This time last year, I was hot off a coaching certification class, supporting coaching clients, in the final weeks leading up to a huge project deadline at my day job, mentoring a student director on a musical, in pre-production for my next stage play, making plans for my partner's upcoming birthday, and recovering from shingles (this is not a blog post about shingles).
I was expecting a pause in my schedule as pandemic numbers grew increasingly worrisome and closer to home. I was expecting 90 days of uncertainty. I had no idea how my world would change. None of us really, practically, understood the Experience that would become 2020.
And here we are, one year later. To say I've learned a lot about myself, my relationships, and my community would be a lame understatement. My life and my livelihood simply changed, full-stop. While I miss parts of the world from before, I'm anxious to see what's emerging: the old tactics are not going to apply in this newer world. Opportunities abound. We're all in the funknown now.
I'm feeling oddly reflective. With the privilege of hindsight I'm struck by those little things that hit me hardest over this last year; lessons I may not have otherwise experienced:
Those are the big three. Sure, I could talk about the exhilarating, terrifying experience of blowing up my day job to create the type of work life I wanted. I could extol the virtues of yoga pants and lounge bras; of not wearing high heels and makeup. Of protesting and Go Funding and learning and unlearning; of panic for the world and grief for the unnecessary loss of so many people. I'm sure you could, too.
But I'm curious: what has stuck with you? What lessons have you learned about yourself? What takeaways do you come back to when you reflect back on this year?
I've spent a large portion of my career in change management. It's a field of varied theories and disciplines and methodologies governed by a single standard of conduct from the Association of Change Management Professionals, an organization of which I'm a founding member. I am certified in one of the aforementioned methodologies and I'm one of the first 500 people in the world to achieve the Certified Change Management Professional credential (I'm really proud of that). All of this gloating is meant to demonstrate that I'm a big change nerd.
But let me back up. What is change management? I define it as managing the people side of organizational transformation. Hyatt and Creasy, who are rockstars in the field, define it as "the process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome." No matter where you work or live, you've experienced change management. For example:
Contents of each example go on to specifically call out how the changes benefit you (and the business). I'm over-simplifying, of course. And because change is constant, there are fleets of change management professionals working behind the scenes on behalf of the people who are impacted by proposed organizational or business changes to make the transition as seamless as possible; who address business goals and genuinely seek to improve things for people on the journey from where they are today to where they need to be, tomorrow.
But Kari, why are you writing about change in a coaching blog? Since change management supports people as they undergo organizational transformation and coaching supports people as they undergo personal transformation, there is dynamic crossover between disciplines. And whether we're talking organizational or personal lens, people look for a magic bullet to make the change stick; to guarantee success.
I wish-- oh how I wish-- there was a magic bullet to make change easy to implement and to adapt to, but there isn't (I know, bummer... but are you really surprised?). In my 13-plus years in this field, I can share key questions that boost the likelihood of success if they're addressed in planning for change (and how they apply to coaching). So here we go.
What is the problem you're trying to solve? I love this question, and my clients are sick of me asking it. It gets to the "TO BE" of the change equation. If you're introducing something new, what is it in response to? Is something broken or inefficient? What data do you have to support that it is broken? Have you asked the people who are potentially impacted by this change if they have any thoughts/feelings/beliefs about the situation? If we don't change at all or only change a little, what happens? Or, if nothing is broken, where is the desire for this change coming from? Without clarity of the problem from the outset, you don't know what you're working towards. If you lack cohesion, vision and direction, you've failed from GO. There has to be a reason.
Why now? We've clearly defined the problem and we know where we're going, together. But is this the right time? What is driving the timeline? What's occurred that points to Exactly This Moment as the time to rip off the change bandaid? As my PMP friends like to ask, are there any precursors or dependencies impacting the timing of this change? How much change have people recently experienced, or may be experiencing, that contributes to their ability to be open to change? Do you have the time and can you make the time do introduce the change in a way that allows for peoples' awareness, desire for the change, knowledge of and ability to change grown at a manageable rate? While we can Kool-aid Man changes, it's more effective and less disruptive to business if we can be reasonable with the timeline. For everyone involved.
