Respond vs. React

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about learning to respond rather than react. Here’s how I see the difference: When we respond to a situation, there is an element of thought behind the process. We take some time to think about what we want to say or do beforehand. When we react, we simply act from whatever thought or emotion is predominant without much awareness or consideration.

I put my foot in my mouth. We all know that phrase; it’s when we say something that we wish we hadn’t. It usually happens when we simply react and blurt out a comment that we haven’t put much thought into. This often happens when we have a negative reaction to something ― for example, when we feel defensive. When someone provokes me, I tend to react strongly, and the words that come out of my mouth can be combative.

In contrast, if we take a bit of time to think about what we really want to communicate, we might get a better result. Our thinking time might only be three seconds, but those seconds can mean the difference between saying something you regret and communicating something that leads to a much better discussion. The trick here is in the timing. Our emotional reactions are incredibly quick, and our rational thinking often takes a few moments to catch up.

So how do we develop an internal pause button that allows us to take a breath and think about how we want to respond? Here are some suggestions for finding the space needed to think before we speak:

    Recognize the stimulus. What’s triggering your reaction? Through self-awareness, we can see what makes our heart rate rise, what makes our breathing become shallow, what makes our thoughts immediately turn negative. Most people get defensive about the same things again and again. After repeated observations, you can learn to predict when you’re going to react negatively to something someone else does or says. Recognizing these triggers is key to learning to respond reasonably in the moment rather than reacting.
    Who is reacting? After many years of observing my thoughts, I can recognize the aspects of myself that react to various situations. For example, one part of me always reacts the same way when I feel judged, pushing me to quickly voice justification for my actions.  The sad part is, I may think someone is judging me when they’re actually not. Then my defensive reaction makes no sense. If I can recognize my defensive feelings when they arise, I have an opportunity to pause and find another way to respond that isn’t so defensive.
    Be present and press pause. If we can be present in the moment when a stimulus provokes us, we have a much better chance of pausing before we react. One way to be more present is to put your awareness in some part of your body – I usually try to feel my feet.  This awareness grounds me and allows me to see what’s happening with others as well as within myself. It gives me that small moment when I can pause, breathe and find a place of neutrality from which to respond.
    Speak from mindfulness. Speaking from a more thoughtful place creates a world of difference. How often do you wish that you’d thought something through before you commented on it? Waking up at 2 a.m. with regrets about the things you said the day before is not fun. Lying awake for the next three hours rehearsing what you should have said is even worse. Try allowing your brain to influence your thoughts so that what comes out of your mouth has a better outcome.
    Timing is everything. My father always used to say, “Think before you speak.” What he didn’t say was how to do that. In our everyday interactions, words travel swiftly between us, and we often don’t think about what’s being said. Taking the time to pause and ponder never harms any conversation. We can always stop for a moment ― no one is timing us ― to bring awareness to our thoughts and feelings before we actually speak.

This week, try experimenting with some of these suggestions in your dealings with others. Can you give yourself permission to pause? What do you experience when someone pushes your buttons? How many voices do you see within yourself and which ones serve you rather than degrade you? What’s the most useful thing you can say in the moment that will add value to the conversation rather than take away from it?

Just because you think it doesn’t mean you have to say it. Thoughts arise like fireflies on a summer night. They seem to come out of nowhere, flit and flicker for a few moments, and then disappear. These creatures can be quite compelling ― just like our thoughts ― but that doesn’t mean that one firefly is better than another. It requires a mindful presence to see which thoughts are worth expressing and which ones you can allow to fly away.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2014 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.


Good day, team.

It’s a new year, which is a great time to think about what changes we might like to make in our behavior. The first word that comes to my mind is “patience.”

I’m not very patient. When I begin a project, whether it’s something as simple as folding sweaters in my closet or something more complex like helping a team improve their interactions with one another, I jump in with a gleeful enthusiasm and quickly find myself wanting to be done. I am results-oriented, and the desire to get something done compels me like an impatient horse at the starting gate, snorting and straining against the bit to get down the track as quickly as possible so I can get over the finish line. It’s not about winning; it’s about getting the thing done.

This impatient approach works extremely well when on a hot deadline. Need to put out a fire? I’m your girl. But when it comes to being highly deliberative, focused on quality, analytical and well-paced, I struggle.

So here’s my challenge. I’m in the business of listening and talking with people all day, and nothing makes me happier than to be present with another person. At the same time, my impatience nags at me. In the back of my mind, I’m often thinking, “Come on, come on ― let’s get to the bottom of this so we can solve the problem and move on.” This nagging impatience threatens to barge into my peaceful, thoughtful, open-hearted presence, and take over.

