Sunday, April 28, 2013

An Open Plea to Former President George W. Bush

Good morning.
“And the beat goes on........................

Some Gossip for you this morning:  My sources tell me the White House is getting close to naming a new Chair of the NEA.  There are three names being bandied about - all of whom come from our field.  Of course, the final selection may be outside that group and someone from left field.  I can tell you the three names told to me (in confidence) are all very qualified and distinguished leaders from within our ranks.  

Former President George W. Bush was back in the news last week at the opening of his Presidential Library.  He was joined on stage by former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton and current President Barack Obama.  This is a very exclusive club. Former presidents must find a life after the White House - a way to find personal satisfaction and fulfillment after leaving the post as the most powerful man in the world.  Not an easy task.  Clinton has his international foundation; Carter Habitat for Humanity. Usually, it takes a former President a while to find a new calling - an arena in which he can give back to the nation he once led in a way that gives him a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Protocol dictates they eschew the spotlight so as to give a current President space to govern. Often, they maintain a low profile for the first term of a new President, and have chosen a path to take right about the time their “library” is dedicated.

What interested me about former President Bush was not the news of the dedication of the ‘library’, but another news item about him reported by Rick Klein on ABC News from an interview President Bush did with Diane Sawyer of ABC News wherein he discussed his new passion for painting.

President Bush told Sawyer:  “I love to paint.  It is - painting has changed my life in an unbelievably positive way.”

“Bush said he was inspired to paint by reading Winston Churchill’s “Painting as a Pastime”.  He told Sawyer that "his new activity has helped him continue to learn, following the example of his father, former President George H.W. Bush.”

“You know what the interesting lesson is though, that you can keep learning in life.  ‘Painting', Bush said, ‘has been eye opening for me.  I mean, I look at colors differently and I see shadow. “

Congratulations, Mr. President.  You now personally know what tens of tens of thousands of artists know.  The great joy and fulfillment of creativity; how art can keep lifelong learning alive. What you feel is what hundreds of thousands of children across the country feel when they have the opportunity to study, learn and practice art - whether painting, dance, music, film, literature, design, or whatever.  For those children that opportunity profoundly (and positively) changes their lives - forever.  You now know first hand the importance of art - to an individual and to our society, to our daily lives, to our communities, to all of us as a nation.  I am profoundly happy for you.

Now, if I might ask you for a favor.  Former President’s have tremendous cachet in our society.  There aren’t very many of them alive at any one point in time.  You have an unrivaled network of contacts and people you know throughout the political, business, civic and other worlds.  You can command the media’s attention. People will listen to you.  You speak with a rare authority.  As a former President you can talk to the nation in a way few other people can.  You have a big soap box and one extraordinary bully pulpit.  And you know far better than most how the system works, and how to get things done.  You have an unprecedented opportunity to do a lot of good.

So please, as you find your way towards new pursuits, I urge you to take up the banner of the arts in America.  Take a stand in favor of public and private support for the arts - at every level - of supporting artists across our country, of arts education for all students in every community, of access to the work of the nation's artists for all people.  Hold a press conference. Writer an OpEd piece for the New York Times or the Dallas News.  Call your powerful friends - especially those in Congress - and all those who supported you and still hold you in high esteem; call the leaders of your party out publicly, and all your political contacts and friends and lobby hard for the arts and the value they give to all citizens and all communities.  Chair a Summit Meeting of artists and power brokers.  You know how to do this; how to make things happen. Help to make your new passion America’s new passion.  Champion what has now given you a new way of living, for all those other Americans who don't have the same opportunities you do.  You know now how important the arts can be to one man - and I think you now can appreciate how that importance multiplied by millions of people can be of great value to our nation.  You can bring the arts to countless people who might not ever enjoy and benefit from the experience you now cherish, simply by lending your voice front and center to a national plea to understand why the arts matter and why we ought to rally to their support on every available level.

