January 14, 2015


We are currently undergoing major renovations in our home. One thing I have learned: retro-fitting older houses can be more complicated, and costly, than building new construction.

It is now 2015 and the time for considering New Year's Resolutions. It is comforting to know there is a regular time table for motivating us to reflect upon our lives and potential improvements we can make, whether they are minor adjustments or major transformations. Unlike house renovations, we can't  tear the whole thing down and start over. We are always, in a sense, retro-fitting, which may be why it's so difficult.

There are many approaches to change and various models, theories and strategies work for different people and during differing times in our lives. However, they all have one thing in common---the need for action.  Recognizing the problems and considering changes are important first steps. Analyzing the issues; reflecting upon what you wish to change and why; and carefully considering what it means to change: these are all worthy endeavors. But without action, they are ineffective.

Prior to my work in consulting, I was a psychotherapist. I sometimes encountered people who could conceptualize and articulate their issues in great detail, with insight, yet were unable to take the steps needed for making change.  One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons from these years highlights a potential problem:

I  believe in seeking help, like when confronting changes that seem overwhelming,  if feeling stuck, or simply wanting an objective point of view.  As a consultant, my business is all about engaging others in making change. Gaining clarity and insight is often the spark needed for getting started.  To avoid the trap of "analysis paralysis", however, one must move into action.

Happy New Year and welcome to 2015!  It may be a good year for some retro-fitting.

January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr.- Keep his vision alive!

His life was short, but he accomplished a tremendous amount.  He serves as a model of what can be achieved through commitment, nonviolence and perseverance.  Long live MLK!

October 16, 2013

Be careful of "Rock Star" leaders

Here in Massachusetts we are having an interesting discussion/scandal (depending I guess on where you sit) regarding the President of Westfield State University. Apparently he likes to spend money. The university's money; and he has a history of this, which is what got him fired, or, shall I say, caused him to leave the University of Hawaii. He threatened to sue...they paid him 1.4 million dollars plus lawyers fees to leave.  Here is a link to one of the many stories on the topic in the Boston Globe:  Evan Dobelle came to Westfield State with record of excess.

I don't presume to know all the ins and outs on Evan Dobelle, given my reliance upon media stories which don't always get it right. But a couple of comments in this story really caught my eye...

"The consultant who recruited Dobelle to Westfield said Dobelle was so impressive he was 'almost out of our league,' recalled a member of the hiring committee"

and, also:

 "...some considered him a 'rock star' of higher education".

Really? University Presidents are now Rock Stars? I guess I tend to be skeptical.  I think there are really very few leaders of such stature. Furthermore, it tends to get us in trouble. Leaders who are treated as rock stars begin to believe their own mythology. They tend to think they are better than they are. And those surrounding such leaders can lose their judgment when they are busy swooning over these larger than life beings.

True, there are great leaders in business and academia as well as other sectors of our lives. However, that shouldn't stop us from doing our homework, questioning credentials, and challenging behaviors that appear out of step.

And oh the mighty, they do fall.

August 12, 2013

Can you hear me now?

Active listening is considered a fundamental skill for leaders. This is evident in its prominence in Communication Skills workshops and seminars. There we find exercises designed to help people become better listeners: make more eye contact; stop talking so much; reflect back the other person's comments; don't interrupt.  These are some of the strategies suggested.

These are actually pretty useful techniques for getting people to tune in more to others. But they sometimes seem insufficient;  as though they are not getting to the real reason so many leaders are not good listeners.

One approach is for leaders to become more "mindful".  Yes, I know, mindfulness is all the rage now... the popular media has picked it up, so you know it is becoming a trend. But, mindfulness has  been around for ages in eastern philosophies. It hit the US big time in the 60s, is increasingly more integrated into healthcare services (alternative/complimentary therapies), and is now permeating the workforce. So maybe there is just something to it.

What does mindfulness have to do with listening skills? It's simply this:  being a good listener requires self-understanding and self-control.  It requires being "in the moment", or being "present".  Why is this difficult? Because, leaders are often busy thinking about what just happened, or preparing for what is to come next.  However,  being an active listener means you are sitting with another person or persons, attending to what they are saying to you...NOW.  You aren't  preparing your rebuttal, or waiting for the person to finish so you can talk.  You are listening, inquiring, reflecting with an open mind.  You are curious. You are listening to understand.

So, what if instead of listening skills training we opt for "being in the moment" seminars.  It may be a harder sale to the training department. But, hey, it may just be worth a try.

July 30, 2013

I trust my employees.........really?

It is a beautiful day in New England. I am sitting on my back deck, with my laptop, working. Since I work for myself, this is acceptable. I check in with my boss (me) and ask if today is a good day for working outside.  My boss answers, "Why yes, Betty, its a beautiful day, you have lots of emails to get through, a blog to write and some other important computer-related work, so go for it."

Of course, most people work in companies in which working at home, sitting on the back deck,  is not an option. Though I submit that it could be much more of an option, if companies trusted their employees more.

Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, made a big stink when she asked all employees to come back into the office. No more telecommuting. Her argument was that people needed to see each other--be in close proximity so that they could collaborate, create a more cohesive team environment.  I know that argument. One hears it a lot.  And I think it has merit.  Virtual teams have many challenges and it simply is not the same as being able to walk down the hall and see a colleague for a spontaneous chat about a project; or have face to face meetings where everyone is in the room and you don't have to struggle with wondering who is really paying attention and who is secretly checking emails or  Facebook posts. 

But does it have to be an either/or situation---office vs. home? Might there be other options?  How about 3 days in the office and 2 days at home?  How about telecommuting for certain jobs that really don't require significant face time? And how about teams who are scattered all over the globe--does it really matter if I am on a conference call sitting in my office in Company X vs. on my back deck, if I am communicating with people who are not in the same location anyway?

I think a big issue here is trust.  I honestly think most companies just don't believe their employees will work hard when out of sight. Maybe they are right. Maybe we won't. But, on the other hand, maybe we will.

Telecommuting may be a unique situation, but it is probably worth seriously considering whether you trust your employees. I mean, do you REALLY trust your employees? If so, do your policies and practices reflect this trust? And if you can't honestly say that you do trust your employees, it might be worth trying to figure out why.

May 24, 2013

Personal Leadership

It is probably fitting that I will be attending a Memorial service this Memorial Day weekend.  The service is for my mother-in-law, Mary Wolfe, who died on her birthday at the age of 95.

Mary was one of those special ladies.  She was not CEO of a company, a war hero or a major political figure.  She was instead an elegant woman of integrity, grace and personal leadership.

Like many women her generation, Mary was a stay-at-home mom, who made sure her children were fed, dressed, well-behaved and educated.  She provided good healthy dinners for her husband and children at 6:00 every evening. She indulged her grandchildren, including my two kids, with her time, sunny disposition and endless delicious meals and treats. She seemed happy and took pride in her role.  When her 3 children went off to college, she decided she had to receive a college education herself so that she could keep up with them; she must have been the oldest graduating student in her class at Skidmore College in 1969.

Mary demonstrated leadership in her life and community. She was a major force in her church, taking on roles such as directing the preschool program, Sunday school classes or the numerous charitable events that occurred in their semi-rural upstate New York community.  She was never one to say no if asked, and her boundless energy never ceased to amaze me.

We often forget to acknowledge the people in our lives who exhibit strong leadership every day. People who demonstrate committment, take on responsibilities for their communities, families and friends. People with strong integrity, compassion and engagement.

Thank you, Mary, for your personal leadership. You are loved and dearly missed.

April 26, 2013

Consultant, do no harm!

As a Consulting Psychologist, my goal is to help people.  As a matter of fact, my practice is heavily influenced by Edgar Schein's "Process Consultation" approach, in which the first of 10 principles is:  "Always try to be helpful".  So in my work in organizations, my goal is to be helpful: To help the individual I am working with, his or her coworkers, and other key stakeholders in the company.  Despite the Showtime series "House of Lies",  I imagine most consultants have this goal--to help our clients.

However, there is the law of unintended consequences.  And there are sometimes conflicts of interest. So how do we ensure that we are always helpful....or, at minimum, do no harm?  I suggest we be careful; very, very careful.

A good example of potential harm that is sometimes overlooked is with the introduction of 360s as a management tool.  I have discussed 360s in an earlier blog posting .  So what is the potential harm?  There is growing consensus on the benefits of 360 assessments, but there is also some research that suggests caution. For example, a 360 report containing a high percentage of very negative feedback can be overwhelming to someone with a fragile personality, particularly if it is not delivered sensitively and appropriately. Implementing a 360 assessment considered confidential, when in reality it is not, can also cause harm if, for example,  the leader retaliates against someone for honest but not-so-flattering comments.  Using 360s for performance appraisal rather than development can be risky;  one should be cognizant of the potential risks in this situation and ensure the implementation process is well-designed to mitigate any potential harm.

Companies need great leaders and this is especially challenging today given the rapid changes and complexities of our global economy. Assessments that help leaders better understand themselves and others can provide significant value to companies. As consultants we can really help; but we must understand the risks as well as the benefits of this sensitive work, and companies need to understand this as well. Sometimes providing this information is uncomfortable; sometimes we must make the difficult decision to walk away from a situation we know is not right. We can provide great value, but first, and most importantly, we must  DO NO HARM!