Archive for success

Get your feet off the ground and fly!

I experienced a big break-through today in a yoga session when it came to bakasana (did you know I was a yogini?). I’ve had the upper body and core strength for years to do this pose, but have been unable to do it. What I lacked was confidence. After all, no one wants to fall on their face, right? So, I finally put a block under my head and ta-DA! Up went my feet, just like that. Now it’s simply a matter of muscle memory — remembering what it feels like — and I will soon be able to master this pose without the block.

Translate that to life: What do we have the ability/skill to do, but simply lack confidence for, and THAT is what is holding us back from success? Ponder that and then consider where you might find your confidence-boosting block so you can finally get your feet off the ground and fly.

Here are just a few examples of possible support blocks in real life:

  • Friends and/or family members who understand and support your goals. The understanding is very important, because without understanding they cannot truly support you, no matter how much they want to. And notice I said they understand and support your GOALS. Many times family and friends want to support US, but they have issues with our goals, or, more precisely, how we plan to accomplish our goals. For this reason they can sometimes become inadvertent stumbling blocks rather than support blocks. Make sure if you are enlisting family members and friends to support you that they are completely objective as well as supportive.
  • Teachers and mentors. Teachers and mentors are often wonderful sources of support. They have knowledge and perspective that we sometimes lack, due to our inexperience, and they are usually glad to share it. Because they have that experience they can, like family and friends, sometimes become a little stuck in a “take my route to success” way of thinking, so make sure your teacher/mentor is open to new ways of thinking and doing and can be as supportive to the path you want to take.
  • Support groups. There are tons of support groups available today, for both in-person  and online support. For anything from networking, career building, and entrepreneurship to parenting, dieting, and relationships, you can find a support group tailored to many of your tastes. Age, gender, religious and ethnic affiliations, location, activities, access, degree of expertise, and type of support available are just some of the ways support groups define themselves. Go ahead! Make some new friends while you build a support base for yourself. (Note that groups offering support may not be called “Support Group”, so cast a big net and be willing to look for names like “Network” or “Forum”. The name is different, but the basic purpose is the same.)

And, of course, don’t forget coaching! Like a personal trainer, a coach can tailor the content of your sessions to exactly what you most need to get the fastest, longest lasting results. Support is a huge part of what a coach offers. Cheering you on when it gets hard, offering tools and techniques as well as ideas when you get stuck, asking you the questions you need to get you thinking, inspiring you, challenging you — these are all ways a coach can support you.

Choose a support block or two, and get flying! Isn’t it time you got your feet off the ground, too?

Your Leadership Power Charge for May 2012

PEL Coaching, LLC

For May only, receive 50% off any coaching package.

Call (703) 272-7542 or email us at for details.

(Not valid for individual sessions.)

 I’m Talking, But You Aren’t Listening!Have you ever been in this situation? You’re in a meeting where a decision is on the table. Unfortunately, there is a conflict standing between certain members of the team (perhaps you are one of them) and a truly solid decision. The issue has been discussed for some time, but no resolution seems forthcoming. The talking seems to be going nowhere. Or perhaps this variation: You and your intimate partner — or perhaps your child — are embroiled in a conflict. You’re doing your best to explain how you feel about it — and it’s very important to you that they understand your point of view. But no matter how carefully you choose your words, the other person seems to get more and more committed to their point of view and less and less interested in yours.

No matter what the situation, it’s extremely frustrating when we don’t feel heard. Particularly when we take great care to choose our words carefully, manage the conflict skillfully, and manage our emotions with maturity and sensitivity. What more can we possibly do to turn the situation around? Why in the world is the other person or parties involved not responding to our efforts?!

Words are Often Overrated

We live in a primarily verbal society. We rely on words to communicate almost entirely — whether those words be spoken or written (which includes texting). You’re reading this newsletter. You likely email dozens of times in the course of a day. You speak and speak. And it is very important that we learn to communicate effectively when it comes to words. Without the ability to communicate our ideas clearly and passionately — so that others get excited about them — we lose the ability to connect with others and gain support for our plans.