We're not just talking about a realistic budget for the National Endowment of the Arts - though it is certainly time America as a nation recognized the value of an investment in art, artists, and creativity. We are talking about a fundamental change in the attitude of America towards art and artists - finally recognizing that creativity and artistic pursuits are more than a luxury, more than a frill;  rather art and artists are essential to who we are as a nation and how we will fare in the coming decades.

We can help you Mr. President - arm you with facts and data and stories that attest to and confirm the value of the arts - convincing evidentiary materials from the biggest metropolises to the tiniest hamlets all across our country - that will back substantially any effort you might mount to make the country understand just how important the arts are.  I can put you in touch with scores of leaders (in the arts, business, academia and beyond) across the country that will rally to your attempt to be one of the arts spokespeople.

You’re an artist Mr. Bush -  a noble and sacred calling. Please share that with America.  Please step up and lead the charge to make the value of being an artist a priority for the country.  There are fewer more noble endeavors you can pursue in your search for something worth while to do in your retirement, and fewer callings that will yield more benefit to our citizenry.  And still fewer people better positioned to help than you.  We need your help.

Thank you sir.  Thank you very much.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, April 22, 2013

Interview with Knight Foundation's Carol Coletta

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on.............................."

Carol Coletta is the new  vice president/community and national initiatives at the Knight Foundation (beginning May 6th)  She is the former Director of ArtPlace, a national initiative to accelerate creative placemaking across the U.S. ArtPlace is a collaboration of the nation’s top foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Prior to joining ArtPlace, Coletta was president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders building and sustaining the next generation of great American cities.  For ten years, she hosted and produced a nationally syndicated public radio show, Smart City.  She also served as executive director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, U.S. Conference of Mayors and American Architectural Foundation.  Coletta was a Knight Fellow in Community Building at the University of Miami School of Architecture and was named one of the world’s 50 most important urban experts by a leading European think tank. She is a Senior Fellow with the Design Futures Council.

The Interview:
Barry:  You have an impressive background working with cities as they aspire to transform into places that better serve those who live in them.  Your old mentor at CEOs for Cities, Paul Grogan, said you turned that organization into “an idea factory for cities.”  To what extent would that be a good description of what you might hope to do in your new position at the Knight Foundation? In what areas of challenges to arts organizations would you hope to generate new ideas and new thinking?

Carol:  Dennis Scholl leads the arts portfolio at Knight, and I hope I’ll be able to support his work in our national and communities portfolios.  He already has our local program directors convinced that the arts are one of the best investments they can make in their communities.  Just look at what he’s done with the Knight Arts Challenge.  It will be fun to see if we can bring the same imagination and impact to the rest of the portfolio that Dennis has brought to arts at Knight.

However, if I believe my own pitch at ArtPlace, we will have a better portfolio if we have artists at the table when we develop our strategy.  I’m going to work on that.

Barry:  You were the Director of ArtPlace - the collaborative place making effort of the NEA, thirteen foundations, six banks and other federal agencies - to use the arts and design to improve and transform cities into more livable - more vibrant - communities.  There has been quite a lot of discussion, skepticism and even criticism of the concept of vibrancy as an indicator of the success of the ArtPlace projects.  Of course, only time will tell the outcome of a project as ambitious as ArtPlace.  Without rehashing the previous thinking on the subject, do you have any additional thoughts in hindsight now on vibrancy as a measurement tool - it’s strengths and its vulnerabilities?  Or any thoughts on how Creative Place Making might evolve in the future?

Carol:  Any time you introduce a new idea, some people will be confused or threatened.  The more familiar metrics for the arts are things like, “Did attendance increase?”  “How many people did we touch with our outreach efforts?” These are all helpful guides on the progress an arts organization is making.  But ArtPlace is focused on creative placemaking.  So we want to know what happens in a place when we invest our funds in art.  Americans for the Arts has done a good job on calculating economic impact.  We want to add to that knowledge by measuring the changes in vibrancy and diversity in the places we invest.  As I have said many times, personally, I love dance on a proscenium stage or art in a museum.  It thrills me.  It is an important part of my life.  But with ArtPlace, we are trying to understand the changes that occur in places where we and others invest in arts.  If we can demonstrate a positive correlation… if in fact we can show that investing in art is positively correlated with increases in vibrancy and diversity… the case for art investment becomes far more persuasive, especially to those who do not today recognize the value art and artists can add to communities and to their own agenda.  With the ability to understand change in so many different communities, ArtPlace will have a very rich resource from which to draw lessons. And since it’s all open source, absolutely transparent and relatively cheap to maintain, anyone can use it.