So how can I temper my enthusiasm for completion so that my energy can serve me appropriately? I love to get started, but sometimes I have a hard time going the distance. This doesn’t mean I’m not loyal ― I’ve had many of the same clients for years and have gone many distances with them. But on a case-by-case basis, I find that extending a bit of patience could mean the difference between staying in the moment with someone versus moving on to the next idea, opportunity or line of thinking. We all know how irritating it is to be talking with someone only to realize that they’ve stopped listening. Sometimes they interrupt you, and other times it’s obvious that they’ve started thinking about something else. Sometimes they move onto their next thought and leave you behind. It’s pretty disrespectful to stop paying attention in the middle of a conversation. And I admit, I’m guilty of this some of the time.

Moreover, I realize that at the heart of it, life has it’s own timing, and I’m not in control. But I’m impatient to take over and push, to drive circumstances to a successful end.

I experience this most acutely as I watch my 93-year-old mother-in-law dying. She has been in hospice now for a number of months. On many occasions, we didn’t think she’d make it to the end of the week, and other times we’ve been surprised by her sound mental and physical abilities. As I sat with her the other day, holding her hand and watching her move in and out of a disturbed sleep, I realized that we don’t control death. It comes when it comes and that’s it. I know at times she has been impatient for all of the pain and suffering to end. But she’s had just as many days when she thought she might get better and was anxious to be able to get out of bed to do the simplest of things. No matter what her thoughts and no matter how impatient she may be to let go or hang on, it doesn’t really make any difference. She has to take each moment as it comes and accept, surrender and just be where she is.

What if down the road my own impatience decides it’s time to go, but death has not yet arrived? Or what if I become impatient with death and decide to fight it off? I believe we can be just as impatient to live as we can be to die. Ultimately, I’d prefer to peacefully accept my own death when it comes and not experience impatience with my circumstances and mortality.

So my challenge is to be more patient, to allow things to be what they are and try not to force them.
I’m going to start practicing today.

What is your challenge for 2014? What area of your life, your psychology, your behavior, your methodology do you want to improve on, change or just make better?

Have a good week,


© Copyright 2014 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

Words of Wisdom

Good day, team.

This last challenge for 2013 is about finding grace and wisdom in the most unlikely places.

On a trip to California this week to visit a client, I found myself in a taxi at 4:45 in the morning en route to the airport. My taxi driver arrived right on time and greeted me with a broad smile as he took my bag and placed it in the trunk of the car.

Soon after leaving my home, we began to talk. Hearing his accent, I asked him where he was from. “Ethiopia,” he replied with a deep bass resonance in his voice. “Ahhh,” I replied. “I had a client once who is American but grew up there as the daughter of missionaries. She spoke very highly of your country and enjoyed her years there growing up.” And so our conversation continued about Ethiopia, his experience growing up there, the differences between his birthplace and America, etc.

We began to talk about the things that were most important to us as we were growing up. He spoke about always working at school and living in his small village with his family. He didn’t have much time for play as a kid and really didn’t have much time to enjoy the better parts of his culture. Ironically, now that he lives in the U.S., he makes an effort to meet with other Ethiopians to enjoy what bits of their native culture they can recreate here.

He talked about the differences between America and Ethiopia. As he put it, “Here, we all have food, a roof over our heads, a TV, a car, etc. It’s convenient. There, we had each other, and although it was primitive, there was much more connection between people. I took it for granted growing up. But not here. Here, I have to make time for the emotional connections I make with others.” I commented that I understood what he meant. I told him I had taken a year off to live in Italy when I was in my 30s, and that after being there a year, I observed that the Italians had created a daily routine that included about four to six events that allowed them to connect emotionally with each other ― early morning espresso at the coffee bar, mid-morning cappuccino break, long lunches, drinks before dinner in the local square and dinner. We agreed that some cultures have foregone quality emotional interactions for efficiency.

As we pulled up to the curb at the airport, my driver turned to me with his bright eyes and big smile. “You know,” he said, “all people have that special something in them, that thing that’s so hard to describe but is always there. I call it love, and of all the things we have in this world, it’s the most precious. To have a good life, we have to share it.”

I smiled back at my Ethiopian messenger. He reminded me of something I read in the Bible as a child: “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Luke 12:40.

This week, listen to the messages of grace, love and wisdom that come to you, often from the least likely places. Maybe it’s your child whose words remind you of what’s most important in your life. Perhaps it’s the produce guy at the grocery store who comments about vegetables in a way that reminds you how connected we are to the earth. Or maybe it’s a team member whose humorous remark in a moment, reveals something true about you.
These words of wisdom can come from anyone. Whatever the message, see them as gifts that come to you along the way.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

Have a great holiday!


NOTE: The next coach’s challenge will be published Jan. 12, 2014.

© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

Changing the Story

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about how our memories and stories about people and events stay locked in our minds and how we use them to justify current actions and to judge others. I recently read “The Sense of An Ending” by Julian Barnes. Briefly, it is a story about a man’s memories of a relationship he had with a woman early on in his life and how those memories become challenged when they are reintroduced many years later. The man realizes that the stories he’s told himself about her and the circle of friends and family they had around them at the time are grossly inaccurate.

The aspect of the book that stands out for me is how our memories of events stay locked away in our minds until we bring the stories back up to justify our current attitudes or actions ― and how difficult it is to change those stories, even when we realize they’re not true and that they do harm.

Here’s an example of how I’ve seen this play out in the work place:

Jim and Brian began working together on the same team three years ago. They both had strong and very different opinions about what direction the business should take over the next 12 months. They were passionate about their perspectives and tried influencing the rest of the management team to see their points of view. This pitted them against one another, and they both created strong negative attitudes toward each other.

This was difficult for the rest of the team. Most people could see pluses and minuses to each of their strategies for growing the business, but because Jim and Brian often fought against each other, team members tended to shy away from siding with one or the other. They became paralyzed whenever Jim and Brian were in the room. They just wanted them to stop fighting and to get along so the team could move forward.

Time went on, and it became apparent whose strategy was best for growing the business. But because Jim and Brian were caught in their memories of what happened three years prior when they were so opposed to each other, they had difficulty changing how they saw and felt about each other.

At some point, however, Jim and Brian began to see that the business was succeeding. This allowed them to change their relationship to one another. Jim’s strategy happened to be the better one, but he didn’t boast about it or say to Brian, “I told you so!” He just continued to try building the business. Brian, on the other hand, could have easily resented Jim as he saw Jim’s strategy succeeding, but he was smart enough to change his opinions and began supporting Jim, knowing they would all win in the end.

Overall, the biggest takeaway for me was seeing that both Jim and Brian had to change their views of each other. They had to stop telling themselves the same story they had created about the other. They had to forgive and forget and be pragmatic enough to know that, in the end, the business would succeed, and they would be liberated from their old stories. They could begin to accept each other in the present and appreciate what talents and strengths they both brought to the team.

In “The Sense of an Ending,” Barnes refers to this phenomenon this way:

“For years you survive with the same loops, the same facts and the same emotions. I press a button marked [the persons name], the tape runs, the usual stuff spools out. The events reconfirm the emotions ― resentment, a sense of injustice, relief ― and vice versa. There seems no way of accessing anything else; the case is closed ― which is why you seek corroboration, even if it turns out to be contradiction. But what if, even at a late stage, your emotions relating to those long-ago events and people change?”

For me, the lesson here is about changing our relationship to things when our opinions or beliefs no longer serve us or anyone else. It’s easy for us to create an opinion or belief about someone and then lock it away in our minds and hearts. It’s much more challenging to question those beliefs by asking ourselves if they are still true. Has the other person changed? Does he or she always do this to me? Is he or she always like that? Have I changed since I created that initial opinion? Have circumstances changed since I initially created that story?

These are all important questions that we can continue to ask ourselves about our held-fast beliefs about others.

This week, try seeing people for who they have become. Question your opinions about them, and ask yourself if your negative emotions and thoughts about them are still justified. Try stopping the old story loop that replays itself in your head. Interrupt those thoughts by asking, “Is this still true? What purpose do my negative thoughts serve?” You can change the story by observing what is true now and being open-minded and open-hearted enough to accept what is now true about the other person.”

Reading about Nelson Mandelas death this week reminded me of what true liberation is all about. It’s about being free in our hearts and minds from the negativity and resentment that imprison us. After he was set free from prison, Mandela embraced his captors and in some cases even hired them to work in his newly formed government. While others were angered and confused by his magnanimous gestures toward his enemies, he prevailed in his attempts to forgive and forget. And by so doing, he became one of the greatest leaders and heroes of our time.

As he so eloquently said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

12/1/13, “Tips from Mark Twain”

Good day, team.

I’ve been fighting a cold all week, so I find myself in a foggy state of mind this morning — not a good place to be when trying to write a Coach’s Challenge. Fortunately,  my sister Sally Black, sent me some wonderful words of wisdom from the celebrated writer Mark Twain this week. The following blog post, “Mark Twain’s Top 9 Tips for Living a Kick-Ass Life,” comes from This Page Is About Words, a website offering insights using words and ideas to enrich our minds and vocabularies. The tip that stands out for me is “Don’t focus so much on making yourself feel good” — an idea well worth exploring during this holiday season of giving. I hope you enjoy these slightly edited tips for your challenge this week.

1. Approve of yourself.

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”

If you don’t approve of yourself, your behavior and your actions, you’ll probably walk around most of the day with a sort of uncomfortable feeling. If you, on the other hand, approve of yourself, you will relax and gain the inner freedom to do more of what you really want.

