Reflections from the Lake

Sitting by a lake for three weeks will make you reflect on a lot of things. Like napping, for example. When not nodding off, however, or lost in contemplation of how the sun sparkles on the water . . . this has proved to be a place for me to put some things into perspective, such as our current political state and what is our responsibility as coaches and thought leaders in a polarized society.

Before I came up to the lake, I was invited to spend an evening hosted by the Better Angels organization, which is touring the country creating spaces for civil dialogue between people of opposing political views. I attended with one of my dearest friends, whose politics are quite different from mine. We have been having vigorous—and civil—conversations about why we believe as we do ever since the last election, and we were curious to see if this could happen among 18 strangers, given how very un-civil much of the debate seems to be in the media. I’m happy to say it is possible, and I give a lot of credit to Better Angels for the structure they used that made it a place where we could listen and learn from each other without fear of personal attacks.

It makes me feel hopeful—especially if I stop watching so much “news” and stop following friends on Facebook who feel the need to vent every day.

And being at the lake has given me a chance to connect with old friends across the political divide, talk about where we are, where we think the country is going . . . but mostly, to reassure ourselves that we are STILL who we have always been, no one has grown a second head or turned into a monster, and that we all still love the natural beauty we are surrounded with, good food, jokes, long walks, and commiserating about growing older.

So this is what I want to share from the lake. I know it is not very profound, so I’m not sure why I’m tearing up just writing these words. We have so much good here. We are so fortunate to be free to think as we do, say what we believe, teach our children as best we can. If there is anything I feel driven to do about our current state of polarization, it is to urge others to look beyond their differences, to ask questions, to stay curious, to be willing to be wrong, to admit we’re still figuring it out, to live in humility. How about you?

The Ultimate Visualization

I played golf today and scored in the 90’s. Yay! I have been working on my golf game since I was 14, so that has been, ahem, let’s just say a “long time”.

For anyone who has never played golf, the object is to get the lowest score possible, and the “par” expected on most courses is 72. So hitting in the 90’s is average, and for me, very acceptable. I dream of getting better, and just expect incremental improvements, lessons, and practice to get me there.

Well, just like me, Major James Nesmeth had also been an average golfer, shooting in the mid to low 90’s. And, like me, he also had a dream of improving his golf game. But he then did something unique. He developed a method of achieving his goal of great improvements in his game, and he did it over seven years when he completely quit the game, never touched a club, and never set foot on a fairway.

Ironically it was during this seven year break that he came up with this amazingly effective technique—one we can all learn from, and one which some of us use ourselves and with our clients. What was the secret?


The results can be astonishing. The first time Major Nesmeth set foot on a golf course after his hiatus from the game, he cut 20 strokes off his game. And he did that even though his condition had deteriorated during those years. You see, Major Nesmeth had been taken as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. During those seven years he was imprisoned in a cage four and half feet high by five feet long. That isn’t big enough to stand in or even move around. He saw no one, talked to no one, and had no physical activity. He soon realized that he needed to occupy his mind or go insane, like many others did in similar situations. He was determined not to. So in desperation, he learned to visualize.

In his mind he selected his favorite golf course and started playing golf. Every day he played a full 18 holes, experiencing everything down to the last detail from getting dressed, to sensing the weather, smelling the trees and freshly cut grass to hearing the birds. He imagined different weather conditions and experienced every stroke, every hill and valley, and hit his ball onto the fairways or over a pond or into and out of a sandtrap. He felt the grip of the club in his hand, watched the ball arc over the fairway, and bounce right to the spot he had selected in his mind. He then walked, in his mind, just as he would to the next shot, the next green, the next tee. Not once did he omit anything, and now he never missed a shot, never hit it off target, and never missed a putt.

He did this seven days a week, four hours a day, eighteen holes, for seven years. And when he got home and could actually play again, his game was incredible. He shot a 74.

Can you imagine how visualizing success in what you are looking for could help you?

The Power of Positivity

I love to coach someone by building on their strengths to tackle their challenges. By doing that, it seems to keep them willing, and often excited, to try new things because they can use already well-honed competencies. And it is all so positive.

