Provision #466: Gold Medal Moments

Laser Provision

Gold medal moments are exhilarating moments of great triumph and drama. But they often come on the heels of persistent effort across small, incremental steps. To hang in there through the days of chipping away at our dream, we need both conviction in our ability to make it happen and joy in the process of getting to where we want to go. That’s as true in organizations as in our personal lives. By staying positive, we’ll find the conviction and joy we need to mount the pyramid of success. Read on to find out how.

LifeTrek Provision

Bob: Some of you may remember that my wife, Megan, and I recently visited friends on the south island of New Zealand. It was our first visit to this delightful country, during which time we enjoyed learning about and observing its unique flora and fauna. Who would have thought, for example, that there were no mammals in all of New Zealand until human beings arrived about a thousand years ago. Imagine that!

Because of such isolation, the other animals of New Zealand evolved in unique ways. With no mammals as predators, other animals and even plants could express themselves differently than anywhere else on the planet. And express themselves they did.

In the past 1,000 years, however, mammals have slowly caused the extinction of one species after another. During the 19th century, for example, there were only four official sightings of one such species, a large, beautiful, flightless bird with bright blue and green feathers and a bold red beak called the takahe. By 1930, with no sightings in the 20th century, the takahe was presumed extinct. And it might have turned out that way, were it not for one man who believed they still existed somewhere.

Dr. Geoffrey Orbell spent his weekends and holidays tramping through the valleys of the Murchison Mountains, looking for the takahe. It took years, but on November 20, 1948, Dr. Orbell found a colony of 250 takahe hidden in a remote area, safe from hunters. But they were not safe from the encroaching mammals such as stoats and deer, which ate the takahe’s favorite tussock grasses. So Dr. Orbell worked with others to establish takahe reserves, which now include four small, predator-free islands. There, the takahe are flourishing in the lowlands where they used to live. That’s a gold medal moment.

None of this might have happened if Dr. Orbell had not believed in the possibility of their existence, and if he had not made the effort to search for them. He had to stubbornly persist in both his belief and his efforts, but eventually his persistence paid off. Eventually he found the treasure of the takahe. Once found, he was able to protect this precious and endangered species so it wouldn’t be lost. He worked with others to create environments where they now thrive.

This story is a metaphor for many gold medal moments. Such moments often take the conviction and persistence of people who believe in their ability to make the impossible, possible. They hang in there, doing incredible things, against all odds, until dreams come true.

We saw that this past week in Fostoria, Ohio, where three of us from LifeTrek Coaching just conducted an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Summit with the school district and its surrounding community. More than 50 people gathered for three days to tackle the seemingly impossible task of making schools both fun and productive in an age of increasing standards and diminishing resources. Like Dr. Orbell, the people of Fostoria went on a treasure hunt to find, protect, and cultivate something precious. Much to everyone’s delight, it worked.

What helped was using the 5-D cycle of Appreciative Inquiry. First, we defined what we wanted to learn. We clarified the focus. Then we discovered examples of where this focus was already in evidence. We went looking for the takahe, appreciating the best of what the Fostoria schools have to offer. Finding the treasure led to many dreams for the future. We imagined the possibilities, brainstorming a variety of bold, provocative propositions as to what the school district would look like were the treasure to be properly cared for and protected.

But we didn’t stop there. A dream without designs is like a plane without wings: it can never get off the ground. So we began to design strategies for making the dreams come true. We determined the direction of future actions, aligning both key stakeholders and organizational elements with the dreams. The more specific we got, the more clear it became that we were designing a new destiny for the school system. These were not incremental reforms, but transformational creations upon which to build one gold medal moment after another.

That, in the end, is the aim of every coaching relationship: we seek to assist our clients to perform to the best of their ability. That performance may not be the best in the world, but it can be a gold medal moment if it expresses their full potential.

In his book The Inner Game of Work, Tim Gallwey explores the formula for peak performance. Performance, he write, equals potential minus interference. I have modified that formula to suggest that performance equals potential minus interference plus resources. Appreciative Inquiry works on both fronts: it decreases interference at the same time as it increases resources. As a result, AI can assist organizations and individuals to outdo themselves in life and work.

AI decreases interference by avoiding the trap of root cause problem analysis. As tempting and as instinctive as it is to notice, analyze, and solve problems, the process of problem solving takes a toll on the human spirit. The more aware we become of our problems, the more we study their causes, effects, and magnitude, the more we can feel overwhelmed, distressed, and responsible for not doing things right. We end up getting in our own way, by focusing on our shortcomings and second guessing our abilities. That is not the way to peak performance.

AI turns down the volume of such negative voices, both internal and external, by getting people to focus on the positive and most interesting things about their experience. Can you imagine how Dr. Orbell felt on November 20, 1948, when he finally saw the takahe after so many years of searching? He was at once exhilarated over the find and passionate over the charge to protect them. His dream turned into a destiny with great rewards, that lives on today in the Department of Conservation.

That’s how we felt in Fostoria, as people found example after example of greatness in their schools. That got them instantly engaged in the process of protecting those examples and making them more the rule than the exception. Instead of obsessing about their problems and what they could not do, they got excited about their possibilities and what they could do. They got jazzed and specific about the possibilities for performing at the top of their game.

