Author Archive

Even Successful Leaders Fall into a Hole Now and Then

Posted February 22, 2019
Climbing Out of a HoleKristen started, grew, and sold a company. The liquidity event was very, very beneficial for her. She had since moved to a new role in another company. She wasn’t the CEO this time, and was brought in by a friend to serve as a transformational leader in this new organization. Things weren’t going as planned. She was not fully engaged, and wasn’t delivering the value she knew she could offer. She wasn’t exactly mailing it in, but she wasn’t playing at the top of her game either.

Kristen wanted something different but she didn’t know how to get started. She needed a push to start climbing out of her hole.

At the Bottom of the Hole

Even successful leaders have trouble breaking out of the funk that happens more often than you might think. Because Kristen had made a lot of money in the sale of her other company the expectation is she would be able to be successful and fulfilled wherever she went. It doesn’t necessarily happen that way. Sometimes there is clear evidence of being stuck, other times it is more subtle.

Think of being at the bottom of a very deep hole. It’s so deep and dark you can’t see a thing. You know where up is, but it seems too daunting to even start the ascent. You don’t know where the nearest foothold is to get started, and it’s unclear how much effort it will take to get to the top. Because of this dark and seemingly desperate situation, an unwillingness to take any action takes over. It’s scary, and even though it’s crummy, it’s what you know.

In Kristen’s situation, she was in that dark place.

Before you get out of the hole, let’s get an idea of what got you there in the first place.

3 Things That Put Us In The Hole

  1. Expecting the tide will always carry us.

People who have had success often feel there will always be that tide to carry them onward and to other great things. Personal or professional accolades and rewards are a drug that can motivate us to head to other great things, and also serve as a looming threat in case things don’t work out.

In Kristen’s case she was sought after to step into this role. She thought that what got her to this point will continue to propel her forward. As soon as there were some hiccups (financial and personnel) she became disenchanted. It wasn’t such a smooth ride. Rather than looking for ways to understand and/or address the situation, she began to slip into the hole.

New business owners experience this all the time. The excitement of launching the company and closing the first few deals leads to the expectation of a nice, linear trajectory of growth. When this doesn’t happen, the leader can slip into a place of self-doubt and has trouble being hopeful. You become more fearful and negative, your executive brain function starts to lose its impact, and you are unable to solve problems and look for creative solutions.

  1. Blaming others.

When you are scared, frustrated, or angry, it’s easy to place the blame on others. Kristen readily blamed the management of her new company for not being fully clear on the financial situation of the company. Outright she said, “I wouldn’t have come here if I knew this was the case.” She also felt the talent she had to work with wasn’t up to her standards. Kevin, the guy she thought was going to be her “go to” guy was way less experienced and less competent than she was expecting.

Of course there are external factors that cause obstacles for us to move forward. We have a choice of how we show up in those cases. When in the bottom of the hole it’s easy to blame everyone else for landing you in that place. With righteous indignation, a feeling of entitlement, or just an unwillingness to look at our decisions, we can blame others for the way we are feeling.

Unfortunately blame is not a pathway out.

  1. Losing touch with our values.

As we start slipping into that hole we can lose our north star; the reason we do what we do.

Metaphorically, we can’t even see the stars at the top of the hole and we don’t know what to do.

Kristen had lost her focus personally and professionally. At home she wasn’t being the mom and wife she wanted to be. She was admittedly cranky and no fun to be around. The impact on the home life was significant. She had worked hard in the past to successfully create a stable foundation for her family. She used the skills and experience she had to achieve the goal of creating and leading that first company. She valued family, hard work, achievement, excellence, and continuous innovation to motivate her during those demanding years.

She had lost touch with those values and the impact was being felt at home and at work.

Climbing out of the hole is tough, but it can be done. Acknowledging this is not where I want to be and I want to do something about it is the necessary first step. Moving up and out of the hole is hard to do on your own, and that’s where seeking help comes in. Finding those trusted resources – personal and professional – will start pointing you upwards. Depending on the circumstances, coaches, consultants, therapists, mentors, family members, friends, and colleagues can all be valuable sources of support.

Working with such resources, there are three steps you can take to start the climb out and back to being who you want to be and be doing what you’re meant to do.

3 Tactics to Climb Out of the Hole

  1. Reconnect with what worked in the past.

You are not the ineffective loser you feel like you are when in the bottom of the hole. You are probably having trouble making decisions, and second guessing the decisions you do make. It wasn’t always the case. Force yourself to remember (make a list) things you did that worked in the past and stop your inner critic from saying it wasn’t a big deal.

Make a list of your strengths and dig into what the value of those strengths were. Know you can do things that others cannot and as a result amazing things happened. Ask others to identify the value you deliver and how they see you being able to have an impact. The things that come most easily to us (our strengths) are often the things we take for granted.