However, there are times when we need to stop talking and choose something else. And there are two something elses I would like you to try this month:

  1. Active listening.
  2. Physically changing your position while remaining silent.

Active Listening

If you’ve taken any management, coaching, counseling, or parenting courses, you’ve likely been exposed to the skill of active listening. The question is, do you choose to utilize your knowledge when it counts? It’s easy to engage in active listening when we like what we’re hearing, or when we’re in a “coaching mindset.” It’s not so easy to do this when we’re smack in the middle of our very own personal or professional conflict. But that is just the time when this skill will be the most valuable. To review, active listening is the ability to step into the other person’s shoes and not just hear the words, but also really understand what they are saying from their perspective. Then, using that understanding, we reflect back what we’re hearing and ask for clarification to make sure we’ve received the message accurately. To take this skill to the next level, we can add comments that reflect our understanding of their emotional experience, such as “that must be very frustrating” or “anyone in that situation would feel angry — no wonder you’ve taken no action on this (if that is the case).” If they correct us, there is no need to take it personally; we are gaining greater clarity as to what their experience really is. Simply thank them for clarifying and continue to reflect back. You can prompt with questions such as “what else is happening?” or “is there more?”. You may be surprised to discover that there is, in fact, more that has built up over time.

The value of active listening is that once the other person feels truly heard, you will likely have some new information about the situation to consider for yourself. Perhaps you didn’t have the whole picture before. You may even choose to alter your original plan due to the additional information you now have. In addition, it is much easier to motivate and inspire others when they feel heard. It is almost impossible to do so by talking alone because until we have heard them, we don’t really know what their concerns and issues are, so how can we motivate and inspire them anyway?

If you would like to increase your skills in active listening, contact us. Coaching can help you build your listening skills for any situation.

Physically changing your position can change everything

When we are stuck emotionally and mentally, we are almost always stuck physically in some way as well. We hold our breath. We stop moving. This is part of the fight or flight response that is built into our physiology. No matter how much we try to get unstuck in our thinking or our feelings, there are times when what we really need to do is get unstuck in our bodies first. So, stop talking and start moving! Get up and take a short walk. Stretch. Take several deep breaths. If you’re in a meeting, just get up and walk around the room. Change your seat at the table if you can. Invite everyone to get up and move around the room and then come back to the table. If you’re at home, go outside for a few minutes. Ask your partner or child to table the conversation for a few minutes (set a time limit) and take a “body break” — meaning that you both go do something physical. Run up and down the stairs a few times. Do a downward facing dog or a few jumping jacks.

You will be very surprised by how shifting your body can shift your thinking and feeling. It can sometimes feel to me as if I literally was stuck in a certain way of thinking or feeling because my body was stuck in a certain posture or position. Once I change that, my brain releases itself to try on something new. Remember, we are not our brains. We are whole body beings. So, make use of that whole body intelligence and see what new things start to happen for you.

Next newsletter, I’ll follow up with this article. I wonder what new things you will have tried by then? I wonder what you will discover if you try BOTH techniques in one situation? Write to me and let me know about your results. I love hearing from you.

Life Strategies

What I’m reading now

Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters (Phillip C. Mcgraw, Ph.D.): You probably know him as Dr. Phil, and many people I speak with aren’t fond of his TV persona. While I would have to agree with that opinion, I have to confess that his no-nonsense approach to addressing common excuses for NOT taking action is very effective. Even coaches have excuses, and, just like you, we don’t like looking at them. If you’re ready to get down and dirty with yourself, this might be the book for you!


Michelle Kunz: Life Coach, Career Coach, Executive Coach

About Michelle Kunz

Michelle earned her Certified Professional Coach (CPC) certification from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), an International Coach Federation (ICF) – accredited coach training program. She has also earned the ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential and is qualified to administer, interpret and debrief the Myers-Briggs, FIRO-B, and Energy Leadership assessments. She is currently accepting a limited number of new clients interested in life coaching, career coaching, executive coaching, or leadership training and development.


Follow Up

What Juicy Vision Did You Create? Last month we talked about creating juicy new visions so you could take new actions and produce new results. Something you could commit to taking action on, that you could already get excited about, and where you could create an enticing vision of success that inspires and delights you. How did you do?


Living Fearlessly!

Free Webinar May 30 at 8 pm EDT: Register now for this fun, interactive webinar! Learn how to move past the fear that stops you dead in your tracks or keeps you repeating undesirable patterns of behavior. Live the life you REALLY want and deserve. To register now click here. Seats are limited!



From the PEL Blog

Both cooperation and competition are vital to success: “The ability to be simultaneously cooperative and competitive is an art form that requires practice and engages distinctive parts of your brain.” To read more about this interesting article from Psychology Today, check out the blog!

Copyright ©2012 PEL Coaching, LLC, All rights reserved.

Both cooperation and competition are vital to success.

The ability to be simultaneously cooperative and competitive is an art form that requires practice and engages distinctive parts of your brain.

If you are like me, you often find yourself playing ping-pong between being cooperative and being competitive. There are few situations where we are taught how to do both effectively. In an article from the Psychology Today blog, author Christopher Bergland explores why learning to do both is essential to successful relationships of all kinds. He also explores why social media, in particular, is robbing us of the vital skills we need to learn how to do either.

