Phases of Life


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I was talking to my oldest son, who has two very young children. We were discussing books that tell us how to live our lives. He said that he was tired of books that advocated grabbing life by the horns and living your passion. It’s not surprising that those types of books would overwhelm a man covered over with diapers who exists in a state of constant sleep deprivation.

The book that did give him peace was called Abandonment to Divine Providence, written by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade in the 18th century. It’s a Christian book that advocates accepting that all experiences are a part of God’s plan. My son said that the book encourages one to live in the moment and accept life’s challenges as growth experiences. He said, “I’ve accepted that I am not going to make any great intellectual pursuits right now.”

His observations made total sense to me. In my youth, I also had the urge to live life all at once. I felt that I had to achieve everything – family, career, financial success, personal growth – when I was in my 20s and 30s. It’s an exhausting way of life and very difficult to be excellent at everything.

Now, I have the advantage of hindsight. When I look back over the almost 60 years of my life, I can clearly see the phases I experienced. I was a child and then an adolescent. I experienced high school and then went on to college. Shortly after graduating, I got married. Six years after that, I had my oldest son, and then my youngest son almost two years after that. Then I was a mom of children, adolescents, young adults, and finally, mature men. Now I am also single and a grandmother. I’ve lived lots of phases and enjoyed each one.

My first lesson about living in the present phase of life was in high school. Many of my peers wanted to be older. Some of them smoked and drank and looked very cool. Being and looking cooler than everyone else seemed to be their goal. They didn’t want to be silly, and their heartiest laughs were at someone else’s expense.

Frankly, I didn’t understand their behavior. I could see that this was a wonderful time in our lives that would never come again. We were young and foolish because of our lack of experience. Trying not to look foolish must have been exhausting.

My high school peers who tried to be older missed much of what is great about high school because they weren’t all-in. I’ve talked before about the importance of being all-in, but I haven’t discussed the broad perspective that helps us live fully engaged.

When my children were small, I longed to get out the door and begin a career. I felt like I had to do it right that second. For many reasons, I became a stay-at-home mom. However, I remembered the lesson I learned during high school and decided that living one way and yearning for another would not be healthy for any of us. I decided intentionally to go all-in during the Mom of Young Children phase.

And we had a blast! We did library story times, mom-and-me swim classes, and music workshops. I changed a million diapers and slept very little. I read about Peter Rabbit, Mr. Gumpy, and dinosaurs. Every now and then I longed to get out and live some of life on my own, but I didn’t. I went all-in on being the mom of young children,

Now, before you think I am bashing working moms, I am not. I know from experience that completely leaving the job market for 15 years is not the greatest idea. It was way harder to re-enter than I thought it would be. One should always be ready to jump into self-sufficiency. Life throws curveballs at you, and sometimes the ball hits you.

What I am suggesting is that it’s okay not to go full-throttle on everything. In truth, we only have so much time in a day. We don’t have enough time to be stellar at many things. Something has to be a priority. Deciding what’s first makes all of life’s decisions easier. Dropping things that can wait a bit or giving them less emphasis can feel like a weight lifted off our shoulders.

In the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, the author, Greg McKeown, advocates distilling the tasks in our lives down to the ones that bring meaning and joy. The inside jacket cover says:

“Essentialism is more than a time management strategy or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.”

I want to add that it’s best if we determine what is essential for each phase of life. What’s essential when I’m 26 is not what’s essential when I’m 59. We need to apply the principles of essentialism in each new phase of life.

It’s easier if we realize that we have a lifetime to achieve our goals. We don’t have to get it all done right this second. When my grandchildren start school and become more self-sufficient, my son will have a bit of time for intellectual pursuits. When they start driving, he will have long stretches of time to read while he waits for them to come home safely. When they are grown, he will have more time on his hands than he knows what to do with.

Now, I am embracing the freedom that comes from living alone. I can get up when I want, eat what I want, and watch what I want. It’s fabulous! I spend money on plants and pots to my heart’s content. I listen to my 70s music with nary an eye roll or heavy sigh. I call my condo Xanadu because it’s a bit glitzier than what I had in my previous life, and I change the temperature to match my menopausal comfort at the moment. It is glorious.

Once again, I am not bashing marriage or having a partner. It’s all about appreciating what is in your life and deciding in this moment what is most important. There are glorious, fabulous things about being married, as well. We want to identify the life phase we are in, revel in its glory, and focus on the essentials.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a marathon that takes us through some wonderfully diverse places. If we constantly get ready for the next phase, we are missing the beautiful view and the wondrous people around us right now. Pace yourself! Enjoy the fleeting things in your life. They will leave and be replaced by new fabulous things. Don’t miss any of it by skipping ahead to the end. Live each phase of life fully!

