The Most Excellent You: How to Get the Advice You Really Need

Feedback is:

    • Evaluative
    • Focused on past performance
    • Often linked with compensation/grading
    • Historical
    • Influenced by in-the-moment impressions and feeling

Feed-forward is:

  • Coaching-oriented
  • Aimed at helping, supporting
  • Future-focused
  • Focuses on improving results/performance
  • Provides guidance, pointers, tips

Most of us want to become more effective, more successful as professionals.

What areas are you open to receiving guidance about, tips and pointers?

Any forward-looking advice that would help make you better, from the superficial to the profound. Examples:

– Your hairstyle

– Your dress choices for work

– How you sign off in e-mails

– How your outgoing voicemail message sounds

– How you greet colleagues, senior people – e.g. handshake, hug, kiss, etc.

– Whether you use people’s first names too much, too little

– How much you disclose about your personal life

– Your spelling, punctuation, and grammar

– Your tone of voice in meetings

– How much / how little you say in meetings

– How direct and concise you typically are

– Your ability to read political situations and get along with most people

– Your strategic thinking and offering of suggestions for approaches/tactics

How do we get better? Who can we turn to for help, guidance, tips, suggestions, to point us in the right directions?

Who could give you this sort of guidance?

“Think about people – teachers, coaches, former colleagues – who you could have a chat for 30-40 minutes.”

They could be anywhere in the world right now. Use Skype. Send them an e-mail, schedule a chat.

The question you might ask these ad hoc coaches and mentors:

“I want to get to the XYZ level in my career. How do you think I can get there? What do I need to work on? What do you think my blind spots might be? When you’ve seen people succeed in this area against the odds, what have they done that others haven’t? When you’ve seen people fail when they were expected to succeed, how do you think they got in their own way, how did they trip themselves up?


Mending Your Ways to Contribute a Verse: Whitman and Mindfulness

97r/36/vica/8084/03Walt Whitman’s poem “O Me! O Life!” throws out numerous challenges to its readers, particularly people in business who have endured thousands of hours traveling to and from work in cars, buses, trains and planes. And those who have spent even more hours than that working in offices surrounded by unwise and unskillful people.

The challenge Whitman poses is how well do we really know ourselves? With as much humility as possible are we open to new discoveries about ourselves? After all this time and toil, who have we become? But also — more hopefully — what are we still capable of becoming? How can we fulfil our potential?

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Paraphrasing the meditation teacher Jack Kornfield: The challenge of our lives is continuously turning our internal compass toward true north; turning toward compassion.

Listen to your heart. Listen out for your own particular gifts and capacities, Kornfield advises. Listen to the cycles of your life for what it is time to do now with what you have been given. Bring your heart and your whole being into the present and respond to what is in front of you.
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Avoiding The Self-Improvement Trap

The harsh critic that lives inside many of us is often interested in masochistic projects called “self-improvement” that it’s never satisfied with. But this can be counter-productive, resulting in you getting more stuck and feeling even more deficient, Bob Stahl writes.

To be sure, it can be helpful to seek psychotherapy and other health-promoting activities when you need support. But you can also become overwhelmed with the idea that every one of your imperfections should be fixed with workshops, new therapies, a better diet, and an intensified exercise program. In some ways, it’s similar to always striving for more money or more things.

Continuously striving to be a better person can fill up a lifetime yet never be fulfilled.
In such a state, the mind doesn’t live in the present moment, which is the only place we can experience love, peace, and happiness. This can be akin to searching for your camera to preserve an experience that you end up missing because you’re searching for the camera.

Your highly judgmental mind can always find something that isn’t quite right. We tend to get the standards by which we judge ourselves by looking around and comparing ourselves to others. But if you consider how many billions of people there are on this planet, you can see that this is a no-win proposition. There will always be someone thinner, fitter, nicer, more accomplished, more attractive, etc.

This is like a military strategy based on the idea that war can create peace – that if you can blast the inadequate self to smithereens, or maybe just threaten to do so, you will finally feel okay and have peace.
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Bullying Collides with the Connection Economy, Creating Collateral Damage

It seems that bullies are increasingly in the news, all the way up to the White House.

Seth Godin makes a compelling case for reigning in bullying behavior in a recent blog entry. Some excerpts:

War-like domination

…The zero-sum game of world domination or even of the gridiron seems to reward the selfish, war-like domination that the bully embraces. But in the connection economy, the world of our future, it’s pretty clear that we’re not playing a zero-sum game, and the hawkish win-at-all-costs behavior of the bully is actually a significant cost, not an asset.
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Being at Peace with the Pain of Others: Compassionate Listening

listening woman photoRick Hanson notes that we humans are an empathic, compassionate, and loving species, so it is natural to feel sad, worried, or fiery about the troubles and pain of other people.

