On My Mind / Essays On Success
POSTED AT 12:00 AM ET, 12/16/2010

Pontiff and Pastor

Condoms okay?  What was the Pope thinking?

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BY Patricia McGuire

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POSTED AT 12:00 AM ET, 12/ 2/2010

Figuring it out

"Smart people can figure it out." Continue reading this post »

BY Patricia McGuire

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POSTED AT 12:00 AM ET, 11/18/2010

Are leaders found or grown?


A client of mine recently was lamenting the performance of a manager on her staff. "He's just not a  leader -- he doesn't have it in him."


This is a common thought that I run across -- that leaders are found, not made. While clearly some people have more natural aptitude for leadership than others, leadership is teachable and leaders can be developed. While I don't think that training and development alone can make a leader great, I do think any leader --with effective training and development -- can become better than he or she is to begin with.


All leadership development discussions and efforts need to start with a basic and challenging question: "What is leadership?"


Jane is assertive and directive, using her organizational authority skillfully to bring about the outcome she most wants.  Mark is personable and friendly -- gently facilitating discussions, planting his ideas and nurturing their acceptance toward their ultimate adoption. Keisha is an expert in her field, and she employs her superior knowledge and experience to convince others that her solutions are the best courses of action.


The difficulty in defining leadership comes in finding a definition that fits equally for the detailed and the visionary, the logical and the personal, the gregarious and the reflective and the directive and the facilitative. If leadership can come from all of these disparate angles, how does one definition sum up the concept?


Here is a leadership definition that works, but it tends to provoke lively debate.  Leadership is the use of power with people toward some desired end.


Let's take a closer look at this definition and through it, see the logic underpinning the components of most leadership training.


Leadership needs people. It might seem obvious, but leaders require followers. There is no leadership on a desert island. Leadership requires communication, relating or connecting to another person or to groups of people, so as a result, effectiveness as a leader is greatly impacted by not just technical competencies and experience, but on self-awareness, emotional intelligence and relationship management and communication skills.


Just as leadership cannot exist without people, it cannot exist without a direction or goal. The very thought of leadership suggests movement. Leadership movement can be motivated toward or away from something -- to reach a desired state (toward) or to escape or transcend a bad situation (away).  But either way, leaders influence people to do something or go somewhere. A destination or goal is required.


The most provocative element of this definition is that leadership is about using power. It is important to note that power is -- in this definition and in general --value-neutral; it is neither good nor bad. Power simply exists, and leadership is the utilization of power with people. Of course, there are many kinds of power, so there is a host of different tools that a leader can deploy. But leaders who are able to access their power, to match the right tool for the right time, hold a key to effectiveness and success.


Personal power is controlled by an individual. Charisma, charm, knowledge, skills, and abilities are all examples of personal power. Organizational power is conferred upon individuals from groups and is dependent on the group's collective will or belief. Positions that bring organizational power involve authority, status, financial control, and the ability to reward and punish others.


There are also hybrid power sources like knowledge of a system and its bureaucracy, knowing how and by whom things actually get done and gaining that knowledge by pulling the appropriate strings, which combines both organizational and personal power.


Power is too often mistaken for authority.  Authority is a type of power, but having authority alone -- a lofty title, a company car, a corner office -- does not give someone the ability to achieve organizational goals. The appointed chairperson of a committee may have organizational authority, but it may be the admin assistant's skill set, relationships, and knowledge of the system that give her the real power to pull the team together and/or get a goal accomplished. I would argue she is the more effective leader.


This is not to discount the benefits of organizational power and authority.  Sometimes people who appear to be slow to influence others can, once in a position of authority, blossom into powerful, effective leaders with the weight and will of the organization behind them. It is a complicated equation. Power is not authority, and neither power nor authority on its own is leadership.


