Monday, December 22, 2008

10 Tips to Creating an Amazing 2009

1. Become incredibly selfish, not self-centered. It's all about your willingness to take care of yourself and choose what you want and how you want it. The less selfish you are the more you'll put up with what isn't acceptable in your life.

2. Eliminate delay. That's my I live my life so I don't throw away time which is a very precious commodity. If you become a quick responder (not reactor) you won't be bogged down with a list of "shoulds", "have-tos" and "haven't gotten to life yet".

3. Thrive on the details as that's where you'll learn. You'll also learn to appreciate the little things so you can enjoy them, not just the big momentous occasions in your life.

4. Show others what pleases you. If you have the right people in your life...those who care about you both personally and professionally they want to know and if you show them you can ask for what you want, then it might just give them the 'permission' to ask for what they want in their lives as well. That's the ultimate gift to the people in your life.

5. Sensitize aware of everything around you and how you process it all.
Pay attention to the world around you. Pay attention to your intuition. Be mindful. You will learn more from paying attention than anything else.

6. Choose your environment. There's a reason why there's a saying "you are a product of your environment" so make it a great one and that's all aspects of your environment, people, physical space, mental, network, learning...the works

7. See how perfect the present really is. You've heard me ask "what's so perfect when it clearly isn't?" well if you see right now as perfect that question becomes a moot point. It's easier to do than you think!

8. Become unconditionally constructive. The meaning of this is evident. Constructive can also mean constructive destructionism. Approach the new year with the perspective of having to eliminate what is no longer working by choice and replacing it with what will work for the future.

9. Establish reserves in all areas. Have enough, time, space, relationships so you can make the choices you need to make rather than have circumstances make choices for you.

10. Raise your standards. Decide how well you wish to live and make choices to orient your life, friends, work, goals and lifestyle around these standards. Standards means the bar you set for how you want to live your life. It's not always money related, remember that.

Make 2009 amazing!

Donna Karlin

Monday, December 08, 2008

Turning Nothing into Something

It's been a while since I've written. Between the chaos in the Canadian Government, constant change in the public service, a few challenging situations in my home life and the work I've been doing south of the border, finding the time to write even a short blog post was a challenge. In the middle of all this, I was asked if I would do a free webinar on time management. My response was "No. I won't do a webinar on time management because it's not about juggling time, saving time, managing time or re-organizing time; it's about how you respect yourself in relation to time."

I remember Thomas Leonard saying "Work is an expression of one's values; struggling is an expression of one's unmet needs. Either you are creating your life or the circumstances are." It was even more paramount during this intensely chaotic time to be able to say yes to the right things and no to the rest. That's step one in respecting yourself in relation to time. The more you give away the less you have to make a difference in your life and the lives of others.

For me there is nothing more important than to impress upon you that the more difficult life seems to be, from struggling economy to a sea of change initiatives wherever you look, remember that all you have is time...time to do, to learn, to express, to explore, create, live and have an impact. If you throw it away, then what will be left is regret.

Wouldn't you prefer to celebrate? Here's the way to get started. FunctionFox Webinar Series Presents; Time Mastery: Take Back Your Life...One Choice at a Time

Thursday January 8, 2009 2 PM Eastern 11AM Pacific
Free 30 minute webinar with 15 minute Q+A following.
Click to register

Donna Karlin

Take Note: The International Journal of Coaching in Organizations (IJCO) is a publication that has no equal. It brings a depth and breadth and an understanding to coaching in organisations that goes beyond any other publication I know of. I am proud to be a sponsor for this journal. Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview with Julio Olalla, founder of Newfield, one of the world’s foremost transformational learning organizations.

“Well, for example, if you physically live in pain, it doesn’t mean transformation; it means that you are living in pain. If an organization lives in suffering, it doesn’t mean anything. If the suffering is brought to a context of reflection and practice, it can generate a new future. So, in other words, if suffering is used as a revealing force, it’s enormously powerful. You may have organizations where people are suffering, for instance, because they’re not listened to. Now, they can keep suffering because nobody is willing to listen, and in that case suffering is not doing its job. But if we are willing to listen to it, it can be enormously revealing and get us into new and different actions.

Suffering could be a sign the same way that a pain in our body is a sign.”

This interview appeared in Issue 2, 2008 of IJCO. It is free and available for download until January 31, 2009. Click here to go to the IJCO website to download your free copy. Julio is regarded as a master at creating safe environments that accelerate people’s potential for new thinking and action. William Bergquist, the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations (IJCO) Co-Executive Editor, interviewed him in May 2008 at the Newfield offices in Boulder, Colorado.

And take a moment to check this out: From the award-winning documentary, "Playing For Change: Peace Through Music", comes the first of many "songs around the world" being released independently. Featured is a cover of the Ben E. King classic by musicians around the world adding their part to the song as it travelled the globe.

Talk about the world becoming a much smaller place. Puts some things in perspective, don't you think?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

How To Be Better Than Great

I was talking to a dear friend and fellow Coach the other day about ‘waiting for a crisis to change our ways of being’ as it applies in all aspects of our life, work, personal relationships, and health, as well as the health of an organization.

To say human beings process things in a certain way, in this case waiting until things are ‘broken,’ is to give validity to a perspective or paradigm that doesn’t serve us. Why wait for a crisis to implement change or rethink and reinvent something? Why not just create something incredible to start with, when everything is already good?

Could it be we automatically settle because amazing things happen to someone else, not us? Is it possible we don’t want to ‘press our luck’? Many have a hard time getting past their successes and so stop dead halfway to their dreams. Many become workaholics and yet won’t redefine their lives until their partner is about to ‘walk.’ There are those who won’t redefine how a company operates until it’s in crisis and about to go under. Why wait until the last moment when digging yourself out is so much harder than building something new on a foundation of great?
I believe we can do our best when we have the conversations we need to have with people in all fields of practice. It’s not just talking to clients or colleagues, it’s talking to everyone and anyone to find out their story, how they got to where they are. How does it apply to you?

Questions I ask my clients are simple yet shine a light on what they have to pay attention to. One of the key questions is "What aren't you thinking of?" That might sound strange yet those who stumble and feel as if they can't figure out why they're stagnating are looking at the same solutions they tried over and over again. What haven't they tried? What haven't they paid attention to? As a Coach that's one of my main make sure I can help them see beyond the immediate.

The second question is "Who do you need to talk to that you haven't spoken to yet and what does that conversation have to look like?" Again people have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, however if it doesn't apply to you or where you dream of going then you have to ask the right questions to get the right answers. So again I ask "What does that conversation have to look like?"

Sometimes what I do as a coach isn't adding something; often it's the removal of something which might be an assumption, an expectation or a judgment. Remove what stands in your way and there is clear sailing. I ask you this... What do you need to know that you don't know? How is it relevant when it comes to removing roadblocks in your life?

Donna Karlin

Monday, November 03, 2008

Just Perfect

I recently started with a new client, someone very high level in the organization and wasn’t sure what to expect as not only was she a new client but was new to the organization, so I hadn’t yet seen much of her in action.

As I usually do before starting my day Shadow Coaching™ my client is to see ongoing clients for a few moments for reality checks, scheduling, contracting and just to touch base. This organization is going through a major restructuring at all levels. Every department is short-staffed and on top of this, all the systems have to be changed to meet the growing needs. Their entire world is in a state of flux. Those in positions of leadership are doing twice the hours they were doing before to pick up the slack and to create a strategy for implementation of this giant re-org. Needless to say, tempers are short, people are burned out and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

Strangely or wonderfully, I’m not sure which would be the most appropriate term, this one particular day seemed to be a turning point for me in my work because it was as if a switch was flipped and all of a sudden, many of my clients ‘got it.’ They realized why I was saying what I was saying and gave it back to me in spades.

When this re-org began and they weren’t quite sure which foot to put in front of which first, a couple of my clients were having a very rough time. In our sessions I turned to them, separately and at separate times and asked, “What is so perfect about this when it clearly isn’t?” One almost threw something at me and the other cracked up because he’s never quite sure what will come out of my mouth. It was the start of a long insightful conversation.

Well a few months have passed and here I was with this new client standing at the elevator to go to a meeting when one of my other clients asked me how my day was going. I smiled and said “Fascinating” because it was….but they always are! He started grinning and turned to me and asked “What is so perfect about it when it clearly isn’t?” I told him just being asked that made it absolutely perfect!

