How Our Customers Help Us Grow

Today I started working with a new client that reminded me of some fantastic basic lessons in how much there is to keep learning from our customers.

The coaching program I designed, and is supported by the client’s boss, includes a 360 degree leadership assessment.  “No big deal” I am thinking.  “Let’s just see how you and others perceive you as a leader”, I say. “And from there, we can set some development goals that make sense for your situation.”  Typically, the clients I use 360 assessments with see them as a positive, enriching and strategic component to supporting leadership development.  But to this client, it was a HUGE big deal.  She was freaking out about having to do a 360 assessment, and her boss and I were clueless until we opened up the conversation about it.

We were reminded that there are bosses and HR professionals who don’t use 360 assessments constructively – specifically her past bosses.   They called in the Executive Coach to bring their 360 feedback assessments to sort out problem people and try to fix them. Most of the time, these situations turned out in terminations.  Yikes!! The problem is, what is broken is not usually the person.  It’s the way the company manages performance, or the way the boss handles developing their people.  In those cases, 360 degree feedback gets a bad rap.

So we pulled back today and decided not to send the leader into the fray where she would have to prove to those she asked to participate that she isn’t in hot water or one foot out the door.

The bummer is, she will have to wait a lot longer to get some really rich feedback about what she does really well and should keep doing – something she could use a good dose of right now after having weathered a tough company acquisition.

That’s OK and we will figure out other ways to support her growth.  But………..what a great wake up call for me about a few things that I think apply to many situations.

1. Never assume you understand the reality someone else is living.  Take the time to ask good questions early in a relationship and often as you go.  Things change fast, and history has a lot of force.

2. Be prepared to change direction from your “ideal” solution to one that makes the most sense for those you are serving

3. Be patient and creative.  There are many ways to get to the same outcome.

I’m sure there are more, but was told once that 3 is a good number to start with. Things don’t always turn out how you think they will.  Glad today we were all open to doing things differently.  Here’s to learning from our customers!


Can I Coach Myself?


It can happen all the time if you work on it, and it’s actually a great skill to learn.  Here is a simple technique to try the next time you want to do or say something to get the best outcome .

In the simplest terms, we have what the personality experts refer to as 3 Centers of Intelligence.  (Refer to my Enneagram  page for my favorite personality tool that provides more detail about this!)

Our Centers of Intelligence can be thought of as our central operating system – how we process information.  The three centers are the head center or intellectual center, the heart center or the emotional center and the body center or the physical center.  Most of us operate with one Center of Intelligence more dominantly and then the others follow in priority to some degree of intensity, or in some cases, are considered very little.

Think of yourself like a tripod.  If we prefer to use our head or thoughts to solve a problem, then that is the longest leg on our tripod.  We think our way through a situation first and foremost.  That leaves the other two legs shorter and typically one is the shortest.  What happens when your tripod has differing length of legs?  Not such a secure place for our camera!

For example, someone operating foremost from their Head Center, can collect so much information from so many perspectives that they become confused as to which information is the most relevant or important. Someone operating foremost from their Heart Center, can be over-empathic with people or with themselves so they lost objectivity about the situation. Someone operating foremost from their  Body Center, can become overly stubborn when they perceive another as trying to control them or extremely quick to act without thinking through the implications of their actions.

This may sound frightfully simplistic.  The take away is this.  If you were to give consideration to all 3 Centers of Intelligence when trying to perform at your best, what would that do for the outcome you are trying to create?  Most personality experts agree, that to be centered and balanced, we need to access all 3 Centers of Intelligence in a productive way if we want to operate to our full potential.

So next time you are trying to solve a problem ask yourself:  What do I think?  How do I feel ?  What do I do?  See if your solution reflects the best version of yourself and let me know!

Secrets to Maximizing Your Investment in a Executive Coach

I have the honor to coach some pretty sharp people in the corporate world.  It is a special role to serve as their guide on the side on their journey toward leadership excellence in the name of getting great business results.  I get paid to push them out of their comfort zone so that they can grow.  I am successful if they have some self realizations that motivate them to try new things.  I am effective when I can show them new ways to work toward their goals.  I am rewarded when my clients are energized to discover more potential in themselves than they knew before and contribute that to make a difference.

I am always very mindful in my work of the investment a company is making in the clients I work with.  Today,  time is an even more precious resource than the dollars being spent.  Time spent in coaching better be worth it!

