That’s Not How Thanksgiving Is Supposed to Be! Or How You Can Make the Most of Team Differences.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. And that means spicy Bloody Marys, roasted turkey with orange cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing, roasted potatoes, gravy, green beans, scalloped oysters and too many desserts. Two hours later, out come the rye bread, mayo, lettuce and dill pickles to make turkey sandwiches. Perfect.

What?! That doesn’t sound like Thanksgiving at your house? Why not? What’s wrong with you?

Funny how we think the way we do things is the right way. Maybe even the only way. “Of course everyone does it like this. That’s how it’s done.”

Imagine my surprise years ago while celebrating Thanksgiving at my college boyfriend’s house. I remember it well. His mother brought out the cranberry sauce—still in the shape of the can she’d extracted it from. It wasn’t even mashed up to appear homemade! (Big judgment on my part.)

Consider this. If someone can be thrown off-kilter by something as simple as a different style of cranberry sauce, just imagine the chaos that different work and management styles can create.

We figure we are doing things the right way. The way it’s done. But no, all of a sudden, one of our colleagues does something contrary. What’s wrong with him? It’s like we’re from different planets.

How can we recognize that our differences are an asset? That they create stronger teams? How can we become open to new ideas without judgment?

When teams are struggling with their differences, it can be helpful to use the metaphor of traveling to other lands. We invite them to consider that each person lives in their own “land,” which is informed by their traditions, upbringing, education and other influences. We emphasize that we are asking them to share what it’s like in their lands and then to travel to others’ lands. Travel allows us to experience the world from another’s perspective.

What does it take to be a good traveler? Lack of judgment, open-mindedness, willingness to try new things and curiosity. Good travelers leave judgment at the border.

As you visit your colleagues’ lands, ask questions like:

  1. What is unique, interesting or edgy about your land?
  2. What are some of the personal biases and prejudices that show up in your land?
  3. Who/what is not welcome in your land?
  4. What is your favorite thing about your land?

Take time to visit each person’s land and learn more about it. Doing this, your team should have developed some empathy, curiosity and appreciation for each others’ lands. They will be able to chart a new geography, bringing the best from each land to most benefit the organization.

To create your new land together, ask questions like:

  1. What do you appreciate about your colleagues’ lands?
  2. What would be helpful to you?
  3. What would you like to import to the land you create together?
  4. How will your new land serve the organization’s goals?

We tend to think of our own values and beliefs as the “correct ones.” Yet every person on your team has a different narrative and perspective, all equally valid. There is no one truth. Organizations flourish when differences exist because it allows for even greater learning and innovating possibilities.

Perhaps it is time for your team to do some traveling. Let Chris Cook be your travel guide and take your organization to its peak. Call 541.601.0114 or email Chris to start making travel plans today!

Note: Lands work is based on a tool from CRR Global.

Looking for an Edge? Use Disruptive Innovation.

What do strengths-based leadership, emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry and courageous conversations have in common? Together, they form a model of coaching that creates more innovative and higher-performing organizations—organizations that use disruptive innovation to become big, juicy and successful rather than withering on the vine.

This holistic coaching model enables people to generate creative solutions to challenges within their workplaces—through disruptive innovation. Capiche uses this model with great success when working with individuals, teams and organizations.

Three scholars from Chicago’s Concordia University are studying this model and its effect on emerging leaders: Kathryn Hollywood, Donna Blaess and Claudia Santin. I saw them present the concept while I was at the University of New Mexico Mentoring Institute’s Eighth Annual Conference last week. I left the presentation with a huge smile on my face. They were speaking my language!

I share their belief that for today’s and tomorrow’s organizations to thrive, they must rely on the innovations of their people. For people to freely innovate, they need a positive mindset. This mindset can be fostered through a holistic coaching model that blends strengths-based leadership, emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry and courageous conversations.

Let’s Look at Each Component

Strengths-Based Leadership

Strengths-based leadership asserts that people are at their best when maximizing their strengths vs. struggling to be mediocre at everything. As Gallup has discovered over nearly 20 years of researching individuals, teams and organizations, leaders who encourage people to develop their strengths can create a powerful organization comprising teams with complementary strengths. A holistic coach can stimulate the development of strengths, inspire the use of strengths in new ways and illuminate accomplishments while nurturing continued growth and development.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI), first introduced in 1998 by Daniel Goleman, is a combination of awareness of self and others—and the ability to manage one’s self and interactions with others for positive outcomes. Some of the benefits of higher EI include greater self-awareness and self-confidence, deeper empathy and a richer capacity to lead and manage change. Other benefits include better health, relationships and overall quality of life. The beauty of EI is that—unlike IQ—it can be increased. Doing so starts with self-awareness, and a coach can be instrumental in a person’s endeavors to increase his EI.

