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“Just Stop It,” Rarely Works

May 30, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 11:39 am

Recently Harvard Business Review (subscription required)  had an article by a former CEO  explaining that he used to be a micro-manager.

He’s retired now, but the executive said that he didn’t realize what he was doing until one of his senior employees  told  him to “back off,” because he was “driving them all crazy.” Of course the CEO did and the the company has gone on to reach great heights. Everyone lived happily ever after.

While the whole premise of a CEO pointing out his or her own failures (in the magazine’s Failure Chronicles section) is a bit self serving, I have to admit I find it a bit disconnected from reality. The point was brought home recently when a new client of mine, called to ask for some career help.

We talked about why she might be leaving her current job, and she made the same point. ‘My boss is driving me crazy, with her micro-managing,” she said. My client has been with the company for almost 10 years and her boss has been there even longer, so she’s no rookie, and she admits her boss has always had the same problem.

She’s a senior manager and told me she’s tried to confront her boss, but that her boss  just did not see the issue the same way. As an example she told me that  in 2010 they had decided to update their logo, and marketing materials. The project was supposed to be completed by January 1 of 2011, but as of mid-May they are still awaiting decisions on a host of minor issues that the CEO insists on making.

It would be fine, except the CEO travels extensively and will not let anyone make decisions in her absence.

My client says she has tried to talk to the CEO about micro-managing but the boss just sees it as her job and refuses to acknowledge that anyone else could make the decisions.

In my experience, this is closer to reality. CEO’s, particularly those who have come up through the company ranks, have a tough time letting go of decision-making, especially in areas where they feel comfortable. They may take on new responsibilities but they have a tough time letting subordinates make decisions.

There are other factors leading my client to look for a new opportunity, but micro-managing executives are an all  too common problem in most companies  – and a simple “stop it, you’re driving us crazy,” very rarely works.

It’s like psychotherapy the “stop it” approach may not be the best technique. If you don’t believe me, watch this.

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“Feel the Fear” – Dated but Worth a Read

May 19, 2011

Filed under: Book Review,Coaching,Management — Tags: , , — admin @ 8:00 am

I saw Susan Jeffers “Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway,” mentioned on a coaching forum and thought that it might be useful for me and my clients.

After all, the book has been around since 1987 and  launched Ms Jeffers into a leading role in the self help field. Whether or not she’s the ‘Queen of self-help” as her book jacket proclaims is probably up for debate, but she was certainly  a leading voice.

Her book is well written, easy to understand and filled with examples to help explain her theories. From that standpoint I wholeheartedly recommend it. From a coaching standpoint I think it has a great many ideas that can be applied to clients who may be stuck or afraid to take action.

This is particularly true of the first nine chapters where she presents the nuts and bolts of her approach with techniques and exercises designed to get people moving… in any direction… but at least off square one. Her concepts on reframing situations, decision making and dealing with issues holistically were pretty new in 1987.

I guess that’s where some of my reservation sneak in. As I read, I couldn’t help but think that somehow it all seemed a bit dated. I was reading the 20th anniversary edition, published in 2007, but it didn’t appear that many examples or theories had been updated. Not that people and their roadblocks change that much, but it could just have used some examples from something I could identify with more easily.

After all, in 1987 no-one knew what ‘www’ stood for, and Steve Jobs was running NEXT Computer, probably thinking, “I wonder how I could be more Important.”

Maybe it’s just living in the Bay Area, but I think the world has changed significantly since 1987.

Ms Jeffers’ last two chapters venture more into the spiritual realm, starting with love and trust and moving on to the ‘inner void.’ Worthwhile areas to explore but definitely a bit of a departure from the first chapters. Looking over some of the titles on her web page, it’s clear that she has gone on to expand many of the chapters to individual books.

But, “Feel the Fear…And do It Anyway,” is a great introduction and has lots of suggestions for dealing with clients who can’t seem to find the motivation to get started and I would recommend it.

Now, I just have to figure out why I wasn’t more motivated when I finished reading.

