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Coaching

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Unintended Contracting

Since 1994, I have had all or some of my professional work paid for through contracts. This was NOT the plan!  I have mentioned before in this blog that I am not, by nature, an entreprenuer. To wit . . .

  • I hate the idea of sales and marketing.
  • I am not a "joiner." Involvement is not something I seek.
  • I am inherently risk-aversive.

Thus, my first contracts came by "default." That is, through no intention or effort on my part to try and sell my services. Here's how it happened . . .

1993: A colleague offered to guarantee 3 months pay to encourage me to join their private practice. The hospital, whose employ I was leaving, offered to contract with me, part time, for weekend therapy groups.

1994: Citibank, who had bought the hospital chain, closed the hospital. An education consultant, who had a contract with the Department of Education, offered me a contract to do counseling with identified kids in schools. (Realizing this part-time gig paid me better than the full-time job was an eye-opener. But, I had dreams and it was off to grad school.)

1997: A colleague of mine and I dreamed up a consulting gig as part of an assignment for a Qualitative Research class. We proposed, with support from our professors, to help improve employee satisfaction at this 3,000+ plant.

2000: A university offers me a job, but it's not where I want to live. I counter-offer to teach from my preferred location. This leads to a contract to combine trips to campus and distance-learning that continues for 15 years until I decide to retire to pursue other interests.

2003: Interest peaks among students about the consulting work I am doing and I am assigned to teach a Doctoral class on Consulting with Larger Systems.

2010: Students continue to value the class and encourage the writing of Beyond the Couch. As multiple students indicate that the class has been the "most practical" and "best class" in their curriculum, I begin to dream about how to help others benefit from contracting.

2011: I begin coaching mentees about developing contracts. These colleagues develop contracts with schools, churches, medical practices, and non-profits. Personally, I continue with my work with a limited private practice and consulting.

So, that's it.  Let me encourage you to seek colleagues, opportunities, and supports to add contracting and consulting to your "toolkit." It will open up many doors to creative and energizing work!

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Mistakes . . . Vulnerability . . . and Developing a Good Product

Photo by  David Beale  on  Unsplash

Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

Attending Practice . . . and Seeing something new!

I was confused. I sat watching a choir practice at my kid's college. As they practiced, I noticed a student raise his hand, the conductor nodded, then he put his hand down . . . in the middle of a song, what? . . . then another raised her hand, and quickly dropped it, then three students in quick succession did the same. This pattern of hands raising and lowering continued, as if I was watching human hands leaping around like popcorn being roasted, throughout the song--a continual violent punctuation of the air as the directer continued, apparently seeing, but mostly ignoring, this phenomenon--to direct the musical piece to its close.

I waited. Ready for the conductor to address this strange phenomenon.  "What is this . . . a prank?" I would hear him say. Or,  "You guys need to focus!  . . . If you have a question, quit raising your hands until the song is complete!" . . . It didn't come.

Now, I was even more confused. It's not like the entire experience was new to me. I have had a fairly extensive background in choir rehearsals.  I grew up on that same college campus and had seen practices--with more than one conductor--many times. I was in choir myself, both in High School and College. But never had I seen this behavior, or anything remotely like it.

They started practicing on a new piece--a fast-paced spiritual--and once again the "pop, pop, popity-pop" of hands began.

Slowly, I realized the connection. Students raised their hands every time they made a mistake!

Like an athlete watching "film" of their performance, here was a live-action critique of how well the chorus was performing this piece.  I watched and, despite my limitations in musical ability, I began to anticipate when and where the next hand or hands would rise.

I asked my son about it after practice. "Oh, he said, that's a way for Dr. R. to know that we are aware of a mistake . . . and so that he can see when particular parts are giving someone troubles, without having to stop the practice every time to correct something."  Voila! Nailed it. I'm not a trained observer for nothing!

Now, I began to reflect . . . This choir was good, no doubt about it.  They receive glowing reports, awards, financial backing, and acclaim and had for several years. I began to wonder about how the climate of "signaling errors" came to be accepted, comfortable, and the norm."  A few things came to mind about the practice as I observed it . . . 

First, mistakes were expected. There was no false sense that someone was doing it right all the time. When you make a mistake, you raise your hand. Not "if" but "when."

Second, identifying mistakes was seen as a process to creating a good product. If you know that you made it mistake then you can fix it. If you don't know, or try to pretend you didn't, you are less likely to fix it.

Third, it made individual members aware of their mistakes and focused on what they needed to improve. Undoubtably, no one wants to keep making the same mistakes, so acknowledging them in this public fashion leads to accountability to improve.