Often, though, it is inevitable to deal with the tougher challenge of helping someone obtain new competencies or ones they don’t exhibit as often, and which are not so easy to cultivate.

That is when I challenge them to look for, find, and emulate those around them who show those competencies. This emphasizes the positive rather than focuses on their lack of skill or ability. And in doing that, I am often surprised and always heartened when they find so many good things in others that their relationship with their colleagues improves. This brings all sorts of positive results.

I never really examined what the dynamics were that made these positive changes happen so frequently simply by noticing the fine traits brought by others.

This week I read a story which brought this phenomenon to light. It was by M. Scott Peck, called “The Rabbi’s Gift.”

As the story goes, paraphrased, there was an abbot and four aging monks in a monastery in a most bucolic setting deep in the woods yet close to some lovely towns. The monastery had fallen on hard times. The monks were all aging, and no new monks had joined their order in a long, long time. The townspeople avoided them and their formerly beautiful abbey was falling apart. They were too old to do the repairs. The abbot was at wits’ end to consider what he could do to save his “dying order”.

Nearby, also deep in those woods, was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town had used for years as his hermitage. The abbot, desperate for a kindred spirit, a religious leader who might give him advice and inspiration, decided to visit the rabbi during his annual hermitage.

The rabbi was gracious at the interruption from this holy man, and they talked for hours about their religion, their challenges, and their plights. The rabbi revealed that he too was facing challenges at his synagogue and commiserated with the abbot, yet gave him no advice. Then as the abbot was leaving, he said something very strange. He said he thought there might be a Messiah at his monastery.

When the abbot returned to the monastery the monks were very curious about what the rabbi had said. So, he told them of his conversation and then this strange remark.

The monks were shocked, thinking “could it be true?” Then, “who could it possibly be?” Each one thought “Certainly not me. I am too old, too sinful, too quiet.” Each had some excuse why it could never be them. But each then thought it could be each other, seeing all the good traits that each monk had, and remarking about what each added to their order and to their monastery overall. In that way they started treating themselves and each other with great courtesy, honor and respect. Their friendship grew, their camaraderie, and their excitement about the future with each other.

Within a short period of time, the townspeople who normally picnicked in the beautiful woods were moved by the engaging and gracious monks who worshipped there. The townspeople started helping them beautify their monastery again, enjoying the conversation with these holy men. Some of them also began to take an interest as well in their monastic order and soon a few younger men joined the order. In a short time the order was again a thriving one.

Do you see yourself in this story, as the abbot: a desperate leader? as a monk: an incredulous team mate questioning your own worth? as the rabbi: a commiserating yet provocative colleague? or as a townsperson: a curious yet aloof bystander? Have you tried to lead through periods of uncertainty? How have you used the power of positivity?

I encourage each of us as coaches to share how we might have used the power of positivity in our lives or our businesses, and how it might have helped each of us. I find it a remarkable way to bring out the best in so many situations.

Living in the River and Loving It

This month two concepts keep rising to the surface, to the point that I cannot ignore them, so may as well write about them: transition and generosity. Or, if you will, the constant nature of change, and how we are called upon to live within it and keep our center.

I am aware as never before of the fluidity of time—how days and weeks seem to melt into each other, how seasons pass rapidly and just as I’m finally adjusted to crispness, it’s time to put away the sweaters and bring on the allergy medicine . . . or wait, flip-flops! Perhaps a visit from my 93 year old mother heightened my attention to time—we looked at old photographs of her childhood, and mine, and even while we laughed about how much has changed in the world during her nine decades, we both felt like our youth was just yesterday. I have a sense of not changing on the inside nearly as much as I have on the outside.

People talk about wisdom coming with age, and maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t, but what does seem true is an increasing ability—or need?—to stand outside of events, relationships, work and play, and view them with distance and curiosity. Impermanence is one of the central tenets of Buddhism, and in my recent meditation practice I have found this idea of annica present and resonant. (A Buddhist follower was once asked to sum up the teachings of his master and said simply, “Everything changes.”)

