Culture and Coaching

“I really shouldn’t say this, but …”

When you hear yourself saying this, (and even worse, looking around the room and saying “but HR isn’t in the room”) just STOP.

You haven’t said it or done it yet. You have a chance to choose another way. Give yourself a time-out to think:

  • Why is your instinct telling you so clearly that it is not the right thing to say?
  • Why would you be willing to go against your own judgement?
  • What might the consequences be?

If you can interrupt yourself and choose another way, there is a chance you can avoid a whole lot of self-inflicted career pain. Do yourself a favour and take that chance!

There are two magic words that, when waved just so, can transform destruction to construction. They are “Yes, and …”.  Use them in place of the oh-so-smart and realistic “Yes, but” and the world of possibility will open before you.

In an exchange of ideas “Yes, and …” builds on the idea and takes it to new places. Instead of discarding or retreating, it takes up and pushes further ahead. It expands and explores. It makes the idea better. And it’s not just the idea that gets better when you do this; the relationships get stronger too. You’re working together now instead of against each other.

Imagine a group of kids building a sand castle. One has a flash: “If we stretch it over this way, it will look like a rampart!”

Another sees clearly that the sand is too dry for that to work, “Yes, but it will collapse.” And with a nudge of his foot, he proves it. No one is happy and the dream of the sand castle is reduced, literally, to rubble.

What if he had said, “Yes, and if we dampen the sand with some water and use these sticks, we can make the wall even higher!”

Next time you are in conversation and hear yourself knocking down an idea with a  “Yes, but”, take note of the impact of those words. Do you feel like you “won” the exchange because you were realistic and smart and could see where the weaknesses were?  Did the idea wither and fade to nothing? Did you feel the sense of collaboration and possibility ebb out of the conversation?

Now try again with just one little change. Try “Yes, and”.

Feel the difference when you shift to building on rather than knocking down. Yes, you’re just as smart and realistic as you were earlier when you kicked over the sand castle, and now you’re on your way to having something beautiful to show for all those smarts.

In my first job, I wanted everything to go perfectly. I was intent on proving myself. When I discovered that I had made a rookie mistake in the annual report of my non-profit employer, I was devastated. I put my head down on my desk and I cried.

A dark moment. But one with a silver lining that has stayed with me.

The Executive Director of this worthy organization was a great leader and mentor. He made me see quickly that weeping on my desk was not useful and that what was needed was creative action to minimize the negative impact of my mistake. With his encouragement, I went to the printer, explained what had happened and they suggested they could reprint the page on which the error had occurred and reassemble the reports. Lesson learned: don’t dwell on it, fix it, and learn from the experience.

There’s more to it though. I’ve learned over the years that how you acknowledge a mistake, how you describe the actions you have taken, and how you open up communication about it matters almost more than the mistake itself. I call it “The Art of the Apology”.

When a mistake occurs, whether your instinct is self-blame or whether it is denial or blaming others, try this ritual to set things right and maybe even earn an increase in respect. Go to your manager or whoever is most concerned, and deliver your apology:

  1. This mistake has occurred.
  2. I am truly sorry for it.
  3. I understand the implications.
  4. I accept responsibility for it (in whole or in part, as appropriate).
  5. This is how it happened.
  6. This is what has been done, or is being done, to set it right.
  7. This is what will be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  8. Then listen. If you feel defensive, just breathe through it and stay open.
  9. Repeat that you are sincerely sorry.
  10. Ask if there is anything else that you could do now to set it right.

Handle it with grace and courage, learn from it, and move on. This is an art that will serve you, and any organization that employs you, very well indeed.



You’ve worked hard and been focused and made great choices. Maybe you’re an expert at the top of your game and you’re doing what it takes to stay there. Well done. Now what? Could it be time to try something new?

Stepping outside of your comfort zone can be richly rewarding. And you don’t have to go far or spend a lot to reap the benefits. No matter how accomplished you already are, the limits of your comfort zone are clearly visible when you look for them, and, just like those objects in your car’s mirror, they’re closer than they appear.

If you think you’re ready to test the boundaries, the fun part is choosing what you’ll do. Look for something that requires practice to reach even a low level of mastery. Something in which you are certain to experience some failures. Something that will test your resolve and that matters enough to you that you will keep trying. That’s where the value is.

OK, that sounds like some work. You’re cruising, why would you want to put yourself back on the starting line? Here are just three of the rewards:

  1. Resilience. In successful people, resilience can be like a set of muscles that have weakened from lack of use. Trying something new, failing, and finding what you need to persevere – all of this builds those muscles and keeps you fresh for whatever heavy-lifting may be ahead.
  2. Compassion. If you know – if you deeply know – how it feels to be a beginner, your compassion will surely increase for those less capable than you in your field of expertise. If you’re a leader or manager of people, heightened compassion is invaluable for helping others do their best.
  3. Expansion. When you try something new, your world expands. You may gain new skills, meet new people, visit new places, see the world from new perspectives. When you move out of your comfort zone, even a little ways, you make your life richer.

Take a look at the boundaries of your comfort zone now. If they are static or have been closing in, it’s time to stretch them. Commit to try something new. Get even more out of the experience by journaling about it. Ask yourself: How does it feel to be a beginner? What makes you want to quit? What are you finding in yourself that keeps you going? Notice the patterns and trends as you go along.

Sure, it’s uncomfortable – it’s out of your comfort zone! That’s what makes it worthwhile.

Are you working for a boss or following a leader?

Bosses have the authority to make decisions that affect their employees. You hear them say things like “If he doesn’t like it, he can leave,” or the ominous “That wasn’t a request.” You do as the boss says, right? Sure, and you keep your eyes open for a position with a company that prefers leaders to bosses — a company coincidentally that prefers inspired employees to process-perfect drones.

Leaders are a breed apart. They have a different kind of authority: the kind that inspires people to bring their best to their work.

It’s not difficult to spot a leader. Here are six attributes that give the best away:

1. Questing Spirit

Leaders lead toward something worthwhile. They are on a mission, spurred by a deep sense of purpose, and they’re taking others on the journey with them. Their questing spirit drives them to do more, to try more, to learn more, to reach more, to develop more, to be more.  At the gala event to celebrate their achievements, they’re sketching the next idea on their cocktail napkin and are about to get a financing commitment.  The people who want to be on their crew are already queuing.

2. Net

Leaders are not alone. They have a net. Not a network. A net that is woven through thoughtful conversations with others, and countless acts of collaboration and consideration. The net is woven from genuine interest in others and from reciprocated respect. The net is not for calling in favors if push comes to shove. No. The net is there all the time and true leaders tend to it, extend it, and strengthen it with every interaction.

3. Clear-Eyed Confidence

You’ve seen athletes when they are in the zone, at the top of their abilities and knowing it, living it. I call it clear-eyed confidence. They know what they can do, and they do it. What looks effortless for them is the product of hours and hours of work, of pain, of sacrifice.

Leaders have that kind of focus, determination and ability to execute. They’ve learned from experience, they know when they have enough data to make a decision, and they make it without hesitation.  They act with the confidence of having prepared well and being attuned to their instincts.

4. Simplicity

Leaders are known for their ability to handle complexity, to synthesize information and ideas, but they are equally known for their simplicity.  Leaders are obsessed with the number one: “What is the one thing we want them to remember?”  “Which one of our competitors will challenge us most on this?” “What is the one thing we have to accomplish this quarter?” Leaders are famously intolerant of excessive data points, muddy reporting, irrelevant distractions.

5. Resilience

For leaders, resilience is a powerful bundle of agility, determination, persistence, graceful maneuvering around and over obstacles, and rapid recovery from setbacks.

6. Sense of Wonder

Leaders have a sense of wonder that is the source of their vision and the catalyst that refreshes and renews it. This is the elusive fountain of youth, fed by the springs of imagination, curiosity, openness. From that sense of wonder, leaders ask “What if …”. That simple turning of the tap is an invitation to all around to take a sip of the cool, clear waters of possibility.