Do Your Colleagues Know You Care?

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“Caring about the happiness of others, we find our own.”—Plato

A highly successful manager told me she was disappointed. She had devoted many years of long days and nights to her organization and felt like she was disposable and not cared for by her boss.  Another person told me that his boss said he could not save his job in a corporate downsizing. He did not feel valued and appreciated for his contribution. Another high achiever does not feel recognized for her extraordinary impact and feels her boss does not really know or care about her.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated events.  I hear complaints from people at all levels saying they don’t feel valued. This lack of genuine care results in frustration and disengagement.  You have heard the statistics by Gallop that employee engagement is less than 35%. They define engagement as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to the work and workplace.”

So much energy is wasted when people don’t feel personally valued or cared about.  When we feel we are not valued or seen as an individual, we lose motivation and trust.  Managers can become so focused and pressured for results that it is easy to forget to demonstrate care for colleagues.  We can fail to show we care about family members and friends too.

Reflect on your past bosses.  How was it different for you when you knew your boss cared for you?  A colleague told me he is so much happier and more productive with his new boss who takes a personal interest in who he is and what he wants.  

When people know we care about them a sense of trust and safety evolves. When people know we care about them, we are better positioned to give them direct feedback and we are better positioned to create results together.

How can you demonstrate care?  First make the conscious decision to be caring. Visualize demonstrating care to each person on your team or in your family. It is likely to look different depending on individual styles and needs.  Ask your colleague or family member about how they are doing and show interest in their lives both in the workplace and outside. Be sure to give empathy and work to understand their perspectives. Be vulnerable yourself and share your perspective and share developments that are happening in the organization. Be candid and open yourself.  Take time to connect. 

Reflect on your colleagues and others. How are you showing you care?

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Illuminate Possibility

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“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

“I’m so stressed, I will never get it all done.”  “We are never going to make our numbers.” “We have not gotten enough support.” “Why is the plane delayed again?” “You let me down.”

It is our nature to complain and see what is missing.  We have a negativity bias where we tend to see what is not working.  This served humans during the cave days when a more optimistic view could result in being eaten.  Most of us are not in such danger these days. However, Rick Hansen says that negativity is like Velcro, while positivity is like Teflon and easily slips away.  

We know that our mindset influences how we perceive the world and that influences our behavior which impacts others. We can each take responsibility to positively influence our workplaces, families and communities by our open mindset. We can be negative and create a draining environment or we can lead others to see what is possible by our example.

New research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience, cited by Michelle Gielan in her book Broadcasting Happiness, shows that shifts in how we reflect and communicate with others can have significant effects on business outcomes.  For example, studies show that positivity and optimism have resulted in “31 percent higher productivity, 25 percent greater performance ratings, 37 percent higher sales and 23 percent lower levels of stress.”

It takes effort to build the habit of appreciating what is working and seeing possibilities.  On a recent family trip it was easy to hear complaints about being tired, the disruptive weather, late planes and the packed schedule.  Yet, when I could notice my own tendency toward negativity and shift to the positivebeing  grateful we were together and appreciating the opportunity we had to fly and that we could be flexiblethis small shift made the trip more positive for me and thus for my family.

I am not saying it is easy to make these shifts and like any habit, it takes practice to build the muscle of noticing our instinct and shifting to our desired behavior.  Yet, the second-hand effect of being positive and seeing possibilities makes the effort worthwhile.

Work to notice negativity in yourself and others and develop the habit of noticing and radiating possibilities.

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Are We too Dependent on Digital Communication?

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“…you cannot continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships.”—Stephen Covey

People often tell me that they are worried about their teens since they communicate mostly via text rather than through conversation and direct interpersonal interactions. Sometimes teens text one another while they are in the same room. Some of my executive clients share that they rarely speak to some of their team members and broader teams and communicate primarily through email. While the benefits of technology are amazing, some wonder if we are losing some of the power of real conversations.