It is because this definition works -- leadership is the use of power with people toward some desired end -- that we know that leaders can be made and taught. While some people find using power and interacting with people easier than do others, the elements of leadership are actions and skills that most people can pick up and sharpen. Relationship management, communication, giving and receiving feedback, understanding and utilizing different power bases -- these are all skill sets that can be analyzed, studied and practiced.


BY Hile Rutledge

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POSTED AT 12:00 AM ET, 11/11/2010

'Unpaid' doesn't mean 'no reward'

She leaned forward, eager in her business suit, pen agitating above her notebook, salad untouched as she launched right into the "informational interview" about my career path. Continue reading this post »

BY Patricia McGuire

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POSTED AT 7:08 PM ET, 11/ 4/2010

Work Less and Focus More on What Matters to You


"Still going.  Still going."  You know that pink bunny in the commercials with the cool shades banging the drum?  To me the "Energizer bunny" is a symbol for boundless energy and the "just keep going" attitude.  At times, I felt like I was him.


In graduate school I was determined to complete my master's thesis while doing 100 other things simultaneously.  I had a full course load that required endless reading, spent many hours a week as a teaching assistant, worked part-time, and then was trying to write my master's thesis as well.


My mentor was a fabulous woman with Austrian roots who brought out my German rigor for timeliness and completion.  We both met deadlines easily.  That is, until it came to moving forward on my thesis. When I described to her all the balls I had in the air she said to me quite matter-of-factly, "Jeanine, you cannot possibly do all the course work every instructor assigns so don't even try.  Your priority is your master's thesis."


What?  Did I hear her correctly - she was a professor telling me not to do my homework.  Does not compute.  Does not compute.  The Energizer Bunny hit a wall.


This was a turning point for me.  I learned two key lessons.  The first lesson is that I cannot get everything done, so as Esther put it, "don't even try!" Period. It's impossible to be done with work.  Especially in today's fast-paced, technology driven everything-is-due-yesterday-mentality. We can work 60 hours a week and still there is more to do. We need to let go of the expectation that we will get everything done.


The constant sense of not getting everything done is taking quite a toll on us. Millions of Americans suffer from unhealthy levels of stress at the workplace.  And with that comes stress-related illnesses (e.g., heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, lowered immune system, which protects against many serious diseases).  In fact, the U.S. Public Health Service made reducing stress one of its main goals for health promotion. Thus freeing yourself from the "I can get it all done expectation" is not simply a benign goal -- it could help save your life.


One coaching client I worked with was an executive director of a large non-profit organization.  Jane had recovered from breast cancer, which brought a new-found perspective where she realized the importance of work/life balance. Having come so close to death brought in clear focus what was most important and precious in her life - her family. Jane was able to take more time to spend with family and friends, and that was an enormous change for her.


What she still found challenging was to leave the office at a reasonable hour and call it a day.  She felt compelled to email from home, review projects, prepare for meetings, etc.  And doing this meant she never really allowed herself to be finished.  Going home was simply a break, not an end point for the day.


Jane is not atypical.  Many professionals are working longer hours today than ever before.  So much for all the new technology helping us become more efficient.  Instead, we are doing more and bringing work home, on vacation, in the car, everywhere. Whether you are an executive director, a political adviser or an independent entrepreneur, your work is never done because there is always more you can do in a given day. 


The time has come to create boundaries and say "I've done enough today."  No matter what your profession, liberate yourself from the expectation that "I can get it all done."  You can't.  Don't try.  It is as simple as that.  No guilt.  No self-flagellation.


The second lesson from Esther was the necessity to prioritize my tasks based on what was important to me.  If I didn't complete all my reading for a course, I would at times be lost in class discussion, but that's about it. 


But the long-term consequence of completing my master's thesis was enormous.  It allowed me to graduate, go on to earn my Ph.D., get a post doctoral placement, win a competitive congressional science fellowship, open my own consulting business, be trained as an executive coach -- all of which led me here today writing this essay for the Washington Post. By prioritizing my master's thesis I achieved goals that were essential to my career success. 


