Finishing Well

Contributed by Dan Sheedy.

25 years ago I ran my first Marine Corps Marathon and last week I ran my final with the Marine Corps 50k. The conditions were challenging (rain/downpours/wind and then temperatures shot into high 70s), and I am certain some were wondering what they had gotten themselves into.  For me,  it was a privilege to run again in celebration of the Marine Corps (I am a Marine vet – a Captain), veterans, families of those who gave their lives in service to our country and people from around the world in what is known as “the people’s marathon” and 50k.

This day for me, however, was different for another reason and one I want to share.  In every race I have run over the last 25 years, I have always challenged and pushed myself for a best time, a best placement in my age group or even a best overall finish!  Competition is a value of mine and while I have had many great successes, the road is also sprinkled with some pretty epic failures and races in which I was unable to finish.

This race was different.  I didn’t even realize it until the start of the race when I wasn’t pushing myself to the front of the starting corral for position when the cannon went off.   For the first time, I didn’t try to race; instead, I took in the scene, the spectacle.  I looked at monuments, talked to Marines, families of the fallen, fellow runners and spectators.  I simply enjoyed the event and savored the day.   This was a big shift for me, taking off the competitor hat striving for a finish – instead, engaging in the present.

How often do we take off our striving hat, our competitor role and simply engage in the present?  Doing so doesn’t mean we are weak, or without goals.  Remember, I still had to run the 31 miles and finish!  What taking off the hat gave me was hours of time to be grateful for all the previous races and runs and a moment to pause and acknowledge my accomplishments without a focus on “what’s next.”  It gave me an opportunity to smile at the many peaks and valleys (in running and in my career) I have faced along the way, and like leaders in any profession, to smile at the resiliency I developed to navigate them.

Think of what taking off that striving hat and engaging in the present can do for you.  It may give you time to reflect and decide if your direction is really pointing to the destination you want.  It may help you more effectively navigate today’s 24/7 work life integration challenges.  It may help you simply pause, acknowledge your accomplishments and be grateful.  I challenge you to try it.  It helped me acknowledge a final completed ultra-run.  At the finish of a long day, I smiled when a recently commissioned 2nd Lieutenant put a finisher medal around my neck, saluted me and said Semper Fi, mission accomplished!

Lessons Learned by Slowing Down

Submitted by Debby Stone.

I recently had surgery to repair a torn ligament in my right hand.  And for those of you who are wondering, yes, I am right handed!  After surgery, I went home in a heavy, large bandage that served much like a cast.  While bandaged, I had virtually no use of my hand at all.

Fortunately, I was liberated from that bondage (I mean bandage) after two weeks and now have a splint which gives me partial use of my right hand.  At least now I can wiggle my four fingers!

I will wear the splint for another couple of weeks, and during my recovery I have learned a number of things.  First, I have learned that there is a reason for the opposable thumb.  Without it, so many things are impossible.  The ability to grip really does set us apart from other species!

More importantly, I have learned the value of slowing down.  Normally, I move through life very quickly and slowing down seemed like a foreign concept to me.  However, as I recover from this surgery, I have been forced to move through life more slowly, deliberately and consciously.  It takes conscious thought to do anything and everything with my non-dominant hand, and it simply takes longer to do it.

Interestingly, my surgery coincided with adoption of meditation as a daily practice.  Meditation helps focus the mind and bring conscious awareness to each moment.  And let me tell you, currently, everything from feeding myself, to brushing my teeth, to typing requires me to deliberately, consciously  and carefully take the needed action.  There is no such thing as going through the motions of something without that extra bit of concentration and awareness.

Through my forced slow down post-surgery, I have been given a great gift.  I have learned that sometimes slower is better.  Much like the budding slow food movement, there is a great deal to be said for moving through life with more conscious awareness and for taking more deliberate action, even if that action takes more time.  The slower pace allows for space and in that extra space, I have thought more, reawakened my creative mind and gotten it through my head that it is okay if every email is not answered instantaneously.  When we slow down, the world does not end, it simply slows down with us.