In her previous roles and in creating and selling her company, Kristen had exhibited skills of creativity, conflict resolution, discipline, learning, team building, and problem solving in addition to technical skills. These had not gone away! As she started to think about those skills she began to start to see a way out of the hole. She could help the new company look at their current situation differently (creativity). She could work with her colleague Kevin to help him grow in his role and learn the things that would help her, him, and the organization (team building).

As soon as she started reconnecting with her strengths, she could see how to apply them to drive change and to feel like she was contributing again.

You have a unique set of gifts and skills that are meant to be used at this point in time. You’ve done it before and there’s no reason you can’t do it again.

  1. Rediscover your passion.

When you are unable to feel good about where you are or what you are doing, it’s very difficult to create a vision for a path out. Our primitive brain has us in that place of fight or flight, and we are unable to create or inspire others let alone ourselves. One way out is to start to rediscover your passion.

Passion = What you are good at (strengths) + What you like to do

If you actively sought out your strengths in step 1 above, you are halfway there to uncovering your passion. Now what do you like to do? Really like to do? Try asking yourself the question, “I know I can do it, but do I want to do it?” This frees you up to start really defining what you like to and stimulates that desire to start the climb out of the hole.

Kristen began to realize she was really good at creating and innovating new ideas. She was also great at building teams. From her past experience, she also realized she liked and had the courage to build things from scratch. She wasn’t afraid to step into the unknown, because she had the proof points of success. In fact, she was passionate about creating and making things happen.

  1. Take baby steps.

In the bottom of the hole you can’t see where you can start the climb up. You don’t even see the light at the top of the hole. You know there’s a way out and you have to believe that if you start taking any step at all it will get you away from the place you are that doesn’t serve you. It’s scary, but you know there has to be something better.

Small steps get you started. Kristen started by sharing with a friend how frustrated and stuck she was feeling. This friend made the referral to a coach and she started a coaching engagement. She sat down with Kevin, the co-worker she didn’t feel was competent, and started working with him. Rather than blaming him, she used her skills to help him grow and have greater impact. That felt good. She started to reconnect with others who had helped her start her previous company. Was there the opportunity to “get the band back together” and create something new? She made the effort of not bringing here woes home each day and dumping them on the family. They were able to be more supportive of her and the general mood of the household shifted. This led to her being better able to see something different in her future.

These baby steps don’t propel you out of the hole immediately. Rather they help you start the climb. You feel a place to put your foot and take a step up. This leads to another step. You feel a ledge with your hands and you pull yourself up even further. There is a dim glow of light at the top of the hole so you know you’re going in the right direction. That light gets brighter and more distinct with each step. Suddenly you can feel a breeze and smell fresh air. It’s been awhile since that was the case. All of this reinforces you desire to keep pushing forward. You’re using your strengths, aligning with your values, and your energy is shifting as it becomes more and more clear what your next move will be.

You’re out of the hole, back on solid footing, and the opportunities for what’s next are laid out in front of you.

The down times are inevitable. They don’t have to keep you down for as long as you think.

Tim Ressmeyer is a professional leadership and life coach. He is also the author of The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership (2018). Available on Amazon.

Creating an Intentional Culture

Posted February 7, 2019
Intentional CultureToo often leaders default or give in to the culture that surrounds them. You talk about a “toxic environment?” Or, there is a “bullying style of leadership.” How about the permission that is given to the “loose cannon” or “rock-star” or “maverick” to keep doing their work even though there is destructive fallout?

Whether you are the leader of two or 2,000, you are creating a culture around yourself. Creating an environment of how you act and react is an intentional effort that “doesn’t just happen.”

Leaders of companies can make a profound difference by having the confidence to step up and create an Intentional Culture. Culture will happen. Leaders – no matter where they land in an organization – create the culture around them.

A client, Matthew, was blaming the culture of his company where he was a senior leader, for a great deal of his dissatisfaction and unhappiness. He was condemning his boss and the style of leadership being modeled as the cause of all the problems. He fostered a feeling of righteous indignation that legitimized his disgust and anger toward the organization.

Unfortunately, Matthew was also reinforcing and furthering the culture that was so frustrating for him. He was interacting with the leadership and his team with negativity and withdrawal. He was initially not self-aware enough that he could, in fact, create a culture around him in spite of the culture that was in place.

So often I hear clients complain that they work in a difficult or toxic environment. I agree. I’ve been there. I have worked in places with very challenging bosses and where there were structures at the top of the organization that did not support what I believed to be very fundamental principles of good management.

I realized I couldn’t change the culture of the entire company. I could have an impact on what I did have control of, my team, and every person with whom I interacted. I could create a culture around myself that aligned with my values, and what I believed was the way people should be treated.

