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A VALENTINE FOR SHEILA

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February brought Valentine's day and the death of my good friend and business partner, Sheila Kutner.  Although we tend to think of Valentine's Day as being about romantic love, over the years this concept of "love" has expanded to include family, friends, and collegial love and affection.

So I want to write a belated valentine for Sheila, my friend, colleague and partner in theFastTrack Coach Academy since we started it 7 years ago.  For the last 2½ years, Sheila had been in remission from lung cancer.  In the last several weeks of her life Sheila almost overnight moved from remission to hospice care.  She had previously rebounded from both thyroid cancer and breast cancer.  At her funeral, people described Sheila as being "fearless."  I didn't see her quite that way but rather as courageous - she was probably the most courageous person I ever knew. She had the capacity to embrace life in all its ups and downs, including the genetic hand she was dealt.  Ever the optimist, she made a calling of turning challenges into opportunities and helping others learn to do the same thing. 
  
Sheila was a feisty, funny, bubbly woman whose enthusiasm for life and learning was contagious.  She had a constitutionally positive, optimistic attitude that always brought out the best in her students, clients and really anybody she interacted with.  She was the consummate communicator, with a talent for making others feel heard, understood and appreciated. Caring, kind and compassionate, Sheila was always ready with a story that helped us better understand ourselves, that invited us to question our assumptions and customary ways of viewing ourselves and the world. She was consummately encouraging, helping everyone develop their own courage muscle, especially in challenging situations.

Sheila was an extraordinary diplomat, whose example helped me grow my own skills.  She loved people, was an extrovert through and through, and both derived and created energy through her interactions with others.  She seemed like the Energizer Bunny, frequently the life of the party, happily and regularly contributing her talents and energy to countless worthy causes.  She was one of those people who adored every member of her family and was adored by them all.  She had many friends and was a wonderful business partner who enjoyed her work every day.  She was funny and knew just how to use humor in both support of individuals and to lighten a room or diffuse tense moments. This valentine could go on and on, but, alas, Valentine's Day is over, which, as I said, makes this is a belated valentine for Sheila. 

I don't think I can say it any better than Humphrey Bogart did in Casablanca: Sheila, "here's lookin' at you, kid."

The Workplace Happiness Game, Play It with New Rules

What do work and happiness have in common? I thought you’d never ask!
While some people derive great pleasure and satisfaction from their jobs, research shows that many are unhappy with the rules of the game at work. As a veteran coach and coach trainer, I’ve introduced many people to “Gameability” – the ability to play by our own rules in a manner in which everybody wins.  Because the stresses and strains of work often present the ultimate gameability challenge, let’s see how to play the game Happiness at Work.
Enthusiastic gamers can reinvent Happiness at Work by changing its rules.  If the old rules are negativity, competition and stress, the new rules might be positivity, connection and balance. We’ll see it come to life with inspiring stories of Happiness at Work, a game with new rules that lets every player rack up points and win.
Positivity
Let the games begin with Mike, head honcho, a goal he’d had since childhood when he imagined himself “the boss.” But what did he have to show for it now?  Ulcers, a failing marriage, and a company with disloyal employees on the verge of mutiny.  Mike knew he needed to do something or face a meltdown.  But what could he do?
He remembered the conversation with his doctor about how stress aggravates ulcers and began thinking about how he might take the company - and maybe even his marriage - from “stressed out” to more “mellow.” That could be a rewarding, profitable game.  And the alternative was unthinkable.
Mike began remembering his readings on leadership, the trickle-down effect and how corporate values and meaning move from the top down. With outside help he learned (and then conveniently forgot) that intimidation was his management style, long boring meetings his modus operandi, and dictatorship the governing principle he used to run the business.  Maybe he should bring that executive coach back to help change the rules of the game.  So he did.
With a nod to the Beatles, they coined the new game “Mellow Yellow,” a stark contrast with “Erupting Volcano,” the game Mike realized he’d been playing before.  The new rules became

  1. Inclusion
  2. Strengths-spotting & strengths-working
  3. Making 3 positive statements for each developmental one
  4. Planning and executing efficient, effective meetings

As results trickled in, Mike began to believe this was a game he could really win.
Connection
Chloe had really had it.  She’d show her boss, Bob, a Mr. Know-It-All with the gall to criticize her job performance! She’d go straight to his boss and tell her a thing or two.  It never dawned on her that Bob’s boss was the one who helped Bob see that he was hurting himself, the department and ultimately the whole company by not having Chloe engaged with her job and pulling her own weight. That conversation with Bob’s boss was a real wake-up call.
Since she needed her job, Chloe reluctantly decided to play the Job Evaluation Game to see what the situation looked like to her. Bob had talked about Chloe’s “connection” to her work, but she never really understood what he meant. So she thought more about how she liked to work – alone. (She didn’t really like to collaborate – it took a lot of time and energy. Chloe liked working on her own, but now that she was in deep water struggling to stay afloat, she needed a life ring.) When she explored further, Chloe began to realize she wasn’t much of a team player: she rarely contributed to the efforts of others or asked for help.  She had cast Bob in the role of the enemy and had never tried to develop a mutual support network. Comfortable with the game playing metaphor, she imagined a Monopoly-type game with cards. But what should the cards say: what would “connection” look like operationally? Here’s what Chloe came up with for the first few cards:

