Monday, November 29, 2010


Do you know SARA like I know SARA? Chances are the answer is no, especially if we are of a different gender.

SARA is an acronym that we often use to portray the relatively predictable pattern of emotional responses that people feel when an event happens to them that they are not expecting, or when they receive disconfirming feedback. What does it stand for?

  • S: shock or surprise
  • A: anger or anxiety
  • R: rejection or rationalization
  • A: acceptance

Think about the last time that you experienced a situation or received information that did not fit your view of what you thought would/should happen. Chances are that you progressed through SARA in some form or fashion.

  • Shock/surprise: Perhaps you felt surprise or some level of amazement/shock that what happened just happened.
  • Anger/anxiety: Because you were caught off-guard, you might have experienced some level of frustration, discomfort or worry regarding what the event or information might mean.
  • Rejection/rationalization: In an effort to try to reconcile the information with what you believed should have happened, you might have tried to “explain away” the disconfirming information. This is where we often look for excuses or “reasons why” things happened the way they did. We will often try to find information that casts us in the best light (which usually aligns with our self-perceptions).
  • Acceptance: After some time—and time seems to be the biggest variable between men and women—you reached a state of acceptance. You told yourself, “it is what it is,” and you were ready to take action and move on accordingly.

When processing or receiving 360-degree feedback, we encourage clients to recognize that these levels of reaction are perfectly predictable and normal. We also invite clients to see that Acceptance typically comes after the previous stages of turmoil or internal bargaining.

Research conducted by Dr. Barbara Annis, expert on Gender Intelligence, suggests that men and women routinely move through these stages at different speeds. Men tend to view unusual or surprising situations as problems to be solved. If a problem can be solved, men tend to value taking action and moving quickly to solve the problem. If a problem can’t be solved, men tend to move into a state of Acceptance: realizing that they can’t change the current situation, it makes the best sense to let it go.

Women, on the other hand, tend to spend more time in a rumination phase. Instead of being able to move as quickly into Acceptance, women tend to stay longer in the state of Rejection and Rationalization. They wonder what they could have done differently, or worry about what happened in the situation and what the possible consequences are, and cycle through this thought pattern for a longer period of time.

As much as I wish this were different, I had a conversation with my honeybunch, Dave. We discussed a hypothetical situation, as well as real situation that I had recently experienced. In both situations, I was stuck in a “rumination” phase; I was debating other possible reasons or rationalizations for what had happened. However, in both situations, Dave’s reaction was “If you can’t change it, just move on. Don’t beat yourself up. Why spend more energy trying to wonder what happened?” He admitted that he would likely spend 30 minutes processing a situation that I might spend up to 3 days worrying about.

So, what can we learn from SARA and how the two genders work through these phases differently?

  1. Recognize that SARA is a natural and normal “map” of the territory, which explains how humans react to new events or disconfirming information.
  2. Acknowledge that men and women react differently to situations; neither reaction is better than the other, but the two genders do tend to deal differently with situations.
  3. Men will treat new information as problems to be solved; if they can’t be solved, they will “let it go” more quickly.
  4. Women tend to stay longer in a rumination phase, recycling through what could have happened and what actions were taken.
  5. Both approaches add value. In some situations, women can learn from men to more quickly accept the situation and just “let it go” if it cannot be solved. When women tell their stories of what happened, men can acknowledge that this is the way that women process to make sense of their situations.
  6. Women seek understanding, while men tend to value action.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Mind of a Leader

A couple of years ago, I gave a keynote speech on how to be an Extraordinary Leader. One of the participants wrote this poem for me and handed it to me at the end of the session. It makes me smile every time I run across this Dr. Seuss-like poem. I hope you enjoy it today!

“The Mind of a Leader”

Have you ever, in the morning,

went to jump out of bed,

and declared to yourself,

“Today I won’t get ahead”?

No, you see we must always

strive to be great,

or we’ll really be sad

and our work…second rate.

But how to be great?

With your strengths and your flaws?

So you try to correct those

flaws and it gnaws;

‘til you see they’re not fatal

and you must go to great lengths,

to focus on building

your positive strengths.

Your reward in the end

if you manage to muster

competence, work and passion to cluster?

