Horton the Elephant: Leadership Role Model


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For the last week or so, I’ve helped take care of my grandchildren. I have a spirited granddaughter who is two years old. Her mother takes a parenting class, and after the last class, she wanted to set up a game plan. I’m usually game for a good game plan and I do try to stay consistent with their parenting standards.

She said that the goal of the week was to immediately follow up on any request made of my granddaughter that was ignored. We had all gotten into the habit of telling her something several times before standing up and ensuring that she did it.

It is a parenting technique that I believe in whole-heartedly. Her comments reminded me of my resolve when my children were little to make sure that there was no question about whether or not I meant something when I said it.

I went to playgroups and saw other moms who didn’t back up what they said. They sat in the same spot and said, “Honey, don’t do that” over and over while Honey continued to do as she pleased. Honey knew her mom wasn’t standing up, I knew it, everyone in the room knew it, people passing by knew it as did their dogs. There was no reason for Honey to stop because there were never going to be any consequences. Honey’s Mom was never going to stand up. I call getting up immediately when an instruction is ignored the Stand Up Technique.

The Stand Up Technique also applies to great leadership. As leaders, we must be ready to follow up on the tasks we assign. If it becomes apparent to everyone that we are going to ask people to do things and then never make sure those things are done, it becomes highly unlikely that the things will get done. Why should anyone bother when everyone knows that the leader is not going to Stand Up and make sure that there are consequences for tasks left undone?

It is time intensive in the beginning to ensure everyone knows that you mean business. I tell the following story in leadership workshops. Back when circuses kept elephants in chains, handlers put small elephants in big metal cuffs with thick chains attached to long spikes. The baby elephant would try and try to get free but gives up after a while. When the elephant was grown, its handlers could use a small cuff, chain, and spike. The elephant didn’t believe that there is a point in trying to get away. We want to give everyone around us that same impression.

If we begin by ensuring all tasks are done and then administering consequences when they are not, we let everyone know that there is no point in trying to get away with not doing things. They begin to feel confident that we will always check up on things and give consequences as appropriate. After a while, no one even considers not doing a task. What’s the point? Like the large elephant, they’ve decided that resistance is futile.

I feel a need to point out that “following up” and “giving appropriate consequences” does not mean yelling or shaming. We want everyone who works with us to be successful, and that is the mindset that we bring into every conversation. We also want to be respectful of others all the time!

Using the Stand Up Technique also gives us, as leaders, a good yardstick for our words. If I ask someone to do something, am I willing to follow through and do what needs to be done to ensure my request is completed? If not, I should keep my mouth shut. I ruin my credibility if don’t see things through to the end.

I am reminded of a statement by Horton the Elephant in Horton Hatches the Egg. He tells the terrible mother Mayzie that he will sit on her egg and protect it. Through a series of challenges that include hunters, Horton refuses to give up the egg. He says, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” We all need to be elephants in that we are one hundred percent faithful to the words that we speak.

The first question we should ask is “Does it matter?” Does it matter if someone does it his or her own way? Does it matter if they fail? Does it matter if that task is done at all? If the answer is “Not really” or “Only to me,” let it go.

Marshall Goldsmith lists a couple of good questions to ask ourselves in Triggers: “Will my input improve this situation?” and “Am I truly helping or trying to prove how smart I am?” Asking ourselves these questions can get us to pause and be selective about the tasks that we assign and the things that we say.

The bottom line is that everyone, both children and adults, will take our requests to heart if we mean what we say and ensure that we said what we meant. Horton is a great role model.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Slowing Your Roles


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By email, I get daily meditations from Richard Rohr, who is a Franciscan friar ordained to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church. I am not Catholic, but I like his ideas and perspectives. Some I agree with, and all of them make me think. I like anyone who inspires me to stop and think about big ideas.

In one daily meditation, he talked about the roles that we take on in life. Across our lives, we can be a parent, student, spouse, friend, and worker. We talk about roles in systems coaching. In a system, which is a group of people, we all have roles.

One type of role is a positional role. I could be the boss or the accountant in an organization, perhaps both. In my family, I am the mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law. Other people within our system, and without, recognize the positional role that we embody.

