Provision #726: Generosity Matters

Laser Provision

We took four suitcases on our recent trip to Israel: one for my wife, one for me, one for our dress-up clothes, and one filled with gifts. Before we left, we only knew of a few people to whom we were definitely going to give presents. That didn’t stop my wife, however, from filling the suitcase to the brim. Her philosophy is easily summarized: “You can never have too many gifts.” Sure enough, by the end of our almost three weeks of living and working in Israel, we had given away every single present and even wished we had brought more. Did we go home with an empty suitcase? Hardly! It was filled up again with gifts for our friends and family back home. What does this have to do with leadership? Everything! Generosity matters. Read on.

LifeTrek Provision


There are at least two kinds of leaders in the world: those who ask, “What can my position do for me?” and those who ask, “What can my position do for others?” Of the two, what kind of leaders do you want to work with and serve under? I have no doubt that most if not all of you reading this Provision would prefer to work with leaders who are more concerned with others than with themselves. Generosity matters when it comes to leadership, so it helps to understand and cultivate that spirit on a daily basis.

Generosity is certainly not the only instinct available to human beings. There has been, in fact, quite a debate as to whether selfishness or generosity has been more important in the course of not only human evolution but of natural selection in general. At one time, biologists made it sound as though “survival of the fittest” was the brutish norm of the universe. Selfishness, in an organismic sense, was viewed as the driving force behind long-term survival.

Now, however, scientists are taking a more nuanced view. With the advent of “selfish gene theory,” popularized most notably by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, generosity comes back into play. Genes may be savagely competitive, ruthlessly exploitative, and even deceitful in their determined attempts to replicate themselves from one generation to the next. But genes cannot replicate on their own; they require carriers which introduces many layers of subtlety and complexity. If generosity works, then selfish genes are happy to let their hosts share and even to sacrifice.

It turns out that human beings are not the only animals who have a penchant for generosity. I have long enjoyed reading the work of Frans de Waal, a Dutch-born primatologist who has lived and worked in the USA since 1981. He now teaches psychology at Emory University, where he has become famous for looking at human society through the lens of animal behavior. In his 2010 book, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, de Waal makes a strong case for generosity as being a near universal trait. And the closer to human beings we get, the more generosity is found.

I love his many descriptions of experiments with monkeys and other primates to determine the limits as well as the interplay of selfishness and generosity. When given a choice, monkeys, chimpanzees, and other primates overwhelmingly prefer generosity to selfishness. They apparently feel better when individuals in addition to themselves benefit from the many experiments that have been conducted. That parallels the many field observations as to their prosocial behaviors. The group seems to have a more powerful tug than the individual.

But selfishness and generosity are never far apart. “Egoism,” de Wall observes, “always lurks around the corner.” In their work with capuchin monkeys, de Waal and his colleagues have found three ways to kill the natural tendency to be nice:

  1. Pair up two strangers, who have never met each other before, and generosity plummets. Monkeys are in a much more selfish mood with partners they have never met before.
  2. Put a physical barrier between two monkeys, such that they cannot see each other. Even if they know each other well, and even if they have seen the other through a peep hole, generosity again plummets. The monkeys act is if the other is not there, and they become completely selfish.
  3. Make the rewards of being generous inequitable. When generosity leads to a perceived parity of benefits, monkeys are happy to share and share alike. When generosity leads to perceived inequalities, however, making one partner better off than another, competition kicks in and monkeys become very selfish indeed.

Sound familiar? Although human beings have more abilities than monkeys to transcend unfamiliarity, distance, and inequality, all three still come into play. Xenophobia (fear of strangers) is a well-known phenomenon, as is the importance of putting a face on tragedy to increase generosity. Until people see the devastating affects of a tornado, a tsunami, an earthquake, or a fire, they are not prone to give much money.

Inequity also has its limits. Even in the USA, where the American dream encourages people to make as much money and to become as rich as they can, there is a certain discomfort with the growing gap between the rich and the poor. While we were in Israel, I mentioned to some friends that the top 5% of households in America own 72% of the financial wealth and the next 15% of the households own another 21%. That leaves 7% of the financial wealth in America for the remaining 80% of the population. In relative terms, most of those people own nothing at all.

There is even more inequity when it comes to the ratio between CEO pay and average worker pay in large corporations. In the USA, that ratio was 42:1 in 1960. Things escalated to a high of 531:1 in 2000, at the height of the stock market bubble when CEOs were cashing in on big stock options. In 2007, the ratio had dropped to 344:1. By way of comparison, the ratio in Europe is about 25:1.

Our friends in Israel were both astonished and dismayed by these statistics. If human beings were monkeys, such inequalities would lead to very selfish and antisocial behaviors indeed. Failure to spread the wealth around more equitably would not only make people put themselves first, at the expense of others, but would also generate significant fights and conflicts. We, in fact, see this happening in places like Greece and other distressed economies.

Time will tell as to whether or not selfish and antisocial behaviors will come to rule the day in the wake of such wealth inequalities. One thing is clear, however, when it comes to mitigating and, perhaps, forestalling that eventuality: generosity matters. If those at the top do not share and share generously with those at the bottom, whether voluntarily or through public policy initiatives, then the entire system of winners and losers will quickly explode. Even human beings, with our great imaginations, have limits as to how long people can go on hoping for a better tomorrow without seeing any results.

Such generosity has long been a staple of the American society. Perhaps no other country has such a strong philanthropic tradition as the USA. As one of the most unfettered capitalist economies in the world, Americans have sought to balance things out with some of the most unprecedented generosity. In this decade alone, more than $2 trillion USD is expected to be given to charity. This includes the giving of notable billionaires, like Gates, Buffett, and Zuckerberg, as well as the giving of everyone else. Americans have a penchant for addressing inequalities and meeting needs through altruistic and prosocial behaviors.

Generosity, as much as the American dream, is part of what makes this society work. Generosity can never take the place of government, but public policy without personal generosity fails to understand human nature. People do not want to be told what to do, even if they are being told to be nice. People do want to give, however, for their own good reasons and in their own good time. Even more than monkeys, human beings have a capacity for empathy that connects the dots between self and others. Your needs and my needs are interrelated, so we may as well help each other to make life more wonderful.

Unfortunately, many leaders forget this important truth. Power and position can separate and isolate leaders from those we work with and serve. Instead of approaching others with a charitable and generous spirit, leadership becomes all about us. What can I do? What can I get? How can I get what I want? What is in this for me?

Questions such as these are not the stuff of great leadership. Great leaders are generous leaders. We are more concerned with the success of others and of our organizations than with the success of ourselves. Robert Greenleaf referred to such leadership as Servant Leadership in his seminal work of the same name. That works for me, but I also like the image of Community Leadership put forward by Juana Bordas in her book, Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age. Principle three, “Mi Casa Es Su Casa” views such leadership as the natural extension of collectivist cultures:

“The Latino saying “Mi casa es su casa” (My house is your house) reflects a sprawling sense of inclusiveness and generosity. It encapsulates a joy in sharing and implies “What I have is also yours.”

“Generosity is also evident in one of the Latino golden rules: if everyone contributes and pitches in, no one bears the burden and there will be more than enough to go around.”

“The antecedents of Latino generosity can be found in the indigenous cultures of the Americas. In early Indian cultures, people often competed with each other to see who could give away the most. No one wanted to be seen as a person who had more than others. Giving was seen as a way to honor people and to strengthen collective ties.”

“Black cultures also evidence a universal compassion. Despite the fact the their economic rungs are substantially lower, giving and taking care of others is a long-time trend of the Black community. When people succeed, they are expected to help others and to give back to the community. The desire to assist others was reported by 95 percent of the people surveyed, who described it as a moral obligation, and their charitable giving was 25 percent more of their discretionary income than Whites.”

It is through generosity that great leaders, in any culture, build trust and wield authority. Such generosity is not just a matter of money; it more often involves listening to and spending time with people, participating in rituals and celebrations, and working for community advancement. By caring for people and their needs, by attending to their feelings, great leaders evoke greatness from people. It becomes a virtuous cycle that helps to get things done.

Coaching Inquiries: What kind of leader are you? Are you more concerned with your own well being or the well being of others? How could you become more oriented around generosity and caring? How could you see those attributes as competitive advantages rather than as disadvantages? What’s stopping you from being generous with someone 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.


Reading your Provision on how Gratitude Matters truly made my day:) Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with so much dedication and heart. A Japanese friend of mine said that gratitude is the gateway to unconditional love, it is the heart opener:) connecting us with life. 


I loved your Provision on gratitude. I enjoyed many things about our coaching class with you and Megan and one of them was the Values in Action Character Survey. Number one on my results was gratitude!! I believe that gratitude determines attitude and you captured my sentiments so eloquently in your Provision. I love all of these Provisions you write. You and Megan are truly making a difference. I’m glad you are enjoying your time in Israel.


Your Provision on gratitude was truly remarkable. I sent it on to a friend, and I sent your Provision,Data Matter, onto another. Thanks you, thank you, thank you!! Hope that sinks in. 🙂


Gratitude has always been an important part of my life, but your Provision on gratitude brought home the importance of the gratitude journal to me. I have started to keep that now, and look forward to the blessings that will bring. Thanks!


I don’t know how you come up with these things every week. What an enormous amount of work. It is truly a gift to the world. Thanks! 


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 #725: Gratitude Matters

Laser Provision

I have written so often about the importance of gratitude that I hope you will bear with me as I cover the topic again. There is probably no more important human emotion than gratitude when it comes to human well being. The health benefits of gratitude are legion. Now, however, in this Provision, I want to connect the dots between gratitude and leadership. Grateful leaders are effective leaders because appreciation is contagious. It binds people together, motivates cooperation, and unleashes creativity. If that doesn’t sound like the work of leadership, I don’t know what is. So read on, and be grateful.

LifeTrek Provision


It’s hard not to be grateful when people are going out of their way to be nice to us. That has certainly been the case during our time here in Israel. One person after another has offered to take us places, to show us around, to navigate the language, to cook us meals or to take us out to eat, to introduce us to people who might be interested in our work, and to otherwise do thoughtful things for us. In circumstances such as these, “Thank you!” or “Todah!” is the most natural of human responses.

Unfortunately, it is also the most perfunctory. We all too often say “Thank you!” and move on, without fully appreciating the moment or savoring it later. Such mindless gratitude does not have the same value and carry the same weight as mindful gratitude. And mindful gratitude is an important key to effective leadership.

In her excellent book Counterclockwise, psychologist Ellen Langer boils down mindfulness to noticing things with an openness to possibility. Most of the time, we are mindless: we don’t notice things. We go through the motions of our day as if on autopilot. When that happens, it’s hard to cultivate any gratitude at all, let alone the full experience of being grateful.

Most of the rest of the time, when we do notice things, we are not open to possibility. Instead of appreciating their positive value and of how that value might be enhanced, we position ourselves as judge, jury, and executioner. We notice things and criticize them. We see what’s wrong and we fail to see how to make things better. Instead of being grateful, we become grumpy.

That is how many people go through life. They oscillate between being unaware and unappreciative, both of which take a big toll on health and well-being. Stress, depression, overwhelm, and other negative emotions are integrally related to this oscillating madness. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the things I most enjoy about travel, especially international travel, is the way in which it automatically increases awareness and appreciation. It’s hard to survive in a mindless state when everything is so unfamiliar. The language is different, the stores are different, the roads are different, the faces are different. Even the toilets are different! Mindfulness becomes a survival skill, at least until a new routine is established. Being oblivious and grumpy is not a smart way to travel.

