3 Effective Tools for Getting Sh*t Done

Have an ever growing to-do list? Even worse, have a list of 1/2 completed items so it feels like you’ve accomplished nothing? I feel you.

There’s a lot I could write on why your to-do list is never ending and what you could do instead that would add more meaning to your life. That dialogue is for a different day because today it’s about the times in our life when we need to roll up our sleeves and get sh*t done. Set aside the purpose, the passion, the fulfillment you desire – right now you need to clear your mind, desktop or sometimes laundry bin so you can see and think clearly again.

Here are three methods I use and when I use them based on what I’m experiencing at the moment.

When I can’t decide which item(s) to prioritize…

When it feels like I am a day behind or a dollar short no matter what I do, I rely on the Eisenhower Matrix. In fact, I have it sharpied (not sure that is a word, but I used a permanent marker to draw it) on the last page of my Rocketbook notebook so that it’s ready for when panic mode sets in. Don’t know what a Rocketbook is? It’s a reusable notebook that connects to your email, shared drive or other digital locations so you can save your written notes digitally and save the planet by not wasting paper. (No, I don’t get a kickback, but I bet if I asked they’d give me an affiliate link…it just hasn’t been deemed important or urgent enough.)

Eisenhower Matrix

When it feels like everything is on fire, it’s time to get brutal with tagging things as important and urgent. Using a matrix style allows you to organize in a way that’s easy to tackle. For those items that are truly Important and Urgent – do those now. For the items that are Important but not quite Urgent (yet), schedule a time to do them before they turn into Urgent items. Seriously, schedule them. Put a time block on your calendar that has the to do item on it (see the Pomodoro Technique for these).

For items that are Urgent but not Important, who can accomplish these tasks just as well, if not better, than you? This is not pushing off things you don’t want to do, it’s empowering others who have the skill and interest to do these tasks. This topic reminds me of defining your Zone of Brilliance/Genius and also recognizing others zone.

For those items that are neither Important nor Urgent, they go in the bottom right corner. If you’re not comfortable Deleting them, perhaps consider labeling that section “Delay” where it gives you permission to set them aside until they become a little more important (the Test Method will also give you a different way of managing these items).

One note: I don’t make four equal squares for my matrix. I have learned when I don’t get ALL of my to do list accomplished, it leaves me feeling depleted. My rule: 3 Important + Urgent tasks is my goal for a single day’s work. I focus on quality not quantity and if I am realistic about the Decide and Delegate sections, even more gets accomplished.

When there’s half completed items on my list…

We’ve all been there. Perhaps it’s due to S.O.S. (Shiny Object Syndrome) or F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out) or as Brené Brown and Michael Bungay Stanier discuss, the S.T.W.S. (Save The World Syndrome). Whatever the reason, we start and stop tasks creating a wack-a-mole experience for our day without feeling like we accomplished anything. When this happens (like today…and my first pomodoro was to write this post), I use the Pomodoro Technique.

Pomodoro Technique

I don’t have one of those old school pomodoro (or tomato in English) timers, so I borrowed (ok, stole) a 30-minute hourglass timer from my daughters. I place it on my computer to remind me to stay focused. The day before, I take a moment to determine if I need to do this for the morning (6 tasks) or if I need to block off the full day (14 tasks).

*You must be just as committed to the 5 minute and 25 minute breaks as you are to the pomodoros or this method will succumb to burnout.

When I presented this method to a CEO leadership cohort I lead, I was asked how to fend off others who will break your concentration. My solution: tell them what you’re doing. Let them in on your secret. You are going to have a “focus” day and you will have 3 breaks at X times. When you share your intentions with your colleagues and employees, you might even find some accountability partners who also want to take back their days from their to do lists!

If you need to have a meeting during a focus day, schedule it for a 25-minute pomodoro. Realistically, this means no more than 3 topics on the meeting’s agenda (7 minutes each + time for wrap up). If there’s more items to discuss, schedule two pomodoros separately – or – save it for another day. Bonus: this requires others to be intentional with your meeting time.

Here’s what your day might look like using the pomodoro technique:

When I long for a daily rhythm…

After using the Eisenhower Matrix and Pomodoro Technique for several months, I noticed I no longer felt panicked or overwhelmed and I was getting work done efficiently. I wondered how I could maintain this calm and productive experience. I couldn’t find anything after a quick Google search, so I used another tool: my brain. I created the T.E.S.T. Method. It stands for Today, Everyday, Schedule, Think About. There’s no link for it because I made it up.

TEST Method

As I mentioned earlier, 3 tasks is my daily goal to feel accomplished at the end of each day. I have found I often cross off items on the “Schedule” list early when I’m in a grove. Confession: this is sharpied in my Rocketbook too. Here’s the setup:

  • TODAY: What 3 items need to be accomplished today?
  • EVERYDAY: What 3 items need to be completed every day consistently?
  • SCHEDULE: What 5 items are on deck for this week, but not necessarily today?
  • THINK ABOUT: What items are on your mind, but haven’t yet formed into action? (this is for those items you hesitated to Delete in the Eisenhower Matrix).

With a little Eisenhower work, you will have a good idea what is important + urgent and what can be scheduled. Remember, this method is when you’re ready for a rhythm. When you notice chaos or panic creeping in, go back to the Eisenhower or Pomodoro options to bring you back to calm.

Note: during the week, what’s in “schedule” will get moved to “today” as you plan your daily list. There’s also room for “pop ups” each day as you have 15 slots for the week in the “today” square, yet start with 8 each Monday (3 in Today and 5 in Schedule). Here’s what mine looked like yesterday (because today is for the Pomodoro Technique):


  • Email clients for Group Cohort session next week
  • Email all students welcoming them to the first week of class
  • Pay Tax Bill


  • The Miracle Morning (if you don’t know, go here – it’s life changing)
  • Check all 3 email inboxes (hustle life!)
  • Check University Canvas and Mental Wellness Coach portal


  • Monthly Blog Post
  • Pack 1 box per day (home renovations are happening)
  • Create social media posts for the month
  • Clean out inbox from holiday break

Think About:

  • Word of the year for 2022
  • Vacation Schedule for 2022
  • New rug for the living room

I hope these tools will provide the solutions you need to get back in control of your time! If you’re ready to talk about that passion, purpose and fulfillment I glossed over at the beginning of this post, let’s chat!

A word about my Why

I’ve had great bosses and I’ve had bad bosses. I’ve also had bosses who switched from one to the other – in both directions. What determined their greatness had nothing to do with their creative thinking, their sales skills, or strategic vision – what made them good or bad was their leadership. 

Their ability to connect. Their ability to communicate. Their ability to foster a culture where people felt valued. Where people felt deeply seen and heard. Where people felt confident to be their authentic selves. Their ability to always learn from and listen to the people alongside them. Their ability to create momentum and achieve results, collectively and individually. All of this was because of their commitment to their own leadership development. 

The ripple effect the good and bad bosses have is immeasurable. 

When I was working for a great boss, I felt heard, seen, valued and part of something larger than myself. I carried that home with me. It energized me and I was able to be that for others. 

When I was working for a bad boss, I felt frustrated, on high-alert, stressed out, misunderstood, under-valued, unmotivated and under-utilized. I was drained, exhausted. I carried that home with me too and I was less than my best for those closest to me. 

How is this connected to my why? 

My why, is to make the world better through better leadership. It is born of my lived experience.  It is born from my lived experience as someone who has led and who has been led by authentic, great bosses. It is born of my lived experiences of bad bosses, too. 

I want you, as a leader, to know you don’t have to do it alone. I want you as a leader, to be all you can be and to know that is going to change day by day. I want you as a leader to know your why, to be connected to it and to let it guide you. I want you, as a leader, to be authentic and intentional. 

And I want you, as a leader, but even more importantly, as a human, to never stop experiencing growth and becoming who you were always meant to be. 

Need help connecting with your why? Hit me up and we’ll dig into that.

One final reason for my why: I do it for my girls.

Care to Fika with Me?

I love learning, especially when it’s a cultural norm somewhere else that I can adopt into my own world.

My latest: fika. It is a Swedish tradition that 𝙢𝙚𝙖𝙣𝙨 𝙩𝙖𝙠𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖 𝙢𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙨𝙡𝙤𝙬 𝙙𝙤𝙬𝙣, 𝙤𝙛𝙩𝙚𝙣 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙖 𝙛𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙣𝙙 𝙤𝙧 𝙘𝙤𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙖𝙜𝙪𝙚, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙚𝙣𝙟𝙤𝙮 𝙖 𝙘𝙪𝙥 𝙤𝙛 𝙘𝙤𝙛𝙛𝙚𝙚 (𝙤𝙧 𝙩𝙚𝙖) 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖 𝙡𝙞𝙩𝙩𝙡𝙚 𝙨𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙤 𝙚𝙖𝙩.

Pronounced fee-ka, it can be both a noun (𝘭𝘦𝘵’𝘴 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘧𝘪𝘬𝘢) and a verb (𝘭𝘦𝘵’𝘴 𝘧𝘪𝘬𝘢 𝘯𝘰𝘸…). No rules – just a good cup of coffee or tea, a bite of something delicious, and some time to enjoy the moment.

Fika is about genuinely slowing down, getting back in touch with your body and the people around you, and recharging on a deeper level. It is something to look forward to, a short time where everything else stops and you savor the moment. Quantity isn’t the key here either, nor is it to “trick” the body into carrying on and working harder (like an afternoon caffeine jolt here in the U.S. often is).

For Swedes, fika is nothing revolutionary; it’s simply part of everyday life.

If you are interested, let’s fika together!

How Changing One Word Increases Your Level of Success

Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, confirms that “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” Today, I want to discuss the difference between “can” and “will” and apply Dr. Newberg’s notion that a single word, will (not can) in fact change your level of success.

His research goes on to state that “Our thoughts become our words, and therefore our language.” I would like to add that our words also become our actions.

I work with leaders at all different stages of their career and a common thread when it comes to change is what I state as your own individual Power of Commitment. The level of success when focused on accomplishing a task depends on which part of the brain you ignite during the commitment process.

You see, our mind is made up of three parts: Cognition, affection, and conation. This is considered the “trilogy of the mind” or the “theory of mind.”

When a client identifies a way to make progress in a specific area, often times they say with excitement “I can do that!” and my response is an equally enthusiastic “yes, you can!” followed by “but will you?”

The difference between “I can” and “I will” is that they ignite different parts of the brain – the cognitive vs the conative. They seem interchangeable yet there’s a lot more power in one than the other. Example:

“I can ask my top 3 clients for a referral.”

I will ask my top 3 clients for a referral.”

