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Inside out, change your scripts, change your world

We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted t0 change, you’re the one who has to change. – Katharine Hepburn



The Forest and the Unconscious Realm

“I thought the earth remembered me, she took me back so tenderly, arranging her dark skirts, her pockets full of lichens and seeds. I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed, nothing between me and the white fire of the stars but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths among the branches of the perfect trees. All night I heard the small kingdoms breathing around me, the insects, and the birds who do their work in the darkness. All night I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling with the luminous doom. By morning I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better.” -Sleeping in the Forest by Mary Oliver


The Truth About Executive Psychological Assessments

At the most senior levels of leadership in organizations, psychologists often perform psychological assessments to do two basic things:

  1. Selection: To glean understanding of a leader’s ability to fit within the role, context and culture of a new organization or to ascertain whether a promotion will be successful or not.
  2. Development: To help leaders deepen understanding of their leadership impact through what we call “developmental” psychological assessments.

Assessments themselves vary from in-depth intensive one to one interviews, to full blown – multiple day assessment centers, to online survey tools, or various combinations of these. There is a proliferation of business speak and intellectual debate about the viability of some of these tools, including which are better and which are worse. I’m not here to reflect on the merits of the innumerable different methodologies or tools; rather, I want to discuss why you should do them and how you begin. This leads to who should do them which solves your methodology questions, because in the hands of the right professional, the process and tools become less of an issue.

There are three reasons why you absolutely need to do assessments in the first place:

  1. People lie. To themselves, to their colleagues and to their families. Sometimes unintentionally, sometimes because they do not understand what great looks, sometimes on purpose. Assessments attempt to get to the reality about an individual that goes beyond perception.
  2. Leaders have personal agendas. It is difficult for leaders to distinguish between reality and what they perceive to be true. Leaders project their own fears, dreams, or issues onto those around them if they do not understand this about themselves. Frankly, most do not. It is because of this that it is difficult for leaders to objectively judge the merits of those around him or her.
  3. People are extremely complex. People that think they can uncover everything during a brief interaction are delusional (see points 1 and 2 above). Additionally, online tests and surveys at best capture just a few dimensions.

Here’s how you begin:

  1. Find a business psychologist with a PhD and significant experience working with and within organizations. This is important! There are numerous inexperienced professionals who are well intentioned but have never faced the intricate dynamics of organization life themselves.
  2. Uncover what’s important for your organization to achieve its business strategy. Then marry these criteria to a vetted leadership model. If you must, build your own that speaks to the organization’s unique culture, but ground it in the current best thinking.
  3. Conduct assessments against the criteria developed in the previous step for those entering the organization, for those you promote and for those that you think have a chance to be leaders.
  4. Do this for yourself and your employees. Lead by example, which should be a no brainer, but sadly, it is not.
  5. Craft developmental plans that help people engage in gaining additional insight into their impact. Help them uncover their purpose. Follow up, follow up and follow up. Make it fun.
  6. For a kick, step back and look holistically at your results to determine trends and areas of strengths and weaknesses in your leadership pool; plan accordingly.

And that’s how it’s done. Who knows what might be lying underneath all those smiling faces (or yours)? Having an objective external view of your talent gives you a clear picture of how to manage risk as it relates to executing your strategy. Everything thing else is lies, agendas, and delusion.

The Gravity of Shame

With the May snow swirling outside my window, I watched a newly emerged spring green leaf fall helplessly to the ground, as if to say, “too much! I can’t bear being exposed any longer and I want to die.” As I watched the drama, I imagined the full life this leaf might have lived. She would have enjoyed a warm summer with the pleasurable feeling of energy being pumped through her veins. She might have lived out her purpose of turning sunlight and water into a magnificent tree all the while dancing with her sisters and brothers in the calm breezes as well as storms. At the end of her life, she might have turned into a bright orange blaze in the hush of fall before winter brought her death.

This thought lingered with me, and as a staunch friend of both projection and anthropomorphizing, I began relating to this. What can make us shudder from exposure and make us wish we were dead? What makes us fall from our true purpose? “Shame is a soul eating emotion,” Carl Jung once observed. Shame makes us feel vulnerable and exposed to the harsh elements of other’s cool judgment real or perceived, or worse, our own cold judgment of ourselves. We hide from it and avoid situations where it might, like some ever present menace, be provoked.

There is a price to this hiding and avoiding. We miss out on some of life’s joys and avoid experiences that would make our lives richer and more complex. For many of us, it is not the abuse that others do to us that causes our shame; it is our own internal scripts that are reflective of our self-perception and our perception regarding how the world perceives us. From the smallest of self talk to something bigger, we gut check ourselves moment by moment each day to avoid risk, humiliation – shame. Often these scripts go unexamined as they are part of our belief system, and we are as sure about them as we are sure about gravity.

Whether coaching leaders, teams or individuals, part of the real work is helping them to uncover what holds them back from their highest purpose. There are many theories about this including limiting belief systems, fear of failure or even fear of success, but I believe that at the root of these resides shame. Shame that we might be unworthy, shame that we are inadequate, shame that others might see who we “really are” and that might not be good enough, smart enough, or tough enough.

What holds you back? What makes you hide yourself from others? When do you do a gut check before speaking your mind? Find a friend or sounding board and talk it out, or write, draw, or create the emotion so that it sees the light of day. Shame survives best by being hidden, unexamined, and by the belief that you are the only one feeling this way. Ignoring it will not make it go away and can make it grow. Becoming conscious of your own shame and sometimes, just sometimes, merely asking and answering “what makes me feel shamed?” can help shame defy gravity and float away like the May snow.

