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Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

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A couple of days ago, I checked my PO box and found this letter. At first, I was delighted to get a real letter. There was no return address, and the handwriting looked familiar…I puzzled for a moment about whom it could be from, then realized (with chagrin!) that it was my writing.

One of my coaches, Kary Oberbrunner, had finally dropped it in the mail…and now I was supposed to open it and read it. UGH!

On May 2nd, I sat on the rusted base of a “bed” (I use the term lightly) in a cell in Shawshank Prison (Ohio Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio), and wrote myself a letter. The assignment had been given by my coach, Kary, as part of the Dream Job Bootcamp workshop weekend. I was to write to my future self to tell me what I need to know so I can move forward more successfully. I should share any advice I would give myself, any new clarity I had gained, set forth some expectations for greater accountability, or perhaps even warn myself, should I feel the need.

I have to say, the whole experience — from the prison setting to the fact I had recently escaped my day job to move into my purpose / calling full time — weighed heavily on my heart. As I put pen to paper and began to write, the tears began to stream down my face. It happens when things of great meaning come to me; while I still find it somewhat frustrating, I’m used to it.

I wrote and wrote and wrote, until someone’s alarm went off and I brought my missive to a close; we had been given several things to do while in the cell and a set amount of time in which to do them. It was time to reconvene. As instructed, I folded the letter, put it into and envelope, addressed it to myself, and sealed it. When I made it back to the prison chapel, I gave it to Kary for safe keeping; he promised to mail it to me within 12 months.

Over the past few months, I’ve thought of the letter, wondering when it would arrive and what it would say when I opened it. Make no mistake, it’s not that I expected some other letter to be in the envelope when it arrived…I simply had no idea what I wrote. Every word on those pages flowed to and thru me, but they didn’t come from me. I don’t know how else to explain it.

When I realized what the envelope was, I began to tear it open — excited and anxious to read it. Then caution took hold and I placed the envelope in my purse, wanting to consider it for a while before I opened it. I finally opened it today and read through it quickly. It was … interesting, to say the least. (oh — and the note on the back was not written by me…Thanks, Kary!!)

I won’t share the message with you; it’s personal. I will say, I have some homework now and need to connect with another Coach whose style I admire a great deal; I believe we have much in common with our down-to-earth, no BS approach to getting honest, discovering oneself, and being accountable for our behaviors. I have some questions for him.

I also have a sense of peace, on another level, as I’ve had some doubts removed about my “sweet spot,” as they call it.

It’s an exercise worth your time and attention. Take pen to paper and spend 30 minutes writing to your future self. What advice would you share? In what areas do you need to hold yourself more accountable? What warning would you offer to the you who may sometimes stray from the path of your true priorities.

Let me know what you discover.

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At what point do we, as parents, begin to imprint our personal beliefs on our children? Arguably from the time we bring them home from the hospital; after all, we are teaching them about our values and beliefs simply as a matter of course in how we live life each day.

The question is, when do we become aware that’s what we are doing and decide to be intentional about it? I’ve had this discussion with myself, and my husband, on numerous occasions over the past several years, and most recently 30 minutes ago…on the topic of selling popcorn!

Our son is 7 and is a Wolf in his local Cub Scout Troop (or is it a den or a pack? Frankly, all those distinctions elude me, but I digress…). The biggest fundraiser for his group is selling tins of popcorn, caramel corn, and chocolate coated popcorn. Some members of his troop will sell by going door-to-door in their neighborhoods, after services at their church, by setting up tables outside local merchants to catch shoppers on their way in and out, and, presumably, some of their parents will even sell for them at their places of employment (I’m not sure this actually helps the child grow in any way, even though it does raise more money).

To motivate the kids, there is a listing of the incentives one might obtain by selling at a certain level. The more you sell, the cooler item you can receive. For example, if you sell $550 worth of popcorn, you can have a Lego Fire Truck (this is what my son has his eye on!), but the levels gone on up into the thousands of dollars sold.

