How the Holidays Can Help You up Your Inner Game

Winter is a time of hibernation, starkness and, after the busy holidays, can be a time of reflection. As the New Year sets in, we start to think about the year past and the year ahead.

For me this is the perfect time to think of your “inner game”, the one that is played internally, in your mind. It is the deep core of your character which helps overcome “inner” obstacles such as anxiety, self-doubt or fear. Most leaders focus their time addressing external hurdles and obstacles, but the more I do this work, the more I believe, that mastering the inner game of leadership is as important as mastering the outer (or external )competencies.

This concept of “inner game” was made popular 15 to 20 years ago through the books of sports coach and consultant Tim Gallwey, whose idea has proved to be timeless.

It’s all about finding ways to constantly grow in the character strengths that are key to any great leader. Think about it – in truly inspirational leaders — from Gandhi to Bill Gates — character is an integral part of their achievements and who they are in the world.

It’s not always easy for leaders, particularly at the top of organizations, to recognize a need to learn and grow – as a person – and then to actually follow through. It takes deep self-awareness, humility and commitment to putting yourself in play in such a fundamental way.

So here’s my holiday wish for you: That you find time this season to do some deep reflecting on your inner game and on the key ways you can grow your internal “core”. What will help you ground yourself better? Do you need to update or clarify vision? Do you need to refocus your values? Do you need to work on listening to your intuition more? Here are some questions to help you in your thinking:

  1. What do I need to learn to enhance my leadership presence?
  2. Where and with whom can I ask questions and practice these skills?
  3. Who can help me? Which resources are available to me?
  4. How do I like to learn and grow?

So give yourself the gift that keeps on giving – invest in strengthening your internal core! And as all those who work-out know, core strength drives everything you do, including driving the way you deal with external challenges.
What do you think? 

What Fall Teaches: The Beauty of Letting Go (…Even at Work)

Intuitively we all know that somethings we need to let go of. But it’s so much easier said than done, even when we know that we’re holding on to things that hold us back from achieving our goals, being our authentic selves or just finding inner peace. Letting go of old thoughts and old baggage is just plain difficult.

As a coach, I see Leaders holding on to a huge list of things including (and not only!):

  • The need to know everything
  • The need to feel in complete control
  • The need to be right
  • The drive for relentlessly climbing up the corporate ladder to more responsibility or status
  • The fear of being “caught” as an imposter
  • The habit of focusing on problems

Not being able to let go, however, in the long term keeps us stuck and slows down our progress. When we refuse to leave our comfort zones, because we are clinging to limited or old beliefs or driven by an addiction to being safe, no growth can happen. Letting go means putting ourselves into unknown territory. Even for those who know and understand the huge body of brain research that repeatedly and unequivocally demonstrates brain plasticity and how the brain CAN rewire itself, it is not easy to trust ourselves enough to let go. And the higher up we are in an organization, the stronger our resistance seems to be. Rewiring new behaviors and thoughts takes time, faith and patience. And usually we feel that there is too much to lose if we don’t get it right immediately.

I once heard a story about a person locked in dark, dank cell, desperately struggling to get out by clinging to a tiny barred window through which a small glimmer of light shone. He died just looking out the window. If he had taken time to explore the dark, he would have discovered that there was an unlocked door that led to greater rooms filled with treasure and a way to escape. Letting go is exactly like that – you might have to grope in the dank smelly unknown for a bit before you find a door. (And frankly, even if there was no door, as in the story, it’s not exactly that the window was going away, you could always come back to that option).

Letting go as a leader, while admittedly can feel uncertain and unstable while new, usually leads to better quality relationships and enables others to become more engaged and motivated. And the more we let go of our need to control, to have all the answers, the more we start to draw from the strength of others and create a truly empowered workplace, where everyone has the opportunity to contribute and collaborate in a meaningful way. It’s only by shedding old notions of our roles or images of what a good leader should be, and replacing it with basic authenticity, that transformation can begin.
What can you let go? What will it take for you to do it? As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

4 Foolproof Steps to Find Inner Focus

One of the most valuable skills today is the ability to focus. It improves the quality of your thinking, your conversations and your relationships with others.4 Foolproof Steps to Find Inner Focus Being present and concentrating on what is right in front of us can seem impossible. It seems that our brain races off on its own, instantaneously starting a “dialogue” that goes inside our heads, making assumptions about what’s being said, formulating responses and opinions. It’s a natural reaction to agree or disagree almost immediately. It’s quick and it’s efficient and absolutely critical in making the thousands of tiny decisions we face every day. But how do we find that inner focus when we need it? When we don’t want our distracted thinking? When quick judgements don’t lead to the best outcomes?
Here’s a simple process to help you decrease distraction and practice better focus – I call it the FANS approach.

  1. Focus without judgment. Simply observe what is present, what is right in front of you, without coming to any judgement or opinions.
  2. Awareness. Observe closely all the details and issues at play and how they connect.
  3. Narrow attention. Intentionally hone your attention to what the critical variables are that will determine success.
  4. Story. Create a story or a mental model of the situation, including the variables, next steps, and expectations.

