Monday, October 10, 2016

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word….

The lyrics of that old Elton John song seems truer today than ever!  Much of the talk this weekend about apologies and the importance and quality of an apology has got me thinking. It seems the quality of one’s apology is, at times, even more important than the magnitude and consequence of the mis-step.

I certainly have been on the receiving end of more than a few disingenuous apologies, and as a professional coach I often hear people question the authenticity of apologies that on the surface may seem like genuine contrition.  So what makes for a good, believable and effective apology? 

Our Past Experience

It’s a fact for sure that if recent behavior seems to be consistent with what we have experienced in the past or what we know to be true of this individual, we will be less likely to accept their apology as genuine.  If their apology is attempt to turn over a new leaf and change a behavior or habit they will have an uphill battle.  It’s not impossible, but it will take some time.  Most people believe what author Paulo Coelho says that “A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.”

Empathetic Understanding

What are you sorry for?  Empathy is different than sympathy. Empathy requires that we understand the feelings of the other person.  We need not agree or feel the same way but we must understand.  Any heartfelt apology should include an expression of exactly what the affront was and an accurate appreciation of the impact it may have had on the other person.  Don’t say that you are sorry someone “feels that way”. Maybe it’s just me, but that has always felt like a lack of understanding.

Short and Sweet

When I hear a strong apology, I wait for the end.  I need the apologizer to “stick the landing”.  Like a gymnast coming off the aerial stunt. Bam! Solid footing, no stumble no step back. Stop talking!  Too often we feel the need to explain what we were thinking, why the context of our mistake might make a difference.  Reality is, nothing makes a difference until you are able to humbly take responsibility for the impact you have on others.  There may be time later to share your side of the story, but without the humble apology you may never have that opportunity.

Perception is Reality

The older I get and more I explore relationships and communication dynamics, the clearer I am about one thing.  As author and friend Bob Weyant once told me “It is not our intentions that affect others, it is our behavior”.  If we can let go of the need to be right and if we can understand that the truth of any event lies in each person’s individual experience of that event, life will get a lot easier.  The burden of proving your point disappears like a cloud of smoke when you accept that whenever others experience you; their experience is 100% real and accurate for them in that moment. 

Create a Vision of a Better Future

Commit to do better. Go easy on the “never do it again” stuff. If you are human you will likely do it again, or something equally insensitive.  Hopefully, you will try harder and you might care a little more. That you CAN promise!  Most people prefer honest humility to empty promises.  They want to feel understood and important.

We don’t need educate others or change their mind or convince them of our intentions. We don’t need to point out behaviors that are so much worse than our own to make ourselves feel better.  

We need only to; understand how others experience us...decide how we feel about the impact we are having.... and (if it's important to us) promise to find ways to do better.

image credit: Huffington post

Friday, November 20, 2015

Make This Holiday Season Grate(ful)

On Thursday, we will officially welcome the 2015 holiday season with Thanksgiving. The holiday season really is all about relationships.

Reflecting on our blessings and expressing our gratitude is a wonderful way to celebrate and enrich the relationships in our lives.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to allow ourselves to become distracted by the holiday shopping, the weather events, our busy holiday social calendars, and by the challenges associated with finishing up the year's goals.  All these distractions can make it hard to maintain a grateful perspective.

So, just in case you need a reminder, here are ten reasons to stay grateful this holiday season.

"Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow"
~ Melody Beattie
"Gratitude is the sign of noble souls."
"Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for".
~Zig Ziglar
"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others".
~Marcus Tullius
"Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind"
~Lionel Hampton
"The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude".
~Friedrich Nietzsche
"Gratitude helps you to grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of all those around you".
~Eileen Caddy
"I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness - it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude".
~Brene Brown
"Social scientists have found that the fastest way to feel happiness is to practice gratitude."
~Chip Conley
"Feeling gratitude isn't born in us - it's something we are taught, and in turn, we teach our children".
~Joyce Brothers

And lastly, remember that actions always speak louder than words. Or, in the words of President John F. Kennedy, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
In the coming Holiday Season, may you find a moment to reflect on the blessings in your life and may you share your gratitude with those who mean the most to you.
Happy "Give Thanks-ing!"
image credit:

Friday, November 6, 2015

Are YOU Showing Up?

Woody Allen once said that "70 percent of sucess in life is showing up". About a week ago I called Groupon,  an online discount program, to seek a refund and I had a wonderful experience.  The Customer Service Rep was quick, polite and efficient and the whole thing took only about 2 minutes. Shortly after the call, I received an email survey which seems to be more and more common. Because my experience was so good I decided to take a moment and complete the questionnaire.  About half way through the survey I came across a question asking if the Customer Service rep had been “authentic”.  I paused for a moment and thought about it. Yes, in fact she had been authentic.  I felt that we were having a real conversation.  Not the robotic, “reading from some script” experience I have often had when calling a vendor.  I trusted immediately that she was willing to do all that she could and when I hung up the phone I had complete confidence that I would in fact, see the refund.

