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What if you changed how you “show up” in the world? I’d argue that it could positively alter your life. That said, it’s tough, if not impossible, to be a ‘new you’ in one fell swoop. But the good news is that big changes are possible if you make small shifts on an ongoing basis.

As I’ve written about in prior blogs, we all get in our own way. Self-limiting behaviors are often deeply entrenched habitual patterns that are years or decades in the making. The idea of shifting even one such behavior can be daunting and trigger significant resistance. “It’s too big to tackle” or “It’s the way I’m wired” are examples of the self-talk that emerges when we begin to confront our self-limiting behaviors.

Small Shifts Lead to Big Changes

It doesn’t need to be daunting. Think of a meteor on a collision course with Earth. Scientists believe (and hopefully they are right!) that we could send a rocket into space and create an explosion that would just nick the trajectory of that meteor…less than a one-degree course change. After that, the meteor wouldn’t just miss the earth; it would miss it by miles.


Like the meteor, your life and career are on a trajectory. Imagine a graph with potential realized on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis (see image above). By making small shifts in your behavior, the cumulative effect over time can be profound! Think of this as “radical incrementalism”.

Here’s an example. Take someone who frequently interrupts others. It’s pretty easy to imagine what that person’s “trajectory” will look like if s/he doesn’t work on that self-limiting behavior. But what if that person starts to make small shifts toward becoming a better listener. How much more of their potential will that person have realized in 6 months? A year? Five years?

The Simple, Real-World, Manager Test

When I present this concept to groups of employees I ask the managers in the room, “Are you more likely to give new opportunities to employees who are proactively working on developing themselves, vs their peers who are not doing so?” The answer is always a resounding “yes.”

The way you “show up,” (the way you behave, the way you interact with others), WILL influence the types of opportunities that present themselves to you in your career and in your life.

Instead of resisting this inner work because it seems too hard, push yourself to take bite-size steps that over time will add up to big changes for you.

Different Labels – Similar Concepts

I saw Robert Egger, Founder and President of LA Kitchen, present recently at a Conscious Business Leaders Forum. He talked about his philosophy of “radical incrementalism;” continuing to chip away at something small piece by small piece.  Although he used it in a societal context, I love this phrase and it absolutely applies to our individual growth.

Amy Cuddy, famous for her viral TED Talk on power posing, has recently published a book called ‘Presence – Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges.’ She dedicates an entire chapter to what she calls ‘Self-Nudging’ which is all about making small, incremental shifts.

And there’s Jeremy Hunter, an associate professor at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. He describes this process as “bending your future.”

By applying radical incrementalism – making ongoing small shifts in our behavior – we are literally “bending our future” toward realizing more of our potential and being our best selves.

Making it Personal

Over the last few years I’ve been bending my own future. I now see this as life-long work…always shifting, always bending! One of the most important things I’ve been working on is worrying less about “needing everyone to like me.” This perceived need led to many self-limiting behaviors where I took care of others at my own expense.

I’m also working hard on being more present and focusing my attention on the individual(s) or task at hand in a given moment. It is all about tiny shifts forward!

Where might you start making small incremental shifts to start bending your future toward achieving more of your potential?

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We like to do things fast.

“Clear the to-do list.”             “Check the box.”              “Done.”

Our need for speed will almost always backfire when we’re trying to make changes to our behaviors or mindset. To make a sustainable change, we need to slow down and pay attention to what we are currently up to, our “as-is” state.

Think about New Year’s resolutions. Anecdotally it’s safe to say that a significant majority of those desired behavioral shifts fall by the wayside fairly quickly. The gyms are full in January; February, not so much.

One missing ingredient is self-observation. For illustrative purposes, let’s imagine you have a self-limiting behavior (which I’ve written about in prior blogs) of “frequently interrupting others” and have a stated aspirational goal of becoming a great listener.

Instead of simply biting your tongue to stop interrupting others (which might work for a few days or even a few weeks), my experience working with many individuals over time suggests that your best bet is to start by developing a self-observation practice.

However counter-intuitive it may seem one needs to spend ample time simply noticing their as-is state.

A Non-Judgmental Stance – You Are a Scientist

When you start paying attention to a behavior that you see as “needing improvement,” your Inner Critic is likely to become agitated and vocal. (“Wow, I had no idea I interrupt others THIS often, man, I really do suck.”)

An approach I suggest is to consider yourself a scientist collecting information about an interesting specimen. That’s you! Scientists are trained to be objective neutral observers. The data itself is interesting and insightful.

The Inner Critic will not go away but there is hope. When you shift your inner dialogue from beating yourself up (“I can’t believe I interrupt others this often”) to one of curiosity (“Wow, this is fascinating, I had no idea I interrupted others this often. I wonder what’s up with that?), amazing opportunities to affect change can happen.

Just as a scientist records her/his observations, I suggest getting started by picking a self-limiting behavior and recording the answers to a few questions like these a few times a week.

  1. How often in the last few days did I <interrupt others>?
  2. Roughly how much time elapsed between my <interrupting others> and my awareness of it?

Over time, your brain will realize that you are paying attention to this self-limiting behavior (interrupting others) and will bring it to your attention more quickly. This allows you to start digging underneath the surface behavior (interrupting others) to investigate the underlying “stories” at play.

Doing the Inner Work to Support the Outer Change

Those underlying “stories” (the inner work) hold the key to making a sustainable shift in a self-limiting behavior (the outer work).

