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BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

Here is a list of recent blog articles.

Coaching and the Work You Are Here on Earth To Do

Coaching and the Work You Are Here on Earth To Do

12/10/2015 12:00:00 AM EST
5 months ago

With my executive coaching clients I like to ask the double click-through questions. It's not exactly about the next job or the management challenge or the work-life stress. It's about what's going on in the background.

  • What is your work?
  • What is important to you?
  • How does this time of your life differ from, say, ten years ago?
  • What art/music/expression seems to reach inside you tap your soul (not just your emotions.)?
  • Where do your thoughts wander when you are at rest?

 

People recognize the value of this but in embarrassment or awkwardness we have taken these questions and pre-packaged them a bit too much. Hence, we often hear glib talk about my passion. I hear people casually chatting this way at the coffee shop!

While I'm being a little snarky and I do prefer to downgrade the sanctimony, this is truly the conversation to have. What are the drivers in your life and are they the right ones?

I like coaching sessions, which create a considered and gated place to talk into and through these questions. Then we can get into the roll-up-the-sleeves problem solving work.

All this is a privilege for me. It's wonderful work. Hence, when I put the same question to myself, my answer is that I am driven to use my skills to help people ask the best questions of themselves.

Coaching: Working In and On Your Career

Coaching: Working In and On Your Career

12/9/2015 12:00:00 AM EST
5 months ago

An executive coaching session can go in many directions. One person is fixated with getting her resume perfectly positioned. Another is stunned by job success and suddenly not sure what is real and what is dumb luck. One person spent 90% of the conversation narrating a blow-by-blow tenure process as if academic politics would temper themselves behind his indignation.

Each person is on a unique course of bumps and straight-aways. And, the dignity and humor that can emerge is wonderful to witness.

The common thread for me in conversations with clients is the notion of being personally strategic -- making choices with the right set of perspectives. I think of it as "working in and on" yourself. While we apply our expertise, manage our bills, collaborate with colleagues, and maintain our schedules we are working in our careers -- doing the business at hand. At the same time, we need to see patterns, recognize our habits, understand the context, and hold a finger up to the winds that are blowing around us. That is to work on our careers. 

We don't make good decisions if we only think in one of the two dimensions. We must deliberately work at both: the particular and the contextual; the daily beast and the larger passion and purpose in us.

Coaching is often a rare moment of working on. It is the chance to step away and understand the point of it all. Particularly for women, but also for men, the coaching session is a breather, an hour of setting the IPhone aside, putting away the To-Do List, and asking what it all means.  

Coaching with the Help of Language

Coaching with the Help of Language

12/8/2015 12:00:00 AM EST
5 months ago

Executive coaching is a privilege. Even in the short time I have been formally coaching people, I have been graced with people's trust -- and wonderful individual stories and glimmers of humanism.

Each session is a gem. When I listen to the language people use to describe themselves or their situation, I already have more than enough material to discuss for the hour. We all reveal a great deal in our manner of talking. It takes little more than my pointing out a word, phrase, or theme to open up some angle on an issue. When I do that, we often find new colors, sparkles, and flashes of insight.

One client constantly employs geometric language:  spirals, boxes, lines. What's that about? Another uses spiritual language and struggles to fit into the resume boxes of a job search. One is constantly talking about speed, pacing, or "wicked fast," and his impatience is exhausting him.

And more. 

I believe deeply that people have much that is already available to them to solve their problems or set up better personal strategies. However, they become trapped in their self-descriptions and frameworks. Language can hint at that and makes for a fresh and even exciting set of possibilities.

Speed Writing

Speed Writing

12/2/2015 12:00:00 AM EST
5 months ago

NaNoWriMo is over. That's National Novel Writing Month during which aspiring authors get online and log their word count every day in the hopes of sprinting to 50,000 before December 1.

I tried and got to 15,000+. More importantly I sorted out the plot, which is a sequel to my first novel, In Our Midst. It involves an ensemble of characters and two parallel plot lines. Complicated.

What's it like to write so fast?

First, there is nothing like being tied to the computer. Even if the words I type don't make sense, the point is that I am sitting at the keyboard and should inspiration show up, I'm there. It doesn't help to have ideas in the shower because I can't hang on to all of them. 