Between 2010 and 2015, 33% more teens report feeling useless and joyless in national surveys. Teen suicides have surged by 31%.  In a paper recently published in Clinical Psychological Science, researchers argue that this surge in depression is likely due to use of smart phones and the decrease in interpersonal connections. Teens who report more time online and less time with friends in person are more likely to be depressed.

Putting prisoners in isolation is one of the most debilitating forms of punishment.  As humans, we need connection and engagement with others to thrive. The need to belong and interpersonal connection is recognized as being fundamental to motivation and productivity. When we lack interpersonal connections, our moods suffer. Positive face-to-face interactions where we receive empathy and connect with one another is highly correlated with human satisfaction. (Baumeister & Leary, 1995)

With the disruption in society and the isolation and fear that many are experiencing people report that they feel a lack of community. While we may sense we are with people on social media, we are not giving each other empathy and understanding and not experiencing the fruits of real connection.

Emotions are contagious and MRI studies show that while we believe we are separate individuals, our energy and the flow of information is influenced by others. When we are not communicating or trusting one another, we experience dissonance.  When we engage in real conversations and build relationships, we experience resonance and psychological safety and are positioned to be innovative and are better able to execute and achieve goals.

We can use Zoom and other forums to virtually have real conversations where we listen and understand each other.  I facilitate various groups of leaders and people report gaining new insights and increased energy and amazing results that they didn’t believe were possible. There is power in real conversations when we are open to listening, understanding and supporting one another.

I believe that we need to support teens, leaders and all of us in engaging in positive and productive interactions. We need to develop an open mindset and the skills for meaningful conversations to support well-being.  We will all benefit from the contagious nature of these positive interactions.

Choose to meet or call a colleague and engage in an open and respectful conversation. Notice the impact on your sense of well-being and the positive outcomes.

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Are You Open to Being Influenced?

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“Let go of your attachment to being right, and suddenly your mind is more open. You’re able to benefit from the unique viewpoints of others, without being crippled by your own judgment.”—Ralph Marston

T., an executive coaching client, was clearly an expert in his field. He was recognized both inside and outside his organization as being very bright. The company valued his contribution and considered him a key player.  He received awards and recognition for his innovative ideas and programs.

T. was asked to work with an executive coach to round out his leadership style.  After I interviewed peers, colleagues and clients, it became clear that while T. had strong leadership skills and influenced how things were done and interpreted, he was not open to being influenced.

Many people complained that T. did not listen and always thought that he was “right.”  The challenge is that he felt he was the most knowledgeable person in the room or the team.  T. tended to cut people off and left people with the sense that he felt he was better than most.  He was able to use his quick wit and fast mind to his benefit most of the time. However, as he progressed in more senior roles, his overly confident style and lack of openness began to hurt him.

T. could not understand why so many people complained about him to HR. He felt justified in telling people that they did not have the answers needed.  The company struggled with how to keep his talent without his challenging style. These days, no matter how bright or capable an individual is, no one has all the answers.  We will only succeed by being open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

Fortunately, in this case, T. learned that effective leaders not only influence others, but are also open to being influenced. As he practiced listening more, giving empathy and reflecting what he heard, he developed an entirely new relationship with colleagues and clients. His new mindset of openness became contagious. People became more open to sharing their ideas as well as supporting his efforts.

T. had not thought about the power of being open-minded and listening to others.  When he practiced being open he became a much more effective leader and continued to be valuable and progress in his career.  The biggest surprise for him was the deeper connections and more trusting environment he fostered. To his delight, he and his team excelled at an even higher level than he dreamed possible.  Energy was shifted from complaining and stress to more positive avenues.

T. and his company were fortunate. I recall a similar experience where people advocated that a company keep a leader due to his knowledge and expertise.  People put up with his abrupt style. He was not open to feedback or input. People did not trust him and felt he was not open to other’s ideas. However, after a few years and after strong people left the organization because they did not want to work with him, he was finally asked to leave.  It was a loss for him and the organization. However, without the ability to listen and be open to others and create a trusting environment, this leader could not be effective.