Workplace HipsterAppreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry (AI) focuses on what an individual or organization does well. It shifts the focus from solving problems to multiplying successes. Originally introduced by David Cooperrider in 1986 as a strategy for organizational change, it also is a powerful tool for individual change. As Drs. Hollywood, Blaess and Santin write, “Using AI, the holistic coach will invite the coachee to reflect on specific events or experiences to: a) identify her most outstanding personal accomplishments, b) discuss the learning from these accomplishments, c) identify her values, d) describe five adjectives that describe her ‘at my best’ engagement and e) dream about her contribution to the organization and the world.”

Courageous Conversations

Courageous conversations can only occur in a fearless environment—a place where people are free to try new things as well as to fail. This becomes possible when emotionally intelligent people—working from their strengths—come together to achieve good things and build upon that which is already working. In a trusting and respectful environment, people can share, listen, explore and engage. This is a space where new ideas are born, fresh ways of thinking are embraced and innovation is possible.

The Role of Coaching

We know coaching works. The ICF 2012 Global Coaching Client Study shows most clients reported improved work performance, better business management, more efficient time management, increased team effectiveness and more growth and opportunities. The same study found coaching clients noted greater self-confidence, enhanced relationships, more effective communications skills, better work-and-life balance and an improvement in wellness. The median suggests a client who achieved financial benefit from coaching can typically expect a ROI of more than three times the amount spent.

It’s clear coaching supports and sustains the individual growth needed for high-performing organizations. Holistic coaching focuses on appreciating strengths, developing greater emotional intelligence, opening communication and getting more of what’s already good. This contributes to the organization’s success by maximizing performance, productivity and ability to innovate and change—while developing individuals’ potential and connection to their life’s work.

The ICF study reports that 86 percent of companies say they made their investment back. In fact, 19 percent saw a ROI of 50 times their investment, while another 28 percent saw a ROI of 10 to 49 times the investment.

Get Started Now

Are you ready to go to the next level? Is your organization ready? Let the disruptive innovation begin! Capiche specializes in holistic coaching for individuals, teams and organizations. Call 541.601.0114 or email Chris Cook to see what coaching can do for your organization.

5 Leadership Capacities That Will Make Your Organization Shine

Want to be energetic? Enthusiastic? Hopeful?

Who doesn’t?!

Are people in your organization energetic, enthusiastic and hopeful?

Here’s the secret. I got it from education writer Michael Fullan, who lays out five leadership capacities in a simple way while weaving in knowledge and research from yesterday’s and today’s thought leaders.

The five critical leadership capacities Fullan describes in his book Leading in a Culture of Change are:

  1. Moral purpose

  2. Understanding change

  3. Relationships, relationships, relationships

  4. Knowledge-building

  5. Coherence-making

If you want an organization filled with people who are energetic, enthusiastic and hopeful, you’ve got to make sure your leadership team embodies these capacities in all they do—and that the entire organization is on board with the culture these capacities make up. This is essentially your organization’s brand.

The challenge for each individual is to live the brand and to let it inform every single decision made for the organization.

Moral Purpose

Moral purpose relates to three key elements necessary for a successful organization: vision, values and purpose. Successful organizations are clear on these, and their employees embody them in every action. For example, if sustainability is one of your organization’s values, you wouldn’t send out countless direct mail pieces printed on glossy unrecycled paper. If you were a public school system with a purpose to educate all students in your district, you wouldn’t discriminate against a student with disabilities or low income. Tony Hsieh used vision, value and purpose as the foundation for his world-renowned start-up Zappos. We all know how that worked out!

Understanding Change

To understand change and get others on board is tricky, and 70 percent of change initiatives fail. This is according to John Kotter, who spent 40 years researching change efforts in thousands of contexts. Do you want to know what works? In his book Leading Change, Kotter outlines the eight change accelerators. Get the book. Read it. It’s great. Why reinvent the wheel?

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

When talking about building relationships, the first thing that comes to my mind is emotional intelligence. It’s different from IQ in that you can develop it. People with average IQ and high EQ outperform people with high IQ 70 percent of the time. In a nutshell, EQ is understanding yourself and others—combined with having personal motivation and regulation to communicate effectively and navigate relationships. It will get you $29,000 more per year, make you 58 percent more effective at your job and rank you with 90 percent of top performers.

