Podcast: The Great Resignation? Reshuffle? Reimagination? Renegotiation?

In this episode of the gothamCulture Podcast, guest host Conrad Moore from MAiUS Learning talks to Marcelo Dias, a Talent Performance & Development Leader about how being burned out actually changes your brain chemistry resulting in exhaustion, cynicism, or just lack of effectiveness. Once employees reach this level of dissatisfaction with their jobs, it just ends up taking up a lot of their mental space. What can we do to get back to flourishing at work?

Production note: This interview was originally recorded in January 2022.

Released: December 20, 2022

Podcast: Leading With a Learning Lens

In this episode of the gothamCulture Podcast, Kate Gerasimova, Senior Associate at gothamCulture talks with Brooke Rufo-Hill, Head of People and Culture at Rippleworks about what it means to be a learning organization. How can we focus on improving everything instead of proving anything? Brooke offers examples and strategies about how to move away from focusing solely on productivity and more on learning and how it improves performance as an organization.

Released: December 13, 2022

Podcast: Leadership – Balancing the Act of Doing and the Art of Being

In this episode of the gothamCulture Podcast, Kate Gerasimova, Senior Associate at gothamCulture talks with Kimberly Penharlow, Certified Leadership & Performance Coach and Organization Psychologist, about leadership which is a delicate balance between the act of doing and the art of being. The act of getting things done is very transactional. This year’s focus should be the art of being. The art of being a leader, in relationship with your team and culture, and understanding the importance of resilience.

Released: November 29, 2022

Forgiveness: Forgiving the Bad Boss

In a recent blog, I related the story of discovery about what was causing a client to be “stuck” in his career.  It concerned an incident with a boss whose actions had severely impacted the client and his sense of value as a person and a professional.

A number of readers rightly responded that the client’s recognition was a critical first step – but only the beginning of that particular part of his personal journey.

By way of explanation, I had the opportunity recently to speak to another client about a similar situation which had occurred some years before. The client spoke about how recognizing the cause of the pain he had experienced with a boss had made him feel liberated.

I asked what “liberated” meant.

“Over the years, I’ve realized that that particular boss might well have made mistakes and might still be doing so. I almost feel sorry for him.”

 “What else?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve long since left the company, but my colleagues back there tell me he hasn’t changed. I’m not sure, but maybe it’s in his DNA.”

“And what has changed for you?”

“My perspective for one thing. I now know that you can’t change how people act, but you can indeed change how you respond and react to them. And you can look at them with a sense of gratitude for what you learned from them. I am not just more resilient after that experience with that particular guy – I am actually stronger as a person and wiser as a servant leader. I have a real awareness that all of my actions as a leader impact the people who work with me far more than I imagined. Being emotionally aware of the “wake” I make is one of the most important pieces of self-awareness for me. And knowing that I can make mistakes and must make amends – that serves me every day.” 

 Then his voice trailed off and became quieter…. “And there’s something else and it’s the most important thing…”

I leaned forward: “What else?”

Forgiveness. I am truly liberated when I can forgive someone else. It is an essential part of who I am and a fundamental part of my spiritual beliefs. I can have a spirit of forgiveness in prayer, in meditation, or in times of quiet reflection. Everyone deserves forgiveness, no matter what they have done. Even me.”

After our call, I sat in quiet reflection for longer than I usually do when I finish a session. I realized then that many of us spend considerable time and energy building awareness of what we have done, or what has happened to us. And that can help us stop the covering up of the pain and bad memories.

But the key for me is this: What we then choose to do with that knowledge is a critical part of the “meaning-making” we humans share on this incredible journey called life.

Forgiving others for perceived or actual bad behavior is a gift bigger than any of us realize. It is not part of our nature – it transcends our natural human reactions in a beautiful and poetic way. I saw that in my client. And I hope for each of us who at times has been a “less than good” or even a “bad” boss, that we can seek forgiveness in our own ways as well.

For me, that is the most liberating part of the story.

The Bad Bosses We Carry With Us

I was working with a client one day, appreciating the self-discovery that was taking place for him. He spoke about the ways he had been shaped professionally and how he had been able to function and succeed in the workplace.

