“Executive Coach Teaches Companies to Grow, Diversify”. Feature article in Pasadena Outlook.
“Executive Coach Teaches Companies to Grow, Diversify”. Feature article in Pasadena Outlook.
“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” —Peter Drucker
Coaching with empathy means putting people first. Leaders who coach have a responsibility to guide and care for those they lead, remembering each individual has unique experiences and value to contribute.
Along the path of business and revenue goals it is easy for leaders to lose sight of their people. Has empathy been thrown out the window of your lowest performing employee’s review? Do you seek to understand the context of your team, leading to authentic understanding of team dynamics, strengths, and weaknesses?
Leaders have the power to influence the mental and physical health of employees as well. This influence greatly impacts an employee’s level of engagement and commitment to a job. Interpersonal relationships with leaders carry weight, affecting the entire being of an individual. Bob Sutton, of Good Boss, Bad Boss states, “Having a good boss decreases your chances of getting a heart attack.” Leaders illicit performance on both micro and macro levels. When leaders are putting people first, they are creating a workspace where humanity and concern for employees is the actual walk, not just the talk.
When coaching, articulate employee strengths while addressing liabilities. Be sure, however, to not do this in a punitive way. Instead, approach these topics in a manner that is reflective of constructive criticism and empathy. Dr. Helen Weiss gives practical coaching advice, through the acronym E.M.P.A.T.H.Y, on how to do just so:
Eye contact: Usually the first indication we have been noticed by someone (although culturally this may vary). Individuals want to be seen; understood; appreciated. Eye gaze is the first step toward communicating that another individual has been seen.
Muscle/facial expression: Our faces are a roadmap of human emotions. How do our faces express needs/wants/warning.
Posture: Posture signals if we are approachable or not.
Affect: Affect orients ourselves to the emotional experience of a person as it is the expressed emotion of an individual.
Tone-of-voice: Tonality is emotionally activated. A crack in the voice of someone who is about to cry; the edge in an angry voice.
Hearing the whole person: Understanding the context in which others live. Keep curiosity open until we understand.
Your response: People absorb the feelings of others. Our inner experience and feelings mirrors those of others, because that is what is required for authentic, interpersonal interaction.
While employing the E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. technique, also practice a deeper level of listening by removing assumptions and listening carefully. Respond thoughtfully by uncovering answers through inquiry, openness and exploration. Ask employees and individuals what else they could do/who else is affected by the situation/and what else occurs to them. Lastly, resist imposing personal solutions. While personal solutions have an appropriate time and place, coaching is about helping to empower individuals to come to a conclusion.
Finally, when coaching employees through empathetic leadership employ the artful critique. Daniel Goleman states, “The artful critique focuses on what a person has done and can do rather than reading a mark of character into a job poorly done.” To do this:
Brene Brown reminds us, “empathy is a choice where we have to dig in ourselves and choose to feel something to connect with the individual.” How can you develop an empathic approach?
Over the holidays I took some time to reflect on some of the highlights of 2016. One of those highlights was a conversation with my son, a senior in high school, on the topic of self discovery, identity, and self-actualization. I was a little surprised by how much he had thought about who he’s becoming, and how clear he was about his personal ideology and identity. During our conversation, I realized that he was essentially quoting the famous Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
In my coaching practice, it is very common to discuss the leadership challenges of running an organization, managing teams, and developing individuals. It is equally common for me to ask questions that get at intrinsic motivation, personal values and purpose. When I think about new years resolutions, I believe that we have good intentions, but we may be approaching these things without reflecting on the deeper principles behind them. What do I mean by this? As I talked to various people about their new resolutions, it became clear to me that almost all of them fell into two categories; do less, or do more! For example: drink less, exercise more; spend less money, save more money; less soda, more tea; less ungratefulness, more gratitude; less worrying, more hoping.
Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing more noble things and less ignoble things, but I question if these resolutions are too superficial? Is there something more primal to get after with our resolutions? I’d like to suggest a different approach, and that approach is to begin the process of self-discovery in 2017. Self discovery means many things. It means finding your purpose in life (we all have a purpose), it means digging into your childhood and revealing the experiences that shaped you…good and bad. It means realizing what your beliefs are and then living by them. Or as the American English Dictionary defines it, “ a becoming aware of one’s true potential, character, motives, etc.”
