Friday, November 30, 2007

My Recent Workshops

I've been hard at work planning workshops in DC and NYC on a number of different topics. I just hosted 2 workshops in November ("Who Do You Want to Be?" and "Inquire Within") and have another one planned for this weekend ("Life Approaching 30"). If you haven't seen them, please check out my upcoming workshops!

  • The "Who Do You Want to Be?" workshop on November 19th was designed specifically for the high school students (boys and girls) from the Under 19 NYRC Rugby Team. As mentioned in an earlier post about them, these kids are from the South Bronx and are struggling to get on the right path (thankfully, through rugby and NYRC many have found a positive community that they can identify with). This Under-19 Team had the opportunity to come to DC to play a few matches, take in museums and monuments, and attend my workshop entitled "Who Do You Want to Be?" In our hour-long session, I asked them to think about the positive impact one person can have in someone else's life, in the community, and in history. Then, in a series of exercises, each of them were asked to write out who they wanted to be in terms of career, values, and impact. As they shared their goals with the group, it was inspiring to hear these high school students talk about how they wanted to become an astronomer, open a dance studio, and end the violence in their community. At the end of the session, one of their coaches came up to me and said "I've never seen these kids so engaged for so long, with something required so much internal thought!"

  • The next workshop, "Inquire Within", was hosted the Sunday after Thanksgiving at a friend's house (who graciously made brunch to accompany our introspection). With the help of some Bloody Mary's and plenty of bacon, a group of friends got to know each other on a more personal level. We discussed our current and future priorities, what we wanted written on our tombstones, our ideal jobs (based on our skills and interests), and how we spend our time and money. I received some great feedback from the attendees and everyone agreed that something like this is challenging, but incredibly valuable.

I hope that you'll be able to join me for a workshop soon. Also, if there's anyone you know who might be interested, please pass it along!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Importance of Consistency

I think that one of the most important things when working as a member of a team (or when leading a team) is consistency. It's more important to be consistent in your effort, results, and quality because then the people around you know what to expect. Being inconsistent creates more tension and anxiety because it keeps everyone guessing. Consistency creates trust, regardless of whether their quality or results are amazing.

If someone produces mediocre quality, but consistently, other team members will know what to expect. Maybe their draft will require a few revisions or they need someone to double-check their work. The danger comes when someone who produces high quality work drops the ball or cuts a corner; because no one expects it, the double-check is bypassed and it often leads the team to scramble at the last minute or disappointment.

It's even more difficult when a leader is hot and cold. One day they could be really understanding and mild-mannered, but the next day they'll fly off the handle at a small mistake. It's tough for a team to know how that leader will respond to a given situation or question - will it be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

Consistency is also important in other areas of life because people worry less if they know what to expect from you. If you're always on time, call home every week, and show up when you say you will, others begin to count on that. The moment that you show up late without a phone call, others get worried.

If someone is consistently negligent (always late, never call or email, flake out on plans, moody, etc.) no one really worries about them because "that's just the way they are." People know not to depend on them or have high expectations in that area, so when they don't come through it's not a big surprise.

I used to think it was better to be unreliable because it's easier to impress when expectations are low. But by now I've realized it's best to repeatedly produce excellent work and be responsible both professionally and personally.

  • Do you agree that consistency is more important than quality?
  • How consistent are you? Do people know what they can expect?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time vs. Money

I hosted a well-attended and exciting brunch+workshop in Brooklyn on Sunday. In one exercise, I had each person draw 2 pie charts – one for how they spend their time and the other on how they spend their money. After talking about current and future priorities, it was interesting to see how much of our time/money was being spent on non-relevant activities.

It got me thinking about the trade-offs between time and money and how difficult it is to balance these two commodities. Those who have a lot of one are usually lacking in the other. For most overachievers, though, I think that time is the bigger limiting factor, which naturally leads many of us to “outsource” elements of our personal lives.

Most overachievers are involved in demanding jobs, which keeps us incredibly busy. Every free hour outside of work is precious. Outsourcing allows us to pay for services that we would otherwise have to do on our own. These time-saving services include: wash-and-fold at the Laundromat, ordering take-out, not standing in line, or hiring a wedding planner, mover, nanny, dog-walker, landscaper, etc. Of course, the things that shouldn't be outsourced are the things that are important to us, things that we enjoy, or things that only we can do.

For those people with less money (but more time), these tasks are not a big deal. It's not that their time is less precious, but they have more of it and usually prefer saving money. They will do just about everything themselves, from basic things like laundry, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and bargain hunting, to more complex things like major home improvements and car repair.

