Category Archives: tools and techniques

Time To Review Your Support Network


Year-End Wrap-Up

Like many managers, I spent much of December wrapping up projects and getting organized for the new year. I reviewed everyone’s performance. I checked project deadlines. I made sure that every available dollar in the budget was well invested before it disappeared. I updated files. I uncluttered my in box. Until I became a coach, though, I didn’t spend anywhere near as much time reviewing my personal lists. Since then, I recommend that my clients complete the same personal year-end wrap-up that I do myself.

Making a List and Checking it Twice

The year-end review actually consists of not one, but three lists. The first isaccomplishments. It’s all too easy to lose sight of what you’ve been able to accomplish in the course of a year. Often, we more easily remember the lows than the highs. The second is goals. What do you hope to accomplish during the next year? I’ll save these two lists for another time. Right now, let’s focus on the list that I find my clients most often overlook: your support network.

Over time, relationships within and outside of the workplace change. People move on, new people come into our lives, roles change, relationships become something else. Yet, often someone will create a support network list (chart, really) and never look at it again. Twice every year there are public service messages everywhere reminding people to change their smoke alarm batteries to be sure they will be at the ready when we need them. Think of this as checking the batteries on your emotional support system so it will be fully functional at all times.

Your Support Network

If you’ve never created a support network this is how it works. The support network consists of four quadrants, each containing a list of names. Each quadrant serves a specific function so that you can identify supporters in each significant area. As far as possible, each name should appear in only one quadrant; never more than two.

The Quadrants

Cheerleader: These people  support you unconditionally. No matter how small the achievement, they are applauding. They’ll cheer when you finish a project or get a promotion. They’ll also cheer when you get your shoes on the right foot. They never criticize; they never make suggestions. That’s someone else’s role.

Comforter: These people are there for you when you’re feeling down. They show up with tissues, chocolate, weepy movies, wine – whatever you need. They will listen to the same story for hours, never saying anything more than there, there or appropriate sympathetic comments. They agree with everything you say. If you say that your boss is terrible, they tell you they’ve always felt that way. If, five minutes later, you say this is the best boss you ever had, they agree. They wrap you up in literal or figurative quilts until the crisis passes.

Confronters: These are the people who keep you accountable. If you tell them that you want to do something, they’ll keep reminding you, gently or firmly, of what you need to do. They may also help you create a plan or break a task down into manageable chunks. Then they’ll keep after you until the task is done.

Critics: It took me a while to recognize the value of these people in my support network. These are the people who stop you from making avoidable mistakes public. Think of them as copy editors for your life – and they’ll edit your writing as well. Sometimes, I don’t want to hear what these people have to say. And I can’t count how many times they’ve saved me from disaster.

The Audit

December, as part of your year-end wrap-up is a great time to review your support network lists. Have you overused certain individuals? Maybe you want to move them to back-up status. Have some of the people on the list become unavailable? Proved to be unreliable? Replace them! Are there new people in your life who belong on your lists? Add them. Make a second quadrant. What roles do you fulfill for other people? Be sure that you know how you’re giving back or paying it forward. Add and subtract to this list as well. And renew your commitment to the new lists.


We all need support and we all need to support others. Performing this audit twice a year renews you and renews your relationships. Try it. I’m pretty sure you’ll be as glad as I was once you do.

Both Sides Now (Of Your Brain, That Is)

Many of us enter a new year with all kinds of energy and all sorts of plans for personal development, improvement, expansion, change. By the time February looms, many of us have forgotten those plans.

My approach to resolutions and plans, most of the time, has been more logical and analytic that creative and intuitive. I’ve made lists and plans and this year even experimented with (uhg!) spread sheets. I’ve concluded already that another approach is called for. Logic and creativity. I’m revisiting my overarching vision for this phase of my life and revising my vision statement, then taking it a step further and painting it. I’m not creating a vision board, although I may do that for my goals. I’m creating something completely abstract.

I expect this to help my creative side kick in as I move forward. I also expect my painting to help me create richer, more meaningful goals. Then I’ll switch to logic – subgoals, action steps, potential obstacles and steps to eliminate those obstacles. At that point, those spreadsheets will take on more meaning.

This will be a shared experiment. Karen Friedland and I are using this technique in a workshop in February. It’s on the events page here. Our next step will be to repeat this in a virtual environment, so if you want to come play with us and can’t make it to Brooklyn, stay tuned for updates – both about how the experiment is progressing and how you can join.

The 55 Days of Christmas? Twelve Survival Tips! (my annual tradition)

And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Did you notice the Christmas decorations going up on Halloween? Did a chill run down your spine? The holiday season seems to be getting longer and longer and shorter. Yes, shorter. Look at the expectations this season puts on you.