I’d like to suggest that the journey of self-discovery will be far more rewarding than the short-term resolutions (they do have their place), and ultimately will lead you to a) greater self-actualization — the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities; and b) greater self-awareness — the capacity for introspection and ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. To embark on this journey, you must think holistically about yourself by asking the following:
Having begun the journey of self-discovery many years ago, I fully embraced Socrates famous saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And as Warren Bennis states, “Until you make your life your own, you’re walking around in borrowed clothes.” So I encourage you to discover your authentic and true self this year, because the more we know about ourselves and our world, the freer we are to achieve everything we are capable of achieving.
It’s been almost three months since I gave this talk to a group of educators and school board trustees. Since that time, there have been several new stories that have firmly placed in our collective faces the reality that we in the US have a major issue with diversity. My talk does not speak directly to any of the issues, but I believe I get at the heart of the problem, and that is what I call “cultural empathy” — our individual ability and desire to understand the perspective of someone who is different from ourselves.
Recently I was chatting with some parents and friends and I mentioned that I was working with a local school on their diversity initiatives. Both individuals seemed to flinch when I said the word diversity. Now, I wasn’t surprised by their reaction. I took this as the perfect opportunity to engage in a conversation rather than assume that their views and mine were incompatible. After a two hour conversation I sincerely believe that we both understood more about each others experiences and challenges navigating conversations about diversity.
What happened in this situation? I intentionally chose to suspend any judgements I had about this couples views on the topic. I believe that one of the major barriers to achieving authentic diversity in any organization is our human propensity to judge others. Our judgements can also make us draw incorrect conclusions about others.Harvard University social psychology professor, Ellen Langer, has studied the relationship between people’s stereotypes of themselves (not others) and their performance. All of us are mindlessly prone to believe stereotypes of ourselves unless we question them.How much more must we believe stereotypes about others, who we don’t know?
What if we could develop the ability to suspend all judgement and become better listeners, especially when we are discussing topics with folks that may have a different perspective? Unfortunately, the word diversity seems to carry significant baggage for certain groups. For others, it is their calling card to address perceived and real inequality or exclusion.This is the first step we have to consciously take — suspend judgement — if we want to engage in an authentic conversation about diversity.
The second step we have to take if we want to engage in a discussion about diversity, is to clearly articulate why we believe diversity is important to your organization. Studies like the recent study by McKinsey & Company, and others by the Gallup Organization, that consistently find that diverse teams out-perform non-diverse teams, from a gender and ethnic perspective.
The July/August 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review was devoted to the topic of diversity. Their research finds compelling evidence for organizations to take a measured and thoughtful approach to their diversity programs. Intel CEO shares his motivation for building a diverse organization — “I have two daughters. They are both technically bright. I want them to come into a workplace that is better than the way the workplace is today.” His view is the opposite of some organizations where the senior leaders have explicitly delegated this topic to the Diversity and Inclusion department. These leaders do not or cannot articulate a vision of diversity themselves, much less the value diversity brings to their organization. The question I think we need to ask ourselves is, are we genuinely interested in deepening our empathy and understanding towards others who are different from us, or do our diversity efforts have the potential to divide groups and create an atmosphere of exclusion? I think we would all agree that on an individual basis, extending empathy and understanding towards everyone, listening respectfully to points of views that are different from our own, will strengthen and bolster any community. Developing a community that expresses cultural empathy and understanding for different perspectives is a value an organization must hold highly, to achieve authentic diversity.
Another obstacle to achieving authentic diversity in our organizations is our own individual unconscious bias. Unconscious biases are created and reinforced by our environments and experiences. Our mind is constantly processing information, oftentimes without our conscious awareness. When we are moving fast or lack all the data, our unconscious biases fill in the gaps. The reasons we struggle and flounder with topics like diversity is because we fail to make it personal. We reduce these things to “initiatives”. Now, I believe we need to start somewhere, so I understand the need for such and initiatives and affinity groups — but if these initiatives or groups do not challenge us to look at the world through the eyes of others, then I’d emphatically state that these groups do not promote authentic diversity! We all need to challenge our assumptions about what diversity looks like.If you have a desire for your organization to embrace authentic diversity, you will need to consider that it will take time.
