It gets worse before it gets better

You want to make a change.  You’re tired of the status quo.  You decide to take the leap.

You’re going to have that long overdue conversation about the relationship.

You’re going to leave your job for a career that truly aligns with your passions.

You’re going to improve your performance to meet management expectations.

And you will suffer.  And struggle.  And wonder why you bothered.

Change. It’s both sharp and slippery.  It’s exhilarating and exhausting. It’s enticing and repulsive.  And it’s not just our own.  Any change we make, by extension, makes others change.   And they don’t like change any more than we do.

Be clear. Be courageous.  Be patient. Persevere.


We’ve been brainwashed

Twenty five managers in one of my recent courses did a yeoman’s job of reciting the steps for delivering tough messages.  So well, in fact, that they missed the point, the boat and the forest for the trees.

We’ve come a long way from the “command and control” of the early industrial revolution.  We managers have been coached to within an inch of our lives on participative management techniques, politically correct communication and the gentle respect of constructive feedback. But in the midst of pursuing “best place to work” status we are eroding our ability to drive, inspire and produce powerful results.

I recently wrote about the Six C’s of Strong and Flexible Management.  The twenty five managers in my course were split into four teams and each team was assigned a case study.  The instructions were to develop a response to their assigned case using four C’s: Clarity, Courage, Connection and Communication.

Each team, working separately, produced almost exactly the same response.  A well-thought out communication strategy to deal with the case at hand.  Whether the case had to do with the company having to freeze pay, invest in growth or change strategic direction, the teams’ recommended responses consisted of communicating the news.

As managers, we can do better.  Yes, there is always news to be communicated from on high, but how will you drive, inspire and produce powerful results? You do it by taking purposeful command of your precious and powerful team.

Clarity: What powerful impact can your team have given the business context?  Be clear about what great things your team can create, produce, facilitate…

Courage: What changes would you make in your team to produce powerful results given the business context.  Do you need to replace talent? Do you need to change roles? Do you need to make a case to upper management for new or different resources?

Connection: What talent resides in your team that you can leverage in this new or changing business context?  What do your team members want to do more or or less of that you can help weave into their work experience?  What ideas do they have for stepping up the game, being more collaborative, introducing new or more efficient processes? How can they contribute?

Communication: How can you best convey all of the above?  Your clarity of purpose, your tough decisions, your connection with them and their connection to the organization?

If you settle for simply delivering corporate news.  You’ve missed a very cool boat.



Six C’s for Strong and Flexible Management

I was asked by a client recently to present a course on core management practices – techniques and approaches that transcend good times, tough times and those times in the middle.

As part of my research for this program, I reviewed all of the successful management topics I’ve delivered over the years and looked at newer arguments and recommendations coming from current motivation theory and organizational psychology. Here’s what I’ve distilled the information down to:

Core management – in good times and in bad – consists of


Credibility – what you know, what you convey

Consistency – in what you measure, how you decide, how you communicate


Clear goals – for the organizational, the team and the individual

Courage – to make the tough decisions

Connection – between manager and staff and between staff and organization

Communication – planned, clear, two-way, respectful exchange of information

By practicing the 4 C’s of Process, you further strengthen your Foundation.

Have you heard of managing “in”?

We’ve heard of managing up, across and down (If you haven’t, here’s a nice philosophy describing each).  But what about managing “in”?

Working well with others requires us to understand others’ world view and make connections between our goals and theirs.  It requires us to communicate effectively and   engage productively – minimizing conflicts and leveraging strengths.  These are the fundamentals of managing up, down and across.

What if we applied those concepts more concertedly to ourselves?  For those of us who have endured work environments that have left us feeling worn down, keyed up and shot through, the concept of managing in may provide some relief.

There’s the science researcher with a nagging feeling that he’s not in the right job. The life coach who feels a little too coach-y.  The human resources executive who seems more suited to finance and operations.  The COO who can’t let go of the little stuff.  And the executive assistant who is diminished daily by disrespect.

In each of these cases, there’s friction.  Whether internal, external or both, each of these professionals are in conflict, stressed or bored and therefore not in a position to do their best – for the company, or themselves.