He got it. He knew what I was dealing with, new leadership and all, and although I love chaos and the unexpected, after all it’s my life in a nutshell, he knew I saw it as perfect, just as he started seeing his chaotic world. Because of the change in perception, he started having fun with the craziness. Bottom line is, if you can’t enjoy the most intense, unpredictable times and those times are going to be sticking around for a while, then get out because in the world we live in, things are no longer predictable, no matter if you’re at the top of the totem pole or the bottom.

When I got to the meeting room another client who was having a really rough day saw me 'Shadowing' my client and started smiling. When I asked why the smile? She said “I was just trying to figure out how I could tell you just how perfect this craziness is”. Yep….life is just perfect.

Can you look at something that happened to you today and ask yourself “What was so perfect about this when it clearly isn’t?” and have an answer? It works. And it’s contagious. Try it with your staff or peers when they’re going through a particularly rough time and see how the attitudes change on a dime. Fascinating!

It might sound simplistic, yet defining perfection for you is never simple. What it does is put things in perspective, take the power away from the chaotic moments and put it back in your hands. Nothing simple about that, not by a long shot.


Donna Karlin

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Speaking Up vs. Silence

"What would you do if you heard a rumor that a co-worker was on drugs or had a drinking problem?” Recently at dinner with friends there were many “What if” or “What would you do” questions tossed around. The first about a chemical dependency was one of them. Another was “What would you do if you heard some news that affected a client, a family member or a colleague, that hadn’t been shared with that individual yet? Would you tell him/her, even if it was good news?”

We polled the table and it seems women would say something and men wouldn’t. Interesting don’t you think?

In my world, where I hear decisions as they’re being made, these decisions directly affect my clients lives, whether it’s a posting abroad, a promotion or a political appointment. I cannot say a word for various reasons, one being a confidentiality issue as everything shared with me or in front of me remains confidential by virtue of the ethics of my profession among other things. Secondly if for any reason any information would leak out, they might lose the appointment and that wouldn’t be good news for anyone.

Still, for example, if you knew your spouse was going to find out something life altering, a promotion, a transfer etc before he or she knew of it, and it also impacted your life, what would you do? Would you say something or wait for official notification? The last question that was asked was, “If you hadn’t said anything would you fess up to having known it beforehand?” That’s probably the biggest dilemma of all as it might affect the level of trust between the two of you. Or would it perhaps strengthen it?

A dilemma for many; black and white for others. Many had a very hard time with this, more with finding out someone close to them knew and didn’t say anything, even when it was fantastic news. They felt betrayed.

If you were in this position, would you do and why? Your answers will help many people in this position and, perhaps, you yourself if you become faced with this same issue at some point in your life.

Donna Karlin

*Notables: Welcome new subscriber from Monaco. 137 countries and territories and counting!

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

What People Want

Are you inspiring your staff or motivating them one task, one project at a time? One is sustainable and energizing and the other is task oriented and expensive energy. There have been many studies undertaken over the years to look at employee retention, growth of rising stars, employee satisfaction and morale etc, and most of them generate the same conclusions. Studies look at why morale might be low and how this organizational culture might enable poor staff retention. It’s just as important to look at what’s being done to counteract and reverse those trends as it is to study the dynamics and reactions because of them.

In symposia, conferences and around board room tables we are continually delving into what people wanted from their workplace relationships. It goes beyond levels of position to the impact of cultural differences, gender, age and intensity of workload.

The similarities of the 'new staffers' and the 'almost ready to retire staffers' is quite amazing actually. Among other things, what both age groups want is respect.

If morale is low, what are the ramifications? Is there a mass exodus, and if so, how long would anyone want to work for an organization with such massive turnover? You’re always back to square one starting over as you train and retrain new people. However it’s not enough to do these studies and then park the results, even the reasons behind what those results are showing. People take jobs because of people and they leave jobs because of people.

As an Executive Shadow Coach™ I look at trends, cultures, and organizational climate, however it’s not the organization but the individuals within these organizations that create change and make the difference. What are the behaviors that aren’t serving them? Is leadership trying to motivate staff or inspire them to do their best all the time? There is a huge difference between motivating and inspiring. The first comes from an external influence such as perhaps a raise, a bonus or award or even to meet stiff deadlines.

Motivating is expensive energy. Inspiring one to be their best, do their best and recognize and speak to their and each other’s best brings a whole new level of energy to an organization. Take for example a policy that shows staff “I caught you doing something good”. It’s not about a prize or bonus but recognition that people have noticed an individual or group’s good work, creativity, effectiveness and leadership. Don’t you think staff will want to do their best on a regular basis they know people are paying attention? That’s not task oriented, it’s fundamental changes in ‘ways of being’ and communicating. For some, what they crave the most is hearing the words "Thank you".

Donna Karlin

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ignorance Can Be a Good Thing

How many times have you heard “Knowledge is power”? Knowledge can also kill your power.

One of the most difficult roadblocks to get past with my clients is when they become successful. Many many years ago I used to do an exercise with my clients on SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and tangible). They used to set short term and long term goals. When they reached their half way point, way too often they would back off and plateau. This wasn’t the kind of plateau that George Leonard speaks about when he says you achieve mastery while plateauing; it’s the kind of plateau where you hit a brick wall and start regressing because something inside you says “I never thought I’d ever get this far. Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead and not press my luck”. Sound familiar?

Luck has nothing to do with it. My clients achieve success because of hard work, determination and an energy that won’t get them down. Sometimes the process can bring you down and sometimes too much information can stop you dead as well. What do you have to pay attention to and what shouldn't you pay attention to?

I’m not stating this is the only way to go and that it would work for the masses (caveat ahead of time). For years I’ve been asked about my business plan. “What is your 5 or 10 year business plan so you can measure your success against it?” How many set goals for themselves that seem realistic but they’re sidetracked, make new decisions to go in a different direction or decide they wanted to make new choices in their lives? Then along come friends, colleagues and family members who ask “Whatever ever happened to….?” and self-confidence flies out the window as you find yourself making excuses as to why you’re not already successful.

How many set goals and plans for themselves and miss incredible opportunities along the way? If I had stuck to “the plan” half of the amazing opportunities that have presented themselves over the years would have been tossed aside or completely ignored.

Starting out, many who are now successful leaders didn’t necessarily have all the knowledge they needed to start a company or dive into a profession but their passions guided them there. As they didn’t gather the data or speak to so called experts who would tell them it couldn’t happen, it didn’t occur to them that it couldn’t happen. Rather they knew they would do all they needed to do to make things happen.

When I broke away from being an associate with a large national company I didn’t look for all the data that would back up why I would fail on my own. I didn’t look at statistics or gather reams of information. What I did do was listen to what the needs were of the people around me and figure out what I could do to meet those needs and then some. For me, ignorance with regards to the business piece of my practice was bliss and because of that every year I reach a new high in my work and my life.

You could either look at all the ‘why nots’ or say “Why not?” Choice is yours. Next time you have the opportunity to meet with someone successful in their field, ask them how much was planned and how much just happened. And if you’d like to share some of that with us, great. We’d love to hear!

Donna Karlin

***Note: Welcome new subscriber from Guam. We hope you stay a while and make yourself welcome! 136 countries and counting.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Week before last I was a participant in the ICCO (International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations) Symposium on “Coaching Excellence for Sustainable Leadership. We looked at the terms 'leadership', 'sustainable leadership', 'coaching excellence' and what that is exactly, and why do we WANT leadership to be sustainable? To what end?

As you can imagine, the conversation could have continued forever, so half the difficulty was to synthesize it in a way we could all move forward in our work in the time available to us.

For me, my interpretation of stewardship is “Being responsible to future generations for their condition; that we do not own the world but we pledge to do no harm in the world.” To be stewards is very humbling.

The question I always ask of me and others is, “Are you paying attention to your level of impact on people, situations, your world and the world as a whole?”

In the symposium the easy part of our discussion was looking at sustainable leadership for the greater good, not the greater bad. For some a no brainer but for others, well, it’s a thing to consider, is it not? Like many other topics of conversation and focal points in our lives, the meanings continually change. What the symposium did for me in one instance was help me wrap my head around the implications of sustainable leadership for the world and what failure would mean. Being a leader and what it might mean to drop the ball in the role of leader, and I’m not talking level of responsibility in an organization, I mean a leader in any meaning of that term, is a lot of pressure and the implications are huge and yet many people do take on that responsibility. Whether it’s to our kids, our peers, family, friends, colleagues, it doesn’t matter. What matters is we’re paying attention to the impact everything we do has on others and the ripple effect that might create.