  1. Say or do something to make Bob look good twice a week
  2. Contribute at least once (rather than sulk) in team meetings
  3. Look for something a team member did well and comment on it at least twice a week
  4. Find an opportunity at least once a week to ask for help

Fortunately, Chloe understood that she had built her reputation over time and it would take time to rebuild it. But now she felt hopeful. She also finally understood what Bob meant about a “collaborative, supportive ‘culture,’” a phrase that had eluded her before.
Balance
Right before Thanksgiving Jessica and George moved into a new apartment and then decided to host Thanksgiving: four generations (14 people) to be fed a holiday meal and entertained by a young woman with a full-time job and her husband, a full-time grad student, neither with any available vacation days for preparation.
They could have jumped right into playing “Overwhelmed” or “High Anxiety,” but chose instead to focus on the Workplace Happiness Game, grateful for a job/school that gave them the opportunity denied countless others to spend a favorite holiday with family. How did they pull it off?
By focusing on their own locus of control: they couldn’t change the number of vacation days they had, but they could tweak their own limiting beliefs about how Thanksgiving dinner works. By being positive and flexible, they looked for solutions instead of dwelling on problems. Because they both had business-as-usual through Wednesday, they brought the food in from Boston Market. This one-stop-shopping gave them a full menu of already prepared food: turkey, stuffing, mashed & sweet potatoes, a few different kinds of veggies, and dessert. All Jess and George had to do was to set the table, make a salad, and carve! The food was yummy. Nobody was stressed. And after diner the entire family was on the verge of hysteria through several hilarious rounds of “Balderdash.”
We can all change the rules and be winners. Let the games begin!

A Light in the Darkness

A Light in the Darkness

 
December is the month of dark days: the end of December brings the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and reminds us in physical, emotional and spiritual ways about our need for light.
 
Physically, we’re challenged to cope with the shortest days of the year.  For some people who suffer with seasonal affective disorder this is the recurring time of increased depression, moodiness, anxiety, social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, etc.  And average folks too, who don’t suffer with clinical seasonal affective disorder, can find themselves challenged by the very short days and long nights, calling on their creativity to help themselves stay engaged, motivated and connected to tasks, friends and family.  After all, for many animals this is the season for hibernation, when they’re genetically primed to tune out and “take a long winter’s nap.”
 
Spiritually, these dark days have profound significance. It’s not a coincidence that December brings
 
·      Christmas, the time when Jesus was born, the singular individual who, for Christians, is the “light unto the world.”
·      Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, brings physical lights, the symbols of spiritual soul-searching that calls forth moral action in the world. 
·      Kwanza, with its seven lights and seven principles examines unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
 
Emotionally, we find ourselves in a season that asks us to show our caring and concern for others and the world.  In December we are asked “to give” and required to determine to what extent we are capable of giving and what form that giving will take.  Ever more urgently, we are asked to give not just thought and material objects to friends and family but caring, concern and considered action on behalf of Mother Nature herself, whose very existence as we know it many believe to be in serious peril.
 
As coaches, December gives us the opportunity to do a little extra giving to our clients and ourselves and to help them and us shine extra light in the dark places.  December requests that we ask ourselves the hard questions about what truly significant giving means.
 
·      What action can we, must we take to make a difference for ourselves, our clients, our loved ones and the world?
·      Who do we have to be, and what do we have to do now?
·      How do we evaluate whether we’re confronting a personal, professional and/or planetary tipping point?
·      How do we use the metaphor of shining stars (Mandela, Jesus, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Moses, Gandhi) to shine more brightly ourselves?  
·      How can these and other role models help us all to step into our better, brighter selves?
 
The Winter Solstice is almost here.  The days will once again begin to get longer.  Nature will provide us with more light.  In this season of giving, let’s dig deeply to see how we can each shine our own brighter light on the world.
 
Season’s Greetings!
 

How Much Attention Do You Pay to Gratitude?

