Life and Leadership are Team Sports

Life and Leadership are Team Sports

Fifteen years ago, my husband, Mark, volunteered to help coach our 5-year old daughter’s first soccer team when the original coach quit.  Mark has now coached every year since, first for our daughter’s teams and then for our son’s teams.  Mark never even played soccer.  He volunteered to coach because no one else stepped up.

Feedback Is Hard Work


Spencer Johnson, the author of Who Moved My Cheese, said "Integrity is telling yourself the truth. Honesty is telling the truth to other people."

A large part of my career has been spent in helping individuals, teams and organizations embrace feedback. I have found that feedback is not a favorite thing to give OR receive. Even the people who say they enjoy receiving feedback typically don't. It sounds brave and mature to say that though.

How does Webster (the true authority on meaning) define feedback?

: an annoying and unwanted sound caused by signals being returned to an electronic sound system

: helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc.

This definition made me smile. As I find myself in situations where I am either providing feedback or helping others provide feedback, or in many cases helping someone else receive feedback, I think it is often thought of as "an annoying or unwanted sound". It's somehow okay if I say something critical about myself, but I really don't want to hear you say it. Isn't that interesting? As I read the 2nd definition, I notice that it says "helpful information or criticism..." - do you think that "helpful" is meant to describe both "information" and "criticism", or even in this definition, is criticism seen as not being helpful?  Is it only information that is helpful?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions I am posing. Actually, there is no right answer - there is only your perspective.  PERSPECTIVE - that is the most powerful word to remember about feedback. When I offer someone a piece of feedback, I am offering them my perspective on something ... their idea, their process, their choice of restaurant, their taste in music, or even the way they drive. When I offer my perspective, I have no control of how it will be viewed through the recipient's perspective. Will they see it as helpful?  or as criticism?

This topic is on my mind today because I had the opportunity to share 360 survey results (feedback) with a coaching client today. It used to be that I would get pretty worked up about those sessions where I needed to help a client receive someone else's feedback. It's gotten easier and as I left the session today, I began to reflect on what was different for me these days as I work with feedback.  I always start by asking my client what they appreciate about the feedback. Most times I hear them say "I'm happy that people were honest." This isn't saying that the feedback was welcomed or easy to hear or even agreed with ... it is saying that people appreciate honesty from other people. That aligns with what Spencer Johnson says.  Honesty is telling the truth to other people. I would alter that and say honesty is telling "your truth" to other people.  It isn't very often that feedback can be actually labeled as absolute truth, but if you believe something to be true, then it is truth to you. We spent quite a bit of time today, my client and I, talking about how refreshing it is to know what someone thinks or feels. This client will now have the task of going back to each person who provided feedback and deepening the conversation, and the learning.

Here are a few key lessons I have learned about feedback:

* Begin by asking if someone is interested in another perspective. If they say no - try to honor that.

* The best feedback is both honest and honoring.

* Not everyone wants to receive feedback in the same manner. Practice the platinum rule and give unto others as they would like to be given unto.

* The sandwich principle of something good - something critical - something good  is POOR!  Everyone knows there is a stinky middle in this sandwich and it often makes them discount the positive things you wedged around the stink.

* Think of it as feedforward (Marshall Goldsmith coined this term) and make the conversation focused on a successful future instead of a failed past.

* When receiving feedback, just breathe and say thank you.  No need for reaction.

* Feedback is neutral - just like events are neutral - you are the one that attributes a negative or positive connotation to it.

* You always have a choice of what to do with feedback (when receiving).  When giving, remember that the person you are offering it to has that same choice. You can only offer it/ give it - you have zero control of the reception once the gift is given.

This was not meant to be an exhaustive list of tips about feedback (sorry that it kind of turned into a lengthy post); it was meant to be a reminder that feedback is hard. We can all improve in how we give it and how we receive it. We all have places in our lives where we need to be brave and speak our honest truth.  We all have places in our lives where we need to keep our perspectives to ourselves. I hope that this bit causes all of us to ponder which is most appropriate - speaking or refraining from speaking - knowing that there is a cost and a benefit to both of those choices.

The Importance of Looking Back

I love hockey, and every game that I really sit and watch my beloved Minnesota Wild during the play-offs, the more I fall in love with the game and am blown away by the skill and stamina of the players.

I also love and admire great leadership. Every really great leader I have had the privilege to work with has taken the time to regularly reflect and make notes about their work - their day - theirs wins - their losses. These are leaders who believe that simply having an experience does not equate being experienced. It's the extra step of examining what they did and how they did it that turns the experience into learning.