Moving from one role to another can be difficult, even if it’s a change that we welcome. When my children left home, I went from full-time mother to long-distance mother. Still a mom, but an enormous shift of the heart and different use of time. When I divorced, I went from wife to divorcee. Honestly, the first time someone called me a divorcee, I felt like I’d been sucker-punched. There was a huge life shift in that change.

However, neither of those role changes are as difficult as the one that soldiers coming home from war face. Rohr wrote about what the Japanese did for their returning soldiers at the close of World War II. These men had been “loyal soldiers” for most of their lives; it was their identity. Now they needed a different role to embody.

The Japanese communities created a ceremony in which soldiers were publicly thanked and praised for their service to the people. After being honored, an elder would announce, “The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has served you and us well up to now. We now need you to return as a parent, a partner, a friend, a mentor – something beyond a soldier.” Rohr calls this process “discharging your loyal soldier.”

In systems coaching, we recognize the importance of honoring a person for who they are now. We call it “stroking the primary.” I know, weird term. It makes me think of stroking a puppy while telling her what a good dog she is. In truth, that is a good metaphor. We are recognizing and honoring the person for the role that they currently play or one they are grieving the loss of.

For example, retiring can be a huge challenge for people whose identity comes primarily from work. Imagine an executive whose opinions are valued highly, who has power and influence over others, and who is respected as a success in his or her field. Slipping off into retirement to become a “common” person without power and influence sounds like a terrible thing.

A first step is what we usually do for people retiring. We give them a party. We honor them and remember the contributions that they have made to our organization. Like the loyal soldiers, they are thanked profusely for their dedication.

Not every role change comes with a party. When my boys went off into the world on their own, no one threw me a Great Mom party. The kids didn’t stand around telling me how much they appreciated all that I did for them. I wasn’t remembered by teachers that I had helped or other children for my contributions to them through my volunteer activities, such as Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I was left to quietly struggle to shed the old role on my own.

We should celebrate moving from one role to another! We can throw our own party or create our own ceremony. I have divorced friends who struggle to switch to the role of divorcee. I could throw them a party or help them create a goodbye ceremony. It would be like the ceremony of discharging the loyal soldier. We would honor them for all their accomplishments as a spouse, recognize their sacrifices, and celebrate who they were.

For soldiers, executives, moms, and spouses, the next part is difficult. After shedding the old role, we get to decide who we are going to be now. Rohr says that the first part of our lives is doing. We do things to fulfill the roles that we take on. Later in life, we get to focus more on being. The question is not “What do I do now?” The question is “Who do I want to be now?”

Without that question, we can unintentionally become a victim. We can feel lost. There is always a grieving process when we lose something. Losing who we are is particularly painful and unsettling, especially if the change is beyond our control. Organizations make us retire, spouses don’t want to be with us anymore, children grow up – all beyond our control. Yet, we can control who we become next.

The trick, I think, is to intentionally decide who we are going to be. After my children left, I decided that I was going to focus on my career completely and find things that I enjoyed doing. I was going to be engaged in life and interested in learning.

There were some to-do’s in my list, but remembering the kind of person that I wanted to be kept me on track. I wanted to be positive. I wanted to contribute to the world in a positive way with every interaction. I wanted to be whole and happy.

When snakes shed an old skin, underneath they are the same. They have the same patterns and colors that they did before. We aren’t like that. We have the luxury to decide what we are going to look like after we shed an old role. The important thing is to consciously decide what the new us will look like – who the new us will be.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Erasing the Past


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I recently watched an episode of The Orville. For you non-sci-fi people, it’s a TV show about people exploring space. It’s similar to Star Trek: The Next Generation, but with fewer leadership paradigms and more crass situational comedy. Sometimes, however, they have a gem of an episode.

In the one I just watched, a time capsule from 2015 has been discovered, and an iPhone is in it. They figure out how to get the phone up and running. It belonged to a young woman named Laura who left all of her texts, emails, photos, songs, etc., on the phone so that the future could get a glimpse of her life.

One of the characters, Gordon, finds her enchanting and gets the ship’s computer to create a simulation based on the information in the phone so that he can experience Laura’s world in the holodeck. (If you have no idea what a holodeck is, email me. We need to talk.) The doors to the holodeck open, and Gordon walks into a party at Laura’s house.

