Early in my career I once managed a high performing leader who would often express feeling overworked and unsure of their role. In an effort to solve the problem, my gut reaction would be to try to control and fix. I’d come up with a list of parameters on expectations and try to clarify roles. I’d give guidance on where to spend more time vs. less. I’d wrap the issue up like a present, tie it with a pretty bow and then put it on a shelf. Problem solved. Or so I thought. The same theme with the same person would resurface. And I noticed I’d become increasingly exhausted trying to solve it.
In hindsight, I realized what I was really missing in solving this was one thing: curiosity. What was needed was for me to get curious and ask of them questions like: What do you really want? What would that look like? What do you need more of/ less of from me? How can I be a better manager to you going forward?
Instead of burdening myself to solve the recurring issue with excel spreadsheets, roles and task lists, an easier path was to help this capable leader get clear on what it actually was they really wanted. I’d come to understand that underneath the real issue was their desire to be recognized for their contributions in a way that was meaningful to them. Underneath it was their wanting to express what they needed to thrive as part of our team. What they needed was a collaborative process that was relational, taking into account how WE worked together.
Now as an executive coach for over ten years, when I see managers default to the exhausting control and fix mode of management, I challenge them to cease being a fixer and to become more of a coach. Solving the hard issues requires getting to the bottom of the issue. And getting to the bottom of an issue requires of us to be engaged and curious. Sometimes what’s needed is less “that’s yours and this is mine” and more “together we are.”
Farhana Huq is an Executive and Leadership Coach, Surfer, Global Explorer, and Founder of Surf Life Executive Coaching and Brown Girl Surf
Have you ever had the experience of wondering how is it that someone else is able to bring an idea to life so quickly, while you are left feeling stuck in the routine of your life?
Do you ever start talking about your “closet dreams” – the big, bold ideas and dreams you were too shy to share with others, but that make you feel complete, happy and fulfilled? Do you notice that after talking about them, you quickly reality check yourself because you have a family, a mortgage or because you convince yourself you aren’t a risk taker?
I have news for you. 9 times out of 10, it’s not that it’s not possible. Rather, it is because of two things:
1. Our brains are wired to accept a certain status quo of a life and circumstance that has been patterned into us. The thought of changing or disrupting that status quo is thwarted by very strong neural networks. That’s the neuroscience of it, in a nutshell.
2. And secondly, everything seems too big and impossible if you think of just the big picture. You need a step-by-step plan of how to get where you want to go.
But how can you start getting around your brain’s tendency to default to its regular patterns? How can you start building new patterns to get yourself to not only see, but to believe and more importantly to FEEL what is possible with a transition or new idea? What if you stayed in the resonance of possibility, and never flipped back to the dialogue of why things are not possible?
Here are exercises in perspectives that will help you explore where you might be with a current transition or new idea, and ways to exercise your neural pathways on what’s possible.
1. Get in Touch with Your Current Perspective:
Think of where you want to transition to, or what your new idea is. How do you feel about it? Scared, frustrated, tired, like you have no way out? Give this perspective a name. If you feel scared, call it the Dracula perspective, or maybe Horror Movie perspective. Make up your own. Once you have identified that perspective, really embody it. If it’s frustration, what does it look like in your body to feel frustrated? Does your posture shift? Do you have a certain expression on your face? Do you feel it in a certain place? What does the terrain look like? Is it rainy, gloomy. dark or cloudy? Now ask yourself what is possible for you to do with respect to your problem from this perspective. What comes to you? You may or may not be surprised to see that you either generate ideas or you don’t. The point is to get in touch with how your current perspective or mind state is serving you now.
2. Try a New Perspective:
Now, try stepping into a new perspective. For example, imagine your favorite color. How does it make you feel? Calm, excited, energized, safe? If you had to embody it, what would it look like? Get in touch with how you FEEL about it. What does the terrain look like in this land of color? If your color is yellow, is it warm, sunny and hopeful? If it’s blue, is it calm, expansive and soothing? Really stand in the land of your color. Once you get to the state of truly embodying this feeling, look over at your idea or transition. Then ask yourself, “What’s possible from this perspective?” What comes out? Is it different than what came to you in your scared, frustrated or tired perspective? What do you notice? Are the ideas you are generating different?