Fourth, it allowed the leader to have a good read on how well, or poorly, the team was performing at each stage.  The conductor was not having to take his focus away from his tasks to try and discover who wasn't getting the music correctly. They kept him informed through signaling the errors.

It was nearing the end of practice. I had become quite used to the hand raising and felt some what comfortable with the "what and why" of this new and odd technique. Then, the conductor made a mistake. He turned two pages, instead of one, and pointed his baton toward a section of the choir, there was a moment of hesitation, but the choir corrected and carried on. The conductor, noting something was wrong, quickly flipped back two pages, then forward one. He was back on track now . . . and he raised his hand. The choir laughed.

Mistakes and Business

When I myself, or when I and another consultant, work on a project, I always save time at the end of each step to do a "post mortem." I want to assess what went well, what was just okay, and what could be improved. These reflections and discussions are invaluable to continuing to grow and increase our value to customers.

I encourage leaders to do the same. Those that can honestly do this critical self-analysis, noting the successes and admitting the mistakes, are much more likely to see growth and improvement in their work teams.

But, it starts with the leader.  Employees will ask themselves, "Is it safe?" and "What does the leader really care about--quality or their ego?" before they themselves will risk being vulnerable.

If you want others to join in making the quality of something great, if you want them to be transparent about their mistakes and improve, if you want them to figuratively raise their hands then you have to lift up yours.

Yes, you can get good quality at times through control, coercion, fear and other factors but only leadership, transparent and honest leadership, will harness the good will, loyalty, and extra effort to truly develop a high functioning team and a top-quality product.

Finally . . .

If you want to be a great employee, increase the probability of advancement, and be a part of a high functioning team. The you also need to display these leadership traits. Yes, you need to assess whether it is safe to do so, but in the end, protecting oneself only leads to a mediocre team and merely delays the inevitable. Poor outcomes and failure.

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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Continuing Education: Take Aways from Presenting at a National Conference

Take Aways from Presenting at a National Conference

Getting Started . . .

Getting Started . . .

Just finished presenting "Beyond the Couch: Using MFT skills with Organizations" at the national conference for the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). The presentation was delivered in a pre-conference, 5 hour, "institute" held in Atlanta at the Marriot Marquis.

This pre-conference institute requires attendees to come a day early, pay an additional $175, occur additional costs of an extra day in training, and be willing to commit from 9-3:30 to this training. We had good turnout with 35-40 attending.

As an educational endeavor, I am listing the learning I got from presenting this institute. Incidentally, If you are a member of our FONS group (a private Facebook group) or a subscriber to my email list then I will give you some more personal insights later that I won't share publicly.

A beautiful day in Atlanta.

A beautiful day in Atlanta.

Here a some of my take aways . . .

Things I kind of knew that were re-confirmed:

  • Therapists are some of the nicest people to have in a presentation
  • The interest in working on contract, avoiding the insurance market, and working with organizations is growing
  • There is still little, or no, training in masters programs on business skills, contracting, or working with organizations
  • There is a strong interest in learning the tools and techniques of developing contracts
  • Therapists don't know where to find mentors when it comes to contracting and working with organizations
  • Seasoned therapists get requests to help with organizational issues whether they are trained in this area or not
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What should I have known, that i learned:

  • Teaching people, even highly skilled therapists, how to do contracting takes more than 5 hours
  • People are going to be interested in connecting personally with me for support
  • I need a plan to capture the contact information of those who show interest in connecting
  • People are going to want to buy my book, from me, right there at the conference
  • There always is at least one attendee who already has extensive experience as a consultant who is present just to get new ideas
  • There are decision makers present, often with funds, that may be looking for ways to enhance their program offerings.

What I still don't know . . . 

  • Is it worth losing two days of revenue, paying for the cost of a plane ticket etc., the time to develop the presentation, and paying for the cost of the conference (really? the presenter has to PAY to attend their own presentation?!?!)
  • As a corollary, to the point above, will I ever present at the AAMFT conference again?
  • Will the institute have an impact? Will there be any follow through for attendees who expressed interest in developing their own contracts and consulting?
  • Will the attendees who expressed an interest in coaching, training, connecting, follow through with contacting us?
  • Did the institute give attendees enough to go out and develop their first contract?

We are finalizing our 2018 schedule for training, consulting, etc. The next opportunity to get in on learning about contracting and consulting is in the Interactive CE Training (ICET) Dr. Miller will be presenting on-line October 29th. I

To reserve time for a  presentation or coaching, contact Bryan directly.

For those interested, we also have two products to help therapists get started.