Ask yourself, “Am I open to being influenced as much as I am focused on influencing?”  Envision a see-saw. How balanced is the ride?

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Be Grounded

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“Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace.”—Steve Goodier

“I feel out of sorts.”  “I have to give negative feedback to one of my staff.” “I can’t believe what she did!”  “We are not making our numbers.”  “The new boss is difficult.  “I have too much on me.” “He is out to get me.” “My team members are fighting one another.” “We need to get all of the leaders on the same page.” “My elderly parent is sick.” “My teenager is depressed.” “There is not enough time.” “My position is uncertain.”

These are a few of the comments I have recently heard from executive coaching clients. We are all facing many challenges. The pace is high these days in the world and in organizations.  We need to be collaborative and innovative and execute effectively and efficiently amidst a diverse workforce. Deadlines loom and we seem to be working harder than ever with increased competition. Emotions are contagious and we pick up the uncertainty and polarization in our political system and the myriad challenges in our world.

Amidst the turmoil, we need leaders towell…be leaders. We all need to be leaders, too, even if we don’t have a formal title. Given that emotions are contagious, leaders are positioned to create positive and productive environments where people can reflect, engage in dialogue and create amazing results together.

Where should a leader start? One of the first things I recommend is to make the simple practice of being grounded. When your head is spinning with all that needs to be done, what is going wrong and all the pressure on you, it is hard to see possibilities and to be innovative.

What do I mean by being grounded? Literally, tap your feet on the ground and notice the sensations. You may imagine being like a tree with roots firmly uniting you with the sustenance of the ground. Then as you walk from one meeting to the next, let go of your worries and notice your steps on the floor. This simple practice allows you to take a break from your thoughts and to reconnect with your body. Ideally, you take a few breaths and center yourself. Recall that you are a leader and you can make a difference in your sphere of influence.

As you remain calm, you access a different part of the brain. You may even recall a place in nature or another time when you are more in a state of flow. I call this your oasis. When you access this state, a different part of your brain is activated and you can see more of the whole picture and more possibilities. You may even notice a bit of gratitude for the challenge before you and the opportunity. Sometimes it is helpful to say something like, “Things are working out.”

By making it a practice of becoming grounded between meetings and even in meetings, you will be able to quickly access this grounded oasis state. It gets easier with a little practice as you build this habit.

My clients report that this simple action does indeed make a difference in how they see things and how they are perceived. They report that they feel more confident and experience success on many fronts.

Practice bringing attention to your feet and feeling grounded. Remember to breathe and recall an oasis experience. Notice your impact.

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Pay Attention to the Emotional Climate You are Swimming in

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“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”—Rabindranath Tagore

“I am not looking forward to the team dialogue session. Some people in this organization are sharks; they only care about themselves and are biased.”  “I just want to do my job and keep my head down.” This was the sentiment of some of the participants I spoke with before facilitating a retreat with a team focused on building connection and aligning the team to achieve a shared vision.  Some felt like they were alone in dangerous waters rather than engaged in vibrant waters.

At the team retreat, a long-time employee shared the pain she experienced when she was not able to answer client questions because she had not been made aware of developments. People were shocked since they assumed she did not need to know given her position and quite frankly thought she did not care.  Her abruptness was a reaction to feeling not included and disrespected. Some realized that they had made assumptions about her and had isolated her. Others shared what they needed to feel respected and most realized they were making assumptions about one another and not having meaningful conversations.  The negative emotional environment had limited people in appreciating the exciting vision they shared and the synergy that was possible.  By assuming positive intent and engaging in a productive conversation, the tone began to change for this team.  A long-time foe even asked the person to lunchsomething that had not occurred in their long tenure together.  In fact, several commented that they believed this was the first time they had a genuine conversation.  Open-minded conversations can be quite powerful.

Attending to and creating a respectful climate that the team is “swimming in” and having productive conversations are two essential skills needed for success these days.