For example, with the self-limiting behavior of interrupting others, a person may find an underlying story that “I need to speak over people in order to ensure my ideas are heard” or “If I dominate the conversation I will ultimately get what I want” or maybe even “I know I am right and don’t want to waste my time hearing other ideas.”

Whatever it is, seeing what is truly going on underneath the surface gives you new awareness / insight into the behavior. And this is where the real opportunity is. If you simply change the outer behavior (bite your tongue and stop interrupting others) without addressing what’s going on inside of you, I can assure you the behavior change will be short-lived.

So, before you race ahead to make your next behavioral change, do yourself a favor and give yourself permission to spend some time to more fully understand your current as-is state. Watch yourself.

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I wonder if reading through this brief blog could lead you to a powerful new insight?

I spent some time recently with a friend and colleague, Julie Stuart. She introduced me to some new ideas, including the idea of “wondering”.

As we wandered through lovely Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland Hills, she began to show me how easy and powerful this practice is.

I wonder if getting outside might help you shift perspectives on something where you feel stuck?

The following is a rough take on our conversation.

Julie: “I’m really enjoying the practice of wondering. The idea is that we try to drop all our preconceived thoughts about why we can or can’t do something and simply wonder aloud about things. Would you be willing to try that with me?”

Me: (Thinking…I’m not sure how I can drop all my preconceived thoughts about this sounds like it will be hard.)

Me: “I’m feeling some resistance to this but sure, let’s go for it and see how it goes.”

Julie: “OK. The way we’ll do this is that I’ll wonder something aloud and then it’s your turn. We’ll keep taking turns and see where it leads.”

Me: “Sounds good.”

Julie: “I wonder what it would be like if you weren’t feeling resistance to this?”

Me: (Thinking…Damn, I better come up with a good ‘wonder’ else she will think I’m lame. Wait, that’s my stupid inner critic getting in my way. Just dive in!)

Me: “I wonder where else my resistance gets in my way?”

Julie: “I wonder what I’m going to have for dinner tonight?”

Me: “ (Thinking…OMG. I love you for saying that. You’ve just removed all the stress/resistance I was feeling about this having to be super serious and perfect.)

Me: “I wonder if my girlfriend and I will watch a movie tonight?”

Exiting the conversation and returning to the blog. This went on for a while. After a few minutes, Julie lightly shifted our focus by saying “I’m going to start wondering about your business if that’s ok with you.” It was.

We ended up on a park bench staring at the beautiful tree-covered rolling hills. Julie made it clear that I could “jump out” of our wondering at any time if I felt called to have a conversation about what was coming up. We began flowing back and forth between conversation and additional wondering. It was beautiful.

Suffice to say that LOTS of new and interesting ideas came forward during the remainder of that conversation.

I wonder what aspects of your current top priorities could benefit from a bit of wondering?

Fast forward to that evening. I was telling my girlfriend about this activity and could tell she was intrigued. I suggested that maybe we try it. She had no hesitation and was ready to jump right in.

It proved to be both enjoyable and valuable. There was an issue she had been wrestling with for a while (and I had been talking about it with her and doing some light coaching on it). Well, in about 10 minutes of wondering, she came up with multiple new ideas and insights that led to positive action. Wow. 10 minutes.

There’s something about “wondering” that feels less daunting or stressful. There’s no need to get it right or be perfect. Wondering can be playful and we can “wonder” things that we might not be comfortable “stating” or “asking.” There’s a freedom here that makes a real difference in the types of questions and ideas that come forth.

Wondering cues imagination. Our more normal modes of thinking tend to be limiting and keep us (often unknowingly) closed down. Wondering and imagining are expansive and open us up.

Here’s a cool HBR blog that was posted just a few days ago entitled 5 Questions Leaders Should Be Asking All the Time. I was excited to see that “I wonder….?” Is included in the list.

I’ve become a bit of a “wondering evangelist.” I attended a coaching conference last week and couldn’t contain myself from sharing this with many other coaches. And here I am now, sharing this more broadly through cyberspace.

Here are a few additional wonders to help get your juices flowing:

I wonder what I might do on <xyz project> if I wasn’t worried about being judged?

I wonder what it would be like if I didn’t take care of other’s needs before my own?

I wonder what I would be doing if I really believed in myself?

I wonder who in my world would be up for wondering with me?

I wonder if it would serve me to make wondering a new go-to practice?

I wonder if I can be ok with knowing that sometimes the practice of wondering won’t lead to any breakthroughs or insights?


The list of possible wonders is infinite and certainly each of us has our own list of things to wonder about.

I wonder what you will wonder about? I wonder what that might lead to for you?

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I wanted to share a few thoughts on a book I’m reading called “An Everyone Culture – Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey.

This book is exciting for organizations that want to create a culture where people can become better versions of themselves while doing great work and driving highly successful business results.

Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDOs) place a strong emphasis on raising self-awareness across all employees. DDOs also:

  • Leverage employee strengths, AND help people overcome their limitations and blind spots in service of becoming a better personwhile improving their mastery of increasingly challenging work.
  • Provide an environment where employees are not only developing skills, but also their mind-sets and abilities to see more deeply and accurately into themselves and their worlds.
  • Encourage feedback that penetrates beneath behavior to the underlying assumptions and mind-sets.
  • Incorporate practices that allow people to work on their “interior” lives that would typically be off-limits (at most companies).