“…How do you find that sweet spot in which you are open, caring, and brave enough to let others land in your heart . . . while also staying balanced, centered, and at peace in your core?

…Let the pain of the other person wash through you, Rick advises. Don’t resist it. Opening your heart, finding compassion – the sincere wish that someone not suffer – will lift and fuel you to bear the other’s pain. We long to feel received by others; turn it around: your openness to another person, your willingness to be moved, is one of the greatest gifts you can offer.
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Is There Comfort In Knowing That Cruelty Is Nothing New?

A provocative view of how Stoical Philosophy might help us deal with current struggles, by John Sellars:

“Much has been written about the Stoic idea of premeditation on future evils: Pre-rehearse potential bad events so that if they come you are better prepared to deal with them and, if they don’t, be all the more grateful for your good fortune. But what about past evils? Is there anything to be gained from reflecting on evils that have already happened?

“…In the early 1600s, Justus Lipsius wrote that the public evils then afflicting people were, when put into an appropriate historical context, neither especially grievous nor unusual… He recounted the death tolls of ancient wars involving Jews: 20,000 died at Caesarea, 13,000 at Scythopolis, 2,500 at Ascalon, 2,000 at Ptolomais, 50,000 at Alexandria, 10,000 at Damascus…

“…Public evils are constant features of history and so we should not be surprised to find them in our own time. Indeed, it would be truly miraculous if our own time were exempt from such events.

Our natural sympathy is for those closest at hand but, according to David Hume, this is a distortion that we must overcome when making moral judgements.

“…Lipsius aimed to show that moral distance can distort our perception of public evils, making our own immediate troubles appear much more significant than they actually are. If we step back and consider those evils within a wider historical context we shall see that in fact they are neither especially grievous nor unusual.”

“…Among contemporary generations, “the Holocaust has come to be seen as the archetypal example of public evil, and for good reason. Reflecting on horrific events from the past such as the Holocaust is important for a number of obvious and well-known reasons: some things should never be forgotten. For Lipsius this sort of reflection on past evils can also be a chilling way to put our current troubles into stark perspective.

Link to John Sellars’ article:


Thanksgiving: It Works Around the Boardroom Table Too – Gratitude

Gratitude isn’t just for the dinner table anymore
Try it with your colleagues — whether you bring in pumpkin spice lattes and cranberry cupcakes for the meeting or not.

People get over the slight discomfort pretty quickly and soon realize that showing gratitude and appreciation isn’t specifically a religious act – it’s a human act that resonates with almost everyone.

As usual, the leader should go first, with a brief, bright and tight, well-though-out 60 seconds of key contributions from the team she or he is thankful for. Ideally someone else has been primed to go second – it doesn’t have to be the next in the chain of command; it can be a trusted assistant or a friendly colleague. And from there it’s pretty much automatic – everyone goes for 30 to 60 seconds.

Nothing grandiose is required – just sincerity and — ideally — some specificity. For example “I am so appreciative that Dana and Jason pitched in on that short-notice deadline we were given by Client XYZ” works very nicely. By contrast, “I just love all you guys – I’m so blessed” is rather too general and invites some cynicism.

But what’s the point of all this appreciative effort – is it worth it? In a word, yes. Here’s some more information.
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Have you been drinking Hate-orade?

hatoradeMy kids brought this home the other day. I love it. It’s a provocative but playful response to the casual and unnecessary cruelty that human beings inflict on each other, especially teenagers. Try it. It won’t work on everyone, but it might make an accidental bully become a bit more empathic – and we can all be accidental bullies sometimes.

What I particularly like is the question neutralizes the blame game and externalizes in a comical way the source of the problem. It’s not that this person is permanently horrible, nasty or despicable. It’s simply a case of him or her having ingested a toxic substance – Hate-orade!
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You Don’t Know My Story! The Fundamentals of Empathy

You_Don't_Know_My_Story_TshirtIt’s become a running joke in our family. Whenever anyone makes a critical remark, a negative judgment of someone we don’t know personally, our 18 year-old son loves to sneer and exclaim (somewhat mockingly, in a way only teenagers can) “You don’t know his story!”

And you know what? Almost always he’s right. We don’t know enough about the person’s background, their challenges, their family of origin issues, the burdens they have to bear.

We don’t really know what kind of “moccasins” they are walking in, let alone have tried walking in them ourselves.