Not money or fame but the

intellectual treat,

of enjoying your role

in a spot that is sweet.

-KA (Kurt Akaydin)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Heart of the Matter

When I was growing up, one of the phrases my mother frequently said was “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” This phrase probably dates me; I cannot imagine current day mothers stating this same phrase to their daughters.

I began pondering “what is the way to an employee’s heart?” In workplaces today, managers and corporations are interested in motivating their employees—to higher levels of performance and productivity and innovation, so that higher goals can be met with potentially fewer resources. A frequent challenge managers face is how to inspire their team members, so that they are fully engaged.

The answer I arrived at was this: “The way to an employee’s heart is through his/her heart!” Bodies of research have shown that people don’t tend to change behaviors unless they have an emotional connection to the change. Thinking alone just doesn’t do the trick.

Let’s explore this. If you are like me, you probably ponder New Year’s resolutions and feebly come up with 1 – 3 that you proclaim you will focus on as you spring out of bed on January 1st. And, if you are like me, you abandon most of those resolutions before the month ends. Why? Because we arrived at the decision by thinking alone. We think we need to lose that 10 pounds or resume a regular exercise regime or establish a meditation practice. However, our hearts aren’t connected to the decision. We have neither felt the agony and disappointment of staying the same, nor the exhilaration and joy of achieving the desired future state.

In order to make new decisions, and choose differently, we must go through the landscape of emotions. How does it feel to be overweight or out of shape or crabby? How would it feel if you could imagine being healthy or peaceful? Instead of thinking about how you might feel, can you truly get in touch with the feelings? Slow yourself down, close your eyes, and place yourself in that experience and state of feeling.

What happens in the workplace? Leaders hope to inspire and motivate employees, and yet most of their persuasive elements come from the thinking domain. To convince employees to reach for higher goals and achieve brilliant results, leaders employ:

  • solid rationale
  • best practice strategies and tactics
  • supporting data elements
  • concise PowerPoint presentations
  • reward and recognition systems

All of these tactics make sense to our intellectual sides. We may accept and agree with the new directions and follow, because the data make sense. On a continuum from compliance to commitment, we are likely closer to the compliance end.

However, to really inspire people and engender full commitment and engagement, leaders need to do better. They must connect to the hearts of employees. How? By:

  • connecting to their values
  • creating a vision of what’s possible
  • asking employees to imagine what it would feel like to be in that vision
  • discovering what employees most care about
  • finding a way to connect those passions to the work that needs to be done

Leaders must make an emotional connection.

When I train leaders how to be better coaches, one of the questions that I invite them to ask their employees is, “how do you feel about this?” or “How would you feel if you could make that happen?” I am frequently surprised at how much resistance there is regarding that word: “feel”. However, passion is completely connected to feelings. You cannot be passionate about something without feeling strongly about it.

So, when you think about the next change you want your employees to commit to, consider how you ignite their passion and connect to their values. Don’t be afraid to talk about feelings. Use more than just intellectual persuasion. Remember, the way to our employees’ hearts is through their hearts!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Death: Always a Perspective Setter

Within the last week, I have learned of three people within my community of coaching and organizational development who have passed away. None of the individuals was elderly, and in fact, one could argue that they were quite young, with the youngest being a mere 41 years old when he died.

I went onto the FaceBook page of one individual, and was amazed at the outpouring of comments, concern, and memories that were being posted by seemingly hundreds of individuals. As I read through many posts, I was reminded of what really matters. Not a single statement said “Tadd was a great program designer” or “Tadd was a great classroom facilitator” or “Tadd was an insightful consultant.” Not a single comment reflected what Tadd did for his work and career and living. On the contrary, each and every single comment spoke to his character—who he was—or the contribution he had made to individuals. People spoke of his heart, his generosity, his humor, how much he cared, how much he gave.

I reflected on my own life and began pondering how many hours I spend every day and every week, striving to be a great coach/consultant/business partner. How many hours I spend deepening my knowledge in my field, or sharpening my skills to use. When there is time and mindshare remaining, I might intentionally think about how I can make a difference to the people closest to me and how I can extend myself through caring acts of kindness and contribution to others. However, the latter is too often a secondary focus.

