People Simply Empty Out

May 27 , 2019 •  8 minute read • by Saeed


“I recommend you all get fired. It’s a great learning experience.”

Anna Wintour

When you get fired, it can feel earth shattering. But for such a seemingly catastrophic event, getting fired is more common than you might think. Business icons like Steve Jobs, Anna Wintour and Oprah Winfrey were all famously fired at some point in their career. In fact, in 2010 Wintour told a conference audience: “I recommend you all get fired. It’s a great learning experience.”

There are also a whole slew of reasons why the firing might not have even been your fault. In many cases, people get fired not because they are so bad, but precisely because they are so great: Setting reasonable boundaries in a chaotic work environment, raising “elephant in the room” issues that management is afraid to address, working with a small minded boss that falsely perceives you as a threat, challenging convention or delivering such stellar results that you outshine your masters. These can all be hidden reasons for being shown the door. Getting fired from the right place for the right reasons can be a badge of honor. Their loss is your gain.

In 1969, publisher John Martin offered to pay Charles Bukowski $100 each and every month for the rest of his life, on one condition: that he quit his job at the post office and become a full-time writer. 49-year-old Bukowski did exactly that, and just weeks after leaving work finished writing his first book, Post Office, a semi-autobiographical story in which Bukowski’s fictional alter ego, Henry Chinaski, muddles through life as an employee of the US Postal Service. It was published by Martin’s Black Sparrow Press in 1971. 15 years later, Bukowski wrote a letter to Martin and spoke of his joy at having escaped full-time employment.

8-12-86

Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,

Hank

(Source: Reach for the Sun Vol. 3; via Letters of Note)

Three Keys to Building Career Equity and Longevity

March 27 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed


“There is no such thing as great work without longevity.”

-Johnny Hunt

Career longevity is no longer about staying in one job for years on end. But change is not what does you in. It’s the frequency of the changes. Shifting gears too often or pulling a 180 to do something completely different than your expertise can sabotage your efforts at building career longevity. Job hopping frequently because you can’t get along with your coworkers or management or because you lack focus and don’t know what you want in your life can be a career killer.

We are not talking about people with legitimate reasons to make change. The bad boss is the classic. Sometimes we’re stuck in a job that is not good for us or we need a career change. In these instances, change can be good.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage and salary workers have been with their current employer for a median of 4.6 years (that doesn’t include the 14 million Americans who are self-employed free agents).

That statistic simply represents a major generational shift where the trend has moved towards more change more often. In places like Silicon Valley, not only is it acceptable, it can even be a badge of honor.  For the millennial set, it’s simply the way things are.

But as a whole, building longevity is no longer about staying with one company and holding out for the gold watch.

Rather, building career longevity is about staying fresh and building career equity.

You build equity by developing a reputation, set of skills, contacts and relationships as well as behaviors that value self improvement and the kind of adaptability that will allow you to be seen as a change maker, not someone who wants to cling to the status quo.

1.      Relationship Equity

Above all, you should always be building  positive long-term relationships with co-workers and colleagues. Make an effort to clearly understand who they are, how their values align with yours, and what professional skills they bring. You also have an opportunity to help these colleagues build their careers and skills, and in so doing, you build long-term and mutual respect, trust, and goodwill. Ultimately, people want to work with other people they like. So be likable, approachable and a good colleague. It goes a long way.

2.      Reputation Equity

Think of your reputation as your professional brand. No company would ever risk their reputation intentionally. It is career suicide. Your professional brand is basically what people think of when you are not in the room: your character, values, judgment, reliability, integrity and other aspects of your character.

You build your reputation equity by the work that you do, how you talk to and treat people, your visibility, how you engage customers and clients and so on. It’s the footprint that you uniquely leave behind. The longer you work in your profession, the stronger your professional reputation will be. You are entirely in charge of it. You can either sabotage it or nurture it. The choices you make will determine your ultimate success.

3.      Skills Equity

What exactly is your portfolio of skills? What skills do you lack? What skills are important to have in your role or industry? Build your professional portfolio around signature projects. Look to obtain skills that if leveraged would get you a big return on the investment you made in obtaining that skill. Look at career opportunities from the perspective of how they’ll help you build your skills portfolio. Raise your hand to lead projects whenever you can, even if it means putting in extra work. Find ways to distinguish your contributions, and work on high-visibility projects.  Take responsibility for your own engagement and for attaining the skills that make you a stand out contributor.

A Final Word

So how long should you stay at your job? Well, according to research, it takes about two years to build career equity or a return on the individual’s investment of time, energy and skill that is meaningful to a firm and to the individual’s career.

If you just started a new job and you are worried about your staying power, or if you don’t know how to intentionally build career equity, get a coach. If the company does not provide one, hire one yourself or take the initiative to develop relationships with peers and “go-to” people for support. Avoid violating career threatening, yet unwritten rules. This is critical to making the new start a success and to building momentum.  Remember, the way we manage endings helps us take advantage of new beginnings and build career equity, and thereby, career longevity.

Good Luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

The Secret Weapon To Achieving Your Goals

March 26 , 2019 •  6 minute read • by Saeed


“Work is love made visible.”