In full candor, I cringed knowing this day would come. I understand the growth opportunity for the kids and the need to raise funds for the Troop. I am not a fan, however, of what the items are that are chosen to sell (usually cookies, cookie dough, very expensive wrapping paper, tins of popcorn) as they are often not anything we will eat or use or send as a gift. I’m not a fan of going door-to-door to sell, either (and have been shocked when young kids ring our bell and I see no parent in site, accompanying them). In fact, I would prefer to simply write a donation check and skip the sales process altogether! But, that wouldn’t allow the kids to experience the process and learn the lessons that come with it. I also recognize my thinking about and reaction to this “opportunity / activity” is not how everyone else looks at it.

My husband explained to our son how it works, and he’s excited. He says he wants to visit our neighbors, dressed in his Scout uniform, and sell them popcorn. Of course, it’s about earning that Lego Fire Truck! And no one has dampened his enthusiasm, yet. So, I’m working on restraint. I’m working on not coloring my son’s experience with my personal thoughts, feelings, or beliefs about this activity and process. It’s actually kind of fun to see his un-jaded enthusiasm for it, even if it’s one of the last things I would want to do.

Thinking this through has left me wondering about how we unwittingly impose our beliefs on those around us and change the way they view the world. Sometimes, those beliefs we instill in them are based on untruths and don’t serve them well later in life. Sometimes, they may bump into enough barriers because of those beliefs that they are forced to unlearn some things in order to achieve their goals and realize their potential. I don’t think we do this to the people around us intentionally, but it happens nonetheless.

All the more reason for becoming as self-aware as possible, so we can be more intentional about what we say, how we behave, and what we expose others to.

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Yes, this was me, some months ago. My stylist actually called in sick twice in one week…the first time, the salon called to let me know, and rescheduled me for a couple of days later. I showed up early and waited nearly 30 minutes (there was no receptionist on duty — just stylists all with clients) before someone decided to tell me he’d called in sick, again.

I was so frustrated and upset, I was nearly in tears, but it’s not what you think. And, it’s not uncommon. I’ve heard similar stories from many of the women in my inner circle — and extended network — on numerous occasions.

It wasn’t actually about the haircut. The root of the issue (no pun intended) is this: As usual, I had a lot going on in my life, and had waited until my hair was truly out of shape, out of style, and just downright unruly before I’d called to make an appointment, which meant about another 10 days before I could actually get into the salon. It’s not as if I wasn’t aware that within a certain number of weeks of my last cut, that my hair would have grown and would need some professional attention. The issue was I had chosen to put my needs last, after my family, my business, my personal growth, etc…Commendable, maybe, but not conducive to peace or good mental health over time.

I was so looking forward to an hour of true down time, when someone else would be fully focused on me and my only responsibility was to sit upright in the chair; at that point, I needed that. So, when I finally took the time for myself and the stylist didn’t show up, I was at the end of my emotional reserves!

Ladies, tell me you haven’t been there…whether it was your hair stylist, nail technician, massage therapist, or a girlfriend you were planning to have coffee or lunch with…The stars were no longer in alignment and that respite you so desperately needed evaporated nearly in an instant, leaving you frustrated, emotional…whatever the reaction, it was likely out of proportion to the actual event.

This is one of the reasons I’m collaborating with Tracy Worley and Maureen Craig McIntosh to bring you Gracebreak Retreat. We are taking an intentional time out to reconnect with ourselves and other strong, talented, courageous women. We will discover our natural talents (potential) and strengths (performance), define or refine our core values, dig into the choices we make and the behaviors we demonstrate that either serve us or don’t! And we’ll connect with other women who share similar challenges in their lives, broadening and strengthening our inner circles and support network. And we’re doing this just outside of beautiful Bozeman, Montana.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I routinely commit to things I really don’t have time for, or do not have deep meaning for me?
  • Do I routinely put everyone else’s needs before mine?
  • When I do take time out for myself, is it usually accidental (unplanned), late at night after everyone else is asleep, or simply because I’m desperate (and then I feel guilty for taking it)?
  • When was the last time I truly took significant time out to reconnect with and nurture my own needs?