It’s also not a smart way to lead. Yet leaders are famous for both. Oblivious and grumpy are the stuff ofDilbert cartoons with their daily, satirical caricatures of the pointy-haired boss. He either doesn’t know what’s going on or he walks around with a judgmental, off-putting attitude. One would hope that real bosses are not that stupid, but the widespread popularity of the comic strip, including several appearances on the cover of Fortune magazine, suggests otherwise.

The antidote to mindless leadership is gratitude. Gratitude requires both awareness and appreciation, qualities that go a long way in any workplace or human encounter. People like to be recognized and valued both for who they are and for what they do. The energy of gratitude serves, ironically, as both a lubricant and a glue. It makes things run more smoothly and it makes people feel more connected.

Best of all, gratitude is good for both the giver and the receiver. The more we express gratitude, the happier and higher-functioning we will be. The same goes for those who receive gratitude. Gratitude is a virtuous cycle; it is a self-reinforcing spiral dynamic. If we want to improve not only our own well-being but also the well-being of the schools and organizations we lead, then gratitude is an important energy to bring into the mix.

How do we do that? Through intention and practice. First, we have to want to express gratitude; then we have to follow through in thought, word, and deed. Intention without practice is magical thinking; practice without intention is mechanical functioning. Intention with practice is the key to masterful living and masterful leadership.

Positive psychology has researched and developed many ways for cultivating the intention and practice of gratitude. Documenting the many benefits of gratitude is certainly part of the equation. Who would not want to do something that so clearly and consistently improves both personal well-being and leadership effectiveness? Gratitude is better than drugs on both scores.

Intention alone, however, is not enough. It’s never enough. We must set our intention and then walk the talk. In the case of gratitude, positive psychology has identified several practices that can raise our Gratitude Quotient and keep it high over time.

  1. The Gratitude Journal. In this practice, people write down what they are grateful for at the end of each day. Although some people prefer to engage in longer, reflective writing, the method that has been most often researched by positive psychologists has been a simple list of three good things that happened over the course of each day. Hunting for the good stuff can be challenging when times are tough, but it’s never impossible to find something worth celebrating.

    We can even do that for each other. My wife and I sometimes voice our gratitudes out loud, before we go to sleep at night. Now I have taken to something similar with my mother. Right now she is recovering from a broken leg. It was a bad break that will take many months to heal, including lots of therapy and convalescent care. Living in an institution with severe mobility issues is not easy. Depression and grumpiness are far more predictable than contentment and gratitude. But that is not the end of the story.

    On Friday evening I asked my mother, “What are you grateful for right now? What can you celebrate about today?” After a slight pause, my mother proffered the name of one of her caregivers, “Debbie!” “What do you like about Debbie?” I asked. “She’s kind, strong, and patient. I really like and trust the way she helps me get around.” After a little conversation about Debbie, my mother was obviously feeling better. Hunting for the good stuff made all the difference in the world. It proved, at least for that moment, to be transformational.

  2. The Gratitude Letter. Whereas the gratitude journal can be a daily practice, the gratitude letter is more of an occasional practice (although I know people who maintain a discipline of writing one gratitude letter per week). The practice is simple: pick someone who has done something nice for you and write them a thank you note. Do it the old-fashioned way: in your own handwriting. Although gratitude text messages and e-cards are not without merit, the gratitude letter is a little longer and more heartfelt expression of appreciation.

    The key is to be specific. A gratitude letter is not a general expression of how much you like or love someone. It is not the same thing as a compliment, telling someone how great they are. A gratitude letter is rather an expression of how someone uniquely contributed to your performance, learning, or well-being at a particular point in time. Such letters describe what the other person did, how that made us feel, what needs were met, and how much we appreciated their contribution.

    When such letters are delivered and read in person, for what is known as a gratitude visit, they can create not only a tender but also a transformational space between two people. Even if they are sent through the mail, their effect can be great. I even know people who have written such letters to deceased friends and family, perhaps burning the letter afterwards to deliver them as the smoke rises to the winds.

    My daughter-in-law, Michelle, is one of my role models when it comes to gratitude letters. She is always most thoughtful about sending letters of appreciation, and she even manages to rope my son into the process. When I spent a week with them at the end of April to help fix up their new old home, with my wife working on two weekends to help with the clean up and painting, we received a very nice gratitude letter the following week. Such letters always get filed away for me to read again, when the spirit moves. Savoring and expressing gratitude feels great.

  3. The Gratitude Day. So why not take a day to do that all the time? The final practice, a gratitude day, attempts to do just that. Although it’s a great practice for leaders, anyone can choose to pick a day during which time we are going to be especially mindful of and active in the expression of gratitude. With each and every person we meet, we find something to acknowledge, celebrate, and affirm.

    This can be as simple as noticing something they are wearing to as nuanced as noticing something they are saying and doing, even when we disagree. This is sometimes referred to as “Yes, And” listening. We hear what someone says, we reflect what we heard with respect, even if we disagree, and then we build on (rather than argue with or contradict) their ideas. “Yes, And” rather than “No, But” can make a huge difference in how our conversations go and what they generate.

    The nice thing about a gratitude day is that you can do this all on your own, without announcing the project to anyone. Think of it as your own private research project. See what happens to you. See how people react. See what gets gets done. See what changes you notice. When you go through the day expressing gratitude and appreciation to each person you meet and interact with, all manner things shift and become possible. It can truly be an amazing and transformational experience.

What’s fascinating about the research into gratitude is the lingering effects of these simple exercises. Even one entry into a gratitude journal, even one gratitude letter or visit, and even one gratitude day still has demonstrable effects one month later on well-being and effectiveness. That’s amazing and very good news when it comes to leadership. Although it is certainly valuable to do these things more often than once a month, leaders do not have to become gratitude monks • with 24/7 practices • in order to experience the gratitude effect. We just have to do them once in a while.

And it’s always possible to find something to celebrate. That is a fundamental premise of appreciative inquiry, a strengths-based approach to transformational change that we have incorporated into our coaching model. In every situation, no matter how bleak, there is always something that works. This may be the silver lining around the storm cloud or it may be a genuine accomplishment, albeit in a different sense or to a different degree than we had hoped for.

Great leaders know the importance of noticing and appreciating these things. The positive energy and emotion that get produced when gratitude is expressed, especially when gratitude is least expected, hold the key to positive actions and outcomes. Criticizing people for what’s wrong, for what they are not doing right, and for the ways they have disappointed us, is not an effective approach in leadership or life. To quote the old adage: “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Gratitude is the honey that draws people forward. By finding things to appreciate in the present moment, great leaders cultivate positive anticipation of future moments. The simple act of expressing gratitude increases awareness, builds positive expectations, promotes conscious choice, unleashes creativity, and makes success more likely. That certainly sounds like the work of leadership to me.

Coaching Inquiries: How often do you express gratitude? What would it take for you to express gratitude more frequently? What about more authentically? Which of the three gratitude exercise might you be able to practice in the next week? Why not write out your plan for that 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 Form or Email Bob.


Thanks very much for this stimulating provision on how Graciousness Matters. I’ve been reflecting on it all day. Graciousness…what a concept! As you know, I have made growth of emotional intelligence a priority in my life for 2011 and beyond, but it’s not easy. It’s one thing to recognize the importance of letting go of impatience, of caring about the feelings of others, and of embracing graciousness in everyday life. But it’s something else altogether to actually make patience a habit, to routinely pay attention to the needs of others and to become a person marked by grace in every stressful situation.

I for one want nothing more than to be an emotionally intelligent channel of cosmic grace, but I am at a loss in knowing how to get there, except by the tiniest baby steps — steps that seem to be going backwards at times of frustration and stress. Have you thought about writing a provision or two on exactly how to grow one’s emotional intelligence, overcoming all the unintelligent patterns of thought and behavior that might hold one back? I hope you enjoy every minute of your journey to Israel. (Ed. Note: The gratitude exercises in today’s Provision are great places to start! Thanks for the suggestion.)   


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 #724: Graciousness Matters

Laser Provision

Do you like people? I’m not asking whether you are an extrovert or an introvert. That’s another matter entirely. I’m asking whether or not you value and prize a sense of connection with people. Here’s one way to find out: how gracious are you? How well do you recognize, care about, and enhance the feelings of other people? Those are key emotional-intelligence factors that are not only important as life skills, they are also important as leader skills. Without graciousness, leadership flounders. Read on to see how that works.

LifeTrek Provision


My wife, Megan, and I are now about half-way through our time in Israel, living and working with people who are interested in learning the coach approach to evocative leadership. The whole experience has been very exciting, not only because people are finding value in our work but also because we are learning so much about yet another culture. I have a friend who says that one of his goals in life is to visit as many countries as possible before he dies. That’s not a bad goal.

On Friday night, Megan and I had the opportunity to visit an orthodox Jewish synagogue with some new friends. The synagogue was one of nine congregations, all of which were gathering at the same time for Friday-evening prayers in a large, multi-story community center. Outside there were countless clusters of people, playing, conversing, and enjoying one another’s company. It was a delightful expression of extended family and community.

After the prayer services had finished, we went over to our friends’ home for dinner. They had cooked all the food earlier in the day, per the orthodox custom, and then served it to us in the right order (first wine, then bread, then fish, then meat) with the right prayers. At each point they explained the customs and made us feel right at home. Simply put, they were gracious hosts.

We, in turn, were genuinely interested in what they had to share with us. We enjoyed looking at their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah album as well as their son’s Bar Mitzvah poster, which took place in the past week as he had just turned 13. We also tried our best to learn a few Hebrew words and to talk with their youngest son, who was just beginning to learn English. It took a while for him to learn how to pronounce my name, but once he connected the dots between “Bob” and “Sponge Bob,” he had it down pat!

So what, you may be asking yourself, does all this have to do with leadership? A lot! Everyone knows that leaders have to be good at schmoozing. But authentic graciousness is far more than something you do to win friends and influence people. Graciousness is something you do to be human.

Ten years ago, in the wake of the attacks in America on September 11, 2001, I wrote a series of Provisions titled, “Be Nice and Brave.” I turned those two words into acronyms for Neighborly,Interested, Connected, and Etiquette plus Bold, Responsible, Action-oriented, Versatile, andEnduring. Although I wrote that series as more of a general prescription for life, I now see the connections to leadership as being quite instrumental.

Most leaders cozy up readily to BRAVE. It seemingly fits at least the Western vision of leadership to charge ahead into battle. Bold, Responsible, Action-oriented, Versatile, and Enduring just sound like leader words. But NICE? That word is another story. Not every leader identifies with being nice, and many would openly disavow the word.

What leader worries about being neighborly, interested, connected, and polite with people? Certainly many leaders seemingly get to the top without that (witness Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel with his infamous penchant for letting F-bombs fly) but the best leaders, and I suspect even Mayor Emanuel, have excellent people skills that make them seem approachable and caring regardless of how much stress they may be under.

That takes intentionality, effort, and practice. One of the hardest and yet one of the most important of all leader traits to develop is to be calm under fire. The biggest enemy to graciousness is time-urgency. When we think that something has to happen right now, in a particular way, or else, that is when we are most likely to lose our cool. Our communication become demanding and self-centered, the exact opposite of graciousness.

And, ironically, the more time-urgency we feel and communicate, the longer things will generally take. Without graciousness, we lose the lubricating juice of positive social relations that makes people want to cooperate to get things done. So the machinery gets mucked up by our own impatience. It becomes a vicious cycle of demand energy. When leaders insist, people resist.

Fortunately, releasing impatience, demand energy, and self-absorption is something people can learn to do. Unlike IQ, which measures a person’s cognitive abilities and tends to remain more or less constant over time, EQ, which measures a person’s emotional intelligence, tends to be more fluid and developmental. People can actually raise their EQ, in other words, far more than they can raise their IQ. And doing so generates big benefits.

