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Questions to ask before you ASS-U-ME

January 3rd, 2018 • by Laura Scott •

You know the old saying: “When you assume something, you make an Ass out of U and Me.” What is it about assumptions that make them so asinine? Well, mostly it’s because assumptions are rarely 100% accurate and that yawning gap between your assumption and the actual truth is sometimes, well, embarASSing.

Blame it on our brains. To shorten our response time during times of threat, our brains became hard-wired to jump to conclusions based on just a shred of evidence. This so-called “evidence” triggers us to recall past incidents (usually stored and labelled as “Very Bad” by the brain) and we react based on the fear-based assumption that what happened before will happen again. This default response time is so quick that the rational, thinking part of our brain can’t keep up, and the primitive part of our brain executes a response based on an assumption before our thinking brain has a chance to investigate further.

So how do we stop the brain default from making an ass of us?

Simple. Recognize when you feel threatened. Then, ask your brain a question as soon as you feel threatened or anxious. This question will invite the thinking part of your brain to pause and investigate, quelling the immediate knee-jerk threat response. Here’s a few simple questions that will challenge the assumptions your brain wants to make and allow you to truly see what is going on in your present world:

  • I feel some anxiety. What’s going on?
  • I have just been triggered. How do I want to respond?
  • Some part of me feels threatened. How can I turn this threat into an opportunity?

Try this for a week, observe how you feel, and report back by commenting below. If you want to quickly get into the habit of asking these questions, there’s an app for that: My Leadership Coach, available for less than $20 by downloading this session on the MindPT app (free in Goggle Play or iTunes). For additional tips, you can also subscribe to our quarterly newsletter and get a free excerpt of my new book: Pause Power.

If you are assuming this is some gimmick, or some martian mind control trick, we have some work to do!

The 4 Key Behaviors of the Super Successful CEO

December 6th, 2017 • by Laura Scott •

Not everyone who makes it to Chief Executive Officer has the skills and behaviors to be successful in their role. In fact, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review noted that “from 2000 to 2013, 25% of the Fortune 500 chief executives who left their firms were forced out. One major reason is that there’s a fundamental disconnect between what boards of directors think makes for an ideal CEO and what actually leads to high performance.”

When researchers at ghSmart’s CEO Genome Project looked at a database of 2,000 CEO assessments they found that successful CEOs demonstrated four common key behaviors that either got them the top job, or allowed them to exceed expectations:

1.      They are decisive — recognizing that a wrong decision is often better than no decision at all.

2.      They engage purposefully for impact — they try to understand their stakeholder’s needs and motivations with a focus on delivering results while also creating value. They are mindful of their emotions and facial expressions understanding that emotions are contagious and expressions and body language can be misinterpreted.

3.      They proactively adapt to current situations, while focusing on long-term, big picture strategies that put their companies ahead of the curve.

4.      They deliver results reliably. They know how to quell investor nervousness by being predictable in their actions and results, and managing expectations.

Some of the key findings that emerged from this study had much to do with values as behaviors. 90 percent of the successful CEOs showed perseverance and resiliency when dealing with setbacks, not perceiving them as failures but as opportunities to learn. Despite the setbacks, the CEOs proved to be reliable not only in their results but in their own personal conduct. 94% of the strong CEO candidates analyzed scored high on being consistent in following through on their commitments and promises, so there may be something to the old saws, “Be true to your word”, and “underpromise and overdeliver.”

Asking for Feedback? Here’s a Menu of Questions for Biz Owners and Execs

November 6th, 2017 • by Laura Scott •

Asking for feedback from trusted sources is likely the most important thing that you can do to narrow the focus of your personal or professional development plan. CEOs report that getting honest feedback is one of the things they miss most as they move up the org chart. It’s true, when you get to a certain level, there are less opportunities to get actionable feedback, particularly if you a small business owner or CEO.

Often I am asked, as an executive coach, to interview my future client’s peers and stakeholders ahead of an executive coaching engagement so that I can provide my client with a 360 summary of the feedback I receive from conducting short, confidential phone interviews. This feedback summary is crafted so these clients don’t read the verbatim feedback of a particular person (to honor confidentiality of the feedback givers), but that fact doesn’t diminish the value to the client, as they consistently tell me that this feedback summary was one of the most helpful tools in their coaching, allowing us to make the most of our coaching time together.