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Credibility and Coaching

May 11, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , — admin @ 7:29 am

A former client called recently to tell me she had a new job.

After the usual “congratulations-and-good-luck” chat she admitted that she was a bit nervous about her new post. She’s working for a very large corporation, supervising 50 employees, spread across several offices in various parts of the state.

What makes her most nervous is that it’s in a new field and the panel that interviewed her made it clear they need a ‘change agent.’  She has supervisory experience and has worked for large corporations but she was worried that her lack of expertise would lead to mistakes.

I encouraged her, explaining that if the hiring board thought she could do the job, she shouldn’t worry and pointed out that she may not have expertise in the field where the main business makes its money, but she did have plenty of experience in  marketing, which is what she will be doing.

I then offered to act as her coach again to which she replied, “They already assigned me one, I haven’t met her yet, but I know she’s best friends with my boss.”

I was encouraged that they were astute enough to have coaches on staff, but I wonder how unbiased the coach might be if she’s that close to the boss. Who knows when something, told in confidence, might slip.

I’m willing to assume that the coach is professional and can separate personal from coaching relationships, but it seems to me that she already has a a credibility issue with my friend and no matter how hard she works there will always be some doubt about who’s best interests the coach considers paramount.

It was clear from our short chat that my friend had the same reaction but it left me wondering how committed to coaching the company really was.

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A Coach for Your Boss

April 27, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 12:47 pm

A friend of mine recently asked me if I would coach his boss saying, “He really needs help, because he’s making everyone miserable.”

Of course, my  initial reaction was positive but I decided to ask a few questions first. Since I usually encounter a boss getting a coach for an employee  – the situation was bound to be awkward.

For example, does your boss want a coach? Does he know he’s making his employees miserable? Is ‘everyone’ really everyone, or just you? Maybe there’s a method to his madness.

My friend admitted he didn’t know the answers to all my questions, but he was adamant that his coworker needed help. I should note that the man in question is  his boss in title, but really a co-manager on pretty much equal footing at the company.

According to my friend he doesn’t see the problems he’s creating, and worse, sees coaching as an admission the he’s doing something wrong and needs to be fixed.

Fortunately my friend has a bit more enlightened view of my profession – if he didn’t I guess we wouldn’t be having the discussion.

I suggested several ways (some slightly tongue in cheek) we might be able to make it easier for his co-worker to see the light.

o   I could visit the company and give a management presentation for the whole staff, or just to managers since the company is relatively small.

o   I could just give him a brochure, to drop surreptitiously on his co-worker’s desk.

o   I could sign on as my friend’s coach in the hope that his fellow-employee would at least ask “who’s the new guy?”

o   He could approach their board of directors with a coaching proposal for all their managers – starting at the top.

o   He could just ask his co-worker if he would talk to me about what coaching was help him get through his misconceptions.

I don’t know what my friend will decide but my hope is that he will let me just talk to his co-worker about coaching and let him decide for himself. It’s almost impossible to be an effective coach if your client is not committed to the process, since you have to get past that fact that he was pushed into coaching before you can address any management issues.



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Negotiating an Ending

April 18, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , — admin @ 5:23 pm

Recently a new client posed a different kind of employment question. She’s a hi-tech executive working for a small private company where she is a partner – since she put up some original capital.

After 8 years, she would like to move on and has already been approached by a larger public company. We’re working on what she would like for pay and benefits, but to my surprise, she hadn’t given much thought to her exit strategy.

“My boss knows I’m unhappy, but he doesn’t care,” she says, “That’s why I want to leave.” I asked if she had tried to negotiate her departure, just like she was trying to work out a deal at the new company.

He response was a short, “Why bother,” adding that it would involve options, her original investment and a host of other issues she didn’t want to deal with. “I just want to see the look on his face when I walk in and quit,” she said.

I guess she didn’t really expect me to react, since she had asked me to help with her new job, not the old one. But I was slightly incredulous.

Why wouldn’t a negotiated settlement, with possible severance and recovery of some portion of her original investment be enough incentive to at least approach her current boss.