Research indicates that EQ is far more predictive of success in just about every endeavor, including leadership, than IQ. Emotional intelligence means, at a minimum, that we are aware of our own feelings and needs, as well as the feelings and needs of others, plus that we are able to manage those dynamics in effective and constructive ways.

It may seem obvious that those are mission-critical abilities when it comes to leadership, but did you know that those abilities also correlate to physical and psychological health, to positive social interactions including marital happiness, to performance at school and in the workplace, to self-actualization, and to overall subjective well-being?

Such correlations are so well established in the literature at this point that no one disputes the importance of cultivating a high EQ. To quote a prominent researcher in the field, Reuven Bar-On, “The implication of these findings is that EQ more than IQ affects our ability to do our best, to accomplish goals, and to actualize our potential to its fullest.”

Now there are many ways to both assess and to strengthen one’s emotional intelligence, and it is beyond the reach of this Provision to discuss them in any detail. One thing, however, is clear: there is an inverse relationship between impatience and emotional intelligence. The more impatient we are, the less emotionally intelligent we tend to be, and vice-versa.

That makes graciousness a key indicator of emotional intelligence. If we are courteous and kind with people, if we are interested in and sympathetic with people, if we pay attention to the reactions of people and to whether or not our way of being is putting them off or inviting them in, if our presence makes people smile, then chances are good that our EQ is of leader-like quality.

Often those reactions are subtle and non-verbal rather than obvious and verbal. Here in Israel, where we do not read, speak, or understand the language, we find ourselves relying even more on body language, facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and other mannerisms to determine whether or not we are coming alongside and joining up with people or pushing them away. In every social setting, the join up of graciousness is important.

And that’s especially true when it comes to leadership. That’s the gist of my wife’s first book Trust Matters. Without good emotional intelligence, without good social skills, without graciousness, leaders will alienate the very people we need to work for us and with us. With graciousness, however, all manner of tough work is readily tackled and successfully completed.

In our book Evocative Coaching, Megan and I describe the world-famous horse trainer, Monty Roberts, as one of our role models. Monty is famous for his ability to win a horse’s cooperation rather than force a horse’s submission. On that basis, Monty has successfully and happily started about 10,000 wild horses. That is his life’s work.

How does he do that, usually in 30 minutes or less? Through high emotional intelligence. Monty pays attention to how the horse is reacting to his presence and then he channels that energy in constructive paths. Monty writes that such listening to the silent language of horses has enabled him to “cross over the boundary between human (the ultimate fight animal) and horse (the flight animal). It has enabled me to create a strong bond of trust such that horses have been willing to try for me, over and over again.”

And isn’t that what every leader wants? Don’t we want to evoke willingness such that people try for us over and over again? That happens only when we let go of impatience and express graciousness in all that we are, all that we say, and all that we do. It must be authentic and it must be consistent. When this happens, when we cultivate this kind of emotional intelligence, all manner of things become possible in life and work.

Coaching Inquiries: On a scale of 0-10, how would you rate your graciousness? What might you be willing and able to do to increase that score? How could you pay more attention to the way you are coming across with people? How could be more of a gift to those you work with and lead?

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 last Provision, Discipline Matters, was a real challenge for me. Thanks for making me think. 


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 #723: Discipline Matters

Laser Provision

Here is the bottom line on data, desire, and discipline: data awakens desire, discipline advances desire. Desire itself is universal. Everyone desires to have our needs met and we are happy when it happens. But desire can disappear or get distorted in the absence of data. Once aroused, desire can diminish or get defeated in the absence of discipline. Discipline, the rigorous training of body, mind, and spirit, is the key to self-efficacy and success. Want to learn how that works? Read on.

LifeTrek Provision


Once again I find myself starting to write this edition of Provisions while sitting 39,000 feet or almost 12,000 meters in the air. My wife and I are on our way to Israel, where she will be teaching evocative coaching at the University of Haifa as part of a pedagogical leadership course and where we will be working together to share our work with a variety of groups over the course of three weeks. How exciting!

We continue to be thrilled and gratified that so many people are finding value in what we have to offer. Leadership in any context is a complex and challenging affair; leadership in schools is especially so due to their diverse constituencies, requirements, and tasks. If evocative coaching can assist teachers and school leaders to better perform their craft, through the application of the person-centered, no-fault, strengths-based approaches outlined in the book, then our ambitions for this book will have been met if not exceeded.

For that to happen, the approaches need to be understood in theory and experienced in practice. Head knowledge is not enough. We must repeatedly try out the techniques until they become more familiar and we become more adept in using them. That is why we offer 20 hours of training in the evocative coaching process. Without hands-on opportunities to put learning into practice, the skills and techniques will not take hold and take off. They will just be one of many good ideas that we picked up along the way, lying in the dustbin of our minds.

That’s no way to treat good ideas! Good ideas, like muscles, are meant to be used. Without regular and consistent exercise, muscles weaken and atrophy. The same could be said for good ideas. Without regular and consistent practice, good ideas gradually slip away.

One of the values I receive from writing Provisions each week is to call out and connect with those good ideas. The discipline of writing Provisions makes me a better person. I have written before about how I experience the value of this rigorous routine. Rhythms are self-reinforcing. Sunday comes and Sunday goes. I hitch my wagon to that rhythm as a reflective practice, and the words never fail to come. The discipline of sitting down to write on a weekly basis calls them forth.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the power of data to evoke change. Expanding awareness always shifts behavior. It does that, in part, by quickening desire. The more we notice about what’s going on, the more we want to influence what’s going on. Human beings are like that. When we notice something (like a weed) we instinctively and reflexively want to do something (pull out the weed). People have a natural inclination to make things better.

So why do things so often appear to be stuck or even getting worse? It’s often a lack of discipline. Desire is not enough. Although desire matters, as I wrote last week, desire alone is not sufficient to keep us going. We notice how we are eating so we awaken the desire to change how we are eating. We may even start down the path of behavior change. Great! To keep the change going, however, we have to keep noticing. And that takes work. Mindfulness is the exception rather than the rule. But discipline can change that.

Most of the time we live in a state of unconscious consciousness. We are awake but we are not aware. It is kind of like breathing. Most of the time we breathe without thinking about it. We kind of know we are breathing, but we don’t really notice we are breathing. We just breathe, in and out, in a state of unconscious consciousness.

But all that can change in an instant. Any time we like, we can switch from breathing on autopilot to breathing on manual control. Any time we like, we can switch from unconscious consciousness to conscious consciousness. Any time we like, we can notice and discipline our breath. You can do that right now, if you want. Are you willing? Let’s give it a try.

I invite you to take four breaths using a four-count pattern. Breathe in to the count of four, hold your breath to the count of four, and breathe out to the count of four. Count slowly, but at a comfortable pace. Throughout the whole exercise, you should never be struggling or wanting for breath. Ready? Set? Go!

  1. Breathe in…2…3…4.  Hold…2…3…4.  Breathe out…2…3…4.
  2. Breathe in…2…3…4.  Hold…2…3…4.  Breathe out…2…3…4.
  3. Breathe in…2…3…4.  Hold…2…3…4.  Breathe out…2…3…4.
  4. Breathe in…2…3…4.  Hold…2…3…4.  Breathe out…2…3…4.

Breathe normally. That wasn’t so hard, was it! With a little discipline, you shifted from unconscious consciousness to conscious consciousness. You shifted from breathing without thinking to breathing with intention and attention. By gently taking control of an otherwise autonomic process, you disciplined your breath.

And how did that make you feel? Would it surprise you to learn that disciplining yourself to do that simple exercise, four slow, rhythmic breathe, just twice a day, can have measurable effects? It can lower blood pressure, focus the mind, and relieve anxiety. Health. Clarity. Calm. I don’t know about you, but those three always feel pretty darn good to me.

Such are the benefits of discipline and conscious consciousness. By applying ourselves to a task with mindful awareness, we not only change our relationship to the task we also change our brain patterns. Things begin to shift in how we process information, how we react to events, and how we understand ourselves. We experience the wisdom of what the Buddha meant when he said, “More than those who hate you, more than all your enemies, an undisciplined mind does greater harm.”

So what is a disciplined mind? It is not the same thing as a determined mind. A determined mind is a stubborn mind. Such minds are able to sustain desire longer than those who lack determination. But they are still running on will power and adrenaline. They want what they want and they are determined to stay with that desire until they get what they want. That attribute is often admired and sometimes feared in a leader, and it certainly has its place, but it is not as valuable as a disciplined mind.

A disciplined mind is a trained mind. A disciplined mind starts with desire and adds praxis: It doesn’t just relish the thought of getting our needs met; it establishes the routines that make it more likely that our needs will get met. There’s nothing wrong with the former, of course; positive self-talk and encouragement never hurt anyone. But without discipline, the rigorous training of body, mind, and spirit, all that positive self-talk will eventually dry up and produce very little in the way of lasting change.

Wishful thinking is not bad. Everyone is entitled and even encouraged to wish. But wishing upon a star, where we put our wish out into the world with the hope that it will somehow magically come true, actually works against self-efficacy and success.

More than once I have coached a client who was discouraged because God or the Universe or Fate was somehow not rewarding their wishes. They had framed, visualized, and verbalized what they wanted, they may have even put pictures and headlines on a vision board, but somehow it just wasn’t happening. After weeks, months, or even years of holding this hope, they were no further along than when they started. “What’s wrong?” they have wanted to know, “And how can I turn this around?”

In most cases, it’s not that the dream is impossible or unrealistic. Very few dreams are impossible. Most of the time, the problem is a lack of discipline. “Tell me your routines,” it has been said, “and I will tell you your future.” Through coaching, people shift from imagining results to imagining routines. Then, they find the motivation and wherewithal to practice those routines on a regular basis.

I am often surprised and delighted by what a difference this makes. By imagining routines that support their desired results, people get invigorated with energy and grow in their abilities. They often take on challenges that are far more rigorous than I would have thought possible. But once they understand the connection between data, desire, and discipline, they become fearless and faithful in their daily routines.

That’s when good things start to happen. Four, short, rhythmic breaths, twice a day, is easy stuff compared to what many people decide to incorporate into their daily lives. From regular meditation to exercise, from reflective writing to active calling, from habits of mind to habits of behavior, from individual practices to environmental alignments, I have witnessed the power of new routines to create new people and to get different results.

Does that sound like something you would enjoy experiencing? Discipline is not as hard as it sounds. Break it down into baby steps and get started. Do one thing daily that will support your intentions, turn that things into a routine, and see what happens. Don’t be surprised if dreams come true.

Coaching Inquiries: How do you relate to the word “discipline”? Do you think of it as a punishment or a joy? What is one discipline that could make a real difference in your life? How could you get started in ways that would be challenging and yet consistently doable? Who could you talk about this with today?

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 last Provision on how Desire Matters is really good. Thanks


I may have read this before, but your poem Passion really spoke to me. Thanks! May I quote that poem in one of my newsletters?


Love your poem!


Your quest for data is admirable and in many cases appropriate • however • the mentality that leads to “I can eat even less tomorrow” is exactly the kind of control/mindset that is a part of being anorexic and is completely the opposite of health and happiness. It is micromanagement of life to a point where data and control lead to disordered eating or worse. Just a thought… 


I just read the announcement about your evocative coach training program. I met you years ago, when this was just a dream and we were both in Clinical Research! Congratulations on dreaming the BIG dream and seeing it through! 


