What Do You Resolve to Change?

“What You Get By Achieving Your Goals Is Not As Important As What You Become By Achieving Your Goals.” Henry David Thoreau


success As we begin the year 2018 with renewed energy and commitment, dedicated leaders, just like you, are reflecting and considering changes they deeply desire for themselves and for those they lead. And, as we all know – the more challenging the change, the more attention and effort it takes to reach and sustain the change we so seriously seek (we refer to this as TARP – Change requires Time, Attention, Repetition, and Positive Feedback).

If you are already a student of the work of Kegan and Lahey (Immunity to Change, 2009), then you know that change challenges are characterized as either technical or adaptive in nature. Technical challenges, while complicated, have a system and order to them. Learn and carry out the steps of the system and you are most likely able to make the change. Mechanics, doctors, musicians, and pilots are examples of people who complete technical challenges on a routine basis.

Adaptive challenges are much more complex because they call for changes in both your head (your thinking) and your heart (your feelings) as you attempt to overcome or rectify a challenge. Interestingly, with adaptive changes, there is typically a hidden fear or worry associated with making the change, and the fear is sometimes so deeply embedded within us that we are unaware it even exists. We set a goal for a change, we start out strong and yet at times, something seems to prevent us from staying the course and accomplishing the desired results. When tough times happen, we might give up on the goal and return to old habits – unless we are willing to examine ways in which we are actually working against or preventing the very goal we so deeply desire to accomplish.

Who better to explain this than Robert Kegan? Here is a link to a short explanation he gives of why some changes are so hard to achieve.

After viewing this video, in what ways did you connect with the change challenges Kegan explained? Kegan mentioned that some changes call for a change in our mindset. In other words, those changes call for adaptations in the way we think and feel about the change we so desperately desire and yet have been unable to achieve. In order to accomplish the change, we must be willing to uncover and face those hidden assumptions that are standing in our way, and then test out the degree of accuracy associated with those assumptions.

When you join us in our Level II seminar, you actually have the opportunity to create an internal look at what might be standing in the way of you accomplishing the goal you so dearly want to achieve. And, along the way – you really are learning more about you as a leader and as a person.

In the meantime, consider the following question: What is one thing that you would like to improve in the way you lead that you have not yet accomplished? Perhaps it is about increasing your role as an instructional leader. Maybe it is being more coach-like as you hold coaching conversations with those you lead. After thinking about it, write your goal down and identify best steps for accomplishing the goal. Keep information on how you are doing with the goal. In a best-case scenario, you are working through this whole process with the support of your coach.

Next, check back with us later this month in our upcoming Coaching Nugget for ways to follow-up with those challenging goals that are hard to accomplish. And, as Thoreau says, be aware of what you are learning about yourself as you move toward the goal you so strongly desire to accomplish.

A Principal’s Positive Bias

Not all biases are negative. Some of our biases move us to assist others or to make contributions that benefit our families, our communities, our schools, our cities, and our world.

Principal Terri recently told us of an experience she had when she noticed a fight in progress in the hall at her large urban high school. When the usual tactics for stopping a fight failed to accomplish the intended mission, Terri waded into the fray between the combatants, becoming injured in the process. As her bias leans toward win-win, she gave her assistant principal responsibility for the in-the-moment interaction while she took care of her own physical and emotional state. This proactive stance allowed her to set aside her strong emotion so that she could stay true to her True North—her positive belief in the student’s potential and the student’s need for Terri’s continued support.

When Terri conferred with the student’s parent, she was able to be fully present and listen for well over an hour, saying, “Tell me more,” and “What else do you want to say about…” which allowed the parent to be fully heard and understood. Terri made a commitment to the parent to support the student’s progress when she returns to school. Her promise put the school and the parent on the same team of support for the student.

Terri clearly has a bias FOR supporting all students. In this instance, she was able to see beyond one incident to the larger picture of success for this student and all students on her campus.

As you reflect on your own biases:

  1. Which ones are potentially limiting you and your leadership effectiveness?
  2. Which positive biases remind you to stay true to your personal mission?
  3. How will you remain conscious of your biases in order to be your best self and best leader?

Managing our Biases

We define coaching as being nonjudgmental. Yet we know that we do have judgment, biases and filters that pop up as interference from time to time as we are acting as thinking partners with another. The first step in managing our own biases, filters, judgments, and assumptions is to recognize that we have them and then to recognize the moments that trigger them.

