The best gift you can give this holiday season – Elian Beattie

November 29, 2021

You might see a lot of posts this holiday season with lists of the perfect gift to buy for your loved ones. Somewhere in the spirit of being thoughtful, we can lose sight of the person we’re actually “buying for.” There is one thing you can give to everyone on your list regardless of age, gender, religion, or your relationship to that person; the gift of a mental health check in.

With mental health related hospitalizations on the rise both nationally and within our local seacoast community, it is clear that the mental health effects of this pandemic are still ongoing. Because mental health issues may not show up as visibly as a broken arm, we often assume that those affected are not the people we know and interact with on a daily basis. The strongest prevention tool we have for reducing the number of people needing to be hospitalized for mental health is connectedness. By strengthening our connections strong on an individual, familial, and community level, we can make a difference.

When was the last time someone asked you how you are truly doing? Not just a simple greeting, but a question that comes with the intention to listen. It can feel awkward and uncomfortable to think about talking with someone about something so personal, but it does not have to be! Below are some quick tips on how to check in with someone about their mental health.

Mental Health Check Ins: A How To Guide

  1. Lead with a statement that normalizes talking about mental health. “This year has been difficult for a lot of people’s mental health. How has it been for you?”
  1. Listen, without interrupting. Smile, nod, show them that you’re paying attention.
  1. Validate their experience. “It must have been tough to be dealing with that while also going to work/school, being a parent/student/wife/ etc., and living through this pandemic. How you feel makes total sense. Thanks for telling me.”
  1. Offer to help them navigate the next steps to getting more support, if needed. “Would it be helpful for me to be a listening ear, or would you like me to help you problem solve?”
  1. Follow up! “I was thinking of you after our conversation last week, and I wonder how you’re feeling now.”

Remember that you don’t have to be a trained therapist to be the one making the biggest difference to someone’s mental health. A mental health check-in from a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, or even a stranger can save a life.

If you or someone you know is struggling, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. The world is a better place with you in it.

Goal-setting in executive coaching – Dr. Robin

November 17, 2021

You’ve decided to work with an executive coach to help with your career goals or professional development. Now what? The platform of executive coaching is created from your goals and establishing these goals is the first step towards your success.

Executive coaching will often start with the creation of a three-tier plan. The first tier focuses on the question, “Where do you want to be?” The answer to this question creates your top-tier vision, the overall accomplishment you want to achieve, which coaching will facilitate. Once your vision is clearly defined, an executive coach will help you establish your goals towards that vision. The goals on tier two break down the vision into manageable pieces. As you focus on one or more goals at a time, you are moving forward towards the accomplishment of your vision. To move forward, however, you need more than the “what” defined by your goals; you also need a “how”; tier three addresses this. Each goal is analyzed to determine action steps to achieve the goal. You work through your action steps to accomplish each goal which will result in the attainment of your vision.

Goals must meet certain criteria to be successful:

• Your goals should be articulated in specific terms to help with the action steps.
• They should also be measurable to provide evidence of your progress or to reevaluate if the action steps aren’t working.
• Goals should be realistic regarding time frame and resources.
• Finally, successful goals are relevant in terms of your values and vision, and they should be based upon a timeline to encourage prioritization and to keep you motivated.

As part of goal setting, the executive coach may also assess your strengths and how these can be utilized in the action steps. The strength analysis will also help define how these characteristics and skills can help with any challenges hindering goal attainment.

There are different ways in which individuals set goals in executive coaching. Very often after a quarterly or annual performance review, an executive becomes aware of areas for development and the coaching goals are based on what the executive wants to work on towards self-improvement. In addition, an executive might already have an awareness of their professional vision for themselves or their organizations, and the goals can be structured from that vision.

Goals can also be established together with your coach. Information from the executive’s role, professional feedback or structured assessments can help you and your coach determine the challenges which resulted in the data. Goal setting is then focused on how to improve those areas directly connected to your vision.