Barry:  A two part question on collaboration:
First, ArtPlace is a pioneering effort in and of itself in getting the public and private sector to collaborate on an ambitious, national agenda - and, from my viewpoint anyway - no small accomplishment (totally apart from the successes or not of the individual grant projects funded).  How might the field replicate the success of such a national collaboration to tackle other issues and what advice might you offer to build other national collaborations?  Do you see championing more such efforts in your new post at Knight - particularly within the arts sphere, and which areas do you think might be ripe for such efforts?
Second, also on the issue of collaboration:  Most of the larger foundations that support the arts have a varied portfolio of areas they support in addition to the arts.  Knight is no exception.  In your new position, your canvas is larger than just the arts - combining the spheres of influence (national strategies and communities) that two people use to head at Knight.  In a sense, what Rocco tried to do (with much success) at the agency was getting the Endowment working with other federal agencies.  How do we get the various wings of larger individual foundations to cross collaborate within their own organizations?

Carol:  The first part of your question:  If every cause had a Rocco Landesman, they would have a major head start.  Rocco is that rare inspirational, imaginative person who sees things others don’t see and then sells his vision relentlessly.  And the funders, to their everlasting credit, caught his vision, said yes quickly and didn’t bog the start up down with a lot of rules and regulations that would have slowed things considerably.  We were able to take that powerful combination of actors and run very fast for two years to create a lot of excitement for creative placemaking.

Collaboration is hard – very hard – but if you can get an alignment of interests, you can achieve so much more from collaboration.  The key question is this:  What is it we can do together that we can’t do alone?  If you have a compelling answer to that question that serves the interests of funders, you have your reason to collaborate.

So would I champion another collaboration?  Absolutely.

The second part of your question:  The example of the William Penn Foundation’s approach to ArtPlace is instructive.  It is the only foundation that sent its lead program directors from both arts and economic/community development to serve on the ArtPlace Operations Committee.  I have incredibly talented colleagues at Knight, and we are already discussing how we can be helpful to one another.  The good news is that at Knight, we have a very clear lens on all of our work.  We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. That transcends portfolios and departments.  Collaboration is much easier when the collaborators are trying to achieve the same thing with the same theory of change.

Barry:  Do you have any thoughts on stemming the decline in audiences?

Carol:  Some audiences are declining, some are increasing.  So I think we need to be clear what problem we are trying to address.  There are so many facets of this question, and there are others far more knowledgeable than me to address it.

But I am professionally less interested in increasing “audiences” than I am in increasing the number of people who regularly use their creativity to add value to their own lives, their community and the economy.  I would love to see art be ever present – everywhere --  to stimulate this kind of daily reconsideration and reframing of what is “normal” and what the possibilities are.

Barry:  In the Knight Press Release of your appointment, you said: “Knight is a foundation with deep local roots.  What excites me most about this role is the opportunity to leverage that combination, by bringing the best ideas we can find nationwide into the Knight communities and leveraging the experience of Knight communities on the national level.”  Do you have any specific thoughts about how you and Dennis Scholl might work together to expand on that role of Knight for the benefit of the whole of the arts universe?  Are there any specific areas you see as ripe for that kind of approach (incubating, as it were, an idea in one city, that might have national implications for the whole field) or are there any particular projects that would excite you?  Have you yet had a conversation about aligning your priorities with Dennis Scholl’s thinking in supporting the arts?  If not, what might you put on the table to discuss with him?

Carol:  I love this question.  I’ve been thinking about it, and I have a couple of specific ideas that don’t fit neatly into the ArtPlace portfolio but could be natural for Knight. But I’d better talk to Dennis first!  Stay tuned.

