How to get noticed by your Boss's Boss

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Some companies have regular, scheduled skip-level meetings that offer employees exposure to upper management. I have a few clients where that is the norm, but far more of my clients seldom have this opportunity. If you don’t have scheduled skip-level meetings, there are still ways to make yourself known to your boss’s boss. Melissa Rafoni’s article in Harvard Business Review outlines 10 of them. Her suggestions are a good reminder of the things you should do anyway and she couples them with ideas on how to put these 10 things into practice.


12 Questions to ask yourself

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Several years ago, Gallop surveyed over a million white-collar employees and managers. The results led to the identification of twelve questions that need to be asked. Companies, where employees said yes to most of these questions, were far more engaged, productive, and happy.  What is your answer to these questions?


  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work correctly?

  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?

  5. Does my supervisor or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

  7. At work, do my opinions seem to matter?

  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?

  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing high-quality work?

  10. Do I have a best friend at work?

  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?

  12. This last year, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?

The good news is that in most cases, managers can create an environment where employees could say yes to these questions. The bad news is that the survey found that few managers created this kind of situation. So if you're a manager, the heat is on. If you want exceptional results, you must work towards twelve yes's. It's not easy, but it is pretty simple. After all, the questions lead the way. Take the time to make sure your folks know what is expected. Make sure they have materials and resources, notice positive behaviors, hold people accountable for doing good work, etc. Make the effort, carve out a few minutes and you can create a workplace where your folks do say yes to these questions. 
If you want help with this my complementary hour consult is a great first step.

But what if you're an employee and one of the many unfortunate employees without an exceptional manager? You probably had to answer no to a number of these questions. 

The pressure is off, right? It's your manager's responsibility; it's on her to create the environment after all. So bad boss, your career is toast and best of all, it's not your fault.

Not so fast, while I don't believe its worth your time or energy to try to change your boss, you can spend your energy to focus on exploring ways you can move from no to yes on as many questions as possible. 

Let's take the low hanging fruit first; ask questions to understand your boss's expectations. Persist until you understand her expectations in terms of specific, observable actions. You may even need to offer your boss a menu of actions or outcomes to help launch the conversation. Don't confront, be honestly curious, and be prepared to hear some hard truths. 

This approach will work with many of these questions. Be courageous and ask, so you acquire both the information and tools to perform at a higher level. Do you need recognition? Everyone does, so ask for it. Want to job craft and do more of what you love, ask. 

Learning what you need and how to ask is hard work. I will admit that asking doesn't ensure success,  but its work is worth it because you will be developing a valuable, unique skill that will serve you throughout your career.  This takes courage, tenacity and self-awareness, but the payoff is huge for you and your company. Set up a session with me. It's complimentary, that's a free hour to help you define what brings out your best.

I used Gallop's 12 questions to create a short quiz that will help you pinpoint where to focus your efforts. Take the quiz and schedule a complimentary session to explore what to do to love Mondays again.

- denise

Your values need to show up at work!

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This article touches on one of the most important drivers to career satisfaction: whether or not your work allows you to express your values.

If you are dissatisfied with this aspect of your work, it can color how much you enjoy your career. One of my clients was unhappy at work, but upon reflection, he recognized that his complaints were centered on value misalignment. Now instead of looking for a new job, he is working with his employer to bring his values into his job. 

I'm blaming the pollen

It's spring!!! Flowers are blooming, the weather is warming and boy is the pollen everywhere. I'm going to blame the lack of a March or April newsletter on the pollen. 

I fell into the trap so many clients talk about, I got too busy to attend to the basics, like the newsletter and regular postings. March and April were wonderfully busy, and I want to continue that trend by offering something special to my readers.

International Coaching began on April 29th and continues through May 5th. As Asila Calhoun, one of my favorite coaches,  recently said in a recent blog, "Since 1999, the belief that coaching can transform individuals and organizations has fueled the ICF’s International Coaching Week. This week-long celebration educates the public about the value of working with a professional coach and acknowledges the results and progress made through the coaching process."

I'm joining the celebration and honoring coaching by offering free thirty-minute laser coaching sessions. You can take advantage of this offer by clicking here and claiming a spot on my calendar. Thirty minutes can make a difference, so I hope you'll take half an hour and experience the transformative power of coaching.

If you're ready to jump into coaching, I'm also offering 10%  off my package of 6 coaching sessions. Just let me know you're interested.

Happy Spring.

Prune your garden and your presentations

Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung

Ignoring Spring is impossible. The season demands attention, starting with a sea of pollen that actually chokes us with its abundance, quickly followed by startlingly brilliant colors as flowers show off and trees leaf out.


