Provision #735: Qualms Matter

Laser Provision

Few, if any, leaders would disagree with the title of today’s Provision. Quality matters. Quality matters not only in our goods and services, it also matters in the way we carry and conduct ourselves as leaders. If quality is so important, then, it becomes a key work of leadership to continuously maintain and to constantly be on the lookout for ways to improve quality. If that doesn’t always define your leadership, or if you’re not sure how to do it, then this is the Provision for you. Read on.

LifeTrek Provision


Since 1998 I have been in the business of coaching leaders. There have been many other assignments, of course, such as my extensive involvement in the work of schools andWellcoaches, but coaching leaders has always been in play.

That’s because leaders value the importance of quality and understand coaching as a way to improve quality. That’s not because coaches are necessarily experts in the content matter of any leader’s particular position; that’s rather because coaches are process-matter experts in the key work of learning from experience.

In a certain sense, then, no leader actually needs a coach. Learning from experience is a universal attribute of humans and other animals. The most primordial of which has to do with aversion. Hence the age-old expression, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

It doesn’t take too many burned hands before young children learn to avoid touching a hot stove. The pain leads instantaneously to a reflex reaction; the reflection on that experience then leads to the theory that we will keep our hands away from hot stoves in the future.

Such reflection on action represents one of the hallmarks of human intelligence. Thanks to our massive cerebral cortexes, no animal can match our ability to learn from experience and to apply that learning over time.

One can even make the case that all learning is a matter of reflection on experience. Even book learning has to be applied before it really makes sense and takes hold. And, in the application process, great ideas are inevitably transformed. Theory to practice is never a straightforward matter. It always involves improvisation.

So I’m not persuaded that learning is ever a matter of reflection on reflection. Such meta-reflections are little more than ruminations. They may feel good, meeting our brain’s need for stimulation, but they don’t constitute real learning until they get applied and adapted and we have the opportunity once again to reflect on experience.

All learning, it seems to me, is action learning. And we don’t always learn from our mistakes; indeed, the best learning often comes from our successes. That may sound counter-intuitive, but there is a growing body of research underlying one of my favorite quotes from Marcus Buckingham: “Excellence is not the opposite of failure. To learn about success you have to study success. Only successful examples can tell you what excellence looks like.”

The best learning, in other words, is not aversive (what we want to avoid) but attractive (what we want to amplify). Take the study from the 1980s of two groups of bowlers. Both groups were of comparable ability and both groups were involved with the same bowling league in Wisconsin. Their desire? To learn how to be better bowlers.

Researchers filmed the bowlers so they could watch themselves bowl as an action-learning strategy. What the bowlers didn’t know, however, was that the films were edited differently. One group was shown only the times when they made mistakes (gutter balls and missed pins). The message: figure out what you were doing wrong so that you can avoid those mistakes when you go back out to bowl.

The other group was shown only the times when they did well (strikes and spares). The message: figure out what you were doing right so that you can amplify those successes when you go back out to bowl. Sure enough, when they went back out both groups had learned to bowl better. But the group who had learned from their successes demonstrated significantly more improvement than the group who had learned from their mistakes.

Many other studies have confirmed the value of learning from success. It is more fun, more encouraging, and more directly relevant to our goals. By reflecting on success we learn what we want to do instead of what we don’t want to do. And the brain has a difficult time with not.

Allow me to illustrate. For the rest of the day, I want you to avoid seeing red cars. Don’t notice them or pay any attention to them. And, while you are at it, don’t bump into anything, either. Just be careful and avoid both obvious and hidden hazards.

Hopefully, I have not consigned you to a day of seeing red cars and bumping into things. In fact, the best thing you can do is to forget my suggestion altogether. The more you try to not see red cars or and the more you try to not bump into things the more you will see and do those things. That’s just the way the brain works.

Action learning, then, involves two critical ingredients. First, the discipline of reflection. Unless we take the time to think about what we are doing, both in the moment and after the fact, we will not learn and grow from our experiences. That takes discipline because it’s easy to be “busy, busy, busy” all of the time.

Second, action learning requires the discipline of reflecting on success. It’s called a discipline because learning from success is not our first impulse. Pain is designed to get our attention. It is a protective mechanism that hijacks our thinking and takes over in the face of existential threats. That’s when we “fight, freeze, or flee,” not to mention “tend and befriend,” until the threats are mitigated and resolved.

Such responses are so primordial that they have come to define human learning, even when the threats are not existential. We assume that trouble shooting and problem solving are the best ways to improve quality. Take, for example, our response when our child comes home from school with a report card, having four “good” grades and one “bad” grade. What do we focus on and talk about? If you are like most people the answer is obvious. We focus on the problem.

But school report cards, like bowling scorecards, can be improved more by focusing on and talking about the “good” grades than by focusing on and talking about the “bad” one. What happened with these “good” grades? How do they make you feel? What do you value most about yourself as a student? What are your best qualities? What helped you to be so successful? What are your aspirations now?

These are the kinds of learning-from-success questions that have the highest potential for generating even more success in the future. By asking such questions we do not deny or pretend that there are no problems. We are rather seeking to outgrow our problems through strengths-building rather than to tackle our problems head on. From the most personal to the most global of problems, we can reflect on and learn more from the best of times than from the worst of times.

I wish our current political and economic leaders would take this lesson to heart. With all the doom and gloom of the debt crisis, the budget crisis, and the employment crisis, not to mention the health crisis, the education crisis, and the climate crisis, most people are focusing on the problems and what we can learn from adversity rather than on the strengths and what we can learn from prosperity.

No wonder we so often find ourselves in a downward spiral! We get more of what we focus on, even when we tell ourselves that this is definitely what we do not want. Do not panic is like do not see red cars. Our brains process the panic and forget all about the not. So we do all the things we don’t want to do, which can often make the crises worse rather than better.

Enter the coaches. If coaches are anything we are thinking partners for the people we work with. Our primary tools are questions and reflections that assist people to review and learn from their experiences. The discipline of talking with a coach is, in and of itself, a great way for leaders to engage in the discipline of reflection. It is certainly not the only way, but it does guarantee certain levels of consistency and intensity that are vitally important to the learning task.

Great coaches take that discipline to the next level by assisting leaders to stay focused on success. In my experience, that is one of the real functions coaches play with our clients: we assist them to rise above the fray, to think about their strengths, to mine the treasure trove of their best experiences, and to entertain possibilities they might otherwise be too distracted or too scared to consider.

Back in 1983, Donald Sch•n wrote a now-classic book titled The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. In that book, Sch•n persuasively argued that regular patterns of both reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action are the hallmarks of professionalism and the keys to quality.

Sch•n wrote: “It is this whole process of reflection-in-action which is central to the ‘art’ by which practitioners sometimes deal with situations of uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and value conflicts.” Such reflection “consists of on-the-spot surfacing, criticizing, restructuring, and testing of intuitive understandings of experienced phenomena; often it takes the form of a reflective conversation with the situation.”

When such reflection becomes embedded in the professional practices of leaders, it leads to ever higher levels of quality. Sch•n referred to this quality as “knowing-in-action.” More recently, this has been described as the shift from “conscious competence” to “unconscious competence.” In leadership terms, it means we have the ability to make informed decisions, in the moment, even when we are faced with new and unfamiliar situations.

With clear mental models as to the practices that express our values, strengths, and abilities, confidence rises and all manner of things become possible. We move beyond the crises du jour to the important work of envisioning and designing the future.

Although research into the virtue of learning from success was still in its infancy back in 1983, Sch•n was clearly and compellingly making the case for regular reflective practices as a key part of learning from experience. That case holds true perhaps more today, with the changes in technology and society, than it did 30 years ago. Slowing down as the world speeds up, learning about the root causes of success, may well hold the key to quality for us all.

That is certainly one way to make the case for coaching. If you are finding it hard to step back and to think about your life and work, if you are getting increasingly distracted and agitated by the troubles of our time, if you are more painfully aware of your weaknesses and shortcomings than of your strengths and success, then entering into a coaching relationship would be one way to turn the tables around. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.

Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe your commitment to quality? What helps you to continuously improve that quality? Are reflective practices a regular part of your life? How could you strengthen and derive more benefit from those practices? What part could coaching play in the equation?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


Your Provision, Quality Matters, was an excellent piece of work! I have been developing a consulting practice for the past 8 years based on action learning and strengths-based principles, and your comments really resonate with me. I would add from experience with over 60 such projects that there’s no need to ignore problems and gaps to drive strengths-based improvement. Rather, it’s the cycle of discovering root causes, testing new tools and techniques for addressing them, reflecting on the impact of those new approaches, identifying lessons learned, and strengthening what’s working that leaves our clients in a strong place. Keep up the great work! 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #734: Quality Matters

Laser Provision

Few, if any, leaders would disagree with the title of today’s Provision. Quality matters. Quality matters not only in our goods and services, it also matters in the way we carry and conduct ourselves as leaders. If quality is so important, then, it becomes a key work of leadership to continuously maintain and to constantly be on the lookout for ways to improve quality. If that doesn’t always define your leadership, or if you’re not sure how to do it, then this is the Provision for you. Read on.

LifeTrek Provision


Since 1998 I have been in the business of coaching leaders. There have been many other assignments, of course, such as my extensive involvement in the work of schools andWellcoaches, but coaching leaders has always been in play.

That’s because leaders value the importance of quality and understand coaching as a way to improve quality. That’s not because coaches are necessarily experts in the content matter of any leader’s particular position; that’s rather because coaches are process-matter experts in the key work of learning from experience.

In a certain sense, then, no leader actually needs a coach. Learning from experience is a universal attribute of humans and other animals. The most primordial of which has to do with aversion. Hence the age-old expression, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

It doesn’t take too many burned hands before young children learn to avoid touching a hot stove. The pain leads instantaneously to a reflex reaction; the reflection on that experience then leads to the theory that we will keep our hands away from hot stoves in the future.

