Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes



Personality tests at work: Beware of dumb decisions!

Want to avoid dumb hiring decisions? Slow down and learn to read personality test signs.

Want to avoid dumb hiring decisions? Slow down. Read personality tests carefully.

A front-page Wall Street Journal article on workplace personality testing inspired today’s post. I’ve been fascinated by this topic since my first MBTI assessment, in the early 1980s.

As a big fan of learning and growth through self-awareness, I love tools designed to reveal strengths and talents! I’m also a skeptic, wary of how people jump to conclusions about test results. Today’s WSJ article addresses problems with assessments used for hiring.

In service of better hiring decisions (and an excuse for using my photo, because I found the “dumb dogs” sign irresistible), I’ll share random thoughts on intelligent and dumb usage of personality tests. Continue reading


Check your vision and see what you’re missing.

If you couldn't see this azalea, would you have your vision checked?

If you couldn’t see or didn’t notice this brilliant azalea, would you have your vision checked?

You can’t manage what you can’t see. I’ve said these words often, yet their clear, immediate truth escapes me when I’m lost in mindless blindness. Who, me? Yes, I’m prone to terrible vision when I feel sleepy, annoyed, anxious, hungry, defensive… and the list goes on.

So what to do in a world of the blind leading the blind? It helps to acknowledge reality: no one has perfect vision. (I’m not referring to the lucky minority with 20/20 eyesight.) Continue reading

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Goals on the rocks? Be realistic about time.


Door County, Wisconsin.

It’s mid-March, already! Where has the time gone? I’m sensitive to this issue as I’m helping a client with time management while tracking my own goals and hours I’ve lost, found, re-scheduled, wasted, or invested.

Some goals may be “on the rocks,” but I’ve reached others by committing the necessary time. I’m learning by looking into and beyond my piles of unfinished business. This process reminds me of an awkward, rewarding walk my husband and I took on a stone-filled beach (see photo): Treasures may be found, but it’s not a smooth, easy path.

I’m happy about meeting my fitness objectives. This has been relatively easy, because daily movement evolved from goal to habit two years ago. However, I’ve faltered on other fronts, including publishing a blog post every month (oops). Most noteworthy is my positive attitude shift about what I have not accomplished.

I’m less judgmental. I recognize the impact of circumstances beyond my control. I understand more about being a human being who can’t do everything. I’m less likely to feel defective because I “should” be doing x, y, and z instead of a, b, and c. I’m more likely to be a detective, finding clues in how I spend and experience time.

For instance, I’m not at my best playing the role of driven SUPERSTARPRENEUR — I believe I just made up a word — in a rush to do more and seize every business opportunity. I admire go-getter, focused, high energy types and when I’m inspired I can “turn it on” and burn through projects with the best of them. Yet, deep down, I’m inclined to slow down in a world of “more, faster, bigger, better.” I advocate a strategic, one step at a time approach for better understanding of complex issues. Fortunately, my clients appreciate this perspective.

Instead of wishing for more energy — whining about needing  7-8 hours’ sleep when best-selling, TED-talking leaders, authors and others accomplish amazing feats on much less — or  falling into despair over requiring quiet, introspective breaks to fuel creativity, I’m becoming more realistic, honest and respectful of my unique time and energy limits.

I’m recognizing the truth about what I can (or want) to do in a day, week, month, or year. This feels better than idealistic, I-can-do-it-all fantasies, or comparing myself with “more productive” others who zip and glide through the rocks!

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Willpower and good intentions: Manage energy wisely!

I can't resist chocolate cake when I'm stressed or tired...

I have no willpower and can’t resist chocolate cake when my energy is depleted…

Are you wondering how to lose weight, get organized, exercise more, or quit procrastinating? Does the thought of adding a virtuous behavior to your “to do” list make you want to give up before starting? Welcome to the club.

I recently taught a 3-week course on “New Year Intentions: One Step at a Time.” We told tales of tantalizing temptations and defeated diets. I promised participants they would not hear about their “unlimited human potential,” nor would I introduce transformational methods for managing mayhem.

