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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 (consciouscapitalism.org) 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 (coachyourselfup.com) 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 mike@mikenormant.com or sign up for my email newsletter on my website at coachyourselfup.com. 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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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 flavor of our self-imposed limits, what I call self-limiting behaviors. Some of our self-limiting behaviors are hard to see. Even if we do see them we often find it difficult (“this is too big”) if not impossible (“this is just how I am”) to change them.

I’ll share how making small behavioral shifts can lead to big changes, literally ‘bending your future’ for the good. Finally I’ll share research that highlights the importance of framing the desired change in an aspirational format to make it more likely you’ll be successful in your efforts.

In prior blogs in this series, I’ve provided a working definition of self-coaching and suggested that this process/practice can help drive higher levels of employee engagement and retention.

I highlighted that self-coaching involves building self-awareness in three areas: Attention, Self-Limiting Behaviors/Patterns, and Self-Limiting Stories. In my last blog, I did a deeper dive on the first of these three areas, awareness of attention.

Today let’s jump head first into the second area, raising awareness of our self-limiting behaviors.

We Limit Ourselves

We may limit ourselves through our behaviors, our thoughts, or through both, since behaviors and thoughts are often intertwined. Today we’ll look at our behaviors.

By the way, behavior may be a loaded term for some people. I use this term literally and non-judgmentally; ‘the way in which one acts or conducts oneself.’

It may seem obvious, but most of us don’t just decide to change a behavior and make it so. We must first acknowledge that one or more of our behaviors is detrimental to our success, whether it’s at work and/or in our personal life. This requires some self-observation and the willingness to identify behaviors that don’t serve us.

To ensure we’re aligned on the concept, here’s a list of some relatively common self-limiting behaviors. Scan through this list and see if one or more resonates with you.

  • Interrupting others when they are speaking.
  • Not listening to others when they are speaking.
  • Succumbing too easily to distractions (emails, text messages, tweets) in group meetings.
  • Succumbing too easily to distractions (emails, text messages, tweets) in 1:1 conversations.
  • Inability to say “no” (when it’s a viable and reasonable option).
  • Speaking ‘too much’ in meetings (taking up too much space).
  • Not speaking in meetings (especially when there’s something that wants to be said).
  • Speaking too softly.
  • Soliciting the input of others with no intention to change your position.
  • Taking credit for the work of others.
  • Blaming others when things go wrong.
  • Talking about others behind their backs.
  • Reacting too negatively / emotionally when issues arise.
  • Getting frustrated too easily / often.
  • Being unable / lacking confidence to make decisions.
  • Being condescending and/or dismissive of others.
  • Always needing to be right.
  • Being consistently late.
  • Treating people as objects; lack of empathy.
  • Not soliciting advice or help from others when it would be helpful to do so.

Whew! That’s a lot of opportunity for us to get in our own way. And this is not an exhaustive list.

When I share this list, it is most common for people to identify with multiple items. However it’s also normal that some people don’t identify with any of the behaviors listed. While it is possible that a person doesn’t have any self-limiting behaviors (SLBs), I’ve not yet met somebody who matches that description. So, you may not see your SLBs, but…

Understanding Your Blind Spot

Most of us are familiar with the concept of a blind spot as it pertains to driving. These are certain places around our vehicle that are not visible to us through our mirrors at a given moment in time. Awareness of that blind spot is key to being a better driver as it makes us hypersensitive to looking more intentionally to see what’s there (e.g., before switching lanes).

Well, we as humans also have blind spots regarding our own behaviors. Unlike with the car mirrors example, many of us typically operate without wanting to ‘see what’s there.’

There’s a useful tool that can provide a bit more context on this. It’s called the Johari window. The Johari window was created in 1955 by two American psychologists, Joseph Luft (1916–2014) and Harrington Ingham (1914–1995), to help people better understand their relationship with self and others. The Johari window is a four quadrant that looks like this:

Johari Window

This is a really useful framework to use to reflect on how you see yourself vs. how others see you. As you can see there are four quadrants in this model.

The ‘Public’ or ‘Open’ quadrant: This quadrant represents things about you that both you and others are aware of.

The ‘Hidden’ or ‘Façade’ quadrant: This quadrant represents things about you that you are aware of, but others are not.

The ‘Blind Spot’ quadrant: This quadrant represents information about you that you are not aware of, but others are.