For many companies, becoming a DDO may be a significant ways off. Nonetheless, even making a few shifts can be a game-changer. I LOVE the idea of starting to move in that direction.

If an awareness-centered organization is appealing to you, I’d encourage you to pick up the book. It showcases three highly successful DDOs (Decurion, Bridgewater, and Next Jump) along with their philosophies and core practices. It also offers some great ideas for getting started. (Here’s a link to a Forbes interview with the authors about this book.)

Or heck, take a look at my Coach Your Self Up (CYSU) program. It’s totally aligned with the DDO concept and offers a low-risk approach to “sticking a toe” in the DDO waters.


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Here’s a simple and insightful way to think about achieving your career and life goals. Let’s jump in and play with this right now. Pull out a sheet of paper and write down one career or life goal at the top of the page.

Force Field Analysis is a change management tool to help identify forces that either support or oppose a desired change. Applying this tool to your own career (and life) goals can provide you a fresh perspective.

Draw a line down the middle of your sheet of paper underneath your goal statement. Label the left-hand column as “Helpers” and the right-hand column as “Hindrances.”

Include Both the “What” and the “How”

As you can see from the above diagram, the focus of this exercise is primarily on internal forces. Of course, there are lots of external forces at play too, but I prefer to focus on the forces that I have control over.

It will be helpful to include a few subsections (draw a line across the middle of the page) to categorize the forces affecting the life or career goal you have chosen. I like having a subsection for the “What” (think technical / functional) and a subsection for the “How” (think behavioral). Some of you might be more comfortable with subsections like Knowledge, Skills, and Attributes.

You can choose to create another subsection for external forces too if that serves you. Trust your gut and don’t overcomplicate this.

Helps You Think About Hindrances

One of the things I love about this approach is that it requires you to think about the forces working against you. It circles us back to one of my favorite questions, which is “Where do you get in your own way?”

To achieve our goals, we not only want to leverage and maximize the supportive forces. We also benefit from minimizing those forces working against us.

A Simple Example

Let’s look at a simple example. Let’s say I tend to frequently interrupt others. This is what I call “a self-limiting behavior,” which is essentially a “force” that opposes me in my desire to get promoted, or become a great collaborator or whatever career/personal goal I have in mind. Using Force Field Analysis, I can jot this (”frequently interrupt others”) down in the right column as a “Hindrance” to achieving my specific career goal.

On the other hand, developing my listening skills would be a supportive force that helps me achieve my goals. I can jot this down (“great listening skills”) in the left column as a “Helper.”

The Double Whammy (In a Good Way)

So, if over time I reduce my tendency to interrupt others AND develop my listening skills, I get a double bonus. First, I’m weakening that particular “Hindrance,” and thereby reducing the power of an opposing force. Secondly, I’m strengthening the supportive force of “listening” that is helping to propel me forward.

The result: a stronger positive force and reduced resistance. Bang!

The next time you are pondering your career goals and status, consider taking the time to do a high-level Force Field Analysis. You might be surprised to find that you have some “double whammy” opportunities to propel you along your path.

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You, like most of us, have a tough time “paying attention.” You know it would serve you to be better at it. Yet it’s still a challenge. What if you had a new way of viewing what’s pulling at your attention that also helps you be more focused? I have found a framework that works for me that I want to share…

In the new book “The Distracted Mind – Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World,” authors Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen discuss the idea of goal interference. (referred to as “interference” in this post.) Interference is anything that gets in the way of focusing your attention on the intended target (the goal).

External vs. Internal
Interference can come at us externally (i.e., through our five sense) or internally (i.e., our thoughts or physical sensations).

Distraction vs. Interruption
The authors split interference into two types: distraction and interruption.
• Distractions occur when there is no conscious choice to stick with the interference.
• Interruptions occur when you decide to stick with the interference. You effectively choose to multitask by adding a new “goal” (the interference) to your initial “goal” (the original intended object of your attention).

Some Simple Clarifying Examples
External Distraction – You are in a meeting with several colleagues at work. You receive a text message. You’re aware the text came in. You ignore it (you may or may not have noticed who sent the text). You maintain your focus on the meeting.

External Interruption – You are in a meeting with several colleagues at work. You receive a text message. You see that it’s from one of your teammates who has a question. You respond to this text while continuing to “pay attention” to the meeting.

Internal Distraction – You are in a meeting with several colleagues at work. Somebody mentions the name of the VP (Alicia) of your org which triggers the thought that you are meeting with Alicia this afternoon. You know you’re not fully prepared for that meeting but you let go of that thought for now. You maintain your focus on the meeting.

Internal Interruption – You are in a meeting with several colleagues at work. Somebody mentions the name of the VP (Alicia) of your org which triggers the thought that you are meeting with Alicia this afternoon. You decide to spend some time thinking about what else you need to do to get ready for that meeting while continuing to “pay attention” to the meeting.

Don’t Let Your Distractions Become Interruptions
You can use these distinctions to help improve your attention. When you become aware that there is interference at play (e.g., a text message arrives or you start thinking about your meeting with Alicia) gently tell yourself to let the “distraction” go and not let it become an “interruption.”

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Do any of these tendencies seem like you?

  • I frequently interrupt others when they are speaking.
  • I am too easily distracted (emails, texts, etc.) during meetings and/or conversations.
  • I talk too much in meetings (i.e., I “take up too much space”).
  • I don’t speak up in meetings (even when something wants to be said).

