Try 4 tips from leadership coaches

Coaching strategies can

help you coach yourself

The old top-down, command-and-control style of leadership seldom works in today’s organizations, where the goal is often to promote cooperation in the midst of rapid change.

To succeed as a leader you must know how to communicate a vision, build a network of relationships, and foster group learning and decision-making. This is true whether you’re the big boss or are just learning how to guide a team.

Leadership coaching has become a key tool for facilitating change in individuals, teams and systems. And in places where the traditional hierarchical model of management no longer works, leaders who know how to act like coaches are building cultures that allow collaboration and innovation to thrive.

leadershipcoachWorking with a coach is one way to broaden your leadership skills and deepen your understanding of modern workplace dynamics. But even if that’s not an option, these strategies from the field of coaching can help you grow:

  1. Know yourself. Research shows that self-awareness is a vital characteristic of successful leaders. The more you understand about your own internal dialogue, the better you are at engaging with other people. And the more you notice about the impact of your behavior on others, the better are your choices for next steps. Coaches use open-ended questions to help clients notice their inner voices and daily decisions.   Another way to promote self-exploration is to keep a journal or regularly engage in some other form of expressive writing. Write answers to questions like, “what would I do here if I knew I couldn’t fail?”
  2. Listen more actively. When people turn to you for guidance or assistance, there are many times when you have no idea how to help. But offering expertise is not the only way to give support. Humans have an innate need to be heard and acknowledged. And by listening deeply to another person, you can let them know they do matter and at the same time provide a way for them to come to terms with some of their issues.
  3. Try peer coaching. Consider finding a partner or small group with whom you can trade coaching time. Create a structure in which each person has a designated to time to talk about current activities and challenges. When you play the role of the “coach” it’s your job to ask questions and listen compassionately to the answers. Then when you are the “client” you can talk about what’s been happening lately and how you feel about it.
  4. Try some training. An enjoyable and effective way to become more adept at conversations with your colleagues can be to take an introductory coaching course. You’ll build your “listening muscle” and have opportunities to practice asking questions that lead others to new insights. For a training option that would work for you, visit the International Coach Federation website.

Coaching comes in many forms, but the broad theme is always to help you be the best version of yourself as a professional, a leader and a whole person. By learning a bit about how coaching works, you can build your self-knowledge and at the same time become better at assisting others to fully engage in their work.

READ ABOUT WHAT COACHING CAN DO

If you want an insider’s view of what coaching actually looks like, I can recommend a new book: “Being Coached – Group And Team Coaching From The Inside.

“Being Coached” is written by two accomplished coaches – Holly Williams, my pal from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching community, and her colleague, Ann Deaton. The authors don’t offer a how-to guide or academic discussion, but instead tell us a tale from the perspective of individual managers who are going through a group coaching exercise just as their company is faced with the need for a drastic change in strategy.

While the plot involves group coaching, the real story is about what coaching is like for each of the participants. For example, there is Ellen, the Chief People Officer, who faces the fact that she can’t manage all the company’s human resources by herself. During coaching she learns how to ask for help, and challenges her colleagues to either “work together or fall apart.”

Another new book touching upon the impact of coaching isA Whole New Engineer, by David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville. If you are interested in the cutting edge of higher education, you’ll find this book particularly interesting.

The authors — two highly accomplished academic leaders whose field happens to be engineering — describe how each grew beyond the traditional university path to lead in the creation of science/engineering programs that also foster self-awareness and empathy. The book is an intriguing and readable mixture of anecdotes and current thought about how growth and learning happen. As a leadership coach, I am particularly interested in the suggestion that a more conscious element of coaching can enrich the classroom experience.

Posted in coaching, leadership, self improvement Tagged with: ,

Don’t let age bias limit your opportunities!

Age Discrimination Starts Early!

These Strategies Can Help.

numbersWhile finishing her MBA at a top tier university, Sarah was enthusiastically recruited by a large company. She accepted their offer to join the marketing department. Once there, she connected with a powerful mentor who helped her snag plum assignments. For several years Sarah was the most junior professional in her group, and she enjoyed being treated like a young star.

