Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes



Learning in the dark: Grief, loss, and other taxing teachers

Old schoolhouse in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A dark one-room schoolhouse in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (TN).

This is my first blog from the dark. I feel like I’m stuck at the barely visible desk in my photo. I’m aware of sunlight and vast space outside, yet not ready to move from the sheltered schoolroom.

How does one learn alone in the dark? I’m figuring it out. It helps to be near a window.

Normally, when I write in this public space, topics come to me from the outdoors. I’m on my feet, walking, and sharing insights from a positive perspective. Not today. My feet are tucked under me on the sofa. I’m feeling vulnerable. I’ve been moving slowly (or not moving at all), working through disruption and despair.

My beloved father — a healthy, active, eternally optimistic 78-year-old — fell suddenly on February 27 while taking a walk. He was diagnosed with a fatal, fast-growing brain tumor in late March, declined with stunning speed after having a stroke, and died April 15, tax day in the US. Benjamin Franklin wrote “… in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” These inevitable events will be linked in my mind forever. Continue reading

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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?

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Courageous communication: admitting mistakes with grace

“Nothing requires more courage than admission of fault.” I saved this quote years ago, and forgot to note the source (oops). Recently, I’m making more than the usual number of silly mistakes, along with a few bigger goofs. I’m trying to be brave when I mess up. I respect people who admit faults responsibly and gracefully. I want to be more like them!

For me, courage means fighting the urge to explain or make excuses (at this moment, I want to list why any human being in my circumstances might be prone to mishaps)! This is one of my greatest communication challenges: acknowledging what happened, then moving on, without getting into reasons. I talk too much when I want to persuade myself and others I was not out of line, or had the best intentions. Continue reading