The ‘Unknown’ quadrant: This quadrant represents information about you that neither you nor others are aware of. It could be that some traits do not exist or that there is collective ignorance of the existence of some traits. There will always be things about ourselves that are unknown or unknowable.

As you begin to consider your own self-limiting behaviors, keep in mind that you may not be aware of some of them. The way to raise your own awareness to your blind spots is to seek out feedback from others whom you trust. Soliciting candid feedback from others is a skill that will serve you well in your career and your life…primarily because it will reduce your blind spots.

Small Shifts Lead to Big Changes

Some of our self-limiting behaviors (SLBs) are deeply entrenched habitual patterns that are years or decades in the making. The idea of shifting even just one such behavior can be daunting and trigger significant internal resistance. “It’s just too big to tackle” or “It’s just the way I’m wired” are likely flavors of self-talk that emerge when we begin to confront one of our own SLBs.

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 if this were to occur, 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. And the meteor wouldn’t just miss the earth; it would miss it by miles.


If you think of your life or career as being on a trajectory, the same concept applies. By making small shifts in your behavior, the cumulative effect on your trajectory over time can be profound.

Think of a person that has a self-limiting behavior (SLB) of frequently interrupting others. It’s pretty easy to imagine what that person’s ‘trajectory’ will look like if s/he doesn’t work on that SLB. It’s also pretty easy to imagine a different trajectory 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?

Amy Cuddy, famous for her viral TED Talk on power posing, has recently published a new book called ‘Presence – Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges,’ in which her chapter titled ‘Self-Nudging: How Tiny Tweaks Lead to Big Changes’ nicely conveys this same idea.

Jeremy Hunter is an associate professor at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. He describes this process as “bending your future.” I LOVE that phrase and now use it frequently.

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

Leveraging the Intentional Change Theory

Richard Boyatzis is a professor at Case Western Reserve University. In 2006 he published his Intentional Change Theory. According to Boyatzis, research shows that we as humans are much more likely to make and sustain a behavioral shift if it is in service of becoming a ‘More Ideal Self’ as opposed to trying to fix something about our ‘Current Self.’

So, when we are working on shifting our own behaviors, it will serve us to leverage our own visions for own ‘More Ideal Self.’

Let’s look at the example we introduced above with the self-limiting behavior of ‘frequent interrupter.’ Instead of “I want to interrupt others less often,” how might we frame that in aspirational language? One example would be “I am a great listener.” The research shows that we are more likely to be pulled forward by this aspirational vision of the better self we want to become.

While it may be counterintuitive, spending time observing our self-limiting behaviors (SLBs) prior to trying to shift them will pay off. As we pay closer attention to our SLBs through self-observation, we’re able to identify the ‘stories’ we hold that often underlie them. This ‘inner’ work supports a sustainable ‘outer’ (behavioral) change. So much more to come….

Coach Your Self Up Development Program

All of this content is part of my ‘Coach Your Self Up’ training program that teaches self-coaching skills. Participants learn an approach and skills for making positive behavioral shifts that they can utilize for the rest of their lives, and they choose one of their own self-limiting behaviors to start working on immediately.

While it’s still early, I’ve delivered the program a number of times and the participant feedback has been great. For example, 95%(!) of participants to date have expressed an intention to use self-coaching skills throughout their careers.

I’m excited as this underlines the powerful impact this program can have in helping employees unlock potential and improve their effectiveness at work; and more broadly in other aspects of their lives.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to discuss any aspect of the self-coaching topic.

More on Self-Coaching to Come

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 on my website (link below) as I will send you an email when I post new content. Thanks for reading and stay tuned…

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In prior blogs, I’ve provided a working definition of self-coaching and suggested that this process/practice can help drive higher levels of employee engagement and retention.

Let’s turn our attention to attention, a core ingredient of self-coaching. We think we know what attention is, but my experience is that there is MUCH more underneath the surface.

This blog is about becoming more aware of our attention. In a future blog we will explore ideas for actually improving our ability to control it. When I was first introduced to a deeper dive on attention, it seemed, and in many ways was, simplistic. And it has also been profound.

Our attention has a huge impact on how we ‘show up’; how we experience the world; how we navigate our lives.

Given the importance of attention, many of us spend way too little time learning about it. So, let’s see if we might be able get underneath the surface of attention, which is where most of us operate, and learn a bit more about it, shall we?