It’s interesting that our brains are wired to focus on one or the other, but doesn’t it make sense? The skills and actions required for cooperation are very different from those required for competition. And yet, to be effective, we must learn to do both. The key is how to balance each and recognize when it is time to apply which skill set.

Although Bergland proposes that athletics is one of the last great methods to learning to balance both cooperation and competition, I propose that he try singing in an opera or playing in an orchestra. In both situations the performers must cooperate or the entire performance is compromised. On the other hand, if the individuals do not remain extremely competitive, their jobs are at stake and they may not have the opportunity to continue in the future. There is nothing more exhilarating or humbling than singing next to a colleague whose voice is more powerful and beautiful than your own and realizing that you were also hired for the same job.

What activities do you engage in that keep you both cooperative AND competitive?


PEL Coaching, LLC, is a coaching and consulting company headquartered in the Washington, DC area based on the ideology of Power, Energy, and Leadership. Our philosophy is grounded on the idea that when these three powerful forces are directed, individuals, couples, families, managers, executives, teams, groups, and organizations of all sizes can achieve new levels of satisfaction and success and better manage communication, conflict, and challenge.

Your Personal Leadership Power Charge (April 2012)

PEL Coaching, LLC

7 Things You Can Do Now to Increase Your Satisfaction

Earlier this week I read a blog post by the Purpose Fairy entitled 15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy. This a fairly exhaustive collection of stuff that gets in our way, with some ideas on how to start letting go of it and make a positive shift.

However, I’ve noticed with my own experience and with my clients that you can’t just let something go or give something up. No matter how hard we try, the vacuum that is left in the gaping hole of what we left behind will try to drag us back, and this is usually pretty irresistible to most of us. It’s true in nature as well. Air and water will both flow with great ease (in the absence of anything to stop it) toward a hole where there isn’t any of it and try to fill up that space. In order to REALLY make a lasting difference it is not enough to simply give something up. We MUST replace it with something else. We have to plug up that hole. AND, even more importantly for greater success, that something else has to be really ATTRACTIVE. The something else must have at least as much appeal as the something you gave up. It has to be as seductive. And if it has even MORE appeal, you will be energetically entranced by your idea of it and be more willing to easily move toward it.

Let’s Create Something Juicy!

I was recently a participant in a workshop led by Katie Hendricks on Conscious Loving and Living. Katie is a big fan of “juiciness” because that aptly describes the quality of attractiveness that gets us excited or “juiced up” about something. When we create a vision with sufficient detail and emotional connection to what we truly desire, that creates a kind of “juicy” anticipation which can energize us through the times when we will feel challenged or tempted to give up.

So let’s get going! I’ve created a list of seven things you can do now to get juicier. Give one or more of these a try and let me know which worked best for you.

  1. Eagerly seek out and embrace the mystery of not knowing. We like to think we know a lot about a lot of things, and there are certainly things we do know. However, our conviction that we know (and that we are right about what we know) often gets in our way of discovering the new way of looking at or doing or experiencing something that might just be what we’ve been waiting for to break through an old pattern.
  2. Delight in the flexibility and ease hidden in acceptance. When we learn to accept what is with love and empathy, we experience ease and flexibility that is not available to us when we are constantly justifying why things should be this way or arguing with someone because we can’t get a satisfying answer to why they aren’t that way. Trying to exert control over things we have no real control over makes us rigid and, let’s face it, creates a lot of busy work that just doesn’t pay off in the long run.
  3. Celebrate the freedom of taking 100% responsibility for your life and allowing others to do the same. When we own our lives — all the efforts and all the results — and we allow others to own theirs, we release ourselves from the burden of trying to make everything work out for everyone else AND we release everyone else from the burden of having to make our lives work out for us. With all that freedom, we can focus on what we truly want and our energy can be directed to efforts that will yield positive results.
  4. Love yourself with abandon. When we fall in love with someone else, we are willing to overlook their flaws. We can’t wait to spend time with them. We go out of our way to do little things that we know will delight them. Even as the relationship matures, we show our love in a variety of ways: words of praise or affection, quality time, gifts, acts of service, physical touch, and others. When was the last time you treated yourself as sweetly and thoughtfully as you would a lover or a child? Our relationship with self is a perfect place to practice love with abandon. After all, we spend more time with our selves than with anyone else.
  5. Infuse your mind with the excitement of thinking BIG! Possibilities are what shape reality. Our minds are limitless, and they create positive possibilities or negative. When we get excited about thinking BIG we expand our capacity to create bountiful positive possibilities. We break past our current state of being, in our thoughts, and we see a vision of a future that inspires us. And perhaps scares us just a little. Excitement and fear sometimes have similar feelings in our bodies. So we can focus on the fluttery feeling and let it stop us or make us smaller because it feels scary, or we can use the energy that our bodies are producing to ignite us to excited, energized BIG action.
  6. Radiate your gloriously beautiful authentic self. Be willing to shed the layers accumulated through years of careful adherence to rules that no longer serve you. Not only will you feel lighter and have more energy, but your energy will be clearer, more attractive, and easier for others to connect to. You’ll find you can communicate your ideas with greater ease. Your experience of being will be more joyful. You may even find that you really like who you discover underneath all that stuff you’ve been carrying around.
  7. Lovingly gift yourself the luxury of experiencing all the stages of change with understanding and patience. Change can be good, it is true. And it is also true that there is a natural cycle that we all experience as we process the change itself, even if we caused the change to take place. Rather than hurry through that process to get to the other side, rushing to the positive planned result, embrace the experience of each stage with empathy and kindness. The stages are part of the change, and they each deserve to be honored. The experience of pain and loss is no better nor worse in terms of intrinsic value than the experience of joy and celebration. When we learn to embrace each experience with love, we learn to appreciate more of what we already have. We can enjoy where we are now AND where we are going.