These are just a few examples of “self-limiting behaviors.” Whether or not you personally relate to these patterns, it’s likely that you know someone who exhibits one or more of them. And I’d bet that it’s easy to see how such behavior can block someone from reaching her/his potential.

What if you turn the mirror back on yourself? If you aspire to reach your fullest potential, it’s helpful to identify and begin to work on shifting your own self-limiting behaviors!

In this article, I will:

  • Provide some context about the importance of working on self-limiting behaviors.
  • Share a list of common self-limiting behaviors.
  • Suggest some action items to use these ideas to help yourself, your team, and your organization.

Behaviors and Professional/Personal Development

Many companies ask their employees to identify development/growth goals in two areas. The first is “The What”, or technical/functional skills. The second is “The How”, which are more behavioral and soft-skill oriented.

It’s easy for employees to identify development areas associated with “The What”. However, many people struggle with identifying behaviors to work on (The How). Those of us in the HR arena know that “how” a person shows up at work has huge implications for her/his overall career success.


Think of someone you know that frequently interrupts others. It’s pretty easy to imagine how their baseline career “trajectory” will be constrained if s/he doesn’t work on that self-limiting behavior.

Now imagine a different trajectory if that person starts to make small shifts toward becoming a better listener. How much more of their potential will they realize in 6 months? A year? Five years? How many more career-enhancing opportunities may be presented to that person because they are engaged more productively in meetings, or within teams or with their direct reports?

By making small shifts in our behavior we are literally “bending our future” toward realizing more of our potential and being our best selves.

I want to acknowledge you readers who embrace an emphasis on developing strengths. I’m a huge fan of strengths-based development. And I also believe that each of us has self-limiting behaviors that warrant attention.

By the way, behavior may be a loaded word for some people. I use this word literally and non-judgmentally: “the way in which one acts or conducts oneself.”

It may seem obvious, but most of us don’t simply decide to change a behavior and make it so. We must first acknowledge that one or more of our behaviors (that may have served us in our past!) are now detrimental to our success, whether at work or in our personal life. This requires self-observation and the willingness to identify behaviors that don’t serve us well.

We must also recognize that this will push us out of our comfort zone and will hence often trigger fear and internal resistance. This work is important but not easy.

Example Self-Limiting Behaviors

As noted, it’s often difficult for individuals to identify behaviors that they want to change. Below I’ve listed some relatively common self-limiting behaviors for your review. This list can also be shared with employees to help get them thinking about this topic.

Check out the list below. Do you see yourself in any of these statements? Here’s a hint: don’t beat yourself up….be curious!

  • I frequently interrupt others when they’re speaking.
  • I don’t listen to others when they’re speaking.
  • I succumb too easily to distractions (emails, text messages, etc.) during group meetings.
  • I succumb too easily to distractions (emails, text messages, etc.) during 1:1 conversations.
  • I’m unable to say “no” (when it’s a viable and reasonable option).
  • I talk too much in meetings (i.e., I “take up too much space”).
  • I don’t speak up in meetings (even when something wants to be said).
  • I speak too softly.
  • I solicit the input of others with no intention of changing my position.
  • I take credit for the work of others.
  • I blame others when things go wrong.
  • I talk about others behind their backs.
  • I react too negatively / emotionally when issues arise.
  • I get frustrated too easily / often.
  • I complain a lot.
  • I’m unable / lack confidence to make decisions.
  • I’m condescending and/or dismissive of others.
  • I frequently ‘bully’ others until they acknowledge that I am right.
  • I am consistently late.
  • I treat people as objects (lack of empathy).
  • I don’t solicit advice or help from others when it would help me to do so.

It is common for people to identify with multiple behaviors on this list. However, it’s also normal to not identify with any of the behaviors listed. While it’s possible to not have any self-limiting behaviors, I’ve not yet met anybody who matches that description.

One way to push through uncertainty is to consider soliciting feedback from people you trust. Ask them to help identify one or more self-limiting behaviors they see that may be in your ‘blind spot.’

Call to Action

I hope you’ll agree that if we aspire to unlock more of our potential, it serves us to always be working on our personal/professional development. This includes addressing our self-limiting behaviors.

These behaviors influence how we impact and are perceived by others. Imagine how powerful it would be for you to minimize, or even remove, one or more of these self-imposed barriers from your life.

Here are some ways you can get value out of the ideas shared in this post.

  • Choose one(!) self-limiting behavior and commit to working on it for at least a few months.
    • Research shows that we are more likely to succeed with behavioral change if we are focused in our efforts.
    • If you can’t think of any self-limiting behaviors that apply to you, consider sharing the list above with colleagues you trust to give you candid feedback. You likely have one or more self-limiting behaviors hiding in your blind spot.
  • Document your goal / intentions somewhere (e.g., personal journal, formal development planning tool).
    • Research shows that the simple act of writing down our intentions increases the likelihood that we will follow through.
  • Share your goal / intentions with one or more trusted colleagues / friends who can help hold you accountable.
    • Expanding the sphere of accountability will help you stick with your plans. You’re not only more likely to stick with it if you’ve shared it with others, you can ask for support from those people as well.
  • Share this list with your team or department, and encourage others to join you / start a larger dialogue. “How can we help each other be more effective at working with each other?”
    • This can be a simple process of encouraging everyone, in the spirit of being his or her best self, to be working on a self-limiting behavior.
    • This helps to create an environment where employees can become more comfortable being vulnerable and feeling like the team/organization is supporting their ongoing development.
    • Here’s a clean one-pager that you can use to share this information with others.
  • Reach out to me at if you would like a free set of slides and corresponding speaker notes and agenda to lead a more in-depth 45 – 90-minute workshop on this topic.
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Without meaning to, we limit ourselves from achieving our potential and becoming our best selves. Identifying and removing these unintentionally self-imposed limits is at the heart of self-coaching. Would it serve you to have a process for seeing and removing your self-imposed limits?