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Perils of the Brain Dump


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When we visit homes with children, they often want to show us treasured belongings and tell us about things that are important to them. I’ve noticed that some adults behave in the same way. They have an urgent need to expel every thought in their brains through their mouths. I call it a Brain Dump.

The compulsion to say whatever we think is similar to the need we feel to finish things like puzzles. In leadership workshops, I use simple children’s puzzles in one exercise. I often halt the exercise when the puzzle is only partially done. I know from experience that I might as well let them finish the puzzle before they put it away. If I don’t, I hear complaints and there is a tangible feeling of being incomplete in the room. No one is ready to move on to our discussion until the puzzles are done.

I used to be like the children who share their thoughts and observations all the time. I thought it, then wanted to share it. After all, I’m a smart person with brilliant observations to share! Then I realized that no one was really interested in most of what I had to say outside of leadership workshops.

It hit me that my rambling and sharing was actually a colossal waste of time. I was saying things I already knew. The object of my Brain Dump wasn’t listening. Okay, maybe they were half-listening or pretending to listen, but they weren’t taking in the information for later use. Worse yet, I sometimes told stories that hinted at who I was, but they weren’t pertinent to my hapless listener.

I also realized that my Brain Dumps were harming the positivity of the relationship I had with my listener. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a proponent of positive relationships. You will also know that you need a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative ones in order to maintain a positive relationship. My listeners were not considering my Brain Dumps as a positive interaction.

About this same time, I came across a study, which I cannot find now. If you know of it, please drop me a line. Anyway, whether I’ve remembered it exactly or not, it had an enormous impact on my life.

They put CEOs in a room and had employees go in and talk with them. For the first round, the CEOs received no instructions and they talked quite a bit during the interactions. When interviewed afterward, the employees were not that impressed with the CEOs.

During the second round with a new group of employees, the CEOs were told not to talk. They were to keep silent as much as possible. In the interviews after the discussions, the employees reported that the CEOs were intelligent and good leaders. The CEOs made a better impression when they were quiet! Showing they were knowledgeable experts worked against them.

Unless in a leadership workshop where I was paid to talk, I worked to remain silent as much as possible. It was hard. It takes a lot of self-management to be quiet when you have a burning desire to show your smarts or solve someone’s problem or tell a funny story. It made me feel uncomfortable. It was like sitting and looking at an unsolved puzzle and not moving to put in the piece that I could see fit in one specific spot.

The ability to refrain from Brain Dumping is a sign of emotional intelligence. Quick refresher: emotional intelligence in its simplest form is self-awareness, self-management, relationship awareness, and relationship management. Self-management is one of the trickiest bits, and it relies on self-awareness.

In this particular case, I become aware of the negative effect that my Brain Dumping was having on other people (relationship awareness). I analyzed my need to share and realized that it was tied firmly to my own ego (self-awareness). Then I began to work to change my behavior (self-management), which improved my relationships with others (relationship management). Ta-da! A wonderful example of the power of emotional intelligence.

Exceptional leaders are emotionally intelligent. Like all other skills, we increase our proficiency with practice. I still indulge in bending someone’s ear now and again, but after much time I feel peaceful when I don’t.

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Are you having a good time? WE LOVE IT HERE!


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Until now, I haven’t shared with many people that I was a cheerleader in high school. Although I would not become a cheerleader now nor necessarily advocate it for any young person, it’s who I was at that time in my life.

I learned some valuable leadership lessons about motivating others as a cheerleader. I mean real lessons about how to get people to do things, not just yelling in unison. Recently, I realized that one of the most valuable lessons was about motivating myself.

Cheerleading camp was a grueling, week-long ordeal. We got up at dawn and were jumping, cheering, and yelling for most of the day. Several times we met as one huge group.

The leader of the camp would yell out, “Are you having a good time?”

Our thundering answer was, “We love it here!”

I used the phrase and technique on my children as they grew up. I remember several times sitting in the car with them when circumstances were less than ideal. I would ask in a loud and cheerful voice, “Are we having a good time?”

They would answer in a grudging, sarcastic tone, “We love it here.” However, it did cheer them up. They smiled. There is something silly about the process. More importantly, it underlines the fact that we do get to decide whether or not we like it here.

Recently, I was reminded of a story I’ve seen online several times. It’s probably not true, but it contains a valuable lesson. The story is about an old woman who is moving into a nursing home. In the story, she has never seen her room there.

As an attendant takes the old woman up in the elevator, she says casually, “I hope that you like your new home.”

The old woman answers, “I am going to love it.”

The attendant displays incredibly poor customer service skills and asks, “How can you know that? You haven’t seen it.”

The old woman says, “Because I’ve already decided to like it.”

