Monday, July 25, 2016

Stop Fighting, Start Being!

Years ago, in my previous career, I learned a valuable lesson; to stop arguing my point and to just be as great as I could be.

When I was at McGill University, what seems like a lifetime ago, studying music performance, I was one of the very few women in Percussion. It was quite the rarity back in the late 60's and early 70's and a very difficult program to be accepted into. I practiced constantly so I could ace the audition. I had 12 years of piano under my belt by the time I was 16 and my keyboards were fabulous.

I was accepted into the program, however getting stage time was another story. You see, when I challenged my teacher on that and asked why I never seemed to get parts in the orchestra, jazz band or other ensembles, his response was, "You're a woman. You know you're going to get married and have kids and not make a career of this, so I'm going to give the parts to the guys who are more serious about their career. There are fewer jobs for percussion than most other instruments and I might as well weed out those who won't be serious about it at this stage rather than let them graduate and never get a job."

Yes, I have a temper and was going to argue with him. Instead, I asked him to partner with me doing sight reading duets on keyboards. He accepted as he needed practice as well. We booked a set time twice a week to play and when I consistently played him under the table, he started rethinking his stance.

I could have argued with him until the cows came home but decided that instead of arguing about not getting parts, I would be so good that it would be a no-brainer for him to give me a place on stage. 

Eventually he didn't limit me to only keyboards and I was an equal participant on stage.

You can get angry, butt heads with someone because you feel you've been wronged, or, you can be as great as you can be. If you do the former, chances are they'll never change their position as people become very protective of their opinions and positions. If you do the latter, without rubbing their noses in it, and show gratitude for them helping you get better and better, there's a good chance they'll change their mind as they had a role in helping make you great and are happy to show that to the world.

Funnily enough, after I finished at McGill and moved away, I got a gig in the orchestra and other groups and loved every second of it. Being in a world-class orchestra had been my dream for as long as I can remember. 

However my teacher's prophecy came true. I had to leave the orchestra to care for my newborn son who had mobility issues and a long, 19 year journey of surgery and rehab. Still, life guided me in the direction of what I'm doing now which is a gift beyond measure.

Fairly recently I had a long talk with my percussion teacher. It seems he'd been following my career in coaching psychology and was so proud of what I was doing. I'm glad we were able to have that conversation as he passed shortly after, but still, even now, I figure if I live my life from a perspective of personal integrity, I don't have to fight for what I believe is right. I live it. It's not always easy, but it's right.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Which One Are You?

This morning I came across a wonderful narrative; the kind that coaches use to illustrate a point for a client, but one that really makes you think of the story you carry around with you and who you are as a result.

It really makes you think. It went something like this...

A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as soon as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’
‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ she replied.

Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, the grandmother asked the granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked, ‘What does it mean, grandmother?’

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity? Do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?

How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Use this story, step back and think about a situation that comes to mind when you read it. Are you a victim of circumstance or can you keep your core values and be everything you can be in spite of it? If you were looking at someone else living through the same situation, how might you advise that person to be the coffee bean? What if you could be that bean?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Extraordinary Things in an Ordinary Day

Years ago I came upon the book "Romancing the Ordinary: A Year of Simple Splendour" by Sarah Ban Breathnach. To quote Sarah, "I had discovered the miracle of the sacred in the ordinary." This book became a reality check for me. I read it every year and as it's laid out in a seasonal format, a great way to see whether or not the choices I'm making from day to day honour the gifts a so called ordinary day brings to me.

I remember years ago when my father was first diagnosed with cancer and was so overwhelmed, he wanted to disconnect and give up. I asked him and my mother as well, to let me know 5 extraordinary things in an ordinary day. I started doing that myself, quietly, silently, but paying attention to the people who come into my life by chance, to the learning that is unexpected and for the ways I can give back.

I also find I'm pushing myself to make choices I might not have made if I didn't ask myself, "If I do this, what might I experience or learn that I wouldn't any other way? What impact might this have?" A few days ago, my neighbour of 30 years passed away. I knew I could ring the bell and visit with the family at any time; they live 2 doors away, so really didn't need to go to the visitation. My day was jam packed to say the least but I had a one hour window where I could go to the funeral home and pay my respects. He was a beloved doctor in the city who had touched many, many lives so I knew the visitation would be busy and they wouldn't necessarily miss me if I didn't go. So I went.