Managing in involves the following skills:

1. Objectively acknowledging your own world view: What circumstances are you facing right now? What’s working and what’s not?  Does it seem temporary or permanent? What expectations do you have that are not being met? What are you tolerating?  What’s in your way?  Giving voice to what you’re experiencing helps you gain perspective and think rationally about what’s missing and what should be preserved.

2. Making connections and getting aligned: What do you want? Are your own actions, behaviors and choices getting you closer to the goal? What other choices do you have?  Being clear about what you DO want as opposed to railing against what you DON’T want puts us in a more effective frame of mind for positive change.  Choices open the door to possibility – and often relief – allowing us to see a way through, over or around the brick wall (instead of banging our head against it).

3. Minimize internal conflicts: What are your typical “triggers”?  These can be things like being interrupted, disrespect, inconsistency, laziness, aggression and others.  Is your environment trigger happy? Are you adept at managing your reactions?  Do you end up compromise yourself or your values?  Do you know where the end of your rope is?  Understanding and managing the deeply rooted personal needs we have for things like respect, being understood, taking responsibility and the like, helps us choose better environments and gives us the courage to articulate our needs in any given situation.

4. Leverage strengths: When do you feel “on fire”, “absorbed”, “consumed” in an activity?  What do you most love to contribute to a project?  What are the natural strengths you possess?  These are qualities that your family, friends and colleagues remark on, the skills or abilities that you can’t help but put forth.  Whether it’s detail orientation, an insatiable curiosity, being a great listener or a penchant for competition – knowing and actively applying these talents brings out not only the best in ourselves but others as well.

These are the fundamentals of managing “in”.  Knowing who you are, where you are, where you want to go and what you can do about it.  In the new economy, where imagination, innovation, entrepreneurship, technological advancement and rapid fire constant change is the theme of the day, it is more important than ever to manage ourselves.  Indeed, at the end of the day, the only thing we’ve got a modicum of control over is ourselves.


Are your goals motivating or deflating?

Whether it’s a work related objective or a personal aspiration, our goals can provide great motivation at the outset. But soon we find our energy flagging. Why is that?
Based on recent developments in brain research and neuroscience, we have more answers but if you’re in a hurry to get back on track, here are three tips you can use right away:

1. The Why Behind the Why: Write down your goal and then take 10 minutes to write down all the benefits you will gain from achieving that goal. Often our goals represent larger, more impactful aspirations and getting in touch with those can provide added motivation for getting them done.

2. Constructive Venting: List three things that are draining your energy from achieving your goal. Take one of them and write down what you feel about that “drainer”: what expectations aren’t being met? What are you tolerating as a result of the drainer? What values are being compromised? Are you beating yourself up with “shoulds” or other guilt. Once you’ve finished unpacking your energy drained, ask yourself what you **really want**. Research shows that “venting” actually helps us transition from “stuck mode” to “solution mode”.

3. Options and Actions: Take 5 minutes to brainstorm all the options you have for breaking through what’s holding you back and for making progress toward your goal (write down every option you can think of – including things like changing or tossing out the goal). Show the list to a friend and have them make additional suggestions. Review the list and pick the ONE option that you have the most energy around and turn it into an action: what will you do, with whom, by when. Research shows that making specific movements forward – even if they are small movements – gives us more motivation to keep going.

This particular set of tips is being used successfully by HR professionals in employee relations conversations, by trainers in helping participants to assimilate new behaviors and by educators in tapping into student motivations.  They are just a sliver of the great value that comes from the Motivation Factor® Methodology – a comprehensive but terrifically practical framework for getting and staying motivated.  Learn more here!

Stretched thin? Thrive!

When we’re stretched thin at work we double down and try to muscle through.  We’re taught that a good work ethic means staying till it’s done, not complaining, skipping breaks and making it happen.  Unfortunately, when we do that, we may be making things worse.  Here are three tips for keeping yourself sane when the To Do list never ends:

1. Know the goal and agree on priorities: When time and resources are scarce consider scheduling more frequent check-ins with your manager and colleagues to review goals and fine tune the priority list.