Beyond the Couch: Dr. Miller's seminal book on consulting with organizations.

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Private Practice through Contracting: an eBook to reduce insurance dependency and help develop contracts as part of a private practice.

PPContractingCover.png

 

 

 

 

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My Coach, National Awards, Spoiled Brats . . . and remembering a great team

 

Well, Coach Neal, my college Basketball coach, was named the WBCA NAIA Coach of the Year!  And I'm bitter about it. Why? Because, I only got to play for him for one year . . . in college, where I was a woefully undersized forward at 6'1", and mostly sat on the bench. He was supposed to be my coach for three years in High School, where I was a starter, and where he was the coach until he got "railroaded" by a bunch of . . . well, I won't label them . . . other than to say "immature kids"  . . . and the complicit adults . . . before my sophomore year. Without going into the details, the end result was that the board of education, I think taking the politically safe course, suspended him for a year, to appease the disgruntled and the local college, recognizing a good deal,  promptly offered him their open position. The only redeeming factor, as far as I was concerned, was that this let me play a lot of "noon ball" with him--and even tryout some prospects--but it wasn't quite the same as working one-on-one with this talented leader. 

But this post isn't really about my Coach--or my bitterness. It's to set the stage for what I am about to tell you.  A life lesson that has stuck with me throughout my career as a leader. It's the story about what makes a good team.

You see, after the kids (and their enabling cadre of adults) got rid of Coach, I played with two distinct groups of players. One, a very talented group of athletes that was a terrible team, followed by an average group of athletes that, as a team, excelled. What was the difference?  I'll tell you . . . in  a minute. But first, let me jump forward to the end . . . .

I still can feel the shock. It was my senior year. We had just finished the district final. We had been beaten. Badly. Our "arch-enemies," and the best team in the state, which they proved in the state tournament, had just beaten us for the third time, ending our high school career and launching them, in our place it felt like, to the state tournament. Why in "our place," given they were admittedly the best team in our Class?  Simply, because,we never expected to be beaten. Ever. Why would we feel so confident having been beaten twice before? Because each time we had lost only by a few points and each time we had a starter injured who did not play. Now we were back to full-strength, and at full strength we just didn't lose. But, we just had lost . . . it was inconceivable.  

But, let's go back now to the moment when Coach was suspended . . . .

Playing on a team where the players have just successfully "booted the coach" is interesting to say the least. Once Coach Neal was suspended, my ninth grade coach--a nice man but not a charismatic leader--was promoted. This good man struggled, I think, going into a situation where the "inmates" were really in charge. Oh, he tried to take charge and lead but underlying everything was the feeling that the players could call "mommy and daddy" at any moment and the coach would have to answer for the player's complaints. Not an inviable position to be in as a coach! The result of this, as far as the team's performance, was devastating. The players were good. The team was bad.

A say the players were "good" because they had a lot of potential. Compared to the team that would follow, they had advantages in height, speed, and most of all, in talent. (For example, the average height? Over 6'3" the latter team? Barely 6'0") They were fiercely loyal to each other--but only to each other--and they made sure the other players knew they were to "stay in their place." (There were, to be fair, a couple exceptions to this rule but only one played, so it had minimal effect)  Over the next two years, whenever my play elevated to the point that it threatened their status . . .they "messaged me" with their displeasure.  In a scrimmage, I received a hard elbow to the sternum which laid me out (I didn't know until that moment that you could bruise your sternum!),  I had a player take a swing at me in practice (I dodged it), and had two random fans ask me after one game, "why wouldn't they throw you the ball in the second half?"

I found myself adapting to survive.  So, when my coach rushed across the court after the player took a swing at me and asked, "Did he just try to punch you?" I deferred . . .  "I dunno coach, you'd have to ask him." When fans asked about not getting the ball in the second half, I said "I don't know," --when I had a pretty good idea.

The season, as a reflection of these dynamics, was a disaster. The team only won 5 games. One, proving their elevated talent level, was over the third-ranked team in the state. With enough talent to challenge for a conference title and a trip to the state tournament, it was a complete and utter failure.  Meanwhile, the next team, the "Junior Varsity," was having more success. What would happen when they became the Varsity? Shorter, less talented, less experienced--the prospects were not promising.

So, after the 5-win season,  the ninth-grade-coach-turned-varsity-coach was out, and a new coach was brought in. The coaching change, in my opinion, had little effect. The new coach, certainly came in under a better political climate, but his leadership was not such that it inspired any exponential improvement or motivation. As a change it was simply a replacement, not an upgrade. Besides, the JV had no trouble playing for either coach. 