At one point in my career, I was managing a group, and my leadership team was comprised of about eight people. It was in a young and innovative company where there was a highly competitive sales culture, and the environment fostered – and allowed – a significant amount of judgment, negativity, gossip, and demeaning of others throughout the company.

Although the company was growing, my belief is this type of culture is not appropriate (or necessary) in a professional organization, and unfortunately, it’s all too prevalent. It reduces productivity, and an inordinate amount of energy is wasted due to petty, personal, and unprofessional behavior.

This culture permeated the team I was responsible for when I arrived. I could have tied in and let it continue, but I knew it was hurting our productivity, morale, and how the rest of the organization – and our clients – were viewing us. I did not want to be just like the rest of the company.

I elected to have a sit-down, face-to-face conversation with each of my direct reports. I delivered the same message to each that this kind of behavior is better left to the junior high playground, and has no place in this group. We discussed more impactful ways of using competition to achieve goals that do not include putting other people down or gossiping. We agreed that disagreements or poor performance could be handled directly with the purpose of finding solutions rather than using it as a mechanism to embarrass.

Virtually each of my team members thanked me for my decision to hit this head on. They didn’t like the culture that had been, either. These were good people who had been raised with the Golden Rule, or the parental guidance, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Nonetheless, they were nasty towards co-workers. There was an immediate culture-shift within our team, and the impact of positivity improved our quality of life and began to impact our cross-functional partners and our work product.

One team member didn’t understand the problems I had raised. He was, in fact, responsible for a great deal of the negativity. The subsequent conversations with him helped him know that he could be more successful if he shifted his way of working with others on the team and across the company.

Top management has an opportunity to hit culture head on and create an environment that fosters success, innovation, and productivity by taking into account the human side of leadership.

Read more about the things that prevent us from moving forward with The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018) from which this excerpted. Available on Amazon

Watch the traffic, not the people, or you just might get run over

Posted January 24, 2019
I was about 13-years-old, and visiting a friend who lived in Manhattan. I was a Long Island kid and was not as experienced as Paul at navigating the craziness of the City. We were headed somewhere and came up to an intersection. I could see the light was changing to red, and I was following his lead and as he stepped off the curb. I assumed that meant we were going to make a move across the street despite the traffic signal. I was wrong. With his casual style and experience of having been raised on the Upper East Side, Paul had every intention of stopping in the street. I kept going and narrowly missed being flattened by a NYC cab. Mostly because of the fear that evoked as well as the embarrassment of not knowing better, that incident reserved a permanent spot in my memory.

Years later when that experience popped into my consciousness, I summed it up with the observation to “watch the traffic, not the people.” By watching only those nearby, I was missing the bigger picture of what was happening further out, and it almost cost me my life.

When we listen only to those closest to us, we run the risk of missing opportunities.

This tendency is not unlike the pattern of creating our bubble that is reinforced by the information we can select, and people we choose to listen to and those we want to ignore. We can create our own reality that makes sense to us, but it might not be the best thing for us in the long term, and we might be missing significant factors just outside our bubble that could present exciting opportunities.

It’s scary to push out the boundaries of your near-in experiences to not merely focus on the people or situations right in front of you. Past experiences and fear of the unknown all contribute to a reluctance to move forward. It takes confidence that is sometimes hard to come by to make that push or even to consider listening to other voices.

Seeing people move forward is perhaps the most gratifying part of being a coach. When clients are making the big life-shifts like a job change or retirement, and I see them looking at their options differently, it’s powerful. More immediate challenges, such as managing conflict in a working relationship, are often discussed when in a coaching engagement. Bringing about change can happen quickly for the client by gaining a broader perspective that coaching delivers.

So often we are locked into a mindset of only looking at what is immediately around us, that we cannot see further ahead and what might be. We allow the fears, experiences, and voices to hold us back from pursuing options that might change our lives. How many times have you thrown an idea out there to change course, and have friends or family not daydream with you of how to make it happen, but instead focus on all the reasons it probably won’t work. All too often we tend to look at what’s wrong rather than what’s right. The result is a diminished capacity to aspire or dream.

Having the confidence to look ahead and seize change is not easy. We talk ourselves into playing safe, and out of dreaming big. Or, when we do imagine big, we lack the resources and stamina to seize what might be.

You bring more to the table than you think. Look back at all your wins and successes. Use those examples to give you the confidence to look at each situation, think for yourself, and move forward with confidence.

Read more about the things that prevent us from moving forward with The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018) from which this excerpted. Available on Amazon

There’s a Right and a Wrong Time to Say, “We’ll See”

Posted January 10, 2019
Sporting results are outside our control. “We’ll see if the Bears make the playoffs this year.  Unless a coach or player, you really can’t impact NFL results. “We’ll see” makes sense here.

Plane schedules and weather are outside our control. We’ll see if the plane is on time so I can catch my connecting flight.”  “We’ll see” is appropriate in that case. 