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 #722: Desire Matters

Laser Provision

What comes to mind when you hear the word, “desire”? If your thoughts run more to the bedroom than the board room, you are not alone. The word has become laced with overtones of sexuality. But the yearning for things that bring us satisfaction or enjoyment is a fundamental part of human experience and a driving factor in the workplace. Desire is not a bad thing. Indeed, desire is a great thing as long as we understand and channel it properly. There is a difference between have-to-haves and nice-to-haves. This Provision explains the difference in ways that will hopefully cook up your own desire for the good life. Read on to see if it works.

LifeTrek Provision


Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The data or the desire? In last week’s Provision, Data Matter, I made a clear case for the power of data to stimulate behavior change. When we see what is happening in the present moment, not generally and after the fact but specifically and in real time, desire is often quickened and designs often emerge for doing things differently.

I know that worked for me, back in 1998, when I was losing 65 pounds and transforming myself into a marathon runner. I tracked everything I ate and every exercise I completed. At the gym, I kept a little spiral notebook in my locker. When I arrived, I weighed in and wrote it down. As soon as I finished on the elliptical or treadmill, I wrote down the total time, average heart rate, and calories burned. When I was on the weight machines, I would write down my reps and weight, machine by machine. At the end of my workout, after sitting in the whirlpool, I would weigh out and write it down. It was always fun to see that lower number on the backend of a workout.

All this writing down meant that I knew where I was starting the next time. I would look at what I did the last time and desire would well up inside me, without any conscious willing or effort on my part. It was just there. “The last time I was here, I burned 950 calories in an hour on the elliptical at level five,” I would say to myself, “I wonder if I can break 1,000 calories today.” The desire planted, I would work harder and I would often make my goal.

It worked the same way with food. I would track my intake, meal by meal and snack by snack. Then I would calculate the calories. At the end of the day, I would add them all up for a daily total. “I ate so much today,” I would say to myself, “I wonder if I can do this again or eat even less tomorrow.” The data became a catalyst for desire in ways that made weight loss a lot more fun and productive. “Hunger and sweat are my friends!” became one of my mantras. I didn’t cook that up, on the basis of my desire to lose weight. That mantra just welled up inside me, in response to the data that was continuously streaming positive feedback.

So which came first, the chicken or the egg? The data or the desire? I hope you can see there was a pretty integral relationship between the two. But there was something that came before the data. Although I didn’t have this language available to me at the time, I now recognize that I had a panic attack in March of 1998. I was driving in the car at the time, and I pulled over to the shoulder because I thought I was having a heart attack. Eventually, the symptoms subsided and I drove home.

That event sent me to the doctor, who conducted a thorough physical examination including blood work and a stress EKG. His conclusion? I had definitely not had a heart attack. But I was at risk for a heart attack given my blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. “I want you back in six months,” he told me. “If your levels haven’t come down through diet and exercise, I’m putting you on blood pressure and cholesterol medication.”

Bada bing, bada boom. Just like that I was faced with a choice: prescription medicine or lifestyle medicine. Treating the symptoms or treating the cause. Playing the victim or taking responsibility. Remediation or transformation. Dependency or autonomy. The more I learned about the two paths before me, the more I liked the idea of getting this done on my own, without the assistance of medication.

At this point, my nascent desire was stirring. It wasn’t the desire to record my eating and exercise. That turned out to be an effective strategy, but it was a strategy all the same. The desire was more deeply seated than that, having to do with my felt needs after learning that my health and well-being were at risk due to obesity and cardiovascular disease. Those needs were not just to be healthy, although that was certainly part of the equation. Those needs were to be fully, wholly, and wonderfully alive. I expressed that sentiment a few years later in my poem titled Passion:

I want to live.
No more halfhearted efforts
No more half-baked ideas
No more half-full glasses
Just wholehearted, fresh-baked,
overflowing life.

I want to live on purpose.
No more aimless wandering
No more squandered existence
No more squelched ambition
Just on-target, death-defying,
carpe diem courage.

I want to live in connection.
No more superficial engagement
No more destructive pleasures
No more cold rationality
Just bone-deep, life-affirming,
stream-fed intuition.

I want to live with joy.
No more sour grapes
No more jaded cynicism
No more inflated self-importance
Just awe-filled, enthusiastic,
openhearted passion.

I want to live
on purpose, in connection, with joy.
I want to live
filled with courage, guided by intuition,
centered in passion.
I want to live.

That’s what got into me over the next few weeks as I began to absorb and assimilate what the doctor was telling me. Life. Purpose. Ambition. Courage. Connection. Engagement. Joy. Humility. And Passion. This was far more than weight loss and the management of medical conditions. This was the beginnings of a desire to be my very best self, a desire that started as a tiny spark and that grew into a roaring fire that has so far known no end.

Properly understood, then, desire comes first. Desire = Felt Needs. I have written many times before about the difference between needs and strategies. Needs are universal and essential. Strategies are particular and optional. Needs are the what; strategies are the how. To get a sense of the full range of human needs, I encourage you to review the Wheel of Needs available through www.CelebrateEmpathy.com. That’s where I identify ten need categories on five spectrums:

  1. Subsistence’transcendence
  2. Work•Rest
  3. Safety•Challenge
  4. Honesty•Empathy
  5. Community•Autonomy

Even though all of us have all of these needs all of the time, we do not feel all of these needs all of the time. It is impossible for all of our needs to be fully alive all of the time. Sometimes we are hungry and sometimes we are full. Sometime we are sleepy and sometimes we are awake. Sometimes we want to be alone and sometimes we want to be with others. Sometimes we need security and sometimes we want to test our limits.

The key, then, is to listen to and respect the felt sense of our needs. Hunger is a need that makes itself known with a great deal of urgency. We all know what that feels like and we all know what to do when we feel hungry: eat! Other needs are more subtle, and they often come into conflict with each other. Hunger is designed to make us eat. But hunger can be redesigned as a welcome reminder that we are losing weight which, in my case, was meeting many other needs. “Hunger and sweat are my friends!”

So desire arises from getting acquainted with our needs. That’s what happened to me in the weeks following my doctor visit. I prioritized my needs in ways that made life, purpose, ambition, courage, connection, engagement, joy, humility, and passion more important than sustenance, security, sleep, space, and support (to mention only five). I was into the northwest quadrant on the Wheel of Needs, where autonomy, challenge, and transcendence live.

To put this another way, before we can meet our needs in the sense of satisfaction we first have to meet our needs in the sense of understanding. If I was going to meet you for the first time, what would that mean? It would probably mean that we would get together for a couple of hours, perhaps enjoying a meal or a cup of tea, so that we could share with each other the stories of our lives. By meeting each other in this way, we would come to understand and know each other as friends.

We would also probably cook up the desire to get together again. That’s what happens when we meet our needs in the sense of understanding. We cook up desire. The more fully we come to know our needs in the present moment, the needs that are most important to us now, the needs that are stimulating feelings and evoking yearnings, the more passion we will feel for meeting those needs in the sense of satisfaction.

And then the journey begins. To know that I want life, purpose, ambition, courage, connection, engagement, joy, humility, and passion (the what) does not tell me the strategies that will make those things a reality in my life (the how). And therein lies the crux of this thing called desire. When we confuse needs and strategies we can get very demanding and discouraged when things don’t go our way.

Let’s say that you read last week’s Provision on the importance of collecting data; let’s say that you decided to try that and that it hasn’t been having the desired effect. Now what? Do you write me an email, complaining about the lousy advice? Do you give up with a shrug, figuring that you must not have what it takes to be successful? Such reactions stem from the confusion between needs and strategies.

Data collection is one of many ways to satisfy our needs. If that doesn’t work, then other strategies are available. The key is to experiment with strategies until we find the ones that work for us. Such perseverance follows naturally from meeting our needs in the sense of understanding. Once we know what we really, really want, the rest will follow.

And once we find one or more strategies that work, we end up in a virtuous cycle. That’s when desire goes from fledgling to full throttle. It’s called the self-efficacy effect. We know what we want (in my case: life, purpose, ambition, courage, connection, engagement, joy, humility, and passion) and we start believing that we can actually get what we want. Desire goes from 0-60 in less than six seconds. The felt need gets connected to the doable strategy and all kinds of wonderful things shake loose.

So that’s what great leaders do. First, we meet our needs and the needs of our people in the sense of understanding and appreciating those needs. We listen and get connected to the pulse of reality. Then, we brainstorm ideas and design experiments for raising awareness and changing behavior until both self-efficacy and collective-efficacy take over. Once we have the confidence, the rest will follow.

Don’t disparage desire. The word may be laced with sexuality in popular culture, but it is so much bigger than that. It is the heart of ambition, possibilities, strengths, and opportunities. It is the key to great leadership and it is available to us all.

Coaching Inquiries: What do you desire? How well do you understand your needs? What are your feelings trying to tell you? How can you release your attachment to particular strategies in order to fan the flames of true desire? What would build your self-efficacy and the efficacy of those you work with and love? Who do you know who seems fully alive, engaged, and passionate about life? How can you get to know them better?

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.

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 Form or Email Bob.


Thanks for your Provision, Data Matter. I would love to benefit from your reflections on the interaction of data and mystery and reverence.


Great Provision on incorporating data into decision making. At work I’m known as “Data Dan” but I’ve yet to graduate to the full GPS/altimeter running watch. I do log my daily food intake and exercise, scoring each workout based on average heart rate and total time, but I must admit to setting my half marathon personal best on a day I forgot my watch at home.


I miss Kate’s articles in the weekly provisions. When will she be writing again? (Ed. Note: I’m sure she’ll be writing, when the spirit moves!)


Thanks for mentioning me in your Provision. I wrote that piece, “The World as Seen From My Running Shoes,” quite well…


I enjoyed reading the poems from your daughter’s wedding in Costa Rica; I will send them on to my friend. BTW, I have been very busy saving the planet. Read my articles on Mar Vista Patch:http://marvista.patch.com/columns/mar-vista-verde


Thank you so much for your Provision on Zest. The poem as translated by Robert Bly describes how I can feel from time to time, particularly when I am caught up in the minutiae of a major project. It does help to remind myself why this project matters, to the organization I’m working in and the people in it, as well as why I wanted to tackle the project in the first place. At the same time, the larger questions posed in this Provision point me to examining certain areas of my life, and looking for zest outside of work. I very much appreciate how your Provisions so gently open the door to exploring things that matter. Thank you. 


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
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #721: Data Matter

Laser Provision

My running buddies call me “Techno Bob.” And they don’t even know about my legendary computer support and troubleshooting capabilities! They are referring to the fact that I seldom run or cycle anywhere without my gadgets: GPS, heart rate, elevation, cadence, pace, and calorie trackers (to mention only a few). My friends have it wrong, however. I’m not “Techno Bob;” I’m “Data Bob.” Technology is just a way of getting the data. It’s the data that make a difference. Great leaders understand the importance of data. Without an awareness of what’s going on, we cannot take responsibility for what’s going on. And if leadership is about anything, it’s about responsibility. This Provision brings that point home.

LifeTrek Provision


I know there will be those who take me to task for my obsession with data collection. One of my first coaches, Christine McDougall, is an ultra distance runner and swimmer who enjoys the pure freedom of having no tracking gear at all. No watches. No heart rate monitors. Nothing beeping. Nothing distracting. Just pure running. Christine writes:

Falling in love with running came slowly for me. And like any lover, we have days when we fight. We also have days where we discover new joys in hanging together. Like when I found how much I love trail running, out in a forest, navigating rough terrain, surrounded by trees and sky. Or flying downhill, falling into running, totally focused, letting go, allowing gravity to take you, fearless. And those days where the mind shows up with enthusiasm and the body doesn’t…or the days when the body shows up with enthusiasm and the mind is still in bed….

