Small Step, Big Results

Part of my coaching work with executives consists of conducting feedback interviews with 10-12 of their supervisors, peers and direct reports. This provides insight into the perceptions of those who know the person being coached in a working relationship. Typically, three or four underlying behaviors arise that clients seek to improve during our coaching sessions.

While it’s better to have a detached third-person – like a coach – explore areas around what are Susie’s biggest strengths, where are ways Billy can be more successful and describe John’s communication style, you can do this on your own.

Choose a few folks who you interact with on a regular basis and ask them to sit down and share how they see you… giving them permission upfront to be candid. Listen closely to what they’re saying, taking a few ‘headline’ notes without being absorbed in capturing every word. Be sure not to react to anything you hear. This isn’t an exercise in right or wrong, good or bad; it’s exploratory research and a chance to learn.

These conversations should last less than 15 minutes. End each one by asking is there anything else I should know that would help me be a better leader? Then simply say thank you. There’s no need to accept, reject or negotiate any of their viewpoints. After you talk to everyone review your notes and look for patterns where you could do better. Chances are if there’s something you need to change more than one person mentioned it. Choose two or three that are important to you, and put together a self-improvement plan.

Circle back to tell each person how much you appreciate his or her helping you, and share the first things you’re going to address. This lets them know it wasn’t just a conversation that ended without action. Finally, select one person to serve as your accountability partner to ensure you stay focused on achieving change, and schedule brief ‘check in’ updates every few weeks for several months. Soon you’ll start seeing a better you.


Clear Understanding

In 2007, the president of an energy company that engaged me to coach one of their senior executives asked what year we started this business. When I told him 2003, he said, “I believe it takes 10 years to master a craft; you’ve got a ways to go.” At the time I recall thinking he was overstating the education process, or I was far ahead of his learning curve. Now I realize he was right on the mark. I’ve gained more knowledge in the past 18 months about how to best serve clients than I did in the previous six years, let alone the 23 years I spent in other careers.

That’s one reason I spent Memorial Day weekend rewriting our Web site. The first time around in ’03, I created nice prose that sounded pretty good; however, I really didn’t know what I was talking about when it came to explaining the value clients receive from working with us. Three years ago when we updated it the first time, my thoughts were closer to the actual target, although still more style than substance.

I actually committed to this project 13 months ago – and sat down several times to start the process. Yet the words never appeared on my monitor, regardless of how hard I tried to force them… so I set it aside and moved on to things that seemed more urgent. Last week, the inspiration appeared out of nowhere and the words flowed easily from my fingertips.

Three lessons here: 1) If it’s been awhile since your last Web site (or marketing materials) update, you’re likely a lot smarter, so you may want to consider a redux; 2) It takes a decade to become a master, so be patient and keep learning; and, 3) You can’t force things, so when you’re stuck, step aside and ‘wait for it.’


Who’s The Adult Here?

You may have seen the You Tube video – shot with a cell phone – of a charter school teacher here in Houston allegedly beating up a student last month. She’s 40. The boy is 13. The video appears to show her kicking his back, slapping his face and slamming his head against the wall. News stories suggest other teachers were watching the incident.

Perhaps you heard about the pole vaulter in California – a senior in high school – who was the last competitor in the championship meet. She cleared the height to give her school its first-ever league title. As the girls and their parents celebrated, the coach of the losing team walked over to an official and pointed to his wrist. Then he pointed to the girl, who was wearing a small string friendship bracelet. Seems there is a rule – Section 3, Article 3 of the National Federation of State High School Associations – that states: “Jewelry shall not be worn by contestants.” The penalty is “the competitor is disqualified from the event.”

Officials discussed the situation and decided to disqualify the girl, thus awarding the title to the second place team. Afterward, the coach who pointed out the infraction – he’s 54 – said: “It’s unfortunate for the young lady. But you’ve got to teach the kids the rules are rules… I feel bad for what happened, but I guarantee you she’ll never wear jewelry during a track meet again.”

With adults acting like this, is it surprising when executives from the three companies involved in the Gulf oil rig disaster appeared before Congress this week, each chose to raise questions about their partners’ liability? Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) summarized the day’s finger pointing: “The conclusion that I draw is that nobody assumes responsibility.”

Perhaps it’s time to start reiterating those lessons you learned in kindergarten and many appear to have forgotten: 1) Maintain composure no matter how stressful the situation – or take time out; 2) Winning isn’t everything – but sportsmanship is the measure of a person; and 3) Accept responsibility – regardless of the consequences you face.

Why do grown-ups make things so hard?