Book Excerpt

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.

Validating Your Path on The L Train

Posted September 28, 2018

Chicago L TrainOur careers are rarely linear. We make choices along the way that take us down paths we could not have anticipated with outcomes that are unexpected. One choice leads to another, and suddenly we realize we have reached a destination. That place might feel right, or it might be somewhere you don’t want to stay any longer. It’s difficult to know what the “right” choice is at these junctures in our lives. Sometimes we make a choice that we question later, other times the decision we made is clearly reinforced.

One of these choices led me to my career as a professional coach.

I was enrolled in a coaching and leadership development course and was riding the L train in Chicago to my job where I was still working as a Senior Vice President at a prominent advertising agency in the Loop. It was early in the morning, and as I looked around the CTA car, I was struck by the lack of optimism and confidence all around me.

There were tradespeople with their coolers, hard hats, and rugged work boots with years of paint or caulk or whatever embedded in the leather. Service providers of all ages heading to the hotels, restaurants, hospitals, or office buildings wore the shirts or jackets embroidered with the name of their companies. There was a cadre of workers coming off the night shift at O’Hare airport with their dangling lanyards representing airlines, TSA, or other support companies. Younger employees were on their way to the co-op workspaces, tech companies, or Fortune 500 corporations re-establishing a presence downtown. A few mid-to-late career folks like myself, were ready to shoot up high-speed elevators to the lofty heights within the downtown skyscrapers. Individuals were sprawled out and occupying pairs of seats. Clearly they had been there overnight with nowhere else to go or had made a choice to sleep in the train until asked to leave.

As I looked around the train, these wildly different people had one thing in common: passiveness. Their indifference was evident by frowns and hunched shoulders. Eyes were distant or closed, certainly not making eye contact. No one engaged with each other or the world around them. The only movement came when there was shuffling to make room in the adjacent seat when a newcomer joined this train of detachment.

There was little expression of confidence that they were looking forward to the day that lay ahead of them.

I realized that I was seeing every single person in a way differently than before. It felt as though a clouded piece of Plexiglas was lifted from my eyes and now everything was crystal clear. I had seen these postures before, but what struck me was that in virtually everybody on that train car I saw melancholy, disappointment, or at best just blah.

Why? Why do we have to go through life like this? Is this what our God, divine being, or the Universe intended our life to look like?

That morning confirmed my decision to fully embrace my path as a coach to help individuals be happier, more successful and fulfilled in all aspects of their life.

In the years following that experience on the train, I have worked with hundreds of people, and am humbled by their willingness to share their hopes, fears, challenges, and accomplishments with me. Together we have been able to uncover obstacles, and they have learned the tools to move forward to find the path for themselves where they can find the most success and fulfillment.

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

Matthew – A Frustrated, Struggling Leader

Posted September 4, 2018
I like to say that I am a “life coach who chooses to coach executives.” The point is, for executives and in fact leaders at all levels, you are a human being at the core. At the same time, you are a CEO, business owner, manager, you are also a parent, son or daughter, spouse, partner, sibling, aunt or uncle, or friend. You cannot separate the two. It’s hard being a human and a worker.

In the story of Matthew, you see some of the ways our two realities are intertwined and can be destructive.

Matthew had just moved into a senior management role and was thrilled with the title, responsibility, money, and opportunity to grow with an innovative company. In his mid-30’s, he was confident this was the right move for him and his family, professionally and personally.

He hired me as his coach when things began to unravel after a couple of years in this role. He came to me angry and afraid. Angry that what he expected from his boss and the company hadn’t materialized. He felt the promises made where not being honored. Bonuses were not as large as anticipated or being paid out in a timely fashion. He felt new criteria for the payouts were being made on the fly; the goal posts were being moved. His reviews included a lot of positives for his professional capabilities, but there was a lot of conflict on his team for which he was being held accountable. His relationships with others on the leadership team were spotty. He had his allies, but others were not willing to work with him in the ways he felt would bring about positive change.

His home life was challenging as well. As a husband and father of a young child, there was stress inherent to the relationship with his wife and as a parent. He traveled a fair amount, and his work commitments occupied a great deal of his time as well as emotional capacity. He wanted to be a good dad, and the increasing negativity at work was impacting his ability to do just that. Likewise, carrying that stress into the workplace was not helping him deal with the ever-increasing pressures.

Matthew was losing confidence in his ability to be the executive and husband/father he wanted to be. There were fractures in his capacity to connect and build healthy relationships at the office and with his family. He was losing a willingness to listen to others and see things from another point of view. His anger and resentment were compromising his competence in his role, and he stopped doing the full range of professional activities he was good at. He blamed the toxic environment on others, feeling the culture was tilted against him.

He began to question his own ability to have an impact, stopped connecting with people he didn’t get along with, started to not deliver against his strengths, and he blamed it on the culture. He wanted out of his job.

When prospective clients come asking me to help them “get a new job because it’s horrible where I am,” I tell them with that kind of a mindset they’re not ready for a new position. You don’t want to go on the market angry or desperate. I assure them a new job might be in your future, but right now we’re going to work on you. The goal of coaching at this point is to set yourself up for success whether you move on or stay where you are.

With a significant amount of work together, Matthew began to realize this perspective. He knew it wasn’t just the culture. He realized he would have to make changes in his approach. Otherwise, the same cycle would repeat itself. He wanted to break the cycle.

He realized how he was showing up wasn’t working and he wasn’t the leader he wanted to be.

Leadership is being the person others want to follow in order to do something they couldn’t do on their own. Matthew was not being an effective leader at home or at work. Through coaching the human being as well as the employee, he was able to be more impactful in both parts of his life, and gain greater satisfaction. And, he was able to initiate a job search from a position of confidence.

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

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