I also share the following “menu” of feedback questions with clients who want to ask for feedback from their co-workers, forum and mastermind peers, friends, or key stakeholders in open feedback sessions or surveys. I invite you to use these questions however you wish. Just remember to thank those who provided you with the feedback, because feedback is the gift that keeps on giving! Here’s my Feedback Question Menu:

· What do you see as my key strength? What has impressed you about me?

· What have you observed about my behavior that seems incongruent with my “talk” or “values”?

· What would be the one thing that I could work on that would make the most difference in my effectiveness as a leader?

· What would be the one thing that I could work on that would make the most difference in my effectiveness as a communicator?

· What would be the one thing that I could work on that would improve my ability to connect and nurture relationships?

· What would be the one thing that I could change that would enhance my appearance or professional or leadership presence?

· On what occasions do I seem afraid, or not confident?

· What is one skill I could develop further that would enhance my success, or the success of my business?

· If you could identify one thing that you think might be a blind spot for me, what would it be?

· Where do you think my focus should be in terms of personal or professional development?

· What is it about me that you sometimes find distracting, or annoying?

When Perfect Isn’t Perfect

January 30th, 2017 • by Laura Scott •

As a reformed perfectionist, I understand the appeal of perfection. Whether it’s the aesthetic appeal of a perfectly cut diamond or the yummy perfection of a beautifully decorated wedding cake, we all appreciate perfection on the occasions it shows up in our lives. We marvel because perfection is so rare and often beautiful.

While perfection is something we all appreciate, we get into trouble when we constantly strive for it. Striving for perfection is a surefire way to set yourself, or others, up for failure and disappointment. And, in most cases, perfection is not necessary, or even good.

Imagine coming into every meeting with the perfect solution. How boring would that be? How would that make your coworkers feel? Imagine if you could not leave your house until every hair was in place and your makeup flawless. How many hours of your life would be consumed with grooming? Who would be waiting, impatient and annoyed? Imagine if every report you presented would be thrown into a fire pit (without a digital copy to rework — horrors!) if it had just one typo or mistake. How would you feel as the author of that report? Yet so many of us strive to achieve perfection in everything we do, and feel disappointment when we can’t.

When I work with senior executive women and they say, “I am a bit of a perfectionist” they are often taken aback when I respond, “perfectionism is a block to success.” But it is true. Perfectionism is the enemy of progress, innovation, and productivity. And perfectionism—practiced as a solo sport—disengages others. Perfect people are just plain annoying.

When I was married I would tell my husband that he was “perfect in his imperfectness” and I believed that. In my thirties, I finally learned to believe that about myself and that new belief changed everything. I began to take delight in the beautiful imperfections that showed up in my world every day: my imperfect smile, the misshapen heirloom tomato, the driftwood on the beach, natural pearls, and the overdone cookies I gobbled down before the guests arrived. I found beauty or value in every one of these things. I understood that God made the perfect and the imperfect as a way to give us contrast and I learned that, like the rose blossom, perfection may be very temporary.

This new belief in the perfection of imperfection freed me from striving for the unattainable. My newfound appreciation for imperfection allowed me to be more creative, more collaborative, less rigid, and less stressed. Most importantly it allowed me to be more compassionate with myself and with others. I understood that we if we valued only that which was perfect we would risk devaluing prototypes, research, opinions, art, cuisine, wine, film, dancing, and our childhood teddy bears.

The reality is that if we expect perfection of ourselves, or others, we will live a life of disappointment. If we strive for perfection we will be crippled by the pressure to perform. If we constantly achieve perfection we will appear less human, and less approachable.

When I was vacationing in Turkey and admiring the beautiful handmade rugs, I was told that the weavers would intentionally weave in a “mistake”— an odd-colored piece of yarn or a break in the pattern — because “only Allah is perfect.” I didn’t spot the “mistake” until the rug merchant pointed it out to me. Step back from the rug, soften your gaze, and the intentional flaw disappears. So I challenge you to make imperfection an art form. Be perfect in your imperfectness.  Be that beautiful rug.