Another client I worked with was an energetic new academic who couldn't figure out how to manage her time so she could publish an article in a professional journal.  Susan was an over achiever and super smart.  She had read dozens of books on time management and tried endless techniques. Therefore her challenge with time wasn't simply a matter of finding the right trick. She was stuck.


What we uncovered in the coaching was that she always said yes to requests for her time.  Whether she was asked to write a new paper, take on additional responsibility in her role as a manager, or attend a last-minute meeting, she could not say no. (For more information on the power of saying no - see my previous essay at http://views.washingtonpost.com/on-success/on-my-mind/2010/08/saying_no_can_save_your_career.html) 


We explored her criteria for saying yes or no to a new request.  And she basically said, "If it is humanly possible, then I say yes."  Well, what is humanly possible?  For Susan it was basically anything that didn't kill her.  Imagine that!  Yet how many of us can relate? 


This discovery was a bit stunning for Susan.  She realized that saying yes to everyone else's requests meant that she was basically saying no to herself, over and over again.  She was saying no to a regular exercise routine.  She was saying no to eating well.  She was saying no to time with her husband.  She was saying no to leisure time.  She was saying no to work-life balance.  She was saying no to publishing an article.  Susan realized that she needed to prioritize what was most important to her.


Focusing on the coaching goal of publishing an article, she set aside four hours a week to write and then protect that time the same way she would if it were an appointment with someone else. She began to practice saying no to other people's demands and requests and created more time for what was really important to her.  For Susan to prioritize her goal was satisfying and this reinforced her continued effort to focus on writing and publishing an article.


Many of my clients have struggled similarly with time management and used the following strategy with good results:


-- Make a list every day (or week) of tasks to be completed and practice prioritizing, delegating and deleting them as appropriate.


-- To prioritize tasks, select two or three that are most important to you.  Spend time on those first.


-- Next, determine which tasks you can delegate.  Is there anyone else who could do this?  Even if you are not a manager, there may be tasks on your list that are more suited for another person/colleague/employee.  Ask if they can do it instead. Some people find delegation the most challenging part of this strategy.


-- Lastly, which tasks can you delete all together?  This is often a tough exercise for most of us.  Yet deleting can be liberating.  For 10 years, I was working on a manuscript. The problem was that I hadn't done much on it for the last seven years or so, and the idea of finishing and publishing it was always hanging over me.  When I finally deleted it from my to-do list I felt liberated. The time for that book had come and gone.  I could let it go.  Doing this opened up space for a new book idea to emerge. 


If you don't have the ultimate say over what gets delegated and deleted, you still have the power to convince your boss to support your time-management goals.  Engage him or her in conversations and you can practice prioritizing, delegating and deleting together.


So what can you currently delete from your to-do-list at work or in your personal life?  It can be something as big as a possible book or as small as a lunch date that you really are not interested in keeping.


What are you currently putting on the back burner that is really most important to you?  What tasks are taking precedence?  What is the consequence? (Be sure to reflect on how this impacts your mood and energy level.) Move what really matters to you to the top of your to-do list.  Do it first.



Note: The names of clients in this article were changed to maintain confidentiality.

BY Jeanine Cogan

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POSTED AT 12:00 AM ET, 10/21/2010

Entrepreneurship in Tough Times

This is the best time to strike out with a new business vision if you've got the fortitude and resources to forge ahead. There is no better time.

First of all, when times are tough everyone else pulls back. You will move into the foreground simply by holding your ground. If you have the foresight to move forward aggressively, you can make great gains that will serve you as times even out.

When competitors batten down the hatches, cutting costs, they often pull back on marketing and outreach and cut strategic programs that result in decreased market penetration. Their moods tend to be bleak and if they are running a service business, this too results in constricting their reach. Simply by maintaining a presence, not to mention actively stepping up operations, you will find yourself face-to-face with more clients.

