Friday, March 4, 2016


The last few months have brought an unprecedented amount of work into my life. Great work, engaging and interesting work. But, after three weeks of working day and night, I found myself dreaming of rest and ease and all those things we are referring to when we talk about work/life balance.

Work/life balance is like the holy grail; we talk about it, we declare our intentions to have more of it, we chase it like a wayward balloon until the wind carries it forever beyond our grasp.

I’ve heard people say “give up on work/life balance. It is not achievable. Stop torturing yourself.” And while I am always an advocate of not torturing oneself, I am definitely not about to give up on work/life balance.

The key is to understand the meaning of balance. Balance is a fluid process not a static state. It is an action.

So after three weeks of nonstop work, I started tipping the scales in the other direction. I started the week with a vacation day. That’s right, I took Monday off and went to a spa in Calistoga. I swam and read fashion magazines and otherwise thumbed my nose at the “busy-ness” of my life. It felt great.

And now it’s Friday and I am working in the café at my gym. Sure, I’m working, but at the gym, in my exercise clothes. And soon I’ll be sweating it out in a spin class and then getting into a sauna. So today work feels a little bit more like athletic play.

Next week things may swing back the other direction. But that’s ok. Because before too long, I will swing them back: up and down, back and forth, just like a seesaw or those antique metal scales. Because I am balancing. And it is this state of flux that makes balance, like nearly every aspect of life, a journey rather than a destination.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Embodied Leadership

Leadership is such a potent word, such an inspiring word, and—in its overuse—such a diluted word.

The word itself didn’t appear in English until 1821 with the combining of leader and ship. Thus the word joins setting direction with its vehicle of movement—a guide carrying others forth. It is a powerful concept and one that really calls forth the best in those who practice it.

Years of practicing yoga, and studying the connection between body and mind, has led me to focus on the embodiment of leadership. And years of coaching leaders has helped me discern that the single most important element of embodied leadership is integrity.

Integrity is another potent word. It has its roots in the latin word integer meaning undivided or whole. While the word integrity has come to be primarily associated with honesty, I find its earliest meaning to be a more useful guide.

The most effective leaders, the most inspiring leaders, the most enduring leaders are those who lead from a place of wholeness, from their whole selves. This means they are honest, self-reflective, thoughtful, consistent; they are aligned with themselves and through that alignment comes strength the same way the human body is strongest and most agile when its skeletal structure is straight.

Leadership asks a great deal of us. It necessitates ongoing reflection and growth. But its rewards are prodigious.

The accomplishments of one will never rival the accomplishments of many. And it is leadership that carries these accomplishments forth.   

For all the leaders in the world, thank you for your contributions. It has been an honor to support you all of these years. I look forward to supporting you many more. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Creating Engaged and Effective Teams

Team engagement is a common rallying cry in leadership and organizational development circles. But there is often disagreement regarding the precise team engagement formula. This is because, in my experience, there is not any one team engagement formula but rather a number of critical variables.

In Teamwork, Larson’s and LaFasto’s book about the critical elements of effectively functioning teams, they identify the eight variables:
1.     Clear-elevated goal
2.     Results-driven structure
3.     Competent team members
4.     Unified commitment
5.     Collaborative climate
6.     Standards of excellence
7.     External support and recognition
8.     Principled leadership

These elements are the what of engaged and effective teams. But the how is a little more nuanced. There is no one size fits all method or practice to create or enhance these eight elements in your team. But through inquiry, evaluation and focused attention, it is possible to improve any or all of them.

If you are interested in improving team engagement and efficacy to advance team outcomes, please contact me for an assessment and strategic game plan.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Best Practices for Leadership and Life: Clearing Out the Old and Making Way for the New

With the turning of the year, our thoughts usually turn toward annual goal setting, to establishing financial, client or project targets. But more than a decade of experience with coaching leaders and consulting in organizations has taught me that before creating the new, it is critical to clear out the old.  

The reason is simple. Over time, things build up. They build up on our desks, in our inboxes, in our practices and processes, and most of all they build up in our teams. Like plaque­—which settles and hardens on the surface of our teeth and, if left to its own devises can result in a cavity—individual and organizational build-up is initially benign, but if left uncleared, eventually has a detrimental impact on the entire ecosystem.

Following are some easy to recognize markers of old build up and residue that needs clearing:

  • Every time you think about or encounter it, you say to yourself, “I should really do something about….”

Yes, you should. Usually the “doing something about” takes somewhere between 15 to 45 minutes. But the amount of time and energy you spend thinking about “doing something about it” can take hours or more over the course of a months. And that time is only ever wasted.

  • It is an activity you engage in frequently, and yet every time it is unnecessarily complex or cumbersome. Often you think, “someone should do something about this…”

Flex your leadership muscle. Assign someone on your team to look into getting it addressed, or pick up the phone and call someone involved in the process who has the power to correct it and help them understand what impact it’s inefficiency is having on the rest of the organization. If it is an internal process or procedure, and it is wasting the team’s time overall, then get a work group together to assess the situation and make recommendations.

  • Often, when the team gets together there is friction, or tension, or even an unspoken resistance to working together. There is no overt conflict, so everyone, including you, pretends that everything is fine...

