Strong Women: It’s Time to Take Off the Cape and Boots

Being strong is a statement of contradiction for most women I know.  In the countless conversations I’ve had over the past year I have encountered a passionate re-evaluation of what it means to be “strong” and it is time we looked at this in earnest.  If we get this wrong with one another or within our own hearts we are in danger of dropping the ball in terms of our influence and capacity to impact one another.

Suck It Up Buttercup: When Being “Strong” Means Ignoring Yourself

For whatever reason it seems to me that there is a dangerous misunderstanding of what it means to be strong for professional, entrepreneurial and mid-career women.  We wear that title with pride and yet it does more damage to us than pretty much anything else we might define ourselves as.  This is a high stakes game where any kink in our armor is potentially devastating to our public persona and level of influence within our industries.

Fail just a bit to girder up our perfect-ness and the consequences are both dramatic and devastating.  For some of us the sheer fatigue of maintaining the guise of strength and accomplishment creates an unstoppable wheel of pretense that we couldn’t get off of if we tried.  Others have no idea how much pain, stress and fatigue is weighing us down.  So we say nothing and do nothing to affect the downward spiral that is our own creation.

Hiding- that becomes the expectation and the agenda regardless of the personal impact we might bare.  When we present flawless and faultless “Strength” it is met with awe and wonder from both male and female observers.  This reinforcement of the undefeatable heroine ultimately becomes our worst nightmare.  The cape and boots others so admire are like shackles around our neck and a destiny we can’t escape.  Hiding who we are and how we struggle so that we “suck it up” no matter what isn’t really strength- its an illusion.  An illusion that many women create to live up to the expectations they themselves have reinforced and the market place values so apologetically.

Nobody cares, nobody wants to know and dammit- you better figure it out or pay the price…

The more you do the more you’re worth is a flawed premise.

2016 seemed to bring a plethora of change for the women I know and have come to admire. I have seen more honest and authentic “breakdowns” than I would have ever expected in a single year and yet- there it was.  Women with hearts of gold, big responsibilities and lots to loose started to shift in their own hearts and in their professional circles.  It seemed to be a collective “that’s enough” to bullshit and burdens.

So- back to my original question- what does it mean to be a strong woman?  It’s not about pretending to have it all together…that much is clear.  That’s an empty basket that bleeds us dry.  Is it about persevering?  I’m not so sure.  The concept of the “strong woman” who faces and suffers through adversity doesn’t resonate either.  I fail to see the value in telling each other “you’ll get through it”, “this will pass” or my personal favorite… you guessed it “you’re so strong I know you can beat this”.  If I were to be honest as an accomplished and outspoken leader in my professional circles- telling people that I was in the midst of some really significant change was mostly met with an apathetic “at-a-girl”.

Not helpful.

The Bad-ass-ness of conquer is just more expectation on top of an already overwhelming need to succeed.  For many of the women I spoke to this year the idea of pushing through their suffering was insulting and rang of pity rather than support.   It would seem that being strong must be something else.

Most of the women I would call strong are ones who found themselves physically ill from emotional pain or have so much stress they don’t remember to shower or eat lunch.    Should we hold them to the wall and force them to hide when they need help?

Not IF they need it…WHEN.

I think we have failed each other.

We’ve gotten this wrong.

Off With The Boots and Cape- It’s Time For Waders and a Shovel

It’s been my observation that the women who are the most afraid to embrace their own strength are the ones who have watched their forbearers fall on their own swords.  That’s the message that “strong women” have inadvertently given the next generation- quiver in your boots ladies because when shit goes sideways- you’re on your own.  Is it the creation of societal norms that brought us here?  Well- maybe but I’m not willing to surrender so lightly to the notion this was done TO me.  Rather I’m looking in the mirror and saying “hey you- at some point you created this crap- maybe it’s time to un-create it”.

I’m going to choose a different message and it’s one I’m seeing embraced across professions by women everywhere.  You see- strength is about admitting this IS a mess and deliberately pitching your shovel in the mound to say “this stops right now”.  Get your hip-waders on because we’re going in deep here.

I admire all the women I know this past year who authentically set boundaries in their personal and professional lives.  Who said “no” to drama and coercion in their work environments.   These women who said “in order to be strong I need to show you what it means to be weak”.  I’m going to handle it- yes- but not by trudging through the mess- I am going to instead dismantle the mess itself.

The women I would give the title of “strong” to are the ones I watched walk away from relationships that hurt them, environments that disrespected them and decided- just DECIDED- to take back control of what came into their lives.  They called in sick when they were sick, went on vacations and turned off their phones and starting saying “no” to people who asked for help and disappeared when they were called upon to return that favor.

They were the women that said “nice mess” and didn’t pile onto their own lives crap that wasn’t theirs to take.  Instead they told the TRUTH about the shit they were going through and systematically said “good bye” to the pile that was created from that fall out.  They let people know they weren’t “ok” and that today they were on the couch in their bathrobe because they just needed to cry. Not for the faint-hearted or “fair-weather friend”. If you had the privilege of being around a woman this past year who was doing this- you witnessed some epic shit and it wasn’t pretty. It was real and it was her.

And then you know what happened?  They got off that couch and showed up in the workplace and in relationships as different.  I watched countless women go through very public and very ugly situations without hiding it.  I saw authentic struggle and transparent pain.  That is what it means to be strong. Edgy, confident, compassionate, empathetic and different.  Strong.

It’s time to pause and reflect on strength and to step in to the mess we share and have created for each other in our professional and personal definitions of “strong”.