It's a lot like the movie joke where the drill sergeant asks for volunteers and everyone in line except the star takes a giant step backward. This leaves the impression our hero stepped forward. The only difference is that you are not naive, but a savvy mover and shaker looking to make an impression. When everyone steps back, it is as though nature shines her light upon you and all you have to do is deliver the goods to receive favor.

Second, it is well known that opportunity is most acute and visible when times are hard. There is nothing like adversity to focus the attention of your customers. If you have real value to offer, value that is honest and apropos to the times and conditions, people will seek you out and pay you well. In fact, this is when they need you the most. They are actively engaged in seeking to improve their situation, which may be worsening by the day. So their need for you is mounting and they feel it.

Fortune  magazine, for example, was founded in February 1930, just four months after the stock market crash of 1929 initiated the Great Depression. Fortune was priced a $1 per issue at a time when newspapers sold for a tiny fraction of that. The first issue of Fortune was over 180 pages in length, printed on heavy, deluxe paper. Over 30,000 people subscribed before it was released. Today Fortune reports over 850,000 subscribers and an increase in its subscription rate since 2000 while many periodicals are tanking.

Fortune was bold, providing business insight at a time when people were desperate to have it. By emanating success they quickly leaped to the foreground and built a following that served as a strong base, all the way up to their present-day achievement. It was a great gamble, and it paid off. While you may not wish to take on a similar level of risk, do not dismiss the lesson the Fortune accomplishment illustrates: People are willing to invest in the midst of challenging circumstances if they believe there is real value to be had.

Of course, you must deliver results. You have to do your homework, understand your clients' needs thoroughly and meet them with exceptional impact. With this as your foundation, you have the platform for remarkable achievement in a challenging economy.

These are the principles I relied on to turn around my business in 2009. In the early part of the year I suffered a serious setback when my primary client withdrew its resources from the project I was working on. I run a solo consulting firm dedicated to helping business leaders drive change. My largest client issued major cutbacks and my smaller clients were afraid to invest.

As I faced a very uncertain future, I empathized with many of the business owners and executives I knew in Washington, DC. As a result I decided to become an expert in helping them navigate our difficult economy.

First I did intensive research. I learned the details of the present challenges. I met with business leaders, had candid conversations, listened carefully to their needs and concerns. I found out how some were keeping their organizations afloat as consumer confidence plummeted and money grew scarce.

I became an intelligence collector, learning a little here and little there about what was working. Soon I amassed significant value that I could share broadly.

But I did not stop there. I isolated key trends and sought out innovators. I found what was working for larger companies who could shoulder more risk. I applied some of my own knowledge of various industries, ferreting out emergent solutions. In short order, I had a powerful collection of knowledge and experience. I put together a presentation and invited business leaders to attend.

Did I charge them? No. I did the opposite. I rented an upscale presentation room close to the White House and took on the costs of the event myself. I sent out invitations and when the day came, I did not hold back. Rather I forcefully shared all that I knew, encouraged questions and discussion, opened up the floor. We were all in it together. The debate was so lively that I had to push people out of the room when it was over.

Several participants came to me and asked if I would put together a more extensive program, which they would be willing to pay for. I did more market research, meeting with the interested parties, and collaborated with them on price point and content. Word began to spread and soon other executives were contacting me for related engagements.

All this in the spring of 2009, proving my point: If you provide real value your clients can take to market, they will come looking for you. As a result of my genuine interest in helping others survive the challenges, my own business turned around. This was not a scheme. It was a concerted effort to make a difference. I was rewarded with business because I delivered real solutions business leaders could take to the bank.

Here are several tips for succeeding as an entrepreneur when the market is difficult.

1. Explore the extenuating circumstances of your clients.
Take the time to contact them and listen. Look beneath the surface. Get intimate with the uncomfortable details. Become adept at putting yourself in their shoes and exposing the nuances of every challenge and obstacle. Get to know the issues like they were your own. The more you understand, the better your solutions will be.