Finally, goal setting could be company-directed. An organization might hire a coach to work with an executive. This might come after a poor review or as part of a performance improvement plan. In this scenario, the goals will likely be based on the organization’s vision versus the executive’s vision. The organization will then use the goals to ascertain the executive’s progress.

When you work with an executive coach, your experience is not going to be like past training or continuing education opportunities. Executive coaching is individualized. It is your time to focus on you and where you want to be. Articulating your ideal vision in coaching is an appropriate approach, not just a pipedream.

Lessons from a coach – Dr. Robin

November 8, 2021

My daughter’s high school varsity volleyball team won the State Championships this past weekend. It was an amazing experience to watch, even more so because this group of girls are incredible. They support each other, LIKE each other, visibly and audibly have fun when warming up or playing together, and credit their success to being “14 strong”. They worked hard, enjoyed every minute and achieved their goal.

But while I am happy for and proud of my daughter and her teammates, their success came due to trickle down. The team achieved success because of their coach, the leader of this group. (Knowing the coach is a private individual, I’ll refer to her as Coach R.) It was due to this woman’s integration of powerful leadership skills that the team succeeded. There were four specific things Coach R did which made her stand out as a leader and brought her team to the championship level:

1. She created a platform of unity. Coach R made sure there wasn’t a spotlight on one or two players. There was no “star” of the team. Those on the bench were as valuable as those on the court. When she was interviewed after winning the State Finals game, Coach R said, “The U.S. volleyball team, their motto is ‘23 strong’. Even though only 12 players went to the Olympics, it took 23 players to get them there. And so that’s the model that we’ve embraced this year. It takes all 14 of us to earn the state championship, even though not every player was on the floor tonight.”

In an organization, this approach is also true. Is the success of the organization reliant on one member, or the team? And if the focus is on one team member, what does that do to the organization? The other team members feel devalued. They stop giving their all. They lose sight of the goal. And where does it leave the organization if that one “star” leaves? Left behind is a disjointed, disconnected and dissatisfied group of people. The unity Coach R created became the platform for the team’s approach to the goal.

2. She created a shared mission and vision. Winning the State Championship honestly didn’t seem like the sole purpose of the season. While going to States is a vision for most high school or collegiate teams, it seemed that for Coach R the vision didn’t smother the mission she created with the team. The mission was twofold: play their best and have fun. Watching the team the night of the Championships demonstrated that mission. The girls were singing and dancing the whole time as they waited their turn to warmup. They weren’t letting stress or anxiety get in the way of their fun. They were meeting the season’s mission even in what was the biggest athletic night for them. Coach R made sure the girls knew they didn’t have to do anything different than they did every game. She led her team in this mission which guided them to attain their vision of the state championship.

The same applies to organizations. Ensuring everyone within organization knows the long-term vision but buys in to the daily mission to get there…and then keeps the mission alive even in the face of the vision.

3. She recognized her players as individuals not just players. This was my daughter’s first season with this coach after transferring to the school. My daughter came home after practice one day and when I asked her what she did to kill time between the end of the school day and practice, she casually said, “I had my 1-to-1 with Coach today.” Huh? I had no idea what she meant. Turns out, Coach R schedules time to meet with every player during the season. She sits with each girl and while she certainly asks about the player’s goals for the season, more importantly she connects with each girl as a person. She asks real questions and they get to ask questions to her. They talk as people, not as coach and player, not as adult and kid, but as women and athletes.

Can you imagine what this creates and what the same practice could do within an organization? Coach R’s players feel a real connection to her and her to them. It builds trust. It builds commitment. It increases performance and retention whether in a volleyball program, in a family or in a Fortune 500 company.

4. She demonstrated the behavior and thinking to support the mission. Coach R never yelled other than in excitement. She never demonstrated frustration. She was either smiling, offering praise, giving motivating talks or offering coaching strategies for players to use towards the team’s mission and vision. Coach R’s team saw this every time they looked at her or heard her. Their coach’s attitude and actions became the standard they emulated. She became the model of how to be and they all adopted that model. There wasn’t room for negativity because it would’ve been an outlier, an anomaly, and in fact when typical issues came up through the season, the team quickly dealt with them and positioned themselves back in line with Coach R’s standards.