Three questions come up most often:

  • What am I holding on to?
  • What am I afraid of letting go?
  • How can I allow this change to be, without feeling it as a loss?

And this is where generosity comes in. Just as some of us attempt to follow the Buddhist practice of “non-judging awareness,” so we try to give of ourselves without expectations, or strings attached. This is hard, but it opens up such a different way of being in a changing world that you can, quite literally, feel your heart expand and your tension ease.

I know there are a mountain of words written on change, resilience, adaptation, etc. I can only speak to my personal experience, and hope that it is meaningful and helpful to my clients and my friends. This is what I am learning:

  • Generosity towards myself—a lessening of expectations, a forgiveness of unintended misdeeds, a wonder at “what’s next?”—brings lightness to my days even as things turn out in ways I don’t expect.
  • Generosity towards others turns disappointment into joy at the unexpected and surprising gifts that come from learning to accept reality and loving them just as they are.
  • Generosity towards the world allows me to say, “OK, this is what is happening now, I wonder what will happen next?”

This is not a call to or justification of passivity. We should and must speak up and work for the right as we see it. But knowing that we live in a constantly changing, impermanent world allows us to see ourselves as small actors in the river of time and history, and to take joy in both acceptance and curiosity. In this way, I believe we stay forever young, resilient, adapting all the time. We’re all in the river, so may we enjoy the ride!

Finding Clarity in a Blurry World

At about age six, I was diagnosed as far-sighted with astigmatism in both eyes, and I reluctantly became “four eyes” to my school friends. When I got older, I started wearing contact lenses to correct my vision without the hassle of glasses, and I mostly forgot about my imperfect vision. But in the last few years, the contact lens correction hasn’t been enough to overcome the creeping blurriness that comes with (sigh) middle age, and I’ve been forced back into glasses once again for reading. In an attempt to ward off the stigma and hassle of my “four-eyed” youth, I recently got fitted for multifocal contact lenses.

Instead of correcting eyesight for one set distance like typical lenses, multifocal lenses have multiple prescriptions contained within one lens. In theory, they correct for several focal points simultaneously, so eyesight is clear at any distance without the need for glasses. The prescriptions are blended across the lenses, so there’s a perfect location to look through the lens for any specific distance. With some practice, the brain learns which location on the lens provides the clearest image at a particular distance, and it learns to filter out the many unclear images that result from looking through other locations on the lens. In reality, there’s an adjustment period during which the brain is just confused by all the new data. As a result, there are moments right now when, rather than seeing clearly at any distance, everything at every distance looks blurry to me.

Living in this oft-blurry physical world has left me thinking about the blurriness in our lives. Where are you living in blurriness because your brain hasn’t yet learned how to compensate for the wealth of possibilities you’re facing? Where are there so many complex perspectives that your mind can’t yet grasp a clear way forward? It may be a conflict on a work team that creates uncertainty around how you relate to each other. Or an abundance of possibilities on a project that has you confused about the next steps. Perhaps you’re facing a decision for you or your family where both the short-term and long-term implications are unknown. How do you resolve the blurriness?

When it comes to my contacts, I’ve noticed that blinking helps. Rather than continuing to stare and hope the blurriness clears, a blink resets the moment, giving my brain a chance to choose a different way of looking through the lens. When we are facing blurriness, what can we do to reset the image and find clarity?

My experience with coaching clients and teams suggests that clarity most often comes through the difficult conversations we tend to avoid, sometimes without even realizing it. We would rather live with the blurriness than face the uneasiness we feel about having the conversations. But when clarity is absent, the “blink” needed to reset the image is almost always a missing conversation. The key is to recognize what’s missing, and to muster the courage to use unfamiliar conversational tools so that your brain can generate a new image.

Consider the blurriness for a moment—what’s the cause? What kind of conversation might be missing? Perhaps a conversation for. . .