In a recent New York Times Op Ed, David Brooks argues that a warrior ethos has reduced politics to friend/enemy or zero-sum conflicts.  He recounts that in the 90’s people adapted an unconscious abundance mindset where there was a climate of confidence in the future and a more welcoming environment. Today, there is a feeling of limited resources and a more win-lose mindset.  People have a “stick with my tribe” mentality.

Given the political environment, we are acutely aware of polarization and we feel the tension.  Often people see each other as less than human. The philosopher Martin Buber call this an “I-It” perspective rather than an “I-thou” view. Some argue that the fast pace and drive for short term results, the challenge of incorporating new technology and globalization are requiring us to be inattentive to those around us and the environments we create.

I see this kind of polarization in organizations across many areas: functions, roles, age, gender, race, people from one part of a merger or those new to the organization and those with longer tenure.  These divisions and conflicts often seem insurmountable.  They take people’s time and attention and suck energy out of a system.

When people don’t feel respected they often shut down and disengage, or become angry and fight either directly or act out in more subtle ways. Too much energy is wasted that could have been devoted to collaboration, innovation and results. People feel drained and often report a sense of toxicity.

It is useful to check on your environments and ask how you are contributing to creating a positive and safe oasis.  A key ingredient of an effective team is psychological safety.  We can each have the intention of being respectful of those around us. The challenge is that we each have different definitions of respect. It takes paying attention and an open and kind stance to ensure that others do indeed feel respected and valued.

We can make a difference in our teams and organizations and in our neighborhoods by committing to connecting with others. Notice people and see themreally work to see them. Look beyond our first labels and recognize that we are all suffering and experiencing life’s challenges in some way. We often don’t see that people have challenges with their family members and kids or are maybe struggling with technical, financial or health issues.  Even if we don’t know the details, we can all benefit from empathy and compassion and caring.

We are swimming in an environment and we can each work to ensure that it is a pool of respect that is lively and vibrant rather than one where people feel isolated, not valued and disconnected with sharks nearby.

With an open mindset and commitment to respect we will be positioned to have meaningful conversations.  I am fortunate to witness the transformation in teams, organizations and families when we create an environment of respect and engage in productive conversations.

Make it a practice of paying attention to the atmosphere in your team, organization, family and community. Do you feel respected, included and engaged?  How do others feel? What can you do to create a positive environment?  Notice the impact.

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What kind of presence do you bring?

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The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.—Nhat Hanh

One of my executive clients shared that he was attending a company conference. He said he was looking forward to seeing some old friends. When I asked him about new acquaintances, it became clear that he had not focused on building new relationships. In fact, there were people that he clearly did not want to engage. He had negative views of some participants based on past history and he did not see the value of investing in others. In essence, he anticipated being open to a few he knew and closed to most others.

This is not uncommon. Most of us are busy and stressed these days and we make choices on how to spend our energy and where to invest in others.  We each have habitual patterns around how we interact in different settings.  Often, we fail to notice that we have options and can consciously choose how we show up.

It had not occurred to my client that as a senior leader, people would be paying attention to him and that how he interacts with them would make a difference in their motivation and how they perceived him and the company.

I gave my client an experiment. I suggested that he consciously work to be open to a wider group of people at the company conference. By setting the intention to be welcoming and curious, he found that he entered the meeting differently. He was not exclusive but included others, even those with whom he had a preconceived negative perception. It took a conscious intention for him to ask open-minded questions and then really listen to people.

My client was surprised at what he noticed with his new behaviors. He did indeed connect with more people than he expected. He learned about various perceptions and issues that helped him and his team to be more effective. Some people offered to support him. He felt more connected to his peers and the organization.

By choosing to be open, curious and generous in his welcoming stance, my client showed up as a leader. In addition to receiving positive feedback, he helped to create a positive environment at the meeting and in the company.

I believe that all of us can shift negative stressful environments by setting our intention to be open and creating a respectful, welcoming stance. When we engage in open-minded conversations and give others empathy we are positioned to find common ground and a shared vision. Emotions are contagious and it is hard to be innovative and creative when we don’t feel welcomed by others. Too much energy is diverted to protecting ourselves.