Barry:  Tip O’Neil - former Speaker of the House - once said: “All politics is local.”  You have, I believe, previously opined that his maxim might be worth embracing for the arts trying to impact local communities - i.e., that’s where the decision making really goes on.  Is that a fair characterization of your thinking, and how might the arts better embrace that concept to succeed at that local level?

Carol:  I don’t pretend that federal policy is not important.  It is.  And ArtPlace should have a point of view about how to shape policy to enable powerful creative placemaking that makes places stronger.  But place is local.  And local decision makers shape place every day – not just with a single piece of legislation. They decide what to build, where to build, how to program, what to allow and what to prohibit with their rules.  So yes, I am a big believer that the best opportunity to leverage investments in creative placemaking is local.

Artists should think of themselves as citizens first.  They should be civic leaders who sit at the table as equals when key decisions are being made about the community’s future.  They can’t assume a whiny, hand-out persona.  They need to be painting a picture of the community’s potential.  They need to describe their goals in terms of the community’s goals, not their own. The old adage applies, “People don’t want to hear your story. They want to hear their story.”  So tell people how you help them advance their agendas, their goals, their stories.

Barry:  What are your one or two big takeaway lessons from your stint at ArtPlace?

Carol:  In a collaboration, it is important to land on a message early and stick to it.  Be clear on what it is you are trying to change in the world, your theory of change, how you will pursue that change and how you will measure your progress.

There is a piece of communication wisdom that I believe in deeply: Say one thing.  Say it simply. Say it over and over.

We tried our best to do that.  People didn’t always like it, but we stuck to the path we originally carved out.

A corollary to that is this:  Build a strong brand identity at launch.  It makes you look bigger and more important that you are until the reality matches the perception.

Figure out how to take advantage of the collaborators’ wisdom, experience, and contacts without treating every decision as if it requires consensus.  That is a difficult but necessary balancing act.

Never stop selling.

Don’t let the naysayers steer you off track.  A start up is like a political campaign.  You need a “finish line” to motivate you to work at a very fast pace.  And you have to expect a lot of attempts to distract you along the way.

Like a political campaign, you are trying to introduce something new into the world.  But people only know what they know. They only know what they’ve been told.  So if someone is spreading incorrect information about your work, you are obligated to respond, just like in a political campaign. But you have to do it in a way that doesn’t distract from what you have to do to make progress or detract from your message.

I don’t envy the people who make it their life’s work.

Put together a great team of entrepreneurs who keep their eye on the goal, expect the unexpected, can move fast and adjust on the fly.  Both collaborations and start-ups are unpredictable.  We were doing both at once.

Barry:  You have worked indirectly with a host of foundation leaders.  What do you think will be different now that you are on the other side of the desk as it were - working for a foundation.

Carol:  I hope I will continue to demonstrate humility about who really does the hard work and a spirit of learning together with grantees to understand what works.  Fortunately, the Knight Foundation is willing to risk some failure as long as we are learning along the way.

In leading the start-up of ArtPlace, I was fortunate to learn from some of this country’s very best philanthropists.  They taught me so much, and I hope I can put those lessons to work for a quick start at Knight Foundation.

Barry:  What are your thoughts on the issue of diversity within the arts?  Should we be funding more efforts for all arts organizations to be more diverse - in their support, art, audiences and structures - or should we be focusing on supporting primarily diverse groups and organizations themselves?  What is your thinking on the equity argument - that too much philanthropic support has gone to the larger, more traditional euro-centric arts organizations, and more ought to go to the smaller, and diverse organizations?

Carol:  I am particularly interested in how we achieve more economic integration in America’s communities and the role arts can play in that.  The effect on people’s lives of achieving economic integration – that is, people of various incomes living in close proximity – is positive on so many fronts.  But it is not easy to achieve, so I want to invest in artists and organizations motivated to test their ideas on how to do this.  I want to learn from their efforts.  On the other hand, showcasing diverse voices and cultures is really valuable to our communities.  We live in an America made richer by its diversity, and the arts reflect that perhaps better than anything else.

Barry:  What role might research and data collection have in guiding your decision making process and why?