I suggested the following three steps to for anyone who is serious about exploring the idea of cultural empathy, vis-a-vis, authentic diversity:
I’m reminded of the words of the 1st century Roman philosopher, Cicero’s words,
“ All I can do is to urge you to put friendship ahead of all other human concerns, for there is nothing so suited to man’s nature, nothing that can mean so much to him, whether in good times or in bad… I am inclined to think that with the exception of wisdom, the gods have given nothing finer to men than this.”
Authentic diversity is a beautiful thing,because it reminds us of our shared humanity. We all crave to be understood for who we are and our unique stories; none of us want to be labeled — we are so much more complex and nuanced than labels allow. Real, authentic diversity happens one relationship at a time – I hope that all of us will lean into and embrace the beauty and benefits of cultural empathy and authentic diversity at work and beyond.
Last Saturday I was able to attend a monumental and historic event,the first TEDxPasadenaWomen. Leading up to this event, I and my co-coach, Michele Lando, dubbed ‘The Twins’, had the pleasure of working with each of the thirteen speakers. Each speaker told their own story in such a way that the audience was moved to tears as well as uproarious laughter several times throughout the day.So that I don’t forget the powerful messages from our speakers, I thought I’d I recap.
Alyesha White – taught us about our responsibility towards our family members, especially if we have younger siblings, and how we must participate in raising responsible young adults. Her spoken word poetry was passionate and heartfelt. Standing ovation #1!! Allison Gryphon and Lolita Lopez – demonstrated the importance of teamwork, and how two women came together to fight breast cancer, and still remain committed to fighting the battle together forever. Standing ovation #2!! See a trend? Kristin Mascka – vividly illustrated how unconscious bias affects all of us, and how we should all strive to support one another, regardless of gender, race, or other classification, because we all are on the same team, and we must seek to support our fellow humans. Frank Chechel – our first male speaker asked the audience if he was even “allowed” to address the primarily female audience. Absolutely! Frank encouraged both the men and women to ‘rock-the-boat’ on gender-equality issues; for men to hire, support, and promote women, and for women to acknowledge the men who do the things that Frank asked the men to do. Dr.Tess Warschaw – if anyone was qualified to talk about resiliency, it was the indomitable Dr.Tess. Now in her eight decade, she shared how in her darkest moment, she lost her resiliency, but with the help of friends, she bounced back. She was quite clear with us that, if you don’t have real friends, we need to go in search of them. All of us at some point in our lives, will need friends to be resilient for us.
Loretta Whitesides – the astronaut from Stanford University who realized with the help of a mentor, that developing your leadership skills and self-development was more important than accomplishments and accolades. How sad would it be walking on the surface of the moon and still have the feeling that she didn’t belong? She encouraged the audience to find your mission in life, and that is when you have the feeling of belonging. Alex Cohen – KPCC news correspondent and retired Roller Derby player illustrated the similarities between the rough and tumble sport of and motherhood. She pointed out some of the ways that mothers failed to be supportive to other mothers, and asked whether if its time to rewrite the manual on motherhood? She began her own support group with other mothers, who have played Roller Derby. Ron Florence – an investment executive challenged the audience not to confuse net-worth with self-worth. A very bold and powerful concept you don’t hear very often. He then helped the audience think about financial decision making with the following three questions. What is the money for? What are you worried about? What is going to make you happy? Joelle Casteix – a victim of sexual abuse, however, she made it very clear to the audience that she is not defined by the abuse. She taught us that becoming a victim is the opposite of taking responsibility. Joelle has taken her experiences and is a published author, speaker, and national expert on child sexual abuse prevention, detection, and education. Nancy Bennett – has always been the first to try new things. Growing up in a family of accomplished scientists and artists, and extremely supportive parents, she developed a curiosity for how things work. And that curiosity led to the development of empathy for others.Her work is always about collaboration, whether it has been producing and directing television shows, music videos, and now creating virtual reality films.
Tembi Locke – an accomplished actress gave a moving account of how one day her life completely changed from what appeared to be an extremely promising one, to one she couldn’t have imagined. Overnight she became a caregiver to her husband who was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer. She told the audience that what matters most in life is unconditional love and connection. Cristi Hegranes – founder of Global Press Institute told the audience that her lifelong dream to be a foreign correspondent journalist, her dream job, was shattered when she realized she wasn’t qualified to tell the stories of the native lands she visited. But instead of giving up, she started an organization that now trains local people to become journalists who can accurately tell these stories all around the globe. Consuelo Martinez – our closing speaker challenged the audience to find their voice and speak up, because she has experienced the power of words and ideas. She closed her talk with the very first talk she gave, just a few months prior that rocked her world and her school audience. In her words, being Latino, female, public school educated, and seventeen years old, may not look like she has the best chance in this world. However, Connie’s powerful talk showed everyone in the room what a difference we can make when we find our voice and use it!
