Two Great Summer Reads

I love learning which is good because my clients, and the coaches I train and mentor are always hot on my heals with their own insights.

Two topics are always front-and-center for me: How can we understand and solidly unleash our signature strengths, and what is the difference between change and compliance. Check out these two terrific (and easy) reads–both have inspired me.

1. Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson. This author is also a researcher who writes about the whats and hows of deliberately building a positive point of view. The pay-offs can be huge in our ability to be smarter, more resilient and have more access to our strengths and areas of mastery. Pretty readable for a researcher.

2. Switch by Chip Heath. This is the best book I’ve read this year on how people change–and how leaders can help them to.  The author borrows a very remember-able analogy that I will think of the next time try to give direction to a large, powerful, emotional, impulsive, intelligent animal (human or otherwise).

You can find these two and some of my other favorites on this page. Here comes the sun!

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I work with people who want to get un-stuck in big and little ways. And I’ve just about concluded that that most of us are stuck on something somewhere in our lives most of the time:

  • Maybe you’re stuck between competing commitments (how can I lose weight and still enjoy life?),
  • Or on just not knowing what to do next (big bite or little bite?),
  • Or on how to do it (what if I raised the bar on my performance?),
  • Or on whether you should risk it (could I still pay the mortgage?).

One of the best ways I know of to tackle stuckness is to join with a tribe of other pilgrims who will challenge and support you.  That’s what happens routinely in SeattleCoach groups. A new one (focused on coach training) launches in July. Be in touch and I’ll tell you more.

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“Striking True”

“Power is revealed not by striking hard and often, but by striking true.” Honore de Balzac

Yesterday morning we all woke up to a slight change in the balance of good and evil. Some of us celebrated, some of us were sober, just about all of us recognized what it took for President Obama and ultimately those twenty-four Navy Seals to “strike true.” I’ve had my differences with the President at times, but as I looked at that photo of him watching the operation, I saw the unedited focus and poignancy of a man striking true, and I felt grateful.

In our own ways today, each of us will have a chance to bring an appropriate calculated risk to an opportune moment. To “strike true.” Maybe it will arrive in the pause of a conversation that could use a powerful question. Or a hard truth. Or a public acknowledgment of someone’s character. Those times come to us most days, quietly and steadily. We just have to keep breathing, preparing, listening and then pray for eyes to see and ears to hear so that we don’t let them pass unnoticed.

This ability is at the practiced and prepared heart of any great coaching.


No Surprises

I guess it’s true that we fear what we can’t predict, so businesses and government agencies scramble to promise us “no surprises”. They know that we love predictability–especially when we’re not in control. Neurologically and socially we’re built for paying attention. My friend John Medina, author of Brain Rules says our ancestors kept two questions handy, “Can I eat that?” and “Can it eat me?”

But when the volume of reporting includes waves of speculation, (“Should you be worried?!” “Could it happen here?!”) we face, in the words of Gordon Crovitz in today’s Wall Street Journal, a data tsunami. We hate not knowing but then get swamped with the fix! So the questions become, How do we stay calmly resilient enough to recognize a true emergency? And how do we use that same calm resilience as a filter to let in useful information along with happiness and possibility and good surprises and growth opportunities?

The longer I live and the more people I listen to, the more I think of “calm resilience” as a spiritual practice. I think it involves:

  • Practicing breathing differently. In the words of the philosopher, Lily Tomlin, “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
  • Considering where this moment or decision is on the line between recklessness and opportunity.
  • Accepting your limits.
  • And “seeding” the elements of happiness into our hours and days.

No matter what their agenda, I find myself working on this stuff with all of my clients. Most of them are very fast-paced and very smart, so I promise them that if they practice these things, they will get even smarter (also happier).

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Great appreciation for this quote by Dr King . . .

via Seth Godin . . .”We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”

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Why Coaching Works

Coaching has been defined as a profession for only about fifteen years–but everyone knows that coaches have always been a part of the human experience.