-Kahil Gibran

Contrary to the common belief, goal setting was not invented by self-help gurus and life coaches.

There is actually an impressive body of evidence behind the theory of goal setting dating back to the early 70’s. This research shows how focus, attention, persistence, feedback, incentives, rewards, self-efficacy and a host of other factors influence our degree of success or failure in achieving goals.

In over 25 years of working with real people, I’ve fine tuned what an effective goal-setting process looks like and I’ve come to the conclusion that while goals can be SMART, aligned with your values, big, audacious and hairy, there is one factor that people commonly skip, that tends to make the biggest difference in whether or not those goals are reached.

Research shows that when we make a goal visible and keep it in front of us, our chances for achieving that goal increase dramatically.

In 1979, interviewers asked students enrolled in a Harvard MBA program, how many of them set goals. They found 84% of them set no goals at all, 13% of them set goals but they weren’t committed on paper and only 3% of them set goals that were committed on paper and had planned to accomplish them.

In 1989, they interviewed the same individuals again, they found that 13% of those who set goals but weren’t committed on paper were making twice as much as the 84% who had never set goal.

The 3% who set goals and committed on paper and had the plan to accomplish them were making more money than the 97% put together.

Goal visibility is about motivation, commitment, progress and accountability. It is at this intersection that success in achieving your goals is had. As a social species and one that gives primacy to sight, people have envisioned their dreams and desires from the dawn of time. It’s only natural that we still do. We care about what others think and see. In today’s workplace, shared goals are a powerful way to keep team members on the same page and to drive engagement.

How to make your goals visible:

1.      Talk about it: telling others about your goals creates an immediate accountability mechanism. The larger the audience, the larger the accountability. It’s easier to slip out of accountability if you tell one friend or colleague vs. your whole team or company.

2.      Doodle about it: draw, paint, clip pictures out of a newspaper and create something compelling and meaningful that can represent your goal and how you see it. Having a visual representation of what you are trying to achieve and where you are trying to go is a powerful reminder of the rewards waiting for you. Human beings are not terribly good at being patient for what’s in the distant future. A visual representation of the future you want to create would go a long way towards keeping that desired state in your line of sight.

3.      Write about it: studies have consistently shown that writing down goals increases the odds of completion. When you write down goals, they immediately become real and in writing them down, you can see whether they lack specificity or are overly ambitious. The act of documenting the goals helps get you clear on them.

4.      Post about it: finally, sharing your goals with others provides the opportunity for feedback and accountability. Friends and colleagues will begin to take an interest in your goals and check in on progress. Sharing your goals will also encourage others to share their creating the opportunity for mutual accountability partners. But you also have to avoid making goals *too* visible. Derek Sivers discusses public goals in his TED Talk, sharing how a public announcement of goals gives you a similar satisfaction to actually completing them — and then, you don’t bother.

A final word…

Lastly, be sure you review your goals on a regular basis and don’t be afraid to discard those that are outdated or no longer relevant.  If a goal is no longer meeting its purpose, don’t be afraid to yank it. Sometimes you need to eliminate less important goals in order to meet the ones that matter. The law of diminishing returns would dictate that the fewer goals you have, the more likely you are to meet them with excellence and depth.

It goes without saying that goals have to be meaningful. Otherwise, goal setting can lead to pressure, frustration and a feeling of failure. Stay determined and positive. With the right mindset and mechanisms in place, you can achieve anything you want. Above all, make it visible.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

7 Ways to Succeed in Any Role by Using Leadership Skills

January 30, 2019 • 7 minute read • by Saeed


“Leadership is not a position or a title, it is an action and example.” 

Cory Booker

Leadership is what makes an individual effective and successful at any job. At the most basic level, being a leader is about positively impacting the people around you. The characteristics of a good leader include the ability to anticipate problems and solve them when they arise, to ‘read’ challenging situations, take initiative, and simply exhibit virtue that inspires others to be their best. In leadership, character comes first. To be successful in any role, let your leadership qualities permeate and show through more than just one approach: be resourceful, be composed during a crisis, and be flexible when dealing with colleagues and clients.

Here are a few more leadership lessons applicable to any role:

1.      Be a Problem Solver

The core responsibility of any leader is to resolve organizational issues at every level. This comes by analyzing the entire situation logically and with a cool head. The consequence of this would be a fast action-oriented decision that would work in the best interest of the organization and its stakeholders. It is the problem-solving skill that helps any leader to analyze and anticipate trends and issues. It is what makes a leader strategic and effective. Due to the successful turn-around of any problem, a leader will inspire the team while cultivating an image of reliability and credibility thereby earning the respect of all.

2.      Focus deeply on a few issues

Leaders don’t go wide, they go deep. Instead of picking 16 topics to cover in a shallow way, leaders pick a small number of issues that they want to own, and go deep on them developing expertise along the way. By contrast, some try to address a large number of issues and end up with mediocre or poor performance. When it comes to achievement, the law of diminishing returns is as real as the law of gravity. Diving in shallow waters does not bring you the big fish.