After a few years, the growing company made a wave of new hires and Sarah began to feel neglected. She said she was stuck with routine workwhile the interesting new projects went to her younger colleagues.

Sarah was asked to supervise the internship program, but didn’t enjoy the work. She said the interns didn’t have the right work ethic and were obsessed by technology. One day as she entered the kitchen, she heard them making fun of her for being clueless about the power of social media.

When Sarah came to me for coaching, she complained that she was past her career peak. She felt like she was cut off from the company’s high potential challenges and might be too old to compete for another good job elsewhere. Sarah was 34 at the time.

Sarah felt she was the victim of age discrimination and to some degree her concerns were well founded. Ageism is rampant in the workplace and can be hard to fight. And even 30-something careerists like Sarah can find themselves sidelined by employers seeking fresh talent.

Sarah found ways to demonstrate her energy, talent and enthusiasm, and soon worked her way out of her slump. One thing that helped her was finding examples of older professionals whose age did need not seem to limit their success. She noticed that while some in her circle were dissed for being out of date, others seemed timeless despite their years.

If you’re facing a subtle age bias, a starting point for getting past it is to understand the negative stereotypes on which it’s based. Then make it clear that the stereotypes don’t fit you. Consider these strategies for minimizing the burden of ageism:

  •  Be tech-savvy. You don’t have to enjoy Skyping, sharing on Instagram or building a Twitter community. But if those are the ways that your colleagues or customers communicate, you absolutely must know how to join in. If you want to stay in the game, keep up with the technology. Take classes or find help, buy the devices, and do whatever it takes to keep your skills current.   And when you don’t understand the latest developments, avoid the temptation to indulge in a Luddite rant. Express an interest, ask for assistance and get on board.
  • Look and act fit. Some employers and younger workers believe that their older colleagues may have physical limitations that will prevent them from performing their fair share of the work. And your boss or clients won’t offer you new challenges if they think you are about to have a heart attack. If you want to maximize your career options, it is vital not only that you stay healthy but also that you look healthy and you exude energy.
  • Talk healthy. Most of us have health issues from time to time, but we can manage the way they impact us in the workplace. Beware of sabotaging yourself by talking too much about your symptoms or crises. If you endlessly discuss your health challenges, not only will you be boring, but people may start to think of you as frail and over the hill. Talk about the great hike you took last weekend, instead of how sore you felt on Monday morning.
  • Be stylish. Looking shabby may seem cool when you’re 27. But the older you get, the more important it is to look polished and up to date. If your clothes, hairdo or glasses seem out of style, you may seem like you are past your prime. That doesn’t mean you should dress like a kid, but you should aim for a look that feels current.
  • Don’t bring up your age. If you are older – or younger – than the people you work with, it is very tempting to keep mentioning that fact.   But if you can refrain from alluding to the age difference, there is a good chance that other people will forget about it.
  • Build a varied network. If you are accustomed to hanging out with friends of all ages, you are more likely to blend easily into a group of younger or older people. If you don’t allow age to be a barrier in your social life, you will be more comfortable talking and keeping up with different age groups at work.
  • Listen to your colleagues. A great starting point for building strong relationships at work is to genuinely listen to what other people have to say. If you’re part of the older set, show an interest in what younger folks say and learn from their perspective.

If you put aside your own prejudices about age and look for opportunities to work on projects with people of all generations, you’ll become more skillful at avoiding the burden of age bias.

Posted in workplace issues Tagged with: ,

How to give powerful positive feedback

 Eight tips on how to say

“Thanks!” or “Good job!”

“Josh” was general counsel of a federal agency. He came to coaching after a staff survey helped him realize that many of the lawyers working for him felt under-appreciated. And they had real concerns about his leadership style.

Josh’s initial reaction was defensive and disdainful.   He said, “Grown-up lawyers shouldn’t expect to be thanked just for doing excellent work. They get paid, don’t they? And when I don’t comment they should know everything is OK, because I always tell them when they screw up.”

We spoke about the human need to be acknowledged and appreciated. And I pointed to numerous studies demonstrating that people will be more productive in a positive work environment.