The client was focusing on very real strengths and capabilities. A litany of successful teams and projects flowed from his mouth as his eyes lit up and he recalled advancing from a junior position in the company to a senior leadership role; a role he had assumed a number of years before.

Unfortunately, even with all of that, the client then related to me that he felt he had somehow hit a plateau and was stuck in a job and didn’t see a path to advancement.

“What do you think gets in your way?” I asked.

The client sat in silence for a long minute and I waited. He began to speak haltingly and then stopped speaking altogether. A frown came over his face. Then I noticed some emotions emerge. I sensed that it had been triggered by something deep inside of him and I paused for a while and then gently asked:

“Please tell me what you are experiencing right now.”

Some tears welled up in the client’s eyes and the answer came in a slower cadence: “I remember a time a few years ago…”

I waited.

“I had worked for months as a project lead. We had created a product that was leading edge for our industry and we were all so proud of what we had accomplished.”

 “Please tell me more,” I said.

“And then the week came when we were to present to the CEO. We were ready, and we were so excited. Our vice president asked us to give him a pre-brief the day before. He gave us an hour and we nailed the presentation.”

“What happened then?” I asked

“After we finished, the boss sat with a sour look on his face and then told everyone but me to leave the room. Then he started berating me – yelling at times. He told me that the project was a ‘disaster’ and that I should be ashamed of my work in leading it. He said he was going to cancel the project and tell the CEO we weren’t ready.”

I paused and then pressed further, “Something else must have happened. At least that’s what I am experiencing by your body language and your facial expressions.”

After a look away and another deep sigh: “Yeah,” he said ruefully. “He waited two months and then presented the project as his own. Shortly afterward, he got promoted. I’ve been bitter ever since and I swore back then that I’d never do anything more than what I was told.”

“That’s a lot to carry,” I said, then waited a long minute and asked: “Would it be okay if we pursue it a bit further?”

He nodded and continued to speak – slowly at first and then it came as a flood of words.

What emerged was a theme that I have heard from many clients during the ten years I have been coaching professionally. A boss – and I don’t use the word “leader” here intentionally – broke a bond of trust, was belittling or had made someone feel smaller or diminished as a person. My client, like so many others, had submerged that memory, yet carried it inside of him. When he spoke about that particular event (He told me I was the first person to hear the story in its entirety), it was incredibly powerful for him to juxtapose that past experience with his current (and very real) well-developed capabilities and desire to grow in the organization.

I often explain to clients that it helps to “Name It” so they can “Tame It.” For my client working through these memories and their attendant emotions was a breakthrough for him. Over the next several sessions I saw his confidence grow as he explored more choices with intention and enthusiasm. He did the hard work of realizing that one bad boss need not derail a successful trajectory. He learned he may carry that boss with him but that that boss no longer controls him. It turns out this was just the perspective he needed to get back on track to re-energize his own continued sense of success.

Be Kind to Those You Meet on the Way Up

“Be nice to those you meet on the way up because you will meet them on the way down,” is variously attributed to Jimmy Durante, Wilson Mizner, and even Walter Winchell.

Whoever said it had a perspective from which we all can learn. In my experience as a leader and as an executive coach, it is a topic that few people consider in the moment, yet it is a lens that is at once pragmatic and empathetic. It helps frame any person’s life journey and their career.

Most of us have experienced some type of promotion or an event that effectively moved us “higher” in a company or organization. One day we were at one level and the next we were someone’s boss or at a step that put us above our previous peers. It can be a bit unnerving sometimes, occasionally a rite of passage, and, sometimes – just sometimes – we can succumb to a feeling that we deserved the promotion while others did not.

In my experience, I think most of us experience all of these feelings. The key for each of us is to try to reconcile those thoughts into a realistic filter that provides a foundation from which to continue to learn and grow and remain effective members of a leadership team.

How do we approach those situations?

I always ask clients about how they feel about a promotion when it happens. It is often a fascinating series of questions and answers as we work together to help them build awareness about how to handle a new role.  My own approach might include these questions:

“Congratulations! What are you experiencing as you talk about the new job?”

“What has changed for you?”

“I’d be interested in any challenges you feel you face.”

“How is it going with the people who used to be your peers?”

“What intentions do you have and what choices do you feel you can make?”