Right after the symposium we dove into an ICCO Board meeting where I was voted in as Vice President. I was humbled, honoured and then had this overwhelming feeling come over me that for this organization and its global impact I have to be a steward not only for the people I’m working with on the Board, who I highly respect and mean the world to me, and the organization as a whole, but for all those impacted by our work. It’s extremely humbling and something I take very seriously.

Observing the two campaigns going on in the US and Canada I wonder if the concept of stewardship enters the minds of those who are running for office? I wonder if that ever enters the picture in a campaign where campaign managers tell them where to go, what to say and where to say it to give them the best chance of being elected. But what if they spoke to the people from a perspective of Stewardship?

Just wondering out loud like I often do. I invite you to wonder with me…

Christina Baldwin said “To work in the world lovingly means that we are defining what we will be for, rather than reacting to what we are against.”

What will you be for?

Donna Karlin

Monday, September 08, 2008

Election Time Yet Again

I wonder if we set a record...3 elections in 4 years. That's not to mention the expense, and the "here we go again" attitude of Canadians that might translate to many not voting this time. I wonder if the stats are tracked on that when there are so many elections back to back.

Some have a better idea of who they want to vote for and some still don't have a clue. I wonder why?

It's not that they don't know what they want and what issues are important to them . Many Canadians don't know how the system of government works and so they want things from the federal government that isn't in their power to give....because it's in the realm of the Provincial Government to implement. Their voting reflects that.

Still, I love watching the 'players' behaviour during an election and this year I'm blessed with watching 2... The US and Canadian elections.

For the moment I'm going to focus on my own country. I have to be a-politcal in my work as my role is to get my clients where they dream of being because of who they are, not who I am. So to look at the opposition party, I wonder if a poll went out to Canadian citizens with regards to its leader, would they would vote Liberal if the party had a different leader at the helm?

I wonder if the Liberal party is thinking similar thoughts right now? The question is, how likely are they to ever win an election with its present leadership? Just wondering out loud...

To look at the party in power, I wonder if Mr. Harper had a different opponent across the table, if he would have called this election? And if he doesn't get his majority, how many more elections would he call if he feels his hands are tied?

Still wondering out loud...
Donna Karlin

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Diving Back In

Labour Day has passed, for those of you who celebrate that extra day off of summer and now people are diving back into work with both feet. For some of us, the down time was a great time to catch up on research and writing, while of course making sure we didn't miss a second of sunshine. I made a deal with myself. On rainy days I wrote for hours and when the sun came up I'd be out and absorbing it so it would last through the cold days of winter.

Fall also brings a great deal of travel, symposia, speaking engagements and back to teaching. In the middle of all this, the interviews for my book have begun, each one taking my breath away as it couldn't be more perfect and in alignment with what I want to shine a light on: Human Based Leadership.

As people are coming back from holidays, this is the perfect time to sit back and listen to their stories. You can learn a great deal about a person by listening to how they spent their holidays, what lights up their whole being while the stories are being told. We spend so little time getting to know the people we work with and yet demand the most and best from them. However these people, these colleagues, staff, managers and leaders are people first and people in roles second.

We only seem to be paying attention to one side of the coin. However that's a very one dimensional existence, isn't it?

Emotional Intelligence is a term we're hearing more and more about. It's not just a term, it's a way of being. When you lead through your authetic self, including your emotions, while, at the same time not getting bogged down by those emotions, you will connect with people in the most fundamental way...through their humanity.

A colleague of mine, Lee Salmon, was a guest writer for the new book "A Coach's Guide to Emotional Intelligence: Strategies for Developing Successful Leaders". We've had many a discussion on this topic, one that continues over time as we use EI more and more in our work. "A Coach’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence is a groundbreaking book that combines the topics of coaching and emotional intelligence in a down-to-earth resource for coaches, facilitators, and consultants."
I would say it's a book for anyone who wants to grow people, either for a living or a passion. Emotional Intelligence is not a passing fad. It's how humanity will evolve.

"Companies can continue to give top priority to financial performance -- but many now also realize that technical and intellectual skills are only part of the equation for success. A growing number of organizations are now convinced that people's ability to understand and to manage their emotions improves their performance, their collaboration with colleagues, and their interaction with customers. After decades of businesses seeing "hard stuff" and "soft stuff" as separate domains, emotional competence may now be a way to close that breach and to produce a unified view of workplace performance." -- FastCompany

Think about it, but don't think too long. You'd be much better off if you started paying attention to it.


Donna Karlin

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Leadership Project for Leaders by Leaders

It’s time to have that conversation. As an Executive and Political Leadership Coach and a writer on Leadership, I cannot do my job in the best possible way unless I know where leaders ‘come from’, as in their stories, and what their view of succession is to grow future leaders into their levels of excellence.

So I invite you to ‘play’…to take part in this project and suggest leaders to be interviewed. I am asking leaders to spend a bit of time with me to share their stories, perspectives, and ideas in their words so they may be shared with those who will follow in their respective fields of expertise and areas of passion.

If you know a leader, a human based leader, who you think would be perfect for this, please forward this letter to them and copy me with ‘Leadership Project’ in the subject line so I can follow-up. It’s time leaders share their stories with the world and, as a Coach, through their stories I will ‘get it’ as will my students, colleagues and those who follow me in the coaching profession. In turn coaches will be able to coach people like them from a perspective of insight and understanding. A coaching ideal: ‘Win-Win’ for us all.

This is not a project for Coaches. This is a project to give insight to coaches or those who grow people for a living and a passion.

So will you help me in this?

With appreciation…
Donna Karlin

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Opposite of Success

In Marcus Buckingham's book "Go Put Your Strengths to Work: Six Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance" he poses and answers the question "What's the opposite of success? The obvious answer is failure, but in fact failure and success aren't opposites. They're merely different." Brilliant distinction.

Many need to look at things as black and white, good and bad, up or down but don't look at the nuances and intricacies that make up each. Just like success and failure aren't opposites, a leader might be brilliant in one organization, but fail in the next. It’s more than learning leadership proficiencies; it’s learning how to work with the personalities around the table, monopolizing on them and respecting the differences. Successful leaders speak to strengths while accepting the entire individual. Successful leaders know how to dance to the music that's played and know how to change on a dime while keeping focus on the bigger picture.

Lots to think about!

Donna Karlin

*Note: 2 new additions to the Perspectives world from Benin and Madagascar. Make yourselves welcome!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Looking In All the 'Right' Places

At a recent conference presentation, one of the other presenters was a person I’ve worked with on a few occasions. She is a dynamic fireball of energy, a leader in every sense of the word, ‘lives’ professionally and is a key player in the middle of where things happen in government, from policy to how the workings of the government are decided and implemented. Her presentation was dynamic, energetic and very, very powerful. At the end of her talk she took questions from the hundreds of people in the room.

I sat at a side table watching this unfold. She’s a what you see is what you get person with a fabulous sense of humor, and as I’ve worked with her and knew her style, I was eager to hear how she would answer the questions put on the table. I figured some of the questions would be the kind many people ask country leaders, i.e. those aiming for the magic wand kind of answers. They were asked and answered in as honest a way possible.

What really delighted me was when she answered one of the questions which was “What do you read to strengthen your leadership? What books would you recommend for us to read to grow as leaders?” She gave them a list of what came to mind, not only books but articles and speeches but then threw in the unexpected: “John Cleese’s videos on Leadership.”

For a moment the room went silent and then everyone started talking at once. Earlier she had mentioned loving Monty Python so everyone in the room thought she was pulling their leg. My table mates had seen me deep in conversation with her recognizing I knew her, so looked at me as if I would confirm that she was in fact pulling their leg. My answer was “She’s right! It’s an amazing series. You should watch it as it’s unlike any other training video you’ll ever see”. They thought I was kidding. I sat there with a grin on my face and then added “It really is a great series. Are you only looking in what you think are the ‘right’ places, reading the ‘right’ things and speaking to the ‘right’ people? What makes them all ‘right’?

I am constantly asked what books l read to hone my professional skills and my answer is “Everything I can get hold of”. If I stuck to books only on coaching I’d miss out on the rest of life and coaching isn’t only about coaching. It’s about working within the context of life. One can’t be separated from the other. Just as leadership can’t be found in a canned course or book it’s snippets of everything we live, experience, read about and learn, all mixed up and filtered through our unique personalities to come out when we need it and how we need it to lead, direct and question.