But, of course, most of us fall somewhere in between the complete outsourcer and the DIY'er. We have enough money to pick the few “outsourcing activities” that are worth it, based on our personal preference of tasks we like or loathe. In my own personal realm of trade-offs, I'm perfectly willing to pack a lunch, but you'll rarely find me trying to install a new sink or cabinets.

  • Which is your more precious commodity – time or money?
  • What task do you wish you could pay someone else to do?
  • What task do you wish you had more time to do yourself?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Leadership Development

My work in coaching overachievers actually grew out of my work as a Strategic Planner at a Global 500 company where I became incredibly interested in the subjects of employee engagement, corporate culture, and leadership. I still enjoy reading about companies that get it right.

A recent Fortune article "How Top Companies Breed Stars," discusses how top companies are becoming increasingly focused on building top talent through leadership development. It's a great article and worth reading it in it's entirety. Here are some excerpts (emphases added):
Of the many powerful forces driving companies to develop leaders more effectively, the most important is the world economy's long-term shift from dependence on financial capital toward human capital.

Hewitt global-practice leader Robert Gandossy, who oversaw the Top Companies for Leaders study, says, "Organizations need talented people a lot more than talented people need organizations."

It's interesting that when you think of a CEO, the image you have is of someone making decisions, negotiating, running meetings, and keeping the place going. In reality, it looks like some of the best leaders are the ones who are investing in the development of the executives around them.
You don't build leaders on the cheap, and you don't just bolt a development program onto existing HR procedures. Indeed, the biggest investment involved may be the time of the CEO and other executives. At McDonald's, CEO Jim Skinner personally reviews the development of the company's top 200 managers. At GE, Immelt reviews the top 600. Bill Hawkins of Medtronic spends 50% of his time on people issues, and many of the other CEOs report similar percentages - making it the largest commitment of time they have.
It seems like it has become evident that learning leadership is a very hands-on endeavor (note the importance of mentoring and coaching):
John Lechleiter, president and COO of Eli Lilly, offers a typical model: About two-thirds of leadership development comes from job experience, about one-third from mentoring and coaching, and a smidgen from classroom training.
These executives also place high value on difficult times to learn many of their valuable lessons. Seems like it's true just as much in life as it is in business...
Executives consistently report that their hardest experiences were the most helpful. P&G chief A.G. Lafley was in charge of the company's Asian operations during a major Japanese earthquake and the Asian economic collapse. That's when he discovered, he says, that "you learn ten times more in a crisis than during normal times."
It's no surprise that GE is #1 on the list of the Top Companies for Leaders in 2007. I'd love to model my future leadership workshops on what they're teaching in Crotonville, NY!

  • Do you think your organization is attentive enough to your development as an employee? Please comment...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Encouraging Change: Do It With Them

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and instead of doing the typical “What I’m Thankful for” post, I decided to share a lesson I learned in encouraging others to change.

I have 2 members of the family that are exercise-challenged – my brother and my dad. As an athlete and someone who values a healthy lifestyle, it’s been hard for me to not to judge about their lack of exercise and poor eating habits.

For the past few years, I’ve wanted to encourage them to workout and eat healthier. Like most of us, I had honest intentions but hadn’t really thought of an effective approach. I tried using humor, but found that it was just too mean. No one likes being greeted with “Hey Tubby!” or having their love-handles grabbed in front of others.

Then I tried to have serious conversations with them about why it’s important to exercise and eat better. Obviously, they knew they should be doing it but I went so far as to say “Dad, I don’t want you to have a heart attack. Don’t you want to live longer and enjoy your retirement?” I tried to work the “Don’t you want to look good for the ladies?” angle with my brother, but neither of them seemed inspired.

At some point, I know I became a nag. Every time I saw them or spoke to them on the phone, I would ask if they’ve been exercising. It didn’t make for very fun conversations and no one was happy. I felt like a nag, our conversations went nowhere, and I felt my relationships with them were getting weaker. I'm sure they were annoyed by it (I certainly would be), but I was caught in the age-old dilemma of how to get someone to change if they don’t want to.

I guess through trial and error, I stumbled on the idea of being a "facilitator" for their change. Maybe they didn’t know what to do next or have the tools to change, so I softened my approach and offered specific help:
  • I wrote up easy workouts they could do at home (on commercial breaks)
  • I bought my dad a jogging suit and sneakers for Christmas
  • I got my brother personal training sessions at a gym near his house
  • I sat down with my dad to review his daily diet and offer some healthy substitutions or alternatives (i.e. wheat instead of white bread, smaller meals more frequently, more veggies, no meals after 7pm, etc.).
  • We bought my brother an iPod shuffle to help him stay entertained while doing cardio
It had some effect. I could tell it was starting to get through and they were at least beginning to think about changes they could make. But they still weren't motivated or excited about it.