Today I’ll share guidance on identifying one aspect of our self-imposed limits, what I call self-limiting stories. There are two types: ‘Micro’ stories (more fleeting, typically impact us for hours, days, maybe weeks) and ‘macro’ stories (which tend to permeate our lives). We’ll dive into micro stories today.

Example Micro Stories

I assume you can relate to this one. You’ve sent an email to somebody (‘Jack’) and did not receive a response. You know that Jack is mad at you. Or maybe you know that Jack is not treating you with the respect that you deserve.

Or how about this one? You attended a group meeting with a new team. Jill didn’t speak after the initial introductions. You know that Jill was disengaged. Or you know that Jill was unprepared.

In both of these situations, you’ve told yourself a story about what happened. Our brains are meaning-making machines. We are wired to tell ourselves stories. One model that describes this in an easy-to-understand fashion was developed by Chris Argyris and is called the Ladder of Inference.

Ladder of Inference

We all take in ‘data’ and experiences, like a video-recorder would capture them. We then respond / act based upon that input. However, and this can happen in the blink of an eye, a lot takes place in our brains in between the stimulus (data) and response.

We ‘climb up’ our own respective Ladder of Inference. This Ladder is 100% unique to each of us as it is built upon our own life experiences. I’m not a neuroscientist and don’t want to split hairs here, but essentially we add meaning (assumptions, conclusions, opinions, beliefs) to the observable data and then act based upon that information.


The Truth vs. your truth

We often operate as if our stories are the Truth (with a capital T) as opposed to realizing that in fact they are our truth (small t).

I’m sure if you took some time to reflect, you could think of situations where you assumed something was true (e.g., ‘Jack’s mad at me’) and acted accordingly (e.g., avoided Jack) only to find out later that you had misread the situation, and made a false assumption.

This is happening all around us all of the time. We are walking around acting as if our stories are True. This practice is self-limiting.

Subjective Reality

Gary Sherman once told me something along the following lines that I found quite profound.

“We tend to believe that reality is objective, shared by all…when in fact reality is 100% subjective.”

WOW. I get that…and yet I also experience ‘reality’ as something that is shared. That would make it an objective reality. Wrapping your mind around the notion of subjective reality can be a difficult shift.

Fred Kofman talks about ‘ontological humility.’ (Yes, I had to look up ontology and found that it is the branch of philosophy that deals with the study of reality.) ‘Ontological humility’ refers to the power of being humble enough to acknowledge that one’s reality is just that – their reality. And secondly, that all other individuals also have their own reality.

Again, what a powerful and empowering idea.

A Few Simple Practices

Even after opening my mind to these new perspectives, I still tell myself stories. As a human I’m wired to do so. However, I’m much better at recognizing my stories. Just KNOWING about the Ladder of Inference and the very concept of stories helps me to see them.

You can do the same.

As you work your way through your day, pause periodically to reflect on where your assumptions, conclusions, opinions, or beliefs may have crossed the line in your mind to feeling like the Truth.

As you are preparing to interact with another person, think about what assumptions you hold about her and/or your relationship with her that might be self-limiting.

As you get more comfortable with this, practice sharing your stories with others. In a meeting, instead of stating your POV as the Truth (e.g., “Here’s what happened so here’s what we need to do”), acknowledge the story (e.g., “Here’s what happened, and here’s the story I told myself. I’m curious if any of you see it differently?”).

Good luck in seeing your micro stories and how they are self-limiting. As you get more adept at seeing them, your practice of sharing them with others can in and of itself lead to improved communications and relationships.

More to Come on Self-Coaching

I have lots more to share about self-coaching and how it can help organizations address common business challenges. I’ll share that in future posts. If you find these posts interesting, consider joining my mailing list. I will send you an email when I post new content. Thanks for reading and stay tuned…

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It’s an intriguing time to be at work. There are numerous simultaneous ‘movements’ (fitting loosely under the umbrella phrase ‘Future of Work’) taking place within a growing number of organizations that are redefining the employer-employee relationship.

Organizational structures are shifting to support self-managing / self-organizing approaches. Organizational cultures are shifting to place more emphasis on employees, communities, and the environment. In parallel with these shifts, employees continue to demand more from their life at work.

What I am most excited about is the emphasis these movements place on creating an environment that encourages individuals to pursue being their best selves.

That’s where I believe a whole new tool/concept comes in — the concept of self-coaching. Self-coaching is part of the Future of Work organizational toolkit. In fact, self-coaching, and/or other self-awareness development tools, will be critical to successfully maneuver through these shifts.

In this post I cover the following:

  • A brief overview of three ‘movements’ that all encourage more conscious cultures
    • Teal Organizations
    • Conscious Business
    • Conscious Capitalism
  • Conscious cultures require conscious individuals
  • Self-coaching is a new pragmatic way to help individuals become more conscious

Let’s start by looking at how three of these key movements describe the desired employee experience.

