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Today a client wanted to talk about micromanaging.  This is a very conscientious CEO of a young startup company, his second as a founder.  In fact, he didn’t recall that when he came to me years ago, for startup coaching, he had the same concern.  Was he striking the right balance between providing direction and showing confidence in his team, or was he meddling and thereby not only reducing his own productivity as CEO but signaling a disempowering lack of faith in his team?

A single example, such as the one my client gave me, is not reason for concern.  If micromanagement really exists, it will crop up over and over, and you will have a large sample size of complaints!  (My client’s recent 360-degree reviews had also unearthed no hint of excessive meddling).

Micromanagement is a Symptom of Unmanaged Anxiety

Where does micromanaging come from?  It’s a symptom of unmanaged anxiety.  That anxiety may create or simply exacerbate an existing lack of confidence or trust in the work of the person being micromanaged.  The message being, daily, “I’m not confident you can succeed the first time you try this, so I’m going to help you.”  Or rescue you.  And in the end, disempower you and take away your sense of mastery as a person.

You see the same thing in inexperienced parents, who intrude, meddle, or are otherwise “co-dependent” in not allowing their children the prospect of the temporary failures that, when overcome, lead to both psychological resilience and mastery.  (These may be the same parents who, contra Dweck, mistakenly praise outcomes rather than process and effort.  In doing so, they train their children that outcomes (“Good job!”) and relatively fixed traits (e.g., intelligence – “You’re so smart!”) are the important thing, and that if you don’t achieve the desired outcome immediately, it is time to quit – for you are clearly not intelligent enough, and you have failed).


One major problem caused by micromanagement is the serious consequences it has on the personal or professional growth of the micromanagee.

Intrusive, micromanaging parents are unable to tolerate the anxiety and other bad feelings that come up when they imagine their child “failing”.  And so their micromanagement is emotionally reactive.

Solution:  Self-Awareness

The first thing we can say about micromanagement is that it is less likely to happen if we are aware of our own anxieties.  So we must continually practice awareness and ask ourselves the question, “How much of my desire to interfere comes from my anxiety — usually without solid evidence — that this person cannot or will not do the job perfectly the first time?”  And then ask yourself, “Am I willing to eliminate this person’s chance to discover the utterly empowering fact of having been challenged with setbacks that he’s eventually overcome by force of his own persistence, creativity, and psychological resilience?”

How else can a manager reduce his anxiety and increase his confidence?  By ensuring he’s done the best job he can in his recruiting, for one.  You don’t want to be anxious about an employee’s abilities in the areas for which she was hired.

A manager should also collaborate closely with the employee to ensure project direction has been made clear, that the employee does possess the necessary technical skills, and, last but not least, that the employee knows she has the confidence of the manager.  Tell the employee that you will check in occasionally, but the reason is not lack of confidence, but a need to know the status of things.  And that your conversations should not be considered evidence of lack of confidence but as brainstorming and collaboration.

“One is never so bold as when one is sure of being loved,” Freud explained.  If you want bold employees, the kind who are “action-oriented” and “take initiative,” then you need to help build that up in them by allowing them to fail, alone, in the knowledge that they are respected and appreciated and approved of (even loved!), and you need to let them overcome, alone, without being rescued before they can achieve the breakthrough that makes them feel like heroes.  A sense of autonomy and mastery are crucial to both high job satisfaction for an employee and high-level creative outcomes for the employer.

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Requiem for a Certain Era

Published on October 30, 2006 by in Writing Coaching

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From: ” Hotel Rubschen Braunwald”
Sent: Fri, 20 Oct 2006 16:26
To: Tedd Determan

Salü Monique & Tedd,

Danke das Mail und Eueren Beitrag eine Suche nach einen Investor.
Doch, die ist jetzt vorbei, Heute haben wir den Vertrag abgeschlossen.
Das Rubschen geht jetzt in andere Hände und wir sind ab 01. November Privat.
Neueres wissen wir im Moment nicht. 

Viele liebe Grüsse aus Braunwald

Horst und Rosli,

My friend Tedd forwarded me this news the other day. “What?” Mieshelle asked, some time afterward, upon seeing my face. She admitted later that she thought someone had died. She wasn’t far off.

“Rubschen,” I said. “It’s sold.”