“Can” identifies capability and uses the cognitive part of the brain that taps into your intellectual aptitude. It is your belief that you are capable of accomplishing the task at hand.

“Will” identifies action and ignites the conative part of the brain that taps into your intentions. Conation is an important factor of the mind because it contains the instincts and innate attributes that define your natural method of operation. When we work from our natural style, we are more productive, more comfortable and more successful. We use the conative part of our brain when answering 3 key questions:

  • what are my intentions and goals?
  • what are my plans and commitments?
  • what am I going to do?

The third part of the brain, the affective, is where your desires come from, and forms our “I want” statements. This part of the brain is used first, a pre-requisite, before the other two parts of the brain are engaged because we have to desire something before we assess our capability or choice in how to achieve it.

When you desire change and want results, switch from “I can” to “I will” and watch your success level rise!

What is your base goal?

When we think of goals, we tend to focus on “pinnacle goals”. Those set on the highest point of achievement – the top of the mountain – the biggest dream – the pinnacle of success. When we set these goals, it takes a lot of effort and intention to meet them. And sometimes, when we really go for it, when our sole focus is the top of the mountain, we start to slip, lose momentum. And then, we stop.

What if we reframe our relationship with goals? We keep our pinnacle goals, yes, and we also set base goals. It’s the “yes, and” option. We are at the base of that highest achievement – what will we commit to each and every day that creates, and celebrates, daily progress?

The base goal is the minimum I’m committing to each day that creates daily progress. For example – a year ago today, I committed to a daily 6 minute morning meditation practice to center myself on my own values. Just 6 minutes was my base goal. My pinnacle goal is to live my most fulfilled life by being true to my core values each and every day. Most days I do more than 6 minutes of meditation, but at a minimum I meditate for 6 minutes to center myself on my own values.

Goal setting when looking for professional joy

I’m happy to report that I had a 96% success rate in daily meditation! There were days that I delayed my 6 minutes to later in the morning or even meditated at night if I realized I skipped it during the day but I had less than 15 days out of 366 where I did not complete my base goal of 6 minutes of meditation a day. And, I am happy to also report I have seen transformational progress! I am more focused. I am more dialed into who I want to be in this world and I am making conscious choice to show up on purpose in all facets of my life.

When looking at your current professional goal, it goes the same way: what is your pinnacle goal, and also, what are your base goals you are committed to each and every day? How will you conquer the mountain?

Keep hiking towards the mountain top and while doing so, commit to the individual steps that create forward progress each and everyday.

Can we talk about the “f” word?

Which one you ask?

  • The sacred “f bomb” which can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, etc. to add emphasis to anything?
  • Or perhaps the big F-E-A-R that we try to avoid at all costs?
  • Or go the opposite direction with focus (bonus * for this one), which has gone out the window in 2020.

I’m talking about a different four letter F word today: fine. Ask my husband and he will tell you I banned that word from our vocabulary long ago. Fine never actually means fine (which is defined as “of high quality”). Take a look at a few examples:

  • “How was your day?” “Fine.”
  • “How do I look?” “Fine.”
  • “How about sushi for dinner?” “Fine.”
  • “Do you like your job?” “It’s fine.”
  • “What did you think of my presentation?” “It was fine.”

Let’s be clear: it’s never just fine.

“‘Fine’ is the ultimate indicator of apathy and discontent. ‘Fine’ means a standard is barely being met. ‘Fine’ means there’s the potential for something to be better. ‘Fine’ means there’s more to learn and dig into.”

Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team

When you hear “fine” – let it be a warning signal, especially when it is your own answer. Get curious and dig into why that’s your answer. If your situation is simply “fine”, what would it take to make it “good” or even “great”?

If it is truly “just fine” and there’s no opportunity for improvement, dare to ask yourself “why are you tolerating just fine?”

What are you avoiding that allows “fine” to be an acceptable answer? If your job is “just fine” or your relationship with your boss is “just fine”, or the feedback was that your work is “just fine” – what are you not willing to risk in order to go for great?

That other four letter “f” word comes to mind here: fear. Fear of stirring the proverbial pot? Fear of disappointing someone by speaking up? Fear of repercussions for speaking out about the sub-par situation? Fear of what the feedback might be if you ask for it?

What if, just hear me out, what if stirring the pot results in an improved relationship? What if the feedback allows you to become a better leader? What if speaking up results in positive change for you and others in the same predicament?

Let’s all agree: when “fine” comes up, don’t succumb to fear; find the f’ing courage to focus on finding a better answer. How’s that for using all my F words in one sentence?

What does it mean to live life on purpose?

I was sitting near a pond one day with no responsibility other than the book in my lap. As I paused to take in the landscape around me, I noticed this beautiful duck desperately dunking her head in the water over and over and over again. She paused ever so briefly to shake it off hardly skipping a beat. I sat and watched her, curious as to if there was a point in the experience. I began to time her and she didn’t move from her spot by the reeds and there was no obvious successful feat after 3 minutes of continuous dunking. What occurred to me in that moment: I was the duck. In my professional world, I was doing the same thing over and over and over with no clear purpose for my actions.

At the time I experienced the duck, I had been working with my executive coach for several months. The work we had done together, combined with witnessing the beautiful duck, gave me a powerful perspective: change was never going to happen unless I made the choice to change. If I stayed in the same professional place dunking my head in the water over and over and over – that was it. Without purpose, there was nothing more to gain.

What I also learned: the universe will keep showing up until the lesson needed is learned. As I look back, there were several presentations of this learning that I didn’t recognize at the time and I am grateful for the patience and persistence of the universe, of my executive coach, and those who deeply care for me as I took my time in my journey for professional purpose.

When we are stuck and feel constrained by our current situation, we develop a limiting perspective on our possibilities. We mistake stories for facts and we believe there is no other option than the path we are on. Choose again. And again. And again until the perspective is clear and your path changes.

Change is never easy, yet neither is insanity. If you are doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, you are Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. The difference between change and insanity is the potential for a different outcome. If you want to find more meaning in your career and to live your life on purpose, then don’t let the limiting belief of your current option paralyze you. Choose again. And again. And again until the right perspective emerges. And then have the courage to act.

Another limiting belief is that you must do it alone. Or that you’ve come to the end of your professional journey. Choose again. And again. And again. Invest in yourself, invest in your career, and hire a coach to help you navigate the uncharted waters. Or find an animal to imitate your motions and spur you into action.

5 Tips for Maintaining Confidence in your Job Search

Looking for a job is hard. Looking for a job that is fulfilling and purposeful is even harder. Add on the stress of unemployment or a toxic work environment and it can personify difficult emotions such as doubt, shame, and fear that negatively impact our confidence levels.

As professionals, we tend to side-step emotions, to ignore them and focus on action. When we ignore emotions, they tend to take control of our life. We constantly find ways to suppress the emotion or strategize around the emotion instead of using the emotion to fuel our action. Think about emotion as simply “energy in motion” (E-Motion): that energy needs to move through us or else it will continue to wreak havoc as pent up energy until we face it. Take a moment to understand your emotion and root into its origin, then you better understand yourself so you can translate the energy into action vs avoiding it like the plague (or perhaps COVID-19).

How do we identify, understand and use our emotions effectively to maintain confidence during a job search? Here are 5 strategies (pen and paper may be useful):

1. Recognize you have choice.

Often times, the lack of confidence or negative emotions come from an inner critic stating all the reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t do something. It is our “fight or flight” response system reacting to the possibility of change. When change is contemplated, the inner critic will alert us: “Danger!” Our inner critic’s sole focus is to keep us safe so it takes comfort in the known. No matter how bad it may be, known misery is safer than the unknown to our inner critic. The inner critic will often say or ask:

  • Why would they hire me?
  • I’m not good/worthy enough
  • How is my experience even relevant?
  • Others have better skills/more experience

Have you heard this before? Yea, me too. We are very critical of ourselves, especially when we are considering taking a leap out of our comfort zone. When approaching your inner critic, you have options. This power of choice is yours so use it in a way that best serves you (and remember, choice can sometimes be about what you are willing to do, not what you necessarily want to do):

  1. Ignore the inner critic. Warning: they are persistent if not addressed.
  2. Listen to the inner critic. Retreat, stop your pursuit of change.
  3. Face the inner critic. Get curious and learn what’s helpful for you.

2. Face the Inner Critic.

When we choose courage over comfort and we face our inner critic, we make a choice to prioritize what’s important. We allow our dreams to be bigger than our fears. Here are three ways to face your inner critic. Take that recommended pen and paper and brainstorm for a moment:

  • Personify it: who/what do you picture when this voice speaks up?
    • Does it take on a particular shape, color, object? Can you draw or name it?
  • Acknowledge it: what is the kernel of truth underneath the critic’s words?
    • It may be true that you are older/younger than the average applicant. Accept that fact and separate it from the stories like inadequacy, undesirable, etc.
  • Alternate perspective: listen for your inner ally’s whispers
    • What advantage does your additional time in the world or fresh perspective offer?

3. Know what is (and is not) in your control.

Now that we have a way to quiet the critic, another big way to find confidence is to focus on what you can control. Pen a paper again: make a list of those things in your control and out of your control in the job search. In my coaching philosophy we lean on both the “being” and the “doing” of ourselves. That is – who we are and what we do: the actions you can control as well as thoughts and emotions. Ideas: I can reach out to 3 people a day in my network. I can be mindful of my attitude when networking. I cannot control if a company or person in my network responds to my inquiry. I cannot control my company’s decision to lay-off workers.

Those items out of your control – set them aside for now. If you need help, create an accountability structure that can remind you when your focus strays to items on that list: a rubber band on the wrist to pop you back in focus, hang the side-by-side list in a visible location, a statue of your inner critic, a partner who (gently) calls out when they hear the inner critic chirping.

4. Know what you want to offer the world.

Often times we focus on what we have to offer and we forget to clarify what we want to offer. Just because you have done something successfully doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it when it no longer brings you joy. Alan Watts beautifully reminds us “you’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago.” Same is true for your career: you are under no obligation to keep doing the same things you’ve always done.

What do you want to do in your next role? In fact, write your own job description! Not sure how to do this? Grab that pad of paper again and make a list. If you are still employed, track your week in two columns: like and dislike. Get granular here: do you enjoy the meetings on your calendar? What specifically do you/don’t you enjoy? What about the interactions with colleagues and clients? What about communications like email, phone, instant messages? What about document preparation? If you are unemployed, focus on your current resume or LinkedIn profile and scratch out the items that no longer serve you and circle the items you greatly enjoy. What else? Think outside the box to what you enjoy recreationally or when interacting with friends.

