More than once I have been known to say, “Work is a four-letter word.” And, sometimes it is — I sense a lot of heads nodding in unison. Yet, at times work transcends and becomes something which gives meaning and purpose to our lives. Coaching can help you move from soul-sucking, four-letter-word work to fulfilling, meaningful work. Coaching can also help improve other parts of your life. Let me give you some examples:
I can’t stand my boss. She makes my day miserable. She’s a horrible leader — she can’t make decisions, she avoids conflicts, she passes most of the tough decisions on to me. That means I have even more work to do! She also loses her temper and rages around the office. She’s really unpredictable. What can I do?
Quit. No, I’m just sort of kidding. OK, I might not be kidding. In all things, I suggest you give a situation your best shot before throwing in the towel. That way you can walk away knowing that you tried everything possible to make a situation work. When you have problems with your boss, usually it’s one of two things: 1) your Bully Boss reminds you of someone you’ve had trouble with in the past, or 2) your Bully Boss exhibits traits you wish you had yourself. I often ask clients who their Bully Boss reminds them of — and they usually know exactly who to finger (most frequently they’re reminded of a tyrannical parent or other powerful figure from their childhood).
Then, we look at what it is that’s similar (inexplicable rage, unpredictability, favoritism, etc.) and work on understanding how that influences your actions, or holds you back. When the Bully Boss has traits you wish you had — you might say, “No way! I’m nothing like that bully!” To which I say, “Way”, and ask you to list everything you hate about the Bully Boss. Then we’ll go back through the list and figure out what you need to strengthen or to claim.
In one case, a client was perturbed that the Boss always brown-nosed more senior people, asking them to lunch or coffee or other activities. After doing an exercise or two, the client realized that she was envious of her Bully Boss, because the client wished she had the gumption to interact with senior staff. She made a goal of asking a Senior V.P. to lunch, and it worked. Her tension with her boss lessened substantially. However, if you look at how your own judgments and biases may be contributing to your work environment and still determine that the problem is your boss — then get your resume together, activate your network and throw in the towel. Some situations cannot be fixed.
I’ve just been promoted to a big job — I’m managing some of the people who were interviewed for this position. There’s a lot of back-stabbing and office politics. How do I make the most of my new job?
First, you have to play the part. If you are a manager or senior executive, you have to own that role. Notice what the other senior people wear, and match their level of professional dress. Impressions about you are made in the very first few weeks of your new job — claim your authority from the beginning. I have a client who started as an executive at a major organization where few women were in senior ranks. So my client dressed and acted how she thought an executive should, and no one doubted her authority. In fact, she was promoted in the first two months on the job.
The second part of this scenario is more complicated — managing someone who was considered for the position you now hold. Yikes! The best strategy is to win that person over. Ask about their successes and carefully seek their opinion. I say “carefully” because you don’t want to cede your authority to them. Rather, keep in mind that you want to foster a harmonious team and act accordingly. Do your best to avoid office gossip — as a manager, you set the tone and can send a message that damaging, back-stabbing office gossip will not be tolerated. Finally, taking a new, big job might be slightly scary and you might be tempted to use self-deprecating humor to break the ice. Big honking mistake. If you “run yourself down”, as your mama would say, you leave yourself wide open for others to do the same. Act confidently and leave your insecurities at home.
I’m scared of making decisions. I think that whatever I do, I’ll make the wrong choice and live to regret it. Any advice?
I believe the vast majority of human beings are influenced by fear. Specifically, the fear of death. And my recommended antidote? Walk right into the fear. If you are afraid of dying, you’ll do anything to avoid situations where you could possibly, potentially, tangentially die. You avoid talk of death, and maybe even avoid funerals.
All this avoidance only serves to make your fear bigger. When you walk up to your fear and shake its hand, you may find that the fear is groundless and not worth fearing. In that instance, you can walk right through your fear — and not be hamstrung by it any longer. This is true when you fear another person’s rage, when you fear failure, when you fear shame. Walk up to it and ask, “Why am I afraid of you? What will happen to me because of you?” Keep asking, “What happens next?” until you get to the point where you understand exactly what your fear is… and shake its hand. I promise, you will have a better chance of walking through to no-fear than if you keep avoiding what makes you fearful in the first place.
I’m 53, divorced, empty-nester. I’ve had a job at a non-profit but it’s not fulfilling any more. My kids are gone and starting lives of their own. I have a good ten or fifteen years before I retire — what do I do with myself?
When looking up the road, it’s often useful to look back down the road we’ve already traveled. As your coach, I’d start by helping you assess your core values and see how you have lived them, or, perhaps subordinated them in service of some other priority. By knowing your values, you can construct a future based on them — thereby increasing your sense of meaning and purpose. We’d also consider how much money you need to make (not want, sugar — need, and YOU KNOW there is a difference) and how you want to live. These simple two steps put folks a long way toward what might be a surprising, meaningful, brand-new road.
I think I’m married to the wrong person. There’s just no ‘zing’ in our marriage. He takes care of the basics but there’s no romance. Whenever I ask him to do something — like talk with me more about his feelings, or share his life with me — he does it for a few days then goes right back into the rut. We hardly ever have sex. It almost feels like we don’t have anything in common. I can’t be married like this for the rest of my life! What do I do?
Simple advice: Get thee into therapy. As a coach, I’ve taken specialized training to help couples strengthen their marriages. I can help with tips and tactics to improve the quality of your marriage, but when you feel like this about your marriage, you are a zillion times more likely to do something you might ultimately regret (just because Stella got her groove back with a handsome young man, doesn’t mean you will).
In therapy, you can voice your concerns about your marriage and learn skills and tactics to enhance your relationship. I particularly like the Imago therapy approach developed by Harville Hendrix (his Getting the Love You Want is a great book). Go to www.imagotherapy.com and search for a qualified Imago therapist in your area. Many of my clients work with me individually while also working with a couples counselor. As I mentioned above, don’t throw in the towel until you’ve tried everything to make it work — which includes a commitment to couples counseling.