by renita kalhorn

matilda 2

“How dare they cancel at the last minute? They’re supposed to give you 24 hours notice. Your time is valuable. How dare they waste your time, you could have scheduled 10 different things instead, your time is valuable, you know…”

Aargh, that’s what the yammering voice in my head sounds like when it gets on a roll. Around and around it goes in this endless loop luring me with the promise that eventually it’ll come to some kind of conclusion. After falling for that one more often than Charlie Brown fell for Lucy holding the football, I finally realized there was no end to the endless loop.

My rational mind, of course, understands that thoughts aren’t real. That it’s just my ego mind producing an endless stream of commentary — opinions, complaints, justifications, criticisms — like bubbles from a bubble blower. Still, the thoughts ring awfully true, they seem to know exactly what my insecurities are and the emotions they trigger definitely feel real.

One day, when the chatter reached a fever pitch, I desperately needed relief, some peace and quiet. So I decided to give my ego mind a whole different persona. I named her Matilda and found the perfect mascot…one that that would remind me that the ego may be misguided but it’s not evil. One that I couldn’t take too seriously.

This did two things: 1) it helped me take a step back from my thoughts so it was easier not to get caught up in believing they were true and 2) it gave me a sense of control. Now instead of identifying with the self-talk, I immediately recognize it as Matilda and have conversations with her, gently but firmly, like I might with a child. So I:

         Acknowledge her. She earnestly wants to help and resisting just makes her more insistent. “Thanks for sharing, Matilda, I appreciate the input.”

         Negotiate. When you start to change your behavior and leave behind old beliefs and coping mechanisms, the ego mind is afraid you’re going to leave them behind too (that’s why they’re always creating drama). “Hey, don’t worry, I’m taking you along on this journey. There are going to be some changes but they’ll benefit you too, I promise.”

         Set boundaries. “Okay, Matilda, got it. I need to focus on my work now. Can we talk about this later?”

         Call her out. It doesn’t matter how positive your circumstances, the ego mind will always find something to fret about. Matilda had been quite vocal in her concern about a client deal and when it came through, I swear, she was quiet for a moment, as if to regroup, and then launched into a tirade about something else. So busted. “Really, Matilda? Really?”

We’re not trying to get rid of ego mind – after all, it’s what gives us our distinct personality traits, habits and preferences. But it’s not the one in charge. You, your true core self, is. Remember that.

stick or twist?


by pamela welling

Fortune cookie

Mick Jagger strikes me as the kind of guy who’s got it all figured out. In fact it’s likely you have the same opinion; the Stones have rolled past their 50th anniversary milestone and Jagger & co. continue to pull in the pay days and professional respect of peers despite being the right age for the rock n’ roll retirement home.

From the outside it looks like Jagger had this long term career path planned the whole time. Of course, the reality is quite different and reading an old 1980’s interview with David Bowie recently reminded me of this. At the time, Bowie and Jagger were collaborating on the old Martha and The Vandella’s hit, ‘Dancing in the Street’ as Jagger tried hard to distance himself from his own back catalogue and craft a new image away from his band mates. Jagger’s attempts to be seen as a stand alone solo artist were stalling, and Bowie noted that his frustration with being tied to the Stones and perceived inability to launch his own projects brought Jagger to tears on more than one occasion.

So it begs the question; When it comes to career planning, how do we figure out if it’s better to stick or twist?

There are many examples of long established careers with deep expertise in one area and The Stones are the pinnacle of this in the public eye. As I think about their success and tenure I can’t help but reflect on the projects, plans and career paths I’ve deviated from in an attempt to shake things up in my own professional life. I find myself wondering how things may have panned out differently had I chosen to stick with some of them- maybe I could have made it as the next big fortune cookie writer! However, in the current economic environment we are all being urged to diversify, blend, adapt and above all else be flexible and open to new paths and experiences. Confusing? I think yes, and even the greatest professionals experience the dynamic tension between growing and twisting vs. deepening and sticking.