Have you ever taken the time to reflect on an enjoyable conversation? It is very likely that if and when you have had the pleasure of such a conversation, it is because both individuals are listening intently to the other. I was recently reminded by a speaker that, people living in the twenty-first century are the most overly stimulated and distracted at any time in human history. This implies that we are extremely busy and preoccupied, and frequently distracted when we spend time with others.
Recently I found myself eavesdropping on a few conversations at my local coffee shop. What has struck me about some of these interactions are a) the participants do not appear to be enjoying the others company, b) the tone can be tense and somewhat frantic, and c) each person walks away with a ‘look’ of dissatisfaction or ambivalence.I have a sense that these kinds of interactions are far too common place which I believe are a direct result of our inability to give ourselves completely to others – to be present – in conversation or otherwise. I recently listened to a group engaged in such an interaction, and noticed that they did not seem the least bit interested in what each person had to say, but rather were looking for openings where they could ‘throw in their two cents’! Why would anyone choose to spend their time in such an unrewarding way? Do you want to have a conversation with someone who isn’t listening? Emphatically no! Listening well requires us to be genuinely interested in what the person we are speaking with has to say.
For several years, I have come to believe that the most important communication skill, is the ability to listen well. Think for a minute why relationships end, or wars start, or the source of conflict in the workplace; is it not true that one party fails to understand or ‘hear’ what the other is saying or even chooses deliberately not to listen? Most people who consider themselves to have achieved some level of success in their relationships recognize that this ability to listen well is the lubricant of healthy relationships. And yet I am not aware of any school or university that teaches children and young people the importance of learning this major life skill. Many of us do not learn this personally until we are sitting across from a therapist trying to understand what went wrong with a partner or our children. Or equally confounding is when a supervisor is providing feedback which doesn’t match our version of things – an indication that one of the two parties has not heard the same thing. I recall coaching a client who was adamant that the contents of her disciplinary action was ‘completely inaccurate’. Clearly another example of the inability of two individuals to communicate and listen well to each other.
As I reflect on this important life skill, I am reminded that some people make it more difficult than others for us to practice this skill. During the holidays, we may find ourselves pushed to our emotional limits which leaves next-to-nothing in our self-control reservoirs. It is this emotional intelligence skill which we need to draw on, so that we can choose how we will interact with those close to us in those moments when we are challenged to listen well. According to Mary Mitchell, author of Class Acts: How Good Manners Create Good Relationships and Good Relationships Create Good Business, “Listening not only shows respect and consideration for another human being, but is the first step to truly understanding their concerns, needs, and wants.”
As you approach the holidays, fully recognizing that we may find ourselves squeezed in many ways, I believe that we can experience very enjoyable conversations with others if we can apply a few principles to our listening.Try the following: Enjoy and Happy Holidays!
What an amazing coincidence that a week ago I had the idea to write about the great Peter Drucker. Today, I took my collection of his books from my library and opened his classic and seminal work, The Practice of Management published in 1954. Inside I found his obituary I cut from the Los Angeles Times, dated Saturday, November 12, 2005! Undoubtably, Peter Drucker has articulated some of the most cogent and profound thoughts on business. I think he probably said it best when asked about the focus of his work, “I looked at people, not at machines or buildings.” It is the norm to think that people fall into the ‘soft’ side of business, and the matters of finance, process, strategy, and operations are the most important. This is precisely why I can say that I ‘love’ Peter Drucker. He validates the idea, which is to recognize that without elevating the role of people, you may begin to focus wrongly on machines or buildings! Once you recognize that any and everything accomplished is a result of human effort, one is able to see the profound truth of Druckers’ statement; “ Only superior management competence and continuously improved management performance can keep us progressing, can prevent our becoming smug, self-satisfied and lazy.”