Who is sponsoring this change? The change sponsor is the uber-champion of the initiative. "They must be visible, trusted, and engaged throughout the change effort. The [Sponsor] provides strategic direction, vision and leadership... fosters collaboration and communication... and ensures the realization of benefits and sustainment of the effort" (Ginsburg, 2018). The success or failure of a change initiative can hinge on having the right sponsor.* Sponsors can be up-skilled to be most effective in their role, especially if they are enthusiastic, genuine and well-respected. If they've none of those attributes, or if they shift their focus to the next shiny thing mid-change, your change is at risk.
Where are the barriers that might result in resistance? It could be technology, time, abilities, willingness to change, fatigue: learn what's in the way of people easily saying "yes" to the change. Have you spoken with them, or are you relying on assumptions and what the organization thinks people might need? Conversely, do you understand what motivates the people who are being impacted by the change, to help shift focus to how the change adds value to their lives?
How will this change be sustained in the long-term? I've worked on too many project teams where the mentality is that the work is over once a planned change is live. That is, in fact, when the hard work begins. That's when the change slowly morphs into routine and becomes part of a person's daily life. That's when everything can go horribly awry. The changes need to be reinforced. People need to be reminded how to think, act and (possibly) feel about the change as they start to own their post-change experiences.** Sometimes, people need additional support and nudges until they have the confidence to do it on their own. If new changes come along, they also need support understanding how this new change relates to the old one.
Think about the changes you've tried to introduce to your life that maybe haven't stuck. Where did you lose track of your goal? Which question led to the breakdown? How can I support you as you navigate the in-between-- the funknown-- between where you are today and where you want to be?
* I believe in this so much that I published a white paper in 2018 about the effectiveness of sponsors that I'll gladly share if you'd like to nerd-out with me.
** Think about it this way: you get a puppy. You enroll with the puppy in obedience training to make sure they have good little puppy manners. The puppy learns that you're a helper and they look to you for guidance. Together, you work hard and they graduate from training. And overnight you stop reinforcing the training. You stop calling the cues, gently correcting bad manners, and perhaps finding additional training. You expect the puppy to have it, but they fall apart. They still needed your help and guidance. The failure of their manners isn't theirs; it's yours. You gave up on them at a critical developmental period.
At its core, Dr. Sims offered a casual-but-huge takeaway about mitigating uncertainties at decision points: choose you. Yes, assess the benefits and the risks, the costs and consequences, but honor yourself. Those two simple words have stuck with me for seven months, at the front of my mind and on the tip of my tongue.
Of course I choose me, don't I? Sure. Yes. Mostly. Often. The more I thought about choosing myself, the more my certainty about actually doing it faltered:
A second list, choosing-for-me, bubbled up radiant moments when I let go of what I thought or imagined were exterior expectations and said yes to my instincts, my needs and my wants:
I spend gads of time with clients unpacking why they can't or shouldn't do things.
"They expect something else from me."
"What if I disappoint them."
"I don't want to seem selfish."
All valid, selfless reasons to avoid social discomfort. And when we talk about the cost of those decisions, I always, always think about a life on the high seas and ask, "what happens if you choose you?"
Give that a think.
Then give it a try.
Then let me know what that does for you.
Welcome to January! The dumpster fire that was 2020 is giving way to a new decade, a new administration, a new vaccine, and a new hope (though not of the Star Wars variety).
Whether you've spent the last few days culling down your social media friend lists, clearing out your inbox, or clearing off your countertops, I suspect you're also mentally preparing for the year ahead.
At the start of every year, that hope and mental preparation typically equates to goal-setting. I know: how predictable that a coach is posting about goals in January. I'm disappointed in myself, too... but before I get to goals I want to say one thing
(hoists herself onto a soap box)
Resolutions and all the inspirational quotes and social media churn surrounding them may make you think that you have to change or overhaul your life because it's a new year. That's absolutely not true.
(hops down from a soap box)
Is the start of the year a good time to take a moment to reflect on where you are and where you want to be? Sure. Can you also do that reflection on a random Tuesday in May? Yes. Are goals and change and transformation easy one-and-done activities? Nope. Coaches and therapists and friends and partners and the Internet and books and your pets can all help and support you on your journey.