I’ve taught classes on leading with emotional intelligence and written lots of blogs on the topic. You can read some of them here:

Want to Accelerate Your Career? The Magic Formula Equals EI Plus Coaching

What Tops the List of Lessons Learned by a Recent Master in Management Grad?

Hughesisms: Work Ethic Trumps Talent


Knowledge-building and knowledge-sharing are critical for the growth of any person or organization. The challenge is that individuals will not engage in sharing unless they find it motivating to do so. You can encourage their motivation by making them feel valued and connecting it to your organization’s moral purpose.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
—John F. Kennedy


Finally, to build coherence, a leader must be relentless in the first four capacities—that means having moral purpose, understanding change, developing relationships, and building and sharing knowledge. “The Coherence Framework has four components: focusing direction, cultivating collaborative cultures, deepening learning and securing accountability,” says Fullan in Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts and Systems.

Over time, you will find the most powerful coherence will come from having worked through the ambiguities and complexities of hard-to-solve problems. You will learn as you go. Coherence binds the brand to the culture and creates the culture necessary for the organization—and its people—to flourish.

Develop Your Leadership Capacities

Capiche works with leaders and leadership teams. Let me work with you to develop the five leadership capacities to forge a strong brand and culture. Call 541.601.0114 or email me to get started today.

What’s Stopping You from Reaching Your Potential?

You Can Make Meaningful Change Before the End of 2015—If You Start Now

Do you have a goal you want to reach by the end of the year—either career-related or personal? Is there something you want to improve or change between now and then?

What’s holding you back? Where are you stuck? Why haven’t you been successful in the past?

Have you ever considered working with a coach?

You may wonder who exactly seeks out a coach … it’s winners who want even more out of life.

Finding the right coach may not be as momentous a decision as choosing your life partner, but it’s not far off.

As with any close relationship, there has to be harmony. Kindred spirits inspire, but they can also hold you back. You’re not looking for a friend. Or a superior. You want an equal whom you respect and who respects you.

Lion in the MirrorThe right coach will connect with you at a profound level while also applying gentle pressure, like the grit that polishes the pearl. Without challenge and accountability, you’re just having a conversation.

Recommendations from colleagues are helpful, but one person may like Uggs while another prefers tap shoes. You have to find the best fit for you. Who’s going to help you reach your goals?

Are your aspirations professional, personal or both? Do your research and find out what kind of a coach you want. An executive coach? Business coach? Life coach? Career coach? Or could your team be more effective?

Explore the websites of coaches in your area and see whose philosophy, personality, and attitude resonate with you. Narrow your list down to a few finalists and schedule a free consultation.

When you meet with a prospective coach, pay attention to how you behave and feel. You may find yourself sharing things you’d never expected to tell a stranger during a first meeting. You need someone you can be completely honest with. If you quickly develop a rapport, there’s a good likelihood you’ll be able to establish a relationship of mutual trust.

The coach’s questions may elicit new realizations about your career or life trajectory. Did you come away from that first meeting feeling inspired, with a clearer vision of what to aim for and how to get there? A coach should help you clarify your goals while also equipping you with the tools to reach them.

In Your Executive Coaching Solution, Joan Kofodimos says a good coach will do the following:

  1. Strike a balance between supporting and challenging you
  2. Help create feedback loops with colleagues
  3. Assist with clarifying your true strengths, values and purpose
  4. Provide structure in the development process
  5. Broaden your perspectives
  6. Teach concepts and skills
  7. Maintain confidentiality
  8. Influence how others view you

Keep these tips in mind as you evaluate coaches and try to listen equally to your heart and your head. Ultimately, you’re looking for the person who’s going to push you to greater heights—and depths.

Chris Cook Head ShotAs you seek a coach who is right for you, give me a chance to interview for the position.

Not sure if coaching is for you? Check out my coaching services for free. In your 30-minute sample session, I guarantee you will design action toward the change you desire. I will help you become clearer on what you want, develop action plans, stay committed to your goals and live intentionally.

As your coach, I will hold you accountable—and that’s a good thing because statistics show people who are coached are seven times more likely to follow through on their plans.

Call 541.601.0114 or email me today to schedule your free sample session and get started on making those changes you’ve been thinking about for … [fill in the blank].

