By Sacha E. Kopp, Ph.D., Senior Vice Chancellor, University of Nebraska Omaha and Timothy J. Ressmeyer, Ph.D., Founder, Ressmeyer Partners Executive Coaching
Executive coaching has become ubiquitous within America’s biggest corporations. It’s not seen as a sign of failure for Fortune 500 executives to have a coach on the proverbial speed dial. We in academia can take a lesson.
Too often, we think of the ‘content’ of academic administration, rather than the interpersonal skills that lead to true leadership. But just think of the university president who steps down after a regrettable comment uttered in frustration; or the dean who is replaced after a failed reorganization of departments; or the department chair whose term has stalled when a stalemate amongst the faculty can’t be surmounted. The complexities of leadership, and the highly relationship-driven world of higher education, warrant investment in leaders’ skills through tools such as executive coaching.
Universities already invest in a host of leadership trainings, such as Centers for Faculty Excellence, or Faculty Development Fellowships shadowing leaders, or travel to professional disciplinary conferences and networking. Executive coaching, for individuals, groups, or teams is another ‘arrow in the quiver,’ and can scale to broader arrays of the university leadership structure. Why make this investment?
Culture defines an institution. The pandemic highlighted this well. Institutions that thrived this year undoubtedly did so because everyone pulled together. How did they do so and what could they fall back on? Cultures of trust, compassion, students-first, or more. Especially in times of uncertainty or change, it is easy to focus on the task of the moment, without fully sharing – or being aware of yourself. It’s easy to throw up one’s hands over dysfunctional cultures. As a leader, you make an impact. How you treat others, aligned with your values, becomes part of the culture. A coach who is working with the leader or team can help them view crises or opportunities differently and help leaders fall back upon built trust to seize the new challenges or blaze new trails. As leader, we are always creating a culture around us, and in so doing model the old Ghandi phrase of being the change we wish to see.
In academia, many have advanced degrees, but not in management. When your unit is called on to develop a new strategic plan, how do you bring everyone together? How often is a dean or chair brought on board to forge consensus, yet frustrated by colleagues’ mistrust? When a leader inherits a team, how are roles crafted around a common goal? When another unit’s collaboration is vital to your success, how is trust built so the teams work together? Too often in academia, the answer is to either duplicate effort (“administrative bloat”) or to seek a new org chart (“rearranging the deck chairs”). Such failures of leadership cause eye-rolls and groans and build on the worst stereotypes of failed leaders. Coaches can help leaders build the skills of collaboration, avoiding the above go-to failures, thus leading change across organizations, that will more likely be successful.
We need to be our best selves. It’s easier to lead when things are going well, but stress and change make it easy to drift into a person you don’t want to be or engage in behaviors that don’t work. The outside perspective of coaching can help you see what is getting in the way of you embracing the behaviors you would like to see in yourself. Built into coaching programs are the uncovering of strengths you have, while at the same time filling in the management skills gaps that will help you succeed.
I’m doing just fine. I don’t need any help. Congrats! Being in that place is an excellent place to be. Beyond triaging challenging situations, coaching is an opportunity to build new skills for future times when the demands are high. It’s difficult when you don’t have confidants around you who you can fully trust when new situations arise. And, all leaders have blind spots that can cause them to miss looming problems or miss exciting opportunities. Ongoing coaching support is a good complement to other professional development workshops or experiences, providing ongoing support and an accountability partner to academic leaders developing their skills. Investing in coaching in advance is one more way to define one’s self as a proactive leader.
Kissinger is quoted to have said “The reason that university politics is so vicious is because the stakes are so small.” We couldn’t disagree more. Stakes are high. Students depend on us to support their journeys. Elected officials depend on us to enhance their communities. Families depend on us for the impacts on their lives. Faculty and staff depend on us to foster the workplace that empowers their authentic selves. Universities aren’t built with bricks and buildings, but with people. The relationships we foster warrant the kind of mortar supported by tools such as professional coaching.
But how can you look backwards to a time that wasn’t ideal and use what you’ve learned to look forward? Do we HAVE to reflect and assess? Or can we just accept and acknowledge what we’ve experienced, and choose to put one foot in front of the other to step into the New Year from a place of moving TOWARDS something as opposed to running AWAY.