Coaches today reflect the spectrum of what they have always been: Sages, story-tellers, ministers, teachers, counselors, philosophers, mystics, gurus, managers, advisors, shepherds, spiritual directors, consultants, confidantes, leaders and nags. And since way before a pharaoh hired a young shepherd forty centuries ago, I think it’s always been in our DNA to pay attention to, and even seek out, the good ones.

So, I’ve wondered, what is it about our times that has increased the demand for professional coaches–and for leaders who can coach?

Here’s my hunch this month: When I sit down with an individual, a team or a group, I almost always invite them to take a moment to slow-down and breathe. I tell my high-tech Seattle clients that this will make them smarter, so they do it.

The built-in delays of human life have pretty much gone away, and we’re not adjusting to that very well either neurologically or socially. How’s this for a metaphor: One of the coaches I’ve trained is working with the US Military to address PTSD in returning soldiers. She notes that in the past, soldiers who fought together came home together—even the injured ones—on troop ships. Those built-in weeks to rest and decompress and heal in the unhurried company of comrades is emblematic of what we don’t have as much of anymore.

And our lives and relationships pay a price until we examine what the heck is going on. That’s, I think, where the leadership of a good coach begins. I help people to change their rhythm and to pay attention to their craft, to their friends, family, sleep and restlessness so that they can be deliberate with their next steps.

I’ll write more next month. If this strikes a chord with you—either because you are being called on to coach, or because it’s time to find one for yourself, give me a call.

Here are this month’s “best-of” ideas: Things that got me to slow down, listen, learn and/or laugh.

Speaking of how our use of time is changing, this RSA Animation will challenge you (especially if you have young children in your life).
And, speaking of time, Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy is just plain funny.
Best dog name (of a giant shaggy black poodle): Hagrid

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Your Best Gifts

Someone told me this week that she had figured out a good gift for a friend who’s going through a tough time this Christmas. “I made a list of the things I’m good at,” she said, “And I offered it to her.”

Her story is a parable of one of the central dramas of our lives: to find out what we’re good at, and then to be generous with what we discover.

My hope for each of us is that we regularly turn everything we know about being good friends and leaders on our own lives: Ensuring that we are deeply satisfied in our work and that our closest relationships become an enduring source of happiness.

From my tradition, I wish you a Merry Christmas, and with it, some fun, mystery, joy and gratitude, and maybe even a surprise glimpse of a generous Creator.

Curious about what coaching is like?
Along with my groups and teams, my work with individuals continues. Click here to see how it works.

Upcoming Coach- Training Options
Accomplished leaders and managers are becoming great coaches. If you’ve been curious about this, be in touch. Two new cohorts will launch in the coming six weeks. There’s more on my Coach Training page.

And if you’d like to provide your organization with a condensed workshop of essential coaching skills, click here to find out more about our “Manager-As-Coach” (MAC) training.

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Coaching TSA

OK, TSA hasn’t asked my opinion, but if they did, I’d have three coachy hunches for their next round of training.

Coachy Hunch #1. Look us in the eye. Watch our body language. Learn about listening to your gut. I know you’re supposed to watch the ex-ray machine and make us take off our shoes and the rest of the drill and that sometimes when you look at us we don’t look very happy with you. But here’s the deal: if you don’t “listen” with all of your senses and all of your intelligence, maybe you’ll tend to get more grudging compliance than actual bad guys. Remember that customs agent in Port Angeles, the one who caught the Millennium bomber ten years ago? She simply noticed that the driver of the last car on the last ferry of the day from Victoria was “fidgeting, jittery and sweating.”

Coachy Hunch #2. Remember that the vast majority of us are allies. There must be ways to use that fact more. All good working relationships are co-created.

Coachy Hunch#3. Safety and freedom are more dynamic and adjusting than they are fixed and flawless. In this dangerous world bad things happen, but if we value resilience more than perfect execution we’re always ahead.

Do that stuff and you’ll get more lasting respect from us as your allies than you will lasting blame when bad things do happen.