Gordon meets the recreated Laura and falls in love with her. Unfortunately, the simulation is based on information in the phone, and the real Laura got back together with her boyfriend in 2015. Gordon is heartsick and has the computer delete the boyfriend from the program. When he re-enters the simulation, Laura is a different person.

She doesn’t play angsty songs about love in a dive pub. She is more driven to move up at Macy’s, where she works. She is still charming but different. She turns out to be a different person when her boyfriend is completely deleted from her life. He was the one who encouraged her to sing and perform.

Of course, the show got me thinking about what I would be like if I had the ability to delete people from my life. Not just delete them now, which I can actually do to some extent, but to erase them so that I had never interacted with them.

The first person to come to mind was my father. We have a stormy history. Obviously, if I completely delete him, I delete myself. He is my father. So let’s just look at how I would be different if he had not had any part in my growing up.

It’s an interesting question because I get some of my best and worst qualities from him, I think. Of course, there is no way to know for sure. This is just an interesting game.

My father told me when I was young that I could do anything. I played softball in elementary school and pitched fastpitch in high school. On the ring finger of every glove that I owned he wrote, “This is a winner’s glove. I never miss a ball.” I think a lot of my confidence comes from him.

I believe that my silly bravery comes from him also. I am not afraid to make a fool of myself. As a result, I am not afraid to take risks. I have a clear memory of skipping with him through a parking lot on our way to see a movie. It was, in fact, the second movie of the day for us. We saw The Sting with Redford and Newman then drove across town to see another one of the duo’s films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I remember people snickering at us as we skipped and really not caring.

The other thing he told me over and over was “Make them come up to your level. Do not lower yourself to theirs.” As a tall, opinionated, and pretty young girl, I took a lot of mean hits from classmates. I started at a private school in 8th grade, where they were particularly vicious in the beginning. Even the teachers were mean to me. I have tried to live by that phrase for all of my life – even when dealing with my father, who is not always kind, truthful, or supportive.

I also get my temper from him, which I’ve worked most of my life to control. He passed on his contempt for others who are different than us or less fortunate. Man, that one is hard to spot and change because it feels like truth until you really bring it to a conscious level and examine it. I work to see everyone as a person of value with dreams and needs equal to my own. I slip sometimes, but it’s at a conscious level that I can now deal with.

I could go through the same “what if I delete them” exercise with my ex-husband. We were married for 36 years, and he influenced who I’ve become more than my father did.

When we were separated, I went through our pictures and belongings, deciding what to keep and what to leave behind. I remember sitting in a closet under the eaves of our home surrounded by albums and boxes that contained 35 years of photographs and memories. I felt a real urge to destroy everything that had to do with my ex. It was a tumultuous time, and my emotions were very raw. Then I realized that I would have to delete 35 years of my life to do that. However, it’s really, really hard to be mad at a person now and not take it out on every memory with that person.

Hurricane Irma had just devastated much of Florida. I thought of the people who had lost all of their belongings and pictures. Some had lost loved ones. They were going to have to rebuild their lives from scratch. In a way, I was experiencing a hurricane in my life.

I could see the disaster coming. I was divorcing and moving out of my home. I could prepare for it, but I couldn’t avoid it. The hurricane would come in and take away everything familiar. I would put some belongings in storage and load the rest up into a U-Haul trailer that I would drive away with. I planned to be homeless for a while. I would rely on the kindness of friends and family.

In my mind, I decided that the husband in this history of photos was lost in my metaphorical hurricane. I loved him, and I missed him. I still had to deal with this husband in the now that I wasn’t terribly fond of, but I wanted to find a way to keep hold of the good memories. I was made from all of those experiences. I am who I am today because I was married to a man who I loved for more than 30 years.

He helped me develop my corny sense of humor. I hear one of his favorite phrases, “Maybe, we’ll see,” in my head all of the time. It represents a less rigid approach to life that I learned from him. I cherish the sense of belonging and teamwork that I experienced in our marriage. It was a great feeling that I am now working to recreate with friends and clients. I am more relaxed, fun, and resilient as a result of our relationship.