2. Set expectations: “When do you need this done?” is a great question to ask when receiving a new task or project.  It helps you prioritize your work and can often reduce the anxiety of adding to the To Do list – especially when you find they don’t need it “yesterday”.   Likewise, when giving an assignment, include your expectations for deadlines.

3. Relax: More and more research shows that a quiet brain is a smarter brain.  The more stressed or harried we are, the less creative and insightful we can be.  So when you’re burning the midnight oil or working through lunch to solve a problem, you may actually be wasting time!   In fact, though it may not look productive, most revelations, insights and Aha!’s occur when we least expect them – while we’re driving, walking or taking a shower.  The shortcut to solving problems or hitting on that great idea?  Take a walk, take a nap, stare at the clouds.  Breaks throughout the day give your brain the needed rest to recharge and make those critical connections.

Human Resources and Learning Professionals:  What implications might this advice have on your strategy for productivity in the workplace?

No financial incentive? Stay motivated!

In a recent interview, I was asked how people can stay motivated when they can’t expect financial incentives from their organization.  Here are some additional ideas to consider:

Show Me The Money Meaning!

Cash may be king but finding meaning, personal contribution and wellbeing in your work can be an equally powerful motivator – potentially even more motivating than financial rewards.  If you’ve decided to work (or continue working) in a place that can’t hand out the bonus checks right now, here are four questions you can ask to get through cash strapped times:

1. Why work?  Beyond the paycheck, what do you get?  The answers will be different for everyone but that’s the point – to make it personal.    For instance, it may be that you get satisfaction from helping to make a difference in the world with your company’s product or service or building the necessary skills to progress in your career or the contribution you are making to your family by working at all.  Research shows that being aware of the ultimate purpose of your efforts can give you the pull you need to get through tough times.  Try posting a picture or a list in your workspace to remind you what you’re working for.

2. What do you do best? Take a moment right now to write down the three things you are naturally good at – the things that colleagues, friends and family seek you out for when they need help.  These are some of your inherent talents. Now consider how you feel when you are engaged in doing those things.  It feels good right?  Brain research shows that when we use our natural talents, we get a neuropsychological boost.  Actively applying these personal strengths in your work is like having your own personal motivation engine.

3. How’s my stress level?  Personal wellbeing is key to maintaining motivation over the long haul.  Running yourself ragged may give you short term results but comes with detrimental long term effects on motivation and performance.  Be sure to build stress-relievers into your days – even if it’s just standing to stretch or taking a short walk.

4. What’s the bottom line?  Be honest with yourself about whether your workplace is the place for you.  If you decide to push through this tough time, consider putting a date on the calendar – three, six or twelve months out.  Put the money issue on the shelf until then so that you can free up your mind to focus on the work.  When the date arrives, take stock of where you are and decide again.  If on the other hand, you are driven to distraction by the fact that you’re not paid enough, you may need to make a change.

For Human Resources professionals: Consider how you might guide employees through these tough times keeping the questions above in mind.

Hopes, Expectations and Accountability

Listening to a radio show today, the host asked “Do you think our hopes were too high when Barack Obama was elected?”

Yesterday, a high school student told his teacher “I hope to be a professional football player”.

Are our hopes too high?  Never.

Hope is unique to the human condition.   It is the sweet music calling from just around the corner that calls us forward and entices us to take the turn.

But what do we expect?

Ah.  Here is the problem.

Do we expect the music is being played by someone else? Placards of “Hope and Change” can only take us so far.

Do we expect that the music itself should carry us?  Unfortunately, the pro-ball team scout hasn’t received his engraved invitation to join us on the couch.

Indeed, the music of hope is just an echo.  It is first an echo of our own initial inkling.  It is then an echo of our own personal effort – should we choose to make it.  Only then can it grow louder and begin to carry us forward.

Are our hopes too high?  Always.  When we expect that others are responsible for making the music. When we abdicate responsibility for our own growth.  When we are blind to our part in the symphony.