But, something was different.

Athletes would say this next team was "coachable." With less talent, this team was far inferior "on paper" than the older team. Yet, this team played beyond its potential. This team beat every team they faced except three--two of the three went to state and one being the best team in the class that year. This was the team that played in the district final and were defeated, as told above, by the number one team presenting them from going to the state tournament. 

Two teams. Two different talent levels. Two different outcomes. One grossly underperforming. One excelling.

The difference was  . . . trust.

There was no trust on the older team. Everyone played for themselves. The awareness that the players had ousted the coach, made the coach be timid--who could blame him in a situation that was potentially dangerous. (After stepping down as the coach, he went back to teaching and, I think, coaching the 9th grade team). Underclassmen knew that the older players were more interested in their own status than having a great team. The older players just wanted the starting role and played to their egos, not as a team. One game, a player's shoe came untied, as the other team moved the ball down the court, he ran behind, signaling to the coach that his shoe was untied. The coach shrugged, knowing, I think, that the referees would not allow a time out when the other team was on a "fast break" and about to score an "easy bucket." Not good enough for this player, and frustrated by not being attended to, he violently kicked his shoe off-. . . sending it flying high over the bench where we sat and on to the track behind us. Then, he became "unhinged"  . . . fouling indiscriminately in his anger. Coach let him go. It is the first, and only time, I have seen a player foul out in the first four minutes of a game.

Meanwhile, the JV team didn't care about status. They wanted to win.  They played with whomever the coaches deemed would make them the best team--even when it meant that the center position, occupied by one of their buddies was replaced by an underclassman. No one was concerned about who was "the star" on any given night and, consequentially, different players excelled throughout the season.

Maybe, we learned from the chaos and failure of the older team, we certainly witnessed it and experienced its effects. But I don't think that was it. If it was, we never once talked about it.  This latter group, I believe, just had the idea that being successful was more important. Because we shared that goal, because our behavior aligned with that objective, there was trust.

When the season was over. It was time for the post-season awards.  Some players shared with me their expectation that I would be voted "All Conference.." The facts supported this assumption. I was the high scorer on the second-place team in the district. I appreciated the fact that my fellow players would acknowledge that I should be considered. When the list came out, however, I was not on it. One of my teammates, who was in attendance  said our new coach made a mistake in putting up three candidates for the award which resulted in our votes getting split. Perhaps they were split due to who performed best against each specific coaches team? I don't know. Oh I won't tell you that I wasn't disappointed not to get the award. But, with the hindsight of many years, it really was the most fitting ending to it all. This really was the success of a great team . . . not of a great player.

 

My coach and teammate respond! A follow up post.

 

Get our eBook: Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people.  No cost. No obligation.  

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Mosaics and knowing your role

Years ago i sat for hours in an upstairs "apartment" (really just a room in a professor's home) with my wife helping her create a piece of art called an Encaustic.  What is an Encaustic you ask?  It is "applying pigments with hot wax" to a surface. In our case, it meant melting crayons on a hot plate to be applied to a stretched canvas. At that time, my job, in keeping with my artistic abilities was to . . . melt the crayons and not let them ignite.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I once again was called on to help with an artistic project. We had moved into a new home and we were installing wood stoves. As we installed the first one, my wife came up with a creative idea to create a Mosaic for the "heat shield" behind the stove. I helped.

What does this have to do with consultation? I'll tell you . . . then we'll get back to the story.

To be successful, you need to be "ruthlessly realistic" about your abilities and your role as a consultant. Consultants who get themselves--and the organizations they are supposed to help--into trouble usually do so because of compounding a few simple errors:

  • they take on, or expand into, a project that is outside their core competency
  • they remain unaware of operating in a unfamiliar territory
  • they don't recognize earlier warning signs
  • they try to "push through" (not really knowing what to do) or they "leave the field" when things get tough

Usually, if they only commit the first mistake then they can recover. It is compounding the mistake with several more than causes a crisis and potentially a dramatic failure.

By the way, I really did help my wife with the Mosaic. I bought the tiles and broke them with a hammer. Hey, even Michelangelo was dependent upon the workman at Carrara to query and deliver the marble. I know my place in the world of art--I am the un-lauded workman who makes the art possible. Knowing where you are gifted and when to step aside . . . there's no shame in that!

 

One of the Mosaics in our home. My job? Break the tiles. Oh, they did let me put on one . . . and only one . . . piece . . . with lots of consulting.

One of the Mosaics in our home. My job? Break the tiles. Oh, they did let me put on one . . . and only one . . . piece . . . with lots of consulting.

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