Running is as essential to me as my breath. For some people this connection is found in yoga, or dance, or meditation. I need to move, and fast. I need to be out there for a chunk of time. The best times are when I disappear and there is just running and sometimes not even that. This is one of the reasons I love long distance. At some point you disappear, and time goes AWOL. I find sitting meditation hard work, but let me run for 2 or 3 hours, and there is peace. I don’t need to talk, I love silence, but I do need to move. Moving the body allows the inside to get still.

I can identify with Christine’s reflections. In last week’s Provision, Zen Matters, I, too, confessed to the struggle of sitting meditation. I have never been good at that. And I, like Christine, can run for hours at a time. Road running. Trail running. Treadmill running. I do them all, and usually without headphones or other distractions. I can remember the time I spent 3+hours on the same elliptical machine in my local health club. I was on the elliptical, instead of the treadmill, because I was recovering from an injury. I was getting ready for an important marathon, however, so I wanted to put in those 3+ hours.

People would come and people would go at the health club. I would wave at them upon arrival and I would wave at them upon departure. Some would stop and chat, not knowing what to make of this seeming craziness. Most could not imagine staying on one machine for such a long period of time. They would just shake their heads. But I was on a mission from God, to quote the Blues Brothers, and it brought me joy to do what I had set out to do (it also brought me a personal best a few weeks later at the 2000 Las Vegas Marathon, which I wrote about gleefully in Provision #174).

Since that time, I have run more than 40 marathons, ultra marathons, and triathlons. Include my training regimen, and I have probably run at least 15,000 miles (or 24,000 kilometers) in the past 10 years. That’s a lot of meditation! I mention this, however, not to boast of how many miles I have run but to observe what happened to my motivation recently when I lost my running watch. Even though I am an inveterate pavement pounder, well established in my routines, the loss of my running watch and the subsequent lack of data took a significant toll on my motivation.

It’s ironic that I would lose that watch. It goes everywhere I go including, most recently, up to the top of Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia, at an altitude of 4,095 meters (or 13,435 feet). But recently I went for a run, right out my own front door, and the next day my watch was nowhere to be found. Since socks are the only things that seem to disappear into thin air, after being put in the drier as matched pairs, I was certain that this watch would show up again soon. It has to be in this house! But as the days turned into weeks, no watch appeared.

Now this watch is not just any watch. It is one of those smart running watches that provides far more data than most people would know what to do with. Between the built-in GPS receiver and all the accessories, including heart rate monitor, foot pod, and bike sensor, it can tell me just about every imaginable factoid about my run or ride, including:

  • Time, distance, and average pace
  • Interval splits and interval pace
  • Speed, cadence, heading, and grade
  • Current, average, and maximum heart rate
  • Calories burned
  • Sunrise and sunset

This watch can even get you back to the start when you get lost (a feature I have used more than once, not only while trail running but also in downtown Boston when my hotel kept managing to elude me). Best of all, as if that was not enough, this watch automatically uploads all this information to a personalized website, provided free-of-charge by the makers of the watch, so that you can review your run with the help of maps, charts, and a player that provides multiple views of the run on a minute-by-minute basis. I enjoy that feature when I cover new territory (like the top of Mt. Kinabalu) or when I am training and want to look at my heart rate or other factors.

Suddenly, with the mysterious disappearance of my watch, all these data were unavailable to me. It was even a challenge to figure out how long I was running, especially when I was in unfamiliar territory, let alone to know anything more specific about the routes or training-effects of my runs. Since this watch is not exactly inexpensive, I kept holding out. Surely the watch would show up! But it never did, and the lack of data began to erode my motivation and movement. Without the feedback provided by real-time data sensors, my zest, focus, and self-responsibility began to falter.

Fortunately, this was an easy problem to solve. One click on Amazon.com and the watch was at my door the next day (even though I had not paid for next-day shipping!). The following day, I was back on track with my running routine.

All of this is a great lesson in leadership. Data matter. If we don’t know what is happening in our organizations, both in the moment and after the fact, it will be hard to make decisions and to move forward in constructive ways. Data increase our awareness, especially when they become available continuously in real time, which inevitably leads to changes in behavior.

That is, in fact, the easiest way to change anything. Don’t try to make change happen. That’s a formula for frustration, discouragement, and defeat. Just become aware of what’s going on. Collect data. Don’t evaluate the data as to whether they are good or bad, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, favorable or unfavorable, positive or negative. Just recognize the data as data. This is happening now. That awareness is the key to change.

The effect is really quite magical.

  • Do you want to lose weight? Then don’t try to lose weight. Just collect data on what you are eating now.
  • Do you want to become more active? Don’t try to become more active. Just collect data on your activities now.
  • Do you want to run faster? Don’t try to run faster. Just collect data on how fast you are running now.
  • Do you want to get more sleep? Don’t try to get more sleep. Just collect data on when you are sleeping now.
  • Do you want to influence more people? Don’t try to influence more people. Just collect data on the people you are interacting with now.
  • Do you want to teach better? Don’t try to teach better. Just collect data on how you are teaching now.

Collecting objective data is the key to changing behavior. As we become more aware of what is actually happening in the present moment, our behavior inevitably shifts. Those shifts may be subtle or dramatic, intentional or unintentional, immediate or gradual, preliminary or complete. However we experience them, changes in awareness always evoke changes in behavior.

For those change to be positive, the key is to collect and contemplate data from a no-fault and strengths-based orientation. My wife, Megan, and I have written a manual on how to do that:Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time. The process is easy to understand but hard to do. Our natural instinct is to collect data and then to immediately evaluate that data in terms of attributions and problems. “I’m so stupid!” “He really screwed up!” “We are not doing what we are supposed to be doing!” “This is not working out!”

There’s no end to the evaluative assessments we can lay on top of observational data. Most of us are quite good at that, whether our judgments are directed inward toward ourselves or outward toward others. We think we are trying to help, pointing out what’s wrong and how to do things better. But such “constructive criticism,” more often than not, pushes people in destructive directions. Here is how Thomas Crane describes the dynamic in his excellent book, The Heart of Coaching.

“You have probably heard the phrase constructive criticism. If something is truly critical, how can it be constructive? “Constructive criticism” is an oxymoron; these two conditions cannot coexist. The affect of criticism on human beings, regardless of intent, is almost always negative. People usually do not feel helped when they are being criticized. Criticism is usually:

  • A personal attack
  • Focused on the problem rather than the solution
  • Destructive, rather than constructive (even when it is called ‘constructive’)
  • Focused on the past instead of future performance”

What does Crane recommend? First, he encourages leaders to focus on the positive as much as possible. Without denying reality, leaders can still focus on the things that are going well and the potential for greater things. “This focus,” Crane writes, “stimulates openness, innovation, and creativity and is a more helpful framework for solving problems.”

Second, he encourages leaders to focus on the data through a learning lens. Data are not criticisms; they are opportunities for constructive feedback and coaching. For that feedback and coaching to be constructive, Crane offers the following guidelines:

  • Suspend Judgment (set aside critical thoughts)
  • Assume Innocence (give people the benefit of the doubt)
  • Identify Your Assumptions (keep an open mind)
  • Become Curious (consider multiple possibilities)
  • Embrace Humility (recognize our limitations and vulnerability)

In Evocative Coaching we develop and expand upon these recommendations through specific approaches for story listening, expressing empathy, appreciative inquiry, and design thinking. We encourage leaders and coaches to look for signs of vitality and to share data with people in ways that increase awareness without increasing defensiveness. When that happens, behavior begins to shift and transformation begins to occur. In the absence of criticism, data can become the treasure it always has the potential to be: an opportunity to see ourselves in new ways, to take action, and to grow in new directions.

When I lost my access to the data provided by my running watch I lost some of my consistency, enthusiasm, productivity, and creativity. That surprised me. I thought, after all these years, that my running was in a pretty solid groove. But the lack of data had a corrosive effect. That goes to show just how much I enjoy the feedback. I like to challenge myself in ways that the data reinforces. Without the data, I lacked the challenge. Without the challenge, I lacked the zest for the entire enterprise.

No wonder my running buddies call me “Techno Bob.” I don’t know anyone else who gets so much pleasure from a watch. But it’s really about the data, the feedback, and the no-fault, strengths-based processing that I go through with each and every run. I don’t look at the data to figure out what’s wrong and what I could have done better. I look at the data to know what’s happening. From there, I let awareness take its course.

Coaching Inquiries: What are your data sources in life and work? How do you relate to them? Do they discourage you? Overwhelm you? Intrigue you? How could they become more of a friend to you? What would have to shift in order for you to see things through a learning lens? Who could become a conversation partner with you to increase your awareness and realize your potential.

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.

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 Form or Email Bob.


I have enjoyed reading your “Provisions” through the years. You are a creative thinker and are able to explain those thoughts well in words. I was particularly struck by your recent column on “Jesus Matters” and then this most recent column on “Zen Matters.” The former was an outstanding exposition on the relevance of Jesus to a secular society. The latter was a compelling commentary on the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the evil acts that people commit. Thank you for providing such moral clarity, particularly as you described acts as evil, rather than people as evil.


Great stuff on Zen. I do read all of your Provisions, not usually on Monday morning, but I am glad I read this one today.


I was saddened to read in Provisions that some people decided to unsubscribe as a result of reading your thoughtful Provision after 9-11. You’ve done it again with this Provision after the death of Osama bin Laden.

I was very disappointed in listening to President Obama’s announcement about the demise of bin Laden. He kept referring to the idea that this killing was bringing bin Laden to “justice.” I would have preferred that he said something more along the lines of Neale Donald Walsch like, “There is no question that many lives have been saved as a result of this event, because no one can doubt that Mr. bin Laden was planning future death and destruction.•

Most significantly the people directly impacted by the the events of 9-11, the people who lost loved ones, didn’t then and do not now want revenge. They wanted understanding and healing then, and have said that bin Laden’s death brought no resolution or closure to the loss they experienced. Revenge only seems to provide satisfaction to those not involved. And even then it’s a false sense of satisfaction or solace.

In any case, thanks for the thoughtful words in the previous Provisions article and your sharing of your own reaction to the feedback. Stay courageous and determined.


Thank you for putting out the only thoughtful reflections I have read on the President’s much-vaunted assassination raid on an unarmed man in front of his family in his own house inside a sovereign nation where our death squad had no permission to act. How this flagrant violation of universal moral principles is able to spawn public rejoicing, improved polling and an absurd sense of “closure” completely escapes me.

And it makes me very sad. It says that America just doesn’t care about what’s behind the vicious acts of 9/11. It means that we as a nation have no time to achieve reconciliation with our enemies. Our only aim, it seems, is bloody vengeance. The death of Bin Laden ends any hope of turning this great enemy into a friend, of creating a real and lasting peace in which sisters and brothers who share this planet set aside their grievances, forgive one another and resolve to create a new humanity in which there will never be another 9/11. Thank you for providing a much needed alternative viewpoint on this tragic episode. And please, do not ever unsubscribe me! 


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
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #720: Zen Matters

Laser Provision

Zen is the Buddhist practice of meditation and dialogue as a path to enlightenment. For centuries, if not for millennia, Zen was hardly known outside of China, Japan, and other East Asian countries. Now, however, it is an increasingly common word and practice for leaders and people around the globe. What does Zen have to do with leadership? It provides an awakening and a presence of mind that eliminates grasping, striving, and demanding energy. It reduces reactivity and raises proactivity. It lowers blood pressure and increases attention. It does all this by eliminating enemy images along with the attacks, worries, and defensiveness those images engender. In light of the killing of Osama bin Laden, this Provision encourages calm in the midst of the storm. Read on.

LifeTrek Provision


The most controversial set of Provisions I have written in the past 13 years were published in the weeks following September 11, 2001. The attacks in America by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda could not be ignored. I, like so many others, was attempting to understand what had happened, what led to the attacks, and how best to respond.