This quote that I read today by Dan Millman seemed to really touch on what I was feeling about moving FROM 2020 INTO 2021 in a way that I could really celebrate and embrace and get excited about, in light of all that has happened in the past 12 months.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new”. Or not trying to “fix” what was, but “create” what will be. And that is not to say you can’t honor your past experience that you are coming from. The question is how can you honor your past experience, yet not let it stop you from living and moving forward and dreaming about what lies ahead?
Rather than reflecting or assessing where we are or what has happened, sometimes, it’s simply enough to just ACKNOWLEDGE what a tough year you’ve had and then VALIDATE that your feelings surrounding the tough year you’ve had are PERFECTLY NORMAL and that anyone would feel the way you do after the year you’ve had. Say it to yourself out loud, with compassion. Try it. “Yep, Wow, what a rough year 2020 was for me. There’s no question about it. And after the year I’ve experienced, it’s not surprising that I feel disappointed and upset. And that’s ok.” And sit with it. Cry about it if that’s what feels right. And then move forward. There will be waves when those painful thoughts resurface. That’s normal and ok. Sit with them again, and you can always be moving towards something new.
And, when you’re ready…….decide what you want THIS YEAR to look like. Stop fighting and start building. No one can predict what this next year holds, but you can commit to choosing how YOU decide to show up in it. You. Choose.
2021 holds promise and new beginnings for anyone who wants it and is brave enough to step toward it.
Explore more about our Happy Hour Coach® service at https://ressmeyerpartners.com/2022/services/happy-hour-coach/.
– Kerri Ressmeyer, ACC, CPC
Kerri is a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) where she is accredited at the Associate Certified Coach (ACC) level and is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) from iPEC (Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching) and is a Certified Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner (ELI-MP).
I received comments from a lot of folks agreeing with me and also pointing out that people of all ages struggle with the same challenges of being happy, successful, and fulfilled. It’s not just limited to those in their 50s. I wholeheartedly agree!
The most remarkable response came when someone called me and said, “Tim, I want you to be my coach. Can you help me?”
He is 93-years-old.
I have known this man for much of my life but had not seen or spoken with him for over 30 years. I was stunned he was reaching out.
“Why do you want a coach?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve never had a coach, but I think you can help me,” he responded.
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t think I have any value anymore.”
It felt like a punch to the gut.
No value? This guy is a very successful professional who positively impacted the lives of thousands of people throughout his career – including mine. Even as he got older, he never quit working. He told me he “failed at retirement three times.” He was always urged back into service by those who knew what he had to offer.
Things were now difficult for him. He really couldn’t work anymore. He described to me his near blindness, difficulty walking, other health problems, difficulty doing things outside of the house, and several other real challenges.
Through conversations about value, he began to discover ways he does make a difference and deliver value. He also admitted there were things he was not doing that he wanted to, things that would improve both his health and day-to-day feelings of significance.
We meet via phone twice each month, and he updates me on the goals that he established for himself. As his coach, I hold him accountable for those things he wants to do.
His list has included such goals as:
And, one of the most exciting goals was when he decided he wanted to create his own “Personal Board of Directors.” He had done this throughout his career to make sure he was always surrounded by people who he could learn from, solve problems with, and share his wisdom and expertise. However, this time, he reached out to his four young-adult grandsons to be part of this group. He invited each of them to be part of this, and they enthusiastically accepted.
They’ll be meeting monthly. He will lead the Zoom calls using the three powerful questions he used throughout his consulting career: “What is going well? What are you worried about? What would you like to do more of?”
I asked him, “What value will you get out of this project with your grandsons?”
“I will be able to stay better in touch with younger folks and learn from them. I can be sure to stay connected to my family in another way. I know there are struggles they face, and I’m sure there are things I can help them with because of my age and experience.”
It sounds to me like he has quite a bit of value.
This man is taking hold of his life and not sitting back with a “we’ll see” mindset. He recognized he needed something, sought help, and is taking action to move forward even with the genuine challenges he faces.