Eventually Josh agreed to try an experiment. Every workday he put three coins in his pocket. Each time he thanked or complimented a team member he could remove one coin. And he couldn’t go home until all three were gone.

After the first week, Josh said he was enjoying the experiment more than he had expected. But he still felt awkward saying “thanks,” so he was looking for more occasions to practice. He found times to say “thank you” at home, in the coffee shop, and wherever he went on the weekend.

The more Josh practiced, the more comfortable he felt offering thanks and positive feedback. And he was having fun with it. He said, “the amazing thing is not that it makes them happy, but that it makes me happy, too.” Soon he quit carrying the coins because he no longer needed them. Josh said he was addicted to his “thank you” habit, and it had changed the way he looked at several parts of his life.

great job stampWell-crafted words of thanks and praise can serve as powerful positive reinforcement, guiding members of your team to achieve, change and grow. By regularly thanking or acknowledging people for their work, you can help to shape a more positive and collaborative office environment, even if you’re not the boss.

These eight tips can help build your “thank you” habit into a powerful leadership tool:

  1. Be sincere. Disingenuous flattery doesn’t work. It sounds creepy and seldom fools people — at least not for long. Get in touch with your sense f gratitude when you express thanks, and speak honestly about how you feel.
  2. Be specific. A vague, casual “thanks” isn’t nearly as effective as a more detailed comment. After saying “good job,” add more particulars, like, “I particularly appreciated the way you involved other team members.” Precise comments not only carry more impact but also provide powerful reinforcement for the performance you want to encourage.
  3. Fully engage. Part of the power of saying “thank you” comes from the fact that you care enough to focus on another person. Get full value from the thanks exchange by making eye contact and listening carefully to any response.
  4. Notice what’s taken for granted. If we maintain a high level of performance, our colleagues may assume it’s just normal and cease to notice it. Then it feels especially good if someone recognizes how hard we’ve worked to keep up the pace. When you express appreciation to a valuable team member, make it clear that you understand what goes into their high standards and good results.
  5. Calibrate your “thank you.” Elaborate kudos in response to some little thing may seem fake and can be embarrassing. And too little gratitude for a huge effort can feel insulting. The tone and style of your tribute should be commensurate with the good work you’re calling out. A casual email can be enough to make somebody feel appreciated for a routine task. But a face-to-face encounter is more appropriate if they pulled out all the stops.
  6. Write. Don’t forget the power of a hand-written note. It still feels good when another person takes the time to sit down and write about what we’ve done.
  7. Be surprising. Formalized praise, such as during an annual review, is important, but it’s not enough. And, over time, routine assessments feel ho-hum, no matter how positive they may be. To show you mean it, express your gratitude or admiration when it’s not expected.
  8. Be quick. Offer your commendation as soon as possible after the activity that inspired it. Words of thanks and approval (like other feedback) have more impact right after we’ve done the work.

Read more ›

Posted in business etiquette, leadership, motivation, positivity

How to be a true professional

Build characteristics shared by

the very best professionals 

“Bob,” my coaching client, had recently changed jobs and was unsure about his new team. He said about his staff, “They’re great. Really good people. They have a lot of skills. But, somehow, they’re not real professional.”

Bob liked his new team members and believed they had potential. But, while he couldn’t put his finger on why, he felt the team’s performance was less than it could be. As he thought about his first year goals, the challenge he took up was to help his team become “more professional.”

As a serious careerist like Bob, you want to be supported by people who are highly “professional.” And, of course, you want others to regard you as a true professional. But just what does that mean?

What is a “professional”?

proThe meaning of the term “professional” has shifted in recent decades.
The traditional professions included doctors, lawyers, architects and other experts who were specially educated, usually licensed and often relatively well-paid.

But today’s definition is much broader. The word can describe anybody who is seriously engaged in meaningful, challenging work. Professionals are found in myriad fields, from IT to the culinary arts, but all workers aren’t professional.

Knowledge can set professionals apart. Today’s professionals are committed to building their skills and expertise regardless of whether they have specific degrees or certifications.