My reflections provoked a huge outpouring of reader replies; some were appreciative while others were deeply troubled. More people unsubscribed from Provisions in response to those editions than at any time before or since. The outpouring was so great and so disconcerting that I printed the replies and focused my Provisions on them and on related topics for the rest of that year.

At the risk of provoking that reaction again, I thought I would share with you the four frameworks that led to my reflections at the time:

  1. There are no evil people.
  2. Evil acts are tragic expressions of unmet needs.
  3. Understanding those needs makes evil acts less likely.
  4. Violating those needs makes evil acts more likely.

In the frenzy of those days, with the drumbeats of war and retaliation in the air, those frameworks generated reflections that many people did not appreciate. From the tone of a few replies, you would have thought that I was defending evil acts, such as what happened on September 11, 2001. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but my unwillingness to label people as evil and my attempts to understand the unmet needs that led to those evil acts were hard words to hear when people were suffering, hurting, and angry.

Fast forward ten years and the name Osama bin Laden has again been making front page news, with screaming headlines, in every major news and social media outlet around the world. In the hours after the news broke, Twitter was lighting up with more than 3,440 tweets per second, the highest sustained rate ever recorded. Newspaper headlines in New York were typical of those around the world; they ranged from “Osama bin Laden Dead” (New York Post), to “Bin Laden Killed by U.S. Forces in Pakistan, Obama says, Declaring Justice has been Done” (The New York Times), to “Rot in Hell” (New York Daily News).

After chasing bin Laden for more than 10 years, spending more than $1 trillion USD, and launching two major wars to catch this guy and dismantle his organization, it is understandable that the people who suffered most at his hands would relish the moment with vitriol and celebration. As the week went on, however, the celebrations tamped down and people again began to reflect on the meaning of what had happened.

I welcome that reflective space and spirit. Such is the stuff that makes for great Provisions as well as transformational leadership. Turning the whole world into shoot-em-up video games, with saintly good guys and demonic bad guys, is a dangerous proposition. Is that the kind of world in which we want to live? Is that how we best secure “liberty and justice for all”? Is that a true understanding of how life works at its best? I think not.

This truth was brought home to me on Monday, May 2, the day after the announcement about the killing of bin Laden, when my friend and colleague, Erika Jackson, posted the following scripture on her Facebook page: “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.” (Proverbs 24:17)

Wow. That post stopped me in my tracks. What did the author of Proverbs, writing some 3,000 years ago, know about the things that make for peace or even just make us human? In an age before arms-length, remote-controlled weaponry, when enemies often stood face to face in battle, what wisdom was captured in that simple saying? Might it have something to do humility, solidarity, awareness, and responsibility? Might it be the recognition that all life is precious? That enemies are still human beings? That violence against enemies, let alone humiliating them with contempt, spawns more violence? I think so.

The book of Proverbs stands in the wisdom tradition of three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It expresses truths that stem from direct experience rather than from traditional creeds or teachings. There is nothing sectarian about Proverbs or about wisdom. They represent pathways that are open and available to all, encouraging an action-learning approach to what makes life more wonderful.

This same action-learning approach is what undergirds the equally ancient Eastern tradition of Zen. Zen, which means meditation and dialogue on life, harkens back to the Buddha • some 2,500 years ago • and has had a major influence in Chinese, Japanese, and other East Asian cultures for at least the last 1,500 years. Through quietly observing and meditating on life, and through dialoguing about its meaning, Zen holds that people will eventually achieve enlightenment.

And what is enlightenment? It is the awareness of one’s profound connection to and oneness with all of life. It is not just understanding that all sentient beings are made from the same fabric and are part of the same transcendent wisdom; it is appreciating the fullness of that connection as a matter of direct experience. It is the complete elimination of enemy images in favor of seeing the true “Buddha nature” in every person and, indeed, in all of life.

Alan Watts, in his easy-to-read book What Is Zen?, puts it this way: “Zen is simply the sensation and the clear understanding that, to put it in Zen terms, there are ‘ten thousand formations; one suchness.” Or you might say, ‘The ten thousand things that are everything are of one suchness.’ That is to say that there is behind the multiplicity of events and creatures in this universe simply one energy • and it appears as you, and everything is it. The practice of Zen is to understand that one energy so as to ‘feel it in your bones.'”

Eliminating enemy images and recognizing our oneness with all of life is hard to do, especially in the face of attacks and criticisms. The more vicious the attacks, like those of September 11, the more difficult it is to do. How could we be of one piece with such people? How could we feel that in our bones? But even in everyday encounters, when someone says or does something that irritates or worries us, it takes work to set aside our aggressive feelings and anxious reactions in favor of more holistic and empathetic understandings.

Meditation (zazen) and dialogue with a teacher (sanzen) are the primary Zen pathways for such setting aside. The classic form of meditation, sitting Zen, is an individual practice that uses poses and breathwork to clear the mind of all attachment and distraction. I have never been good at that, but I know people who engage regularly in hours of sitting meditation. From shorter daily rituals to extended retreats, not to mention those monks who devote their entire lives to the practice, people experience renewal through such clearing of the mind.

There are many other forms of meditation, including group practices, walking meditations, chanting, and story meditations called Koans. The point of all these practices is to awaken consciousness and understanding as to the true nature of life, which is bound together in a common energy of love, rather than to stay distracted and confused by its apparent brokenness, limitations, and antagonisms.

Meditation does this in part because of its physiological effects. As Herbert Benson documented, even short periods of meditation can break the adrenaline rush and performance momentum of our busy-busy lives, replacing them with a sense of calm, ease, relaxation, and centeredness. We become less aware of our thoughts about the past and future as we become more aware of what we are doing in the present moment: sitting, breathing, walking, standing, or whatever that may be.

Such shifts in awareness are an essential part of great leadership. It is not possible for leaders to make wise decisions, to inspire collective efficacy, or to think outside the box if we are feeling urgency, frenzy, envy, or hostility. These ways of being must be set aside and meditation is an effective way of doing that.

So is reading Provisions and other forms of dialogue on the meaning and measure of life. Provisions goes out to more than 15,000 people on a weekly basis. In any given week, 750•1,250 people open and read the email. Most of those people are repeat readers: they make it a weekly practice to start their week with Provisions and I occasionally hear from them as to how much these reflections challenge and support them on the trek of life.

That’s a bit removed from sanzen, or dialogue with a teacher, but it is not unrelated. I know it helps me to write them. Stepping back to think about the meaning and measure of life so as to see its common ground of being is an important practice for us all.

By now I hope you can see the connections between my reflections on the killing of Osama bin Laden, the saying from Proverbs, and the practice of Zen. They all point to the same larger truth: “ten thousand formations, one suchness.” that is the key for moving on and setting aside.

I also hope you can see the connections between Zen and leadership, because Zen has as much to do with leadership as does Jesus. Leaders who do not step back to calm our minds and who do not reflect on and dialogue about events in ways that connect us positively with people will not only be less effective as leaders, sowing seeds of discontent and dissension by what we say and do, we will also push ourselves to an early grave.

Zen matters to leadership. Whether or not we call it Zen, the practice of meditation along with life-giving dialogue are essential works for us all.

Coaching Inquiries: What quiet, reflective practices are part of your everyday lives? How could you make those practices even more rich and fulfilling? Who do you know who exemplifies meditation and spiritual dialogue? How could you get close to and share the journey more fully with them?

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.

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 Form or Email Bob.


Congratulations on your daughter’s wedding in Costa Rica! I will send on the beautiful wedding poems to my friend.


Happy Easter and congratulations! It was moving to read about the wonderful wedding of your daughter and son-in law. The poems radiated such beautiful heart energy and it reminded me of my mentor, who always said that “life is not about experiences but about “in-speriences.” Live life fully! Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to reading your weekly inspirations!


I came across your poem “Passion” while searching the internet for an inspirational message. A professional group that I belong to is holding a conference in Lansing, Michigan and I have been asked to provide an inspirational message during the opening ceremonies. Can you believe, our International theme for this year is “Purpose & Passion”! Your poem is truly inspirational and parallels our theme wonderfully. I am writing to ask your permission to read the poem as part of our program. (Ed. Note: Permission granted! Thanks.) 


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
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #719: Zapp! Matters

Laser Provision

As a leader, what kind of effect do you have on people? Do you drain them of energy or do you fill them with energy? That’s an important part of the equation when it comes to leadership. Our emotional impact on people has a lot to do with leadership effectiveness. Emotions matter. This fact has long been recognized and is now being documented through the efforts of social scientists, organizational developers, and cognitive neuroscientists. Almost 25 years ago, William Byham wrote a fantastic fable to illustrate how this works called Zapp!. The story still rings true today, and this Provision seeks to bring that home. Read on!

LifeTrek Provision


If last week’s Provision, Aventura y Amor, was in honor of my daughter and son-in-law, who were married on April 18, 2011 at a gorgeous location in Costa Rica, this Provision is in honor of my son and daughter-in-law. The day after we returned from Costa Rica, they purchased and moved into their first home • a fixer-upper in Northern Virginia. Talk about more excitement than we know what to do with! It has been an incredible two weeks.

Because of my flexible work requirements (the office moves with my laptop and phone), I decided to spend the week with them in Northern Virginia to help this grand adventure get off on the right foot. The home, built around 1960, is a handy-person’s dream. There is no end to the projects one can imagine and do.

For now, we have focused on making it liveable. A little electricity here, a little plumbing there, doors that won’t close properly, and a ton of painting to do throughout the house. You get the idea. This is one project that will never end; it will only run out of time, energy, and money. And for me, that happens today, as my availability comes to a close.

The whole project brings me back more than 30 years, to when my wife, Megan, and I moved into the inner-city neighborhood of Chicago that we came to call home for almost 15 years. We were working there in a variety of educational, religious, and community development projects. All of the efforts were non-profits with limited budgets. As a result, we relied greatly on the volunteer efforts of like-minded souls.

That was especially true when it came to purchasing and rehabilitating our properties. We couldn’t always afford to hire electricians, plumbers, carpenters, masons, and other trades people. So we would recruit volunteers with those skills and work alongside them to get the job done. That was when I learned what I know today about handling such projects. My natural curiosity combined with my mechanical aptitude made me an eager apprentice.

Fast forward to this past week and I have been putting all those skills to work (including knowing when to call in professionals for jobs that were too big or complicated for us to handle on our own). My son and daughter-in-law’s home is not in an inner-city neighborhood, but the repair projects have been very similar to what we encountered when we moved into our first apartment in Chicago in 1979. It has been a week of d•j• vu and mess.

I mention this at the start of this Provision for two reasons. First, I have definitely experienced the energy effect of wholeheartedness. I wrote about this recently in my Provision on Zest. In his book,Crossing the Unknown Seathe poet, David Whyte, tells an insightful story of what cured his burnout as executive director of a nonprofit conservation group. It wasn’t rest that recovered his energy; it was changing his calling to something he felt more passionate about: writing and sharing his poetry with the world.

Now it may seem like a stretch to compare plumbing to poetry, but not as much as you may think. I happen to be uniquely qualified to assist two people I care about greatly. So loading my car with tools, accumulated over many years, and spending a week in an environment that could put my skills to such good use has been invigorating as well as challenging. How do you install electrical boxes, rout out drains, lay floor tile, purchase supplies, remediate mold, rebuild walls, and coordinate contractors while at the same time teaching, coaching, and writing Provisions?

Phew! It only happens through wholeheartedness. That’s what has given me the burst of energy needed to get so many things done so quickly. Harkening to my Provision on Zest, I have felt this week like the swan who finds his or her water. When we are in our element, we become pleased, more fully grown, unmoving and marvelously calm, more like the king or queen we are each born to be.

