Early in my career I once managed a high performing leader who would often express feeling overworked and unsure of their role. In an effort to solve the problem, my gut reaction would be to try to control and fix. I’d come up with a list of parameters on expectations and try to clarify roles. I’d give guidance on where to spend more time vs. less. I’d wrap the issue up like a present, tie it with a pretty bow and then put it on a shelf. Problem solved. Or so I thought. The same theme with the same person would resurface. And I noticed I’d become increasingly exhausted trying to solve it.
In hindsight, I realized what I was really missing in solving this was one thing: curiosity. What was needed was for me to get curious and ask of them questions like: What do you really want? What would that look like? What do you need more of/ less of from me? How can I be a better manager to you going forward?
Instead of burdening myself to solve the recurring issue with excel spreadsheets, roles and task lists, an easier path was to help this capable leader get clear on what it actually was they really wanted. I’d come to understand that underneath the real issue was their desire to be recognized for their contributions in a way that was meaningful to them. Underneath it was their wanting to express what they needed to thrive as part of our team. What they needed was a collaborative process that was relational, taking into account how WE worked together.
Now as an executive coach for over ten years, when I see managers default to the exhausting control and fix mode of management, I challenge them to cease being a fixer and to become more of a coach. Solving the hard issues requires getting to the bottom of the issue. And getting to the bottom of an issue requires of us to be engaged and curious. Sometimes what’s needed is less “that’s yours and this is mine” and more “together we are.”
Farhana Huq is an Executive & Leadership Coach, Surfer, Global Explorer and Founder of Surf Life Executive Coaching & Brown Girl Surf.
I’ve been writing a lot of late about the non-profit I ran of 11 years that closed. It had a worthy mission to economically empower immigrant and refugee women through entrepreneurship and English training in the San Francisco Bay Area. After 10 years running it, I took a sabbatical for rest and much needed time off. Upon returning, I came back to a skeleton of an organization that was running a $50,000 deficit, all occurring while I was gone.
There were many narratives as to exactly why we ended up in this position. The interim leader’s narrative ranged from ‘I was left to manage a house of cards’ to ‘the staff was not matched in the right positions for their skillsets’ to ‘our board chair wasn’t strong enough.’ Some of the Board Members’ narratives were ‘you can’t leave for 4 months and expect everything to be hunky dorey’ to ‘you left a COO in charge, not a CEO’ to ‘you didn’t share with us how much this was being run like a start-up.’ Some staff outright blamed the interim leader, some the Board. The most corporate members of the Board blamed me, because to their mindset, the buck stops with the CEO. Forget about any non-profit, “kumbaya” notion of shared leadership. It was a terrible time trying to stay afloat amidst a whirling sea of vastly different narratives. As well, there was the backdrop of the recession we were in at the time, which was more fact than narrative.
After having ample time to reflect, heal, do my own internal work, what became apparent to me was that I never really formed my own narrative in the process. I listened to everyone else’s. At one time, I had been the outreach person for this organization, the programs person, the grant writer, the major gifts fundraiser, the website developer, the bookkeeper, the computer tech person, the visionary leader. I grew an idea I started from my bedroom desk when I was 24 years old with $1,000 into an incorporated non-profit organization with an official Board. I was the one person with 360 degree experience of the entire enterprise. And much like a deer in headlights, I was so caught off guard coming back to this I could not even form my own narrative.
While having my own narrative was important to me in making sense of this all, I also learned that when things go South like this, it never is about any one person’s narrative. Ask anyone and they would all have a different perspective as to the “why” of this situation based on their own life experience or values. To them, their version IS the truth. As a leader looking back on this, I can say the learning is that we have to take responsibility and accountability for each of our roles in leadership. The learning is that nobody is perfect. The learning is in believing everyone did the best they could in the given circumstances, recession and all. Sometimes that is all we can do. We should own up to our shortfalls versus passing the blame and trying to justify why something wasn’t our fault, or our responsibility. We should understand we were all accountable in some way, and that for great ideas or organizations to thrive, the leadership must be shared.
Going forward, I choose a no frills narrative of “what’s so. “ What’s so is I founded and ran a great non-profit, co-built together with wonderful colleagues, Board members, advisors, funders, volunteers and staff. What’s so is I went away for a much deserved break on a Board approved sabbatical. What’s so is the organizational leadership was not able to raise sufficient funds or effectively orchestrate the team to achieve their goals. What’s so is upon my return, we attempted to merge the organization with a larger non-profit. What’s so is we were unable to do so for various reasons, including the recession. What’s so is we closed. What’s so is I learned the lessons of a lifetime. That’s what’s so.
Farhana Huq is an Executive & Leadership Coach, Surfer, Global Explorer and Founder of Surf Life Executive Coaching & Brown Girl Surf.
Journal Excerpt: The Fall of C.E.O. Women, The Start of brown girl surf
December 18, 2011
I’m alive and I have all my limbs so I’m trying to put the closing into perspective. A lot has been done to dismantle the (C.E.O. Women) office. We’ve sold most of our assets last week and this week is the final push. The only thing is that we have no staff left – I’m the only one and so I have to manage all of the following:
I sent this list to my board chair and treasurer to let them know … But as it is, I’m left as the only one trying to manage the final three days of closing of the office. People expect way too much when you are a Founder. The good news is that I raised an extra $15,000 from foundations and donors and that the government approved our $20,000 reimbursement request so we will have enough for payroll, which will limit the board’s liability. They were going to float a loan for payroll as well which I was happy about but now they don’t need to. My friend and board member gave me a $1,750 (personal) loan to tide me over until we can collect on all the grants.
