Why Do You Do What You Do?



These days I am obsessed with why.

huge-wave-featAs Simon Sinek illustrated in his viral TEDx talk, plenty of people know what they do and they even know how they do it. But ask them why they do what they do?


Recently, I’ve been playing with simple and direct ways to figure out your why. Testing first on myself and then on two willing guinea pigs, I think I may have come up with a new tool to do it.

And now would be a pretty terrific time to ask, “Michele, why bother?” Or, even, “Speaking of why, Michele, why in the world do you do what you do?”

Funny, because just yesterday I was asked what I do for a living. When I replied, “I’m an executive coach”, the guy perked up and said, “What sport?” ["Uh...not a sport. I help people get better at their job, or find a job they'll like better." He eyeballed me. Then said, "Think you could help me?"]

I got exposed to the coaching world in early 2004 and was drawn immediately to the work of Thomas Leonard. Considered one of the founders of modern coaching, Leonard was an innovative thought leader in the field and the more I learned about him and his work, the bigger fan girl I became.

Leonard wrote this:

The professional coach is…

Your partner in achieving business and personal goals.
Your champion during a turnaround.
Your trainer in communication and life skills.
Your sounding board when making choices.
Your motivation when strong actions are called for.
Your unconditional support when you take a hit.
Your mentor in personal development.
Your co-designer when creating an extraordinary project.
Your beacon during stormy times.
Your wake-up call if you don’t hear your own.

And most importantly.

The professional coach is your partner in helping you have all of what matters most to you.

(Excerpted from Thomas Leonard‘s ‘How to Coach Anyone’ Solutions to 68 Common Coaching Situations published by Wealthy Thought Leader)

Leonard died in 2003, so I just missed knowing him personally. However, his legacy continues today via his co-author and colleague Andrea J. Lee, who I’m happy to call a friend.  She posted the above on her Facebook page the other day which happily coincided with the exploration of my own why.

Super helpful, because Thomas’ words gave me a big context in which to frame my why.

Yes, my what is coaching – I do all of the things Thomas Leonard suggested in his list. And my how? Well, I use every bit of my training and experience in each coaching session. And I’m learning more every day.

But my why?

The thing that drives me?

The thing that causes me to wake up each morning eager to work with my first client at 7:15am? To speak with the guy in France despite the time zone and cultural challenges? To connect with you in Chicago? Or are you in San Francisco today? Maybe it’s Seattle this week?

What compels me to stand in front of the room with a clicker or a Sharpie in my hand, gesticulating wildly to make a point? What motivates me to write, speak and mentor?

What’s that kind of big, honking, super why?

(Deep breath)

My why is this: I want things to get better. For you, for me, for all of us.

And I absolutely know for certain that you can have exactly what you want  - things can get so much better – when you are completely clear about who you are at your best and are brave enough to live that way.

So, I help people get clear and brave.

And then lives change for the better.

Then offices change for the better.

And families change for the better.

And neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, countries, worlds – all change for the better.

Sort of way out there big picture, but I’m sure you get the idea. You do, don’t you?

Completely thought you would.

Now, I told you mine. What’s yours?


(photo credit)



On A Tightrope Over A Chasm of Failure



I wonder about you.Own It!

I know things are stressful, and you’re unsure.

Every day you question. Every day you worry that you don’t know where you stand, and if what you’re doing is appreciated.

Or even seen as important by anyone. At all.

I know it’s not fun to be so uncertain. Not one bit.

So, I wonder if –  for just one day – you could shift it.

That for one day, as a test, you could own that…you actually do know what you’re doing.

That you’re not making it up as you go along. That you’re not walking on a tightrope over a chasm of failure, one error away from falling.

What if – for one day – you could ignore the tightrope and come at your day from a place of calm? Generated from a deep understanding of your own expertise?

Not in a boastful or bullying way, but with a centered sureness.

Sure in your bones that you haven’t gotten to where you are by luck, chance or happenstance.

Because, you, my darling friend, are not a fluke or a mistake.

No, you’ve gotten where you are by showing up, doing what needs to get done and honing your practice.

Whatever your practice might be.

I know it’s easier in some ways to say that it’s all luck. Or chance.

Because then you don’t have to claim anything. You’re sort of off the hook.

And no one can say you’re too big for your britches.

Or that you’re calculating.

Or trying too hard.

Or not nice.

If you shrug off your expertise, you’ll probably continue to fit in with the crowd. You know, the Whac-A-Mole herd-like people who are only happy when no one sticks their head up?

Those people.

There is comfort in a crowd, for sure. But you might also feel anxious. And as if everything could change in a moment.




Do you know what I’m talking about?

Does it keep you up at night?