Don’t Let Stress Kill Your Dreams—and Other Lessons from a Shipbuilder

Orcas Island

Photo by Chris Cook

This is a story about Robert—and all of us. Robert moved to the West Coast without a dime in his pocket. Over the next 30 years, he became mayor of a major city and owner of a successful shipbuilding business.

At only 48 years of age, Robert was told the stress of his work had taken a toll on his health—and he had 1 year to live. Robert gave up politics and sold his shipbuilding business for what would be $60 million today. He moved to Orcas Island with his family and retired. More about Robert later …

The Trouble with Stress

Many workplaces have unconsciously developed a culture of stress. The most common cause of stress in the workplace is extensive overtime—too much work. This results from cuts in staffing, a fear of being laid off and pressure to meet ever-rising job expectations without a corresponding increase in compensation, recognition or job satisfaction.

If you are a business owner or manage a team of employees, do you know the negative impacts of a stressed-out employee or work team? According to the US Bureau of Labor, stress costs US business more than $400 billion annually. This manifests in a high rate of employee turnover, overuse of sick time, lower productivity, less creativity and poor customer service. So you’d better be on the lookout for stressed-out employees.

Rick Hughes, a lead advisor for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy lists these 10 warning signs.

Stressed-out employees:

  1. Take more time off work than usual—sick leave or vacation.
  2. Have increased use of substances such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs (prescription and illegal).
  3. Exhibit greater irritability, poor concentration and reduced productivity.
  4. Have deteriorating personal or work relationships, including bullying behaviors.
  5. Are more emotional, moody or over-reactive to what others say.
  6. Start to behave differently—in a way that’s out of the norm.
  7. Have a change in eating and sleep patterns.
  8. Exhibit physical reactions such as sweating, palpitations and increased blood pressure.
  9. Feel negative, depressed and anxious most of the time.
  10. Feel trapped or frustrated … and believe there’s no solution.

Cascade Campground SignIf you see any of these warning signs, it’s time to take action. That means shifting from a culture of stress to a culture of engagement and productivity. Talk to the employee and get to the root cause. Then make changes to counteract the stressors. It may seem like an expensive proposition, but it’s not nearly as expensive as doing nothing.

What if you are an employee and you think you might be experiencing a level of stress beyond that which is healthy?

Here are five ways you can combat stress:

  1. Get moving! Start with a basic exercise program—even if it’s just a short walk during a morning break. You’ll feel better and have a clearer head.
  2. Kiss your kids. Kiss your partner. (No, not your business partner—your life partner!) Creating a sense of connectedness releases endorphins—the counter-agent to stress.
  3. Get to know your fellow workers. Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace makes for a happier, more supportive environment.
  4. Have a cup of tea. Scientists at University College London noted that people who drank black tea four times a day for six weeks had lower levels of cortisol after a stressful task than those who drank a caffeinated fruit beverage.
  5. Reflect on what you value. By getting in touch with what’s really important to you, you are better able to make decisions that resonate—in other words, make yourself feel good instead of bad. You’ll find the “small stuff” doesn’t stress you out as much.

Lesson from Robert

KayakingBack to Robert, the man given just a year to live because of the toll stress had taken on his body. He is a real person. His name was Robert Moran. In 1875, at age 18, the penniless Robert moved from New York to Seattle. Over the next three decades, he created a successful shipbuilding business, became mayor of Seattle, rebuilt it after the Great Seattle Fire and also rebuilt his shipbuilding business. (That would cause a bit of stress, huh?)

After being given a year to live, he and his family moved to Orcas Island off the coast of Washington. He lived there another 38 years! Grateful for a new lease on life, he donated 2,700 acres of land to the state of Washington for preservation—one of the country’s first state parks. He wanted others to enjoy the health benefits of spending time in nature. Today we know the land as Moran State Park, the largest public forestland in the San Juan Islands and home to old-growth forest.

Do you have important things you still want to accomplish in this life? Don’t let stress kill your dreams. Capiche can help you implement the changes necessary to do away with stress—both in your life and your company culture. Let me know what is stressing you out, and let’s fix it. Just call 541.601.0114 or email to get started.

10 Ways to Make Your Employees Hate You—and Your Company

Mean Boss Yelling at Employee
Narcissistic. Rude. Insensitive. Arrogant. Something tells me you wouldn’t want to hang out with someone who matches this description, much less work for them.