… I have been actively trying to find a home for Grand Café in it all … because we owe the bank for our line of credit … It is a hard decision because that is nine years of work/research that went into building that asset (and $500,000) and I’m not sure what the bank will do with it at this point but I want it to land somewhere good, but I also want this to be done, so I’m torn …
I have been surfing which I’m glad about but skipped my Friday session down in Santa Cruz as I normally do. I just felt like last week was intense and I couldn’t focus so much on my surfing, but I did get out on Friday and Saturday to Ocean Beach which I was really glad about. I also started to get a lot of momentum on brown girl surf …
I am so proud of the (web) site and honestly it has been like therapy. After coming home dismantling an 11 year old non-profit I built on my back, I can work on creating something new which gives me a lot of energy. I’m excited that I am so excited about this …
… If it weren’t for surfing and brown girl surf, I’d be in bad shape I think. But I feel calm and collected … but I just want this saga to be over with …
I have such a wide range of emotions regarding the board that it’s hard to make sense of them. On the one hand, I have felt left in a lurch by them all year – only half of them fundraised and did what they could … On the other, they are my personal contacts and networks, and amazingly, not one member resigned since the crises … most of them have given or raised significant donations (totaling over $96,000) …
So it’s not bad for a small board … I’m glad that brown girl surf will not have one going forward. I just want to be free from this all - free from the blame, free from the stress, free from this identity that I have held for what seems way too long. I am Farhana and I am the Founder of C.E.O. Women, but it is not my baby and I don’t feel that way about it …
… It sucks being a Founder. Your DNA is imprinted into the organization and work until the day you leave/ relinquish it but I feel trapped and not in a position to relinquish at this point. I can’t wait until it’s all over. I can’t wait to run with brown girl surf and it’s exciting to see it come alive …
I founded and ran a non-profit organization for 11 years with an amazing mission – helping low-income immigrant and refugee women to become entrepreneurs and learn English. After 10 years of running it, I took a needed sabbatical to reflect and rejuvenate. An interim leader led the organization in my absence. When I returned a few months later, it was operating a $50,000 deficit, the first ever deficit in the history of the organization.
As a Founder, this was devastating. It was like coming back at halftime to a 0-4 World Cup game and you’re on the losing team. It’s not impossible to bounce back, but it would take a level of effort I did not have in me after an already exhausting 10 years. The organization eventually closed. My last official day was the 21st of December eleven years ago.
While I made peace with the closure, I never quite got over the loss of its most innovative program - a soap opera series designed to teach English and entrepreneurship skills to immigrant women. I worked on this idea for 9 years, raising about half a million dollars to develop 6 of 18 episodes. Upon closing, the series was given to the bank as collateral for a line of credit that leadership took out in my absence in order to finance the deficit.
Giving over the program felt like a miscarriage, like it never got its fair chance to run. And truth be told, perhaps it was a little too early of an innovation for its time. Many funders resisted the idea of a remote, media-based learning program, now an ironic sentiment in these Covid times. This summer, on a long shot, I decided to reach out to the bank. I asked them to release the program series for me to resurrect. They agreed with full support. It was one of the best pieces of news of my career and life.
If I learned anything through this experience, it’s to not lose faith in your ideas. Ideas take courage. Creativity takes courage. Speaking up takes courage. Honoring and holding worthy your ideas takes courage. And perhaps most of all, I’ve learned that there’s no timeline for courage. You are ready when you are ready.
While I worked on this idea for 9 years it was the amazing team around me that brought it to life. Angelica Matsuno was the ah-mazing Co-Producer and Co-Writer who has been helping me to resurrect it. We were probably the most attached emotionally to this project. Nina Serrano was the incredible writer of the series and Marissa Aroy was the talented Director along with the ever capable Producer Niall McKay who all used their artistic skills, creativity, time and talent to give this idea life. There was also the programs team that worked on distribution, countless advisors, board members, clients and volunteers who helped take the idea to where it was. I’m forever proud of the work our organization did. And I am proud to return to this creative idea, with new eyes and wisdom, in service to all the people it was meant to impact.
Watch program trailer below:
(Re-post from my 6/9/14 Surf Life Executive Coaching blog.)
My answer to whether the risk is worth taking is, it depends. Here are four recommendations I’d make to anyone who is contemplating making a really radical life or business change, yet is seemingly paralyzed by the fear of losing job security, balancing family, or other practical, modern-day considerations.
1. Make sure you are “on purpose”.
Before you can answer whether the risk is worth taking, ask yourself this: Is this my purpose? Is this truly what I’m about and the reason I was put on this earth? If you come up with a resounding yes, then the risk may very well be worth taking. Consider for a moment you found your purpose which, for many people, often takes half a lifetime. Now that you know your purpose, why would you want to waste your time on anything else? Your life will go by quickly. You don’t want to be on your deathbed wishing you had done things differently, do you? When we are on purpose, we resonate more, we feel excited and invigorated, and we attract the resources and people around us that we need to achieve our vision. That resonance will have more impact on us being successful than if we were just given a big pot of money and told to create something we weren’t that into.
Purpose is the platform to our vision, which in turn drives our everyday actions and choices.
You can’t ever succeed if you don’t risk it. But risk it with purpose. You will often read in popular entrepreneurial writings that entrepreneurs hardly ever do something because they are driven to make a lot of money. Many of the ones who became successful did it because they believed in their idea so much and were driven by the value it could bring to the world. If you believe in something that much, then the risk is worth it, because with that drive and passion, you are that much more motivated to find the right path forward.
2. Minimize the risk.
Leaps don’t just happen over night. I think it’s time to insert a surf life metaphor for you. A big wave surfer doesn’t just drop down Mavericks (a big wave in Northern California) one day without first having started in baby waves. She practices for years and years and keeps pushing her limits. She trains. She visualizes. She gets her mind as well as her body prepared. She grows her competency. In other words, she does things to minimize the risk.