The answers vary and inevitably lead to others. I often help clients explore the challenges of not wanting to let go of old responsibilities, while trying to also assume the new role (which I call the “Marley’s Ghost of Leadership.”) Attempting to hold onto an old job while attempting a new one can send a lot of signals to subordinates, including lack of trust and a breakdown in communication.

Also, a number of clients struggle with being promoted ahead of peers or those who might be more experienced in the organization. It is not uncommon for these clients to be labeled as “whiz kids” or “shiny pennies.”  They can contend with jealousy or judgment by others who might think they’re not worthy or capable of the new role. This can all add pressure and challenging expectations as they attempt to navigate the new role.

Other clients might try to disregard any messages from others and revert to just getting the job done and achieving more results in the new role. And while their achievements might continue, their relationships sometimes do not.

In any of these situations, as a coach I sometimes challenge people to help them gain perspective of the “promotion ladder”:

“So, you got promoted and you feel that people are labeling you or may even be jealous of you. What are the possibilities that you might once again be subordinate to them?”

 “I can’t imagine that.”

“Do me a favor and think about it.”

 “Well, it might be uncomfortable.”

“Why would it be uncomfortable?”

 “A lot of people think I left too big a wake as I completed projects and assignments – and that I don’t give enough credit to others.”

 “What might you do differently now that you thought about how others might see your performance and relationships?”

“Well, I guess it would be wise to connect with others and get to know them, work to give others credit – make it “we” instead of “I.”

“Effectively to be nice to others while you’re climbing the corporate ladder?”

“Yes, because you might meet them on your way back down!”

 A smile and then a look of recognition can often follow.

The harsh reality for each of us is that whether it’s a job change, a demotion, or a retirement, we all experience a trip “back down the ladder.”  If we’ve treated everyone with kindness, we can know that we have done our best to maintain and build relationships.

And after all, isn’t that what life is all about?

What you Don’t Know About Project Management

Projcect Management - Chess

As we work our way through the professional ranks, some may aspire to become a project manager. The thought of managing million-dollar projects, meeting with customers, developing schedules, and hiring the right people for the internal team seems exciting. Often, project management seems like a “well-oiled” machine to the outside observer because the process may seem systematic and one step leads to the next, which culminates in a final product that is delivered under budget and ahead of schedule.

When in the role of project manager, it quickly becomes clear that the machine is frequently in need of oil in so many places and there is no time to stop and fix it. Yes, projects are completed at or under budget and we definitely deliver each one on time. However, to meet these goals, we spend a lot of time doing everything we can to keep the machine moving forward.

Often, project management feels like being an expediter.

We simultaneously focus our attention on the needs of team members, customers, scheduling, deliverables, “pop-up” tasks, and those tasks that only the project manager can perform. On slow days, we may only touch two or three areas listed above but we may touch these areas on several different projects. During the weeks when every day is a Monday, we touch all areas on all projects that we manage and some areas that we do not even anticipate. We have to keep products moving, the team members tasked, and emails answered while attend kickoff meetings, update meetings, project meetings, and staffing meetings.

Then, there are the unanticipated tasks and meetings that start 15 minutes after the invite arrives.

The unanticipated requires a project management style that is flexible, responsive, thoughtful, proactive, and versed in all areas of the project. It is not necessary to know every detail of each project, but it is important to know enough about the work that is being done and the status to be able to respond to any request that the customer presents.

When not responding to customer requests, the expert project manager is anticipating “what’s next,” to determine risks and potential schedule overruns and adjusting resources to minimize the event.

The initiative-taking project manager is checking with team members to determine their needs and providing solutions to their questions. In addition, this project manager is alerting the customer to upcoming project phases and scheduling planning meetings to discuss processes, approvals, and other actions that may be required in the future, which ensure the project continues moving forward because the way forward has already been discussed and approved.

Project management is not always as organized or structured as it might look to the observer. Project management, even in the best organizations, often resembles a chess match but at a much faster pace. A good project manager must be proactive and strategic when deciding what must be addressed immediately and what can wait. The ability to communicate effectively with a variety of personalities, use critical thinking skills to solve complex, multilayer problems, have the foresight to identify potential risks and manage them before they jeopardize the project, and to let the experts on the team take control of their work without micromanaging are just some of the traits of a successful project manager.