I often speak about authenticity for individuals in leadership roles. I describe the quality as essential for effective leadership of others.  However, authenticity isn't just for managers.  It is the essence of a satisfying life.  It is an element of leadership but it is available to everyone.  Living an authentic life where we are comfortable, genuine and true to our unique nature helps us to feel better about our lives and also helps others to feel better about us.  In fact, it is essential to building meaningful and trusting relationships in our personal and professional lives, regardless of our roles.

INSEAD Adjunct Professor of Business Communication,  Steve Knight, is a highly regarded business communications specialist.  In a recent online blog he discusses authenticity.

“Whether you are in conversation with Presidents or shopkeepers, Oscar winning actors or train conductors, millionaires or people who are struggling to make a living, the Chairman, or those that keep the factory floor running, you should show up the same way in all situations. Everyone is worth it.

A true leader recognizes everyone. A true leader expresses themselves with genuine authenticity all of the time. Grace is not something one can just switch on or off when one feels like it. As a leader, grace has to be at the forefront of everything you do 100% of the time. He outlines, 

5 everyday communication habits that can help you to retrain your brain and become consciously aware and respectful of all people you come into contact with.

  • Notice people, i.e. in the street, on the train, in a supermarket, in your office complex
  • Make eye contact
  • Give a kind and thoughtful smile
  • Say hello where appropriate
  • In shops and gas stations ask staff at the checkout how they are

“Take a genuine interest in your colleagues, ask questions about them and deeply listen to their answers without interrupting to add in your take on what they are saying or “Oh that happened to me once, blah, blah, blah.” When we do that, we hijack their space and we have not honored them. More often we do this out of nerves or wanting to fit in, or we are simply unaware that we are doing it, but the other person will feel, depending on their character, either disrespected, irritated, angry, insignificant or not valued. You may already be aware of how you feel when people do that to you.

With people who have a higher status than you at work or in life, start to notice if you have a “I am less- than them” feeling. This is when you might "don your less-than mask" without realizing it. The person you are talking to will no doubt sense it. They will help you if they are a genuine leader, if they are not they could take advantage of you, or you could end up getting bypassed for that promotion you so want. Start to feel comfortable in your own skin. Be your genuine authentic self." 

He concludes his blog by inviting us to “Set your path and plot your course to becoming genuinely authentic all the time, to all people. Enjoy and celebrate what comes back your way when you become a shining beacon of genuine and authentic kindness, grace, thoughtfulness and true leadership.”

So for the coming week, pay attention to how you are showing up, and make sure it is really YOU!

image credit:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Communicate Like A Hero

A hero sandwich that is!  Maybe you have heard about a technique whereby you begin your message with a friendly and respectful opening, then, address your direct message (the “meat”) in the second part and finish with a positive expectation… hence the “sandwich” concept.

I have seen this work so well in so many circumstances, I feel it bears repeating. Let me show you how this works…  When you begin your message from a position of alignment you put the other person at ease.  

Part One:

The first part of your message allows you to connect with your listener, grabbing their attention with your agreement, your empathetic posture, your positive intention, or your description of a shared objective.

Here are some examples…
“I understand your concerns”…
“I want this to go smoothly”
“I don’t want either of us to have a problem later”
“I know this is a very busy time for you and your group”
“I’m a reaching out to be sure that we are on the same page”
“I want to make sure you have all the details”

Part Two:

Part two is where you, as the speaker, practice your direct communication skills.  No fluff, no extra words.  Nice and concise.

Think bullet points, for example…
“Here are my three concerns”
“Here is what I need you to do”
“I want to be sure that all of these action items are addressed before the next meeting”
“These are the things that are most important to me”
“Here are all the details”

Having provided the soft opening allows you to leave all the pleasantries out here. You can be factual and straightforward. This is much more impactful than diluting the meat of your message your message with anything resembling an apologetic, or “wishy-washy” tone.

Part Three :

Here is the chance to express your gratitude, to offer your own support or to express your optimism.  Keep it simple don’t go overboard.

This might sound like…
“I’m glad we had this conversation”
“Let me know if you need anything else from me”
“Thank you for your assistance”
“I’m sure once this is resolved, things will be a lot better”
“I am looking forward to working with you”

This “sandwich technique” works equally well in person or in writing.  If you are trying to provide a paper trail or documentation, this polite and respectful approach will always represent your efficiency and professionalism.

So think of your messages in three parts and start communicating like a hero!