It was freeing to look at the photographs without malice. This lovely guy was taken by the hurricane. I can remember and love him and the memories.

I wouldn’t delete my ex from my past any more than I would delete my father. I have little to no interaction with either now, but it’s important for me, my sanity, and my well-being to feel gratitude toward them both for helping me develop into the person that I am now. The good times and the bad helped me see the good in myself and build resilience, which comes in mighty handy in life.

In The Orville, Gordon decided the same thing. He put the boyfriend back into the program, went into the simulation, sang a song with Laura, and said goodbye to both her and her boyfriend.

Even the cruelest people in our pasts have helped us to develop into who we are now. We get to choose how we grow by how we react and what we take away from the experiences. We lose all the opportunities for growth and self-awareness if we negate the person and ignore the experiences.

In my mind, I give difficult people in my past a hug, thank them for the lessons, wish them well – then tell them not to let the screen door hit them in the butt on their way out the door. Boundaries in the present are essential, but that’s a topic for another time.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Life Is a Treasure Hunt


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When I was growing up, I read a lot of Sherlock Holmes. I still love following a mystery and considering each event and detail as a possible clue.  Of course, I never have the whole thing figured out when Mr. Holmes exclaims, “Elementary, my dear Watson!”, but I always have my suspicions.

Looking at each detail of the story for meaning is one of the things that I enjoy most in Sherlock Holmes’ adventures. I didn’t think of looking for meaning in the details of my own life until I read The Celestine Prophecy years ago. I don’t remember many details of the plot, but I did take away the thought that people and challenges might be put in my path for a reason.

I’ve always fought against the idea of “destiny.” What is the point of living life if you are just living out a script set in stone? However, I like the idea of looking for and following clues because I’m still in control in that case. I always have the ability to choose whether to follow the clue or not, but recognizing it as a possible turning point keeps me from blundering blindly through life without making a conscious choice.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I have to jump on every opportunity that comes my way. If I did, I’d buy every single item advertised on TV and fall for every marketing gimmick. The ultimate choice is mine. I find that my stomach is my most reliable yardstick for making a decision that’s right for me.

I was offered a discount on a leadership school that is quite expensive. Two trainers who I respect from my life coach class recommended me. I felt a real obligation to live up to their expectations and to take advantage of the opportunity in front of me. In the end, I realized that the thought of taking on such a huge financial burden was making me crazy, and my stomach was in knots. When I let go of the opportunity, my whole body relaxed, and my stomach unclenched and gave a sigh of relief.

In her book The Unmistakable Touch of Grace, Cheryl Richardson writes about a guiding hand influencing our lives. She calls it “grace” and writes, “Every event we experience and every person we meet has been put in our path for a reason. When we awaken to this fundamental truth, we begin to understand that a benevolent force of energy is available to guide and direct our lives.”

Richardson advocates asking for that help from the Universe, or whatever name you use for your higher power. Asking a higher power for help isn’t all that odd an idea. Many people pray to God and ask for help and guidance. Here is the phrase that Richardson uses: “I am open and receptive to the power of grace in my life now. I ask to be shown clear examples of how this energy is operating in my life.”

My best example of grace stepping in to lend a hand came the morning that I was struggling to get the convoluted idea of grace that was in my brain untangled, down my arms, and into my hands to type. I was about to give up when my friend Rose called. She said, “I thought that you could use a smile this morning.” I told her that I always appreciated a smile, and she asked me what I was up to.

I started trying to explain the concept of grace and clues and choice. My explanation seemed lifeless and vague, but she sent me scrambling for a pen with her immediate comment, “Oh, the treasure hunt to fulfillment.” Wow! Thank you, Universe, for sending me Rose this morning!

“That is the way I live my life,” she continued. “I see myself surrounded by opportunities that I get to choose from.” It’s way beyond coincidence that she telephoned just as I was grappling with Cheryl Richardson’s call for grace.

Rose’s metaphor of life as a treasure hunt reminded me of a game that I used to play with my children. They were too young to read, so I sketched various places around our yard and used them as clues.  I handed them a picture of the slide. They would run to the slide, where a picture of the basketball goal waited for them. They ran to each place eager to find out where the next clue led.