3. Ask Yourself What You Can Do:
Explore a few more perspectives. When you get to one you really like, ask yourself this:
What is the one big step I can make from this perspective towards moving forward with my idea or transition?
See what comes to mind. You might even want to do this with a friend, spouse or family member. Have them ask you the question.
As we shift perspectives in our mind, we actually have the power to shift what is possible for us in our lives. When you shift your thinking, YOU change. And at each thought and exploration, you are patterning new neural pathways. Believe it or not, this is not wavey gravy stuff! This is actually built on science. Psychadelic, I know!
The best thing about this is you can both physically and mentally step into whatever perspective you like. If you don’t have a blue room at home, imagine one. But if you want to explore walking as a perspective, and what it feels like when you are moving and out in nature, go do that and think about your idea. See what happens.
The thing is this – you can choose the perspective you want to be in. Your actions change, and how people relate to you begins to change. Perspectives are very valuable things, and your ability to go from idea to launch of whatever it is you want to do will be directly affected by whatever perspective you CHOOSE to take. If your perspective is scared and hopeless, you’ll generate just those ideas. If it’s a cautious calm, you will generate different insights. If it’s excited, warm and happy, you may get to other insights.
So the next time you’re dreaming big, instead of defaulting to the I-could-never-do-that perspective, challenge the can’t and instead, shift the perspective.
Have you ever struggled to shift a perspective and found that when you did, you were able to see something differently? What did you learn? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
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Recently, there was an article in the New York Times that came out regarding executive coaching (specifically relating to entrepreneurs). It shared the many opinions surrounding this seemingly nebulous field, from the skeptics turned believers, to the die-hard naysayers that found no value in the field at all.
As someone who has worked with six different executive coaches in my career, including Marshall Goldsmith, the touted six-figure-an-engagement executive coach named in the article, I thought I’d weigh in on the discussion. (Re: Goldsmith – I was lucky to receive some coaching sessions from him gratis after attending his leadership seminar, which was hosted by one of our corporate funders. At the time, I was CEO of a non-profit, so I was grateful I got to work with him.) Here is some advice from the field on coaching, including my perspective on how to go about finding one that is the right fit for you.
But before I delve into the tips, I’d like you to know two things:
When I actually hired my first coach, I was totally skeptical about it, and a bit annoyed to be spending money on it out of the organization’s budget. I was financially very careful, and here we were hiring someone with an hourly rate that surpassed any staff or other contractors we were working with at the time. I also had no proof I was going to get tangible results. Months down the road, I found myself writing a testimonial for this coach about how she had made the single biggest impact on our organization at the time. What had she done? Well, I couldn’t quite articulate it, but she asked me a ton of questions the impact of which made me clear, organized, and strategic within an extremely demanding leadership position. I embraced coaching and through the years worked with other coaches along the way.
The second thing is that out of the six coaches I’ve had throughout my career, there were only three I felt ever really made a significant difference for me, my organization or my leadership. Well, that’s a 50% success rate. Due to the lack of regulation of coaching as an industry, there is a fair amount of due diligence on the part of the consumer to find and land quality coaches. So, from a personal experience, I can relate to both sides of the argument presented in the New York Times article. Coaches can be incredibly life transforming to some people; they can also fall completely short for others. Why is this so?
What this tells me is that there is a lot of weeding out to do when trying to find a coach, and perhaps even some trial and error or calibrating to figure out who would be the best coach for you. It also tells me how you approach coaching matters greatly, and that chemistry can determine whether a coaching relationship is going to work. So, I thought I’d share some tips from the field on the best way to go about the process if you are thinking of hiring a coach for the first time (or if you had a negative experience the first time and want to try again).