The concepts below are based on the work of Gary Sherman. I’ve met Gary numerous times and have attended workshops co-led by him and his wife, Ellen Miller. I am grateful to Gary for his graciousness in allowing me to use his content.

What is Attention?

Attention is one of those things that we all understand, and yet it can be somewhat difficult to articulate. Here are a few definitions:

  • Wikipedia – The behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things. Has also been referred to as the allocation of processing resources.
  • Merriam-Webster: 1a: the act or state of applying the mind to something.
  • Dictionary.com: the act or faculty of attending, especially by directing the mind to an object.

Gary Sherman also says that attention is “…the active dynamic that determines what we perceive at any given moment.” Not to get too philosophical, but I like that this suggests that what’s outside of our attention doesn’t really exist for us…it’s not part of our reality in that moment.

Rick Hanson, a psychologist who has written and taught about the essential inner skills of personal well-being and personal growth, notes that attention is “…a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner.” The vacuum cleaner idea is important as pertains to neuroplasticity, the fact that our brains are malleable and we create new neural pathways all the time. The longer we hold something in our attention, the more it is ‘sinking in’ into the brain.

Both of these thought leaders, and many others, see the ability to control one’s attention as a core fundamental life skill.

Let’s Play With Our Attention

I welcome you to play along here as I offer you a chance to experience your attention in a new way. This will be much more powerful / insightful for you if you do these activities.

Activity 1 – Following Our Attention

I invite you to get comfortable wherever you are. This can be done sitting at your desk, sitting/standing on the bus/train, lying in your bed or on the ground, wherever you are.

For 30 seconds, with your eyes open, simply ‘follow’ your attention. Don’t try to control it, just let it go and follow it. If you are like me, you’ll want to set a timer so you know when you’ve done exactly 30 seconds. You may also be comfortable just ‘winging it’ until you feel like you’ve put in an ok amount of time.

Go ahead…30 seconds…follow your attention.


Welcome back. What did you experience? How did that feel? For some of you, it may be the first time you’ve ever paid attention to your attention…which can be a bit weird.

I’m assuming you noticed that your attention is on the move. It is constantly moving, bouncing from one thing to another. And if you followed the instructions and didn’t try to control it, you noticed that your attention moves without you.

Our attention is always moving. And it moves with or without our conscious involvement.

We spend a significant amount of our waking hours on autopilot, not in control of our attention. This idea fascinated me when I first became aware of it.

Here’s another question for you. Where did your attention ‘land’ during that 30 seconds? Since I have no idea where you are doing this, I can’t speculate exactly where it went. However, I can tell you conceptually where it went. It went to and through three different ‘locations.’


  • Location 1 – Your Body: Attention can focus on the sensations of your body. Feeling happy or sad, feeling your heart beat, feeling your breath in your abdomen or nostrils, feeling your feet on the floor, etc.
  • Location 2 – The World: Attention can be in the world as experienced by you directly through your five senses. You can be focused on something you see, hear, smell, touch, or taste.
  • Location 3 – Your Mind: Attention can focus on your thoughts. ‘What am I having for dinner tonight?’ ‘I can’t believe I said that thing I said at the team meeting yesterday.’ Etc..

You can think of these three locations as the ‘landscape’ or the ‘geography’ of attention.

Activity 2 – Labeling Where it Lands

Ok, I invite you to again get comfortable wherever you are.

As with activity 1, let’s follow your attention for another 30 seconds with your eyes open. This time when it ‘lands’ someplace, quickly mentally label the location (Body, World, Mind) where it has landed.

For example (you may be able to guess that I’m writing this in a city): You might hear a siren going by and in that moment you would label your attention as being in the ‘World.’

You may notice yourself thinking ‘That sounds like an ambulance,’ which you label as ‘Mind.’ You notice that your heart begins to beat faster (‘Body’) which you attribute to a recent experience where a friend was in an accident (‘Mind’).

Go ahead…30 seconds…follow your attention and label where it lands.


Welcome back (again). What did you experience? How did that feel?

By starting to label where your attention lands, you are inserting conscious action into the process. Using the three locations within the geography of attention opens up a new ability to locate ourselves mentally. We all know how to answer the question “Where are you?” based on our physical location.