If I hadn't gone, I would have missed amazing conversations and perspectives of my neighbour I would never have experienced any other way. They might not have missed me if I weren't there but they were so grateful that I was. I met his siblings and heard stories about him through them. I heard about their lives growing up on a farm and what happened with them and their kids over time.

It was a beautiful hour. I can still see the smiles on their faces as I shared some of how he had touched our lives over the years.

So every day I ask myself, "What extraordinary thing happened in an ordinary day?" and have decided to share them with you and ask that you do the same. I would love to hear what delighted you, surprised you, or gave you an inner smile if you'll share.

1. I reconnected with someone I haven't seen for 45 years since camp.
2. I wished my mother a fabulous day (she's a fabulous mom!).
3. I woke up to the love of my life (albeit at 3:30 am) which always gives me a smile, even if he's fast asleep and can't see it!
4. I took a half hour to sit outside under the trees listen to the birds, clear my head and consciously chose what to put my energy towards for the day.
5. Helped spread the word about my brother who is searching for meaningful work.

And one extra: Eagerly anticipating hearing from you about what's extraordinary in your ordinary day.

May it be a great one!

Monday, June 01, 2015

Waiting for Others to Help Us Get it Right

I'm recently back from TEDWomen 2015, its theme Momentum. As always after one of these conference, my head is about to explode. Not only do I get a myriad of ideas for how to do my work differently or view situations and solutions differently but I connect people and ideas. That is one of my jobs when I'm at TED. I'm blessed to work with TED Fellows and one of the ways I can support them is to connect them with others who can help them more powerfully impact the planet.

Mia Birdsong, of the Family Independence Initiative made a statement that really resonated; "We can't wait for others to help us get it right." Something else she said which resonated was, "My humanity is inextricably caught up in yours". 

We don't live life in silos. We don't work in silos. As much as one might want to feel they have a great deal of power in an organization and might hoard information...want to be in control, ultimately one person is intricately connected with another and so on and so on. If we don't listen to others, reflect on their wisdom, not believing we know more, that we are better or are more important, we will succeed. Everything we do, say, believe and share impacts someone else in some way shape or form.

Those who believe in the power of social connectedness do better than those who don't. Organizations that promote this way of being ultimately succeed.

Social capital gives companies momentum. How high is your organization's SC?

Thursday, April 09, 2015

One Day I'll be Ready

"One day I'll be ready..." I hear this statement every day from clients, friends or family. "I'll be ready for that vacation when..." One day I'll be ready to change my job" and so it goes.

If you're saying "One day I'll be ready" then you're already ready. It's not a matter of figuring out when that day will be. It's a matter of looking at what is standing in your way right now for taking the plunge, and seeing how you can remove those roadblocks. Most of all it's no longer listening to the voices in your head telling you that you don't measure up or that the realization of one's innermost dreams happens to others but not to you, a regular kinda person.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Achieving Mastery as an Executive Coach

Learning the Shadow Coaching® technique differentiates a coach from a Master Coach. This becomes even more evident when I teach abroad, whether Brazil, Australia, or Italy. Coaches are becoming even more impatient than their clients to make a difference and adopt a methodology that is impactful, present and powerful.

Recognizing the essence of the conversation with a client and understanding how to ask the question that will illuminate exactly what they need to focus on in the moment is where Shadow Coaching® training beings.  

As our clients become more and more demanding and their lifestyles are increasingly chaotic, they are going to expect us to have the set of skills that schools hadn’t been teaching until now. That was evident when two practitioners from EcoSocial in Brazil came to check me and my methodology out when I was teaching in Boston. Two hours or so into the class, they walked up to me and said “You will be coming to Brazil to teach”. I looked at them and said “Oh really?” to which they replied, 


The rest is history. Just short of a year later, I was standing in front of 35 master level practitioners eager to dive into the unknown. The level of respect and openness from them was second to none. Not only did they absorb whatever I threw their way, but they questioned, challenged, integrated and starting figuring out how they would approach their current clients with a new way forward. This group just got it. They saw the value of going much deeper with their clients and how that could bring forth dramatic shifts and change.