Carol:  Research can help you understand how things work.  But without a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve in the world, data collection means nothing.  I am a big believer in being clear in describing the change you want to make in the world, your theory of change, where and how you will invest based on how you believe change happens, and how you will know if you are getting closer to the change you seek.

Barry:  What are your thoughts on how to move forward on the arts education front?  Given the economy and the enormous cost of putting trained, qualified arts teachers in every school, how might we get more schools to offer the arts?

Carol:  I don’t agree with your premise.  There is not an enormous cost to putting qualified arts teachers in every school, unless you also consider it an enormous cost to put qualified math teachers in every school.  In fact, in the scheme of things, it’s pretty cheap.  And we know how to do it.  We’ve done it before.  What narrow lives we must imagine for our children by not teaching art in our schools.  And where in the world do we believe we are going to get the juice to keep our economy growing?  Wake up, people!  It’s all about innovation, and there is no innovation without creativity.  It is ridiculous to pretend we can’t afford this investment, and we ought to say that.

Barry:  What are your thoughts about how we should develop better trained, more qualified leaders in the arts field?  What, if any, is the role of the philanthropic community in supporting professional development and training?

Carol:  I’ve seen the great benefit of bringing creative placemakers together to learn from each other.  I’m so glad we were able to do that this past January with ArtPlace grantees.  They are so smart and so willing to share, so willing to coach each other.  It is one of the best investments we’ve made at ArtPlace.

Thank you Carol.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Monday, April 15, 2013

Executive Coaching in the Arts

Good morning.
“And the beat goes on.............................”

I’ve been doing a lot of coaching in the past year.  I like it, it suits me, I think I am pretty good at it - and I think I’m getting better at it.

My clients are varied, and each assignment is different, challenging in it own way.  While there is satisfaction in helping the client, I find that I am learning as much as I am helping.  I am meeting some extraordinary leaders who are facing different obstacles to overcome, and who are meeting those obstacles with grace, perspective, energy and most of all a willingness to go outside their own comfort zone boxes. I am learning more about our field and what management and leadership is all about, and about the thought processes involved in decision making and applying knowledge to specific situations.

Clients can range from Executive Directors of organizations - both large and small, long established, and some in transition to a new post; Board Chairs who want their tenure to have a positive impact; and rank and file staffing directors of various departments within the organizational structure.  Some have been of relatively short duration, others are on-going.  (I have become reluctant to accept “quickie” assignments that are of very short duration, because for the most part that perspective fails to understand that the process of coaching is best unfolded over a period of time.)

While I have found that our field is beginning to see the benefits of coaching and is moving towards a fuller measure of embracing the process, I have found that there is a lot of confusion about coaching out there, along with some myths.  I frequently hear these questions:  “What is coaching?  How does it work?  Why is it necessary?  How much does it cost?”

Coaching is a process that drives self-discovery and awareness for the client as both a professional and a human being.  Coaching is most easily explained using the sports metaphor.  Take a tennis coach as an example:  the role of the coach is to bring experience and knowledge to a process of working with the person being coached to improve their game - as a whole, or more frequently, some specific part thereof.   Process is the operative word.  Improve their game is the right objective.  For us that means helping the arts manager be more effective and productive - as a manager, a leader and a professional.

Coaching isn’t a coach coming in with all the answers, isn’t someone taking over and doing the work.  The process involves three principal stages:

First, the more the coach knows about the player’s game, and their perception of where their game needs improvement, as well as the ecosystem in which the player operates, the better the coach can help the client.  So intake assessment to become familiar with both the client player and the situation and environment in which the player works is critical.  That involves everything from a first client interview, to interviews with the client’s co-workers, supervisors, subordinates, peers, vendors, Board members and stakeholders, to shadowing the client through an average workday.  The intake assessment process is also important in giving both the client and the coach an opportunity to determine if the requisite positive chemistry between the two can grow.  Not every Coach / Client match works.

Second, the client and the coach together identify areas in which the client needs help and which the coach might be helpful.  A mutually acceptable plan and approach is created as to how to tackle the big issues, over what timeline and with what desired (and hopefully quantifiable / measurable) outcomes.