3.      Always Show Initiative

A common scenario in any industry is when you are faced with a problem but it’s not clear whose job it is to fix it. When faced with such a challenge, a common reaction is to say that this is ‘not my job.’ It is imperative in such moments that you are able to display traits that will demonstrate why you were hired in the first place. This means demonstrating qualities of an effective leader including confidence, foresight, and the willingness to take the initiative to resolve the situation. By following these, you will not only get to the root cause of any potential problem but more importantly avoid unnecessary extra work. Displaying attention to detail and taking initiative shows that you are trustworthy, diligent, and dependable – and above all – you are a leader.

4.      Put People First

An effective leader is one that assesses a situation clear of prejudice and examines everything with an open mind through an objective outlook. In any job, it is necessary to interact with everyone accordingly. Underestimating the importance of relationship is a huge mistake. It is reckless to compromise a relationship to score a point with the boss. Throwing your team members under the bus is an unethical and unprofessional act. Great leaders put great stock into all their relationships because ultimately, they know it contributes to them being more effective at the different roles they have to perform.

5.      Have High Standards, Even Higher Values

Demonstrating strong values is one of the most important leadership competencies in the workplace. You shouldn’t throw your values out the window just to make a job easier. Not upholding certain ethics, standards, and values will lead to all sorts of issues. To put it simply, allowing for such to happen is unbecoming of a leader in any role. Values-driven leaders lead from a deep sense of purpose and service to others demonstrating strong values such as honestly, integrity, excellence, courage, humility, trust, and care for people and planet.

6.      Become a Communication Ninja

All great leaders are good communicators. They understand how to get a point across, describe the company vision to their employees, make sure daily tasks are getting done, facilitate office conversations, and know when it’s the right time or the wrong time for a meeting. It takes an investment of time, emotion, and effort to be a good communicator. It’s the job of the leader to rally and regroup the troops when times are tough and devise better plans that will reap better result. Being an effective communicator will inspire your team to work harder, possibly even going beyond their job responsibilities. After all, cohesive teamwork, in any and every shape and form, translates to more work done.

7.      Embrace radical accountability

We tend to think of accountability as something that is good for others but not ourselves.  But a successful leader is all about accountability, especially when results regarding certain projects are not favorable or when their own limitations are holding a project back. Most people are not prepared for the behavior changes that are required of them to be radically accountable. If you care about gaining the trust of others, you have to not just tolerate, but to embrace a deeper level of scrutiny and be able to engage in authentic feedback. This type of transparency and authenticity builds trust. Trust becomes the foundation of great teamwork and great relationships. We tend to hide our weaknesses never exposing them to the light. But by exposing them to the light, we have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from those limitations that we might otherwise subconsciously identify with. Accountability is a condition that is created in the interior of our relationships. Accountability is the ability to take into account the experience of the other and to own responsibility for the outcomes you have set out to achieve.

A Final Word

The Importance of leadership skills cannot be emphasized enough. It forms a strong foundation for your career success as well as the success of any team or organization. Adopting and nurturing these qualities will not only help you survive as an employee but also show that you are in fact a leader! It will help you to thrive within your role and with your team. All the factors above contribute to a well-rounded and highly effective leader. Consider each of these elements and incorporate them into your daily work as you move forward into becoming the best leader you can be.

Good luck!

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

7 Ways to Master the Art of Showing Up

November 5, 2018 • 4 minute read • by Saeed


“80 percent of success is showing up.” Woody Allen

The difference between people who want to do something and those who actually do, those who develop mastery and those who don’t, is the showing up.

But what makes it so hard to go from thinking to doing? You wanted to go to the gym today, but did you? Just showing up means you’re 80% of the way to a good workout. The trick is in cultivating the self-discipline to start and then to sustain the momentum. Here is a 7-step roadmap to get you there.

1.      Think big, start small…

It’s okay to have big goals and vision. But you have to accept that you will need to start small. If you want to buy a mansion in Manhattan, you may need to start with a condo in Kansas. If your goal is to run 10 miles a day, start by setting your running shoes and gear aside the night before. When people begin a project, they often default to the big prize and forget that life is like a game of football, you make progress in inches, not yards. If at every play, you expect a touchdown, you will soon be disappointed and give up.

2.      Whatever you do, do it daily…

Daily action builds habits. Small actions each day accumulate into “compounding interest” of continuous improvement. Bruce Lee famously said: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Daily action yields greater benefits than waiting for inspiration to make your big splash.

3.      Eat a live frog first thing in the morning…

Mark Twain famously said that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, meaning do your least desirable task first, you can go through the rest of your day knowing the worst is behind you. While it seems like common sense, many people indulge and reward themselves first by doing favored tasks and then dread and avoid the less desirable tasks the rest of the day. To break the cycle, always start with essential projects first, no matter what. You’ll thank yourself for your diligence come the afternoon.

4.      Create a false sense of urgency…

Some people work and thrive under pressure. They need that extra bit of adrenaline to get them past the finish line. You can recreate that sensation by blocking out less time than you actually think you need. Often, you’ll find your focus improves when you begin working and ultimately finish on time. If you need to hack and trick your brain into being productive, then so be it.