1. Know what you really want - coaching, mentoring, consulting or therapy.
The big difference between coaching and something like therapy, mentoring or consulting is that coaching, first and foremost, is about enabling a client to make discoveries and decisions in service to their own life through a process that elicits both self-reflection, discovery and action. In the philosophy of coaching in which I am trained, the client is the expert of his or her own life. Coaching is about what’s happening in the present – the NOW - and what’s possible in the future. If you are focused on dealing with the now and on moving forward from your learnings, coaching is likely a good fit for you.
- Therapy, more often than not, looks back and tries to make sense of your past and why you are the way you are.
- Consulting is more focused on problem solving for clients where the consultant is the expert and is hired to provide technical solutions to problems.
- Mentoring is generally when someone has had experience in a field or profession and they simply give you advice and guidance based on their experiences.
What is it you really want? Knowing this is key in the search for a good coach. If you feel the need to dissect your past, or are held back by it, therapy might be the right option. If you are used to hiring people to tell you what to do and giving you technical advice, consulting might be what you are looking for. However, coaches often have a certain expertise area that they are able to combine with their coaching, so you may end up killing two birds with one stone. There are plenty of therapists who are also trained as coaches, and plenty of consultants who are coaches, too.
More information on the differences in approaches can be found in the ICF FAQs here
2. Coaches come in all shapes and sizes. Find one that matches an area in which you need expertise.
Coaching is a growing field, and it is also unregulated. (However, there are a number of amazing training and certification programs out there that produce quality coaches.) There is generally a coach out there for every area of expertise you can imagine, from coaches who specialize in grief management, to coaches who specialize in working with people grappling with the psychosocial impact of having herpes. Yes, I said herpes. Like I said, there is something out there for everyone.
For example, my first coach specialized in executive leadership and communications. She was exactly what our organization needed, and helped me work through improving my communications and my relationship with my employees and co-leaders. She made me see that I was overworking myself and the team a lot, and challenged me to change my behaviors towards a healthier direction.
I then worked with a coach that had extensive HR expertise. I chose to work with her due to the stress managing HR issues and difficult employee situations (though truth be told I found her more valuable as a consultant/advisor than as a transformational coach).
Years later, when I started my coaching practice, I made sure I found a coach who had a successful practice, because I needed the coaching as well as the consulting know-how for the industry I was venturing into.
Figure out what you specifically need and what is going to be of most value to you, and then narrow down your search. In a lot of instances, you may land coaching along with specific consulting in an area of expertise.
3. Referrals/word of mouth is still your best bet.
Referrals and word of mouth is the name of the game. Great coaches have reputations that precede them, and the nature of coaching is such that it’s a really hard service to sell. It’s often something you have to experience with a person. Some of the best coaches have absolutely no website or web presence. The market is flooded with coaches claiming to be the best at this and do the best at that, but often, you’ll get your best coaches from referrals of trusted sources.
If you haven’t had any rave reviews of coaches coming your way, then you should start to research. Start with your networks. Put a message out on LinkedIn to your groups detailing exactly what you are looking for.
Go to the ICF (International Coach Federation) site where you can find a quality list of coaches in your geographic location via the site’s coach finder tool. They allow you to search via area of expertise as well. The ICF site is good because you are likely going to be dealing with trained, credentialed coaches.
Other ways to find coaches are to use sites like Yelp.com and do a search for “coaches.” You’ll find real reviews from clients in your geographic area who have used services of coaches. There are also sites like Noomii.com that allow you to network and view different coaches who have been rated by their clients.
If you don’t have money for coaching, connect with coach training and accreditation programs like The Coaches Training Institute, New Ventures West and Center for Right Relationship. Often the people going through these programs are looking for people to practice coach, as is the case with coaches certified through CTI, and will do so at very low cost (kind of like the same concept as going to someone for a discount haircut who is currently in beauty school).
4. Don’t be afraid to change coaches.
We are human and are constantly evolving, learning, changing and growing. Having a particular kind of coach may have been appropriate for you at one time in your life or leadership but may not be appropriate for you now. Or, if you are in the case where you chose a coach and do not feel you are getting value out of the relationship, try working with someone else. As I mentioned above, I worked with six different coaches throughout my career. I chose them according to the stage of leadership and career/life I was in. I got value out of some, and not so much out of others.