Refection Questions:

  1. Think back…where in the past year did you feel that in order to “be strong” it was required (by you AND others) that you ignore what you needed and just keep going? Have you done that to other women either indirectly or on purpose?  Write it down.  What would you do differently?
  2. Pause…are you the kind of person who pushes through pain and seeks validation based on your struggle? Can you peel back the layers to find out where in your life that expectation of “perfect” comes from?  Do you believe you are only valued by how much you do?  What steps could you consider taking to shift this need for externalizing your worth?
  3. In what way could you demonstrate authenticity when you need or desire help? How could you show those around you your struggle?  Do you have a safe environment to do that in?  If not- how can you take an active role in creating that environment for yourself and others?

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Empathy: How You Use Compassion Dictates Your Bottom Line

There are so many variations on what it means to serve your customer- the person who gives you money to do what you do.  It is a challenge to see how to prioritize the needs of others with who we are as business owners and professionals.  If the customer is always right- then what does it mean when we don’t fit them or have /do what they need?  Should we abandon the idea that the customer is right?  Should we do what they need even if it’s not right for us? How do we show compassion in a context that is ultimately about the exchange of money?

Compassion isn’t the idea of selling out who you.  It’s about showing who you are in a way that honors both you and your client.

The Dark Side of Compassion

Most people look at empathy as a no-brainer “must-do” for anyone hoping to succeed in business.  “Of course!” We all shout.  “Empathy is just the right thing to do”.  But are there times when it isn’t?  When presenting a hard edge is the right move instead of your open arms and warm/fuzzy sentiment (that’s not true empathy anyways…let me explain).  Owning a business and succeeding in it means being aware of and dillegent about your bottom line.  You will only be around for years to come if you are good at this.  Where does empathy fit in that?

For some professionals and entrepreneurs the balance of empathy and business savvy is a minefield of ethical dilemma.  Where is the line where giving is giving too much and compassion becomes a liability?  I have seen too many wonderful and warm-hearted people feel they because they have the capacity to give they should give everything.  Absolutely there is a place for gratitude and generosity.  BUT empathy is NOT giving until it hurts; until it hurts you and your business.  That isn’t what empathy is and it’s not how to practice it in your professional role.  For those in the helping professions this can be extremely difficult.  When working with clients who have dire circumstances and in industries where there is an expectation of supporting people who are at risk-empathy is often translated as doing work for free or doing more work than the system supports.  How do we balance the client’s needs, empathy and our definition of being valued?

 Too bad- many people don’t see empathy for the reciprocal engagement that it is.  

The shallow and mis-applied concept of “being a giver” leads to burn out, resentment and scarcity thinking in the market place.  It leaves entrepreneurs and professionals in a place of resentment around their worth and the services they offer.  In truly sad scenarios these valuable people shut down and shut out opportunities to give and to have impact in order to protect themselves from the dark side of compassion.  This leads to the end of amazing companies and the slow bleed of innovation as the fist tightens around protecting ourselves from the forces of commerce and the expectations of others.

For women in the business world this can be particularly difficult to navigate.  Giving might be who you are and why you got into your industry in the first place.  There are a multitude of layers for women who feel the pressure to compete but also want to give back.  Often women under value who they are thinking that this kind of decision making reflects empathy.  Unfortunately the act of undervaluing ourselves causes others to undervalue us as well.  We charge less and do more hoping that our compassion translates into significant impact…this doesn’t work.  Compassion is NOT the opposite of value.

Understanding Empathy As a Business Strategy

It can seem quite superficial and motivated by fiscal feedback to engender compassion into a corporate strategy.  Are you doing it because you care or just for the sake of your company’s image?  Despite the image of corporations to project compassion and retain value- empathy has a legitimate place in strategy for both small and large businesses.  So- to steer clear of the “dark side” and stay firmly in the place where you are both compassionate and valued the business owner or professional must have an intimate knowledge of what drives them in the realm of compassion.  Initiatives that aren’t grounded in the persona of the leader fall flat and don’t put down roots inside of a company.  People know its not legitimate and wont take it seriously.  Or- they might resent being asked to participate in something that doesn’t seem to reflect the character of the leadership they know from day to day.  If the synchronicity of who the “boss” is every day doesn’t fit with the call to action- then no one gives from the heart and empathy is still a pipe dream.  The first step in developing a strong cultural drive towards social initiatives is to do a self- check about who you are as a leader and what type of actions suit you.  Doing a self-check like this can reveal the “dark side” you might not want to look at.  That’s ok- do it anyways.

The second piece of this is to secure the buy-in of those around you.  One lone ranger in a company has very limited reach. But- getting your team to grab a hold of what you are doing and why- now that gets things moving in a big way.  Getting feedback from your team about what you want to do and where they see it having an impact can create a team approach instead of top-down thinking.

When you create a like-minded approach you propel not just the intention of your business but the personal goals of your team. 

You’ll be able to see when you have over-stepped the goal of empathy and go “dark” if your team feels they can give you feedback.  The other great piece of this is that once this has become the culture of your company you will attract like-minded people who care as much as you do.  Those who don’t will self-select to leave  your team and not come back.  That’s a good thing- let that happen.

Growing a culture of empathy is not as simple as stating your vision statement or doing whatever the consumer asks of you to gain market-share.  Its a culture of joining your client in their need- not fixing it.  Yes I said it- don’t fix what’s broken if you can’t.  If it’s beyond your role- leave it there.  Empathy is letting them know that you hear them, that you’re listening and it matters that they tell you.  Don’t minimize the experience people are having by reminding them of how much they have to be thankful for or how strong they are.  That’s not emapthy- that’s sympathy and no one wants to feel like you feel sorry for them.