What’s the Formula for Success?

Formula for Success

In speaking with potential clients, I often get a question like the title of this blog. Questions abound, in fact, including: “Are there steps I should take to change?” or “What should I do to succeed as a leader?”

As a coach who deals with unique individuals (and, of course, we’re all unique), my responses are filled not with answers, but with curiosity and interest in the personal and professional journey of the other person.

There have been thousands of books written on leadership. Every succeeding year brings even more. While each has value and can offer perspective, books alone cannot provide the unique approach that a unique individual needs to support their life’s journey. This is where individual one-on-one coaching enters the picture. Though I have not authored a “how-to” book of leadership, I can provide tools and approaches that will help individuals become aware of their own areas that are well-developed, as well as those that are developing or less developed.

Here’s the thing. A coach can provide a “safe container” in a confidential setting, inviting a client to celebrate their skills and strengths. I help clients look at what they do well or what they do often to help them realize that the capabilities they use are a part of who they are and have, no doubt, helped them succeed. I also explore with a client the times they may have overused their strengths. This can be illuminating when they realize that there may indeed have been a cost to leaning on one or two attributes most of the time.

It is powerful when my clients devote time to appreciate how areas that are well-developed have supported them and when they recognize that the use of what we call “developing” attributes or capabilities are also a very real part of who they are.

Carl Rogers once wrote, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” A curious paradox indeed. It begs exploration.

By knowing when well-developed areas are effective and when they aren’t helps build awareness in a client – and from there each individual can do something powerful: Make a choice and do something different – effectively to “expand their range” of possible approaches and actions.

Each client is different. Each client is unique. Each approach with them varies.

And yet each needs that safe place to talk and explore their personal and professional growth.

I have been a certified ICF executive coach for nearly ten years, after a three-decade career in corporate leadership positions. Working with high performers at all levels in management has shown me that everyone enters the world each day doing the best they can. Helping them build awareness about what they can add to those capabilities – to expand their own range– that is where the power in coaching lies.

What is the formula for success? Perhaps it’s about the tools of curiosity, listening, inquiry, and the power in pause that help each unique human discover where they are strong, where they want to grow, and then exploring how to do that.

It’s less about being formulaic and more about a roadmap, exploration, and what we find along the way.

Indeed, perhaps that is the formula for success.

The Power of Caring For Your Team

Caring for your team

Nowadays it’s almost impossible to visit any business-related website without seeing headlines about the great resignation the great reshuffling the great reevaluation or some other term that’s being used to describe the rapid changes in employment happening around the country. Authors, consultants, and business leaders are all offering opinions and solutions for improving recruiting and retention that can help organizations react to the increased competition for talent. And there is an abundance of really good advice on improving employee experience to drive retention. Increased flexibility in work locations and hours, more autonomy and better professional development offerings are frequently recommended as necessary approaches for organizations navigating the current turbulence.  While all of these actions will certainly help, recent research by McKinsey suggests that there may be another, more important factor at play in retention decisions of your employees.

According to the McKinsey survey, the number one reason people are leaving jobs when they don’t have another job to go to: uncaring leaders. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. As the pandemic has ratcheted up stress levels and challenged even the most resilient employees to balance perceived threats to their physical and emotional wellbeing with personal, family, and job expectations, we should expect that individual’s need to feel seen and supported by their supervisors and leaders throughout their organization would also increase. And as such, a key responsibility of any leader must be to demonstrate that they genuinely care about their teams. If you want to amplify the care you have for your team, here are a few strategies: Read More…

Ways to “Find Your Voice”

Finding your voice

In my work with leaders, a very common theme is the desire to enhance communication. This feeling often emerges from their own awareness and desire to improve the ability to have meaningful conversations with others

In essence, it involves finding their voice.

Finding that voice is not as easy as just speaking up. Nor is it staying quiet, or deciding that a conversation can wait. And most certainly it is not the act of simply connecting the brain to the tongue and letting it go to work.

Speaking is, actually, the last thing you do in the steps to find your voice.

So how do we find those steps? In coaching, we use inquiry to help the client discover the actions that might work for them. It’s a process of awareness-building and is dependent upon each person’s experience, capabilities and perspective – effectively, the client’s “reality” in relationship to others. Read More…