The 90’s can be your magic years as well.
But, the reality is that The Only Constant in Life is Change. It happens. It’s there – whether we choose it or it chooses us. How we react to it can have a tremendous effect on the outcome of any given situation.
What if you were able to approach change with a different and more powerful mind set? What if you were able to embrace change and even look forward to it? What would be different for you? For those around you?
The dictionary defines change as: the act or instance of making or becoming different. Is that really so scary? Each of us is currently in the process of life and as we experience new things, meet new people, learn new life or career skills…..we are changing. We are becoming different. And in most cases, a better version of ourselves can emerge on the other side!
What if you chose to see change as an OPPORTUNITY? You see, the real way we experience change is how we choose to experience it. What if you thought about it as the opportunity to decide who you want to be? In that moment AND moving forward? A step in the process of your becoming? How would you feel about ANY change if you truly believed that if you put as much energy into leaning into the change as you previously put into swirling in fear – that the outcome would be an improved you and the circumstances surrounding you? Change can be powerful and transformational and cathartic and it can set you on an exciting new path to self-discovery, or more fulfillment, or more success in whatever you choose to do.
Have you ever heard the saying “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got”? The most successful leaders in history have not only embraced change, but created change because they understood that the only way we can truly live is if we grow and we cannot grow without change.
Are you ready to change your relationship with change? Are you ready to change your resistance to change??? Are you ready to stop playing small and start living your life as large as you’d like?
Every time you exercise your new habit, you’re creating a new reality of how you roll with change and you’ll find out, pretty quickly, that you’ve got this. And you might even love it.
Kerri Ressmeyer is an executive leadership and life coach with 30 years’ of professional leadership experience in the hospitality industry. Through 1:1 coaching, she helps clients align their passions and values to find a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment both professionally and personally.
Turning 50 is a big deal. What I’ve learned through my coaching – and my personal experience – is the entire 50s decade is a bigger deal. I believe it’s a magical time for leaders who want to figure out what is next.
Many of my initial calls with clients go something like this:
I’ve been successful, but I’m not sure I love what I’m doing anymore or that I want to keep going on the path I’m on. I don’t know what I want to do, and I don’t know how to figure it out. I do know I want to be happier.
More often than not, they are in their 50s (or late 40’s and looking ahead!).
What is really exciting is that as the conversation continues, I hear them shift from being scared or lost to being inspired and motivated to chart a course for the next phase of their life.
If you are in this age group, you have so much going for you:
Nonetheless, there are things getting in your way of gaining the clarity you want. Money, relationships, confidence, passion, etc. are all muddled at this point in time. That’s normal.
It doesn’t mean quitting your current job and doing something dramatically different – although that has been known to happen – it’s about making a plan to start now to gain control of your future.
The good news is there is a way forward!
If this resonates with you, send me an email, share your story, and let me know what’s going on.
If you’re interested in digging deeper into what’s next for you, consider working with me in a very powerful way to gain control and create the lifestyle you want to live.
I work with serious high achievers who want to work hard and invest in themselves to create the future they desire.
I offer three options:
This is not a “follow these 5 steps to happiness” program. It takes a commitment on your part to dig deep to uncover and remove obstacles getting in the way of moving to your next phase. We will chart a course forward together, and I support you throughout the plan.
Don’t leave your greatness on the table! I look forward to hearing from you.
I don’t like the term reinvention with respect to career or life changes. It makes it harder than it needs to be. One definition is to invent again or anew, especially without knowing that the invention already exists. You are starting over unaware that you already have what it takes to seek the happiness, success, and fulfillment you feel you want right now. That makes it harder than it needs to be, and can lead you to not even wanting to try.
Let’s use the ubiquitous “number-dot-o” language instead. We all know when there’s a release of Version 2.0 or 3.0 of an app or program, and we expect it to deliver even more usefulness or cool new bells and whistles. We are excited about it!
The prior learning and experience of Version 1.0 has not been thrown out. The company didn’t reinvent the app. They built on the successes while trimming out the things that didn’t work as well in order to achieve impact in the future.