What a transformation this represented from day one. The energy at the beginning of the Summit was one of exhaustion and exasperation. The school year had just ended, and everyone was tired. On top of everything else that was going on, including graduation, who needed another meeting, let alone a three-day meeting! You could feel the angst over if, whether, and how to participate.

But then the stories began, the wishes came out, and the music started to play. “We are family!” rocked energy into people with the message that fun is good. From there it was a short leap to start planning a different destiny. For three days, people laughed and worked hard over the prospect of creating schools and communities that learn. Many specific ideas and strategies surfaced that had not, heretofore, been on the table. Assignments were made and people walked away with a clear sense of forward momentum. It was a gold medal moment to be sure, with as much promise to thrive as the takahe of New Zealand.

There’s nothing quite like making a plan and working a plan to give one the thrill of success. Sometimes, success sneaks up on us as a serendipitous surprise. We hardly see it coming before we win the big one, like a windfall profit. But that is the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time, gold medal moments require us to find, protect, and nurture the best of what is. They require us to do the work of persistently believing in and practicing the art of possibility.

This happens in individual coaching as well as in large group Summits. By surveying the landscape for strengths we reduce the interference and increase the resources in order to mount the pyramid of success.

Kate: There is something about those moments when we really embrace doing things differently. It takes that discernment to help us see that our past behavior and thinking patterns will only get us to where we were before, and that a shift brings the possibility of new results. As I got up an hour earlier than normal today, I couldn’t help but wonder if one of those shifts was afloat.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of hard work and discipline to adopt a new practice or take a new action. If it feels like a drudge to get going in a particular direction, it may be the wrong direction, or at least the wrong action for you at this point. If you tap into where your energy is, there lies the key to what may be a much easier and rewarding shift.

A number of organizations are talking about the “deep dive” methodology, for looking at positive organization and process change, in order to realize greater efficiency, better products and services, as well as greater client satisfaction. I was at an executive leadership council meeting recently, where this method was being discussed. I remember one administrator talking about the deep dive as it relates to the “low hanging fruit.” Often the two work hand in hand

Perhaps that is good to remember that for our individual work as well. Many times it is easier and less stressful to approach change and improvement one small step at a time, rather than upsetting the whole apple cart in one sweeping move. Start with the “low hanging fruit,” and the “deep dive” will follow.

I have seen a client begin a meditation practice only to realize incredible ease and results. He loved it, and I was amazed about the speed in which he picked up the new practice and the enjoyment he immediately realized from it. It was the right time and right tool for him, and little struggle was involved. Mostly he just needed to remind himself to do it, and he jumped right in. In a very short time, he found that he missed it and was less effective on the days when he hadn’t practiced it.

Another client had become very skilled at thinking negative things about herself, her situation, and her future possibilities. We worked on two new practices • stopping the old thinking patterns and building positive and productive new ones. The old patterns were stubborn and prevalent, but she was determined and willing to keep with it. Over time she was able to easily catch herself being negative, and to replace the thinking with hope and her vision for something better.

We do deserve a gold medal when we embrace new practices, whether mental or physical. It is sometimes much easier to stay embedded in our old ways, even if they are not working well. I encourage you to take a look at where you desire change, and to tap into your energy and intuition to get some clues as to where greater satisfaction may lie for you. Remember, it really doesn’t have to take gargantuan effort to reach a better place.

Erika: While some coaching conversations lead to spectacular, transformative shifts, not all do • at least not immediately. There is equal value in the small, slow, and steady ways that change is made.

In working with clients, my focus is to partner with them in learning, or re-learning, the practice of pacing. Just as a Pacer in a marathon has the goal of setting a speed and energy for the runners in her group, so does a coach. Coaches help us in our own life journey by encouraging us not to move at speeds below our potential nor beyond our capabilities.

Learning to pace our lives is about making room for and appreciating small successes, no matter how seemingly trivial. For example, Jeff learned to celebrate each positive interaction with his spouse on the way to his bigger vision for repairing a broken relationship. Jen acknowledged her success at sending out resumes and networking as part of her path to a new career. And Mary celebrated each pound lost while she worked toward a new level of physical well-being.

Big wins are simply a series of small achievements. So, when we•ve introduced something new into our lives, whether it be a skill, action, or habit, it’s important to celebrate these progressions which as much joy and pride as we would in meeting the end goal.

Coaching Inquiries: What did your last gold medal moment look like? Who was involved? What contributed to your success? How did it make you feel? Are you ready for another such moment? How can you position yourself to take full advantage of every opportunity? What treasure is waiting for you to find?

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 on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

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

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

I had just finished reading Finding Flow last week. I thought that the research about the housekeeping task was very interesting. Our garage had not been cleaned since winter; leaves and sand, things just put anywhere until later when it was warm enough to decide what to do with them. Well, I went to Watchers Watchers, to the gym, breakfast, and then I began the amazing challenge of creating an environment that would allow us to keep the garage door up long enough that the neighbors could see inside of it without being completely embarrassed. It was a flow experience, when I finished the garage, I washed the patio furniture, and got to visit with a neighbor walking by. It was a great “flow”. I hope I have another one before its time to clean the garage again. It was fun, then, to read this week’s Provision. Click Thanks!

I like the term flow.

Hope you’re doing ok • sounds like you’ve been dealing with a lot. (Ed. Note: It’s been a busy time, but all is well. Thanks for your concern!)

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

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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