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Preview: Ed Batista: Executive Coaching & Change Management

Ed Batista: Executive Coaching



Executive Coach, Lecturer @StanfordBiz, contributor @HarvardBiz



Updated: 2017-11-11T15:57:35-08:00

 



Thank You, Veterans

2017-11-11T16:30:32-08:00

As we remember veterans and acknowledge their service today, I'm thinking of four specific individuals and what I learned from them. Ten years ago my professional duties included commenting on students' written assignments in a class at Stanford's Graduate School... As we remember veterans and acknowledge their service today, I'm thinking of four specific individuals and what I learned from them. Ten years ago my professional duties included commenting on students' written assignments in a class at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. Two of the students assigned to me were veterans, both of whom had seen combat. At the time I had little understanding of what it was like to be a veteran in contemporary society, and reading these students' reflections helped me realize that this was a topic that I needed to explore further. Much of my work involves reaching across dimensions of difference--gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation--in order to be a more effective coach and teacher. And yet I'd failed to appreciate that being a veteran can be an equally meaningful aspect of personal identity, particularly in an era of extensive armed conflict. As a result of this newfound perspective, over the next few years I made a special effort to work with veterans and to learn more about their experiences. A theme that emerged from these conversations was the gulf that can exist between veterans as a community and the larger culture's awareness of that community and what it means to be a member. Today, while I try to avoid stereotypes, I pay close attention when I learn that someone's a veteran, knowing that their military service may have had a significant impact on their life. In addition, I have a heightened sensitivity to other often-invisible forms of difference, such as religious faith or social class. A few years after the experiences described above I was working with another veteran in a different capacity. His communication style was relatively reserved, and I offered some critical feedback in response, suggesting that greater expressiveness would allow him to be a more effective communicator. He was receptive to this feedback, but after several exchanges along these lines he pushed back. He explained that his communication style was a function of his life experiences, including his military service, and in some circumstances it had been essential to minimize his emotional expressiveness in order to fulfill his duties effectively. He also noted that while he had been trying to respond to my feedback, I had not acknowledged these efforts--it was as though any expressiveness on his part was going unseen unless it was conveyed in a particular way. This was a powerful lesson for me. While my feedback was offered with the best of intentions, it was also a type of intolerance that reflected a blind spot on my part--I wanted him to conform to my more overtly expressive communication style. While it was valuable for him to learn that his default style wasn't having the desired impact, it was just as valuable for me to realize that I needed to pay closer attention to subtle forms of emotional expression and to better understand the role of formative experiences--not only military service, but also family background, national culture, and professional training—in shaping people's communication styles. While I try to challenge any assumptions I might make on the basis of these factors, I continue to benefit from a greater awareness of the role they can play in communication. Finally, in 2008, while I was beginning the process of reaching out to veterans, I had the privilege of working with Jake Miller, a West Point alumnus on active duty in the U.S. Army who had come to Stanford to earn an MBA in the midst of his military career. Jake joined the school's Leadership Fellows program that year and subsequently enrolled in the Leadership Coaching class (which has since been integrated into the Fellows curriculum). Jake and I worked together closely in the Fellows program, and I had the opportunity to observe him many times [...]



Dysfunction Isn't Heroism

2017-10-17T17:25:34-07:00

My coaching practice with senior leaders and my work with MBA students at Stanford provides me with a perspective on a wide range of organizations, from early-stage startups to global corporations. And I commonly hear about people doing things like... My coaching practice with senior leaders and my work with MBA students at Stanford provides me with a perspective on a wide range of organizations, from early-stage startups to global corporations. And I commonly hear about people doing things like this: Forgoing sleep in order to continue working at night (usually on low-value email) Scheduling events back-to-back all day and literally running from one to the next Minimizing time with family and skipping workouts and other forms of self-care Eating meals alone at a desk This is deeply dysfunctional, and we know it. We know that sufficient sleep is essential for effective leadership, optimal performance, and emotion regulation. We know that time for reflection is necessary to do our best work and to learn from experience. We know that the sense of well-being that can come from strong personal relationships, regular physical activity and other forms of self-care is associated with improved performance. And we know that eating together strengthens teams. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that hard work is unnecessary or can be avoided. I have the privilege of coaching and teaching people who are deeply passionate about their work or their professional education, and they dedicate extensive time and effort to the process, just as I do. But our culture is profoundly confused about the nature of hard work, a confusion that's evident in the counterproductive practices noted above. While vast numbers of workers in various sectors of the economy feel obligated to go along with similar practices or risk losing their jobs, that's rarely true for the people I coach and teach. The people I work with don't engage in these practices because they're being forced to; while they may feel pressure to perform at a high level, they freely chose to take on a senior management position or to pursue an MBA at Stanford. And I'd guess that many professionals who find themselves having similar experiences also feel a sense of agency; to some extent, they're working this way by choice, particularly in elite organizations. But why? One fundamental driver is that we've recast dysfunction as heroic sacrifice. We've collectively created a narrative around the nature of work that not only justifies such dysfunctional practices, but also regards those who engage in them as selfless heroes, sacrificing sleep, relationships, and even their health in order to help the organization achieve its goals. We brag about how little sleep we're getting, how busy and over-scheduled we are, how poorly we take care of ourselves--all of which plays into and reinforces this narrative of heroic sacrifice. So what can we do about it? Get educated. As a starting point, the articles and papers linked above can help us truly understand the ways in which these counterproductive practices actually undermine our effectiveness and hurt our performance. (And there are many more to be found in my Art of Self-Coaching archive.) Experiment. We can try committing to a better sleep regimen, regular exercise, or a mindfulness practice. We can put some boundaries in place and stick to them. We can schedule some open space on our calendar and leave it there. We can invest in self-care on a consistent basis. And then see what happens. (If you're like my clients and students, I suspect you'll find yourself performing at a higher level while feeling better.) Change the narrative. The stories we tell ourselves about the world have an impact on our experience in it. Ultimately we have to recognize that there's a difference between actual heroic sacrifices and imaginary ones, and we need to see this distinction clearly. Hard work is a wonderful thing--but dysfunction isn't heroism. (Something that I find helpful is to express appreciation for actual hero[...]