Ready to replace something that’s holding you back with something a lot juicier? Remember: when you hear yourself thinking or saying: “I want to stop _____” or “I’d like to let go of ________”, that’s the time to begin creating your super attractive, active positive statement that has real meaning for you. Something you can commit to taking action on, that you can already get excited about, and where you can create an enticing vision of success that inspires and delights you. If you’d like additonal support in creating your super juicy vision, contact me!


Have You Seen This Yet?

Brene Brown: Listening to ShameShame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word. Click here to watch this inspiring Ted Talk.

About PEL Coaching

PEL Coaching, LLC, is a coaching and consulting company headquartered in the Washington, DC area based on the ideology of Power, Energy, and Leadership. Our philosophy is grounded on the idea that when these three powerful forces are directed, individuals, couples, families, managers, executives, teams, groups, and organizations of all sizes can achieve new levels of satisfaction and success and better manage communication, conflict, and challenge.


New Easy Scheduling

We have an easy-to-use scheduling tool now available on our website. Simply click on the link and schedule your coaching session. Complimentary sessions are available for anyone interested in exploring how coaching can make a difference in your life, relationships, career, or organization. Visit our website for more details.

Your coach, Michelle Kunz

About Michelle Kunz

Michelle earned her Certified Professional Coach (CPC) certification from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), an International Coach Federation (ICF) – accredited coach training program. She has also earned the ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential and is qualified to administer, interpret and debrief the Myers-Briggs, FIRO-B, and Energy Leadership assessments. She is currently accepting a limited number of new clients interested in life coaching, career coaching, executive coaching, or leadership training and development.

Copyright © 2012 PEL Coaching, LLC, All rights reserved.

Some Ways to Practice Are More Perfect Than Others

If you want to truly master new skills, whether those skills be athletic, artistic, or interpersonal, effective practice is essential. In a Psychology Today article, Susan Heitler, Ph.D., outlines how to make the most of practicing. Some highlights from the article:

“In addition to continual analysis and re-programming, effective practice includes breaking down complex acts into small components, practicing each of these, and then gradually putting these small components together into increasingly longer sequences.”

“Top flight coaches know the nuances of how to do the activity they are teaching and therefore are able to give detailed feedback… Each suggestion shapes [my actions] toward immediately better and better performance, especially since [the coach] also designs short drills to highlight and help me master any specific mini-skill that I’m repeatedly missing.”

“[For those who do not have their own coach:] They do a specific action, and then they reflect, figuring out what to do differently the next time. They work on small specific sub-skills, and gradually put these together into longer sequences. By the time they tackle the overall project again… their level of performance has bumped up significantly.”

To read the full article:

Why artists do what they do

Why artists do what they do

There is something so deeply satisfying about knowing you’ve made a positive difference. Perhaps especially when it happens in an unanticipated way.

On-Going Learning for Optimal Engagement by Michelle Kunz

Peak performers are known to be committed to on-going learning, among a number of other success-breeding habits and behaviors. As leaders we can use on-going learning as a tool for creating, maintaining and increasing team engagement, even if some on the team do not naturally gravitate to a personal habit of on-going learning.

As in other circumstances, the success of the approach depends on the presentation and on our personal level of commitment to the concept. Mandating a learning program creates yet another obligation, with accompanying low energy and engagement. Team members may participate, but buy-in and results may not reflect our desired outcome. Likewise, if we are not personally committed to on-going learning our ideas will be meaningless. Going beyond mere lip service, we can actively participate in learning opportunities, creating a culture of on-going learning that supports the entire organization.