5.      Tame your unconscious mind…

If you listen to Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (The Psychology of Flow), the whole idea of mastery is nothing more than the self-expression of your ability to consciously dedicate your time towards something that in the long run gives you structure for the entropy of your mind. This means cultivating the daily discipline to tame the chaos of your unconscious mind, avoid distractions, and focus only on what is wildly important. Harness your focus, and you will harness your success.

6.      Be a diver, not a dabbler…

If you’ve ever watched waterfowl, you might have noticed that some ducks are divers while others are dabblers. The divers propel themselves underwater diving with intention and ferocity towards their target. The dabblers, in contrast feed in the shallows skimming food from the surface. For me this is analogous to being a jack of all trades and a master of none. The unavoidable truth is that without deep practice, there is no such thing as skill. There is obviously nothing wrong with having multiple skills or even having superficial knowledge in them. But in order to have any kind of mastery on any kind of subject, you need to be a diver.

7.      Get comfortable with failure…

The bright side of all this is that you can own your own success by taking responsibility for it. But that means you have to own the struggle and failure, integral parts of any goal worth pursuing, as well as, the success. If you aren’t comfortable with failure, it’s hard to be successful.

Final Word

The future belongs to those who master the art of showing up daily. There is a simple reason for that. It’s easier to make significant progress on a project if you simply show up to do it. If you want to be an author, show up to write your manuscript every day. If you want to be a pilot, go to your flying lessons, and if you want to be the CEO of the company one day, then show up being the CEO of your own station every day. Doesn’t it make sense that by showing up each day, you set yourself up to take advantage of opportunities?

So, if you want increase your chances of success by 80% – Show Up!

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

A Special Offer:

In addition to being an organizational development and leadership consultant, I am a personal leadership coach who specializes in helping passionate, thoughtful, creative people like you find your inner leader and live the life you deserve.

As a trained co-active coach, I am currently enrolled in a 6-month professional development program to complete my certification. As part of that training, I need practice clients to try out my new skills, and I am offering a huge (>50%) discount for the first five practice clients.

You can do a free call with me to see if my approach and style would be a good fit for you (and no worries if it’s not – coaching is super personal and I’m happy to recommend you to other coaches that might be a better fit for you).

You can check out my website here. You can also contact me on LinkedIn.

The 6 Most Important Ingredients of the Recipe for Lasting Change

November 2, 2018 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.”

– John Dryden

Have you ever wondered why most change efforts, whether individual or organizational, don’t last? All of us want to create lasting change in our lives on some level. The question isn’t what, it is how. Is it really possible to overcome habitual behavior and identity traits that have cemented themselves over the course of your life? The answer is yes but it does take work and attention to the important ingredients that are part of the recipe of lasting change.

1.      The importance of focus…

First, there is the law of diminishing returns which says if you spread your efforts too thinly among many different goals and objectives, you end up doing nothing.

The key here is to really focus on one or two goals at a time and then to persist until achieved.

2.      The importance of commitment…

Don’t take on a goal just because it would be nice to have. Instead, make sure it has deep meaning for you and your life purpose. It is the deeper level of commitment to the goal – and not progress –  that helps you persevere in the face of adversity.

You will know that’s true if you’ve ever started a new diet or exercise regimen successfully (progress) only to sabotage yourself by eating a piece of cake as your reward for that success. You made progress but you lacked the deeper commitment to keep going.

3.      The importance of your tribe…

To make true lasting change, you need your tribe, your network, your group of supporters to fuel your motivation through their on-going encouragement and celebration of your successes.

No one is successful for long when they go it alone. Lasting change requires that we have mutual accountability partners, social support and a sense of belonging to something that is greater. We are the people we interact with.

4.      The importance of being uncomfortable…

To truly change, you need to be willing to experience discomfort and lean into it. Most change is uncomfortable, even scary. That’s why most people resist change.

But being conscious about why you are seeking the change, and the benefits it holds, helps us to accept whatever we are experiencing as it arises – whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

Bringing discomfort along for the ride, rather than trying to get rid of it, can be a very helpful skill, to allow us to get a longer-term reward.

5.      The importance of values…

Most people are not conscious of the fact that behind their desire to change are strong values. When we hold out in front of us what we most value, and identify why this behavior change matters to us, we are more willing to endure for long-term, sustainable change.

Take a moment and think about what behavior you want to change and ask yourself why?

  • How will changing this behavior align you with your values?
  • How will changing this behavior help you align with the parts of you that you most value about yourself?
  • How will it help you with the impact you want to have?

6.      The importance of mindset…

Success is not linear. If you have expectations that it is, or that all you do and think will have a clean cause and effect correlation, you will be disappointed and give up before what you want to change has had a chance to breathe.

We all experience setbacks, and the more we can build a growth mindset around the process of change, and approach our mistakes and failures as lessons to be learned from rather than opportunities to beat ourselves up, the more likely we will have the motivation needed to reach our goals.

Final Word

We all have a concert of voices in our heads. What we say to ourselves matters far more than we may realize, and often we don’t even pay attention to this harsh and self-critical voice.

To access real change, there are struggles and self-limiting beliefs that we have to battle before we can move forward.