Yes, this post is now an annual tradition.

Fifty five days are nowhere near enough to achieve Countess MarthaRachelNigelaPaula FoodNetwork perfection. I’m not sure I’m even up to Real Simple standards. So much to do! Are your cards out? Did you shop ’til you dropped on Black Friday? Did you make wonderful decorations out of recycled materials? Have you picked the absolutely perfect gift for everyone on your list? Do you have color-coordinated wrapping paper, tags, and ribbon? Can you tie a perfect bow?

When will you be having your holiday party? What will you serve? What will you wear to everyone else’s event? Do you know what to tip your hairdresser? What’s the politically correct holiday greeting? So many questions, so little time!

Holiday madness really set in when I visited a friend for Thanksgiving a few years back. She had decided that she didn’t feel up to cooking, so she ordered from her local supermarket. And then began to obsess. It wouldn’t taste good. There wouldn’t be enough. Turkey, cranberry sauce, whole wheat rolls, roasted butternut squash, mashed potatoes and a pumpkin pie clearly was not enough for five people.

We added extra side dishes – home made cranberry sauce, candied chestnuts, fruit stuffing, baked onions, candied sweets, baked sweets, peas with fresh mushrooms and three more pies. Oh – and at the last minute she ran back for a turkey breast – just in case.

Everything tasted great, and we all had a good time, but it really made me think about how easy it is to get caught up in holiday excess. So – how will you have a peaceful holiday season? Here are a few simple suggestions.

1. Just like Santa, make a list and check it twice. While you’re checking, do a little reality check. Are you buying gifts for too many people? Are you planning on spending an unrealistic amount on each? Have you burdened yourself with impossible-to-find items? (No, my cousin will probably NOT get that antique fruit bowl this year.)

2. Only accept invitations that make you happy. If that means none, go for it! An unbreakable prior engagement is always a valid excuse. No one needs to know that the engagement may be with your couch.

3. Wear comfortable clothes. Always. Don’t let tight shoes or a dubious neckline spoil your fun.

4. Shop in comfortable shoes. Carry your wallet someplace easy for you to reach but hard for anyone else to get at. Don’t burden yourself down with too many packages.

5. Buy on line. Presents, dinner, cards, reservations – all just a click away.

6. If you must send packages, remember that the Postal Service will now pick up packages at your home.

7. Don’t bake unless you would go into a serious depression if deprived of the experience. If you do bake, set limits. I will never again have more containers of cookies than can fit on a fully extended kitchen table.

8. This one is for next year. Pick up interesting gifts throughout the year. If you travel, this is a great way to have truly unique gifts. Just don’t forget where you put them. Last year I gave several lovely objects I’d bought in Sicily three years ago. I’d put them in a safe place. At least they eventually surfaced.

9. Simplicity is very classy. Repeat that twenty times, then start cutting back on your plans.

10. Gift cards are a wonderful thing. Want to give the perfect gift? Not only are gift cards perfect, but you can fit them in your carry-on luggage.

11. Travel light. Carry your pills, jewelry and one-ounce containers or the liquids you need. Wear something comfortable and a bit classy so that if your luggage is lost you’re reasonably prepared.

12. Block out time on your calendar to do absolutely nothing but take care of yourself – whether that means go to a movie, meditate, get a massage, or just take a nap. Pace yourself.

Turning a Bad Habit Good

Have you ever left home to do one simple thing and return exhausted five or six hours later? For a long time, this was my story. I had a close friend living down the hall and we regularly went grocery shopping and did other errands together. As we headed out to drop off the laundry, one of us would mention that we were near the Italian grocery store, so maybe we could just squeeze that in … and the bakery … and that great discount store … and … and … and. The simplest trip became an excursion. On the way to the Greenmarket, why don’t we stop at the coffee store – and maybe sit down for a cup of something while we’re there. And maybe we can look at that sound system. And the dress I need for the wedding. And stop at the Strand to see what great books are on sale, etc. etc.

It finally occurred to me that this might be a bad habit. It wasn’t serving either one of us well to hold the fantasy that we were doing only one thing. Or that we’d be home in an hour. We left a wake of undone chores and cranky people and usually came home to tired to do anything else.

We learned to set limits. And to stick to them. We set time limits that allowed for some flexibility in terms of the number of activities we might add to the schedule. We set a limit on the number of things we would do and committed to holding ourselves to it. It worked. We had enough flexibility to enjoy ourselves and allow for surprises and reasonable boundaries to keep the rest of our lives on schedule.

Well, recently, I’ve been thinking about an issue that needs resolving. I really enjoy a clean, neat apartment. I hate carving out huge chunks of time for cleaning. And I’m not ready to hire someone to clean for me. Inconvenient. Involves a lot of pre-cleaning. (Yes, you know what I mean.)