There are a many different tricks and tools that can be put to good effect to help with this conundrum and as a first step, I recommend that my clients put names and numbers to some of their decisions points to help them get clarity. Here are a few questions that should help you get closer to the information you’ll need to make an informed choice:

Have you fallen into the passion pit?  How many times have you sat at the bar with your friend the designer/writer/scientist/armpit sniffer/researcher/teacher and walked away feeling so incredibly enthused by the tales of their professional high jinx that you are ready to call your boss and give your two weeks? It happens to us all, even when we are in jobs we like (maybe even love). One of the biggest challenges my clients face when it comes to researching a new job is separating their friend’s love for what they do with hard data on whether it would be right for them. An easy fix is to write down three things you know your new gig must have before sitting down to talk to others about what they do. At the end of the meeting pull out your list and rate on a scale of 1-10 how closely the new gig would map on to those three decision points, with 10 being a perfect fit. If you hit a score of 5 or less on two of the three areas then beware- you’re falling in love with her passion, not with her gig at the deodorant testing lab.

Are you doing it just because it is cool? We all feel tremendous pressure to go towards things that are Sexy Right Now (big data, anyone?) It is the same pressure Jagger was likely feeling back in the 80’s when every successful front man from David Lee Roth to Morrissey were jumping ship to launch solo careers and cast off associations with their previous band mates.  As you think about a twist, use your personal board of directors to help you cut the signals you should be listening too from the noise that surrounds you so that you don’t lose sight of the career elements that will continue to bring you joy despite what the cool kids think.

Does it really have to be a total twist? I’ve worked with many coaching clients who have been ready to walk out on their high paying corporate gig to go and write their Life Story from the beach in Hawaii- in fact I have one coachee doing exactly that, successfully, right now- it can be done and for my client it was absolutely the right move for her. But to figure out if it’s right for you the first challenge is understanding exactly what is driving your desire to change- is it really time to pivot, or is it a case of office culture gone bad and a toxic boss to boot that’s got you dreaming of the beach? If it’s the latter, twist company but stick with your title and career content.

These questions are a good start to help you get clarity on whether you should stay put or make the jump. But remember, despite our best efforts not all changes happen. Jagger failed to create a long lasting solo career and identity away from the Stones, but it all worked out for him in the end, and as you chew over your stats and decision points, here’s a look at what things might have looked like if Mick really had made a break, enjoy (warning: explicit language!):

happiness training


by renita kalhorn

happiness training

Recently, I was talking with an app developer and congratulating him for having hundreds of thousands of users. “No,” he said, shaking his head, “it doesn’t mean anything until you have a million users.”

“Really?” I said, thinking I’d be pretty psyched if I had that many people on my mailing list. “But, in the meantime, you can be happy with the hundreds of thousands of users you have now.” He was not convinced.

Ha, it’s easy to tell others they should be happy where they are. And it was a good reminder that happiness is a skill  — you can’t convince someone that they are happy any more than you can convince them that they play the violin or tennis.

What I’m starting to really get is that, like any skill, happiness takes practice. If we haven’t practiced how to be happy (i.e. appreciate) where we are now, we’re not going to suddenly and magically know how to be happy when we get the millions of followers/big-time clients/dream job/physical fitness/relationship or whatever else we think might bestow instant happiness.

In fact, if our usual mode is relentless striving and wanting what’s “over there,” we’re essentially training ourselves to always feel lack, scarcity and not-enoughness.


As top performers, we might equate happiness with complacency, as in: “Yeah, but if I’m happy now, the powers-that-be will think I’m satisfied with what I have and I won’t get what I really want.” Or “If I’m happy now (in this lowly place of not having achieved my goal), I’ll lose my drive and motivation to change.” What I started to understand is: one, appreciation of what you already have takes you to a different place, mentally and energetically, where you can see opportunity you wouldn’t have from your place of dissatisfaction.

Two, appreciating what you have doesn’t have to negate the desire for more. In fact, the ideal stance is “happy where I am and looking forward to what’s coming.” Because, if you’re like me, as soon as you reach a goal, you enjoy it for a bit and then your focus shifts to something else – so if you don’t savor the journey to the goal and the satisfaction of reaching the goal is fleeting, then where does that leave you?!

Still, I was holding onto the idea that there must be some particular circumstance that would just be so amazing that it would automatically mean happiness. Then I read this anecdote by Russell Simmons about his brother Run DMC who achieved what he thought would be his dream existence and found it wasn’t enough. Run was sitting in the tub, in one of the most expensive hotels in LA, with a plate of pancakes in one hand and a joint in the other while getting his hair trimmed by his personal barber. He had just finished looking at the latest Rolling Stone featuring Run DMC on the cover.