It is useful to examine our habitual patterns and experiment with new behaviors that support openness and respect. We read each other and know when someone is genuinely interested and when we are invisible.

Experiment with being more present, open and welcoming and notice the impact on you, others and the environment created.

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What do you win when you win?

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“If you lose your temper, you lose!”—Richard Diaz

A senior executive, Leo, stopped by a colleague’s office to thank him for putting in long hours to resolve a significant organizational challenge. After acknowledging the thanks, Jerry, the colleague, began to complain about the organization and the leaders’ decisions. Jerry blamed the senior management team (of which Leo was a member) for cutting off funding for the project. He felt the design was sound and more funds should have been allocated. Leo worked hard to explain the reason further funds were not forthcoming. It made sense to Leo. There were other more pressing priorities and such business choices had to be made. Jerry continued to blame senior management for creating a problem. Leo began to focus on what Jerry could have done to make the project go more smoothly and worked harder to defend senior management’s choice. Jerry would not agree and continued to blame senior management. Leo lost his cool and said something all of us have thought at one time. “If you don’t like it here, you can always leave.” Who has not had such a thought toward a colleague, partner or friend.  Unfortunately, verbalizing the sentiment did not support Jerry in being positive toward Leo.

What happened here?  Both Leo and Jerry were each trying to influence the other and each were using logic from their point of view while they were experiencing strong emotions. Each believed that he was “right” and the other was “wrong”. Each argued their case and worked hard to “win.”

Each felt he “won” the argument and each thereafter shared their perspective with others who agreed. However, what did they win when they “won”?  Now there is negative energy between the two men and the negativity extends to others around them. Each felt drained and their anger persisted. They felt at a standstill and each probably hoped the other would disappear. More likely, they will spread the negative energy further to others in the organization. Future meetings will be uncomfortable. I have seen such negative interactions influence decisions between people for decades in some organizations. The negativity may go underground but influence future interactions and decisions.

Ironically, Leo had good intentions to connect with and show appreciation to Jerry. What could he have done differently? He could have noticed when he was becoming defensive and used a strategy such as consciously breathing and taking a moment to shift to a more open and curious state. He could catch his tendency to want to “win” and ask himself, “What do I win when I win?”  He could recall his intention to create positive and productive relationships. When he could manage to be open and curious, Leo could have given empathy to Jerry.  “It is upsetting to lose funding for a project that you feel could have been successful with more time and resources.”  “It is hard to understand and support some of the decisions made by senior management.” “It is frustrating when you believe senior management does not see the whole situation and the ramifications of some decisions.” Leo could give authentic understanding without meaning he is in agreement. He could even say, “I hear your frustration about the decision. What else should I be aware of?”

While our instinct is to use our intellect and other resources to win at all costs, we can tame that disposition when we reflect on “what do we win when we win?”  It is useful to recall our desire to influence through noticing and managing to be open and curious. Our openness and empathy will be contagious and support others in being open in return. It is helpful to also “assume positive intent.”

Like Leo, we all have become defensive and aggressive in our efforts to “win”. Forgive yourself and you may want to apologize and envision you both on the same side, winning together.

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Where Are You From?

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“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”—Bryant H. McGill

“Where are you from?” asked Julie, a Caucasian woman, to Alysha, a woman from India at a community event. It was the first time they met and Julie intended to be respectful and friendly.  Alysha responded, “From Chicago.” Julie clarified, “I mean where are you really from?”  However, Alysha, a Chicago resident and US citizen for over 30 years, had been asked the question many times and interpreted the inquiry as being disrespectful. She felt defensive and tried to tell her new acquaintance that the question was disrespectful, particularly within the first few minutes of meeting each other. Julie became defensive and said she had positive intent and suggested that Alysha was projecting on her.  It did not feel like a positive welcoming environment. Each woman felt disrespected and misunderstood.

This kind of conversation and polarization is happening everywhere. Particularly these days when there is so much attention on immigration.