What else? What would you like to do that has never been an opportunity in your current career? Get curious and look at job listings and borrow bullet points that intrigue you. Now what stands out about the like list? How do they transform into a role companies need?

5. Prepare for the meet & greet (aka interview).

When you get an interview – celebrate! Also, prepare. Have examples of successes, failures, learning opportunities, etc. Know your resume and your own values. Write down your values so they are present during your conversation.

What do you hope they won’t ask? Get ready for the questions you would rather avoid. Don’t worry, they are meant to make us squirm, so prepare for them. Not sure? Head over to MockQuestions – a great resource for this very step. Be prepared – and even if they don’t ask them – the confidence gained in planning for them will show in your other answers!

These are just a few steps you can take to maintain your confidence heading into a job search. Know that by committing to the search, you are committing to yourself and your happiness – that is a big deal! One last tip: give yourself grace. This is not easy and it takes mental fortitude. When the confidence starts waning, take a moment to reset – review the notes you took during this experience, take solace in your accountability structure(s) from #3 and choose courage over comfort.

What {almost} broke me.

With a title like that during a time like this, one might assume the pandemic is what {almost} pushed me over the edge. While the experience of COVID-19 has been hard, I made a conscious choice to use it as an opportunity to focus on silver linings. I am able to do so because of what {almost} broke me long before the pandemic started. Here’s my story. My hope in sharing this now is that if you’re {almost} broken, my story will give you the courage to take that first step towards change.

In the height of my broken-ness I beamed full-teeth smiles when I heard “we couldn’t survive without you” and “thank you for saving the day” and “yes, you are right!” These words of affirmation meant I was helping others, I was important, I was validated. It meant I really could be everything to everyone. I could do it all!

In the quest to do it all, to be everything to everyone, I made an assumption. We all know what we get when we assume, right? Ass-u-me. That’s right, you and me reveal our worst selves. I made an assumption that if everyone around me was happy, especially if they were happy with me, then I would be happy. So when I wasn’t happy and those around me were happy with my efforts – what was wrong? And the question I was asking myself was “what is wrong with me?”

At that time, I was the Vice President of a consulting firm where I was making a positive impact on non-profit organizations – I was interacting with C-level executives and leaders at all levels who told me I was implementing change that was meaningful and worthy. I was on the Senior Leadership Team of a growing company. I was managing a side business to feed my passion. I was sitting on the board of three organizations helping my community grow. I was hosting dinner parties and going on weeknight and weekend adventures with my husband and daughters. My husband and I had a weekly babysitter for date nights and nights with friends. I even planned a retirement party in Cabo for my father. I was doing it all! And I was miserable.

I decided it was time to take a look at who I was. Not just who I was to others – who I am and who I desire to be. This exercise was not something I knew how to do on my own so I took a leap of faith and elicited help from a coach. Help I paid for. Something else I had never done – invested money in myself with no clear guarantee as to what that money would get me (i.e. by the end of our time together you will have a new job doing xyz). I had to trust that the unknown opportunity was worth more than the known misery.

My criteria was simple: a coach who specializes in women in leadership. There was nothing else I had to go on. I didn’t even ask for references – I took her website testimonials as proof enough that she was capable of helping me. After our initial discussion, there was an inner voice telling me she could guide me through this journey. Perhaps it was her articulation of my exact stuck statement or her recommendation of a podcast that stopped me in my tracks (literally, I was running in the park and stopped abruptly causing the person behind me to mutter a few four letter words at me), or her explanation of why baby birds leave the nest (spoiler: it involves poop). “It doesn’t matter,” my gut told me, “go for it.” And for the first time in a long time, I set aside my brain and the rational argument that without a guarantee, the investment wasn’t worth it, and said yes to investing in myself.

Let’s be clear though: it took 4 more conversations for me to actually listen to my gut. This is important because I see it all the time as a coach now. I see other women, right there, on the cusp of choosing differently for the first time in their lives. To choose themselves. Ladies: it was worth every single dime. The accountability. The perspective shift. The inner reflection. It changed my life in a positive way and I couldn’t have achieved that level of clarity and life purpose without the guidance of a trained professional.

What I learned with my first coach: in my quest to do it all, I wasn’t being. That’s it – there’s nothing more to that sentence. We are human beings, not human doers. In order to understand how to find my personal joy, I had to know myself fully.

The specifics:

1. Listen to your instincts. At some point early on in our lives, we are conditioned to push aside our intuition, that gut feeling that comes from deep inside. We rationalize that our brain, our learned knowledge, is more powerful than our intuition, our born wisdom.

2. There’s a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a reaction to experiences. Seeing your child walk for the first time. Getting a well earned promotion. Staying up until 2am to finish that book that was SO good. Happiness comes and goes based on factors largely outside of our control. Joy comes from within. Joy is a choice outside of circumstance. Joy is being confident in and curious about your journey.

3. To live a fulfilling, joyful life, you must first understand what fulfills you. So simple that you need to define the very thing you desire. It went a little something like this:
Me: I want a fulfilled life.
Coach: What fulfills you?
Me: I don’t know.
Coach: well that’s the reason your current life is not fulfilling.

Alright so, Step #1: determine what fulfills me. Seems so obvious yet this step was arguably the most daunting. Once you understand your innermost values – what lights you up at the core of your being – then everything else becomes clear. I will admit, this process was extremely uncomfortable for me. I thought I knew who I was. I was a person who desires deep connection with those around me. I was a person who desires to make an impact on this world. Those are two admirable desires but what is at the core?
Coach: Tell me, Karen, what is your definition of deep connection?
Coach: Tell me more about the impact you desire to make.
Me: Crickets.

These questions were not intended to belittle my goals, they were intended to clarify them. I learned that deep connection (for me) was not about diving into one’s innermost secrets – it was about being fully present with the people around me. When I stopped searching for the most vulnerable question I could get someone to answer, I started to take joy in the present moment. I experienced, first hand, a deeper connection with my family at Thanksgiving during a passionate debate on the best pie filling than I ever experienced by asking about their biggest challenge at work. It’s not the content – it’s the people. Bingo.

For me, it wasn’t about the value I added to the strategic plan of an organization or the contribution to the profitability of the company. It was about the connection to the individuals. The client struggling with imposter syndrome yet knew the change that would transform the team’s effectiveness. The employee who wanted to pivot into a new role that was outside of their current expertise. The nanny (yes, the young woman who came into my home to care for my daughter while I worked) who wanted to be a first generation college student in her family. That’s the change I wanted to empower.

These conversations didn’t happen because I asked about the upcoming deadline or what the schedule looked like next week. They happened because I took an interest in the present experience. “What made you laugh today?” – or – “You seemed unusually quiet today, what’s on your mind?”

This is just one example of how I shifted my perspective. I was correct that I value deep connection. It was the shift in definition of “deep” that drastically impacted my life. Small shifts have seismic level impact. The shift wasn’t just professional either. By clarifying my personal values I gave myself permission to be one person. I stopped being a marionette doll plopped down into different scenarios and acting accordingly. No more work Karen, wife Karen, friend Karen, mom Karen, etc. I am simply Karen. Karen who values present moment connection and empowering others to use courage until confidence shows up. Whether that is coaching my toddler to ride her pedal bike, coaching a leader how to define their leadership style, or advising my employees as the CEO of a non-profit organization, my focus is the same: you are naturally creative, resourceful and whole.

Did this hit home? Perhaps you have a similar “is it me?” feeling. If the boxes are all checked yet something is still not quite right; if you desire help in gaining the type of clarity that will allow you to live your most fulfilling life, help is available. No more strong arming or box checking alone. There’s no better time than right now to prioritize yourself.

How and Why To Set Clear Expectations

The other day, my toddlers asked me if they could help me with chores. Yes! The answer is always yes to this question! I was restocking the toilet paper in our downstairs bathroom so I handed them each a roll and asked them to please restock their bathroom. I later went into their bathroom to find the two new rolls on the holder and the partial roll on the windowsill. Not exactly how I would have restocked the toilet paper.

Often times, we get frustrated when something doesn’t go exactly how we envisioned and we tend to blame the person delivering the work rather than examining the expectations we set. One of my favorite quotes from Brene Brown (and there are many) is “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” Rather than assuming my three and four year olds knew what “restock the bathroom” meant, I could have asked them to “please put the toilet paper rolls underneath the sink”. That would have given them clear guidelines for how I expected them to restock the bathroom rather than leaving room for interpretation.

During our COVID crisis, it is more important than ever to examine how we communicate expectations. Whether we are adjusting to a remote work scenario or online school, or we are learning how to be with our family members 24/7 or we haven’t seen another human being in days, we are all navigating a new normal. When we are out of our personal routines, we are more susceptible to missing the unspoken details. To mitigate frustration and avoid telling stories about what is happening around us or to us – let’s commit to clear and timely communication.

Think about a time where you asked someone to do something and when they delivered, your response was “this is not what I expected.” Perhaps you asked someone to lead a meeting at work or you requested someone draft up documentation for a client. When reflecting back, did you offer clear expectations for the task at hand?

Here are four questions to ensure your communication is clear:

  • Did I state what done looks like?
  • Did I give a timeline for delivery?
  • Did I provide context for why this is a priority?
  • Did I say thank you?

That last question isn’t about clear nor timely communication, it’s about clear and timely gratitude, something we could all use a little more of these days, even before our work is done.

Let’s put it into action:
“Will you lead our requirements gathering call on Friday?”

A few more details set you up for greater success:
“Will you lead our training requirements gathering call on Friday? The client has new team members and recently rolled out new product features to their network. Will you draft an agenda and send to the attendees on Wednesday morning so they come prepared to talk about their needs? After the call, will you send a recap of topics for them to approve? Thank you for leading this!”

Remember, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” It’s a simple motto with big results.

Taking Control of our Uncertainty

We’ve made it two weeks. Two weeks of COVID-19 quarantine with two small toddlers and two meeting-heavy careers that are not slowing down. First, we are thankful for our beautiful life, the opportunity to love our daughters deeply and to both continue working (and collecting two paychecks).

Now that we have acknowledged that, we can also admit it is hard. It is a juggling act to ensure we are taking care of ourselves, our daughters, and each other while also making sure our colleagues, clients and bosses are served as well. As we move into the 3rd week of quarantine, we are going to attempt to establish a more consistent routine by using a technique called “block scheduling”. Read below to see how we got here. Also, I have sprinkled real-life captures of quarantine life throughout this post for your enjoyment!

Part of my professional expertise is in change management which means I move people’s cheese a lot and then help them settle into their new normal. Let me be clear, this in no way means I am comfortable when my own cheese gets moved. It does mean I have the skills to manage change should I choose to use them.