Are you looking in only the ‘right’ places and feeling as if you’re coming up short? Many look for the perfect book, course or direction. Life isn’t like that. True leaders glean information from everywhere. They soak it up like a sponge, are constantly growing, rethinking and reinventing.

What are you reading? What are you not paying attention to that you should be paying attention to?

Donna Karlin

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Hearing or Truly Listening?

Most leaders ask for information but not necessarily for advice. Many will listen to advice and then end up tossing it and doing their own thing. Is it a pride issue do you think? Or in some cases, do you think leaders hesitate to ask for and implement advice because they think in some people’s eyes it shows a sign of weakness?

I often work with leaders who listen intently to what’s unfolding before them and even though some of the issues are critical, respond by saying “I would have done it this way” or “Yes, I see what you mean but you should do this instead”, totally discounting all advice. They are downloading information, perhaps using bits and pieces of it to validate what they already know or feel, but they’re not doing anything with the advice they were given. Most of the time it’s unsolicited and they let you know they didn’t ask for it either, making that one of the main reasons for not taking it into account.

People will stop suggesting or giving well based advice because they know it’s falling on deaf ears. Is that leadership or dictatorship? And we all know what that kind of dynamic does to self-worth.

Is it power, politics and self-preservation?

It doesn’t matter how secure we are, don’t we all want to be on top, the kingpins, to dominate those who we feel might just know more than we do?

Ego at play; no matter how much we want the best for the organization and its people, we all need to have our egos stroked now and then, don’t you think?

Even if we think we know all there is to know, mastery comes from practicing from a position of what I call grad basic or going back to the basics from a position of having been there, done that. There is always something more to learn. You might be starting from a higher plane but just think of how much you’re going to pick up that you missed the first time ‘round.

Whose responsibility is it to encourage advisors to speak up, to bring ideas, thoughts and concepts to the table by actively engaging others with the intention of listening and learning? The leader’s or the staff, or both?

Donna Karlin

*Note: Welcome new subscriber from Cambodia. 132 countries and territories and counting!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Work Life Balance

You might be wondering why I haven’t been posting for a while. I, as many other do, blog to reach out and have a conversation with people from all parts of the globe and do so to learn, to hone my writing skills and to share a perspective or message. I am honoured when others think my post is important enough to quote it in their blog or publication with a link back to the original. What I have a fundamental problem with is when others take my posts in their entirety and publish them as their own. This has been happening way too frequently so I paused in publishing until I could deal with this in a systematic and legal manner. I must thank Google and Wordpress for acting so quickly on this. They don’t like copyright violation any more than I do! Now that it seems there’s a handle on this, I’m back and raring to write! Time to tackle the subject of “Work Life Balance”…

Recently I was at a Coaching Best Practices Conference at INSEAD Global Leadership Centre in Fontainebleau. To say the conference itself blew me away is an understatement.

For now however, I’d love to delve into the world of “Work / Life Balance” which seems to be on the minds of people in the private and public sectors alike. I’ve had many a conversation about this with clients over the years. Most of the time it was them turning the tables on me asking if I had a private life, if I ever slept and “Where’s YOUR work / life balance?” I always answered in the same way: “It’s personal. It’s up to an individual to determine what that balance looks like and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another”

One of the amazing people I met at the conference was Kavitha Iyer from Singapore; Director, Human Resources, JAPA at American Express International and Adjunct Faculty Coach at INSEAD. She had a very unique way of looking at work / life balance that immediately resonated with me. With her permission I would like to share it with you. She talks about ‘Work / Life Values’, or a psychological balance. To me that made a great deal of sense. If I am living within my personal values, then the balance happens. For some with young children, they might come home from work early to spend time and have dinner with their families, but once their young children go to sleep, they put in another couple of hours work to stay on track. No one said we have to work consecutive hours. This way we work within our family or personal dynamics.

Last year when I took a few days off (and yes, I do that once in a while) my friend challenged me to disconnect from my BlackBerry and was adamant that I not check my emails. I disconnected the email feature of my BlackBerry and only left the phone on as that was my connection with my family. I was able to mentally disconnect from the 'CrackBerry' however when I got home I had over 2000 emails waiting for me. I had to take time off to process them all, figure out how to jump back into the intensity of my work and all in all, just being faced with that volume of correspondence was overwhelming enough to negate most of the benefits of taking the time off.

For me in future, I plan to log on twice a day for a short while to process what I need to so I never come back to that level of overwhelm again. That for me is a balance. Over time and as life’s circumstances and dynamics change I will continue to redefine and design just what ‘balance’ means, but as long as it’s within my personal values, I know I’ll stay on an even keel.

Kavitha, thank you for illuminating this very important distinction for me and our readers.

Donna Karlin

*Note: Many of us – and many of our clients – hate presentations: hate preparing, doing and attending them. It needn’t be like this! Check out James Caplan's I Hate Presentations: Transform the way you present with a fresh and powerful approach

Friday, June 20, 2008

If You Don't Know, Ask...Then Ask Again

First impressions... Whether or not people should read a book by its cover, or the proverbial personality cover in this instance, the fact remains that most people do. So how you hit the floor running when you enter an organization will be very telling. This is a heads up to remember that in most cases, this is the norm. The only question might be is 100 days too long or do many organizations form an opinion much faster than that?

I would ask, what do you need to do to hit the floor running and stay running? Otherwise you'll be running to catch up, not lead. After a while it'll be more like hitting your head against the wall than evolving into any semblance of leadership. I'd also suggest learning as much as you can before walking through the front door. What is expected of you and by when? What do you need to know that you don't know in order to do your job in the best possible way? And if you don't know, then ask. Ask again. Ask someone else for their perspective. Don't forget to listen from a perspective of what you don't know. There's always more than one perspective. If others are holding back information, that says a lot about corporate culture and if the staff is collaborative or not. It'll also be a key determining factor as to how quickly you can get moving.

Balance those answers with your knowledge, innovative approach and energy. Integrate what others say to build a strong, cohesive team, not a dictatorship, and you'll have others on board to support you.

"Leaders don't force people to follow—they invite them on a journey." - Charles S. Lauer

Remember, in any context you have power with people, not by holding power over them. You'll all know within 3 months or less whether or not it's going to work. Cut that in half and you're ahead of the game.

Donna Karlin

Friday, June 13, 2008

Making Distinctions

Discrimination: def "Treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favour of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit."

Lives take shape in ways we cannot always predict or fathom. People are complex creatures with a myriad of ways to look at life. Few embrace life as is without placing judgment as good or bad, comfortable with or fearful of…the blacks and whites of this world with little grey… Most people see life from a perspective of their own history, rather than looking at how to create a life they love because of it and in spite of it.

I’ve witnessed and experienced discrimination on many fronts from racial, religious, level of education and yes, even colour of one’s hair. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told I intimidate because of the level of work I do and yet I’m a person just like anyone else. One is judged by how little education they have to how much, whether they work in powerful circles or, perhaps drive a bus (I’m just using this as an example not as a slur to bus drivers). In some ways it’s a mirror of what one doesn’t want to gaze at within themselves. Excuses aside, as a Shadow Coach™ I observe people in their worlds and can help them look at the filters through which they look at life. Whether or not they change them or remove those filters, is their choice. I can deal with being the recipient of discrimination, but I will not make excuses for who I am because of it.

I tell my students “What someone else thinks of me is none of my business” and then we look at just what that means. If I constantly change myself to suit what someone else wants me to be, I am no longer my authentic self. To do that not only compromises my personal integrity but fundamentally breaks down my person foundation from which I build my life. If I did constantly change myself to suit others, who would be me? How could I ever think of coaching anyone else in alignment with their personal values and ethics if I don’t live by my own?

So as life comes full circle, I might not be able to predict where mine might be going but I can make choices in the present to create a future that will blow me away. It’s about paying attention before possibility goes poof into the night…..

Donna Karlin

Note: Tuesday, June 17th our newsletter is about 'change'. 2 minutes reading time or less. To access it click Remember to opt in so it'll come right to your inbox.

©2008, all rights reserved.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Not to be missed!

It's not often I write a post about an upcoming talk but in this case, I'm making an exception. My esteemed colleague and friend, John Lazar will be the guest on Global Abundance Alliance, Coaching For the New Millenium on Sunday, June 15th at 10:00 am Eastern (details below).

"Traditionally, we think of coaching as being confined to some athletic or physical endeavor such as sports or personal fitness. Fifteen, even ten years ago, coaching for individuals to produce success in their personal and business lives was virtually unheard of. Yet in today's world, coaching is credited with giving many people and companies that extra edge to attain top success in their field.