Lack of self-approval can be a big obstacle in personal growth. You might have all the right tools to grow in a certain direction, but you may feel an inner resistance. You can’t get there.

What you may be bumping into are success barriers. We often put up barriers in our own minds of what we think we do and don’t deserve. These barriers that put limits on what we are capable of. They might tell us that we aren’t really the kind of person who could do this thing that we’re attempting.

Similarly, without self-approval, you may start to self-sabotage when you actually make headway in the direction you want to go — just to keep yourself in a place that is familiar.

Approve of yourself, and allow yourself to be who you want to be. Don’t look for approval from others. Dissolve those inner barriers and let go of any self-sabotaging tendency. But know that this is no easy task, and it can take time.

2. Your limitations may just be in your mind.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

So many limitations are mostly in our minds. We may, for instance, think people will disapprove because we are too tall, too old or balding. But these things mostly matter when you think they matter — when you become self-conscious and worried about what others think.

However, people will pick up on your self-consciousness and may react in negative ways. Or you may interpret the things they do as negative because you are so fearful of a bad reaction and so focused inward on yourself.

If you, on the other hand, let go of things, then other people will tend not to mind so much either. And if you don’t mind, then you won’t create self-imposed roadblocks in your life.

It is seldom too late to do what you want to do.

3. Lighten up, and have some fun.

“Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”
“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

Humor and laughter are amazing tools. They can turn any serious situation into something to laugh about. They can lighten the mood just about anywhere.

A lighter mood creates a better space to work in because your body and mind aren’t filled to the brim with negative emotions. When you are more lighthearted and relaxed, solutions to problems are often easier to come up with and implement.

4. Let go of anger.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

Most of the time, anger is pretty pointless. It can cause situations to get out of hand and is often more hurtful to the person who is angry than the person he or she is angry with.

Especially when you hold on to anger for days, you are likely just hurting yourself. The other person may not even be aware that you are angry. Talk to the person to resolve your conflict or let go of anger as quickly as possible to make your life more pleasurable.

5. Release yourself from entitlement.

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

When some people are young, they may be given a lot of things. As they grow older, they may develop a sense of entitlement. They feel like the world should just give them what they want or that it owes them something.

This belief can cause a lot of anger and frustration in life. The world may not give you everything you expect. This can be liberating, however, once you realize that it is up to you to shape your own life and work toward what you want. You are not a kid anymore, waiting for your parents to give you something. You are in the driver’s seat now. And you can go pretty much wherever you want.

6. If you’re taking a different path, prepare for reactions.

“A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”

I think this has quite a bit of relevance to self-improvement.

If you start to change or do something different than you usually do, people may react in different ways. Some may be happy for you. Some may be indifferent. Some may be puzzled or react in negative and discouraging ways.

These reactions are probably not so much about you but about the people doing the reacting. How they feel about themselves comes through in the words they use and judgments they make.

Most people are not likely to react as negatively as you imagine. Even if they do, they will probably go back to focusing on their own challenges fairly quickly.
Your worries about what other people say and think are probably just fantasy, but these thoughts create barriers in your mind that hold you back.

You may find that when you finally cross that inner threshold you created to hold yourself back that people around you may actually not shun you. They might just say, “OK.”

7. Focus steadily on what you want.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles … by the ears, by the heels or any other way you can manage it.”

What you focus your mind on greatly determines how things play out. You can focus on your problems and dwell in suffering to create a victim mentality. Or you can focus on the positive in every situation, determining what you can learn from that situation. Another approach is to simply focus your mind on something entirely else.

It may be “normal” to process your problems and spend time swimming around in a sea of negativity. But that is a choice as well as a habit. You may reflexively start to dwell on problems instead of focusing your mind on something more useful. But you also can build a habit of taking more control over where you focus your mind.

8. Don’t focus so much on making yourself feel good.

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”

This tip may be a bit counter-intuitive, but one of the best ways to feel good about yourself is to make someone else feel good or to help someone in some way.

Helping others creates an upward spiral of positivity and an exchange of value between people. You help someone, and both of you feel good. The person you helped feels inclined to give you a hand later on because most people tend to want to reciprocate.

Positive feelings are contagious, so you may end up making even more people feel good too. And the help you receive from your friend may inspire you to help another friend. And so the upward spiral grows and continues.

9. Do what you want to do.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Awesome quote. And I really don’t have much to add to that one. Well, maybe just a suggestion to write it down and keep it as a daily reminder on your fridge or bathroom door of what you can actually do with your life.

Have a good week!

© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.




Good day, team.

A few years ago,  I wrote a coach’s challenge about a young girl named Bailey who I sat next to on an airplane flight. She taught me something fundamental about communication and emotional presence that I think is always worth sharing.  I re-publish this challenge each year during the holidays in dedication to her.  Here it is:


I had an experience recently that seemed an appropriate topic for this week since we are officially now in the holiday season.