Such reflection on action represents one of the hallmarks of human intelligence. Thanks to our massive cerebral cortexes, no animal can match our ability to learn from experience and to apply that learning over time.

One can even make the case that all learning is a matter of reflection on experience. Even book learning has to be applied before it really makes sense and takes hold. And, in the application process, great ideas are inevitably transformed. Theory to practice is never a straightforward matter. It always involves improvisation.

So I’m not persuaded that learning is ever a matter of reflection on reflection. Such meta-reflections are little more than ruminations. They may feel good, meeting our brain’s need for stimulation, but they don’t constitute real learning until they get applied and adapted and we have the opportunity once again to reflect on experience.

All learning, it seems to me, is action learning. And we don’t always learn from our mistakes; indeed, the best learning often comes from our successes. That may sound counter-intuitive, but there is a growing body of research underlying one of my favorite quotes from Marcus Buckingham: “Excellence is not the opposite of failure. To learn about success you have to study success. Only successful examples can tell you what excellence looks like.”

The best learning, in other words, is not aversive (what we want to avoid) but attractive (what we want to amplify). Take the study from the 1980s of two groups of bowlers. Both groups were of comparable ability and both groups were involved with the same bowling league in Wisconsin. Their desire? To learn how to be better bowlers.

Researchers filmed the bowlers so they could watch themselves bowl as an action-learning strategy. What the bowlers didn’t know, however, was that the films were edited differently. One group was shown only the times when they made mistakes (gutter balls and missed pins). The message: figure out what you were doing wrong so that you can avoid those mistakes when you go back out to bowl.

The other group was shown only the times when they did well (strikes and spares). The message: figure out what you were doing right so that you can amplify those successes when you go back out to bowl. Sure enough, when they went back out both groups had learned to bowl better. But the group who had learned from their successes demonstrated significantly more improvement than the group who had learned from their mistakes.

Many other studies have confirmed the value of learning from success. It is more fun, more encouraging, and more directly relevant to our goals. By reflecting on success we learn what we want to do instead of what we don’t want to do. And the brain has a difficult time with not.

Allow me to illustrate. For the rest of the day, I want you to avoid seeing red cars. Don’t notice them or pay any attention to them. And, while you are at it, don’t bump into anything, either. Just be careful and avoid both obvious and hidden hazards.

Hopefully, I have not consigned you to a day of seeing red cars and bumping into things. In fact, the best thing you can do is to forget my suggestion altogether. The more you try to not see red cars or and the more you try to not bump into things the more you will see and do those things. That’s just the way the brain works.

Action learning, then, involves two critical ingredients. First, the discipline of reflection. Unless we take the time to think about what we are doing, both in the moment and after the fact, we will not learn and grow from our experiences. That takes discipline because it’s easy to be “busy, busy, busy” all of the time.

Second, action learning requires the discipline of reflecting on success. It’s called a discipline because learning from success is not our first impulse. Pain is designed to get our attention. It is a protective mechanism that hijacks our thinking and takes over in the face of existential threats. That’s when we “fight, freeze, or flee,” not to mention “tend and befriend,” until the threats are mitigated and resolved.

Such responses are so primordial that they have come to define human learning, even when the threats are not existential. We assume that trouble shooting and problem solving are the best ways to improve quality. Take, for example, our response when our child comes home from school with a report card, having four “good” grades and one “bad” grade. What do we focus on and talk about? If you are like most people the answer is obvious. We focus on the problem.

But school report cards, like bowling scorecards, can be improved more by focusing on and talking about the “good” grades than by focusing on and talking about the “bad” one. What happened with these “good” grades? How do they make you feel? What do you value most about yourself as a student? What are your best qualities? What helped you to be so successful? What are your aspirations now?

These are the kinds of learning-from-success questions that have the highest potential for generating even more success in the future. By asking such questions we do not deny or pretend that there are no problems. We are rather seeking to outgrow our problems through strengths-building rather than to tackle our problems head on. From the most personal to the most global of problems, we can reflect on and learn more from the best of times than from the worst of times.

I wish our current political and economic leaders would take this lesson to heart. With all the doom and gloom of the debt crisis, the budget crisis, and the employment crisis, not to mention the health crisis, the education crisis, and the climate crisis, most people are focusing on the problems and what we can learn from adversity rather than on the strengths and what we can learn from prosperity.

No wonder we so often find ourselves in a downward spiral! We get more of what we focus on, even when we tell ourselves that this is definitely what we do not want. Do not panic is like do not see red cars. Our brains process the panic and forget all about the not. So we do all the things we don’t want to do, which can often make the crises worse rather than better.

Enter the coaches. If coaches are anything we are thinking partners for the people we work with. Our primary tools are questions and reflections that assist people to review and learn from their experiences. The discipline of talking with a coach is, in and of itself, a great way for leaders to engage in the discipline of reflection. It is certainly not the only way, but it does guarantee certain levels of consistency and intensity that are vitally important to the learning task.

Great coaches take that discipline to the next level by assisting leaders to stay focused on success. In my experience, that is one of the real functions coaches play with our clients: we assist them to rise above the fray, to think about their strengths, to mine the treasure trove of their best experiences, and to entertain possibilities they might otherwise be too distracted or too scared to consider.

Back in 1983, Donald Sch•n wrote a now-classic book titled The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. In that book, Sch•n persuasively argued that regular patterns of both reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action are the hallmarks of professionalism and the keys to quality.

Sch•n wrote: “It is this whole process of reflection-in-action which is central to the ‘art’ by which practitioners sometimes deal with situations of uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and value conflicts.” Such reflection “consists of on-the-spot surfacing, criticizing, restructuring, and testing of intuitive understandings of experienced phenomena; often it takes the form of a reflective conversation with the situation.”

When such reflection becomes embedded in the professional practices of leaders, it leads to ever higher levels of quality. Sch•n referred to this quality as “knowing-in-action.” More recently, this has been described as the shift from “conscious competence” to “unconscious competence.” In leadership terms, it means we have the ability to make informed decisions, in the moment, even when we are faced with new and unfamiliar situations.

With clear mental models as to the practices that express our values, strengths, and abilities, confidence rises and all manner of things become possible. We move beyond the crises du jour to the important work of envisioning and designing the future.

Although research into the virtue of learning from success was still in its infancy back in 1983, Sch•n was clearly and compellingly making the case for regular reflective practices as a key part of learning from experience. That case holds true perhaps more today, with the changes in technology and society, than it did 30 years ago. Slowing down as the world speeds up, learning about the root causes of success, may well hold the key to quality for us all.

That is certainly one way to make the case for coaching. If you are finding it hard to step back and to think about your life and work, if you are getting increasingly distracted and agitated by the troubles of our time, if you are more painfully aware of your weaknesses and shortcomings than of your strengths and success, then entering into a coaching relationship would be one way to turn the tables around. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.

Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe your commitment to quality? What helps you to continuously improve that quality? Are reflective practices a regular part of your life? How could you strengthen and derive more benefit from those practices? What part could coaching play in the equation?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob
 


I never before thought about the power of questions to shape our conversations. Thanks for the reminder to pay careful attention to our questions in your last Provision


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #734: Quality Matters

Laser Provision

Few, if any, leaders would disagree with the title of today’s Provision. Quality matters. Quality matters not only in our goods and services, it also matters in the way we carry and conduct ourselves as leaders. If quality is so important, then, it becomes a key work of leadership to continuously maintain and to constantly be on the lookout for ways to improve quality. If that doesn’t always define your leadership, or if you’re not sure how to do it, then this is the Provision for you. Read on.

LifeTrek Provision


Since 1998 I have been in the business of coaching leaders. There have been many other assignments, of course, such as my extensive involvement in the work of schools andWellcoaches, but coaching leaders has always been in play.

That’s because leaders value the importance of quality and understand coaching as a way to improve quality. That’s not because coaches are necessarily experts in the content matter of any leader’s particular position; that’s rather because coaches are process-matter experts in the key work of learning from experience.

In a certain sense, then, no leader actually needs a coach. Learning from experience is a universal attribute of humans and other animals. The most primordial of which has to do with aversion. Hence the age-old expression, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

It doesn’t take too many burned hands before young children learn to avoid touching a hot stove. The pain leads instantaneously to a reflex reaction; the reflection on that experience then leads to the theory that we will keep our hands away from hot stoves in the future.

Such reflection on action represents one of the hallmarks of human intelligence. Thanks to our massive cerebral cortexes, no animal can match our ability to learn from experience and to apply that learning over time.

One can even make the case that all learning is a matter of reflection on experience. Even book learning has to be applied before it really makes sense and takes hold. And, in the application process, great ideas are inevitably transformed. Theory to practice is never a straightforward matter. It always involves improvisation.

So I’m not persuaded that learning is ever a matter of reflection on reflection. Such meta-reflections are little more than ruminations. They may feel good, meeting our brain’s need for stimulation, but they don’t constitute real learning until they get applied and adapted and we have the opportunity once again to reflect on experience.

All learning, it seems to me, is action learning. And we don’t always learn from our mistakes; indeed, the best learning often comes from our successes. That may sound counter-intuitive, but there is a growing body of research underlying one of my favorite quotes from Marcus Buckingham: “Excellence is not the opposite of failure. To learn about success you have to study success. Only successful examples can tell you what excellence looks like.”

The best learning, in other words, is not aversive (what we want to avoid) but attractive (what we want to amplify). Take the study from the 1980s of two groups of bowlers. Both groups were of comparable ability and both groups were involved with the same bowling league in Wisconsin. Their desire? To learn how to be better bowlers.

Researchers filmed the bowlers so they could watch themselves bowl as an action-learning strategy. What the bowlers didn’t know, however, was that the films were edited differently. One group was shown only the times when they made mistakes (gutter balls and missed pins). The message: figure out what you were doing wrong so that you can avoid those mistakes when you go back out to bowl.