Now the good news is that much of my work revolves around helping others and contributing to those around me, whether I am coaching them, or training leaders to be better leaders to those around them, or partnering with clients who are trying to solve problems.

Yet, reading that single FaceBook page, I am reminded of the phrase I heard years ago, “people will not remember what you said or what you did, but they will remember how they felt as a result.” Would you join me in a little reflection…how are people feeling as a result of their interactions and experience with you? I know for myself, it is time to do a little “reset” in this area.

And, I’ll burn a candle for the three individuals who are no longer with us. You are missed.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Is Coaching Just "Nice to Do?"

Jack Zenger and I have recently led some webinars regarding how to build a coaching culture within organizations. On one of these recent webinars, we had over 300 leaders and learning development professionals join us. In the course of the webinar, we asked several “poll” questions to assess what was currently happening in their organizations related to leaders providing coaching to their employees.

One of the questions we asked was, “What grade would you give the managers in your organization?” Here was the response rate to the answers:

“A”: Extraordinary coaching—making a significant difference 2%

“B”: Good coaching—having a positive impact 16%

“C”: Average coaching—helpful 43%

“D or F”: They do it so poorly it hurts more than helps 17%

“I”: Incomplete—they just don’t do it! 21%

We were frankly surprised by how few respondents believed that their leaders were actually providing helpful coaching, and shocked by how many leaders weren’t coaching or were perceived as actually doing damage in the process of coaching employees.

When we asked whether these organizations were helping equip managers with the necessary coaching skills to be effective, we received the following responses:

1. We have not done any training on this topic 16%

2. We teach some awareness but don’t attempt to build skills 30%

3. New managers get training on coaching skills 12%

4. Only select populations of managers get training on coaching skills 24%

5. Every leader in the organization is being trained to be more skillful 18%

A full 46% of respondents are not building skills within their leader populations. It is no wonder that managers are therefore not providing coaching, or the coaching they are providing is not perceived as helpful.

You might be wondering if there is anything wrong with this picture. From original work conducted by Zenger and Folkman, we know that leaders who excel at “Driving for Results” have a less than 10% probability of being a great leader. However, when leaders are highly effective at driving for results and highly effective at coaching and developing others, they have almost a 90% probability of being an exceptional leader. And, we know that exceptional leaders create breakaway results that are far superior than merely “good” leaders.

Leaders who are more effective at coaching have employees who:

  • Express higher engagement and commitment
  • Are more willing to go the extra mile
  • Are more willing to put in extra effort
  • Are less likely to think about quitting

Coaching is a very powerful lever to increase organizational effectiveness. Instead of viewing coaching as “nice to do” when the business gets taken care of, consider reversing the order of priority. Focus on coaching as the way to enable superior results and foster engaged employees. The payoff will be there at the bottom line!

For more information about coaching training for managers, contact me!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Three Choices When Faced with Change

In the last few weeks, I have found myself embroiled in a situation that I don’t want to be in. A major client of mine changed their business model, which triggered a series of changes, which ultimately affected me. The client’s changes forced me to change. After being upset about some of these changes, and secretly hoping that life would go back to a previous time, I stumbled upon a DVD of a talk given by David Whyte. For those of you not familiar with David Whyte, he is a wonderfully eloquent Irish poet who interprets poetry for soulful people living and working and struggling in the real world.

In “Live in San Francisco” David reminds us to “look the present straight in the eyes.” He describes the three possibilities and choices we have when life “gently and not so gently pulls the rug from under us”:

  1. Pretend it never happened, and make people go along with you regarding the version of reality you are holding, which is a representation of something that at one time was real.
  2. Accept that it is happened, but “create a characterization of victimhood about yourself, so that you can bank down into a lovely downward spiral of self-pity.”
  3. Look it straight in the eye, and face both the bitter and the sweet of existence. Stop telling yourself all of the stories you tell yourself that aren’t real. Take the next step into the actual reality that surrounds you, instead of trying to find what is more comfortable for you.