We all want to feel respected and included in workplaces and communities. We each come to interactions with history, conditioning and expectations. We each have beliefs about what constitutes respectful behavior and become irritated when people don’t behave in ways that we define as respectful. We have the same experience in our families and close relationships. I recently felt disrespected when a family member did not include me in a decision. Yet, the person did not have the need to be included when another similar decision was being made. We each have different histories and needs around inclusion and the larger context impacts our views.

The challenge is how to speak with each other about what we need to experience respect and feel safe. Too often we fume or act out rather than have a conversation when we feel disrespected. We expect that people should “know” since it is so obvious to us and our friends. At other times, we leave or cut off chances of communicating. Some of us try to have the conversation without adequate skills or success. Each option has repercussions.

Ideally, it is useful to assume that others have positive intent and understand that we each need to be respected and then become curious about what we and others need to be respected. Based on our experiences, we each have blind spots and biases that we are not conscious of. We have different experiences and interpret things differently. We can learn that some sentences are code words for bias to some. “I don’t see color when I see you.” “You are very articulate.” “Where are you really from?”  We need to manage our defensiveness and recognize that we are influenced by our background conditioning and that while our intentions may be positive, the impact could be damaging. Intent does not equate with impact.

By being curious and open to learn, we can understand what our colleagues and neighbors need to feel respected and share what is important to us. It is helpful to share what respect looks like to us and be curious about what’s important to others with whom we interact.

The more people feel respected, the more energy they have to be creative and work together for positive outcomes. Ideally, we learn how to have OASIS conversations in which we have insight and give empathy to each other and create agreements on how to be respectful and supportive of one another.

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Where Do You Find Challenge and Support to Achieve Goals?

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“If I am through learning, I am through.”—John Wooden

Face it, we are all so busy these days. Our to-do lists are long and it takes a lot of energy to be a leader, manager or collaborative contributor.  When I ask leaders and those I coach, many report that they have little time for career development or meaningful friendships. Some indicate that they don’t find their workplaces to be respectful and that it is hard to trust colleagues and there are few avenues for real feedback. Often people are competing for positions and it is hard to find the space to be real or vulnerable.

One exception that I have experienced is peer coaching groups where people make the commitment to support and challenge one another to create successful outcomes and to develop their skills. I have facilitated many of these groups as part of a larger corporate leadership program or as stand-alone coaching groups for leaders or those responsible for an area such as diversity, project leaders or senior executives.

I recently facilitated such a group for organization development and coaching professionals. We met virtually each month as well as with individuals in between. The experience was dynamic with significant results. Participants described it as “magical” and each were astounded at the progress made on their projects.

We began the process with the clear intention of supporting one another as well as each person working on a specific goal or project. As part of the norms, participants agreed to confidentiality, an open-mindset, vulnerability, focused participation, respectful listening and sharing and having fun. Each person identified a goal and received suggestions and feedback from the others. We had pair coaching as well as work as a whole group. In between the group meetings, people worked on their projects as well as connected with one or two other members.

We began subsequent meetings sharing progress and agreeing on next steps. The accountability with the group supported people in making substantial progress. The supportive environment inspired people to take action. For example, one member created a new program, developed a website and offered his course and gained clients. Others also embarked on cultural change projects and started significant new endeavors. Participants received just-in-time coaching and enhanced awareness and actions. Depending on the need, we provided models and tools that fostered learning and skill development. For example, I shared my OASIS process for positive and productive conversations.

What made the experience valuable was the oasis-like environment we created in the coaching group. We created an open environment for learning and we freely supported one another. There was not hidden competition where people were posturing. It is not easy to find such an environment of openness and genuine feedback. Participants felt seen by others in the group and made real friends that will last beyond the formal meetings. People were generous in introducing people to others who would be useful. Most importantly participants felt valued by peers and positive about their outcomes.

When we shared the experience with other professionals they said they yearned for the same sense of community and progress on their projects and goals.

Where are you getting support and coaching for your personal and professional development? I encourage you to join a coaching group or create this opportunity for yourself where you make progress on your goals amidst the support and feedback of colleagues.

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