Teal Organizations

In his book Reinventing Organizations, Frederick Laloux describes the evolutionary stages of organizational development using colors as the labeling device. This book provides an in-depth look at the history of organizational evolution and where we are heading. It’s a great resource that I highly encourage you to check out.

Most corporate organizations today are what he calls ‘orange’ organizations characterized by a primary goal to beat the competition through profit and growth. Management is by objectives (command and control on what, freedom (in most cases) on how).

There are also a relatively large and growing number of ‘green’ organizations (not the environmental ‘green’ movement). These organizations continue to leverage the classic pyramid structure and have a heightened focus on values-based cultures and empowerment to achieve extraordinary employee motivation.

While green organizations have taken great strides to put more emphasis on creating a positive employee experience, Laloux notes that the next wave, what he calls ‘teal’ organizations, go much further in this regard.

For his book, Laloux found 12 ‘pioneer’ organizations that have organically evolved into various flavors of self-organizing / self-managing teal organizations. Somewhat surprising to him, they varied greatly in size (from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of employees) and industry (both for profit and non-profits in multiple economic sectors) and were located in many different countries.

He was excited to find that these companies were unaware of each other and yet evolved to have similar structures and processes in place.

While acknowledging this is early days, these organizations demonstrate that this is not a theoretical or utopian idea, but a concrete blueprint for the future of organizations that reflect a higher stage of consciousness.

Laloux saw that while teal organizations can have greatly different cultures, there were a number of cultural elements that tend to be present in all of them. (He notes that this list is neither exhaustive nor prescriptive but that it provides good food for thought.)

  • Cultural Element #1 – Self-Management: Teal organizations work to make it as easy as possible for each individual to be efficient and effective in doing their part to help the company succeed. High levels of freedom and high levels of accountability exist.
  • Cultural Element #2 – Wholeness: Many of us leave a part of ourselves at the door when we go into work. Teal organizations encourage everybody to bring their ‘whole self’ to work, to bring the fullness of who they are.
  • Cultural Element #3 – Purpose: No longer just focused on the organization’s purpose (which is hugely important), teal organizations see a duty to help individuals seek their own purpose, to see if and how it resonates with that of the organization.

Of course this sounds great on paper and, as you can appreciate, this is quite a shift from the world of work that most of us are used to (and often comfortable with). This is an exciting trend that I look forward to following and contributing to.

Frederick Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations website has many free resources you can use as well as ideas on how you can participate in this movement.

Conscious Business

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Fred Kofman present on multiple occasions. His book, Conscious Business, provides tactical tips and guidelines on how to build a conscious business, one that ‘fosters personal fulfillment in the individuals, mutual respect in the community, and success in the organization.’

Fred Kofman posits “Conscious employees are an organization’s most important asset; unconscious employees are its most dangerous liability.”

He articulates seven qualities to distinguish conscious from unconscious employees. The first three are character attributes:

  1. Unconditional Responsibility – knowing that there is always a choice in how to respond to a situation.
  2. Essential Integrity – ensuring that our values-in-action agree with our own essential values.
  3. Ontological Humility – acknowledging that we do not have a special claim on reality or truth, that others have equally valid perspectives deserving respect and consideration.

The second three are interpersonal skills:

  1. Authentic Communication – how to express ourselves honestly while honoring others and our relationships with them.
  2. Constructive Negotiation – focusing on how to win ‘with’ the other rather than ‘over’ the other.
  3. Impeccable Coordination – bringing clarity to the exchange of requests and commitments.

The seventh quality is an enabling condition for the other six:

  1. Emotional Mastery – Being aware of and able to manage our emotions.

Fred has a Conscious Business Friends LinkedIn group where members discuss items of interest. He has also launched a Conscious Business Academy on LinkedIn where he generously shares lots of great content and offers an extensive (free!) certification program.

Conscious Capitalism

John Mackey and Raj Sisodia co-authored the book Conscious Capitalism. For me, this model provides a more holistic view of the organization and emphasizes the importance of shifting away from primarily serving financial stakeholders, to giving balanced priority to other critical stakeholders such as customers, employees, suppliers, (local) communities, and the environment.

As pertains to employees, Conscious Capitalism engenders passionate and inspired team members by creating “…purposeful work environments that……challenge and encourage their team members to learn and grow….” and “…that enable team members to flourish as self-actualizing human beings.”

John and Raj label these purposeful work environments as conscious cultures. They use the acronym TACTILE. They like this word as it suggests that conscious cultures are so strong that they have a tangible presence.

  • Trust – High levels of trust exist internally, both vertically (across different levels of employees) and horizontally (across the organization), and externally between the company and it’s various stakeholder groups.
  • Accountability – People stick to their commitments and hold each other accountable for performance, efficiency, and deliverables.
  • Caring – People behave in ways that are thoughtful, authentic, considerate, and compassionate.
  • Integrity – There is a strict adherence to truth telling and fair dealing.
  • Loyalty – All the stakeholders are loyal to each other and to the organization.
  • Egalitarianism – Class systems (leaders vs. front-line employees) are minimized or eliminated. Everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

Conscious Capitalism ( is a non-profit that is not driven by any single organization or leader. It is a collaboration of like-minded leaders that are out to ‘liberate the heroic spirit of business.’ There are currently 26 chapter affiliates, 18 in the United States and eight outside of the US.