While flying back to Portland, I sat next to a 10-year-old girl named Bailey. When I first saw her, she seemed just like any other little girl, but as I sat down next to her, the flight attendant informed me that Bailey was a “challenged child” (an odd term) in that she could not speak. However, the flight attendant went on to say that Bailey would understand everything I said to her and could communicate with movement and expressions.


This news made me immediately uncomfortable. As I buckled my seatbelt and settled into my seat, I realized how awkward and confused I felt. Should I speak to her or not? What kind of response would I get from someone who couldn’t speak? Did she even want me to interact with her? It was as if this little girl were made of fine porcelain and if I didn’t treat her very carefully, she might break.


Fortunately, Bailey immediately put me at ease with her beautiful smile and sparkling blue eyes. When I said hello to her, she smiled and waved hello. The plane took off, and I began to read a magazine. The many Christmas advertisements featured pictures of snowflakes, stars, icicles, presents, etc.


Each time that I turned a page and a picture of a star appeared, Bailey pointed to the star and looked at me and smiled. I would then say, “Yes, that’s a star.” Before long, I noticed that I was actually looking for more pictures of stars so we could communicate with each other.


Coincidentally, there was a boy sitting behind us about the same age as Bailey. I realized before long that he talked pretty much continuously, first about the X-Box he wanted for Christmas, then about his friend’s new cell phone, then about school, then about his Dad, and so on and so on.


After awhile, I realized I had toned him out. I may have been open to hearing what he had to say in the beginning, but after so many words, I was no longer interested. And yet, every movement and expression of the little girl sitting next to me, who couldn’t speak a word, kept me keenly interested in what she was communicating.


This experience made me think about our basic need to connect with each other as human beings, and the importance of allowing our emotional beings to reach out to each other in any way possible. When we take up all the space by talking about ourselves and don’t allow the other person to respond, the connection is lost, and the speaker becomes a nuisance rather than someone we want to know.


Bailey taught me something fundamental about our true nature as human beings. Wordlessly, her communication came through loud and clear. Her loving nature spoke volumes, and our communication had a quality that I don’t often experience when I talk with another person.


At one point, when a picture in the magazine appeared that showed animals around a beautifully decorated holiday tree, Bailey took my hand briefly and pointed my finger to the star at the top of the tree. Her open heartedness moved me with such warmth and joy that it brought tears to my eyes.


This week, try connecting with others in ways that you don’t normally.  Experiment with being more present to someone who is speaking to you so that you can not only hear her or his words, but can also notice expressions and gestures. Perhaps you’ll try greeting someone with a smile and some eye contact instead of a hello. If you find that you tend to talk a lot about yourself, try to ask other people questions about themselves instead. Practice listening more, especially to the words that are not being spoken, so that you can have a different experience in your communications.


And finally, be grateful that you have the amazing ability to connect and communicate with others in so many ways. By meeting Bailey, I understood that some of us are not so fortunate and that many of the things we take for granted, like saying our name, are not possible for others.


During this holiday season, be thankful for your ability to let others know what you think, how you feel, and who you are. And don’t be afraid to really connect by allowing the beauty of your heart to speak out, whether it’s in words or silence.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.



Importance of Alignment

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about the importance of alignment in organizations.

I’ve been reading an excellent book, “The Work of Leaders: How Vision, Alignment and Execution Will Change the Way You Lead” by Julie Straw, Mark Scullard, Susie Kokkonen and Barry Davis. The book starts out by describing two scenarios:

“Scenario One: The CEO sends out an email announcing the company’s ambitious sales goals and then takes the afternoon off to go golfing. The employees are left with no clear process, no strategy and no delegation of responsibilities. Without direction or rationale, everyone is worried about making mistakes. There are whisper sessions along the rows of cubicles. When something goes wrong, the finger-pointing begins. Trust and morale are low, and this is reflected not only in their ability to execute but also in interactions with their customers.”

“Scenario Two: At the quarterly all-company meeting, the CEO stands before a simple map of the company’s strategy. ‘These are the three platforms that lead to our success,’ he says. ‘If your work isn’t related to or supporting one of these things, then please stop what you’re doing because you’re not working on the right stuff.’ Since clearly establishing this vision, the company has been aligned from the CFO who tracks the top line to the customer-facing people who work on the front lines. All are focused on what they need to do to execute the vision, and all are invested in the process. They openly collaborate, challenge one another and celebrate accomplishments as they reach milestones.”

Obviously, we know which scenario makes the most sense and will yield the best results. And yet, we’ve all seen many variations of Scenario One play out in our work environments. We see people working away, often having way too much to do without a strong sense of how their efforts are helping the company meet its goals. Often, the goals change frequently, and communication to employees may or may not relate to the strategic vision. It’s hard for people to connect what they’re doing every day to the company’s overall success unless someone connects the dots for them, and that’s a big part of what leaders’ jobs are all about.