There are a lot of similarities between the kids’ game and life. First, there’s no way to see the end from the beginning. Second, to get to the end and win the game, you have to follow all of the clues in a specific order. You focus all of your energy on the visual image of your immediate goal. Once you reach that goal, another one waits for you that will take you further along your adventure. The game of life is fun when it’s a puzzle and a journey into the unknown that requires brains, courage, and tenacity.

There are those who disagree with my perspective on life, and I wouldn’t argue with them. They have just as much a chance of being right as I do, but being “right” isn’t what is important. Whether or not it’s true, isn’t it a more fun way to look at life? We have two choices. One is to go through life feeling that we are buffeted by the winds of fortune and are forced to fly hither and yon like a feather with no say in where we go. On the other hand, we can see ourselves surrounded by clues and gifts that are ours for the taking. Each day is an opportunity to learn and grow. Each person is a potential guru with wisdom to share.

Now I will confess that I wrote this blog back in 2007. It represents a turning point in how I view life. I still work to see life as Rose does – a treasure hunt to fulfillment. I will admit that the treasure hunt has taken me to some dark and scary places in the past dozen years or so. However, the journey is an adventure if you expect tokens and clues that will lead you into sunlit happiness. An adventure is something that I can look forward to living.

Life is a grand adventure when each moment could uncover a clue that leads to the treasure of living our best lives! As my friend Sherlock Holmes would say, “Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot!”

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Avoiding Silver-lining


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Brené Brown turned silver-lining into a verb in a video on sympathy vs. empathy. You can watch it here if you are interested. I love her discussion on silver-lining things.

When someone is upset about a situation, we want to make them feel better. It’s a natural reaction, but not always a helpful one. Sometimes we feel compelled to show them the bright side of a situation – also not really helpful. When we do that, we are silver-lining. A tip-off that we are silver-lining someone are the words “At least.”

For example, let’s say that I am expressing frustration about not getting a gig after spending a lot of time on writing a proposal. The people listening want to cheer me up and make me feel better. They might say, “Well, at least you still have your health” or “At least you still have that other job that you are working on.” Both true perhaps, but the statements are not going to improve the situation or make me feel better.

After I watched Brown’s video, I started noticing a lot of silver-lining going on. A friend and fellow coach with a soft and nurturing heart who doesn’t like to see people suffering was the first person I noticed. She called me when I was seven hours into an eight-and-a-half hour drive. She asked me how much further I had to go, and I told her. Her answer was, “At least you only have an hour and a half to go.”

I felt like smacking her upside of the head. I wouldn’t ever, but I felt like it. Her statement made me angry. The point was that I had an entire hour and a half of torture left! I was tired, and my back hurt. I was bored and felt like I couldn’t take another moment in the car. Her silver-lining had totally dismissed my feelings and situation. Her statement had the exact opposite effect of what she intended.

My friend was the first person who I thought of and noticed, but I should have seen myself first because I am also guilty of silver-lining! I am a champion at silver-lining, especially with my children. They complain or share a frustration, and I want to show them that things are not that bad. I will say something like, “At least you have friends you enjoy at work” or “At least you have a car that runs.” Ack! I’m working to never silver-lining them again.

I noticed silver-lining again in a leadership workshop. We were talking about communication toxins. Small groups were creating skits to show each toxin and an antidote for each. Communication toxins are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling, in case you are curious. They come from John Gottman’s research on couples.

I heard a lot of “At least” when they were creating their skits. We stopped and talked about better ways to deal with the toxins and, in general, situations when people were feeling some negative emotions.

The first step is to identify and acknowledge the feeling that the person is experiencing. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, advocates facing all of our feelings, even the uncomfortable ones. Before we can face them, though, we have to name them.

In coaching, after naming an emotion, we normalize it. It’s important for all of us to be reminded that it’s normal and acceptable to feel some of what are termed “negative” emotions. In truth, emotions are just emotions. They are not inherently good or bad, positive or negative. Our emotions are natural reactions to events.

Now, we can control our emotional reactions to some degree, but that’s a different conversation. Now we are just naming and normalizing. Remember that silver-lining does not help someone reframe a situation or feel better; it’s not the solution.