The key in successfully presenting the concept initially may lie in showing team members how on-going learning benefits them. After all, everyone is busy with actual work – how can they possibly fit in learning? In this case, the employee is the proverbial client and you, the leader, become the sales person in the classic “WIIFM (What’s in it for Me?)” scenario. Once you show the individual the connection between shifting organizational requirements and the value of a highly flexible and versatile employee they are highly likely to see the benefit of investing in developing a strategy of on-going learning. With the increased potential in many organizations of an individual being shifted to different teams, the benefit of becoming a high asset team member as a result of a acquiring a high degree of knowledge which is consistently both broad and deep within the organization’s field of expertise quickly becomes very clear.

Team members who are able to grasp the long term vision of what is possible within the organization using on-going learning as a foundation for both flexibility and value will eagerly engage in programs designed to challenge the status quo and keep them at the forefront of skills and knowledge relating to their field. Everyone wins.

How can you build or enhance your team’s commitment to on-going learning? What one action can you take this week to increase your own commitment to on-going learning? How will you measure your success?

, , , , ,

Where Collaboration Begins by Michelle Kunz

Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict. William Ellery Channing (1780 – 1842)

So many new ideas are at first strange and horrible, though ultimately valuable that a very heavy responsibility rests upon those who would prevent their dissemination. J. B. S. Haldane (1892 – 1964)

In a recent study on collaboration, BNET and Harris Interactive polled 2093 people and discovered the following:

  • Personality conflicts and egos are among the hardest problems to solve
  • Bad chemistry and poor leadership are often blamed for lack of collaboration

  • Leaders are often not open to new ideas

  • There is a lack of feedback from other team members

  • New ideas are not being tracked

At the heart of teamwork is collaboration, working together to achieve a common goal. But collaboration isn’t just about reaching a goal. Collaboration suggests getting along, consensus building and positive feedback. Why are individuals rating these areas so low if teams depend on these very dynamics to achieve results?

Because leaders are tied up with other activities. The reason new ideas don’t get air time or proper support, feedback across the team is not encouraged and personality and ego issues are at the forefront of team challenges is because the leaders are not at the helm of the ship. They are somewhere in a meeting of their own, on a team of their own, experiencing very similar feelings of frustration. Here are some of the top frustrations I hear from managers:

  • No support for new ideas from upper management

  • Personalities and egos drive organizational agendas

  • Untold hours wasted in pointless meetings

  • Work that actually matters is stymied by bureaucratic procedures or territory wars

Given that the complaints are similar, it would seem that someone somewhere would be capable of validating the experience of everyone else and begin acknowledging the reality of the dysfunctions. In company after company across the U.S., employees are crying out to be heard in their frustration, and motivation and morale continue to suffer while validation and acknowledgement remain off the table.

Someone needs to go first

Let’s assume that upper management has something so important preoccupying them that true organizational health is simply not on the agenda in any real way. Never mind study after study that shows that lack of organizational health has a real connection to the bottom line in terms of employee satisfaction and turnover, productivity and other measurable results. If everyone up in the C Suite is too busy, someone else needs to make a move instead.

This is where the true leaders have an opportunity to shine. I recently met with a manager whose team has excelled in every benchmark in their industry, while teams around them have floundered. Sooner or later, this manager will attract attention simply because the numbers will begin to speak. What is this person doing? Investing great amounts of time and energy in coaching, mentoring, supporting and championing the team members. Regular training meetings, motivational programs, one-on-one coaching opportunities and a very personal relationship with each team member are essential ingredients in this manager’s recipe for success. These programs are not standard for the organization, and come out of the division budget, but the results show that every dollar is money well spent.

Meanwhile, this person still attends the requisite manager meetings and all other organizational meetings, in addition to meeting all the organizational goals and requirements for the team.

And the team? The team works together, supports one another, gives feedback, supports new ideas. In short, they collaborate to make each individual a partner in the overall team success.

Someone has to go first, and it is not likely to be your boss. A leader doesn’t wait around for someone else to go first. By definition, a leader is out in front of the pack, leading. So, would someone on one of those very unhappy teams lacking in collaboration please release themselves from sheep status and step up to be shepherd? Even if you don’t wear the title, earn the position. People who lead change people’s lives. They change the world. And let me offer a little validation here for those of you who share that vision: it is not an easy task to lead. Only the most resilient, creative and flexible –not necessarily the strongest or brightest — will pass the test of time when it comes to leadership.