This gives us an ability to answer the question “Where are you?” mentally. We’ve all been in meetings with people who were physically present but were totally somewhere else mentally.

We can locate our attention.

Activity 3 – Intentionally Moving it Around

Ok, round 3.

You’ve experienced first hand, or witnessed, or you can try to imagine, the joy of floating down a stream on an inner tube. After a certain distance, hopping out of the stream, running back to the start point, and jumping in to do it all over again (and again and again).

In the first activity we simply floated down the stream of our attention, casually noticing the landscape as it went by.

In the second activity, we started over at the top of the stream and this time inserted some conscious control into the mix and paid attention to and labeled the landscape as it went by. If we can’t control where the river’s taking us, we can at least name the landscape that the river flows through as a way of getting familiar with where we visit in ourselves on a regular basis.

In this third activity, let’s step back into the stream with more of a rudder, so we can begin to take control of the direction our attention takes.

Now I realize this may be difficult to do on your own. I’m used to leading groups through this activity so I can call out the different locations. Heck, give it a try and see what happens.

This time we are going to direct our attention as opposed to following it. 45 seconds will be more effective than 30 seconds for this one. You’ll want to pick one of the three locations and focus your attention there. After seven or eight seconds, choose another location and shift your focus there. Shift your attention four or five times in total.

When you are focused on your Body, choose one bodily sensation to focus on (your breath, your butt on the seat, your feet on the floor, etc..) until you are shifting to the next location.

When you are focused on your World, choose one of your senses to focus on (something you see, hear, etc…) until you are shifting to the next location.

When you are focused on your Mind, go up into your thoughts and run free.

Alright, go ahead and focus your attention on one location (Body, World, Mind) and then move it to another location (Body, World, Mind) every 7 or 8 seconds, a total of four or five times.


Welcome back (again). What did you experience? How did that feel?

While I don’t know how this works doing it on your own, it’s typical in my experience with a group that they find this hard to do. Even for a short timeframe, it can be difficult to hold our attention on one thing. The point, however, is that even though it’s difficult it can be done.

We are able to control our attention…and it’s not easy. Like going to the gym to build body muscle, we need to exercise our attention to strengthen it.

If you are interested in having a guided audio experience of these and many other attention activities, check out Gary Sherman’s free audio library on this topic. There are 15 different topics of roughly 10-minutes each.

Awareness of Attention – Summary

  • Our attention is on the move – with or without us.
  • Our attention moves in and through the landscape / geography of Body (feelings and sensations), World (through our five senses) and Mind (thoughts).
  • We can locate our attention in this landscape.
  • We can control our attention.
  • Controlling our attention is not easy and takes practice (like going to the gym to build body muscles).

So there you go. Hopefully this has given you some new insights on your awareness of your attention. I plan to share more information on learning to better control your attention in a future post.

I LOVE this quote (below) about attention from a TEDx talk given by Jeremy Hunter (an associate professor at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University) in 2013:

“As a society, we don’t pay enough attention to attention; we don’t take care of it, preserve it, grow it. We need to take care of attention. Quality of attention is quality of life, quality of relationship, quality of work. Attention is the secret ingredient that connects us to ourselves and others.”

I believe so strongly in the value of attention that I’ve built a training program around it.

 Coach Your Self Up Development Program

Helping employees improve their ability to pay attention is one core pillar of my new ‘Coach Your Self Up’ training program that teaches self-coaching skills.

While it’s still early, I’ve delivered the program a number of times and the participant feedback has been great. For example, 95%(!) of participants to date have expressed an intention to use self-coaching skills throughout their careers.

I’m excited as this underlines the powerful impact this program can have in helping employees unlock potential and improve their effectiveness at work; and more broadly in other aspects of their lives.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to discuss any aspect of the self-coaching topic.

More on Self-Coaching to Come

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. Thanks for reading and stay tuned…

Continue Reading

I recently published my first blog on how self-coaching can help drive higher levels of employee engagement and retention by enabling employees to take ownership of their careers. In the midst of many positive responses, I received this comment from a well-respected colleague who is a VP of HR at a fast growing tech company here in San Francisco: “Your content looks promising. “Promising” but not “helpful.”

After some initial resistance, I realized his point was valid. I had made some bold statements about what self-coaching can do for an organization, but I never provided any details on self-coaching.