Friday, October 9, 2015

From Frazzle to Focus: 5 Not So Easy Steps

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about FOCUS citing the work of Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence pioneer who describes focus as the hidden driver of success. Lately, I find myself in a state I would describe as "frazzle"; too much to do, all very critical items on my to-do list personal and professional, and lots of emotionally-charged events occurring at the same time. Okay, so life gives us these times to test our mettle and I know I am no different than anyone else.  Goleman is absolutely right about focus, but there are times when this critical element of peak performance seems completely out of reach…

What to do?  Here’s what I am trying and some of these things do seem to be working….

One thing at a time.  When the heat gets turned up and I am stressed, I feel like I have a severe case of ADHD.  It’s hard to stay still, let alone work on a task through completion. But that’s exactly what I try to do.  Once I muddle through one or two of the most challenging things on my list, I do start to feel my focus returning.

Create order.  This is my thing, when I am stressed I like to stop the clock and clean up.  I mean like "big time" clean.  I find peace in the order and I feel more comfortable having a visible accomplishment.  I have to manage this tendency because cleaning is usually not the highest priority on my list.  So I give myself 30 minutes to create some order and then I get busy with the things that I need to tackle.  That’s usually enough for me to feel more comfortable.

Breathe.  When I am stressed I notice how shallow my breath can become.  When I feel this happening, I close my eyes and I take slow deep breaths for a few minutes.  I concentrate on driving my breath down into my abdomen.  Scary how hard it is to do that sometimes.  I know my brain needs oxygen to work well and as strange as it may seem, breathing well can take some practice.

Change of scenery.  Sometimes I need to be somewhere other than my normal digs.  It seems a waste of time to travel to a coffee shop or a park to work, but eliminating the distractions of the phone and everything else that demands my attention can help.  Sometimes I just go somewhere else in the office or the house to do what I need to do.

Make time for difficult conversations.  I try to carve out time to deal with conflicts.  I don’t let the difficult conversations take place throughout the day.  If I do that,  my internal scripting and mental replay makes me pretty much useless for other things. 

So next time things get crazy, stop, breathe and hunker down and remember, as Philosopher and Psychologist William James once said; "The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another."
image credit:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ostriches Can't Fly

Technically, ostriches can’t fly because they are not graced with a working pair of wings.  But I love the metaphor, because few things will facilitate your professional demise more certainly than keeping your head buried in the proverbial sand.

As a professional leadership coach, I have had the experience of helping countless professionals navigate and recover from what can only be described as professional upheavals. These misfortunes are often described as complete “blindsides”, coming unexpectedly “out of left field”. And yet, upon reflection, most people look back on the period of time immediately prior to the misfortune and say things like, “I should have seen it coming” or I can see now that “this was going on for a while”.

The challenge for all of us is to stay present enough to focus on the changing political tides that are shifting all the time in our professional lives, without becoming too distracted, preoccupied, or downright paranoid in the process. When I speak to professionals about participating in office politics the reaction is always the same: utter disdain, closely followed by an indignant proclamation that “I don’t engage in all that”.  As if the suggestion of exercising their professional influence deliberately is something smarmy, akin to a selling of thier soul. Whether you work in large company, a small family business or even as an independent professional serving customers, your ability to read the proverbial “writing on the wall” may be the difference between work-related success and failure. 

So what exactly can you do to prevent yourself from falling victim to the lost customer, the missed promotion, the organizational restructure that leaves you with a lousy outcome?  The best answer: stay engaged and present.

For most of us, the first reaction when things get uncertain in our work life is to “hunker down”. We stay “under the radar”, trusting that our good work will speak for itself and that things will ultimately work out for the best. This approach is risky. Whether you are serving a customer, satisfying a new boss, or trying to change a reputation issue, actively influencing your outcomes is much wiser. Here's how:

Pay Attention

Observe the relationships of others. Who seems to be in the know? What leaders seem to be losing traction, involved in less announcements, less visible in decisions, presentations? This could give you a sense of where the organization is headed. If it’s a customer you are working with, who is the true decision maker?  Make sure you are getting in front of the right people.

Trust Your Gut

We are all blessed with an instinctive “brain” that lives in our belly. It allows us to sense when things may not be quite right. Allowing your gut instinct to ruminate into worry and fear will not do you any good. If you can, instead, practice staying tuned-in to those instincts and moving that “feeling” to the rational brain for further analysis, you can capitalize on the natural foreshadowing tool that it is.  

Stay Connected

Be visible. Make sure others are always aware of what you “do all day”. This doesn’t have to be an 8-hour commercial for your personal brand. But copying others on important emails (selectively), and mentioning your daily activities in casual conversation, will allow others to stay aware of your contributions. Ask to be involved in key meetings. Ask questions and demonstrate interest, informally and often.