Leaders in any organization can do the same. Certainly there are times which are challenging, but does expressing anger, frustration or disgust move you close to your vision, or farther away? What behavioral, cognitive and emotional expressions help keep your team on track and focused on the mission and vision?

Overall, the leadership of Coach R worked for one reason: she led based on her own style. Coach R didn’t try to fit into a prescribed type of leadership. She didn’t base her behaviors on famous coaches in an attempt to duplicate their leadership. She created a leadership style based on her values, her strengths and her vision for her players, not the group’s State Championship vision, but her vision as the leader of a program in which each player grew, personally and athletically, because of the support they gave and received from their team. “It’s the buy in. They buy into each other so hard, it’s ridiculous,” Coach R said. “Their strength is in the group. We work really hard in the gym every day on our skills, but we know at this age level having that cohesion can bring you from a 5 to an 11. They buy into that. They work hard every day, but it’s because of each other … that’s what makes them truly special.” All due respect to Coach R, while it was due to the players’ connection and support of each other, even more it was because as a leader Coach R created and showed what it means to be part of a winning team.

Leaving the Past Behind and Choosing How to Think – Dr. Robin

October 4, 2021

My 16-year-old daughter walked into my bedroom this morning, seemingly angry. This is my kid who has always valued justice and kindness, and when she sees someone being hurt or attacked, it infuriates her. In this case, it was a teammate who had been cornered by two other players after she went to the coach regarding problems being created by the two girls. The girls were screaming at this girl in a team meeting room. Other teammates were standing outside the room, unsure of what to do, or walking away. My daughter walked in to put an end to the attack by reminding the girls it was time to set up for practice, and then waited to walk out with the girl who had been the focus of the attack.

In my opinion, a good approach and what seemed like a good resolution. Until my daughter started sobbing. Only then did she share with me that seeing that teammate cornered, a teammate who is nice to others and doesn’t stand up for herself, resonated too strongly with her. Two years ago, she had been that girl, cornered in a hotel room by half of her teammates. It was a stereotypical “mean girls” situation with a leader who wanted to be listened to and worshipped and followers who were caught up in her orbit. The coach held a team meeting but there was no resolution. “They never said they were sorry, Mom. It’s like it was no big deal to them but it changed me. I question everything I do to make sure I’m not doing something that might make people angry.”

I knew that had been a really harrowing situation for my daughter. She felt trapped and didn’t understand why these girls “hated [her]” so much. I had been furious by the way it was handled, but I hadn’t realized it had created such a lasting effect on my daughter.

This experience isn’t unique to my daughter. One of my clients began working with me because she had lost confidence in herself after being pushed out of her job. She confronted a co-worker who was being inappropriate with female employees, and then brought the matter to their supervisor, who also happened to be a friend of the co-worker. The environment became toxic, and my client’s role was “dissolved”. She was paralyzed with self-doubt after that happened, ruminating over the questions of why she was let go and not the offender, and what she did wrong?

How many of us have events in our life which resulted in negative changes in how we perceive situations, how we react to others or how we view ourselves? Some of these events might be overtly significant to others; those types of events that other people clearly see why they affected you. Other events might simply be significant to us, things that no one else might see as traumatic or major but were to us. These past events end up shaping us in ways we may not even realize.

So how do we stop the detrimental experiences of the past from influencing our future? We can start by identifying the situations that leave these long-term, unwanted effects on us. As we identify them, don’t discount them. “That was such a little thing; it shouldn’t still be bothering me.” “People deal with worse things.” “It happened so long ago.” These are certainly rational thoughts but if you don’t believe them, they only make you feel worse. Here is the reality. The event or series of situations happened. They left a negative effect on you. Now you get to decide if the result is one you want to hold on to or if it is time to employ strategies to counteract the unwanted effects.