I certainly don’t recommend hand surgery as a way to try slowing down but I do recommend meditation for anyone who has not yet tried it out.  And, as a coach, all of this makes me curious…

What could you learn by slowing down?

A Grown-up Version of Fun

Contributed by Debby Stone.

holiday-fun“What do you consider fun?”  I posed this question to a client recently in a coaching appointment and she had trouble answering.  For most of us, as adults, fun is an elusive concept, and it is often easier for us to put a finger on what is not fun than what is.

I borrowed the question “What do you consider fun?” from a line in the song “Genius of Love” by the Tom Tom Club.  The song was popular many years ago and has recently resurfaced in Target commercials.  Back when the song was popular and played on the radio, fun was simple for most of us.  We were young.  We knew what fun was and what it looked like to have fun.

It was fun to ride your bike downhill without braking.  You could feel the speed and the wind in your hair.  That was fun!  It was fun to go to a friend’s birthday party, eat cake and ice cream and play games.  It was fun to play with a favorite toy.  Fun almost always involved smiles, laughter and feelings of outright glee.  Sometimes it even showed itself through screams or squeals of delight.

Now that we are grown ups, fun is more difficult to define.  Can work be fun?  Is it possible to have fun without laughing or even smiling?  As children, fun was outward focused and typically depended upon circumstances beyond our control.

As adults, fun is often a by-product of something deeper.  We can find that we are having fun while achieving a goal, engaging in fulfilling work or honoring a deeply held value.  Nowadays most of the fun we have comes without squeals of joy.

Since it is often difficult for us as adults to know when we are having fun, I want to issue a challenge to you to begin to consciously look at this concept.  How do you define fun?  How do you know something is fun?

Begin by reflecting on what you do that absorbs you so much that you don’t notice the passage of time.  Chances are you are having fun in those moments.  Also notice what brings you contentment and joy.  Start to keep a log of joyful moments.  A pattern may emerge that points you in the direction of activities where fun can be found.

Also, notice your own reactions.  When you are having fun, are you feeling relaxed or intense?  Note the times when you finish something or leave somewhere and say out loud, “I am glad I did that.”  Consider the circumstances of those activities.  What are you doing?  Are you with other people or alone?  What was enjoyable about those moments?

There are many factors that influence fun and adult fun has many faces.

Since it is no longer the simple equation it was when we were kids, if we want to amp up our enjoyment of life, it is important that we examine the question “What do you consider fun?”

Positively Delivering Constructive Feedback


Contributed by Dan Sheedy.

We are approaching the season of performance reviews and feedback. If you manage people, you will likely be called upon to evaluate those you lead. How will you deliver feedback? The tone and temperament with which you give feedback will significantly influence your brand among your bosses, subordinates and peers.

Recently, at the Decatur Book Festival, I had the opportunity to see two authors, my colleague, Debby Stone (The Art of Self Promotion – Tell Your Story, Transform Your Career) and Sandy Jap (Partnering with the Frenemy – A Framework for Managing Business Relationships, Minimizing Conflict, and Achieving Partnership Success) who articulated important aspects of feedback in their panel on Crucial Conversations. As the authors navigated the topics of effective self-promotion and the dark side of business relationships and the individuals who drive them, a recurring theme came through. Simply put, the question was, “how do I positively communicate the negative?” In essence, what are some ways to effectively navigate and communicate feedback in challenging workplace relationships and environments?

As you might have guessed, this is easier said than done, and we all can think of situations we have been in where we wished we had given feedback better.

You probably have heard the phrase, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything.” While this sounds like good advice at first glance, if your goal is to provide others with meaningful and actionable feedback, in reality, this advice is not going to be valuable. Providing high impact feedback requires these key ingredients:

1. Go in with the intent to help the employee’s growth and development, not the intent to show the individual what is wrong. The feedback should build up, not drain, the employee’s motivation and resources for change. Communicate in a manner that builds confidence.