The phone next to the hot tub rang (groupie!) and, lunging to answer it, Run accidentally ashed his joint onto his pancakes. When he tried to brush the ashes off the pancakes, he knocked bits of hair into the syrup. He then tried to pick the hair out of the syrup, but since he was high, he ended up knocking the entire plate into the water. Instead of feeling on top of the world, he felt disgusted and out of control.

A pretty vivid argument for happiness as a state of being, not circumstances, don’t you think?


So, it’s that “choosing happiness as a a state of being” thing that takes practice and it starts with focusing on the process not an outcome. It means: training yourself to make peace with where you are, accepting that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. (Never mind that our culture views acceptance as a weakness. You’re accepting where you are in this moment, not that you can’t change it going forward.) It means: shifting from thinking “why is this taking so long” to seeing the journey itself as the goal. Reframing it as mastery means there’s no finish line.

It means: using imagination and curiosity to find intrinsic satisfaction in whatever you’re doing. Daniel Chambliss says in Champions: The Making of Olympic Swimmers: “The very features of the sport that the “C” swimmer finds unpleasant, the top-level swimmer enjoys. What others see as boring — swimming back and forth over a black line for two hours, say, they find peaceful, even meditative, often challenging, or therapeutic.”

Bottom line: You can be happy anytime if you’re enjoying the process. Training yourself to do that is…part of the process.

by pamela welling

dave grohl

Recently I was reading about a leader who I deeply admire (or is that secretly begrudge…..I can’t decide). He’s had an amazingly successful and seemingly effortless 20 year career in two game changing global enterprises. He’s worked across industries in a series of leadership roles and indulges passion projects alongside his day job. He has an indefatigable energy that draws some of the heaviest hitters you can think of to collaborate with him and to top it all he is happily married with two healthy little girls. Wondering who this bastion of fabulousness is? Sir Terry Leahy, Rich Zannino, Bill Gates? All good guesses, but no. His name is Dave Grohl. For those of you unfamiliar, let me introduce you to the leadership force that is Dave Grohl: That game changing, stunningly successful global career spans the music and film industry (if you haven’t seen the documentary Sound City, run to Netflix and download it now). Those heavy hitters? Sir Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Stevie Nicks. Those roles? Band leader, documentarian, singer-songwriter, activist, father and husband.

Everything seems to have come so easily and early to Dave Grohl. He first found international acclaim at the age of 23. He’s performed in two critically acclaimed and commercially successful bands and if you happen to come across an interview with him, you’d likely conclude that he’s one of the most well adjusted rock stars around, never easy in the fickle world of music or glare of the public eye. He seems exceptionally happy in what he does and here’s the rub- he seems to be having an awful lot of fun doing it.

Like most people, I assumed that Grohl is having the time of his life because, well- he is. He is a successful rock star, has the ability to reach to some of the biggest names in his field for mentorship, he has a sound marriage and stay at home wife in addition to a 1% level of financial stability. Any of us with that amount of resource would find life dead easy, right? And that’s about as deeply as I had thought about things until I read a Rolling Stone interview with Grohl and subsequently had the blinding epiphany that his road has been anything but. Dave Grohl has rebounded from the kind of bone shattering tragedy that would leave most of us running for the hills… or at least our duvets. It seems, in the words of Martin Seligman, that Grohl has experienced post-traumatic growth. Most of us have heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD- a type of  psychological injury caused by exposure to extreme stress and trauma. Fewer of us are aware of Post Traumatic Growth, defined by Seligman and his positive psych colleagues as the ability to turn exposure to difficult events into catalysts for positive change and improved performance- a process that Dave Grohl seems to have mastered.