I’ve been having some difficulty adjusting to my new and smaller home, so the memory of cheerleading camp and the story of the old woman going into the nursing home came at an opportune time. They reminded me that I get to choose how I feel about things. I am choosing to love it here!

The cheerleading camp memory and the story also give clues to the answer to a question that I am asked in leadership workshops all the time. At the beginning of a leadership series, we discuss the important qualities of a leader. We think of leaders in our lives who were truly motivating and inspiring. I ask the group, “Did that leader have a positive attitude?”

They always answer yes. Then I ask, “Do you feel that the leader cared about you?” I always get a resounding yes. I remind them of the old saying (sometimes misattributed to Theodore Roosevelt): “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

We don’t give our best to people whom we believe do not have our best interests at heart. Caring is a basic motivational technique. However, caring about everyone can be a challenge. The question that I get over and over is, “How can I care about people who I don’t like?”

I struggled with the answer until I realized that like the old woman in the elevator, we decide to.

Deciding to like a situation or care about a person is not easy because it’s not a one-and-done decision. We must continue to decide every second of every day until one day, it just happens on its own. The new way of thinking becomes a habit that we have created with intentional effort.

There are other things that help us care and have empathy for others. Reading books improves empathy. Of course, there is a lot of research behind the Loving Kindness Meditation in which I firmly believe.

We can wave around the Magic Wand of Destiny by making intentional choices in every aspect of our lives. It isn’t always easy and takes constant vigilance to create an attitude or feeling. However, realizing that we can is empowering and life-changing.

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Learning for the Ones You Love – and Work With


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When my boys were young, they loved Pokémon. They loved the cartoon, the toys, and the card game. The Pokémon card game is too hard for an elementary school child to figure out on his or her own, so I read the rules and taught them how to play.

We spent a lot of time together playing the Pokémon card game. I created my own kick-ass fire deck. We went to tournaments at libraries, where I played other parents while the boys played other children.

Once a month, we went to a mall to pick up comic books and buy Pokémon booster packs. We would all sit on a bench together and open our small pack of cards. We’d squeal over the holographic cards and compare our new cards to our old ones.

Now, if I did any of the activities now, on my own, at almost 60 years old, I’d be labeled a nutcase. No grown woman would collect Pokémon cards and hang out at tournaments gleefully trouncing the puffed-up dads who are pretty sure they are going to win. Okay, wait. That does sound kinda fun – but not the best use of my time nowadays.

It was a good investment of my time when my children were young because it was an investment in them and in our relationship. They loved Pokémon, so I learned about Pokémon so that we could have conversations that were interesting to them. I supported them in achieving their goal of learning to play the card game. I spent time with them doing something they enjoyed.

In order to create a positive relationship, we need to maintain a positivity ratio of at least 5:1. When parenting, we are doing a lot of correcting and disciplining. Finding five positive things to say for every one negative thing can be a challenge – if you are not interested in what they are interested in.

The same concept applies to other relationships. My friend, Bobbi, let me live with her for five months when I was in a life transition. She is 70-something years old, a ball of energy, and an artist. One of the things that she loves to do is create huge pictures on cardboard for her church’s vacation bible school. It’s a huge job, and she creates wonderful drawings of things like polar bears and pagodas.

Bobbi was worried about getting them all done on time, so I spent a day helping her paint. My job was basically to color between the lines. Now, painting isn’t my thing, but this task is important to Bobbi. She is a dear friend, so it’s important to me. We had a great day painting in her garage, chatting, and having a delicious lunch that she fixed. I learned about the best ways to stay in the lines with various brushes.

Positive relationships are also crucial for exceptional leadership. Just like in parenting, we are watching employees and correcting them when necessary, which means that we need to be looking for ways to have positive interactions.

One way to create more positive interactions is to learn about what is important to employees and peers at work. We don’t, however, need to help everyone at work with their pet projects. It’s as easy as listening and asking curious questions.

We don’t even have to do outside research! We can just ask. People love to talk about the things that they enjoy.

This part of asking curious questions is crucial: We must be genuinely curious. If we ask people questions and only half listen – or worse – pretend to listen and care, they will feel slighted. We can all tell when someone is faking interest. It feels very patronizing.

Exceptional leaders are learners. We must tap into our inner learner and look at each interaction as a chance to learn something we didn’t know before. If someone likes to fish on the weekends, he or she is a wealth of fishing information. There is so much to learn from a subject matter expert.

By asking people questions about what interests them, I’ve learned about knitting, drawing, orchid care, football, cooking techniques, technological gadgets, and tires – just to name a few topics. What people know is amazing!

The bottom line is that learning from people about what interests them is a great way to develop and enhance the positivity of our relationships with them. And it’s fun! Learning something new every day keeps our brains working and gives us a broader knowledge base. You never know when one of the tidbits that you’ve learned will come in handy!