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Defining Grace

Talented people keep showing up in my office on the dock, on their way to and through the big changes in their lives.

And word I find myself using with them as they deepen their character, leadership and goals is the word, Grace.

When I was a kid, Grace was used of an American princess (also what my brother would say if I tripped). Since then, I’ve heard Grace used to describe God’s nature, human artistry and elegant behavior. It is almost always present in the finest coaching, leading and managing. True Grace seems to be big enough to be recognizable across the bio-psycho-social-spiritual spectrum.

This letter goes to hundreds of very wise men and women. And I’d love to hear your take on Grace–how you recognize, experience and cultivate it in your own work. If you have a quote, a conviction, a belief or a story please comment!


I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of getting a horse to like me. Or trust me. Or teach me. Or not bite me.

We were horse camping a couple of weeks ago and I tried out some of my theories on this big, smart, opinionated mare.

I noticed in my three days with her that we did best when I told her where I wanted to go, but then trusted her wisdom about our pace and possible next steps. I practiced being calm and playful and clear. And I trusted her to be calm and confident and clear in her own way as we moved forward.

There was still a lot of snow in the North Cascades, and some cold creeks to cross, but she clearly knew the best places to put her big feet, and when she stumbled, I know I looked more shocked than she did.

Through the years, I’ve come to believe that a good coach is someone who helps you pay attention to what you need to find out about–or get better at–so that you can travel where (and how) you want. Somewhere along the trail, it occurred to me that the big girl was quietly conducting a demonstration. Plus I’m pretty sure she liked me.


First Coach

Here I am with my first Coach in nineteen-fifty-something. I’m lucky enough to still have this guy in my life, and I still learn things from him. I’ve learned from his example as a solid business success, and as a man who is about to enter his sixty-second year married to his best friend, still having fun. And I’ve also learned from his style.

I remember one summer evening a few years after this photo was taken when we collaborated about a big moment with another vehicle in my little life. Was it time to remove the training wheels? Did I want to? If/when I fell, he knew I could manage it. He explained the process and I don’t remember worrying, or over-thinking things. I do remember what happened next.

I remember climbing onto what would soon be the new normal. I was ready. And I was in what I still recognize as “The Goldilocks Zone” for taking a risk: not too big, small; hard, soft; hot, cold–but just right.

I remember my Dad running beside me and holding on, as I experienced the dynamics of balance and pace and movement. And I remember when he invisibly let go of my seat and then cheered as I rode away from him. And I remember that perfect visceral blend of risk and success as I joined him in the whooping, speeding through the warm summer air.

Maybe you’re remembering your own training-wheels moment. In mine there are lots of coaching metaphors, and not a day passes that I don’t use one of them. My Father’s style still helps me to grow and learn and move into my “new normals.” Happy Father’s Day Dad–and to all of you other Father-Coaches. Your influence is lasting.


Successful “Frauds”

Many of the gifted professionals I work with have this little worried heckler in their heads who accuses them of being frauds. The little worried heckler cleverly uses the first-person and says things like:

“If people really knew how I (worried, lost sleep, flew by the seat of my pants or wasn’t as sure as I looked), they’d know I was an unqualified fraud.”

When I hear that little worried heckler in the background, it’s usually coming from a strong person who is initiating or navigating some important growth. And what I know about our little worried hecklers (mine too) is that they are big fans of the status quo, and not of movement and risk.

When I hear that voice, I help my clients to:

  • Pay attention. When and how does that voice get active?
  • Remember that they don’t have to argue with it.
  • Remember what’s true and real.
  • Remember that they are on a path and that they have options about their next steps.

Bottom line, if you’ve been hearing from your heckler lately you’re probably growing, so stay aware, stay supported and keep moving forward.

PS Three seats left for the next SeattleCoach Training Cohort. If you, or someone you know, are ready to develop the craft of coaching as part of your leadership portfolio, call me for an info interview: 206.412.6224.