The other group was shown only the times when they did well (strikes and spares). The message: figure out what you were doing right so that you can amplify those successes when you go back out to bowl. Sure enough, when they went back out both groups had learned to bowl better. But the group who had learned from their successes demonstrated significantly more improvement than the group who had learned from their mistakes.

Many other studies have confirmed the value of learning from success. It is more fun, more encouraging, and more directly relevant to our goals. By reflecting on success we learn what we want to do instead of what we don’t want to do. And the brain has a difficult time with not.

Allow me to illustrate. For the rest of the day, I want you to avoid seeing red cars. Don’t notice them or pay any attention to them. And, while you are at it, don’t bump into anything, either. Just be careful and avoid both obvious and hidden hazards.

Hopefully, I have not consigned you to a day of seeing red cars and bumping into things. In fact, the best thing you can do is to forget my suggestion altogether. The more you try to not see red cars or and the more you try to not bump into things the more you will see and do those things. That’s just the way the brain works.

Action learning, then, involves two critical ingredients. First, the discipline of reflection. Unless we take the time to think about what we are doing, both in the moment and after the fact, we will not learn and grow from our experiences. That takes discipline because it’s easy to be “busy, busy, busy” all of the time.

Second, action learning requires the discipline of reflecting on success. It’s called a discipline because learning from success is not our first impulse. Pain is designed to get our attention. It is a protective mechanism that hijacks our thinking and takes over in the face of existential threats. That’s when we “fight, freeze, or flee,” not to mention “tend and befriend,” until the threats are mitigated and resolved.

Such responses are so primordial that they have come to define human learning, even when the threats are not existential. We assume that trouble shooting and problem solving are the best ways to improve quality. Take, for example, our response when our child comes home from school with a report card, having four “good” grades and one “bad” grade. What do we focus on and talk about? If you are like most people the answer is obvious. We focus on the problem.

But school report cards, like bowling scorecards, can be improved more by focusing on and talking about the “good” grades than by focusing on and talking about the “bad” one. What happened with these “good” grades? How do they make you feel? What do you value most about yourself as a student? What are your best qualities? What helped you to be so successful? What are your aspirations now?

These are the kinds of learning-from-success questions that have the highest potential for generating even more success in the future. By asking such questions we do not deny or pretend that there are no problems. We are rather seeking to outgrow our problems through strengths-building rather than to tackle our problems head on. From the most personal to the most global of problems, we can reflect on and learn more from the best of times than from the worst of times.

I wish our current political and economic leaders would take this lesson to heart. With all the doom and gloom of the debt crisis, the budget crisis, and the employment crisis, not to mention the health crisis, the education crisis, and the climate crisis, most people are focusing on the problems and what we can learn from adversity rather than on the strengths and what we can learn from prosperity.

No wonder we so often find ourselves in a downward spiral! We get more of what we focus on, even when we tell ourselves that this is definitely what we do not want. Do not panic is like do not see red cars. Our brains process the panic and forget all about the not. So we do all the things we don’t want to do, which can often make the crises worse rather than better.

Enter the coaches. If coaches are anything we are thinking partners for the people we work with. Our primary tools are questions and reflections that assist people to review and learn from their experiences. The discipline of talking with a coach is, in and of itself, a great way for leaders to engage in the discipline of reflection. It is certainly not the only way, but it does guarantee certain levels of consistency and intensity that are vitally important to the learning task.

Great coaches take that discipline to the next level by assisting leaders to stay focused on success. In my experience, that is one of the real functions coaches play with our clients: we assist them to rise above the fray, to think about their strengths, to mine the treasure trove of their best experiences, and to entertain possibilities they might otherwise be too distracted or too scared to consider.

Back in 1983, Donald Sch•n wrote a now-classic book titled The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. In that book, Sch•n persuasively argued that regular patterns of both reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action are the hallmarks of professionalism and the keys to quality.

Sch•n wrote: “It is this whole process of reflection-in-action which is central to the ‘art’ by which practitioners sometimes deal with situations of uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and value conflicts.” Such reflection “consists of on-the-spot surfacing, criticizing, restructuring, and testing of intuitive understandings of experienced phenomena; often it takes the form of a reflective conversation with the situation.”

When such reflection becomes embedded in the professional practices of leaders, it leads to ever higher levels of quality. Sch•n referred to this quality as “knowing-in-action.” More recently, this has been described as the shift from “conscious competence” to “unconscious competence.” In leadership terms, it means we have the ability to make informed decisions, in the moment, even when we are faced with new and unfamiliar situations.

With clear mental models as to the practices that express our values, strengths, and abilities, confidence rises and all manner of things become possible. We move beyond the crises du jour to the important work of envisioning and designing the future.

Although research into the virtue of learning from success was still in its infancy back in 1983, Sch•n was clearly and compellingly making the case for regular reflective practices as a key part of learning from experience. That case holds true perhaps more today, with the changes in technology and society, than it did 30 years ago. Slowing down as the world speeds up, learning about the root causes of success, may well hold the key to quality for us all.

That is certainly one way to make the case for coaching. If you are finding it hard to step back and to think about your life and work, if you are getting increasingly distracted and agitated by the troubles of our time, if you are more painfully aware of your weaknesses and shortcomings than of your strengths and success, then entering into a coaching relationship would be one way to turn the tables around. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.

Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe your commitment to quality? What helps you to continuously improve that quality? Are reflective practices a regular part of your life? How could you strengthen and derive more benefit from those practices? What part could coaching play in the equation?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob
 


I never before thought about the power of questions to shape our conversations. Thanks for the reminder to pay careful attention to our questions in your last Provision


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #733: Questions Matter

Laser Provision

Leaders often think of ourselves as answer people. We are, almost by definition, the go-to people in organizations and we think it is our job to generate ideas, solve problems, and keep people on track. But what if the best way to do all that is not by answering questions, but by asking questions? What if our role is best understood as that of a conversation starter and question asker rather than as an information provider and decision maker? When leaders understand ourselves in this way, everything begins to shift • from how we talk to ourselves to how we talk with others to how we get things done. That may seem less efficient than simply telling people what to do, but looks can be deceiving. Read on if you would like to see things anew.

LifeTrek Provision


So here’s a question for you: what’s stopping you from registering for the next section of evocative coaching training? The early-bird registration period expires on Wednesday, saving you $100 USD, and now we have just unveiled our easy payment plan ($310 USD per month for three months). There’s no reason to hold back from what may be a career-building but also a life-transforming experience.

At least that’s what people are telling us. We have now had 60 people go through the training program, which assists instructional leaders and other educators to enhance the quality of our conversations with others. Although the focus of the program is on the conversations that take place in primary and secondary schools regarding professional practices, the lessons learned apply equally well to other life settings and contexts. More than once, trainees have commented on what a difference the training is making in their marriages, partnerships, or friendships.

That’s because life is a seamless whole. Since the time of the industrial revolution, people have been living with the illusion of a dichotomy between life and work. Although that dichotomy keeps many coaches in business, as we work with people to achieve “life•work balance,” for example, in reality there is no dichotomy at all. We have only one life, and how we show up in one place is more or less how we show up in every place. To paraphrase Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book title, Wherever We Go, There We Are. We just can’t get away from ourselves.

So what we learn in one arena carries over to every arena. As we become better conversationalists at work, the practice carries over to home, family, and friendships. That’s probably not reason, in itself, to go through the evocative coaching training program. We certainly don’t advertise it as a self-help group; it is a professional development program for teachers and instructional leaders sponsored by the Center for School Transformation. But it’s nice to know that the benefits apply.

We see that especially when it comes to some of the practical skills in our coaching model. People often show up on the first day of training with some pretty conventional ideas as to what coaching means. What do you think it means? Chances are, if you are like most people, you think it means telling someone how they can do something better. That’s what lies behind the expression, “Can I give you some coaching about that?”

So the first step in learning coaching, as in so many things, is unlearning. We have to unlearn what we think we know in order to make room for what we need to know. And, at least when it comes to coaching, what we need to know comes down to the familiar, four-word mantra, “Questions are the answer.” People coach best when we ask questions that evoke conversations that lead to answers rather than when we show up and show off with what we know. 

The same goes for leadership. It may have been some measure of technical expertise that got us into positions of leadership, but leadership itself is a very different. Recently I was working with the CIO and his direct reports of a top, Fortune 500 company. I started by asking people to write down how much of their job was communication. I did not ask how much of their job involved communication. I asked, how much of it was communication. Their answers surprised me: between 80% to 100%.

I then asked people how long they thought an average, negative emotional experience would impair performance. I made it clear that by average I meant a little more than nothing but a lot less than an earth-shattering experience. Their answers surprised me even more: between a few hours to 200 hours. This crew clearly understood the leadership task, even though they all had strong, technical backgrounds in information technology. Leadership is all about people.

And when it comes to working with people, making them feel good, winning their cooperation, and opening their minds, nothing works better than a great question. That, in fact, is what coaches learn and hone in coach training: how to ask great questions. It can be a real challenge, at times, to take off our expert hats in order to put on our question hats. But that is exactly what makes great coaches great. We resist the temptation to analyze problems and give advice in order to ask questions that expand awareness and move people to action.

The power of such questions is reflected in Marilee Adams’ book title: Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. The instant a new question is asked, the focus of of our attention and conversation shifts. Questions are to attention as spotlights are to a stage. They illuminate what we want people to see. And when it comes to both coaching and leadership, what we want people to see are the possibilities.

So the first shift we have to learn how to make is the shift from what Adams refers to as Judger Questions to Learner Questions. This is the shift from interrogation and fault-finding to inquiry and strengths-building. It is a shift we would all do well to learn how to make on a more consistent basis. Interrogation and fault-finding represent a sure-fire formula for those negative emotional experiences. Inquiry and strengths-building, on the other hand, generate positive emotions and fill people with self-efficacy • the confidence that we can figure things out and make things work.