If you ever need some large-scale coloring done or want to play a round of the Pokémon card game, I am the person to call!

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breadcrumb trail

In a recent workshop, one of my creative participants created the verb “breadcrumbing.” I love it! It’s a great description of how we work to get someone to follow our train of thought and come to our conclusion.

When participants practice coaching in workshops, everyone uses a real-life challenge. We all coach each other on something that’s been on our to-do list or New Year’s resolution list for a while.

The coaching discussion goes through several stages. It follows the Discussion Process that I also use for effective communication and conflict workshops. We spend a long time asking questions in the Discover and Share step of the process.

And! – not just any questions. In the Discover and Share stage, we ask big-picture questions about how the person sees and feels about the situation. The first goal of coaching is to raise awareness, and we do that by getting the person being coached to try out different perspectives.

Here are some sample questions for the Discover and Share stage:

  • What obstacles are you facing?
  • What feelings are present?
  • Have you faced a challenge like this before? If so, how did you deal with it?
  • Do you see any patterns here?
  • If circumstances were perfect, what would the situation look like? Is there a way to create those circumstances?

If the person is really stuck, it’s time to get the creative juices flowing. We can ask them to look at their challenge from the eagle, ant, gold, flowing, sparkly, or dirt perspective. Just look around the room you are in and pick something. There aren’t any right answers or wrong questions. We just want to get them thinking creatively.

We do not want to lead them down a specific path. After we hear someone’s challenge, we sometimes feel that we know exactly what he or she needs to do. We aren’t supposed to tell people what to do in a coaching session, so we try and lead them to our solutions. We ask questions that begin with  “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to…” or “Have you thought about…” When I listen in on coaching sessions in workshops, I hear these types of questions a lot.

In one workshop, I stopped the group and reiterated how important it was to ask open-ended questions to help the coachees get unstuck from one single way of looking at the challenge. I told them that when they used leading questions, they were laying down a trail of breadcrumbs for the coachee to follow that led to their own solution. I reminded them that our goal is to let them wander around until they find their own path and solution.

When I checked in on one partnership, my creative participant said, “She was breadcrumbing me.” I knew exactly what she meant. Her partner had a solution to the challenge in mind and was trying to get her to find the same solution by asking leading questions.

It’s difficult not to breadcrumb someone. We have an idea and we want to help. The problem is that our solutions won’t usually work for other people. The solution is custom-designed for us and our lives. More importantly, the person being coached doesn’t feel any ownership of that particular answer.

My sister (who has given me permission to use her story) told me that she was due to see her therapist, but didn’t want to go because she hadn’t done her homework. She was supposed to write a list of something. I asked her why she hadn’t done it, and she said that she didn’t want to. As it turns out, it was the therapist’s solution to my sister’s problem.

“No wonder you haven’t done it!” I exclaimed. “It wasn’t your idea, and it doesn’t solve the problem as you see it.”

“You’re right,” she said. “I don’t see the point is taking time to make the list.”

The people we coach feel the same way. We just need to hang in there and have faith that with a little nudging and some curious questions that they will find the answers that make sense to them.

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Conversation Container


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The topic of how to create the best conditions for a conversation has popped up a lot lately. It’s not something that I see in leadership and conversation literature, but it is absolutely crucial to a successful conversation.

So what makes a conversation successful? There are at least a couple of things. From a leadership perspective, we want to develop or enhance a positive relationship. Leadership is all about creating positive relationships. I promise that this does not mean we are going to be pushovers.

Second, we want to have a clear outcome in mind. If an employee has a grievance, our goal is to find a resolution. We do not want to decide ahead of time what the resolution will look like; that’s what the conversation is for. You can read more about holding onto your outcome here.

We know that the beginning of a conversation is important. Couples relationship expert John Gottman found in his research that conversations that start harshly will end harshly more than 90% of the time. Those percentages are a good incentive to pay attention to how we open a conversation.

The way to ensure that we begin well is to pay attention to our mindset before we go into a conversation. Intentionally or not, we bring certain qualities or perspectives with us when we start talking with someone. If I’m angry, I might bring an adversarial attitude. If it’s important to me to look smart, I could bring in a know-it-all mindset. In systems coaching, we call those metaskills, and neither of those examples is going to help create a positive relationship or achieve the desired outcome.

Deciding what metaskills to bring into a conversation is harder than it sounds. In workshops, I ask groups to come up with the qualities and mindset that would create the most helpful container for conversations with a blamer, a screamer, a cryer, a know-it-all, and a person with an excuse for everything. When I walk around the room at the beginning of their discussions, I hear things like, “They need to understand…” and “We have to make it clear…” They are not talking about metaskills; they are talking about how to get to the outcome before they’ve even started this imaginary conversation.