The concept is similar when thinking about risks on land, in life and in business. When I started my first social impact organization, I had contract jobs on the side and worked on my idea with the other part of my time. I didn’t start by renting office space and carrying monthly payments, making a website and then looking for clients. That would have opened me up to too much risk. I thought about minimizing the risk through partnerships, and through making baby steps by collaborating with other programs and institutions to serve their clients first. Then I spun off. Whether it’s considering leaving a career and going after the idea of your dreams, or taking a leap of faith with a courageous conversation, think about how you can start to do a pilot run of it.
Test the idea. Take baby steps. Shrink your idea into parts.
Be sure you can answer these questions:
Why am I doing this?
What do I want to get out of it?
How will I do it?
3. It’s more about persistence and less about failure.
In my work as a social entrepreneur, I actually had to deal with the difficult decision of winding down an organization. It had succeeded in meeting its mission for women for 11 years. On the outside that seems like 11 successful years! But the truth of the matter is, there were many failures over that 11 years, too. Looking back, if I stopped everytime I failed, there would not have been an organization. But I chose to be persistent, and that is the reason the organization kept going. So, you will fail. It’s actually inevitable in many courageous and creative pursuits. But it’s not the failure that matters; at the end of the day, persistence is most important.
How many waves does a surfer wipe out on before they can pop up on just one? (Yes, here I go with the surf metaphors - they're just so good!) Many. And it’s not failure - it’s learning. We need to have a growth mindset when thinking about courageous transitions. Instead of seeing failure as failure, see failure as learning and move on.
4. Forget about what others will say.
This is perhaps the #1 biggest fear I see in people – fear of how you will appear to others and the shame you might feel if you fail.
Take it from me, if you live your life fearing what others think of you, you WILL be held back from your potential.
When you are worried about what others say, you are relying on others to define your potential and (worst of all) to give you permission. I learned this the hard way in my leadership. As a young leader with some amount of organizational power, there were some times I uncomfortable with the power, and would rely on seeking permission from others – from my board, from my colleagues, from advisors, from my team. At the end of the day, I wasn't listening to what my voice inside me said. It is very common in organizations for many people to work through the leader and it is important for the leader to hold multiple stakeholder’s agendas. At some point, however, you might find yourself needing to make a decision for yourself, and only YOU know you best.
Now, when I am in a highly creative state of change or new creation, I purposely distance myself from certain critics and people or just don’t offer too much information on what I’m doing. If they aren’t resonating at the same frequency that I am and are doubtful of my plans or ideas, they often become critical and quick to judge. This makes it harder for me to be successful, as I then find myself in a spiral of doubt, and well, doubt doesn’t help anyone. Surround yourself with the people who aren’t going to judge you for the moment, and keep yourself at a distance from those who are. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying to avoid people who can give you honest and critical advice, but at the end of the day make sure they are in support of YOU and not just projecting their own fears of risk onto you. It can make all the difference.
Have you found yourself in a position where you feel stuck and are afraid of venturing down a new path for fear of failure? What did you do to decide whether the risk was worth taking? Inquiring minds want to know!
(Re-post from my 5/6/14 Surf Life Executive Coaching blog)
The other night I was hanging out at my surf buddy Alex’s home. Alex is a mathematician who teaches computer science and researcher at U.C. Berkeley (she’s also a total ripper). I noticed a cartoon-like cut-out of her face placed on a shower background with a conference logo on it. When I asked what it meant, she explained that the running joke amongst mathematicians is that all the insight and best ideas come to them in the shower. It got me thinking for a second. So mathematicians generally get their “ah-has” in the shower. Where have I gotten mine all these years? It got me thinking a little more about innovation and insights and inspired me to share a few key lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Talk to unlikely partners
One of the innovations I worked on in my career (among a few) was an entrepreneurship education program for immigrant women. I was trying to figure out how to use technology and creative media to create greater access of the program to more women. I started the project in 2001, developed the non-tech prototype over a period of years, got pilot funding in 2007 to develop the media, and then a second round of funding in 2009. It was a LONG, creative process. At one point, we even won the innovation award from the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, the national governing body for our industry.
Hands down, talking with people that had absolutely NOTHING to do with immigrant women, entrepreneurship and non-profits often challenged and stretched my perspective throughout the innovative process and helped us look at problems differently.
We are often so deep in our own innovation and building it, that it is easy to get lost in that perspective and easy for that perspective to narrow. When you talk with people who have absolutely none of the normal assumptions you would have while developing your innovation, product or idea, out-of-the box ideas start to generate. You also open up your idea to people who think and solve problems differently.
I remember in one week talking with a marketing professional for Chiquita bananas and then a juice entrepreneur, a community college professor and two veteran engineers of HP. All had such interesting and different insights to share on our work and thought about how to approach or solve for things in different ways. This was one of the things I enjoyed most about the process - bringing together a hybrid of perspectives and coming to a new idea or insight based on these conversations.
Others see what you sometimes can’t. The richest ideas always came from this type of cross-pollination of perspectives.
2. Shift perspectives
In addition to getting outside perspectives, it is equally important to be shifting YOUR perspective and your team’s perspective all the time.
This is an exercise that is done a lot in coaching. You can be sitting and twiddling your thumbs over something, but if you move to a different part of the room, and look out the window, you will see it differently.
Back to Alex – my mathematician friend. That same night, her boyfriend hands me a piece of art that he had scribbled on a napkin. My first instinct was to twirl it around in different directions. Each angle I shifted it to, I saw something completely different on the napkin. At one angle I saw a rooster. At another angle, a face … and at another, a metropolis. But it was all the same piece of art. The same concept applies to innovation. Shifting yourself around in relation to the issue you are trying to innovate on can lead to new thinking. When you look and shift perspectives, the questions to contemplate are:
How do I add value from here?