I’m recycling my “bad” habit of adding things on to a simple journey. Since coaching and writing are both sedentary occupations, I’m working hard at getting up out of the chair at least every two hours so I don’t turn into a pillar of stone. Why not make that a productive time? Why not add a little housekeeping to each walk through the apartment? So, I’m back to adopting the add on routine. Now, whenever I get up, I find one thing that needs to be returned to it’s proper home or one thing that can be dusted or cleaned or recycled. Instead of spending half a day cleaning, I’m spending a manageable 30 minutes to an hour a day without even noticing it.

Hey, it’s working! I don’t notice the time invested in this way and the place is looking good. It’s almost better than magic elves coming in the middle of the night. I’m going to apply it to work projects I dislike as well.

It’s Lonely at the Top and It’s Crowded

Three non-profit heads walk into a bar …

Well, not exactly, although that might have given us a different perspective. My coach, my client and I all share the same dilemma. We each head a non-profit. And we each find ourself drowning under the weight of the position.

These are small non-profits, two with working Boards, one closer to the formative state and not quite ready for a full Board. All three of us are suffering from the Harry Truman syndrome, though – the buck stops here. Remember that old adage about stuff rolling downhill? Well, that’s not always true. Many small non-profits defy the laws of gravity. Work rolls uphill and lands squarely on the desk of the Founder or Chair or President. There are committee chairs and officers who may or may not play their assigned roles. There may be a cadre of volunteers. And still, there are too many projects on my plate. And my client’s plate.

My coach has found a partial solution. She she has an excellent virtual assistant She’s appointed a general manager and a project manager. These two people have the responsibility for organizing how the work of the organization gets done and tracking progress. It’s a good starting place. My client and I are discussing the advantages of hiring a virtual assistant while the client looks for the perfect right-hand person. I have an excellent virtual assistant.

Still, it comes right back to how we organize, what we delegate and how we follow through – the same issues faced by most managers. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Heads of organizations need to be divorced from the day-to-day operational aspects of the organization for the most part. They need to strategize and to be a public presence. They need to make contacts, maintain smooth relationships, instill a sense of mission. They do not need to do the scheduling, bookkeeping, collating and editing.

2. Even small non-profits need an operations or a project manager. Someone needs to track progress, find support as needed, and do follow-up work with committees. They, too, do not need to do the scheduling, bookkeeping, collating and editing. They should, however, supervise the people who do these tasks. The head person should not take on this role too.

3. A good virtual assistant saves endless hours. A good virtual assistant is great at all the things that a leader either isn’t good at or shouldn’t be doing. It’s time to get beyond the notion that VAs are some kind of disembodied clericals. Many are eager to understand the organization’s mission and become an external partner. They can not only keep things off the leader’s desk, they can also give valuable advice on systems and processes that will move the organization forward.

4. Volunteers need to keep their commitments. Every time. No exceptions. (See work rolling uphill.)

5. Someone other than the leader should be following up with committee chairs and volunteers to be sure they are making deadlines. (See project manager above.)

6. Leaders need to learn to sit on their hands. Just because you have a good idea, it doesn’t mean that you have to implement it.

7. Projects, assignments, etc. should all go out with due dates and interim reporting dates so that they can be tracked.

8. If crowded means your desk, your office, your inbox, your brain is/are crowded with other people’s responsibilities, learn to delegate and stick to it.

9. Sometimes, lonely is better.

Excuse me – I’m going off to take my own advice now.

September Rush and the To-Do Mobile

Everyone seems to be posting, tweeting, facebooking about getting back to work now that the Labor Day weekend has ended. Me too. The weather is not quite cooperating with this burst of energy, as it’s hazy, hot and humid when it’s not actually raining for the next three days, but, with some subtle climate control, I can make it feel like Fall in my living room and settle down to work.

The biggest problem I’ll have for the next few days is deciding what do to first. Here’s the list:

  1. Line up thought-provoking tweets and facebook posts (Where do people find all those cool pictures?).
  2. Clean out the last closet, otherwise known as the front hall horror.
  3. Find a good home for the walker I never needed.
  4. Transcribe six interviews.
  5. Update/rewrite/rebrand a whole bunch of materials.
  6. Throw out or donate all the unwanted clothes, shoes and bags.
  7. Line up some new blog posts.
  8. Get together with friends I haven’t seen all summer.


What does your September list look like?

How will you work your way through it?





Move On!

How often do you make a decision and then second-guess yourself? Some of us over think everything. We make a decision, we’re comfortable with it, we take action. Should be the end of the story, right? Not for everyone.

Sometimes, though, it’s easy to get caught up in the other choices – the road not taken. What if? What if? What if?