According to researchers, the most important components in our ability to do this are optimism and resilience and Dave Grohl apparently has optimism and resilience in spades. Firstly, despite becoming famous overnight with Nirvana, he kept perspective. He was able to stay away from the coping mechanisms of drugs and alcohol that most artists struggle with when launched into the public eye; Grohl quit drugs at 20 despite working with bandmates with heavy drug habits. He was able to stay confident and grounded despite the extreme personalities that surrounded him during his time in the band and most importantly he was able to rebound from that tragedy- the suicide of his friend and bandmate, Kurt Cobain, the subsequent disbanding of Nirvana and the professional loss that went alongside his personal loss. All of this before the age of 25. Not only did Grohl navigate through, he went on to build a second career with the commercially and critically successful Foo Fighters, and the happy home life and passion projects I mentioned earlier. Lightening can strike twice if Grohl’s experience is anything to go by and it seems we can have more of a hand than we realize in positioning the rod for that double strike if we have optimism and resilience. Luckily- those are two traits we can build with a little practice.  Let’s look at what we can learn from Dave:

1. Cultivate your own passions- Dave Grohl was the drummer not lead singer or songwriter for Nirvana, but this didn’t stop him from recording his own tracks and writing music between tours and studio sessions with band. When the remaining members of Nirvana decided to disband after Cobain’s suicide, Grohl had his passion project to fall back on.

2. Maintain your network- When we think about networking we often think about it in terms of our careers, but our network of non-work friends matters most when our livelihood changes as it did for Grohl. He talks about the importance of friendships he’s had since age 13 for staying grounded, and research tells us that those long terms bonds act as anchors in challenging times.

3. Retain perspective: “There are a few ways you can look at it,” Dave Grohl told Rolling Stone of the last studio album he made with Nirvana. “You can describe it as a remarkable achievement [and you] can also remember it as a really fucked-up time.” At times it will feel like life is throwing everything including the kitchen sink at our heads; it’s up to us to figure out how hard those blows will land- keeping perspective is a good way to manage those unexpected challenges and traumas.

Finally, a trick I recommend to my coachees and you’ll find me doing in the office on a twice weekly basis; taking note of success. I recommend capturing at least three things that went well for you each week and the reason why you think those successes occurred- not only does this help with perspective setting, it’ll help you understand how you can affect positive and negative change in your own life- a key to building resilience and optimism.

As we role into the New Year, you can think about how these anchors can help you ride the waves you’ll find yourself on 2014, and if you are a not so closeted grunge rock fan like me, here’s a little Nirvana to keep that teen spirit alive and well in yourself:

by anne lueneburger

The seductive allure of extraordinary returns, be it in the form of status, money or fame, is too strong for many of us to resist. The “Ponzi scheme of perfectionism” demands ever greater circles of “more” until the nagging difference between what is and what should be has metastasized throughout our lives. And, as with any Ponzi scheme, sooner or later the drive for perfection does not weather the test of reality and collapses…

If your drive for perfectionism is causing you distress and costing you mastery, check out our most recent publication “Nobody’s Perfect” (btw, a recovering perfectionist myself, I had to laugh out loud when I sensed my frustration upon discovering a few typos that had slipped into the text as a result of the editor’s work. Overcoming perfectionism is a work in progress…):


And in this spirit, our wishes for the new year are to…

  •  embrace the thought of “ENOUGH” and focus on our strengths to be on top of our game,
  •  make room for “NARCISSISM” and re-charge our batteries on a regular basis,
  •  experiment with “FAILURE” and muster the courage to go for what we want,
  •  be in the “FLOW” and welcome serendipity,
  •  and put “PEOPLE FIRST”, prioritizing the “who” before the “what”.

 Other people matter. And so do you. Make 2014 count.

by anne lueneburger

A member of the senior management team in a thriving boutique hedge fund, Coleman was sitting across from me in one of the yellow beanbags that populate the firm’s meeting rooms. “Our people are very smart and driven. As we are growing in size, this place is becoming more political, and competitive behaviors are starting to edge out our collaborative founder spirit,” he said.

Coleman is a visionary with excellent presentation skills, and his firm had engaged me as his coach to advance his influence with internal stakeholders. Over the past year, he had ruffled feathers by pushing back too hard or had lost ground by instinctively falling back into his über-accommodating negotiation style. Not surprisingly, Coleman had found it to be nearly impossible to change based on willpower alone. Indeed, standing on their own, personal resolutions (just think New Year’s) carry a mere 8 percent chance of success!

Here are seven steps that will set you up to win:

#1: Commit yourself.