  • Generating possibilities
  • Understanding perspectives
  • Organizing action
  • Building trust
  • Accountability
  • Providing feedback

Though each of these conversations has its own unique elements and flow, all should leverage the tools of curiosity, clear definitions, candid opinions, and distinct decision points. These tools may seem uncomfortable at first, and we may be tempted to go back to a place of fuzzy avoidance. But applying them skillfully moves the conversation through periods of openness/expansion and periods of convergence/focusing. This conversational flow allows for both sharing and deciding, from which clarity can emerge. Without these tools, it is difficult to dispel the ambiguity and move forward.

Engaging in a missing conversation provides a focal point in ambiguous situations. As with my multifocal lenses, an effective conversation gives the brain a chance to filter out the superfluous and focus on what’s important. It may take more than one conversation to provide the full clarity we want, but with a few successful “blinks,” we can reset the image and see the situation in a new and less ambiguous way.

My brain is slowly learning to compensate for the extra data the multifocal lenses create. With time, patience, and practice, our brains can learn to use uncomfortable tools to help us find clarity in a blurry world.

The Dirty Little Secret

We’ve been holding out on you.

Sure we provide a world of resources, tools, and theories. With thousands of leadership assessments available, millions of sites dealing with leadership development, and even online PhD programs in leadership, there is no excuse for leadership to stagnate.

And yet, the leadership crisis is ever present.

According to CCL Senior Fellow Jean Leslie, the leadership skills gap, noted in survey after survey, year after year, continues to exist. In her article, The Leadership Gap, How to Fix What Your Organization Lacks, Leslie notes that according to the 2015 World Economic Forum, 86% of respondents agree that the strength of leadership across industries is not where it needs to be.

My guess is that it’s not for lack of effort, interest, or commitment that this gap exists. Our clients tend to be pretty darn clear about the competencies they need to see, invest significant resources in individual and group programs, and are quite earnest and dogged in their intention to build leadership capacity that can meet the demands of both now and tomorrow. They track with best practices and engage professionals like us to make sure those practices are carried out with integrity and well aligned with business needs.

So why the leadership gap despite the abundance of resources, effort, commitment, and best of intentions?

My take is that it has a lot to do with what it means to be a leader. I am talking about how we show up for real when we are asked to make those tough calls.

The dirty little secret is that leadership is about staying true to who you are while in the midst of the mess and uncertainty that comes with stepping up to that edge between the known and the not yet.

  • What happens to your sense of who you are when mired in ambiguity?
  • How much do you rely on your circumstance to determine your role, your purpose, or your place in the midst of things?
  • When do you feel most authentically yourself… comfortable in your own skin and without fear that others will find out who you really are? What is it you tell yourself about yourself at those times?
  • What is consistently true about you and in what ways is that both your essential strength and a potential weakness?

These are just some questions for honing in on your “way of being” as a leader…not what you do but rather others’ experience of you no matter what you do.

I am talking about authenticity here…as in the Greek word, authentikós, which can be defined as at first hand, or of one’s own hand, like your own unique signature.

When we present this question of authenticity in workshops, we often get quizzical looks back…

“What does authenticity look like?”, “How do I know when I am being authentic?”, “What if how I really am and what the organization needs from me are two different things?”

And this last question gets at the trickiest part of this authenticity thing. To be both authentic AND effective, you need to not just own who you are, for real, but also bring that true self to bare in a way that fits with your situation. This may seem paradoxical but think about it, how can you both be yourself and what the situation calls you to be?

Herminia Ibarra, in her HBR article The Authenticity Paradox notes how “sticking to your story” about who you are can get in the way of adapting to the nuances and requirements as roles and situations change. So perhaps it’s not about the story about who you are but rather being in touch (remember- “in your own hand”) with how you are actually feeling, thinking in, and experiencing the moment. What do those momentary and essentially true indicators tell you about what is going on for you and the situation?

Amy Jen Sue and her “Signature Voice” colleagues, in the book Own The Room, speak to the importance of not just knowing oneself, but also knowing one’s stakeholders and audience to both accept and move past one’s own story for an effective leadership voice to emerge. Learning to attune to the real life messages of the moment can help here.