2. When preparing for a feedback conversation, reflect on what you hope to achieve and on what impact you’d like to have on the employee – their takeaway. Practice this!

3. Openness and authenticity on the part of the feedback giver is critical to creating a connection that facilitates change. If you start off accusatory, dominating and self-protective, your employee will match that energy. Model a presence and demeanor that is worth imitating so your employee can internalize this grace and in turn model it throughout the organization.

4. Invite the employee into the problem-solving process. You can ask questions such as: What ideas do you have? What are you taking away from this conversation? What steps will you take, by when, and how will I know? Powerful questions that encourage ownership on the part of the receiver of feedback have a profound impact on accountability.

Giving feedback – positively communicating the negative – is a critical skill to master. Effective mastery and modeling by leaders can make the difference between an employee who contributes powerfully and positively to the organization and one who feels diminished by the organization and contributes far less or leaves. Remember, a single conversation can switch an employee on or shut the individual down. As Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Leadership Agility: A Key Component to Career Success

Submitted by Dan Sheedy.

Leadership AgilityLeadership Agility is a hot concept we have been seeing, hearing and reading more about over the past several years. In today’s complex, unpredictable, volatile and fast-paced business environment leaders are expected to handle anything and everything that is thrown their way. This environment demands a leader who is flexible, adaptable and skilled at managing diverse objectives, strategies, people and priorities without sacrificing performance or results.

In fact, many thought leaders say that leadership agility is the key ingredient that will define the next generation of leaders – no longer an optional ability but a necessary competency to master for sustained success. Significantly, the growing body of research into the topic has estimated that only 10% of leaders and managers have mastered the level of agility necessary to achieve consistent effectiveness and navigate today’s volatile environment. Put simply, Leadership Agility is the ability to anticipate or adapt and learn from unpredictable circumstances and environments in ways that benefit yourself and others. In seeking to better understand the concept and development of leadership agility, I turned to some research conducted jointly by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and Columbia University to provide a framework for initial consideration. Their work looks at four factors that enable agility and one factor that impedes agility.


Innovating– This enabler involves questioning the status quo and challenging long held assumptions with the goal of finding new ways and processes to bring about change. Innovators have high idea productivity and migrate towards challenges and knowledge expansion. Are you someone who challenges the status quo in developing strategies or seeking solutions to organizational problems?

Performing– This enabler centers on learning from experience while remaining present and engaged in the face of adapting to the ambiguity of the environment. This factor requires excellent observation and listening skills, combined with the ability to process large amounts of data and nimbly act upon it. Are you able to meet the challenges of an unknown, shifting environment but learn new skills in the process to apply in the future?

Reflecting– This enabler considers the fact that just because you have an experience doesn’t mean you have learned from it. This factor focuses on your ability to seek, take and accept feedback; processing this information to gain greater insight into your own assumptions and behavior. Do you confidently seek feedback about your work or actions regarding how you have performed or affected outcomes in your organization?

Risking– The final enabler is that of taking risks. Risking involves putting yourself out there into the unknown, out of your comfort zone. This is pioneering or volunteering to take on a role that doesn’t have known outcomes or success attached. This component is the ability to take progressive, calculated risks that can change the trajectory of you and your organization. What are your thoughts when considering risk? Laura Overstreet Biering’s, The RiskADay Journal: 28 Days to Being You Out Loud with Courage, Creativity and Confidence offers a great tool kit to get you started on thinking about and developing this enabler.


Defending– This impeder is the inability to be open and accepting of experience. Such openness is fundamental to learning. Some individuals become closed, shut down or become defensive when given critical feedback or when they are challenged. Defending gets in the way of the enabling behaviors listed above since it stifles learning. Additionally, it has also been characterized as a potential career derailer (behaviors that cause individuals not to be promoted or to stall out for long periods in their careers) in work conducted CCL.

As an agile leader you can take your team and your company from good to great. Individuals with leadership agility are focused, confident and driven to lead. While it is true that not all of the factors are always exhibited all at once, it is believed that all must be present for an individual to be considered an agile leader.