When you are unhappy with your current situation or know you can be or do more, think first of your strengths and successes and aspire and dream for what life would be like if you are living and working every day doing what you love and what you are good at (my definition of passion).
This fear of knowing how to create change for yourself is hard for everyone, including successful leaders. When you have invested so much time into a seemingly single path it’s difficult to know who or what you would be without it.
Don’t try too hard to start from scratch. Get out of your own way. Get out of your own head. You have what it takes to create the 2.0 (or 3.0 or 4.0) version of yourself!
Ressmeyer Partners is a great example of version development. We are moving into iteration 2.0. Kerri Ressmeyer has left her 30-year career in the restaurant industry to bring those skills and gifts as a Partner in the company. She is building on her leadership and management experience by becoming a Certified Professional Coach.
Six years since founding Ressmeyer Partners, I am continuing to develop coaching expertise with additional training in the areas of neuroscience and deep personal coaching. I will be working with fewer clients in more intensive, transformational year-long engagements.
Another change that is a part of our transformation is our location. Chicago-based for years, we are moving the headquarters to Asheville, North Carolina. The individual client engagements and 1:1 coaching are already primarily done by phone so little will change there. Workshops, corporate engagements, and 1:1 intensive coaching are done in person at the client sites, and Asheville has a great airport; there will just be a stop or two along the way. The new version will also include the opportunity it create innovative new offerings including retreats and travel-based enrichment events.
Remember, we don’t only face change, we create change. Take charge of what your next version will look like!
It’s hard to be your best at work when things are hard at home. It’s hard to be your best at home when things are hard at home.
Carol (C-Suite Exec): “I’m thinking about taking this new job. I’m ok in my current job, but the money in this new one is great.”
Coach: “How will that impact your family?”
“I haven’t told my husband I’m even considering the new job.”
“We’ve always struggled to talk about financial stuff and other big moves.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t know. Balancing both our careers, the kids, where we live, who makes more money, and such have always been topics that are hard for us to tackle.”
“How has this played out in the past.”
“Sometimes either one of us have moved down the path alone, and it’s too late to turn back and we just cave. Other times I’ve just looked away from opportunities because I can’t see how we would have productive conversations. I’ll probably do that in this case.”
“What would you like it to be like?
“I’d like to have the confidence to bring it up, and to have a plan for how to navigate these tough conversations. Once we talk about it, it’s typically ok. I just put off having the conversations and it stresses me out.”
James (Business Owner): “Revenue has been down, projections for the new year aren’t good, the Board is all over us, and we have to lay off a bunch of employees in a couple of weeks.
Coach: “That’s a tough spot to be in. No one enjoys that. What are the biggest challenges you see in making those cuts and communicating it to the company?”
“I just have to go ahead and do it, but I’m really stressed and don’t know if I have the energy to handle it well.”
“Things at home have been exhausting and I’m always drained. I’m not spending enough time thinking about the work stuff.”
“What’s going on at home right now?”
“We had to move my dad into a full-time memory care center a couple weeks ago. Mom is struggling with the decision. At the same time we’re trying to get him adjusted, we have to make sure she is doing ok and is able to get to see him. Every time I bring her home from a visit it’s an emotionally devastating for everyone involved.”
“How’s that impacting your wife?”
“She’s super stressed too. And, because of that, I haven’t even told her how bad things are at work. I can’t talk to her about work, and I can’t tell people at the office what’s going on at home. I have to make sure after all these layoffs are made that me and the company are in a good place. I don’t want anyone to think I’m distracted by the personal stuff.”
This is the reality of being a senior leader. You have a big role and you are human being and a wife, husband, partner, son, daughter, parent, friend, uncle, etc. When you are at the top of the pyramid you don’t have a lot of people to talk to. And you have to be in control of your world personally and professionally.
And it is exhausting.
There are four ways you can find ways to strengthen both parts of your life.
You are typically unhappy with your job or relationships if there is misalignment with your core values. Take time to discover your values, ask yourself how aligned are you with them, and then commit to the steps to honor those values.