Let it be known that some people stay with one coach for years. They come back to them as they are needed, and probably do so because that coach already knows them so well and they have a good rapport. It is all about personal preference. I tend to like coaches who can offer something more than just basic coaching – who have experience in a certain field, industry or area of expertise.
5. Attend webinars and read blogs.
We live in a content-driven world, and now more than ever there is a plethora of writings, blogs and e-books that coaches publish on a regular basis. There are so many opportunities now to get to know them before you jump into any kind of formal relationship. This was not the case when I started working with coaches. Attending a webinar or reading their written content is a great way to get to know coaches and determine if they can give you value. Consider signing up for some free webinars or newsletters, and see if you get some value from their approach and content. Purchase one of their inexpensive e-books. Afterwards, ask yourself these questions:
- Did I get value from that webinar?
- Am I curious for more?
- Would I get along well with this coach?
- Did I instinctively feel I could trust this coach?
5. Do a consult before committing.
Chemistry is everything in coaching. If it’s not there, and if your coach cannot champion or support you in an authentic and genuine way, the relationship will not be successful. Set up a consultation to talk with a coach to see how you both connect. Most coaches do this anyway. Be prepared to ask them questions about their coaching and how they work. Trust your instincts as well. I had a coach who once told me she would know within the first 5 minutes of talking with someone if she would be a good match for them.
6. Assess credentials.
I’ve naturally been coaching since I was in my teens. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I decided to go into it as a profession and received training from a renowned coaching school (The Coaches Training Institute – the school that all of my favorite coaches graduated from FYI).
I wasn’t convinced completely of the value of coach certification. I must say, however, that my coaching skills definitely strengthened from going through the certification process. It’s one thing to get trained, but with certification comes more oversight, scrutiny and courageous skill building for coaches. So if you ask me if there’s a difference between a non-credentialed and credentialed coach’s quality, I’d be inclined to say yes there is.
There are a few different designations given by the ICF such as MCC, a Master Certified Coach. Basically, this is someone with a lot of hours under their belt – at least 2,500 client coaching hours. Other designations include ACC (Associate Certified Coach) and PCC (Professional Certified Coach). Someone without these designations is by no means an ineffective coach, but this is just a way the industry standardizes accreditations of coaches. You can look to see if any coach has had formal coach training and if they went through a professional certification process.
And yes, there are outliers in this field - those people that just have a God-given talent and intuition for this stuff without any training at all. I’ve never coached with one, but have heard about them. But you won’t know until you try, will you? (Or unless you get that magic referral.)
7. Be ready!
Find a coach when you are truly ready to deal with whatever challenge you are facing, or whatever pain is in your life. For the naysayers, coaching definitely is not for everyone; it is fair to say that some people just might not be good candidates for it. The best coaching, in my opinion, happens when someone really wants to explore a change, they are willing to commit and put in the time and effort, AND they are matched with someone who has a good combination of real world experience in an area coupled with quality, (preferably credentialed) coach training. And even still, you can have all the credentials in the world, and still not be that effective. It ultimately comes down to how well your needs fit the skills, capability and chemistry of that particular coach.
How did you find your coach? What do you think is the best approach? Do you have anything to add to the above tips? We want to hear from you!
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A lot of people come to Surf Life Coaching to get help making a bold transition, or to figure out how to get to the next level in their careers or personal lives. Most of the time, they come stuck in their safe zone. They are afraid, and by staying in the “safe zone”, they do not grow and challenge themselves to get to where it is they really want to go.
When people start to step out of their comfort zones, a number of things happen. For entrepreneurs, it can mean the difference between really starting to differentiate themselves in their industry vs. being just another plain business. For individuals, it can mean paving an opening for going after what they really want vs. feeling stuck in their status quo lives.
To take a leap and get past the fear can take a lot of work. Sometimes, people are afraid they will fail, or are afraid of what others might think of them. But what they don’t realize is that some amount of risk is what will also make them grow. Any failure they might experience will be in service to a much greater personal self-growth and discovery.
