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Sandbar Coaching & Consulting Blog

Reflections and experiences in leadership, management, coaching, relationship building and more...

Six Proven Strategies to Quickly Acclimate Your Team to Working Remotely

March 16, 2020

With so many people working from home without much warning, the time to get deeply acquainted with some tried and true remote management practices is right now! The potential for slippage in work productivity is likely at an all-time high as so many workers scramble to adjust. Even in pre-planned circumstances working remotely, particularly from home, can take practice to master and often comes with a bit of trial and error in getting a workspace, technology etc set up. No matter what, it absolutely requires diligence, never more true than now when everyone else (partners, families, neighbors etc) is confined to home as well and distractions abound. Setting your team up for success by employing these six strategies will get you back into productive mode quickly.

To ensure the smoothest transition possible:

  1. Be available 60/8 (60 minutes per hour, 8 hours per day - or however long your workday is). It sounds like a lot, I know. It won’t be forever. However, anxiety is high for many people for a number of reasons right now and you have the power to help minimize that anxiety to some degree. Being available to answer their questions and/or solve problems as they adjust to their new work requirements will help them feel less anxious about this transition. Sometimes your answer will be, “I’m not sure. I’ll find out. Go ahead and work on something else until I sort it out.” And then, because you’re a great manager, you’ll follow up as promised.
  2. Provide as many tools as possible for them in their home to avoid delay in getting to work remotely. Co-create a complete list of everything each employee will need at home in order to be successful over the next few weeks. Computer, monitor, cords, headset, ethernet cable, telephone, printer etc are things that may not be standard issue at home - don’t make assumptions. If they need it and don’t have it, help them figure it out. Consider if they need remote access to email, servers, or databases or a VPN (virtual private network) as well. Don’t forget hard copy files, reference documents etc that might be necessary also. The more prepared you are, the faster they can get up and running at home and the less derailment you’ll experience overall.
  3. Be clear about what the expectations are for the work day. Some jobs transfer nicely into a remote environment - plug in the computer, log in and poof! you’re a remote worker. But some aren’t quite as easy - teachers in schools where kids don’t all have iPads (aka virtual classrooms) come to mind. By setting the expectations as clearly as possible at the outset and then dialing them in as you all get more accustomed to remote work, your team won’t be at home either stressing that they aren’t meeting expectations (which decoded means worrying they might lose their jobs) or wandering away because Frozen 2 was just released on Disney+.
  4. Be realistic about how the remote environment may impact work productivity. When an employee is used to working in an office setting and is suddenly thrust into working at the kitchen table, possibly with kids, family members, roommates, or pets around, s/he may not be as productive at the outset as you might like. Remember that internet connectivity may also be an issue as the entire world is depending on it for information, education, and work. When (not if) bumps happen, put on your best coaching hat and help them find a solution that will work for the next several weeks. Ideally, this isn’t permanent. Productivity is the goal, perfection is unlikely with so little time to prepare.
  5. Connect with team members regularly both as a team and one on one. Staying closely connected, probably more than you’re used to, as a remote team is essential - especially during the settling in period. This might include checking in via messages and email or quick phone calls every day or so but at minimum it should include a one on one with each person and a team meeting at least once per week preferably via video chat. These connection points will give you the opportunity to understand challenges, connect resources, and assess if adjustments are necessary.
Pro tip: Carve out time in team meetings for some “water cooler chat”. Employees who are used to the socialization that working in an office affords will likely be missing out on that part of their daily routine as well. Ten minutes or so will help them remain connected as a team.
  1. Be flexible where you can afford to be flexible. Many remote workers actually work longer hours and hit higher levels of productivity if they are given the flexibility to manage their own time. Standard 9 to 5 hours may not work for everyone who has other responsibilities given that many services and resources that usually allow them to work uninterrupted may not currently be available. Set times that you expect them to be working, i.e. team meetings, client meetings, prime client contact hours etc, and then let them work the rest in. You’ll know quickly (because you’re meeting with them regularly) if they are effectively managing their time and meeting expectations and if they aren’t you can address it then.

Even great managers can stumble when handed a challenging circumstance like uprooting an entire workforce and completely reconfiguring how they work. But if you employ these six strategies, you’ll ensure that your team has the most solid footing possible as they adapt in these uncertain times.

Be The Leader...

April 17, 2019

Whew! The last couple of months have been a whirlwind! I haven't had time to post much but a lot of great things have been happening!

Last week I presented at the Women in Criminal Justice Conference to an overflowing room of women (and two men) who are all in the criminal justice field - law enforcement officers, corrections, administration, courthouse etc. I presented my workshop called, "Developing Your Leadership Presence". One of the things that I LOVE about presenting is that every single group is different! While some themes are consistent, each group brings them forward in different ways. And sometimes they hit me with things that I don't experience too often.

During the session, I ask leaders to reflect on people they've met or experienced in some way who are exceptional leaders. It's VERY VERY rare that someone says, "I can't think of anyone!" But TWO women in this session said they had no examples of good (not even great or exceptional, just good) leaders. OOF!

Because I've dedicated so much of my life to the study of leadership, this kind of statement or perception is truly just outside of my realm of experience and it shocks me when people are in this situation. Especially in a job like the criminal justice field where leadership seems like it should be taken really seriously!

The coach in me was dying to press pause for the other 50+ people in the room and talk with these two women but that wouldn't have been reasonable or fair. So I carried on and tried to frame my questions and statements in ways that these women would stick with me and with the topic.

At the end of the session, one of the women came to me and said, "“I’ve never experienced good leadership around me and I realized through this session that I have the opportunity be the solid leader for others that I have never had.” We had a short conversation about how she planned to do that and she seemed determined and ready to dive in.

YAHOO! Success! 

I never know who is in the audience and I certainly can't cater to everyone but I do enjoy when I learn something from them as they are learning from me. For me, that's a total win!


Getting Coachable...

February 6, 2019

I went to a rowing class for the first time last night (don't be fooled by how fluid it looks - it's an excellent, full-body workout!) and something the coach/instructor said to me has been ringing in my head ever since.

After correcting my form, she said, "You were an athlete when you were young, weren't you?" I panted, "Yes. How can you tell?" (Because I'm woefully out of shape at present so I knew it wasn't my current state of athleticism she was noticing.) She said, "Because you're coachable." 

I know that I'm coachable in my personal and professional life because I've been coached so much over the past several years (part of the reason I love and believe in coaching so much!) but I was curious about how this woman, who I'd known for only 15-20 minutes, had picked up on that so quickly. I spent the rest of class noticing what was happening in my head when she gave additional tips to me or another participant. And she was right, I showing up as being coachable because I was eager to learn something new and I was willing to receive feedback (from her or my body) in order to achieve that goal. 

So... it got me thinking about how a person knows if they are ready to be coached. In my opinion, there are a couple of key things that should to be in place in order to move fluidly into being coached. In no particular order...

1) You so badly want and/or need SOMEthing to be different that you are willing to do whatever needs doing to make that happen.

What I mean by that is that you've exhausted what you know to try and it hasn't worked. But NOW you are ready to be open to new opportunities or experiences in order to move past the thing that is stuck, causing you pain, or has been an obstacle to your goals.

2) You've given up the fight to be right. There are times when you HAVE to go to the mat and be right about something (safety reasons are about all I can come up with at the moment...) but for most of us, we fight to be right about things that don't matter in any real way but to soothe or build our ego. Dr. Phil says, "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" That, boiled down, to me means, "Pick your battles carefully and let go of the fights that really don't matter in the end". When you give up the fight to be right, it suddenly lets in other perspectives or possibilities that you may not have noticed before because you were too busy building your arsenal for the fight.

3) You've accepted that "Yeah buts..." live in the woods and "See buts..." live in the ocean where you don't into them often for a reason. 

I straight up stole that one from my friend in college but it quickly became an important litmus test in my life. When I catch myself saying, "Yeah but...", I'm in justification or excuse mode. When I find myself saying, "See but..." I'm in explanation mode. When I'm in those modes, I am NOT in learning mode. 

So... when you've given up the excuses, aren't trying to hide behind something, are willing to consider that you don't have all of the answers, and step into a learning mode, you are READY to dive into coaching and get something out of it. If resistance is your comfort zone, guess what? Working on resistance will be the very first thing that your coach will have to work with you on. That's not a bad thing but it's something that you can pay attention to if you are considering engaging in coaching.

Are you coachable? I am! Come on in - the water's fine!

Taking the Short-cut...