That’s all I needed to say to her. For readers, however, I will add the following deciphering: the email was addressed to one of my best friends and a Feroce entrepreneur coach, Tedd Determan, who lives in Washington, D.C. I was with Tedd, crashing a World Bank party in DC, when he met his future wife, Monique. This was about 1998. Later that year, I was delighted to be able to share with Tedd the Hotel Rubschen, and Braunwald, a village in the mountains in the canton of Glarus, Switzerland. Tedd fell in love too; there was more than enough to go around.

The authors of the email, Horst and Rosli Pfannenmueller, are — were —  the owners of the hotel. Onkel Horst, wise-cracking brother of my German mother and now a Swiss citizen, came to Switzerland when he was 17 to be an apprentice chef, and bought the hotel in the early 1970s. He is, until November, the virtuoso Michelin-starred chef of the Hotel Rubschen, and Tante Rosli is the Tasmanian Devil-like whirlwind of energy that handles —handled — everything else. For me, in a life full of moving from place to place, seldom to look back, and after a decade, in the 90s, of losing one German relative after another, the Hotel  Rubschen had, until now, held the distinction of being the longest continuing place of return in my life.

My aunt and uncle’s email was a reply to Tedd and Monique, who had once again written Onkel Horst and Tante Rosli, as part of Tedd’s efforts to find a buyer for the hotel whom we would know, as opposed to a buyer we would not. Efforts in which I did not participate. Why not? Perhaps because I wanted to allow my aunt and uncle to let go, in private, of the container in which their very lives had been lived. Perhaps because I had no ideas. Perhaps because denial is a sure way to avoid feeling pain and as long as I stayed out of it I could be largely unaware of anything troubling happening.

Rubschen, light of my life, grill of venison loins, My mountainous dream, my child-like self. Rrrrrub-schen. The tip of the tongue, to further paraphrase Nabokov, sputtering Teutonically on the palate till the R elides into the ub as preface to the schen so like the chen (I see at last) that makes diminutives of Germans’ beloveds. A secret I was always eager to share with my closest friends.

So often have I gone there and seen in the unchanging mirror of those mountains, those paths, that place, how I have changed and not changed. If I could bottle the optimism and good-feeling I have felt over and over, on every arrival, as I glide from train to funicular and then begin the gravelly walk from Braunwald village to the hotel, I would be a rich man, even if I was the only person ever to nip at the bottle, before secreting it back in my desk drawer.

I remember myself there as a young boy, scampering up boulders during walks, reveling in being likened to a goat. I remember driving there at ten, with German friend of the family Harry, who thought my mindless repetition of a sentence I’d spotted in his pfennig Westerns, Zum Teufel damit – “To hell with it!” was the height of hilarity, and I recall the pride I felt in being entrusted for two weeks with the job of bartender – bartender! I returned with cousin Mike at thirteen, the pictures (rather than my memory) showing us riding like princes on the electric cart, and capering about with my uncle, none of us of course aware that Mike had nine more years, seven of them good.

At sixteen, reading outside as I suntanned my vanity in the liegestuhle, falling in love with the waitress Claudia, notwithstanding the obstacle posed by the endearing mutton-chopped waiter Hermann, who watched me demonstrate Chinese push-ups in the restaurant, went into the kitchen, and returned rubbing his nose, his tiny black eyes gleaming. At twenty-two, I was just done with college, bracing for a very large change.

At twenty-six, I was back after the disappointment that was a federal judge I’d clerked for, writing almost non-stop the story of now-gone Mike and I, praying for cloudy days on which I could stay inside with my manhood and adventurousness unimpugned by my aunt, on better days solo-climbing in just a few hours the serrated symbol of Braunwald, Ortstock mountain, realizing quite late that the pretty young Portuguese woman, a seasonal worker at the ritzier Hotel Bellevue, a friend of the Portuguese who worked at Rubschen, was a lonely newlywed and had seen in an American an exotic glamour, even rescue.

