January 29, 2014 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa | A Damaged Working Relationship

Jamie asks:  My colleague and I had a disagreement over the future of our project.  She thought we should cut our losses now, while I thought we could still grow a customer base in a specific territory.  Before I knew it, tensions escalated based on assumptions I made about her commitment to the project.  We still haven’t decided what direction to take this project and now we aren’t interacting as well as we used to.  I’d like to address the situation.  Have any advice?  

Tawny Lees, COO or Mariposa, responds:

As you know, in business, decisions and actions ought to be based on reality and facts.  It sounds though as if the situation escalated because you may have jumped to conclusions, rather than keep the discussion focused at the facts level.

One mental model you can use next time you encounter a disagreement is the Ladder of Inference.  The ladder describes thinking steps that lead one to jump to inaccurate conclusions, where decisions and actions are made far from reality.  The ladder looks like this:

ladder of inference_smallImagine at the base of a ladder lie reality and facts.  As we head up the rungs of the ladder, we select data from the set of facts to add meaning based on our own prior experience and beliefs, make assumptions, draw conclusions, develop beliefs based on these conclusions, then finally, take action that seems “right” (because it’s based on what we believe.)  As you can see, beliefs drive what information we choose to see, which may or may not be based on reality!   And acting on assumptions can lead to damaged relationships.

In your next discussion, we suggest getting into rapport with her by matching your body language, voice and words with hers.  This will help level-set any uneasiness you both might be feeling.  Then, describe the thinking process of the Ladder of Inference, and let her know where you were “on the ladder” in your last discussion.  Revisit the project facts from there.  You’ll be able to move to decision when you’re both focused on the reality of your project!  Good luck!

For more information on the Ladder of Inference, read Overcoming Organizational Defenses by Chris Argyris, Allyn and Bacon, 1990.

December 12, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa | Becoming a T-shaped Leader

Danielle asks:   I was promoted about a year ago and am leading an HR team at a small but rapidly growing company.  My boss recently mentioned I need to broaden my perspective and skill set to be more effective, especially as we continue to grow.  I was surprised to hear this considering my role and background in HR.  What do I need to do?

Tawny Lees, COO of Mariposa, responds:

Great question!  Often times, depth of business expertise can lead to a promotion, but the skills required for leading at the next level change.  Effective HR leaders in rapidly growing companies possess a balance of both vertical and horizontal skills, referred to as being“T-shaped.”  The vertical piece refers to the depth of your specific functional business expertise (like Benefits/Comp/Recruiting, etc. for an HR Manager.)  The horizontal piece refers to your skills, experience or perspectives that help you contribute and collaborate across the company, outside of your particular area of expertise.  The combination of vertical and horizontal skills increases your ability to adapt and flex to change, and collaborate, which is key in environments which are constantly changing or require constant innovation.

T-SHAPEDAsk yourself:

  • What factors are impacting your business, thus driving change for HR?  Of those, which do you need to know more about?
  • Do you have prior experience that could lend an empathetic view, if not skills or abilities?  You might have knowledge or skills but may not have leveraged it in your role yet.
  • Can you participate in any committees or special projects to broaden horizontally?

T-shaped leadership is cultivated over time.  You might want to consider outside conferences, courses, travel or community projects while you build skills on the job.

Good luck, great question!


November 12, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa | Dealing with Change

Toby asks:  Our new VP has been on the job for six months and is trying to change everything about the way we do our work.  This has left middle management feeling vulnerable.  The consistent message received is that everything that was done for the past 4 yours was all wrong and needs to change.  How do we roll with the changes yet keep morale from tanking?

Sue Bethanis, CEO of Mariposa, responds:

Thanks for your question! The first thing I suggest doing is ASSESS the situation: 1) what changes are good? 2) which ones are not so good? and 3) which ones are hard? After you have done an ASSESSment, figure out for yourself which ones you can roll with and don’t need help, which ones are hard, and thus you need help with?  Go to your boss and ask for advice/help on the hard ones.  And ask him/her to give you some of the reasoning behind the ones that you deem to be “not so good.”  Have your assessment of the situation ready to give your reasoning as well, and let him know how the “not so good” changes have affected you in a negative way.