You can find the chapters listed on the main website (link above) if you are interested to see if there might be a chapter where you live. (I’m a member of the Conscious Capitalism Bay Area Chapter in the San Francisco Bay Area.)

Conscious Cultures Require Conscious Individuals

Let me first say that these are just three of MANY like-minded movements / shifts / ideas / groups / methodologies (etc..) that are bubbling up and gathering momentum (just a few others are: B-Corps, Benefit Corporations, Holacracy, Deliberately Developmental Organizations, Wisdom 2.0, Social Ventures Network.) The three I wrote about above are the ones I feel I’m able to share without butchering the content. It’s exciting to know there is so much going on in this area!

The world is a big lab for these concepts and there are many experiments underway. As with any shift like this, it will take time (a long time) and there will be many innovative models that emerge along the way.

As I mentioned earlier, what excites me the most about these shifts is the emphasis on encouraging us to bring our whole and best selves to the foreground; honoring our humanity and dignity.

Organizations that embrace this human-centric focus will push their employees to explore and expand their own self-awareness and consciousness for individual, organizational, and societal benefit.

Both Conscious Business and Conscious Capitalism include this human-centric focus as part of what they call a ‘conscious culture.’

Intuitively, conscious cultures start with and are built upon conscious individuals.

(A Quick Aside) – Um, What is a Conscious Individual?

Allow me a brief digression here. In the summer of 2011 I had left my job and was taking a few months to think about what my next move would be. I had lunch with a dear friend who told me that she and her husband were doing some cool ‘consciousness’ work.

With some slight embarrassment I asked her “what do you mean by ‘consciousness?’” She replied that ‘it’s about becoming more self-aware.’ She pointed me to some resources that became the beginnings of quite a cool personal growth journey.

I share this because now that I am ‘inside the consciousness tent,’ I may flip words around as if everybody understands them. I like to remind myself that a short five years ago, in my late 40s, I had to ask “what do you mean by consciousness?”

It’s been my own experiences over these past several years that have gotten me so passionate about wanting to help businesses understand the power of having a more conscious workforce!

Self-Coaching – One Way to Help Individuals Become More Conscious

So, as I’ve noted, one aspect of goodness shared across all of these shifts is the emphasis on helping individuals become (more) conscious. More leaders understand the value of enabling the people in their organizations to self-actualize. And more individuals want to be allowed to truly be themselves at work, to pursue their full potential.

With this in mind, I’ve created a self-coaching approach that teaches people how to make positive behavioral shifts to help them be more effective at work WHILE becoming more conscious.

In addition to learning how to make positive behavioral shifts in their lives, other individual benefits of self-coaching include:

  • Heightening self-awareness;
  • Improving the ability to focus;
  • Enhancing ability to choose responses / make decisions (response-ability);
  • Cultivating more supportive/collaborative interpersonal relationships;
  • Becoming a better coach;
  • Improving the ability to be coached;
  • Continuing to unlock potential and pursue being one’s best self

The organization also benefits. Some examples are:

  • Individuals that are more focused, effective and engaged,
  • Meetings that are more efficient,
  • Employee-manager relationships that are stronger, and
  • Teams that are more collaborative.

Self-coaching is a great fit for organizations that have embraced any flavor of the various ‘Future of Work’ shifts described above. It’s also packaged in a way that is performance-oriented and is therefore more likely to be accepted in organizations that are still a bit leery about these new ideas.

I’m not suggesting that self-coaching is a required component of conscious cultures. I am suggesting that it is one powerful lever that companies should consider when they are building a conscious culture.

Your Comments and Questions – Let’s Talk

I’d love to hear your comments or questions about self-coaching. I’m excited to bring these ideas forward and work with organizations who want to help their employees be their best authentic selves both inside and outside of the workplace, who want to help their employees become more conscious as part of creating a (more) conscious culture.


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Is your organization building a coaching culture? Would you like to see coaching become the common conversational currency within your environment? If yes, I recently gave an eight (8) minute ‘ZED’ Talk at The Hudson Institute’s annual coaching conference that I think you’ll find valuable.

Link to video of Mike’s presentation.

Below is a rough transcript of the video.


My objectives today are to:

  • Highlight recent coaching culture benchmark study findings and where I see some large opportunity gaps.
  • Explain why I believe self-coaching can help to close those gaps.
  • Share how I define self-coaching at a high level
  • Encourage you to experiment with self-coaching in your own worlds.

A Business Case Exists for ‘Strong’ Coaching Cultures

Building coaching cultures is such a hot topic that the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) have partnered in both 2014 and 2015 to conduct benchmark studies on the topic. Here’s a link to recorded webinar overviews of both of those studies. I encourage you to check these out if you are working in this space.

The bottom line from both studies is that there is a solid business case for ‘strong’ coaching cultures. (I use the word ‘strong’ as that is the language used in these studies.)

Companies that were determined to have strong coaching cultures had notably higher levels of employee engagment than companies that did not have strong coaching cultures. They also reported notably stronger YOY revenue growth than their industry peers.

Opportunity Gap #1 – Most Companies Do Not Have Strong Coaching Cultures

A finding that I found fascinating is how many companies have NOT achieved a ‘strong’ coaching culture and missing out on those great benefits I just described.

Fully 85% of the companies in the 2015 ICF benchmark study have NOT achieved a ‘Strong’ Coaching Culture.

This number is much higher than I expected, especially for companies in these studies that are proactively working on building a coaching culture.

This represents a large opportunity gap, the first of two I’m highlighting today.