Warren Bennis, author of numerous best-selling books about leadership said, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” This is certainly a big part of a leader’s responsibility to insure an organization’s success. But, equally as important, is the ability for a leader to verify that the execution going on within the organization supports that vision.

Many of my clients who are managers complain to me that their people are working on the wrong things. “Why can’t they prioritize?” is the question they often ask.  Some people do have more difficulty making distinctions when analyzing what’s the most important thing to do. However, often the reason people can’t prioritize is not because they’re lacking in that skill, but because they don’t know enough about the company’s vision or goals to know what to prioritize. They have loads of stuff to do, and unless someone above them has made it really clear what’s most important, they will just keeping doing the stuff as it comes up.

Employee alignment is too often left out of the equation. I call it the glue securing that the vision (what leadership has envisioned or the end goal) and execution (what people are doing) come together in reality.

Straw and Davis’ book goes on to give leaders three areas that require the most focus when helping to achieve employee alignment:

•    Clarity
o    Explaining rationale
o    Structuring messages

•    Dialogue
o    Exchanging perspectives
o    Being receptive

•    Inspiration
o    Being expressive
o    Being encouraging

This week, ask yourself if you’re giving the right kind of information about the vision and strategy of your company so that your team members can align their duties.  When asking employees to prioritize, are you clear and do you offer concrete ways for them to support the vision? Also, how inspiring is your communication? Do you keep changing the goals, making it difficult for your team members to hit their targets?  And, are you receptive to their ideas about better ways to execute in order to meet the goals?

People can toil endlessly doing things that may not make your vision take shape.   Make sure you haven’t left out the glue that makes everything come together. Without alignment, your ship could go in a completely different direction than you wanted and your people will only get more and more tired as they row in the wrong direction.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.


Good day, team.

My husband recently told me about a Ted Talk he saw on the subject of grit. It makes a great topic for this week’s challenge.

In the talk, Angela Duckworth outlines why some kids in school do better than others. Interestingly enough, studies show that it’s not IQ, not talent and not social intelligence. What really makes the difference is “grit” — or, as she defines it, the passion and persistence to achieve long-term goals. Check out the full Ted Talk online:

Years ago, I saw Terri Dial give a speech about success. Dial started out at Wells Fargo as a teller, and over the years, she rose within the organization. Eventually, she became the first female vice chairman at the bank — only one of four women in the world who had achieved that level of position in a financial institution. When I saw her speak, Dial shared what had helped make her successful: being in the right place at the right time, having an insatiable desire for learning, not being afraid of new technology, etc. But what really struck me was what she said when she was taking questions from the audience at the end of her speech. “What one thing has been the single, greatest factor in your success?” someone from the audience asked. After a long pause, Dial replied, “Well, I guess it’s that I just keep showing up. At the end of the day, it’s about persistence and continuing to show up in the good times and the bad. Whether you’re succeeding or failing, you just keep showing up each day to do the work.”

I was struck by the simplicity of her answer and also by how much her statement resonated with me. At the time, I had been an executive recruiter for 12 years. I realized that much of the success I had achieved was because I just kept showing up. Some days I was highly successful; other days I felt defeated and a failure. Some years I made more money than others, and there were days when I was convinced recruiting was the wrong profession for me. For more than a decade, I lived through boom and bust times and the rising and falling of the recruiting industry and job market, but it was my stick-to-itness that had made me successful. As one of my best clients remarked one day, “I have to hand it to you — you are persistent. Year after year, you just keep calling me!”

I worked with a team once that kept track of people’s attendance. Out of the 62 people in the department, there was one guy named Frank who had perfect attendance. He wasn’t the brightest guy on the team or the most savvy. But, each day, Frank came into the office with a smile on his face and an attitude that said, “OK, I’m here. What’s going to happen today? I’m ready for it.”

At the end of five years, Frank made more money than anyone else in the department, and he had the best attitude. Each year, when he got his performance review, he was consistently rated a top performer but not the highest-level performer. The one consistent comment that showed up on every review was that Frank had perfect attendance. Each year, he received the highest possible raise within the department because of the combination of his good performance, consistent attendance and positive attitude. Frank wasn’t the smartest guy on the team or the superstar, and he didn’t stand out for having the most potential, but he was the one who showed up every day with that gritty attitude of persistence and passion for what he did. Frank wanted to win in the long run — and he did.