I stop the discussions and redirect them. I ask, “Who do you need to be in order to have a reasonable and productive conversation with these people?” In other words, what type of person do you need to be? Do you need to be a patient person? A calm person? An angry person? An impatient person?

They go back to their group discussions and come up with great lists of qualities. Each group has a different type of person, but their lists contain similar metaskills. They decide they would want to be kind, patient, calm, firm, open-minded, respectful, empathetic, and professional. Being a person with those qualities will help them to have a reasonable conversation because they are creating a supportive container for the conversation. The qualities we embody are the metaskills that create the container.

Several clients have reported amazing outcomes from this practice. One told the story of facing a conversation with an employee who was angry about being passed over for a promotion. She took a minute and thought of how the employee must feel – angry, disappointed, and frustrated. He was entitled to feel that way. Although the decision was a fair one, it didn’t take away the sting of rejection.

My client’s normal style was to meet anger with anger. Instead, she met the employee’s anger with empathy and said things like, “Yes, I can understand why you are upset.” It was not the response the employee was expecting! He was expecting a good row! Instead, his anger dissipated, and the conversation turned to things that he could do to improve his chances next time around. By changing the container for the conversation, my client changed the entire tenor and outcome.

It’s important to note that kindness and firmness are not mutually exclusive. We can hold people accountable in a firm way and also be kind. It’s easy if we truly have the other person’s best interests at heart. Exceptional leaders know that their success is dependent on the success of everyone around them, which means they hold high standards and help people meet them. The best leaders know that figuring out how to meet goals and standards is a dialogue that happens best in a conversation container of respect and a true desire for others’ success.


Creating Positive Relationships


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One of the essential elements of extraordinary leadership is the ability to create and maintain positive relationships. In fact, we are happier and more successful as parents, spouses, friends, family members, and humans if we are amidst positive relationships. As leaders, we cannot cultivate the personal power that we need to motivate others unless we can create positive relationships. You can read more about the power of positivity and positive relationships here.

Research shows we need at least a five-to-one ratio of positive interactions to not-positive interactions in order to maintain a positive relationship. In one study, simply asking a student how homework was going was considered a negative interaction. Wow. That sets the bar for a positive interaction pretty high. The reality is that we don’t have a lot of positive interactions with others.

I first realized how few positive things that I was saying to others when my sons were in high school. I was in my coach training with the Coaches Training Institute. We had talked about the power of appreciation and acknowledgments. I realized that some days, I didn’t say even one nice thing to my children. I committed to saying at least one nice thing a day to each of them.

This tactic is a great way to start creating positive relationships. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it is doable. It’s essential that the acknowledgment or appreciation be sincere. Bad nonverbal communication can kill a nice statement. Any hint of sarcasm will sabotage your efforts. Start by saying things that you truly believe.

The comments must never be about the appearance of a person; that is a compliment and not what we are going for. We want to say something meaningful about the person, which is an acknowledgment. Our other option is to show appreciation for an action. For me, appreciation is easier, so I started with that.

When I saw my sons doing something that I wanted to see them do again, I made a statement about it. I said things like, “Thank you for putting your dishes in the sink. I really appreciate it.” I meant it! I did appreciate them putting the dishes in the sink. I appreciated when they put away their laundry, drove safely, helped each other, and mowed the grass.

After telling them what I appreciated, I then told them why. The why is an important piece of the appreciation message. I was grateful when they mowed the lawn because it was an enormous effort for me that wiped me out for the rest of the day when I did it. I appreciated them putting the dishes in the sink because it made cleaning up after meals much faster – and I didn’t like that task any more than they did.

People are more likely to repeat the action when you comment on it in a positive way. They know you like it, and they like being appreciated. Maybe they never saw it as important before and now realize it’s a big deal to you. For whatever reason, people do things more often when they feel that those things are appreciated. Appreciation also builds the overall positivity of a relationship. It’s a win-win.

Acknowledgments are more difficult and more powerful. When we give someone an acknowledgment, we are commenting on positive qualities of that person – not their actions or their appearance – though an acknowledgment can begin by noticing an action. After all, we show our qualities through our actions.

I could say, “I saw you helping your brother with his physics homework. You are a kind person who takes time to help others.” Here is another example: “I was watching you work out in the driveway. You really are consistent in your exercising, and you are getting stronger. I admire your willpower and determination.”

It’s essential that the things we say are true. We can’t run around saying things we don’t mean. Trust me, people can tell if you are insincere. As I looked for positive things to say to my sons who were and are outstanding human beings, I wasn’t making things up. All their great qualities were there. Some I was aware of. Others I noticed for the first time as I began to really pay attention to who my sons were.