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Tax Day Hunches

So tonight by midnight, we’ve all got to have something in the mail to the federal government–and by the end of the month, if you’re a small business, the states and cities will expect their payments too.

This will be on my mind today as I meet with (and write newsletters to) my usual line-up of gifted men and women. Most of my clients and coaches are entrepreneurial. Many want to run their own enterprises. And even though I’m a big ole optimist, I tell them that most small businesses fail quickly and sadly. I also tell them they can beat the odds if they practice three things with great discipline:

  • Know what you want to offer, and to whom–and then talk about it with your own unique voice. Just do great and sustainable work. And make it work you love or you won’t have the heart to go for it. That way you don’t have to be afraid of the competition.
  • Get great at your craft. And while you do, keep your day job and feed your passion. If you can, shift the weight of your financial needs gradually to the new thing. If you can’t, it’s an avocation.
  • Never stop keeping your expenses down. Worry is the enemy of creativity and initiative.
Along with my other checks this month, I’m thinking about writing one to any politician who’s working on this same stuff.
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A Great Movie and A Great Group

Whether or not you are one of my clients, if you have a sense that you are in a professional transition–or have a hunch that one might be right around the corner–I have two ideas for you this month.

First, I wanted you to know that I’m launching a monthly Webinar–a small cybergroup. For thirty minutes on the first Tuesday morning of every month, I will give an overview of a topic and invite one or two participants to talk about a next step in a transition they are living or anticipating. Then I’ll ask the group to work with me in helping to support and define some successful next steps.

Click here for more information about registering for our first webinar on March 2, 9:00-9:30a Pacific. Let’s see if I can figure out the technology, and if enough of you will find it useful!

I’ll have room for the first twenty participants.

Here’s the second idea: If you are unemployed, or underemployed, take 35 minutes, 57 seconds and watch this movie. (It’s called “Lemonade” for obvious reasons.)

You can follow me on Twitter.

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Some “Best Practices” for 2010

When I launched my SeattleCoach Training Program 21 months ago I wasn’t sure what would happen. Now, still in our second year, 23 amazing men and women are members of a great and growing tribe of coaches. Each is unique in what he or she is offering, but they share a passion for becoming really good at the craft and purpose of coaching.

Here’s why I believe we’ve taken off like this:

1. I interview and select people who are accomplished and mature enough to work and be challenged at a very high level. Each is on a mission. (Plus they make me look really good.)

2. Each cohort becomes a team marked by kindness, excellence, transparency, courage and hard work.

3. We laugh.

4. I love and am inspired by each of them.

When Conan O’Brien said his Tonight-Show goodbyes a few days ago, he said, “If you do not become cynical, if you work hard and are kind, amazing things will happen.”

Amen Brother.

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The Magic of Being Acknowledged

When was the last time someone paused, looked you in the eye and acknowledged your grace or courage, or your heart and attention? I.e. the character stuff that anchors your life and work. It’s usually a moment you savor and remember.

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of us can go days, weeks! without getting a word of acknowledgment. It’s a big enough deal that in my coach training, I’ve made it one of “Six Essentials” that I like to see happen in every solid coaching conversation.

This is a great time of year to make a point of acknowledging the people in your life. When I acknowledge someone, I try to:

  1. Slow down the pace. Say the person’s name, catch their eye, create a moment of attention and focus on who the person IS and what you see in their character.
  2. Be specific. (They always know if I’m exaggerating or being grandiose.) Talk about what you’ve seen in their character that you respect and are grateful for–maybe how the person influences your own life.
  3. Then I take a breath to keep myself from rushing on. Leave enough space for the other person to look back at you and take in your words.

As the December days speed on, make a list of a few people you could acknowledge. It will be a wonderful gift, and one they may not have received in a long time!

Have a great Christmas and Holiday Season.

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The learnings continue . . .