Let’s go back to my road trip example. I sigh and say I have an hour and a half to go of an eight-hour drive. One good response could be, “That is a really long drive. I bet you are tired.” I might respond with something like, “I am tired! My back is sore, and I am so bored that I can’t stand it.”

At this point, most of us want to send a solution like “Why don’t you listen to an audiobook?” or silver-lining the situation with “At least most of the drive is behind you.” Resist!

It’s time to normalize and help them name and accept the emotions that they are feeling. We might say, “Of course you are tired! You’ve been sitting and focusing on driving for hours!” Hearing that kind of response makes us relax because we feel seen and heard.

Naming and normalizing emotions can also open the door to furthering the conversation. Once I feel that someone is listening and empathizing, I might say, “Long drives are terrible – and my children live so far away.” I’ve shared something else that is troubling my mind as I drive hour after hour.

Once again we are presented with the temptation to do some silver-lining because we want to make people feel better. We don’t want to say, “At least you get to see them every few months.” Instead, we want to name and normalize again by saying something like “It is frustrating that they aren’t closer to you.” No solutions or silver-lining – only listening and empathizing.

When we silver-lining people, we create resistance and an adversarial conversation. They feel compelled to defend the emotions that they are feeling. They don’t feel listened to or understood. Remember my gut reaction when my friend said, “At least you only have an hour and a half left.” I was immediately angry.

When we acknowledge the feelings and listen, we let people know that their feelings are valid and normal. We also let them know that we value them enough to really listen to them in order to understand what they are feeling. Our personal needs are to be listened to, understood, and respected. When we meet those needs, we help others relax into their situations, gain some perspective, and maybe find a solution.

Or maybe they just feel better because they aren’t alone with their feelings. Empathy, rather than silver-lining, goes a long way towards creating positive relationships, which are the hallmark of great leadership and a happy life.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

“Fixing” a Mistake


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Being consistent is one of the great challenges of leadership. To be reliably calm means that we don’t lose our temper, yell, or blame. The goal is to maintain our composure and make good decisions as often as possible, but every now and then we’re going to mess up. When we make a mistake, we’ve broken trust. We want to avoid breaking trust because once it’s gone, trust is difficult to gain back. However, all is not lost if we lose someone’s trust. There are things that we can do to regain it as quickly as possible.

The first thing to do is to admit that we’ve done something disappointing. If we made a bad decision, forgot something, or lost our temper, we should admit it. The second thing to do is apologize. Some old-school thought states that leaders should never apologize. It’s based on the belief that leaders have to be perfect to be great leaders. The problem with that thinking is that none of us are perfect. We are human, and we make mistakes. We only make matters worse if we don’t admit our mistakes and apologize.

We also need to do whatever we can to fix the problem if that’s possible. An apology goes a long way, but we also want to do what we can to make things right. If we forgot to do something, how can we get it done and deal with the results of forgetting? If a plan doesn’t work, it’s time to regroup and try again. We help to rebuild trust when we do what we can to repair any damage that we’ve done.

After we have broken trust, we will have to continue to behave in a consistent, reliable manner until everyone feels comfortable again. It may take some time, so we need to be patient.

In summary, when we break trust, it’s important to acknowledge it, apologize, and do what we can to fix it. Then we continue to be trustworthy until whoever was affected decides that they can trust us again.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.


Creating More Space in Life’s Garden


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We are shaped in many ways by our childhood experiences because we interpret them from a child’s perspective – they were a big deal to our Little Self. Once we interpret the experience, we often establish a belief around it that we carry with us for the rest of our lives. Not all of those beliefs serve us in adulthood.

It’s easiest to explain with an example. Let’s say that when you were young, you loved to draw, but one day someone told you that your elephant looked like a rock with a garden hose attached to it. First, it hurt your feelings. Then you internalized the event by thinking that you were not a good artist and that you couldn’t draw. We don’t like having our feelings hurt, so you decided to avoid being hurt by not drawing ever again.

Lack of drawing skill is a common childhood belief brought into adulthood, as is “I can’t dance, sing, and/or write.” It takes time to learn those skills. We know that as adults, but as kids, we just decide we are not talented after our first attempts and that it’s better not to try.