The roots of empathy grow by learning the stories of anyone important in your life, anyone you need to get along with, anyone you have to collaborate with in your work, by choice or otherwise. This includes neighbors, colleagues, people in front of you at the post office.

It brings to mind a couple of useful quotations. The first a paraphrased version originally by Scottish theologian Ian Maclaren (1850 to 1907):

“Be as compassionate as you can be because nearly everyone you meet is involved in some kind of struggle.”

And the second by American botanist George Washington Carver:

“How far you go in life depends on your being compassionate with the young, the aged, the striving, and the weak. Because, someday you will have been all of these things.”

How would you react to someone wearing a t-shirt with “You Don’t Know My Story!” on it? Or what about someone driving a car with the same slogan on a bumper sticker? What if they had just cut you off (possibly) by accident?


Continuous Compassionate Criticism: At the Heart of Coaching

When you make a mistake in typing or in spelling, it’s good that an icon doesn’t flash all over your screen with a green monster sticking its tongue out and screaming at you that you’re a total idiot. Those kinds of frequent attacks on your self-esteem are unlikely to motivate you to produce more and increase the quality of your work. It’s an overwhelming, debilitating form of feedback.


However the opposite of this is also a problem. Most people can merrily type away while their word processing program automatically fixes mistakes that the person never realises he made. This is not blissful ignorance. This is the kind of cluelessness that leads to arrogance and complacency.

To stay on top of our game, and especially to get better at what we want to be excellent at – we need continuous compassionate criticism. It’s hard to find sources for that, but absolutely essential.

A key reason great athletes become great, stay great and get even better is that they have an insatiable appetite for improvement. They are highly receptive to feedback and being challenged. They believe in themselves and their pervasive superiority over their competitors but they are almost always open to improving and recognising what they are doing now might not be optimal.

This is less true in the case of top-level executives. Most I have worked with and know about are hyper-sensitive about criticism. They are thin-skinned and they avoid it. That may be an important reason that the average time at the top for a chief executive in most developed countries is about 3.5 years. Eventually all those blind spots and delusions of superiority (and even infallibility) catch up with these arrogant executives and they are deposed.

The art of the coach is to deliver this continuous compassionate criticism in a highly individualised way; tailoring the feedback and leavening it with humor and warmth so that the athlete – and ideally the top business leader – can receive it willingly, hear it fully, internalise it completely and put the improvement into action consistently.

Topics: The art of coaching, resilience, focus, discipline, compassionate criticism


Creating Peace Takes Passion and Empathy: British Leader Tony Blair

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been reflecting on his years in government and the key skills required to reduce conflict and make peace.
tony_blairThis is from an essay he wrote recently, published in The Guardian newspaper:

…The personal relationships that are built during the course of making peace matter enormously. Again this is obvious, but frequently missed. Part of the problem in these situations – which I witness continually in my work in the Middle East today – is that to bring people together you have to understand in a genuine sense why they feel as strongly as they do. This is not a matter of reason but of emotion.

In a conflict there is suffering of a nature and on a scale that we from the outside can scarcely appreciate, because it is not within our experience. Each side has a sense of pain and of cruel consequence from the other side’s actions. They need to know that those mediating get this feeling, not at a rational but at an empathetic level. In getting it, the mediator is then able to pass something of the pain of each side to the other. Especially where there has been violence over a prolonged period, and in conflict the violence often either falls or is even directed at the innocent, being able to articulate the sense of hurt and know that the other side has been forced at least to confront it, is a powerful way of opening up the dialogue that can lead to peace.


Two Good Listeners: What Happens When They Sit Down to Talk?


To be a fly on the wall when Barack Obama sat down with the Dalai Lama. Both legendarily good listeners. Both committed to empathic leadership. Certainly one imagines that the president was on his very best behavior and that the Tibetan leader is always in the patient-compassionate zone. What exactly happened? Who spoke more? Was it a completely equal?

There’s a well-worn piece of advice about listening – because we have two ears but only one mouth we should spend twice as much time listening as talking. But naturally the question arises: What about when both people are listening twice as much as they are talking. In a 60 minute meeting that means person A could speak for 15 minute and listen for 30 minutes. Person B could do the same. That leaves what? Thirty minutes of silence. Probably not 30 minutes in a row of silence but each minute of talking surrounded by 60 seconds of quietude. Time for appreciation of each other’s point of view, the constraints and challenges each side faces. Time to breathe. Time to really connect to each other’s faces, really see into each other’s eyes. Time for discernment and wonder.

The Dalai Lama is certainly comfortable with silence. Perhaps the president is too, considering he has been sending his children to a Quaker school.

The next time we meet with someone important in our lives, might we honor the other with a connection that can often be more profound than words?