Every leader, indeed every person, needs to find that element for ourselves. Whether you can do one thing or many things well, putting yourself in the place of greatest opportunity to use your talents will inspire your soul. And once you become so inspired, it’s absolutely irresistible, infectious, and empowering.

Which brings me to the second reason for writing this Provision in honor of my son and daughter-in-law. Wholeheartedness becomes irresistible, infectious, and empowering only when it is offered in the right spirit. When my son was a teenager he helped to teach me this lesson in a most profound and humbling way.

I was getting started in my coaching practice in the late 1990s when I bumped into a little book written by William Byham in 1988 called Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment. The book is written as a fable about a make-believe department head named Joe Mode who gets magically transported to the 12th Dimension, where he discovers the power of Zapp!.

What’s that? Listen to some of Byham’s descriptions:

  • Zapp! gives you more energy, makes you feel younger, and even happy.
  • Zapp! enables you to see how people feel, what’s going on in their minds, what it’s like for them on the inside.
  • Zapp! travels like lightning through the air.
  • Zapp! makes people feel empowered, responsible, and capable.
  • Zapp! turns people on about their work and projects.
  • Zapp! energizes people and gives them power.
  • Zapp! enables ideas and programs to succeed.
  • Zapp! connects leaders with people in constructive ways.

In contrast to Zapp!, Byham describes its opposite in terms of Sapp•:

  • Sapp• takes credit for the ideas of others.
  • Sapp• tells people what to do without getting input or consent.
  • Sapp• posts memos and issues orders from on high.
  • Sapp• listens but fails to understand people.
  • Sapp• ignores competency, merit, and good work.
  • Sapp• sets unrealistic timelines and demands compliance.
  • Sapp• doesn’t care about people and quality.
  • Sapp• fails to communicate about things that are important.

Zapp!, in other words, is emotionally intelligent leadership while Sapp• is emotionally ignorant leadership. It’s not that leaders who drain people of energy are malicious, evil, or wicked. It’s more that they are unaware of how leadership works. Such leaders fail to pay attention and, as a result, do more harm than good both to the people and projects they care about.

Antoine de Saint Exupery, author of The Little Prince, captured Byham’s message in his book The Wisdom of the Sands, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to gather wood, give orders, and divide the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Zapp! leadership teaches people to yearn by empowering people to do. When people have their autonomy needs met, feel respected and heard, understand the constraints, participate in decisions, get meaningful feedback, have the ability to measure their own performance, and enjoy their coworkers, then they will wholeheartedly (there’s that word again) accept the challenge and responsibility of getting things done.

Enter my then-teenage son. In the summer before his freshmen year in high school, Megan announced that in order to finish up her dissertation, she would like a week to herself to write and suggested that Evan and I take a father-son vacation canoeing on the French River in Ontario, Canada. That turned out to be a transformational week for our relationship, and it had a lot to do with Zapp!

As we were paddling and camping, I shared with Evan my excitement about the book I was reading, called Zapp! He made the observation that my parenting style often had the effect of “Sapping” him of energy as opposed to Zapping him with positive energy. Throughout our week together, he pointed out specific examples of times when he found my tone and way of communicating with him was discouraging and a drain on his energy.

Well, that was sobering feedback! I certainly didn’t want to Sapp• my son’s energy, but apparently that was happening. By telling him what to do without getting input or consent, by not really listening to his feelings and needs, by failing to recognize and appreciate the good work that he was doing (rather than the work I wanted him to be doing), by setting unrealistic timelines and demanding compliance, I was making it less rather than more likely that he would be successful.

Things began to change as I came to take Byham’s book and other such resources to heart. I shifted from the role of parent to the role of coach, and that made all the difference. Not coach in the sense of trainer or director but coach in the sense of listener or learner. The more I paid attention to the effect I was having on my son, the more we developed a strong and positive relationship.

Evan’s high school years were formative for both of us. Through design and experimentation, we were able to apply what I was learning about the coach approach and put it to good use in our relationship. As a result, my son has gone on to a successful career in systems engineering and I have spent a week in Northern Virginia, up to my eyeballs in projects!

Life is like that. You never know where it will go or how it will turn out. But for my part, I wouldn’t change a thing. The coach approach to parenting is one and the same with the coach approach to leadership. Unless we learn to Zapp! people with energy, there’s not much chance we will get where we want to go.

Coaching Inquiries: What kind of effect do you have on people? Do you Zapp! them with energy or Sapp• them of energy? How could you become more fun to be around and work with? What fears do you, if any, about empowering the people you work with to make decisions and take responsibility for getting things done? Why not try that for a day and see what happens?

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.

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 Form or Email Bob.


Mazeltov on the wedding and may they have a long lifetime full of joy – and marvel! Smiles.


Congratulations from Germany to You both and most of all to your daughter and her husband. Last summer you organized a marvelous wedding on the island “Ruegen” for our daughter Janina and our son (in law) Luke… The three themes “nature, culture and adventure” exact could be theirs… We still love to remember the ceremony as you will remember the ceremony of your daughter and new son (in law)!!


Remembering such days means a lot of sun all over – over all :-))


Congratulations Bob. What a wonderful setting for a wedding. I bet you are the proudest Father of the Bride.


Megan’s poem on Culture for your daughter’s wedding was precious. Thank you sharing 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
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #717: Zest Matters

Laser Provision

This week’s Provision comes to you while I am in Costa Rica, attending and participating in my daughter’s wedding. What fun is that! The inspiration for this Provision on zest comes from my daughter and new son-in-law, Bryn and Andr’s Rodriguez. The two of them work and play harder than just about anyone I know. They epitomize zest: hearty enjoyment, gusto, liveliness, vitality, and an animating spirit. What does this have to do with leadership? Everything! If leaders do not bring zest into the equation, then who will? People count on us to elevate not only their hope but also their confidence that things can and will get done. Zest will do that, which makes it one of the most important leadership qualities of all.

LifeTrek Provision


My wife, Megan, and I were married almost 35 years ago in the California redwoods, near Santa Cruz. By all accounts, it was the best decision we ever made. Even though we were very young at the time • 19 and 21 years of age, respectively • we have grown together rather than apart and we have realized our premarital vision of not only loving each other profusely but also of serving the world better together than either one of us could have apart. Little did we know at the time just how close our partnership would become. In every stage of our lives, including the most recent with co-authoring a new book and collaborating around the Center for School Transformation, we have found ways to support, enrich, and enhance each other’s lives.

Since our wedding in the redwoods included people from all over the United States, we decided to have a wedding weekend rather than just a wedding ceremony and reception. Why have people fly or drive thousands of miles for just a few hours of pleasure? Since these were our family and friends, many of whom we did not see regularly, we wanted to use the occasion to spend a good chunk of time with them. So we rented a church camp for the weekend and planned the wedding as if it were a retreat.

We started the event on Saturday morning with the ceremony, then had time at the beach on Saturday afternoon, followed by free time and then square dancing in the evening. The next morning we had a final get together, a service of celebration and thanksgiving, before Megan and I took off on our honeymoon: a night in Monterey followed by 2,200 miles of driving from San Francisco to Chicago. Along that route we included backpacking in the Grand Tetons and taking in other national treasures such as Yellowstone National Park, Mt. Rushmore, and the Badlands. The whole adventure was great fun.

Fast forward 35 years and our now almost-30-year-old daughter plans to get married tomorrow, April 18, 2011, to a wonderful man who hails first from Peru and then from Australia. We have really enjoyed getting to know Andr’s and we look forward to the many good times we will share together as members of one family. That starts today. Bryn and Andr’s faced the same conundrum we faced 35 years ago, only a quantum leap larger due to globalization. What’s the best place to hold a wedding if you want people to come from the United States, Peru, Australia, and Malaysia? Costa Rica! Especially since Bryn has been part of an adopted family in Costa Rica since she was a foreign exchange student there as a junior in high school.

Well, you don’t travel to Costa Rica just for a wedding ceremony and a reception. And it doesn’t make sense to go to such a wonderful place for just a weekend. So we’re here for an entire week, with all kinds of festivities including swimming, body surfing, catamaran cruising, canyoneering, zip lining, volcano trekking, and hot springs relaxing. What could be better than that! Another adventure has started.

This adventure certainly fits the personalities of my daughter and son-in-law. They are both incredibly active and filled with life. Living in Los Angeles, they have year-round good weather and they make full use of that opportunity with lots of hiking, sports, and an active lifestyle. Somehow they manage to fit that in around two very demanding jobs: as a fourth-year medical resident at LA County Hospital and as the manager of a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills. It would be easy, with jobs like that, to become workaholics with no rest, relaxation, or recreation. Not Bryn and Andr’s! They have the zest to work hard, play hard, and still get married in Costa Rica!

Perhaps that’s why more than 50 people have traveled from the far reaches of the globe to participate in this special occasion. Zest is infectious. In a world where far too many people are sick, stressed, addicted, depressed, impoverished, afraid, ashamed, undervalued, unemployed, sedentary, and otherwise fatigued, it is not just refreshing it is rejuvenating to be with people who are healthy, engaged, released, happy, focused, confident, content, valued, employed, active, and otherwise invigorated. People want to get close to that, even if it means traveling thousands of miles or kilometers.

So what’s the secret to zest? It’s really no secret at all. Did you read last week’s Provision, Laughter Matters? The same elements that generate laughter, also generate zest:

  • Positive emotion. How happy am I?
  • Positive engagement. How interested am I?
  • Positive relationships. How connected am I?
  • Positive meaning. How valuable am I?
  • Positive achievements. How competent am I?

Those are the qualities that contribute to zest as identified by Marty Seligman in his new book,Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Free Press, 2011), and those are the qualities that people have come to know and love in Bryn and Andr’s. They are happy, engaged, connected, passionate, and capable people. They feel that way about themselves, about each other, and about their way in the world. What more can two people want?

To understand how this dynamic works, I would point you to a beautiful and true story told by my favorite poet, David Whyte. Before David became famous as a poet, he was serving as the executive director of a nonprofit corporation in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. As much as he valued the work he was doing, protecting the natural world, David remembers becoming increasingly exhausted. The problem was not just that he was so busy, although that was certainly true. The problem was that he was growing increasingly disconnected from the world he was attempting to protect.

The press and pace of the work was so great that David was in danger of losing not only his zest, but his very identity. I remember laughing when I heard David tell the story of hurriedly walking into a meeting, late, and asking, “Has anyone seen David?” Although he got a laugh with that line, it was a very real question. Because the David he once knew, the David filled with energy and zest for life, “had disappeared under a swampy morass of stress and speed.”

Fortunately, David received assistance from a Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast. That night, after his experience of losing himself at the office, David came home to find the monk sitting in a chair, reading a book of poetry. Suddenly, the monk’s eyes lit up as he discovered one of Rilke’s poems, The Swan. A native of Austria, the monk was reading in the original German, so David went to locate the marvelous English translation by Robert Bly:

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

David could identify with “clumsy living that moves lumbering as if in ropes through what is not done” and of walking awkwardly through his days. “Tell me about exhaustion,” David said. The monk looked at him “with an acute, searching, compassionate ferocity for the briefest of moments, as if trying to sum up the entirety of the situation and without missing a beat, as if he had been waiting all along to say a life-changing thing.” The monk then posed a question that was at once an assertion: “You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest? The antidote for exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”

“You are so tired through and through because a good half of what you do in this organization has nothing to do with your true powers, or the place you have reached in your life. You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while. You need something to which you can give your full powers. You know what that is; I don’t have to tell you.”