That is what we are hoping to generate through our questions, and we can get that juice flowing at any point. Even if we start down the wrong path, with Judger Questions, we can switch over to Learner Questions as soon as we catch ourselves in the act and wake up to the possibility of asking new questions. And it only takes one new question to shift our thinking and deliberations in new directions.

Adams refers to those questions as Switching Questions. In our book, and in the evocative coaching training program, we refer to them as Imaginative Listening questions. When we find ourselves thinking a certain way about a situation or a person, we can ask, for example, “How am I feeling right now?” “Is this how I want to be feeling?” “How else can I understand the situation?” and “How might the other person describe the situation?”

As soon as we start asking question like these, we have begun to switch from the Judger Path to the Learner Path. Instead of focusing on causes and culprits, the Learner Path focuses on understandings and possibilities. You can get a sense of how this feels just by looking at the two sets of questions in Adams’ book.

  • Judger Questions: “What’s wrong? Whose fault is it? What’s wrong with me? How can I prove I’m right? How will this be a problem? Why is that person so stupid and frustrating? How can I be in control? Why bother?”
  • Learner Questions: “What works? What am I responsible for? What do I want? What can I learn? What are the facts? What’s useful about this? What is the other person thinking, feeling, and wanting? What’s the big picture? What’s possible?”

You can download a free color copy of these and other questions from Adam’s website,www.inquiryinstitute.com. I like the graphic (which Adams refers to as the Choice Map) for many reasons, not the least of which is the Switching Lane. All of us find ourselves starting down the Judger Path at times. It’s an easy and natural place to go, especially when things are going badly. But we don’t have to stay on that path forever. We are not destined to end up in what Adams refers to as the Judger Pit. We can, instead, switch to the Learner Path through the power of understanding, curiosity, and imagination.

Adams recommends the ABCC Choice Process: Awareness (Am I in Judger?), Breath (Do I need to step back and gain perspective?), Curiosity (Do I have all the facts? What’s happening here?), and Choice (What will I do now?). When it comes to choice, in evocative coaching we stress the importance of both awareness and action experiments. What will we do? We can either pay attention to new things in new ways (not intentionally trying to change a thing) or we can change our approach. Either way, great leaders are more concerned with learning than winning.

Great leaders are consistently in a Learner frame of mind: strengths-based, win-win, valuing differences, dialogical, and collaborative. Great leaders don’t have all the answers and tell people what to do. Great leaders have great questions, inviting people to work together to meet the challenges of our day. The same goes for coaches. Won’t you join me on the journey?

Coaching Inquiries: What is your orientation in life and work? How often do you choose to take the Learner Path? What would help you to get on that path more often? Who do you know who embodies that orientation? How could you partner with them to learn and grow together?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


Your Provision on how and why Memory Matters was a real eye-opener. I never thought that I could strengthen my memory by working my imagination. Thanks for making that connection.  


You have probably written a post about morality, but it would have fit right into your recent series on how MindfulnessMoods, and Memory matter when it comes to leadership. Morality Matters!Check out this post on a CEO who takes morality to heart. 


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #732: Memory Matters

Laser Provision

All leaders know the importance of remembering names. Being able to call someone by name, especially after it has been a while since we have seen them, is a form of acknowledgement and affirmation that says: “You are important to me.” People feel great when we give them that sense. But did you know that being able to remember the past derives, in part, from our ability to anticipate the future? Both functions utilize the same processing centers in the brain, and the stories we tell about the past are as much about sense-making as they are about reporting. In our minds, all human beings are time travelers. If you want learn how to leverage that ability for leadership, then I encourage you to read on.

LifeTrek Provision


Today’s Provision stands in contrast to my last two Provisions on Mindfulness and Moods. Both mindfulness and moods have to do with the present moment, specifically, our awareness and attitudes in the present moment. It’s not possible to lead well in the present moment if we are not aware of what’s happening and if our attitudes are filled with negativity. In this moment, great leaders pay attention, suspend judgment, keep a positive attitude, and stay open to possibility.

In order to do that, however, great leaders master the art of mental time traveling. The human ability to remember the past and anticipate the future is truly remarkable. Although other animals demonstrate some of this ability, no other animal demonstrates such profound capabilities. Indeed, our detailed reconstructions of what has happened in the past and our equally vivid constructions of what may happen in the future represent the fertile ground out of which civilizations are born. Apart from this ability, human beings would never have advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

It is important, then, that leaders set our mindfulness and moods in a context that only memory can offer. The idea that the present moment exists in isolation from other moments is patently untrue and not the point of mindfulness. The present moment is, by definition, the moment that exists between the past and the future. Our thoughts about those other times determines much as to who we are and how we function in the moment.

And thoughts are all we ever really have to work with. Even when we have tangible artifacts from the past and explicit designs for the future, they mean nothing apart from our thoughts about them. Take something like dinosaur bones. Scientists have worked hard to create a plausible story explaining the existence of dinosaurs, starting about 230 million years ago and ending about 65 million years ago in the wake of a cosmic cataclysm caused by an asteroid impact.

Some people, however, are not persuaded. They argue that the dinosaurs were created by God at the same time as all the other animals and that they were wiped out by the biblical flood, from which human beings and other animals were spared only by the fast and faithful actions of Noah and his family. That’s another line of thinking about the past, trying to make sense of the same evidence.

Fast forward to the current debate over the US debt limit and we see the same dynamic at work. In this case, however, instead of dinosaur bones we have legislation. That legislation costs money to implement and the US does not currently collect enough money to cover all the costs. Some politicians have worked hard to separate the budget conversation from the debt conversation. They view past legislation as an obligation until it is changed or eliminated in the future.

Some people, however, are not persuaded. They argue that legislation is not an obligation if the US does not collect the money to pay for it. They view such deficit spending as “kicking the can down the road” to future generations in ways that are onerous and unacceptable. That’s another line of thinking about the past and future, trying to make sense of the same information.

Regardless of what you think about dinosaurs and debt, it’s clear that you are the one doing the thinking. Different people come to different conclusions about the past, present, and future depending upon how they think. And those conclusions have consequences. In Louisiana, public schools teach students about both evolution and creationism. In the US Congress, they have been at loggerheads ever since the new House of Representatives was elected, trying to deal with both the budget and the debt. We’ll see how that goes as deadlines fast approach.

The bottom line can be summarized in the pithy slogan, “Words create worlds.” The words we say to ourselves and to others frame our experiences of the past, present, and future. Understanding this power, great leaders choose our words carefully. We think things through because thinking is being and doing.

How then do great leaders think? In a word, optimistically. Fortunately, that’s not too difficult since the human brain is hardwired to think optimistically about both the past and the future. Both memories and dreams, both reflection and prospection, get consistently shaded with positive hues.

That’s the conclusion of researcher Tali Sharot, author of the The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain. Sharot writes:

“The only way conscious mental time travel could have been selected for over the course of evolution is if it had emerged at the same time as false beliefs. In other words, an ability to imagine the future has to develop side by side with positive biases. The knowledge of death has to emerge at the same time as its irrational denial. A brain that could consciously voyage through time would be an evolutionary barrier unless it had an optimism bias.”

“It is this coupling•conscious prospection and optimism’that underlies the extraordinary achievements of the human species, from culture and art to medicine and technology. One could not have persisted without the other. Optimism does not exist without at least an elementary ability to consider the future, as optimism is by definition a positive belief about what is yet to come, and without optimism, prospection would be devastating.”

What great leaders understand is how to integrate optimistic memories and anticipation in ways that become life-enhancing, self-fulfilling prophecies rather than dangerous, irrational risks. Well-placed optimism creates self-efficacy which stimulates such core ingredients of success as initiative and resilience. Unfounded or prejudicial optimism, on the other hand, gets everyone in trouble.

This defines one of the key works of leaders: knowing how and when to say “Yes!”  You are perhaps familiar with the Pygmalion effect. In multiple experiments (that are now banned because of the harm they can do), teachers are told at the start of a school year that one group of students is gifted and talented while another group of students is low-performing. Sure enough, that’s just how things turn out by the end of the school year.

The only problem: the two groups of students were randomly selected and there was no actual difference between them as to their abilities. Giving the teacher an optimism bias for one group of kids became a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Great leaders say “Yes!” so that everyone can win. We don’t use the past to divide people and sequester the future; we use it to unite people and expand the future. Memory and anticipation are linked not only by virtue of how our brains function, but also by how great leaders lead. Our thinking is possibility thinking not just because of our “irrationally positive brains,” but also because of our understanding of how words work.

Words create worlds. If we think we have a lot of problems and limitations, then that is the world we live in. If we think we have a lot of strengths and opportunities, then that is the world we live in.

Great leaders see those strengths and opportunities. We see them in the past and in the future. We call them out and name them because we know they are there. Holding on to and calling out that belief makes all the difference in the world.

Coaching Inquiries: What is the nature of your relationship to the past, present, and future? Are you aware of how your own optimism bias plays out in life and work? To what degree would you describe that bias as irrational and to what degree would describe it as predictive? How can you become better able to bolster the self-confidence of others? 

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob
 


Thanks for reminding me about the importance of moods. I don’t pay attention to that enough. It’s easy for me to slip into a bad mood and not even notice, until someone points it out. The idea that we can cultivate a good mood through our daily practices is a rather new one to me. I will have to think about that. 


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #731: Moods Matter

Laser Provision

Are you in a good mood? If you are a leader, I certainly hope so. That’s because moods, like emotions, are contagious. People pick up on and attune themselves with the moods of leaders. When leaders are persistently anxious, frustrated, or depressed, for example, such qualities come to define the culture and climate of our organizations. Any thought that people will rise above the mood of their leaders is largely an illusion and certainly an exception to the rule. Most of the time, leaders set the tone. It behooves us, then, to set a tone that will lead to organizational success. And moods cannot be faked. Self-management is therefore a key work of leadership. Read on if you want to buff up your own mood and set yourself apart as a leader.