Every year I am astonished by Spring's flashy, loud, and abundant display. But a spring garden's beauty can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer volume of life bursting forth. A sustainable, healthy garden requires weeding, culling and pruning. And while it's hard to cut back and dig up and remove the plethora of vegetation, it's absolutely necessary.


I recently helped a client prep for a job interview. She has excellent professional experience, the perfect educational credentials and really wants the job. She really, really wants the job. We had one hour together, and for thirty minutes I heard about all the projects she had worked on, the proposals she leads, the teams she managed. But it was too much of a good thing. Just like my early spring garden there was too much going on to clearly see how great a fit she is. So my client and I carefully pruned back her stories, weeded out the interesting but not critical examples until the essential elements of her qualifications and history could be seen.


She worked out her main talking points. Now her clear and persuasive interest in the organization is showcased. Her wealth of experience is highlighted by three strong statements, and her superb qualifications stand out. My client is prepared to offer short, well-crafted narrated examples that illustrate her points without taking away from her clear, simple, and elegant message.


Spring has sprung and has a lot of offer. A good gardener cares for her garden by removing the extraneous and letting the essential be seen. Take the time to trim back the excess in your own presentations and allow your primary message room to flourish.  


Happy Spring.

- denise

Gloomy weather got you down? Check out these energy saving work hacks.

I am an energetic person, but February is getting the best of me. Consecutive days of rain, gloom, and chill makes the sofa, a fire and a good book very inviting. And the energy and optimism that comes with a new year have dissipated like a leaky helium balloon.

My low energy has forced me to look for work hacks and efficiency boosts, and I have a few to share for other low energy sufferers. 

1. If you use Google Docs, be sure to check out this article for step by steps instructions on how to edit, reformat, use voice commands, collaborate, design and research all from within Google Docs. 

2. There are also useful hacks for Gmail users; such as how to undo send, create your useful shortcuts, connect emails to task and others.  Click here to read the article. 

3. Another favorite article is by Brian Ye. Brian uses Marc Andreessen's Productivity System in Trello to improve his personal productivity. Trello is a task management app that uses a system of boards, lists, and cards to create a visual overview of what is being worked on and who is working on it. Brian uses this to boost his own productivity and especially likes the ability it offers to bounce around his to-do list.

4. And the last article I recommend is by Deb Knobelman, Ph.D. Deb learned how to say no to colleagues so she could safeguard her time to generate meaningful work and be more efficient. It's more than saying no, it's how you say no.  

5. Miscellaneous work hacks.

     Otter.ai is a free transcription software that works remarkably well. I have used it for taped interviews and highly recommend it.


    Hootsuite and Canva have been around a long time. Both have free versions that will speed up the creation and posting of social media. 

February's energy drain has forced me to find ways to get more done with less, so thank you cloudy, gloomy days. I'll take these lessons learned into the balmy days I know are coming, and maybe I'll have a few extra hours to spend outside when the sun shines again. 


Paint a Picture of your Goals

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2019 will be a great year if___________. Yes, you have to fill in the blank. What event, challenge, situation, or accomplishment will make 2019 stand out? Take a moment to think about what that would mean to you. Fill in details. Can you see yourself on stage accepting the award? Can you feel the sea breeze from your hammock? Bring all your senses into it. Don't stop at an outline, color it in. In fact, color outside the lines, and paint a vibrant picture of your 2019 pinnacle event. Regard what’s familiar and notice the new in your masterpiece.


I recently led a workshop called “What to do now to make 2019 Great”, and I asked each participant to spend five minutes writing about the accomplishment or achievement that will set 2019 apart. I urged the group to bring this event to life, to describe it in "living technicolor." How will you feel? Who will be there with you? Where are you? What exactly are you doing? It took a few minutes, but eventually, pens started moving across the paper. I saw smiles flirt across faces, shoulders relaxed, and the room came alive. One by one the participants shared their goals, portraying vital details that brought their dreams for 2019 alive.


Why is this important? Because goals don't just happen. They take work. Most people don't set goals for the mundane or routine. We don't set a goal to brush our teeth twice a day, or to have a cup of coffee in the morning; these things are done automatically. Goals by definition require us to do extraordinary things. But even in the unusual, there are elements of the familiar. Taking time to flesh out a goal highlights essential details, and we can count on the familiar and plan for the unfamiliar.


My husband and I are taking our family of 12 on an epic vacation this summer in celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary. Our family is consists of, four sons, two wives, one fiancee, and three grandkids. I know what a perfect trip looks like. It starts with having the whole family making the trip. A week free from domestic chores. A week of sunny skies, sea breezes and warm water. A week where each person spends the day doing what they want and every evening gathered together laughing and sharing our adventures. A week with no squabbles, happy, cheerful grandkids, and no adult drama. A week where my husband and I are thanked and appreciated and revered. I can practically feel the sand, taste the nightly cocktails, and hear laughter as we share our stories. The cost of this trip is way outside of our normal budget and it marks a significant personal milestone. So it's a pretty big goal.