It’s time to chase those gremlins off. Here are some questions that might be more productive:

1.What would have stayed the same or gotten worse if I did not make the choice I did? How would I feel about that?

2. How would I feel if I continued along the same path? About myself? Abut other people? About my work?

3. What did I learn from this choice? About myself? My process? Others involved?

4. How will I use what I learned moving forward?

5. What have I gained?

These seem like a good start at letting go and moving on. I’ll be using them myself.

Everyone Can Be a Coach?

Thomas Leonard, called by many the father of modern coaching, always said everyone can be a coach. I’m not altogether sold on that. What I do believe, though, is that everyone can and should use coaching skills. The kind of clear, open communication, deep listening, and support that exist within a coaching relationship can be learned and would enhance all our relationships.

The International Association of Coaching created nine Coaching Masteries™ that create a framework that describe excellence in coaching. They also describe a set of skills that could enhance the work of managers, health care professionals, teachers, parents, and, in fact, anyone who interacts with other people.

Here’s a quick look at the IAC Coaching Masteries™:

1. Establishing and maintaining a relationship of trust.

This is about creating a supportive relationship and a safe space for personal transformation. What would it be like if every teacher practiced this skill? How much more would our children learn?

2. Perceiving, affirming and expanding the client’s potential.

This one could change the world if we all tried it. What can you notice that’s special in everyone you encounter/ Do you let them know?

3. Engaged listening

Most managers have had training in Active Listening. And many forget to use the skills. Are you paying full attention to the conversations you’re in? Are you attuned to the subtleties? Body language? Intonation? There’s valuable information there.

4. Processing in the present.

How often do you drift in a conversation? How often are you focused on anything but the present moment? Staying in the present helps us avoid judgements. It stops the act of putting things off and the fantasy that all we need to do is wait. Processing in the present keeps coach and client, manager and staff, teacher and student focused on what is really going on.

5. Expressing

Sounds simple, right? This is about going beyond simple talking to being aware of all aspects of communication.

6. Clarifying

How can we communicate in ways that are clear, simple and direct? How can we help someone else set and maintain clear goals? Managers should have this as an integral part of their skill set. Health care workers could use this Mastery to work towards real health.

8. Inviting possibilities.

Are you curious? Do you wonder, “what if?” Do you explore not only all the available options but invent a few more?  this is expansion a its best.

9. Helping clients create and use supportive environments.

How can we all help each other develop and maintain support networks? How can teachers, managers, parents, friends encourage growth?

That’s a quick glimpse of a system that can work for all of us. How can you incorporate these into your life?

You Might as Well Laugh

It’s May on the calendar and it’s been winter outside my window forever. Pretty much winter in my office too – I’ve got three layers of clothing on and the sandals in my closet are mocking me. No one I know actually saw the epic full moon Saturday because the cloud cover was so dense.
I started my morning and ended my day with two spectacular coaching calls. both clients had incredible breakthroughs and I was dancing. I’m still smiling.
But what I want to talk about is the time between those two calls. When I spoke to my own coach, I had a long, long list of complaints. And I just let loose with them. The list was so long that it made me laugh – and that’s how the call ended – with both of us sharing a lovely, long laugh. Sometimes, when things seem really bad and you can’t see a way out, you might as well laugh. So we did.
It was a very full day. I had six client calls that followed the same pattern. The clients all work for the same organization and are suffering various degrees of stress and overload in the wake of several significant retirements and two waves of layoffs. One has a boss who is prone to shouting. Another has an ever-increasing workload. A third has a subordinate who has taken passive-aggressive behavior to new levels. We’ve been working through these and similar issues with varying degrees of success. Today, though, was pretty much about complaining.
I let everyone vent. Sometimes, that’s the best coaching – just listen and go along for the ride. And I encouraged it. Exaggerated it. Egged them on. Until they laughed. Six depressed people became six people who were able to find some humor in their situation.
Sometimes – often, really, we can work on ourselves or with our coaches or with our clients to craft brilliant action plans. Sometimes we can take some baby steps towards change. And sometimes, we just can’t. And when you can’t, you can at least shift the mood.
When the going gets tough, you might as well laugh.

Previously posted on the Expanding Your Comfort Zone blog.

A Few Thoughts on Innovation

Lately, in preparation for the next round of executive coaching with a major City agency, I’ve been thinking about innovation. Here are a few interesting articles and blog posts that I’ve found recently:

Encourage Talent if You Want it to Grow by Steve Roesler discusses how to offer real encouragement rather than just providing lip service.

Nicholas Schriver cites a recent blog post by Seth Godin in his post on Facing a Changing Business Model: How to React. He underscores the importance of not thinking we can simply cobble the new onto the old and expect it to work.

Finally, in Slate, Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi tell us to Nudge No More if we expect people to make good decisions.