Pity is not strong strategy because it minimizes the situation in a way that disrespects the individual.  

A Vancouver based business that I have had the pleasure of getting to know has done an incredible job at displaying empathy as a corporate initiative and team collaboration.  Kleiner Services is a Vancouver based moving company that uses the principles of empathy to engage clients.  As a moving and junk removal company Kleiner meets people in the stressed-out moments of their process of change.  In talking with Konstantin Kleiner, I have heard him talk about knowing how hard it is to navigate a move and for that reason his team will supply pizza for the family on moving day, reassemble furniture when they deliver it and talk to you about the experience you are having.  I have found Konstantin to care deeply that his team shows the same level of engagement as he does with clients.  For this reason, empathy has become the way he hires, trains and talks to his employees.

As a strategy, empathy can add gains to your quarterly performance but also has profound impact on your “soft outcomes” that provide dividends in your team like job satisfaction, employee retention and increased overall performance.  When done correctly- empathy is just as much about you and your team as it is pleasing your client and market-share.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Where is your heart when it comes to giving?  Does the idea freak you out?  Inspire you? What kinds of emotions do you have when you think about giving more than just the service you sell?
  2. What’s your experience with the interface of being valued and empathy?  Have you perhaps given too much at some points? Do you get questioned about your rates and services in such a way that makes you resistant to empathy?
  3. What steps would you have to take to build the belief about empathy on your team?  Is it believable based on who you are as a person?  If not- what do you need to change within yourself to make this a possible outcome across your business?
  4. Have you confused sympathy and empathy?  Can you simply listen and affirm the person/client that you understand but that you aren’t expecting them to “suck it up” or that you’re going to rescue them from the situation?

Listening: Can You Hear What I’m Not Saying?

Communication is a funny thing.  We all do it yet some people are better at it than others.  In fact some people build an entire organization around their ability to listen.  Essentially this is what conflict management and personal coaching is based on- listening to the needs and desires of others.

So what makes some people good at this and others…not so much?  In his book “Everyone Communicates Few Connect” Author and Leader John Maxwell identifies the real core value of listening and why it is much much harder to do than we might think.

Listening as Policy

In a number of the businesses I have consulted to I was able to find some value statement inside of the mission statement or procedure manual about how to prioritize listening and how to engage in conversations.  From hiring procedures to disciplinary action… from senior managers to client care representatives…the ability to listen is  articulated across organizational structures.  However, this does not mean its done well or even at all.  When I am asked to engage teams often there is conflict within.  Some sort of tension that stems from lack of trust and if followed to the root has a lot to do with the ability (you guessed it) to listen…or not.

No matter how hard we nail corporate policy-listening is far more than a static procedure.

It seems like such an obvious piece but it is frequently missed.  When conflict arises the initial reaction is to look for a fix that manages fall-out or consequences.  We offer a refund to a customer who is not happy, we remove or reprimand someone for not fulfilling their role, etc.  We might express our point of view; we might even apologize.  In many ways this puts us at risk for bigger issues if we are not seeking connection with others.  Our listening is put to the test in highly emotional situations and if we haven’t learned to  engage it – it will show here in a glaringly obvious way.  We cannot rely solely on written value statements to have listening be actualized in our every day engagements and in those of our team,

Listening as Practice

You’ve done this. I’ve done this.  We bring a note pad, an agenda, an already fully formed outcome before a single word is uttered.  Our listening is shallow and focused on one thing-finding a solution.  We  create our own internal pressure to “get to the bottom of things” and resolve things quickly.  We define success as “its done”; and above all else we want to remove the problem…sound familiar?

Listening becomes a means to an end.  Our time is spent formulating responses and analyzing arguments.  We know what we’re going to say next before the person talking has time to finish their thoughts.  We might even talk over them in our eagerness to respond.  It might feel efficient and even “professional”.  You may even get positive feedback about being able to “think on your feet” and look incredibly equipped because you have answer for everything.

Our practice of “listening”” is weaponized and deployed with strategic cunning to either catch others unaware or to advance our predetermined priority.  The outcomes may have external appeal but ultimately ring hollow for those we engage.  They know instinctively we have not heard them. At times the response to being told others do not feel heard falls on our deaf ears- because listening was a part of our process- so it must be them…its not us.  When you have a position of authority and this is happening- you lose all credibility and all status as someone who is competent.  It is devastating for morale and clients alike.

When we weaponize listening our so-called success of solving problems is a false victory for us and those we are working with.  

Listening for Connection

Human beings communicate to connect.  The bottom line is we are social beings driven by our desire to belong.  Listening is key to that desire.  We don’t just communicate to share wants and needs.  If we did we would still be living in the jungles with our cousins the primates.  We are not merely animals with instincts- we are complex beings with minds not just brains.  Listening to connect is the essence of communication.  When thought of like this the act of listening takes on an entirely different meaning.  Its not a static “you talk- I respond” scenario. Its all encompassing and dynamic.  It’s our hearts reaching for one another.  Sound corny?  Ok- maybe a little- but go here with me for a second….

If we  put aside our policy and our practice- what would happen to the experiences we have?  Is it possible that THIS is what our clients want from us, our team  requires of us and potentially- what scares us the most?  Connection is a vulnerable thing because you have to  be open rather than closed.  You have to be able to  move towards others rather than focus on problems.

Listening with the intent of connecting addresses the shortfalls of conflict resolution and failed transparency in leaders.  