So why is Peter Drucker such an influence on my thinking? He passed away almost 14 years ago and a few days today. I think I love Peter Drucker because he reminds me every time of what is most important for any business “…a business enterprise is created and managed by people. It is not managed by ‘forces’. It is my sense that most businesses get lost in the ‘complexities’ of business and fail to realize that we are always simply dealing with people. That said, people are not simple – we must have a laser-like focus on the needs and concerns of people. And equally important is a clear recognition that, “there is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. The customer is the foundation of a business and keeps it in existence.” Drucker is the 20th century’s most prominent management thinker and one of its great social philosophers. I’m a huge fan of folks such as Edgar Schein, Patrick Lencioni, Gary Hamel, Bob Sutton, Dan Pink, Daniel Goleman, all whom I thoroughly recommend, but Drucker seems to cover so many topics and disciplines in his very unique way.
In his writing you will find a management and leadership expert, innovation strategist, organizational culture sage, and operational excellence proponent. “To emphasize only profit, for instance, misdirects managers to the point where they may endanger the survival of the business. To obtain profit today they tend to undermine the future.” You won’t find trendy or frivolous fads in his writing, only tried-and-true, time tested advice and ideas. “Management must with every decision make provision for molding the future as far as possible toward the predicted shape of things to come.” When I think about the climate of most organizations, and the slew of engagement surveys which conclude far too often that our workplaces are unhappy places, it is powerfully profound statements like the following which we need to reflect on and seriously consider; “A mean spirit in the organization will produce mean managers, a great spirit great managers. A major requirement in managing managers is therefore the creation of the right spirit in the organization.” He further goes on to say that managers are either guided in the right direction or are misdirected, and he lets us know where your organization is on the effectiveness continuum. “Every business enterprise has either an effective or an ineffective organization structure; but it has an organization structure. It has either a spirit that killeth or one that giveth life. People are always being developed. The only choice is whether they are to be developed equal to their potential and to tomorrow’s demands or are to be misdeveloped.”
I was first introduced to Peter Drucker by a friend who’s MBA professor was a Drucker fan. Upon being handed the book, The Practice of Management – The Study of The Most Important Function in American Society, and reading for the first time, “ A manager’s job should be based on a task to be performed in order to attain the company’s objectives. It should always be a real job – one that makes a visible and, if possible, clear measurable contribution to the success of the enterprise… the manager should be directed and controlled by the objectives of performance rather than by his boss.” I have seen so many positions in many organizations which quite frankly seem useless. Perhaps at some time the need may have been real, however, today the scope of the job does not embody a significant challenge, significant responsibility or significant contribution. Drucker puts it this way, ‘The manager should be able to point at the final results of the entire business and say: “This part is my contribution.” I think many managers would be hard pressed to point directly to their contribution, but managers need to, because their team is really only concerned with the bosses’ contribution. Drucker is right because he orients leaders to focus on what is most important; “It’s the abilities, not the disabilities, that count.” Gallup StrengthsFinder is all about reorienting our focus on building on what we do well. When I work with teams that are experiencing disharmony and dysfunction, I will point them to focus on the strengths that exist within the team. “Nothing destroys the spirit of an organization faster than focusing on people’s weaknesses rather than their strengths.” My goal as an executive coach, is to create an atmosphere or spirit that focuses people on the organizations performance and the individuals contribution.
As I reflect further on why I love Peter Druckers’ work, it is chapters in this book such as; The Objective of a Business, The Spirit of an Organization, The Ford Story, Management by Objectives and Self-Control, Developing Managers, Employing the Whole Man, Is Personnel Management Bankrupt, and The Manager and His Work; which will convince the reader that his ideas were and are, way ahead of his time. His wisdom and insights are so needed today, because in so many ways the corporate world has lost its way, especially when we think about how people are consistently mismanaged. When you read his writings, he always serves to remind us, always eloquently, of what matters most. Or as Andrew S.Grove co-founder of Intel Corp said, “Unlike many philosophers, he spoke in a plain language that resonated with ordinary managers.” Drucker, called the Father of Modern Management cared deeply about people, because they are the ‘lifeblood of any organization.’ He describes the kind of workplace culture which we all desire; “the simplest practice is one that says in effect to all managers: the spirit of this organization is the business of every one of us. Find out what you are doing to build the right spirit in the unit you head and tell us, in higher management, what we can do to build the right spirit in the unit of which you are part.” In 21st century vernacular, it is appropriate to say that Peter Drucker rocks!