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November in the United States is associated with both the holiday of Thanksgiving and the concept of thanksgiving, which we commonly understand as a synonym for gratitude.  The Thanksgiving holiday coincides with the fall harvest and its associated feelings of gratitude for life’s emotional and material comforts – family, friends, food, home & hearth. The concept of thanksgiving or gratitude is a construct that helps us to understand and measure our personal wellbeing or happiness.
Gratitude is an important concept in Positive Psychology because of its intimate relationship with wellbeing.  In plain English this suggests that people who practice the “habit” of gratitude are happier (experience a greater sense of wellbeing) than those who don’t. So, what does it mean to practice the gratitude habit? Researchers like Robert Emmons at the University of California/Davis, Michael McCullough at the University of Miami, Marty Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, and Chris Peterson, help us to operationalize gratitude by showing us what it looks like in both controlled research settings and everyday behavior.  They have also helped us to measure the benefits of engaging in gratitude-related behaviors like the following:
·      Keeping a gratitude journal
·      Writing and then personally reading a thank you letter to someone you’ve never thanked
·      Engaging in random acts of kindness
·      Multiplying feelings of gratitude by looking at the past, present & future and engaging in the behavior of “savoring” positive experiences and feelings
o   Retrieving positive memories and being thankful for past blessings
o   Relishing current positive experiences, and putting them in the bank as insurance to draw on in hard times
o   Cultivating a hopeful, optimistic attitude about the future
·      Prayer and meditation or mindfulness can help cultivate a positive frame of mind by turning down the volume on judging ourselves and others, and connecting us to a higher purpose/power
The researchers found that people who adopt gratitude behaviors are more engaged in their relationships and their work; they exercised more and were healthier than their control group peers, with fewer visits to doctors; they felt happier and more optimistic and were more consistently and better able to dispel negative thoughts; they felt more connected to others and the world.
As we enjoy our Thanksgiving holidays, let’s shine a light on gratitude: whatever our circumstances, we have much to be grateful for.

Planting Golden Seeds

Planting Golden Seeds

Planting Golden Seeds

NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY

 

Nature's first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

 

                   ...Robert Frost
 
On the east coast of the United States, October is a golden month - a dazzling reflection of seeds sown, and a mysterious harbinger of things to come.  If, as Frost says, "nothing gold can stay", how can we as coaches help both our clients and ourselves?

  • Prepare for golden moments
  • Notice golden moments when they appear
  • Appreciate our golden moments
  • Savor the golden moments when they've gone

How do we as coaches become Johnny/Janie Goldenseed, knowing "nothing gold can stay" but certain that we have it within ourselves to prepare for, notice, appreciate and savor all the golden moments of our lives? 

  • When we cultivate optimism and happiness, we plant golden seeds.
  • When we care for/about others and ourselves, we plant golden seeds.
  • When we work and play hard, we plant golden seeds.
  • When we can see the opportunity in disappointment & misfortune, we plant golden seeds.
  • When we nurture relationships & create community, we plant golden seeds.
  • When we create mementos of golden moments, we plant golden seeds.

What would you like to add to this list?

Let's celebrate October by planting fields of golden seeds!

September Often Feels Like the Midwife of Change

L'Shana Tova

 
September often feels like the midwife of change: vacations end - kids are back at school and adults back at work. Mother Nature begins her fashion show, dazzling us with her spectacular gown of multi-colored leaves.  Thoughts begin taking shape for fall holidays like Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving.  And, for me, because I’m Jewish, I get caught up in the “High Holidays,” Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur, the beginning and end of the Jewish New Year, respectively.
 
The High Holidays are filled with introspection about change because Jews around the world are praying to be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year. We are required to look into ourselves, see where we have sinned and ask for forgiveness either of God or our fellow man, depending on the nature of the sin.  This process is called teshuva, which means repentance and involves “turning” away from undesirable behavior and “returning” to the purity of mind, heart and spirit we were born with.
 
Easier said than done.
 
In our professional lives we know that change is the focal point or epicenter of coaching.  We repeatedly see clients who come to coaching because they want to make a change (have a baby, move across country, become a more skillful leader) or need to respond as gracefully as possible to change that’s being thrust upon them (illness, divorce, getting laid off or fired, etc.). On closer inspection we understand that we all have our customary ways of understanding and relating to the world. It takes a serious commitment to change how we have always thought about things or done things. We have to remember that this type of change requires considerable effort because, through continuous use, we’ve already neurologically hardwired our customary thought patterns and behavioral responses, which have become our default settings.  And unlearning and relearning take time, patience, and a good bit of practice.
 
It’s quite customary to think of repentance in the negative, confessional, beating-our-chest terms of what we’re sorry for. But as coaches, in order to help both our clients and ourselves,  whenever we or our clients make commitments to change we also need to remember the following:
 
·      To be patient, remembering that change takes place over time
 
·      Change doesn’t happen in a straight line (the shortest distance between Point A and Point    B) but usually looks more like a spiral, going round and round, intersecting with itself
 
·      Change can require both turning away from something and turning toward something else
 
·      Ingredients of successful change efforts include self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-confidence
 
·      The energy of the universe (or God) will support our intentions, once we’ve clarified them for ourselves and begun on the journey to manifest them
 
It never hurts to have good wishes rained down on us, so please accept the customary greeting for the Jewish New Year “L’ Shanna Tova”; and may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.