In the executive realm we need to speed up to their lifestyles while we get them through clarity and awareness to the point of what I call slowing down to the speed of life instead of reacting to whatever comes their way.  It’s also going deeper with the client without wading through traditional ways of assessment and the self-discovery process that might take years.  This is not therapy although we look at ‘programs’ and behavioural drivers.

I feel we need to take the industry of coaching that one step further way beyond the “box”.

The reason I am teaching my model is because I feel it’s important for a Coach to walk into a person’s total life or business and be able to see the central truths of ‘what is’ within an hour….not days, weeks, or months.  

I believe it's possible to give the kind of quality work where we're simply incredibly aware and in tune with all that's happening or at least the critical elements of what is happening that may not appear in any textbook or in any traditional measurement device.  I think as coaches we can devise what these measures are.

The role of a Shadow Coach is to be able to go and recognize the intangibles that won’t show up in any reports, either financial or managerial or for that matter, performance reports.   There are too many things going on behind the scenes to be measure on a balance sheet. 

Traditional coaching delves into the client’s present awareness. The Shadow Coach goes way beyond that level into what the client doesn’t see, i.e. the client becoming aware of skills, behavioural patterns, Shadows (Jungian) and cultural tethers.

Shadows give suggestions in the form of questions. For example, “Forget time management for a moment.  What would your life look like if you eliminated delay? How do you respect yourself in relation to time?”  How do you see them as different?

We are an accelerant or a catalyst.

We immerse ourselves into the moment completely like a diagnostician, using all the technology and all the experience to get to the bottom of things, not just treat symptoms. We've got to bring everything together and be able to sum up the past, the present, the future for that client as quickly as possible to generate that accelerant, to get them there so much quicker, because people are demanding that. They want it now. They don't want to wait any longer. 

We basically help them understand themselves at a much faster rate versus the self-discovery process that can take years to find things out about themselves.  They have plenty of time to discover things on their own but for me I want to make sure they get it and get it fast so they can move on to what they hired me to do.   

I believe that clients are unwilling to take the time it used to take to solve their problems or to make the changes even in an organization. So people are dissatisfied with the delay and are looking for ways to shorten it. As well, I personally believe that awareness is curative, that it's not just the prescription or a Band-Aid that cures but it's the awareness of something that cures. So part of what we're doing is increasing awareness with our discernment and with our sharing and language. That, plus the strategy one might offer, plus the insights or the simple ways we phrase what we're observing can actually, overnight, make changes that might have taken three or four years to implement in more traditional methods . 

It was an honour to teach this group of amazing individuals who, not only realised this, but who were eager to absorb ways of applying this method, not sometime in the future, but immediately.

I look forward to my next class in Milan, Italy and to go back to Brazil in the near future!

Thursday, August 07, 2014


Recently I was asked how I define Mindful. I had written a piece about it way back when and decided to revisit it...

Mindful….being present….living right now in this moment, not clouding it with what was or what might be. It’s being in tune with what’s happening and our place within that moment in time. It’s awareness at its best because it’s not clouded with judgment, expectations or assumptions. It just is. And because you’re totally present in that moment in time, you are free of the burdens of the past and the ‘what might be’ in the future. You can observe, accept, …..move on. And because you’re totally aware, leaving the emotional and intellectual baggage behind, you can be free to think of possibilities, have the mental space to create new ideas and grow within your life.

Being mindful, as a client described to me, was watching me be like a huge rock in the center of a fast moving river. The water is hitting it from all angles, but the rock remains calm, steadfast. Being mindful within a chaotic moment is a way for you to create mental space within which you can create, grow as an individual and be open to whatever it is that comes your way.

It gives you a balance between what is happening and what you’re doing within that event. There is no good, no bad, just the truth of the moment. It transcends you.

You are mindful when you no longer identify with emotion or feeling. You are no longer afraid, confident or outlandish. You are a person who is experiencing those feelings right then. You are not at one with them. You are more than each emotion. Mindfulness is a part of life, work, personal, all parts of your life. When you are open to all that is around you, you grow in leaps and bounds and learn without filters. And in experiencing each moment in time, you free yourself up to invent your future, one day at a time.

The first step is in eliminating the ‘whens’. I will be happy when….. I will be content when…… I will no longer be afraid when….. When emotions are conditional upon what might happen one day, you will not be truly alive in the present. That day in the future begins right now.