January 27, 2019

I've been thinking about short-cuts lately. Recently I took a trip to NH for work and because of bad weather, I took a long-cut (so to speak) which added about 15 minutes to my ride but it took me past an area that I had last visited with two of my nephews when they were pre-teens. Both of the boys are now grown and married and one is a father to a 10 month-old little girl. Time has flown since that trip so it was nice to meander through that part of NH and think about that trip.

But the short-cut is what's got me thinking these days. When we were in Ireland a few years ago we stayed in a beautiful vacation rental home in Dun Chaoin outside of Dingle. Our hosts encouraged us to use the very narrow mountain pass to get their home because Slea Head Drive is "filled with tourists" and "a challenge to navigate". We followed their instructions because it was dark by the time we arrived and it seemed wise to follow local wisdom. It was indeed narrow and at certain points felt treacherous - especially when passing another car. The next day we spent touring Dun Chaoin so we traveled Slea Head Drive and it was, indeed, tricky to navigate at times especially with the tour buses. (Thanks again Aiofe and Des for that insight!)

That evening we headed into Dingle for some live music and dinner. We wanted to travel Slea Head simply because it was almost sunset and we suspected that the western views of the Blasket Islands would be stunning but we heeded the advice of our hosts once again and started up the mountain pass short-cut again. As we crested the peak we were treated to the MOST magnificent views! To the right we could see the ocean, beach, and cliffs past the rolling green hills filled with sheep. To the left was a gorgeous valley with the most spectacular lake surrounded by fields and steep mountain pitches. The sun was low and the lighting over the entire scene was just incredible! The road still made us a little nervous because of how narrow it was but we took our time and it was worth it. What capped the sight was rounding a bend and finding a couple of lambs who had slipped through a gap in the fence and were frolicking on the road. As we approached, they slid right back through the fence to their mamas. It was a memorable evening, for sure! (Of course I didn't have my camera with me so it just has to stay emblazoned in my memory!)

But short-cuts, especially uncharted ones, can be scary. Coaching is basically a short-cut to reach where you want to be. And most of the time, although sometimes you are in uncertain territory, there are opportunities that you wouldn't have otherwise experienced. Coaching helps fast-track you to your goals but offers a deeper experience along the way.

The Power of Yes!

January 16, 2019

When I graduated from the University of Maine at Machias many many moons ago, I had itchy itchy feet! I had lived in New England my entire life. In fact, at that point I had only lived in Connecticut, where I grew up, and Maine, where I went to college. I did a short stint in New Hampshire on my first attempt at college but that barely counts in my book. 

When I was about five years old, my parents took us on a family road trip to Colorado. I think that trip is what sparked my desire to see what else was out there. And as I grew up, I knew more and more people who had lived in various places and it seemed so exotic to me... I HAD to go see the United States!

So... with a fairly small bank account and a little luck, I found a job on a guest ranch waaaaay out in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. This was before the days of the internet so I had to use my imagination about a lot of what I was going to see and experience. I got off of the plane in Missoula and was dumbfounded. I'd never been anywhere that even the view from the airport was magnificent!

The job wasn't a great fit but everything else was! I'd been hoodwinked by being hired as a Recreation Director but when I got there they said, "Well, we really don't NEED a Recreation Director - we really need people to work in the restaurant and clean guest cabins..." so... since I was there, broke, and committed, that's what I did. I wasn't good at it and I absolutely didn't like it. But what I did like was what I got to do during my time off - fly fish in the West Fork of the Bitterroot River, hike and ride horses up into the mountains, swim in mountain lakes, and meet all sorts of interesting characters. I was hooked on new experiences!

I spent the next 7-8 years trying new things. Highlights include:

  • Working at a ski area outside of Missoula
  • Taking a Wilderness First Responder class at the North Carolina Outward Bound School
  • Doing an internship for Project Adventure (and living in a convent) in Massachusetts where I learned about adventure education
  • Moving to New Mexico to work at a small private school, raise other people's children, and teach adventure education and life skills
  • Frying in the heat of the central valley of California implementing and leading the adventure education program at a camp/conference center
  • Moving back east to try my hand as an organizer of a major music festival
  • Heading to Maryland to raise more kids and work in an environmental conservation organization
  • Galloping eagerly to Vermont to run the program for a conservation corps
  • And finally... settling down with my husband on Cape Cod where I've embarked on a variety of shorter adventures in the 12 years that I've been here

Why am I writing this? Because I was presenting at a conference recently and briefly mentioned my wandering lifestyle in my younger years as part of my introduction. At the end of the session, a young man (~mid 20s?) came up to me and told me that he'd lived in his state (NH?) for his whole life but was being recruited to go work on the west coast. He wanted to know what I thought. I did a very un-coach-like thing... I blurted out, "Go! Go! What are you waiting for? Go!". He laughed at my exuberance and I took a breath and said, "No really... why wouldn't you go?" We had a brief exchange about the fact that he has nothing tying him here, he just isn't sure if he should go all in and go. I don't know if he will go. I hope he goes. But... it got me thinking about everything I've said, "YES!" to in my life and how grateful I am for those experiences!

What would you say, "YES!" to if you could? Why can't you? Are your barriers real or imagined? 

Do You Change Depending on Your Audience?

January 10, 2019

Yesterday someone asked me a question in a workshop about Developing Your Leadership Presence that could have been perceived as being so basic it's hardly worth answering... but he was asking in earnest so I answered earnestly.

"Do you change who you are as a leader depending on who you are talking to?"

Now... there are a few different ways to respond to this. For example:

  • "Yes, every situation is unique so I have to adjust to make the greatest impact."
  • "No, I am who I am and it comes through no matter who is in front of me."
  • "Sometimes... it depends on who has the upper hand."

There's no right answer to this but I feel like I was able to give him the answer that is right for me as a leader. I said, "I lead based on a set of very developed, carefully curated core values that I feel are essential to who I am as a person and therefore as a leader. The tap dance will likely be different if I'm in front of a group of nine year-olds or a boardroom full of executives but my core values never change." 

(Yes... believe it or not... I came up with that on the fly in a room full of about 150 eyes looking at me awaiting my answer. That's what it means to be in your "sweet spot" - talking about something that is so intrinsically engraved on your soul that the hard part is putting it into words. But luckily I'd had the exact right balance of water, breakfast, and mindfulness prior to starting the workshop and I was firing on all cylinders to formulate that response.)

I could actually see something light up in his face about what I had said and, while I moved on to answer other questions, he seemed to sink into that thought as he made some notes feverishly and then reengaged with the group. (The coach in me wishes I knew his name and what had just happened for him...)

To lead, you do NOT have to give up who you are. In fact, speaking of "sweet spots", finding your leadership presence is that space in which your personal and professional values align so perfectly that you can no longer stray from them. It almost sounds like you are locked in but my experience has been that when that harmony is reached, that's when freedom in leadership presence is most easily felt.

Asking for "The Why"...

December 18, 2018

At a recent holiday party someone asked me, "Why do you do what you do?" This was a really refreshing follow-up question to the usual, "What do you do?" so I took a moment to think about how to package it. I am very used to saying what I do but hardly anyone ever asks me why. I know my why in my core but putting it into words is another thing entirely.

I do what I do because I enjoy helping people figure out where they are at this very moment and, more importantly, where they want to be. I thrive on the moments when someone is struck silent by something in our work that strikes so deep in their core that it almost takes their breath away as they realize the possibilities aren't impossible and the barriers aren't immoveable. It's the moments when something shifts inside the person that I'm working with and with great joy, they find their own way forward, that keep me coming back. 

I'm a success junky. Not the kind of "success" that shows up in a new title or bigger bank accounts (though I'm certainly not against that kind of success if that's what people are after) but the kind of success when someone learns something so true. so deep. so personal. so unique. so glaringly obvious now that it's out there. so irrefutable. that they cannot live without that truth one more minute of any of the days of the rest of their lives.

I do what I do because I believe that we are all on this earth to do our best, be our best, feel our best and, for me, being of service in that venture is an honor and a privilege!

And with all of that said, it's clear that I better boil that down to a shorter "elevator speech" just in case someone asks me that question again. 

Zoom in to zoom on...

October 15, 2018

The other day I got a call from a former client who, while I was working with her, was having a very hard time making a major decision about the direction of her life. She was caught up in a variety of common obstacles like: 

1) What people might think about the decision she would make. 

2) How her decision might impact people who may/may not be part of her life long-term. 

3) Starting the decision-making process at the exact opposite end from where she was ready to begin.

None of those things are entirely wrong or entirely right - they simply were not working for her. These were truly obstacles and she felt that she'd been spinning in place for over a year while trying to make a decision. I occasionally work with clients for very short, very intense periods based on their schedules and she was one of those clients so the "Aha!" moments during our engagement weren't as seismic as they might have been had we worked together for my typical 6-12 month engagement. But even when the sessions end, oftentimes, the work is still percolating.