But if you're feeling like making a tweak to your life, if you're looking to set some goals or-- as I like to call them-- I Want statements to help you dominate in this new year, here are four tips to help drive your success and make those goals stick:
Tip 1: Capture Your I Want Statement
Tip 2: One Bite At A Time
Achieving your goal isn't going to happen overnight. You have to break it down into small, bite-sized chunks and commit to focused work to drive that goal to success. Your I Want may have a bunch of little I Wants as you start to clarify your journey towards success. Take into account obstacles that you imagine may get in your way, and strategize now to prevent them from derailing you.
Tip 3: Know What Success Looks Like
How will you know you've reached your goal if you don't spend a moment imagining success? How will you measure your progress toward that goal? To get science-y, don't forget to give yourself both quantitative (numeric, or countable) and qualitative (feeling, action, behavior) ways to track your progress.
Tip 4: Deadlines & Accountabili-buddies
Napolean Hill (the Think & Grow Rich guy) said "A goal is a dream with a deadline." Without giving yourself a date or time by which you want to achieve your I Want and see results, you're going to get stuck in "whelmed" reverie. You're doing for the sake of doing. You're stuck in neutral. You won't realize results for yourself.
Let me know how I can help you as you're planning and crushing your goals. Not sure you're on the right track? Let's connect and work through it together.
During our coaching engagements, we talk about your I Want statement (that's the big goal that you're working towards). While uncovering and discovering your I Want, we also talk about what success looks like and feels like. What are the thoughts, actions, and behaviors that reflect the achievement of that I Want statement? How will you measure that success to know you've arrived at it?
We also talk about rewards and celebrations for both big and small results. What are you going to do privately and publicly (or, within your support network) to celebrate hitting those milestones, actualizing those achievements, bringing whatever it is you WANT into your life?
Here's why this is important: celebrating gives you a moment to reflect back on your accomplishments and to remember why that goal was important to you. It gives you a moment to give thanks for the personal accountability you've brought to yourself and reinforces motivation. If you believe in manifesting practices, acknowledging and honoring success will bring more success your way. If you were to google "why celebrating success is important," you'll see hundreds of search results with variations on these themes. However, what matters most is you. YOU did this. YOU accomplished this. YOU deserve to celebrate you.
So, what are are you doing to celebrate yourself? As you prioritize others this season, make sure you're also rewarding yourself for your progress, your achievements, and the fact that you're pretty badass.
Do me a favor: leave me a little note about how you celebrate yourself and your successes. Is it a long walk? A Wendy's Frosty? A dance part in your kitchen? One more episode of that binge-worthy show on tv?
This one's gonna be quick.
When we sit down together to identify your "I Want" statement (that's the big goal that brought you to coaching), I'm going to ask you a series of follow-on questions. They usually go something like this:
I ask you these questions because I want to make sure it's clear to both of us what we're working towards. I want to make sure you hear yourself establishing milestones, intended behaviors or thought processes, and that you begin to envision yourself in success. This is a crucial component of self-accountability.
Then, I'm going to ask you a follow-up question that my clients always, always get annoyed at me for bringing up: How are we going to measure your progress? (I'm going to pause here to say that if the opening chords of Seasons of Love just started worming their way into your ear... well... you're welcome.)
It's not a trick question. You've told me only moments ago how success appears against your senses. This "ugh" question forces you to quantify the qualitative: Where are you (today), where do you want to go (your goal), where are you challenged (the Funknown) and where are you making progress (measures). Measures-- or metrics, if you're Six Sigma kinda person-- drive your goals and catapult your achievements. They are unique to you and reflect what's important to you.
If we don't know what we're measuring your progress towards your success, then how will we know when to celebrate?
When you're starting a coaching business-- or any business, for that matter-- you're encouraged to "niche-down". Who are your clients? Where do you find them? How will they know you're of their tribe? And then you're encouraged to niche down further, to dig deeper and focus on your target Person.
As I was launching this business, my internal soundtrack swung between "I can coach anyone who is ready to be coached" and "why should anyone listen to me?" [Here's the thing: I'm going to blatantly ignore that second question for this blog post, but we'll come back to it in the future, ok? Cool.] When I really gave myself a moment to check my ego, I understood that the first statement was untrue. Am I capable of coaching anyone? Sure, but what about people whose values are in conflict with mine? What about folks whose core beliefs are of oppression, racism, misogyny...? Those are not my people. It's likely they wouldn't want what I bring to the table, anyway. My niche-down journey was an exploration of who I wanted to elevate, to support through transformation and to signal boost.