How can I make it better?
How can I solve the problem?
Does it match what the end user is requesting?
Looking back, this is one of the biggest lessons I have learned about facilitating innovation. If you try to solve too many problems in one go, you may end up being a jack of all trades and master of none and not solve any problem well. By having a laser focus on the problem you want to solve, you are more efficient in solving the problem at hand. Focus on what’s most important first and then add the bells and whistles as you go. My intention is not to spew the same ole same ole. But from experience, all I want to say is when at all possible, simplicity is golden.
4. Trust your instincts
In my experience, instinct plays a key role in knowing which way to take your innovation. Very often, big picture thinkers have the ability to hold a lot of diverse perspectives in their heads, which allows them to see a path or trend forward, sometimes at a subconscious level. This becomes challenging for the leader, because they may be taking leaps of logic in their head, and will need help deconstructing their logic model in order to bring people along into what they see. Sometimes, there is so much advice and input that it’s hard for the leaders to access this intuition.
You take in information and then you need to trust yourself and take responsibility for directing it in a specific way. It’s almost like finding your wise, centered voice on the innovation. Many will want to give you all sorts of advice. Take some with a grain of salt. Ultimately, trust your instincts.
5. Understand that innovation is a function of time
I remember discussing this point back in college with an über smart philosophy masters student in my metaphysics class. He said to me as we were conversing on some philosophical concept: “innovation is just a function of time.” In other words, someone is bound to eventually come up with the idea you have. And very often, innovation is happening simultaneously; just because you’re thinking of an idea and it is original doesn’t mean someone else isn’t thinking of it too.
Case in point, I launched Surf Life only to realize a few months down the road that a fellow surf instructor, whom I met in Costa Rica years ago and who now resides in the Netherlands, was in the early stage of launching Beach Life Coaching, another coaching and surfing combination model for women. And she was working on a retreat to Costa Rica, too! We had no idea we were each working on such similar concepts. It didn’t surprise me that someone in a parallel universe was putting together a very similar set of things.
You have some choices here. Either accept innovation is a function of time, see what you can share and learn from the other person, believing there is enough of a need in the world for you both to serve, or you can whine like a baby and feel sorry that someone is "taking your idea" when in reality they probably just came to it on their own. (I highly recommend the former, especially if you are in the business of solving problems and making the world a better place.) Understanding innovation is just a function of time, frees your ego of the “I came up with this first” mentality and propels you to collaborate or even rethink what you are doing. The realization that me and my friend were working on similar things prompted us to connect and share our experiences and ideas, and to even think about collaborating on a future surf and coaching retreat for women.
Hope these tips have been helpful to think about. It’s important to note that this is just my perspective; I know there are other innovators out there, and let this be a post that invites other perspectives into the mix. Have you spent years innovating on a concept or idea? What did you learn? When did you come to your “ah-hah” moments? In the shower? On the loo? We’d love to hear from you! (Hey, that rhymed!)
(Re-post from my 4/7/14 Surf Life Executive Coaching blog)
Because leaders are often juggling so many things and are under constant pressure to make decisions, they sometimes function in a mode of overwhelm. And well, overwhelm is not always pretty.
I remember one year meeting with my organization’s treasurer who was a very busy, talented and sought-after accountant. I brought to her a draft budget for the organization, and because of her detail-oriented nature, she proceeded to go through each and every line to identify inconsistencies and mistakes, vs. staying high level and advising on general direction of the budget. It got me flustered, knowing that I had spent many many hours just getting the draft budget together. What I needed was high level oversight vs. nit-picky details that could be worked out later. When I started to get flustered by her approach, it triggered an outburst from her. Before I knew it, she was set ablaze and proceeded to tear apart the budget. It felt more like I was an employee being chastised instead of the executive of an organization.
I am sure upon reflecting on it later, it was likely embarrassing to her; she knew she lost her cool, and we could both feel the discomfort at the level of unprofessionalism of the conversation. The conversation had quite an impact on me, as it felt abusive and unwarranted. In fact, I distinctly remember that incident being one of the only times in the history of running the organization that I actually considered quitting. I also knew that she was extraordinarily pressed in her own business, and fighting the daily demands of being an entrepreneur. SO at a visceral level, I got it. But it still felt bad.
Well, I did not quit. But it was hard to know what to do and how to handle the triggers of the very busy people around me, especially those in a position of power. In the case of the accounting professional, she was my board member and technically had the power to hire and fire. So how does one cope with the ever-stressful business environment of our times? Below are some tips I learned along the way for dealing with people around you that lose their cool. The most important thing I learned is this:
“You do have a choice; you can react negatively and be a victim, or you can turn your victimhood around and be a coach.”
1. Understand that it’s not YOU; it’s them
First off, it’s important to remember that there is nothing wrong with you. We all have triggers. C’mon – you know you do. One of my triggers happens to be inefficiency and frustration, and when things get dragged out or are overly processed, I can start to feel my blood boil. Human psychology points to the fact that we all have different trigger points. Inevitably, what triggers us has to do with how we were raised, our value systems, our social conditioning and brain patterning and our perception of things. This is why what triggers something in one person may not have any effect on another person. So know that when a person loses their cool, it is often more a reflection of their own perspective and conditioning. And in the case of leadership, sometimes triggers can even be the result of overwork, overwhelm, and just stress.
2. Assess WHAT you are feeling, and WHERE
I know this sounds like some wavy gravy new age stuff, but I assure you, there is science behind doing this. We are not really taught to be in touch with what we are feeling when we are triggered. Doing so can take us out of our amygdala hijack zone and into a more reflective zone.