The first three steps seem fairly obvious, but do we take the time to do this? Are we methodical in our focus or just slapdash? And the forth tip is key. It’s a key aspect of sense making. Competent and experienced advisors, including a coach can help you work through mental models to enhance performance and agility.

Studies reveal that people who create mental pictures of a situation maintain focus better and demonstrate greater cognitive flexibility – fluidity in both quick and deep thinking and faster and more accurate anticipation of issues. In today’s 24/7 world, faced with a constant stream of incoming stimuli and distractions, mental models help triage information and offer choices as to where to direct attention. Better decisions can replace indiscriminate reactions….which all lead to better outcomes.

What’s it like where you work? Is it getting harder to focus on what truly matters? How do you maintain focus? I’d love to hear from you. 

Tattered Flags, Deep Water

I love my friend Jeannie Chisman’s photo above called “Tattered Flags, Still Waters” because it completely reflects the feeling I have when we get to the end of the school year and summer is in full form. Beautiful, proud and cheerful flags – wilted and weary – but with the promise of access to deep cool, refreshing water right there waiting.

One of the great things about summer is the chance to recharge your batteries. To dive deep inside yourself and finding that calm that rebalances you. In fact this type of profound thinking, introspection, is critical in keeping your brain in tip top shape and getting clearer, cleaner access to different parts when you need them.

With today’s many distractions – work, smartphones, multi-tasking- it’s really hard to have the luxury of time to immerse yourself into the wellspring that is your brain, to allow ourselves to rest, to let your soul speak to you in the quiet spaces between your busy thoughts. There’s a great New York Times article that explores this issue very well if you’re interested in finding out more. 

So let’s do it, let’s kick back and dip into those deep waters. Gift it to yourself. You deserve it. 
Dive in!

Top Three Tips for Increasing ROI on Feedback

Most people I know cringe when they hear the words “Let me give you some feedback…” or even when they have to give feedback to a team member or employee. We dread emotionally charged conversations and brace ourselves for it. But, well delivered, valuable and genuine feedback can truly help people move towards the best version of themselves and reach top performance levels. The ROI on feedback then becomes enormous. So how do you get great at giving feedback? Here are my top 3 tips:

  1. Flex your feedback muscle daily — by embedding feedback into your everyday conversations (including eliciting feedback for yourself). The more you focus on finding opportunities to exchange feedback, the more you set the tone of your conversations and create a positive mindset that getting and giving input is a normal part of conducting business. So when you do have to have a more difficult conversation, people are listening to you in a different way and are less likely to take things personally.
  2. Prepare the tone and feel of your feedback conversation, not just the facts. Most “negative” conversations are not actually about the actual facts around a situation, but more about a conflict of feelings, interpretations and values. So think about arming yourself with a plan for creating emotional receptivity and a supporting environment rather than just knowing your facts. And if you have actively and consistently treated the person with respect, dignity and caring, (see # 1 above) then the “difficult” conversation is absorbed in a completely different context: the employee is more likely to view the discussion as a precious gift or investment made in their career goals and the results will align with BOTH your expectations.
  3. Listen in the way you want to be listened to. Do you want the other party to give you a fair, unbiased hearing? Well, you need to do the same. When you focus on ensuring that the other person is “being heard” and being supported, it is more likely that both of you will influence each other. Chances are that you will learn something new and see a more complete picture of the situation. The feedback session then becomes a genuine brainstorming for shared goals: improving career trajectories or business skills.

When you view feedback as an opportunity for true connection, as a precious gift of information to (and from) someone worthy, the whole nature of the conversation changes for the better and the ROI goes up!

What other strategies for feedback do you find effective? 

Reawakening Passion and Sense of Purpose

“We hear a great deal of talk about the midlife crisis of the executive. It is mostly boredom. ~ Peter Drucker, management expert

Have you ever come to a point in your career where you have an underlying sense of malaise, where you are no longer enthusiastic about the day ahead, where work often seems a grind? You ask yourself whatever happened to your passion at work.


Today, self (and skills) renewal and staying ahead of the learning curve is a critical leadership skill. If you want to continue to lead, you have to continue to have access to the well of resourcefulness and passion that drives engagement in the workplace. In a recent McKinsey article, the ability to connect strategy with meaningful purpose was cited as one of the four critical disciplines managers can achieve swift growth and improvement.

Personally, I can say that 100% of my clients have, at one point or another, struggled with regaining meaning and purpose in their work, with finding ways to grow. “What do I do if I no longer have passion?” and “How do I sustain passion?” are two questions that often come up.

In our hectic lives, it’s easy to overlook creeping stagnation and dismiss the early hints that your career lacks passion. Unfortunately, the longer you “wait and see” the worse it can be for you to crawl out from under and reignite your energy.  In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Boyatzis, McKee and Goleman speak about how people confuse “achieving day-to-day business goals with performing truly satisfying work”. They then go on to discuss successful strategies for renewal, key among which is working with an experienced Coach.

How do you deal with fading passion and sense of purpose? What strategies do you find effective? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.