2. Engage your clients as co-collaborators, not as customers.
Work as though you are in this together, because you are. It is a real challenge -- honest, tough work -- to find solutions that deliver high-impact results. Work shoulder-to-shoulder to identify, develop, and highlight the most valuable resolutions you can find.

3. Be particularly aggressive with authentic solutions.
Once you have identified actions that can make a difference in your clients' lives, let them know it. Do not hold back. If they are doubtful, skeptical, or too busy to notice, go and direct their attention. They will be grateful and forgiving. I am not suggesting you be obnoxious or harass them. Just be forceful in letting people know you have found something worth their time.

4. Study trends.
Once you are in a field that merits your attention, look everywhere you can to understand tendencies, inclinations, projected trajectories. Leave no stone unturned. Look at unmet customer requests, business difficulties, futurists, trend setters, successful innovators, R&D operations. Learn to watch the rise and fall of emerging patterns. Notice which blossom into full scale movements and which dissipate and disappear. See if you can discover the key indicators for success and apply them to new developments before it is clear which way they are going. Become familiar with case studies in the news.

5. Get to know your customers' customers.
The surest way to garner your clients' attention is to show them how they can do a better job of providing for their buyers. You may even be able to help them execute delivery or provide service to their patrons. Anything that puts them in an improved position in the marketplace will be of interest. Make it an active pursuit to understand the world through the eyes of your customers' customers. It will be a win-win-win and secure the admiration of everyone you serve.

6. Provide arrays of solutions.
Offer more than one way forward. Every real dilemma has details, variations, fine distinctions that you cannot anticipate. By providing several ways to solve a problem, you give your clients choices they can extrapolate from, transpose, or recombine to suit their needs.  Further, you develop your expertise by examining the issues from multiple points of view and developing applications that handle a variety of circumstances.

7. Go deep, but widen the periphery of your services.
With each issue you attack, it will be necessary to dig down and root it out like an unwanted weed in a garden. You will need to understand its root system and find the best tool to pluck it out, removing any chance it will sprout again later. Yet, you don't want to close yourself to new opportunity. Remain alert for organic growth, always watchful for a new development just on the edge of your operations. Do not make the mistake of going deep and narrow, losing potential growth from the outside. But also do not become wide and shallow. Your knowledge will not be robust enough to create strong relationships which endure the ups and downs of the marketplace. Rather go deep, yet stay alert to openings on the boundaries of your efforts.

A grueling economy can be a boon for entrepreneurs. Trouble means people need opportunity more than ever. If you can keep your ears close enough to your clients to understand what they are saying and you do the homework required to unearth real solutions, the very forces that are making the market taxing can provide the traction you need to grow your business.

Further, when you succeed, so do your clients. You are literally turning things around, one engagement at a time. And you are amassing the expertise to ensure you thrive when times become good again. Like my grandmother often said, "If it don't kill you, it'll make you strong." This is a time to work out, build your strength, and thrive as a result.

BY Seth Kahan

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POSTED AT 11:26 AM ET, 10/14/2010

Does social networking create antisocial behavior?

Remember when social networking meant you went to local networking meetings to connect with supposed rainmakers who could refer business to you? You would eat some rather tough chicken and be exposed to a den of losers whose homemade business cards left you wondering why you showed up in the first place. I once met a psychic attorney at one of these functions who said he knew when someone was going to be sued in the future. I got a little nervous when he kept insisting that I hold onto his card.

In the old sense, social networking to strike up some winning business prospects entailed spending time with a few losing prospects. Times have changed. I'm not saying there are fewer losing prospects out there... but nowadays we have the ability to kind of "speed-date" our way past them to concentrate on the keepers.

That's because these days, the term networking most often refers to online connecting, through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other electronic interfaces. Everyone is doing it -- some companies to great effect, and some students to great detriment. (Is it really worth flunking out of school because you're up until 5 a.m. responding to the 800 friends you have worldwide?)