When someone is triggered and they start to go off, pay attention to where YOU are in it. Are you getting anxious? Is your heart starting to beat faster? Is the whiplash in your neck from that accident 3 years ago flaring up? Are your shoulders getting tighter? The sooner you can reflect on what is happening in you, the more empowered you will be to deal with someone else’s trigger and its impact on you. You don’t have control over the other person, but you do have control over YOU.
Try to NAME the feeling you are having. Is it a feeling of stress, frustration, hopelessness, tiredness? Really identify what is going on for you. This will help you take the attention off of the other person, as they may be bullying you without even realizing it.
3. Take a DEEP breath
Breathing can help calm the nerves and equip you with reflective energy. It is in these moments that you will need to take a step into the space of coaching yourself. Ask yourself (not out loud!): Why am I getting triggered? How can I express this? If you can literally see your higher self step out of your body and into a calm space, that can be a helpful visualization.
(My first roommate out of college in San Francisco used to come home with such negative energy. It was often so bad that I used to imagine a field of saran wrap between us so that everything she was saying and projecting towards me would just bounce back and land on her. So when she'd complain and start dishing out the negativity, I'd just nod and smile, protected by my invisible plastic force field.)
Step back and tell the person what you are sensing or seeing. Stepping back, reflecting, and mentally taking yourself out of the situation helps to get you in a more rational zone. If you are sensing that the other person is upset, you can say, “I sense some frustration here. I’m curious – what is going on for you? What is it that you are feeling?” This then gets the other person to realize and start reflecting on their behavior. It gets them to talk, realize, and process their own feelings, and to reflect.
4. Stay CURIOUS
If any of you have ever taken a leadership 101 course, you’ll already know this is the #1 recommended way to behave in situations where someone is getting triggered. Rather than get defensive and assume a limiting belief that they are getting triggered because of you, it is important to stay curious during this time. This goes the same if YOU happen to be the one losing your cool. If someone is getting on your last nerve, stay curious about them. Be curious as to why this person is triggering something in you. Be curious about yourself.
5. Acknowledge and name their FEELINGS
Acknowledge what the other person is feeling and tell them that you hear them. By acknowledging, you can simply repeat what you hear them say. “OK, so you are feeling frustrated and like we are not valuing your time,” (or whatever the situation may be). Never tell them they are being overly sensitive, or are blowing things out of proportion. Not only is that disrespectful to the other person, it invalidates their feelings. (And frankly, it doesn’t show any real maturity on your part.)
Ask or tell them what your perspective or intention is. Remember, YOU are not responsible for their triggers. (Unless, of course, you know what triggers them and you are doing it on purpose. Again, that doesn’t show any real maturity.) You don’t have to agree with them. Their feelings are their feelings. It doesn’t mean they are right or wrong. Simply acknowledging what they are saying can make the other person feel heard, and sometimes may dissolve any heavy energy.
Remember, your calm and balanced state is important. If you stay calm and balanced, you will not feed into the spiral of the other person’s emotions. Try to stay cool through it all. Cool as a cucumber.
6. Ask a POWERFUL question
Here’s where you swap out victimhood for being a good coach. When you are able to state your perspective, follow up with a powerful question. This will keep the conversation moving forward productively, vs. turning it into a bickering rant. A powerful question could be something like: “What do you see is the best way to move forward from here?” Or in the case of the aforementioned CEO, “How would you LIKE to be involved?” Or, “What do you really want?”
Always ask powerful questions. Listen to what they have to say. Think about what assumptions they may be making of your intentions and remain, above all else, curious. Give them a chance to talk. They may have a perspective they want to share that is not able to come out because their brain has been hijacked by their emotions.
7. State your INTENTIONS (again)
Respond with your intentions and your perspective. Let them know you hear them, even if you do not agree fully with them. Ask a very specific question. Sometimes, you may want to suggest to continue the discussion at a later date or in a few hours, so you both have some time to let emotions rest and can come back to the conversation with a calm perspective.
The important thing to remember is to get aware of what YOU are feeling first, so you can coach yourself through the situation and understand where you are in it. If you remain calm and focused, you influence the other person to do the same. Hopefully, this will bring you both to a better understanding. And if they continue to be an ass and rave and rant away, well just paddle over to a different peak in the lineup. Oops, sorry – wrong post. Good luck! ;)
Have you ever found yourself struggling to self-manage during yours or someone else's trigger? What was your strategy for getting through it? We want to hear from you!
(Re-post from my 2/20/14 Surf Life Executive Coaching blog)
Recently, there was an article in the New York Times that came out regarding executive coaching (specifically relating to entrepreneurs). It shared the many opinions surrounding this seemingly nebulous field, from the skeptics turned believers, to the die-hard naysayers that found no value in the field at all.
As someone who has worked with six different executive coaches in my career, including Marshall Goldsmith, the touted six-figure-an-engagement executive coach named in the article, I thought I’d weigh in on the discussion. (Re: Goldsmith – I was lucky to receive some coaching sessions from him gratis after attending his leadership seminar, which was hosted by one of our corporate funders. At the time, I was CEO of a non-profit, so I was grateful I got to work with him.) Here is some advice from the field on coaching, including my perspective on how to go about finding one that is the right fit for you.
But before I delve into the tips, I’d like you to know two things:
When I actually hired my first coach, I was totally skeptical about it, and a bit annoyed to be spending money on it out of the organization’s budget. I was financially very careful, and here we were hiring someone with an hourly rate that surpassed any staff or other contractors we were working with at the time. I also had no proof I was going to get tangible results. Months down the road, I found myself writing a testimonial for this coach about how she had made the single biggest impact on our organization at the time. What had she done? Well, I couldn’t quite articulate it, but she asked me a ton of questions the impact of which made me clear, organized, and strategic within an extremely demanding leadership position. I embraced coaching and through the years worked with other coaches along the way.