Keeping my vision for the week in mind helped my husband and me to plan this vacation. We decided on a week at a Caribbean island. It is relatively easy to fly into, so if work demands surface, family members can join us for part of the week. The house we're renting comes with a staff, so we don't have to negotiate cooking and cleaning duties. There are countless recreational options, beaches are close, a pool on site, and even rafting nearby. That's important because our family has very different interests, ranging from sports to books and video games. Some may want to snooze  in a hammock, others want to hike and go to yoga classes. We've routinely vacationed with our family, so we are familiar with their varied interests, food requests, and love for the sun. Vacationing near the ocean in the summer is very familiar.


But this is an important anniversary, and we wanted the trip to be more than our normal week at the beach. Going back to Nags Head wasn't going to set this trip apart, but a trip to an island might. It combined what we knew the family liked with something more. Something new and outside our expertise. We talked to trusted friends about their Caribbean experiences and they helped us to find viable options. The island we choose has an airport, the house is near the ocean and has plenty of room. A van is provided to allow for exploration and there is internet access to meet tech needs. We've never vacationed in a place with dedicated staff, so that checks a couple of other boxes. 


Thinking carefully about what ingredients will set this experience apart helped us to plan. Of course, mother nature or cranky bosses may throw a monkey wrench into my plans, but at least I've done what I can. Goals require us to tackle things we haven't done in the past. Take time to fantasize and visualize the details, it will reveal the familiar and energize you to address the unfamiliar. 

- denise


What Story are you telling?

You have the power to tell a story that supports you.

You have the power to tell a story that supports you.

We have all been impacted by a challenging co-worker. The unreasonable boss, the office gossip or the unreliable peer, and our deepest wish is that this person will see the errors of his ways and change. Unfortunately, it's rare for others to change, so what options do you have? I recently chatted with a friend who shared how he made it through a toxic working relationship by taking back his narrative.

"M" ( I was asked not to use his name out of respect for his co-workers) is the whole package. He has his own coaching practice, co-teaches at a well respected Coaching Program and is a Ph.D. scientist."M" recently shared his most challenging work experience. In his previous professional life, "M" headed up an International product development team. Due to a challenging team member, "M" spent almost three years with self-doubt, dismay and deep sadness. In his words, "Towards the end of that time, I could hardly get off the couch."

Here's M's story:

"I was promoted to head up the team I was on. One of the existing leaders did not have strong leadership capabilities and was undermining our team and her potential. As a result, our overall leadership team was not gelling. I reflected my opinion of this woman's strengths and challenges on her performance review, and she brought me up on HR charges."

"M" continued, "The charges were investigated and didn't come to anything, but that was the start of my three-year leadership challenge with this individual."

"M" laughed a bit and continued, "I want people to like me. And I want things to be good, and things weren't good. I knew it, and others on my team saw it as well. Finally, another member of that team came to me and said: "M, you're not yourself, what's wrong? And one Sunday in October, it all came crashing down on me when I couldn't get off the couch. Fortunately, I was reading a book called Be the Hero: Three Powerful Ways to Overcome Challenges in Work and Life by Noah Blumenthal. So that book and candid feedback from a trusted person helped me become aware that I was telling myself stories that were not hopeful, not grateful, and not empathetic for myself and this other person. And my negative stories were being seen by others, even though I tried to hide it from my staff and maybe myself."

I asked what story "M" was telling himself?

"M" answered, "I'm doing everything I can, Why don’t they see and understand this? I just want the team to work well. I was so focused on the individual as a problem that I was forgetting about all the great things to be grateful for in my life, I was not telling stories that were hopeful. I was telling negative stories. So I started telling stories that were grateful, hopeful and empathetic. And changing the stories changed how I was."

I asked for specifics about how "M" changed the narrative.

He continued, "Well, the story for gratitude was that things are going well, I have many team members that are doing well, I am being recognized for the work, our team is being known for the work. The hopeful story was that I will be able to work through this situation and I am doing the best job I can do. The empathetic story became, this person is not well physically and has a tough historical narrative as well. These stories helped me to change the way I went through my days. I realized I can construct a different story. I was able to really create a different frame of reference, and it had to come from within me, not some external place."

M's conclusion resonates. You can't fix other people, but you do have the power over your own narrative.

What are the stories you're telling yourself? We are hardwired to take facts and weave them into a narrative that supports our worldview. Most of our narratives are at best, loosely connected to hard and fast facts. Our stories are filled with interpretations and assumptions that allow us to confirm the reality we choose to create. Too often our negative stories have tremendous power, but they are no more real than the positive ones that would serve us better.