Many of our biases are implicit. That is, we do not even recognize that we have them and would even vehemently deny that they exist for us. Unrecognized biases are the ones that are most harmful to our effectiveness as coaches and leaders. Implicit biases are unexamined. These unexamined biases may create blind spots, filters that allow only certain information in, and assumptions that may limit our access to a broader range of approaches to new or perplexing situations.

What are some ways to recognize implicit biases? One way is to begin to notice the events, words, or situations that cause us to have a strong emotional response, such as immediate disagreement, pushback, defensiveness, or avoidance. The intense need to convince others of our way of thinking is another potential indicator of a strong bias that may be holding us hostage. Lack of desire to listen to or consider the viewpoints of others may signal that we have a bias that we have not yet examined. Our innate desire to stay safe sometimes conflicts with our strong desire to grow and change in our responses to more positively impact those we lead.

Once we have identified our biases, we can be intentional about determining ways to set them aside in order to be more fully present with others. During those times we find we are being triggered, we are more able to recognize the hot button and push the “keep calm” button instead.

The Principle of Coaching

The focus this month has been essentially about the things that guide our thinking and direction, expectations, standards, principles or core values. As we consider the very fundamental importance of these conversations we learn and recognize that the conversations never are final and always need revisiting about what they mean and what we stand for. As we go through our lives and our careers we do a lot of tasks. Some make little difference or impact to our greater mission, some transform people and how they walk through life and engage with others. What attention and focus do we want to give to those things that make the most lasting difference for our schools and the children in them?

My personal reflection: In my 47-year career I have completed a million tasks, and they seemed endless at the time – from every document in the education system, for sure; to thousands of notebooks for learning; read and prepared for hundreds of book studies; graded thousands of papers; prepared for hundreds of board meetings or staff meetings; finished more budgets than I ever thought possible; and the list goes on … AND yet today, with great reflection, I have realized the most important thing that I have done in my life was engaging with people though conversations. Learning to have conversations as a coach leader has been the most powerful work and time investment commitment of my life. Through coaching, I have learned the skills to influence and inspire more than I even know, and those I do know are golden in my heart. Every conversation I remember: when a child walked away knowing how much I believed in him or her; when a parent left a conference and knew I was a champion for their child; every conversation with my administrator when he valued and even occasionally embraced my crazy ideas; every employee I had to share tough information with and yet they left feeling valued and certain I believed in them to grow. Yes, my life principle grew to approach all things with my “coach identity.” An identity that has taught me to see the brilliance in all people – even when I had to really work at it and what interesting things I have learned about people. An identity that has taught me the most amazing language skills, that even I am amazed by the change I witness sometimes. An identity that has taught me more about people, their goodness, their complexities, their uniqueness-es than all the many psychology and sociology classes I have ever had. How I wish I had had this gift of knowledge when I began my career – and the best thing is, I learned it before the end!

Yes, I know, at last, I really understand the principle that will be forever foremost for me:

Coaching transforms people in the way they desire to be: their best selves.

Lead with Principles not Rules

Our world seems to be full of uncertainty. It spills over into our work in schools. So many kids with so many needs; so many things to do with so little time. How can we possibility get it all done. Recently I was with a young teacher leader and when asked how she was, she commented, “Overwhelmed. Every meeting I attend, someone else gives me something else to do or get done.” When we get overwhelmed in life some people have a spiritual principle that says, “We will never be given more than we can bear.” How might Principles in our systems offer a quiet force of equilibrium? Maybe they might even guide people in their thinking and actions over time.

Eric McNulty, director at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative writes that principles, unlike rules, give people something unshakable to hold on to yet also the freedom to make independent decisions and take actions to move toward a shared objective. Principles are directional, whereas rules are directive. In the business world there are a few examples from which we, in education, might learn. Nordstrom’s has a principle-based approach for all sales associates. “Use your best judgment in all situations.” This shows total trust in the associate and encourages listening to the customer. Very different than the rule, “All merchandise returns must be made within 30 days.” At IBM, Gerstner turned the company around with his groundbreaking idea: managing by principles rather than procedures. Yet, through the years many organizations have been slow to let go of the rule-based handbook. What more impactful place for guiding principles than in education? Here are a few principles found in schools.

  • Children always come first
  • Do no harm to any child or adult
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated
  • Soar with our strengths!
  • Look first for what is right, good, and has possibility
  • Respect all – in words and actions
  • Believe in the brilliance and positive intent of all
  • Measure what matters
  • Know your data and how to leverage it
  • Embrace, adapt to and drive change
  • If it’s great for the staff but not kids, it’s not good
  • Presume Positive Intent
  • Seek feedback for continuous growth

Principles have power in that they communicate trust and demonstrate to employees that they have the freedom to use their judgment to reach the best decisions through the principles with which we work.