The second thing is that out of the six coaches I’ve had throughout my career, there were only three I felt ever really made a significant difference for me, my organization or my leadership. Well, that’s a 50% success rate. Due to the lack of regulation of coaching as an industry, there is a fair amount of due diligence on the part of the consumer to find and land quality coaches. So, from a personal experience, I can relate to both sides of the argument presented in the New York Times article. Coaches can be incredibly life transforming to some people; they can also fall completely short for others. Why is this so?
What this tells me is that there is a lot of weeding out to do when trying to find a coach, and perhaps even some trial and error or calibrating to figure out who would be the best coach for you. It also tells me how you approach coaching matters greatly, and that chemistry can determine whether a coaching relationship is going to work. So, I thought I’d share some tips from the field on the best way to go about the process if you are thinking of hiring a coach for the first time (or if you had a negative experience the first time and want to try again).
1. Know what you really want - coaching, mentoring, consulting or therapy.
The big difference between coaching and something like therapy, mentoring or consulting is that coaching, first and foremost, is about enabling a client to make discoveries and decisions in service to their own life through a process that elicits both self-reflection, discovery and action. In the philosophy of coaching in which I am trained, the client is the expert of his or her own life. Coaching is about what’s happening in the present – the NOW - and what’s possible in the future. If you are focused on dealing with the now and on moving forward from your learnings, coaching is likely a good fit for you.
- Therapy, more often than not, looks back and tries to make sense of your past and why you are the way you are.
- Consulting is more focused on problem solving for clients where the consultant is the expert and is hired to provide technical solutions to problems.
- Mentoring is generally when someone has had experience in a field or profession and they simply give you advice and guidance based on their experiences.
What is it you really want? Knowing this is key in the search for a good coach. If you feel the need to dissect your past, or are held back by it, therapy might be the right option. If you are used to hiring people to tell you what to do and giving you technical advice, consulting might be what you are looking for. However, coaches often have a certain expertise area that they are able to combine with their coaching, so you may end up killing two birds with one stone. There are plenty of therapists who are also trained as coaches, and plenty of consultants who are coaches, too.
More information on the differences in approaches can be found in the ICF FAQs here
2. Coaches come in all shapes and sizes. Find one that matches an area in which you need expertise.
Coaching is a growing field, and it is also unregulated. (However, there are a number of amazing training and certification programs out there that produce quality coaches.) There is generally a coach out there for every area of expertise you can imagine, from coaches who specialize in grief management, to coaches who specialize in working with people grappling with the psychosocial impact of having herpes. Yes, I said herpes. Like I said, there is something out there for everyone.
For example, my first coach specialized in executive leadership and communications. She was exactly what our organization needed, and helped me work through improving my communications and my relationship with my employees and co-leaders. She made me see that I was overworking myself and the team a lot, and challenged me to change my behaviors towards a healthier direction.
I then worked with a coach that had extensive HR expertise. I chose to work with her due to the stress managing HR issues and difficult employee situations (though truth be told I found her more valuable as a consultant/advisor than as a transformational coach).
Years later, when I started my coaching practice, I made sure I found a coach who had a successful practice, because I needed the coaching as well as the consulting know-how for the industry I was venturing into.
Figure out what you specifically need and what is going to be of most value to you, and then narrow down your search. In a lot of instances, you may land coaching along with specific consulting in an area of expertise.
3. Referrals/word of mouth is still your best bet.
Referrals and word of mouth is the name of the game. Great coaches have reputations that precede them, and the nature of coaching is such that it’s a really hard service to sell. It’s often something you have to experience with a person. Some of the best coaches have absolutely no website or web presence. The market is flooded with coaches claiming to be the best at this and do the best at that, but often, you’ll get your best coaches from referrals of trusted sources.
If you haven’t had any rave reviews of coaches coming your way, then you should start to research. Start with your networks. Put a message out on LinkedIn to your groups detailing exactly what you are looking for.
Go to the ICF (International Coach Federation) site where you can find a quality list of coaches in your geographic location via the site’s coach finder tool. They allow you to search via area of expertise as well. The ICF site is good because you are likely going to be dealing with trained, credentialed coaches.
Other ways to find coaches are to use sites like Yelp.com and do a search for “coaches.” You’ll find real reviews from clients in your geographic area who have used services of coaches. There are also sites like Noomii.com that allow you to network and view different coaches who have been rated by their clients.
If you don’t have money for coaching, connect with coach training and accreditation programs like The Coaches Training Institute, New Ventures West and Center for Right Relationship. Often the people going through these programs are looking for people to practice coach, as is the case with coaches certified through CTI, and will do so at very low cost (kind of like the same concept as going to someone for a discount haircut who is currently in beauty school).
4. Don’t be afraid to change coaches.
We are human and are constantly evolving, learning, changing and growing. Having a particular kind of coach may have been appropriate for you at one time in your life or leadership but may not be appropriate for you now. Or, if you are in the case where you chose a coach and do not feel you are getting value out of the relationship, try working with someone else. As I mentioned above, I worked with six different coaches throughout my career. I chose them according to the stage of leadership and career/life I was in. I got value out of some, and not so much out of others.
Let it be known that some people stay with one coach for years. They come back to them as they are needed, and probably do so because that coach already knows them so well and they have a good rapport. It is all about personal preference. I tend to like coaches who can offer something more than just basic coaching – who have experience in a certain field, industry or area of expertise.
5. Attend webinars and read blogs.
We live in a content-driven world, and now more than ever there is a plethora of writings, blogs and e-books that coaches publish on a regular basis. There are so many opportunities now to get to know them before you jump into any kind of formal relationship. This was not the case when I started working with coaches. Attending a webinar or reading their written content is a great way to get to know coaches and determine if they can give you value. Consider signing up for some free webinars or newsletters, and see if you get some value from their approach and content. Purchase one of their inexpensive e-books. Afterwards, ask yourself these questions:
- Did I get value from that webinar?