It doesn’t have to.

You can have calm, steadiness and success. You can have great days.

But to get there you have to own who you are and what you’ve got.

So, for one day – just one – give it a try and see what happens.

Stop pretending you don’t know what you’re doing and start owning everything you do know.

Of course, be open to learning. Be open to the perspectives of others. That’s what people who center in their strengths do.

It’s what the best leaders do.

It’s what you can do.

Step away from the crowd. Dip into your expertise. Feel it. Own it. Live it.

For just one day.

Just one.

I wonder what that will be like.

I wonder if this week holds the day you’ll give it a try.

And as one day leads into another, maybe you’ll happily find that you’re permanently off the tightrope and walking your own, broad path of success.


In Praise of Sleep


Bright Bedroom Decorated With White Flowers

Someone once asked me to define “extreme luxury.”  My  answer came quick and certain:

Going to sleep when you’re tired and waking up without an alarm. Now, that’s true luxury.

Having lived a life full of late nights and missed planes and small children and smaller dogs and international conference calls, I have maintained a tricky relationship with sleep.

Oh, sure, I learned how to dip into a twenty minute nap while on campaign planes. And I learned to sleep when the baby slept, even though there was work to be done.

I also learned that there is always work to be done.

Studies have shown that prioritizing sleep is the right way to go, because chronic sleep deprivation yields an enormous impact on the body and mind. Prolonged sleep deprivation, in fact, has the eerily similar effect of knocking back a few cocktails – your speech slurs, you get all wobbly and your reflexes are shot to hell.

Just no paper parasol as a souvenir.

Yet, somehow “getting by” on just a few hours of sleep has become a red badge of courage. As if only the weak need sleep. That if you’re really and truly Type A and worthy of victoriously standing astride the globe as a conqueror, you don’t need any stinkin’ sleep.

Only slackers need sleep.

Some folks point to the productive genius Thomas Edison who famously slept less than four hours a night and demanded the same relentless endurance from those who worked for him.

The last full measure of devotion when you’re doing something important, it seems, becomes sacrificing sleep in favor of productivity.

Which, naturally, makes the most extreme luxury that which flies in the face of such group think.

Such as sleeping when you’re tired and waking up when you’re good and ready.

I achieve this feat about once a month - often enough for me to realize it’s possible yet rare enough to feel like a true luxury.

That’s why it’s the perfect extravagance. Costs me nothing. Comes with no designer labels nor inscrutable instruction manuals.

Sleep is, I have realized, the gift I give myself as a reminder that my well-being matters. A lot.

And I feel like a million dollars after getting enough sleep. It never fails that the next day I feel fully equipped to take on the day and master it.

Those are the days when my motto is “Bring. It. On.”

So, if you’ve bought into the collective thought that those who sleep are lazy, unmotivated, loafing slackers, I invite you to try some extreme luxury – get some sleep.

For one night, put your alarm clock away. Keep your phone in the kitchen.

When you’re tired, go to bed.

And sleep until you wake up.

It’s a luxury that will utterly change your life.


How The Really Successful Get That Way


The pendulum certainly does swing.Pendulum Of Foucault In Pantheon Of Paris

Seems to me like we are in the widest part of the arc these days with…analytics. Maybe the better word is “metrics”. Or maybe “algorithms”.

Oh, shoot – let’s just say “math”, shall we?

I continually hear stories about how organizations are driving accountability by taskifying every single function of every single employee and then measuring them according to an allegedly quantifiable “goal”, though if you ask me there are so many things at work which just cannot be quantified.

Such as creating strong relationships with customers.

Such as mentoring the next generation.

Such as being a genuinely nice person.

I have railed against the Tyranny of the Bean Counters for some time. But in some ways I get it, I really do.

I realize that there are some people for whom nothing is real unless they can see it, touch it, taste it – and make a little check mark signifying that it’s been documented.

And I know there are some people who are deeply suspicious and are certain that everyone would take advantage of lax supervision and become total slackers if given half a chance. [because, perhaps, they fear that this is what they would do in that circumstance. Just sayin'.]

And then there are those who have worked for large consulting firms, which take bean counting to a whole new, quite expensive level.

These folks represent the far part of the pendulum’s arc and have created a unrelenting emphasis on quantification and numbers. But it’s my fervent hope that at some point the pendulum swings back and rests at the middle point, where there are good goals – but also where the unmeasurable is valued and appreciated.

Because, in the end, success is not driven by numbers but by meaning.

Doubt me?

A recent study led by Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski and Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz looked at motivation using a group of 11,320 West Point cadets. They wanted to learn if the most successful people are driven by an internal motive, or by what they call an “instrumental” or external motive, or a combination of the two.