We so often equate success with money in our culture. And yet, the people I know who are truly successful are the ones who have a gritty approach to their vocation or profession and don’t worry so much about the money. They have that level of determination that sees them through whatever their business presents them with. And their passion for what they do, far exceeds whatever depression they experience in their temporary failures. Look at someone like Warren Buffet, the famous investor who made his first investment when he was eleven years old. He’s been investing in companies and activities for more 70 years! Some of his investments have been real losers, while others have been wildly successful. Through it all, Buffet shows up at his offices in Omaha, Nebraska, day after day, year after year to take on the next project.

This week, ask yourself if you have the grit it takes to be successful. Do you see yourself changing jobs frequently because you’re bored? Do you think you should be more successful than you are? Maybe you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to overcome the obstacles in front of you or within you to make something work. Are you someone who is willing to put the time in and keep showing up each day?

Think about what it means to have grit — passion and persistence. Find that place within yourself that reminds you how important it is to keep at it, no matter what. Like Frank, you may not be the superstar in the short term, but you might just win in the long run.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

Introverts As Leaders

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about introverts and their ability to lead and manage others.

Our culture fosters a misconception that people who are introverted by nature do not make good leaders or even know how to manage others. This idea comes from years of conditioning by extroverted leaders who naturally know how to actively persuade and direct others. Take Bill Clinton, for example; he’s a classic extroverted leader. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you can’t argue that he does have a talent for being able to influence large numbers of people through highly persuasive public speaking and politics. Although some people found his behaviors to be questionable while he was in office, there was no doubt that he could lead people to get what he wanted and generally brought both parties together to reach agreements.

There are many good examples of extroverted politicians and leaders, but highly introverted people are usually not in that same category. Introverts are usually more analytical than verbal. They tend to avoid risk and conflict. They don’t tend to be natural cheer leaders or aggressive sales people. We might describe them as “nerds,” and we rarely think of them as people who can lead the charge, rally the troops or inspire the team.

This is an inaccurate perception, however. In fact, I work with many introverted leaders. They bring their special talents and thoughtfulness to the team with just as much ability to influence and inspire, but they do it differently than their extroverted team mates. They often wait until the rest of the team has argued about an issue before they offer their solutions. Their enthusiasm and passion about a product, process or service offering might show up in the way they share innovative ideas or their ability to help others figure out how to get things done. They inspire trust through sincerity and authenticity rather than by impress others. And they often make others feel comfortable enough to openly share new ideas as well as adhere to processes to get things done.

While the extroverts cheer the team on, the introverts deliver the goods. An introverted leader will influence the overall team and company results by helping the cheerleaders figure out how to deliver a solution. In this way, an introverted leader or manager is a great example for the other introverts on the team.

I have one client who told me, “I often don’t say anything in meetings. I’ll have a thought, but then the analytical part of me talks me out of saying it because it doesn’t add enough value to the meeting.” When his boss gave him feedback that he needed to speak up more, he couldn’t think of anything very useful to say. This often happens to introverts. They have extensive internal filtering systems and will lose an opportunity in the moment to share because they’ve filtered out the idea or are not fast enough in their response. Of course, it’s also aggravating for them to sit through lengthy meetings where the extraverts seem to talk just to hear themselves speak.

Dwight Merriman, chairman and co-founder of Mongo DB and DoubleClick, is a self-proclaimed introvert. He thinks it’s a myth that most CEOs are extroverts. In a recent New York Times interview, he spoke about his leadership style as an introvert.

“I think my style is pretty plainspoken and non-hype — and to be transparent. Some people might be sincere, but you don’t feel that air of transparency because they’re too busy selling and everything is pitched with an extra 10 percent.”

When asked about public speaking, which is often an introvert’s greatest fear, he said, “I think 95 percent of the time you can get past [your fear of public speaking] with sheer brute force. I remember public-speaking class in college. I really didn’t want to do it. But today, when I give talks to 1,000 people, I’m not nervous at all. I think you get used to it. You just have to force yourself out of your comfort zone.”

In referring to ways he thinks he can improve, Merriman said, “I don’t give people enough positive feedback and praise. That’s an example of how I’m not a natural-born awesome manager. Even though I might be thinking it, I’ll just fail to vocalize it. You get busy and distracted with meetings and running from here to there, and it’s hard to stay mindful of things like that.”

Because he is a naturally shy person, Merriman says he is much more comfortable with one-on-one short conversations and prefers using e-mail for minor communications. When it comes to giving more difficult feedback, however, he always uses face-to-face meetings where the awareness of body language is important.

In their book “Strengths-Based Leadership,” Tom Rath and Barry Conchie profile Brad Anderson, the CEO of Best Buy, and outline his five top strengths. Anderson is a great example of a highly introverted leader who identified his strengths and built a company around them. He spent much of his childhood in libraries, loving the process of studying what made things work and generating lots of ideas. When he started Best Buy, he wanted to create a company of people who knew more about the products they sold than their competition. This idea of expertise was his value proposition, and he built the company’s culture around it. As it turned out, much of Best Buy’s success has been because it has the most knowledgeable sales people in the industry. It’s a great example of how an introverted leader used his strengths to build a profitable business, rather than trying to act like an extrovert.