After two weeks, it’s time to use those skills. Why now? Because the first two weeks of any major change is about observation, instinct and grace. Then it’s time for action.

  • Observe the situation and take note of what is and is not working.
  • Use your instinct to react to each experience and don’t be afraid to use the S.T.O.P. mindfulness technique to manage heightened emotions.
  • Offer a lot of grace to yourself and everyone you interact with as we are all navigating this new routine (a.k.a. we will get a lot of things wrong as we adjust to our new “normal”…and that’s to be expected and perfectly normal).

My husband and I learned a lot through this 2 week observation. We determined we are exhausted and ready to find a routine that is more sustainable than our initial chaos of COVID-19 quarantine. What we learned:

  • Saying thank you for even the most normal help is important to remind one another we are grateful for each other’s efforts (taking out the trash, cooking, calming down a toddler tantrum).
  • An hour by hour handoff schedule is not conducive for being effective at work.
  • Our daughters do better with free time during breakfast with an activity around 9am that includes undivided attention from one of us.
  • 2pm is the right time for quiet time. Putting the girls on separate couches (on separate floors of the house) is our best chance for success.
  • One of us taking the girls on an hour (or longer) walk in the early afternoon allows the other to have a silent house for a brief moment (and we trade off days).
  • Bribery is allowed (candy, screen time, presents – it’s all allowed).
  • My husband is better at reading and science experiments and I am better at arts and crafts activities.

Now it’s time to put our learning into action.

Let me be clear, it is never easy to open our minds to being ready to take action. For us, it took little nudges of both encouragement and frustration to indicate we were both ready to discuss our options. Once we acknowledged we were ready to talk openly, we did a few things on Friday morning to prepare for our change:

  • We got up a touch earlier and did a 15 minute, online yoga class together (small changes, big impact).
  • We talked afterwards and determined the biggest desire on both sides was finding a schedule that allows us to be intentional and focused in our given roles (parent, employee, spouse, human).
  • We agreed on an approach where both of us would attempt to adjust our calendars to block out chunks of time for work and parenting.

First tip: understanding we likely will fail initially as we try different techniques and that is ok as long as we fail fast and fail forward.

Next week we are trying our block schedule technique. In theory, this will help us know when we can schedule meetings, help us know when we will be able to get non-phone call work completed and also when we are free to build forts, go on walks and complete art and science projects.

The tactical step we took on Friday to prepare for this week was pulling up our weekly calendars together and determining our overlap in meetings and where each of us might be able to adjust to accommodate the schedule.

We tried to start with Monday and that proved difficult. So we moved to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday where it was easier to identify clear blocks of time. Once our creative juices were flowing, we went back to Monday and were able to each find a meeting or two that we could adjust. Then, we decided Friday was going to be open for what each of us may need in order to wrap up our weeks.

I cannot promise this approach will work, but I can assure you it feels really good to have a plan to try. One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill and feels very appropriate right now:

Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan.

Winston Churchill

Stay tuned to see how this approach provides us a bit of sanity during these uncertain and hectic times and where we fail forward and make adjustments to find the right new normal.

Small habits, big Impact

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have an unwavering need for an immediate result. In a professional setting, we call this a “quick win” or “low hanging fruit”. My husband calls it my “pressure washer impact”.

There was a day, back in my 20s, when I just needed a win. I was grieving the recent loss of my mom, who battled ALS for 3 hard years. My coping mechanism was to give everything I had to work. I had secured an amazing opportunity for our start-up, dipping our toes into a new market. After hiring additional resources to complete the project, it suddenly fell through for reasons completely out of our control. Even so, it left me feeling deflated and also created a plausible scenario where we wouldn’t make payroll the following month. Welcome to start-up life. Like I said, I needed a “quick win”; something on my to do list that I could not only check off, but also consider measurably impactful. It was a Sunday afternoon, right after my birthday. I remember this because it was Superbowl Sunday and I chose to pressure wash our back porch and fence instead of sit on the couch and eat guacamole.

The smooth, fluid motion of the wand and the hard lines of progress offered me the gratification I needed to feel like I could still accomplish something. The sore muscles the next day and the beautifully bright pine color of the wood reminded me of my hard work and accomplishment.

When we desire change, we often seek out grand gestures and lofty goals. We adopt the “hard work pays off” mentality. I am going to meditate every day for a month; cut out all <sugar, carbs, alcohol, meat> from our diet; get 5 new clients in Q1; quit my job and live off the land.

In reality, hard work only pays off if it’s effective. If you suddenly decide you want to get in shape – going to the gym for 8 hours straight is certainly considered hard work, but you aren’t going to experience the change you desire. We need to seek change that is challenging and also sustainable. After all if it doesn’t challenge you, it is not going to change you. Same is true that if it’s not sustainable, it will not change you.

One change I made last year: incorporated the 6-minute miracle morning by Hal Elrod into my daily life. I knew I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get up hours earlier so it had to be short to be sustainable. The original routine is an hour long but Hal knows there are people out there just like me who need something a bit more…efficient to be effective. Spend 1 minute doing each of the following:

This year, I have adjusted the last “S” to be “Spanish” and use Duolingo in hopes to become a bit more fluent. I will admit, some days I only “SAVE” the day. Other days might be a SAVER or SAVES morning. Grace is my favorite offering these days – to myself and to others. My morning routine goal is to consistently dedicate at least the first 5 minutes of every morning to myself.

The impact my morning routine has had on my life has been instrumental in my growth over the last year. I have become more focused, less triggered by annoyances, more open-minded and patient. It has given me the clarity and encouragement to find other ways to improve myself and my habits. I have done additional work around identifying my core values and defining who I want to be in the world so it’s had a snowball effect on my personal development!

What is a small, daily habit you can put in place that will build a foundation of lasting impact?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Walk around the block 1x a day
  • Reach out to one friend a day to say “hello”
  • Set a “drink water” reminder on your phone
  • Choose a salad instead of fries
  • Daily Duolingo
  • Meet for a park walk instead of coffee chat
  • Stand during 1 meeting everyday
  • Review tomorrow’s calendar as your last item of the day
  • Compliment one person
  • 6-minute Miracle Morning!

Want help with finding ways to build a foundation of lasting impact? You have so much potential (you know that, I know that) and sometimes you need a hand in navigating how to make your desired impact. I am offering that hand to you. If you desire a sincere, authentic, and graceful partner to help you, contact me today to start your journey! Your first discovery call is free!

How to do Hard Things.

When talking about conquering hard things, I never understood the metaphor “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

The earliest citing for this phrase is from 1945 in a book called An Introduction to Industrial Statistics and Quality Control By Paul Peach.

The job may be lengthy, but, in the words of the great Kung Fu Tze, a man can eat an elephant if need be, one bite at a time.

Admittedly, elephant eating is difficult for me to relate to. When talking about difficult challenges, my favorite reminder comes from St. Francis of Assisi:

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. 

When conquering difficult feats, even those thought to be impossible, it is important for me to have a plan. Afterall, Winston Churchill stated “Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even should they rarely stick to their plan.” Here’s my plan of action when asked to do hard things:

  1. State my vision
  2. Set my goals to carry out my vision
  3. Set milestones to work towards each goal
  4. Celebrate the milestones and goals
  5. Pause for reflection briefly yet often
  6. Positive self talk
  7. Find tribe mates with positive self talk
  8. Know what me and my tribe mates need in times of struggle
  9. Listen to those ahead of me and beside me in my journey
  10. Trust my gut and my gear/tools

I found my elephant.

I recently came back from celebrating my 10 year wedding anniversary in Argentina…kid free. My husband and I planned the perfect combination of our mutual and individual interests. We started with a night in Buenos Aires exploring the city, followed by a 4 day hut-to-hut trek in Bariloche, finished with 5 days wine tasting in Mendoza.

My elephant story begins as we approach the trekking portion of our itinerary. With a backdrop of the Andes and a glacier lake at our feet, we literally plunge into the laguna with the excitement you would expect from two tired parents, alleviated from any responsibility for 14 days. It was freezing yet invigorating! Our guide, Martin, stopped by that night to go over the details of our trek which started the next morning. He let us know day one would be easy, day two medium and days three and four were the hardest. He turned around to a floor to ceiling window, pointed to a giant mountain, and said “we will conquer her on our last day.” He then assured us “each day we have options so no worries!” Clue #1 there was an elephant in my future.

Refugio Emilio Frey

The next morning we set off in Patagonia. The views, the wildflowers, the history lessons – perfecto! Martin was spectacular. His joy was contagious in his whistling and ease of sharing his wisdom of the world around us. He was right in Day 1 being relatively easy: 5 hours of hiking through forest, up zig zag trails of mountain rock and passing over waterfalls. We came to our first refugio and there were enough smiles, hot tea, macha and cafe con leche to share that overcame all language barriers amongst fellow trekkers.

Day 2 was accurately described as more difficult than day 1. It is humbling to realize you are the anchor of the group and the pace is set on your stride. This is why it’s important to surround yourself with tribe mates who are interested in supporting you through hard things. At one point, while taking a break, my husband unknowingly captured my mental state when snagging a panoramic view of our landscape. When he asked “are you having a good time?” I replied with a curt “sometimes” and he gracefully offered me the space and silence I needed to work through some of the internal gremlins telling me I was not capable of conquering the mountains ahead of us.

We reached our second refugio and I quickly retreated into the private room Martin secured for us (have I mentioned Martin is awesome?). This is where I defined my plan for conquering the trek.

  1. Vision: Hike Patagonia
  2. Goal: 4 days / 3 nights hut to hut trek
  3. Milestones: Red dot trail markers
  4. Celebrate: Look up, find the next dot, put one foot in front of the other. Future dots are not your concern. One dot at a time.
  5. Pause: turn around and look at what you just accomplished!
  6. Positive Self-talk: “I can do hard things. I am strong, capable and brave”
  7. Tribe mates: Kyle and Martin.
  8. Support: “You’re doing great.” “I am proud of you.” “This is hard for me too.” “You are capable of tomorrow.” “Perfect.” “Muy bien!”
  9. Advice: Use your pole. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Lead with your heel. Use your whole foot. Bend your knees.
  10. Gut and Gear: I am shorter, therefore my steps are smaller and that is ok. Commit to my breathing technique to slow my heart rate and clear my mind. Use gloves even if no one else is. Your shoes were meant for this terrain – trust their grip.

I confessed to Kyle that I was not confident in my abilities to do two days of “hard” when a day of “medium” was hard for me. He listened, related to my fears and assured me I was capable. Next, we spoke with Martin and I went to bed optimistic for our 10-hour trek the next day.