So construct your stories carefully. Ask the question, How true is that? How do I know it's true. A good friend, mentor or coach can help you see beyond your blind spots. Be aware of the assumptions you're forming and choose to make them positive. It will empower you. You can rarely change other people, instead create a narrative that is positive, powerful and doesn't allow others power over your own story.

Three ways to actually make it easier? Continuing the discussion.

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I've talked about goal setting in earlier blogs, and of course, there are many books on how to set goals. For the more discerning goal setter, there are SMART goals, and Simon Sinek suggests that adding WHY behind your mission is a valuable ingredient to baking the perfect goal. But after you craft the well thought out goal, take a breath. The most obvious path towards reaching your goal may not be the most accessible path, and easier is more sustainable. So, pause, chant, do whatever, but look at your plan with fresh eyes and consider what will make it easier for you to reach your goal.

A few years three FBI agents conducted a raid on a New Jersey home. Unfortunately, the house was surrounded by a six-foot metal fence and gate. The first agent carefully pulled himself up and over the gate that closed off access to the house. He maneuvered first one leg then the other over the spikes topping the entrance, careful not to rip his suit pants. As he dropped down onto the pavement, the gate swung open behind him, and the other two FBI agents sauntered up the driveway to the house. A local news station caught the action, and you can see it for yourself. https://youtu.be/y8dLOM8StKQ.

The agents' goal was clear. Get to the house and begin the raid. The first agent saw the gate and took the obvious, but the herculean effort to climb over it, to achieve his goal. What makes the video so funny is his wasted effort. He never needed to climb a six foot fence to do his job, but he didn't stop to examine his options before setting forward. You might approach a challenging goal with similar, but unnecessary enthusiasm. Before you scale incredible heights, risk your health with late nights and bad food, deprive yourself of personal time, make sure there the gate isn't unlocked.

Another way to find ease is to scrutinize self-imposed rules. I love hosting parties, but I had a long-standing practice that I must prepare all the food for these parties. And since I was working full time, had kids, other obligations and was kind of tired most of the time, I didn't have time or energy to cook for a crowd. That meant despite longing to host a gathering, I rarely had people over. My rule kept me from my goal. Fortunately, I came to my senses and abandoned that stupid rule. Now we frequently socialize, but I'm not doing all the cooking, we share the fun and host potlucks.

Sometimes finding a more natural way means you have to question other's rules. A Zoan is a word puzzle used in Zen Buddhism's teachings. One Koan describes a hypothetical scenario; a young goose has a glass tube placed on its neck, so his head protrudes out of one end of the cylinder and his body out the other. Over time, the goose grows larger, and the bottle can no longer be pulled over his head. The Koan asks, how do you remove the cylinder from goose's neck without either killing the goose or breaking the glass?

The answer is "You break the cylinder." The puzzle is a reminder that sometimes to achieve the goal, you must not abide by other's rules.

Find the easiest way to accomplish a task. Preserve your energy in any way you can, whether it's opening the gate instead of scaling it, or examining limited personal beliefs or ignoring other's rules. Reaching your goal will take work, but don't make it harder than it absolutely has to be.

I must thank Jason Goldberg, the author of Prison Break for the story about the FBI and Koan. Jason's book is a must-read for anyone interested in making a big change in their life.

What would make it easier?

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"What would make it easier?" I asked a client recently.


My client wants to grow his business. He has a great reputation, is clear about his niche and has a list of 25 organizations he whom he would love to work. During our previous session, he formulated a marketing plan that included calling these prospective organizations.


And he did not make the calls. This dynamic, talented, creative writer sent out introductory emails, but did not follow them up with a phone call. What stood in his way? His Math.

Remember my formula from my last blog:

E>G(%L)-S *

Follow up phone calls took a lot of energy (E) and my client didn't believe that the effort would pay off. So like any rational person, he conserved energy and did not make the calls.


I could have pleaded, insisted, harangued and made him listen to any of the stories on the "How I Built This" podcast; they all include cold calling, but at the end of the day, it's my client's formula. The math didn't work for him.


But answering my question "What would make it easier?"allowed him to find a way forward. 


Instead of phone calls, he decided to send a series of emails. Now his equation is 

E<G(%L)-S*


I spent time recently with a very successful saleswoman, helping her prep for the annual company-wide sales meeting. Her numbers are strong, she has grown her market above expectations and it was time to ask for a raise.


And it was making her sick to her stomach. Asking for more money made her incredibly uncomfortable, and yes, I know, we're all supposed to be beyond this by now. We're strong and capable and we just go in and demand the raise. Right. Yes, for some, but not for all of us. 