Rath and Conchie describe Anderson this way: “As much as Anderson’s look and demeanor may not fit the conventional CEO mold, his actions and personality wander even farther off the beaten path. Yet, over the past 25 years, Anderson took an unknown regional electronics store and helped make it into the largest consumer electronics retailer in America. The amazing story of his career’s trajectory is only overshadowed by the organization’s performance during his tenure.”

They described him looking and acting more like a history professor than a CEO. And yet, they also wrote that his sincerity and level of warmth make him one of the most approachable people they’d ever met and that the employees of Best Buy love him for that. In fact, it inspires them to be that way with their customers.

If you’re an introvert by nature, think of ways this week that you can maximize your more quiet and thoughtful ways. Perhaps you notice that you bring a level of calmness into a meeting that makes others relax and feel more like participating. Maybe your analytical disposition allows you to study a problem for a long time and come up with good solutions for the team. Don’t be afraid to share those ideas, even after all the extroverts have expressed their thoughts. Consider taking a public speaking class so that you can learn to speak more comfortably in front of groups. Your approach will be different than someone who naturally does well in front of a crowd, but that won’t make you less effective. It will just be a difference in style.

What strengths do you bring to the table and how can you showcase them best? That’s the real question. No one expects any of us to be great at all things, and each of us needs to find the areas where we add the most value. The world would be a pretty boring place if we all lead and managed others in the same way. Build your management and leadership styles around your strengths as Anderson did at Best Buy. Not only will you be happier doing it in your own signature style, but others will see your authenticity. Studies have shown that people feel more encouraged following a leader who they see as being true to themselves rather than trying to act like someone they’re not. And that’s as true for introverts as it is for extroverts.

When Rath and Conchie asked Anderson how he was able to provide leadership for more than 150,000 Best Buy employees, Anderson described the critical role of his self-awareness and authenticity. While he may not be a natural at working a room or chatting up a store full of front-line employees, he has developed a unique way of connecting with Best Buy employees, customers and shareholders. He simply asks great questions.

You can lead others in a number of more introverted ways. Find your particular style — what really works best for you — and try that out with your employees this week. You may not influence the team like Bill Clinton would, but if you can be true to yourself, people will want to follow your authenticity and unique strengths.

Have a good week!
*Note: For more information on this subject, there’s a wonderful new book entitled “Quiet”, by Susan Cain that I highly recommend.


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

Impeccable Communication

Good day, team.
This past week, I’ve seen how gossip and unprofessional behavior can negatively impact us. This reminds me of the importance of impeccable communication in the work place and how hard it is to maintain.
Recently, I asked a few of my clients what is one important factor they try to keep in mind throughout their everyday interactions with others. Many responded with the same advice: Try to speak consciously and with integrity.

In countless employee surveys each year, communication continues to be the issue that everyone says is most important. Either there’s not enough of it or what exists is incorrect or misleading — and sometimes it turns into destructive gossip. Companies spend millions of dollars a year trying to improve their employees’ communication skills.

We are individually responsible for the way we communicate. If I tell a colleague that I appreciate the work he’s done, but I roll my eyes disdainfully, he’ll obviously get a mixed message. And the message he’ll believe is the one communicated in my facial expression, gestures or tone of voice. Our body language speaks volumes. We often forget that communicating involves not just our spoken words but also our unspoken actions.

Our minds are like fertile ground in which seeds can be planted. When we speak the truth and encourage the same in others, that fertile ground sprouts healthy plants that flourish. We often don’t realize how much our words affect others until we find out that some negative comment we made in the past has blossomed into an ugly rumor that people now believe to be true. Don Miguel Ruiz writes, “Your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you.”

I’ve been trying to speak with integrity for many years now. It is a challenge for me each day. Sometimes things come out of my mouth that I’m unconscious of. When they are repeated back to me, I’m surprised to learn I said them. Other times, an emotion is so strong that I feel compelled to say something in spite of my better judgment. In these cases, what I say is not very productive, and I find myself regretting the way in which I expressed myself. My intention to communicate consciously and with integrity is there, but that intention is sometimes not strong enough to catch my words. If I can be present in the moment about my feelings, I have a better opportunity to temper the words before they are expressed.

Try to speak consciously and with integrity this week. I’m going to take my cue from a bumper sticker that read, “Try not to do anything unless it’s necessary, responsible and kind.” If you replace the word “do” with the word “say,” you’ll end up with some sound advice for better communication.
Have a good week!
* The coach will be on vacation next weekend.  The next challenge will be published Nov. 3, 2013.
© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.