To learn more about the skills of Assess, check out our Executive Guide to In-the-Moment Coaching.

November 12th, 2013|Categories: Ask Mariposa|Tags: , , , |
October 1, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa: Getting Direct Feedback From Your Boss

Cody asks: I have been working at the same place for the last three years. I have yet to receive any pay increase despite a stellar record and a lot of praise from people around me. I have been given an employee excellence award twice during this time. Despite all this, my boss seems to have issues with me. Not sure how to deal with this. I have asked for a raise twice and both times I was told by my boss that s/he would set up a meeting with me to discuss only to have nothing happen. My company very much frowns upon going around or over your direct supervisor and we don’t do reviews at all let alone a 360 review where I could bring some of this to the surface.  Advice?

Tawny Lees, COO of Mariposa responds:

Hi Cody. This is a tough and yet common challenge! From what you’ve described, I’d guess that your boss does have issues but isn’t comfortable giving you direct feedback. Assuming you plan to stay with the company, it seems you have three choices:

  1. Try discussing with your boss again, with a different approach
  2. Go to your boss’s boss, HR or another trusted person who may be able to help resolve
  3. Live with it

I suggest you try the direct boss route at least one more time and then go to someone else for help.

Some tips for the conversation with your boss:

  • Request a meeting with a clear intent of discussing how your boss views your performance, not your pay.
  • Provide an agenda and/or specific questions. i.e. What does s/he see as your strengths, accomplishments, areas for development? How can you continue to grow within the company?
  • Be prepared – gather your thoughts about the answers to these questions, including your areas for development. Think about this situation from your boss’s point of view so that you can approach the conversation with empathy.
  • In the meeting, establish rapport, be very direct about wanting specific feedback, and be very open to hearing it.
  • S/he might say some difficult things to hear and you need to be ready to listen, ask open questions, acknowledge any areas of improvement/development needed, and discuss ways to get better.
  • Depending on the flow of the conversation, you can decide if asking about pay is appropriate, or perhaps better for a follow-up conversation.

If after a conversation or two you don’t feel like you’re getting the direct feedback or guidance you need, let your boss know that you appreciate the conversations AND (not but) you’d also like to talk to someone (boss, HR) for even more guidance on how to grow within the company.

Again, this is not an uncommon situation and is often remedied with a few intentional, direct, heart-felt conversations. Good luck!

October 1st, 2013|Categories: Ask Mariposa|
September 17, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa: Empower and Develop Your Team

Mary-Lou asks: I was just promoted to a senior director position. In order to get to know my direct reports better, I want to schedule 1-1 meetings with each of them. Can you offer some suggestions of  questions  I should ask them?

Anne Loehr, Executive Leadership Coach responds:

Congrats on your promotion Mary-Lou!

Since your job is to empower and develop the individuals on your team, scheduling 1-1 meetings is a perfect start. During this time, you want to get to know each other personally and professionally so you can establish a great working foundation and understand what motivates them to do their best. Here are some example questions that will achieve both. Stay truly curious and open, and as you ask questions and listen you want to be picking up on what’s important to them in the way they describe themselves and their team. Some sample questions, in no particular order:

  1. Tell me about yourself – your strengths, your learning edge, how you like to work.
  2. How do you get to leverage your strengths in your role today? What do you like most about it?
  3. What is your definition of success in this job?
  4. What’s life like outside of work? Activities? Interests?
  5. Tell me about your team – what’s going well and any current challenges.
  6. How can I support you to be working at your best?

Of course, you can share similar information about yourself as well – you don’t want the conversation to feel like an interview, and they are probably quite curious about you. Depending on how this meeting flows and how much time you have, you may be able to dive in to talk about specific business items, or set that up for a following conversation.

Let us know how it goes!