My client felt like she had only two options, not ask and feel like a total professional wimp or face the meeting with absolute dread.


"What would be the easiest way to bring up this issue?" I asked her. After a few minutes she answered, "I'll add an item titled ‘Compensation Plan for 2019’ to my agenda. They'll see it before the meeting and it'll be added to our conversation."


The relief on her face said it all, she found the easy way to move towards her goal. 


When you're stuck, take a deep breath and look for the easiest way forward. It might not be the way your friends and family suggest, but progress comes one step at a time and you need to do what's necessary to make your formula


E<G(%L)-S*



E=energy expected to reach goal

G= the goal 

%L= percent chance of success

S= shame you experience for not reaching your goal

It's not you, it's MATH!

Member of Perch CoWorking space working on getting Unstuck.

Member of Perch CoWorking space working on getting Unstuck.

So you're stuck. You are so stuck, you might as well be set in cement. And it's all your fault. You must be lazy, or have ADHD, or are too busy, or not committed. Right? A quick google search on getting unstuck has hundreds of suggestions on how you need to change because after all you are the problem. These articles suggest that when stuck try taking a walk, meditating, making lists, take up art to unleash your creativity and these are all good suggestions, for life in general, but I don't think they'll get you unstuck because it's not you, it's Math.

Yes, the whole stuck problem can be expressed in a simple formula.

E>G (%L)-S


As long as the E (Energy) you think it will take to achieve your goal is larger than the reward expressed as G(%L)-S you will stay stuck.


So instead of changing you, I think you need to figure out how to manipulate the formula to this:

E

Rational, practical, smart people will not knowingly expend energy on something they don't think will pay off. It's basic biology. So if you are stuck, it's because you don't really believe that you'll get enough reward for the energy you expect the project will require.

Now, don't give up, because you have the power to manipulate the equation. I'll break down each component in future blogs, but let's go over this at a high level in this first blog.

E = the energy you think it will take to accomplish the goal task. 

G = the outcome you have set your sights on.

%L = the percent chance you will reach your desired outcome.

S = shame or fear associated with not reaching the outcome.

Bottom line, to change the equation means you need to figure out how to either expend less energy or increase the chance of reaching your goal. Sounds simple but far from easy. We'll explore ways to do this in future blogs. 

- denise

Spend time on the question and the answer is easy!

I work with CEO's and Solopreneurs to find new solutions to long standing problems so their business can flourish.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” 


Albert Einstein

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If you're stuck trying to solve the same problem over and over, maybe its because you aren't asking the right question. Give me just thirty minutes of your time and we will explore different perspectives and uncover new approaches. Great questions are what I do and new solutions are what you'll find.

Take me up on my 30 minute complimentary session and get at least one problem off your list.

What do you really want? You need to decide.

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Successful CEO's frequently pivot from tactical tasks to strategic planning, but sometimes events happen that requires hands on attention to keep operations humming. My most recent CEO coaching session was conducted over the phone while the CEO drove to fill in for a manager out with a broken leg. And that was just one of the unexpected events that resulted in serious staff shortages.

He immediately recognized that he was working tactically rather than strategically, but he was up to his a** in alligators, his sleeves were rolled up and he was getting things done. At the top of his long to do list was looking for a new a General Manager (GM). After catching up,  I ask him "What did you really want in a GM?" 

"Well, someone to lead the staff. Someone who I can bounce ideas off." 

"What else?" I asked.

"Well, I'm talking to a couple of guys and one of them might work out."

"Before you tell me about these candidates, I'll ask again, what would make a perfect candidate?" I actually had to pose this question a few times before he gave it serious thought. What did he really want his GM to do?

Now, this is an accomplished business leader who has hired many employees. In the past he hired for passion and then found that employee "the right seat on the bus.” But his company had grown, and he knew he needed to fill a specific position and that meant someone with distinct skills and talents. So why did the CEO initially brush off my question? Perhaps we're afraid of appearing to be foolishly unrealistic or unattractively self-absorbed. Maybe the exercise of listing all the things we want seems patently obvious, and time consuming. Do it anyway for two big reasons:

1. It shows respect for others.

When the CEO thoroughly defines what is expected of the GM, the candidates have the opportunity to say yes or no or maybe. They have a voice in the conversation.

2. Eliminates the confusion caused by unstated assumptions.

The list of wants must include behavioral expectations. Things like working late to complete projects, or the use of personal time during working hours. Company culture can be fractured and careers derailed by unstated assumptions. Avoid these problems and clearly describe how work is expected to be conducted. 