The Costs to Employees

Mean bosses can wreck your work life—and your health. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers author Robert M. Sapolsky informs us that intermittent stressors like incivility in the workplace not only take a toll on our psychological well-being but also our physiological state.

This kind of chronic stress spikes our glucocorticoid levels, compromising our immune system and ultimately leading to a bevy of health problems ranging from ulcers to heart disease, diabetes to cancer. It also makes us hungry and fat.

Women in one decade-long study, for example, were 38% more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event when subjected to job stress.

The Costs to Business

Misery and poor health are the costs to employees. According to Christine Porath and Christine Pearson, authors of Harvard Business Review article “The Price of Incivility,” the annual cost to an organization can reach the millions.

Why? When the authors polled 800 leaders and employees across 17 industries, they discovered employees responded to incivility in the workplace by:

  • Purposefully slacking off (48%)
  • Spending as little time as possible at work (47%)
  • Producing poorer-quality results (38%)
  • Taking time off due to anxiety about a specific experience (80%) or to avoid encountering an uncivil boss or colleague (63%)
  • Performing worse (66%)
  • Feeling less committed to the organization (78%)
  • Quitting their job (12%)
  • Treating customers poorly (25%)

Boorish Behavior

So what exactly are the emotionally unintelligent behaviors that trigger these responses in employees?

Christine Porath continues her exploration of incivility in The New York Times article “No Time to Be Nice at Work,” identifying the following rude actions as most frequently cited in a recent survey (ordered by frequency):

  • Interrupting others
  • Judging those perceived as different
  • Not listening to opinions
  • Giving oneself the most appealing task and allotting the tough ones to others
  • Not communicating critical details
  • Lacking standard courtesies (no “please”s or “thank-you”s)
  • Being condescending
  • Taking more credit than is due
  • Using foul language
  • Belittling people

A Failure to Communicate

An Interact/Harris Poll of 1,000 US workers revealed 91% of employees felt flawed communication was at the root of poor leadership.

Lou Solomon documents these cardinal communication sins in her Harvard Business Review article “The Top Complaints from Employees About Their Leaders.”

Below are the issues pinpointed by survey participants, ranked according to percentage:

  • Failure to recognize employee accomplishments (63%). As we explored in our series on The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (see part 1 and part 2), bosses who fail to acknowledge employees’ efforts cause them to feel unappreciated. This leads to burnout, resentment, and a decline in performance.
  • Failure to give clear guidance (57%). Vague or ambiguous directions often reveal the leader’s own incompetence and lack of clarity about the project. How can leaders effectively guide a team when they can’t even articulate their goals?
  • Failure to meet with subordinates (52%). Leaders who don’t take the time to meet with their employees lose a crucial opportunity for connection. Employees do not trust aloof managers.
  • Not bothering to talk to employees (51%). Just as lack of communication is one of the predictors of a failed relationship, so is it an indicator of ineffective leadership.
  • Taking credit for someone else’s work (47%). A boss who claims ownership of employees’ ideas undermines motivation and sows mistrust.
  • Failure to provide constructive criticism (39%). Poor managers tend to insult an employee rather than clearly identifying issues and outlining substantive feedback.
  • Not learning the names of their employees (36%). Why should an employee care about a leader’s objectives when that leader can’t even be bothered to learn her name?
  • Avoiding voice-to-voice contact (34%). Managers who are unavailable to their employees via in-person or phone meetings create a further sense of disconnection.
  • Not getting to know employees (23%). When leaders don’t take the time to chat with employees about non-work topics, employees feel as if their personal lives—and by extension, they themselves—don’t matter to their boss.

Your Stories

What are some of the emotionally unintelligent behaviors you’ve observed in leaders? I’d love to hear about your experiences with bosses from hell. On the flip side, I’d also love to hear about your experiences with bosses from heaven. We can learn from both.

Curious How You Can Change Your Workplace?

Give me a call at 541.601.0114 or email I’m happy to assess your situation and help you develop a plan to improve your work situation.

Want to Accelerate Your Career? The Magic Formula = EI + Coaching

Happy, Successful Leader with Emotional Intelligence
What will get you $29,000 more per year, make you 58% more effective at your job and rank you with 90% of top performers? If you’ve been following this blog, you can probably guess.

Yep, that’s right. Emotional intelligence.

Unless you want to be among the 80% of low-EQ employees classed as “bottom performers,” it’s time to discover how you can accelerate your career and become a better leader by developing your emotional intelligence.

Studies show those with average IQs outshine their highest-IQ counterparts 70% of the time because of their EQ.