- Am I curious for more?
- Would I get along well with this coach?
- Did I instinctively feel I could trust this coach?
5. Do a consult before committing.
Chemistry is everything in coaching. If it’s not there, and if your coach cannot champion or support you in an authentic and genuine way, the relationship will not be successful. Set up a consultation to talk with a coach to see how you both connect. Most coaches do this anyway. Be prepared to ask them questions about their coaching and how they work. Trust your instincts as well. I had a coach who once told me she would know within the first 5 minutes of talking with someone if she would be a good match for them.
6. Assess credentials.
I’ve naturally been coaching since I was in my teens. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I decided to go into it as a profession and received training from a renowned coaching school (The Coaches Training Institute – the school that all of my favorite coaches graduated from FYI).
I wasn’t convinced completely of the value of coach certification. I must say, however, that my coaching skills definitely strengthened from going through the certification process. It’s one thing to get trained, but with certification comes more oversight, scrutiny and courageous skill building for coaches. So if you ask me if there’s a difference between a non-credentialed and credentialed coach’s quality, I’d be inclined to say yes there is.
There are a few different designations given by the ICF such as MCC, a Master Certified Coach. Basically, this is someone with a lot of hours under their belt – at least 2,500 client coaching hours. Other designations include ACC (Associate Certified Coach) and PCC (Professional Certified Coach). Someone without these designations is by no means an ineffective coach, but this is just a way the industry standardizes accreditations of coaches. You can look to see if any coach has had formal coach training and if they went through a professional certification process.
And yes, there are outliers in this field - those people that just have a God-given talent and intuition for this stuff without any training at all. I’ve never coached with one, but have heard about them. But you won’t know until you try, will you? (Or unless you get that magic referral.)
7. Be ready!
Find a coach when you are truly ready to deal with whatever challenge you are facing, or whatever pain is in your life. For the naysayers, coaching definitely is not for everyone; it is fair to say that some people just might not be good candidates for it. The best coaching, in my opinion, happens when someone really wants to explore a change, they are willing to commit and put in the time and effort, AND they are matched with someone who has a good combination of real world experience in an area coupled with quality, (preferably credentialed) coach training. And even still, you can have all the credentials in the world, and still not be that effective. It ultimately comes down to how well your needs fit the skills, capability and chemistry of that particular coach.
How did you find your coach? What do you think is the best approach? Do you have anything to add to the above tips? We want to hear from you!
(Re-post from my 2/3/14 Surf Life Executive Coaching blog.)
A lot of people come to Surf Life Coaching to get help making a bold transition, or to figure out how to get to the next level in their careers or personal lives. Most of the time, they come stuck in their safe zone. They are afraid, and by staying in the “safe zone”, they do not grow and challenge themselves to get to where it is they really want to go.
When people start to step out of their comfort zones, a number of things happen. For entrepreneurs, it can mean the difference between really starting to differentiate themselves in their industry vs. being just another plain business. For individuals, it can mean paving an opening for going after what they really want vs. feeling stuck in their status quo lives.
To take a leap and get past the fear can take a lot of work. Sometimes, people are afraid they will fail, or are afraid of what others might think of them. But what they don’t realize is that some amount of risk is what will also make them grow. Any failure they might experience will be in service to a much greater personal self-growth and discovery.
I know it’s one thing to list the logical reasons for stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and it’s another thing to FEEL the need to do so. For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick to logic:
1. Grow your leadership: Stepping out of your comfort zone can aid in developing your leadership and self-growth. As an example, a few years into running the nonprofit organization I founded, I was struggling in a relationship with one of my most important employees and fellow leaders. Most of the time, we found ourselves burning the candle at both ends and were very overworked and tired. We were stressed, and tempers were often short. I knew we needed to have a critical conversation about what was going on, but I remember neither of us really wanted to have it. We didn’t know HOW to have it, AND it was uncomfortable.
As I was the so-called ‘boss’, I’m sure it was hard for her to bring up our discordant dynamic. And truth be told, I was equally afraid because back then, I wasn’t very versed with head-on, to-the-point conflict. I was afraid of being blamed or worse yet, that she might leave. (Yes, bosses have fears, too.) We danced around this dynamic for a bit until it finally came to a head and we both had to have the conversation. It was uncomfortable and I felt vulnerable, but it was so good to get things on the table. Truth be told, tears were shed and thoughts and feelings were expressed. And afterwards, it was as if we were in a whole new space. I really understood her perspective and what she needed, and she understood my perspective, too. Stepping into this zone of discomfort took me to a whole other level in my leadership.
Conversations on difficult subjects after that with other employees, family and friends never seemed hard at all. I had forced myself to be out of my comfort zone with this, and looking back, what I realized was that it was one of the best skills I developed in my leadership arsenal for the years ahead. No conversation after that ever seemed quite as scary.
2. Stand out from the crowd: Being uncomfortable is often the path to differentiation. For example, I coach a number of entrepreneurs, and sometimes they end up sitting in their comfort zones in their business or lives, and nothing seems to be moving. When they realize and come to terms with that big, scary idea or passion they have been stuffing away all these years, and start to move towards it, it feels uncomfortable. They get scared, and often the voices of “can’t” and “sabotage” get in the way and give them every logical argument as to why they shouldn’t step towards it. But, stepping towards this is when they start to grow. If you are not in a place of feeling slightly uncomfortable, not stepping into new territory, how are you to find what makes you different?