So she called me the other day to excitedly tell me that she had made a decision and was already about two months into the process of moving in that direction. I asked her what helped her the most and she said that it boiled down to two questions:

1) "If you took all of those people out of the equation, what decision would you make?"

2) Instead of thinking about the big picture of your decision, tell me about all of the important facets that would need to be in place for you to know it was the right move for you. 

She said that those questions bounced around in her head over and over and she found herself practicing making decisions using them. It didn't take long for her to silence the opinions of others by inviting them to stay out of it and to begin imagining her decisions in nuanced details instead of big pictures.

It's easy to miss things if you stick at the 30,000 foot level all the time. We are encouraged to "multi-task", "think big", "go big or go home" but often it's the individuals threads in a fabric that bring its beauty forward. Without that level of detail, the fabric might be dull, colorless, or monochromatic. So, it seems, that zooming in and out on a regularly basis will give the varied perspectives necessary to see what needs to be seen.

The end of something...

October 11, 2018

My dad passed away this summer. It was pretty unexpected. I know that might sound funny to say about an 83-year old man but he passed away as a result of an accident and no matter how old you are, that's shocking. 

I'm sharing in part to explain the gap in my posts but also in part because I've been processing a lot lately about how easy it is to get caught up in the end of something and totally miss the beginning or plain wonderfulness of something else. 

I'm grateful for my coach training that I've paired with my mindfulness practice (stopping to notice) because in the thick of things - mourning my dad, planning his services, juggling a huge family and trying to honor everyone's wishes, saying goodbye, facing the "what now?" - there were so many beautiful moments happening. 

There were two full weeks that I got to spend with my brand new three-month-old great-niece Clarabelle (she's a southern sweetie pie) that I wouldn't have had otherwise; there was the inception of a business plan that will keep our 150+ year family farm in the family; there were rekindled relationships in my hometown with people I hadn't shared more than a brief greeting with in years; there was the camaraderie that comes from tackling something hard together and achieving it. Also mixed in there was my husband's hard-earned promotion at work, visits from dear friends, a break on the coast of Maine... all great moments!

Had I let myself fall into the abyss of shock and grief, I would have missed all of that! My dad was a good-time guy. He enjoyed a laugh. He loved having people around. He was the very definition of an extrovert! He wasn't one for wallowing in the bad stuff and he wouldn't want me doing that either. So, although I miss him and am still getting used to a world without him, I'm grateful for the things that I noticed and enjoyed during a process where I couldn't change the outcome.

Rest in Joy, Dad! I'm here carrying it on for you. 

An Irish blessing:

"May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sunshine warm your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand."

The Power of "I don't know"... Part 2

June 19, 2018

Years ago I worked at a job where I was the newest member of a training team. As the more seasoned members got me up to speed on their process, I was told several times, "Never say, 'I don't know'! Say, 'We will be covering that later.'" Their reasoning was that it was important for the trainees to believe that we had all of the answers. This didn't resonate with me but because I was new to the team, I went along with this practice for the first round of training on one condition: I asked the team to watch each of the trainees expressions and body language when they heard, "We will cover that later" instead of getting an answer to their question. 

During our debrief after the first round, we were able to engage in a conversation about how the trainees seemed to shut down each time they heard that and they actually stopped asking questions. I couldn't let it continue because an open dialogue and building relationships of trust in this setting was essential. So, in the second round with these same trainees, I had the team say, "I don't have the answer to that right now but we will get that answered by ______ (the end of the day/end of training/the time you face that situation)." The response from the trainees was remarkable. Instead of recoiling from the lack of knowledge, they leaned into it. They wanted to help find the answer. They offered their experiences from similar situations. They participated in creating an answer in the cases when one hadn't previously existed. They were engaged in the process much more than previously when the message almost smacked of "It's on a need to know basis and you don't need to know right now".

Now... there were certainly times when "We will give you that information at a later time" was appropriate but the response could be coupled with an explanation such as, "We actually have an entire session dedicated to that topic. Can you take a note of your question and bring it to that session?" It gave information, allowed for appropriate sequencing of information, and created a space for them to get all of their questions answered.

"I don't know", when handled well, can be a powerful precursor to "I'm about to learn something!" 

The Power of "I don't know"...

June 6, 2018

<--- Do you see that horseshoe crab over there? In case you can't see what's happening with him, he's upside down! Without assistance, he would have fallen prey to the seagulls that were hovering nearby because the tide was going out and without the power of the water, he had no way to flip himself over. That fella, who has clearly been around for a while, was in deep trouble when my family and I arrived at Hardings Beach in Chatham one evening earlier this week. How was he going to survive? I'm sure that in his tiny brain he was processing some form of, "I don't know" but he was ready for help because he'd exhausted all options to get himself squared away!

Here is an example of one powerful way that "I don't know" can change your life... 

You have no idea how to move forward with something, like this horseshoe crab who was at the mercy of the tide and gulls. This fella really had no choice but to be open to the possibilities that presented themselves because alone, he had no way of changing his situation. When I approached him, he didn't fight back, he didn't pinch me with his claws or swing his tail at me - he just gave in to what happened to him and fortunately for him, I was there to help! 

The same is true with coaching. When you reach a moment in life when you are stuck on something, it's important to be open to all of the possibilities that come forward to help mobilize the situation. Unlike this horseshoe crab who really didn't have much of a choice, people have the choice to find a coach, select a coach who is a good fit, and then engage in a process that helps them move forward. There is no need to flail helplessly when coaching can help you identify the root of the issue and untangle it in a way that helps you move forward.

Celebrating Success - Part Two!

May 23, 2018

If you read my last post about celebrating success, you'll know that in April 2018, I graduated with my coach certification from the Gestalt International Study Center and had set my sights on getting my Associate Certified Coach credential from the International Coach Federation. What I hadn't shared was that my goal was to complete both of these things prior to the one year anniversary of my layoff from a job that I loved that really set me on the formal track of coaching.

I'm excited to share that with a little over a week to spare, I did it! I successfully passed my Coach Knowledge Assessment and am now officially Polly Goddard, ACC!

Celebrating Success!

April 30, 2018

Over the last seven months, I have been enrolled in the Gestalt International Study Center's "Competency Development Program for Coach Certification". It's a 132.5 hour course that requires three in-person five-day intensive trainings (here on Cape Cod which was fantastic!), several hours of practicum coaching, multiple sessions with my mentor coach, a dozen or so meetings with my learning group, a LOT of reading, completion of a research paper and its presentation, and at least 50 hours of coaching. I'm proud to say that I graduated and am now a certified coach! I've been coaching formally for the last five years but that was with a custom model at the university where I used to work. It was fantastic to go through a program and learn every facet of it to support and improve my coaching practice!

My next step is to sit for my International Coach Federation "Coach Knowledge Assessment" and become an Associate Certified Coach through that organization. I'm excited and a little nervous but I'm confident that it will go well!

It feels amazing to have met the first part of my goal that I set when I got laid off from the university in June of 2017 - to become a certified coach. Now on to part two!

How Can I Be A Good Coachee? 

April 15, 2018

During my coach certification training, we had to participate in practicum coaching sessions. Hours and hours of them! This means that in a room with your instructor/mentor coach with an audience of your learning group, you get to practice coaching. (Notice that I said, "get to" instead of "have to" because when you are hungry to learn more coaching skills, this is the perfect little incubator way to try new things, get helpful feedback, and learn from the styles of other coaches.) Perhaps because of my prior experience as a coach and as a coach trainer, this format didn't scare me. What did make me nervous was being coached in that format.

I struggled for the first several sessions. I would toss out something to be coached on... and then back away from it. In my head I was thinking "That's too big to do in these short sessions" or "That doesn't feel like a real problem that I need coaching on" - I wanted to be fair to the person who was coaching me so I was trying to select "the right thing" to be coached on. I tend to be fairly self-aware and I could feel myself struggling with it but I couldn't figure out why. It was suggested that perhaps I was nervous to be vulnerable with new people... but that's not it. I pride myself on being very open. It took me a while to figure out what was really going on.

It finally hit me one day when I was chatting with some of the members of my learning group after another session of me seizing up on finding something to be coached on. I was caught up in trying to take care of my coach by "being a good coachee". I was spending so much time and effort weighing in my head if something was too big, manageable, appropriate for the setting etc etc etc that I wasn't letting myself just settle into the process. Something else hit me at the same time... I had all of these amazing coaches that I was able to get some real coaching from for free and I was blowing this opportunity! I needed to get out of my own way and just get coached!

As soon as this light bulb went on for me, a treasure trove of things that were real came up for me to get coached on. A past issue that still nagged me with my previous employer. A relationship that is plagued by imbalance. And more! I finally had tapped into my coachee self and it felt so freeing! 

One of the things that helped me was during one of our classes, one of the instructors said something about activating clients by asking, "What do you want to be better or different?" The word "help" is one that often freezes people up so using this simple question that rephrases the sentiment made all the difference for me which is why I use it in my own practice.

So... what do YOU want to be BETTER or DIFFERENT in your life? Don't worry about me as your coach - I've heard a wide range of things that people struggle with - from romantic intimacy issues to boss woes and everything in between! If you want it to be different or better, let's talk and see how I can be of assistance.

"I've Tried Everything..."

April 1, 2018

Sometimes I meet with prospective clients who say things like, "I don't think you can help me. I've tried everything! There's nothing else I can do." Through a series of questions, most often a little light comes into the picture for them as they begin to discover that it's not that they've tried everything, it's that they've tried everything that they've thought of up to that point.

Coaching is about getting a client to consider possibilities that s/he may not have ever explored before.

I worked with a client for six sessions and she had made great headway on a lot of different things that were meaningful to her. At the beginning of her seventh session, when I asked her what she'd like to work on that day, she hesitantly brought up a situation that she was having with one of her employees. She said, "I doubt there's anything we can do because I'm at the end of my rope and I've tried everything!" She described her employee as being withdrawn from the rest of the team and that she makes simple mistakes repeatedly. She said that she felt like if the employee had better relationships with the rest of the team, she might be more willing to ask for help on things that tripped her up. 

I asked the supervisor to describe the setting and issue to me in detail. It turned out that the employee's physical office space is separated from the rest of the team, she takes a different lunch hour from the rest of the team because of the need to have office coverage, and she's older than most of the members of the team. As she described this to me, she began to say things like, "Maybe we should rearrange the office so she sits closer", "Maybe I could switch up the lunch rotation so that she's able to have some time to interact socially with other team members", "Maybe she's put off by the fact that there's a lot of chatter about things that she doesn't relate to by the younger members of the team - I wonder if I could facilitate something to find some common ground."

That's it. I didn't make any suggestions, I simply gave her the space to think out loud with someone who doesn't have a stake in the race and within that space, new ideas and observations came to her naturally.

Efficiency Grenade or Agent for Developmental Growth?

March 15, 2018

I've been working with a client who is in the midst of exploring what else he might be skilled at and interested in doing. He's been with his current job for over six years and although he likes the work, he is absolutely frustrated by his manager. It's a small business and the opportunities to sidestep working with this manager are extraordinarily slim. The manager has been with the company for almost 30 years and often uses the seven dreaded words, "We have always done it that way." My client feels stuck. He knows, firsthand, that things could be different because he's experienced it.

About two months ago, the manager was out on medical leave for several weeks and because my client is the most experienced and senior employee, he was tapped to be the interim manager for about six weeks. The first week was challenging but he felt proud that he'd been asked to step up and he leveraged his relationships with his co-workers effectively to shift them into more of a teamwork mindset than a hierarchical "because I said so" environment. By the second week, they had hit their stride. By week four, upper level management noticed that this team had increased their production and had increased their billable hours noticeably and that there had been many positive statements from customers. By the end of week six, my client felt confident that when the manager returned, he would see how effectively and efficiently the team was functioning. He was proud to show the manager the advances they'd made as a team and felt pretty confident that the manager would welcome the stepped-up productivity and maintain the new workflow processes that the team was now used to using.

The next time that we met after the manager returned, my client had returned to being tight-faced and having an edge of anger to him. He described the manager as an "Efficiency grenade" and was seething that not only had the manager forced a complete return to the old way of doing things but he had actually told my client and the team to slow down their work. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the company and the culture of their small business, although the upper management saw the improvements during the manager's absence, they haven't (and very likely won't) addressed the situation. My client is now relatively certain that his only course of action is to find a new job.

Recently I read an article that said, "Employees don't leave companies, they leave managers" and that is spot on! 

If you are seeing constant turnover, a high rate of absenteeism, or other disengaged behavior, the first place to look is at the management of those people. Most often, the issue can be uncovered pretty quickly. The good news is that most people want to do the right thing but many people have no idea how to make a change so they cling tight to what has worked (even if it's just barely worked) in the past. Given some coaching and training, even this problem can be addressed to stem the tide of departures and create happy, healthy teams with happy, healthy managers.

Leadership presence begins with communication...

March 7, 2018

One of the most common situations I work with managers on is their 'leadership presence'. They often come into the relationship saying, "I want people to take me more seriously. I want them to see me as a leader, not just as a person in the crowd."

The first thing that I do as a coach or consultant is I listen. I wrote an earlier blog post about "Taming the tee hee" which is a dead giveaway to nerves but there is another very common but more subtle issue that often shows up in the communication style of someone striving to be taken more seriously. I call them, "Watering down words".

"If you could get this done by Friday, that would be great" is a suggestion, not a deadline. Firmed up, it could look like this: "I need you to have this done by Friday. Do you foresee anything that could get in the way of meeting that deadline?"

"Maybe we should add this wording to the website so the customers won't be confused about it" can be firmed up by saying, "Customers are getting confused by this wording, here is some copy that would make it clear for them."

"Could you do me a favor and print these documents for the meeting today?" Is it really a favor to you or is it a task that is part of their job and needs to be completed? Tighten it up by saying, "We need these copies for the meeting today. Please print these by 2pm."

Here's how it looks in a feedback scenario:

"I sort of needed you to complete this project last week. What got in the way?" Did you need it completed then or not? 'Sort of' negates the need. Without the watering down words, it could look like this, "What got in the way of getting this done by the deadline last week?"

The other day I was in a two-hour meeting shadowing a manager who wants to work on her leadership presence and get a promotion. She said, "I wonder if... Maybe we should... It might be good if..." at the beginning of most of her requests and then walked away from the meeting completely oblivious to the fact that her team wasn't sure if they were in idea phase or action phase. While there are times when these statements can be used as an invitation to brainstorm or discuss a situation, they are often tossed in places they don't belong and thereby muddy the messaging.

Watering down words often are intentionally used to "soften the blow" or come off as less directive. They are particularly pervasive when making a request in writing to lessen the chance of coming off as demanding. However, there are other words or phrases that can meet that criteria without creating a wishy-washy request or leaving people thinking they've got the option to not do what they've been asked to do. The key is to consider the tone in which the new wording is delivered. If a demanding tone is heard, it will come off as a demand. If an apologetic tone is delivered, an apology is heard. When it's delivered in writing, people who know the manager will most often hear the manager's voice or usual tone to interpret the written words.

When the watering down words are toned down or removed, managers often start to see immediate shifts in how other are perceiving him/her.

Watering down words can slip into any conversation. Pay attention and see if you've got them hiding in your communications and what happens when you reel them in. 

UPDATE Six Months Later: My client made a complete overhaul to her communication style and is now a Vice President in her company.  

Opportunities dressed in 'problem employee' clothing...

February 21, 2018

When I meet with new managers, I often hear things like, "I inherited this problem employee. Nobody was able to fix the issue before so I don't think I can do anything about it."

NEWS FLASH! This is a perfect opportunity to stretch those management muscles and maybe build some new ones!

  • What if the idea behind hiring a new manager was to finally address the problem with that employee?
  • What if this is the time to shine as a new manager?
  • What if the new manager is the first person to ever approach the employee about the problem?
New managers often shy away from these issues because they might think, "Mary was a great manager and she couldn't fix it so why should I get my hands dirty even trying?" Well... Mary might just be a great manager. But Mary might not have had the skills, relationship or approach that would ever get through to that employee but a new manager just might.

Another common response is, "She's been doing that behavior for 10+ years. It can't be fixed." What if it can? What if that employee only knows that people steer clear of working with her but she has no idea why?

Can it get worse if a new manager tackles it? It could. But chances are that if this person has been saddled with the "Problem employee" label, it's not going to get much worse. But what if the new manager was the first person to ever sit that employee down and say, "I'm interested in what's happening. I'm interested in removing this label. I'm interested in you."? 

Problem employees = opportunities. 

What does mindfulness have to do with leadership?

February 7, 2018

Years ago, before I really had developed much of an intentional mindfulness practice, I had a really challenging decision to make at work. On one hand, the decision would forever significantly change the way that we would do business. On the other hand, the decision could leave the organization at great and immediate risk. 

I was in a pickle. I was new to the organization by only a few months and unfortunately my Executive Director was literally off the grid and unavailable for consultation. I didn't have anyone at my level with whom to discuss the situation. The Board of Directors had listened to my quandary and responded with, "We don't have the answer. You'll need to decide. Good luck."

To add to the pressure, I had a handful of managers that I supervised who had more experience with the organization than I did. Each of them had very strong, conflicting opinions about what they thought was the right thing to do. Each made sure to get their thoughts known to me - some rather emphatically. I needed to make the decision on my own and I needed to make it within a few hours.

I gathered the pertinent information and went home to sit beside my pond. But I didn't think about the decision. Instead I made myself notice everything around me. I noticed the water bugs skimming the surface of the pond. I noticed the sound of a chain saw in the distance. I noticed the prickle of the sharp grass on the skin of my legs. I noticed the smell of freshly cut grass. I didn't have a clue that this was the very essence of mindfulness but I learned later that that's what it was. I sat there for a while just noticing everything there was to notice - I'm not sure for how long. 

When I felt completely at peace, I got up, went in the house and made the call that set in motion a chain of events that would change the way that we would do business going forward. It was done. I couldn't take it back and I was okay with the decision despite one manager saying, "If you do this, I'll NEVER respect you again!" I don't regret it. I have no idea if he respects me or not but I do know that when my Executive Director returned, I was told, "I would have done the exact same thing. Good job." (Phew!)


I hadn't intended to learn a new skill through that situation but I'm grateful that I did!

Mindfulness isn't about shutting off your brain. It's about focusing on the present moment. How does this relate to leadership and management? I can tell you that when I shifted from being tuned into everything at once (phone, email, multiple projects, deadlines etc) and focused on being tuned into the person in front of me or the task at hand, I became much more productive and in tune with things that were going on at multiple levels. I learned to sort out the most important things that needed my immediate attention.

Try bringing some mindfulness into your work environment by taking a moment at the beginning or end of each day to notice things. How are you feeling? Is your body experiencing a sensation? Are there things that you can intentionally shut down as you leave the office so that you can be more present with your family or at home? 

Welcoming a mindfulness practice into my life has helped me through so many situations - layoffs, grief, uncertainty, big decisions... and more. How could it help you?

Cultivating Leadership Presence Through Awareness...

January 31, 2018

As Dr. Phil says, "You can't change what you don't acknowledge." This can be applied to many things in life and is especially true when examining your leadership presence.

What is "leadership presence"? Well, that's hard to define because it is made up of so many different facets that each person, industry, or company might have a completely different definition. In short, leadership presence is how you carry yourself when you are in a role that requires you to lead. Most people would agree that leadership presence is a good thing but I think it's important to take it a step farther to call it "positive leadership presence" so one can differentiate between the desired and the actual. 

We've all been around people whose very presence changes the vibe in a room. S/he enters and suddenly something shifts. Is it a positive shift? Is it a negative shift? I've experienced enough "leaders" whose presence carries a negative vibe and while they might get a lot done, is anyone happy? Is everyone as productive as they could be?

To really begin to cultivate a positive leadership presence, one must first be completely aware of how s/he is perceived in a genuine way. "Am I a good leader? Do I inspire you? What are my best/worst qualities? What can I do differently?" You're probably not going to get much insight from the answers if you just start wandering the halls and asking your team these questions.

To truly put yourself in a position where you can learn about the current state of your leadership presence, you're going to have to be willing to put yourself into a pretty vulnerable position. You'll need to give people the space, avenue and anonymity that it takes for them to share what they really see, feel, hear, and experience. That's hard. Really hard. But it's absolutely necessary if you truly want to get feedback that you can look at and act upon if necessary.

There are tools to do this but what tools don't provide is the opportunity to talk through the information with someone that doesn't have a pony in the race. That's where coaching can come in very handy!

A coach is there to help you to unpack the feedback, find themes, identify action steps, and help you through any of the challenges that this can bring up. 

Do you know what your team thinks, feels, sees, and experiences with your leadership style? Are you brave enough to find out? Most leaders find that although the process can be challenging, it's incredibly freeing to dive into this process and that the end results are essential to their continued growth and that of their team.

Do you want to begin a process like this? Contact me and let's dive in. We can wade at first if that's helpful!

Introducing Coaching to the Corporate Culture...

January 20, 2018

Many of the companies that I meet with are just beginning to introduce the idea of coaching to their teams and I spend a good deal of time helping them to fully understand the difference between coaching, mentoring, managing, and training. Many coaches in private practice really dislike this part of the process but I happen to really enjoy it! The part I love is helping companies that are new to coaching learn how coaching can support the work they are doing to train and develop their teams. It's clear that training and development supported by coaching helps to lock in the learning in a meaningful way.

The most common desire for companies that I talk with is to help develop their managers to use coaching as part of their management practice. This is the sweet spot for developing people - both the managers and the people they manage!

"...according to recent research, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching." - Harvard Business Review

But there is an important distinction when executives are shifting to a coaching culture. Managers can manage like a coach but they can't manage as a coach. This can be a complex concept to convey but here's a short list of reasons why the separation must be clear:

  • In a pure coaching relationship, there is no power differential. The coach has no power to punish or reward the employee.
  • In a pure coaching relationship, there is complete confidentiality and the coach may not share anything with anyone else that they have spoken about. Because a manager is a fiduciary to his or her company, that automatically nullifies a pure coaching relationship.
  • In a pure coaching relationship, the coach must be willing to allow the coachee to determine the direction and content of the sessions without being committed to a particular outcome. A manager doesn't have that luxury to allow such a wide open field as s/he has accountabilities to uphold and expectations to meet.

Managing like a coach is doable and is exactly what the Harvard Business Review is referring to in its article linked above. Learning the skills of how to do the following (and more!): 

  • Ask not tell - Guide the conversation through questions rather than directives
  • Focus on the employee vs the task
  • Accept that coaching isn't about "fixing" someone
  • Incorporate feedback in a growth-oriented way
  • Engage the employee is a cycle of discovery rather than pointing out "the right way"

Every company is different about how they want to begin the shift to a coaching culture but the one thing that remains the same is that when a company decides to go this route, they are clearly committed to the growth and development of their team. In this way, it quickly becomes clear to the team that coaching is a positive addition to their development, not punitive.

For more discussion about how to bring managing like a coach to your company or organization, please contact me.

Is the writing on the wall? Can you read it?

January 5, 2018

Long before a layoff or some other major shift in your employment, there are often signs. A savvy employee can begin to read the signs in advance so that they aren't caught standing there with their pink slip saying, "Uh. What just happened?" and having no plan on what they are going to do next.

The truth is that all employees should be preparing in small but meaningful ways for that just-in-case scenario at all times. The scenario might be that the company is downsizing and you get laid off or it might be that you've become aware that your personal values are no longer in alignment with the company and it's your decision that it's time to go. Sometimes these things take us by surprise but sometimes when we look back at clues along the way we can see the faintly dotted line that brought us to this moment. 

How do you find the dotted line? Awareness is really your only safeguard against getting blindsided. 

How do you prepare for the end of the dotted line? Preparation is the key.


Long before big scary hairy ugly decisions are made by companies, there are usually some shifts in the playing field. They might be minor shifts that barely register in the Richter scale but you'll notice them if you pay attention. Or they might be significant seismic shifts that leave everyone looking for the nearest exit. But how do you know when to run for the door? You have to pay attention to what is happening. Ask questions. Listen. Listen between the lines. Spend time with your head not buried in your desk and be observant. Clues are there. Even if you don't recognize them as big scary hairy clues, they are clues nonetheless and you should take note of them.

And usually well before you make a big scary hairy decision to leave a company, somewhere in your gut you know it's going to happen eventually. It's okay. Not every job is a great fit. Not every job lasts forever. Sometimes the best way to approach a job is by giving it all you've got while also getting every learning opportunity that you can out of it. Which leads us to...


The best way to get prepared is to stay prepared. I live in a flood, hurricane, nor'easter, and heavy-winds-just-because zone and I remember attending an Emergency Preparedness for Pets session offered at work. The big takeaway for me was that when The Big One hits and we have to join thousands of other people making our way off Cape Cod on the only road that is an evacuation route, we don't want to have to be measuring out three days worth of dog food, finding leashes, collars, veterinary papers etc in addition to packing clothes and supplies for myself and my family. So I packed them a bag that stays in the mudroom with everything they would need for three days away from home. Every couple of months I empty out the kibble and put in fresh kibble. I get prepared by staying prepared.