Label and define that saboteur voice in your head that shows resistance at the thought of stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Take some time to get clear about where you are and where you want to be. Focus on changing how you think about the things you want to change, which affects the actions you take.

Above all, form new habits and stay accountable to them through strategic alliances with your tribe. Having support in your life can be the difference between success and failure.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

A Special Offer:

In addition to being an organizational development and leadership consultant, I am a personal leadership coach who specializes in helping passionate, thoughtful, creative people like you find your inner leader and live the life you deserve.

As a trained co-active coach, I am currently enrolled in a 6-month professional development program to complete my certification. As part of that training, I need practice clients to try out my new skills, and I am offering a huge (>50%) discount for the first five practice clients.

You can do a free call with me to see if my approach and style would be a good fit for you (and no worries if it’s not – coaching is super personal and I’m happy to recommend you to other coaches that might be a better fit for you).

You can check out my website here. You can also contact me on LinkedIn.

Why You Should Only Work with Trained Coaches

October 28, 2018 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“The only journey is the one within.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

Professional coaching is a relatively recent profession so some of the misconceptions surrounding what coaching is and is not, shouldn’t be surprising. It seems that everyone these days is a coach of one form or another.

What Coaching is and is not…

Historically, coaching has often been used remedially, as companies attempted to correct employees’ unwelcome behavior or perceived lack of competencies. Many conventional programs still use this approach. Obviously, this is a misappropriation of coaching since it yields few positive or lasting results. It is also entirely antithetical to the paradigm of coaching.

The best and most effective programs support the whole person and not isolated issues or problems. They take into account things like habitual patterns of thoughts, emotional states, and underlying mental models that may keep someone stuck.

In the 1990s, the first established accreditation groups for professional coaches were formed and coaching went from being used remedially to how we mostly recognize it today – as a developmental tool initiated by the client who is seeking self-improvement and lasting results.

In a study of the professional coaching industry by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), coaching was found to be used by 90% of organizations surveyed. Even in the global economic recession of 2008, when companies were cutting corners left and right, 70% reported increasing or maintaining their commitment to coaching.

As coaching has grown in value and evolved in design, so too has its potential for mainstream application. Today, Harvard Business Review reports that coaching is a $1 billion a year industry.

Coaching, it appears, is a growth industry.

So, what is coaching and what do coaches really do?

The International Coach Federation (ICF) — the leading global coaching organization and professional association for coaches — defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Despite this guidance, one of the challenges of defining coaching and its effectiveness remains the relative lack of adequate research with significant enough control groups and clear parameters and measurement tools applied to a coaching framework that fully supports the complete range of ways in which personal and professional development efforts can influence behavior change.

But there are enough evidence-based insights that validate the value of coaching when applied in a systematic framework by a trained professional.

While many people attach the title of coach next to their name, it does not mean they are practicing true coaching or know how to get lasting results. The key to personal and professional transformation is the coachee’s belief in the benefits of coaching and their own ability to make lasting behavioral changes, couple with an evidence based methodology applied by a trained professional.

In a 2013 study published in Research in Organizational Change and Development, researchers adapted traditional clinical psychological practices into the context of executive coaching into a highly-customizable process of program design and found the approach was highly effective in enabling executives to develop behaviors and competencies aligned with their ideal future state and in improving adaptability in both actions and thoughts.

The International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, conducted a study in 2016 and examined the emerging approach to workplace coaching, which increasingly emphasizes “enhancing both the performance and the well-being of individuals and organizations in ways that are sustainable and personally meaningful.” They found that simplicity and personalization lie at the heart of this methodology and the effectiveness of coaching as a framework.

Another large-scale study of executive coaching conducted in 2016 found that a strong working alliance from the perspective of the coach and coachee predicted coaching effectiveness.

Conclusion

All of these research studies simply validate what the professional coaching industry has known for decades. Clear, practical models make coaching methodologies accessible and more likely to create lasting individual and organizational change. Deep personalization, in which the coach seeks to understand the coachee’s personal values and goals in a holistic way, is equally critical to success.

From an evidence-based perspective, this kind of coaching has been demonstrated as being highly effective in many peer-reviewed studies with randomized control groups.

Trained coaches who excel in relationship management competencies, understand the importance of building a foundation of trust and a strong working alliance with their clients, and establish clear tasks and goals to reach desired outcomes, were rated most highly for successful coaching results.

Final Word

Coaching has exploded as an industry. Today, I hear many execs say they have not one but two or three coaches who help them with everything from leadership presence to public speaking to shifting to a growth mindset. But I also hear just as many people self proclaiming to be a leadership coach, an executive coach, a motivational coach and a life coach. Cue eye rolls.

As good coaching is fundamentally a quality conversation based in trust, it follows that authentic, individualized coaching is vital to cultivating genuine organizational change and personal development.

Coaching is about being in service to the growth and development of the person being coached. As a leader, if that excites you and drives your leadership engine, then coaching skills are an appropriate and successful addition to your leadership toolbox.

But to be of true service to clients, you can’t just print up some business cards and call yourself a coach.

To be accredited by the International Coach Federation, a training program must meet a number of criteria. Among them, it must offer a minimum of 125 hours of contact between students and faculty, six hours of observed coaching sessions, 10 hours of mentor coaching and a performance evaluation. There are more than 446 programs (132 in the United States) accredited by the federation.

I, myself, am about to complete a year-long program at the Coaches Training Institute, the world’s largest in-person coach training organization, a Harvard Medical School affiliate and widely considered to be a pioneer and the “Gold Standard” in the coaching industry, to become a certified coach. I can tell you from my own experience, that while the course has been rigorous and sometimes taxing, there is no substitute for professional training. It is the best decision I have made for my own career as a professional coach.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

A Special Offer:

In addition to being an organizational development and leadership consultant, I am a personal leadership coach who specializes in helping passionate, thoughtful, creative people like you find your inner leader and live the life you deserve.

As a trained co-active coach, I am currently enrolled in a 6-month professional development program to complete my certification. As part of that training, I need practice clients to try out my new skills, and I am offering a huge (>50%) discount for the first five practice clients.

You can do a free call with me to see if my approach and style would be a good fit for you (and no worries if it’s not – coaching is super personal and I’m happy to recommend you to other coaches that might be a better fit for you).

You can check out my website here. You can also contact me on LinkedIn.

Three Simple Steps To Transform Your Team Retreats

October 24, 2018 • 7 minute read • by Saeed


If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

~Patrick Lencioni

There are many good reasons to conduct a team retreat: to create trust, clarify roles and responsibilities; establish goals and vision, orient new members; reconnect and re-energize team members; and/or address critical issues or opportunities, to name a few. However, bringing the entire team together in person can be a challenge. Greater still is the challenge of engaging them effectively — and to do so, you need to create a focused, meaningful, and enjoyable experience for everyone. Here are some ideas for team retreats that really hit the mark.

Step 1: Pay Attention to Design and Planning

First, identify the purpose and specific outcomes you want from the retreat.

  •  Is it time for strategic or tactical planning?
  • Are you trying to solve an important team or organizational issue?
  • Do you need to re-energize the team?

Second, schedule a planning meeting with your team leaders – you know who they are – to determine the retreat purpose and outcomes; learn what’s most pressing for your team; better understand team dynamics; and assess team engagement, strengths, weaknesses, etc. In addition, discuss timing, duration, location, number of attendees, etc. You don’t need to finalize all the details yet, just enough to develop a draft agenda.

After meeting with your leaders, it’s a good idea to have brief “input” conversations with some or all team members to understand their views, gather topic ideas and get participants excited about the retreat. Input conversations can last anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Some sample input questions include:

  • What do you think is working well with the team?
  • What would you like to see the team do more of, do better or do differently?
  • What do you think the team should stop doing?
  • What are three things the team should focus on over the next 12 months?
  • What is your vision for this team over the next three years?
  • What would help you feel more engaged and useful as a team member?
  • What would help the team work even more effectively together?

Using the information from your team leaders and input conversations, craft an action-focused agenda that incorporates the retreat’s purpose and desired outcomes.

Some things to consider:

  • Avoid status or progress reporting. Instead, have participants review status reports ahead of time and focus sessions on generating ideas, solving problems, making decisions, etc.
  • Structure adequate time for building relationships. Schedule time to eat together, walk together and learn about one another. It’s ideal if you can hold a retreat over two days that includes a social dinner.
  • Build some flexibility into your agenda to accommodate hot topics or deeper dives into important issues.
  • Create discrete sessions with time blocks of one to three hours to help participants digest information, offer natural break points and provide variety. Have each session build upon one another in a logical order based on your goals.
  • As you create the agenda, decide what output you want from each session and plan for how to capture key issues, ideas, resources, outcomes and action steps from each session. This will make documenting the retreat much easier.
  • Schedule ample time (at least 45 minutes) at the end to discuss action items, accountability, takeaways, appreciations and other closing activities.
  • Decide on any supporting materials, resources and preparatory work. Make sure participants have the agenda, materials and instructions at least one week before the retreat. Communicate with team members throughout the planning process to answer questions, remind them about pre-work, help them with logistics, etc.

Step 2: Get Expert Facilitation

While it’s not uncommon for a team member to facilitate a retreat, having outside facilitation helps every participant fully engage in the retreat. Also, an outside facilitator also helps reduce bias or undue influence and may notice and address team issues or dynamics not obvious to participants. Some other good practices for facilitation:

  • Start with a warm-up that gets everyone talking. An easy exercise is to pose a couple of questions that participants discuss with one or two people next to them. It’s good to include one personal and one organizational question.
  • Announce the retreat objectives and outcomes, preview the agenda, cover any logistics and discuss how participants can get the most from their time together.
  • Set expectations up front for how you will facilitate the retreat, such as balancing participation, managing interruptions, encouraging constructive comments, etc.
  • Capture highlights from each session using flipcharts, a note taker, recording device, etc. Some facilitators find it useful to use separate flipcharts for ideas, resources, action steps, “parking lot” or other categories as needed.
  • Check in periodically about participants’ comfort level, questions, concerns, etc. The more transparent you are as a facilitator, the more the participants can relax and trust the process.
  • After a long or complex session, briefly summarize highlights and outcomes. If there is time, ask participants to share their own takeaways from the session.
  • If the discussion veers off the agenda, refer back to the retreat objectives and outcomes. Ask if this conversation supports their overall retreat goals, if the topic supersedes other agenda items or if it can be covered elsewhere.
  • Have plenty of food, beverages, time for breaks and table toys to help quell the “fidgets.” Periodically check people’s energy and take a short break if needed.

 Step Three: Don’t Neglect Outcomes and Next Steps

For a retreat to be worthwhile, participants must know their ideas and decisions will actually go somewhere after the event. It’s equally important for team members to understand their own responsibilities to take actions after the retreat. Here are some ideas for documenting the retreat and creating accountable action steps:

  • After each session, capture key points and outline next steps, responsible parties and time frames. Use action verbs to clarify what needs to be done (write, call, review, schedule, plan, etc.).
  • The final session should be used to summarize all next steps. Discuss how participants will hold themselves and others accountable for taking action. In addition, invite participants to share takeaways, appreciations, personal commitments and other comments.
  • Consider pairing people to accomplish tasks. This helps boost accountability and build team member relationships between meetings.
  • Move away from a “minutes” mindset. Try to organize retreat notes logically rather than strictly chronologically. Participants won’t necessarily remember who said what when so it’s useful to group related ideas and actions together.
  • Suggest ways to incorporate progress checks from the retreat into subsequent staff meetings. For example, if you do a strategic plan, organize future team meeting agendas to parallel strategic goal areas from the plan.

Final Word

Team retreats can be powerful events that help clarify organizational vision, address complex issues and energize a team. With collaborative planning, a steady focus on the desired outcomes, skillful facilitation, and the willingness to hold people accountable, you can transform your team retreat from a necessary evil to the event of the year!

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe. I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world. If we dig together, we’ll find the gold.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

8 Steps to Coaching Your Boss to Success

July 3, 2018 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“The medium is the message.” ~ Marshall McLuhan

Stop pulling your hair out over your boss.

The frustrations of managing the boss-employee relationship come up again and again in my executive coaching sessions. The best way to approach this challenge is to “coach up.”

When you think about it, we’re all private coaches at least some of the time. So why not be more intentional about coaching to help co-create the experience you want to have in your relationships; including the one with your boss.

Let’s first debunk one myth. Coaching up your boss is not a sneaky way to get what you want. The coaching model doesn’t work unless you actually care about the person you’re working with. It doesn’t work unless you have created a partnership and designed your alliance together. You don’t have to love the person you are coaching, but you do have to respect them and care about their well being.

Coaching up means learning and using coaching techniques to promote an authentic, positive, and productive relationship with your most significant professional relationship: your boss. When used effectively, coaching up can enrich mutual understanding and often reduce frustration and stress. In fact, use the ‘coach approach’ in all aspects of your life, and it will quickly become second nature and help you succeed through tough conversations and difficult relationships inside and outside of work. Here is how:

1.   Start with the right mindset: Suspend negative judgments about the boss, whether these are conscious and crystal clear or faint and subtle. Suspending does not mean permanent deletion but temporary hold. If you do not do this, you risk your judgments getting in the way of being truly present and open.

2.   Be Curious: Coaching is all about unleashing your curiosity. That means beinggenuinely curious and interested in your boss’ point of view. That may be hard to do if you are at odds with your boss but it is imperative to put things on the right footing.

3.   Deploy your attention:  This means listen with your full attention and ask clarifying questions when needed. If you disagree, instead of getting defensive (default reaction) try getting even more curious. Ask questions like “What factors are influencing this decision?” or “Please help me understand this.”

4.   Ask artful questions: Ask open-ended questions rather than questions that are answered with “yes” or “no.” We begin our questions with “how” and “what” as often as we can.

5.   Work with, not against the grain: This means attending to your boss’ communication and learning style.  Some learners are visual while others are auditory. Some like big picture information, while others prefer lots of detail; some like crisp bullet points, others like longer pieces; some like to be told after actions have been taken, and some like to know our every step before and during our tasks. If you don’t know your boss’ preferences, it’s time for a curious conversation!

6.   Work towards a win/win: Negotiation is a key business skill to learn. For example, if your boss wants a daily written report, and you don’t have the time to compose that each day, ask if she would accept a weekly written report instead. She may say yes, and she may say no. If she says no, offer another solution that will meet her needs as well as your own.

7.   Seek common ground: Begin by understanding your boss’ values. It does not mean you have to agree or have the same values but understanding what they are is a good first step to learning to co-exist. This can also begin to create a sense of common ground and shared values, on which to build your future relationship.

8.   Communicate clearly and assertively: The challenge with assertive communication is that it takes some education and a little practice, particularly for those who weren’t taught assertive communication growing up. Many people mistake assertiveness for aggressiveness, but assertiveness is actually the balanced middle ground between aggressiveness and passivity. Communicate your requests and needs clearly and with confidence. The right balance is between being humble and respectful, and confident and assertive.