As Einstein said, nothing happens until something moves. Any form of public commitment to your change goal increases your chances of success by a factor of 10[1]. One of our clients literally put her flat on the market to shake out of her inertia and to apply for positions in geographical areas she was interested in. If you want to get out of a comfort zone that has long lost its appeal, what is the first domino you need to kick over so that the rest can follow?

#2: Make it inspiring. 

We know from fMRI studies that our brains experience change (even if positive) as being as painful as breaking bones.[2] Words such as “I should…” or “I have to…” are red flags for motivation. Only one out of every seven cardiac patients, even if faced by death, is able to follow doctor’s orders and start a healthy lifestyle. If we cannot connect needed change to who we aspire to be, we are doomed to fail.

It is the idea of realizing a dream that makes change inspiring. We often ask our clients to go through a Blue Sky Visioning exercise to define what kind of a leader they aspire to be. We also use Vision Boards (a collage of photos, pictures and words) to help clients conceptualize their “ideal life”. These exercises inform what specific action items need to follow. In this spirit: what would you like to start doing (rather what do you need to stop doing)?

#3: Focus on one or two behaviors at a time.


We all recognize this feeling of being overwhelmed. Did you know that the average senior executive engages in 139 distinct tasks every week? Each one of these tasks is made up of many smaller choices, and 50 percent of these choices are made in nine minutes or less[3]. To focus energy where it matters, Steve Jobs simplified and decided to wear a black turtleneck and jeans every day. Less is more.

Based on the research of psychologist Herbert Simon, to optimize impact we need to be “satisficers.” Different from maximizers who consider all the alternatives possible, satisficers use criteria and standards to choose and don’t worry about the possibility that there might be something better. What are the one or two behavioral changes that will get you closer to reaching your goal?

#4: Stretch yourself step by step.

In addition to limiting the number of behavioral changes we take on, we need to be mindful about the depth of behavior change. As you begin to practice a new behavior, think smaller than small. Start by taking tiny baby steps that take almost no effort and little time. As you develop confidence that you are moving in the right direction, you can create bolder experiments to further push you out of your comfort zone.

A good way to pace yourself is to ask the following questions:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, where are you today when it comes to acting in a desired way? (Let’s assume you come in at a 3).
  • Where would you like to be in an ideal world? (Say an 8).
  • Now if you were to move the needle up a notch or two (to get you to a level 4 or a 5), what specifically would that look like?
  • What are some of the things you can take on to get you there?

#5: Be specific.

When we use the abstract form of paying with a credit card, we spend an average of 15-30 percent more than when we use cash. If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count. It is not enough to state “I want to become a better listener.” Make it explicit: “Over the course of the next three months, I will aim for a 70/30 ratio of listening versus speaking, and I will ask others to hold me to it. During each of my meetings I will ask at least one open-ended question that begins with ‘what’, ‘how,’ or ‘when’. I will keep a daily log to keep track of my successes and to learn from my failures.”  Looking for metrics will keep you honest and allow you to celebrate milestones.

#6: Plan for resistance.

When Michael Phelps had a goggle malfunction during the Beijing Olympics, he still swam to a world record. How? Phelps credits his coach who had been creative in preparing the Olympian for the element of surprise, including training in pitch darkness. An integral part of successful change involves planning for rough patches.  One of my clients is fond of using a “Failure Mode & Effect Analysis”, which catalogs not only what might go wrong, but also develops responses according to both the likelihood of occurrence and the impact each scenario would have.

If you are training to be an Olympic swimmer, a goggle malfunction might not be frequent, but it could be detrimental if you don’t have a strategy for dealing with it. What will most likely cause you to fall off track? What tactics have you used successfully in the past to overcome such obstacles? And what will help you remember to practice new behavior? Layer some conscious reminders into your life via smartphones, computers or sticky notes.


And as you are moving along, don’t forget to celebrate. Our clients journal on what went well; they may give themselves a silent “Way to go!” or share their wins with others. Associating positive feedback with change glues these new habits into our brain[4].

#7: Have others at your side.


In a study of 1,000 people who were asked to gauge the likelihood of a famous person going to heaven, Mother Theresa came in highest at 79 percent (Bill Clinton got a 52 percent chance…). The only group ranked higher were the respondents themselves who rated their chance at 87 percent[5]. And the more senior we are professionally (Hello, CEOs!), the more likely we are to fall prey to an inflated self-image: we speak to our own reasoning and ignore good advice.