My return to Russia was put on hold last week, and an unplanned trip to very hip, very poignant Berlin took its place. Still a great week with an old friend, and a chance to join the crowds at the site of the former Wall to experience the excitement and to hear the whump-whump-whump of 1000 giant dominoes falling. But it was different that what I’d envisioned for months.

Check out this great little reflection. Not that it’s anything like the small magnitude of our adjustments this week, but I appreciate the heart of one who understands resilience. Maybe you will too. Enjoy.

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The most important thing is what you do next . . .

So I’m waiting for the shuttle to get me to the airport for our fabulous return visit to the Motherland and the phone rings. It’s my traveling companion Mary with the mother of all visa problems and within moments it’s clear: We’re not going to Russia today.

I’ve told countless clients through the years, “The most important thing is what you do next.” I’m happy to report that in the moment, I sat down, paid attention to my breath and energy, made a decision not to yell at Mary and started thinking about what we could do next.

Thirty-six hours later Mary and I are having breakfast and visiting with Dr. Kari’s sister Michele in a little town near Berlin. Michele lives here and will get us on the train to Berlin in a little while. Turns out they are observing the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall there too.

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How the Soviets made me a better coach

In the 1980s, I made several trips into the former Soviet Union to meet and work with students and professional people, and I was there in 1989 when, unbelievably, the Berlin Wall fell. The lessons and observations I absorbed in those days shaped my convictions as a coach of leaders and entrepreneurs. Next week an old friend and I will go back.

Here are six of my enduring lessons from that time:


  1. Innovation happens when possibility or technique meet a market. Smart entrepreneurs seek advantages that they know to be mutually beneficial–usually with personal creativity and resourcefulness. The most vigorous and light-hearted people I met on the street in the 1980s were trying to buy my jeans and my shoes–and to sell me fur hats and Soviet paratrooper watches.
  2. Affirm, acknowledge and reward what you want more of.The Soviets rewarded compliance and obedience. It’s even more powerful when the reward from a boss or a coach or a friend is an affirmation of your competence and dreams.
  3. The search for meaning, contribution and satisfaction is steady and ultimately irresistible. The one and only time I was arrested in Russia, the interpreter whispered an urgent question when my interrogators weren’t listening, “Do you believe in God?”
  4. Freedom, having options, connects to personal courage. Where there is possibility, encouragement, and a bit of risk, people explore and grow and get better. Two days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was scheduled to speak at the University of Leningrad. Instead of a discreet dozen students, a newly emboldened 200 showed up. We talked and debated for over three hours.
  5. Too much of a good thing (in this case, government direction and control) connects to dependence, atrophy and resistance. A Russian political cartoon appeared a few weeks later. It said, “Workers of the world . . . we apologize”.
  6. Choose colleagues that you laugh with. Especially when living in or even visiting a police state.

The Russians helped me to learn the difference between compliance and transformation. I’ll be twittering the lessons they still have for me during this twentieth anniversary return trip to what used to be Leningrad.

You can follow our progress on Twitter–and click here for more photos and history. And I hope you keep sharing your own insights on the blog.

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Got Goals? Part II

Last month I wondered about what (this fall) you want to create, invent, launch or instigate. I know it’s a theme I share with my favorite clients: always thinking about where the next place is to grow and learn and course-correct.
Here’s some of what I’ve heard:
  • This fall I want to use my career transition time to build my business, but also feed my passions and activities.
  • It always amazes me how relevant and timely your topics are for me. (This fall I’m thinking about) transformation and the art of letting concepts, habits, and ideas go that no longer serve us.
  • My big goal for the fall is to get organized! Financially, physically, and mentally! I have made huge progress in all of these areas thanks to you Patty!! Thank you so much for believing in me

As for me, Russia Revisited is on. And it has inspired me to remember a lifelong lesson I learned twenty years ago from Russians–and with them:

Men and women, even with a long history of suffering, and control (from their own and other governments) have an almost gravitational pull toward curiosity, optimism and even faith and freedom.

I’m twittering about all of this–sign up here to follow our progress–and keep sharing your own.

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