It starts with your thoughts related to the situation. What replacement thoughts can take the place of the original thoughts? Instead of my client beating herself up over “what [she] did wrong”, we walked through an analysis of her values and compared her list to the values of her former organization. She discovered her value system contrasted with that of the organization. Her unhappiness and discomfort at her previous role started long before her whistleblowing because of this disconnect. When her brain tried to go in the direction of the habitual thought related to what did she do wrong, my client replaced that thought with “what was wrong was that my values didn’t align with the organization”. She had clear evidence of this in the organization’s support of the offender, a protocol my client was morally opposed to. She built on this thought, noting other areas which were in opposition to what she believed in. She used these additional, new thought to move her belief system away from the idea that something was wrong with her. The new thought ultimately provided her the opportunity to find an organization which shared her same values and in which she felt appreciated.

Once these replacement thoughts are implemented, practicing these whenever your brain strays towards past, detrimental thinking is the next step. Like all habits, it is challenging to break this tendency. It is easier to let our brains spin chaotically with the same pattern of thinking. At this point, ask yourself whether you want to feel the way created by these thoughts. By staying with the habitual thinking, you will continue to have the negative effects that come from the past situation and the thoughts originally created from that situation. If you don’t like how you’re feeling, then it is worth it to push back against the thoughts with your replacement thoughts to let these become your habit.

The key point to remember is that you can choose whether you want past events to shape who you are, how you think and how you feel. You can create a practice of replacement thoughts that make you feel happier, stronger, more confident and, most importantly, less cornered by your own thoughts.

Being Ambitious Doesn’t Make You Selfish

September 7, 2021

Society, parents, and organizations want you to believe that focusing on what you want is selfish and that putting others’ goals, choices, and wants before our own is beneficial. It might be beneficial to other people, but it is not advantageous for you. Neglecting our wants for those of other people can create resentment, regret, and a lack of motivation. It can cause us to disconnect from who we really are. Determining if your want is truly selfish, and thus one to reconsider, is an important part of learning to embrace our wants. The things we want can be powerful motivators in our lives.


So how do you ensure that your want isn’t selfish? Here are three questions to ask to determine if your want is selfish:


1. Does your want hurt or damage others? 


If your want doesn’t hurt or damage others, then it isn’t selfish. If it does, reconsider your want.


But be careful when you answer this question. One of my clients convinced herself that she was hurting her children by working outside of the home. “I kept thinking that it would be better for them to have me pick them up from school instead of taking the bus, that it would give us time to bond, instead of realizing that by taking the bus, they’d learn some independence or hang out with their friends, and that we could make other times to bond. I just locked myself into one belief that held me back all these years.”


2. Does your want ask others to be who they are not? 


As Oscar Wilde said, selfishness “is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” If your want requires others to be or to live differently than who they are, reframe your want in terms of just you, as you want to live. If it doesn’t impact others in this way, your want isn’t selfish.


3. Does your want require that others work on the want more than you? 


Your want may pull people in who choose to be part of the plan, who believe in the vision, or who benefit from your want. But ultimately, you should be the leader of your want. By orchestrating and working on the want, it stays yours and is not selfish. 


An entrepreneur I knew had an idea for a new division of his growing company and when he shared the idea with his leadership team, they were excited. “We all dove in, working longer days to create this new ‘child.’ I was usually the first one in and the last to go, but it seemed like my excitement for this idea was contagious.” 


But then the owner came up with another idea, and started pursuing it. My acquaintance and his team were left to work on their own, with little involvement from the owner. The team began to feel resentment towards the owner, and in quick order, the new division floundered. “I think that when I wasn’t invested, my team stopped being invested.” 


If you see that your want is requiring others to be working longer or harder than you, consider how to reconnect with your want, or reevaluate whether your want is truly a want anymore.


By using a step-by-step analysis of your wants, you can fight the tendency to discount them as selfish simply because they are wants. You can then use your wants as a motivating force to generate the energy and focus needed to accomplish your professional and personal goals. You can create the life you dream about and allow yourself to live authentically.