This morning, the sports section of the St Paul Pioneer Press, offered me a stunning example of how these two loves of mine have come together. Mike Yeo, coach of the Minnesota Wild, keeps a journal where he has made notes after each and every game he has coached in the NHL. The entries vary in length; sometimes they are multiple pages and sometimes they are a couple of sentences. But, he always pauses for a bit to reflect on the experience so if there are any course corrections to be made he can make them before his next experience.



This doesn't mean that the Wild will win the game tonight. It doesn't mean that the series will go longer than the 5 games that it did last year. What it does mean is that this process of intentionally looking at the games and his coaching allows Yeo to learn in a way that wouldn't be possible if he were not using this process. It also helps him see perspective and how his perspective changes with time.

I do this with many things - client work, meeting facilitation, coaching, happiness, gratitude - I LOVE using a process that provides me with an opportunity to intentionally examine my day in a way that would otherwise go completely unnoticed.  How might you use this process to increase the learning in your life?


Meet the Colonel

It's time to introduce you to the second leader from my leadership research group - please meet THE COLONEL

Colonel Blake (salute optional)

                 The colonel looks like a retired Marine colonel – tall and tough. He exudes confidence and a sense of purpose; these are qualities that I want in a leader that is leading me … somewhere, anywhere, especially when the place we are going involves change, which can be scary, uncomfortable, painful and often confusing. The Colonel, or Blake, had spent 35 years in the Marines, and 20 of those years in leadership positions. He was a master planner and executor, who taught at their leadership academies and still receives calls from the Pentagon to help them think through sticky situations. After 35 years of defending our country, he pulled the plug and became a civilian. However, work is one of his hobbies and he quickly found another job – something he just couldn’t refuse. His reputation as someone who loved a challenge was fairly widespread, which led to a phone call late one night from a high ranking government official requesting that he consider working for the state to take care of a mess in one of their departments. Without going into too much detail, what you need to know is that the state agency was comprised of about 80% female social workers.  The Colonel had never had a female on his staff – EVER!  In four years, he was able to lead a turnaround effort that was nothing short of superhuman. While the job itself was tough, the personal change required for his leadership style was equally challenging. What he learned on the battlefields of Dessert Storm proved helpful in fighting the battle to save children from domestic abuse.

If The Colonel sounds like someone you would like to know more about, please read his story. Pull up a chair and get comfortable; his story is about 7 pages long. Also, remember that this is raw material. No editor's hawk-like eyes have seen it - plenty of spelling and grammar mistakes to go around!  Try to read beneath the roughness and find the story!

Story of a Colonel

How about you signal before you turn?

"Really? It's so sad that you bought a brand new car and IT DIDN'T COME WITH TURN SIGNALS!!!"

Ask any of my three children, my husband or anyone else that has spent much time with me in a car, and they will tell you that I can get pretty irritated when I am driving.  I don't do nasty things like share inappropriate hand gestures, or lay on my horn, or curse, but I do mutter and have one-sided conversations with the other drivers. Recently,  I seem to be surrounded by drivers that do not use their turn signals. AND IT MAKES ME NUTS!!!

Before I turn my driving pet peeve into a deep thought that I hope you ponder as you reflect on your life this week (WOW - that was deep), I want you to know that I looked for cartoons or comics that made fun of people NOT using their turn signals. I found very few and none of them were appropriate for this family-rated blog, but there were HUNDREDS of cartoons about the people that leave their signals on. I know that is an issue that can also cause irritation, but I never run into one. However, as I get into this analogy tonight,  I am sure you can begin to draw your own conclusions about the drawbacks of either neglecting to turn a turn signal on or neglecting to turn a turn signal off.

Sunday morning, I was driving to church. I try to make Sunday a different day in my life. I don't shop at any stores. I try not to do any housework, yard work or work-work. I try to cook a special evening meal. I don't listen to the same kind of music I do the other 6 days of the week; I tune into only classical (or a baseball game, if it's baseball season). I might use that day to write cards to family members or friends.  I pay extra attention to what I am grateful for and reflect on the kind of person I have been that week. I wish I could say that I do that last one every day of the week, but I don't. The bottom line is that I try to make Sundays special. They always were in my house when I was growing up and I try to do the same thing. This last Sunday as I was driving to church, which is about a 12 minute drive from my house, I was joined on the roads by three different drivers that made turns WITHOUT using any signal. The first one - I sighed. The second one - I hit the palm of my hand on the steering wheel (NOT the horn). The third one - I lost it and started yelling in my car.