I’m grateful that this person took the time to share his candid thoughts with me. And so I’m shifting gears a bit today to define self-coaching. Hopefully it will fall further toward the ‘helpful’ end of the ‘promising / helpful’ spectrum!

I see self-coaching as an approach to becoming more self aware, which allows an individual to make sustainable behavioral shifts that result in unlocking her/his potential and improved effectiveness.

In this post I will provide background on how I came to the idea of self-coaching, share the three focus areas that lay the foundation for self-coaching, and finally define the three steps of the self-coaching path which makes this actionable.

Self-Coaching – The Idea
In 2014 I created a training program called ‘Get Out of Your Way.’ I wanted to teach people a relatively simple set of techniques and skills that would help them see and work through self-imposed limits to unlock their potential and achieve heightened success at work and in life.

Regretfully, I found that ‘Get Out of Your Way’ might lead to trouble around trademark concerns. At first I was bummed but soon shifted to a mindset of something better will come.

As I was describing this program to colleagues and potential prospects, I found myself ending each overview with “…essentially I am teaching people how to coach themselves.” As I said that out loud multiple times over many weeks, I thought ‘self-coaching…is that a thing?’

My initial inner-voice answer to that question was ‘you are nuts.’ After all, I’m a trained coach and I know how valuable it is for a neutral 3rd-party to help an individual look at things differently, to ask them challenging questions.

And yet, when I began to think about the question “who do we talk to more than anybody else?’” I realized the answer was simple, consistent, and on some level profound. Yep, we talk to ourselves more than anybody else.

How helpful would it be to cultivate an “inner coach” that allowed some of those conversations we already have with ourselves to have more of a coaching flavor?

Well, I did what most inquisitive people would do, I Googled the term self-coaching. I found a listing for a book on self-coaching with a therapy spin. But that was enough for me to think, ‘ok, maybe I’m not that nuts.’ Ever since then I’ve used the self-coaching label and changed the name of my program to ‘Coach Your Self Up – Self-Coaching Skills for Success’.

A few months down-the-line, I came across the website of Ed Batista, an executive coach and an instructor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), and found that he had been blogging about the idea of self-coaching since 2009. Even more exciting to me, I found that he was under contract with Harvard Business Review Press to write a book on self-coaching. ‘What could be more legitimizing than that?’ I thought to myself…’this is just great!’

In 2015, Ed Batista offered his inaugural course at Stanford’s GSB called ‘The Art of Self-Coaching.’ It was a hit (full class with a waitlist) and will be offered again this spring. Ed posts lots of materials on his website (link above) if you’d like to see his take on self-coaching.

My take on self-coaching is different from Ed’s. While the ideas are aligned, mine is a more ‘stripped-down’ version intended to fit within a fast-paced business setting. (While my typical work is in the for-profit space, I’m confident it would also work in a non-profit or public-sector environment as well.)

Self-Awareness is The Foundation
My intention was to create a simple approach with a clear set of steps, based on raising one’s self-awareness. There’s a loaded term for you…’self-awareness.’ That comprises a huge domain. Where to focus?

My experience as a longtime facilitator/instructor suggests that presenting information in chunks of three helps the content to ‘stick.’ (This is also backed by many brain research studies.) My version of self-coaching is thus built upon raising self-awareness in three key areas.

Self Awareness 3 Area

Those three areas are (1) Attention, (2) Self-Limiting Behaviors/Patterns and (3) Self-Limiting Stories.

Attention – We live in a world of distraction where our attention is under constant attack. Becoming more aware of our attention (or more often our lack thereof) is a key building block.

Self-Limiting Behaviors / Patterns (SLBs) – Most of us are familiar with the notion of getting in our own way. And if not, we most certainly witness this in others…”if only s/he could get our of her/his own way.” Learning to see where our own behaviors are limiting us is important.

Self-Limiting Stories – These often underlie our SLBs. I use the word ‘stories’ as a catchall for things such as assumptions, conclusions, opinions, beliefs, etc.. I propose that most us are swimming in a sea of stories and yet are often unaware of their existence. We operate as if these stories are facts…and that gets in our way.

In future posts I’ll share more about these three areas of self-awareness building.

Making Sustainable Behavior Shifts – The Self-Coaching Path
Raising self-awareness is great, but to what end? The desired outcome is for one to make a sustainable behavioral shift that results in unlocking potential and improving effectiveness. How to package this in a way that will be easy for people to grasp?


