Call Dr. Stebbins today 503.957.6528

Call Dr. Stebbins today 503.957.6528


The Pain of Change: What Can You Tolerate?

Over the years, I have heard from employees and leaders that in spite of meticulous planning, communication and engagement, implementing a change is a painful process. I do agree that is the case…..I always tell my clients that change is ‘messy’ and to expect some pain! A personal experience has made me re-evaluate this belief from a different perspective.

A couple of years ago, I went through a divorce which certainly was painful and now that I am on the other side of it I ask “Was the pain worth it?”  In my case, I discovered that the pain of my unhappiness in the relationship  was far greater than the pain associated with the divorce itself.

As organizations, individuals contemplate making changes and express concern over the inevitable ‘messiness’ and pain that will occur, I ask “If the change is not made, what will the impact [pain] be?”  or ” How much pain can be tolerated before a change must be made?”.

Here is a tip for easing the pain for yourself and others: Create and continually articulate a vision for what your organization or work will be like after the change has been made!  This strategy worked well for me as I moved through my divorce. I believe it will work well for any change!

So what about you? What change have you been avoiding?  Now is the time! Call me and let’s develop a strategy and vision for your pending change!


Change and Creativity

In my client change management work, I have been struck by the fear people attach to ‘change’. There is so much concern about the change itself that there is the inability to look ahead to life beyond the change event.  I do understand the reasons for this situation and am not critical of it at all. Having gone through two major life transitions recently, I have experienced both the fear and the ‘coming out the other side’.  The lessons I learned from these experiences are profound……the most significant lesson I learned is shared here.

Research tells us that the top 3 life changes that cause the most fear, anxiety and stress are: Job loss, Ending of a relationship and Moving.  In the last 12-18 months, I have gone through two of these life events.   Having come out ‘the other side’ of both, I am now experiencing the highest level of creativity I have had in a very long time. My work, projects, and music are all benefiting from this creative ‘renewal’. In addition, my circle of friends/colleagues is expanding at an amazing rate-these individuals truly represent/reflect me:  ever evolving and ‘renewed’.

So as I come into this Holiday Season, I am filled with gratitude for this gift….one that I pass on to you!

Happy Holidays!

What is ‘trending’ in Leadership?

My next several blog postings will be addressing some the innovative thinking in leadership development. To start, let me set the stage for why there is a shift in thinking around leadership skills.

The landscape within which organizations operate is ever changing, volatile and unpredictable.  This evolving environment requires new and diverse leadership skills that are currently being addressed by methodologies that have not kept up with this complex, morphing landscape.  The discussion about leadership has shifted from who leaders are to, as Petrie [2014] describes it, a “development challenge-the process of how to grow ‘bigger’ minds.”

Part of this ‘bigger mind’ is moving from ‘individual’ to ‘collective’ leadership. It is the recognition that anyone in the organization can [and should!] act in a leadership capacity.  By learning the essential ‘collaborating’ and ‘influencing’ skills, leaders will gain the needed diverse perspectives to more effectively identify/solve problems and make decisions.

In my work with organizations, I have seen the shift from ‘individual’ to ‘collective’ leadership slowly evolve. I have worked with senior leaders who have struggled with it because it addresses the ever present issues of empowerment and accountability. Those leaders who have worked with me have successfully made this shift resulting in their abilities to more effectively identify/solve problems and in their organizations becoming more change resilient.

Want to learn more? Contact me and let’s explore what this new leadership paradigm can mean for you and your organization!

When Professional Development Initiatives Don’t “Stick”….

In a recent e-mail exchange with the leader of a new organizational client, concern was expressed about how professional development initiatives, once started in the organization, diminish over time. I have discovered that when this situation occurs, the impact can be more than financial: emerging cynicism towards such initiatives can be an obstacle to successfully implementing future professional development activities.

In my opinion, these programs/strategies which are so critical to internal leadership development, employee retention and engagement should be pursued with the same commitment, long term vision and resource allocation as other strategic initiatives important to an organization’s success.

Can ‘professional development’ truly become an organizational cultural attribute? YES! The CEO’s of two past client organizations told me on separate occasions “Professional development is what we do”. In other words, they recognize that the long term viability of their organizations depends on a stable, well trained work force. Even during lean times, professional development is not eliminated.

The keys to sustaining professional development initiatives are found in answers to these questions:

  • Does ‘professional development’ appear as a recognized organizational value?
  • How does our current workforce match the future needs of our organization?
  • What will we do to close the gap between current and future talent needs?
  • How can can we instill in our employees that ‘professional development’ activities are an integral part of their overall performance?
  • How can we maintain  professional development as a value even during lean times?

I would love to learn how you and your organization are answering these important questions! Contact me and let me know!



“Mindful” Leadership

The act of defining leadership has produced an ever evolving body of research and generates spirited conversations within the business community. I have participated in many of these conversations and read much of the research. I conclude that leadership does not involve titles nor is it a “thing”. Rather, I firmly believe sound leadership is a journey of the heart-this journey is “mindful leadership”. This idea is confirmed by an inspirational passage I read early this morning. From the March Science of Mind magazine, this passage is so profound, I quote it directly here:

“True leadership does not mean exerting power over others,but rather learning how to manage our own weaknesses and modeling the behavior we expect from our team….True leaders seek conscious solutions to everyday problems. They build trust and allow people to feel safe and heard”

At the center of this passage is the realization that we, as leaders, must recognize/acknowledge our own emotional wounds as they will influence how we interact with others and how we create our own vision of personal/organizational success.  In my opinion, the more vulnerable we are as leaders, the safer our followers will feel. And the more connected we all will be to our work/each other.