The same is true of our professional portfolio. It's important to not only have a current resume on hand but it's also important to refresh its content now and then. Review it every few months and add in new accomplishments at your current job. Delete things that have gotten stale or rusty. And while you're at it, take a look at the things that might make you attractive to an employer and start adding to your toolkit. Does your current employer offer trainings, workshops or certifications? Add those to your resume or sign up for as many as you can take. Look outside your employer at local colleges, training sites or adult education programs and see what they have to offer. Being a life-long learner is a GOOD thing and it's a great thing to demonstrate on your resume.

Big changes happen. Life changes. As Epictetus said, "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."

What Aren't You Saying That Your Team Is Hearing?

December 18, 2017

A couple of years ago I was working for a program that was "building the plane while flying". It was something that I was passionate about and I absolutely LOVED my team and the work that we were doing. It was intense and there were many moments of feeling overwhelmed and uncertain that there would ever be the moment of satisfaction that the plane was complete. I worked hard. REALLY hard. 

My "shift" was technically 11am to 7pm so that we could have a member of the management team available to our remote teams spread across the United States. But because most of the management team was on a more normal schedule of 8am to 4pm, I often agreed to meetings outside of my scheduled work time. And because much of my work required intense focus and concentration, I would work well after 7pm when things quieted down and the urgent emails, chat messages, and phone calls were done for the day. I didn't really mind the schedule because my husband was in graduate school on top of his day job and a busy volunteer schedule and my son was grown and had moved out. So the long hours didn't really bother me too much. It gave me a great excuse to ignore the dog hair tumbleweeds and un-weeded gardens.

My team worked hard too. REALLY hard. I hadn't questioned it because at that point, despite the intensity, we all really loved our jobs.

But despite loving our jobs, I ALWAYS encouraged my team to use their vacation time, to take breaks, to go to their kids' games/recitals/appointments, to hit the gym/yoga mat/trail - to do whatever will help them feel balanced, fresh, and whole. This is a huge personal value to me that work/life harmony HAS to be in place otherwise the intensity will wear you out at some point. And I adored and treasured my team so I didn't want any of them to burn out.

One day I was meeting with one of my absolute top performers. She's the kind of rock star that rock stars envy. She's smart, diversely talented, ambitious, passionate... she's incredible! She was leaving on vacation the next day and hadn't yet finished a project that we had set a tentative due date for before her vacation. She had just barely finished the sentence of "It's not done yet" when she cut me off by saying, "But don't worry! The flight to Aruba is a few hours long and I'll finish it then and email it as soon as we land." This had NEVER been how I managed my team. I would never ask them them to work on their vacation or do anything like that. 

I came right back with, "Don't. You. Dare! You are NOT doing work on the plane - you are going to enjoy your husband and your kids. You're going to nap, maybe have a glass of wine. You will NOT be working! Remember, the due date was tentative!" She sputtered, "But... but... it's no big deal. I'll just wrap it up on the plane and..." It was my turn to cut her off. I said, "You are not even taking your computer with you to Aruba. If I have to, I'll have the tech team disable your access to the database and your email. I'm serious. When you clock out this afternoon, you are done until you come back in a week. A week is precious short enough without chiseling into it with work on either end." (It should be noted that we had an excellent relationship so this type of communication worked well for us.) She took me seriously at that point and didn't take her computer with her. It was hard for her to walk away with unfinished work hanging out there but ultimately she admitted to being grateful that I'd been so directive about it.

A few weeks later in a group meeting, another member of my team preparing for vacation made mention that she was going to take work with her on her trip as well. I asked my Aruba vacationer to outline what I had told her and she regaled them with my, "I'll lock you out if I have to!" speech, giving everyone quite a chuckle. 

I took the opportunity to dive in with my team and ask, "What's going on? I tell you ALL the time that your time is YOUR time. I don't want you working while on vacation. I want you resting. Enjoying. Cutting loose. My motto is that no small children will die if this work isn't done today so why are you putting this pressure on yourselves?"

Now... know this... I had worked HARD to cultivate a wonderful, open, respectfully-communicative relationship with this team and we were very close (as close as you can be while maintaining professional boundaries, that is) so they had no bones about telling me exactly why they did it.

"Because YOU do it, Polly. Remember when you were on vacation in Alaska and dialed in to those meetings? Remember when you were at that conference and managed the emergency that came up with the installation of  the new phone system from there? Remember when we had to fire that guy and you helped us through it from a hotel room in Washington, DC? You answer emails at all hours of the day. You are available to us practically 24 hours a day. You never stop so... we kinda... sorta... feel like we shouldn't either..."

WHOA! Now THAT was a wake up call for me. Long had I poo-pooed the "Do as I say, not as I do" mentality but it never occurred to me that they would choose to follow my example of their own accord simply because they wanted to show that they were as invested and engaged as I was.

So, I made a concerted effort to change that behavior. When I left on vacation, I gave out my cell number in case of dire emergencies but I didn't check email (okay - I glanced at it to forward any fiery issues to another manager). When I wasn't on vacation, I made a conscious effort to only send and respond to emails during reasonably acceptable business hours. I did what I needed to do to ensure they had the support that they needed and then I tagged out. And when they saw me doing it, they started doing it too.

I realized that they had been hearing me say, "I want you to take time for yourself" but what they were interpreting from my actions was that if I wasn't following my own advice, they shouldn't either. 

It got me thinking about what else I had been giving conflicting messages about so I paid much closer attention. I was able to shift my perspective to see what they saw, hear what they heard, and make sure that my actions and words were in alignment. We all grew from that experience and occasionally when someone was at risk of violating the working-on-vacation ban, someone would emphatically cheer, "Remember Aruba!". (Gosh, I miss that team!)

You Know What They Say About Assumptions...

December 2, 2017

Years ago I got called into the office by the Executive Director (ED) for a meeting at a mid-sized organization that I had worked at for about a year. I worked from home 2-3 days per week and the balance of the time I split between two office sites. To be called into the office by the ED was very odd because I had only had a handful of conversations with him since he had hired me and most of those were just superficial non-work topics or, at best, big big picture work topics. 

I rearranged my day to meet his request and came into the office. He sat me down at a round table less than ten feet from the office manager's desk in the reception area instead of going to my office or his just down the hall. He started the meeting by saying, "It's not working out with you working from home. We need to end that immediately." I was stunned. I had accepted the job because I had to have the flexibility to work from home as I had some high-intensity family obligations and lived over an hour away. I had carefully crafted my work and home schedule to meet this need so I was quite taken aback that this was suddenly being yanked out of the agreement.

After catching my breath, I asked, "What is it that's not working?" He said, "You aren't getting any work done. We need to move things forward but your time at home isn't productive enough so we need to have you come into the office full time."

This was the FIRST TIME the ED had ever even talked to me about my workload. He wasn't my supervisor and his interactions with me had been brief leaving me with the impression that my daily work wasn't even on his radar. My supervisor wasn't included in this conversation so I was unsure if she had informed or influenced this discussion or not. 

I was blindsided and mortified. The office manager was sitting at her desk just feet away working hard to appear to be working hard and doing her best to will herself into being deaf. This was clearly uncomfortable for her as well. My other colleagues, with open doors just feet away, could also hear what was happening and the usual banter and office hum had screeched to a halt. Mortified barely covers how I felt.

Backed into a corner, there was little I could do. I asked if my supervisor, who wasn't in the office so I couldn't invite her into the conversation, had updated him on the work that I was doing and he dismissed that as an irrelevant question. I knew that the only way that I could keep the job was to maintain my current schedule. If they required me to come in full-time, I was going to have to resign and find another job that could fit my needs at the time. I wasn't being petulant, I simply could not be flexible on this point because of my family responsibilities. So, given no other choice, I calmly walked to my office and got an armload of stuff and my work bag and proceeded to lay out and explain in detail everything I'd been working on:

  • The ~40 page (and growing) management manual that I had constructed from scratch;
  • The training plan that I had built from scratch and clearly documented so that it could be carried forward after I left (When I was hired I had been clear that I would only be there a maximum of three years because of my family obligation.);
  • The monthly educational and professional development series I had established from scratch;
  • The HR management database tool that I had developed to manage my 13 employees because none existed prior;
  • The schedule of the weekly meetings that I had with my 13 employees and the bi-weekly meetings I had with my partners;
  • The performance evaluation process that I had developed;
  • The "Facebook" (before the real Facebook - darn, I missed that boat!) that I had created to share the real-time ever-evolving skills, successes, and contributions of my employees with the partners that sponsored them;
  • And more...

I covered that table with binders, spreadsheets, file folders, and reams of paper in a pile so high that I could barely see him on the other side.

I explained that working from home was hard but that I had set up a private office and had set very clear "office hours" and rules with the children that I was raising at the time. I explained that my schedule was carefully constructed around a myriad of responsibilities but at the end of the day, I often topped 50+ hours of work rather than the expected 35-40 hours because I worked late at night and many weekends.