Opportunity Gap #2 – Most Employees Do Not Have Access to Coach-Specific Training

Also super informative is WHO gets training to develop coaching skills.


As you’d expect, most companies – 75% of those in the 2014 study – are providing training to their leaders and managers to develop coaching skills.

But here’s the more interesting question to me. What are companies doing below the manager level…with that largest chunk of their employee population? While there is no data here, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most companies provide little or no coach-specific training to this audience.

And I get that. Why invest in building coaching skills in employees that don’t have any direct coaching responsibilities?

I see this as a second huge opportunity gap…to more broadly involve and engage the entire employee population in building a coaching culture.

To Reiterate – Two Opportunity Gaps

Gap #1 – Most companies have not yet achieved a ‘strong coaching culture, and

Gap #2 – Most employees have no access to coach-specific training.

Self-Coaching – Gap Closer

Self-coaching has a role to play in closing both of these gaps.

Offering training to all employees on self-coaching (on an opt-in basis) can change everything. It’s a full frontal assault on Gap #2 that will ultimately help more companies achieve a strong coaching culture that is Gap #1.

Let me share a few thoughts on how I define self-coaching

Your Most Important Coach

Most of us identify with having one or more ‘coaches’ in our life…whether it’s a formal coach, a family member, our partner, a colleague or a friend. This is great and I’m an advocate for having those relationships.

However, who do we talk to more than anybody else? This answer is the same for all of us. Ourselves! That’s why I propose that each of us is in fact our most important coach.

Self-coaching is about cultivating an inner coaching voice, to bring more of a coaching flavor to some of those conversations we are already having with ourselves.

It’s important to note that self-coaching is intended to augment the existing coaching relationships in our lives. Self-coaching works best with the support of trusted others.

Self-Coaching – Raising Self-Awareness

For me, self-coaching is heavily based on heightening self-awareness. Self-awareness is critical to achieving one’s potential. Of course the realm of SA is enormous. To keep it simple I focus on these three areas:

  • The first area is Attention. We live in a world of distraction. Learning to more effectively monitor and control our attention is instrumental to self-coaching.
  • The other two areas are self-limiting behaviors and self-limiting stories. In self-coaching we learn to identify where our actions and our thoughts get in the way of realizing our potential.

The Self-Coaching Path – Making it Real

To make this actionable, I’ve identified a simple three-step approach (again, simplicity is key) that I call the self-coaching path.

  • The first step on this path is ‘Strengthening Attention,’ which involves improving our ability to focus. This alone can be hugely beneficial.
  • With heightened control of our attention, we can take on the second step of ‘Observing One’s Self.’ It’s important to do the inner (thoughts and feelings) work in order to support the outer (behavioral) change.
  • And finally, the third step is ‘Being Response-Able;’ to be able to more consistently choose responses in-the-moment as opposed to succumbing to our more habitual ways of responding.

See this prior post with a more detailed working definition of self-coaching if you’d like to know more about this.

Self-Coaching Outcomes Supporting Coaching Cultures

So here’s how self-coaching skills, being taught at all levels of an organization, contribute to a strong coaching culture and help to close the gaps I highlighted earlier:

  • More employees will now be involved in gaining skills around coaching.
  • Employees will be more self-sufficient and hence less dependent on their leaders ability to provide coaching.
  • Some leaders will feel more comfortable coaching their employees if they know they’ve learned about self-coaching. Employees will be great “coachees” who hit the ground running in a coaching relationship.
  • And as a nice ‘oh by the way,’ how great will it be for the organization to have a more self-aware, emotionally intelligent and focused workforce in general?


Self-Coaching and the Future of Coaching Cultures

As to the role that self-coaching plays in the development of strong coaching cultures:

  • Today it is non-existent.
  • In the not-too-distant future, I see self-coaching being a foundational and integral component and even potentially included in the HCI/ICF definition and assessment of coaching cultures.

Call to Experiment

So, however you define it, I encourage you to experiment with self-coaching in any coaching culture work that you are doing.

Join me in pioneering this powerful shift that will help many more organizations improve employee engagement and financial results through achieving a strong coaching culture.

Coach Your Self Up Development Program

I launched this program ( in the fall of 2014 and have had great results with several corporate clients here in the Bay Area. I’m encouraged by the super strong participant feedback.

For example, 94%(!) of participants to date have expressed an intention to use self-coaching skills throughout their careers. Also, 80%+ believe they are (a) making better decisions about their behaviors and actions, (b) improving their ability to maintain focused attention, and (c) improving their overall effectiveness at work.

This has me inspired that self-coaching can play a huge role in helping people become more conscious and unlock more of their potential.

As with any new idea, self-coaching will take time to gain traction. More and more forward-thinking companies will pioneer this concept. As the value becomes clearer and word of mouth starts to spread, self-coaching will become more prevalent as a key lever that organizations will pull on many fronts, including building coaching cultures.

Your Comments and Questions – Let’s Talk

I’d love to hear your comments or questions about self-coaching. I’m excited to bring these ideas forward and work with organizations that see the value of having coaching skills permeate the organization.

You can reach me at or sign up for my email newsletter on my website at I’d welcome the opportunity to have a complimentary exploratory discussion with you and any others on your team that would like to learn more about self-coaching and how it might serve your organization.


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If you are interested in finding out more information about Coach Your Self Up, please fill out the form or contact Mike Normant directly at or 415.713.4680.

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