How might you want to refine and/or create principles to guide your school or organization?

  • Think of your organization at its best. Dig into the root behaviors, conditions, and other factors that make things work well. Craft principles to reflect and stimulate more of this positive energy. Ask: What happens when my staff is working at their best? How do they demonstrate initiative? How are they free to exercise their best judgment?
  • Be ready to live your principles, even when it gets tough. Actions will always speak louder than words. As a leader, realize that the drumbeat for achievement is constant. You have to ensure that the other principles get as much attention as those bedrock goals and that in practice they fulfill their intention.

Make the principles public. Post them in all conference and work areas. Encourage staff to refer to the principles to explain when they made certain decisions. The more principles are part of daily life, the greater impact they will have.

Reference: Strategy+Business, E. McNulty, Sept.2017

The Leader’s Primary Responsibility – A Clear Focus


As this new year gets well underway it is a great opportunity to pause and simply reflect on your leadership role in providing a clear focus for the work. Here are a few questions to support your thinking:

  • What is the focused mission of the year?
  • What outcomes are the most critical to celebrate success in May?
  • What behaviors and actions are you modeling to drive and maintain the focus through the year?
  • In our seminars we speak of the standards and expectations that drive the engine of focus. How clear and precise are the expectations you have articulated for the year?

Each time I have the privilege to be in a district, people are working enormously hard and, commonly, focused in many different directions. One question, “What is the most important focus for your year?” …yields answers like, – “do it all” “high student success” “work in PLC’s” “use data to drive instruction” “make sure no kids fall through the cracks” and the list goes on. The next question asked is to clarify, “And what does that mean to each member of the team?”

As a leader, what will all members of your team say is the most important focus/goal of their work? How are they reflecting on how they are doing, with what data or visible results? Let’s use the example of “working in a PLC,” and consider the questions below.

  • What specifically does that mean you will see and hear when it is occurring?
  • What is the purpose of working in a PLC?
  • What does each member believe is the benefit to themselves working this way?
  • What are the benchmark self-assessments along the way to support the focus?

There may be many things that demand focus.

  • Which 3-5 things will influence the advancement of many goals and targets?
  • What metaphor or visual provides the image of how a few targeted things influence many results?
  • What data impacts many targets- just in the nature of changes made from it?

Without a clear direction, any destination is okay. With a clear direction, people know for certain what to give their motivation and energy to, why it will make a difference, and what makes this destination important to the greater vision and results. You probably are already thinking it may be a good time to lead some team members in a conversation to see where we are in our journey to the destination this year. One thing we know for sure, it will bring greater clarity and results and an accelerated journey.

The Leadership Gift of Hope

“Hopeful individuals, families, organizations, and communities THRIVE!”

The focus of this month’s social media series are 3 Leadership gifts – solitude, resilience, and hope. Previously, we unwrapped the gifts of solitude and resilience. Now, we are ready to find out how this final gift . . . the gift of hope, when added to the previous two, amplifies the possibilities for even more powerful leadership.

A 2nd session I attended at the International Coach Federation was not a new topic. In fact, it’s one we often make light of when people are setting goals. Often, we hear the language, “I hope I will be able to use all the skills I have learned in this seminar” to which we have replied, “Hope is not a strategy.” Well, as it happens, it IS a strategy and a very powerful one, at that!

With this realization, came the third gift of leadership – the gift of hope. Hope is one of the top predictors of well-being for adults and children. It is part of our core as human beings. And, hope is the leading predictor of satisfaction and happiness in life.

Hope is universal across race, gender, culture, etc. and is not related to income, social status, intelligence, or morality. Hope can be measured. Shane Lopez, in Making Hope Happen, speaks of the beliefs of High Hope People.

High Hope People Believe

  1. The future will be better than the present.
  2. I have the power to make it so.
  3. There are many paths to my goals.
  4. None of them is free of obstacles.

What was really exciting in the session was the presenters’ connection to the neuroscience of hope and trust. Guess what! It matches what we have learned about SCARF and the importance of safety for the brain to be a “hopeful brain”.

Hope Theory contends that there is a distinction between Will Power and Way Power and that it takes both for the emergence of hope. One without the other is merely a wish. Perhaps, that is why we said hope is not a strategy. Both “will power” and “way power” are required for it to become an expectation for goal attainment.