Listening for connection allows us to see beyond the words being used to the meaning and the emotions behind those words.  It  causes us to hesitate to “zing” someone with our wit and knowledge and FEEL where they are.  That connection can reduce the need for edgy and costly actions and can create new ground where ideas form and results are mutual.  As business owners, leaders and  organizational managers- we must invest in advancing our skills as connected listeners.  Without this we fail utterly to support those we are responsible for.  More than that- we shut ourselves off from internal growth that will serve us time and time again.

Reflection Questions:

  1. In your organization- in the role you have- what would happen to your hiring process, your conflict management procedure, your team’s effectiveness and your love of your work if you and those around you shifted towards listening for connection?
  2. Do you see people’s bodies, tone and facial expressions as modifiers for how you understand where they are coming from?  Do you “deep listen” so you can connect rather than just respond?  What holds you back from doing this more?
  3. There is risk to you in connecting and really listening to those around you.  Imagine yourself doing this- how does it feel?  What support will you need to ensure you can do this on a regular basis?  Do you have what you need to listen for connection?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and your stories.  Please leave a comment below.  Want to keep the conversation going?   How can I help you?  Join my mailing list and I will help you find your path to listening for connection.

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Naked In The Crowd: The Risk of Revealing You

For years I felt that there was a standard or expectation of me that I should pay attention to.  I had “arrived” as a professional and so there were personas and ideals all around me about what it meant to hold that position, to share and belong in that community.  After all- this is where I wanted to be….right?

As an entrepreneur and clinician there was no shortage of opinions that not only is the customer always right- but that it is my job to be/do what they need.  If I wanted to get paid I would have to BE that for them.  So much emphasis is placed on these concepts that I think it drags professionals into places they don’t want to be and forces a standard that might be “right” but doesn’t fit.

Could it be that all our marketing and business planning efforts…all our codes of ethics and standards of practice are not the lifeline we hope for but a noose around our necks when we are drifting in the surf?

It’s been my observation that many professionals and business owners have a “best before date” to their passion.  At some point we lose sight of our true north and begin to be pulled by external forces.  As I do Force Field Analysis for different organizations I find myself including internal issues such as lack of identity, burn-out and distrust to that metric.  Internally  there is something off.  So much so that margins, employees and clients are all impacted.  Its time to look deeper. It’s time to look at you.

Often I find that the energy people spend trying to find solutions exclude them.  What I mean is they look to “fix” instead of “grow”.  How do we build strong businesses and exceptional services?  It’s not by firing your communications director (well-sometimes it is…let me explain).  Its about being reflective and honest about how you do or don’t match the initiatives that you are enmeshed in.

John Maxwell talks about the Law of Sacrifice in his book the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  The Law of Sacrifice is knowing that to do great things you must be prepared to sacrifice often more than you anticipate.  The difference between a leader who does “good” and one who does “great” is understanding that growing rather than fixing means getting uncomfortable, getting real and shedding the pretense of expectation that industry or we ourselves have used to limit our impact.  Sacrifice is not an attractive outcome for many and that’s why conformity is so highly valued.  If I look like, sound like and deliver services just like everyone else- then I have value.  What if that isn’t true?

What if the age old standard of “the bottom line” falls short of capturing the value of authentically building our businesses and our careers? 

What if we’ve missed the point all together?

In the past year I have felt as if I am standing naked in the crowd.  I made a decision to take the risk of being and living and building a business centered entirely on who I am and what I believe I can do in the world.  I knew that branding myself as myself was very risky.  It means that I have made myself a consumable.  That some people will take a piece of me and tarnish it, misuse it and abuse it; but others will take that piece and cherish it and hold it close because we connected and there is value in that connection.  The risk of revealing me is one of rejection, of heartache, of knowing some things just don’t serve me and to let go of that.  It’s knowing that according to the Law of Sacrifice I will have short term pain financially, emotionally and even physically in order to shed the expectations that are not empowering.  What is revealed then becomes far more centered and powerful.  It reveals both my strengths and my weaknesses (opportunities for growth) in such a way that making decisions about who to lean on and what direction to go in is far more successful than if I had referenced my industry standards or the opinions of others.

In business and as professionals we must choose where to spend our energy and find our purpose.  I would suggest that the most valuable place for you to focus on…is on you.

From that authentic place your values, your strategic plan and your execution of  that plan will not just resonate but exponentially respond to you and your market.

Revealing you and getting “naked” is undervalued and under-engaged in successful professionals and business owners- they have “arrived”.   However, it creates a ceiling for our performance.  It allows conformity and complacency to get a foothold.  It robs the world of our vision and innovation and ultimately makes our careers a soul-sucking experience.

Taking the risk to “Get naked” and reveal YOU is the missing foundation to building strong brand identity, loyalty and ROI into how we operated and build our companies.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How much of your business is based on what you value? Are you relying on formulas or coming from a place where who YOU are -is reflected in your marketing, products and policies?
  2. Do you find yourself in dilemmas when you see that there is something the industry or your colleagues expect that doesn’t match your values? How do you currently respond?  Is this how you want to continue responding?
  3. What “risk” would you be taking to shed those expectations and reveal who you really are? What is the fear that holds you back?  Are you prepared to make large scale sacrifice to honor your personality and integrity?

I’d love to hear if your experiences are like mine.  If you liked this post please sign up for my newsletter and get information like this directly to your inbox.  Leave a comment- let’s keep talking.

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Addressing Toxic Culture: When Your Competitive Edge Cuts Like A knife

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending a TedX event in Victoria BC.  One of the speakers had me sitting forward in my seat.  She was singing my song!  Her name is Nicole Sorochan and she is the owner and Creative Director of One Net Studios– a digital marketing firm and media powerhouse.  Nicole identified an issue that has really impacted me in my professional life with devastating effects in all areas of my life- the negative side to being competitive.