Too often we say “we’ll see” when we actually have more control than that suggests. Are you giving up your influence too quickly when you can actually stay more engaged and have an impact on the outcome?

It might feel like trivial word choice, but it does make a difference when you really dial into when and where you say “we’ll see.”

I often hear people say, “I’ve got my resume done and sent it to a few people. We’ll see what happens.” When I hear this I am concerned that there is more action that can be taken – both practically and emotionally by the job-seeker.

Of course you don’t have control over whether they hire you or not, or if they even read your resume. You can avoid passivity and complacency by using a more proactive or assertive mindset. “I’ve got my resume done and sent out. I’m going to follow up with the company and will be continuing to look for other opportunities while it’s under consideration. I’m going to learn from whatever happens and continue to drive my search.”

Much more impactful.

Here’s another example. “I’ve hired a new member to my leadership team. We’ll see how she works out.” Here’s another opportunity to move from passivity to action. Remember that you’ve invested time and money in hiring her. You have high expectations for her. Does she know what success means? Does she know you are there to support her? How are you going to stay engaged with her through the onboarding in order to achieve the outcomes you all want? Are you prepared to step in, listen to her, and figure out corrective measures when there are the inevitable challenges? Are you creating a culture where the rest of the team understands how everyone works together during this transitional time?

Leaders don’t wait and see they look, listen, and take action.

I challenge you to listen carefully when you find yourself saying “we’ll see.” Ask yourself if things really are outside your control or if there are actions you can take to be more engaged in whatever is going on. Similarly, as a leader, when you hear those around you use that phrase, assess how true it is and help others avoid passivity and complacency.

Think of a new phrase to substitute when you realize you don’t have to sit back. How about, “What will I do next?” “How can I make a difference?” “I got this.” Or, my favorite, “What’s the opportunity?”

Avoid saying,“We’ll see” unless it’s truly something outside your control.

Tim Ressmeyer is a professional leadership and life coach. He is also the author of The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership (2018). Available on Amazon.

Be Controlled or Take Control: How to Be in Charge of Your Own Life

Posted December 19, 2018

We create our own stories; and they’re often not true.

We are all the creation of everything that has happened to us up until this point in time. Every relationship, hardship, joy, loss, gain, job, heartache has created us and we can’t change any of it. Regret doesn’t serve you. We can learn from it. We can’t change it. And we have control to decide how we want to show up for what’s next.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to expect what happened in the past has to happen again. Whether we expect this outcome from our self or others, we “write a story” in our own head. A script if you will of how things will turn out. It’s not always true! Too often these stories limit what we really can be. The past does not have to repeat itself. You don’t have perfect information of what might happen. You can’t control everything; you can control how you show up.

Learning to not make up stories frees us to experience what is in front of us, confidently make decisions, and take control of what’s next.

These stories we write in our own minds tend to lean more towards the things that have gone wrong rather than reinforcing what has worked. Focusing on the problems creates a downward spiral of negativity that prevents us from finding solutions and outcomes.

We will look at things that have happened in the past, and assume that because they happened before, they will occur again. I frequently encounter people looking for a new job who have written off an entire company or industry because of one job interview that didn’t go well. There might be a variety of reasons it didn’t come through at that time, and it doesn’t mean you cannot try again. Evaluate why it happened and ask the simple question, why does it have to happen that way again?

Other times we leap to conclusions we make without any real evidence. Imagine walking into a client meeting, and one of their team members looks at you and glances away without greeting you. Immediately you come to the conclusion that she doesn’t like me and the meeting will therefore go poorly. How do you know that? Maybe she’s thinking about something problematic that happened at home this morning. Maybe her phone buzzed and she was distracted. Be careful not to go down the path of negativity and making it all about you.

A good check on a tendency to leap to conclusions, is to run it through the “what’s another way to look at it” or “what would my best friend say” test. Your boss challenged you on a decision and you can’t believe what an idiot he is! Ask yourself; is there another way to look at what he said? How can I reframe his response to me so I have a more productive reaction? How would my best friend look at this?

We also carry with us beliefs about ourselves or the world that we have never experienced, but still believe to be true. “You can’t successfully have a career and a family.” “Unless you have an MBA from a top tier school you’ll never be able to be successful.” “You can never rise to the top with a Liberal Arts degree.” Believing these viewpoints without questioning them can lead to decisions that don’t play to your strengths, or allow you to control your own life.

A way to negate the impact of such unproven beliefs is to look for one instance when the belief is proven to be wrong. If others have proven it wrong, what would it take to follow that path, rather than give up without trying?

Our stories also come from our inner critic, or more popularly known as a Gremlin. It’s that voice that tells you that you can’t do something so why try. It can also stop you from taking risks so that you don’t embarrass yourself. Most potently, your Gremlin brings up the thoughts of the imposter syndrome and suggests one day they will find out you really don’t know what you’re doing!