Whereas IQ and personality are static elements of your makeup, you can always increase your emotional intelligence (thanks to the wonders of neuroplasticity)—and doing so will make a surprising difference in both your life and work.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

In a recent Forbes article, bestselling coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and cofounder of Talent Smart Travis Bradberry describes the two primary competencies and four core skills that make up emotional intelligence.

Personal Competence

This first competency comprises self-awareness (observation) and self-management (actions). Your observation skills, sensitivity and ability to control your emotions come into play here. How conscious are you of your emotions, and how accurate are your self-perceptions? Do you practice mindfulness to remain aware of your emotions, and are you able to take a step back and regulate them when needed? How malleable are you, and can you transform a negative emotion into a positive action?

Social Competence

This competency focuses on social awareness (observation) and relationship management (actions), mapping the reflection and regulation required for personal competence to social situations and relationships. How well do you understand the motives, actions and moods of those around you? Do you intuitively sense people’s emotions and accurately perceive their intentions? Can you use these perceptions to navigate relationships and communicate successfully?

What’s Your EQ?

In an Inc. article, Bradberry outlines 18 key indicators of highly developed emotional intelligence.

Here are a few questions to help you explore your EQ and see how you well you meet Bradberry’s criteria:

  • Do you use a rich range of vocabulary when describing your and others’ emotions? The better you can articulate emotions, the better you can understand and thus manage those emotions.
  • Are you curious about people? Curiosity is a marker of empathy, and it also suggests a natural willingness to listen.
  • Do you welcome change? When your reaction to change is governed by openness and adaptability rather than fear, you will float rather than flounder in the face of transformation.
  • Are you aware of your strengths and weaknesses? If you have a clear sense of your gifts and blind spots, you can leverage your strengths to your advantage while minimizing the impact of your weaknesses.
  • How well can you judge people’s character? This quality is critical to building and leading a successful team.

Ready to Develop Your EI?

Becoming aware of the significance of emotional intelligence is the first step. The second is actively seeking to improve it.

It’s sometimes difficult to objectively evaluate your EI, particularly if you’re one of the many high potentials and middle managers who need to develop this area before they can rise to greatness. Even those who have already achieved success may have difficulty connecting with their employees in meaningful and effective ways.

No matter where you’re at on the EQ scale, you can always benefit from honing your EI. According to Bradberry, “every point increase in emotional intelligence adds $1,300 to an annual salary.”

But monetary rewards are only the beginning. Possessing self-understanding and the ability to control your emotions will give you a greater sense of purpose, peace and well-being. Developing a deeper rapport with your colleagues and employees will increase your effectiveness, their productivity and everyone’s happiness.

The Time Is Now

A co-active leadership coach like Chris Cook can accurately assess your EQ, identify ways to improve your emotional intelligence and give you the tools to do so. Chris will nudge you gently but firmly toward outcomes, holding you accountable while inspiring personal and professional growth.

To schedule a complimentary phone, Skype or in-person consultation with Chris, call 541.601.0114, email or complete our Contact form today.

The Rock or the Rebel? How Learning Agility Can Make or Break Your Company

Businessman Climbing a Staircase of Books

Your company is expanding into India, and you’ve got to hire a CEO to head up the new branch. What qualities do you look for?

Do you select the candidate with the solid academic credentials, proven track record and cautious yet consistently successful approach? Or do you go with the wildcard—the rogue leader who questions authority, circumvents convention and takes risks, even though they may fail?

A recent Harvard Business Review article by J.P. Flaum and Becky Winkler says you should go with the rebel.

Why? Because the sure thing may not turn out to be so sure when thrown into an unfamiliar context. Leaders who easily achieve success with known variables may find their formulas don’t work so well when those variables change. Unaccustomed to failure, they may react defensively, sending the company into a tailspin while struggling to cope with the unexpected.

The wildcard, on the other hand, embraces challenge. She’s not afraid to take strategic risks because she doesn’t fear failure—instead of crumbling, she bounces back stronger, learning from her mistakes and adapting accordingly. She may be harder to govern, but she listens to her team, reflects, and recalibrates when circumstances demand—and this learning agility is the bellwether of success.

Traditionally, corporations have opted for the kowtower over the renegade—a pattern that frequently produces catastrophic results.