Collaboration begins when one person decides to get along, to figure out why things aren’t working very well and how they might work better. It doesn’t matter if that person is the titled leader or not. There are many books available to explain personality types, in a variety of theories and presentation styles. Find out a little more about yours and those with whom you work. Do a little detective work and figure out how to make things work a little better. Egos are about fear. Figure out what people are afraid of and you can soothe their egos and get back to the matters of importance. Ideas don’t die unless the people who have them allow them to die. Devise a way to grow your ideas — and those of your team — and track them yourself. Leadership requires creativity.

Powerful leaders do not wait for others. Step up and make a difference. Collaboration begins with you and me and her and him and all of us, wanting it and working for it. Who will go first?

Are You Self-Motivated, Going-Through-the-Motions, or Tuned-Out? by Michelle Kunz

In an article on engagement (“Engage me or enrage me”, Management Issues, 26 Sep 2006), Max McKeown describes three possible types of students and the three possible types of employees they may become: self-motivated, going-through-the-motions or tuned-out. These types develop as a result of the education system failing to fully engage a student, followed by their employment experience failing to fully engage them. This post does not intend to address the issues of the education system nor describe the three types and how to diagnose them. The reason I bring this to your attention is that as a leader, you are going to have these types on your team. And you, yourself, are also most likely one of these types.

In a series of separate articles Management Issues addresses a host of topics related to employee engagement. Among them is the article “The keys to employee engagement” (February 2007) in which a UK poll of 100,000 employees suggests that managers who lead by example, listen to their employees and engage in life long learning are most likely to engage employees. Let me paint this a little more clearly for those of you who may be feeling lost. The self-motivated employees are your smallest problem. If you have any hope of engaging the going-through-the-motion and the tuned-out types, you are going to have to step up to the plate and engage yourself first.

Leading by example

If we are to lead by example, we must first take an honest, no-holds-barred look at ourselves and see where we stand. If it is possible that our employees fall into one of three categories (self-motivated, going-through-the-motions, or tuned-out), then we must assess ourselves and see where we fall as well. To lead others, we must be able to lead ourselves. We must be able to walk the talk. This is because there is no leadership without trust. Trust requires vulnerability. And vulnerability requires that we can readily and freely admit our strengths AND our weaknesses. What we know and what we don’t. Where we are confident and where we need help. How can we expect our team to do what we ourselves are unwilling to do?

Leadership is an ongoing study in self growth. There is no way you can lead from a going-through-the-motions or a tuned-out position. We must get to a place of self motivation. This is sometimes simply a matter of hard work and discipline. Just when you think you’ve conquered your last experience with boredom and apathy, a day comes when the work facing you for the next eight hours seems less aligned with your internal fire and vision than you had hoped. The true test of self motivation arrives at that moment in the shape of: What do you do under those circumstances?

There are thousands of books written to tell you how to keep positive thoughts going, how to write out your goals and keep them in front of you to inspire you, how to prioritize and organize your time and tasks. And there are some people for whom those systems work very, very well. But what about those for whom the systems occasionally or perhaps even often don’t work? Is this an indication that they are less self-motivated? By definition, I argue that this means that in fact, no, they are not less self-motivated. For the first group, it is the goal, the positive thoughts, the system which is keeping them going — and as long as that works, they should keep doing it! But what if you are struggling to get motivated by goals, positive thoughts and systems?

Tapping into your values and principles

Some people are strongly motivated by a set of deeply held inner values and core principles by which their entire worlds are organized. When a project or even a small chore or task aligns with those values, they experience a sense of urgency and excitement which carries them through the action required. It doesn’t feel like work at all, and the time flies. If a given project or task does not seem to align with those core values, it is extremely difficult to see the point in doing it. It feels like a waste of time, and the time drags by.

The truth is, all of us have these core values and principles. We simply are not always aware of what they are. We have never stopped to give it any thought. If I were to ask you to define and rank your top five values, you might have a very difficult time coming up with a list. You might easily come up with twenty values you think should have equal importance, or you might struggle to come up with three. Either experience is simply an indication that you have not had the opportunity to think in these terms before.

As a powerful leader, it is essential to know clearly and without hesitation what your defining values are. When you have clarified this for yourself, you will become aware of which activities align with your values and which do not. And several options will become available to you. You can delegate a certain task to someone else who might have better alignment with the task; you can re-frame the task; or you can simply say no and seek tasks which are in better alignment with your values.

Furthermore, once you have clarity around values and principles, any set of goals, positive thoughts and external systems will have more value for you because you will ensure that whatever you are working with, it aligns with some deeper meaning. This creates a powerful synergy within you that allows the outer stuff (the goals, ideas, etc.) to have much more purpose. You will experience greater buy-in to your own plans.