So here's a partial list of what the CEO wanted in his GM: an ability to develop operational directives for the company, strong leadership for his management team, deep connections with suppliers to enhance vendor relationships, a history of personal integrity, willingness to be an intellectual partner, demonstrated love for the business and a passion to help grow the company. Will my client a candidate with all these qualities? Probably not, but the CEO now knows what skills and traits are important and he can evaluate which tradeoffs are acceptable.

Not only will the CEO's clarity about the role of the GM make it easier to evaluate candidates it is the foundation of a strong working relationship with the new GM.

It takes time and personal honesty to define what you really want in a particular situation. But make the investment. It will pay off, I promise.

 

 

 

Take your vacation seriously! Really!

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It's summer and time to chill, to linger outside after dinner, to slow down a bit, to use the long days to do nothing. The summer state of mind takes root in childhood and maybe that's a good thing. Embracing a slower pace actually has a big payoff. Time off is necessary and leads to new insights and greater productivity. 

An article reported in Scientific American, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime, summarizes evidence that “mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories, and encourage creativity.”

Harvard Business Reports confirms the value of slowing down in The Upside of Downtime.  An experiment conducted at BCG (Boston Consulting Group) found that forcing employees to take days, nights, or extended periods of time off actually increased productivity. And other studies show that brief periods of downtime, like afternoon naps, can restore focus and energy. As Tony Schwartz has written, “human beings perform best and are most productive when they alternate between periods of intense focus and intermittent renewal.”

Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. "The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

If priming yourself for inspiration isn't reason enough to take time off, there's data to prove that not taking that vacation may be harmful for your career. People who took fewer than 10 of their vacation days per year had a 34.6% likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus in a three-year period of time. People who took more than 10 of their vacation days had a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus, according to The data Driven Case for Vacation.

So when the hammock calls, know that letting your mind drift may be what's needed for that breakthrough idea to surface. Inactivity allows the formation of obscure connections that can lead to innovative insights. Lemonade anyone?

- denise

Who's the expert? I think you are.

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I'm a reformed professional business expert. For years I made a living telling business owners what to do, how to do it and when to do it. And, I have the credentials to back up my advice, an MBA and decades in business. I skillfully analyzed problems, made recommendations, designed training programs, found activities that reinforced the lessons and I "held" my clients accountable for scheduled follow-up phone calls. And many clients used what I shared to start businesses and grow their business. But, many did not. Too many struggled to put my suggestions into practice, they worked too hard, with too little fun or just gave up.

I held these clients responsible for failing, they were too stubborn, lazy or just not capable of following my advice. I told myself that these "noncompliants" failed themselves.

But do all businesses fail because they don't follow the expert's advice? After all, it seems like a simple transaction; the expert tells, and the clients listen. I now see a critical difference between the businesses that prospered under my advice and those that failed. Those that enjoyed great success never handed me the keys to the car and sat back to enjoy the ride. They never relinquished their responsibility to be the expert in the business they were building. 

These owners knew that there can only be one expert, and it wasn't me.  They were eager learners, welcomed advice, and put many of my suggestions in place, but they always filtered every recommendation against what they wanted to build. Sure I knew more about some aspects of their business, but these clients kept their vision front and center and took that responsibility seriously. They decide what to do, why to do it and how to do it in keeping with the business they are creating. 

Many new businesses seek an expert. Someone to take their hand and lead them to significant revenues and the satisfaction of being their own boss.  That doesn't work. Successful businesses learn from many sources but stay true to themselves. I now support new owners differently. Of course, I still offer advice with the proviso that it has to their decision to reject or accept my opinion.  I do recommend other resources, but I now serve more as a navigator. I help keep my clients moving forward, I point out where the going may get rough, remind them of their to-do lists and point the way to their destination. And I remind them that they are the expert in their business. The result is a smoother road, fewer breakdowns and more clients arriving at their destination still excited about the journey and enjoying the trip.

The Value of Questions

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I wish I had learned to ask questions long ago. Instead like many others, I relied on my education, experience, expertise and willingness to self train to move my career along. And I'm not alone, this is something that most professionals do. After all, we've been trained and rewarded for having the "right" answers since grade school, acing the test, mastering SATs and GMATs and LSATs got us pretty far. College, grad school, first job, additional responsibilities all come because we had the right answers

 

At some point, reliance on expertise isn't enough and in fact can stall a promising career. The demands of always having answers, our attachment to being right and the one who knows, sucks up energy and time that should to be devoted to broader areas of responsibility and team development.

 

I coach high performers at two of UNC's Kenan Flagler Executive Education programs. Based on feedback offered from peers, managers and direct reports, these folks see the consequences of too much reliance on knowing.  The reports show that holding on to expertise causes bottle necks, employee disengagement and stifles innovative because of over reliance on tried and true methods. To succeed, these folks have to let go of the safety of expertise and move into the unknown territory of asking questions.

