Uncertainty, and the Certainty of Strengths

Uncertainty. We all face it—both the people you coach and you, personally.

We catch a glimpse of a dream. We set a goal. We lay out strategies and action steps.

And yet somewhere along the way, concerns arise, such as:

* How will I ever get there?
* How do I get around this roadblock?
* Will I have enough (money, help, cooperation, resources, ideas, customers)?

Uncertainty Is Certain

Uncertainty can send us into a tailspin…straight into the Red Zone of fight-flight-freeze-appease. That’s when all the doubts and second-guessing slip in, stalling us or throwing us off course.

Enter Strengths

Strengths are ever-present for us. Built into our DNA. Threaded in our neural networks. Strengths are rock-solid, supportive, strategic, and self-sustaining.

Strengths never leave us. Strengths never fail us. Never. You cannot escape your strengths.

Apply Strengths Now

Consider any challenge in front of you right now. Absent the frame of strengths, challenges can look intimidating and overwhelming.

However, when framed by strengths, challenges are more easily faced … they look like an invitation to rise to the occasion.

Speak out your biggest challenge. Perhaps it involves meeting a revenue goal. Then, pull out each of your top strengths, one at a time, and lean into the strength that makes the most sense for your goal.

Or, take your top five strengths and describe how each one might support you. For example:

* Learner: I will study how successful businesses have packaged and priced their services.
* Includer: I will reach out to a few key colleagues for their ideas, collaboration, and accountability.
* Activator: I will get going now—I’ll pick up the phone and reach out to these three people by the end of the day.
* Input: I will review some of the business development training materials I’ve collected over the years.
* Adaptability: I keep my antenna up around new opportunities that are emerging, adjust my strategies, and follow-through accordingly.

Strengths Are Appreciative, Not Depreciative

Strengths cause the brain to focus on what it HAS, not on what it doesn’t have. Strengths cause us to operate within the Blue Zone—calm, confident, connected, creative.

Strengths are the common-factor certainty in the midst of any uncertainty. Enjoy being strengths-strong today!


Learn more about coaching from a strengths orientation here

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Easier Done Than Said?

We all know the saying, “Easier said than done.”

  • It’s easy to say, for example, I want to lose weight.
  • It’s easy to say, I’d like more income.
  • It’s easy to say, I’d like to be more productive.
  • It’s easy to say, I want my team to reach their targets.

The less-easy part is the DO that leads to the DONE.

And more specifically, doing things differently.

Why do we not do things differently when we know we need to!?

Probably because we’re creatures of habit. Neuroscientists tell us that 90-95% of our thoughts and behaviors are habitual—habit is comfortable and requires little mental and physical energy.

Habit means we have a ton of muscle memory in our body that is running the show.

So if the body is running the show, we need to enlist the body’s support to help the brain get what it wants. That’s the key to making it “Easier Done Than Said.”

One of the best ways to get the body on board is to pay attention to your emotions.

This is where ICF Competency #9 Designing Actions comes into play.

Emotions are Memorized, Habituated, Familiar, Comfortable

Most humans have gotten really good at memorizing emotions such as worry, anxiousness, and fear. But what could our lives look like if instead our predominantly memorized emotions were gratitude, peace, hope, or fascination!

In a Red Zone of worry, our brain doesn’t get the oxygen needed to think collaboratively, creatively, and strategically.

Jill Bolte Taylor in her book My Stroke of Insight shares that emotions have just a 90-second lifecycle. If they persist beyond 90 seconds, it’s because we are re-inviting the emotion by ruminating on it. Do something often enough, and it will become memorized.

Design a New Action

Instead, mindfully ride the wave of any uncomfortable emotion for those 90 seconds. Breathe deeply, rhythmically, and evenly, as you think to yourself, “interesting… there’s a sense of worry I’m noticing in my gut, and I know that biologically it’s got just a 90-second life cycle.”

Once the 90-second cycle has completed, then consciously choose a new emotion you’d like to focus on: peace, gratitude, hope, or fascination.

This choice changes the physiology of your body to a Blue Zone state, and with the changed physiology, you give better fuel to your brain.

I love what Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, says about this:

“the brain is 31% more productive at positive
than negative, neutral or stressed.”