Self Coaching Path

Back to the rule of three, here’s my three-step self-coaching path:

  • Step 1 – Strengthening Attention
  • Step 2 – Observing One’s Self
  • Step 3 – Being Response-Able

Step 1 – Strengthening Attention: As we become more aware of our attention, we can learn how to take more control over it. An important aspect here is learning to recognize when our attention has drifted off and knowing how to ‘bring it back.’ (“Oops, I’m sitting here in this meeting and I’m thinking about something else, let me bring my attention back to this meeting.”)

Step 2 – Observing One’s Self: There’s a lot happening in this step. This is where the bulk of the ‘work’ happens. A common approach is that there is some self-limiting behavior / pattern (SLB) that one is trying to shift (e.g., interrupting others). You might think ‘oh, once a person is aware s/he has a habit of interrupting others, s/he should just stop doing that.’

If it was that easy, we’d all very quickly and easily drop our SLBs. But we know it doesn’t work that way. 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.

So, somewhat counter-intuitively, one needs to spend a fair amount of time simply noticing their SLB. A few times a week a person should write down the answers to a few questions. (1) How often in the last few days did I engage in my SLB? (2) Roughly how much time elapsed between engaging in my SLB and my awareness that I did so?

Over time, one’s brain will realize that s/he is paying attention to this SLB and will bring it to one’s attention more quickly. This allows a person to start digging underneath the surface behavior (e.g., interrupting others) to investigate the underlying stories at play when the SLB is engaged. Those stories (the inner work) hold the key to making a sustainable shift in an SLB (the outer work).

(For example, with the SLB 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.’)

Step 3 – Being Response-Able: The ability to choose an intentional response as opposed to succumbing to a reflexive response. This is what we are striving for. You’ve heard the adage ‘you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond.’

A key technique is to challenge the stories that underlie one’s SLB. Good coaches ask their clients challenging questions. Good self-coaches learn to ask themselves challenging questions. In the example above, a person could challenge her/himself on ‘How do I know it’s true that I need to speak over people to ensure my ideas are heard?’

Ultimately one begins to experiment with other responses (e.g., being more curious about what other people have to say vs. feeling the need to speak over them) to test the truthi-ness (always wanted to use that word) of their stories…which often are not true in the first place.

Over time these experiments lead to new, more effective responses that erode the initial SLB. (There are new neural pathways being created here, a deeper dive for another day.)

There’s a lot to the self-coaching path and I will also return to this topic in the future to double-click on each of the steps in more detail.

Coach Your Self Up Development Program
I’ve built a training program, ‘Coach Your Self Up,’ that teaches self-coaching skills, based upon the definitions provided above, to cohorts of employees.

While it’s still early, I’ve delivered the program a number of times and the participant feedback has been great. For example, 95%(!) of participants to date have expressed an intention to use self-coaching skills throughout their careers.

I’m excited as this underlines the powerful impact this program can have in helping employees unlock potential and improve their effectiveness at work; and more broadly in other aspects of their lives.

Even if this specific program or definition of self-coaching doesn’t feel like a fit for your organization, it may spur your thinking on how you can do something along the same lines. I’m an advocate for the power that self-coaching (of any flavor) can have in helping people bring forth their best selves at work.

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 to improve employee effectiveness and engagement.

It’s also important to note that self-coaching is not intended to replace the importance / value of having coaches in one’s life. We all benefit from having ‘coaches’ that we can go to, whether it’s a professional coach, a parent, a partner, a manager, a peer, etc.. Self-coaching is intended to augment those relationships.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to discuss any aspect of the self-coaching topic.

More on Self-Coaching to Come
I have lots more to say about self-coaching and ways that it can help organizations address common business challenges. I’ll share that in future posts. Stay tuned…

Continue Reading

Does your organization strive to have employees take ownership of their own careers? Of course managers and the organization itself have a role to play, but ’employee-owned’ careers are now the favored model, certainly in the fast-growing companies in my backyard here in San Francisco.

While progress has been made, my experience suggests that there is still a gap – sometimes significant – in making employee-owned careers a reality at many companies.

Self-Coaching helps companies close this gap. Continue reading Self-Coaching – Empowering Employees to Take Ownership of Their Careers

Continue Reading


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 mike@mikenormant.com or 415.713.4680.

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