I realized that I had been primarily vacillating between 1 and 2 above, neither of which was working for me. Without accepting fully that the situation I was in has indeed changed, I would not be able to make peace with it and intentional choose how to move on. I realized that I must choose the third path: taking the bitter and sweet of change, and being gentle with myself as I process through the loss of what was and what has changed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Smarter than I was Yesterday

It’s official. The Extraordinary Coach book is out. I co-authored this book with my good colleague Jack Zenger to help managers be better at coaching their employees. McGraw Hill published the book, and it was officially “out” on June 4th. Now, if you were fortunate to pre-order the book from Amazon, you probably got it weeks ago.

Publishing a book is a lot like being an external consultant. People perceive that you are smarter. I routinely consult with bright clients, but because I walked in from the outside, they think somehow I am smarter than their internal organizational development team members. (Often, this is just not the case.) I was as knowledgeable on the topic of coaching before I wrote the book, but now that I have published my thinking, I got even smarter.

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being with an executive team at a very respectable organization, who had managed to pre-order the book and get early copies. I must say that it was humbling to autograph the books for the CEO and several board of director members. One book even made it to a highly-decorated, 4-star general. I certainly smiled internally as I personalized the general’s copy, as I wondered how many years and miles of leadership and coaching he obviously had under his belt. Still, the group was delighted to have me sign his book. I was delighted to do so.

I’m still getting used to this new role, and I will do my best to live up to all of those expectations. J

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Coaches - do you know where you are going?

You can't coach without a contract. What is a coaching contract? The agreement that you make with your coachee (your coaching client, the person you are coaching) regarding what you are both trying to accomplish in your conversation.

Getting a contract is not difficult. It just requires a few steps.
1. Ask the coachee what she wants to focus on. Examples of good questions to elicit this information:
"What is most important for us to focus on?"
"At the end of the conversation, what do you want to leave with?"
"How can I best help you with this issue?"
2. Listen carefully for a defined topic or outcome. Will you know when you've accomplished the objective? If not...
3. Clarify as needed.

Now you are both aligned regarding where you are going. Keep this as your target for the rest of the conversation!

Happy contracting!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Coaching Conundrum

I have a coaching client who is trying to improve his coaching skills. He asked me a very good question via email, and I answered him. I believe this content would be useful for many of us who are trying to improve our coaching effectiveness. Here was our electronic dialogue:

Client Question:

We talked about “powerful questions” and about “awareness” quite a bit yesterday, and you once again commented on how awareness connects back to powerful questioning.

Here is my issue: We use these terms so much that they have become coaching jargon and I am afraid that I don’t really get the clear meaning of these very critical terms. What is a powerful question in this context? Also, I have some confusion about awareness. Awareness of what? If I could better relate to just what this awareness looks like it would be very helpful. Sometimes I feel like we are hiding behind these terms like “powerful questions” and “awareness” and they feel very vague to me. I hope this doesn’t sound stupid or crazy to you and I just know that more clarity on this would be a huge stepping stone toward my progression as a coach.

My Answer:

I can appreciate the importance of wanting to "get" powerful questioning and awareness. Here's the deal...if you can ask questions that lead the client to greater awareness about their situation (stuff they hadn't thought of or seen before themselves), you are helping to create greater awareness for the client into his/her issue. Almost by definition, we would say that the questions you used were therefore powerful. Powerful questions might:

  • Invite insight into a situation
  • Help the client discover new connections or a different angle on their situation
  • Connect dots together where there weren't any before
  • Explore the emotional landscape for the client
  • Create cognitive dissonance which fuels the client to take action

Usually powerful questions are open-ended. However, sometimes scaling questions can be powerful for the client: "On a 1 - 10 scale, how important is this for you?" (Sometimes clients will say, probably only a 4, when before that it sounded like it was a 10. Just having to name the importance often creates awareness and clarity for the client.)

Here's another powerful question: when a client is saying "my boss has it in for me," try asking, "how would your boss describe what is happening?" This helps the client see the situation from the boss's point of view, and this usually creates greater awareness that had not been there before.

Some other powerful questions might be:

  • “What would you be willing to do to change this situation?"
  • "How motivated are you to change this?"
  • “What is the cost of not changing?"

Almost any of these would all likely be questions that the client had not yet asked himself.