I favor a practical approach, so we explored what’s most likely to help us develop greater self control, based on a growing body of research by Roy Baumeister and colleagues. There is good news on the perilous path to willpower. People can learn to make and keep more realistic promises to themselves and others. It helps to arrange your life so you have a chance to succeed.

When surprises and outside circumstances hinder progress, there’s not much we can do. However, most of us can manage a small part of our routines or schedules more wisely and set goals more mindfully. It starts with paying attention to how we allocate limited resources: time and energy.

At what time of day or week do you feel your best? When are you energetic, productive, or “in the flow?” When do you feel most drained, exhausted, or shut down? Are you strategic about your time and energy? Are you realistic about what you may accomplish and do you recognize signs of depletion? Have you allowed yourself the time and energy required to answer these questions?

This moment is an example of implementing strategy, based on knowing my limitations. I’m writing this post while standing, early in the day. I get sluggish by late afternoon, especially if I’ve been sitting too long. I knew I’d be more tired and less productive today, because I have a cold. I’ve planned a streamlined schedule so I may rest. (It’s futile to expect peak performance in the grips of a virus, but that doesn’t stop most of us from trying, showing up for a full day’s work, making mistakes, and spreading bugs to colleagues.)

Time and energy management is a lifelong journey. Willpower takes patience, practice and wisdom; there are no shortcuts. It helps to recognize obstacles and plan around them. We need to know our limits, set up our lives so we have a chance of succeeding, and keep at it, one step at a time.

Here’s an interview with willpower expert Roy Baumeister. I like the way it ends, with common sense recommendations about eating well and getting enough sleep. Time for me to have chicken soup and take a nap!

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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.

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Be a better leader, have a richer life (HBR video link)

Here’s a heartening example of a business professor discussing the importance of integrating leadership at work with leadership in life (i.e., home/family, community and self). I’m happy to see scholars talking about the holistic leadership I try to practice and model. Let’s hear it for leaders who find creative ways to win on the job while having the full, rewarding life “wins” that make them better leaders!

Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life.


A Monday morning walk and positive self-talk…


“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.”

–  Thoreau

This morning was alarming. The clock radio jolted me awake at 5:10, in the middle of a dream. I was out the door at 5:35, stepping into fog and the sticky central North Carolina air. I woke with grim determination to start the week on a positive note, practicing what I preach to my clients. (I’m lousy at coaching myself, because I ignore most of my advice.)

Like Thoreau, I am disturbed when parts of me are missing during a walk, or during other endeavors. However, during summer slug season in the South, I’m doing well just to get my body moving through the neighborhood. If mind and spirit are elsewhere, perhaps they don’t feel like walking! Nevertheless, today — the beginning of a challenging work week, with many “to dos” before I leave on vacation — felt like an appropriate time for all parts of me to engage in my walk. I decided to give it a try. Continue reading


Mindfulness and intentional communication: good for your health

Last week, I attended a fascinating presentation by a psychologist and his physician colleague from Duke Integrative Medicine on a favorite topic: mindfulness. Since 1989, when I discovered Ellen Langer’s book on Mindfulness, I’ve attempted to integrate it into my life and work. I need more practice and wish I could be more consistent, but I know this much: when I begin my day mindfully, everything works better. Sleep, for instance, and my ability to manage interruptions, break-downs and other challenges. Although my experiences have demonstrated the value of mindfulness, like many folks,  I’m often mindless (i.e., unfocused, unaware of the not-helpful ways I’m thinking or behaving, feeling out of control, stressed, or a victim of circumstances).

The Duke presentation inspired me to PAY ATTENTION to mindfulness again (in fact, that’s what mindfulness is about – attending to the present moment, without a judgmental attitude, with the intention of letting it be what it is). Researchers are documenting health-enhancing changes in brain chemistry, the body, emotions and behavior as people in all walks of life and states of health learn to reduce stress or pain and improve well being through meditation and other mindful, daily practices. Continue reading

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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