Listen to Influencers

Within every organization there are those whose power and influence extends far beyond the hierarchal position or pay grade. Stay familiar with those folks. Pay attention to where they are focusing their energies. Don’t ever mistake the office gossip for an influencer. If you do, you will be doing nothing but wasting your time. And when the conversation turns to conspiracy theories, it’s time to get back to work.

Embrace Change

Stay open and be on the flexible side. Changes may not be favorable but if they are already set in stone, resisting them will only alienate you. If you have legitimate concerns, make your best attempt to share them constructively and then follow orders. Time has a way of exposing flawed decision- making. You don’t have to be the one to do that if there is a resistance to rethinking an established direction. 


Stay positive and involved. Look for ways to make yourself indispensable. This will keep you “in the know” when new directions materialize. Helpful people simply do better when it comes to forming strong professional connections.

Address Tension

When you feel that a bridge may be burning, approach the tension with an open mind and seek to understand the source of the friction. Remember perceptions are never “wrong”. They represent the other person’s “real and accurate” experience of a situation. Share information and educate, rather than becoming defensive. Stay away from blame; it will never change the past anyway. Always bring a future mindset and a goal of having things go more smoothly in the future.

There is no single strategy that will keep your career moving in a positive direction and no advice that will protect you from the suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune from time to time. But at least for me, there is nothing worse than being caught unprepared. "Predict-ability" is the one skill that will give you an advantage no matter what your future holds.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Young and the Restless

Last week, I had the privilege of assisting a colleague in an assignment at Cornell University.  The assignment was to provide mock interview training to Master’s degree students at the Johnson School of Business.  The M.B.A. program at Cornell remains one of the highest ranked M.B.A. programs in the world, so it is quite an honor to participate in preparing these young leaders for their professional futures. As I walked the campus, that felt like a country estate with all the beautiful architecture and hallowed halls, I felt lucky to be there.

I have been quite interested in the mindset and cultural differences that exist among different generations in the workforce.  It was fascinating for me to spend time in conversation with these Millennials as I asked them to describe their perspectives, their ambitions and their challenges in the format of mock job interviews. 

After conducting 35 interviews I noticed some interesting themes.


I’ve read so much about the “entitlement mindset” of this generation. I have had my share of coaching conversations with leaders of the Baby Boomer generation who simply scratch their heads describing a generation of lazy, impatient and misguided young professionals.  I see this differently after my time at Cornell.  These young professionals are anything but lazy.  Their accomplishments and hunger for achievement is quite the opposite.  I think the difference is their motivation.  They are keenly interested in having an emotional connection to their work and their career.  They describe what interests them and what they want in response to questions about their career choices.  I found myself having to remind them to discuss the needs and wants of the interviewer selecting them for the job.  Although a bit upside down, I think their deep emotional connection to their strengths and aspirations will drive their commitment to the directions they choose.


I was consistently reminded of their desire for relationship.  When I posed questions about the challenges of persuading others, or bringing cross-functional teams together, or dealing with difficult people they consistently described forming a personal relationship as their “go-to” plan “A” strategy.   Leaders of past generations would likely have described more strategic, political or competitive tactics in response to these questions.

Culturally Agile

The group I worked with was comprised of young professionals from many different cultural backgrounds and about a third of them had had some International experience in their educational employment/internship background.  It was interesting that for them, this was no big deal.  It often did not even occur to them to mention the global experience as a “plus” in advancing their brand story.  It’s exciting to imagine a world that is becoming smaller and smaller. So small, in fact, that our cultural differences often escape notice.


They have a deep commitment to participating in work that “matters”.  It is very clear that extracurricular service experiences they bring are more than resume builders.  And their desire to have a personal, value-based connection to their work and the companies they will likely join seemed a top priority for most. 


Lastly, there is the impatience.  I would begin the interview by asking what they would like pursue and often the answer was “General Management” with a top technology or Consumer Product Goods company, or “Strategy Consulting” with one of the top four Global Management Consulting Firms.  I found it amusing (in an endearing way) because those goals are more than a few years out for these talented high potentials.  It was inspiring to see their confidence and belief in themselves.  Of course they will have a lot to learn, but I found them to be incredibly open and “coachable” and really respectful when confronted with the feedback I gave them.  I trust their self-awareness, confidence and optimism will carry them as they hit the inevitable set-backs and roadblocks we all encounter in our careers.

In the coming weeks, many of the most prestigious and well-regarded Consumer Product, Technology, Consulting and Financial Institutions in the world will descend on Cornell in the hopes of finding the next best and brightest leaders. I came away with a feeling the future is in good hands.
image credit: