Accepting and learning from criticism, making conflict constructive, staying flexible under pressure….
Why are these called soft skills when they are the hardest things to do well?
You have exceptional skills and knowledge ……
…. but can you use them when you want, under pressure, and at the point of need?
Your leadership role is public property….
How well can you navigate the social pressure, stereotypes, and expectations that come with your role?
Great teamwork comes from our differences….
A team that harnesses different but complementary strengths can exceed performance goals
When we push too hard to make change, we burnout, get disillusioned, or entangled in endless conflict...
How can you make your mission-driven work more enjoyable and sustainable?

big and smallIn an ABC news interview on June 9th, Hilary Clinton said her family left the White House in 2001 “dead broke.” With that comment, she set off a firestorm of criticism and national dialogue on privilege and wealth. For me it has less to do with Hilary as a possible presidential candidate, but a lot to do with privilege and power. It seems that no matter how great our privilege, no matter how high our status, or how lucky we may be, feelings of pain and hardship can easily trump any feeling of privilege.

Hilary and Bill left the White House, perhaps not exactly broke, but broken – exhausted, humiliated in the public eye, their marriage under assault after years of accusations, civil suits and a lengthy impeachment process for Bill’s sexual misconduct. That would be hardship for any spouse, but having to endure it all in the public eye, I can easily imagine how emotionally broke and exhausted she must have felt.   (more…)

Larger than life

Jun 22, 2014

This is why it’s dangerous to make anyone seem larger than life. Because a young person coming up sees this larger than life figure, this outrageously gigantic personality and has to say I could never be that, I can never do that, when the truth is, those men, and those women, were in the right place at the right time and got hold of something, and something caught hold of them 

Maya Angelou expresses this with more poetry and wisdom than I ever could in this amazing dialogue between her and comedian Dave Chappelle

Hero worship is like a drug — a little bit can help in the right dosage, but too much interrupts our own development as leaders. What I call “good enough leadership” in this post challenges the notion that leaders are larger than life. Continue reading here


chefI’m over it now, but I got a little addicted to the Food Network TV show, Chopped. Among the many things I learned from watching (how to cook with galangal, never put cheese on fish, and French toast is not a desert), I learned the importance of execution. Some of the most skilled and creative chefs lost on the basis of what the judges called “execution.”

Last week, I was coaching a therapist who was having trouble working with a client. His understanding and analysis of the person’s process seemed very sound, as did his methods. But he just couldn’t get through. He couldn’t seem to execute. We had a very interesting discussion about execution, about the funny things that happen between knowing and doing, between theory and application.

Execution seems to be the black box when it comes to learning. You can test for knowledge and skills. You can test for potential. But whether or if someone can execute new learning, can actually do what they know, at the time and place they need to do it, is beyond our ability to predict and control. I think this must be what makes sports so popular. Even the greatest teams or greatest athletes cannot predict their execution. There’s always that chance that the underdog will have its day because the best team just couldn’t bring it. (more…)

momMy mother put her heart and soul into being a mother, and yet, she’d be the first to admit she wasn’t perfect. When I speak to her now, she frequently says, “I did my best, but there was no school for mothers.”

Sure, she probably got some things wrong. But she also got a lot right. And when it came to getting along with people, my mom was especially wise. She had an instinct for relationships, what we’d call today social intelligence. I’m grateful to her for that. In fact, I find myself quoting some of her aphorisms to clients and students, which might be annoying, but also tells me, a) the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and b) a lot of what she taught me I find useful today.

In honor of mother’s day, I’d like to share the some of her expressions and the lessons in them I find relevant today. (more…)

Who’s Your MVP?

May 7, 2014

Who’s Your MVP?

(Disclaimer: I know many of you readers don’t live in the US, and I try to not to be too provincial in my posts. But the NBA Playoffs are something I’ve loved since childhood – when my beloved New York Knicks won. So thanks for bearing with!)

Besides Kevin Durant winning the MVP (Most Valuable Player award) yesterday, it was also National Teacher Appreciation Day (did you know that even existed?) and it got me thinking about our own MVPs . Having parents, teachers, mentors, caregivers, friends, anyone in our world support us, believe in us, nurture us makes all the difference in the world. Sometimes, as Durant says, love means believing in us, and other times, it means waking us up in the middle of the night to do pushups, or whatever version of tough love you needed. When I was three years old, I was told I wasn’t allowed back in the house until I went across the street to Lee Guckert’s house and stuck up for myself. Conflict avoidant then and now, but I’d be much worse if I hadn’t had that tough love.

When it comes to support – teachers, parents, mentors – I feel rich. I’ve had a lot of support and some of the best teachers in the world. And teachers aren’t just those people at the front of the class. You never know, you just might be someone’s role model or mentor. It doesn’t take as much as you think to give someone hope, even against incredible odds. Just the presence of one supportive adult in a child’s life may act as a buffer against negative outcomes due to child abuse or neglect.

This is why it’s so important to fight for the right of people to be educated. And to fight against any force or movement that would deprive children – especially girls – of that right.

So, if you have the privilege of having support take a minute and thank the MVPs in your life.




humpty dumptyI’ve been preoccupied these past few days with the Donald Sterling scandal – the Los Angeles Clippers owner’s racist comments and subsequent lifetime ban from the NBA. It’s a paradoxical lesson in a) how much bigotry and racism exists, and b) how much our tolerance for it has decreased. Fifty years ago, Sterling would probably not even have gotten a slap on the wrist. But fifty years ago, cell phones and the internet weren’t available to make his behavior public.

It’s a miserable story though. What’s come to light about Donald Sterling is unsavory at best – a rich racist slumlord with a history of outright discrimination. But what also comes to light is his dismal relationship life. A girlfriend who seeks revenge by secretly recording his messages, who is being sued by his wife for gifts she received from Sterling. A wife who publicly disavows him, but then defends him to the paparazzi. I can’t help but think to myself how impoverished this billionaire is. He was a lifelong bigot, made his money from discrimination, was sued multiple times, was betrayed publicly by a lover, is alternately defended and disowned by his wife, no doubt has a long list of enemies eager to see him fall, and is now excoriated in the public eye. (more…)

big-tuxedoRemember the movie, Big? Tom Hanks plays a twelve year old boy who wishes he were big at a wish granting game in an arcade, only to wake up the next morning in the body of a 30 year old. He’s still a twelve year old, but living in an adult body.

It makes for great comedy, like the scene above at the company party where he encounters pickled baby ears of corn and caviar (which he spits out, and then wipes his tongue with a napkin). Like all comedy, it works because it captures something we recognize about ourselves. We laugh at his antics, and also at the uncomfortable truth that we often feel that we are just impersonators. The roles we play feel bigger than our capacity to perform them. (more…)

Slacking off

Apr 8, 2014

HamockBack in my late 20s, the concept of ‘taking time off’ was foreign to me. I had no time, no money, and no sense of inner permission. I was working full time, studying full time, and living in a foreign country. Yes, I was privileged to have the opportunity, but I worked hard, very hard to make it count. One day, I was talking with my teacher, complaining about feeling depressed and uninspired. He peered at me, and said, you look like a pasture whose grass has been munched down to the nubs by cows. You need a break, he said. You’re not depressed. You’re exhausted.

Of course, I argued with him. I couldn’t. I had no time. I had no money, I had to work, study, finish my thesis. I had a million reasons why taking time off was completely out of the picture. Finally, after much debate with myself I asked a friend if I could stay in her mountain cabin for 4 days. I remember the feeling of sitting in the sun, high up in the Alps. It was early spring, a bit like now. And the warm rays on my face felt like they reached right inside me, and fertilized that poor, munched down pasture. Four days. And I even brought my work with me, writing a few hours every morning. And yet, those four days felt like two weeks. I can still remember sitting on the bench, against the stone house, the warmth of the rays reflecting off the melting snow, the smells of early spring, the wind in the trees, and most of all, the sense of spaciousness. (more…)

lighthouseSomeone just asked me what I think good leadership is. There are hundreds of ways to answer that question. And they’re all correct. But what I said in that moment was this: a good leader is someone who knows how to make those around her successful.  To find a great leader, look for a great team. Look for engaged and enabled followers. Look for people who think independently, yet act for the well-being of all.

But I’d even go farther than that. I think the mark of a good leader is that they make the people around them into good leaders themselves.

The U.S. military call leader development process third generation leadership. Their program is a success not if it turns out great leaders, but if it makes great leaders who themselves develop great leaders. Think of it as teaching teachers to develop their students into great teachers, or parenting with your grandchildren in mind. (more…)

I had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Allen, the President of the Process Work Institute, and adjunct psychology professor at Portland State University for a wide-ranging discussion on learning, teaching, and how teachers use their power. Chris was interested in how teachers use power in the classroom, and what does, and doesn’t make students feel free to participate?

At the end is video with excerpts from our discussion. It’s about 8 minutes long, and not everything made it to the final cut, including some of Chris’ questions. Below are some of the main points we covered. There’s more to say, for sure. What would you add? What do you do that makes for great learning and participation?

  1. Make the game rules clear. It’s hard to participate if you don’t know what the expectations and norms are. Can you ask questions? Do you have to wait to the end, or can you interrupt? Are you expected to have some kind of prior knowledge?  If we don’t explain the game rules, it favors insiders who know the ropes, and the newcomers are left to learn by trial and error. This creates insider and outsider dynamics, which can detract from the learning atmosphere.
  2. Name diversity and different at the beginning especially the diversity of cognitive styles. And differentiating levels of experience: experience with the topic, with group learning, with the method. Everyone is a beginner at something, and everyone is also a veteran. There is also a great deal of diversity when it comes to thinking, learning and processing information: introverted, social, linear, visual, verbal, intuitive styles. Addressing that at the beginning opens the door, allowing people to be present with their difference. And remember: you too, the teacher, have a style which may come out as an unconscious preference, as I discovered.
  3. Engage with questions, don’t just answer them. Questions aren’t always easy to understand, and sometimes teachers don’t understand what participants are asking. Engaging to get at the heart of the issue is sometimes needed. Participant watch very, very closely how teachers address questions, wondering if it’s safe to think aloud, to challenge, to bring in their own thinking. Addressing questions with an open, inquisitive mind values peoples thinking and encourages inquiry. But be careful not to put the person on the spot, or dig into their motivation or feelings without their permission. It’s hard enough to venture a question in a group, and it’s easy to feel frozen if put on the spot. It’s a delicate dance, so it’s important to read the atmosphere.

What else would you add? 

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