LifeTrek Provision


In her excellent book on leadership in schools, Trust Matters, my wife, Megan, makes the following distinction between emotions and moods: emotions are intense affective states tied to particular events while moods are less intense, generalized affective states that are not tied to particular events. Emotions are therefore more transitory, in-the-moment feelings while moods tend to persist over time and even come to define a leader’s personality. While some leaders are known as generally upbeat and optimistic, for example, others are known as cynical and suspicious.

What tends to be your mood as a leader? The notion that moods don’t make much of a difference, if that was ever widely held, has now been definitively discredited. Moods not only matter, they make a huge difference in terms of mission-critical elements such as productivity, creativity, and quality. If we hope to get things done as leaders, then managing our moods is a huge part of the task at hand.

That does not mean that great leaders never have negative emotions. When things happen that are frustrating, disappointing, or confusing, for example, then it’s not only appropriate, it’s helpful to get in touch with our frustration, disappointment, or confusion. Pretending otherwise causes problems, both psychologically and organizationally.

Things happen, and when those things interfere with our core commitments, values, and needs, it is only natural to experience negative emotions. Acknowledging those feelings and empathizing with their underlying causes are important parts of the healing process and to our own authenticity as leaders.

Unfortunately, many leaders don’t know how to do that. We fear that people will think we are weak if we admit to having negative emotions, especially emotions such as fear or uncertainty, and so we walk around with the proverbial “stiff upper lip” • acting tough, so as to not let others know what we are really feeling. Male leaders have been especially prone to such pretenses.

Putting on airs of invulnerability may well have been the expectation of leaders in the early stages of the industrial revolution, when machine metaphors were often used to describe organizations, but that is no longer the metaphor and no longer the approach taken by great leaders. Organizations today are viewed in organic terms, with the different parts being viewed as members of one body which communicate continuously on a 360-degree basis.

The metaphor of the human body is an apt one for today’s organizations. Every part of the body knows what the brain is doing and vice-versa, even before we become able to consciously articulate what’s going on. That’s because the nervous system is distributed throughout the body, communicating instantaneously as to its physiological and affective states. If you don’t understand what that means, stub your toe. You’ll get a sense of just how fast that nervous system works.

Organizations are no different. The people in them may look like separate and distinct individuals, but we are connected on many deep and profound levels. One of the most basic of those levels is what cognitive behavioral neuroscientists refer to as “emotional contagion.” Without saying a word, emotions have a way of quickly spreading from one person to the next.

And that phenomenon is not limited to human beings. On the contrary, it is a universal attribute of animals with brain stems and Limbic systems. One bird gets spooked and the whole flock flies away. One deer hears a noise and the whole herd cocks their ears. It doesn’t take much before an organization will pick up on and attune itself to the emotions of its leaders and members.

We saw that in the United States, and around the world, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 tragedies. The emotions were palpable and they galvanized people with a sense of shock, sadness, and solidarity. People expressed those emotions and, as a result, were able, however slowly, to move on. That’s the way emotions are supposed to work: trigger, contagion, understanding, release.

Great leaders are not afraid to go through those stages with people. Unfortunately, too many leaders get stuck at the point of contagion. Emotions are stimulated by a particular event, but instead of being released through empathy and resolved through understanding they get perseverated into all-encompassing moods. Such leaders may think we are just being realistic, prudent, or firm, but the vibes we are putting out communicate a far more difficult and dangerous dynamic.

In Trust Matters, Megan quotes Solomon and Flores as identifying seven “bad” moods that leaders would do well to avoid. To that list, I would add at least one more:

  • Entitlement (“I must get my way.”)
  • Distrust (“I have to watch my back.”)
  • Confusion (“I don’t know what’s going on here or what I’m doing.”)
  • Panic (“I’ll never be able to do this.”)
  • Cynicism (“Nothing ever really changes around here.”)
  • Resignation (“I give up.”)
  • Despair (“Nothing can prevent this looming catastrophe.”)
  • Resentment (“I don’t ever get the respect I deserve.”)

Notice how often moods have a generalized, exaggerated, and demanding feel about them. Words like “never,” “don’t ever,” “nothing,” and “must” describe the tonal quality of moods. Moods don’t come and go, like feelings, they instead linger and define our way of being as leaders.

That’s why it’s so important for leaders to work constructively with our feelings and to cultivate positive moods. How we show up emotionally influences and  often determines the culture and climate of our organizations as well as what gets done. To see how that works, turn those “bad” moods around in the list above and then ask yourself the following question: “What kind of leader would I rather work with?”

  • Empowerment (“I enable others to find a way.”)
  • Trust (“I can rely on people.”)
  • Clarity (“I understand what’s happening and what to do.”)
  • Calm (“I feel comfortable in any situation.”)
  • Confidence (“Success can be arranged.”)
  • Determination (“Together, we can get this done.”)
  • Hope (“Things have a way of working out.”)
  • Happiness (“People appreciate my contribution and effort.”)

Those words have a strong, positive resonance about them. Chances are good that you found yourself saying, “Yes, that’s the kind of leader I would like to work with.” Who wouldn’t! We count on leaders to set the pace, and part of that pace is communicated by our moods. If we are anxious or demanding souls, then the ability of people to work together, think creatively, improvise solutions, and rebound from adversity is greatly compromised.

So don’t let that happen. Do what it takes to cultivate a good mood. Work through negative emotions and cook up positive ones through whatever techniques lift your spirits and enable you to be at your best on a day-to-day basis. You owe it to yourself and to those you lead to make it so.

Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe your mood in life and work? What would assist you to cook up more positivity? Where do you go to find clarity, calm, confidence, and hope? Who could help you to find those energies today and to stay with them tomorrow?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob
 


I have been sitting on my “cook’s porch” since about 7:00 this morning listening to and watching the birds and other critters become active. It is also a time for me to sink into my more intentional prayers • focusing particularly on some folk who have come to my attention and who are in some way deep into life challenges / opportunities. 

As I read your Provisions piece on Mindfulness just now, I am struck by how much intentional prayer and mindfulness are alike. I have liked Yoda since he first came on the scene in Star Wars, and thank you on this day for helping me remember his profound words! Provisions was a great way to close the prayers today.


Don’t say Yes. Be Yes. 


Every week when I read Provisions, it seems like they were written directly to me and situations I am facing. Thank you for that! 


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #730: Mindfulness Matters

Laser Provision

In her extensive research and writing on trust in schools, my wife, Megan, notes that trust is hard to define because it is easier to describe the absence than the presence of trust. Trust is like air: we take it for granted until it becomes polluted or scarce. Mindfulness works the same way. So many definitions describe mindfulness in terms of what it is not: not distracted, not judgmental, not reactive, not bored, and not attached to an outcome. Although these statements are all true, they do not help us very much when it comes to incorporating mindfulness into our life and work as leaders. What, exactly, are we supposed to do and how, exactly, are we supposed to be? Read on to get some answers.

LifeTrek Provision


It’s hard to believe that in last week’s Provision on leadership lessons from Yoda, that tiny green character known as a “Jedi Master” in the Star Wars universe, I would forget to include what is perhaps Yoda’s most famous saying of them all: “Do or Do Not. There is no try.” How could I forget that! I have included that saying on several occasions in Provisions, with the first time being in the fifth issue of Provisions, all the way back on February 27, 1999: Own Your Life. In 2002, I returned to that quote with a Provision titled, Stop Trying. Suffice it to say, that quote is one of my favorites.

So I added that into the online version of last week’s Provision, connecting it to one of Yoda’s other famous sayings, “To be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose.” Trying to do something without actually doing it represents a failure to choose. We may be carrying around thoughts of what we are supposed to do, want to do, ought to do, or should do, but all such thoughts are illusions. They represent what is sometimes referred to as “mental musterbating”: beating ourselves, over and over again, with thoughts as to what we “must” do. Such thoughts fail to inspire behavior change or hope. They rather provoke gridlock, brought on by the guilt of procrastination and the frustration of failure.

That’s why many coaches invite our clients to take a serious look at their “To Do” lists. In many cases, these are not “To Do” lists at all. They are rather lists of all the things we are not doing. Such “Not Doing” lists are not helpful to anyone. They just keep getting longer and longer, triggering stress, overwhelm, and impairment of life. Yoda was right: “Do or Do Not. There is no try.” Go through those lists and clean them up. Throw away the things you are not doing. Keep the things you are doing, because that is who you really are. And if you don’t believe you can do that, you might want to watch Yoda say that himself in a short, 43-second YouTube clip.

Whatever we do or do not do starts in the mind, which is why mindfulness is so important to great leadership. What we believe, how we pay attention, and how we manage our emotions make all the difference in the world.

It may be tempting to think that Yoda’s philosophy is just a modern expression of the old notion of the “power of positive thinking.” That would reflect, however, neither the nuances of Yoda’s understanding nor the definition of mindfulness itself. Yoda is not saying that thoughts become things as a matter of course. There is no simple, cause-and-effect relationship between what I want and what I get. In the movie, Yoda’s prot•g•, Luke Skywalker, learned that the hard way as his spaceship sank back into the swamp. If it was easy to manipulate things in the physical world by thinking of things in the mental world, the world would be a very different place, indeed.

No, the relationship between thoughts and things is much more subtle and nuanced than that. In fact, the more attached we become to an outcome in our minds, the less effective we become as leaders. Attachment not only leads to suffering, as the Buddhists would say, it also leads to judgmental thoughts and demanding strategies in the course of how we communicate with others and go about our days.