As an example, before I started Surf Life Coaching, I was just a coach – a “vanilla” brand coach for leaders and entrepreneurs (though some would say I’m too brown to be vanilla, but you know what I mean!). Many friends and coaching colleagues would suggest that I somehow integrate surfing into my approach, since I loved it so much. Well, I stuffed that idea so far down that I didn’t want to consider it – I was afraid. But it was an idea that kept popping up again and again that I couldn’t seem to bury. After much introspection, months of coaching and a day-long seminar on finding my true calling, I realized I could stay on land and do traditional coaching and trudge along in my business, or I could create something unique with little road map or knowledge of how to do it, and try to deliver my coaching service in a new and better way.
I remember when I saw the path of where I needed to go. I knew I needed to go all out with this surfing and coaching concept. It had me terrified. In the end, I got over the fears and developed my own methodology for Surf Life Coaching. What this did was allow me to differentiate my services, and stand out. It was not the comfortable path by any means, but it helped set my approach apart, allowing me to deliver my unique skills and talents to those most in need.
3. Gain new insights: Getting out of your comfort zone can often bring you to new ideas and insights. When we surround ourselves with the same people, images, thoughts and media all the time, we are just reinforcing and trying to build on what we know. When we can get out and see the world, connect with someone other than who is in our normal circle, we not only gain new perspectives, we also gain critical new insights for ourselves.
This is why you might find business leaders choosing to hike up big mountains with Sherpas during their vacations, or activists bridging the worlds of technology and entrepreneurship to build hybrid models to get to something new. Getting out of their comfort zones forces them to experience things in a different way, and to gain valuable perspective that can often lead to new creation.
Great leaders may take risks and hire people for a position with little to no experience in their industry, but with know-how on the general concepts. It’s a risk for the company or organization to bring in somebody without the industry knowledge, but what they gain through this is an entirely different perspective and way of seeing things that often ends up becoming a competitive advantage more than anything else.
4. Build resilience: My second job out of college was as an Americorps/VISTA (sorta like the domestic Peace Corps) volunteer at a start-up social venture helping low-income women entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. When I arrived on site to the job, I had no desk, no computer, no office and essentially, no physical place to work. I had to find it all. I worked out of my supervisor’s home office, borrowed a desk at central administration, and then worked out of a site for a homeless jobs program before landing in a commercial bank – all within the span of 12 months. I know – yikes! It was the most uncomfortable situation to go from a structured academic environment in college to having to fundraise to get your own computer and a chair to sit your butt down in!
But what this discomfort did was pattern in me a solutions-oriented and troubleshooting mind. I would come to use those skills to start the next two social ventures and my business. It gave me insights on how to attract and leverage resources, and how to stretch a dollar 5 times around the block, so to speak. It also got me comfortable with mobility, and being able to be productive no matter what the environment. These skills would come in handy for my entire future career in entrepreneurship.
And then there was the time I found myself in Western Samoa in a village with a shack for a bathroom, sleeping on a mat on a plank with no walls. Another seemingly uncomfortable situation, but I was not intimidated. ;)
Anyways, the discomfort seeded in me a resilience for change, and detachment to space. These have been critical lessons learned along the road that have helped tremendously in my life transitions, and in creating and building things. Resilience is invaluable currency.
5. Grow your capacity for respect and humility: When you step out of your comfort zone, you actually connect more with the world, and learn to have a healthy respect for others. For example, when I take people surfing for the first time - let’s face it - they usually have their asses handed to them. They fumble, wipe out, roll in the surf, and then pop their heads back up wondering why they weren’t able to get up on their board. Some of them are used to being in control of everything in their businesses, careers and lives, but why can’t they get a hold of this?
When they finish, they have such a different respect for the ocean, and a whole new respect for people who charge the ocean on bigger waves. It also is a process that flattens ego, and can be a very rich place for self-discovery and for learning humility.
I’m curious - where in your life or career have you felt stuck, but then ventured out of your comfort zone? How did you do it and what did you learn? I want to hear from you!
(Re-post from my 1/20/14 Surf Life Coaching blog).
Everybody has the tendency to sometimes complain about their circumstances or the people they are in relationship with. I once read somewhere that complaints are are just unspoken requests. But sometimes we cannot make the requests we want to make so find ourselves in the position of complaining. What we do have the power to shift is what is within us. Getting in touch with your ability to make these internal shifts will help the leaps you want to take in your wave of life to be all the more smoother.
For example, there is an important relationship in my life but I had a hard time with the way that particular person has related to me in the past. This person from time to time would start to accuse me of things and then would start to criticize me. I would feel defensive and hurt. I realized that it was holding me back in a lot of ways and making me feel bad about myself, and even eroding my self-confidence. I decided the next time she started to criticize me, that I would not react, but I would try to understand her perspective and see if I could find some value in her words and just listen. Rather than let her words land on my heart center and feel defensive, as she spoke I imagined them landing on the ground in the space in front of me. I also told myself to not take it personally.
I made the conscious decision about how I was going to react and to approach the conflict the way I would surf a wave – to just be curious, go with it and follow it. I listened and ask questions and tried to understand and clarify the source of what was making her criticize me. The process diffused the episode of this person and allowed me the space to speak my voice and share my perspective with them. In the end, I didn’t change her, but changed the WAY I chose to relate to her. It also became apparent that her episodes were more about HER feelings and the way she experienced the world vs. about me.
I learned that when you’re trying to move forward and you feel something or someone is holding you back, it’s easier to shift something within you, rather than change someone or try to change your circumstances. You have far more control over changing YOU first . This has been a critical lesson for me in leaping into the unknowns of life, not knowing what you might face. Having the muscle to flow in and out of conflict and shift your RESPONSE to what is happening will make you all the more prepared to take your leap in life, whatever it may be.
Executive & Leadership Coach | Global Explorer | Founder, Surf Life Executive Coaching & Brown Girl Surf