Her major worry was that she would be fired on the spot, a scenario that, after some evaluation, she concluded was not very likely.

She was so frustrated with her job that she was blinded to what she was leaving ‘on the table’ just for the short-term satisfaction of telling her boss off.

I pointed out that since she was just in her 30’s, leaving with at least a ‘non-negative’ settlement and her reputation intact was probably even more important than the financial aspects. I guess I got her attention and she has agreed to at least think about approaching her boss.

She’s fortunate in that she already has a new offer and not everyone can walk into their boss and demand a severance package, but it’s worth noting that how you leave a job can be just as important as how you start.

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JaMarcus Russell’s Coach

April 15, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 7:08 am

I read with some interest this week that personal coach John Lucas has quit as an advisor to former NFL quarterback Jamarcus Russell.

JaMarcus Russell

What interested me was not the actual facts of the situation but more the online reaction. For you non-sports fans, I would point out that Mr. Russell was talented college football player drafted to the NFL and signed to a $40 million contract by the Oakland Raiders. After four unsuccessful seasons, where he was accused of being out of shape, unprepared and a poor leader, he was released and has not played since.

John Lucas is a former NBA player, and drug addict who has turned his life around and now, as a personal coach,  helps young athletes get their careers back on track. Lucas had been working with Russell in Texas.

Apparently, Lucas ‘fired’ Russell this week and has told the young man to leave Texas where Lucas is based.

Of the 60 or so comments I read, many focused on the sad state of Russell’s career, but more than a few reacted to the coaching relationship. Things such as, “If he needed a personal coach, he must have been in bad shape,” or ” Only losers would need a coach.”

I can’t vouch for Mr. Lucas’s  skill, although he has a pretty good track record, but it was a bit dismaying to hear that view of coaching. Does the general public feel that only people in tough situations need help or that coaches are a last-ditch method to get things turned around?

Personal coaches can help anyone with decision making – even coaches need a coach. The list of ways that a personal coach can help a client is endless.

Usually my reaction to situations like this is simply “any publicity is good publicity,” but it would seem that the coaching profession needs a little PR help.

Most of my clients don’t feel they are losers, but that’s not a particularly good sample, since they obviously are already using a coach. But maybe one of the large international coaching organizations needs to do some research to find out what people think about the profession.

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Making Money From Emotions

March 25, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , — admin @ 12:27 pm

A week or so ago, I posted an item about identifying emotions by reading facial expressions. It was a local test that expanded on some well-known international studies about the universality of emotions.

To me it was an interesting exercise in emotional intelligence, but, as we all know, there may be other uses. Leave it to the folks at the MIT Media Lab to figure out a way to monetize your smile. Yes, there’s an App for that.

This week’s Science Friday on NPR has all the details. I don’t have any comments beyond, it figures. Let me know what you think.

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Re-inventing the Wheel at Google

March 19, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 2:49 pm

A week ago the New York Times, featured an article on a lengthy study done by Google on management practices.

I’ve been stewing about it ever since.

Despite Google’s protestations, it seems to me that they spent a year re-inventing the wheel so that their “data-driven employees” will understand their rationale in trying to improve the performances of the managers.

The study uncovered 8 secrets to better management and Google then ranked the ‘secrets’ and began implementing them. I’ll let you read the list and their implementation on your own, but any executive coach or organizational development consultant, or even any good manager could have created the list and developed a blueprint for implementation.

Yes, having data being behind your plans adds credibility, but so would successful implementation by a professional. What Google really found out what something that every other business discovers: technical expertise does not make you a good manager. Or put another way the skills that you need as an employee are not the same as those that you need as a manager.

I guess in all their vaunted testing they never realized that while logic and test-taking skills may be able to predict employee success, they do not translate directly to the ‘soft skills’ that managers need to make their employees better. Now, as competition grows and other businesses are stealing their employees, they have discovered that managing a staff takes some skill and actually translates to the bottom line.

I worked with first-time managers in a variety of industries and the one unanimous concern they have is that the technical skills that got them noticed as a potential manager have nothing to do with the skills they need once they are promoted. I guess it’s good to know that a year of research by Google has led to the same conclusion.

