Entries in culture (118)


Why I Missed the Real Value of Business Coaches

The term “coach” evokes someone with experience in a specific sport or activity. A coach has done or studied intensively—and over an extended period of time—a specific field and shares this particular expertise with others.

I have a boxing coach. I have had a running coach. I can understand why people hire coaches for childbirth. Also for weight loss and nutrition.

But a “business coach?”

Business has too many nuances and implications. A person doesn’t claim to have history expertise—she professes specific knowledge in an era or geographic region (and probably both). You can’t have a “sports coach.” That just doesn’t make any sense.

Although all areas of business have overlap, the general field has too much breadth and depth for any one person to coach in all its facets. Wooing from business coaches with backgrounds in supply-chain management for manufacturing or franchise management—two real-life examples—puzzled me.

I figured that, someday, when it made sense or the need grew acute, I’d hire a business coach with highly specialized expertise in a field or area in which I could use improvement. (I have plenty of those.) Once I got up to speed, we’d wrap. Down the line, perhaps I’d need a different type of business coach for strengthening another facet.

Maybe I still will.

And when I do, I’ll call her “coach.” Yet recent experience has taught me that the term misrepresents the real value of many professionals classed in the category.

We need to find a new term. Adviser? Confidant? Guide?

I’ll go with adviser. Because I’ve hired one, and now I see what I’ve missed. (And it isn’t coaching.)

Sounding Board

Executives don’t have natural in-office sounding boards.

When you hire a business coach, you hire someone under strict confidentiality who stands outside your organization. She has no taste for your company's particular flavor of politics. Having “inside information” doesn’t give her currency with her coworkers.

Further, she doesn’t need to see you resolute at all times. You can have wobbly moments—you won’t shake your team's mission-critical confidence in the company or its leadership or direction by debating a decision with her or expressing to her your frustration and uncertainty.


A business adviser has worked with a number of other executives. Many good ones have done so for years.

She may not have exact knowledge of your specific type of business, products, or areas of improvement—as would someone I’d agree to call a “coach”—but she has walked through a number of challenges with a number of people similar to you. She can suggest resources she’s seen others use. She can suggest avenues of thought that she’s seen work elsewhere.

She can comfort you that others have gone through the same challenges and survived (yes, sometimes we CEOs wonder)—and even thrived. And she can congratulate you when you achieve a “win” that your employees would simply take for granted, because she’s watched you and potentially others struggle over the same mountain.

Me, Me, Me

Friends who work with psychologists say that one of the pleasures of therapy is having a set time period in which you guiltlessly talk about yourself with someone who focuses on nothing but you.

A business adviser provides the same outlet.

I have fantastic accountability partners, though our sessions rarely focus solely on me. Instead, we support each other in achieving our goals. I gain from helping them as much as I get from their support. I value them highly and that won’t change.

Yet I’ll confess: Talking through something without any expectation of reciprocity feels really, really nice. In fact, simply knowing I have an adviser if needed gives a sense of relief.

Have you hired a business coach? What did you experience?


What We Expect from the Workplace

In an article I included for my last Friday Links post, Danial Adkison wrote about his high-school employment at a Pizza Hut in Colorado.

Since I read it, I’ve chewed on it.

Adkison’s manager, Jeff, created a second-family environment for his staff, replete with water fights in the parking lot, dinner and movies, rafting and camping, and softball. When Adkison applied to universities, Jeff paid for flights, hotel, car, and food when he took Adkison to visit Boston College.

Oh, and lest I forget: Jeff even paid for Adkison’s application fee (and its express-mail delivery).

Back when I worked as an employee, not an employer, I never sought a familiar relationship with my coworkers. Collegiality? Friendship? Sure. A coterie with which to spend a consuming around of time beyond work duties? No.

And I never looked to my bosses as parental or avuncular figures.

Yet I always had a strong family, even after my parents divorced. Further, I fall on the introverted end of the spectrum. I never gravitate to large-group activities. I prefer small-group and one-on-one interaction.

So when I first read Adkison’s article, I felt really out of touch.