At first glance you might think that competition is motivating.  Sure- a certain degree of challenging one another can really boost performance and make goals more palatable.  We can push each other to reach higher, do more and think beyond our limitations.  In sports, competition is how players measure their success.  Gaining rank or recognition by using competition works.  It’s the way that system is built.  In the corporate setting competition can have negative consequences for both businesses and people.

Competition is like a fire- when tended properly it can warm everyone but if it gets out of control it leaves nothing but ashes and devastation.

Nicole talked mostly about the issue of competition and women.  This really brought it home for me.  The helping professions (the one I spent 20 years in) are dominated primarily by women.  Teams of women working together.  If you ask anyone who works in health or human sciences invariably there is a comment about having that many women in the room.  There is a layer here that Nicole brings forward that requires our attention.  How much does competition “bleed us” or “feed us”?

I can recall in the not too distant past being introduced to a woman who provided a service very much like mine.  She spent that introduction name dropping and posturing.  It was very disappointing for me because I had hoped to connect with her- not compete.  Instead she shut down any opportunity for us to explore how we might support one another by clearly staking her claim to expertise and prestige.  Any attempt I made to add value was dismissed.  If there is one thing I have learned over the course of my career working primarily with other women:

It is your character not your credentials that will draw people to you.

Leadership can and should embrace a healthy amount of competition.  The difference between healthy and harmful is whether or not competition is used as a weapon.  When winning- in any industry or business- becomes more important than our core values and causes us to gain ground at the expense of others- it is toxic.  Incentives and rewards are only marginally helpful when they are divorced from the frame of “team”.  In workplaces dominated by women there is an ironic lack of femininity and feminine “features” of leadership.

Competition has a way of leeching away empathy, healing, listening, self-awareness and other core concepts of leadership that can be seen as a weakness instead of a strength.

Forbes author Michael Blanding talks about the impact of competition on creativity within the marketing industry.  The “Goldilocks” effect is the need to balance competition so that it is neither too little nor too much for people.  If we apply this to women we might see that the intensity around competition in motherhood, the workplace and for love (yes I said it) creates so much intensity that we are willing to throw not just one another but ourselves under the bus in order to win.

Perhaps on piece of the puzzle in the room when parents (moms) sit down to talk about services with professionals is that- this is a room full of women.  Is it possible that the persona of “warrior mother” is a liability because of the intensity of competition to WIN in a meeting?  I have to wonder if this dynamic is the under-current to knowing what is in play when families and professionals are not working together as a team- it’s a “woman thing” as much as it is anything else.  Are we judging each other as mothers?  Are we competing for love and attention?  Are we trying to stake a claim in the gender equality “fight” at the expense of one another?

Nicole Sorochan’s presentation raised a lot of important questions about competition and women for me.  It uncovered a layer that needs our attention and challenged me to pay closer attention to my fellow woman and her experience along side mine.

Reflection Questions:

  1. When you think about empathy, healing, listening and self-awareness what are the negative connotations that you hear and feel around these characteristics?
  2. Think back to interactions you have had where you felt that competition and domination became more important than working together?
  3. What actions can you take to ensure that you are well-rounded in your need/drive to “WIN”?  What can you do to control your intensity so that you are not succeeding at the expense of others?

I’d love to hear if your experiences and thoughts are similar to mine.  Keep this conversation going by leaving a comment below.

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More Than Just a Group Hug: Delivering Solutions Is The Goal Of Leadership

I had a phone call today with a business owner that I have done some work with.  We were talking about the viability of offering leadership as a part of his service model.  He explained to me that he gets a little bit “itchy” when he thinks that what is being proposed isn’t a solid, tangible result.  I could tell that his concern was that leadership has become such a buz word that it’s lost its relevance for the savvy business owner whose primary concern is viable impact within his margins and productivity.  It led me to think about the industry in general…are we talking to hear our own voices or do we have in our hands the answers struggling organizations are looking for?

“Leadership as a concept can appear as an “empty basket” to those who need it most if we can’t provide relevance for its application in their lives.”tweet

The caution in the consultation industry is that conceptual knowledge doesn’t give business owners, decision-makers and people who want change the actionable steps they need to make change happen.  Within academic circles this can become a toxic cycle of concepts confirming concepts without us ever taking it back into the market place to find solid ground to run with it.  The practical application of leadership is listening to the business owner, the not-for-profit chairman or the CEO of the health authority and seeing where the barriers are for THEM in their roles and for their team.

Head knowledge without the “street smarts” of those who need it to work on the ground can do more damage than we realize because at that point “leadership” has lost its credibility.

I have had experiences myself as a business owner of being led through a process that sounded great but in actuality led me to no viable action plan.  That’s the call that leadership must answer.  If we are to demonstrate that shifts in corporate culture, profit margins and ROI are the result of applied leadership within an industry or organization- we must put solutions into people’s hands and empower them to use them.

This resonates within the health and teaching professions in a way that many clinicians have not considered.  Disability and mental health produces a ton of reports.  Just like within the business sector- those reports become irrelevant when they do not result in actions taken.  They make great paper airplanes and nothing more.  Rarely do I see a report that goes beyond recommendations and actually synthesizes the information with the intent of making the solution tangible- or as my colleague stated today “brick and mortar”.  This leads to low trust between families and clinicians and we have spent an enormous amount of resources managing this fall-out.  All because we did not understand or appreciate the impact of leadership and the signs that its missing.  Having a “team meeting” that costs thousands and doesn’t change a thing is just as much a problem in hospitals, schools and intervention programs as it is in the world of the entrepreneur.  We have much to learn from the business world in the helping professions.