Comments made to us in childhood can also affect our self-image, for good or for bad. My mom was usually very kind about my looks, so I have a good self-image around my appearance. When she brushed my hair, she said that it looked like spun gold. Consequently, I like my hair and resist all of my hair stylist’s attempts to get me to color it. It’s great to hold on to the childhood beliefs that serve us in adulthood. If you decided back then that you were smart, handsome, creative, tenacious, determined or lovable, keep those!

However, my mom also once made a passing comment about my having big ears. My ears aren’t huge, but I was self-conscious about them for a very long time. It wasn’t until high school that someone else told me emphatically that I did not have big ears. I was close enough to adult status to take in the comment with a little maturity and realize that Mom may have been kidding or just having a bad day. I am now at peace with my ears.

The beliefs can be big or small – anything from our ability to dance to our ability to have successful relationships. Our Little Self inside still feels the emotions attached to the experience strongly, so take your Little Self by the hand, walk up to the belief, and look at it from an adult perspective. Decide that you can learn to draw and that you are not doomed to failed relationships. Analyze what happened through the lens of adult maturity. It often doesn’t look nearly as big, scary, intimidating or meaningful.

Clearing out those unhelpful childhood beliefs can be very freeing. If we think of our lives as a garden, when we are born the garden is open with lots of space. We start having some negative experiences and fence off parts of our garden and declare them off-limits. “I’m not going to draw anymore,” “I will wear my hair over my ears always,” and “I can’t dance” become things we say to ourselves over and over again. We believe them without conscious thought or question. By stepping up to the fenced-off area and peering into it as an adult, we can see the experience from a different perspective and decide not to let it limit us anymore. We take down the fence and free up that space! We can try to draw and see if we like it. We can wear our hair short and show off our ears. We can dance to our heart’s content.

The more fenced-off areas we clear, the more room we have to live and play! Facing strongly held beliefs can be daunting. If it feels like an overwhelming task, get a life coach to help you with the process. Either alone, or with a coach, grab your Little Self by the hand, clear some fences, and dance together – you’ll have lots of space.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Designing an Alliance: In-Depth View


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Ideally, we want our people on our teams and in our organizations to behave a certain way. For example, we want them to be respectful, efficient, and productive. We can create a culture that defines and supports those behaviors. Creating a culture intentionally makes a leader’s job much easier. The culture that we create at our level may not exactly align with the organization’s culture, and that’s okay. We can decide that within our group there are certain behaviors that are important to ensure individual and group success.

We can begin creating the culture that we want by having our group or team design an alliance together. The Designed Alliance is a guideline for acceptable behavior for the group. Sometimes the agreement is called Ground Rules. When we get the group together to design an alliance, we want to make it clear that we are going to decide together on some standards of behavior. Handing down rules about acceptable behavior is not as effective.

First, we want to decide on the sort of atmosphere or emotional field in which we want to work. The group can list qualities that they want to bring into conversations. “Respect” is usually a good start. Many groups list “open-mindedness” and “humor.” Make sure the qualities are reasonable and attainable by everyone. Once the group has discussed the atmosphere it would like to create, it’s important to consider which behaviors would help the group achieve that atmosphere. For example, one ground rule could be “No sarcasm” in order to support a positive work environment.

Another good discussion is about what would help the individuals in the group and the group itself to do a good job. It might be a weekly meeting or a commitment to provide information quickly. The group might decide that daily progress reports are needed. The discussion might include a request for a less hostile attitude toward necessary requests. The Designed Alliance should address the individual needs that are going to help the group succeed. It’s a great time to remind everyone of how their actions support the goals of the group and the organization.

A specific discussion of how the team wants to behave when things get difficult is crucial for the Designed Alliance. Many groups have trouble handling conflict. Generally, groups avoid discussing differences of opinion, or they yell. Of course, the yelling is what encourages avoidance. Sometimes it helps to talk about how an ideal team would handle disagreements. How would The Perfect Team handle conflict? Having the discussion in terms of how an ideal team would handle conflict can make the discussion less personal.