One might think that successful people have a perfect balance of internal and instrumental motives. They care about their work, and they care about getting the corner office – doesn’t that sound like the right mix?

But, guess what? The study showed something…different.

People who are motivated solely by what others will think, or how much money they will make - instrumental motives - tend to be unsuccessful over time than those who are internally driven.

Interesting, huh?

So, what if you have a blend of both internal and instrumental motives?

“Remarkably, cadets with strong internal and strong instrumental motives for attending West Point performed worse on every measure than did those with strong internal motives but weak instrumental ones. They were less likely to graduate, less outstanding as military officers and less committed to staying in the military,” say the study authors.

Now, back to the bean counters.

This study clearly shows that they’ve got it all wrong. Giving people better job titles, more money, the corner office as a prod for increased performance? Not going to work.

OK, maybe you get some short-term results – and you can certainly check a box off a list – but over the long-term your organization won’t really be successful because you’ve transformed internal motives into instrumental ones, which are ultimately much, much weaker.

The researchers say, “Rendering an activity more attractive by emphasizing both internal and instrumental motives to engage in it is completely understandable, but it may have the unintended effect of weakening the internal motives so essential to success.”

Meaning. Purpose. Learning. Growth. This is what we all need to be successful.

So, if you want success, transform your focus. Shift your own personal internal motives – the Big Why of why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing – toward what it means, how it helps, what you learn, how you grow.

And if by chance you have the power to transform an entire organization, get cracking on amping up theses collective senses in your people – starting from the top right on down.

Because, “Our study suggests that efforts should be made to structure activities so that instrumental consequences do not become motives. Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also — counterintuitive though it may seem — their financial success.”

And so the pendulum begins to swing back.




Mindfulness In The Real World

Open Your Mind Torn Paper 


When I have something I want to think through, I take a walk. If it’s a really big something, I get behind the wheel, take a nice, long drive and cogitate.

Yesterday I took a drive to help me work out a piece I wanted to write on mindfulness.

A few weeks ago, you see, I heard Krista Tippett interview Dr. Ellen Langer – the first woman to be tenured in psychology at Harvard – about the difference being mindful can make in our lives and I was intrigued. Research shows that people who are mindful tend to be happier, healthier and more successful.

What’s not to like?

You know, I’ve heard about mindfulness for years and, to be honest, it seemed like a lot of work. I mean, to achieve mindfulness, you have to sit. With your legs crossed. And repeat vowel sounds. And meditate.

But Langer’s research shows that mindfulness is much easier to reach than that. In fact, it can be achieved by just “actively noticing things.”

That, I can do.

So, on my drive yesterday, I set out to do it – to actively notice something. And I did.

I noticed that my neighbors have new textured shingles on their roof, and that a tree I suspected of being dead had been removed on the corner.

I noticed the red of the neon sign telling me that the nearby Lebanese restaurant was open for the day.

I noticed a riot of color in the new flowers at the local garden center.

And then, I noticed the elderly man trip on the sidewalk and fall into the street right in front of my car.

I noticed what it sounded like when I slammed on the brakes.

I noticed my heart rate zooming.

I noticed the care and concern of the woman walking with him, as she leaned over to try to help him up.

I noticed how my seat belt button felt as I released it, and how my feet felt as they hit the pavement.

I noticed that the man had a white beard, and white hair, and for a moment was reminded of Santa Claus.

I noticed that he fell again trying to get up.

I noticed how strong his grip was as he grabbed my elbow and got back to his feet.

I noticed the other cars that had stopped, and the twenty other people who were out of their cars rushing to help.

I noticed the worry on the face of the woman in the car behind me who had stopped diagonally, to protect me as I got out of my car.

I noticed the elderly man’s sense of humor when he said, “Well, see, I was just practicing falling down and now I guess I’ve got it all figured out!”

I noticed how good it felt to laugh a little.

I noticed the feel of the shopping bags I picked up from where they had been dropped by the couple, and what it was like to ask if I could call an ambulance or give them a ride somewhere. And the gratitude of the wife when she said, “No, we live right here. We’ll be fine” and then, “Thank you for everything.”

I noticed what it was like to see traffic stopped in both directions, people out of their cars, willing to lend a hand.

As I drove away, I noticed so many things. The sudden immediacy I’d just experienced was overwhelming. I still felt on high alert and then tears came to my eyes and I found it hard to breathe.

I was glad I had been able to help, but I wondered what might have happened had I been mindlessly driving. What if I hadn’t been focusing on actively noticing? If I hadn’t been present enough to see the elderly man falling right in the path of my oncoming car?

I choked back the tears and took a few deep breaths. And went back to active noticing.

Because this stuff totally works.