Here’s to your 31% more productive!

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Remembering Patricia Reich: How Coaching Came to the Business School Space

The coaching world lost a beautiful presence and powerful voice with the passing of Patricia Reich this past week.

I first met Patricia in the early 2000s at a careers conference. She made such an impression on me at the time—engaging, thoughtful, sharp as a tack, impeccably dressed, and that gorgeous red hair!

She was an early-adopter of coaching, enrolling in our career coach training program while it was still in its infancy in 2003. Fast forward to 2008, and I received a phone call from her. The gist of it went something like this:

  • Patricia: “Susan, I’m now at Georgetown University at their business school. I want to talk to you about doing some coach training here.”
  • Susan [with some trepidation]: “Sounds interesting, Patricia, but I know nothing about the MBA space.” 
  • Patricia [calmly confident]: “That’s okay, Susan—you know coaching. I know the MBA world. I’ll guide you.”

And guide me she did. Not long after that, her Associate Dean Doreen Amorosa and I presented at MBA CSEA on the success that Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business had experienced by adding coaching to its career services approach.

With much credit to Patricia’s vision, 10+ years later, business schools around the world have followed that lead. She integrated coaching in her most recent role, as well, while serving as Assistant Dean and Executive Director of the Office of Career Services at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

The entire coaching industry has mushroomed because of early-adopters like Patricia, with 25,000+ ICF-credentialed coaches world-wide now. Patricia spotted the trend early–and expanded it into the many corners of her world.

Aside from her professional vision, I will most remember Patricia for her giftedness for making connection. A few years ago when we were preparing to co-present at a conference, I was going through a painful transition as an empty-nester.

Our daughters are about the same age, and for years, our professional catch-ups always started with “before we get down to business, give me the daughter update!” And so I was expressing to Patricia what a poignant and tear-filled time it had been for me to send my only child off to college half a continent away.

As she listened, off of her tongue rolled the most heartfelt and apropos words: “A mother’s tears water the garden of her child’s life.” That phrase soaked my soul with comfort.

Surely there are tears now being shed by the many, many lives she touched. And I trust that they will water and grow something significant and beautiful, in remembrance of Patricia.

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Where Is Your Awareness?

We’ve all heard of the proverbial “elephant in the room.” As we dig into ICF Competency #8 of Creating Awareness, let’s zero in on another manifestation of that elephant. It’s the elephant in our BRAINS!

Ubiquitous, yet invisible, this elephant takes up an enormous amount of space in our brains . Left unchecked, it constantly produces movies in our minds —and rarely are these movies rom-coms and fairy tales … more likely dramas and horror flicks.

Our movie-making elephant narrates stories about our circumstances—judging everything as good or bad, safety or threat. It has a tendency to whisper worst-case scenarios.  And, it has a powerful ability to create and communicate a variety of emotions to our bodies.

These mind-movie messages are simply predictions—negative predictions about what might happen to us. The bigger the elephant, the more real it becomes to us.

And what feels real to us becomes reality to us. It’s the truth of what we’re experiencing.

Even if others see things differently.

Shifting Predictions toward Positive

How do you shift people’s awareness when those mind-movie predictions are all-consuming, or predominantly negative, or pervasive, or threat-centered?

Here are a few coaching tips:

  • Don’t try to fix the client. Trying to fix someone’s perspective basically means you’ve fallen prey to the same duality that the client has.
  • See the client from the vantage point of the North Star. When you look upon circumstances from afar, the timeline trajectory grows and things change perspective.
  • Assume there is some form of beauty in the client’s circumstances. What can you appreciate in this situation? Perhaps it’s an opportunity for the client to fully experience his power to create, or her opportunity to grow in some way.
  • Explore inherent ironies and reverse-engineer strengths. There is often an inherent irony in the client’s situation. For example:
    • The “project management” client frustrated by the job search can begin to project-manage his networking activities.
    • The “empathetic” manager who has trouble delegating can turn her compassion inward and notice the personal/family impacts of not delegating.
    • The “analytical” leader who is frustrated with over-due deliverables from direct reports can analyze how his assumptions have contributed to the delays.

When the elephant in our own mind is pervasively positive, we’ll be much more able to operate from a stance that helps our clients to do the same!

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