At breakfast, the Buenos Aires couple who had been following our same path reacted with wide eyes and whistles when we said we were headed to Laguna Negro. And not the joyous whistles of Martin. The “better you than me” whistle under your breath kind. Normally this inspires me to know others find my goals far-fetched. Not this time since I was already battling the gremlin of insecurity in my trekking capabilities.

Onward we went.

The morning started with a hike around one laguna to another and then some light rock climbing up to leftover snow from the previous winter. We anticipated the winds to pick up but not to the degree they came nor the sideways rain that accompanied. To go with our amped up weather came serious rock scrambling. While confident in my abilities, I really started to question our decision making skills. Why would we choose to free climb up a mountain when our two small kids depended on us to make it home safely…and in one piece? Why did we willingly put ourselves in a situation where one misstep could lead to a fatal plummet onto the rocks below? Enter: my (dramatic) elephant.

My vision of hiking Patagonia was blocked by an elephant of desperation and concern for making it home safely. While my confidence was wavering on my abilities the day before, it was not my lack of confidence that caused the elephant to appear. It was the fear of not making it home safely that altered my perspective of the goals and milestones required to make it to Laguna Negro. That fear turned a challenging adventure into an elephant.

Now I understood. No one wakes up one day and decides they want to eat an elephant. The elephant in not the vision, it is the fear, magnificent and daunting, standing between you and your vision. So how do you eat the elephant that stands between you and your vision? One bite at a time. So how did I eat my elephant? Follow the plan:

Spot the next red dot trail marker and focus solely on the one ahead. Use my poles, wear my gloves and trust my shoes – they are all tools to help me succeed.

Positive self talk and great tribe mates. “I am capable of hard things. I am brave. I can do this.” Kyle and Martin were incredible. From verbal reassurance to outstretched hands to even guiding me through a dislocated knee 4 hours into the 10 hour day.
We did it!

Our elephant bites included uphill rock climbing, sliding down a snow field, windy ridge lines, crossing waterfalls, downhill rock climbing, marsh crossings, and miles and miles of beautiful, even if daunting, Patagonia terrain.

With about 2 miles remaining, Kyle stopped me and pointed out Cerro Catedral, where we ended day 1. To see how far we’d come was what I needed to take a few more bites and endure the final uphill trek to Laguna Negro. With about a mile to go and “the windiest part”, Martin says “there she is!” and low and behold the little red Refugio Italia in all of her glory stood before us. We were there. The elephant was gone and we were almost “home”.
That night, we celebrated with a bottle of wine by candlelight swapping stories with Martin of adventures of raising toddlers and previous life experiences.

I chose not to take off my compression pants that night as the pain from dislocating my knee seemed to be at bay. We opted for the 14 km hike into Colonia Suissa rather than tackling Cerro Lopez for our final day. We were rewarded with the trail literally ending into Berlina Patagonia Brewery where we high-fived and toasted to a wonderful experience while awaiting our ride back to Bariloche. There was no elephant to be seen.

Moral of my story: Good gear, solid tribe mates and a positive mindset can overcome any elephant that stands in your way of accomplishing hard things. One bite at a time.

Order your future, don’t recount your past.

When you are ready for a change, it’s easy to reflect back on your past to find happiness from previous experiences and try to replicate that for the future. When searching for what’s next professionally, I challenge you to take a different approach. Before finding a career that inspires you, it may sound simple, but it is important to understand what inspires you.

When researching this topic, I started to really contemplate the difference between seeking happiness vs. seeking joy. The most succinct explanation I found was from Compassion International. Their mission is Christian-based though the explanation of joy vs happiness is applicable to all:

Happiness depends on external factors to exist. Happiness happens to us. Even though we may seek it, desire it, pursue it, etc., feeling happiness is not a choice we make. Joy, on the other hand, is a choice purposefully made. Joy is an attitude of the heart and spirit, present inside of us as an untapped reservoir of potential.

Simply put: Happiness happens to us, Joy is a choice we make. When I looked back, I noticed two common areas where happiness existed for me:

  • After a positive interaction with other people (family, friends, clients and colleagues alike)
  • When I prioritized myself (going for a solo run, making it to the gym, time at the spa, choosing a book over social media)

It took me months to identify the underlying joy that connected these two areas of happiness for me: focusing on the human connection, not the task at hand. The realization was that joy (for me) is in the intentional focus on people. Once I identified my joy, my world opened up.

I no longer obsessed over the tasks I performed at my job, trying to warp together some sense of an a la carte job description. I replaced that exercise with focusing on in-the-moment interactions with those around me, myself included. I stopped trying to force deep meaning to the interaction and started enjoying the experience of intentional time being spent. By focusing on my joy rather than my happiness, I radically changed my life. I also ordered up my future because I had clarity in what I wanted to offer the world.

When pivoting into a career that inspires you: order your future, don’t recount your past. If you don’t want to keep doing what you’ve done, then stop telling people what you’ve done and tell them what you want to do. What does that look like?

  1. Don’t let your resume/LinkedIn be a laundry list of things you have done in the past; highlight how your past represents your desired future.
  2. Write your own job description (here’s mine: “The Role Every Company Needs“)

When doing this exercise, it helps to be clear about what you want in your future. You need to understand your core values that will support you purposefully choosing joy. Focus on what’s inside of you that connects all of your past happiness together. This will point you in the right direction to find a career that inspires you and supports experiencing true joy in the workplace, not just fleeting happiness.

If you want help in identifying your core values, let’s get started!

My Thoughts on Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Yesterday, my darling daughters fell asleep in the car. So I sat in a parking lot for an hour and finished listening to Dare to Lead by Brené Brown.

First, let’s give some major credit to both toddlers for taking a double nap and offering me a little quiet time! I will accept this gift anytime/anywhere, even a restaurant parking lot. Double win: the extra hour meant dad got to meet us for dinner!

Second, I cannot encourage you enough to read or listen to this book right now if you seek tips for authenticity in your life.

Here are 7 of my noteworthy takeaways. I’m not going to give lengthy explanations on why they felt worthy of writing down, I just want to offer a glimpse into the brilliance just enough to get you to start it today (seriously, today!).

  1. A challenge to live B.I.G. with boundaries, integrity and generosity
  2. Choose courage over comfort- the discomfort lasts 8 seconds. It’s like riding a bull.
  3. 10 “rumble tools” to offer daring leadership vs armored leadership (I have already experienced change by using these!)
  4. 8 quick to spot signs I am ready to give sincere, productive feedback and 6 genuine tips for receiving feedback well (again, already seeing change!)
  5. Silence is not brave leadership – be brave enough to say I see you and I hear you. I don’t have all the answers but I will walk with you.
  6. Allow people to have feelings without taking responsibility for those feelings. Making space for people to feel what they feel doesn’t include punishing or taking care of them through those feelings.
  7. I am not your map maker, I am a fellow traveler and I am going down this path with you.

I have a lot more takeaways written down for reference as I go forth and Dare to Lead with vulnerability, courage, curiosity and intention to be the change I wish to see today. Don’t be surprised if they show up sprinkled throughout future posts!

If you’ve read it too, what are some of your noteworthy takeaways?

PS – these two are just the cutest! After their car nap and restaurant dinner, we came home and baked after-Christmas cookies together!

The Role Every Company Needs

According to Gallup, 87% of employees are disengaged with their work. Combine that with the fact that the average employee has less than 2 hours per month to devote to training yet state 16 hours per month is needed to stay current, it is not surprising that over 41 million people voluntarily left their jobs in 2018 according to the Work Institute. That’s 27 out of 100 employees and an 88% increase from 2010. In 2020, tack on a global pandemic requiring a new work from home setup, parents managing online school or homeschool, others fighting off loneliness and employee engagement is in crisis.

As a leader, does this resonate with you? These facts are important because not only is it expensive to lose and replace an employee, it is disruptive for colleagues and clients to experience the loss and transition. For 6 figure roles, it is estimated to cost a company up to 213% to lose an employee due to lost revenue, lost productivity, recruiting, training, and compensation to replace that individual.

Employee engagement, retention and satisfaction drive client engagement, retention and satisfaction. The best way to focus on your clients is to focus on your employees. This makes sense yet when I sought out to see what other companies were doing with respect to retention across both areas, it shocked me to realize that the job market is largely divided. You have Engagement Officers who focus on your clients and their experience with your products and services. Then you have People Officers who are an evolution of your HR team to recruit and retain the best performers in your industry. But what about someone who is in charge of the strategy to ensure the growth and development of your employees is in line with the ever-changing market needs of your clients?

I have spent some time defining the role of Chief Retention Officer. This role will wrap their arms around both aspects of business development by understanding consumer needs and interpersonal expectations of your clients and aligning that with the growth, engagement and development plan for employees. This role is expected to regularly interact with clients and employees and lead the company’s strategic initiative to collaborate across business lines to ensure company growth is aligned in both disciplines. Here’s the job description:

Top Priorities of a Chief Retention Officer:

  • Ensure the company functions as a highly coached, lightly managed, high-performing team
  • Safeguard client partnerships through strategic initiatives that link employee growth to client needs
  • Uphold company values by ensuring all decisions, interactions and communications link back to the values of the company

Employee Retention

  • Cultivate the relationship between leadership and employees by building an employee-centric work environment that focuses on putting the right people in the right jobs to allow the individual and company to realize their full potential
  •  Create and execute an employee retention strategy that focuses on transparency in how company values directly influence client engagement and employee development initiatives
  • Implement learning and development programs to build leadership skills and critical technical competencies to support company values and strategic initiatives as well as employee career and competency development.
  • Ensure managers are equipped with the soft skills required to have candid, collaborative conversations with employees that strengthen relationships, strive towards professional growth, and solve small problems before they become larger ones that drive great people out the door
  • Create a bidirectional feedback and recognition environment that encourages leadership at all levels through collaborative communication

Client Retention

  • Leverage the latest market trends to champion forward-thinking initiatives that align company growth and employee development opportunities
  • Establish a long-term client retention program that prioritizes existing clients and creates mechanisms for quantifying the cost saving of the effort
  • Uphold strategy to ensure employee skill sets and expertise continue to satisfy evolving customer needs based on market analysis and trends
  •  Liaise with all internal departments to identify and resolve escalated, recurring client satisfaction issues and determine company approach to long term resolution through employee development initiatives

While I mention that the job market is largely divided, our trusty friends at HBR wrote a fantastic article about this mash-up role in June 2019 titled “Why Every Company Needs a Chief Experience Officer.” Same concept, different title.

The poison of “yea, but”

Have you ever wanted something and then talked yourself out of it by using a “yea, but” phrase? It goes a little something like this:

“I would like a raise.”