The Mulan Complex: How this heroine illustrates the struggle for mompreneurs

August 11, 2021

In Chinese culture, Hua Mulan is an iconic female heroine. As you might remember from Disney’s depiction of the heroine, Hua Mulan lived according to Chinese cultural standards until her father was conscripted for the army. To avoid her elderly father entering the army, Mulan disguised herself as a man and took her father’s place. According to the Chinese legend, Mulan had a decade-long, distinguished military career and upon her return, was honored by the emperor with an offer in high office. The character declined the offer, instead returning home and reestablishing the traditional, female role.

A day in the life

Mulan is a good foil for many high-level, professional women in general, and mompreneurs specifically. Consider the start of a typical mompreneur’s day. She wakes up and is in full “mom mode” at varying levels. Her morning activities might include some or all of the following: waking kids up, getting them dressed, changing diapers, reminding them to get up, finding various missing items, listening to kids’ stories, signing off on permission slips, making breakfast, mom/child negotiations, reassuring worries, making lunches, reminding kids about various school or after school related activities, overseeing school bag packing, driving them to school, getting them to the bus stop, volunteering at before-school tasks. In the middle of all that, this mompreneur is also getting herself ready – showering, self-care, running through her workday schedule in her head, choosing an outfit which aligns with the tasks of the day, making her own breakfast and lunch, organizing her own work materials – but she is still in “mom mode”. She may fluctuate between feelings of intense love, overwhelmed, like she isn’t in control, like she is or is not organized, feeling rushed. This is all typically before 8am.

Once the kids are at school and on the commute into work, this woman shifts from “mom” to “professional/entrepreneur/business leader”. She leaves behind the nurturing, empathetic, sensitive parts of her to adopt the assertive, directive, objective qualities many businesses demand of their leaders. She engages in meetings, negotiations, decisions based on profitability. She portrays a cool demeanor and a composed persona, able to think rationally and react stoically. Her schedule is on her computer and phone and directs her day. In between meetings, she is answering emails, texts, and random individuals popping into her office with “just a quick question”. She expects answers, results and no excuses, and if she’s lucky, she is out the door by 6pm and commuting home.

As she walks through the door of the after school care program or the door of her home, the work persona shifts back to “mom” and the nighttime routine begins – checking in with each kid, thinking about what to have for dinner, making or ordering dinner, helping with homework, listening to kids’ stories, mom/child negotiations, reassuring worries, reminders, last minute project or baking requests, baths, pajamas, snuggling, bedtime stories, “quality time”. Add to that, if this woman is living with a partner, adult conversation, scheduling, affection, relationship/marital negotiations, and potentially {thoughts of, guilt over not, finding energy to have} sex/feel sexy/feel attractive.

We are Mulan

Mulan taught us well. We move through our days, shifting from our feminine energy and qualities to our masculine energy and qualities at work, and back to our feminine as societal or cultural roles dictate. These shifts are exhausting. For many mompreneurs, the mental and physical exhaustion is attributed to the amount of tasks we plan, juggle and accomplish in each part of our days. Yet what significantly contributes to the exhaustion are the shifts – moving between two personas and discounting one part when the other is in place. This can create a feeling of cognitive dissonance, the discomfort which comes when our thoughts and beliefs don’t match our actions. When we suppress one part of ourselves, it negates who we are and does not feel authentic, creating the dissonance.

How to avoid the Mulan Complex

Now you may not walk into a board meeting and greet each member with a hug or a pat on the head, and you likely won’t create a project management plan for your child when she doesn’t pick up her room. Finding ways to avoid flipping the switch fully from “feminine” to “masculine” traits, from who you are personally to who you are professionally, could alleviate the dissonance, the division in yourself and the exhaustion. This approach creates two outcomes:

  1. It might allow you to be who you are, authentically and fully, in all areas of your life. This will increase the experience of being fully unified as a person rather than the frequent feeling of being divided or “torn” between two worlds.
  2. You might find that the strategies and traits typically used in one role might provide new avenues of effectively managing people and situations in the other role. So while you might not engage in physical affection in the board room, tapping into the nurturing, “connector” side of you might get you to acknowledge each member at some individual, personalized way. And while you might not create a stylized, organized project management plan for your daughter, you might consider how some of parts of project management (like creating a SMART scope statement) could help support your daughter in achieving the goal more consistently.