Who are my people? What defines "my clients"?
By now I hoped you've spent some time exploring this website. You see that my clients are female-identifying or femme entrepreneurs. They're brash and bold. They want to dominate their lives, professionally and personally. They're disrupters while being disarming (which is a phrase that my friend Anthony coined). They're badass.
But why this particular group of women? I'm so glad you asked. Women need to raise up other women. One of the phrases that's been on-repeat in my life is that we need to take care of each other. We need to promote one another. Healthy competition is always welcomed, except when it's more appropriate to step to the side and shine your light on someone else. I cannot tell you how many times my professional development has been stifled by other women pulling me down while the men above me push me back. It's exhausting.
But Kari, hasn't the workplace become more welcoming of women's voices? LOL sure. Salary disparity is narrowing, advancement opportunities are expanding, and the workplace is slowly evolving into a more welcoming place for (almost) everyone).
Female empowerment is the fastest growing business trend in 2019 according to Forbes. Female and femme business owners and thought leaders are a fast-growing economic segment whose businesses are less likely to succeed long-term despite start-up success. According to the Harvard Business Review, this is due in large part to a gender gap in entrepreneurship; there is a lack of resources and opportunities for inclusion and networking for female entrepreneurs. Instead of industry making room for them, females are expected to adapt to the old ways of doing things while fighting for a new seat at the table.
Because of this need to adapt, female entrepreneurs face unique challenges in the business world. Through blatant direction or micro-aggressions, they are made to feel like they should:
None of this allows female entrepreneurs to achieve the success they deserve, either at a personal or professional level (and with entrepreneurs, that personal/professional line is often blurred). And so my clients feel unfulfilled. They often seek permission to be who they are. Together through coaching, we identify their goal and leap toward it together so that in the end they can:
Don’t get me wrong: It’s not about being rude or disrespectful. It’s about establishing a cornerstone in the marketplace and helping to shape the future of Business one boss bitch at a time. She's in there and she's ready to dominate. How about we give her a boost?
"Tell me about a time you've failed" is a trick question. Interviewers ask it to gain a sense of your ego, your ability to handle adversity, and how you rebound. But it is a trick question. Let me explain.
During coaching sessions, I often ask my clients, "what does X mean to you?" or "what does Y look like to you"? Some variation on that. Words have specific definitions and, since language is fluid, we have the ability to express ourselves in whatever manner we want and need to characterize our experiences. Recently, I asked a client what success looks like, and they asked back "didn't we already cover this last time"? Well... yes. But they defined success about a specific Thing and this was another Thing. The markers for one don't necessarily describe the other.
Much like I ask clients to clarify their meaning of success or happiness or whatever, my sense of failure is not your sense of failure. How I quantify or qualify failure is dependent on many variables. And there's the trick to the question: what do you mean by fail?
We're taught that failure is something to be afraid of, to stay away from. If we want to innovate, if we want to drive our industries, and if we want to supercharge our lives, we have to get over failure-as-bad real quick. (Forbes, Medium, The Atlantic, HBR, and many, many other business publications agree.) Think of failure as a series of iterations to get something closer to "right". Within those iterations, explore with resilience, humility, and an open heart and mind. With failure comes risks, and with risks come opportunities. Failing is getting out of your own way to be able to see what's next. Failing builds character and focuses the journey. Don't be shy: fail hard.
The next time you're invited to tell someone about a time you failed, chin up, deep breath. Don't dwell on the failure; regale them with risk and tell them what you learned.
Shortly before the pandemic arrived, boss bitch Amy Maniscalco wrote a piece for Medium called 6 Phrases to Replace "I'm Sorry." In it, she introduces "strong replacements for the meaningless apologies that do nothing but diminish the value of your time, your words, and ultimately your worth." I immediately bookmarked the article, sent it to five friends, and began to incorporate those replacement phrases in my daily life.
Perhaps because it was on my mind, I became aware of how often those two words were blurted for non-apologetic reasons. I listened for it in public and in the workplace. I noticed, too, when my coaching clients would apologize to me:
I'm sorry I'm talking so much.
I'm sorry I'm crying.
I'm sorry I'm laughing.
I'm sorry I didn't do my thought exercises.