Yea, but they probably won’t give it to me because I’ve only worked here a year.”

– or –

“I want to learn how to play the piano.”

Yea, but that’s a lot of practice time and I’m too old to learn something new.”

Why do we countermand our own goals? My assumption is this self-critic tactic is a way to avoid failure. If we immediately invalidate our ability to accomplish the goal, then we can avoid failure by never even trying. What’s worse than the fear of failure? Actual failure?

I disagree.

What’s worse than the fear of failure? Never knowing if you could have succeeded.

I learned a great trick from Martha Beck, the author of “Steering by Starlight” when it comes to tackling our “Yea, but” statements (she brilliantly labeled them “Stuck Statements”).

First you need to identify your Stuck Statement:

I see myself helping others achieve their professional goals, but I haven’t yet achieved my own so I can’t.

See the but in there? Well, as long as you’re sitting on that but(t), you can’t move forward. Martha says “Yea, but” statements are like mental cockroaches who can multiply and survive the most intense attempt at dismantling them. How’s that for motivation to stop thinking these thoughts?

Our mind is meant to protect us and these “Yea, but” statements are our mind’s attempt to preserve the safety net built by avoiding failure. Sort of like nature’s way of protecting a chameleon by allowing it to blend in with its surroundings. Stay in the safe zone, don’t be noticed by others, and you can protect yourself from danger. Trouble is: you are shielding yourself from greatness.

Now that you have your stuck statement, let’s add a stopper between your goal and the stalemate to help identify the fear behind the “Yea, but” so we can work to dismantle it. The template sounds a little awkward by itself but when applied to a specific scenario, it flows nicely.

“I am choosing not to have X because I believe Y is a problem. My true nature can have X because it knows Y is not the problem, my beliefs are.”

What does this look like for my “Yea, but” statement:

I am choosing not to help others achieve their professional goals because I believe I haven’t yet achieved my own. My true nature can help others achieve their goals but it is my belief that I have to have it all figured out in order for others to trust I can help them do the same.

It’s such a simple adjustment in our words and thoughts that help us recognize that our goals are not too big or too grand or too soon – it is just the fear of failure that makes us believe that. By identifying the roadblock fear, we can work to remove it from our path to accomplish our goals and become the version of ourselves we see in our dreams!

Ditch Your Story

Ask anyone who knows me and they will agree that I seek personal connection wherever I can. Not surprising, when I attended a seminar led by my client, CraftedLeadership, on conflict resolution, the subject resonated with me. We talked about and worked through our tendency, as humans, to allow our emotions and perceptions to distort facts when dealing with conflict. This impacts our ability to resolve conflict in a way that allows for deeper connection with those you are in conflict with.

As we discussed confronting our counterpart in a particular conflict, we first had to determine the difference between fact and story when analyzing the situation. There is an important distinction between what our mind tells us is happening versus what is actually happening.

When completing this exercise, we were asked to write out the facts of a particular situation where we experienced conflict with another person. Then a few brave souls stood in front of a room of 150+ strangers and shared their situation. Guess what? Distinguishing fact and story is not as easy as it seems. Here are the definitions provided by Crafted Leadership:

  • Fact: measurable results or behaviors. Easy way to gut check: what a video camera or audio recording would capture.
  • Story: opinions, beliefs, judgements, interpretations. Easy way to gut check: what could be argued by others.

Give it a try: My colleague is angry with me.

Fact or Story? Story. Fact: my colleague didn’t speak during our team meeting.

See the difference? The story you are telling yourself is your colleague is angry with you because they did not speak during the team meeting. You can try and interpret the reasons why your colleague did not speak (a.k.a. your story), but what a camera would have captured is that your colleague did not speak during the meeting.

We went on to discuss a collaborative approach to managing conflict and I went home and thought about it. I documented times where my emotions created a story that I mistook for fact and I started to notice it more. At home. At work. With friends.

Then, I evolved my connection with storytelling to positively impact relationships instead of sabotage them. I came up with a way to turn my story into steps for resolution. So, let’s ditch the stories we tell ourselves, and turn them into steps for conflict resolution:

S – State the Facts

T – Tell your Feelings

O – Own up to your Story

R – Request Change

Y – Yield to Sincerity

Let’s go back to the colleague I mentioned earlier. You’ve been fretting over the fact that they didn’t speak during the status call and you’ve come up with all sorts of reasons ranging from not liking the work you recently delivered to being upset with you for interrupting them during a previous meeting to even the fact that you didn’t ask about their recent vacation before launching into work talk. You’ve spiraled into the storytelling deep end.  Let’s ditch the story and work through our S.T.O.R.Y. steps to script to approach our colleague:

Hey Sam, (S) I noticed you didn’t speak during our status call today. (T) I am feeling as if you might be upset with me though (O) I recognize I don’t have a clear reason why I feel this way. (R) Would you share why you weren’t as collaborative as you normally are? (Y) If there’s anything I’ve done or an outside factor I’m not considering, I would love to better understand the situation.

While this is not fool proof, nor easy, being sincere with how you approach someone and open about your part in the perceived conflict as well as your desired outcome(s), you offer a safe place for open dialogue and reduce the risk of your counterpart becoming defensive or unwilling to resolve the situation (letting go of the desire to control their reaction is another life skill to consider for a different time).

Need another example? I discovered one I think we can all relate to: you’re sitting in traffic and someone cuts you off. They are a jerk, right? Perhaps, though we don’t know anything about the driver’s character. The camera only captured the fact that they cut you off. Instead of the story that they are being a jerk, perhaps they need to urgently get somewhere and they need to yield to their normal law-abiding ways to get to the situation that awaits them at their destination. Haven’t we all been the person who cut someone off before? I bet you wouldn’t classify yourself as a jerk, though cutting someone off is a jerk move. Sitting in traffic is a perfect time to practice your S.T.O.R.Y. steps. Certainly better than road rage!

While you won’t likely confront your traffic buddy, when you do desire to talk with someone you’re in conflict with, practice first by writing out your S.T.O.R.Y. steps to get comfortable with the structure. Then, use that to guide the discussion. Before you know it, your natural dialogue will steer you towards identifying facts and requesting change in a way that encourages open communication and positive conflict resolution.

If you’re looking to dive in deeper to conflict resolution or other common leadership topics, let’s chat!

For reading materials on conflict resolution, I encourage you to take a look at Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking when Stakes are High. Taking emotional intelligence and intuition to the next level, Never Split the Difference gives you the competitive edge in any discussion.

How to improve your decision-making

The etymology behind certain words can be very telling and the word “decision” holds a lot of weight when broken down. Take a look:

  • The Latin word decisionem is the past-participle stem of decidere which means “to decide, determine”
  • Broken down by root: de (off) + caedere (to cut) literally means “to cut off”

When you say you are going to “cut off” a particular choice, it makes the act of deciding feel very absolute. Take it one step further:

  • The root “caedere” is shared by “decide” and “homicide” which mean “to cut off” and “to kill” respectively.

That loss looms especially large when you are met with indecision or decision fatigue. So how do we face decisions head-on?

Know yourself and what works for you.

Timing is critical with decision-making. This is seen with alarming consequence in a study of Isreali parole boards. Parole hearings early in the morning or right after a (food) break received more favorable judgement than those later in the afternoon or further from a break. Fascinating!

Conversely, a colleague of mine approaches his day by first tidying up his to do list of the small items, clearing the way and his mind, for the biggest tasks and decisions in the afternoon.

Timing is a big influencer in decision-making and when we are not in our peak, our brain looks for shortcuts such as:

  • act impulsively to avoid assessing all available options
  • simply opt out of the decision-making process all together

There are a few other factors to help us clear the path for better decision making:

How important is this decision?

Instead of agonizing over every decision, or avoiding them altogether, consider the importance of each decision. If a decision will not have a lasting impact on your business, relationship, or significantly impact others, then do not allot a significant portion of limited resources (like your time and energy) to your options. Identify the available options, rely on your instincts to help make the decision and move on. Make room for those decisions that will have lasting impact on you and/or others.

Set a deadline.

Gathering information to help you make the best decision is prudent when the decision has significant impact to you and those around you. People will often justify avoiding a decision by stating they want to “gather more information” or “be considerate of others”, but that delay can have even higher consequences than making the “wrong” decision. Determine a timeline early on to be accountable to making the decision so you don’t hold yourself or others hostage to the lack of decision. Taking calculated risks and being willing to learn from your mistakes is a better strategy than paralyzing progress by delaying a decision.

A fresh perspective.

There is often freedom in the realization that you are not required to always do this alone. Even if you are ultimately the final decision maker, a different perspective can help identify the appropriate way forward – sometimes realized through the basic act of presenting the situation to another person. This person can be a close confidant, a colleague or boss, or even a hired resource that has expertise in the particular area.

This is why you see organizations set up Advisory Boards – a team of professionals with a wide range of expertise to offer the organization different perspectives on major business decisions.

Scenario Planning

In the 1970s, Royal Dutch/Shell established scenario planning in business as a way to evaluate strategic options by determining what we know about a given situation and identifying the uncertainties. Putting these details side-by-side and evaluating the potential outcome scenarios with all factors combined opens up perspective for a more qualitative decision rather than focusing simply on the knowns, thus potentially isolating your options.

Good night.

It is not very often an important decision that has the potential to significantly impact your life also has a sense of urgency so much so that you cannot take one night to weigh your options. In this fascinating podcast, Joe Rogan talks with a Nueroscientist about sleep. If you take nothing else from this post, please set aside time to listen to this podcast! They discuss the fact that during REM sleep, our body takes existing (or old) information and combines it with new information to form new connections which is why sleep is tremendously powerful in critical decision-making (and learning a new skill). So, give yourself at least one good night’s rest to support the effort in making the right decision.

Important decisions are not easy. If they were, they probably wouldn’t be that important. To recap:

  • determine the criticality of the decision
  • know your peak time for optimal decision-making
  • don’t be afraid to ask for help
  • hold yourself accountable
  • be willing to learn from your experiences and the unknowns
  • sleep on it

Fast is not always Right.

A critical piece of information when setting goals at the beginning of a project is understanding the expectation of timeline. Over the course of my corporate career, I heard more times than not a delivery date of “yesterday” or “as soon as possible” with the obligatory chuckle that comes with asking for something unreasonable. As a project manager, it was my job to strategically uncover the motives behind the unreasonable expectation while also ensuring we met the other predictable goals around quality and budget not to mention mitigating unknown, yet inevitable, obstacles that challenged our success.