So what can you do to develop leadership agility? Practice! Be curious. Listen. Reflect. Ask for feedback. Break out of your comfort zone thinking and take a calculated risk. These are all steps that can help you succeed in a business environment that rewards the focused, fast and flexible – the agile. Are you ready?

Tell Your Story in the Fourth Quarter and Beyond

Contributed by Dan Sheedy.

calendar-97868_1280As the fourth quarter comes to a close all of us have a measure of excitement, angst and transition in our work lives. Year-end sales goals, projects, performance reviews, promotions and career transitions dominate our thinking. The theme I hear across all of these scenarios is, “How do I tell my story?” “How do I tell my story so that my business development efforts succeed?” “How do I tell my story so that my performance is recognized and valued in the organization?” “How do I tell my story so that I can transition to a new role in my company or with a new organization?”

Effective storytelling is a theme that unites the people who advance in their chosen careers. Career advancement isn’t based solely on luck or education. Those whose careers are on an upward trajectory know how to tell their stories effectively. They know how to self-promote.

Self-promotion is an often talked about but mostly misunderstood differentiator in what makes careers successful. People tend to go to one extreme or the other. On one end you have the braggart or arrogant person whose bravado turns off anyone who might want to help, build or change that person’s career. On the other end is the timid or unaware person who has so much difficulty telling his story that most would not even think he was trying to advance his career. I have talked to many leaders who believe self-promotion to be a key ingredient to career success. How they developed it, however, was a mystery until now.

The Art of Self-PromotionMy colleague, Debby Stone, tackles the subject in her new book, The Art of Self-Promotion: Tell Your Story, Transform Your Career. Stone’s work provides a framework and actionable suggestions that enable professionals at any level to develop an engaging, authentic self-promotion story — a story that interests everyone they encounter including peers, bosses, prospects and clients. Importantly, she defines the fundamentals of self-promotion: What it is – Telling your story, confidence, positivity, authenticity, creating curiosity; and What it is not – Selling yourself, putting on a persona, arrogance, bragging, embellishing the truth.

She starts with looking at the mindsets (mostly negative) we have regarding self-promotion. She then challenges us and gives us tools to shift these mindsets and get past the negative images (the over-promoter) and roadblocks (it’s uncomfortable) that self-promotion holds for so many professionals. The takeaway for everyone is a confidence that moves us beyond the flawed beliefs that everything will work out fairly, that our good work will speak for itself and that self-promotion is socially unacceptable.

The bottom line is we have to tell our stories effectively to achieve the success we desire. Most likely we are not nearly as effective as we think we are. To master the art of self-promotion we must shift our mindsets and adopt the “mindsets of the masters” as Stone puts it. I encourage you to explore the core beliefs of these masters so you can be prepared to position your efforts and achieve results – not only in the fourth quarter but in the years to come!

Realistically Positive: Growth Isn’t Always Linear

Contributed by Dan Sheedy.

Rear View SunsetAs I drove on a stretch of open road the other day listening to Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” I thought about where I am going in my career and in my life. How am I growing, both professionally and professionally? Through the vision created in that song (for me a vision of driving somewhere along the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset with a breeze), I was reminded that we have a big windshield to see where we are now and the future down the road and a small rear view mirror for looking at the past.

With 2015 over halfway behind you, now might be just the right time to look out of your front windshield and see where you’re going while staying mindful of the rearview mirror and what you’ve learned along the way. What you will likely discover is that the plan you put in place—the realistically positive goals, resolutions and promises to yourself—don’t look exactly as you envisioned. For every peak, there’s been a valley. For every leap forward, there’s been a stumble backward—sometimes just an inch, and other times, what seems like miles. The plan you envisioned, your growth, hasn’t been linear. In fact, it has the zig zag of “two steps forward, one step back.”