Productive or Destructive?

Without a doubt, social networking can strengthen your career and expand your possibilities. It's a cheap, powerful way to connect. It generates relationships and situations you can capitalize on with face-to-face networking. You create connections with influencers and experts that would take years to achieve in person. Social networking builds brand awareness, enhances your company's image, prevents reputation problems, increases customer loyalty, reveals new markets and business opportunities, and keeps your key employees on the cutting edge of innovation. 

With the power and potential of social networking, will we soon forget how to deal with humans face to face? Will we lose our ability to interact? I have seen some young hotel clerks who have clearly lost contact with the "hospitality" part of the hospitality business.

Taken to an extreme, the pervasiveness of social media networking among younger generations in particular leads some people to speculate that someday we might all be loner robots living in isolation and glued to our devices. Already, socializing electronically for middle school students means you can hook up, break up and develop teen angst with people you've never met! You've got to wonder what that looks like in the future. Will people be married through Facebook? Do you promise to stay together until ... what? Some big server goes down?

Is it possible for social networking to cause antisocial behavior? I don't mean that spending a lot of time on Facebook will make you a serial killer (although you might connect with people you could easily imagine strangling). It's just that if you spend your Friday nights with online friends, isn't that an indication that you don't actually have any real friends?

Making it work

The truth is that social networking actually creates great trust among people and brings them together, while also helping us to avoid getting together with people we should definitely deal with from a distance. Think about it: With certain coworkers, you know you'd function as a better team if you could just get information from them and not have to deal with their psychotic personalities. (A person can be only so annoying in text.)

The key is knowing how to use social networking to your own benefit or the benefit of your employer (not just for sending photos of yourself drunk to people you don't know that well and twittering that you're heading to the bathroom). Social networking is not just the future; it's a good future if you do it effectively.

As you strive to manage all the information that this complex modern life requires you to deal with each day, consider whether you're spending time with the right people. Think of that loser buddy from high school who just contacted you on Facebook -- the one who still drives the same car from senior year ... What's he doing for you? On the flip side, consider what other people get from reconnecting with you. If you're hanging out with people more successful than you, that might make you the loser buddy. But surely it's better to be a loser pulled up by winners than to be a moderate success who gets dragged down by loser buddies.

Social networking allows you to explore -- even exploit -- those dynamics. You get to learn from those who are successful and not waste your time with people who have nothing to offer. Be advised, though, there are weirdoes out there. Quite a few people I knew in the '80s have resurfaced to say hello and only one of them turned out to be a stalker.

Natural progression

Concern that the latest networking technology will jeopardize face-to-face connections is nothing new. In the late 1800s, people thought the telephone would destroy relationships when it actually ended up building them!

Social networking is yet another development in a steady progression toward better, clearer, faster communication and more fulfilling relationships. While early man once settled for one-on-one meetings and some cave art that seemed a bit vague, through the ages we have embraced written language, the postal service, the telegraph and the telephone to establish, expand and strengthen relationships. In our quest to strike up and cement relationships faster, aren't social networking vehicles like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn the logical next step?

BY Garrison Wynn

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POSTED AT 12:00 AM ET, 10/ 7/2010

Always more to learn

Success comes in many different packages, as does the power that success often brings -- it has different connotations to different people. For me, success is the result of my ability to use my own insight and talent to forge new ground as an entrepreneur, while making strides toward my personal and business goals.

I love the challenge of being a leader, with its risks and rewards, and I thrive in the environment of hard work. Yet, I feel I am grounded in reality enough to know that I could not have tripled the size of my business and grown its revenues without the diligent efforts of those who also come to work 24/7 at Reston Limousine.

Ultimately, I measure success as an business leader by taking the time to remember those around us who may not be as fortunate, who may need a hand up the business ladder or a mentor who perhaps has already learned insight and vision from having traveled the pathway before.