A final word:

While effective leaders know their options and their plans, they are also open to shifting gears if they receive persuasive new information. They know that they may not always have the full picture of what’s involved in the complex challenges of the organization. This is particularly true when working with bosses who have a much broader organizational perspective than we do. As you continue to coach up, you may improve your opinion and feelings about your boss. Even if negative judgments do creep back in from time to time, we have tools to work toward mutual understanding, if we choose to use them. Coaching up isn’t a magic bullet, but it is a very good way to enrich our partnership with the boss—that most significant of all organizational relationships. In the end, coaching up is about forging a partnership with your boss so you can produce your best work. And there is nothing wrong with that equation.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

A Special Offer:

In addition to being an organizational development and leadership consultant, I am a personal leadership coach who specializes in helping passionate, thoughtful, creative people like you find your inner leader and live the life you deserve.

As a trained co-active coach, I am currently enrolled in a 6-month professional development program to complete my certification. As part of that training, I need practice clients to try out my new skills, and I am offering a huge (>50%) discount for the first five practice clients.

You can do a free call with me to see if my approach and style would be a good fit for you (and no worries if it’s not – coaching is super personal and I’m happy to recommend you to other coaches that might be a better fit for you).

You can check out my website here. You can also contact me on LinkedIn.

10 Time Tested Tips to Make You Unstoppable at Work

May 11, 2018 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“Where you will sit when you are old, shows where you stood in youth.” —African Proverb

Are you good at work? Notice I didn’t ask, are you good at your work? There is a difference between being a good financial advisor or whatever you do and being good at work. Work is sport. There are rules to follow and scores that are kept. Competition is sometimes fierce and teamwork can make all the difference. Some players stand out. Others fade into retirement or obscurity. Those whose names become synonymous with their sport work hard and reach the upper limits of their talent band. Yes, they have talent, but they also always have self-discipline, grit and resilience. The best players have a playbook for success and they follow it religiously.  The practices highlighted below are based on 30 years of leadership and management experience and a playbook for success at work.

Game on.

  1. Have a vision – you have to know where you are going in order to know how you’ll get there. Without a vision or a destination, you are just sitting in the traffic jam that is your career. The only way traffic is tolerable is when you know you’ve got a nice place to go. So, be sure you check the map each day and keep your ultimate destination in sight.
  2. Be relentless with your self-discipline – without self-discipline, success is impossible. Period. Done. End of story. Self-discipline is the variable that forces us to go the extra mile, to put in the extra hour, and the extra work that leads to success. Self-discipline breeds consistency, focus, and skill building. It is the engine behind the volume of work you need to produce to be ahead of the game. Without it, the game is lost.
  3. Build out your network – people need people. Your next job is likely coming through who you know rather than your education or work experience or polished resume. You need to connect with other and be vocal about your interests and build relationships with key people in your industry. You never know which relationship leads to the next opportunity so treat each one well and burn no bridges.
  4. Take on more work – taking on more work pushes you out of your comfort zone which is how you grow. Instead of looking busy and stressed out, look for busy and stressed out co-workers and lend them a hand. By doing this, you provide value and build relationship equity.
  5. Learn continuously – acquire new knowledge and continuously stay on top of trends or research relevant to your field. Become an expert so that you can be the first person people think of when there is a new project on the horizon. Read, research and talk to others who are experts themselves. Wear your curiosity on your sleeve.
  6. Make yourself visible – experience is important but so is exposure. If you are stuck in a cubicle in the back of an office and afraid to show yourself, you’ll be invisible to the world. No one will know about your talents and the value you can create for them. Seek opportunities to be in more meeting and gain access to more decision makers.
  7. Take initiative – don’t wait for the next assignment, create it. Be proactive in looking for tasks that are falling through the cracks and complete them. Your colleagues and your boss will appreciate the effort and you’ll be seen as a strong member of the team.
  8. Be self-directed – You know what managers appreciate most? Not having to be one. When you are self-directed, you relieve your manager of the burden of delegation and decision making. They can now concentrate on other more high leverage activities than figuring out how to keep you busy. Self-directedness conveys confidence and professionalism. It also maximized team productivity.
  9. Manage emotions effectively – there is nothing worse in the work place than being toxic. Negativity, gossip, back-stabbing, anger outbursts and the like simply don’t have a place in the world of work. Of course, we all have frustrations with our bosses and colleagues. We all feel from time to time that we treated unfairly, that we are not seen for our worth or our work. There is nothing wrong with emotions but being emotional about every single slight will take its toll. Learn to manage your emotions effectively so that people know exactly what they expect from you on a day-to-day basis.
  10. Persevere in the face of failure – in life and in work, there are inevitable failures and setbacks. Learn to use failure as a learning opportunity rather than a reason to self-flagellate and reinforce limiting beliefs. Perseverance is the mindset of champions. History is littered with examples of those that failed yet persevered their way to success. Struggle, setbacks and short-term failures don’t have to drain your motivation. It can be the opposite as long as you adopt the right mindset.

So, there you have it – your success playbook for whatever work you do, whatever environment you may be in, and wherever you may be on your career trajectory. To put these tips in motion, you will need passion, purpose, commitment and intentionality. Where ever you may be, start today. It’s not too late. You can still win the game.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe. I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world. If we dig together, we’ll find the gold.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.