The sad part is that I had not told them much of the good I saw and felt for them. I’m not sure why. Part of the reason harkens back to the fact that we are hardwired to notice and hang on to the negative. Noticing the good around us is not something that comes naturally or that we are trained to do. I’m sure the fact that they were surly teenagers was also a contributing factor. Also, I just wasn’t very good at sharing feelings. Looking for positive actions and the good in others is a new habit that we must form. Forming new habits takes work.

I started by saying one positive thing a day. Weirdly enough, it was difficult, and I would forget my intention. However, over time giving appreciation and acknowledgments got easier. It felt more natural. I was in the habit of looking for good things and commenting on them. Believe me, that is huge! The ability to easily and naturally see the positive qualities and actions of others is crucial for great leadership.

My two sons were suspicious of my new behavior at first. I was talking to them in a different way suddenly. I’m sure that they wondered what I was up to. I told them after a bit. Transparency is usually the best way to go. I told them that I was working to notice and comment on the good things around me and that they were definitely some of the best things around me.

A delightful outcome that I didn’t see coming was that my high school-aged sons began saying nice things back. They told me when they appreciated things I was doing. They even pointed out some of my strengths. I cannot begin to express how touching that is. The dynamics of our relationships changed for the better.

Violá! We created positive relationships by increasing our number of positive interactions. When I say something positive about someone, it is positive for both of us, and vice versa. The boys and I enjoyed each other’s company more and increased our level of trust, which led to more meaningful conversations.

Saying one positive thing to someone every day is a simple way to begin to create a positive relationship. Man, there is no better way to decrease our expenditure of emotional pennies than to create positive relationships. The results are extraordinary, which is what we are looking for in extraordinary leadership.

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

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

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


 Going All In


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I recently spoke to my Ex-Husband, Oldest Son, and Youngest Son all in one day. There was a time when I would have felt that it had been a wonderful day. However, times are not what they were, and all three conversations were distinctly unsatisfying.

The bottom line is that three people who were once closest to me and each other aren’t close at all anymore. The reason is a series of complicated stories that are not mine alone to tell. It feels like a Greek tragedy where everyone has done what they had to do to be true to themselves and no one is wrong, yet no one is exactly right, either.

The conversations unsettled me. I wallowed a bit in the fact that I have failed in one of my life’s major goals. I spent decades creating a loving family. At 22 years old, I decided to marry my Ex and make family the center of my life. I consciously decided to make family my first priority and career second. I gave up a job offer at a prominent PR firm to follow my new husband to Germany. It was a choice, and I made it on purpose.

My Ex and I had six years together before we had Oldest Son. They were very happy times. We were young, healthy, hopeful, and in love. My decision to put family first appeared to be a very good one.

Then we had Oldest and Youngest Sons within two years of each other. We were a young military family who stuck together as we moved. My mother moved in with us and made us a happy family of five. My decision to put family first appeared to be a very good one.

The kids grew, and we were all a team. We all supported my Ex in his military career. It felt good to have common goals and to work together at Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and military life. My mom’s presence made our lives easier and more fun. I enjoyed all the phases of being a mom and staying home with my two boys. My decision to put family first appeared to be a very good one.

We had rough years individually and together. The boys were teens who made some bad teenage decisions, but we got through. They became young men in college who made some more not-great decisions, but we got through. My Ex deployed twice, and I had brain surgery during the first deployment. Tough times, but we got through. I began to work and felt like I could jump in and progress quickly in a long-postponed career. My decision to put family first still felt like a good decision.

My decision to put family first was influenced by a story that my high school basketball coach told me. He was divorced and single at that time. He told me that he had spent Christmas day alone, driving through town looking at all the lights. He said it was nice, but the melancholy tone in his voice and the pained look in his eyes told a different story. At 15 years old I decided that I never wanted to find myself in that position. I wanted always to have family around me for holidays.

Fast forward to now. I live alone in a small condo. I share walls and ceiling with others. My beloved Honda Pilot whom I call Amber sits out front with no shelter. She is my view from my front windows. Other people’s vehicles are my view in the back. Not one relative lives in the state that I live in. Oldest son lives with my grandchildren in New Jersey. Youngest son and his new bride live in Texas near my sister and her family. I am now almost 60 years old. I’ve spent a lifetime creating a family that has disintegrated. Putting family first doesn’t feel like the best decision I’ve ever made. Maybe it was and I just failed. I failed at my life’s main work.

Now, I spend most of my time alone. I have good friends where I live. I enjoy them and depend on them. I am working to create a community here. I visit Oldest Son and Youngest Son individually. It is Plan B. Plan A failed, and I feel like a failure trying to make the best of a situation I do not want to be in.

After wallowing about the unplanned results of my life and my feeling of being a complete failure, I remembered the most valuable lesson that I learned when getting my MBA. It was taught in terms of financial investments, but it applies to all aspects of life. When deciding what to do when moving forward, do not consider the sunk costs – what’s already been invested. Forget the past, and look hard at the present. Given the current situation with no thought to the past, what is the best thing to do? I translate that to: We are where we are. What do we do from here? More accurately now: I am where I am. What do I do from here?

Not considering past expectations removes an enormous emotional burden. I use a hurricane metaphor to help me get past the recent changes in life. A huge hurricane came through that destroyed everything and caused me to start life again. It wasn’t my fault, and there was nothing I could have done to avoid it. That mindset helps me see the current situation more clearly because it clears all regrets. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter. I am where I am, and blame and failure are irrelevant. Nothing can change the present.

The future is another matter. It can be changed! Or not. I could continue to wallow and rewind the past in my head, which would lead to an icky future that is not much different than the present. Good thing I have a Magic Wand of Destiny and the Power of Choice. I’ve written a lot about goals, making intentional choices, finding your Big Why, and taking baby steps forward. Insert all of that information here. I am assessing my current situation objectively, finding my motivation, and making a plan.

However, there is another thing to consider that will help – mindset. I read a story in leadership workshops from the book Whistle While You Work by Richard Leider and David Shapiro. Leider tells about a time that he went on an East African adventure with Outward Bound. The group found themselves walking through tall grass, and one person saw a lion. The grass is called Lion Grass because it’s one of a lion’s favorite hunting grounds.

The gravity and danger of their situation suddenly hit home to the person who had seen the lion. He sat down and refused to go on. He wanted to turn back, but the truck that had dropped them off was en route to the meeting place ahead of them. There was nowhere to go back to. I can definitely relate to the situation and the feeling!

The leader talked with the shaken man and explained the situation. It didn’t help. The man refused to move. Then the leader offered an Outward Bound motto: “If you can’t get out of it, get into it!” In other words, if there is no way to remove yourself from an unwanted situation, the answer is to completely get into it so you can move yourself through it as quickly as possible.

I’ve actually reminded myself of this concept several times throughout my life. If I took on a task or job that I didn’t like but didn’t want to quit, I chose to completely get into it. The journey was less painful, I was successful, and the end seemed to arrive more quickly.

So, what does “getting into it” look like? It’s about being all in. A friend once told me that she liked watching me play basketball in high school because when I played, I was all in. To me, it means that no part of me is playing the observer; all of me is completely present in the experience.

That is how I want to be now as I create a life that is nowhere near the expectations I held for decades. I want to be all in. I want to really get into it. I want to be fully engaged with no part of me sitting on the sidelines complaining or being hesitant. I am drawing my line in the sand and stepping over it into a life I completely accept and intend to enjoy. I am where I am, and I’ve decided to like it.

P.S. This little girl is my current role model:

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Working at Renewal


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I had a revelation while meditating one morning.  It wasn’t a World-Altering Revelation.  It was more of a Well-That-Will-Make-Life-Better Revelation.  Frankly, I have those pretty often because I’m a thinker, an analyzer, a how-can-we-make-this-easier kind of person who usually has her brain turned on and in high gear.

I don’t meditate as regularly as I’d like, but I’m working on it in light of research by Richard Boyatzis, coauthor of Primal Leadership.  He found that one of the antidotes for leadership burnout is mindfulness and that can be achieved with meditation.  (In case you are wondering, the other avenues of renewal are compassion, playfulness, and hope.)  The key in all categories of renewal is that you must do at least one from any category EVERY DAY!  You have to work at rejuvenation!

Well, that isn’t exactly true and the idea of “working” at meditation was altered by my morning revelation.  I’ve always looked at meditation as an exercise in self-discipline and mind control.  The goal is a sort of Vulcan-like ability to stay laser-focused during meditation.  The result is the ability to carry that focus and calm out into the world.  Don’t get me wrong, self-discipline is important; it’s one of the major pieces of Emotional Intelligence, but it wasn’t helping me on the renewal front as a way to meditate.  Convincing my brain to sit still and be quiet is exhausting, not rejuvenating!

I discovered my new way of viewing meditation by accident.  I was trying different mantras and imagined what words or sounds my leadership series participants would come up with if I had them do this exercise with me.  With each inflow and outflow of breath, I could hear them thinking, “Hate…… this” or “Help….. me.”  They have resisted my meditation exercises in the past.