I leave you to ponder this quote from Science of Mind magazine:

“Mindful leadership means accepting that strong leaders are vulnerable and vulnerable leaders are strong”.

Culture and Conversation

What is the relationship between the Culture of an organization and Conversation?  Plenty!!!

Dr. Jim Harter, of the Gallup organization, concludes from his extensive employee engagement research that “Most people come to work well intentioned and only turn sour when their basic needs aren’t being met. You have to get the basics right if you want great engagement…..the data proves it, doing what’s right for people proves to be right for the organization.” []

In my opinion great engagement leads to a dynamic, positive organizational culture.  Conversations are the single most important tool organizations have for maximizing employee engagement. In fact, Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, claims “conversations are the workhorses of organizations”. Conversations are the way ‘things get done’.

This idea leads me to these questions:

What kind of conversations are happening inside your organization?

Are the conversations advancing the relationships needed to fully engage your employees and thus, move your organization forward?

The quality of these conversations does indeed define your organization’s ‘culture’!

If you would like to assess how conversation is viewed in your organization, contact me!

Transparency Part II

I often hear leaders speak about the relationship between employee autonomy and organizational success. There are studies that certainly support this idea! In defining autonomy, Fierce Inc. [2012] says that it is the “freedom to make appropriate decisions that ensures employees remain focused and engaged.” The Fierce [2012] study of 800 participants revealed that almost 50% of respondents identify the most beneficial organizational practices as those which  encourage accountability, development and individual empowerment within the organization.

Organizational transparency is required if employee autonomy is going to be successful. In my opinion, a part of the transparency ‘equation’ is a dynamic ‘feedback loop’. I know from my consulting that the only thing worse than not requesting feedback is receiving it and then not acting on it. It is in the area of feedback solicitation/action that I believe, organizations can improve their overall productivity.  The gap between employee desire to provide feedback and the belief that he/she will be heard is striking. Fierce [2012] found that 70% of study respondents said they would candidly approach decision makers if they felt a company practice needed to be re-evaluated or adjusted.  However, when it comes to following through on this feedback, less than one third believed their company was willing to change practices based on their input and feedback. The final statistic from this study is sobering: while 98% of respondents believe a leader’s decision making process should include input from the people impacted by the decision, a full 40% feel leaders and decision makers continuously fail to ask.

How can transparency in your organization be improved?  Contact me and let’s explore this topic together!

Linking “I Don’t Know” with “Seeking Answers”

My previous two blog postings  are part of a much larger challenge for leaders in particular and organizations as a whole….it is “transparency”.  This word is used so much inside organizations that I believe its meaning has truly been lost. In my client work, I have discovered that it means having the important conversations that have been avoided, gaining all perspectives necessary for improved decision making, being as open as possible about the issues/matters important to organizational business  and engaging all stakeholders in meaningful conversation. I have found that the organizations I work with believe they demonstrate this definition of transparency and yet, in speaking with employees I find that is not the case.  And this disconnect between how leadership views transparency and what employees experience is not unique to my clients.In a 800 participant study, Fierce, Inc [2012] found that nearly 50% identify lack of company-wide transparency and too little involvement in company decisions as key areas of concern.

Much has been written about the reasons for this discrepancy and rather than delve into those reasons, I prefer to focus on how to achieve/model transparency. In my opinion, the first step is addressed in my previous two posts: “I Don’t Know” and “Seeking Answers”. The second step is learning the strategic communication skills that can literally create a transparent organizational culture!

Curious? Contact me for more information!

I Don’t Know……

In my previous blog I addressed the leadership challenge of asking good questions. This posting’s theme poses an even larger challenge: saying “I don’t know”.  Leah Hager Cohen explores this topic in her book, I Don’t Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance. She explains that our inability to admit we don’t know is driven by fear of embarrassment, disappointment and can often result in decision/actions leading to, as she describes it “a greater falsehood… easily we fall into a pattern of using deception as a shield against feeling uncomfortable.” Her research demonstrates the social, psychological and even biological triggers contributing to the evolution of this fear.

Cohen’s book does more than urge us to muster the courage to admit “I don’t know”. She offers a hopeful alternative path to the shame that most often accompanies such an admission. In her words: “For when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we increase the possibilities for true connection: with others, with new ideas, and with our deepest selves. So much becomes possible when we honor doubt.”

It is clear this issue can have a big impact on personal/professional relationships, as I have experienced.  The larger question I ask you to ponder: What happens when this fear of admitting ‘I don’t know’ becomes part of organizational culture?  This question naturally leads to a conversation around ‘organizational transparency’.

Stay Tuned!



Seeking Answers

Leaders are reluctant to ask the questions that will help them make better decisions or solve problems more efficiently/effectively-thus is the premise of a wonderful book I discovered some time ago: Leading with Questions by Michael Marquardt. Refuting the myth that asking questions is a sign of weak leadership, he argues that asking questions is “an underused management tool”.  I couldn’t agree more! I have observed leaders operating from the false assumption that because they hold the title of ‘leader’, they must have all the answers!

Not taking time to ask good questions results in missing a broader/more diverse perspective of a current issue…there is always more than ‘one right answer’! In addition, the ability to manage conflict is lessened. Research has shown that when all perspectives are shared with all parties participating in the conversation, common ground can be established.

The two most important benefits of asking good questions?  Becoming a better listener and increasing self awareness are key elements to effective leadership! Listening without judgment and truly gaining an understanding of others’ perspectives leads to self-reflection……and asking better questions….

Asking questions is a sign of strong leadership! Thus,when a leader asks me for advice on how to become more effective,I suggest he/she learn/use these two powerful words: What and How