If you answered yes to any (or all) of the first three, and you need to look at a calendar or have someone give you the answer to the last one, you need to be there with us. We’ve designed this retreat specifically for you. The truth is, you cannot give what you do not have and when your reserves run dry, you are of no service to anyone, especially you!

We can’t wait to see, and serve, you there! Register today!

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I had the privilege of attending a business summit last week, where 800 business leaders and legislators gathered to discuss a number of issues in our state. Part of the agenda was an opportunity to get to know the candidates for our Congressional seats in the upcoming election. In pairs, these folks were given the opportunity to respond to a series of questions posed by a moderator, and one in particular caught my attention.

The moderator asked: What accomplishment in your public service career are you most proud of and what would you like the chance to do over?

What accomplishment are you most proud of and what would you like the chance to do over?

As I listened to each of the four candidates who participated, I found myself becoming more and more disappointed in them; although it is politics, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Essentially, here’s what they said: “I’m most proud of XX (fill in the blank with some specific thing), and I really have no regrets. I can’t think of anything in my life I would take back or do over.”

Really?

Pardon my disbelief, but that response left me cold. I can’t think of anyone I’ve met  who has no regrets, who wouldn’t like the opportunity to do something over. This is not to say that the something has to be monumental. It could be as simple as wishing one could take back a hurtful comment made in the heat of an argument, or fueled by hurt or misunderstanding. It could be wishing one took advantage of an opportunity that had been presented, but was missed out of lack of awareness, fear, doubt, insecurity. It could be a desire to do something again because of lessons learned and a desire to do whatever it was better, smarter, smoother, etc…There are often unintended consequences to our actions, and sometimes, we would like to try, again, based on that awareness.

I do understand the concept of saying “I have no regrets because I’m happy with where I am today.” I do. You see, I am very blessed to be where I am today, and looking back over the course of my life, I can see all the connections on the path to getting me here, and understand why the various experiences were necessary. At the same time, there are things I’ve done and said that I’ve deeply regretted and wish I could take back or do over, with more insight, stronger intuition, greater empathy, deeper wisdom. I’ve made apologies and amends and learned to forgive myself, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve goofed up, on numerous occasions, and would like to have done it better the first time.

But, this is how we learn. We try, we stumble, we learn, we try, again…

So, back to the political candidates. I assume some well-meaning communication officer or PR person told them it’s important to focus on the positive and not admit to any potential weakness or failure. I find it disingenuous. It disconnects them from the rest of us mere mortals who goof up on occasion. It leaves me feeling distrustful of them. If they can’t be open about a mis-step at some point in their life — or political career — what else will they not be honest and forthcoming about? And what will be the outcome if it turns out someone finds something in their past that they regret and would like to have done over?

This is like a job interview, isn’t it? When the interviewer asks the candidate what his / her strengths and weaknesses are. The truth is, we all have both and if we attempt to present ourselves as if we don’t, we’ve planted the seeds of distrust and disbelief. It usually doesn’t go well after that.

So, what about you? How would you answer the moderator’s question? What would you do over, and why?

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Practice!

What’s the question, you ask? The question is: How do I…? (you fill in the blank)

As a coach and mentor, I’m asked this question frequently by the people with whom I am blessed to work. The “blank” — whatever it is they are trying to do differently or learn — varies from person to person, or is sometimes the same. And, truth be told, are some of the same questions I have asked my mentors and coaches, even myself, on numerous occasions.

Having gone through an interesting reflection exercise recently, creating a success timeline for my life through an in-depth study of Think and Grow Rich (by Napoleon Hill), led by two of my mentors, Paul Martinelli and Roddy Galbraith, I realized that the answer to the question is: Practice.

Yep, it’s truly that simple.

Whatever it is, we must simply move ourselves into the action of being and doing. For example, if you find yourself lacking patience and desire to become more patient (this is one I’ve been working on for some time), you must practice being patient. This requires a level of awareness thru which you can recognize the signs and symptoms of your becoming impatient, having the ability to think into it, and make different choices about how you respond (thoughtfully and with focus on achieving a desired outcome) rather than simply reacting (typically, emotionally and immediately…with little thought given to the outcome).

Perhaps it’s learning something new we desire. This begins with a desire to learn, followed by some level of belief we can do it, and some understanding of, at least, the fundamental principles that govern whatever it is. For example, once I wanted to learn to ski. I had the desire, believed I could learn, and had some knowledge of the basics. Then, I hired a skilled, patient, instructor, with whom I spent the day. I won’t tell you it was a quick, fun, or easy process. There was growling, frustration, and tears involved (and to be perfectly frank, probably several swear words!) — on my part, not his. But, eventually, I figured it out and was able to get on and off the chair lift and make my way down the bunny hill, and stop, effectively. To actually master skiing would require my spending a lot more time, effort, and energy practicing…

I think often, as adults, we wish there were some faster, easier, less painful way to acquire new skills or change behaviors; almost as if we imagine there’s some greater being who will bestow upon us — with the swoosh of a magic wand — that which we desire, without our having to do anything to make it happen. Alas! It’s not to be!

We must practice. We must reflect and hopefully learn something from our reflection that we can apply to the process to improve the next iteration. Then, we must practice some more.

If you have the opportunity to observe children, I encourage you to do so, and while you’re doing that, think about this: There was a time when we didn’t know how to do any of the things we do, many of them effortlessly, today. As children, we didn’t necessarily think about how hard it might be, or whether we would fail, we just tried stuff. And we kept trying until we mastered whatever it was. We practiced.

Practice something today — intentionally — and see if it doesn’t make a difference. Then come back and post a comment so we can all learn with you.

 

 

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I used to be a daily coffee drinker. It always smelled delicious, but one day I actually started paying attention to how it tasted…and my conclusion was that it didn’t really taste like anything! I don’t think it was a quality issue; I started with whole coffee beans, freshly ground, fresh water…mixed with a little ½ and ½ in the cup.

Yes, drinking it had become a habit; something I did on auto-pilot without thinking about it. So, I asked myself why I was drinking coffee every day. The answer: That it had become a habit, was not good enough. A few days later, when I’d used up all the coffee beans I had, I cleaned out the coffee maker and stored it away in the cupboard.

Having consumed coffee nearly daily since high school, it was surprisingly easy to quit my daily habit! But I confess, I haven’t given it up completely.

I treat myself to a caramel latte once every couple of weeks. Last week, my latte treat got me thinking about leadership. Here’s what happened.

I went to my favorite coffee shop in between meetings. As I approached the counter, I noticed the young man stepping up to serve me had a hand-written name badge; translation – new employee, still in training. I placed my order, he repeated it back to me. We concluded the transaction, and he stepped over to the machine to make my drink.

I waited, anticipating how delicious it was going to be. You know how that works, when you’ve been craving something for a while, and you imagine the flavors floating through your mouth and you can’t wait for it to actually happen?

He handed it to me across the counter, I left the shop, got back in my car and started on to my next meeting; because the coffee was hot, I waited about 10 minutes before taking a sip. It was a big disappointment! No caramel flavor! I was too far down the road to go back. But, I did spend the rest of my drive thinking about how this experience relates to leadership and three lessons come to mind: Situational Leadership, Intent does NOT Equal Impact, and Trust but verify!.

Are you familiar with the Situational Leadership model, developed by Hersey and Blanchard? There are four stages of development for any task, with a leadership style to accompany each stage. Simply put:

In Development Level 1 (D1), a person is often motivated to learn to do the task, so the leader needs to give explicit directions (step-by-step) but not a lot of encouragement or support.