When we offer recommendations that are detached from the reality of the person who we think should engage we just add more noise to their already overwhelmed world. 

Whether we are talking about leadership within a corporate setting or evaluating the “tools of the trade” of leadership within any industry it is critical that those of us who aspire to influence do so with the intent to see those changes live- in real time- for real people.  When we leave leadership in the realm of “concept” we have failed to lead- how ironic.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Are the “recommendations” you are making based on concept or the reality of the person you want to engage?
  2. When you think about leadership- what does that mean to you?  Is it action or idea?  If it’s just idea- how can you attach something “real” to it?
  3. Do you regularly measure the impact of your use of leadership recommendations?  If you are the consultant- do you provide this measurement?  If you are the client or professional- do you have a goal that you wish leadership to impact?

Change requires people to take action.  The goal of leadership is to offer a pathways to those changes where there were previously road blocks.

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Conflict: How To Manage It, Use it and Succeed As A Team!

Conflict is a natural part of being with people and is often thought of as something to avoid.

Do you aim to avoid the topics that create conflict on your team?  Sometimes conflict is the BEST way to generate ideas, address unspoken concerns and really get into the emotional grid of the people on your team.


Find out how to manage conflict HERE.

BUT- what do you do when it “goes off the rails”.  The possibility that the meeting will go “off the rails” stops us from exploring just where conflict can take us and robs us of healthy outcomes for our team.

Join me in an exploration of how conflict creates opportunity and how to manage it in your next meeting.

If you like this post and the attached video please comment. I’d love to hear if your experiences are like mine.

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The High Cost of Low Expectations: Teams That Foster Low-Trust Are Ones To Avoid

Within the disability and mental health sector there are a multitude of support groups and organizations with mandates to “help”.  They are there to create safe environments for parents, for professionals and they often communicate goals that reflect the goals of their membership.  I belong to many of these groups.  As I see it, there is a crisis of identity that keeps these groups from talking to each other and from creating environments that promote genuine growth.

The influence of group identity towards sentiment of negative thinking, suspicion and lack of trust in others is toxic to the disability community.  

Certainly we all want to belong and this is important in a field where belonging is the major push for change.  In other words- we want inclusion and acceptance so we can find the same results for the ones we love who have a disability or mental health issue.  Along this logic does it not come in to question that group membership is often in direct contrast to this goal.  It is exclusive, often derogatory towards other stakeholders and often held in closed or “secret” groups.  How are we hoping to reach inclusion goals when the conversations we are having promote such a dynamic?  Is our belonging at the expense of others?  Does it help us grow or keep us stuck?

The cycle of miscommunication between professionals and families is reinforced by groups that keep the conversation from including BOTH sides of the table. 

I recently sat with an administrator in a school district I am hoping to work with in the area of governance and leadership.  To my stunned disappointment the sentiment was expressed that many issues in the school environment were the result of the mental health (or lack of) of the parents.  I was amazed that this comment would come from someone in authority  who was directly responsible for maintaining lines of communication between the leadership of the district and parents.  I have likewise heard from countless parents who’s belief about the professionals in their child’s life is that they are either out to “get a buck” or have no compassion at all.  I can’t help but think that the identity requirements to remain separate and therefor critical of the other is a huge influence here.

Rather than talking ABOUT each other- parents and professionals should be talking TO one another about the issues they face working WITH each other.

I propose that the conversation is NOT about the policy or handbook or whatever shallow reference that is typically thrown around at this point.  We can’t afford to do that to parents as professionals.  It creates a situation where we are perceived as callous, incapable of thinking beyond the party line and quite frankly it’s insulting to a parent.  On the flip side- professionals who bring this forward in the conversation about why there is tension or low results are doing so because they are generally caring and frustrated people who are trying to do what they can to navigate an ethical dilemma and have no where to turn for clarity.  In 20 years of clinical practice and advocacy I never met someone who was truly morally bankrupt.  Once you dig past the defensiveness you hear stories of wanting to do more and feeling trapped.

So now what?  How do we move beyond this devastating paradigm of low expectations in one another and high expectations for getting what we want (or else)?


  1. What are your perceptions of parents/professionals?  How are those points of view either building trust or destroying it?
  2. What are your expectations of collaboration?  Is this your number one goal or are you trying to “win”?
  3. In meetings do you regularly hear comments that marginalize you and leave you feeling like you don’t belong?
  4. Does your “warrior mother” or “clinical expert” identity get in your way of trusting people at the table?

It may feel like we are miles apart but we are merely two sides of the same coin.  It’s the same story with varying contexts.  The paradox of wanting inclusion to magically appear from our exclusive identities shoots us in the foot and is the number one barrier for high quality IEPs, programming and advocacy in general.


Join me in shifting this conversation. offers FREE gifts to those who want to dive deep on inclusion and face the issues as well as themselves in the process.  Contact us for courses and other learning opportunities that will grow your skills in leadership, compassion and collaboration.

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Is Being A Team Just A Dream: A Revealing Look At The IEP Process

This is the season for intensive interactions between parents and schools.  Fall, unlike any other time of the year, is a period where trust is either built or eroded.  In most contexts one would think that the increased contact would mean people are being brought closer together, sharing information and strategizing successfully.  There are a million groups and blogs for strictly parents or strictly professionals.  What if we all need to grow in the SAME way at the SAME time?  Let me explain…

The irony in Special Education is that more contact often means less trust, increased distance and competing perspectives and perspectives about information.  For many, both professionals and parents, the Fall is stressful and to some extent “hollow” in that there is a lot of talking but little accomplished.