Yep, I was crabby. I took a deep breath and tried to think about why that is so irritating to me. It has to be more than a driving thing. It didn't take long for me to figure out what was at the core of my disgust with this driving faux pas that I see all the time.  The real irritation/anger/frustration comes because these people have not managed my expectations. Admittedly, I have an expectation when people drive that they will let me know when they are going to turn because their action often requires a reaction on my part. I might need to brake or at least take my foot off the gas or move over.  Sometimes, their unsignaled move can and does cause accidents. Sometimes, it's just an irritation to me because it doesn't allow me to respond in a timely manner.

I started to think about how mismanaged expectations cause problems in real life. People don't often like surprises - maybe for a birthday party or a date or a gift - but with decisions, money, plans, etc. people aren't all that thrilled when you suddenly pull something on them. Some personality types really like to be in the know - they like to feel prepared - they want to know what is expected of them - they want to have time to plan. Other people handle not knowing much better, but in general it is a good idea to let people know what you are thinking about doing. Picture the boss that has an idea of what a "good job" looks like, but doesn't share those specific expectations with you. Then, you give the presentation or write the report and he is disappointed. "That wasn't what I was expecting." Then, you get irritated because you didn't know what he was looking for. Parents do the same thing with their kids. "I'd like you to shovel the sidewalk."  They do - you go out and proceed to reshovel and tell them you should have just done it yourself because they "didn't do it right".  Did you bother to tell them exactly what your expectations were?  

Mismanaged expectations are a primary source of conflict, anger, disappointment,  and frustration in all types of relationships.  Spouse.  Parents. Friends. Boss-employee. Co-workers. I am not perfect at managing others' expectations, and I continue to work at it.  I have expectations in my head; the action I have to take is to become transparent and share those with others. Whenever I take the time to do that, things work out better. It doesn't mean that things will go smoothly because people may still not like your choice or your plan, but at least then the conflict can just be about the issue itself and not be complicated by the fact that you weren't clear on what you were going to do or what you were expecting of them.

Am I making any sense to you? I sure hope so. Before I wrap this up and send you off with a powerful question to ponder this week, let me share a thought and a graph from a cool post I found on this very topic. I reposted their graph and changed their story to fit my life. If you don't take the time to go to their website and read their article, I at least wanted you to get this much because it's cool and explains why I (and many others) feel our energy drained when working with others who do not meet our expectations.  (


Managing expectations with people does take time, however it will save you in time, energy and upset that occurs when expectations are not met.

In the graphic below when we talk about expectations, we are also talking about energy. For this example we are assuming the following.

An increase in energy (up arrow) implies that we are happy, excited, joyous- a very positive type of high energy.

Neutral energy (flat red line) implies that we are neutral in our energy. Neither up nor down. Calm, unperturbed.

A decrease in energy (down arrow) implies that we are angry, frustrated, annoyed- a negative type of high energy.

If I have an expectation that someone do something, for example, take the dogs out to go potty every morning before they leave for work, and this happens, every morning, as I expect, then we are looking at the upper left quadrant, and my energy in neutral. I am getting what I expected, no more, no less.

If however, one morning they take the dogs out, feed them breakfast, bring me breakfast in bed and give me a big smooch,  and greatly exceeded my expectations, then I have been very pleasantly surprised. (Upper right quadrant)

If one morning they do not take the dogs out, and leave for work so that the dogs wake me up early to take them out, then my energy is down and I am upset. (Lower left quadrant)

If I was never expecting them to take the dogs out, and it never occurs, then my energy is neutral. (lower right)


The powerful question I am asking you to ponder this week is this ... What parts of your life have unclear or mismanaged expectations? and what do you want to do about it?