Getting rid of your Gremlin is impossible; it’s been with you forever, and it will stay with you forever. What you can do is lessen the power of your Gremlin by naming it, reminding yourself of all the proof points you have that you are successful, and continually telling the inner critic to, “shut up!” and train yourself to not listen to that voice.

Unfortunately, there are chemical factors in place that exacerbate negative situations and help create this dark cloud of fear and frustration. When we encounter a situation – real or perceived – as being a threat, the cortisol that’s released not only activates your amygdala to protect yourself from danger, but also triggers your limbic brain where all old experiences are stored. The result is a flood of memories of how you were hurt, embarrassed, or experienced failure. It’s hard to counteract this if you’re not intentionally training yourself to not focus, or take too seriously, the negative things that pop up. So many of these situations are not as problematic as we make them out to be, and we can train ourselves to be less pessimistic.

Read more about the things that prevent us from controlling our own destiny in The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018) from which this excerpted. Available on Amazon

Phrases I Don’t Like: “It’s the way I am. I can’t change.”

Posted December 13, 2018
I Cant ChangeWorking in direct care for special needs individuals is a daunting undertaking. I have great admiration for people who make it their life’s work.

I had the privilege of working in such a role early in my career. Teenagers who have developed problematic behaviors due to abuse or neglect and are struggling to create a more independent life need tools to move forward. I learned that so many behaviors are learned and those that don’t serve us can be “unlearned” and new behaviors can be taught replace them. For instance, someone who grew up thinking the only way to get what they want is by yelling and being abusive can learn new skills that can achieve the outcome they want, and typically with more success.

Some actions are more ingrained than others and it takes more work and commitment to bring about change.

How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s just the way I am. I can’t change.” Not changing is a choice. You can make the choice to change.

In our personal and professional lives I believe there are very few behaviors that can’t be changed. “I’m always late, I can’t change that.” “I’m a procrastinator, that’s just the way I am.” “I’m sarcastic.” “I get overwhelmed easily.” “I have a short temper.” “I’m too sensitive.” “I talk too much.” “I overthink things.”

It’s the way I am. I just can’t change.

How true is it that you can’t change those things? What are the root causes of those behaviors? Many are so deeply rooted they are indeed extremely difficult to change. Others are just ways of behaving we picked up somewhere along the way and we don’t really think about.

There’s a simple question to ask yourself to assess if it’s worth trying to change any behaviors, “How’s that working for me?” Be honest. Ask yourself the impact those behaviors are having on your relationships, work performance, leadership impact, and general happiness.

Sometimes it might be very clear what you’re doing, how it isn’t serving you, and what you would like to do instead. Sometimes you might choose to continue with the behavior deciding you don’t want to make a change or it just isn’t that important or worth the effort.

If you do opt to change, what will your next steps be? It can be a very difficult process. It takes a great deal of vulnerability, transparency and trust. The root cause can be painful. The mistakes can still be haunting you. Our blindspots are, by definition, hard to see. Start to seek the appropriate resources to start moving forward. These resources might include your boss, a mentor, peers, your partner, Employee Assistance Services provided by your company, friends, a coach, a therapist.

Once you’ve identified that resource set yourself up for success by setting a date for when you will contact them. Share your plan with a trusted friend or colleague who will hold you accountable to making these critical next steps.

You can teach an old dog new tricks! You need the awareness, commitment, and resources to make it happen.

Case Study

A client, Andrea, had been on a fine upward trajectory in her career. She had big client wins in her first five years at her company. She then hit some real obstacles. First, a client asked that she be taken off her account. It was a big, important account. Second, another client slowed down a planned increase in work which Andrea had been counting on to hit her goal. For the first time her annual review wasn’t full of praise, and the 360° input suggested she was seen as unapproachable and short with both her peers and direct reports. She was taking it hard, and it was impacting her personal life as well as her professional future.

As we started our engagement we looked at some of her key behaviors and her interaction style with both clients and peers.

The feedback from clients was that she failed to exhibit the sense of passion and urgency to drive their work. Deadlines were always met, but she wasn’t proactively communicating with them to understand additional ways she could help them. Meetings and communication were frequently handed off to members of her team and the client wasn’t feeling they carried the same impact as Andrea could have.

Andrea was resistant to much of the feedback stating she was so busy she couldn’t give as much attention across clients as they needed. She was justifying sending in her team for the same reasons.

She shifted blame to her team members claiming they should be able to handle the work, and because of her “my door is always open” policy they should come to her when they needed help.

How’s that working for you?

Andrea began to admit she wasn’t giving the attention to the clients as she once had. She realized some other clients were getting the bulk of her attention, and it wasn’t necessarily the best use of her time. As a result, she had cut down on her communications with them and was procrastinating when working on their projects. The quality of the under-the-wire delivery of work was noticeable to her clients.