Make no mistake: you are the one and only CEO of your life. However, most successful change involves having a solid sounding board to back you up. Gather around you experienced, informed advisers who both support and challenge you. A strong sounding board is interested in your story, they ask courageous questions, listen carefully and share insights you can respect. Who are the people with whom you will share your change goal, and how do you want them to hold you accountable?

And how long until I will see the change take root?

…this is typically what our clients will ask us. Well, it depends. The more straightforward the change and the more motivated you are to invest in the game plan, the shorter the time to reach your goal. Assuming you practice 30 minutes a week, it will take you about three months to create a new habit[6].

You will know that you have arrived the moment you no longer need to invest deliberate energy into a new behavior and when the act of not doing it feels weird!

[1] Journal of Clinical Psychology, (December 13th, 2012).

[2] Smith, E. E., (2011, March 28th). Retrieved from

[3] Sheena I., (2012). How to make choosing easier. Ted Talk.

[4] Duhigg, Ch. (2012). The Power of Habit. New York, NY: Random House.

[5] Gino, F., (2013). Sidetracked: Why our decisions get derailed and how we can stick to the plan. Boston, MA.: Harvard Business School Publishing.

[6] Kegan, R. and Lahey, L.L. (2009). Immunity to change. Boston, MA.: Harvard Business School Publishing.

by jennifer bezoza


A great manager does many things well, including offering her people the right type of feedback to encourage, stretch and/or expand their thinking when they need it most.   Despite the common perception that positive feedback is the best motivator, research discussed in an HBR blog focuses on how both positive and negative feedback can be effective for motivating and enhancing performance, depending on the individual and her level of proficiency in a job.  The research, by Stacey Finkelstein (Columbia University) and Ayelet Fishbach (University of Chicago), dissects the function of negative and positive feedback and also when and with whom it will work best.

Positive feedback, the research shows, increases peoples’ commitment to their work, by enhancing confidence.  In contrast,  negative feedback provides valuable information on how to improve.  For individuals who are new in a job and less confident, positive feedback is likely to help one remain positive and comfortable in facing a new set of challenges.   For the seasoned expert, negative or constructive feedback is more likely to give one unexpected insight on how to make incremental improvements, and with a track record of success, one is less likely to be discouraged or offended.

For one of my  executive coaching clients, regular delivery of feedback to employees—particularly constructive feedback—has not been something that has come naturally, even as his team and responsibilities have continued to grow in size and scope over the years.  As a personal development strategy, this leader decided he wanted to incorporate a “feedback model” into regular one-on-ones with employees.

As we spoke recently, a month after setting about this new practice, I heard my client being critical of his ability to implement the feedback model consistently.  As we dug deeper, however, it became apparent that just by adding the topic of “feedback” to his agendas, he was becoming more observant of his employees in both the big and the small ways; while he may not have been executing against the feedback model in the way he envisioned, he was communicating more frequently with his team about what was and was not working, and he also was tuning into each individuals’ behaviors and results in a more nuanced way.

This also made him more reflective about the quality and quantity of feedback he was giving to each of his employees.  He noticed, for example, that he was able to give much more concrete feedback in domains where he had worked previously and to his credit, that he was spending more time with employees who were newer in their roles and dealing with detailed processes and systems that were being challenged by expedient growth in the organization.

For employees who were more experienced and high performing in their roles in functions less familiar to the leader, however, he was challenged as to how to offer value for his direct reports.  Should he gain more knowledge in this domain where he had not worked previously to offer that necessary constructive feedback? Should he bring in outside experts who can help them stretch and further refine their craft? Or should he assume the role of advisor and coach who asks forwarding questions and helps his star performer reflect on the bigger picture without judgment?

All of these are potential directions for this manager, and ones he is considering, all because he has put employee feedback on his list of reoccurring agenda items.

In closing, this experience was a good reminder that a model is purely that – it’s a template of what can work, not a prescribed approach. Relationships and conversations are just too complicated to be limited by formulas.  On the flip side, the story demonstrates how small shifts in awareness and prioritization can have profound positive results for a leader, team and the organization.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.