Let's start with Doug ... The Grocery Guy

BigGroceryGuyDoug is the owner of a small retail store – a one of a kind local retail store, and he is happy. He is actually happier wearing $20 Dockers and bagging groceries working alongside of his wife than he had been when he was buying $5000 suits and riding on private jets to have dinner at exclusive restaurants discussing the possibility of opening up a retail store with city fathers.  In many ways this didn’t surprise Doug because he had filled executive retail positions for 20 years and was not interested in getting any more frequent flyer miles or free hotel stays. These years had allowed him to own multiple homes and live a life, if not of luxury, it was a life that was well above average. What was a surprise was how little he knew about the day to day running of a business – what was cash flow? And what do you mean that the truck waiting in the parking lot can’t unload the truck until he gets a check for what the last delivery? He was stunned by how much work it took to be an entrepreneur as compared to a retail executive. If you talk to the people Doug has hired to work in his store, you will hear stories of what a great guy he is and that he works right by their side doing whatever it takes to make customers happy. This experience helped him understand the two sides of ego  - why leaders need an ego, and why leaders have to keep their egos in check. “I only wish I would have had the guts to try this earlier in my career. I might have been a better leader and saved some of the organizational trauma I saw taking place with employees” (Doug). If Doug sounds like someone you would like to know more about, please read his story. Pull up a chair and get comfortable; his story is about 10 pages long. Also, remember that this is raw material. No editor's hawk-like eyes have seen it - plenty of spelling and grammar mistakes to go around!  Try to read beneath the roughness and find the story!

The Story of a Grocery Guy

Meet my Leaders




How do I introduce you to these ten amazing leaders in a way that will serve your needs, as a reader? You need to know something about who they are and what they value, so you can relate to them, either aligning or opposing. It’s important for you to get a sense of what their transition was; in other words, what they were leaving behind and what they were stepping into. You need to know that they are real – that they made mistakes just like you and I; they weren’t superhuman or even voted leader of the year – they were everyday people that found themselves in a strange, new land where they desperately wanted to be successful. I was lucky enough to spend at least four hours with each of these leaders over a six-month period. They shared every part of their journey – the comfortable, the uncomfortable, the strange, the painful, the embarrassing, the “I want to turn around and quit”, and the moments of excitement that came from meeting a challenge, not giving up, and taking others with them on their journey. I trust these leaders; I would follow them into unknown territory – unknown to me and to them. I would follow them because they are anchors, lighthouses, base camps, whatever term you want to use for something you hang on to when things get rocky and you feel lost and afraid. I hope that in these brief introductions, I can give you a sense of who these trusted leaders are. I want you to trust them so that you can trust what they taught me; they taught me how to wander through unfamiliar territory with a sense of purpose and come out on the other side with a smile, and a few wrinkles, on my face!

Over the next several weeks, I will introduce you to these men and women and ask you to find your own lessons in their stories!

How do strong leaders navigate uncharted waters?

This was THE question I had when I began the difficult task of conducting doctoral research and writing a dissertation. At the time I had been working in the area of organization change for about 10 years and was often frustrated when leaders I had thought were effective became ineffective during times of change. These leaders were great when they were in familiar territory, but when the surroundings or the rules or the crew members changed significantly, their strong leadership wavered.  Like any good academic, I went to the literature and I came up pretty empty. I found a lot of theory without supporting evidence. I found books with lists of leadership actions that lacked depth. I found stories of super hero change leaders like Jack Welch or Lincoln, but no stories about the everyday type of men and women I was working with. Where were these people that had figured out how to be strong leaders when they were weak in the knees and found themselves walking on brand new paths? Where were their stories of what they experienced? I couldn't find them, so I went in search of them.


What I found was not only great stuff for leaders, but fascinating stories that can teach any of us valuable lessons about how to successfully move through uncertain and challenging times. For nearly 3 years, I have been trying to take this research that landed me a doctorate and transform it into a book that will benefit everyday people like you and I. I have not yet figured out how to do it.

That bothers me - not just a little bit, but a ton. There isn't a day of my life that I don't have a disappointing thought about this unwritten book. I have an alter ego who loves to sabotage my writing by feeding me different stories about why I can't write this book. One of the stories my saboteur tells me is that no one would be interested in the stories these leaders have to tell.  I've bought into that undermining message long enough!  Tonight, I am going to start to tell you about these leaders - I'm going to share their stories with you. I want to hear what you think about them. Are they interesting characters? Do their stories teach you anything? Shall I charge ahead and try to figure out how to make a book from their stories and share the lessons they learned with the world? As the keeper of their stories, I feel a sense of responsibility to share them and allow others to learn as I learned; to keep it to myself seems selfish.


There are 10 leaders. I may not share all 10 stories, but then again I might. I won't share more than one story per week.  I may not share a story every week. Their stories aren't short. They don't really belong in a blog. I'm going to do it despite all the reasons I shouldn't because that is who I am. If you never want to read any of them, I understand. If you do read them, I need to ask you to do two things each time I share a story!

#1 - Please send the story/blog to anyone you can think of that is facing changing times. It is especially important to send it to anyone you know that works in a management or leadership position, as I believe they are my target audience.