Third, the actual process of coaching begins.  Coaching most often consists of regular periodic interchanges - either in person, or more commonly by telephone with perhaps email or other support.  Key to effective coaching is good chemistry, for a successful coaching experience is built on trust.  My coaching sessions are confidential and I never share with anyone the substance of our process without the client’s express permission.   In all cases, the person being coached is the client and it is that person’s growth and welfare as the same pertains to the integrity of the organization that comes above other considerations.  The client must feel able to open up and not hold back if the process has any chance of making headway into improving the client’s game.  For the client, having an independent and trusted place to sound off, rant, consider new ideas and thinking, effectively and accurately evaluate and consider various situations and scenarios and to just think out loud is of enormous value in getting from one point to another.  The process involves building on the client’s strengths and is guided by personal values and ethical guidelines.  Coaching is not about judgments, its about facilitation.  Contrary to what some might believe, it is decidedly results oriented.

A truly effective coach must know how to listen to the client.  This is critical because much of coaching has as its objective changing and building on certain thinking and behavior, and that can really only originate in the client.  Coaching normally involves asking a lot of questions as a means to bring clarity to a client’s thinking; it is a dialogue. Coach and client are partners in digging deeper into issues and identifying new paths to address those issues.   And that can only happen if the client not only comes to conclusions for themselves, but also sees a path or paths they feel comfortable adopting to effect the desired change.  The approach is more: “Have you considered this variable in your decision making” than it is: “That’s wrong.  Do it this way.”  An effective coach is part teacher, part mentor, part guide, part expert, part sympathetic listener and always the cheerleader and optimist. A good coach cares about improving the client’s understanding of their own situation - their strengths and their weaknesses, and how to improve themselves, and a good coach needs to be candid, frank and honest with the client.  The goal is to help the client reach their maximum capabilities as effective leaders and managers by considering new ways of looking at things - in a safe, confidential and nurturing environment.

A Coach / Client relationship is highly unique.  The Coach’s first job is to actually “hear” what the client is saying so that the clients needs can be identified. Not infrequently the client may not always be sure (or correct) in knowing what they need.  Again, it is the process of exploring those needs and the ways those needs can be met, that is key to success.  Rapport and mutual respect are critical. The coach brings relevant experience, and knowledge based on that experience, to help to guide the client to specific and positive ways the client’s game can be improved.  The client brings an openness to exploring and finding new ways to improve their game. But it is the client that determines for him/herself what will work for them and what will not.  A good Coach helps the client choose that right path, and then gets them started on their journey.  That journey is a partnership between Coach and Client.  As long as the client is willing to invest in the process and reasonably believes something good and positive can come of it, all coach / client relationships have the chance to succeed.

There are all kinds of situations and circumstances that give way to the coaching alternative.  Some client relationships are initiated by the client because s/he perceives that they could use some help in some particular area of their professional being, or with some specific project or program.  Sometimes that need is because the client is unfamiliar with new territory, or even admittedly seemingly lacking some attribute that would make them a more effective manager or leader.  Sometimes unprecedented organizational change or complexity demands new skills and performance from an executive.  Sometimes it is because of a major organizational transformation somewhere in process - including a leadership succession issue as one moves up the ladder.  Sometimes it is because of some crisis that has arisen or there is some internal conflict in the organization.  Sometimes it is purely to devise a new tactic to deal with a long standingchallenge.  Sometimes it is foisted upon the client by a Board or outside organization or source.   The needs of each client is vastly different from the others and there is no cookie cutter approach that will work.

To my thinking there are four situations in which coaching can be particularly beneficial to the individual and to the organization: 1) where a new Executive Director comes into an organization; 2) when a newly elected Board Chair takes over; 3) when the organization is facing a crisis or major challenge of some kind; and 4) when the individual has hit the proverbial “brick wall” in terms of their own performance and questions continuing in their role.