By doing so, you become more you and less Mulan.

Musterbation: Stop rubbing yourself the wrong way

May 28, 2021

How often do you musterbate? What about the people you know? Some of them might musterbate a lot, maybe even daily. Now before you assume where this conversation is going, be sure you read that word correctly – MUSTerbate. While I wish I could take credit for creating this word, it was Albert Ellis, a behavioral psychologist, who coined the term. Musterbation is the experience of telling ourselves we “must” do things. It extends to additional words – “should”, “have to”, “need to”, and “ought to”. These aren’t just words. They are the start point in the creation of emotions which are detrimental to our growth and mental wellness. Words like these create shame, guilt, self-doubt, stress and pressure. They typically have the authoritative tone of parents, teachers, bosses, or embody the norms dictated by society or culture.

At a mild or moderate level, musterbation stops our creative thinking, inhibits problem solving, and builds limitations on our dreams and goals. This is when working with a coach trained and educated in cognitive behavioral approaches can help. Through executive, life or couples coaching, individuals learn strategies to stop musterbating. They strengthen these practices and apply them in their daily lives, replacing guilt, shame and self-doubt with functional control, confidence and abundant thinking. The coach acts as an objective, outside perspective to help clients identify the cognitive roadblocks and change the habits, resulting in improvements in their present and successes in their future.

At a severe level, musterbation contributes to the development of anxiety and depression. The tendency to use these words feeds the anxiety or depression, maintaining or building the dysfunctional emotions and experiences. This is when working with a therapist can help. Through therapy, individuals can explore where the source of the words came from to explore what experiences from their past are affecting their present. Particularly when working with a cognitive behavioral therapist, patients will then learn strategies to manage the words and thoughts contributing to the anxiety and depression. Often, a psychiatrist will be part of the approach to prescribe medications to help balance the neurotransmitters and allow the therapy to work more effectively.

Ultimately, whether through coaching or therapy, individuals learn to stop rubbing themselves the wrong way and break the pattern of musterbating.


Dr. Robin Buckley has her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Hofstra University and is also a certified coach. She owns Insights Group Psychological & Coaching Services in New Hampshire, a practice offering coaching (executive, elite athletes, couples), neuropsychological evaluation, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Dr. Robin works specifically with executives and high-powered couples to achieve their goals efficiently and successfully through the use of a business framework. To find out more about Dr. Robin, please go to, or to learn more about her practice,

Readjusting to Your (Social) Life after Lockdown – Elian Beattie

May 3, 2021

For the past year or more, a lot of us have been itching to be able to leave our homes, socialize with loved ones, travel, and many other activities that used to be a part of our norm. Now, with COVID-related deaths decreasing and access to the vaccine increasing, the world is starting to open back up again. You are likely facing invitations and opportunities that six months ago you felt like you were begging for. But now, you might feel a sense of dread and anxiety when you think about socially reintegrating to the world. Why?

We adapt to our circumstances.

A few of my clients have recently said, “But I don’t get it. I used to love going to a crowded beach in the summer, and now I feel panic at the thought of leaving my house.” Or, “I miss my friends and family so much, but the thought of going to a party makes me really anxious.” We have gotten used to living a life of more predictable, narrow opportunities. While that has brought about feelings of loneliness and isolation, it has also unintentionally caused us to feel some sense of control over our day to day. Even when the pandemic felt out of control, our daily routines and lives became less variable. We became used to knowing and controlling what a typical Saturday looked like, how we spent our off time, and when our zoom calls started and ended.

We want to maintain our perception of control.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, we look at the relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We cannot control the thoughts that pop into our head or how we automatically feel, but we can control our actions. That awareness and control does not extend to others. We cannot read other people’s minds, predict what they will do or say, or control how they feel towards us. Going to a party means introducing a set of variables that we are not used to mentally facing. It might bring about more, “What if…” type of questions and leave us feeling self-conscious about how we are perceived.