I'm sorry to cut you off, but I just had a thought!
Many variations of these phrases are fueled by insecurity, fear, embarrassment, and shame. My gut reaction was to respond with "You have nothing to be sorry for," but that would have / could have elicited more apologies. "Why are you apologizing?" is also a terrible response. (For the record, "I love it, keep going" is where I've landed.)
For so many years, female-identifying and femme professionals have been socialized to downplay their opinions, to be polite and "nice" and avoid ruffling feathers. When we step outside of that minimizing world we're seen as punching up and acting #nasty or difficult, among other things. "It's cute that you're speaking up, but not the right kind of cute*." So, be quiet and smile, and make sure everyone else is comfortable and having a good time. But as Angeline Evans states on The Muse, "it’s important to recognize that not everything is your burden to bear." Bottom line: You have nothing to apologize for.
Words mean things, and you shouldn't have to feel like you need to apologize for using your Voice. The sorrys "make us appear smaller and more timid than we really are, and they can undercut our confidence," writes TED writer Daniella Balarezo. If we've gotten into the habit of saying sorry for little, trivial things, is the impact of those two words diminished when something worth apologizing for comes along?
I'm done apologizing for being who I am and for the true things I say. I will own my mistakes and my missteps in a way that matches the size of the grievance. But here's the thing: you never, ever have to apologize to me for being your badass self. Ever. And I'm not sorry for that.
* A colleague actually said this to me once, and I immediately responded with, "I'm sorry" and awkwardly clammed up because I couldn't retrace my train of thought. I was also so astounded by that comment spoken in the workplace that I was left gobsmacked. This is a memory that really sticks with me. WTF was I sorry for? For using my subject-matter-expertise to press on an issue that sounded hinky? For not being the right kind of cute? It's a big regret that I didn't stand up for myself with a strong recovery in the moment, but it should never have happened in the first place. Once I had my head back on, I took appropriate action with HR. But I digress....
Several years ago, I was a civil servant. I first landed a government job not because I was particularly driven to the mission of the agency I was hired into-- it has a good, noble, important mission-- but because I needed A Job after being unemployed for three months (more on this in a later post).
Most mornings after my alarm sounded and I started to get myself assembled for the day, I'd open the closet door, sit on the floor and gaze at my options. Usually, I'd grab my phone or, once I was senior enough, my government-issued Blackberry (TM) and check out what I had on the books for the day. And then I'd think, "who do I need to be today?"
Monday through Friday from 730ish until 430ish, my clothes reflected the person my colleagues needed me to be. Was she the spunky, enthusiastic agent of change? Was she the giver of performance improvement plans and disciplinary actions? Was she on the periphery of a big meeting, taking notes? So very rarely did I dress for myself; instead, my clothes armored my true self under carefully crafted ensembles that would allow me to fit in. I wasn't unhappy in my beautiful, carefully selected pieces, but I wasn't authentic. I was playing adult dress-up in the professional world.
The agency I worked for didn't have a dress-code other than some reference in a code of conduct about maintaining good hygiene and dressing professionally. There weren't restrictions on hair color or suit patterns or the sparkliness of accessories. There were unspoken rules about not standing out due to appearance. I wanted to stand out because I was a high performer. (Is this sounding familiar to anyone?)
This adherence to the unspoken rules came to a screeching halt when I chopped off my hair. I'd been ill, had surgery and spent 6 weeks at home recovering. During that time of discomfort and frustration, I reached for the one thing I could control and off went almost a foot of curls. To the outside world, my boy-short hair exposed a tattoo behind my ear, gave my many earrings more visibility, was a startling, drastic change. To me, I was literally un-locking the constraints I'd put on myself for so long. I started with playing with how I styled my hair, because why not, and that started to cascade down to the rest of my appearance. I dabbled with colors, shapes and classic styles reimagined. I brought more of my sense of play and my playfulness with clothes that I'd reserved for after work hours into work hours.
I was feeling more like myself, and I began to act in a way that was more natural. When I stopped "dressing" for other people, other things slowly changed, too. I was happier. Relaxed. I let people see glimpses of the truest me, while still maintaining professional relationships and adhering to the work environment. My world became that much easier to navigate. My work was more effective because I wasn't affecting. I figured out that the unspoken "rules" were unspoken because they didn't really exist. So long as I was clean, coiffed and bringing my best to the job, people didn't really care if my dress was flamingo-pattered or if my grey suit had metallic pink pinstripes.
