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Serving the Business and Professional Community since 1983! 

N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.

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The Executive Coaching Corner:  Now in Session

May 15, 2012: The Art of Reframing

Sonya moved to the West Coast after selling a successful design business in Texas.  She had had the benefit of an executive coach in her previous role, and now she needed a new local coach because she functioned best with in-person meetings.  I was lucky; she selected me.

Within two months of beginning our executive coaching engagement, Sonya  received an opportunity to become President of a business for one her major consulting clients in the fashion industry.   While the opportunity was very exciting, she was conflicted.  She didn't want to abandon her current vision for growing her personal business, but she also knew that joining her client's company would ultimately lead to connections and other opportunities she may never get elsewhere.  As we discussed her options, she concluded that she could develop her existing staff to take on greater responsibility and bring in additional bench strength to help "hold down the fort," until she was ready to re-insert herself back into the business full time.  This would allow her to have the best of both worlds.  That plan was proceeding nicely until a recent session where the following discussion ensued:

Sonya I'm really struggling with something that just came up.
Elizabeth Tell me
Sonya Well, things have been going well as I have been preparing to take on the role of President this fall for Jack's company... but then I had this huge blow up with him three days ago.
Elizabeth What happened?
Sonya Jack is considered a celebrity in the fashion industry.  And like many celebrities, he is known for some volatility in his moods.  So the other day, he was in one of his pissy moods and said something to me that was entirely out of line.  He was so disrespectful that I thought, "I'm not taking this crap from anyone--never have, never will." So I fired back at him with the same level of intensity. We both had equal share in dropping "F" bombs.  That is not typical of me, but I was fuming.
Elizabeth And what did that accomplish?
Sonya Actually it ended up fine.  He called me that evening to apologize for his behavior and told me how much he appreciated all I had done for his business and we cleared the air.
Elizabeth (The look on Sonya's face suggested there was more)   But?
Sonya It got me to thinking.  I am in my early 40s and I haven't actually worked for anyone since I've been in my 20s.  After this blow up, I realized that I would actually be working for someone.  I would have a boss.  And.... when I did have a boss, I didn't like it. So I'm thinking, "What the heck am I doing to myself here?  Am I setting myself up for an untenable situation?  Maybe I shouldn't take this on and stick with my main business and forget the whole thing."
Elizabeth Yes, you could look at it that way.
Sonya What do you mean? (Sonya looked truly shocked at my statement.)
Elizabeth You've told me that this opportunity would afford you quicker access to things that would normally take many more years to develop, such as exposure, contacts, experiences and broadened skills.  These benefits can  then be directly applied to your personal business, right?
Sonya Right
Elizabeth So to walk away is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  You could lose twice.  First you could lose the extra opportunities and benefits I just mentioned, plus you  could ultimately tarnish your consulting relationship with Jack by backing away.
Sonya I hadn't thought about the potential collateral damage of a strained relationship with Jack..
Elizabeth You could, however, view it from a different perspective.  Let's consider some facts first.  Number one, you are no longer in your 20s and as we have discussed in the past, you have acknowledged that you have  matured and are much more patient than in the past . And, while you may have had a blow up--primarily because of the disrespectful factor--that is not something that happens often with you.  So instead of making this black or white, you could look at this as opportunity to fully develop your leadership skills by challenging yourself to learn to effectively deal with this role.  It is really only temporary. Whatever skills you learn can be applied back to your own business and you would ultimately come out ahead, particularly with the new contacts you'll develop.  Can you see that as a option?
Sonya Silent
Elizabeth Silent
Sonya Wow... you really have my head spinning with fresh ideas.  I have never  thought about how this challenge can truly make me a bigger winner.
Elizabeth Tell me what you see now.
Sonya I was just running away from something  that reminded me of when I was a kid in my 20s... and maybe a little rebellious.  I didn't take the time to step back and see the gift I was being given here for further growth.  Yeah... it's going to be a challenge, but so what? I've never been one to back down from a challenge.  Plus,  I'm going to end up with so much more in terms of contacts, experience, and successes.
Elizabeth So how do you feel now that you know you have other options
Sonya Incredible...excited...motivated...
Elizabeth Great.  So what are you next steps?
Sonya I'm going to stay on plan and continue to look for the right business partner to carry my personal business so I can focus on Jack's business and take it to where it needs to be.
Elizabeth Ok, see you in two weeks!

Key Points: 

Sonya was upset.  Jack's disrespect triggered her defenses and she went into attack mode.  It is very normal if one's status is threatened to go into fight or flight mode.  Sonya's first reaction was to fight.  And then she wanted to flee, because she didn't want to deal with the potential of further disrespect.  Walking away from the situation would not have benefited her.

By taking a moment to reframe a situation and step back, Sonya could see many more possibilities.  This freed her and motivated her. 

When faced with similar situations, being mindful of what's going on allows you  become the director of your brain to look for positive options.  You are not your brain.  You have control over how you want to react.  The key is to recognize what's happening, when it's happening, and take control. 

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For additional one to two-minute sessions on other topics,  go to the Executive Coaching Corner Archive.