But to be honest… this is where we are really holding out on you. Sorry.

We can’t give you the step-by-step solution for cultivating authentic and effective leadership. We can however give you a high five, round of applause, and perhaps a hand up to support you on this path of discovering who you really are as a leader … by your own hand.

COPIA on Retreat

January 2017 . . . COPIA is on retreat at the beach. We do this—the partners and our CFO—every year to refresh, rewind, and prep for the year ahead. This year, as we’re preparing to launch our new website, we are also mulling over the words we use to describe who we are. We’re figuring out what’s changed, what hasn’t, and how to describe ourselves. Two things keep coming up: a feeling that it is awfully hard to describe a business that is more than a business (an un-business?) and how integral the idea of “community” is to us. We’ll be writing more about this as we clarify things in our own minds. In the meantime, we’re polishing each other, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, like stones in a pouch. Ouch.

 We often find a movie to go to while we’re retreating, and this year we went to see “Hidden Figures.” It’s a beautiful film, full of history, love, and irony. That sense of community we are noticing is big here—without a strong community, none of the women who worked so courageously and tirelessly could have prevailed against the winds of prejudice and constraint. It wasn’t a lovey-dovey community, either—they definitely called each other on their shit. Polishing each other seems to be part of community. Hmm.

 Mission is another concept we struggle to talk about with clarity—our own and that of the clients we serve. In the movie, we all noticed how their mission—getting a man farther in space than the Russians had—drove everyone not only to work longer and harder, but to work WITH those they would never ordinarily even take seriously. Mission drives us, challenges us, expands us. It makes all that stone polishing worth the pain and effort.

More to come . . . we are committing this year to at least one blog per month. Enjoy and send us feedback!

Marshmallows in Every Moment


Sunday afternoon, and it’s been a weekend of nothing but work, preceded by 3 weeks of the same. My husband, attentive and loving, asks…”what do you need?” to which I blasted back…”Can I just have  the friggin marshmallow…please!”

Understandably perplexed, especially given my preference for real food, my husband was a bit concerned for my sanity. So I told him about the study done by Walter Mischel in which four year olds, tempted with a marshmallow, were told that if they waited for a short amount of time they could get two marshmallows instead of the one. The study, famous for its findings that link the ability to delay gratification with success later in life, exposes a storyline familiar in my own life as well as for many of my high achieving colleagues.

This study was done about 40 years ago, before the Internet, Twitter, LinkedIn, texting, instant messaging, blah, blah blah. Back then, delayed gratification or the will power to stay at it until the job was done, was easier. No matter how much work was required, there would be a time when the job was done and time was called. My work days now, though, are seemingly never ending because, well because they can be. With technology, social media, and the reality that we can do more things and do them all instantaneously. We can be always on, and this drives the expectation that we should always be on, drive harder, accomplish more… before we can get that darn marshmallow.

No new complaint here. I am certainly not the first one to make note of the added tension this creates in our lives. It does however speak to the need to bring back a skill that has fallen by the wayside as the boundary-less reality takes over… boundary setting.

How do you know what boundaries to set when it seems like possibilities are limitless, and if you slow down, someone else might get to those infinite possibilities before you? How do you tell turbo charged colleague that they will have to wait till tomorrow when it’s very possible that someone else will not make them wait? How do you know when to say, ”No, not now” if you are not sure to what to say “Yes, that is worth my time.”? And what constitutes being worthy of your time?

Setting boundaries has always asked us to clarify what is most important to us. With priorities and values solidly in place, we can say “Yes” to what aligns with our purpose and goals, and more easily say “No” to what detracts or is not ours to take care of. Lately, I find I need to arm myself with my own mission statement and use it on a minute-by-minute basis to vet to how I use my time. I set those boundaries, asking myself what aligns with my purpose and goals and therefore requires a quick and thorough response…and what do I need to hold off on for now. Given the intensity and frequency of communication and demands, I have this internal conversation dozens of times a day.