I never got frustrated with these answers because they are so predictable. It’s like when a waiters asks you “how was your meal?” and you say “terrible” as you laugh and hand over a plate you’ve all but licked clean. What this answer allowed me to do was open a dialogue around strict adherence to an aggressive project plan that typically requires the client to run at a pace faster than they are used to. Being on the consultant side of that deadline, my main focus was the delivery of the project, however my clients usually didn’t have that luxury because the project were typically in addition to their normal day to day job.

So, a simple “we can run as fast as you can” as we’ve run this race before worked well. We almost always slowed down during engagements where unreasonable timelines were requested because the opening pace is just too fast for the client to maintain.


This brings me to a clarification I would like to make when it comes to delivery expectations: fast is not always right. This does not mean you cannot do each task quickly, but there is an important distinction between “fast” and “quick” that must be understood. While it may seem like fast and quick are synonyms, by definition, “fast” refers to speed and “quick” refers to timeline. Therefore, “fast” is more closely synonymous with “rushed”. When I think of rushing through something, I anticipate mistakes and missed requirements.

So in the interest in accomplishing all strategic goals, let’s not try to do things fast for the sake of hitting a deadline. Let’s take a moment in the beginning to understand true project requirements and work quickly to complete tasks thoroughly to allow us to deliver on quality, on budget and quickly, which usually satisfies a reasonable timeline expectation.

Two Eyes, Two Ears and One Mouth…for a reason.

Growing up, we had a lake house about 15 miles from our home where we would spend the entire summer. It wasn’t uncommon on any given day to have a dozen teenagers traipsing about riding jet skis, raiding my parents kitchen, or basking in the sun on the dock. In addition to my dad’s never ending trips in town to refuel on gasoline and groceries, there was another constant on these summer days: the small crowd sitting around my grandmother. My mother would shake her head and smile at the way my grandmother could get teenagers (girls and boys) to spill their guts to her. When my sister and I asked my grandmother what she said or why our friends loved spending time with her, she would say “I don’t say anything, I just listen.

The ratio in which our bodies are made is not a coincidence. Having two ears, two eyes and one mouth is deliberate. We should spend more time (twice the amount in fact) listening and observing than spouting our own wisdom.

Active listening is an intentional, learned and focused skill rather than a passive skill that happens with no real intention or effort. Take typing as an example of a passive skill (once you’ve mastered a keyboard). You aren’t thinking of physically typing each character, but rather you are thinking about the words you want to type and the typing happens with minimal mental effort on your part. If you listen like you type, then you are not effectively using the most important skill you possess.

Since I have committed myself to active listening (professionally and personally), I have realized that I am a terrible listener when I am not intentional. When expected to listen during a conversation, my natural tendency is to do something else while passively listening or to think about how I will respond instead of fully listening to all of what the other person has to say. If I resist those urges, and focus on what my counterpart is saying, the result is deeper engagement which allows me to better contribute to our relationship. A few tips for being an active listener:

  1. Tactical Empathy – when you pay attention to another person and understand their world, you offer tactical empathy. This does not mean you have to agree with them, rather you need to understand them and the emotions behind their opinions in order to approach them intentionally. This requires you to put down your phone, look at the other person and really listen to what they are saying to you.
  2. Labeling – restating someone’s opinion or feelings to affirm you understand their world. Remember to take the “me” and “I” out of it. When your response starts with “I am hearing” or “It seems to me”,  you are switching the conversation to you which can cause others to take a defense or assume your motives are “what’s in it for me”. Also remove the unnecessary encouragers such as “uh huh”, “yes” or “I understand”. Instead, let them finish their thought and be intentional with your word choice to offer tactical empathy by using “It seems / sounds like / looks like…” and then label their emotions or opinions as a factual summary.
  3. Pause – after labeling someone’s emotions to articulate empathy, it’s important to pause and allow the other person to affirm your understanding or provide more information to help you better understand. Pauses in conversation can feel awkward at first, so give yourself grace as you put this one into practice. If you’re like me, try counting silently (“1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi…“) or sitting on your hands to assist in committing to the pause. When giving someone the space to reflect on the labeling of their opinions, often times it will spark more dialogue and information to deepen your understanding of their opinion.
  4. Care-frontation – when conversations have the potential to be confrontational, acknowledge the issue in a secure and safe way. Remember: separate fact from story when approaching a potential conflict – a fact is a measurable result that would likely be caught on camera if the interaction was recorded whereas a story includes opinions, judgements or interpretations of the fact(s). Example: My colleague was late and did not speak during the meeting vs My colleague is mad and does not appreciate the effort I put into our project. If you feel there is validity in the story, and there is blame to be laid, perform an “accusation audit” to outline the frustrations your counterpart could be experiencing. Frustrations often appear more dramatic when stated aloud. Make sure to apologize if (but only if) there is fault you need to own. Example: “I noticed you were late to the meeting and didn’t speak. I understand you may be frustrated because I didn’t prepare my part of the presentation until 2 days before our session and I am sorry for that.”
  5. Pause – this one is so important it is worth mentioning again. When you pause after attempting a collaborative approach to resolving conflict, it often diffuses the situation and gives opportunity for open dialogue. “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi…”
  6. Strive for “that’s right, instead of “you’re right” – when labeling or performing an accusation audit, you are not looking for someone to tell you that you are right, you are looking for them to affirm that you understand them. When you strive towards “that’s right”, you can move forward with a collaborative approach to resolving the issue and towards a better relationship.

When implementing these tactics in day-to-day conversations, it may feel awkward at first. So did riding a bike or walking! In time, when used consistently, I am confident these tips will improve the relationships in your professional and personal life. Happy (active) Listening!

*For more information on how to be a better communicator, I have several book recommendations I would love to share with you.

Effective, Efficient and Engaged

There was a time in my life where I touted the fact that I was a great multi-tasker. After all, if you weren’t doing at least two things at once, you were wasting time.

I am no longer of that mindset. Multi-tasking can result in missed opportunities in connecting with the people and often results in subpar delivery of the tasks at hand. When engaging with other people, if you are not actively listening, then you are not placing value on other people’s time or knowledge, thus wasting these two precious assets for everyone involved.

Then, how do you get everything done in the finite time we have during the day, while staying sincere to those around you? It is a proven fact that the human mind is not wired to effectively participate in two stimulating activities at the same time. In fact, it is counter productive to do so. For instance, you cannot be engaged in conversation while also reading or writing (a.k.a. checking/responding to email or scrolling through the news). However, if at least one of the tasks at hand does not require significant brain power to accomplish, there could be opportunity to optimize areas of your day.

As a remote employee, I have an advantage that not all working professionals have. I am able to fold laundry or throw something into the crockpot on conference calls where my primary role is to receive information (think: staff meetings). This mundane task (the laundry, not the meeting) helps me focus on the conversation more than if I were sitting in front of my computer, tempted to check that email that just popped up.

I also catch up with colleagues while walking the dog in the morning. Optimizing this 20 minute window kickstarts my day efficiently and can be the difference between being able to shut down once my family is home and having to open up the laptop after the kids go to sleep.

Warning: you have to be intentional in how you optimize your time so as to not waste the time of others. There are limits to what type of conversations or meetings are productive in these environments. I cannot reference visuals or take notes while walking and while I can look at a screen while slicing peppers, I cannot easily jot down notes.

Another goal I focused on this year: pick up the phone. If I have more than one question or multiple points to review – it is more effective and efficient to call my colleague and follow up with an email stating our plan of action. Or perhaps a colleague pinged me earlier in the day but I was not available – a quick phone call on the way to pick up my kids from school may allow them to to be productive with their task rather than wait until the next day when I have time to respond via email or chat.

Next time you need to have a 1:1 conversation with a colleague or you’re having trouble solving a particular issue at work – take a walk around the office or get outside for a few minutes. I have recently come across an app called Charity Miles, who partners with non-profit organizations and corporations to donate money from corporations to organizations based on the number of miles app users walk/run on behalf of their chosen organization. Now, I am able to raise money for the ALS Association while also getting a breath of fresh air and walking my dog! You might be surprised at how a change in scenery can broaden your perspective or ignite a new way of thinking. It might also encourage you to have more face-to-face interactions rather than depend on email and inner office chat systems to engage your colleagues (something I can’t do as a remote employee!).

Another opportunity for enhanced productivity is your commute and/or morning routine. Take this opportunity to invest in your professional development. Find a podcast that engages an area of interest for you or perhaps a new area of business you have entered. (Pro tip: listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed to get through the content faster but still retain the message). When I listen to a podcast in the morning, it often ignites levels of productivity and positivity that otherwise take a little longer to find.

I hope one of these suggestions will allow you to optimize an otherwise ordinary window of time in your day!

PS – if you’re up for some no nonsense advice around productivity, check out this article.

The Tunnel of Darkness

I mentioned this topic in my inaugural post and I am excited to finally talk about it: the tunnel of darkness. It sounds terrible and in some ways it certainly is an uncomfortable place to be.

Let’s start with “what is the tunnel of darkness?” With major initiatives that require significant time to implement (think 12+ months), there comes a time when you are so far into the project you can’t realistically turn back without a lot of brow raising. However, with so much more to accomplish, you aren’t sure the investment is still worth it. That, my friend, is the point in time when you are in the tunnel of darkness.There’s no light at either end of the tunnel and you’re unsure if you are even making the right decision by pushing forward. I can say, with experienced confidence, that 99% of the time, it is definitely the right decision to move forward.

When I lead large, complex initiatives, I discuss this inevitable point in the project at the onset of the engagement. Some ask “how do we avoid it?” while others are confident their project and project team is different. Whether you are dreading it or overly optimistic that you can avoid it, the best thing we can do is to take time in the beginning to prepare for it. I do this in two ways:

  1. Approve project governance documents at the onset of the project
  2. Build a strong partnership between core project team members

Your project governance documents allow you to document the vision, purpose and goals of your project as well as define a communication plan and identify project resources to help you reach your goals. Putting this on paper and having a formal signing party before the official kick-off event helps establish a mutual understanding of why you are embarking upon this implementation together. It also allows you to agree upon how you plan to accomplish your goals. When there are roadblocks throughout the project, you are able to reference these documents to remind yourself of the purpose, gauge your level of success and also reset expectations if you get off course.

When you surround yourself with smart people whom you trust and you have adequately prepared for your engagement, the point in time where the tunnel is darkest won’t last long. Invest the time and energy up front and throughout the project to get to know your project team, to understand their preferred communication and motivation strategies, and maybe even a few personal things about them. Set aside time for team building activities and offer feedback opportunities so team members feel valued.

I hope these tips will allow your team to hang on until that light at the end of the tunnel is visible and you power through together to launch your initiative. Good luck!