Does everyone seek this sort of office environment? Does my mind state rest so far outside the norm that I’ve never realized it?

Would my team want this sort of workplace? We have plenty of group activities, but nothing like what Adkison describes, with all-day outside-working-hours hang-outs that include kickball.

And then I wondered: Perhaps Adkison’s environment felt so perfect because it came at a time when he needed cohesiveness due to a difficult home situation. The teenage years unmoor us all—and a challenging family environment only exacerbates them.

As with other life facets, could we seek different qualities from a workplace as our lives and mindsets evolve?

Perhaps defining your office culture requires looking at your employee mix and intuiting what it wants at this point in the average teammate’s life? Yet what if you have a lot of diversity in your staff—as you should?

I can’t imagine that with a strong group of friends and a set of engaging extracurricular activities—or with a wife and children at home—Adkison would have sought the same level of emotional fulfillment and camaraderie from his Pizza Hut team. Instead, perhaps he’d have sought to gain knowledge and enrichment and chances for leadership experience. In his off-work time, he’d have other priorities.

After all, even Adkison points out that Jeff, the manager, may have sought this type of team due to a recent divorce and the desire to create a family that he no longer had.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Perhaps these thoughts simply console me for not providing the level of personal involvement and extraoffice activities and engagement that Adkison describes as so fulfilling. Maybe I simply make excuses for not wanting to create a family feeling for my staff.

I care about them—don’t mistake me. And I love spending time with them. I count myself immeasurably lucky to get to work with every single one of them every single day.

Yet I assume that, like me, they have relationships and interests outside the office that they’d like to pursue after they’ve gotten the work done—especially over playing kickball with their coworkers on a Sunday evening.

Yet often I completely miss what people want from me—and that comes to employees especially. If they don’t articulate it, I completely miff it.

What do you think?

What do you seek from your workplace? What do you feel most people seek?


Friday Links #4: Great Stuff Worth a Read

Assorted reading material on my coffee table. October 2014.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, each Friday post will feature fantastic articles, books, and blog posts that I’ve read since the Friday post before. The more good writing gets spread around the world, the better.


  • Atul Gawande writes beautifully. His articles in The New Yorker make me wish every profession had someone so insightful and eloquent. (Gawande is a surgeon.) Anything he writes, you should read. And his essay in the New York Times about how society—and medicine—could improve treatment for people in the final stages of life resonated for me. How can we do better by the people we love who face the end? How do we make their exits as peaceful and positive as possible?
  • Another article in the New York Times, a reflection on work by Danial Adkison, made me wonder about our expectations of the workplace. Do we all want it to feel like family? Or do we seek this type of work environment and these types of office relationships only when we lack a supportive, cohesive family outside the workplace?
  • I empathize with my friend Rebecca’s uncertainty about how to best deal with compliments. Everyone likes to receive praise, but so few of us know how to graciously take it. I’ve meant to comment on her post for a while, but I don’t have any truly solid advice. Do you?
  • In the New York Times, Ian McGugan wrote about the NFL’s lack of any strong incentive to change when it comes to cracking down on inappropriate player behavior to preventing concussions. Over years of crafty marketing, the sport has rooted thoroughly in our national consciousness, plays into the comfort of the familiar when it comes to rules and customs, and thrives through our natural human tendencies for brand loyalty—all of which weaken the winds that could turn over new leaves.

Do tell:

What have you read recently that I should read?


GUEST POST: My Creative Process: Disorganized Organization (Part Two)

Jon Lundell's wall of metal panels for inspiration.

Leslie’s Note: This is the second post in a two-part series by a dear friend and highly admired artist, Jon C. Lundell. Read the first part here. Learn more about Jon and his work on his Web site and read his other writing on his personal blog, which I highly recommend following.

I have tried a variety of methods to keep my creative world organized. An obvious to do list: Chalkboard, dry erase, paper, calendar, computer, tablet, iPhone, brightly colored magnetic letters that spell out salient phrases, all of which resist my attention and are soon forgotten.