And through this process I have discovered something unexpected. By continuously recommitting to my purpose, I get to rediscover, over and over again, my reason for being. Every time I reaffirm what I am about and how that can be expressed through what I do, I experience a spark of vitality, probably not unlike a marshmallow sugar buzz.

Jan can  be reached at

Not for Sissies!

Vertical Development and the Challenge of Transformation

By Jan Rybeck, MCC in partnership with the Institute of Coaching

Our last child left for college last month. A bedroom that was once kid space will soon be transformed into office, guest, and closet space. In the meantime, I can’t find anything, everything is a mess, and I am constantly sifting through what to throw out and what to bring in, questions I can’t readily answer because, well, I have never been here before.

To be honest…I can’t wait to feel the spaciousness of clean and tidy rooms, something I have not experienced in 25 years. And yet, my heart crackled a bit as I scraped smiley face sticker remnants and puffy paint graffiti off the bunk bed frame. I long for the fullness of knowing my place as mommy. Feelings of satisfaction and bone deep sadness mingle together in my belly.

I am in that liminal place of breakdown that comes with transformation.

Call it the neutral zone of William Bridge’s transitions model, the middle part of Otto Scharmers U Theory, or the “unfreezing” that kicks off Lewin’s change process… all transformation processes involve breakdown of the old in order to allow for integration of the new.

We know this.

Our work as coaches and facilitators of change and transformation asks us to understand, make space for, and support the real life impact of transformative growth. It’s a given.

And still, the dirty little secret is that transformation is not easy, fun, nor sexy. It is just so inviting to rush, simplify, and fix things when the strain of change takes hold.

What we need instead, are transformative programs that support deep shifts in mindset and build our capacities to consider, empathize and respond in different ways to the complexity of change. The risk here is that we, or the companies that hire us, might forget, overlook, or simply blow past what it takes to support the breakdown-to-breakthrough that transformation requires.

Vertical Development provides both a map and a process for navigating the formidable challenges and opportunities that come with stepping into different ways of thinking, doing, and relating. I have come to appreciate the four elements of Vertical Development as critical, whether in one-on-one
coaching, leadership development programs, and, well… my own growth.

  • Embrace the challenge of different perspectives
    • Use narrative, metaphor, and imagery that open up new possibility.
    • Introduce somatic experiences to integrate the emerging reality at a physical level.
    • Support clients to make space for the emotions that come with both loss and emergence.
  • Recognize the catalytic experiences.
    • Offer both on-the-ground support and big picture perspective.
    • Identify action learning projects and stretch assignments that risk failure and require letting go of rote modes of operating and thinking.
    • Support clients to frame the opportunity in positive and proactive ways.

  • Build conditions that support and enable new ways of being and doing. Identify safe-to-fail opportunities that provide opportunity to reflect and iterate on learning from experience.
    • Engage feedback, shadow coaching, and other on the spot workplace approaches for real time practice adjustment.
    • Become skillful in defining and working with developmental edges, paths, and practices. The Vertical Development frameworks of Susanne’s Cook Greuter (Leadership Maturity Framework), Bill Torbert (System of Action Logics), and Bob Kegan (Frames of Mind) are invaluable.
  • Tap into the courage that comes from clarity on what matters most and allow clients to be changed by their experience.   
    • Focus on the “why” and “for the sake of what” questions to build clarity of conviction.
    • Create space for clients to accept fear as a natural part of the process.
    • Sift out a path through the unknown with questions that clarify what else might need to shift to enable the changes they seek.


One more thing…and this is a big one for those of us who do this work because we want to relieve suffering in others…. It is important to continually check in with our own capacity for being with upset, ambiguity, and not knowing. Jumping in to problem solve when a client is struggling outside their comfort zone denies them the opportunity to build capacity to move through discomfort, an important building block for transformation. For this I suggest a regular gut-check question that goes something like this, ‘Am I helping them (or myself) feel better or supporting them in their process of growth?’

What I love about this question is that in the letting go and stepping into the unknown that comes with my client’s transformative process, I am changed a bit too. And that makes my own transformative struggles a bit easier.

Jan can be reached at