In addition to continuing their education, professionals strive to maintain quality and ethical standards. They believe their work is valuable. And they expect more from their careers than just financial compensation. They want satisfaction, some sense of identity and community, and the opportunity to make a contribution.

What does it mean to be “professional”?

Just because you have a professional type job doesn’t mean others will regard you as highly “professional.” Read more ›

Posted in Career management, leadership, professional advancement, professional growth Tagged with: ,

The puzzle of career women who hesitate

 Why are professional women

still hitting a glass ceiling?

Lately I keep finding myself in conversations about how a surprising number of women aren’t moving confidently into leadership within their careers. I’ve heard some worries from my executive coaching clients, but often the topic has come up at social or business events.

For me it’s a puzzle: why is it that so many terrific professional women are still struggling with issues we thought we’d be able to put to rest back in the 80s and 90s?

This doesn’t seem to be just an us-against-them, women-versus-men thing. I’ve heard insightful men express concern that too few women are reaching their full professional potential. For example, two male professors recently asked me why their star female students seem to have lower job aspirations than their less qualified male classmates?

And in recent months, both at formal industry conferences and in casual chats, some of the most accomplished American women journalists have been talking about how leading newsrooms still seem to be dominated by a male culture. This seems to be the case, in both print and digital realms, despite the fact university journalism programs often have more women than men students.

Also, disturbingly, young women in several career discussions this spring told me they feel more threatened than supported by women who are senior to them in their organizational hierarchies. They look to men and generational peers, they said, want they want mentoring.

Part of the problem may relate back to those of us who were among the early women to enter many professions. I was the first woman in Ohio University’s MBA program in the 1970s. And later I joined the first big wave of women who went to Georgetown Law School, and then on to Washington law firms. It was wonderful and exciting, but sometimes it was frightening as well. And the experience left scars.

Even where there was no hazing or explicit double standard, it could be exhausting and bewildering to join male teams where we weren’t really wanted. As a result, despite years of achievement, some “old girls” still experience surprising lapses in confidence. It can show up in little ways, such as: Read more ›

Posted in glass ceiling, professional advancement, women leaders Tagged with:

How to sustain a thriving career!

Things going well for you? 

Build on that winning streak!

RES CAREER Have you noticed that some people can go from success to success, while others stumble fairly quickly, then seem to spend more time down     than up? Of course luck can help, but the people who keep landing on their feet tend to have something in common. The perennial winners don’t take success for granted — they keep hustling, even in the good times.

In work, as in life, things usually are either getting better or getting worse. It’s the like that for organizations as well as for people. Nothing    stays the same for long. So when things are going well, savvy careerists don’t just sit back and let the good times roll.

Just as you must take action in order to break out of a downward spiral, it’s smart to support your momentum when it’s already positive. If you are looking for ways to perpetuate success, in your own career or at the place where you work, consider these strategies: Read more ›

Posted in Career management, career success, managing progress, positivity, professional growth Tagged with:

Be ready to brag when opportunity knocks

Prepare for opportunities by

tracking your achievements

goodworkWhat if a headhunter calls today with an interesting job possibility? Can you quickly show that you’re an ideal candidate?  Or what if a new boss or client has questions about how you’ve been using your time?

Sometimes new opportunities or unexpected challenges pop up fast. But when you’re asked to quickly explain what you’ve been doing on the job, you might not be prepared to gracefully describe your achievements.  Some people even go blank when asked to talk about what they’ve done lately.

To keep moving ahead in your career, there are times when you must know how to describe where you’ve been.  Even if you’re happily entrenched in a job that feels secure, on occasion you’ll need to demonstrate your worth.  Perhaps you’ll want to go after a raise or promotion, or to show that you’re ready to take on a juicy assignment. Read more ›

Posted in Career management, Job seeking, professional advancement, professional growth Tagged with: ,

Enrich your job by leading upward!

To add more value at work,

find ways to lead your bosses.

thumb_leadingupwardAs an executive coach, I’ve noticed that, while leadership styles vary considerably, the best leaders have attributes in common.  For example, they all tend to have integrity, strong value systems and a genuine desire to do the right thing.