I wrote a short story after this trip, my second. “An American at the Hotel Rubschen,” it’s called. The narrator is Jorge, one of two brothers who works at the Hotel Rubschen. He meets the eponymous American when Herr Pfannenmueller asks him to go down to Braunwald village to fetch his nephew, who has just come up on the funicular. It is raining, but the American declines the offer to ride in the electric car, insisting on the longed-for walk, knowing that in the morning “the mountains will come out to play”. The first half (or two-thirds?) of this paragraph is representative of the place, the rest the license of fiction:

The hotel was smartly dressed, like an obedient Swiss child, with maple-colored wood-leaf shingles and red storm shutters. There were two floors of rooms above the restaurant. On sunnier days the sonnenterrasse was full of hikers who lounged at tables in the shade of the umbrellas that now stood dormant in the rain, and children who ran around them, and dogs who collapsed to sleep beneath them with their sides heaving. The American was greeted with a happy red face from Herr Pfannenmueller, who had just left the kitchen and was still holding a handmixer from which batter slowly dripped, and with a great storm of energy by the aggressive Frau Pfannenmueller, who hugged him tightly and clucked her tongue and welcomed him to the Hotel Rubschen where, she said to him, “you can rest your broken heart.” I struggled to understand more of their German, but the bastard Swiss dialect, like most bastards, resisted closer inquiry. I watched the American’s sure gestures and wry smile and wondered what the others would think. Rita and Rui, who loved American rock singers, Joze, who preferred the bottom of his beer glass to social discourse, lovely Emilia, who so loved new things.

I never saw any of that summer’s Portuguese workers again, but each visit back proved that between the Portuguese and Rubschen there was a match made in heaven. I returned when I was thirty, taking a break from working unhappily in the law, accompanied by my supportive and patient friend Rachel; I recall feeling grateful when she cut short a hike to the green, snow-fed lake Oberblegisee, leaving me to a memorable experience of solitude as I sat by the lake in the fog, feeling I was looking at my life from a great height.
At thirty-one, there I was again with Tedd during my first Braunwald in the snow and my first torn-up knee too, and a few years later to watch Tedd and Monique consecrate that ground in marriage, and finally last October, with Tedd and Monique and Mieshelle, who said it was like the place of her childhood dreams, that she didn’t know such places existed, and has ever since supported my dream of returning to live not far away.

Braunwald. It’s worth pointing out that when I have wanted to envision in my mind a scene of calm and happiness, or feel in my body peace, I have referred to that state of inner peace and happiness as “the Braunwald of my mind.  I loved it in a rare way, I loved it unreservedly.

And so the sense of loss I felt reading that email. Braunwald will always be there, at least, as long as I am here to be conscious of a there, but the absence of my relatives and my uncle’s food and a place that has always been mine means things will be different now.

Here it is again in English:

The era has now passed . . . Rubschen will go now into other hands . . .

Many loving wishes from Braunwald,

Horst und Rosli

For more information, see www.braunwald.ch.

Who’s coming with me?

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The New York Times today published a fairly lengthy (six pages online; is that lengthy?) abstract from the journals of the late Susan Sontag (whose Against Interpretation either influenced me more than I imagined 15 years ago or I’ve just lately been coming independently to the same conclusions).  In her journal, Sontag writes, in 1966, of an acquaintance asking her how she feels when she discovers

say, three-fourths through something I’m writing that it is mediocre, inferior.  I reply that I feel good and plow on to the end.  I’m discharging the mediocre in myself. (My excremental image of my writing.)  It’s there.

I want to get rid of it.  I can’t negate it by an act of will.  (Or can I?)  I can only allow it its voice, get it out.  Then I can do something else.

At least, I know I won’t need to do that again.

This is interesting not just for writers.  The fear of making a “mistake” paralyzes anyone and everyone who is considering a relationship or a career.  Even as I suffer from the same, human fear, I’m fascinated by its irrationality.  A mistake?  Based on what criteria?  Compared to what standard?  I’ve never met anyone who could articulate why taking a job that lasts three years and then ends, or a relationship that lasts fifteen months and ends, ought to or even could be framed as a “mistake”.  It seems to me a reckless yearning toward efficiency and perfection.  And utterly paralyzing.

Sontag’s view here will be most easily comprehended by writers who often don’t even begin to write (as others don’t even begin to live) for fear that the results will turn out displeasing to them and therefore be — wait for it — “wasted”.  But anyone should be able to draw the analogies with his or her own life.

How unfortunate, to have such a limited and impoverished view of how we spend our days.  A world of “waste” versus efficiency, notions of time well spent versus perceptions of a slip in the march of allegedly forward progress.  If we can’t consider the idea that all that we do is a learning and opening up, if our story is, rather, that by acting we can only expose our mediocrity, well, it’s best not to act at all.  At the same time, if we can’t feel in our bones that there is not, in fact, any hurry to get to a place (that there is actually no place called happiness to get to), we feel compulsively compelled to act.