How to Think (More on Open Space and Deep Work)

2017-10-09T08:51:59-07:00

This is a companion piece to Open Space, Deep Work and Self-Care. Most of my coaching clients are senior leaders in rapidly growing companies, and they often find themselves in the midst of a difficult transition. Previously they were in... This is a companion piece to Open Space, Deep Work and Self-Care. Most of my coaching clients are senior leaders in rapidly growing companies, and they often find themselves in the midst of a difficult transition. Previously they were in a position to add value by doing--because they knew the most about the product, or were closer to the customer, or were more experienced than their colleagues, they could simply execute more effectively than everyone around them. But as the company has grown larger and more complex, and as they've hired people with greater expertise and stronger functional skills, they find that they're no longer able to add value in the same way. As I wrote in 2013... Instead of simply doing more, sustaining our success as leaders requires us to redefine how we add value. Continuing to rely on our abilities as individual contributors greatly limits what we actually contribute and puts us at a disadvantage to peers who are better able to mobilize and motivate others. In other words we need to do less and lead more. A consequence of this shift for my clients is that they often need to re-learn how to think. This may sound absurd--they're obviously intelligent people whose capacity for strategic thinking has helped them succeed in highly competitive environments. Why would they suddenly need to re-learn this fundamental skill? In the early stages of a company's development every problem is potentially fatal. Startup leaders have very little room for error, but at least they can be less discriminating about which problems to address: All of them. As a company grows, the problems leaders face become more nuanced: There are fewer existential risks and more distractions. Leaders who've succeeded by putting out every fire now need to understand that some fires give off a lot of smoke but can safely be deferred (or even ignored), while others will burn down the entire company if left unattended. A different approach to problem-solving is required here, and the leader who continues to try to address every single one quickly finds themselves overwhelmed, working harder than ever while making less progress. But focusing on the most important problems (and ignoring the merely distracting ones) is just the first step. Such problems rarely lend themselves to the straightforward reasoning that my clients have employed so successfully in the past. This isn't to say that logic is irrelevant, but it's insufficient. In the past these leaders had to come up with the right answers--now they have to make sure they're asking the right questions. And in most cases the answers will no longer be found in the data--problems like this are now solved by more junior people, and the ones that land in a leader's lap rarely have clear-cut, quantitative solutions. In such cases leaders generally need longer blocks of uninterrupted time, free from distractions, to think creatively and to augment logical reasoning with intuition and inspiration. And yet this highlights another challenge: A leader's attention is an extremely valuable resource, one that is constantly in demand. The larger the organization, the more people who want the leader's attention, and not necessarily for legitimate reasons: People want the leader in their meeting simply because the leader's presence makes it a more important meeting. And this only gets worse as the leader grows more senior and takes on more visible roles. So if you're a leader, and this sounds familiar, what can you do? Once you've recognized that your previous approach to problem-solving is no longer sufficient to meet your needs, you now have to create the space in which you can truly think: Duration How much time do you need to think? Note that strategic thought isn't necessarily a linear process. [...]