I know it’s one thing to list the logical reasons for stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and it’s another thing to FEEL the need to do so. For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick to logic:
1. Grow your leadership: Stepping out of your comfort zone can aid in developing your leadership and self-growth. As an example, a few years into running the nonprofit organization I founded, I was struggling in a relationship with one of my most important employees and fellow leaders. Most of the time, we found ourselves burning the candle at both ends and were very overworked and tired. We were stressed, and tempers were often short. I knew we needed to have a critical conversation about what was going on, but I remember neither of us really wanted to have it. We didn’t know HOW to have it, AND it was uncomfortable.
As I was the so-called ‘boss’, I’m sure it was hard for her to bring up our discordant dynamic. And truth be told, I was equally afraid because back then, I wasn’t very versed with head-on, to-the-point conflict. I was afraid of being blamed or worse yet, that she might leave. (Yes, bosses have fears, too.) We danced around this dynamic for a bit until it finally came to a head and we both had to have the conversation. It was uncomfortable and I felt vulnerable, but it was so good to get things on the table. Truth be told, tears were shed and thoughts and feelings were expressed. And afterwards, it was as if we were in a whole new space. I really understood her perspective and what she needed, and she understood my perspective, too. Stepping into this zone of discomfort took me to a whole other level in my leadership.
Conversations on difficult subjects after that with other employees, family and friends never seemed hard at all. I had forced myself to be out of my comfort zone with this, and looking back, what I realized was that it was one of the best skills I developed in my leadership arsenal for the years ahead. No conversation after that ever seemed quite as scary.
2. Stand out from the crowd: Being uncomfortable is often the path to differentiation. For example, I coach a number of entrepreneurs, and sometimes they end up sitting in their comfort zones in their business or lives, and nothing seems to be moving. When they realize and come to terms with that big, scary idea or passion they have been stuffing away all these years, and start to move towards it, it feels uncomfortable. They get scared, and often the voices of “can’t” and “sabotage” get in the way and give them every logical argument as to why they shouldn’t step towards it. But, stepping towards this is when they start to grow. If you are not in a place of feeling slightly uncomfortable, not stepping into new territory, how are you to find what makes you different?
As an example, before I started Surf Life Coaching, I was just a coach – a “vanilla” brand coach for leaders and entrepreneurs (though some would say I’m too brown to be vanilla, but you know what I mean!). Many friends and coaching colleagues would suggest that I somehow integrate surfing into my approach, since I loved it so much. Well, I stuffed that idea so far down that I didn’t want to consider it – I was afraid. But it was an idea that kept popping up again and again that I couldn’t seem to bury. After much introspection, months of coaching and a day-long seminar on finding my true calling, I realized I could stay on land and do traditional coaching and trudge along in my business, or I could create something unique with little road map or knowledge of how to do it, and try to deliver my coaching service in a new and better way.
I remember when I saw the path of where I needed to go. I knew I needed to go all out with this surfing and coaching concept. It had me terrified. In the end, I got over the fears and developed my own methodology for Surf Life Coaching. What this did was allow me to differentiate my services, and stand out. It was not the comfortable path by any means, but it helped set my approach apart, allowing me to deliver my unique skills and talents to those most in need.
3. Gain new insights: Getting out of your comfort zone can often bring you to new ideas and insights. When we surround ourselves with the same people, images, thoughts and media all the time, we are just reinforcing and trying to build on what we know. When we can get out and see the world, connect with someone other than who is in our normal circle, we not only gain new perspectives, we also gain critical new insights for ourselves.
This is why you might find business leaders choosing to hike up big mountains with Sherpas during their vacations, or activists bridging the worlds of technology and entrepreneurship to build hybrid models to get to something new. Getting out of their comfort zones forces them to experience things in a different way, and to gain valuable perspective that can often lead to new creation.