Case in Point: Apple

Take Apple, for example. Go back to 1985, when the Board is faced with a choice between Steve Jobs and CEO John Sculley, who had been specifically directed to “contain” Jobs and his cavalier tendency to lavish resources on new product ideas. The Board chose Sculley, and 13 years later, Sculley left the company $200 million in debt. Sure, Apple still had $2 billion in cash, but their reputation was on the decline along with profits, and it wasn’t until they brought Jobs back in 1997 that Apple’s brand, stock prices and profitability began to soar again.

What the Board had feared in Jobs is precisely what made him such a triumphant leader: he was daring, original, flexible and resilient—in other words, he was learning-agile.

What Is Learning Agility?

Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership and Teachers College, Columbia University say learning-agile leaders are “continually able to jettison skills, perspectives and ideas that are no longer relevant and learn new ones that are.”

Flaum and Winkler summarize the findings on learning agility as “a mind-set and corresponding collection of practices that allow leaders to continually develop, grow and utilize new strategies that will equip them for the increasingly complex problems they face in their organizations.”

The researchers found that the single defining characteristic of non–learning-agile individuals is defensiveness. People who fear change, resist new experiences and respond negatively to critiques or challenges lack the resilience necessary to grow and, subsequently, learn.

Learning-agile leaders, on the other hand, solicit feedback and evolve to integrate what they’ve learned. This kind of emotional intelligence requires listening skills, empathy, imagination and humility.

See the white paper Learning About Learning Agility for more details.

Key Behaviors

Four key behaviors are associated with learning agility:

  • Innovation: People who think different are the revolutionaries who will change the course of your company’s history. You want the wave-makers and the earth-shakers—they’re the ones who are going to launch your organization to success.
  • Performance: The learning-agile cope marvelously with stress, adversity and uncharted territory. They don’t shatter when failure occurs but instead respond with elasticity and grace, deftly changing tack and perfecting a strategy based on what they’ve learned.
  • Reflection: This, again, is where emotional intelligence comes in, specifically self-awareness, according to studies by Green Peak Partners identifying this as the top predictor of success in executive leaders. This quality enables the learning-agile to self-assess, seek feedback and modify their behavior.
  • Risk: Learning-agile individuals don’t take foolhardy risks, but they also don’t let fear or caution prevent them from seizing opportunity. They welcome new experiences and constantly seek out ways to stretch themselves and their team. They court failure, knowing they will always learn from it and do better in future. Like the phoenix rising from its ashes, the learning-agile person grows more confident, resilient and astute with each stumble.

The Connection Between Emotional Intelligence and Learning Agility

In their 1990 article “Emotional Intelligence,” Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer define EI as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Flaum and Winkler suggest self-monitoring and managing your emotions both require learning agility, making it crucial to emotional intelligence. They also connect it to superior listening skills.

Do You Want to Become More Learning-Agile?

A coach can help you learn how to innovate, perform, reflect and take risks that will stretch you as well as showing you how to shed obstructive qualities like defensiveness.

Contact Chris Cook at 541.601.0114 or to explore how her leadership coaching services can hone your learning agility, emotional intelligence and effectiveness as both a leader and a human being.

“Let Me Not Die While I Am Still Alive.”

Stormy Sky Clouds
And other lessons from an untimely death.

I think I have a lot in common with 391,833 other Facebook users. I don’t want anyone to miss the essence of Sheryl Sandberg’s message from June 3 sharing her feelings and realizations from the 30-day religious mourning period following her husband’s unexpected death.

My thoughts keep going back to her Facebook post on losing her husband, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Goldberg. What she shared can make us all stronger, more emotionally intelligent and better parents, children and friends.

She now understands the one-line prayer, “Let me not die while I am still alive,” shared by her childhood friend, now a rabbi.

She understands that “when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well. But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.”

And empathy—Sheryl shines a new light on the power of empathy. In the past, she would have thought exhibiting empathy would look something like trying to reassure someone things would get better or—as many of us do—to put a silver lining on it, “Well, at least you had a great marriage for 11 years,” or “Thank goodness you have your children.”

Sheryl says it’s all about truth. “Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, ‘You and your children will find happiness again,’ my heart tells me, yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, ‘You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good’ comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple ‘How are you?’—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with ‘How are you today?’ When I am asked ‘How are you?’ I stop myself from shouting, ‘My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?’ When I hear ‘How are you today?’ I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.”

She also learned that resilience can be learned. Her friend Adam M. Grant taught her about the three components that create resilience: “Personalization—realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word ‘sorry.’ To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence—remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.”