Empowering Questions for the Coach-Centric Leader

August 3rd, 2016 • by Laura Scott •

puzzle peicesWhen I do workshops on Coach-Centric Leadership, we spend a lot of time crafting empowering questions that leaders can use with their teams to empower, engage, and problem solve.

The most challenging thing about this is that sometimes the most empowering questions require that you “play dumb.” When I’m doing a 1:1 meeting with the client I will preface these questions by saying, “Permit me to ask a really dumb question…”

The magic of these “dumb” questions is that they challenge all the assumptions that we are making about what is “true” or possible, we challenge the status quo, and we gain valuable information that otherwise we wouldn’t have uncovered using more direct close-ended questions.

All the best empowering questions start with “What” or “How.” Questions that start with the word “Why” often will put people on the defensive and a person in defensive mode will typically retaliate, clam up, or start to finger point. None of which is good.

I invite you to think about how you can craft four or five open-ended questions starting with “What” or “How” you can have at the ready for those times when you really want to investigate the truth and co-create solutions with your team.

Here’s an example of three empowering questions that I like to use :

“What would be one baby step that you could make this week that would make you feel proud and accomplished and put you closer towards that goal?”

“What are the unknowables that are getting in the way of us moving forward?”

“How might we craft a solution where everybody wins?”

As a coach who has worked with many of the top leaders in a variety of industries, I likely have an answer to all of these questions, but they are flawed, because they are my answers and not my clients.

It’s my job as a coach to empower my clients to craft their own solutions based on their skills, knowledge, and values. The only way I can do that is to shut up and ask the empowering question. And in doing so I learn so much more about my client and what is possible for them and their organizations. The same holds true for the leader. If we can set aside what we know and be curious, we can challenge all of the assumptions, we can exploit the wisdom in the room, and engage and empower others as solution partners.

What Do Coaches Do?

April 5th, 2016 • by Laura Scott • 2 Comments

what do coaches do graphic
At a recent Central Florida chapter meeting of the International Coaches Federation, our table topic question was, “How do you clearly and succinctly describe what you do, so that others fully understand what coaching is?”

The coaches in the room were a diverse group of life or wellness coaches, executive and leadership coaches, business coaches, and career coaches and the responses to this question were similarly diverse, as each type of coach serves their clients in different ways. Here’s a summary of the responses to the question “What do coaches do?”
In general, coaches can help us:
• connect the dots
• be our authentic selves
• take us from good to great
• create a personal brand
• come to the right table
• discover what we really want in life
• find the answers from within ourselves
• get us from where we are, to where we want to be
• be more accountable to ourselves and others
• formulate goals aligned with values
• play nice in the sandbox

The second question we addressed was “What are the most significant barriers that we, as individual coaches, face in educating the general public about the profession of coaching?”

We agreed that the biggest barrier was a lack of education around what coaching really is. A number of coaches recalled clients who had confused psychotherapy or counseling with coaching. Some clients ask for a coach but they really want a consultant — someone to tell them what to do.

Also, in some corporate environments, coaching is perceived as punitive; the perception being that if you’re assigned a coach this is your last chance to clean up your act before they show you the door. However the reality is quite the opposite as the majority of companies utilize coaching to develop their high potential leaders to ready them for the next level of leadership, and to help supervisors and executives develop customized professional leadership plans and to help them achieve their developmental goals.

In my personal experience as an executive coach, I find my clients truly value the confidential space that the professional coach creates and honors. They also appreciate an objective sounding board and the empowering questions that lead them to greater insights into what they really want to achieve, and why. The goal is often to help the client achieve intrinsic motivation vs. external motivation, so that the energy for change or develop comes from the clients’ genuine desire for continuous improvement and well-being.

If you engage with a coach and they start telling you what you need to do, move on. That person is not a coach. The ICF definition coaching is: Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

Through extensive training, certified coaches are trained to listen, to observe and to customize their approach to individual client needs. Unlike most other forms of personal development, coaches seek to elicit solutions and strategies from the client.