Then one day, my boss had lent me a DVD of a leadership conference and Dr. Henry Cloud spoke about how to encourage change in people. It’s been a while now since I’ve seen it, but the message he offered was “Help them create new patterns in their life by doing it with them.” Make the activity tangible by getting into the trenches and holding their hand through it. Don’t just call them to see if they’ve been doing it or have done it yet. Dedicate some time to do it WITH them.

In that spirit, I’m proud to say that yesterday my whole family ran the 2007 Port Washington Turkey Trot. Both my dad and my brother jogged the entire 5 miles and surprised themselves with their achievement. We spent the rest of the day sharing stories of the race and eagerly making plans for next year.

Although it took some planning and email campaigning to get everyone’s buy-in, I realized it was the right approach (and totally worth it) when my dad or brother would call to tell me they just went running and were ready to beat me on Thanksgiving Day.

So if you’ve got someone in mind who has been putting off their filing, hasn’t been to the gym lately, or has trouble studying for the GMATs, and you really want to help them, I offer you Dr. Cloud’s suggestion –


It makes all the difference.

  • What do you think about this approach?
  • Have you had a similar experience?
Please comment!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Randy Pausch's Last Lecture

I blogged about this in a previous post (Sept 28), but it seems like it's getting a lot more follow-up press. A friend pointed me to a recent NY Times blog post about Randy Pausch, the computer science professor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a short time to live. See the original WSJ article and video here.

What I really liked about his lecture was that it was focused on getting the most out of life. Apparently it's become a widespread hit and "big media" is getting involved:

Dr. Pausch had spoken of his belief that people ultimately will impress you if you wait long enough and his view that kids should be allowed to draw on their bedroom walls. A video of the talk quickly spread over the Internet: the lecture was translated into German, even Mandarin. Dr. Pausch was asked to appear on “Oprah” and “Good Morning America.”

Apparently publishers are convinced the public wants to hear more. Today, the New York Post reports that in a frenzy for rights to a book based on Dr. Pausch’s lecture, co-authored by Mr. Zaslow, bidding has reached nearly $7 million. The proposed book reportedly will tell the stories behind the wisdom Dr. Pausch dispensed that day.

It's great that his wisdom will be shared widely...think about all those people whose insights never get passed on! We each have lessons that we've learned along the way, and it's exciting that his lecture has struck a chord with so many people. Maybe it's because his message about getting the most out of life is so inspiring!

  • What lessons have you learned that you would you include in your last lecture?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My New Logo

I haven't even put it up on my website yet, but I'm excited to share it with you!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Toastmasters: If you were...

I've been working on my public speaking on the side, attending meetings of Toastmasters; for those of you not familiar with the format, half of the meeting is dedicated prepared speeches (I had to give my 2nd speech last night) and "Table Topics" where members are randomly called upon to deliver an "off the cuff" 2 minute speech on a topic chosen by the Table Topics leader.

I like when the Table Topics are fun and creative, and last night's meeting had some good questions that I wanted to share.
  • If you were king of the world, what would you do? (assume you're the same person you are now, with no additional superpowers)
  • If you could be any professional sports figure, what sport would you play and who would you be?
  • If you were 20 years old again, what would you do?
  • If you had the chance to teach one subject of your choice, to any age, what would it be?

I often use the last one in my coaching sessions when helping clients get back in touch with their passions. I also ask a variation of it with the same goal - "If you had 30 minutes of prime-time TV, what would you talk about?"

These are great questions to get any crowd talking. Here are my answers:
  • If I were king, I would help people fulfill their potential, be happy, and become good leaders/role models for others (either through education, loans, mentoring programs, promoting good people to lead in government and other public areas, etc.)
  • Pro sport: I would be a tennis player - minimal injuries, good to stay in shape, easy to do into old age, lots of tournaments, and good money!
  • Repeating life at 20 (knowing what I know now), I think I would drink less and learn more in college.
  • Teaching a subject: I'd like to help college/post-college people think about themselves, their goals, and their mindsets.
With Thanksgiving coming up, these questions might come in handy when you run out of conversation. They're also just interesting to think about how you'd answer them.
  • How would you answer these questions?
  • Which of these do you like best?
Please comment!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Have I Been at the Same Job For Too Long?