It was his turn to be stunned. I ended the impromptu presentation/justification by saying, "When you hired me, I was clear that this is the schedule that I needed in order to work here. I still want to work here but if you are going to require me to come in full-time then I will need to give my notice." He was silent for a few moments and then said, "I see that you've gotten much more done than I thought. We can keep the current arrangement... for now" and he pushed back his chair and walked down the hall to his office without another word. He never apologized. He never checked back in with me. We never talked about it again.

Later I learned that my supervisor had NO idea that he was going to have that conversation with me and that he had never asked her for updates on my work or production.

Before you finish the rest of this post, please take a moment to jot down the key areas where this "manager" missed the mark.

I learned so much from this ED - mostly from the "What not to do" column. Here's a quick summary:

  • Don't be a manager that is so out of touch with employees that you are completely clueless about what they are doing;
  • Don't make assumptions about what someone is or isn't doing; 
  • Don't make negative interactions the only interactions you have with your staff/team members;
  • Do your homework before you tackle any tough conversation;
  • Approach conversations with a resolution mindset rather than a cannon ball that causes irreparable damages;
  • If you have to change a fundamental part of someone's job, plan ahead and give them the opportunity to weigh in if possible;
  • Don't torture people by calling them out in a public place. If you need a witness, get one but take it behind a closed door to have the conversation and make sure that you aren't blindsiding the witness either.
I can tell you that the tension in that office was so thick after that day that I never recovered fully from it while I worked there. Even the hug from the office manager after the ED left on his daily two hour coffee amble couldn't put aside my feelings of being ambushed and humiliated. The upside is that I added more tools to my management toolkit that day!

How Do You Know?

November 15, 2017

Recently I was giving a presentation about my coaching practice with managers who are new, struggling, or stuck and therefore under performing or letting the team down. One of the participants asked me, "How do you know what it's like for those managers?" My answer stopped him in his tracks. I said, "Because I was one of them." Silence fell across the room as I let that sink in.

Yes, I used to be a manager who had done such a great job on the front lines of my job that I got made a manager. The problem was, I had never managed another person before. I hadn't been given any training or guidelines. I was just suddenly a manager that needed to figure it out. Unfortunately for some of my previous team members, I didn't always get it right. I struggled with finding my voice as a manager. I struggled with things like "But I'm younger than them" and "But I've been here less time than the rest of the team" and "I really hope nobody can tell that I have NO CLUE what I'm doing!" And I didn't ask for help.

Unfortunately, there are TOO MANY managers in this exact same situation. They were excellent cashiers, carpenters, tech support agents, bank tellers, customer service representatives etc and because they excelled in those roles, they have been promoted into management positions often with little or no support or training on how to manage that transition.

Here are a couple of challenges that are common for people in this position:

1) I have never managed people so I'm using my past experience (good or bad) with people who have managed me to manage my new team. The training sessions/manuals tell me what to do but not how to do it. I'm struggling with each new aspect so I feel like I'm falling behind and failing.

2) I used to be ON the team that now I'm managing and now I'm expected to manage them. Some of them are bitter that I got promoted and they didn't. Others are my good friends who think that they can get away with anything. I have no idea how to handle this.

3) I'm afraid that if I ask for help, I will look weak and the upper level management will regret hiring me into this position.

Chances are that if you did a completely anonymous poll at your workplace, at least one person would be able to identify with at least one of those common challenges. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that more than one person has more than one of these feelings. 

How does coaching help? Coaching is about finding the strengths that exist and building on them while exploring the areas for growth and reinforcing the skills needed to be successful. Learning to be an effective manager is pretty tricky to do from generic training sessions or manuals. Again, they focus on the "what to do and what not to do" but they rarely provide an opportunity to explore HOW to do things. 

"Terminate someone who isn't meeting the expectations" might be outlined in a training manual. How do you know if they are/aren't meeting the expectations? What should you do to support them to meet the expectations? How do you go about terminating them if that's what's really called for? Coaching gives the coachee the safe space to explore these questions and determine where his/her skills, knowledge and abilities intersect with the expectations of the organization and it gives the coachee the opportunity to practice the skills prior to "going live" with them.

Managing people is hard. There will never be one formula for management because it's a function of working with people and no two people are exactly the same. However, building a baseline of management skills will allow you to adjust your approach accordingly when someone new walks through your door.

I can help take the anxiety out of being a new manager! Contact me to learn how we might work together.


November 1, 2017

My early career was spent working in adventure education, summer camps, residential education and event planning. These are jobs that require a different set of skills than an office-type job and one of the big differences is that in those settings, there's rarely a clock-in, clock-out process because of the 24 hour nature of the work. I decided one day that I needed to expand my skills and my horizons and I applied for a position with an alumni development office at a prestigious private school. The director saw something in me that he liked because despite my total lack of experience in database management (a key function of the job I had applied for), he hired me. It was a whole new world for me. Arriving at a specific time. Departing at a specific time. Eating lunch at a specific time. This was all new! In previous jobs, the day started when the need started whether that was at 4am or 10am and it ended when the work was done whether that was 6pm or 11pm. Eight hour work days were mythical in my previous world and to say that I needed time to adjust is a fair statement.

I'd worked at this new job for about 10 months when my director, with whom I had an open and honest relationship, called me into his office. What he said to me had an impact on my professional life so profound that every single person I have ever managed has had the same conversation with me in some form or another.

I've boiled it down to, "The impression speech". 

My director asked me, "Do you enjoy working here?" I answered carefully but honestly by saying, "I really enjoy the people and the school but the job responsibilities don't exactly rev me up." He said, "I want to share with you that the impression that you are giving is that you don't enjoy working here. Is that the impression that you want people to have about you?" That made me sit up straighter in my chair and ask a few questions to determine what gave people that impression.

Through that conversation, I realized that what I was struggling with personally had seeped into my professional life and I didn't even realize it. I had overcommitted myself by having a full-time job, two part-time jobs, and I was in fire school with the local volunteer fire department. I barely slept. I wasn't eating well. I wasn't taking care of myself. I was burned out and it was showing in my work. That was a huge wake up call!

It was hard to hear. Please don't get the impression that what he said just magically made sense and I skipped gleefully from the room showering him with thanks. I did thank him, of course, but inside my stomach was churning and I considered quitting so I wouldn't have to suffer the shame of being imperfect. But I didn't quit. Instead, I thought about everything that he said and realized that he had put ME in control by telling me that this was the impression that I was giving not the impression that people had formed without my input. I realized that if I had given that impression, I had the power to change that impression. It was the first piece of feedback in a professional setting that I ever received that was manageable, actionable, and empowering! 

Armed with this new insight, a few days later I sat down with the director again and asked him, "What exactly is giving the impression that I don't like working here?" He was direct and said that my loose interpretation of the work hours was the first indication. Easy! I was rolling in between 8 and 8:30am because I was under the impression that was the norm. 8am? Yep, I can do that. What else? I had called out sick a fair amount (not in excess of my allotted sick leave) in those 10 months because of the burn out. I explained the reasons that I was working two additional part-time jobs and that I was in fire school and I vowed to adjust my schedule to be more manageable. What else? Because I was burned out, I wasn't asking for more responsibility and his impression was that I learned the job quickly and then just hit coasting mode. Every job I had ever had before had heaped more work on me when I had achieved success with my expected duties so it never occurred to me to ask for more. Given this new information, I started expressing interest in classes that I could take to enhance my skills, offering assistance to other department members when I had time, and reaching out to my director simply asking, "What else can I do?" or offering ideas to further streamline our processes etc.

The "impression speech" is one that I've used in so many situations - with teenagers, with parents, with friends, and, as mentioned above, with every single person I've ever managed in the past. I haven't always had to use it because the person was struggling - sometimes I've used it as a tool to help them move up in an organization or to find a different job elsewhere. 

Impressions are tricky because you can't always manage every aspect of them. However, with practice, you can achieve enough insight and self awareness to control the majority if the impression others have of you. By developing skills in being aware of how others perceive you, you up the ante of being able to deliver the desired impression.

Fried eggs...

October 15, 2017

Do one thing today that you didn't think that you could do yesterday. This is how you develop "range". What is range? Think of it like trying to bend down and touch your toes. If you are only in the habit of reaching your feet to put your socks on, you probably aren't doing it in a way that causes you to truly test how far down you can bend down to touch your toes. But if you started reaching for your toes every day, within a period of time, you will probably be able to touch your toes. That's what it means to develop range. You aren't necessarily going to reach the goal all at once but with work, each day you'll develop another skill or habit to achieve the goal you've set for yourself.