Light at the end of the tunnel of darkness

Cause the Effect

Question of the year for me: How do I establish a set of standards without stifling employee creativity or individual styles of management?

Our company has several lines of business that each have a multitude of client engagements though all client leaders who run these engagements fall into my division. In addition, each client leader also has their own style of management and handle client and colleague communication differently. Different doesn’t always mean better or worse, it’s just different. When leading this group of leaders with different management styles and a diverse project portfolios, I find myself wondering “how do you have flexibility while also setting standards for the company? How do you allow your people to lead in their own way yet also offer a standard by which organizations and colleagues can count on?”

To answer these questions, I channeled my focus onto first identifying what makes a good client manager and what has been a constant in our successful client engagements. Something stood out very clear: Proactive Management. When my team is able to stay in tune to project, client and colleague needs and we are able to predict what is up ahead, client and colleague satisfaction as well as overall project success appear to be greater.

Then I looked at the other side of the coin: what has been a constant in our client engagements that were not as successful? Most of these engagements lacked structure and clarity in project purpose, thus our client managers were unable to drive success based on clearly identified goals. I noticed these engagements saw a lot of reactive management, where client leaders had to focus their energy on solving issues and reacting to client or colleague feedback rather than leading the engagement efficiently.

If our engagements all begin with defining project purpose and identifying goals and definitions of success, we can prevent managing projects by cause and effect and instead cause the effect ourselves. If we know what the expectations are at the onset, then we can cause the effect we desire rather than chasing the cause that had a negative effect on our engagement.

So, what standards have we set and what have we left up to our client leaders?

  1. Project Definition is step 1 in every project.
    • No matter how simple or complex a project is, let’s define and document the purpose and end goal for all resources involved to see and agree upon.
  2. Established internal monthly reporting expectations yet allow client leaders to determine client reporting delivery processes.
    • This will improve our understanding of key measurements of success and help us better identify risks based on key data metrics that can be handled before they become issues. Establishing these internal metrics as opposed to client-facing metrics improve overall client communication around budget, scope management and project status without necessarily requiring a specific delivery process that doesn’t fit well into the existing client communication plan.
  3. Offer a standard set of tools + optional tools that are available to use during project engagements.
    • We have non-negotiables, such as our time entry tool and internal document repository, but there are also a few options for client leaders to choose from in other areas such as task management, client communication, and internal project team communication. This offers a bit of normalcy to internal resources while also allowing client leaders to choose what works best for their particular management style.

I look forward to reporting back in 3-4 months on the impact these standards have had on our overall client and colleague satisfaction!

A Small Way to Increase Confidence when Teaching New Skills

In my various roles in life, I often find myself with an opportunity to teach others. From coaching my clients or explaining new tools or ways of working in group sessions or helping my daughters build a fort, the teacher hat is worn a lot these days. 

In doing a little research on effective teaching strategies for various learning types, I discovered the hierarchy of competence, sometimes known as the “stages of learning”.

Find out more here!
Here, they describe four levels of competence:
  • Unconscious Incompetence: you are unaware of what you do not know
  • Conscious Incompetence: you are aware of what you do not know
  • Conscious Competence: you actively practice your skills
  • Unconscious Competence: your skills are second nature to you

In order to empower people to move through the stages efficiently, as the teacher, you must first understand where they are starting from and adapt your techniques to meet them where they are. It is perfectly reasonable for someone to be at any given stage of competence on their learning journey and recognizing where someone is in the hierarchy is a crucial step in building confidence in your students. 

When moving people through the learning stages, it is important to give time for each phase, especially between unconscious and conscious incompetence. Letting people contemplate the need for the new skill(s) and understand the importance of that skill is a critical success factor. Without understanding the importance, the willingness to learn may be jeopardized. In other words, if someone doesn’t know there’s a problem, they may not be open to change.   

Here’s an example: I recently worked with a group on the relationship building aspect of project management. Rather than solely focusing on managing tasks, budget and deliverables of a given project, there is an opportunity to engage on a deeper level that could lead to increased client engagement, business, etc.

I could see this idea was more difficult for a few group members because they were moving from unconscious to conscious incompetence. I made them aware of a previously unrealized, but now necessary skill for them to be successful in their role. They may not currently possess the ability to engage on a more personal level in a professional setting or may not feel confident in their ability to do it well. This discomfort can paralyze a person if it is not handled appropriately. By knowing this, I could sympathize with the experience and adjust my technique to better support the experience of moving into conscious incompetence, which is where I initially assumed everyone was starting.

Another pivotal moment is once someone has received training and is equipped with the knowledge to perform their new skill. They are now in conscious competence and access to support will be critical. While they have the knowledge, it takes practice, conscious awareness and hard work to perform the skill. Having access to a mentor or training materials will be important during this phase to move into unconscious competence, where a person has enough experience to perform the skill with ease.

As a teacher, we have choice in how we support our students. We can go the path of least resistance and offer a “one size fits all” approach, or we can take a moment to recognize where folks are on their learning journey and provide small and impactful guidance to build confidence in our students.

It’s more about the Journey

Have you heard the adage “life is a journey, not a destination”? While the author is unknown, I can assure you whoever penned this has never traveled on an airplane with a toddler (kidding, sort of).

It is applicable in the area of operational initiatives. So, if go-live is not your destination, then what is? My short answer is adoption. Adoption of the change you hope to see as a result of the project at hand.

My long answer: adoption is not a single point-in-time moment. It is the art of encouraging and empowering people to develop (and refine) effective and positive habits. Therefore, instead of a finish line, let’s picture stepping stones of support for your users.

Let’s continue the long answer.

When your organization realizes a major change is necessary, it is not [typically] done on a whim or without considerable thought. Whether that major change is a transformation of your fundraising strategy or an evaluation of business processes to elevate employees to take more ownership of responsibilities, or even a technology change to be more efficient internally – that change requires an implementation and launch of new ways of working. It also requires adoption of those new ways of working and supporting end users indefinitely. Maintaining a high level of success requires an on-going commitment to constantly seek opportunities for improvement. So, how do we appropriately evaluate success and determine what’s next to keep adoption high?

  1. The first step in any major operational initiative is to define the business case for the initiative and write it down. Yes, write it down (think: Project Charter). That way, it can be referenced throughout the implementation and well after go-live to ensure your focus remains on the initial intent. What do you seek to accomplish as a result of successfully launching the initiative? In order to answer this question thoroughly, you need to understand what you are seeking to accomplish and why.
  2. Next, you need to answer what are the known barriers that prevent you from meeting your objective today? An easy way to organize the answer to both of questions is to take it back to grammar school and define your 5 Ws: who, what, when, where and why. Once these are defined, you will need to answer the hardest: how?
  3. Finally, you will want to define measurable KPIs (key performance indicators) to quantify the success of your initiative. Your KPIs should have a mix of finite (date or campaign driven) and interminable goals in order to build in celebrated milestones as well as define standards that determine ongoing success at any given point.

Major milestones, like meeting your 5-year campaign fundraising goal, should be celebrated when met! Give credit where credit is due and make sure folks understand their role in this major accomplishment. Keep in mind, while this is a major milestone and should be celebrated, it is not a finish line. It simply makes room for you to set your sights on new goals.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to plan your initiatives in a way that offers a foundation for high adoption and ongoing success, I can help with that.

Am I doing it right?

Am I doing it right? If anyone has the answer to this question in any facet of life, raise your hand. I ask it of myself all the time. Am I managing people or projects right? Am I parenting right? What about being a wife or that yoga move where I don’t dare risk breaking my concentration to peek at my fellow yogis for fear of toppling over. Can someone tell me if I am doing any of this right?

I don’t have the answer to that question, but I have an answer that has led me to a place of confidence in who I am: my right isn’t necessarily your right, and that’s ok as long as my right is sincere towards me and those around me.

How did I settle into this confidence? I will do something that drives me nuts, but is a common tactic in the consulting world: answer a question with a question. Why can’t you just give me the answer to my question, you ask, rather than plague me with more questions and no answers? I  believe, in this scenario, more questions may lead you to a confidence in not knowing the answer to the initial question.

Who do you want to be?  As a leader, as a parent, as a spouse, or even as a yogi? Can you find a commonality in who you want to be throughout the different areas of your life? I have contemplated my answers and this is what I have…for now:

  • I want to be sincere, intentional, and invested in positively influencing a desire for greatness
  • I want to encourage and inspire accountability and confidence for people to be the best versions of themselves

Whether that conversation is about someone’s next career move or how to tackle the monkey bars on the playground, I want people to come away from our interactions feeling empowered, supported and confident.

I am still working on that yoga move. In other areas, however, I am encouraged by how my clarity in who I want to be has positively influenced my relationships, both professionally and personally.

Tell me, who do you want to be as a [fill in the blank]?

“By being natural and sincere, one often can create revolutions without having sought them.” ― Christian Dior

The Journey Begins

Thank you for joining me! My first post comes on the heels of a pretty powerful professional experience that has led to some deep soul searching into the recognition that sometimes “it’s just business”. I have been in the consulting world for over a decade and I have spoken those very words to many people regarding their professional careers, but only twice have I needed to remind myself of the reality that it’s not always personal.

As I reflect on my most recent experience where a client asked me to step aside as their project lead, I find myself both relieved and despondent. I am relieved to be removed from a situation that was increasingly confrontational while also despondent because I thrive on connection and the lack of positive connection is hard for me. Perhaps a better way of stating that is that I fear disconnection. (15 months after writing this I read “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown and learned that this is the very definition of shame. I am thankful to say I am actively working through moving shame out of the driver’s seat in my life). What I must realize is that this is not defeat, it’s just business.

It is customary in our work to engage in long, often arduous, projects with our clients. Therefore, ensuring that the project team is engaged professionally, and shares similar work and communication styles, is vital to the success of the project. At the start of these engagements, I like to prepare the project team for what I call “the inevitable tunnel of darkness” (what is this?) where we are too far into the project to turn back but the end seems so far away. My goal in this discussion is to prepare the project team for times in the project where people may not like me very much because it will appear I am pushing back. A lot. Hopefully, by the time it gets really tough, there will be a level of trust and recognition that I am an advocate for holistic project success and that requires consideration of project-wide goals over personal goals and a willingness to collaborate and sometimes compromise for the sake of greater project success. Unfortunately, this time around, that trust was not strong enough to sustain the tunnel of darkness.

And that is ok. Why?

  • The show will go on. My colleagues are well-equipped to launch this project successfully and our new Project Lead will pick up where I left off
  • It’s just business.

Continue reading “The Journey Begins”