. Their offer was only $2,500.

So, Brad responded as any 21 year old would when you don’t get what you thought you’d get – “I’m good with that.” I asked him if he was sure. He told me that while the expectations raised by the Edmunds estimate stung a little bit, he was good because he had walked in expecting around $2,500 and that’s what he was walking out with.

Here’s what I learned from Brad yesterday. Don’t waste a lot of energy on what might have been. Focus instead on what is. Thanks for the lesson Brad.

Angela Merkel Shows Leaders How to Lean In February 12 2015 no responses

angela-merkelGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel deserves to take the weekend off. As I write this, the outlines of a cease-fire in the Ukraine have been announced following an all-night negotiating session that Merkel and French President Francois Hollande mediated between the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agreement wraps up more than a week of non-stop shuttle diplomacy on Merkel’s part that took her to Moscow, Washington and various other locations in Europe. Her schedule has left me wondering how she’s gotten any sleep.

Given his track record, it’s hard to be optimistic about the efficacy of any agreement that Putin signs on to, but you have to admire Merkel for pushing for a diplomatic solution to a dangerous situation. After all, what’s the alternative? Someone had to take the lead and Merkel leaned in.

I’ve been in Germany twice this month for business and have mentioned Merkel’s efforts to a number of German colleagues I’ve met. To a person, they all appreciate what Merkel has been doing. Several of them commented that while they didn’t support her when she first became chancellor they’ve grown to respect her seriousness of purpose and resolve.

Angela Merkel may not be the flashiest leader on the world scene today but she commands and, I think, deserves respect and admiration. She’s diligent, persistent, well informed, reaches out, is cool under pressure and makes her positions and priorities clear. In short, she shows leadership by leaning in and sticking with the issues that she thinks matter the most.

If you’re looking for a leadership role model, Angela Merkel strikes me as a good place to start.

Mindful Mondays: What Would Happen If You Let Go? February 9 2015 2 responses

letting-goWhen I wrote my first book, The Next Level, my goal was to make clear the high but usually unspoken expectations of rising executives. A standard formulation in my field for providing behavioral guidance is keep doing, start doing, stop doing. I suppose that approach would have worked for The Next Level but it didn’t feel quite right to me. Instead, what I landed on was picking up and letting go. To get the different results that are expected in a next level situation, one has to either pick up new behaviors or skills and let go of old ones that no longer serve the expected results.

As I’ve been out talking about and coaching around the book for almost 10 years, I’ve recognized that I stumbled on to something deeper than I realized when I was writing The Next Level back in 2005. Most people that are talented enough to reach next level scenarios in their careers are pretty good at picking things up. That’s primarily a cognitive exercise of learning to do something new. The high achievers have spent most of their lives learning and mastering new skills. Picking up isn’t a problem for them.

The much bigger challenge is letting go. Letting go of something you’re good at or something you love or enjoy doing is an emotional challenge. The underlying emotion around letting go is almost always some version of fear. You can call it nervousness, anxiety, discomfort – whatever you want really. Letting go usually involves overcoming fear.

I started thinking about all of this again yesterday morning in a yoga class with Bryan Kest. Bryan’s been teaching yoga for 35 years. If that ever stops working for him, he can always try stand up comedy. He’s funny as hell and quite often profound.

Bryan likes to riff on the advantages the over 30 crowd has in his classes. For instance, when they (we!) are doing six yoga style push ups, we’re getting as much benefit from that as the the twenty somethings are from doing 25 push ups. As he puts it, us older ones can be out shopping and having lunch while they’re still doing push ups.

After his push up riff yesterday, Bryan started talking about the great “letting go.” And by that, of course, he meant the letting go that comes when we leave this earth in our current form. That might sound a bit morbid for a yoga class but his point was that the gradual progression of things that we can’t do in our thirties, forties, fifties or sixties that we could do without even thinking about it in previous decades is great practice for the great letting go.

If you fight it every step of the way then you’re just that much less prepared when you have to let go for good. The process is true for life in general and true for life at work in particular. By letting go, you’re practicing for what’s next. Along the path of letting go, you’re also freeing up space for stuff that’s more important now than what used to be important then.

So, as we start another week, perhaps a good question to consider is what are you hanging onto that you need to let go? What would happen if you quit resisting the change? What might you do with the space you create by letting go?

If You Can’t Be Confident in Your Knowledge, Be Confident In Your Ignorance February 6 2015 3 responses

confidence1The title of this post comes from a comment made at a global leadership team meeting I was facilitating earlier this year. The purpose of the meeting was to review 360 degree feedback on the team and its members. In the format we were using, each team member had around 15 minutes in the spotlight to share what they learned from their feedback, what they are working on to take their game to the next level and to get advice from their colleagues on simple things they could do that would make a difference.

It was interesting that in a very accomplished group of people, more than a few were working on issues that, in one way or another, related to showing up with confidence as a leader. Given how hard it is to lead and all of the twists, turns, ups and downs that leaders face, it’s not really surprising that confidence can come up as an issue. When you add in all of the information, projects and decisions that leaders (and just about any professional for that matter) need to keep up with, it’s easy to see why feeling confident and projecting confidence is such a common opportunity.

It’s harder than hell to keep up with everything. When you know in your gut that you’re not keeping up, your confidence can suffer.

We were talking about that dynamic in the meeting when one of the executives shared a maxim she started practicing years ago that has served her well ever since: “If you can’t be confident in your knowledge, be confident in your ignorance.”

When she dropped that line on us, the conversation stopped for a moment while everyone let it sink in. We asked her to tell us more about what she had just said. She told us that she realized years ago that she couldn’t know everything and instead of trying to fake her way through situations where she didn’t know things that other people maybe expected her to know, she just started to confidently acknowledging her ignorance on a topic.