#2 - Please post comments on this site and you share your thoughts about the leader's story. What was interesting? What did you learn? What could you relate to? What did it make you think about?

This at least feels like I am taking a step toward sharing these stories in a "voice" that can be heard by people outside the walls of a library at an institution of higher education!

Success may be in the plan

resolution 2HAPPY 2014!!!

As soon as Christmas Day was over, and the Valentines and swimsuits were set on the retail shelves, the non-stop talk about resolutions started! I am not going to add my voice or opinion to the resolution debate. If you want to make a list - make one. If you want to set no goals for 2014 - don't.  If you believe there is something magical about starting on a new plan on January 1 - then there probably is.

I do know that people get pumped up when they set their eyes on accomplishing something and they do - personal achievement is a great motivator. So, if that's you, and you have something you really want to accomplish this year, I'm going to give you a simple action planning process that will increase your chances of being successful.

#1 - Pick one thing, even if you have a long list of things you want to work on, pick one thing (last week I suggested you pick the thing that you don't want to be thinking about or dealing with on New Year's Day 2015)

#2 - Write it down. Make it fun. Make it visible. Tell someone else about it.

#3 - Write it in appreciative or positive language... "I will ..." not "I won't... or I'll stop"

#4 - Use very specific language in your goal statement, but make it pithy - short - inspiring - passionate

#5 - Pick a goal that you want to accomplish, not one that someone else wants you to do - YOU have to WANT it

#6 - Make a list of reasons why you want to do this - benefits of achieving this - write an exhaustive list - why does this matter?

#7 - Picture or visualize you or your life with this goal achieved - if you can't picture it, you can't achieve it - feel free to add visuals to your action plan

#8 - Create a list of action steps. Think in baby steps. What will you need to do to accomplish this?

#9 - Who are you going to enlist to help you? What other resources do you need? You don't get hero points for doing this alone!

#10 - List all the reasons this will be hard. What will get in the way? If it were easy, you would have already accomplished it.

#11 - NOW, develop a workaround for every barrier you just listed. If you can picture the problem, you can picture the solution.

#12 -  Measures - how will you know you are making progress? or if you are there?

#13 - Check in on this every day - first thing in the morning and last thing at night - set the intention

13 Steps seem like a lot, but remember you are only going to create this action plan for one goal. Please don't be tempted to come up with a long list of goals - go with one really important one and get it right.

A trip to the dentist

I don't like going to the dentist ... but I do. I checked with my Jazzercise students this morning; none of them like going to the dentist either ...but they do.

As I lay in the chair with my mouth propped open, listening to that horrid sound of metal scraping on my teeth, I decided to contemplate how I could relate this experience to anything meaningful for today's blog.  I'm pretty good at analogies and metaphors, so here goes ...


I work hard at taking care of my teeth. This is a habit I acquired as an adult. As a child I was horrible. I put more effort into making it appear that I had brushed my teeth than it would have taken me to actually brush them.  My mom was a real stickler for teeth brushing. I would run the water in the sink, run the toothbrush under the water to wet the bristles, and squish the toothpaste tube in various places to make it appear as if I had actually squeezed some out (all behind closed doors). See what I mean?  It would have easier to just comply with mom's wishes and brush them. Add to this teeth brushing charade the fact that I would sneak cookies into bed and eat them after my parents went to sleep. I developed a great ability to get in and out of a ceramic cookie jar without making a single sound. These stories of disobedience are here to help you understand how I got to be the princess I am today - a woman with a head full of crowns and root canals, which have replaced all the ginormous fillings I had in my mouth.

Now that I am older and wiser, I put great effort into caring for my teeth. I brush several times a day, floss regularly, try not to grip and rip, use bacteria killing mouthwash when I remember ... that takes a lot of time and energy and I don't enjoy any part of what I just described. In my head this effort should equate to great teeth and gums and dental appointments filled with praise. That is not the case, however. My dental hygienist always finds something that I could do better. The periodontal pockets keep deepening and there is still plaque build-up and my gums could always be healthier.  While I get a tad bummed out, I am also grateful that someone is checking on that for me because I cannot see in my mouth in the same way she can and provide that kind of feedback.

Have you guessed where this dental allegory is headed?  It's about two things.

1) We cannot assume that effort equals results.

2) Feedback is important because sometimes we just can't see what we really need to be looking at.

I am not interested in your dental comments this week, but I am asking you to do a self-examination with these powerful questions.

PQ - Where are you putting in great effort and are making an assumption about the results?

PQ - What is something in your life where you could really use some feedback?