I believe that there will always be more to learn, achieve, and experience as an entrepreneur. Success comes to those who take to the journey in search of the best pathway -- not to those who wait to see which route others will choose.

BY Kristina Bouweiri

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POSTED AT 12:00 AM ET, 09/30/2010

Getting Even

"Sue those boys!"
Continue reading this post »

BY Patricia McGuire

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POSTED AT 12:02 AM ET, 09/23/2010

The power of positive talking

Unfortunately, in the business world, there is no "Communication 101." We are taught how to make deals, read the financial pages, pinpoint an economic trend, balance a budget, and develop a strategic vision.

The Center for Creative Leadership tracked high-potential leaders for over 20 years in an effort to monitor success factors. All the candidates achieved what we might define as "basic success," having reached positions as managers, directors, and even CEO's.

However, over the remaining years, only a handful progressed to what was identified as "very successful." The one statistically relevant difference? This handful possessed highly developed interpersonal skills. They knew how to communicate in both low- and high-stakes situations in such a way that messages were clear, accountability was established, empathy was felt, results could be measured, followers were abundant, respect was gained, behavior could be trusted, guidance was practiced AND bottom-line achievement was gained.

So, how many of today's leaders have been through an intensive course in communications, the kind that leads to the outcomes listed above? Most MBA programs have an "Organizational Communications" class. These classes (having taught them myself) tend to teach the "science" of communications and not the art of daily interacting, confronting, making agreements, giving feedback, and resolving conflicts.

Some good communications skills are shared in scattered courses in negotiation and a few lucky executives have been exposed to extended seminars where they have to contemplate their persona and effectiveness. But for the most part, leaders are left to their own devices, learning through mentors, books, and a few outstanding role models.

One reason the teaching of interpersonal communication has not been effective is because it is a very individualized process. Communicating with one another is viewed as a "given," something that doesn't need to be taught. Yet, when we enter the higher stakes of business and politics, we find that our basic communication tools fall short. Attending seminars on more sophisticated communication techniques takes time, practice, and a re-engineering of a person's mental model of listening, responding, and influencing. Yes, in a classroom or book you can be exposed to the tools and spend a day or two practicing with a partner. Making this a part of one's daily repertoire takes much more.

In walks the field of executive coaching. The phenomenon of obtaining and working with an executive coach has been growing over the past ten years, and with good cause. Recent studies have demonstrated that having a coach improves the effectiveness of not only the leader being coached but that leader's team and entire organization.

In particular, there is a measured increase in conflict resolution, implementation, clarity of messages, shared understanding of key concepts, cohesiveness, trust, confidence, and productivity. Why does coaching achieve higher levels of interpersonal learning than other means of education?

It is individualized. Unlike a seminar or classroom, a coach begins with where the leader "is at" and guides the executive on a journey of self-discovery and mastery. Everything discussed, shared, and practiced revolves around the impact that leader is experiencing or causing.

And how does a leader manage this process? Through his/her communication skills. As many leaders have found, coaching has little to do with therapy or contemplating one's navel. The purpose is individual success and movement towards action, not just improved insight or awareness. In the coaching relationship there are homework assignments, practice exercises within real-time situations, journaling, set-backs, adjustments, goal achievement, and celebration.

One of today's coaching gurus is David Rock (Quiet Leadership). He uses a marvelous analogy that gets to the heart of coaching and communication. He says that trying to change one's behavior is like trying to change the course of the river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Your brain is so hard-wired that it would take centuries to re-wire it into new communication patterns.

What a good coach is able to do is to assist a leader in building bridges over his/her existing communication patterns and support the leader in choosing to use those new bridges more often to achieve different results. There is no "changing your personality" or "fixing your negative behaviors" or "unlearning;" there are just more tools to play with.

Once leaders begin to use a wider variety of communication approaches, they begin to influence results in new and more productive ways. One of the more effective communicative bridges that most leaders need to build is the notion of dialogue: getting to the reasoning behind what is being said or heard.  Most communication breakdowns begin and end here. There are just two steps.