Thanks for sharing, Sheryl. We’ve looked up to you as a highly successful female executive and bestselling author. Your book, Lean In, inspired us women to get out there and claim our place in the world of business. Your recent Facebook post inspires us and teaches us how important it is to choose meaning and life, impart empathy and learn to be resilient. How are you today?

Links to other articles and blogs on Sheryl’s post can be found at The New York Times.

What’s the Best Blend of Mentoring and Coaching?

Mentee Artwork (Orange Fields Green Mountains with Lamb)

All artwork by a girl Chris mentored for five years as part of the Soroptimist Strong Girls Strong Women program

Coaching and mentoring are close to my heart. Now a certified coach, I am fortunate to be in contact with a mentor I have had since my senior year in college over three decades ago. A retired journalist and professor, she is an author, a woman of great wisdom—and still my mentor.

Because of my experience in mentoring, coaching training and work with leaders related to emotional intelligence, I have been asked to lead a workshop at the University of New Mexico’s Mentoring Institute Annual Conference this year. The topic is “Developing Excellence in Leadership and Coaching—for Mentors.”

This blog post features an interview about that workshop.

Interview with Chris Cook

In this edition of Mentoring and Coaching Monthly, you will find an interview with 2016 Pre-Conference Workshop leader Chris Cook. Her workshop, “Developing Excellence in Leadership and Coaching—for Mentors,” is sure to have something for everyone.

Mentee Artwork (Girl in Mixed Media)Q: Can you describe your background? How did you get into mentoring?

A: My background includes 30+ years in marketing for professional services, higher education, nonprofits and other businesses. A few years ago, I earned a master in management degree, and in the process I found positive psychology. I loved it! I found a way to mesh marketing and positive psychology in work that focuses on helping organizations develop and live their brand. There’s a lot of coaching involved—and some mentoring.

For coaching, I trained at the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and at CRR Global, and I am certified by the International Coaches Federation. I work with a variety of individuals and organizations.

I am both a mentor and a coach. Actually, coaching and mentoring are very close. There is a distinction though. Mentors work with mentees who want to learn the skills and knowledge their mentors have developed to further their life goals. Coaches work with clients to help them discover their greatest purpose, passion and values and to help them lead/live intentionally—in resonant choice.

As a mentor and a coach, I’ve found there are times in which you need to be one and not the other. Part of this workshop is to help mentors learn how and when to use skills that come from the coaching profession to augment their mentoring skills.

Mentee Artwork (Bird Collage)Q: What else can those attending your workshop expect?

A: They can expect 3+ hours of hands-on, experiential learning. I will share tools I have used over the years, and we will practice and talk about ways to use them in different situations. I expect the participants will learn as much from each other as they will from me!

Q: Without giving too much away, can you describe the co-active coaching model and the relationship systems model?

A: The co-active coaching model was developed by Karen Kimsey-House and Henry Kimsey-House—two pioneers in the coaching world and cofounders of the Coaches Training Institute. It emphasizes a partnership between the client and the coach, and it also promotes a combination of deepening understanding (co) and forwarding the action (active).

The relationship systems model I use is based on work by Marita Fridjhon and Faith Fuller, the cofounders of CRR Global. The premise is that we are all in relationship—with ourselves, our partners, teams, organizations, etc. Here we coach the system, not the individuals.

Both coaching methods have been used around the world and in nearly every type of organization with nearly every kind of person.

Mentee Artwork (Composition in Yellow)
Q: Do you believe that everyone has the potential for creativity?

A: One of the most basic premises of coaching using these methods is that we believe the people/systems are naturally intelligent and creative and resourceful.

Q: What constitutes an effective leader/coach?

A: There are several skills that are critical—mostly based on having highly developed emotional intelligence. The good part is EI can be learned. It can be developed. It’s not like IQ, which you are born with a level and that’s the level where it remains.

Q: Is an effective leader born, or can anyone learn to lead effectively?

A: I believe people can learn emotional intelligence, and, with that, they can learn leadership skills and tools. The competencies of EI—self-awareness, self-regulation/motivation, empathy and relationship awareness—are the foundation to all relationships. Leaders set the stage for how the relationship—or organization—will work together.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to those entering into a leadership position?

A: Find a mentor and get a coach. There’s nothing like having someone help you through a transition, help you grow in a new role and help you develop your own leadership style. Plus, it’s true when they say, “It’s lonely at the top.” A mentor and a coach will be your ally, and they will hold you accountable to take the steps to maximize your potential.