Second, it clears the brain. When I write fiction there are many plots paths, metaphors, scenes, bits of dialogue floating around in my head. Getting them out is huge. When I can get them written down, I can trust the ideas aren't lost. Then I am more likely to have some calm and open space in my mind for new and often better ideas to appear. It's like meditating -- writing fast releases the busy-ness of my thoughts.

Third, it teaches me to edit, cut, and whack. Writing for volume means I am doing just that and many of the words and sentences -- hell, whole pages -- are junk. I am prepared to prune almost as soon as I write and that's a very good thing. Good writing is all about good editing.

And more. But, I'm not volume writing this blog so I'll stop here at 290 words and encourage any aspiring author to give it a try next year.  

Windy Day

Windy Day

11/20/2015 12:00:00 AM EST
6 months ago

Being Presbyterian, we enjoy one Sunday every November by dressing up in our tartans and inviting bagpipes to play. Amazing Grace. We tell the children about how the Scots - back when - secretly wore their banned tartans and once a year would defiantly bring them to church to have them blessed.

Great stuff: protest, wind, heritage. 

It seemed only fitting that this Kirkin-of-the-Tartans Sunday we also announced a "Buying Wind Together" project to encourage congregational households to sign on to wind power. I did an unashamed plug for Groundswell -- the D.C. non-profit that has negotiated group contracts so that wind is cheaper than if one buys it individually. Such organizations are helping people find a financially sensible route to clean energy.

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.

It was a windy Sunday.

Scrap the Crap

Scrap the Crap

11/19/2015 12:00:00 AM EST
6 months ago

I have always been on the sideline in local politics. My family signs petitions, goes to rallies, writes letters. My father-in-law was in politics; my father was active and was a delegate to national party nominating conventions.

I, however, have always been shy of such activity. I hold my cards closer. I also had no time and energy for it, given the complexity of The. Rest. Of. My Life.

Yesterday, I stepped it up a bit and spoke at a little rally at the Maryland State House. It was fun -- local folks raising concerns about the Maryland state standards for clean energy. Currently the calculation includes allowing energy that comes from incinerating various waste such as chicken "litter". Sounds to me like a delicate -- or actually clunky - balance between the industrial chicken farm business and environmentalists. We have both in Maryland.

I liked the whole experience:  having some fun, using puns and ballsy slogans, laying out ideas that are not marquee short and Republicandebate simplistic. Clapping.

I recommend such effort. It's a process. It's important. And it is a terrific community of people who get off the couch and try.

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Are You Afraid of Taking a Risk?

Are You Afraid of Taking a Risk?

9/11/2015 12:00:00 AM EDT
8 months ago

Aren't you afraid of taking risks now? I get asked that question still. Over three years after a dramatic resignation from the Obama Administration, people still want to know:  how do you feel about taking a risk.

First, there is risk and then there is risk. The risk that really causes terror is the risk you don't know that you are taking. In a complicated world such as ours, we don't always know that we are taking risks -- with our money, with our eating habits, with our travel decisions. We don't always know whether our colleagues or employees are making choices that could damage us. Despite being in the information age, we aren't really living in the full-awareness age. That's scary.

In the (shadowed) face of those risks, we have deep philosophical and perhaps spiritual choices. Will we let our anxieties about the unknowns dominate? Or will we focus instead on our capabilities, tenacity, and confidence? I think about that often and continue to coach and coax myself into the light. Living in those shadows can be debilitating.

Second, when I take creative risk, I do not flinch, worry, or fear. Creative risk is a different animal. I used to lump risk into one big ball but I'm learning that we need to parse it better. There are risks to analyze: legal, financial, market, product, and logistics. Each of those includes a cacluclus about probabilities, upsides, and downsides. Those downsides can rattle the nerves. However, where and when risk is about creative expression or innovation, I simply don't have the same fear-factor.

Being creative is about putting myself out there, setting a part of me out in the sun for others to see. There is vulnerability associated with that, yes. But, there is so much more. Taking creative risk is being my own person. It's deeply about being myself. It is also a chance to spark others' creativity, to get a response, to build another layer of possibilities. Why fear that? What is scary about being me, about sharing and, about inviting a conversation and engagement?