Such thoughts and strategies are exactly the opposite of what Yoda was demonstrating to Luke in the swamp. Getting things done was not a matter of making something happen at all. It was rather a matter of allowing something to happen that would make life more wonderful. That was the life-giving agency of the Force, which Luke was not yet able to channel but which Yoda was able to muster fully despite his small size. Mindfulness was the key.

So what qualities make for mindfulness? It’s easier to describe what mindfulness is not than to describe what it is. Mindfulness is not being distracted from what is happening in the present moment by thinking about stuff that happened in the past or that might happen in the future. Mindfulness is not trying to do two or more things at once, better known as multitasking. Mindfulness is not judging what is happening in the present moment in terms of good and bad, right and wrong, sacred and profane, or moral and immoral. Mindfulness is not getting emotionally hooked by what is going on in the present moment. Mindfulness is not working or pushing an agenda. Mindfulness is not ignoring the obvious, seeing only what we expect to see instead of what is there.

All that and more encompasses the notion of mindfulness. It’s no wonder, then, that it takes practice to cultivate and embody mindfulness as leaders. There is not a leader nor even a person on the planet who does not fall prey to these tendencies. They are, in fact, hardwired in our neurobiology. The brainstem • sometimes referred to as our primitive, Reptilian brain • is constantly scanning the environment for potential threats. It is awake at all times, even when we are sleeping. That’s why we don’t stop breathing! But for all its survival value, the brainstem’s constant vigilance, sending out alarms with coded threat levels to the rest of the brain, works against mindfulness. It is the source of what Buddhists so aptly refer to as the “monkey brain”: the ceaseless chattering of the mind.

Such chattering does not contribute to great leadership. That’s why so many great leaders establish disciplined habits of mind, replete with regular rituals and practices, to help us stay focused. Meditation is only one of many such practices. The STOP Tool (Step back, Think,Organize your thoughts, Proceed), developed by Tim Gallwey, is another that I have written about frequently. Nonviolent Communication, with its four distinctions, has enabled many leaders to move beyond knee-jerk reactions to more reflective, life-giving responses. However we get there, the message is the same: mindfulness matters.

Here’s my take on what mindfulness is and how we can cultivate mindfulness in our work as leaders. Each ingredient of my understanding represents the opposite of what mindfulness is not.

  • Mindfulness is focused attention. Mindfulness starts when we bring our attention to what is happening in the present moment. This is best done with a gentle rather than a forceful spirit. Focused attention is not a matter of self-control. We are not commanding the powers of attention; we are rather inviting our minds to settle down and to focus on something. When our minds wander off, we gently bring them back. Returning to focus is a critical part of mindfulness.
  • Mindfulness is single tasking. Mindfulness starts with turning off our cell phones! That’s a metaphor, of course, for managing our environments so as to support our intention of getting and staying focused. How many times have you interrupted your conversation with someone to take a call or to attend to an entirely unrelated matter? How do you think they felt when that happened? Great leaders make people feel special by staying engaged with conversations and tasks until there is a sense of closure.
  • Mindfulness is seeing perfection. There is a saying in the coaching industry, often attributed to one of the founders of the modern coaching movement, Thomas Leonard: “Everything is perfect just the way it is, even when it’s obviously not.” That saying reflects the mindset of great leaders. How can that be? Here is at least one way to understand the obvious: things are what they are, and that means they are perfectly designed for our own learning and growth. Think about it.
  • Mindfulness is charge neutral. Although leaders have emotions as much as anyone else, both positive and negative, great leaders manage our emotions in real time until we are charge neutral in the contemplation and consideration of events. Whatever is happening now is happening now. Getting all worked up, one way or the other, can interfere with wisdom. Great leaders learn how to manage our brainstems and their accompanying Limbic systems.
  • Mindfulness is openness to possibility. Yoda raised that spaceship from the swamp not because he set his mind to it and made it happen. It happened because Yoda was open to the possibility of it happening. What a different take on leadership from mental toughness and determination! By staying open to and inviting possibility, great leaders generate great results which surprise even us. We don’t know the outcome ahead of time, but we trust it can be wonderful.
  • Mindfulness is noticing novelty. I have written before about the difference between foveal and peripheral vision, most recently in April of last year in my Provision on the rituals of great leaders. Too often we see only what is in our clear line of sight, and then only what we want to see. Mindfulness encourages us to see the big picture and to notice stuff that is different than we might expect. When such curiosity carries an appreciative spirit, it often becomes the hallmark of innovation.

These are some of the positive attributes of mindfulness that great leaders come to embody and practice on a regular basis. No one does them all the time. But great leaders have a way of doing them more of the time than others. And this doesn’t happen by accident. It happens on purpose. Great leaders set our intention to show up and to carry ourselves in a mindful way. With practice anyone can increase how often and how well this happens. We’re never more than one decision away from making it so.

Coaching Inquiries: What is your decision when it comes to mindfulness? How do you show up and carry yourself in life and work? How well do you embody the six attributes of mindfulness identified in this Provision? What could help you to embody them more fully? What is one thing you could do right now that would make you more mindful? Who could join and support you on the journey?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


My particular favorite Yoda quote is: “Do or do not… there is no try.” To do it justice, you must say the word “try” with revulsion and disgust. I use that quote a lot. One of my friends swore I had an autoresponder defined in my email client that replied this quote if any message had the word “try” in it. 


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
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Provision #729: Yoda Matters

Laser Provision

In this series on evocative leadership we have picked up wisdom from many different sources, including quite a few religious and philosophical sources. JesusZen, and Yoga have all made the list. With today’s Provision we turn to a little more contemporary and yet allegedly ancient source of wisdom: Yoda • that tiny green character known as a “Jedi Master” in the Star Wars universe. Why Yoda? Perhaps it’s in honor of the final flight of NASA’s space shuttle program or perhaps it’s because there’s not another word in the English language that starts with the letter “y” that packs as much of a punch when it comes to leadership. Or perhaps it’s just because I like the little guy. If you don’t mind a little Yoda speak, then this Provision is for you.

LifeTrek Provision


At long last, I get to sit in the comfort of my own home, watching the birds at the bird feeders as the sun slowly sets in the west, leisurely writing a Provision on a Saturday afternoon. For all the goodness of flying around the globe, presenting and connecting with people who are interested in our work with the Center for School Transformation, Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, and Dorothy, that lost little girl from Kansas, sure had it right in the Wizard of Oz: “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Especially when I stumble upon a topic that has so much to teach me. People often express curiosity and sometimes amazement at how I come up with something to write about each week. My answer is always the same: the topics find me. As in the writing of the Provisions so it is with the topics: I simply channel whatever energy and wisdom comes my way. I don’t come up with this on my own; I serve more as a reporter on what the universe is doing with me. And the universe is always stirring the pot. We just have to pay attention and listen to what it has to say.

Long runs are one of my favorite times to listen. When I run outside, which is most of the time, I hardly ever listen to music and I never listen to audio books. I don’t want to hear what someone else has to say, I want to hear what the universe has to say through my own eyes, ears, nose, brain, feet, hands, and heart. The rhythmic pattern of running and walking, breathing fast and breathing slow, across many miles and many hours never fails to shake a few things loose. And today was no exception.

For one, I came back with some new language around the presentation we are giving in Florida on Wednesday on “Teacher Valuation: Better Conversations for Better Schools.” The difference between “Evaluation” and “Valuation” is only one letter, but that small change makes a huge difference. If you want to hear how that plays out in schools, sifting from measuring value to appreciating value, I encourage you to sign up for the pay-per-view webcasts.

In addition, I came back all excited about what I would learn from writing today’s Provision. I already knew that I was going to focus on what Yoda, that tiny green character known as a “Jedi Master” in the Star Wars universe, had to say about leadership. My current pattern of writing three Provisions for each letter of the alphabet kind of pushed Yoda upon me. I literally went through the dictionary to look at all the “y” words, and nothing else (after Yes and Yoga) struck my fancy. But Yoda, now’s there’s a character who had something to say.

Or at least that’s how I remembered the guy. Although I have seen all six of the Star Wars movies, I have not watched any of them in a very long time. And I have never looked at the collected wisdom of Yoda, it’s central, guru-like figure. Given that he is cast as an incredibly powerful figure, leading an order of warrior monks known as the Jedi Knights, one might think that Yoda’s short, pithy remarks (in the classic object-subject-verb word order of Yoga speak) would hold more than just a few gems. So I came back rather jazzed about what I might learn today, and Yoda did not disappoint.

Here, then, are some of my favorite sayings (in small caps) followed by some reflections on what his sayings have to do with leadership. The journey hope I you enjoy! ☺

“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”

“Humility endless is.”

I wish every leader had a humble sense of his or her own importance in the grand scheme of things. We do not lead on the strength of our own ambition, ego, size, power, or ability. We lead only in so far as we are aware of and reflect a sense of purpose that enhances life and is larger than ourselves. Too often leaders become impressed with ourselves and carry ourselves with a sense of entitlement, as though we were the ones in charge. Great leaders do not go there. We know that we are but stewards of a force that is larger than ourselves. It is only from that consciousness and stance that we can lead.

Yoda’s words remind me of the words in Marianne Williamson’s famous 1992 book, A Return to Love: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.” We can be that way, playing large to serve the world, only when we understand the factors at work behind our abilities. That is the place from which true greatness always comes.

“Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.”

“Looking for someone? Found someone you have I would say, mm?”

These sayings point to a Provision I will be writing next week: Mindfulness Matters! When it comes to leadership, unless we have trained ourselves to be in the present moment with full awareness, without judgment, and with an openness to possibility, we will be reckless leaders indeed. By not paying attention to what is called for now, by reacting rather than responding, and by focusing on what we want in the future rather than on what the present wants from us now, we will often miss opportunities and alienate the very people who are counting on us to bring them together and get things done.

Luke: “I can’t believe it.”  Yoda: “That is why you fail.”

“So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?