Too many people think of the coach alternative as: a) something awful being thrust upon them because they are somehow thought to be deficient.  “A coach?  For me?  I don’t need a coach.  I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know what I’m doing”  They fear the coaching experience as a negative comment on their abilities and as an unwanted and unwarranted intrusion into their privacy.  These people misunderstand a fundamental lesson - that learning and improving is a life long endeavor for all of us.  They fail to grasp that times change, things change, ideas change and that all of us can benefit from help with our game no matter what stage it is at.  Tennis coaches help players from the novice beginner all the way up to the Grand Slam pros and they all benefit from being coached.  b) Still others think it would usurp too much of their time, which time is in exceedingly short supply anyway. These people miss the opportunity for actually saving time that the coaching experience promotes.   c) Some believe that it really wouldn’t do them much good anyway, and that they could probably get the same results on their own.  These people disregard the value of someone outside the situation as an ally who can help to clarify things and offer paths unseen.  Most people appreciate that their own “game’ has weaknesses; that they have blind spots that hold them back.  Coaching helps to improve communication, leadership and people managing skills, while building confidence and awareness.  d)  Some, of course, think it a waste of money - a luxury they simply cannot afford or justify.  Those people fail to appreciate that investing in an organization's people is as, or more important, than investing in any other aspect of the organization. They fail to remember that the "it's a luxury" argument is the same specious argument we hear about support for the arts in general.  e)  Some people think it is too "touchy feely", too much like therapy.  But while coaching helps promote psychological and emotional growth, coaches are not trained therapists or counselors, and the process is nothing like therapy.

Corporations jumped on the Executive Coaching bandwagon a decade or more ago, and indeed coaching at different levels across the corporate bandwidth is now mainstream.  As coaching is principally ‘results oriented’ it is seen as a justifiable investment cost.  The nonprofit field is moving towards mainstreaming Coaching as one of the arrows in its quiver.

Often times our leadership (Executive Directors and Department heads) are already acting as quasi-coaches themselves though they don’t know it, and haven’t given much thought to how they might better execute that role.  One of the benefits of having a Coach is that it improves the performance of later being a Coach.  And Coaching can be taught.

To be sure, coaching may not be for everyone, at least not at all times.  And it is both a cost and time consuming option and so for it to work, there is an investment and commitment that must be made.  My own biased view (as a Coach) is that the money and time spent can more often than not save a greater amount of time and money in the long run.  If we are not interested in investing in our people - our managers, our executives, our board members, our leaders - than we really don’t care much about the organizations for which they work, and the projects and programs they oversee.

Though, as a Coach, I am certainly biased, I urge the field to consider whether a stint with a Coach might be helpful to you or people within your organization - whatever the specific and immediate need might be.  There are increasingly more Coaches operating within the nonprofit sector and even in our own arts field.  Their approaches and charges vary widely.  How much does it cost?  Typical rates range from $75 to $250 per hour.  Corporate rates often double that amount.  Ask around.

And (here’s my shameless plug), if anyone out there is interested in talking to me about coaching, please send an email inquiry to me.  I have some time breaks opening up this summer and fall, and would be pleased to talk to you.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit

Monday, April 8, 2013

Faking It.

Good morning.
“And the beat goes on.........................

In Over Your Head?
There is a classic episode of the old Tonight Show, when Johnny Carson was the host.  The guests on this particular evening were Bob Hope, Dean Martin and comedian George Gobel.   For those too young to remember, these were big stars of the times.  Bob Hope alone was a hard act to follow.  That night Dean Martin was in great form with his drunk act, and the two of them together had the audience is stitches.  It was one of the better shows.  Then at the very end, George Gobel had to come out and follow that.

After telling Johnny his show would have been “nothing” without him coming on, he quipped to Carson:  “You ever feel that the whole world is a tuxedo......... and you are pair of old brown shoes.”  The audience, Hope, Martin and Carson roared.

You ever feel that way?  That everybody else in the room is smart, and you are in over your head?  That everybody else is thinking on a deeper level than you, and that you’re just winging it, shooting from the hip, faking it?  You ever have the nagging doubt that like the Emperor with no clothes, you are going to found out as a fraud?