The Frog, the Dolphin, and the Giraffe

This past weekend, I found three stuffed animals in a storage box that I had kept since I was three years old. Now 50 some years later, I pondered why I had kept them so long. There was a Frog with a crown, a silvery yet furry Dolphin and a speckled Giraffe with a little red tongue dangling outside its mouth. Presently, they were sewn together piles of dust that “should” be tossed. In the middle of a cold, wet Lake Michigan day in April I could not bring myself to do so, despite my sense of urgency to get my spring cleaning done. As I stood pondering, struck by the fact that they were still with me and wondering why that might be. Remembering that Socrates was attributed with saying “the unexamined life is not worth living,” I continued to reflect. I realized I had not examined the difference between the lifeless artifacts in front of me and the life-filled archetypes they had represented to me as a child. They had somehow remained one in the same, my childhood imaginings captured somehow in these dull lifeless forms.

What is an archetype and why is it important? In Jungian psychology an archetype is a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, or image which is universally present in individual psyches. For instance there is an archetype of a Mother, Father, Hero, and Victim that are well known to most of us. Literature uses these archetypes through their fictional characters to speak to us about their greater truths that lie beyond fact. The media uses archetypes to create connection with their ideas and views beyond what might come about with an interaction with a simple product or consumer item. Individually, we have archetypes which are generalities or stories about ourselves and the world. These stories form scripts that we often follow unconsciously, whether they are correct or not. Many times they operate out of our awareness, guiding us without our knowing. The more closely we examine our stories and scripts, the more we will have examined our lives. My hope is that we all move away from “living a life of quiet desperation” (Thoreau).

To what archetypes did my dust balls speak? It was easy for me to understand the Frog – he was the smart one who could be relied upon for logical, practical and straightforward advice. He was wise and kind, a natural and benevolent leader. He saw things as they were, made things happen and had a realistic view of the world. The Dolphin was equally easy to understand as she was at the opposite end of the continuum, a free spirit looking for adventure, love and laughter with a sweet sense of humor. She had a good nature and was supportive and loyal to her friends. She strived to make her impact positive on those whom she met.

But the Giraffe, named “Baby Giraffe” was a mystery. What had he represented? He was awkward looking, could not stand on his own even when he was new and had big soulful eyes too large for his oversized head. His neck was too long, even for a giraffe, and his back too short, his tiny feet were incapable of holding his weight, his legs too weak. Through the years his long neck had buckled under the weight of his head and his tail had been chewed apart by a dog. Yet, he had been my favorite of the three despite his apparent imperfections. Baby Giraffe had been the joyful one, who ran about getting into mischief, going places he was not supposed to go and saying things he was not supposed to say.

My realizations when I looked at what each represented was that I was all those things, but had let the Frog dominate most of my life and only recently had I reacquainted myself with my dolphin self. She had reentered my life as I tried to free myself from issues that held my energy down. This had occurred through several significant life changes that still have me reverberating. Yet, they had set me off on adventures of travel and love I had only dreamed of. Now, perhaps it is time for me to acknowledge that the frog and the dolphin were really servants of the flawed, fragile, beautiful yet ugly giraffe I had always felt I was underneath it all, but was afraid to acknowledge. Baby Giraffe, the playful, wounded mischievous one, is fully formed as the archetype I adore most in my life, now that the Frog and the Dolphin have made it safe for him to come out and play.

The doors of perception.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
Aldous Huxley

When I first heard about The Doors in the 70’s as a grade schooler, I had no idea why a band would name themselves after something so simple as a door. I pondered what kind of door could inspire a band? Was it the pure simplicity of opening and shutting a piece of a wall that was so compelling? Was it a brown door, a white door or a glass door? And then I completely forgot my questions as I trudged through my teenage years reading gothic romances, historical fiction, and Mad magazine. Then, I discovered Carlos Castaneda. Reading his first three books felt deliciously adult and shifted the way I perceived my life and how I wanted to live. From that point on, I was mystified by perception and how different people saw things so completely differently. This is when I also realized I wanted to be a psychologist. Perception has been a lifelong muse ever since. One of my most treasured quotes from him is this: “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” To me this is the essence of perception. We determine how we look at things, and we must do this consciously, and whether or not you do think consciously, the work of life is the same. Why be miserable? Change your perception of what is happening.


If only it were so easy, but perhaps it is just that easy. Having witnessed death in family and friends where long-term illnesses wreaked havoc on people I loved, it is easy to slide into despair and rant about how hard life can be, how cruel a fate, how physically painful, and how fickle it is in whom it blesses with health, and whom it does not. My family and friends chose to be happy even during horrendous and challenging struggles, perhaps because they knew their life was so short. Could I not do the same? It was a matter of perception, what is real and what is not.


As an executive coach, my own life experiences cannot help but inform how I work with clients. Perception, my muse, is often the blind spot that hurts many leaders. Their ability to “see things as they are” is difficult when they only see things from their perspective. A leader’s ability to integrate multiple viewpoints and perceptions into a mosaic whole that makes sense is an art that few master. Sometimes I feel my job is to eliminate “how did I not see that?” from my client’s expressions. I do this by helping them to open their own doors of perception about who they are, what matters most, and by expanding their understanding of their current realities through multiple perspectives.

Oh, and The Doors? I get it now.

Your vision wi…

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung