How to manage when there’s a struggle or stumble

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Photo by Roman Samborskyi purchased on Shutterstock

This morning I was curious what results if you Google “should I mentor, coach, direct.” I pictured a manager faced with a team member who is struggling or has recently stumbled, and she’s trying to decide what to say or do. In most such scenarios, there is a right answer, and that is to coach. I was hoping that would come through in the results. Alas, it doesn’t, at least not with crystal clarity.

Mentorship is at its best when it’s forged over time by the mentee, who asks questions of someone who typically is wise and experienced but not his boss. The wisdom tends to be conveyed in a spontaneous way, in organic conversation. …

Three techniques to get through your workday when it seems the world has gone mad

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Photo by Tereshchenko Dmitry purchased on Shutterstock

This morning, the continued cries of shock and despair in my Facebook feed over the siege of the U.S. Capitol are punctuated by memes about the folly of now attempting to concentrate on a desk job.

I get it. I allowed myself to go to bed last night in a stinky foul mood. I tossed and turned. When the dog barked in the middle of the night, I lost my cool. This morning’s work to-do list feels menial. Like most of us, yesterday’s unfoldings are deeply under my skin.

Yet I know I have some choices. Releasing the internal pressure doesn’t require snapping at my colleagues or shouting down my frightened sidekick. It requires me to take responsibility for my state of mind. It requires me to be intentional about staying steady, keeping my well of hope from being drawn down, and getting through my workday with a modicum of productivity. …

A little lesson about proselytizing

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My former boss attempted meditation after I urged him, a micro-campaign that started innocently enough. One day he told me he appreciated that I tend to stay calm under pressure. I gave credit to my morning meditation practice.

Had I stopped there, I would have followed my rule against carrying on about this particular topic. Appreciation for mindfulness is increasingly widespread in Western culture. But it’s definitely not for everyone. And what could be more off-putting than someone who knows little of your problems trying to force their favorite thing onto you?

Yet rather than stop, I hit the gas, spontaneously bubbling with enthusiasm. I explained that, physiologically, meditation calms the central nervous system. I’m less susceptible to little squalls and more able to respond to situations with wisdom. I told him I believe that the people who most stand to benefit from meditation are people who are Type A, successful, and hard-charging. …

This more nuanced variety is the domain of great leaders

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Photo by Falcona. Purchased on Shutterstock.

Decisiveness is a trait of great leaders. It conveys confidence, boldness, and courage. If a CEO wants her team to consistently perform at high levels, one of the most important things she can do is be reliably decisive.

Yet what I’ve learned from decades of observation as a consultant to executive leaders and boards of directors, and a stint as both a chief strategy officer and COO, is that what inspires others the most when decisiveness is employed with a measure of reserve. The great leader keeps decisiveness firmly in the strengths column and reduces risk that it inadvertently becomes a limitation by being willing and able to make decisions surely and swiftly. Yet they do so only after adequate consumption of, but rarely over-analysis of, relevant data and perspectives. …

Choose wisely

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Twenty-five or so years ago, sitting on a remote North Carolina beach, I got the idea that I wanted to live my life in a manner that was principled and decent. The idea had occurred to me before, in an adolescent way. What was different this time is that I realized that if living principled is what I wanted, it’s the sort of thing I could practice.

I read the self-improvement books that were popular at the time (like Principle-Centered Leadership, and How to Win Friends and Influence People). I didn’t sign up for any of the books’ specific philosophies; I just tried to absorb and assimilate the bits and pieces that seemed natural to me. What resulted was an early sense of what would be required for me to be as sure as I could be that I’m remembered as a good man when I’m gone. …

And other strategies I’m using to compartmentalize my election stress

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The day after a tense, unfinished presidential election seems like a good time to exercise my trusty compartmentalization skills. Throughout my life, I’ve been able to box up and set aside life stressors — on a temporary basis, of course — in order to crank out something that resembles a productive workday. Here are five ways I’m doing that this week.

A couple notes: One, no one should be expected to work to their normal productivity today. And two, psychologists say compartmentalization is useful for people who are mentally healthy, but left unchecked, it can lead to emotional disconnection. It’s crucial that you find ways to express your anxieties about this election. …

Dan figured it out.

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After a successfully integrating an $80 million dollar business, including a noble experiment in putting people first through lived corporate values, Dan Maguire sold his company earlier this year. Now he spends more time fishing.

The thing with “corporate values” is that they make so much sense in principle but in practice often make nice wall art. Strategy setting, operational planning, and annual budgeting all happen with little more than a nod to them. They’re a box that was checked somewhere along the way, and now they sit.

Because I know this to be a fact more often than not, I was captivated by a story recently shared with me by Dan Maguire. Dan was CEO of an $80 million, 250-person IT-consulting firm in Northern Virginia. A few years ago, at an interesting inflection point in the growth of that business, Dan set out on an experiment relative to corporate values. He vowed to do them differently, to not merely have them but actually implement them in such a way that they both philosophically and functionally drive the business. He saw it as an avenue to put people first in very concrete ways. …

Try working through it like this

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Photo by Cartoon Resource purchased on Shutterstock

What do you do when you find yourself perpetually at odds with a key colleague? You feel like you’re working at cross purposes. Interactions that should be easy are hard. The chemistry is off. You’re confident they would rather not work with you at all. You admit the feeling is mutual.

You could practice false harmony, but rarely is it good for teams or the work they are assigned. Your teams know that the tension is there — you’re not hiding it. But they see your attempts to hide it and behave accordingly, particularly if the two of you are in leadership. As people walk on eggshells, team culture and even garden-variety workflows begin to subtly contort to accommodate the behavior. …

I dismantle 6 common misconceptions

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Photo by Jirsak purchased on Shutterstock

I’m taking a momentary pause from writing about various and sundry leadership topics to do a bit of needed clarifying for my field. Pervasive misconceptions about executive coaching subtly steer leaders away from it, leaders whose businesses could really benefit. Today’s fun task is to dismantle those myths.

Misconception 1: Executive coaching must be like sports coaching because, you know, “coaching.”

Even though you’re a successful SVP of marketing, you hear the words “executive coach” and are teleported back to childhood. You’re being barked at from the sideline by an imposing adult authority figure. You’ve disappointed him again. That coach never really got you, anyway.

Memories from childhood playing fields do executive coaching no favors. The coach was the adult expert on how to win. The coach imparted skills, taught, and ran practice drills. The coach also corrected, scolded, and (in my experience) exacted consequences. …

For the first time in my career, I prefer to work with people who see things my way

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I have the desire to work only with people with whom my politics mesh, and that is very new and uncomfortable territory for me.

Let me start by saying that politics are irrelevant to what I do for a living, which is executive coaching and strategic-plan development. If a gig is to help a CEO encourage his executive team to row more in the same direction, or to craft a 3-year dynamic plan, it doesn’t matter if I’m a conservative, liberal, or somewhere in between.

In fact, I’m a centrist. I don’t have real ideology when it comes to public policy. I tend to believe that good policy results from arguing every angle, in good faith. To this day my voter registration lists me as an Independent. When you can find something to agree on with just about anybody, it’s easy to find a way out when politics sneak into your work by surprise. …


Shane Kinkennon

Executive Coach | Planning Consultant | CSO | COO | Chief Communications Officer | “Top Writer” in Leadership.

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