“Two steps forward, one step back” is usually a negative term to describe someone who is having trouble making progress. I like to think of it as forward motion and a primary ingredient in the sauce of life. Forward motion propelling our bodies and minds to grow steadily toward the future we desire. It means progress, not perfection. It means that instead of grumbling or feeling guilty about a misstep, you can still come out ahead by putting your head down and push forward. Oswald Chambers, an early 20th century teacher/evangelist understood this motion when he said, “If you are going through a time of discouragement, there is a time of great personal growth ahead.” Two steps forward, one step back.

John Quincy Adams further captured the forward motion of growth when he said, “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” Everything about stepping forward with patience and perseverance, in both the figurative and literal sense, offers positive implications. No matter how many obstacles you run into, what matters is that you’re able to overcome each of them, one at a time. Two steps forward, one step back.

But is this attitude realistic? Of course it is! It’s often in our struggles that we stretch and come to better understand ourselves. They’re part of the forward motion of the growth process—not a departure from it. We grow when we do our best to learn from and move beyond our challenges instead of obsessing over them and making ourselves feel stuck. We grow when we put our challenges in the rear view mirror.

When we combine a positive future outlook with the obstacles of reality and the challenges these obstacles present, we become able to be more selective in the pursuit of our goals and confident in our growth.The peaks and valleys and leaps and stumbles become less daunting. “Two steps forward, one step back” becomes a way to measure the non-linear nature of our growth. A forward motion we all experience and one I would challenge you to embrace.

What will you do today to make this happen?

#Dearme: Mining the Wisdom of Experience

Contributed by Debby Stone.

If you were on Twitter in the past couple of weeks, in addition to all of the tweets about March Madness, you may have seen the new hot hashtag – #dearme.  The idea behind the hashtag is that each tweet reveals the writer’s message to his or her younger self.

I first heard about the hashtag on the radio one morning and was struck by the value of reflecting on where we’ve been and what we’ve learned.  So often we move through life, and although we learn as we go, we do not stop long enough to consider what we’ve learned and how we can apply those lessons to what comes next.  I have believed in this concept for many years and use it when I am coaching.  I even have a book on my bookshelf with a similar theme – What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins – and there are many others like it on Amazon.   It seems that a lot of us agree that it makes sense to stop and reflect on what we’ve learned.

I read some of the #dearme tweets and was struck by a couple of things.

First, the tweets, although obviously quite short, were incredibly insightful.  Second, I saw that the tweets from those who are famous and those who are not famous (at least not yet), shared themes around courage, authenticity, boldness and contribution.  Many were full of insight and wisdom.

Wisdom is defined as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”  The #dearme tweets show what an incredible storehouse of wisdom we all are.  The tweets I read also reminded me that while wisdom comes from experience, wisdom ultimately resides within us – all of us – if we merely take the time to tap into it.  The majority of the tweets I read came from ordinary people who had great wisdom to share with the younger version of themselves and through their tweets, with all of us.

The #dearme tweets reminded me that we all store wisdom and that this wisdom can light our current paths as well as our future direction.  What would you tell yourself if you could reach back and advise the younger version of you?

Focus: A Cup of TEA in a Coffee World

TEA cupBy Dan Sheedy.

Imagine that feeling when you have your hands clasped around a cup of hot TEA and can smell the aroma wafting up to your nostrils. You are relaxed and your day comes in to focus. If only it were that easy. More likely you are checking your myriad of communication devices to see what the day will dictate to you in a frantic, caffeinated fashion.

It is said that we create our lives whether by design or by default. One way or another, your day, your week and your year may be a story of what happened to you; but wouldn’t you rather it be a story of how you created the impact you wanted? A story of how you impacted those around you in a positive way and delivered the results you committed to delivering. Author John Rohn said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” This underscores the importance of focus and determining your destination on a daily basis. This is where the concept of TEA comes in.

TEA is Time, Energy and Attention.

Several years ago my Novateur colleague, Debby Stone, and I were talking about how we often heard people say things like “this project is work”, “getting in shape is work”, or the oft said line that “marriage is work.” Debby said she had realized that rather than work, what each of these situations required was TEA – Time, Energy and Attention. What others were calling work was really the impact of the three components of TEA.