 

For all my formal education, I don't remember ever being taught to how to question. Sure, I've asked lots of questions. As a parent, I used the classic "Do you know what time it is?" To friends I've said "You're wearing that?" and the of course to my husband, "Does this make me look fat?"

 

To be clear, I'm not recommending using these "weaponized" questions. I now know not to ask questions when I know the answer. Instead of asking my minor son, "Have you been drinking?" I learned to say, "You've been drinking." Using a question when you know the answer is disrespectful and encourages lying. 

 

It's equally ineffective to use a question to mask your opinion. Asking a friend is she intends to wear a sleeveless dress to a funeral is demeaning and is a clumsy attempt to hide my own interpretation the rules of fashion.  And I long ago learned that my outfit isn't going to get rid of the extra ten pounds I've carried around for the last twenty years, so why put my husband on the spot. 

 

A "good" questions encourages exploration of issues, promotes thought and develops team mates' expertise. Work to keep a judgmental tone out of your questions, after all, real questions come from curiosity. Any hint of judgement will shut the conversation down. One rule of thumb is to  replace how and why with what.  Instead of "How did the project cost run over?"  try "What caused the project costs to escalate?" 

 

"Why is the report late?" can be replaced by "What challenges came up that delayed the report?" Starting questions with What gives space for inquiry, dialogue and exploration. 

 

 

Questions have the power to replace judgement with genuine curiosity and real curiosity is the launching pad for exploration, personal development and engagement. I have no doubt that my career would have benefitted if I had had the courage to genuinely ask questions. “What we choose to ask, when we ask, what our underlying attitude is as we ask—all are key to relationship building, to communication, and to task performance.” Edgar H. Schein, the author of a The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, a wonderful book on the value of asking. I hope you'll add questions to your must have management toolbox, you'll reap great rewards. 

Success or a Successful Life? What's the difference?

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My clients want to be a success. Who doesn't? But what does that mean? Many people benchmark success as achieving one pinnacle goal. For some, it's money, other's focus on their career, for a few, it's power, or prestige, or a big house, or an Ivy League education. But focusing on just one measure can be costly, and at the end of the day, the price of attaining the corner office may be too much. 

My book club just finished reading Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell. We had a lively discussion about Mrs. Churchill and her husband, and while we admired their contribution to England's war efforts, we saw the tremendous cost of their singular attention to political power.

To BE a success requires dedication, focus, and sacrifice and extracts a price. Instead, maybe we should be exploring how to live successfully.  I have helped my clients define their version of a successful life using a tool called, The Wheel of Life. It's a fun exercise and it can lead to useful insights.

Draw a big circle and divide it into six segments. Label the segments Time, Opportunity, Needs, Relationships, Challenges, and Health. 
 

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Time- How much control you have over how you spend your time. Can you create an overall schedule that allows you to attend to work, family, fun, relationships, health and other obligations?
Opportunity- Do you acquire new skills? Does work excite you? Can you explore cultures, meet new people, find ways to expand horizons and be enriched and actively engaged?
Needs- Basic needs vary for all of us, but are you able to provide beyond your basic needs so you live without anxiety and can afford new experiences?
Relationships- We are social creatures and connecting with others is a source of joy. Do you sustain relationships over time and have the capacity, time and emotional resources to support long-term relationships and develop new ones?.
Health- Do engage physically with the world and have the time, the desire and the capacity to move and enjoy your body's gifts?
Challenges- No one gets out of here alive. We will face loss and have to handle adversity. Will you be able to show up in those times with curiosity and support of others?

The center of the circle is zero, and the outside edge is a 10. Now, draw a horizontal line across each section indicating how SATISFIED you are with that segment. For example, if you feel that you have time to do things that matter to you, then you may draw your line near the outside edge, at the 8 or 9 section.  Continue this for all six segments. 

How does your wheel look? Is it mostly round or are there segments where you are genuinely dissatisfied? Remember the horizontal line does not represent an absolute value, but your level of satisfaction. For example, a broken arm may interfere with your ability to exercise, but you can still be satisfied with what you can do within the limits of exercising while your arm is mending. 

Live Successfully.  Meet your needs without sacrificing new opportunities, nourish relationships and find time for yourself, be healthy and build capacity to accept challenges. With planning, self-awareness and support your life can be abundant, full, and exciting. I have helped clients explore their version of a successful life. Contact me for a complimentary 30 minute session if you would like to begin this conversation. 
 

