Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes


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Wise leaders watch for blind spots.

Helpful sign on a foggy path: Orkney, Scotland.

Leaders travel challenging roads on the journey to individual and organizational growth.

Sometimes, the way is clear. Other times, the best path is obscured, or the “sure thing” turns out to be a dead end.

At all times, it helps to be open, curious and attentive to information or feedback.

What you don’t notice may hurt you. Rarely are signs so obvious as the “Blind summit” warning I encountered on a narrow mountain road.

Especially when things are going well, it’s easy to ignore or dismiss valuable input. It’s important to look out — actively — for blind spots.

I write from experience: I’ve faced the consequences of poor vision at important junctures in my career, and I have observed well-intentioned leaders, attached to their blinders, fall into big, fat potholes.

What have I learned from those I’ve helped to navigate the perilous paths of personal or organizational growth?

Those who thrived through roadblocks, detours and complexity share characteristics, including resilience, optimism, confidence, curiosity, courage and self-awareness. I value all these qualities, but I’m most impressed by leaders who are curious, courageous and self-aware. They have the guts to explore their blind spots!

Effective leaders listen, learn, pay attention to what works and — if necessary — start again based on new or more accurate information. They seek input from outside sources and ask important questions, like “how is this working (or not)?” or “what am I missing?”

Rather than resting on successful track records, “tradition,” or educational credentials, wise leaders question the status quo. They challenge others to stop, look, listen and learn. They have the courage to change direction, even when it’s uncomfortable… even when they may be perceived as a “weak.” They  are dedicated to learning and development for themselves, colleagues and the organization.

Unfortunately, courageous leader-learners seem to be in the minority. However, I’ve been very fortunate to work with some who are brave enough to explore blind spots.

One final thought: the more we learn and uncover our “blind spots,” the more we realize how little we know. What do you think?


Turning over a new leaf: Respectful communication begins within

A new leaf.

Saturday was my birthday. The weather, an unexpected gift, featured clear skies, gentle breezes, highs in the 70s and low humidity (unusual for June in central North Carolina). My daily walk was on familiar neighborhood ground, yet everything looked different through my birthday eyes. I was eager to turn over a new leaf!

I’m hooked on fresh starts: January 1st, “back to school” time, birthdays… any calendar-related excuse to begin again. I can’t resist identifying the next challenge or thinking about what I might change. For me, life is about tangible growth and progress. (Perhaps that’s why I’m hooked on walks, too!)

Beginning times energize and inspire me; they also invite me to assess where I’ve been. If I’m not careful, instead of noting what I’ve accomplished, I focus on the inevitable imperfections, enumerating them in excruciating detail. I fall into a negative pattern, berating myself for projects undone, how I’ve failed, vowing to “get it right” next time. Yuck. Suddenly I’m demoralized instead of energized.

During my birthday walk, I affirmed my intention to communicate with respect. I remembered it begins with how I talk to myself. I acknowledged how I have messed up, but I was gentle, and less judgmental. It wasn’t easy, but I coached myself as I would with a client, inviting myself to consider the goals I have reached… even celebrating them (for instance, completing 53 “girl push-ups” on my 53rd birthday, when I was barely able to do ten push-ups five months ago)!

Three and a half years ago, I wrote about walking into new territory, relocating, and orienting to unfamiliar places.  What about altering the way I think and talk to myself? This is the birthday gift I hope to claim, one imperfect step at a time. Respectful communication begins with honest self-assessment of failures, successes, and everything in between. It’s all part of life’s wild and wonderful walk.


Beware the shifting, slippery ground of “truth”

The older I get, the more I realize how little I know. I’m wary of people too confident about being right, certain of their “one and only” path to addressing complicated issues. I’m dismayed about political discourse and the apparent attachment so many citizens have to electing leaders who are unwilling or unable to speak truthfully about the slippery nature of “truth.”

Sometimes I’m reminded of what I believed several years ago, well into my adulthood, and I cringe. How could I have believed such a thing? (All too easily, I’m afraid.) Fortunately, my unshakeable resolve to learn from experiences has broadened my perspective.

I did not always welcome the eye-opening circumstances through which I was forced to confront “truths” I took for granted. It’s uncomfortable to be exposed, to fall flat into a falsehood, to get up again and to say “I was wrong.” This admission may be especially difficult for those born in privilege, as I was. I’m grateful for the mind-changing opportunities I’ve had. To paraphrase one of the most popular hymns ever written: I was blind, but now I see. Continue reading

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How HR professionals can survive in a changing workplace

This post by Theresa M. Welbourne, Ph.D highlights what HR professionals should do to survive and thrive. I’ve observed how rarely HR people are viewed as respected leaders at work, despite good credentials, intentions and ideas. Welbourne advocates being a flexible, prepared problem-solver. I particularly like her suggestion that HR people find mentors outside of HR to help them navigate the workplace jungle.

Seat at the Table? Now it’s “Laws of the Jungle,” and 7 Tips for HR to Survive.


Is respectful communication at work an oxymoron?

I just received an invitation to a “respectful engagement at work” seminar. It sounds good and I admire the facilitator but I wonder whether it can make a difference. This is a disheartening thought because I lead workshops on respectful communication. What if my efforts result in nothing?

I suspect many who attend these seminars are: a) already converted (i.e., choir members seeking others with whom they may sing in tune, if only during a half-day workshop); or b) already disgruntled (i.e., people sent by well-meaning or clueless supervisors who believe respect may be taught in a workshop and/or who don’t create a climate for respect).

After studying and teaching interpersonal communication for decades, I’m familiar with specific speaking and listening skills that may contribute to more respectful collaboration. It’s difficult to put them into practice, and respectful engagement goes beyond using effective communication tips. In some situations, it probably seems not worth the effort.

So what’s behind my dampened enthusiasm? Have I lost respect for respect? I’ve built a career advocating positive personal and organizational change. I always believe things can be better and improvement happens one person at a time. But lately I’m experiencing a cynical — or perhaps more realistic — phase of doubting my ability to coach or teach about respect. We live in a cultural climate in which so many folks are stubbornly focused upon wanting others’ respect FIRST. Fewer people seem willing to take the first step by looking within or letting go of something to earn respect. Continue reading


Solvitur ambulando: walking and moving

“Solvitur ambulando” — it is solved by walking, is attributed to St. Augustine. I have this saying posted in my office, and I agree with Augustine on the power of putting one foot in front of the other. Walking has been life-changing for me. In 2001, I began to offer walks to clients as an alternative to more traditional forms of coaching. During our “coachwalks” they were able to think more creatively and expansively. Continue reading