Am I afraid of taking risk? The question is simple but the answers are not.

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How Many Stories Have You HEARD Today?

How Many Stories Have You HEARD Today?

9/10/2015 12:00:00 AM EDT
8 months ago

Storyteller. In. Chief. We are drilled these days on how leaders must tell stories to engage employees, explain strategy in more human terms, interpret market events, and pull meaning out of data.

But, that's not all. Leaders also need to LISTEN to stories.

First, by listening to stories, a leader can find another window into the organization -- to complement the weekly reports, briefs, daily updates and so forth. Leaders are so often working in the dark, any bit of light helps.

Second, leaders need to listen to stories so as to encourage the competency of storytelling through the organization. For the leaders' stories to cascade down and around an organization requires employees to be able to retell them well. Otherwise the impact and value of the stories will get lost.

Third, communication is a two way street. If you listen to someone's story, that person is more likely to listen to yours. I have listened to a lot of leader's stories (you know -- the tedious "war stories" that the ego-types will tell) and filed them away, knowing they aren't interested in my story so why bother with theirs.

Oh, and one other thing, listening to stories helps you hone your own storytelling skills. If you pay attention you can see hints about how to time your humor, reveal your message, emphasize the moments of drama and much more. It's an art and you learn it by listening to others.

So, how many stories have you HEARD today? I hope it is close to the number that you have told.

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Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

Writer's Block? It's More About Writer's Clutter.

Writer's Block? It's More About Writer's Clutter.

9/1/2015 12:00:00 AM EDT
8 months ago

I can't say I suffer from writer's block. I understand that is when a person sits and stares at the screen (or paper) and can't think of a thing to write. Not a problem for me! I can always come up with something to say. I once fell asleep talking ... and continued to talk, apparently.

Quantity (of words) is not my issue. The hard part of writing for me is integrity. Am I babbling or saying something real, genuine, and authentic? Have I peeled it back to the core or am I wandering around in the orchard?

This happens all the time, the struggle to get to the point. When I write fiction I am constantly reminding myself, "Tell the damn story." Too often, I am caressing a curlicue of description or dialogue. I have to pull myself back to the story, again and again and again and again.

Writing non-fiction is even harder. It is unbearably difficult for me to write something that is sharp and focused. I have to ward off nuances, shoo away interesting side points, and trash great alliterative phrases that seem to spring up to entertain and distract me. It's grueling work to me and it takes a lot of minute-by-minute discipline.  

However, when I do plow through the overgrowth and get the story told or the point made, it is heaven. I take great pride in creating a small bit of clarity. It gives me the energy to go at it again, clear out more clutter, and see if I can find another nugget.

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Are Customers to be Cared for or Coddled?

Are Customers to be Cared for or Coddled?

8/27/2015 12:00:00 AM EDT
9 months ago

Starbuck's baristas are encouraged to soothe customers in the face of the stock market dive. Very nice. The car dealer offers manicures-while-you-wait. Very considerate and pampering. The quilting store owner agrees immediately to supply an extra zipper foot (they aren't cheap!) because a customer lost hers. Very helpful. The body shop calls every day for the week that our car is in service for hailstorm damage to tell us they are on schedule. Very thorough. 

What do customers really want? It's a fickle fickle world. And businesses are trying everything short of doing my taxes (which would be really helpful) to get or retain my business.

Sometimes, however, I wonder if all this petting, manicuring, and communications is feeding something insidious in our culture. We used to squawk about conspicuous consumption. In addition, I'm beginning to chafe about the culture of coddling that is now upon us. Customers are just too precious and, you know what -- that attitude makes them more demanding and fickle.

It makes me wish back to the days I lived in China and everything was a haggle at the market. Every purchase. The shop keeper and the customer engaged in a very serious tussle of wits about price. There is mutual respect in that arrangement and a lot of fun on both sides. There is a sense of equality, not of obsequious service.

Are we on the right path in taking our customer service obligations to groveling? I wonder.

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Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

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