Turn I Should have to I did

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When my clients say "I should have..." during coaching sessions, they see it as an admission of personal failure, while I see it as a design problem.  In many cases, "I should have" shows up because willpower, tenacity, or determination didn't sustain their plan. Of course, extraordinary events, a flat tire, a sick child, or a power outage, will play havoc on the best plans, but we rarely say "I should have known I would get a flat tire on the way to the meeting." And sometimes, obligations are thrust upon us that we pretend to accept but, we truly don't. The "I should have baked the brownies for the fair instead of buying some" should. In both of these scenarios, we acknowledge that we did not meet the stated intention, but we don't feel blame or shame.

But too often the plan we conceive fails because it was not designed to ensure success. The "I should have gone to the gym this morning, but I didn't get up in time." and under our breath, "and I don't have the willpower not to hit snooze." 

Should have is an invitation to look more closely at the plan. While I do not eat at McDonald's, I am impressed with planning done to produce a burger in 30 seconds. The McDonald's brothers were obsessed with design. In the movie "The Founder" starring Michael Keaton, the brothers' were driven to perfect their kitchen layout. They drew countless floor plans on an empty tennis court and had employees pantomime kitchen operations until the placement of their fryers, tables, and even condiments was perfect. 

The McDonalds committed resources in time, money, energy, mental toughness, and trial and error to design a layout to meet their goal. They did not rely on employees willpower, or intentions, but built an environment that made it impossible to miss the target.

When you hear yourself say "I should have" check your plan design. Find ways to add scaffolding so you are no longer relying on best intentions and willpower.  If you're not a morning person, and the snooze button is your favorite alarm clock feature, don't rely willpower to get you out of bed for an early morning run. Instead, change your environment; hire a personal trainer to show you up at 5:45 am and get you up and going. If the goal is important enough, change the design, add resources and stop Shoulding all over yourself.


- denise

Watch this clip from The Founder and see the effort the McDonalds brothers put into designing their kitchen to ensure the success of their goal; a hamburger every 30 seconds.

Group Coaching can take you farther and teach you more.

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I started leading four folks in Group Coaching last summer. I was nervous and unsure of how effective coaching would be outside of a one-on-one setting. The verdict is in, it's amazing!!! The Group Members have defined goals, implemented new strategies, increased self-awareness and grown more confident. In fact, they elected to renew their contract 2 more times. 

But enough from me, here are some thoughts from the members of this group.

"I've never worked with a business coach before but I found the idea of group coaching intriguing! It has turned out to be such a positive experience on many levels. Denise is extremely skilled in coaching us both individually and as a group. She is insightful and intuitive and knows how to ask just the right questions. It's been great to have other members in the group, as we all bring different experiences and perspectives and encourage each other in our discussions and pursuits. I highly recommend group coaching sessions with Denise! They have helped me tremendously."

"One of the first questions Denise asked me was "what do you want?" However, I didn't have an answer. I worried then that maybe my problems were too big, that even Denise couldn't help me. However, I should have had more faith in Denise's incredible skills and experience. If there's one thing I've learned about Denise, it's that if there isn't an answer to a question, she doesn't just give up, she asks another question. Denise's ability to use perfectly targeted questions to dig into the meat of what is really going on for someone and their business is immense. She always knows just what to ask to help you have the deep-seated, inner realizations that foster true growth and feelings of clarity, progress, and overcoming obstacles."

"Over the past twenty years, I have written a number of books, published cds, created numerous projects, and held visions of sharing these messages with a broader audience.  I have created several DIY websites.  And I have attended business schools and taken courses, questing for something that would help me get more focused, gain more clarity, and take some positive achievable action steps that could grow my business vision in real, tangible, and enjoyable ways. 
In just a few short months of being in Denise Corey’s Group Coaching Program, I have achieved what I would call several mini miracles.  I gained and claimed a clear focus about what I was truly trying to create for myself and for the clients that I aim to serve.  I put a do-able action plan in place to create the type of product and experience that would reach clients in the ways I have so long intended.  And I gained the confidence and courage to step up and try these possibilities out.  For all of this, including Denise’s coaching clarity and the group’s amazing support, I am truly grateful."

"For the past three months, I’ve enjoyed being part of a mutual accountability/business coaching group facilitated by Denise Corey.  Although the members of our group are in very different businesses, Denise has a way of zeroing in on the most essential issues for each member and of asking great questions to help members move in their own positive direction.
 
Our group has been a great reminder to me of the progress I’ve made as well as the direction I want to go. I’m defining business goals and accomplishing them – not out of fear of “reporting” to the group, but because the direction is clear and I’m excited to let the others know. Denise has helped create a trusting and supportive group in a really short time and it has really helped all of us, I believe, feel less alone.  Thank you, Denise!"

I am opening up a new group in January. The group will meet virtually (using Zoom) every other week for 90 minutes. Each member of the group will also receive two,  one-hour private coaching sessions.
The cost of the program is $450.00.  If you're interested, let's talk

- denise