Thus begins the inner war.   

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Coaching the Writer in You

Published on September 1, 2006 by in Writing Coaching

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The Zen of Writing: A Coach’s Perspective

Memory, as Milan Kundera has pointed out, and as anyone who has attempted a memoir knows in his bones, is not recollection, it is reconstruction.

Recollection is, on the other hand, what we do in any creative act. Robert Burdette Sweet, author and teacher of writing, tells us in Writing Towards Wisdom: The Writer as Shaman that “all creating is a form of recollection — not a discovery but a rediscovery.”

In this respect, writing is indistinguishable from any spiritual discipline. The path is narrow, but rewarding. In Writing Down the Bones, or perhaps it was in Wild Mind (Natalie would understand), Natalie Goldberg talks about the day her Zen master told her that she must choose: her Zen or her writing. In his eyes, they were both a real discipline, a practice.

“Only by artificially channeling dramatic energy can the natural revelation of the unconscious reveal itself to the conscious.” Sweet again. And so, Sweet advises you, in perhaps the best advice to writers struggling past writer’s block, procrastination, and self-doubt, you must struggle

to trust what your unconscious is up to, no matter how bizarre, how forbidden, how complex. The main characteristic of creative persons is an enormous tolerance for ambiguity. Permit yourself not to know. You are writing the story to find out what happens and why. Since the story is writing itself, you can’t know the ending. You can’t know the middle. You might not know the beginning.

Helping you to trust yourself, your instincts, and the wise unfoldment of your unconscious is what writing coaches do. At a client’s request, we can also add accountability: X words per day or week, Y pages, Z hours — the way to measure what you will commit to doing for yourself is up to you.

In this Writing category, I invite writing coaching clients to meet and to share, to discuss their creative problems, to offer advice and encouragement, and, of course, to do whatever your intuition (aka the subconscious) tells you to do, without any backtalk.

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The advantages? Well, I’ve just opened up this service, so let me poke around as I write. That is, it’s so easy that you discover advantages just by looking around.

First, it’s an easy interface that shows you exactly how your post will appear. Otherwise known as What You See Is What You Get (often “abbreviated” with the unfortunate acronym WYSIWYG).

Second, it allows easier inclusion of photographs, like this vision of the Garden of Eden, also known as “Mieshelle in Portland’s Japanese Zen Garden”:

Third, it’s easy to link to other sites or pages. Just highlight the term to be linked from and then either (1) click on the image of a link on a globe (get it? link on the World Wide Web?) or (2) use CTRL-K. Insert your URL where it says “URL”.

Fourth, it appears to work just like Word, so that if you highlight something like “World Wide” as above, and press CTRL-U, the term will be underlined (for all you who were still using your mouse to underline, bold, italicize, copy, cut, and paste, I have many time-saving shortcuts for you, and they are, respectively, CTRL U, B, I, C, X, and V). And don’t forget CTRL-S to save your work while you type!

You can even go up to the menu bar, click on the button next to “Save Draft” (it will have different names depending on your last selection), and choose “Web Preview” and, instantly see what your post will look like on the blog! This is really cool.

The application also spell-checks, allows changing of fonts, block quotes, and more.

HOW TO GET STARTED

Download here.

Install on your computer. Open. You will be asked for your blog address. You will be asked for your username and password. (Already provided to you via email, coaches). You will then start, thinking a thought of gratitude that the universe is so absurdly simple.

How do you make the actual post? I don’t know, let me guess, type it in here, and see if it works (if you see the post, it worked).

Aha. Just as I thought: to post, go to “File” and choose “Publish to Weblog”. Voila!

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Welcome to the new forum for coaches and clients to discuss, share ideas and best practices, bring up obstacles, and talk about successes. And just about anything else. Look for categories of discussion such as:

Career
Weight Loss
Mind Work (how to work with our thinking to change our world)
Spiritual Practice
Parenting
Self-Care (from fitness to forgiveness)
Time Management
Leadership
Marketing
and more!

All of our coaches are authors who may create original posts. All of our clients and even passersby may comment and carry on the conversation. For now, I urge each coach to begin one or more discussion forums relating to their practices, and invite their clients to come to the site and to subscribe to receive email updates. Clients are free to use pseudonyms, from Mickey Mouse and Victor Hugo to “Jim” and “Beth from Wisconsin”.

Let’s go!

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