With her team it was clear even though she said the right things, they didn’t feel they could really approach her. Andrea reflected and realized she wasn’t engaging with her team as effectively as possible, and it was true, no one was coming to her proactively with problems. Most of her interactions with the team were around problems that had emerged and she was confrontational in those situations.

Andrea realized that behavioral change would help address the problems that had emerged. With respect to clients, she would focus on being highly conscious of how she was allocating her time across clients, how frequently she was communicating with them, and adhere to schedules to avoid the procrastination that was creating sub-standard work.

When it came to her team, she decided to spend more time with them as new work was allocated to make sure they were clear of the scope and expectations. She was committed to listening to them and developing a level of trust from the start. This felt like a time consuming step, but she realized it would save time and energy as they would be able to communicate more effectively during the course of the project to help bring about better client outcomes.

Behaviors are learned. They can be unlearned and replaced with new behaviors that are more effective.

Tim Ressmeyer is a professional leadership and life coach. He is also the author of The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership (2018). Available on Amazon.

Do We Really Need More Philosophy Majors?

Posted November 13, 2018
Liberal Arts DegreesI had the opportunity to travel to both Italy and Ireland in the past year: great food, people, and scenery were everywhere.

Two of the most lasting memories remain a Middle Eastern tour guide and an Irish bartender.

It was in the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican that I thought, “thank goodness there are art history majors.” Our tour guide was a young art history graduate student who slowed our group down to make sure we were able to appreciate what we were seeing fully.

Forty 15 x 16-foot maps – works of art in themselves – line the walls of the architecturally-stunning gallery. They capture Italy as a whole, as well as close-ups of all the regions of the country. Our learned tour guide – with a diverse academic background – made sure we could appreciate the maps through multiple lenses:

  • Art – painting techniques that show remarkable topographical relief as well as stunning colors;
  • History – 40 distinct political regions of that time with historical events depicted;
  • Geography – without sophisticated surveying or satellite techniques, they are 80% accurate;
  • Religion – God’s involvement in the world is depicted by miracles that occurred in specific locations, and St. Paul’s missionary activity;
  • Politics – They were used by the Popes to create the military strategy when at war.

And all of this was created in the years 1580-1583.

So much of the nuance and value of what was before us would be lost without our art historian tour guide and other research by people who study the liberal arts.

As a leadership coach, I work with people at different stages of their personal and professional careers. When it comes to academic background, there is often regret of decisions already made or fear of those yet to come. Is it silly to have degrees in English or Art History? Or should more practical paths be pursued such as Accounting or Engineering?

My answer: we want to appreciate both. We want to have both. Neither is right or wrong. Nor is it a binary choice.

In Ireland, my traveling companions and I spent a good amount of time at the Hole in the Wall pub in the small town of Kilkenny, about 90 minutes outside Dublin. (Ironically, the pub is nestled in a building that dates back to 1582, the exact year the Vatican maps were being created!)

Our highly educated bartender, Patrick, not only led us in old-school Karaoke – the words to songs were written out on large sheets of paper – he was also able to tell the stories behind the songs. Many relayed the sad and painful accounts of love and tragedy during the Irish Revolution of the early 1900’s. He integrated stories and musings of music, politics, culture, and history whilst pouring Irish whiskey and Irish coffees.

We learned a lot in the most casual of settings.

Patrick also shared how recently re-elected Irish President Michael D. Higgins had notably stated, “the teaching of philosophy is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to empower children into acting as free and responsible subjects in an ever more complex, interconnected and uncertain world.”

He adds, “It is so important, then, that our children – all of our citizens – be encouraged to think critically rather than merely reproduce the information pushed towards them by proliferating media sources.”

Do you want your child to choose Philosophy as their college major?

We need STEM educational programming. We need to increase our appreciation of philosophy and other “softer” disciplines. One way is to follow the trend towards STEM education that adds Art to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Furthermore, we want to ensure that “Art” includes all of the liberal arts disciplines.

I’m currently coaching a senior executive in an analytics firm who years ago completed all the coursework for a Ph.D. in Philosophy. That along with his prowess in technology makes him a singularly valuable leader in the company. When hiring while in my past corporate roles I loved coming across candidates with varied academic backgrounds in addition to the more technical ones. They added an important skill set to the team.

Knowledge is always expanding. We can access so much information on the Internet, but someone has to create it. AI won’t do it. We need scholars who can always be contributing to this body of knowledge with their unique areas of passion, and a desire to educate all of us.

We need more engineers and accountants. We need more philosophers and artists. And we need more tour guides and bartenders with a passion for learning and sharing.

Tim Ressmeyer is a professional leadership and life coach. He is also the author of The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership (2018). Available on Amazon.