We cannot expect our hopes to become reality without personal accountability.  Listen for the music. Pick up your instrument. Know the score. And play.

Courageous Participation

It is my pleasure to welcome Doris Roach, Courage Specialist, as this month’s Uncommon guest blogger.  Doris and I met in 2010 when she attended our Motivation Factor® Certification where she contributed her smart, generous and thoughtful intellect to our discussions.  She is not only a talented coach and facilitator but an accomplished artist as well.  In her post, she gives us a taste of her characteristically straightforward, well-reasoned guidance. Thanks, Doris!


Courageous Participation by Doris Roach

I recently was involved with a group that had some difficult dynamics.  Members seemed more invested in proving how much they knew versus sharing ideas and learning from one another. Struggling with whether or not to continue with the group, I spoke with a wise friend who said three elements must be present for her to participate in any group:

  1. She must be able to retain her dignity;
  2. act with integrity, and;
  3. be professional.

Retaining your dignity means maintaining self-respect. If the group dynamics, culture, or participants make you feel uncomfortable, put down, or just drive you crazy, it may not be worth your time to continue.

Acting with integrity is perhaps the most important element. This means trying to find ways to address issues honestly and directly. You might try expressing how you feel to the person that is overpowering your voice. Or you could speak to the facilitator about how another method could be more culturally competent. But when those tactics fail or aren’t possible, it is courageous to value yourself enough to walk away.

Tied into integrity is being professional.  Among other things, this includes presenting your ideas and comments in appropriate and respectful ways.  Sometimes, this may mean holding your tongue when you want to lash out.  Timing is key and maintaining civility is paramount.  You never know when you will have to interact with members of the group in the future so you don’t want to burn bridges.

Using these factors as guideposts, I eventually decided to leave the group.  Sometimes group dynamics can be so ingrained and so complex that the healthiest thing to do is to remove yourself from the situation. To courageously exit a group, try to tie up any loose ends by saying goodbye to the facilitator and any participants you interacted with. You may want to explain why you are leaving, but if it doesn’t seem productive, you don’t have to. Resigning as amicably as possible is essential for maintaining good relationships. Give yourself the closure of knowing that you did what you could and that people won’t be wondering what happened to you.

Most of all, remember that leaving isn’t giving up, it’s being courageous.

Doris Ferrer Roach, J.D. is a coach, facilitator and courage specialist™. As a courage specialist™, she supports leaders, teams and individuals to courageously think outside of the box, be more authentic, take risks and change the status quo.  For more information about Doris, visit her website at



Is it the worst thing or the best thing?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.  “Opposites attract”, they say.  “Being let go was the best thing that happened to me”, they say.

When you’re in it, it’s the worst.  With time and perspective (and perhaps counseling), well, it may still be the worst.  But with the right ingredients, it can indeed ultimately be the best.

When I met my husband, I was delighted by his carefree, devil-may-care spirit.  Twenty  years later (yes, I was a child bride) it was the very thing that drove me up the wall, across the ceiling, through the door and out of town (at least in my own mind).

I spent 15 years at a wonderful company where I learned and grew and developed in ways I could never have imagined.  Then, during a major consolidation, my job went away.

It’s really no fun when two “worst things” are happening at the same time.

I’m now happily married to a wonderful man and I have the most amazing job.  It’s the same guy.  It’s not the same job.

The right ingredients:

1. Give yourself time and space to envision what you truly want – no holds barred.

2. Understand that you – and only you – are responsible for your own happiness and success.

3. Use the resources that are available to you to sort out the garbage that is in your way of seeing what you want and what you need to do.  (this can be therapy, coaching, friends, self help books, meditation, floor hockey or many other activities you may never have considered).

4. Take action – any action – that moves you toward what you ultimately truly want.

5. Don’t think too far ahead.  You cannot conceive of, never mind plan for, the things that will happen down the line.  Take one step in the direction you’d like to go and deal with that next reality when you get there. Trust and move.

I have partnered with coaches, consultants and therapists who are trained in the art and science of moving people from stuck to solution.  Give me a shout if you’d like a referral.

What’s worked for you?