As I write this I am thinking of families who I am hearing from this year who are now returning to the IEP process in the coming months.  Many have told me stories of being stonewalled or at odds with their school team.  It led me to ponder if the idea of “team” inclusive of the family is possible.

It would seem a very unattractive conclusion that professionals and parents appose one another in the process of supporting a child and yet this is very often the true reality of the IEP process.

Is being a team just a dream- I tend to think not and here’s why…

In the world of political correctness and fiscal restraint it is quite easy to assign blame to systems for all parties.  The sentiment that parents are “ nuts” or “demanding” is frequently what I hear from school administrators.  That schools are dishonest and poor stewards of resources is what I hear often from parents.  It would seem to me that perhaps this issue is more about team dynamics and how roles function within the IEP process than it is the actual IEP legislation and policy that binds it.

We value teams in many other aspects of our lives.  We get married- two individuals become a unit forging forward together; in sports strong teams win games or receive recognition and in the business sector team structure drives organizations. It would be entirely appropriate to think these same concepts apply to parents and professionals working together during the IEP process.  Where does it fall apart?


In all other areas of life, roles are very easy to see as important aspects of TEAM: You do, I do, We do…there is an assumed aspect of respect and value assigned to each member of a team.  This is the first failing in the IEP collaboration- failure to acknowledge the legitimate roles on the team.  It will forever be the role of the parent to stand up for a child.  That is what should happen.  There is value in that and it keeps teams centered on the key reason they are gathering- to support a child.

Dismissing the value of a parent’s active voice undermines the entire team. 

There is also value in the classroom teacher’s perspective of how the child fits into the dynamics of the group.  I hear a lot of criticism of teachers for failing to connect to kids.  As a mother of three I can say that’s enough of a load for me- to have to connect with 30 children is a role that must be acknowledged as being as complex and as important as the parent.  And still there will always be someone on the team who has the big picture of the school’s system in mind. Budgets, resources and the like are always going to be a part of the conversation.  We may not like the reality but we must respect the individual who bears that information as a part of their role.  Understanding and VALUING each person’s role is critical to collaboration.

Information sharing

Setting goals in the IEP process is complex. Teachers must be compliant to Ministry expectations and that may look like they are disregarding the information brought forward by the parent.  There is nothing that erodes trust more than to produce an IEP that does not represent strong collaboration.  I find that openly listening for solutions is very difficult because goals appear to be competing.  How can the teacher meet their goal to deliver content to the group while also honoring the individual needs of a child with an IEP?  The solution is not to relegate programming to support staff or simply not do it at all.  The answer is to openly consider all the information and look for collaborative solutions.  When team members shut down internally in the information sharing process- collaboration stops dead in its tracks.  Which leads me to my next point…

 If you look across the table and all you see is a road block for you to blast through to get to your goal- you aren’t going to be a part of the solution, you will be a part of the problem.  

Respect for Others

Bar none- this is the biggest piece that I have encountered to be problematic for parents and professionals when they work together.  The idea that the IEP is adversarial comes from systemic and pervasive issues of lack of trust and respect.  The underlying assumptions that we must “fight” for the right s of the child or “ meet industry standards” for administrators and teachers puts us at odds with one another.  This mindset has perpetually cut off genuinely caring team members from even trying.  It leads to apathy for both families and schools; “our system is so broken its not worth even trying”.  What I have seen over and over is that the need to manage stress, and clamor for purchase around limited resources means it’s a dog eat dog world within the team itself.

In my 20 years of supporting both professionals and families through IEPs I am convinced that the entire process needs an infusion of healing, empathy and listening.  I am not so certain that the system is so broken we are without recourse or consideration of NEW solutions and DIFFERENT ways of finding common ground.  Regardless of whether you are a parent or a professional consider that your frame of mind, your expectations and your beliefs about people on the team and the process itself ar far more influential than anything else that is in the room.  It does not matter WHO begins the “reset” of trust- it just matters that it happens.

I can count on one hand the number of times that a meeting began with transparent statements of how people are feeling and a desire to connect with one another.  Those few meetings were so powerful and so different from what I typically saw I can tell you- they were a joy to be a part of.  This tells me that we CAN collaborate- it’s just going to take some work and a huge mind-shift for all.


  1. Consider your definition of advocacy– are you coming to the room expecting a fight or a collaboration? Expecting a fight will lead to competing goals and perspectives.  Take a few minutes to “Reset” before you enter the engagement.  Are your assumptions part of the problem or a part of the solution?
  2. Are you prepared to listen? You must be open.  In your heart and in your mind to the possibility that the team may find a path unlike anything you have tried in the past.  Give some legitimate consideration to each suggestion.  If you aren’t comfortable with what is being suggested say so early and clearly and respectfully.
  3. Did you deal with your own emotions prior to the meetings? Tension in the room will cut you off at the knees- think about the triggers you might encounter and process the depth of that before you go into the room.  Do not be the one to derail the conversation with big and potentially volatile emotion.
  4. Come with ideas, suggestions and feedback.  Teacher, parent and administrator.  Sitting passively and then having to renege or decline a plan that was agreed to will lose you credibility.  Be prepared to be recognized in your role and to contribute without being defensive or offensive.
  5. Be honest and open. You can share your responses and you should share them in the context of the IEP.  If you find that you are feeling a certain way- you should share that- especially the professionals.  If you are afraid, worried, scared, hopeful or excited- put that emotion in the room so the team can support or celebrate where you are at.  I have frequently on behalf of teachers turned to an administrator to say “surely you have some way of supporting this member of your TEAM”.  Often it is only the parent who shares honestly how they feel- sometimes that’s part of the problem because this emotion isn’t engaged by the rest of the team and this leaves parents feeling violated.  However, if professionals were transparent about the place they find themselves we would have far more authentic IEPs- with goals people were excited to accomplish because we would be hearing the obstacles and addressing them instead of swallowing them and failing to engage over time.