Tension, distrust, disengagement is one of the most expensive problems leaders and organizations have. Since there is not an obvious dollar amount to the dis-ease, it often is avoided or otherwise left alone. Consider this: Gallup puts the cost of interpersonal tension and lack of team cohesion at 34¢ on every payroll dollar. And this is only the negative costs of the problem. What about the missed opportunity costs, all those collaborations and innovations that did not occur because the team is poorly aligned?

One of the most effective ways to clear out old baggage and rebuild and align the team, is to bring in a professional facilitator and take the team through a team alignment, visioning and performance process. The benefits of such a process are evident in all aspects of the team from improved relationships to increased productivity.

By taking the time to clear out the old, you will not only make space for the new but also ensure the health and vitality of the team and larger organizational system.

Friday, December 19, 2014

“Yes, Thank You, And:” A Powerful Practice for Leadership and Life

This afternoon, as we slip headlong into winter, I find myself in southern Baja or Baja California Sur, the southern tip of the peninsula originally part of Las Californias, which included the Baja peninsula and the upper mainland territories including California, Arizona and Wyoming. Las Californias were most likely named after a mythical land described in a 16th century Spanish romance novel. In the novel, California is an island inhabited by women and ruled by queen Calafia. The peninsula may have been mistaken for an island and the population of cardón cactus, the largest cactus in the world, may have been mistaken for its female warrior inhabitants.

To the west of me are the Sierra de la Laguna mountains—a tropical dry forest with salmon colored earth and green scrub pine, cactus and mesquite trees. To the east are the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez. But what is most extraordinary about this moment, beyond its immense beauty, is how I came to be here. It is the result of a practice that I call “yes, thank you, and.” Or to put it another way: acknowledgement, gratitude and invitation.

I learned this practice in a number of contexts, through coaching, through meditation, and again more recently, in conversation with a wise colleague and mentor. The practice is so simple, so effortless—almost deceptively so—and yet when I engage in it regularly, the most amazing shifts occur in my business and my life.

I have slowly been sharing this practice with some of my coaching clients, and they too have experienced the extraordinary power of “yes, thank you, and.” So in the spirit of the holidays, I wanted to share the practice with each of you.
  1.  YES: Acknowledge What Is Challenging

    Yes, I am short staffed.
    Yes, I am overwhelmed with the number of thing I need to get done this week.
    Yes, the organization has rejected my last two requests for additional funding, or I have lost a major client, or…you get the idea.

    2.    THANK YOU: Express Gratitude for What is Working

    I am grateful to have an incredible amount of talent and skill on my team.
    I am thrilled to have such an interesting and demanding position.
    I am grateful for the number of creative solutions generated in response to this financially challenging time.

    3.    AND: Ask for What it is You Want More of

    I’d like to have more support from my team in accomplishing _______.
    I’d like to be able to come home earlier a few evenings a week to have dinner with my family.
    I would like to transform my department’s or company’s financial situation so that we can _______.

    4.    Spread the Word

    Tell others what you are trying to create. Ask for support. Focus your energy and effort in affecting this change. When everything and everyone is aligned in the same direction, there can only be one outcome: the one that you want. 
In my own example of creating this wondrous winter vacation, I started with the acknowledgement that a dear friend had just died and moving into the holidays was engendering an even greater level of grief and loss. Then I expressed gratitude for her friendship, for all the amazing friends in my life. Then I asked that my winter holidays be filled with time with friends and, if possible, a warm body of water. The next few weeks I told all my friends how much I loved them and asked what they were doing for the holidays. Then, quite suddenly, I got an invitation to spend a week in Cabo Pulmo with an old friend and her entire family.  And what a lovely vacation it has been.

You will notice that what is missing in this practice (and from my personal example) is complaining, nay-saying, criticism, resentment, apathy and disbelief. These absences are as important as the steps outlined above. We all go through challenging experiences, personally and professionally. What matters is that we acknowledge what is, express gratitude for all we have, and ask for more of what we want.

Complaining and negative thinking are part of the human condition. But they do not advance our personal or professional lives. On the other hand, “yes, thank you, and,” can bring about wondrous shifts in our experience. Give yourself a gift this holiday season and make this practice your own.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Transformational Leadership Practice

Leadership is not only about influencing the behavior of others, it is about aligning your own purpose and focus to achieve impactful results.

To this end, there is one simple leadership practice that is absolutely critical: “reflection in action.”

After spending the last few weeks coaching a number of leaders in various roles and sectors, I was struck by the commonality of each of their needs. “I just need time to step back and think more strategically,” was the refrain I heard over and over again.

It seems simple enough: give yourself some quiet, focused time to think and strategize. Certainly research identifies reflection as a critical practice for successful leaders. Schon, a leadership scholar, defines “reflection-in-action” as a process that consists of developing strategies of action, understanding phenomena, framing and reframing situations encountered in day-to-day experience. Something truly effective leaders actively engage in.

At its root, reflection requires time. And here is the rub. Who has the time? The answer is of course that we all have the same 24 hours in a day. It is how we use it, what we attend to, that makes or breaks us. If sleep was optional, there are some who would skip it. They would of course get seriously injured or ill, but they would have a few extra hours over the rest of us. Reflection is like sleep in its criticality. Unlike sleep, it is optional. But without it, we often find ourselves on the reactive rather than proactive side of the equation. We can certainly survive. The question is, will we thrive?

To be an effective leader, to be a strategic leader, we need to carve out some time each day, or, at a minimum, each week to take stock of things, to look out toward the horizon, to anticipate what’s coming and make preparations, to define where we are going and forge the path ahead.