Debby says that the mindset shift from work, which for most of us is a four-letter word, to the notion of the impact of applying time, energy and attention to something can be transformative. It is a pro-active way of focusing the various aspects of life and the impact we wish to achieve.

I asked Debby to take me through each of the three components – Time, Energy and Attention, and here is what she shared:

This component may seem obvious and perhaps it is but if you want to succeed at something – anything – you need to devote the time to it. In his book, “Outliers,”, Malcolm Gladwell refers to the research that shows that it takes 10, 000 hours of practice to master something. Early 20th century magazine editor, Robert J. Collier said, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” You have to put in the Time.

This one is less tangible than the time component but equally critical. What kind of energy are you bringing to your life and to the things you say are important to you? Just showing up and putting in the hours is not enough. You need to bring energy, and the right kind of energy, to your desired goals and priorities to make them a reality. There are many different ways to think about this. In the book “The Power of Full Engagement,” authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz say that we have four separate but equally important energy sources we can draw upon – Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual. Loehr and Schwartz say that if we don’t bring all four types of energy to what we do, we are not fully engaged and not functioning at the highest level or as powerfully as we could.

The third ingredient of TEA is critical because even if you bring time and energy to something, without your attention, you will not succeed. What do I mean by that? Well, we all know that we can do something without fully doing it. This is what Loehr and Schwartz mean by being fully engaged. There are those things that we do where we become so absorbed that we don’t get distracted at all and we don’t even notice the passage of time. Then there are other things where we are physically present – we’ve shown up – but we’re not really there. In order for TEA to work, you need to be fully present and really there. This means bringing your full attention to whatever you are focused on achieving.

Having a clear focus and a real priority makes the odds of achieving it much better. Remember, we are all creating our lives whether by design or by default, so design yours. Then keep in mind that it is not “Work” that will help you achieve your goal; rather it is TEA– Time, Energy and Attention. The question is: Where will you focus yours?

What will you do today to make this happen?

Coaching Tips for Well-Being

Contributed by Debby Stone.

As a veteran executive coach for lawyers, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, I am frequently asked to help my clients cope with the myriad stresses they face. There are certainly no quick fixes, but here are a few concepts and tips that I have found universally helpful for those who may be experiencing negativity or discontentment.

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKnow your values – Many of us have vague notions of what’s important to us, but it is critical to get consciously clear about the things that define and motivate us. Think deeply about who you really are, what really matters to you and what you are unwilling to compromise on – these are your core values.
  • Live in concert with those core values – While it’s important to be consciously aware of values, this awareness is relatively meaningless to well-being unless you are living a life that honors those values. Most of the discontent that people experience circles back to living in a way that does not fully honor their values. So, if you find yourself feeling that you do not see your kids enough and you value family time, you need to make an adjustment. Similarly, if you are no longer learning on the job and learning is important to you, you need to look for opportunities to grow within your workplace or in an outside activity.
  • Take care of the physical plant – Our bodies are the core of our well-being. We all know this, but when stressed we find it hard to do the things we know to do. It still bears repeating – sleep a sufficient amount each night, eat healthfully and regularly, exercise daily and take short breaks throughout the workday to get up and stretch.
  • Connect to the people you work with – When we feel connected to others, we are happier. It’s that simple. Even busy professionals need to take some time each day to have short conversations with the people surrounding them. Raising the level of connection and positivity makes for a more productive workday.
  • Get involved in something bigger than yourself – Studies show that giving back feels good. Although there are times when making the time to volunteer seems impossible, when we are involved in pro bono projects or community volunteer activities, we are happier and more engaged at work as well.
  • Recognize and express gratitude – Consider what you are grateful for on a regular basis. Making a list on paper or sharing your gratitude list out loud makes the experience more powerful. Similarly, when you are grateful to someone for something, don’t keep it to yourself – express it. There is nothing better than giving the gift of a spontaneous “thank you” both for you and for your recipient.