In D2, the person has tried to do the task a time or two, realizes it’s going to be harder than it looks, and is quickly de-motivated and often frustrated. At this stage, the leader still needs to give explicit, step-by-step instructions and a lot of support and encouragement.

After a little practice, the person moves into D3, when he/she generally has the process down, but needs more encouragement and support at the progress made going through it.

Eventually, the person reaches D4, and has become a master at the task; at this stage, the leader doesn’t need to give direction, nor a lot of support or encouragement. Again, this is very simplified and is task-based.

While I thought the trainers at my favorite coffee shop would have gone through this process with new employees –testing the results along the way to ensure expected taste, quality, and presentation of the various items they serve – I now know they didn’t (at least with respect to the caramel latte!).

I’m certain it was not his intent to serve me a disappointing latte (intent does not equal impact), so I have a choice to make – consider myself a victim (didn’t get the treat I was anticipating) or a victor (recognize my role in the experience and adapt my behavior). Knowing the young man was new at his job, I should have tasted my coffee before I left, knowing that if I waited until I was a way down the road, it would be too late to correct the situation (add caramel to my coffee).

My lesson, trust but verify!

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What is Initiative?

The power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do.

It is the drive to make things happen, and it is yet another crucial ingredient in the recipe for creating a strong leader. When leaders have initiative, they make things happen, they create momentum, and they propel their teams/organizations forward, even in the face of resistance and obstacles. Without initiative, one would achieve nothing. Yes, it’s important to have dreams, vision, strategies, action plans…yet, without taking the initiative, nothing would happen.

I find this to be a fairly common stumbling block with some of my coaching and mentoring clients. They know they are stuck. They recognize the need for change. Sometimes, they even know what they need to change…but often feel helpless or unmotivated to take action. The key is to have clarity around the “why” so you then can find your “way” and take intentional action.

Consider the story of Margo, a director in a high-tech company who was feeling somewhat discontent in her work and aware that it would be time for her to make some kind of move to a different position soon, as that was the culture within her company. We worked together for several months and over the course of that time, Margo chose to focus on several areas: improving communication with her team, improving communication with her manager, and understanding what next step she needed to take — within or outside the company — that would allow her to function in her strength zones, continue to grow as a leader, and express herself creatively.

Throughout the course of our engagement, I functioned sometimes as a coach, sometimes as a mentor, and sometimes simply as a sounding board. Margo defined the areas of focus, identified the challenges and obstacles, discovered her own answers, and took action to make the changes she needed to make to move herself and her team forward. She took the initiative and she was consistent in implementing the new practices that would allow her to move forward.

Today, she has a new sense of purpose, greater clarity around her role and future plans with her company, and has discovered a creative outlet that allows her to continue on her path of self-discovery and personal expression.

It’s a process; getting to that point took a few months. Growing into her potential will be a life-long journey, but the point here is that she recognized some needs and took the initiative to learn, think, grow, and move herself — and as a result, her team and organization — forward on a new path.

This month we will focus on initiative and how it plays out in our lives as leaders. It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s an entirely different thing to make it a reality. Without initiative, nothing would happen.

So, before we get started on this month’s study and exercises, I encourage you to spend some time pondering these questions:

Do I proactively take the initiative to get things started, or do I wait until circumstances force me to do something?

If I wait for external forces to move me forward, what is the basis of my hesitation: Fear, lack of knowledge, laziness…?

How have I overcome fear, lack of knowledge, laziness, etc…in the past to enable myself to move forward?

How have I gained momentum by harnessing the power of taking initiative?

Who do I know who frequently, proactively takes initiative to get things moving and what can I learn from them?

I look forward to exploring this month’s topic with you, and hope you will share your thoughts, insights, and feedback as we continue on our Intentional Leadership journey.

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