This exchange between Yoda and his young apprentice (or “Padawan”), Luke Skywalker, brings to mind that famous quip from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Great leaders are possibility thinkers. We are not attached to any particular outcome, but we are totally confident that something wonderful will come from our efforts. Without self-efficacy, not much ever gets done.

“Not if anything to say about it I have”

When was the last time that you heard a leader say something like that?! I wish more leaders would hold off on saying things until we had something to say. In coaching, silence is often the most evocative of all techniques. Don’t say anything at all. Just listen. Often, the people we work with, coach, and lead will surprise us with their wisdom. More than once over the years I have inadvertently been on mute while listening, on the phone, to a client. Speaking up at an appropriate moment or pause meant that my client didn’t hear what I had to say. As a result, they started talking again • only to come up with something brilliant that might have never come out if my words had been heard.

“Use your feelings and find him you will.”

“Clear, your mind must be if you are to discover the real villains behind the plot.”

The notion of trusting one’s intuition, inklings, feelings, and inner mind is a recurrent theme in the Star Wars movies. All great leaders have some sense of this, but Yoda takes it one step beyond just going with our gut. “Luke, use the Force,” is an encouragement to not only look beyond the technology and to trust his gut; it is also an encouragement to listen to what the universe may be wanting him to see and do in service of a higher calling and purpose. The notion that that purpose can expand our awareness and guide our actions is a radical notion, but it is the key to great leadership.

Great leaders have an inner knowing as to what must be done, not because it is what we want, but because it is simply the right thing to do. It is what the universe is calling for. Move this way rather than that, say yes rather than no (or vice-versa), confront honestly or express empathy, hold back or push ahead • such decisions are the stuff of leadership, and great leaders turn turn that stuff into matters of principle.

“Think you the relationship between Master and Padawan is only to help them? Oh, this is what we let them believe, yes! But when the day comes that even old Yoda does not learn something from his students-then truly, he shall be a teacher no more.”

“Meditate on this, I will.”

One of the most powerful truths of leadership can be expressed in five words: great leaders are learning leaders. When leaders think we have all the answers, when we think that we have everything to teach and nothing to learn, when we stop meditating deeply on what is being said and done, then we stop being leaders at all. We become tyrants or dictators. And that is no way to lead. In order to lead a people to greatness, great leaders must be great. And that starts with the recognition that we have so much to learn. Never the journey ends.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

“When you look at the dark side, careful you must be … for the dark side looks back.”

“Careful you must be when sensing the future. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

“Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”

Luke: “What’s in there?” Yoda: “Only what you take with you.”

“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”

If there is an overarching theme that Yoda returns to throughout the various movies it has to do with fear: fear of loss, pain, failure, and death. The mechanism of action as to how fear destroys great leadership has to do with attachment. The more attached we become to our goals and strategies, to doing things our way, the more demanding, controlling, and ultimately unsuccessful we become as leaders.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the notion that the spiritual realm can be divided between dark and light sides, it is nevertheless clear that fear contributes mightily to much that is stressful and difficult in the world. Fight and flight responses both flow from fear; one lashes out, because we think we can win, while the other runs away, because we think we will lose. Neither alternative bespeaks of great leadership.

So what’s a leader to do? Name the fear to banish the fear. I love that bit of wisdom. What need are you most concerned about? By connecting with the core, underlying value that is being stimulated in the form of fear, we can begin to get a grip on our presence and power. Recovering our balance, we can banish fear and return to a posture of being open to possibility.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

“To be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light, or darkness, Padawan. Be a candle, or the night, Padawan: but choose!”

Lest anyone think that great leaders are perfect, Yoda throws out one last perspective for us to think about, reflect on, and learn from. Great leaders choose. We don’t try; we do. Of course Yoda wants leaders to choose life and do life-affirming things. Of course he wants leaders to avoid self-serving and evil contrivances that deprive people of goodness and well-being. Violence, in Yoda’s world, is purely for self-defense and the protection of others. It is never for aggression.

But in the end, great leaders choose; that’s what makes leaders great, or terrible, as the case may be. We don’t talk about trying to do things. We do things. The Christian book of Revelation captured the same sentiment in the Spirit’s counsel to the church in Laodicea: “Because you are lukewarm • neither hot nor cold • I will spit you out of my mouth” (3:16). Yoda clearly bids leaders to choose  and do life, but above all he wants us to choose and do.

Coaching Inquiries: What kind of leader are you? Life-enhancing or life-destroying? Overly-controlling or overly-relaxed? Distracted-by-tomorrow or aware-of-the-present? Impressed-with-yourself or attentive-to-others? How can you be a great leader who makes things better rather than worse? Who could coach you to become an even greater leader than you are right now?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob


As always, your Provision, Yoga Matters, has inspired me – this time to step back and practice more Yoga. Good luck to your daughter who sounds like she has a great perspective on work/life balance.


Yes, yes, yes! I need to get back to my yoga!!!! Thank you Bob. ☺ 


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #728: Yoga Matters

Laser Provision

We think of leaders as doers, as well we should, but great leaders are also thinkers. Great leaders take time, on a regular basis, to step back from the frey in order to reflect on what is happening, to revive our energy, and to realign our engagement with what must be done. Although there are many ways to do this, a common pattern of great leaders is to engage the body as well as the mind. Some leaders may prefer the golf course, but Yoga offers a more time-tested and focused way of raising consciousness and balancing energy. Read on to see if this practice might be for you.

LifeTrek Provision


High-altitude Provisions, started or written in airplanes, are becoming more of a rule than an exception. This past week, my wife, Megan, and I had an opportunity to present and network with about 75 school leaders in the state of California thanks to the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA). It was truly marvelous to share our work with them and to learn more about how they might integrate evocative coaching • our signature method for school transformation • into their schools back home around the State.

Many principals expressed an interest in taking our 20-hour evocative coaching training program, which starts in early September. It was especially gratifying to hear them talk about recruiting others in their buildings and districts to go through the training with them. They recognized the value of a committed and capable cadre of school leaders and coaches when it comes to sustaining the practice and transforming the work of schools.

Thanks to ACSA and other early adopters, we anticipate a large group of trainees to go through the program this fall. You can find out more and sign up yourself, or recommend it to others, by visiting the Training Tab at www.schooltransformation.com. Register before August 10, 2011 to qualify for a $100 early-bird discount, which brings the cost of the training program down to less than $40 per training hour.

We stayed in California two extra days to celebrate our daughter’s completion of her four-year medical residency. When Bryn was four years old she first proclaimed that she wanted to be a doctor. Over the course of 26 years, she never lost sight of the commitment. Now she’s done, with a mix of emotions and a high sense of anticipation for what comes next. We salute her dedication and look forward to her continued contribution to the health and well-being of others.

That mix of emotions is related to leaving the good work and community of practice she has been affiliated with in Los Angeles for the past four years. Those things are hard to set aside because they reflect so many of her core commitments and values. One thing that will not be hard to set aside, however, is the still grueling pace and at-times inhumane requirements of being a medical resident. Over work and overwhelm are still part of the experience, and she is looking forward to taking a few months off before assuming a hospitalist position in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Such breaks are an essential part of great leadership. Leaders who push ourselves all the time are not only risking premature death or disability on a physical level, we are also risking premature termination and ineffectiveness on a leadership level. Great leadership is an integral practice, and those leaders who lack integration will soon find ourselves to be no leaders at all.

So I appreciated hearing my daughter describe what she wants to do with her time off: she wants to experience a total makeover. Healthy eating, regular running to increase her speed and fitness, sleeping at night (what a concept!), and chilling out • as she studies for her medical boards, of course (like leaders everywhere, she’s never been one for doing nothing).

That sounds like a good formula for me, especially since she is going to do a month of that at our home in Williamsburg, Virginia. Why our home rather than the hot town of Los Angeles, with her new husband? Our home has two essential qualities: it’s supportive and it’s boring. She knows she can count on us to help create a happy environment for her goals and she also knows that there are not many distractions in our small town, where she hardly knows anyone.

I wish every leader could take that kind of time. Three months to recharge, reshape, renew, revive, realign, restore, rebuild, and rejuvenate our body, mind, and spirit. Such opportunities don’t come often enough, if at all, for most people and yet their importance cannot be overstated when it comes to great leadership. Such opportunities give us the perspective as well as the power to make things work well.

In lieu of and in addition to such long stops on the trek of life it is important for leaders to take shorter stops on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. I’ve written about that periodically in this series on evocative leadership. In April of last year, I wrote about this in terms of rituals: great leaders have great rituals of work and rest, of action and reflection. In that Provision I gave a few examples of excellent, stepping-back rituals, including journal writing, napping, and visualization.

I returned to that theme a few months later, in my Provisions on Serenity and Zen. Serenity, I noted, can be facilitated by sleep, melatonin, breathwork, biofeedback, and exercise. I even pointed readers of that Provision to specific online sources for supplemental melatonin and biofeedback devices. In my Provision on Zen, a Buddhist practice of meditation and dialogue, I wrote about the connection between performance momentum and stress. Unless we stimulate the “relaxation response” through mindful, meditative practices, both health and leadership problems are sure to follow.

Yoga is another traditional practice for integrating body, mind, and spirit that commends itself to leaders. Developed first in India some 5,000 years ago, Yoga has proven to be an effective way for people to harmonize negative emotions, achieve mental clarity, and improve physical health. For many people, it is also a self-transforming spiritual practice that assists them to come to terms with the meaning and measure of life.

As a unitive or integrating discipline, Yoga helps people to connect the dots between our independent individuality and our collective commonality. There is a strong ethic of universal kinship in Yoga that fosters empathy, perspective, understanding, and peace. “Do no harm” may be part of the Hippocratic Oath for medical doctors, which my daughter recently recommitted herself to, but it is also a fundamental tenant of Yoga.