I recognize that my suggestion to work towards collaboration is a big task.  I’m not blind to the challenge I have proposed.  Nonetheless I am convinced that  a revolution of healing; despite the history of pain; that the IEP process is able to be what it is meant to be- the collaboration of parents and professionals.  I do not believe that the IEP is parent vs school despite the history to exactly this end.  I believe that teams with BOTH parents and professionals can function strongly- it just takes the small adjustments that YOU make for YOU to turn the team around.


Let’s dig deeper.  I am here to help. Contact me at and let’s build/rebuild your ability to collaborate on teams.


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Why Putting Yourself First Is Unselfish (Self-Care Is Not What You Think It Is)

You may have been told (over and over) that it is important for you to think about self-care.  It’s a topic that comes up for professionals time and time again.   I don’t disagree with that overall- but let’s dig deeper…

I am convinced that job satisfaction, client results and “self-care” are all wrapped up together and are indicators of a much larger issue of caring for and knowing our “selves”.  When these issues are on the rise and looking good- our “selves” are healthy.  When they are in the decline- we have a problem.  Everyone would agree that low job satisfaction, client defection/complaints are not what we want to see in our careers. However, do we understand how our “self” plays a role in both our desired outcomes and our “ugly outcomes”?  The evaluation of caring for ourselves starts with paying closer attention to both the positive and the negative equally.  There is much to learn about our “selves” when we connect these issues in a cohesive way.

“Self care is not simply taking time off or eating right or managing your time.  True self-care is the merging of who you are and what you do.”

For most professionals the discussion about self-care stops and starts with suggestions about lifestyle (eating, sleeping, having strong support circles).  Those are all great suggestions and are important aspects of caring for yourself.   These suggestions are common sense reminders of managing our health responsibly.  Some organizations honor this, promote this and endorse health and others don’t.  If you “fail” to look after yourself there is nowhere to  make an adjustment other than you.  But…what if there is more to “self” than that?  If it is your responsibly alone then it is critical that you understand intimately what your definition of “self” is and how it impacts your performance, client results and sense of job satisfaction.

Organizational identity and personal identity are central to high quality self-care.

In re-framing the definition of “self-care” consider what it means to be yourself at work- in the role that you have.  There is a reason that you followed the path that you did and pursued the career that you are in.  Do you get to live those reasons in your daily professional life?  Many professionals experience a high level of disillusionment at one point or another in their professional lives.  When those questions start to percolate it becomes an issue of identity that is the foundation of caring for ourselves.  You see, if you do not have access to who you are in a fundamental way at work- your “self” will suffer causing frustration, anxiety and sometimes a sense that a drastic change is needed.

When you were a young child, the idea of being something when you grew up functioned to help form the very first concept of “self” that you would then live every day.  Pretend play in young children is the “trying on” of identities.  Who are you on the inside?  Our play gave us a feeling of what it meant to be in different roles.  Over time this becomes the themes that pull through our lives.  You may not have been the fireman, or the princess, or the Queen that you wanted to be at age 7- but there is a theme between then and now.  When our theme of “self” does not have the opportunity to resonate in our current careers it is an indication that we are not caring for who we are.  Over time the erosion of ourselves as we are pressed against the hard surfaces of ethical dilemmas,  client expectations, and organizational constraints forces us to face our self-care.   Issues of health like eating, sleeping and balanced life-style are symptoms of a much deeper issue.  Heed the tolling of the bells and ask yourself are you being who you’re meant to be?

Many, many adults enter into a “crash and burn” reality around who they are as professionals.  It shows up as the mid-life crisis.  I am certain that if we evaluated the theme of “self” that does or does not pull through our lives- our process of evaluating who we are and what place we have in the world would have far less fall out than it does for many professionals today.  Being led through a process of connecting our identities within our work can shift our emotional experience and help us to strategize actions towards fulfilling our personal goals in our everyday engagements as professionals.  A professional coach can often reframe the relevant issues and lead you towards a healthy understanding of what changes you need and where you can rest assured- the real you is shining through.


1.Who were you at age 8? Around age 8-10 we start to make our very first statements about “self”.  Can you identify the meaning of that “self”?  Were you someone who helped others, good in emergencies, a nurturer?  Find your FIRST self.

2.Who are you now?  Can you state why you do what you do- not your job description (there’s a manual for that somewhere- no need to rehearse it).  I mean do you know what it is that drew you to the work that you do?  Reconnect with your CURRENT self.

3. Does the theme of “self” pull through for you? Can you see the cohesion of who you are across your life?  If you can- this can help you to feel more positive about your choices and confident about your direction.  Perhaps drastic change to meet your personal goals isn’t needed now that you have reconnected to your “Self-care”.  But- it can also reveal that your theme isn’t there and you aren’t being who you are meant to be.  This can confirm that change is needed or that you are compromising to the point where your health is going to become a reflection of poor “self-care”.

Avoiding a crisis of self means asking some very revealing questions. 

A VIP Day with me and  One on One coaching can provide you with the IMMEDIATE, INTIMATE and INTENSE evaluation of what to do next.  I  can help give you clarity and peace in your work and your role.  Let’s ask those questions together.

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