August: Abundance

August abundance

 
August: Abundance
 
Learning about how the months got their names I’ve found that July was named after Julius Caesar and August was named after Augustus Caesar, who defeated Antony and Cleopatra.  But that’s about all I could find out about August.  So, I’m making the rest up in a way that makes perfect sense to me, and may have some meaning for you too.
 
In the US and many other countries, August is the month of abundance.  Gardens are bursting at their seams: there are more fruits and vegetables available locally than at any other time of year, and prices are usually at their lowest because of this profusion.  It’s a foodie’s paradise and a way, if you’re so inclined, to put food by (canning, pickling, drying) for the leaner months ahead.
 
But what else can August teach us about abundance?  We all live with the ongoing white noise of overt and covert lessons learned from our families of origin about abundance and scarcity. Just under the radar, we’re often meditating, ruminating, cogitating, and holding internal conversations with ourselves about what we do or don’t “deserve,” what is and isn’t possible - conversations that inform our underlying beliefs about how the world works and our place in it.
 
August, a natural time of abundance, might become a time we designate to check in with ourselves about our ongoing internal scarcity and abundance conversations (just as New Year’s often serves as a time to examine our goals, and our birthdays may be times to examine our hopes and dreams). 
 
Perhaps August can help us think about questions like
 
·      What do we believe we deserve?
·      What are we capable of doing/being?
·      What’s holding us back from taking risks, moving forward?
·      How can we start removing those barriers?
·      What are our limiting beliefs?
·      And how can we challenge them?
·      How can we change our stories - from rut stories, to river stories?
 
·      What tools, techniques and strategies do we have (or can we acquire) to become more positive, pro-active? (Check out Positive Psychology for what they call “interventions”: ideas like gratitude journals and picking a regular day of the week to do 3 nice things for other people. These techniques and strategies have been shown to help increase optimism, productivity and a general sense of well-being.)
 
·      If we were really to accept the premise/promise that there are already enough resources for everyone (food, water, money, etc.), who would we become … and what would we have to do?
 
Interesting coaching questions, if I do say so myself!

Second Chances

Double Lung Transplant

 
Second Chances
 
Life (both personal and professional) is full of second chances. And it’s so important that we recognize and take advantage of them.
 
This is on my mind today because I got a call this morning from a dear friend telling me that she’s making wonderful progress recovering from a double lung transplant.  Talk about a dramatic second chance!
 
Our professional and personal lives are continuously filled with big and small mistakes and opportunities. And we all need to make the effort to recognize, appreciate and take advantage of both the mistakes and the opportunities. 
 
Take advantage of mistakes, you say?  Yes, they can be wonderful teachers when we’re attentive and tune in to what they have to tell us, since a mistake can often be midwife to the opportunity to learn, grow, and change.
 
Not all second chances have the drama of a double lung transplant or a facemask to keep us safe from literal and figurative "germs" but, if we let them, they can all give us wonderful opportunities for new beginnings!
 
 

Carl Sandberg on Coaching

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Yesterday in synagogue, toward the end of the service, we were directed to a page in the prayer book that had the following Carl Sandberg quote:
 
"I know a Jewish fish crier down on Maxwell Street with a voice like a north wind blowing over corn stubble in January.  
 
He dangles herring before prospective customers evincing a joy identical with that of Pavlova dancing.
 
His face is that of a man terribily glad to be selling fish, terribly glad that God made fish, and customers who whom he may call his wares from a pushcart."
__________________________________________________________________________________
How would that quote sound if you wrote it about yourself (the coach) and the work you do coaching?
 

COACHING GHOSTS

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For many, October is the month when we pay special attention to ghosts.  But ghosts are with us all the time, sometimes overtly informing our work as coaches and sometimes operating on a more unconscious or covert level. 
 
We can just hear you asking yourselves, ”What, have you guys lost your marbles?”  But stay tuned…
There are many names for the ghosts who inhabit our daily lives and the lives of our clients - from children to high-level corporate executives.  Sometimes these ghosts are called gremlins, the inner critic, or “the committee”; and they usually sit invisibly but not so silently on our shoulders and whisper in our ears.
 
Let’s take a look at how this works.  We can use Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as a powerful coaching case study in helping liberate clients from their ghosts of the past. Ebenezer Scrooge demonstrates powerfully how our ghosts (beliefs, interpretations of how the world works, default settings) can keep us from fully experiencing and enjoying the present.  Scrooge also shows us how kindness, compassion and help separating the facts from our interpretation of the facts can help clients to deal with their ghosts, anchor themselves firmly in the present, and by doing so focus more fully on the journey toward realizing their hopes, dreams and goals for the future.
So, in October let’s propose a toast to working skillfully with ghosts!