Let’s Make it Personal

Think of a time when you lost hope. How did you know? What did you do to regain it? Who, if anyone, supported you in regaining your hope?

Leadership and Hope
Lopez says, “A leader’s personal hope is a public resource.” Because hope is a personal philosophy, the leader is in a unique position of influence holding the potential to build hope in others. Many of the convocation speeches given by Superintendents as our school year began offered a vision of hope focusing on the future, speaking about will power and way power, building capacity in others to carry the vision of hope forward.

So, these three gifts of leadership – solitude, resilience, and hope showed up unexpectedly in succession creating the opportunity for greater meaning for me. It was only in quietness that I could discover the connection and recognize that these are the attributes of a coach leader – one who reflects, bounces back, and believes in a better world for us all!

How are you using these three gifts – solitude, resilience, and hope?

Reference: Howells, K & Johnston, K (2017) Leveraging The Science Of Hope And Trust In Coaching. International Coach Federation Conference. Washington, DC.

The Leadership Gift of Resilience

“A person who falls and gets back up
is much stronger than a person who never falls.”

The focus of this month’s social media series are 3 Leadership gifts – solitude, resilience, and hope. Previously we unwrapped the gift of solitude. Now, we are ready to discover what the gift of resilience holds for us as leaders.

In August, the International Coach Federation held its Conference in DC. I found myself drawn to a session about resilience in coaching. As the session evolved, what I realized was here was a second leadership gift to go with the gift of solitude. That gift is resilience.

What is Resilience?

While resilience means different things to different people, the definition offered was this:

“Resilience is one’s ability to remain flexible in our thoughts feelings, and behaviors when faced by a disruption or extended periods of pressure, so that we emerge from difficulty stronger, wiser, and more able.”
Pemberton: Resilience (McGraw Hill, 2015).

Briefly, it’s one’s ability to remain standing. Because resilience is an outcome rather than a thing, it originates from the combination of three things – genetics, childhood experiences, and learning from adversity. No more than 30% is genetics based. Childhood factors include things such as deprivation, the degree to which a child feels safe, whether the child had an adult he/she could count on, etc. Learning from adversity is the greatest influencer of one’s resilience. It’s almost like growing a muscle and the good news is that resilience tends to increase as we get older.

How You Know When Resilience is Low

Indicators that my resilience could be declining may include:

  • A sudden attitude of pessimism
  • A loss of connection with the purpose of my work or life
  • Withdrawal from relationships
  • Outbursts of emotion
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Loss of confidence
  • Changes in my eating or drinking patterns
  • Sleep habits change
  • I discontinue doing what I enjoy
  • It’s hard to make decisions

Three Things to do to Increase Resilience

  1. Recycle – What are the knowledge and skills that you usually rely on? Reconnect to your strengths such as compartmentalizing things, using humor, listening to music, meditating, reading, poetry, etc. Re-activate them!
  2. Resource – What resources do you have access to . . . including both human and material resources? Maybe it’s accessing a thinking partner such as a coach, studying your strengths, learning something new, or actively building confidence in self.
  3. Re-Author – How might we rewrite our story? Perhaps we create a new beginning or ending, or we rewrite the narrative around the event or situation that has occurred, or we assign different powers to the players in the narrative. When we can create a different relationship with the event, we can recover more quickly. A study of widowed men vs. widowed women showed that women moved faster because they talked about the experience and expressed their emotions aloud to one another.

Because leadership is far from an act of perfection, we have many opportunities to build the muscle of resilience. By combining the first two gifts – solitude and resilience – we can remain strong in the presence of everyday challenges.

How resilient are you? How do you know?


Reference: Pemberton, C (2017) Resilience Coaching: Rebuilding Resilience When It’s A Crash, Not A Wobble. International Coach Federation Conference. Washington, DC.

The Leadership Gift of Solitude

“We live, in fact, in an age starved for solitude.”
C.S. Lewis

Principal Andy Camarda of Lemon Road Elementary in Fairfax County, VA, recommended I read Kethledge and Erwin’s book, Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude. He felt it complimented our teaching about the value of silence as well as the brain research that says insight comes from quiet reflection. Talk about a match! This book takes it even deeper.

Solitude is defined by the authors as “a subjective state of mind, in which the mind, isolated from input from other minds, works through a problem on its own.” Certainly, this sounds like a key attribute of coaching. Further, they speak of the different purposes for which leaders use solitude – to find clarity, creativity, emotional balance, and moral courage. And finally, they offer the critical idea,

“Personal leadership – leading oneself – is the foundation of leading others.