Don’t get me wrong, she didn’t play stupid and she’s clearly not. Rather, I’d say she’s one of the more intelligent people I’ve met lately. She’s smart enough and confident enough to acknowledge when she doesn’t have the facts at her fingertips, doesn’t understand the point that’s being made or needs more information to make a decision or offer an informed opinion. That strikes me as a pretty great strategy for staying sane, effective and respected in a world where it’s impossible for anyone to stay on top of everything that’s going on.

It’s worked for her. She shared that in the years since she’s started being confident in her ignorance, she’s only had one boss jump down her throat. It turned out that he didn’t last long in his role anyway. Everyone else has thanked her for being straight up. Many have told her they admired her honesty.

So, food for thought. Where and when do you need to be confident in your ignorance?

Mindful Mondays: Reflections from a Sunday Morning at Dachau February 2 2015 7 responses

dachau-1As I write this, I’m in Munich, Germany on a business trip. Last night, I was tagging a photo of a classic German Biergarten meal and noticed that Dachau came up on the list of geotag options. This is a very quick trip that I’m on and, to be honest, I did zero research on what I might see or do in Munich before I came over. When I saw Dachau on my smartphone screen, though, I immediately knew how I was going to spend my Sunday. For reasons that I can’t completely explain I knew I had to go there.

After being there today, I wish everyone could go. I’ll try to explain why in this post.

Three Interesting Reads from the Week of January 26 January 30 2015 no responses

ereading1As the week wraps up, I thought I’d share three articles that have caught my eye and made me think this week. Here’s the list:

Bitcoin and the Digital Currency Revolution:  A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a CEO who told me that Bitcoin puts a lot of companies in the same position that Kodak was in at the beginning of digital photography. This essay from the Wall Street Journal is the best article I’ve seen for an explanation of how Bitcoin works and why it could be a game changer.

10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman: What I Learned:  Ben Casnocha is a bit of a prodigy who wrote his first book, My Start-Up Life, while he was in college and has co-authored two more books with Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. For the past three years, Casnocha has been in the room (or on the private jet) pretty much constantly with Hoffman while serving as his chief of staff. In this long write-up on his personal blog, Casnocha shares in bite size chunks 16 things he’s learned from working with Hoffman. My favorite: Reason is the steering wheel, emotion is the gas pedal.

A Note to My Readers:  Fifteen years ago, Andrew Sullivan started writing The Daily Dish, his blog of political and cultural commentary.  He was in the blogging game early and had a huge influence on how the form developed. In “A Note to My Readers”, he’s announcing that he’s quitting the blog and explains why. It’s a beautifully written rumination on choice and opportunity cost.

What have you read this week that expanded your perspective?

Mindful Mondays: What’s It Going to Be This Year? Doing or Being? January 26 2015 no responses

doing-being3One of the unexpected pleasures of completing a yoga teacher training course a couple of years ago, was that I had to learn a little bit of Sanskrit – the language of the people who first came up with yoga thousands of years ago. And when I say I learned a little bit of Sanskrit, I mean like a thimbleful. Most of my very limited repertoire is focused on the names of different poses and a few words that represent some of the key concepts from the tradition. The fun part has been making a connection between some of the ancient words I’ve learned and very modern day situations.

For instance, one of my favorite Sanskrit words is vritti. There are a lot of different ways to define that word. The one I like best is mental chatter. Another way to describe it is monkey mind. In some weird way, I find it comforting that even though they didn’t have smart phones to distract them, ancient sages recognized the challenge of monkey mind so much that they came up with a name for it.

This month, I’ve learned a new Sanskrit word that I think is a perfect one to reflect on as we wrap up the first month of the new year. As I wrote here last week, we’ve entered the phase of the year where many of the resolutions and good intentions we set a month ago have been subsumed by the flood of things we have to do every day.

That brings me to that new word which I learned this month from one of my favorite teachers, Sara Ivanhoe. The word is sankalpa. Again, it has many variations on a definition. I really like the way that Sara describes it. Paraphrasing her, the idea of sankalpa isn’t about what we’re going to do; it’s about how we want to be. I love that idea because it takes a lot of the pressure off remembering a list of things we have to do to be better and better. Instead, if we remember how we want to be, the things we need to do to show up that way become fairly self-evident.

While I didn’t know the word sankalpa when I wrote Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, it’s the principle behind the first question of the Life GPS® personal planning tool that’s at the heart of the book – how are you at your best? If you have a clear picture of how you are at your best, that can become a reference point for the actions you take and the outcomes you’re trying to create.

There’s this great question that you may have heard – are you a human being or a human doing? As we move on to the rest of the year, what difference would it make to focus a little more on the being and a little less on the doing?

How to Uncover Happiness When You’re a Leader January 22 2015 no responses

Uncovering Happiness - Book Cover

Being a leader can be and often is a high stress job. The demands on your time, the tough calls, the conflict resolution – it can all add up. If you’re not paying attention, it can leave you feeling stressed out, burned out and even depressed.

In this episode of The Next Level Podcast, I’m sharing a conversation with an expert who can help teach you how to avoid that. Elisha Goldstein, PhD is a psychologist, a well-known and respected teacher of mindfulness and the author of several books including The Now Effect and his latest, Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion.

In this brief conversation, Elisha shares several of his strategies for putting the brakes on the overwhelm and stress which can leave leaders feeling depressed. He explains our brains are not wired to absorb the huge amount of data input that the modern workplace throws at us and shares antidotes that can improve not just your productivity but your overall wellbeing.

You can listen in here for the wisdom and practical tips that Elisha shares from his new book Uncovering Happiness.

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