The Global Abundance Alliance is proud to present John Lazar, MA, MCC, a Professional Coach, for this month's Learning Leader Call. John describes himself as a "change agent with diverse experience in consulting and telecommunications industries." He is "committed to delivering solutions that develop competitive, agile organizations and productive, engaged teams and individuals."

Date: June 15, 2008
Time: 10-11:30 am ET, (7-8:30 am PT)
Conference Call: Dial - (712) 432-9998
Enter Access Code - 875617#

Don't miss it!

Donna Karlin

***Note re republishing my blog: Should you care to include all or part of any article from my weblog in one of your publications you have my permission to do so provided that you credit me for the material, mention where it was obtained and also my copyright. A suggested form might be "The above (or following) article is included with the permission of Donna Karlin and is Copyright ©2003-2008 by Donna Karlin. All rights reserved."

Friday, June 06, 2008

Are You a Maverick Thinker?

Are you a maverick thinker? By maverick thinker, I don’t mean coming up with the ideas and innovative concepts to run with, rather it’s balancing innovation with what already exists and is successful that might give an organization the winning edge.

For some organizations, especially government, the hiring process is so rigid, it excludes the maverick thinkers, relying more on educational and professional credentials than what they can bring to the table. Toss government criteria in the mix when they have to classify levels to the ‘nth’ degree which adds a restricting framework around how the job gets done, and it makes a huge difference as to whether or not maverick thinkers can thrive or even exist.

Supporting these thinkers while at the same time moderating what they actually fly with will make a difference with regards to payback. That's the role of leadership. Not an easy role by any means. Leadership has to moderate how many new ideas the organization will fly with as running with too many ideas will cause loss of focus and reduced profit in every realm, not just the innovative ones.

Many have no idea what they shouldn’t be doing so dive in with both feet. Some become extremely successful and others can’t understand why they’re struggling. If you talk yourself out of things before they start, you’ll stagnate. If you don’t even conceive that failure is an option, you’re more apt to take risks and play with innovative concepts and ideas.

Energy will be on possibility rather than the impossible. If leadership provides a framework around which these maverick thinkers can ‘play’ then who knows what can happen?

D’you know what I mean?

Next time you find yourself talking yourself out of trying something you’ve been dying to test out, give it a chance. Explore the possibilities with those who can support you and let them see your passion and energy. That’s the first step. You figure out the second that’ll work for you. Go for it! And those of you in positions of leadership? When is the last time you let a maverick thinker really come out to play? If you haven’t, how long do you think they’ll stick around?

Donna Karlin

*Note: Welcome 131 country subscriber from Guatemala. We hope you stick around for a long time to come and join into the conversation.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Absolutely Anything Might Happen

There’s a quote by Monica Baldwin that goes something like “The moment when you first wake up in the morning is the most wonderful of the twenty-four hours. No matter how weary or dreary you may feel, you possess the certainty that, during the day that lies before you, absolutely anything may happen. And the fact that it practically always doesn't, matters not a jot. The possibility is always there.“

For my clients, and me, by virtue of my days becoming theirs, live in a world where it practically always does happen. No two days are alike even if it’s planned that way.

For example, in a global organization that is in the midst of major structural changes the top three in positions of leadership are new, my client is fairly new, and on top of it they are doing a structural change that affects all of management, and all departments as their structure and mandates will change as well. No two days are alike as they are still finding their way. The first thing I asked them was to define the differences between defining their roles and designing them. I wanted to them to take control over whatever it was they could control and if that was working together to define roles and responsibilities, reporting structure, deliverables and to a great extent, even where their offices were located, at least they would feel as if there was some order to the chaos.

Well today defied all the norms and I decided that if I was to break the acute tension that was so tangible you could reach out and touch it, I would have to ask or do something outlandish. So I asked the client I was Shadow Coaching™ what her day reminded her of. She paused for a moment and answered “I can’t say because I have never experienced anything like it! I’m in the Twilight Zone!”

Talk about being given a gift. We looked at the concept of that old favorite show and how it did indeed define their world today. It really was perfect. As we ran from meeting to meeting, watching others stressed to the nines, I engaged my client to partner with me and have a dialogue about working in the Twilight Zone and how even best laid intentions turned out completely different because the world wasn’t in our control. It brought a hint of humor to the entire branch which immediate lessened the stress.

It’s true that humor conquers all. The entire management team went from survival mode to what I call 'thrival' mode. When I left this afternoon they were pumped, smiling and even though mentally exhausted by the sheer volume of work they know they'll have to do in order to make this a success, at the back of their minds they have this vision of working in the Twilight Zone that they will remember with a smile for a very long time.

We changed an environment that wasn't sustainable and put a new twist to it so it just might work. What are you dealing with that you might want to turn around and bring a whole new perspective to? A question that I often ask clients and will leave you with is “What if the next thing you did or said could transform the organization? What would that be? And what would that look like?”

And the answer is?

Donna Karlin

Monday, May 19, 2008

Knowing vs. Not Knowing

I just finished teaching a class in Washington D.C. Every time I teach I'm blown away at the meeting of minds and perspectives and how, through each participant's story they generate entirely new concepts and perspectives and change their well worn paradigms.

People look at their worlds through the perspective of what they know. It’s obvious, right? What I love to see is when they discover what they didn’t know and then want to dive into the deep end of it and learn everything they can. That’s the best part of teaching; watching awareness as it dawns.

It happens to me on a regular basis. When I’m teaching seasoned experienced coaches and look at paradigms, concepts, ways of being and touch on something that had never occurred to them before, all of a sudden the energy in the room is tangible; enthusiasm so intense you can almost ‘taste’ it. Enthusiasm is contagious!

It all starts with each of them sharing their story. As story after story is revealed you can feel the awareness of how extraordinary each and every person is fill the room. From that, through that, it builds into a connection of sorts where everyone in the room trusts the other implicitly with their thoughts, insecurities the "I have no ideas' and do whatever it is they have to do to learn and grow. After all, that's why they come in the first place. They might be seasoned professionals but everyone in that room walks in to learn something new, to be able to go deeper with clients than ever before and to see what's possible.

Possibilities are endless, especially when assumptions are parked.

Thinking you know everything there is to know is the first assumption that has to be tossed aside. From there, it's an open slate, waiting to be filled.

“We can teach from our experience, but we cannot teach experience.” - Sasha Azevedo. I might be the so called teacher but I learn from each and every person in the class. They have a world of experience to share and through them my trainings morph and evolve, as do I.

Mind boggling hmm?

Donna Karlin

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Old Habits Die Hard

If they’re no longer working and continue to not work, replace them. What am I talking about? Old habits. Why in the world would you want to hang onto something that doesn't work for you when you have a choice?

Not only do individuals get buried in the past but when organizational culture enables this, the organization as a whole buries itself in the past and struggles to rise past it.

To combat this we need leaders who will look at human capital, not only financial bottom line, so people evolve and are well managed. It’s not only about the mechanics of how an organization works and leading them through an organizational change; it’s all about the people who run and work within it.

There are so many maverick thinkers in this world and if they’re not well managed and given a framework within which they can thrive and grow (in an organizational context), they will end up doing things their own way and pushing the buttons of everyone around them.

Leaders might manage process, as that’s how an organization’s nuts and bolts work, but they also have to lead their people within that framework. That way their amazing talents can be harnessed and benefit everyone concerned.

There is way too much energy spent on the bottom line, or cutting organizational overhead costs, support systems and human based components. Where a great deal of energy has to be spent so an organization can evolve and grow is in growing its people; paying attention to their uniqueness. Maverick thinkers or not, once you harness their passion and energy and show them the way forward, and that frameworks aren't something to fear but in fact a vehicle to success, they can leave the old habits by the wayside and create new ones that fit a future of their own design, not one of habit.

I’m not sure why old habits are hard to change (I don’t much like the ‘break’ term) especially when those habits no longer serve them. What I do know is there’s something very enticing to holding onto history, forgetting all the stuff that didn’t work and remembering only what did i.e. selective memory.

"Habits...the only reason they persist is that they are offering some satisfaction...You allow them to persist by not seeking any other, better form of satisfying the same needs. Every habit, good or bad, is acquired and learned in the same way - by finding that it is a means of satisfaction." - Juliene Berk

Toss those old habits and design those you want to adopt for the future and you’ll see a shift beyond anything you ever imagined.