In creating guidelines for behavior, a discussion of what the group doesn’t want to happen can lead to some specific behaviors that they want to include. A group normally has pretty clear ideas about behaviors that they don’t want to see. When writing out the Designed Alliance, we want to state the opposite positive behavior, rather than a negative behavior. For example, if the group says it doesn’t want dishonesty, we would include “Be honest.” If they don’t want yelling, we could include “Use a professional or respectful tone of voice.”

The Designed Alliance isn’t useful if no one adheres to it. The group must decide what they are going to do if someone breaks one of the agreements. This Designed Alliance belongs to the group, and it isn’t the supervisor’s job to enforce it. It really is up to the entire group. Many groups decide to gently remind the person about the agreement. Often, they also explicitly add that no one will get defensive or angry when reminded. There are many different ways for a group to remind each other about the Designed Alliance.

If the discussion feels like it could go further, there are a couple of other questions the group can discuss:

  • What can you rely on from each other?
  • What will you commit to for one another?

 Once the entire agreement is written, it’s important to make sure that everyone agrees to the rules. The final task is to have everyone look at the list, and ask if there are any questions or problems. We want to give everyone a chance to disagree with the items on the Designed Alliance. Ensure the group understands that they are committing to behave in alignment with the Designed Alliance. It’s easy for everyone to nod their heads or just be silent if they disagree. It’s a good idea to ask the group to stand if they agree to act in accordance with the agreement and to hold others accountable as well.

At this point, someone could refuse to stand, and that’s okay. In that case, we all sit down and talk about the person’s reservations. If one person refuses a guideline, it’s best to take it off the list. If the action in question is a part of the person’s job or common professionalism, we want to schedule a coaching session on that topic privately.

There are a few things that can be included in the Designed Alliance that are useful. If these guidelines don’t show up in the discussion, it’s a good idea to mention them to the group. The group can reject them in the end, but it’s good to at least talk about them.

e agree that everyone’s perspective is, at least partially, right.

In agreeing that everyone’s perspective is partially right, we are explicitly acknowledging that there is usually more than one valid way to view a situation. There isn’t, necessarily, a right and a wrong. This perspective makes the discussions and the disagreements a lot easier because we don’t paint someone as totally wrong. As a result, the discussion continues, and we foster the positive relationships that help the group function more effectively.

We will listen to each other’s ideas and perspectives with an open mind.

This guideline means that we are open to being influenced by others. We will go into the discussion with the intentional perspective of looking for things with which we can agree. In essence, it’s agreeing to listen and being open to changing our minds. If people are resistant to the idea of being open-minded, we can remind them that listening with an open mind does not require agreement in the end.

We will always be respectful to one another.

Being respectful is usually brought up pretty early in the discussion. However, if no one mentions it, it’s a good idea to bring it up for discussion.

We won’t leave a meeting where a decision was made and complain about the decision to others if we didn’t speak up in the meeting.

Finding someone to complain to after we haven’t spoken up in a meeting is called triangulation. The group is agreeing to bring up their reservations and complaints in the meetings when the group can discuss the point of view together. It also means that when approached by someone wanting to complain outside of a group meeting, we will remind them that we’ve agreed to discuss issues as a group, not privately and individually. If the group agrees to discuss things together in an open way, that is a huge step forward for the group.

We will share our thoughts and feelings on a topic.

If the group agrees not to triangulate, a person could avoid the situation by never talking to anyone about his or her ideas or reservations. The solution is a separate guideline that requires everyone to speak their minds. The group can’t deal with issues unless they are brought out into the open for discussion. The Designed Alliance helps to create an environment and a culture where people talk and solve problems and share perspectives in a positive way. However, ultimately, it’s up to us as supervisors to maintain a safe space where people are comfortable proposing opposing views. If people believe that they will be harassed or ignored, no amount of coercion will get them to share their opinions.

The Designed Alliance is a powerful tool that helps to create the psychological safety that a team or group need to excel. We work better when we feel free to share our ideas, disagree, and take reasonable risks.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.


Podcast: Feelings! We are all OK!


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One must identify both the fact and feeling parts of a situation in order to deal with it effectively or to communicate clearly. That means it’s important to identify how others feel about it and how we feel about it. We also want to consciously cultivate positive feelings towards ourselves and others. All doable things that make us more resilient, happy, and healthy.