The best way to learn Yoga, which involves settling into a series of postures or poses designed to cultivate awareness and relaxation, is to participate in a class. Classes enable people to watch others do the poses and receive feedback from an instructor as we do those poses ourselves. I have taken Yoga classes on various occasions over many years and I have always found them to be beneficial and life-giving.

There are other ways to learn Yoga, of course, including online demonstrations, DVDs, and reading books. The key is to avoid pain, both physical and emotional, and to cultivate a sense of gracious concentration through the process of getting into and holding a Yoga pose. As a regular practice, sunrise and sunset are thought to be auspicious times for doing Yoga, but any time is better than no time.

That goes for the rhythm of doing Yoga itself: twice a day is better than once a day, once a day is better than once a week, once a week is better than once a month, and once a month is better than once a year. But it’s better to experience Yoga once in a lifetime than to have never experienced Yoga at all.

Before attempting to get into a Yoga posture, it often helps to visualize yourself in the posture. The more graphic and detailed the visualization, the more the visualization will help. That’s because visualizations stimulate “mirror neurons” in the brain such that we may as well be having the experience itself. Cognitive neuroscience would even suggest that visualizing ourselves in the posture can generate some of the same benefits as actually settling into the pose. Our minds and bodies are that interconnected.

After holding the visualization for as long as feels comfortable, it’s time to settle slowly into the posture itself. This should not be a stressful and contorted impossibility for our level of fitness and impossibility. Straining and trembling to hold a posture does not contribute to the peace of mind that Yoga is trying to create. Finding postures that we can do with relative steadiness and ease, postures that feel enjoyable and enlivening, is they key to not benefiting from Yoga but also to sustaining a Yoga practice over time.

All Yoga postures involve slow, disciplined breathwork. In this respect, Yoga is like other forms of meditative practice. Inhaling deeply through the nose and then exhaling slowly through the mouth increases mindful awareness and makes the postures more effective. A few of the more common Yoga postures have names such as the following:

These and other poses are then put together in a fluid sequence of postures to create movements, the most famous of which is probably the Sun Salutation. Facing east, practitioners move in and out of 12 postures, coordinating their breath as they go. A single round consists of two complete sequences, one for the right side of the body and one for the left.

It’s beyond the scope of this Provision to describe Yoga in any more detail. Suffice it to say, however, that regular integrative practices of body, mind, and spirit such as Yoga are essential practices for those who seek to be great leaders.

Coaching Inquiries: What are your stepping-back routines in life and work? How often do you allow yourself to engage in them? Daily? Weekly? Irregularly? What could assist you to develop life-giving patterns of consistency and renewal? Where could you go to find Yoga classes or other such life-giving practices? What’s keeping you from taking a deep breath and striking a pose right now?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


Once again your Provision, Yes Matters, seemed to have been written directly to me and to the situation I am facing with my new job. Thanks for helping me to clarify my thoughts as to what’s going on and next steps.


I enjoy your Provisions. For the first time since I began reading them years ago, I’ve been moved to write a response. When my mom was 87, she fell and shattered her wrist. She went through the same fearful moments as your mom has been experiencing. I got Mom focused on the power of “yes.” Her arm healed beautifully • and in record time. The doc removed her cast 10 days earlier than expected! So here’s to a full recovery and more mountain-top dancing for your mom.


Your mother’s injury sounds much like my father-in-law, who shattered his upper leg from a fall and had to have a rod placed in his leg. It gives him constant pain even 5 years later, and even now he finds it easy to complain. Yet I know those who have it worse. Growing old, as they say, is not for wimps!


I don’t know how to embody my wanting to be a coach here in China, just sometimes impacted by your Provisions, your articles are good and I often agree with your ideas. Just appreciate you all. 


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #727: Yes Matters

Laser Provision

When it comes to leadership, “Yes” matters. It’s easy to say, “No.” “No,” you can’t do that. “No,” we don’t have enough money. “No,” we don’t do that around here. “No,” we tried that before and it didn’t work. “No,” we can’t afford to bring on more people. “No, no, no!” Such nay saying is an all too familiar refrain, especially in the face of economic and political uncertainty. Fear is the author of “No.” But leaders are the voice of “Yes.” Read on to add your voice to the chorus.

LifeTrek Provision


This week has been a week of sitting. Sitting Zen holds a venerable place in the Buddhist tradition. It means to sit calmly, noticing whatever thoughts, words, images, and feelings cross our minds without judging or getting involved with them. From this open posture, practitioners can experience insight into the nature of existence and thereby gain enlightenment.

There are many ways to sit Zen, the classic way being with folded legs and hands, and an erect but settled spine. My approach, this week, has been to sit with my almost 87-year-old mother as she recovers from a now twice-broken leg. It was a bad break that requires her to put no weight on the leg for perhaps as long as three months. Talk about challenging! It has been easy for her to get discouraged, to imagine the worst, and to struggle both physically and emotionally with her limited mobility.

Releasing such thoughts and exercising her muscles are not my mother’s strong suits. Fear is a powerful force, perhaps the most powerful force, and fear has been alive and well in room 400 at the rehab center over the past month. I got a strong sense of that even before I came to town, talking with my mother multiple times a day on the telephone. This week, while sitting in her room for hours at a time, I was able to sense that fear more fully.

“What if I never get better?” was the foundational fear. “What if I have to live this way for the rest of my life?” “What if I’m never going to be able to walk again?” “What if I am always going to remain so helpless and dependent on other people?” Such fears reflect the power of “No.” The doctor said “No” to weight bearing exercise, and that set off an understandable but unfortunate downward spiral.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into a month, the woman who had danced at her granddaughter’s wedding just two months earlier, on the top of a mountain in Costa Rica, became increasingly discouraged and depressed. “What’s the point of living if life is going to be like this?” It was a thought filled with attachment and despair. Then something happened that cracked open the door to life: someone finally said, “Yes.”

On Friday they took her first, post-operative x-ray. The downward spiral had her fearing the worst, but the body has wisdom that the mind does not know. The leg is healing. The x-ray evidenced no displacement and signs of bone growth. Although it’s still too early to put any weight on the leg, she now has reason to believe that this nightmare will have a happy ending. And that hope makes all the difference in the world.

Great leaders understand the power of “Yes.” They look for ways to say “Yes” at every opportunity. That may, in fact, be one way to describe what leadership is all about: creating an environment of “Yes.”

Unfortunately, most organizational environments reflect a culture of “No” rather than “Yes.” Fear is in the air. People are afraid to take initiative. They worry about the consequences of taking risks. “Failure is not an option!” is not only the title of a book, it is also the mantra of fear. When failure is not an option, creativity diminishes, learning declines, and innovation dies.

And that’s not a good way to be in this day and age. Fear does to organizations the same thing it does to the elderly: it constricts, tightens up, and squeezes out functionality. It interferes with the capacity to think, dream, experiment, venture out, and get things done. It blocks the realization of potential, both individual and collective.

Understanding this, great leaders strive to drain the fear out of their relationships with people. Instead of criticizing what people say and do, great leaders seek to understand, appreciate, and complement what people say or do. And that’s always possible, even when we don’t see eye to eye with people.

In Chicago, the people at Second City Communications refer to this as “Yes…And” communication. Instead of derailing people with “No…But” responses, great leaders:

  • Actively Listen to the Ideas of Others (Listening to understand, not just to respond)
  • Intentionally Affirm the Ideas of Others (Validating ideas, even when we disagree)
  • Authentically Build on the Ideas of Others (Making a contribution that helps ideas grow)

Those three moves are harder than they look. The power of “Yes…And” doesn’t come easy. It takes conscious choice and consistent practice to embody those principles in our presence. To pay attention with an appreciative ear, rather than a critical ear, is an acquired talent. Anyone can learn to lead from “Yes…And,” but many people fail to make the effort.

That’s because it’s easier to find fault than to see value. The things we don’t like, the things to which we want to say “No…But,” tend to jump right out. When our child comes home with a report card containing four “good” grades and one “bad” grade, most parents are more likely to say “No” to the bad grade than to say “Yes” to the good grades. The same thing happens in the workplace. Those in charge are quick to focus on what’s wrong in order to fix what’s wrong.

As natural as that problem-solving instinct may be, research now indicates that there is a better way to change. Saying “No” to what’s wrong is not as effective as saying “Yes” to what’s right. Learning from success is a more certain path to excellence than learning from failure.

Case in point: in 1984 two groups of bowlers with comparable ability were invited to improve their bowling by watching themselves bowl on film. What they didn’t know was that the films were edited differently. One group only watched their successes (strikes and spares) while the other group only watched their failures (mistakes and misses).

The first group was then told: “figure out what you were doing right and do more of that.” The second group was told: “figure out what you were doing wrong and do less of that.” Both groups improved, the power of “Yes” proved to be far more impactful than the power of “No.” The first group had more self-efficacy and learned more from their success than the second group had or learned from their failures.

Many such experiments have since confirmed the power of learning from success. In every arena of life and work, the power of “Yes” matters. It makes the difference between fully realizing one’s potential and simply getting by with good enough results. It is the key to exceptional performance because it maximizes confidence and fills people with hope, energy, and momentum.

And here’s the real good news: we don’t have to wait for designated leaders to give us permission to take this stance. We don’t have to wait for the stars to align in order to live and work from the power of “Yes.” Each and every one of us can choose to do that right now. When we release our fears and engage our strengths we can find our voice and take on the risks of leadership. We can become the catalysts of change that the world is calling for now, whatever our title or job description.

Coaching Inquiries: What tends to be your default position in life and work, “Yes” or “No”? What would it take to say “Yes” more often? How could you look for strengths on a more consistent basis? What might you be able to learn from your own strengths? Who could help you see more of those for yourself?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


I have really been enjoying your recent Provisions on GraciousnessGratitude, and Generosity. These are such important attitudes! Thanks for the reminder. 


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services