Then I started thinking of things I could suggest to them instead.  I started with:  “Love…. Joy,” “Peace…. Harmony,” “Calm…. Life.”  Then I started getting silly: “Puppies…. Kittens,” “Sweet-smelling….. Babies,” “Brilliant… flowers.”  I was reminded of the pictures that I flashed up on the big screen during one of our sessions.  I showed them cute puppies, adorable babies, alluring kittens, and beautiful flowers to let them feel a Positive Emotional Attractor state (PEA) – a term used by Boyatzis to describe a state when we are more open to influence and more creative.  I’ve called it “Finding Your Happy Place” in the past, but now I think it’s more accurate to describe it as “Relaxing Into Your Happy Place.”


It occurred to me that getting into the PEA was the real fuel for renewal.  I felt lighter, happier, and more relaxed as I continued to visualize happy thoughts. I maintained the focus on the feelings I was having, and it felt like I was activating my heart.  I like that phrase – activating your heart.

The lovely side effect of activating the heart is that it deactivates the brain.  When I focus on feeling, it’s really hard to think.  What I realized is that for meditation to have a regenerative effect for me, it must be an exercise in feeling and activating the heart.  Once my heart is in the driver’s seat, my brain really can get some rest and that results in me being a calmer, nicer person.

Now that I think about it, this revelation could lead to a more positive world if we all managed to improve our outlook and increase our positivity through heart-activating meditation.  Maybe it was a World-Altering Revelation after all.




In a leadership workshop, we had a conversation about whether compartmentalization is a good or bad thing. We discussed some interesting perspectives.

To start, let’s define what we mean by compartmentalization. When we compartmentalize, we separate objects, feelings, thoughts, or information into isolated compartments or categories. For example, I love going to The Container Store because it offers me all sorts of ways to organize the items in my life. I can separate the jumbled items in my bathroom drawer so that they are all easy to find. I am a fan of compartmentalization for items.

Information can be organized and compartmentalized for ease of retrieval and use. Databases and an organized computer desktop, for example, can make our lives much easier.

I think compartmentalization that happens outside of ourselves is good for the most part. By separating items and information into categories, we find them more easily. We require less hunting and brain power. It lowers our use of emotional pennies, which is always a good thing.

What about the internal compartmentalization that we do? It can be a healthy practice to keep our work separate from our home life. I remember reading about a man who stopped at a tree in his front yard each day when he arrived home from work. He pantomimed taking a large necklace off himself and placing it on the branch of a tree. He was mentally taking the worries and responsibilities of the day from himself and leaving them outside so they didn’t affect his time with his family. That’s a great practice!

How about the other way around? Can we leave all our home life at the door when we go to work? The answer is “not entirely.” When we refuse to share anything about our lives and our interests, we inhibit our ability to create positive relationships with people at work. We make it more difficult to create trust with our coworkers. We don’t have to share everything from home at work, but we do need to share a bit of ourselves with others.

Actually, we don’t want to share everything! We want to stay appropriate and professional. When I was in the throes of my divorce, I was in a lot of emotional turmoil. I didn’t need to share the depth of my despair or details of my personal life with participants in my workshops. It wouldn’t help them learn; it would, in fact, have been a distraction. I did tell them what was going on at the highest level that I could manage because I share stories about myself in workshops. I did not, however, share details of the situation or my emotions.

As a leader, it can be difficult to know how much to compartmentalize. Neither extreme is good for building positive work relationships. We can’t keep our lives completely to ourselves, and we don’t want to share every detail. We must find the place on the spectrum that is appropriate for us and the culture of our workplace.

Now let’s talk about when it isn’t appropriate to compartmentalize. This discussion requires us to go back to the concept of the 3rd Entity. Two or more people make us a system. This system or relationship is called the 3rd Entity in systems coaching. As a member of the system, everything that I think and feel is a part of the system. If I hold back, I am keeping something relevant to the 3rd Entity to myself.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that I am a member of a customer service team. I feel that we are not using the correct criteria to provide our customer service. Our conversations are timed, and we have little authority to make things right for a customer. I feel that we would be more effective if we weren’t in a rush and had some leeway on what we could offer customers. However, I keep my thoughts to myself. I am angry about the limitations, and my teammates can see my anger but don’t know what it is about.

I am compartmentalizing my anger – stuffing it down into a compartment of sorts and not talking about it. However, the anger is still present, and the system can’t do anything about it because it doesn’t know what is wrong. If the feeling, thought, idea, or information is relevant to the system, the system should know about it. If I share my thoughts and feelings, the system, my team, can then react. They may not make all the changes that I want, but by listening and sharing in a professional way, we increase the positivity of our relationship. Transparency rather than compartmentalization is usually the most effective way to keep a system (a.k.a. organization) performing at its best.

Leadership is an art, not a science. As leaders we are constantly making decisions that affect the individuals in our organization and the organization itself. How much to compartmentalize is one of those difficult decisions. Asking whether or not a potential action will benefit only us or also help the 3rd Entity in question is always a good place to start.

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

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

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