My example for today is fried eggs. I have never been successful at making an over-easy fried egg. Because I can't stand it if it's undercooked, I usually end up with over-rock-hard fried eggs. But my husband is exceptional at making any style egg I want - poached, over-easy, scrambled etc. So, because I have built-in chef, I stopped trying to make myself the perfect over-easy egg thus relegating myself to scrambled eggs when left to my own devices.

Today I decided that if I'm going to coach my clients to extend their range, I better practice it myself. So, I thought about the zillions of times I've watched my husband make the perfect egg and tried to mirror his every action. It wasn't perfect. But! I did get one of the two egg yolks to be cooked to the right consistency even though the whites were a mess and the second egg was the victim of vigorous turning and therefore ended up with a broken yolk. 

But from this partial success, I am determined to try again tomorrow. So I've developed some range simply by having some success and by feeling inspired to keep trying!

What do you lean away from in your life that could be beneficial if you leaned into it and eventually mastered it? What step can you take toward that today?

The key word in management relationship is 'relationship'...

September 27, 2017

Please raise your hand if you have ever encountered one of these uncomfortable situations as a manager (or something similar) that you weren't quite sure how to handle:

  • One of your employees is walking around the open work space inviting everyone out for a beer after work. He intentionally averts his gaze and walks quickly past your desk without inviting you.
  • An employee sees you at your son's soccer game and begins talking about a conflict she's having with another employee. She is clearly trying to get you on her side.
  • While waiting for a meeting to begin your team is chatting about each others' pictures on Instagram. As soon as you walk in, they clam up. Nobody has ever requested to follow you on Instagram.

Any hands in the air? Well... mine is! My hand is definitely raised. Every one of these things has happened to me as a manager. The first one happened when I was a new manager. I was friendly with my entire team so I was pretty insulted that I was intentionally not invited over and over again. It took me a while to realize that it was the right thing to do and I'm glad that I never told them that I was insulted. 

The other situations happened when I was a much more seasoned manager and I handled each on head-on. To the sideline sidler, I simply said, "It sounds like this is a bigger conversation that we should talk about at work. I'd be happy to meet with you about this in the office on Monday." (She never requested time with me in the office and when I asked her if she wanted to discuss it, she said, "Oh no. It's no big deal.") To the Instagrammers, I said, "That's great that you all have connected with each other outside of work. That tells me that you trust each other. It's clear that building those relationships has brought you all closer together as a team." One person uncomfortably asked, "Do you use Instagram?" I said, "Yes, but I never request to follow anyone that I work with so they don't feel uncomfortable about deciding to accept or reject the invitation." They were all visibly relieved that I didn't feel left out or guilt them into joining their social media circles. It was a powerful teaching moment for some of the newer managers on my team as well.

So... back to the beer drinkers... Why was it the right thing to do to leave me out? Because until you are an extremely savvy and confident manager who can appropriately manage the overlap of your business and professional life, you need to keep them pretty distinctly separate. 

For example... What if, when that group of employees got together for a beer, one of them passed the filter stage of boozing and started mouthing off about your company or your boss or you as their manager. Is that something you should hold them accountable for at work or is it someone just venting with friends in a safe space?

What if the person who is trying to schmooze you at the soccer game is actually working on getting someone fired and therefore fills your head with inaccurate, inflammatory information? Is that information that you could/would/should take back to the office and look into or should you leave it on the sidelines?

What if your team did add you on social media and you started seeing things about their personal lives that altered your professional opinion of them. Could you un-see what you've seen and carry on as before?

If you are chummy and friendly with someone outside of work, could you still hold them accountable? What if they learned something about you that was unsavory or questionable - would you still be able to function effectively as their manager without blinking?

I've seen it go bad too many times and once it's gone bad, it's really really hard to right the ship. For example, I mentored a new manager whose team was made up of people he'd known from a variety of professional and personal relationships previously. This was his first time as a manager and it was the first time that these folks were managed by someone they knew. The team felt entitled to walk all over him because he was their buddy. He felt guilty about holding them accountable because it might impact their friendship. It was a sticky situation all the way around that required a lot of coaching to navigate.

It IS possible to have great relationships with people that you supervise (or are supervised by) but it IS a highly developed skill that takes time and investment. 

Being a good manager is about being open to a relationship that remains productive and professional but still allows you to see and treat each member of your team fairly as an individual with strengths, challenges, and needs. It's tricky. 

At one point in my career, I was hired to work in the same department as someone that I had been dear friends with for 20+ years. The director was rightly cautious about not allowing us to be in any kind of supervisor/supervisee role when I first started. But we quickly demonstrated that part of what makes our friendship successful is the ability to give each other feedback, hold each other accountable, communicate respectfully, and manage our feelings appropriately. After just a few months, due to changes that were happening quickly, there was no choice but for me to report to her. We both made the case to the director that not only was it the only choice but we COULD and WOULD make it work. And we did. We committed to being professionals while on the clock and it worked out beautifully. Many of our colleagues had no idea for quite some time that she and I were even friends outside of work much less how close we were.

But how do you start a professional relationship from scratch? How do you walk the fine line of close and too close? It's a very delicate balance to ask how an employee's family is doing, for example, without getting drawn deeply into his/her personal drama. 

If you are having trouble navigating this, I can help! It comes down clarity, boundaries, and respectful communication. Please contact me to discover how I can help you move to a more comfortable means of creating, developing, and maintaining relationships with your team members.

Embracing the 'Gremlins'...

September 7, 2017

Let's be honest, we all have at least one thing that paralyzes us as the voices in our heads crank up the volume and chant, "You're not good enough to do this. You're not smart enough. You don't have the skills", or something along those lines. I don't care who you are, every single person I've ever met, if pressed, can come up with something that stops them in their tracks. What happens once the gremlins are chanting and cranking up the volume is what really matters though.

I'm preparing to take a class and I have to take an entrance exam for the class. When I found out that it included a math portion, I panicked. I am the person that sees a word problem and it turns into gobbledy gook right in front of my eyes. I have never been successful at math but unlike many people, I can actually trace it back to why. During the formative years of my math foundations, I had a lovely man who talked more about World War II than he did about math. When I left his classroom and headed to high school, he signed off that I was prepared for Algebra I. I wasn't. I wasn't even close to prepared. Sending me into a high school algebra class was like saying to someone, "This is a pool. It has water in it. To swim you move your arms and legs. Good luck!" and then tossing them into the deep end.

By the time I got to my senior year in high school, I'd been called stupid, had chalk and erasers thrown at me, and I froze with every single math problem that came my way. When I entered college, I continued to freeze but there, my Gremlins (notice the capital G) were in total control and, because I needed math credits to graduate, I would enroll in a math class and then drop out before the enrollment period was closed. I just could NOT get through the basic requirements in college. Then I went to a different school to finish up my last couple of classes and when I took the math placement exam to determine which math class I should be in, it was determined that I should be in "Math R" (remedial math). I wasn't too insulted because I knew I was missing the basics. I'd been silently drowning for years and Math R was my pool noodle. That class set me up to pass and actually understand the math requirements necessary to get my degree. Yay! 

But Math R was a few years ago. Well... almost 20 years ago now to be honest and because my jobs have relied very little on math, my foundation has become a little unstable.

Tomorrow is the exam. I spent time preparing for it. I have the option of pushing it off to another test date or just going for it. This morning I actually started typing the email to reschedule the class and then I deleted it without sending it. I needed to get square with the "why" of what I would accomplish by pushing it off. 

Here's what I know about me and my gremlins. If I push off the test date, this will loom larger and larger in my head until I am in full paralysis and decide "I didn't want to take that class anyway!" and walk away. So, because I've learned how to listen to my gremlins, my negative self talk, my voices from the past that look and sound a lot like a certain teacher in high school when it comes to math, I know that I can't give in. I need to just go in there and give it my very best shot. I know what my strengths are and one little math test and the inability to hold exponents, quotients, and geometry in my head doesn't define me or my ability to learn or contribute. It used to! And to be honest, while my husband was trying to help me prepare, I did start to slide down the old path of negative self-talk around math. But it's within my power to put this into perspective and move forward giving it my best effort and letting that land where it may. 

Gremlins come in different forms for different reasons for everyone but if you fight against them, ignore them, or cow-tow to them, they only grow in power and intensity. However, if you listen to them to sift through and decide what is truth, what is fiction, and where you have opportunities for growth, you can eventually turn your Gremlins to gremlins and learn to control the volume. They can become incredible tools toward empowerment!

PS: I passed the test with flying colors - even the math portion! Take THAT math gremlins!