Yet too often, I am of the belief, value is left on the table.  I reflect on this when I have had a great session with a client where both me and the client are feeling really challenged, energized and connected.  Why don’t I feel this with ALL my clients?  I want to be soaked for all I am worth – all I have to offer.  This is what I sign up for when I work with a client.  Most clients start off saying they want that from me too.  Yet sometimes, I see that behavior peter out.  The client THINKS they are working hard, but from my seat, they could be doing so much more to maximize the value I can offer.

So I would like to give anyone working with or thinking of working with an executive coach some suggestions for how to make this investment in leadership coaching really worth your while – at least if you work with me anyway.

  1. Know the WHAT: Have some specific, measurable results you can measure your coaching experience to.  We should both be aware of the intended impact you desire to create and keep our sites set on that in every interaction.  If you aren’t getting the results you want – challenge the coach.  Aim for results that are direct and indirect – not just one or the other.
  2. Know the HOW: get focused on a few very specific behaviors that you want to grow and that support your goals.  We can’t change your personality, but we can help you change a behavior if you really want to.
  3. Push the learning envelope: Challenge your coach to fill you with ideas to the extent that you can handle, for how to enhance the behaviors you are working on.  We have a plethera of resources.  Challenge your coach to dig into our resources and find the best – the best book, the best chapter, the best article, the best role model to study,  until you can’t handle the input you get.
  4. Practice: Engage your coach practice new behaviors with you – more than once.  Role playing is one of our best tools for preparing you for a real situation in advance.  It works. Invite the coach to watch you do new skills in real life.  We can give you so much better feedback when we see you in action than just talking about what to do.
  5. Show up: Even if you aren’t prepared for your coaching session, keep the appointment.  There is always a conversation to have that will make a difference.  Of course you are busy and things come up to get you off course.  But the rigor in the coaching schedule that you agreed to upfront was designed to help you stay focused on your goals.  Missing coaching sessions prolongs your route to success.
  6. Be laser focused:  Get to the heart of what is important to you as soon as you can in the coaching session.  An average session is only an hour.  Tell it to the coach like you see it as efficiently as you can.  General updates are helpful, but keep it quick.  We want to get to the meat of the session as soon as you are ready, but we set the pace by your readiness.
  7. Monitor progress: Don’t wait longer than 3 months before you do a review of how the coaching process has benefited you.  Seek feedback from people who interact with you frequently about how they percieve your progress.  Review the results of the What and the How.  If you aren’t seeing a positive trend within 3 months, ideally in both, that you can validate with some objective data, you should change direction, or maybe the coach.
  8. Be courageous: Try new things and sometimes, try some REALLY new things.  There is no better time than when working with a coach to test your limits.  Life is short and our habits run deep.  You and your coach will find it exhillerating to hit a home run in addition to some base hits.

I could come up with more, but these are top of mind when I feel like a client is using me up.  Put some serious rigor in your coaching relationship and get some huge ROI for your investment.

Domino’s Changing the Game – Great Strategy for New CEO

Domino’s is getting pretty good reviews for having the courage to face the feedback from their customers that their pizza crust tastes like cardboard and the sauce has no flavor.  That’s not what interests me the most about this new marketing campaign.  Check it out and then read on.  Domino’s turn around.

What many people may not realize is that this is the first big leadership move for Domino’s new CEO who happens to be following in the foot steps of two giant leaders – Dave Brandon and before him, Tom Monahan.  What a way to promote the brand of the company AND the new leader in a big, innovative way.

Taking advantage of social media, new CEO Patrick Doyle has already claimed his own change strategy to all the world.  This is not small feat for someone who has been an ‘insider’ to Domino’s since 1997.  And he hasn’t even  taken the reigns. I know I will be sharing this with my transition coaching clients for months to come as we watch how things pan out for Doyle.  I think odds are in his favor.

Some might argue that this strategy works for a consumer-based company.  I would argue that  C-level leaders taking a new role could take some lessons from Doyle and watch how innovative communication strategies can be powerful ways to gain followership and some quick, early wins.

Managing Feedback: Do You Have The Guts To See Yourself As Others Do

For many executives, January is the time of year to refocus your organization on the goals ahead for a successful year.  A fantastic strategy to set the foundation for a high performance organization is to look at the past year and evaluate what worked, what didn’t go so well and how things could be changed to do better.  360 degree feedback is a powerful tool to assist with that analysis, and as an Executive Coach, I support leaders with this process very frequently.