Great leaders may take risks and hire people for a position with little to no experience in their industry, but with know-how on the general concepts. It’s a risk for the company or organization to bring in somebody without the industry knowledge, but what they gain through this is an entirely different perspective and way of seeing things that often ends up becoming a competitive advantage more than anything else.
4. Build resilience: My second job out of college was as an Americorps/VISTA (sorta like the domestic Peace Corps) volunteer at a start-up social venture helping low-income women entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. When I arrived on site to the job, I had no desk, no computer, no office and essentially, no physical place to work. I had to find it all. I worked out of my supervisor’s home office, borrowed a desk at central administration, and then worked out of a site for a homeless jobs program before landing in a commercial bank – all within the span of 12 months. I know – yikes! It was the most uncomfortable situation to go from a structured academic environment in college to having to fundraise to get your own computer and a chair to sit your butt down in!
But what this discomfort did was pattern in me a solutions-oriented and troubleshooting mind. I would come to use those skills to start the next two social ventures and my business. It gave me insights on how to attract and leverage resources, and how to stretch a dollar 5 times around the block, so to speak. It also got me comfortable with mobility, and being able to be productive no matter what the environment. These skills would come in handy for my entire future career in entrepreneurship.
And then there was the time I found myself in Western Samoa in a village with a shack for a bathroom, sleeping on a mat on a plank with no walls. Another seemingly uncomfortable situation, but I was not intimidated. ;)
Anyways, the discomfort seeded in me a resilience for change, and detachment to space. These have been critical lessons learned along the road that have helped tremendously in my life transitions, and in creating and building things. Resilience is invaluable currency.
5. Grow your capacity for respect and humility: When you step out of your comfort zone, you actually connect more with the world, and learn to have a healthy respect for others. For example, when I take people surfing for the first time - let’s face it - they usually have their asses handed to them. They fumble, wipe out, roll in the surf, and then pop their heads back up wondering why they weren’t able to get up on their board. Some of them are used to being in control of everything in their businesses, careers and lives, but why can’t they get a hold of this?
When they finish, they have such a different respect for the ocean, and a whole new respect for people who charge the ocean on bigger waves. It also is a process that flattens ego, and can be a very rich place for self-discovery and for learning humility.
I’m curious - where in your life or career have you felt stuck, but then ventured out of your comfort zone? How did you do it and what did you learn? I want to hear from you!
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Everybody has the tendency to sometimes complain about their circumstances or the people they are in relationship with. I once read somewhere that complaints are are just unspoken requests. But sometimes we cannot make the requests we want to make so find ourselves in the position of complaining. What we do have the power to shift is what is within us. Getting in touch with your ability to make these internal shifts will help the leaps you want to take in your wave of life to be all the more smoother.
For example, there is an important relationship in my life but I had a hard time with the way that particular person has related to me in the past. This person from time to time would start to accuse me of things and then would start to criticize me. I would feel defensive and hurt. I realized that it was holding me back in a lot of ways and making me feel bad about myself, and even eroding my self-confidence. I decided the next time she started to criticize me, that I would not react, but I would try to understand her perspective and see if I could find some value in her words and just listen. Rather than let her words land on my heart center and feel defensive, as she spoke I imagined them landing on the ground in the space in front of me. I also told myself to not take it personally.
I made the conscious decision about how I was going to react and to approach the conflict the way I would surf a wave – to just be curious, go with it and follow it. I listened and ask questions and tried to understand and clarify the source of what was making her criticize me. The process diffused the episode of this person and allowed me the space to speak my voice and share my perspective with them. In the end, I didn’t change her, but changed the WAY I chose to relate to her. It also became apparent that her episodes were more about HER feelings and the way she experienced the world vs. about me.
I learned that when you’re trying to move forward and you feel something or someone is holding you back, it’s easier to shift something within you, rather than change someone or try to change your circumstances. You have far more control over changing YOU first . This has been a critical lesson for me in leaping into the unknowns of life, not knowing what you might face. Having the muscle to flow in and out of conflict and shift your RESPONSE to what is happening will make you all the more prepared to take your leap in life, whatever it may be.
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