A friend forwarded me this article from Business Week Online entitled, "Should You Stay or Should You Go?" Written by Jack and Suzy Welch, I think it's got some great (and simple) suggestions for helping you figure out if you've been at the same job or same company for too long.

Essentially, they say it's less about actual criteria, but rather how you would answer the following 4 questions:

  1. Do you want to go to work every morning?
  2. Do you enjoy spending time with your co-workers or do they generally bug the living daylights out of you?
  3. Does your company help you fulfill your personal mission?
  4. Can you picture yourself at your company in a year?

In my experience with career coaching, I find that Question #3 is often the trickiest. Most of us can answer the other questions if we gave it some thought, but the idea of a "personal mission" opens the uncertainty floodgates. Do I even have a personal mission?

As typical 24-35 year olds, the ideas of "meaning","purpose", "calling", "mission", "career" have all been floating around in our minds or lurking in the background. We know it's there, but many of us haven't given it enough thought.

Maybe it's because we're afraid we might not have one. Nothing jumps out at us, but we wish we were one of those "lucky ones" who know just what they want to do with their lives. We don't see an immediate "passion" for anything, so we default to thinking that one job is just as good as the other, as long as we're collecting a paycheck. But deep down, we know it's not true.

But there's a reason we can't shake that feeling... it's because everyone should have a personal mission. Our purpose doesn't have to be a bleeding-heart-save-the-puppies-cause to be important. What's important is that it provides YOU with personal meaning and can be used to steer your decisions. Your calling could be something straightforward like provide for your family, make VP, always feel like you're learning, help people, do something you enjoy, etc.

It takes a while to identify your personal mission, but it's usually a combination of the skills you like to use, your strengths and personality, the subjects that most interest you. It's not just about finding a cause, but rather finding a good match for who you are so that you can wake up in the morning excited to go to work.

For those of you feeling stuck in your job, definitely read the article!

  • What do you do when you're feeling stuck in a job?
  • How long does it take to realize it?
For more help in thinking about your personal mission or changing jobs, check out for my workshops and coaching services!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Look For Their Best

I'm currently reading "25 Ways to Win With People", by John Maxwell and Les Parrott, and came across a passage that I liked that talks about the importance of looking for the best in others -
"Anybody can see weaknesses, mistakes, shortcomings in others. That's no unique skill. Seeing only the good things is harder.

Hall of Famer baseball player Reggie Jackson said that the best major league baseball leaders possess that ability. He observed, 'A great manager has a knack for making ballplayers think they are better than they think they are. He forces you to have a good opinion of yourself. He lets you know he believes in you. He makes you get more out of yourself. And once you learn how good you really are, you never settle for playing anything less than your very best.'

That's true in any area of life: business, parenting, marriage, ministry, and so forth. Don't look for the flaws, warts, and blemishes in others. Look for their best."
Wouldn't it be awesome if we had someone like that in our corner? Someone who saw us as an amazing collection of potential and through their belief, we were able to grow into that potential?

That's basically what we, as coaches, strive to do for our clients. My goal in helping overachievers is to help them create the vision of what is possible and then take steps toward it. As overachievers, we're often our most difficult critics - expecting so much from ourselves that we focus on our shortcomings instead of our successes. A little coaching goes a long way in terms of encouragement, accountability, and seeing a world of possibility.

But you don't have to be a coach, or be coached, to look for the best in yourself or others. Is there someone you've been a bit too critical of lately? Maybe give them a break by focusing on the good things they bring to the table. What goes around usually comes around, so someday when you least expect it (and probably need it most), someone will be in your corner.

  • Who do you know that could use a break or a boost?
  • Why is it so hard for us to see the best in people?

Honey vs. Lemon

“You get more with honey than with lemon.”

It’s a saying my mom had for when you’re trying to work with someone. I’ve used both angles in the past, but personally prefer honey because it feels like a much better way to interact with people. I think it's just the best way to work with people but I’m curious to know, however, whether the saying is true and you actually get more or better results with honey than with lemon.

Psychologically, it makes sense that someone would want to help you out more after establishing an amicable bond with them, but in practice I’ve found that a little toughness goes a long way. Especially when dealing with customer service reps over the phone or trying to rectify an error by a big corporation, I find hurling a few lemons gives one more credibility. Admittedly, I’m not very good using the “lemon” technique, but I hate feeling like a pushover so I sometimes put on my “attitude” and get serious.

But I think the problem with lemons is that even though I might walk away with a marginally better result, both parties end up feeling worse after the conversation. It takes me a good 15-20 minutes to get out of the post-lemon funk. Maybe the saying actually should read:

“YOU get more with honey than with lemon.”