I have a wall of metal panels in my studio to post things on with nifty magnets: Images I find appealing, works I wish to steal from shamelessly (as Patti Smith said, and I live by this: “I am an American artist and I have no guilt”), and the aforementioned magnetic letters that occasionally fall over and make a mess.

All of this I promptly ignore.

Cleaning is a big problem. I often take a day to organize my studio: Similar tools in the same place, easy to find, pictures I’m working on prominently displayed, and open space for me to get to it all. Which I do, then do again, then think of something else, and since I’m working on that and have the paints out, why not add to that thing. My mind wanders and engages a new idea I must pursue immediately. Shortly, in a period I have clocked at roughly a week, everything is in total disarray. How did that happen?

I would also point out that an artist recently visiting my studio commented on the horribly rigid structure of it all. How could I possibly create with so much order imposed? Go figure.

Materials, Media, and Ambience

I build all painting supports myself; physical work I find satisfying.

I use archival materials: Acid-free paper, hardwood panels, lightfast pigments, real gold leaf. I have made financial sacrifice at times to ensure I am using quality materials. I mean, otherwise, what’s the point?

I need to be entertained when I work. Movies, music, stories, BBC, radio plays all appeal. I especially favor Shakespeare and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” My studio also has a jukebox. How cool is that?

Perhaps at this point you have ascertained I am easily distracted. No need to point that out. I’m hyperaware.

I do not work well under pressure or deadlines. I want to give the work time to sort itself out if it needs. At some point art takes on a life of its own, and is made to be viewed. I was prissy and precious about things when I was a youth, but that went away after I accumulated a body of work.

A Little Chaos is a Good Thing

The moment we step out the door, we are governed by rules and laws. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (there is a reason anarchy has never quite caught on), but I find it counterintuitive to the creative mind.

My paid employment has, for the most part, required me to impose order on chaos, be very organized, and direct people far too busy to focus. This is contrary to my nature but, for some reason beyond my comprehension, I am very good at it. I think perhaps this is one reason I covet a lack of structure in my studio.

I like the fact that I own the work, all the drudgery, glory and foibles. I am not a competitive person; games and sports don’t interest me because, outside of war and personal assault, winning and losing doesn’t strike me as important. So art suits me.

What’s your creative process?


Friday Links #3: Great Stuff Worth a Read

Assorted periodicals at my place. October 11, 2014.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, each Friday post will feature fantastic articles, books, and blog posts that I’ve read since the Friday post before. More people should read more great writing, I say.

Happy reading!

  • Years ago, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn gave me a thought-provoking read, and so did this recent article the couple penned about the limitations to our current methods for ending the cycle of poverty—and how we could make a far bigger difference. In short: We have to start earlier.
  • Jon C. Lundell’s meditation from an artist’s perspective on whether art has something to do with beauty and the subjectiveness of the beautiful made me think. Personally, I believe that anything can have beauty from the right perspective.
  • Blame my intellectual-historian background and my work in the marketing field: I love studies like this one, written up by John Beshears and Francesca Gino in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, of human behavior and how to influence better decision making.
  • This post by Joelle about private lives in a public, social-media world sounded a bell for me: As much as this blog, Twitter, and Facebook puts out about me into the world—and as much as I may choose to share off-line—I hold back a great deal more. In fact, I sequester what matters most to me far more often than not. Maybe one day, that will change. But not anytime soon.
  • The fragility and transience and poignancy and preciousness of life have lingered in my thoughts quite a bit lately. And so when I read this post by David Pennington, I read it thrice. Though it made me ache, it helped to know someone else feels the sadness. And I still wonder who wrote the beautiful eulogy from the physics perspective. I want to thank him or her.
  • My humanities-loving heart sang when I read James McPherson’s post marking parallels in “The Wire” to Greek epic—and poignantly drawing conclusions about the need for justice to achieve peace in the world. And I haven’t ever even seen “The Wire.”

I still forget to make note of the fantastic writing I encounter—I haven’t yet mastered the habit. Stay tuned in future weeks for ever better lists!

What have you read recently that I should read?