How many of us play dress-up in our lives?
How many of us look at our closets (literal or metaphorical) or our reflections and deny our authenticity to shine through?
Where can we make little changes to how we dress (or behave, or feel) more like ourselves every day, all day? Because don't little changes become big changes when added together and given time?
Let me help you get started answering these. The next time you ask yourself, "who do they need me to be today?" The answer is you. They need you to be you.
My first job after college was as an English and Drama teacher at a small private school in Maryland. I studied theatre (yep, of the -re variety) at Syracuse University, and I knew I'd need to come home, get a job and save money before making The Big Move to New York. For a long time, I wanted to be a writer, but I allowed a college counselor to convince me that the only way my magna-cum-laude-high-school-grades-with-several-AP-credits-and-some-very-mediocre-SAT-scores would matriculate was through performance; at that time, I'd been a professional actor for a good portion of my life and this college counselor was an authority, so I believed her.
No one has asked me that question in almost 20 years. The counselors and the advisors let go of that refrain when college graduation neared. The time in which I was really, truly making decisions about how I'd spend my days, earn an income and trudge towards retirement was left entirely up to me. In retrospect, perhaps my field of study answered that question on my behalf, but in reality we know only approximately 27% of college graduates actually work in a field that relates to their major.
We bought our house right before the winter holidays in 2019, and my partner, James, has been spending his quaran-times setting up his basement woodworking shop.
Earlier this week, I was making dinner when he came upstairs, paused the podcast that was accompanying my preparations, and presented me with this. James was excited. It took me a moment to grok what I was looking at. When I understood, I got a little misty.
In my silence, James proudly placed this beautiful, thoughtful piece on the counter. He ran his hands over it, explaining that he was setting up the CNC machine and, using some Uproar swag as a guide, he made me a shingle.
And then, James hedged.
From one breath to the next, he explained that it wasn't perfect and he was still getting things calibrated. It's a remnant piece of wood so there are drill holes and rough edges and a pencil line and some older test-runs on the back, and, and, and...
... And I was trying to pivot my thoughts from taco toppings to this incredible gift of support that was displayed before me. I told James I loved it (I do). I told him I was very moved (I still am). I told him it's perfect (It is). We somehow resumed our previous tasks, the shingle relocating to a place of honor on the dining room table where it still rests.
Why do we do this? Why rapidly point out perceived imperfections? Why downplay our accomplishments? Why is it so scary to be brave?
I protect myself from discomfort before discomfort can actually be a thing. I don't take compliments well because somewhere along the way I decided that being demure about success is either more ladylike or more agreeable (right now I can't remember which, though both are pretty gross). I want to do it right, and somehow right equates to perfection, and if it's maybe not perfect... well, I better be the one to say it first.
The problem with perfection is that it's an external construct that is entirely unrealistic. Quite frankly, it's also boring. The focus becomes the outcome instead of the journey. We neglect the opportunities to grow and explore that can pop up along the way.
I'm striving relish the imperfections: the rough edges, the hard experiences and the unexpected lessons. I'm exercising my bravery muscles to gain strength in saying thank you and you're welcome, instead of deflecting or shrinking back.
I'm gonna manifest my business shingle: coming from a place of love, positive intent and trying to get it right. I will be perfect in my imperfections, and I'm sure as shit not gonna pre-emptively apologize for it anymore.
Not too long ago, a client asked me how she should explain coaching to her friends. When they asked her, she wasn't sure where to begin. We talked more conceptually about coaching: What made her commit to it? What did she get out of it? How might she describe coaching?
The International Coaching Federation writes, "Coaching is a thought-provoking and creative partnership that inspires clients to maximize their personal and professional potential, often unlocking previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership." You know where you are and where you want to be, but you see a gap between those two points in your life. You don't know how to bridge them; coaching will help.
I call that gap the FUNKNOWN. It's the in-between. It's a place of opportunity, choice and risk. It's where you assert your bravery to let go of old tactics for the new world you're creating. That's where we play.
When you're asked about what coaching is, there's no wrong answer. But I hope you'll tell them you're exploring the funknown. I'll see you there.