When used properly, gathering feedback about how others percieve you, can be a game changing experience.  Several clients I am working with right now have me worried however.  It seems likely that although they were willing participants or initiators of the feedback gathering, they are treating the data that has come back with a teflon shield and letting the learning value roll right off their backs like water on a duck.

One leader is on the cusp of being fired and this feedback process is being offered to him to help him turn things around.  When reviewing stakeholder feedback with him, I didn’t get one impression he is willing to accept others perceptions as possible realities.  He had an explanation for everything vs. taking ownership that his actions cause some negative reactions – especially with his boss!  Avoiding the reality of how others experience him is likely going to turn him OUT of his company vs. turn his career IN his company around.

Another executive I am working with has just been promoted to heading up a mid-sized company.  Strong feedback has been shared with him about some of his leadership characteristics that either annoy others or cause people to tune him out.  His credibility is on the line which could affect followership and executive sponsorship.  My bet is he will work hard to manage this perception, but it won’t be as easy as he thinks to change his style.

Both leaders are praised for their technical acumen.  Yet both leaders are not considered as successful as they could be and others want them to be because of leadership behaviors that not aligned with company expectations.  Quality feedback is on their doorstep.  It’s up to them what they choose to do with it. I’ll update you in the days ahead how things go for each of them.

For suggestions on how to give and receive feedback, here’s a great article written by the Management Research Group, a global assessment company I use in my coaching practice.  It’s titled:  Accepting Feedback, Altering Behavior: The Achilles Heel of Human Development

Developing Future Leaders in Environment & Energy

One of my highlights from 2009 was heading up Paragon Leadership’s Environment & Energy Epprentice Leadership Experience.  A nice summary is posted on one of our non-profit partner’s web sites, the Michigan Municipal League.

One of the coaching strategies we utilized, often referred to as ‘action learning’ put a diverse team of energy professionals and students to work on a real world challenge.  And while they worked through their ‘green’ challenge, I was their guide on the side, helping them to bring forth their best ability to influence and lead – individually and as a team.

The rigor was intense, therefore the learning opportunity was also.  By not telling the team what to do, but helping them with coaching tactics such as:  offering ideas, providing a structure for giving feedback to each other, stopping the action and giving them time and questions to be reflective, participants can decide for themselves the best way to approach leadership.  Learning by doing is one of life’s best way’s of teaching.  Most of us wouldn’t have learned how to ride a bike if not for this.  I consider the role of a coach to be helping the new rider beside the bike until they have the feel of balance and can zoom off on their own.

In today’s fast paced world, there is a need more and more for people who can think and act quickly to get things done and bring people together to solve problems.  By doing this for emerging leaders who are impacting our environment, it is truly rewarding, all the way around.

From IT to “Green” – Now THAT’S a Transition!

One of the features I intend to offer on this blog will be spotlighting executives I know who are transitioning into new roles – especially those which are very different from the one they just came from.  These type of changes are challenging, the stakes are usually high, and the time to prove oneself  has become increasingly short with our challenging business climate.

Coaching the extensive number of executives that I have in the past 15 years, I know there is no “right” way to ramp into a new role.  Every situation offers unique challenges which each executive leader must sort out what will be best to do given the conditions they face. Hopefully, learning from the experience of those who are successfully assimilating into their role will inspire new ideas and strategies usable by many.

Starting us off, I would like to introduce you to one of my former clients, Mary Templeton who recently made a major career move to a brand new and tough-to-break-into energy industry.  Mary wrote about this in an on-line publication called Metromode.  Here is a brief excerpt:

Changing the way I live became a personal theme over the last year, after being downsized from an executive role with an automotive intelligence and marketing solutions company.  I realized this was an opportunity to reevaluate what was truly important to me and make a shift where I felt my contribution was going to make a difference.  I felt a strong pull to pursue something that would leave the world a better place than I found it.  Altruistic?  Absolutely.  Unrealistic or improbable?  I didn’t think so.

Mary tells about her journey since last fall becoming a sales executive in a wind energy consulting company which I think you will find inspiring.  Check out her blog entry.  Perhaps Mary will agree to be a guest author from time to time and tell us more about the strategies she is using to support her success and adapt to her new conditions. Wishing you much success in the year ahead Mary!