If that’s not re-inventing the wheel I don’t know what is.

Google has been in the fore

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Thinking About the Brain and Pain

March 8, 2011

Filed under: Book Review,Coaching,observations,Wellness — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 4:28 pm

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the brain recently. If you’ve read any of my book review posts you know I have an interest in how the brain works and what makes us, us.

But, over the last three weeks there seems to be a convergence of sorts. Two weeks ago the Wisdom 2.0 Conference was held in Mountain View. Billed as conference seeking “deeper meaning” in the modern technology-rich age, the event focused on mindfulness and trying to get participants to ‘be’ present, rather than always looking to something in the future.

The speakers were among the biggest in the field. If you are not knowledgeable in the field, trust me, those in the know, such as my wife, told me the people on stage were the thought leaders. What was more interesting to me was the attendees – well over half the crowd was made up of coaches of one type or another.

There were a few physicians, a couple of psychologists and many practitioners of mindfulness, or meditation of other holistic practices, but the largest group seemed to be coaches.

A key focus of the event was the effect of mindfulness on the brain and the enhancement of cognitive abilities.

Around the same time several articles came out noting the impact of the brain on pain.

One of them suggested that a patient’s expectations  would impact their pain level and that the expected outcome of a surgical procedure was affected by a patient’s  psychological state. My wife, the pain psychologist, has been telling me this for years.

Then, last week I attended a meeting of the Northern California Association of Pain Psychologists to listen to a lecture by Dr. Sean Mackey of Stanford on what happens in the brain when we experience pain. I had recently finished Melanie Thernstrom’s “Pain Chronicles” which I found quite compelling so I thought lecture would be interesting. Plus my wife didn’t want to drive alone.

Dr. Mackey is head of the Stanford pain program and is known world wide for the studies they do trying to isolate how the bran processes pain and other emotions.

Finally, I was brought full circle back to the Wisdom 2.0 coference by a New York Review of Books article on  V.S. Ramachandran’s The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human , which asks the question: If we know how the brain works does that really help us understand the human mind? And further, what implications does this have for coaching, management, or psychology.

I’m not sure what all this means but it seems clear the topic is pretty hot.

Think about it and let me know what you think.

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How Not To Compete in a Digital World

February 2, 2011

Filed under: Management,observations — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 7:36 am

As a former professional photographer I was sad to hear that my local photo shop, was going to close – so I decided to stop by and see what was up. The manager insisted that they were not going out of business,  – just looking for a smaller location. There have been published reports of the imminent demise but I figured I’d play along with his story if they hadn’t made a formal announcement.

But I couldn’t help thinking the store was textbook example of how not to compete in a digitally based, internet-centered world. I’ve patronized the store for many years. They processed my film ‘in the old days’ and when I had questions about what digital camera to buy, that’s where I got advice. And to pay them back for the service I bought three cameras from them – even though I knew I could get them cheaper online.

They are a family-run two-store chain where I used to have to wait in line for service. No more, the store is pretty much deserted as film has disappeared and  people discovered they could order good quality prints online, or simply upload digital files to a website where grandma and grandpa could log on and see the kids anytime they wanted.

That was about 60% of their profit.

Then, when web sites made it possible to compare prices online and postage-free, tax-free delivery was available from anywhere, the rest of their profits started to melt away.

My local store never bothered to put up a website that was anything more than a place saver. There was no on-line store to buy anything. There was no listing of products beyond general terms, there was no buying advice about how to choose the best digital camera and there was no online marketing to make sure that even their most loyal customers knew they were still around.

In short they just seemed to stick their head in the sand and hope it was just a poor economy and that business would come back. The store manager says they are working on all those things, but I’m afraid it may already be too late and my main street will have a vacant store front and just a bit less traffic.

The tragedy is, it could have been avoided with a little effort put into leveraging the expertise and good will they had built up over 20 years of business. There are numerous example of small local businesses who have able to survive in the digital age but unfortunately there are many more  who simply become case studies of how not to compete.

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