Seneca on the Importance of Rest and Relaxation

2017-10-01T21:38:11-07:00

Seneca's On Tranquility of Mind is an astonishing document, full of wisdom that remains highly relevant to my coaching clients and MBA students (and to me) although it was written nearly 2,000 years ago. Taking the form of a letter... Seneca's On Tranquility of Mind is an astonishing document, full of wisdom that remains highly relevant to my coaching clients and MBA students (and to me) although it was written nearly 2,000 years ago. Taking the form of a letter to Serenus, a close friend of Seneca's who commanded Rome's police and firefighting forces and who sought Seneca's advice on how to live a better life, this far-ranging essay closes with a resolute defense of rest, relaxation, long walks, and even moderate drinking: The mind should not be kept continuously at the same pitch of concentration, but given amusing diversions... Our minds must relax: they will rise better and keener after a rest. Just as you must not force fertile farmland, as uninterrupted productivity will soon exhaust it, so constant effort will sap our mental vigor, while a short period of rest and relaxation will restore our powers. Unremitting effort leads to a kind of mental dullness and lethargy. Nor would men's wishes move so much in this direction if sport and play did not involve a sort of natural pleasure; though repeated indulgence in these will destroy all the gravity and force of our minds. After all, sleep too is essential as a restorative, but if you prolong it constantly day and night it will be death. There is a big difference between slackening your hold on something and severing the link... We must indulge the mind and from time to time allow it the leisure which is its food and strength. We must go for walks out of doors, so that the mind can be strengthened by a clear sky and plenty of fresh air. At times it will acquire fresh energy from a journey by carriage and change of scene, or from socializing and drinking freely. Occasionally we should even come to the point of intoxication, sinking away into drink but not being totally flooded by it; for it does wash away cares, and stirs the mind to its depths, and heals sorrow just as it heals certain diseases... But there is a healthy moderation in wine, as in liberty... [W]e must not do this often, in case the mind acquires a bad habit; yet at times it must be stimulated to rejoice without restraint and austere soberness must be banished for a while... When [the mind] has scorned everyday and commonplace thoughts and risen aloft on the wings of divine inspiration, only then does it sound a note nobler than mortal voice could utter. As long as it remains in its senses it cannot reach any lofty and difficult height: it must desert the usual track and race away, champing the bit and leaving the driver in its course to a height it would have feared to scale by itself. [Dialogues and Letters, pages 56-58] What's striking is how closely this perspective aligns with what we've learned in recent decades about human performance: Working all-out indefinitely leads to sub-optimal results. Consistent rest is essential for growth and improvement. And regular physical activity contributes to our effectiveness in other domains. But these principles can often be simple to grasp and fiendishly difficult to put into practice. So what can we do? Thinking about "rest and relaxation" can evoke the concept of a "balanced" life, but as I've noted before, I find "boundaries" a far more useful metaphor: "While balance requires an unsteady equilibrium among the various demands on our time and energy, boundaries offer a sustainable means of keeping things in their proper place." We can support our need for rest and relaxation by establishing boundaries to designate specific times and places for these purposes. Most of my clients are CEOs of rapidly-growing technology companies, and a common theme in my work with them is the value of "getting away" at regular intervals; for some this means an actual vacation (often their fir[...]



Twenty-Five Years Ago Today

2017-09-19T13:50:38-07:00

I'm keenly aware of how much hard work goes into a marriage, and Amy and I have busted our asses for a quarter-century to try to do right by each other. We've succeeded more often than we've failed, which is... I'm keenly aware of how much hard work goes into a marriage, and Amy and I have busted our asses for a quarter-century to try to do right by each other. We've succeeded more often than we've failed, which is why we're still here, but I've certainly stumbled many times along the way. I think it's important to acknowledge that effort and not to contribute to the illusion that marriage is all about picking the right person, and then it's "happily ever after." Yet one of the most meaningful rewards for that hard work is the opportunity to look back and feel this tremendous sense of love and pride and accomplishment that comes only when we've overcome a big challenge. I look at the picture above and am reminded not only that we had a fantastic wedding, but also how much we've we've grown in the 25 years since that day. And a lot of growth was necessary to make it this far--those innocent young people above really have no idea what they're getting into. I've been lucky enough to have some unpleasant experiences in recent years, and I mean that very sincerely--these difficulties have left me with a deep sense of gratitude for all the gifts that I've enjoyed in this existence. I don't maintain this attitude 24/7--I get cranky and irritable and lose my appreciation for life all the time. But then something happens, and I'm reminded of just how grateful I should be--grateful to be here, grateful to not be in pain, grateful for my family, grateful for my clients and students and the work I get to do with them, grateful for Amy. And I feel like Raymond Carver in "Gravy": No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.Gravy, these past ten years.Alive, sober, working, loving andbeing loved by a good woman. Eleven yearsago he was told he had six months to liveat the rate he was going. And he was goingnowhere but down. So he changed his wayssomehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?After that it was all gravy, every minuteof it, up to and including when he was told about,well, some things that were breaking down andbuilding up inside his head. "Don’t weep for me,"he said to his friends. "I’m a lucky man.I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyoneexpected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it." I am profoundly grateful for the past 25 years--the good times, the tough times, it's all been gravy. And it really was a fantastic wedding. [...]