You get the feeling sometimes that everybody else is at the top of their game, and that, at best, your career trajectory is flat lined?  Do you conclude sometimes that you really don’t know what you are talking about; that you are just like on some exam for which you didn’t study and wouldn’t have understood the material even if you had? Are you sometimes hesitant to even offer an opinion least you give proof to the suspicion that you really are clueless?  You wonder just what you are doing, and that maybe this was all a big mistake?  Over time, you are convinced you don't stand head and shoulders along side everyone else, and that eats away at your confidence.

Feelings of inadequacy aren’t uncommon.  The notion that we don’t measure up; that other people can see nuances to complex subjects that escape us; that we are simply not operating on the same level as those around us creep into our psyches and at best depress us, and at worst paralyze us - leaving us with the inescapable conclusion that it’s hopeless.

I want to share a secret with you.  We all have what Mick Jagger sang in "Sympathy for the Devil" - “Our moments of doubt and pain.”  Everyone suspects that they are out of sync, pale comparisons to the best and the brightest, simply not in the same league as everyone else.  Everyone - even those you think have all the answers - wonder sometimes if they just don’t have what it takes; that there is something dreadfully wrong with them; that they are the one that doesn’t belong; doesn’t “get it”, are bluffing half the time. Everyone is plagued, from time to time, with self-doubt.  Everyone’s confidence wanes at some point - at least everyone who understands that learning and knowledge, let alone mastery, is a process.  Artists deal with self-doubt all the time.  It comes with the territory.  Lasting art and transformational big ideas and thinking comes from wrestling with the self-doubt, and overcoming the nagging fears.  Don't despair.

Many, if not most of us, feel we do know what we are talking about; that we do have command of the issues and their implications and ramifications - most of the time anyway.  We may not think we are necessarily the sharpest knife in the whole drawer, but we certainly have opinions and aren't uncomfortable in staking out positions.  But even then I think it not unusual for us to seriously question whether we know as much as we think we do, and wonder once in awhile if we aren’t faking it.  And maybe sometimes we are.  So what?

Of course, there are a few within our midst who probably do stand a little taller than the rest of us; those who more fully understand things, have keener intellects, and are better analysts and more persuasive communicators.  But there are more pretenders to that throne than not; there really aren’t all that many of those giants.  And invariably, they don’t think of themselves that way.  And yes, even they have their moments of reservation.

For the most part, those who you imagine never doubt themselves, never question whether they know exactly what they are talking about, never hesitate to chime in with the right answer at the right time - those people have feet of clay too.  And they really aren’t all that smart - not as smart as you might imagine.  Trust me - they aren’t.  We deal mostly in areas that don’t have hard and fast right answers.  Throwing around buzz words, huffing and puffing about some theory, quoting lots of statistics, and opining as though one’s words are the gospel doesn’t necessarily mean someone knows what they are talking about. Strong opinions are only that - opinions.  Sometimes they may be right; sometimes not.  Those few who think they are smarter than everyone else, and whose egos have convinced them that they stand above the rest of us - with all the answers - are the ones who are really faking it.  Feel sorry for them, not yourself.  You’re smarter than you think.  Don’t confuse and link the intimidation of a pseudo intellect with superiority.

It is precisely your self doubts that keep you real - that push you to be better; that keep you human -- and it is your humanity that gives you invaluable insight and perspective.  It is that you are not perfect and that you question yourself that allows you to grow, to improve.  Do not despair that you sometimes feel defeated and overwhelmed.  It’s all part of the cycle.  Time and experience will help you understand that there is an evolution to your thinking.  There is always someone smarter than us out there, always someone at the gym who is in better shape, always someone quicker to give voice to what we were thinking all along.   But each of them have areas in which they feel weak too.

It’s like a golf game.  You really aren’t playing against any of the other players - you are playing against the course itself. Every course is different, every day.  You are only in competition with yourself.

Bob Dylan sang in the song: "To Ramona":

“No one can beat you,
No one can defeat you,
Except the thoughts of yourself feeling bad.”

Don’t Quit.

Have a good week, ok?