Shut Up and Listen: How to Change Lives by Paying Attention

Posted November 1, 2018
Shut Up And ListenGrowing up we were not allowed to say “shut up” at home. It’s still harsh sounding, and I use it only when necessary to make a point, and never direct it at someone with malice, but rather for guidance.

This is one of those instances when it is necessary to make a point.

“You were really listening to me.”

At the start of my coaching career, that statement took me by surprise, as a client said it to me, and then another client reiterated that same statement. Because of the frequency that I was hearing “you were really listening to me,” it was obvious that is was a significant problem. It makes me sad to think people are so regularly not listened to. It also highlights the value of coaching – a place people can be heard – and even more importantly, an opportunity to help people learn to listen and to ultimately connect with each other more successfully.

When people connect, amazing things can happen. Trust is established, relationships are strengthened, and problems can be solved. Without listening, you cannot connect. Without connecting, you cannot effectively create experiences that bring about results, whether in your personal or professional life. People have a primal need to connect with others.

Everything changes when someone feels they are being heard.

Listening is a skill that you want to practice and perfect.

Linda was a new client who worked for a major financial services company and was frustrated that her book of business wasn’t growing as aggressively as she would like. Even more painful was the fact a couple of clients had left her recently, and she was afraid the trend would continue. She wanted a coach to help her get back on track through goal setting and accountability to get new clients and to stop the losses. She knew the steps and processes of sales – she had been doing this a long time – and she realized she would benefit from coaching to make sure the plan was given the greatest chance of success.

It was the start of a new year, so it made sense to be making such commitments.

One of our early sessions focused on strengths and aspirations. We were identifying how Linda could capitalize on what she was doing successfully, and map those wins to the goals she was setting for the year. Intuitive listening includes not only hearing the words but listening to what isn’t being said. I asked curious questions that showed I cared and wanted to know more than just the simple metrics she wanted to set. A place of trust had been established between us. We connected.

Linda casually mentioned the value of independence and interest in perhaps someday running her own business and move away from her current mega company. It was shared as a bit of a pipe dream and something to consider at some point in the future. A discernable shift in her energy took place as she talked about this. I pointed this out to her, and we briefly discussed what that independence might look like. We resumed our focus on goal setting for the new year.

I did not realize at the time I called out her shift in energy, the profound impact it had on her. She later shared with me that when I told her I saw that shift; she knew she had to make it happen. Because of our connection, something amazing was created.

Our subsequent sessions started to include this element of exploring the genuine possibility of her starting her own company. We patiently worked both streams of building her current business while looking longer term.

The connection that was created through sharing, listening, trusting and exploring brought to the surface something so vital to her that it changed her life. Her confidence soared, and slightly more than 12 months later we were toasting the successful launch of her own company.

Listening in this way helps you connect with others, and the impact is tremendous. We all know when someone is only half listening. And that’s not very satisfying. We know people who listen and then just try to contradict what was said, and you feel drained from having always to be defensive or acquiesce. When you truly listen you are looking at the person in the eye, putting thoughts of judgment out of your own head, and really listening. That is the foundation for connection.

That is the start of surprising outcomes.

When you listen to connect – and not just to hear – you can unleash the unlimited capacity of both of your minds.

Excerpt from The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership, by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018). Available on Amazon

Using Confidence to Get Through Difficult Transitions: Gary’s Story of Success

Posted October 25, 2018
Confidende Difficult TransitionsChange shows up in all different ways. People respond to change differently. Sometimes change is a choice, and sometimes it is inflicted on us. When change happens, you have a choice how to react to it. Your confidence in handling change creates different outcomes. Change always presents opportunities. What do you want it to look like? How do you want to feel on the other side of the change? You decide.

Change happens in our personal and professional lives with the potential to create harmful adverse outcomes, or inspired new opportunities. You may have a new boss who was nothing like the last one who you really liked. You may become fearful you might not have your job for long. A new personal relationship may give you the hope and optimism that, “this is the one!” A spouse or someone important in your life may have an opportunity that shifts the plans you had made.

Sometimes change is in our control, and sometimes it isn’t.
We don’t just face change, we create change.

An executive coaching client, Gary, was a big player in a major corporation in New York City. Through mergers and other changes, he was unceremoniously cut from a role he didn’t love, but it was full of perks and prestige. He was proud of the position. The money, the title, the travel, and the wining and dining were suddenly gone. He was devastated.

I was introduced to Gary by a mutual contact and began working with him while he was still trying to regain his equilibrium and figure out how to move on to what was next. It was almost a year since the termination. He was still angry and bitter, and the negativity was preventing him from moving forward. He had fallen far and was still in the deep hole of resentment and hopelessness. He was seeing a therapist to keep an eye on possible depression, and he had to move forward and figure out what was next.