Listening deeply to those we lead

Whether it is our children, someone we serve as a volunteer, or our employees, learning to listen deeply is essential in mastering the art of engaging others. The key is to listen to clues as to what the other person’s values and core principles might be. As we have seen, it is here that the essential ingredients — the keys — lie to true motivation.

For example, if someone is struggling with a particular task, we can ask empowering questions. What about the task is challenging? If the answer is anything other than skill related, this is a sign that something is out of alignment for the other person. Resistance in any form is a sign of misalignment. Sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to uncover assumptions or limiting beliefs that are simply in the way of alignment occurring. This can be true if the person we are working with believes that the task isn’t important, that no one cares about their project, that perceptions exist about their role in the company and so on. Our job at that point is to remove the assumptions and limiting beliefs so the person can become realigned with their task.

If the person we are working with begins to talk about not feeling connected to the bigger project or company picture, this is an indication of a larger type of misalignment which may or may not be able to be adjusted. Helping the person articulate their inner values at this point can be very helpful. Questions such as: What are the most important things to you in your life? What do you value the most in life? asked in a safe, confidential context can help the individual and you come to a greater understanding of what kind of work really motivates them. If you can then find a way to connect the work required of them to their motivations, you can help realign them to the task at hand. If not, it is sometimes better for all people involved if the person moves on to something else they are better suited for.

Life long learning

There are many types of learning, and it is easiest to focus on the external acquisition of additional skills. As leaders, who we are is often more important than what we know. To fully maximize our potential in being we need to become skilled in the area of self awareness. Self awareness is a life long process. It is not a course you take on a weekend where you receive a certificate and then you’re done. Of all the learning we can do to become more powerful leaders, self awareness is among the most important. When we seek to lead by example, how else can we truly accomplish that without a deep understanding of what it is we do and why? This applies everywhere — how we listen, how we talk, how we organize our tasks, how we approach problems, how we interact with others — and why. Self awareness does not require years of therapy (in the absence of psychological distress), but it does require an ongoing willingness to look inward and ask questions.

Many of us would prefer to not look within. We are afraid of what we will see and the implications. We’ll have to change everything, and we know that is impossible, so we feel like failures before we ever begin. That approach is filled with assumptions and limiting beliefs. A more curious and gentle approach might serve us better. We aren’t looking to deconstruct every relationship we ever had. We’re looking to get to know ourselves better. What am I really like? What makes my creative and energetic juices flow? What do I like and don’t like? If there were no other people or institutions in the world (i.e., no pressure), what would I choose for this or that? Why am I not choosing that now? If I could have any resource I needed within 24 hours, what would I choose to do within the next 48?

The answers to these questions shed a great deal of light on who we are now and who we might become. Powerful leaders look for potential within as well as without and they know that like the old song “let peace begin with me”, motivation, engagement, excitement, inspiration, all that is good in leadership begins with one person: me.

Are you self-motivated, going-through-the-motions or tuned-out? Regardless of were you are now, you have the ability to make a big shift into the type you choose to be. Choose powerful leadership. Choose leading by example, deep listening and life long learning.

Death by Waiting by Michelle Kunz

In the October 9, 2007 print edition of the “Wall Street Journal” Jared Sandberg’s “Cubicle Culture” column addressed an issue we can all relate to: the fatal effects of waiting on creativity, motivation, morale and productivity. Sandberg observes that no matter how many technological advances we develop to eliminate waiting, there are always built in enforcers of the status quo. Email, for example, can send our messages immediately, but we have no control over whether the person receiving will actually respond.

Managing up is a hot topic right now. Everyone would like to get their supervisor, or better yet, the C Suite, on the same page as they are. There is the perception that if upper management would change, everything would improve. There are many assumptions buried in those perceptions, and whether they are accurate or not is not the topic for this particular post. Waiting for management to change, however, is. That falls under the topic of trying to control the outcome of someone else’s behavior, overtly or covertly, and we can just let that go and move on to areas where we have more direct control.

As leaders we do have a great deal of control over how smoothly things flow within our direct spheres of influence. Most of this control lies in setting good examples, laying down clear operating guidelines, communicating expectations and following up with direct feedback which delivers specific information to the recipient on how they can adjust their actions to better serve the team. Let’s look at each of these areas in greater detail as they relate to waiting.

Good examples

Time management is one of those terms often used and seldom understood. It might be helpful to review the Pareto Principle which states that 80% of effects comes from 20% of causes. Think about that. What that is saying is that 80% of your causes (or efforts) are practically wasted (producing only 20% of your effects, or outcomes). The purpose of a time management system ideally is to maximize your efforts so that you are in peak performance more often than 20% of the time. Before you can implement a calendar or task list, however, you first need to identify which activities actually produce your greatest results (the 80% of effects) and devise a strategy for maximizing your time spent in those activities. This may require delegating, saying no to or redefining other activities so you can maximize your efforts.