The leaders I most admire are consistently willing to step forward and serve, even if a task is menial or unlikely to lead to recognition. And their influence over other people extends in all directions.  In other words, not only are they adept at managing their direct reports, but also they are able to guide other colleagues and collaborators.

Some of the strongest leaders exercise a special skill.  They are able to lead upward, influencing their bosses to make better decisions and become more effective. For example, there’s a client I’ll call “Sam,” who didn’t expect to rise beyond his role as the VP of communications. He had five years until retirement, and he wanted during that time to contribute even more to the company he loved. Read more ›

Posted in Career management, leadership, professional growth, Uncategorized Tagged with:

7 strategies for building executive presence

 Want a powerful presence?

Work through this checklist!

A question I often hear from coaching clients is, “How do I get executive presence?” The question is tricky because “executive presence” isn’t easily defined.  Sure, there’s widespread agreement that leaders need it and great leaders have it.  But it’s not so simple to deconstruct the elements. 

Your definition may be based on a leader you actually know, who has great presence.  Someone who exudes confidence and energy, and who attracts other people like a magnet.

Presents. Photo (c) Kenishirotie via fotolia

Presents. Photo (c) Kenishirotie via fotolia

 Sometimes the value of executive presence seems most obvious when it’s missing.  I’m thinking of a brilliant corporate attorney I’ll call “Ed.” He repeatedly was passed over when spots opened up within the company’s management ranks. When I asked the COO whether Ed was likely to be promoted, she said, “No. He’ll always be valued as a talented technical lawyer, but we’re not going to move him up.  Ed just doesn’t have executive presence.” 

The COO didn’t try to define “executive presence,” but I knew what she meant.  The attorney could write memos like a dream, but when asked a question he seemed hesitant.  He’d mumble, then he’d shuffle down the hall.  He just didn’t have “It.”  He didn’t radiate that confidence, that dignity, that sense of control that others see as “executive presence.”

Do you sometimes worry that you don’t have enough of that “It” factor?  Do you fear you’ll miss out on career opportunities, despite your great work, because you lack a powerful presence? Read more ›

Posted in career resilience, leadership, professional growth Tagged with: , ,

If leading a committee is like herding cats.

Leading peers is tricky.

But these tips will help.

Do you know how to run a committee in a way that gets thing done? Or to direct a work group when you don’t really have a boss’s authority?

Much of the work getting done in today’s organizations comes from fostering collaboration among people whose goals aren’t quite the same But whether you’re brainstorming a startup with entrepreneurial pals, or serving as counsel to a blue ribbon panel, leading folks who don’t report to you can be frustrating.

Sherry Little of Spartan Solutions.

Sherry Little of Spartan Solutions.

Sherry Little, a founding partner at the infrastructure firm Spartan Solutions, knows that leading across functional and organizational lines can feel like herding cats.  But, she says, it’s amazing what can be accomplished when you learn how to build and manage diverse teams.

Little’s company develops and administers large infrastructure projects, which often means fostering public-private partnerships to build things like subway systems, trolley lines, or ferries.  Little learned political skills as a senior staffer in the U.S. Senate, where crafting transportation legislation required negotiating across party lines.  Later, before the formation of Spartan in 2009, Little led the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration.

When I asked her to share her favorite strategies for building an effective team, Little offered four tips: Read more ›

Posted in committees, leadership, team leadership Tagged with: ,

Beverly E. Jones

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Links to occasional colleagues

ECCA - Website
ThreeJoy - Website
Kerry Hannon - Website
Ohio University's Voinovich School - Website
Senior Entrepreneurship Works - Website
Congressional Management Foundation - Website
WOUB - Website
ShadowComm LLC - Website

Books with Bev’s Tips

Bev’s tips on career change are featured in the books and other writing of leading journalist Kerry Hannon. If you’re thinking about a career transition, try:

What’s Next? Find Your Passion and Your Dream Job in You Forties, Fifties and Beyond


“Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy and Pays the Bills”


Bev at Ohio University,
where she is a visiting
executive with the
Voinovich School of
Leadership & Public Affairs



Bev's garden at Buckeye Farm