We began with the baby steps of acknowledging how difficult this change was, as well as how difficult the past year had been. We started to revisit what had gotten him to the pinnacle of success in the past, and what he wanted to learn from that in the future. He looked into how the marketplace offered new opportunities and how he might adapt his skills to take advantage of it. And, we set up a relationship between the coach and the client steeped in accountability and forward motion.

Gary created a new career path for himself that he would never have imagined. He took the skills and experience he had in his prior roles and was able to reorient them in new ways to pursue a path he hadn’t thought viable. It wasn’t just the tactics of finding a new job that made this possible; it was the energy and confidence Gary had at his core to work through this new phase.

The stages he went through are not unlike the steps you go through in a personal relationship that ends and something new starts. You have a breakup, and you are experiencing all sorts of emotions, possibly positive and negative. Next, you start to figure you what you want to do next, and what you bring to the table. How do you want to show up in this new phase of my life? You then have to test the waters. Whether you’re dating, doing a job search, or going through any other sort of change, you are interacting with others and exploring whether it’s a good fit or not. Does it feel right? Am I the best expression of myself? Finally, you commit. I’m stepping into this new phase or role, and I’m going to make it work!

For me, using dating language is the clearest way to label – and remember – the four stages of transition and change: breakup, write the profile (ala online dating sites), dating, going exclusive.

Read more about transitions and how they map to the stages of dating in The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018) from which this was excerpted. Available on Amazon

Managing Peer Relationships – They Don’t Always Have to Go Sideways

Posted October 12, 2018
The workplace is based on relationships. You have relationships up (your boss, superiors), down (direct reports, contractors), and to the side (peers, business partners). Managing and creating impactful relationships in all three directions leads to success, and not doing so leads to failure and frustration.

Peer relationships in the workplace are challenging in different ways than either those above or below. In some ways, they’re more comfortable if you’re working with people in your same area of an organization and you have similar or mutual goals. However, there can still be personality conflicts or competition that impedes the creation of constructive relationships.

The two most important factors to help create relationships with peers are goal clarity and trust.

When working with peers, you have to know why you’re both there.

Carl and Dennis were young entrepreneurs who had started their own company and were finding success very quickly. They were bright, creative, and very skillful. They were also both driven by the goal of building a very successful company.

As they started to achieve success, indications of difficulty in the relationship were beginning to concern both of the partners, and they reached out to me to work with them, not knowing where their company and relationship might be headed. A break-up was not out of the question.

Where they had always seemed to be on the same page, there was now confusion and mistrust and conflict was just around the corner. From the start, they had agreed to work as partners, and share the profits equally. Carl began to see this 50/50 split as being unfair. He felt he was putting in way more effort than Dennis, and it was working. The company was growing rapidly mostly because of his work, he believed. “Why should Dennis be getting the same return I am when I’m putting in so much more effort?”

Interestingly, Dennis was feeling an overwhelming pressure from Carl that he couldn’t do anything right. Dennis was feeling judged and valued less. It was sadly becoming the type of experience he didn’t necessarily want to be part of.

The coaching engagement I kicked off with them included individual coaching as well as business partners coaching (aka “couples coaching!”) where I would meet with them together. It took a lot of confidence on their part to open themselves up in this way.

One of the most impactful aha’s came when doing a personal goals and values exercise with each of them individually. They were each asked to write a personal mission statement that included their strengths, things they wanted to get out of life, the impact they wanted to have, and what their immediate steps would be to move towards these goals.

Both sets of goals were relatively similar. Being young, they wanted to create a lifestyle that would allow them to have families and comfortably support children, have free time for travel, and have their business be successful. Digging into what “successful” meant, they both wanted to be earning $1 million annually. The interesting difference was in the timeline. Carl wanted to hit that mark in five years, Dennis was happy to achieve $1 million “somewhere in the future.” They both wanted the same thing, but there was a disconnect on timing. No wonder Carl saw Dennis as a slacker; he had a very aggressive goal in his head. Dennis was pleased with the growth of the company, knowing his goals would be met at some point in the future.

They assumed they were on the same page, but reality indicated something different.

We discussed this in our group sessions and worked to align their goals, clarify and appreciate what they each brought to the company, and to develop roles for each that would allow them to offer what they could contribute most to the success of the company. The result was a reinvigorated working relationship that resulted in much higher levels of personal fulfillment and professional success.

In Carl and Dennis’ situation, they were very closely connected to each other and the outcome. New complications are introduced when working with people from different parts of the organization who don’t fall into the same reporting structure as you. Whether an actual “matrix organization” or just a need to work with people in different parts of the company there are different cultures, goals, and management styles in play. Understanding how relationships are formed within this framework helps you – and your colleagues – minimize failure and achieve success.

From The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer, First Edition Design Publishing, 2018.