If you can’t get your arms around this as a leader, it will be difficult to make the case for your team to do it. Here are some common areas where leaders lay down weak examples for teams to follow, wasting time and causing undue delays in the process:

  • Failing to stick to action-producing agendas for meetings
  • Attempting to get consensus on a topic when a clear decision is called for
  • Resisting setting up clear accountability guidelines so action is well supported
  • Allowing deadlines to slip without asking for accountability in ways that produce action
  • Overlooking the importance of clarity in all aspects of communication, inviting misunderstandings, mistakes and delays
  • Miscalculating the importance of accurate and timely cascading communication systems

Clear operating guidelines

Some of the bullet points above fall under this heading. One of the best ways a leader can help a team avoid playing the waiting game is to lay down clear operating procedures from the very beginning. This requires a clear construct of all aspects of the team’s activities and responsibilities, both internally and interdepartmentally. The best way to get this picture will be to ask for input from your team. They know better than you what they do, how they do it and how long it takes. You probably know the why better than they do. And you can push back on the how and how long, perhaps even the what if something seems out of place. With this kind of dialogue and open debate, a very clear picture of overall team activity and responsibilities will begin to take shape. Everyone on the team needs to have this clear picture — each member should clearly understand what everyone else does and why and have a good sense of the how and how long. This understanding eliminates unreasonable requests from one member to another, and sets reasonable expectations between team members.

Once you have the picture, continuing the dialogue to include what core procedures must be in place to keep the team at peak performance will elicit ideas you may not think of if you do this exercise alone. You’ll have an organizational view, which is essential, but they will have priorities and preferences which will be no less vital to keeping the team motivated and happy. Working through these issues early on will ensure that everyone is on the same page and has buy-in. Clearly laying this out for your team will ensure that later on no time is wasted waiting for someone else to decide what should be happening at this point in the project.

Clear expectations

“Expectations” is not about levels of perfection. It’s about goals and objectives and deadlines and accountability. What do you expect people to do, by when, and how will they let you know it has been accomplished? How should they let you know it is NOT going to be accomplished or that a problem has developed — and by when? How much do you want to be kept in the loop along the way? Who is accountable to whom else on the team? How will that happen? How do they handle an accountability issue between teammates? If you have not laid out a very clear set of expectations around objectives, deadlines and accountability, you are asking your team to wait while you figure it out along the way. Furthermore, you are asking for a lot of wasted time while people deal with misunderstandings and ambiguity around the essential questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Do not ever be afraid to be too clear when answering those questions. And always ask people to tell you what they heard you say just in case you weren’t as clear as you thought you were.

Direct feedback

So many people struggle with feedback. They take it personally. They fear the other person will take it personally. If the other person does take it personally, they take that personally. No wonder supervisors frequently dread the annual review process. Wouldn’t we all rather just give out gold stars and call it a day?

Feedback in its simplest form is information about where you are in relation to where you said you wanted to be. You set an objective: A, and you set a deadline: B. On date B you look to see if you’ve accomplished A. If you have, great! You can talk about what happened, how you felt about it, what you learned, what happened that you expected, and what happened that you didn’t. That’s all part of extended feedback — how you felt and what you learned. What gets difficult for most of us is when date B comes along and we didn’t accomplish A.

So here are two cases: Case 1: we are close to getting A, but we’re just not there yet. In this case, we assess the original goal and see if our date was unrealistic. Or perhaps something else happened — Time management issues? Extenuating circumstances? It’s all feedback. Case 2: We didn’t accomplish A, but we did accomplish C. In this case, we can really get out of the box and ask some interesting questions. Was A necessary after all? Is C more useful in some way than A? Were we just goofing off and C is a complete waste of time? What kept us from doing A and what drew us to doing C? All of this is also feedback. And, of course, there are many other questions that the exact situation will ignite that will shed additional light on the subject.

The point is, without feedback, there will be no forward movement. The goal can be large or small, no matter. Along the way, we all need feedback so we can adjust course. That might mean carry on, or it might mean abandon ship. Either course is valid and important, but we won’t know until we get feedback.

Waiting is a part of life. We will wait in traffic. We will be put on hold while making a doctor’s appointment. And we will probably wait for a request from another department or from the powers that be above us. But within our own teams waiting can be minimized or at least be made meaningful by adopting principles and creating systems which support movement — creating the freedom to move, supporting the ability to move, enforcing accountability for movement and always, always making sure we have solicited input from the beginning so we have clarity, understanding and most importantly — ownership.