And, personal leadership comes through solitude.”

By examining the solitude habits of leaders such as Dwight Eisenhower, Jane Goodall, Abraham Lincoln, Aung San Suu Kyi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pope John Paul II, the authors illustrate how leaders use solitude to be more effective.

How Leaders Use Solitude to Be More Effective

  1. Ray, one of the authors, is a federal judge. When writing opinions in difficult cases, he retreats to his barn office overlooking Lake Huron without any internet connection.
  2. Darwin Smith, CEO of Kimberly-Clark makes his biggest strategic decisions in what he calls, “tractor time.”
  3. Winston Churchill would lay bricks.
  4. Bill Gates set aside entire weeks to just go away, to read, and to reflect. These were his “think weeks.”
  5. Warren Buffet found the quietude of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska to be his place of solitude. He also offers us this quote, “Inactivity can be very intelligent behavior.”
  6. George Washington would ride his horse around Mount Vernon for hours at a time.

What About Educators?

Jim Collins, while writing the forward for the book, was also completing a study of leaders who lead K-12 schools to high results during the most difficult and adverse of circumstances to learn how they use solitude to support the demands of the work, day after day, year after year. He was interested in how these educational leaders were finding “alone time” to reflect and recharge.

He discovered one Principal who intentionally creates a “personal bubble” every morning, just sitting in her car, before heading into the building. Another person dedicates “white space” in her calendar. She makes appointments with herself for the sole purpose of solitude.

The two practices that will amplify the gifts of solitude are systematically building pockets of solitude into our life and, secondly, recognizing the unexpected opportunities for solitude and then seizing them.

How are you building daily pockets of solitude into your life?

Reference: Kethledge, R., & Erwin, M. (2017). Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Want to Increase Your Self-Awareness? Ask for Feedback.

In our earlier articles this month, the focus has been on ways to increase self-awareness through considering how your ways of thinking and responding to situations aligns with the big picture of who you are at your best, as defined by your identified values and principles and who you are in the activities of each day, a.k.a your big and little “who”. However, as Tasha Eurich, an executive coach and organizational psychologist reminds us in her book, Insight: Why We Are Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life (2017), “To be truly self-aware, we must also build on that to understand our impact: that is, how our behavior affects others.”

How does your behavior affect others? In many places, organizations turn to the 360 Assessment to compare how you see you to how others see you. One challenge with this is when it happens in a confidential manner, without revealing who is providing the feedback. We believe that feedback is critical and is best provided in open conversations where others give honest feedback, with the desire to support the person asking, in order to advance and enrich performance.

Here are four easy steps for getting feedback on how your behaviors are affecting others.

  1. Ask for feedback. You don’t have to go out and ask every person you work with to give you feedback. Rather, solicit feedback from 3 to 5 (or more) people who have your best interest at heart, have a good understanding of your current behaviors, and will be completely honest with you because they want to see you continue to grow and develop. And, if you’re wondering why three to five people, consider what Tasha Eurich in Insight (2017) says. “Feedback from one person is a perspective; feedback from two people is a pattern; but feedback from three or more people is likely to be as close to a fact as you can get.” So, let’s gather some facts. And all you have to do with the facts is think about them, not necessarily act on them. Which takes us to point #2.
  2. Set the stage and be ready to receive, reflect and respond to the feedback given. Begin with some information about your honest desire to continue to grow as a leader. Share some of your personal successes and one or two areas that are currently offering you challenges. Tell those participating that you are asking for their feedback, because you believe that they will be honest with you and because you know that they have your best interest at heart.
  3. Ask three questions and give people time to think before they respond. Ask for specifics and remember that it’s best to focus on a few things at a time, rather than asking for feedback on everything you do at work.
    1. What am I currently doing that demonstrates my skills as a leader?
    2. What are examples of growth that you observed in me since we began working together?
    3. What is one thing, if I did it at an improved level, that would have a positive impact on my work and my performance?

    As people share, remember to listen with the intent to understand. Take notes. There is no need to defend yourself, or to interrupt as they are talking. Just presume positive intent on the part of each person giving feedback and stay neutral as you gather the feedback.

  4. Thank the participants and share how the feedback has been helpful. Share some first steps that you plan to take. If you are not ready to share specific steps, be sure to get back to the individuals at a later time to share how you are using the feedback.

Gathering feedback from others on an ongoing basis indicates your complete desire to increase your levels of self-awareness as does your ongoing reflections about your big and little “who”. And, remember what Emerson said, “To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.”