The underlying belief is that the client is whole, naturally creative and resourceful.

Accessing your “Mad Genius”

March 10th, 2016 • by Laura Scott •

science labRecently, I was on the phone, doing a debrief on an Energy Leadership assessment and asked the respondent how she was expressing her Level 6 energy–the energy of genius thinking and the creative flow state. She responded, “I know intuitively what to do and say, like I am psychic. I am using my intuition but I know I am right.”

After our call, I reflected on what she had said and recalled the times when I was able to totally trust my intuition and access my “mad genius.” You likely have had this experience: You are alone with your thoughts, perhaps on a walk, or in the shower, or leaning back in your chair with your eyes closed, puzzling out a problem, and BAM! a flash of insight comes to you, or a ridiculously perfect idea, and a smile plays on your lips and you feel an immediate need to act or decide, Damn the naysayers!

In this state you feel joy and synergy. You may be getting goose bumps, a tingling sensation, or feeling like there’s butterflies in your stomach. But strangely, NO FEAR!

There is no wrong decision at Level Six because the journey is more important than the destination; everything is happening for a reason; you are accessing wisdom you never even knew you had. You are giddy with excitement!

If this state is something you can only dream about, allow me to make some suggestions on how you might access this level six energy and tap into the mad genius state.

1) Suspend judgment and just ask “What if…?”

2) Breathe into the “What if?” question and wait for a moment

3) Imagine one perfect scenario and then another, and another

4) Smile and open your palms as if you are getting ready to accept a gift of precious gems or gold coins

5) Acknowledge that there are no mistakes

6) Invite the mad genius into your world and collaborate with him, and play and laugh

Intentional Leadership

August 20th, 2015 • by Laura Scott •

railroad tracksThat didn’t go as planned…”

I was speaking to a colleague about how leaders come to feel the gap between where they are and where they want to be in terms of leadership.

They can usually point to one or two incidents when they were not at their best or things got a bit out of control and the outcome was short of what they hoped.

Self-aware leaders will take some responsibility for the less-than-ideal outcome. They will reflect on what happened and perhaps identify the point when the train started to go off the rails. They said something or did something, people reacted in unexpected ways, the morale or the mood shifted, and suddenly a well-planned engagement or meeting took a turn for the worse.

The reflection is important. That’s how adults learn and grow. But the next step is harder. How do you repair the damage? How do you ensure that it doesn’t happen again?

Repairing the damage may be as simple as a public apology. I know, it’s harder than it sounds. How do you ensure it doesn’t happen again? You can’t. We are human. We make mistakes. But we can make less of them if we are self aware and intentional and strategic about how we show up as leaders.

How do you do that?

It starts with a personal leadership inventory. An inventory that includes your vision of an ideal leadership style that reflects your values and personality and then identifies the blocks to achieving that ideal more consistently. That means having a greater degree of awareness around:
-Your triggers and hot buttons
-Your values and how you typically express them
-The quality of the energy you bring to a space
-The most effective way to earn trust in your organization

This awareness exposes where we might be vulnerable, how we can stand strong and be authentic as leaders, and it informs our choices around how we respond and how we engage positively.

It won’t guarantee that we will never again go off the rails but it will ensure that there is an engaged and conscious decision-maker at the wheel when things don’t go exactly as planned.

Learn how to craft your personal Leadership Inventory by joining us at the Emerging Leaders Development Seminar at the University of Tampa  Saturday October 10, 2015. The public is welcome!

The Gift of Anger and Sadness

July 14th, 2015 • by Laura Scott •

miserable kidAs an executive coach, I help my clients deal with some pretty highly-charged emotional states. And during those times I invite my clients to suspend judgment around certain emotions that they think of as “bad.” Sometimes my clients feel compelled to apologize for emotions like anger and sadness. They want to quickly move through these emotional states, deeming them unproductive or negative.

It’s true that my job as a coach is to help my clients become “unstuck” and move forward productively and strategically. However I can’t help but see the gift that our emotions bring. With awareness and with empathy we can actually learn how to use our emotions to be more authentic as leaders and to connect and engage with others more effectively.