We underestimate our ability to tolerate uncertainty.

“I won’t be able to handle it,” is the most common thought that prevents us from taking risks. Avoidance perpetuates anxiety. It might seem overwhelming to think about going to a large family BBQ or an in person networking event, and that’s okay. The first step is being self-compassionate and acknowledging why your anxiety is higher now than it was in the past. The second step is to set healthy boundaries and not feel obligated to do what you are not yet ready for. You do not need to supply an elaborate excuse to decline a social invitation. The third, and most important, step is to start reintegrating in small ways where you feel a sense of control. Perhaps you meet a friend for coffee, have one or two people over, or agree to stop by a social event for a shorter period of time. Feeling stuck? Make a list of things you’ve done over the past ten years that you once could not or did not think you could do. Maybe it was driving a car, graduating from school, being a parent, changing careers, or something else. Remind yourself that change is possible.

The more we practice going into situations where we do not know what will happen next, the less we dread them. A lot of our fears about “what if” get dispelled through experiences, and we learn that we can handle difficult things. Let your values guide your behaviors, not fear. – Elian


A Solution Looking for a Problem – Dr. Tom

April 4, 2021

How does leadership reinforce creation of negative work environments?

We like to believe that rumors, backstabbing and harassment occur within the lower ranks of organizations.  As with most behavior, it survives and thrives where it is reinforced.  When leaders in an organization are pulled away from the day to day operations of that organization, the disconnect creates tension and insecurity that seeks reduction within the leaders.  Left with the desire to feel connected and valued by their employees, and given the “gift” of a problem looking for solution on an individual basis, leaders fall prey to the trap of accepting that an individual perception reflects a larger group.  To reconnect, these leaders jump in to save the day.

How does perception lead to chaos? 

When an individual holds a perception, he or she seeks to affirm that by surrounding themselves with similar minds.  In that process a reciprocal exchange of affirmation occurs as each convinces the other of the accuracy of their perception mixed with the need to join as a servant of the social nature of our species.  As this negative minority seeks greater and greater connection, individual realities merge and reinforce each other.  Conflict within this minority is inherently avoided to prevent the erosion of this new connection again in service to the basic need for social interaction.  The more isolated or alone, the greater the need.  This provides affirmation for fringe cohesion among the individuals allowing for further disconnect from a widely held and more objective, positive reality.   Minus the analysis, when on the outside, individuals are better served to continue to move in cohesion with increasingly deviant perspectives.   This creates a vocal minority and the belief that their perception is the only accurate reality.  The silent majority is left with its own desire to avoid conflict and thus shake their heads in silence.

How is this chaos reinforced?

Back to our focus on those at the top of the organizations…in such a culture, a vocal minority raises a divisive viewpoint.  The leader’s need to be needed overrides the judgement that would otherwise value those who maintain the balance within an organization.  “If there is a fire, I am the one first on the hose” creates an identity within leadership that is a fragile entity riding the pendulum of reactionary drive.  With each “crisis” comes a new directive to quell the reality held by the few who are screaming, without the recognition that those screams are based in personal agenda not that of the organization.  A problem is solved, the screams are silent, and the majority remain quiet to move on to another day.  The greatest accomplishment of this management style is the death of motivation for the bulk of the work force.

Every problem has a solution! 

The first step to regain motivation is to correctly identify whether a problem actually exists.  It is rarely the one presented by the person stating, “this is how everyone feels” or “this is what everyone thinks”.  Broad generalities and representations of the silent majority are most often false by virtue of their silent nature.  They did not voice an opinion because they were happy in the first place.

The second step requires the exploration of the personal agenda of the self-elected “spokesperson”.

The third step is understanding inverse intention.   As an example, “I don’t want to make waves but….” translates to, “I want waves to be made but I am too insecure to bring an issue forward for solution…”  Alternately, more attention is gained by bringing something negative forward while repressing the real agenda.

The fourth step is dissection of the basic complaint at hand that is couched in partially related issues.