August 20, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa: Decision Making Strategy

Janice asks: Our department needs a new operational process. We have some options. I’ve been doing this for 15+ years and I’m leaning towards just making a decision and announcing to my team. But I sense there may be some push back if I do that. How can I approach this so I have team support but can move quickly?

Tawny Lees, COO, responds:

I commend you on giving the decision making strategy some thought!  Every decision is unique in its impact on stakeholders, therefore might need a different decision making strategy.

With each decision facing you, start by taking a look the stakeholders involved.  Who will be affected by the decision? Who cares whether and how you implement? Who might block it from being implemented?  If many key stakeholders are involved, you will want to engage them in the process of decision making in order to increase buy-in and to inform the best decision.

In your situation, it sounds as if being the sole decision maker is not optimal as you risk low engagement and buy-in for the decision.  Here are two alternate decision-making strategies you can use.

  • Sole decision maker with feedback:   One person is accountable for the decision but takes input from stakeholders to inform it.  Gathering input takes more time than making the decision on your own, but stakeholders feel more involved in the process, thus their level of buy-in and empowerment in implementing it is higher.
  • Group Consensus:  When you drive for group consensus, the group is empowered to come to agreement, leading to high support of the decision.   As you can imagine, this takes more time and is best saved for decisions that require a high degree of support.

Either way you go, may it clear to others how you intend the decision to be made. Good luck!

August 9, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa: Difficult Conversations

Erica asks: My department head is an extremely brilliant man and I have nothing but the utmost respect for him.  But lately, I’ve noticed a shift in his behavior that is beginning to strain our working relationship.   He has become very irrational, negative, and all over the map with requests and demands.  What can I do to keep our relationship in tact without stepping over any boundaries?

Eric Nitzberg, Executive Leadership Coach responds:

A lot depends on the level of trust an openness you have with him.  This is a delicate situation, so you’ll want to be thoughtful about any approach.  If you have a pretty open, high trust relationship you might broach the subject directly, “It seems like you have been a little on-edge lately.  I’ve noticed some changes in your leadership style.  Would you be open to talking?”   If you can’t address the issue directly, then I would consider which of the new behaviors are the biggest problem for you, and what you might do about them specifically.  If “requests all over the map” is the most frustrating issue, you might try having a neutral conversation with him about that issue, “I want to make sure I’m aligned with your priorities.  Can we talk about what’s most important among your requests?”

July 23, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa: Creating Positive and Collaborative Communication

Demitri asks: My colleague has an answer for everything and dominates all of our team meetings, screaming for attention.  She bulldozes ideas and ridicules anyone who disagrees. No one on our team wants to step up and call her out on this “annoying” behavior.  What can I/we do to create a more effective and positive experience in our meetings when we need to work with this type of person?  

Dina Silver, Executive Leadership Coach responds:

Tough situation!  As you are already experiencing, colleagues who dominate meetings create a range of challenges for other team members including: creating an atmosphere of annoyance, distaste, disaffection and disappointment for all present who are unable to participate fully and see no way to stop the bulldozer.  Meetings become solo acts for the benefit of the loudest voice instead of forums for team collaboration.

It is the responsibility of the team leader to intervene in order to create a safe, innovative and participatory forum for all employees.  Consider speaking to the team leader offline about this issue.  Frame it as a need for stronger team dialogue and a desire for your meetings to be a forum where all voices are essential.   Offer ideas for improving team communication.

Consider these suggestions:

  • Limit the number of minutes each member speaks at a time (3 minutes, for example).  You can use an egg timer, your watch or phone’s timer application.  This will force everyone to pare down his/her thinking and share the crucial core of his idea.
  • Every person who wishes to contribute to the conversation has  the uninterrupted opportunity to do so.
  • Phones and other devices are turned off during the meeting.  If you are present in the room, be present.  This ensures all participants are listening to each other and not simply waiting for their chance to talk.
  • Start and end meetings on time. Do not catch late people up by rehashing what others have heard.  This will be awkward at first, but people will adapt and appreciate this.
  • Agree on meeting communication norms:  no personal attacks, blaming, eye ball rolling or disdainful comments.  Stop the behavior the moment it occurs.

Finally, every person in the room, including you, has a responsibility to enforce positive and collaborative communication.  Do not let old habits creep back. Gently remind team members of the rules of engagement and help the conversation get back on track.

July 9, 2013 / Ask Mariposa / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Ask Mariposa – 6 Keys to Effective Delegation

James asks:  I am working long hours and am starting to feel burnt out. My manager says I am a high performing manager but I should be delegating more. So, I did.  Things are not getting done right or in a timely fashion.  I’m worried this will affect my own performance. What’s the secret to delegating effectively so as not to diminish results?

Barbara Baill, Executive Leadership Coach responds:

Effective delegation is a challenge for many high performers who are responsible for managing others.  Delegation is not a simple of task of tossing an assignment to one of your people on the way to a meeting and waiting for the final product. It does take time and attention initially, but, over time, you will find your employees growing in their capabilities and feeling more challenged and empowered. Eventually, the investment will pay off for all.  Here are some key elements of effective delegation:

  1.  Choose the right person who has the skill sets for the task. Discuss with the person why s/he has been selected for the assignment.
  2. Articulate the assignment carefully any specific timelines, requirements, performance standards, checkpoints and other expectations. If you have any sample outcomes (reports, slideset, etc) from previous projects, share them. Point the delegatee to other resources that can be helpful.
  3. Solicit questions, comments and suggestions from the delegatee. Gain commitment to take on the challenge.  Ask what support he/she will need from you and others.
  4. Empower the individual by informing others that the delegatee is leading the effort.
  5. Establish and conduct regular check-ins and monitor project progress. Ensure the individual knows how much communication you need to keep you well informed and in what particular circumstance immediate contact is required. Be encouraging and offer feedback and support but don’t take back the project.
  6. Ensure the person is recognized for successful completion of the work. (Don’t inadvertently take the credit – common mistake.)

These steps can help you become a master at delegating which will help you and your people continue to grow and will magnify the output of your entire team.

July 3, 2013 / Ask Mariposa / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Ask Mariposa: One Powerful Way to Reduce Stress at Work

Stuart asks: I am feeling increasingly unhappy at my job. My stress level is so high that it is affecting me physically and mentally. How do I manage my stress without burning out?

Anne Loehr, Executive Leadership Coach responds:

“Bad stress” is an ever increasing problem at work and it is essential to find ways to reduce it. “Bad stress” causes us to worry, experience fear and feel anxious. Any form of stress that makes us perform below our potential is considered bad stress. Bad stress increases the cortisol levels in our blood, which can lead to many problems such as high blood pressure, early onset diabetes, heart problems and central obesity (bulging belly).

There are many ways to reduce bad stress at work. I’m going to discuss one way now, so I don’t stress you out with too much info! 🙂

More and more people are using email, text and instant messaging as their chief communication tools for daily work life. It’s instant, it’s easy, AND it creates lots of stress! Researchers have identified three major problems:

  1. This form of communication lacks cues like facial expression and tone of voice. That makes it difficult for recipients to decode the meaning. It is the poorest form of communication because it only uses words.
  2. The prospect of instantaneous communication creates an urgency that pressures online communicators to think and write quickly, which can lead to carelessness.
  3. Finally, the inability to develop personal rapport over online communications makes relationships fragile in the face of conflict. Online communication is great for confirming meetings, getting an address or sharing a short piece of data. Unfortunately it is used for a lot of other communications which should be done in person.

Here are some tips:

Never argue by email. Save discussions, especially on controversial topics, for when more direct forms of communication are possible. Pick up the phone and/or set a time to discuss issues.

Keep it short. We’re talking less than 50 words. We have about 15 seconds of attention span to offer any incoming email. If you can’t get the message across in that time, either attach a separate document with all the details, or pick up the phone for the discussion. Or use the email to set the time for the discussion.

If you want to lower your stress levels, limit your email communications and switch to phone and face to face conversations for better results. It is more meaningful, more effective, and can generate new relationships in an already tense world.

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