I won’t belabor you with stats and scientific studies that back this up, but trust me they’re out there. If you want to skip the scientific literature and experience this for yourself, I invite you to see the recent Pixar movie “Inside out.” When Pixar was in development with this film, Pete Docter, the writer and director of the film, consulted with two emotion experts, University of California psychologists Dacher Keltner and Paul Ekman, to understand how the emotions of the 11-year-old character would impact her experience and her relationships, as her family made a disruptive cross-country move.

This is what Keltner and Ekman shared with Pete Docter about the science of emotions, as summarized in their NY Times article titled “The Science of ‘Inside Out'”:

“Emotions organize — rather than disrupt — our social lives. Studies have found, for example, that emotions structure (not just color) such disparate social interactions as attachment between parents and children, sibling conflicts, flirtations between young courters and negotiations between rivals.

Other studies find that it is anger (more so than a sense of political identity) that moves social collectives to protest and remedy injustice. Research that one of us has conducted has found that expressions of embarrassment trigger others to forgive when we’ve acted in ways that momentarily violate social norms.

This insight, too, is dramatized in the movie. You might be inclined to think of sadness as a state defined by inaction and passivity — the absence of any purposeful action. But in “Inside Out,” as in real life, sadness prompts people to unite in response to loss.”

When I work with clients on emotional self-mastery and resilience, we intentionally suspend judgment around the emotion and simply look at emotions as benign signals; signals that prompt us to be empathetic observers and strategic decision-makers around how we want to show up, or engage, in response to that emotion.

As the studies show, emotions can serve to unite us in empathy or in actions towards justice. In fact, all altruistic actions are birthed by our emotions, including anger at the injustice we see in our world.

So the next time you find yourself in a highly-charged emotional state, don’t judge yourself or the emotion. Instead, see this as the opportunity it is; an opportunity to use this emotion as the fire that forges the metal. And you are the blacksmith in the process a creating the person, or the leader, you want to be.

Hitting a wall? Check your mindset!

June 30th, 2015 • by Laura Scott •

wiley coyote against wallJeff Haden, a Contributing Editor for Inc. Magazine, recently posted a piece on the link between mindset and success and why those who have a growth mindset experience more success over the course of their lives than those who operate from a fixed mindset.
He cites Dr. Carol Dweck’s work at Stanford, documented in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

The first step to getting the things you want is to believe you deserve them.
Far from a trivial platitude, this sort of thinking actually closely mirrors what modern psychology depicts in how our beliefs influence our behavior.

Dr. Dweck’s studies posit that there are two basic mindsets that control how most people see themselves.
Those with a “fixed mindset” assume intelligence, character, and creative potential are unchangeable attributes writ in stone since birth — that they cannot be modified in any meaningful way.

They further assume that success is simply a result of this inherent talent, and as a result, they often avoid failure in order to maintain an aura of infallibility.


Those with a “growth mindset” have a much more malleable view on success. They do not view failure as a reflection of their ability, but rather as a starting point for experimentation and testing of ideas.

As I read about Dr Dweck’s work, I noted that the mindsets differ markedly in the core beliefs around intelligence. People who have a fixed mindset believe that “Intelligence is static.” Those with growth mindsets believe “Intelligence can be developed” and they act accordingly: embracing challenges, being persistence in the face of obstacles, and being motivated and inspired by their own accumulation of knowledge and the helpful critiques and guidance from others.

I agree with Haden that the growth mindset is something that can be developed by practice and by consistently acknowledging and celebrating the small successes. He recommends that we “focus on creating small wins through changing your habits. Make daily ‘micro quotas’ (10 minutes of working out a day) that are so easy you can’t say no. In short, nail it then scale it.”

As a coach, I see self confidence increase when clients begin to attribute their success to their choices and efforts, rather than their IQ or education. A grow mindset is not something you are born with; a growth mindset is developed by intent and by the adoption of new ways of thinking or being, and is supported by natural curiosity, internal definitions of success, and aligning your pursuits with your passions and values.