Once these four points are evaluated, and reflection of trust placed in the targets of the vocal minority is considered, action steps can be taken.   The first action step moves from the first problem step, challenge the “everyone” statement with the requirement to list the names of everyone for direct follow up.  Second, explore the agenda of the “spokesperson” to determine that individual’s intention – “Why are you bringing this to me and not the person you are talking about?”  This will flow into an understanding of the underlying agenda that can lead to personal growth for the individual voicing the complaint.  The third action point is to reverse “I don’t want to create problems” as a likely statement of exactly what that person does want.  Although it is change oriented, this change may well be for the individual’s benefit rather than any true gain to the system overall.  Fourth and most important, adopt a “face to face” culture that requires comments, complaints, and/or concerns go directly to the person they are about BEFORE bringing them to leadership.  Final and most complex, what we say we want is often not what we really want, but have little idea what the latter is.  The person experiences discontent but often does not understand the nature and origin of it.  This leads them to latch on to external situations and an apparent solution-focus as a mere band-aide where a psychological tourniquet is required.

In short, if leadership lacks the trust in themselves to lead, they will lack the trust in those they place in positions of leadership.  This lack will create a chasm in which a vocal and negative minority can erode the interconnections and fracture an organization’s potential by forcing leaders to pivot between survival positions.  When operating based on survival, secondary leaders’ growth, motivation, loyalty, and professionalism are all compromised.  Reflecting on the contributions, gathering alternative data, and requiring conflicts to be resolved on the face to face level can repair the damage caused by rushing in to save the day.

– Dr. Tom

Coaching or Therapy: 3 questions to determine your approach

March 30, 2021

This is a common question from individuals trying to decide whether the life challenges they are experiencing are at the level of needing a coach or needing a therapist. There is a lot of overlap between both practices particularly if the therapist you are considering is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Both CBT and coaching will consider what goals the person wants to accomplish. Both will use methods to help the individual understand what the blockages might be caused by, and determine strategies to help the individual change how they think about and perceive situations or topics in life.

Therapy is going to address mental health disorders…behaviors which meet the criteria for a diagnosed  disorder. Often these disorders have gotten to severe levels in a person’s life and are causing a significant disruption in their daily functioning. Because of this, therapy will focus on mental illness based on an intervention and medical model – what past and present events are creating the dysfunction. Coaching, on the other hand, will help individuals manage thoughts and behaviors before they create dysfunction. Coaches work from a prevention model – what strategies can be put in place before there are serious disruptions. Coaching focuses on the present and future, moving the individual closer to the life they want.

Once a person’s severe symptoms have reduced, it is not uncommon for individuals to switch from working with a therapist to working with a coach, or to work with both professionals simultaneously. A coach will support the individual to maintain their emotional and behavioral functioning, and work on the personal or professional goals that they could not focus on when their thoughts and behaviors got in the way.  In addition, for some people the idea of working with a “coach” versus a “therapist” has less of a stigma associated with it, allowing for the work to be done even more effectively without the cognitive block in the way.

Anyone can call themselves a coach so it is important to know what to look for to determine if the personal or executive coach is qualified to help support your needs and goals:

  1. Find someone who has training and experience in cognitive behavioral strategies. Ask them how long and what type of training they went through. Some coaches learned about cognitive behavioral approaches over a 2- to 4-year graduate program, with supervised experiences; others learn these strategies in a weekend course.
  2. Other coaches go through intensive training programs such as those through the International Coaching Federation (ICF) or the College of Executive Coaching (CEC). These programs are focused on training people to specialize in cognitive behavioral methods.

Now ask yourself:

  • Are my behaviors or emotions getting in the way of my daily life (therapy), or are they getting in the way of me achieving my goals (coaching)?
  • Are they at a level where intervention is necessary (therapy), or am I looking to ensure my thoughts and emotions stay under my control (coaching)?
  • Am I looking to get to a level of daily, functional behavior (therapy), or am I looking to get to a level of optimal functioning to achieve all the personal, academic and professional goals I’ve been thinking about for months or years (coaching)?

These questions can help determine what type of professional can be the most beneficial to support reaching your goals.