Let’s say communication is one of Carol’s core values, and she is really good at it when at work. That’s how she has risen to the top of her company and is in high demand elsewhere. Unfortunately she is not living up to that value at home. The result is a great deal of stress and an inability to discuss important situations with her husband.
Family is certainly one of James’ core values. He cares deeply for his parents and is trying to do the best he can in a difficult situation. His connection with his wife, however, is suffering. He is assuming she can’t handle anything more and therefore is withholding the stress he has at work. He doesn’t need for her to fix anything, but by sharing what is going on he can at least benefit from the support from someone who cares.
Carol and her husband have work to do to overcome the inability to communicate. It’s time to break old patterns. James is afraid to share his work pressure with his wife. In both cases there is a reality that things are hard, as well as a missed opportunity to gain support from those who care for you the most. It might take professional help (see #4 below) and it can also get started by discovering new ways of communicating around challenging topics.
How is it working for you currently? If the answer is, “not so good” it’s time to mix it up.
A recent article in the Atlantic describes how work is no longer just a necessity for successful college-educated leaders, but has become “a kind of religion, promising identity, transcendence, and community.” The result is working more hours and having less satisfaction. Historically the wealthiest worked less and had a life of leisure. Now, they are workaholics and despite the money are unhappy.
Be intentional about finding those other things that give meaning to your life outside of the your title or role. Exercise, engaging with churches or civic organizations, volunteering, committing to hobbies, taking time off, travel, giving your family your full attention, etc. are all ways to help develop a holistic view of you and how you fit into the world.
The three points above are great in theory, and are hard to execute, especially if you’re trying to do it alone.
Finding a counselor or therapist will help when there are addiction problems (drinking, gambling), concerns about depression, grief, marital problems, etc. With their professional expertise they will be able to help you understand and address the challenges and offer direction during the challenging times.
Find a coach. The presence and ROI of coaches in the C-suite continues to grow. Coaches help with creating personal awareness, setting goals, taking action, and the accountability to make things happen. It’s tough going through these challenges alone. A coach is that independent third party not connected to the outcome who can hear everything that’s going on without judgment and help support and assist with a plan forward.
Life is complicated and there are so many stressors we encounter. As a professional you have high expectations for yourself as do others. Personally, you have responsibilities and challenges as well. So much of what you do is going well. Find the strategy and support to address those things that are holding you back from being who you want to be.
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.
“For both the leadership team and the new leader, onboarding is too often a missed opportunity. Too much is left to chance, the fragmented process is spread across too many parts of the organization, and there is not enough focus on the individual in question. Too much emphasis is on company structure and systems, and not enough on strengths and success.”
You can’t fix idiot.
Labeling someone – using judgment terms – is easy when team members are making mistakes or not living up to expectations. What does idiot or slacker really mean? If someone gets labeled as such, it’s actually impossible to work with them to fix the problem. Still worse is if a team or company perpetuates such labeling, you have created an atmosphere of negativity and judgement without a culture in place to address very real problems.
Why do you consider Brian an idiot? Is it because he embarrassed himself and the company at a client meeting? Is it because he wrote an email to a prospective client and misrepresented the cost of the project? Is it because he was at a conference, got drunk and missed the early meeting the next day? Anyone could legitimately say Brian is an idiot. But how helpful is that?
Labeling Brian doesn’t solve the problem. If everyone just thinks of Brian in this way without addressing the underlying behaviors he is likely to carry a stigma that impacts his effectiveness and will likely repeat the behaviors.
Look at the behaviors, not the person.
Brian is an idiot. Isolate the behaviors that Brian exhibited that embarrassed himself in front of the client. Here are some things that can be focused on:
These are all skills that can be addressed through coaching, training, and supervision.
What are the causes of his unfortunate email?
The ways to address the problem at the conference should be pretty obvious.
Each of these behaviors that result in the “idiot” label have underlying skills that can be taught to bring about better outcomes if leaders are willing to step in and address it rather than perpetuating the label.
Linda is a slacker. Look for the behaviors that can be addressed:
A culture that revolves around labels of judgment is one of negativity, blame, and shaming. Work to create a constructive atmosphere by looking at the underlying behaviors that have created that label, then work to address them professionally.
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.
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