Step One: When you make statements, explain your reasoning and invite the other person back into the conversation. "I think I can suggest an approach we can take with that client that might be helpful. Let me share it with you and then we can explore it further. So, what we might do is .... What do you think?

Step Two: When someone else makes a statement, ask for their reasoning. Do this by asking ever-increasing powerful questions. "That's an interesting approach. Share with me how you would implement that. How would we incorporate the fact that the client wants control?"

That's it. Communication 101. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.


BY Virginia Bianco-Mathis

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POSTED AT 12:00 AM ET, 09/16/2010

Four Secrets

People constantly ask me how I maintain such a positive attitude, day in and day out ... how I have the endurance to keep going. I have four secrets. They are faith, gratitude, future-focused patience, and my web of influence.
Embrace the Journey.

Faith plays a central role in all aspects of my life. While I discard the belief that "all things happen for a reason," I do believe that all circumstances provide a doorway to growth and learning if our minds are open.  All of the paths put before us offer experiences we might not be able to understand or see at the time they are happening, but are significant nonetheless.

If we can have faith in a higher reason as to why things are happening, we're able to let go of the fear of uncertainty. I'm not suggesting we surrender to what's happening and blindly accept difficulty or defeat. What I suggest is to release the fear, which impedes our rational thinking.

Often when we are in the midst of change and challenge, we are unable to grasp why events are transpiring. Fear clouds the courage we need to weather a storm. It is only after we have gone through an experience that we can look back and see why the dots connected in the manner in which they did.

This philosophy is what has helped me navigate my way through great pain and difficulty. Negativity, resentment, anger, jealousy, and feelings of dissatisfaction are your greatest enemies in your life's journey. The good news is that we have control over all of them, and we alone determine how much influence and power they have over us.

I begin every day from a place of gratitude. Regardless of what's occurring in our lives, we all can find many things for which to be grateful.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has had pain, loss, and difficulty, personally and professionally, and I've had more than my share. I've exceeded the quota.  But that's okay; I'm stronger and more resilient because of it. My challenges were a gift because they have molded me into who I am today, and prepared me for what's ahead.

None of us really know what our fellow entrepreneurs have endured. We just wonder how they do what they do. Especially for people like entrepreneurs, who embrace and live life a bit more passionately than others, we're a target for both more of the good and more of the bad. But if you can adopt the habit of embracing your journey from a place of gratitude and appreciation for all that you have accomplished, for the blessings in your life, and for all that is yet to come, the challenges and difficulties become much more manageable.  
Future-focused patience.

By nature, I'm not patient. Most goal-directed, passionate people aren't.  We see what we want, and we want to take it.

Experience has taught me that rushing what's coming never turns out for the best. But I've also learned that I don't need to helplessly wait to get what I want. There are plenty of things I can do to help me strengthen my foundation, and obtain my goal. So while I wait, I plan.

I've come to appreciate the time between knowing what I want, and getting what I want. Do I want to capture a certain contract? I put a strategy in place to get it. Do I want to add a new line of business? I do research to see if it's viable. Do I want to hit a certain revenue target? I surround myself with others that have done it. Do I want to cultivate a relationship?

Substantive, lasting relationships that are based on trust and respect take a long time to build and require patience. They can't be rushed. I've reluctantly, painfully, and gracefully become more patient. But it's purposeful and future-focused patience. Not patience for the sake of patience.  
Our web of influence.

The final secret is what I refer to as our web of influence. Research has proven that we are the average of the 10 people who most closely surround us. We become the people that surround us. People have a lot more control over their web of influence than they realize. They automatically put long-time friends, family members, and business colleagues into their web, even though they may not be the people that are most supportive, understanding, or happiest for their success.

This is your life, and your web and you get to decide who is in it. It should be very difficult for someone to earn a spot on your A-team or in your inner circle.

BY Marissa Levin

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