Donna Karlin

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Leadership in Context

I was going to write a long post about leadership within various contexts, however I thought I'd start a dialogue to hear what you have to say about this.

One can't remove leaders from their worlds and expect to measure their leadership style and effectiveness in any way. It's all about the context of their world, their surroundings, people, challenges, stability and sustainability of the organization.

From the other perspective often context creates leaders based on what unfolds in their realms. Take a third perspective and many a time context defines what style of leadership is needed. So do you put the cart before the horse? Horse before the cart or is it a give and take relationship?
Who seeks out a leader who hasn't proven great leadership? And yet, circumstances might dictate who a great leader is in one context while being a poor leader in another.

This is very intricate, has many facets and goes directly to defining sustainability and mastery in leadership. What are the common threads? How do you see it?

Donna Karlin

Monday, April 21, 2008

Engaging in Conversation: Generative or Dialogue of the Deaf?

Every time I walk into a new class to teach, I'm always blown away at the depth of conversation that evolves over the two day period. No matter what the makeup of the people in the room, the dialogue is always amazing! The level of trust, engagement and respect for each other is always off the charts. I believe it's because they know they will all evolve through dialogue.

One of the topics I cover in my training is assumptions. When we assume someone is coming from a certain place and work with them based on that context, everything that unfolds after that assumption is based on air, not fact. We have to ask the fundamental relevant questions in order to build something strong and of substance.

How often does that happen even in organizations? When we engage in conversation with someone it’s for many reasons such as fact finding, validation, direction, and perspective. When we speak to someone only to validate our current knowledge and perspective, it’s not a two way conversation; it’s a dialogue of the deaf.

As Coaches, we are usually called in to work with people to help them evolve to their level of excellence. If all we did was validate what they already knew without exploring the rest, they’d pretty much stay exactly where they were. Our roles are to help people move forward. Isn’t that the role of leadership? If the powers that be don’t engage in generative dialogue, they are eliminating the fact finding, direction and perspective they might need to move the entire organization forward.

Nic Askew recently shared “ ‘Inner-vision' comes from within the organization, from deep inside an individual or group of individuals. 'Purpose' is often a construct of the words & ideas of others, disguised as an original idea.” In order to do that we not only have to hear, we have to listen to all the players not just the upper echelon. It’s a way to capture the intangibles, the soul of an organization and let it emerge in a powerful way. It’s not taking words that sound good and try to force an organization to fit them.

Life happens through every experience, interaction and conversation. We have to pay attention to what that means and to what the ramifications might be when we don’t. Awareness is curative….and generative. Generative dialogue creates newfound awareness. Then we can build careers, people, and organizations. If leaders hide their heads in the sand, breakdown will happen at all levels. It's imperative people listen to the truth of a situation, so they act on what is. Building on assumptions is like a house of cards that will fall down at their feet.

Donna Karlin

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Conversations with Masters

I’m back from the second annual CAM (Conversation with Masters) conference. Last year, the inaugural CAM was amazing as for the first time Master Coaches came together from all over the world in dialogue. As much as I thought it couldn’t get better than that…it did. This year was even better and continues to blow me away, even post CAM.

One conversation flowed into the next, ideas percolating as I shared them with colleagues and friends. I made a point of meeting and having in depth conversations with 5 new people a day, which I honoured. No matter how exhausted we were at the end of a long day, the conversations continued as we were loathe to bring them to an end. Time was short so we had to make the most of it. These conversations went beyond our profession into other professions and the impact we have globally. It was looking at ways to ‘play’ in our field and help others and ourselves grow into our levels of excellence.

Two presenters stood out among the rest; Dr. Martha Beck and David Zach. Martha, a contributor to O, the Oprah Magazine, has appeared on The Oprah Show, Good Morning America as well as many regional news programs. She is a coach extraordinaire and engaged the audience in such a way that we ended up having mini-conversations as the morning progressed. David Zach, is “one of the few professionally trained futurists on this planet”, started conversations about the future of technology, economics, business, education, demographics and society. Stay tuned as I’ll write more about him over time. He really got me thinking about bringing the past, present and future together to create something amazing.

One of the questions I’m left with is, what if we had conversations like these on a regular basis? What stops us from reaching out and seeing how others can enhance our worlds? We’re all busy, all up to our eyeballs in work and life’s responsibilities but how much better could it be if we paid attention to the wealth of ideas and keen minds of all those around us?

Now that I’m back from CAM I will continue to make a point of speaking to new people every day. I won’t say five necessarily, but at least one a day so I learn and grow and see what the future might hold.

What if we all did?

Donna Karlin

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Wisdom vs. Knowledge

I was recently at a conference where one of the speakers said “Learning is more than gathering information”. That statement had a profound effect on me for many reasons. We looked at the difference between knowledge and wisdom and were asked “How many people have you met who have an immense amount of knowledge, are like walking encyclopedias but aren’t very wise? And how many people are very simple and don’t have a wealth of knowledge or information but are very, very wise?”

Take that question and add one of mine. Which person, the knowledgeable or the wise, leaves the biggest impact on you, so you remember the conversation, the context and take those words of wisdom and apply them to your life? My answer is the wise one.

In the days of vast amount of knowledge available at the tip of our fingertips, the world is fast become an even playing field when it comes to gathering knowledge. A great deal of it, through open source is available for no cost. Wisdom however is something that is priceless.

If we listen to all the knowledge that we’re bombarded with, we will close down and start ignoring it. There is way too much information to remember coming at us at the speed of light (thanks to technology). We can’t possibly retain it all. We can however look for guidance from those who have a wealth of wisdom because they see context, relevance and how it impacts us.

Do you consider yourself wise or knowledgeable? Regardless, which would you rather be?

I know many people with post graduate degrees coming out of their ears who can’t find a job. Why? Because they’re scholastically overqualified but don’t have the savvy, the perception and perspectives needed in a fast paced, competitive world. They get lost in their knowledge and get stuck on research but don’t integrate it and use it as needed to move themselves and organizations forward.

When choosing my development team I didn’t look at their degrees as much as experience, impact, awareness factor and openness to grow, learn and create. Knowledge can hold you back in the realm of what was already studied and documented. My team looks at possibility. How they live their lives, their work ethic and open-mindedness got them chosen for my team. I'm seeing the same trends more and more in the corporate world. Who do you think would serve your organization better? Perhaps it’s time to look at a culture change?

Donna Karlin

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Missing The Boat

“What if a sense of 'wonder' about your life and the world around you already existed but somehow you had just managed to miss it amongst all the drama?” - Nic Askew

How many get so caught up in the superficial things in life, they don’t pay attention to what’s right there, right now?

I'd love to hear your answer to that question.

So often I hear "Today I will…." or "This week I will…."

Will you? Best laid intentions…

How many brainstorm about changes that have to be made to move an organization forward, arrange endless meetings and retreats and perhaps actually dialogue about what those changes should look like, only to park it all and live with the status quo or get so caught up in the drama, they don't see what's right in front of them? This isn't only about work; it's about life as well.

It happens more often than you think. What stops a leader from jumping in with both feet to make it happen? There’s a chemistry that happens in an organization and if your enthusiasm for the results that change might bring isn’t contagious, it won’t be sustainable. So how do you make sure it is? How does everyone have to ‘get it’ according to them so there’s buy in? If the leader hesitates, that in itself sends a message and the ripple effect could make the difference between engagement and having a fight on their hands.

We look at successful leaders as people who move organizations forward and take them on the road to continued success. Some organizations continue to fly and others might succeed for a short while but that success is not sustained. Why do you think that is? Are leaders measured by organizational success or by their style and staff engagement? Is it possible to separate the two? Or can a leader be successful for one organization but bomb in another? A group of us were in conversation about that just last week. Some say successful leaders are measured by who they are, not but the success of the organization they’re working in, yet how in the world can one be separated from the other? If you lead people to failure, yes, you might be great at leading but that gets into good leadership and bad leadership and everything in-between.

Leaders need more than necessary skills sets and a wealth of knowledge to lead an organization into the future. It’s a combination of chemistry, people connectedness and vision. Articulating that vision in such a way where the staff really gets it, owns it and wants to make it happen is the key, so when they say “This week I will _______” or “This year I want to make _____happen” they’ll have the power with people to make it so.

However just because they’re able to do with one group, doesn’t necessarily mean that leader will be embraced by the next. What does a leader have to do give him/her a fighting chance?