  • Are there specific situations that call for either lemon or honey?
  • Does it have to do with the type of person on the other end?
  • Do you think that honey is always better?
Please add your thoughts!

Coming back from Vacation

Vacations and trips are great for pulling us out of our patterns of life, for better or worse.

In a good way, we’re exposed to new perspectives and experiences. We’re in a different environment where we can sample a change of pace or a change of setting. Maybe it’s the much-needed relaxation or sense of adventure we're after, but regardless of the reason for the trip, it usually suspends our regular patterns of life. In most cases this is a good thing because it allows us to take a step back from what we’ve been doing on autopilot for probably too long and take a breather either to escape the stress or escape the monotony.

But sometimes it can have the effect of taking one out of a good weekly routine. Having just returned from a 12-day vacation in the Bahamas, I was surprised by my desire to get back to my life back home. Although I had a great time in both Freeport and Nassau, it was an interesting feeling to be excited to get back to “the daily grind”. I've never felt that way before, especially on a fun trip like this one, but I think it's a good sign that I’m happy with my everyday life.

It may also be that during this vacation, I found it difficult to do things that make me feel good like eating healthy, exercising, and staying in touch with people. I also felt the momentum of my business was put on hold for a week, which is a long time when you've got a few irons in the fire.

I also became more sensitive to, and appreciative of, the small things that make me happy – a good cup of coffee, having time to read, being hydrated, access to the internet (!), and being able to eat before I'm starving (I found I had more than my share of hangry moments this trip).

Compound it with the stress of switching hotels every few nights, planning activities for the day, driving on the opposite side of the street, and being harassed by time-share pushers and it really made me appreciate the amenities of home.

Maybe it’s that I’m getting older and tolerate less (or expect more?), but I like to think that I finally found a daily routine that I enjoy. Is this what being home-sick is?

  • What have you been excited to come back for while on vacation?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Law School Apps

I have a friend who has been dragging his feet on applying to law school. He's an overachiever, but has been out of the overachieving game for a bit, spending time traveling, having odd-jobs, and enjoying life. He decided it was time to buckle down, so he took the LSAT and started thinking about law school.

He did well on the LSAT, but not as well as he thought he should have, despite still having a score in the 90th percentile. Time passed and he still hadn't applied to schools. We found ourselves chatting last week and he admitted that he hadn't started the process yet because he hadn't come to terms with the fact that he won't get into a Top 10 school.

I know to some, this may seem like a ridiculous woe-is-me argument, but overachievers who have been in his shoes can identify with the gravitas of the situation. We've been conditioned our whole lives to feel that achievement is everything. It's no surprise that my friend feels like the law school he goes to is a representation of his self-worth. Especially after being out of the game for a while, I can see how the internal (and external) validation would mean a lot to someone who holds himself to the highest standards.

I don't typically give advice in my coaching sessions, but if his true goal is to graduate from a Top 10 law school, I suggested the possibility of transferring if he can ace his first year and get great recommendations. Of course the important thing is that he understands why he wants to go through law school and how the degree is only a tool for accomplishing what he really wants to do in life.

It's interesting, yet unfortunate that our prior successes can set us up mentally for disappointment in an otherwise good situation.
  • Has this ever happened to you?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Couch Potatoes in the Parlor of Life?

I recently added a number of workshops as part of my business in coaching overachievers. In developing the content for these workshops, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research to add new exercises and concepts to my coaching arsenal/toolbox. One book I came across had a powerful introduction that caught my eye:

I have a theory: I believe that many – maybe most – people in the hurry-up, make-do, look-good culture we’re living in have settled way too cheap. A lot of us have given up our passion and let the colors fade out of our experience. We’ve settled for the appearance of an okay life instead of the substance of a great life. In the process, we’ve lost track of what is genuinely important to us. We’ve become couch potatoes in the parlor of life, overstimulated with input from the outside, and increasingly deaf to messages from the inside. We’ve gotten stuck in a ho-hum, “go along to get along” existence.

Now, you may be shaking your head and saying, “You’ve got it all wrong. My life never had the passion and color you’re talking about.” Maybe so. Or maybe you’ve let it slip away a tiny piece at a time – so slowly that you didn’t even notice that it was happening. Either way, you’ve lost yourself in the rush of the world. … Maybe you’re shaking your head for another reason. Maybe you remember the days when your whole life seemed exciting and passionate. Maybe you invest more time and energy reliving the old “glory days” than you do in creating new ones.
  • What do you think? Have you ever felt this way? Do you feel this way now? Please comment...

I’ll talk more about the author in my next post because I think it will spark an interesting discussion.