And David did know. He wanted his work to be his poetry, and yet he had been setting that aside for many years in favor of being reasonable and gainfully employed. “How do you tell your father-in-law,” David asks, “that you are going to support his daughter and grandchild as a full-time poet?” How indeed. You can’t, unless that decision is made out of the very fabric of one’s life, and the monk was challenging him to be both real and accountable at the same time.

“You are like Rilke’s Swan in his awkward waddling across the ground,” the monk continued. “The swan doesn’t cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better. The swan does it by moving toward the elemental water, where he belongs. It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence.”

It will work the same way for you. “You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life, and it will transform everything. But you have to let yourself down into those waters from the ground on which you stand, and that can be hard. Particularly if you think you might drown. That takes courage, and the word courage in English comes from the old French word cuer, heart. You must do something heartfelt, David, and you must do it soon.” (Crossing the Unknown Sea, adapted from pp. 113-138).

It is in this respect that marriage and leadership are a lot of like. They both require courage, wholeheartedness, and zest. To go through the motions is not enough. To put in the time without the passion is a formula for divorce and disappointment. Until we find that water, that place, that person, that element or environment where we can be fully alive, we will not be at our best and we will not attract the best on the strength of either our energy or our efforts.

So pay attention to the things that make you feel happy, engaged, connected, passionate, and capable. Those are things that make people flourish and fill people with zest.

In the Coaching Psychology Manual, which I co-wrote with Margaret Moore and my colleagues on the faculty of the Wellcoaches School of Coaching, we identify zest as one of the nine being skills of coaching presence. The other eight are calm, warmth, playfulness, affirmation, courage, authenticity, empathy, and mindfulness. We call them “being skills” because they are not inborn qualities or traits over which people have no control. They are ways of being in the world that can be intentionally cultivated, developed, and aligned.

The concept of zest, we write, is about “living and experiencing life as an adventure.” That is one of the three themes in Bryn and Andr’s’ wedding and it is an important part of evocative leadership. When life and leadership become an adventure, then zest is easy to come by • even in difficult of times. There is no “trial and error,” only “trial and correction.” There are no setbacks, only new adventures. There is no “win•lose,” only “win•learn.”

However you frame the concept, zest is a critical part of success in just about any area of life. We would all do well, then, to approach, assimilate, and enjoy life to the fullest.

Coaching Inquiries: How much zest do you have in life? What gives you energy? What drains you of energy? How could you spend more time with your energy boosters? Where could you go that would fill you with a sense of adventure? How could you make that a standard part of your everyday life?

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.

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 Form or Email Bob.


This was a wonderful Provision on laughter! I have always said that, at the end of every day, I have to answer two questions: 1.) Did I make a difference? and 2.) Did I have fun? Your article was really great! Also, I went back a couple of weeks ago and reread •Jesus Matters.• I agree with all you said. Thanks!


Another terrific issue of LifeTrek Provision. The article on Laughter Matters was very enjoyable to read, and the anecdote you included about Martin Seligman was wonderful. It reinforced why I like having my grandchildren around. I liked the way you made a case for paying attention to the five elements and how they can act as a catalyst for a conversation about well-being.


Love this!! 


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
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #716: Laughter Matters

Laser Provision

Imagine that you have been asked to assist an organization that wants to improve its performance as well as its relationships. That organization may be a school, a corporation, a non-profit, a religious congregation, a governmental agency, or any other form of human organization. When you walk in the door for the first time, what’s the quickest way to size up the work that has to be done? In a word: laughter. Organizations where people do not laugh are organizations in deep trouble. Laughter is not only good for the soul, it is also good for the bottom line. Too many leaders forget this all important truth. We do so, however, at great cost. Read on to see how this works and how to turn things around.

LifeTrek Provision


Marty Seligman, Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology and Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has just published an important new book titled Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Free Press, 2011). Among many claims to fame, Seligman is credited with launching the modern, positive psychology movement during his tenure as president of the American Psychological Association in 1998. In Flourish, Seligman describes how positive psychology got its start through generous funding by a large, anonymous foundation.

“What would you like to research?” representatives of the foundation asked Seligman. “Positive psychology,” he replied. “Send us a three-pager and a budget,” they instructed. One month later, a check for US $1.5 million appeared on his desk. That’s not a bad return for three pages and a budget! And the money certainly helped to launch a movement, both academic and applied, in which thousands of people are now engaged and employed. But nearly ten years ago when Seligman first told the story of how positive psychology began, he gave more credit to his five-year-old daughter, Nikki, than to the money from an anonymous foundation.

Although I have reprinted that story before in Provisions, I share it again now, for two reasons: (1) it makes me laugh, every time I read it, and (2) it makes me think that if grouchy old men can change their ways so can ill-humored and quarrelsome organizations. Seligman writes:

“The notion of a positive psychology movement began at a moment in time a few months after I had been elected president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1998. It took place in my garden while I was weeding with my 5-year-old daughter, Nikki.”

“I have to confess that even though I write books about children, I’m really not all that good with them. I am goal-oriented and time-urgent, and when I am weeding in the garden, I am actually trying to get the weeding done. Nikki, however, was throwing weeds into the air and dancing around. I yelled at her. She walked away, came back, and said, ‘Daddy, I want to talk with you.'”

“‘Yes, Nikki?'”

“‘Daddy, do you remember before my fifth birthday? From the time I was three to the time I was five, I was a whiner. I whined every day. When I turned five, I decided not to whine anymore. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch.'”

“This was for me an epiphany, and nothing less,” Seligman observes. “I learned something about raising kids, something about myself, and a great deal about my profession. First, I realized that raising Nikki was not about correcting whining. Nikki did that herself. Rather, I realized that raising Nikki was about taking this marvelous skill • I call it ‘seeing into the soul’ • and amplifying it, nurturing it, helping her to lead her life around it to buffer against her weaknesses and the storms of life.”

“Raising children, I realized, is more than fixing what is wrong with them. It is about identifying and nurturing their strongest qualities, what they own and are best at, and helping them find niches in which they can best live out these positive qualities.”

“As for my own life, Nikki hit the nail right on the head. I was a grouch. I had spent 50 years mostly enduring wet weather in my soul, and the last 10 years being a nimbus cloud in a household of sunshine. Any good fortune I had was probably not due to my grouchiness but in spite of it. In that moment, I resolved to change.”

“But the broadest implication of Nikki’s lesson was about the science and practice of psychology. Before World War II, psychology had three distinct missions: curing mental illness, making the lives of all people more productive and fulfilling, and identifying and nurturing high talent.”

“Right after the war, two events • both economic • changed the face of psychology. In 1946, the Veterans Administration was founded, and thousands of psychologists found out that they could make a living treating mental illness. At that time, the profession of clinical psychologist came into its own. In 1947, the National Institute of Mental Health (which was based on the American Psychiatric Association’s disease model and is better described as the National Institute of Mental Illness) was founded, and academics found out that they could get grants if their research was described as being about pathology.”

“This arrangement brought many substantial benefits. There have been huge strides in the understanding of and therapy for mental illness: At least 14 disorders, previously intractable, have yielded their secrets to science and can now be either cured or considerably relieved. But the downside was that the other two fundamental missions of psychology • making the lives of all people better and nurturing genius • were all but forgotten.” (M. Seligman, Positive Psychology, Positive Prevention, and Positive Therapy, 2002).

Isn’t that a delightful story! Out of the mouths of babes, comes an epiphany. Throw in $1.5 million, and the epiphany becomes a movement. Today, more than a decade after Seligman made “positive psychology” the theme of his APA presidency, it can no longer be said that researchers have been neglecting the study of what makes people and organizations flourish. Gone are the days when grants are limited to pathology, dysfunction, and deficits. “Positive psychology” • the study of optimal human functioning • has established itself as an important alternative with a clear, research-based message: it’s good to feel good.

Now that might strike you as a rather obvious and self-evident conclusion, but the evidence has been forcing many leaders to reconsider issues related to leadership style and organizational culture. I will not forget what one of my clients said to me, years ago, who was the CEO of a large corporation: “I don’t care whether or not people like me or like each other. I don’t care whether or not people like their job. Too much laughter, in fact, makes me nervous. I pay people to do what I want them to do. If they don’t want to do the work, they can find another job and I can find another employee. It’s that simple.”

It may have been that simple in his mind, ten years ago, but positive psychology and many other fields of inquiry, such as positive organizational scholarship, have documented the problems with that approach. When people feel bad, they not only get sick more but they also perform poorly. When people feel good, even to the point of laughing out loud, they stay healthy, engaged, and productive. It pays for leaders to make work fun, which • as Seligman documents in his most recent book • does not equate with easy or even pleasurable. Work becomes fun when it is marked by five elements, each of which contribute in their own, unique way to well-being:

  • Positive emotion. How happy am I?
  • Positive engagement. How interested am I?
  • Positive relationships. How connected am I?
  • Positive meaning. How valuable am I?
  • Positive achievements. How competent am I?

We’ve covered each of these attributes from various angles as part of our current Provision series on Evocative Leadership. Great leaders make sure that people feel happy, interested, connected, valuable, and competent. That’s a far cry from the replaceable-part, cog-in-the-wheel mentality of that CEO industrialist. When we view people as expendable objects we limit their contributions, shortchange their creativity, constrain their resilience, and constrict their effectiveness. In a rapidly-changing world no leader can afford to sacrifice such instrumental organizational qualities. No leader can afford to make people miserable.

So make people laugh instead. Laughter in the workplace is a good sign, not a bad sign. Research indicates that laughter:

  • Reduces stress and boosts the immune system
  • Expands creativity and imagination
  • Strengthens relationships and morale
  • Improves memory and comprehension
  • Increases productivity and performance

In other words, laughter increases all five elements of well-being identified by Seligman in Flourish. Children laugh naturally up to 300-400 times per day; that’s part of what makes them so attractive and adorable. Adults are lucky if we laugh out loud even 15 times a day. We think first and laugh later; children laugh first and think later. How do we turn that around? Here are a few tips for appropriate workplace fun:

  • Move around and interact with people directly. Laughter will follow.
  • Share and laugh at our own mistakes. Confucius say: “Being ashamed of our mistakes turns them into crimes.”
  • Surprise people with kindness. Even little things can lighten the load.
  • Include humorous quotes in communications. Bombeck say: “When humor goes, there goes civilization.”
  • Take breaks or stay after work for games and other stress busters with colleagues. People who play together, work better together.

Such frivolity must be balanced, of course, with the task at hand. People at work have things to accomplish and do. Stakeholders and shareholders expect accountability and value. Leaders would not be leaders were we to lose sight of the business at hand. But great leaders understand a great truth: laughter matters. Work is serious business but that does not make it the business of seriousness. The old notion of whistling while we work, which has declined even more than laughter, turns out to be good advice, at least as a metaphor: work goes better when people have fun.

So look for ways to cultivate positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievements at work. Make sure people are not only productive but happy. Well-being is not just a nice-to-have, as health insurance companies have now discovered. Well-being is a have-to-have. It prevents disease and disability, which costs far less than recovering from disease and disability. Great leaders understand that well-being is not an individual pursuit; it is a collective endeavor and a common cause for us all.

Coaching Inquiries: How much laughter permeates your workplace? What could you do to laugh more and to help others laugh with you? How might laughter make you and others more productive? What could make you less grumpy and more grateful? Who do you know who epitomizes that spirit? What is one thing you could do today that would make everyone feel better?

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.

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 Form or Email Bob.


Thanks for the recommendation of The Inner Game of Tennis by Tim Gallwey. What a fantastic book. Definitely had parallels to the books I’ve read by Eckhart Tolle, and his philosophy on the ego mind and self 1. Thanks again, hope you’re well! 


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
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services