Donna Karlin

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

We Are Our Own Magic Wands

The other day I asked myself this there magic in the world? Usually I debate questions like that...look at them from all perspectives to come up with an least my truth in the answer. This time debate wasn't necessary. The answer immediately came to me. This world IS magic. How could there be so many incredibly beautiful things surrounding us and extraordinary people in our lives if there wasn't?

But true enough, it all depends on how you look at the world. If you're one to look at your life as wanting or, to use a common analogy the glass being half empty, the world will always be wanting. And if you're one to look at it as always being half full, then you too will look at the world as a magical place. Bottom'll look at the world and participate in living life fully, not just existing in it.

I know some will immediately point out their illness or disappointment. And maybe for some it will be near impossible to look at their life as anything close to magical if they're concerned about losing a loved one to that illness. But every day we have that person in our lives is a gift.....and something to treasure. Knowing we've had that person touch us in some way IS magic. And, when they're no longer here...their spirit lives on. That too is magic...something we can hold onto....share with others and let them be a part of what or who has touched your life.

And then this morning as I looked out into my back snowy wilderness....because there's nothing garden-like about it, it’s covered in feet over feet of snow.....I watched as a cardinal flew to the tree right by my window....turn and watch me watch him back. I don't know how long he sat there watching me. I know if I had moved he would have flown away. He was exquisitely beautiful. And then a letter from someone who always gives me a smile...just by being, both strengthened my belief that if there is such beauty around in all could I ever have thought of debating this question in the first place?

This week I told a client of mine I have no magic wand….but that we are all our own magic wands. If we don’t make our world magical for us, why in the world would we expect others to do it for us?

For some it’s not believing they deserve a magical life, that it’s for other people who do ‘special things’. For others, it’s not looking at their lives as special even though they are. And for many, when I ask them to look at their lives through new eyes and ask them what they see, a whole new world reveals itself. Have you done that lately?

Donna Karlin

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Taking Freedom of Movement for Granted

This isn't the usual blog post about politics or leadership or even languaging. This is more about taking things for granted. Even in Ottawa, where storms and snowfalls are taken for granted and rarely stop us, this weekend was an exception. Imagine going to sleep one evening with snow covering the ground and the odd snow banks here and there, waking up to snow as high as rooflines. Streets, once wide enough for 5 cars to park side by side to being so filled up with snow that all of a sudden there's only room for a little over one car width. Bungalos are no longer visable at all from the street and sidewalks and signs have all but vanished is in the photo to the right.

That was this weekend when everthing came to a standstill even in a city used to snow where ploughs take it away almost as quickly as it comes down....except this past weekend. It was like a page out of a story book where the only people wandering around were walking on snowshoes.

We take so much for granted....freedom of movement being one of them. Plans never happened, going for groceries was out of the question and you made do with whatever you had around. Reading replaced running around and a roaring fire and an old movie replaced travel. It wasn't in any way shape or form what I had hoped for but it was a reminder we don't always have control of what the world hands us. And even though trips were cancelled, in the scheme of things and in a world when some can't guarantee their safety when they leave their homes, I have to remind myself that I'm so lucky in life...that the snow will melt and other weekends away will happen....and still I won't have to worry about my safety and well being. We sometimes take that for granted to. There are so many things and people we take for granted. This past weekend gave me the time to to sit back and take stock. When's the last time you stopped and let the world in?


Donna Karlin

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Combined Forces of Ego and Emotion

In a group dialogue a ways back someone posed the question “Why do so few managers and companies face and use the facts?”

There are many answers to that question and I know we’ll only touch the surface on this. One of the reasons why I think they don’t face and use facts is because of the filters that they put in place. Through those filters they process and apply facts, thereby coloring them to some extent.
What are filters you may ask? I use filters in my teaching. Whatever ways of being, attitudes, perspectives, cultures you filter context, content, your world, communication, or any ways of being through to create your own perceptions.

Most people have some kind of hidden agenda when they move forward. Hidden agendas aren't always a bad thing; often they are just how people deal and work with their filters to move in some direction.

Filters can be everything from over-inflated egos to cultural tethers. Facts are interpreted by people through emotion, through what their talents and strengths are (so would it be in their comfort zone or not), and everything in-between. It's through those filters or interpretations that might make one wonder whether or not organizational leaders are facing or using the facts as they stand at all. Add in the next layer of filters, such as assumptions, expectations etc, and even though they might be using expert advice compiled over time, that data or evidence is so watered down and filtered based on the people utilizing it, it no longer resembles the original information. Then, add the equation of multiple personalities putting those benchmarks to use and the facts are so altered, they might no longer be relevant.

Evidence based practice may be a starting point, however we need to figure out how to utilize it in the best way then go that level deeper. To use a medical analogy, it's the difference between X-rays and MRIs. X-rays look at the surface of a problem and its face value and MRIs go a lot deeper; the difference between assessing, and the basic assessment information with discernment as to its applicability within a unique organization. That is a key factor in my methodology of Shadow Coaching™. We have to take into account the uniqueness with regards to people, dynamics, resources, target clients/customers and all the other variables that apply.

Is seeking and applying a generic common factor using data in its true factual form (such as a rigid organizational model) or maintaining an organization's uniqueness that determines whether or not its leadership is successful and sustainable? Or is there some other combination that might ensure the desired results? I’d love to hear your three cents (or more).

Donna Karlin

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Precious Commodity Called 'Space'

Space. Was your first reaction to the word accommodations? Office space? Closet or cupboard space? For many storage space is at a premium so that’s the first thing that comes to mind.

That is not the space I’m referring to. I’m talking about space of time.

I’m currently working on a Time Mastery program that looks at time. It’s not about cramming more into a day than you did before, or scheduling, using a PDA or BlackBerry. It’s about time, the concept of time and how we respect it and ourselves in relation to time. We’re in the midst of looking at leaders and how they seem to fly through their days, directing, delegating, strategizing, making decisions and yes, calling endless back to back meetings.

So I took some time to look at time and see its dynamics. I then started asking my clients what they thought of first when they heard the term “buying time”. In one way or another, the answers revolved around having more time to do things, see things, to play and shelve work for the time being. It was hearing “I wish I could clone myself so I could do more” and “I wish I had more time to…”

Truthfully it had nothing whatsoever to do with having more time or saving time so something else could be slotted into that chunk of time. Rather, what they weren’t saying but meant was they wished they had time. Extra time. Unplanned time. They wanted space….nothingness, quiet time, time to just be, to let the thoughts fly in any direction, to think, imagine and explore possibility.

They wanted creative time, time to conceptualize, to strategize, to play, learn, and get to know others. They wanted time to unwind and relax. Many had forgotten how. They couldn’t remember the last time they just relaxed or didn’t rush to do something else in that tiny bit of time that appeared unexpectedly. They felt guilty if they took time for themselves, so they didn’t. Instead they did something for someone else or worked. Time, 'space', is such a precious commodity, heaven forbid they couldn’t waste it! And was doing nothing or planning nothing during that short period actually be wasting time or valuing it and themselves? Relaxing? What’s that? They didn’t remember how to relax. They were wired all the time, literally and figuratively.

People don’t know how to do nothing. They forgot how.

"Slow down and enjoy life. It's not the only the scenery you miss by going to fast-you also miss the sense of where you are going and why." -Eddie Cantor

Donna Karlin

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rules to Live By

I came across an article by Bob Parsons where he talks about the 16 Rules he tries to live by. I thought it was brilliantly written and certainly an eye opener for anyone in any line of work, no line of work, trying to get a handle on life as, in some cases it seems to be getting away from them. If you're trying to get a handle on your life, then who or what is in control of it right now?

I would encourage all of you to read his rules and see if and how they're applicable to what you might be living. In the meantime I'd like to share my rules for getting the best in life, as they apply to life, work, relationships -- any and all aspects of putting life in perspective.

•Get the job done
•Recognize feelings, issues and circumstances that might stand in the way
•Rule 3 is Rule 2 NEVER gets in the way of Rule 1

Getting the job done might be keeping a commitment, or finishing a personal or professional goal for example. No matter what it is, remember intentions equal results. If you intend to do something, feel something, complete something, it will happen...good, bad or indifferent.

How many times have you let petty differences, circumstances, 'Doubting Thomases' get in the way? If you let others hold you back, then you will be held back. Simple! Which brings me to Bob's rule 12 (Never let anybody push you around). I tell people "If you give your personal power away to someone you least respect at that moment in time, or don't respect at all, what does that say about how you respect and value yourself?"

And when you read Bob's rules, my favorites are 3 (when you're ready to quit, you're close than you think), 7 (Always be moving forward). I think they're all wonderfully relevant. What do you think?

Donna Karlin

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Avoiding Success

People will change their behavior when it suits them, not anyone else. When you choose change, you don’t get involved in the content of the DIRECT the process!

Only you can change your attitude; others can only motivate or hinder you. On the other hand you may be your own worst enemy. When you talk yourself out of change and then wonder why your life isn't turning out the way you want it to, it's something to pay attention to. People change for their own reasons, not for anyone else's. But when you don't change behaviours that don't serve you, there's no one to blame but yourself.

So for a change, I'd like you to try something that has proven very effective as a wake-up call.

Instead of listing all the ways you can be successful, I'm going to try something I use with some difficult staffers. When I'm working with a group and there's a doubting Thomas in their midst I usually ask them to "Tell me every reason in the book this is not going to work so we can get all the scepticism out of the way". Well on a similar note:

How can you avoid being successful this week? What could you let hinder you in your desire to be more productive, learn and grow? List the first ten that come to mind, then go back and number them in order of their probability of appearing.

Then take a good hard look at this list and see if any one of those entries is worthy enough of sabotaging your success.

Best, always!
Donna Karlin

*Note: Welcome 122nd subscriber from Tajikistan. Make yourself welcome!

Sunday, February 03, 2008


def. a quick climb or progression over rough, irregular ground.

That says it perfectly.

I'm scrambling. It's not that things are rough. On the contrary. Everything I'm being bombarded with is amazing! That, for me is even harder than when I'm dealing with a challenge. When the new year began, I told a friend of mine that I had this feeling 2008 was going to be an amazing year for everyone. I'm not sure why. It was a gut feeling. And so far it's surpassed even that. Opportunities are flying towards me. Both my personal and professional lives are better than I could have ever imagined. "So what's the problem?" you might ask.

For a while, like many others in my life I was trying to fit everything in. After all, how could I turn down some amazing opportunities and travel? It isn't easy. First, however I'm very happy one of my work partners in crime is as level headed as me when it comes to doing reality checks. When I feel overwhelmed with opportunity, I call him and process it. This time we both decided that as enticing a trip to Geneva might be, it just wasn't worth the cost, both financial and time away. Instead we decided to design something for the future that would work. One more trip cancelled and a little more breathing space to relax into.

Two questions I've been asking myself and they might just work for you. "What work do I really have to do (and want to do, as I don't do any work I don't want to jump into with both feet)" and "What work do I absolute have to NOT do?" That's the harder one, especially when it's enticing.

For me, I've decided anything I end up doing with John will be amazing because I'll learn in the process and as our styles compliment each other so well, I know the synergy will be there. So why scramble? I'd much rather be in control of the chaos of my life, to the extent I can. I also want to have time for my life life as in my non-professional life. If there's no time to play, it's just not worth it.

Who is your reality checker? Do you even have one? Someone without a hidden agenda who could help you get a handle on your life? If you don't pick one...and choose wisely as that person will help shape your future.

Donna Karlin

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Daring to Imagine

It’s been a very busy time for me as a Shadow Coach™. One of the things I love being able to do as I run from client to client is to ‘hang out’ in an office space between sessions and observe what’s going on. For many the routine is way too repetitive and they lose a sense of adventure in their day to day worlds. Can they dare to imagine they can have a different life? Many don’t even want to ‘go there’ as if they’re disappointed their life will seem even more mundane than it was before.

What if you did dare, though? What if you realized your life could be as great as you imagined and then some if you just gave yourself the freedom to explore what’s possible and the presence of mind to look at the life you’re living right now through new eyes?

Rabindranath Tagore says “Do not say,"it is morning," and dismiss it with a name of yesterday. See it for the first time as a newborn child that has no name.” Make it something new, create and learn something new, regardless of circumstance. I really mean it when I say I can’t wait to jump into the deep end of every day. Because of that I have met the most extraordinary people some of whom have changed and enriched my life a thousand fold. If I didn’t take that chance I would never have known. I’d never know what I was missing as all that would be left would be a boxed in existence. I’d never know what I’ve yet to imagine because until I take those chances I don’t know what that might look like.

We live in our worlds…the worlds we know and are comfortable in. Just think of how much we’re not paying attention to along the way and unless we make a conscious choice to look further, live in a broader world we won’t know what there is. Daring to imagine brings it all front and center. Nothing is impossible. Remember that. It’s just how to get there that you have to figure out, and oh…is it ever worth it!

Donna Karlin

*Note: Welcome 121st country subscriber from Bolivia! We hope you enjoy what you read and stay awhile.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Attaching Labels to Things

I was talking to someone just the other day about how foolish it is to attach labels to things, people, or situations as good or bad. Once that’s done, everything else that follows tends to be colored by that same brush. If we do that, we might miss a richness of learning, of forming a relationship or exploring the possibilities of a situation that we’ve already dubbed ‘bad’. It really is a foolish thing as what happens in those cases is we filter out everything that might stretch us and help us learn and grow. The ultimate result is we create walls around us that keep us in our own comfort zone and don’t in any way rock the boat of our life.

I look at all the people I meet through the course of the day, at every level of responsibility, and how knowing them and having conversations with them enriches my life exponentially. It’s not about their job or position, it’s about who they are as human beings.

When I led a workshop way back when in my training days, I asked the people in the room to stand in a circle and look around the room to see who the other participants were. This group would end up with buddies through the training so I wanted to see who they would want to pair up with. Human nature is to judge someone by their cover so to speak and to gravitate to the one person you feel you would be the most comfortable with. That wouldn’t have served my purposes at all. So I asked the group to look around and silently choose the person they would want to work with, for superficial reasons only of course as they didn’t know each other. I then told them “After I give you the next set of instructions, I want you to walk over to the person you’re going to choose for whatever your reasons are, ask them to be your partner for this training and then stand next to that person. If someone else reached that individual before you, then choose another."

To tell you this is chaotic is an understatement but there is a method to my madness. I then told the group to walk up to the person in the room they thought would be the one who would stretch them the farthest, the one who would be completely out of their comfort zone. So for example if a woman tended to gravitate to a woman, then she should choose a man and visa versa, or if a person with a scruffy beard intimidated you then choose that person. I wanted those in the room to choose people they don’t often interact with because of a pre-judment or label. The first lesson was to not attach a label on a person without knowing them. Most of the group told me that was the best lesson they learned over all; how they tended to ignore whole groups of people by virtue of how they looked --- a prejudgment.

What or who have you attached a label to where you’re not quite sure why you did in the first place? What would happen if you let go of that judgment?

Should be fascinating to find out, don’t you think?

Donna Karlin

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Connecting Through Language

There are many ways of connecting with people, from our language such as the words we speak to the unspoken language, body movements, stance and eye contact. How we connect with people in real time as opposed to through the written word gives us completely different perspectives. Through writing one can either express more emotion than in real life as the comfort zone of not being face to face gives a modicum of anonymity or can leave out a great deal of emotion which lends a coldness to the correspondence, whether on purpose or not.

It is so easy to second guess or assume what a person is thinking when we don't have them right in front of us and can ask for the meaning behind what they say, that is if there is any ambiguity.

Still, how we present our words, craft sentences and use language to correctly reflect our thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions and perspectives will determine how deeply we connect with that person. And that's what it's all about isn't it? Defining our relationships and attracting the ones that make the difference between having a good life and an extraordinary one.

If the communication on one part is silence, then the person on the receiving end will definitely make up their own story and usually it's not a good one. People tend to fill in silences with what they're most insecure about. Something to keep in mind. As well, when communicating we need to set a flow and rhythm that will lend to the needs of the relationship itself, on both parts, so that the space of silence isn't filled with what neither of you ultimately want.

The people in my life... family, friends, clients and students know they will hear back from me in a timely manner. I'd much rather have a conversation with any medium I could in order to deepen a relationship and be on the same wavelength than leave someone hanging, assuming the worst and wondering.

Next time you wait for all your answers before getting back to someone, remember they might not be as patient as you are and look elsewhere or move forward with incomplete or wrong information. Communication is a dance of sorts but think of whether or not you want a dance or a walk on the tight rope.

Donna Karlin

*Note: Speaking of communicating, a fellow blogger from Fast Company Experts writes an amazing column you don't want to miss called Conversation Agent Bookmark it because you're going to end up visiting it often.