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Leading by Saying No

The reluctance, and often inability, to say No is an insidious robber of success. Success takes vision and focus. Not saying No takes nibbles, often full bites, out of your time and your energy and keeps you from creating the life and making the difference that you long to make in the world. This danger extends far beyond the mother of school age children who is asked to send homemade cookies for the class party the next day. It plagues the gifted CEO eager to take the company to the next level. It haunts the entrepreneur who struggles to focus his efforts. It dilutes the ability of these leaders to pursue what really matters to them.

Is that sounding selfish?  Consider what is possible if each of us pursues what truly matters to us. Perhaps the human race will get done what truly matters.  What if you carefully chose where you gave your time and your energy, and lived lives consistent with what you value most? As leaders, we would model the importance of not settling for lives that are spread too thin to make a lasting difference. Does that sound selfish?

Leadership skill: Lead by saying No.

The key to saying No is to be very clear about what is important enough to you to say Yes. The truth is that your resources are finite. Each time you say Yes (or don’t say No) you are in essence “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” There is nothing wrong with that as long as paying Paul is more important to you than paying Peter.

The tricky part is that very few of us are living lives filled with things that we don’t want to do. But many of us are living lives that seldom get to the things that we really want to do. We are often responding to what is in our face rather than what is in our heart – also referred to as the tyranny of the urgent. We are neglecting the important to deal with the immediate.

The answer is to sort through your myriad of good activities, or intentions, to tease out those that are the best. Start by imagining that you are 10 years older. Ask yourself what you would want to be able to say about your life in the past decade – the person you had been, the goals you had reached, and the difference you had made. Write those things down and make a list of the values they represent. Compare those values with how you are spending time and energy today. It will be clear where you need to say No.

How are you doing, 0 – 10, leading by saying No?

Knowing where you need to say No and actually saying No are two different things. If that is your struggle, please know that I join you as do most of the executives that I coach. But just because it is a common issue in our culture, it doesn’t mean that we should settle for the mediocrity that it creates in our lives. I challenge you to develop a picture of what your life would look like if your primary values were honored every day. The clearer the vision, the more compelled you will be to create boundaries, to say Yes to what really matters and No to what doesn’t matter as much.

Selfish? No. Just imagine the profound effect of the most important things getting done in the world each day. That couldn’t possibly be a bad thing.

- Mary Beth King


Leading by Listening

There is a huge difference between hearing and listening.

At this moment I’m writing in my downtown Seattle office and I am hearing endless activity out on the street. I’m not listening to it, and I won’t unless something unusual captures my attention. The same thing happens when people speak to us. Our ears hear the words, but our brains and our heart decide whether or not we are going to listen and how we are going to listen.

When we listen to others, we establish trust. When we listen to ourselves, we lead more mindful lives. Listening is an essential key to effective leadership.

Leadership Skill: Lead by listening

True listening is active.

There are three levels of listening:

*Level 1: As I listen to you, I am only thinking about how I can relate to what you say to me.

“I just got back from Hawaii.”

“We were in Hawaii last spring. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Yes, we loved the snorkeling.”

“I loved the snorkeling, but my wife doesn’t swim well and was afraid. We really enjoyed going up in a sail plane.”

*Level 2: As I listen to you, I am laser focused on you.

“I just got back from Hawaii.”

“How was it?’

“Beautiful. We loved the snorkeling. We can’t wait to go back.”

“What did you see while you were snorkeling?”

Level 3: As I listen to you, I notice everything. What is said, what I see, what I sense.

“I just got back from Hawaii.”

He’s smiling. He’s carrying a bag of macadamia nuts. His skin is bright red.

“Sunscreen issues?”


“The nuts from there taste like they’ve come directly from God.”

“Amen. And we loved touring the plantations.”

When you listen from Level 1, preparing your reaction (or rebuttal) while the other person is talking, he knows he is not being heard. It is as if he is speaking only for your benefit or amusement. You are indicating that you have no actual interest in what he wants to tell you, and that you have no actual interest in him.

When you listen from Level 2 or 3, you are clearly indicating that you care about what he has to say and about him personally. When he knows that you genuinely care about him, he is more apt to be open to what you have to say.

How are you doing, 0 – 10, leading by listening?

My listening depends on my agenda. When I am coaching, my agenda is joining with the client to create their most satisfying, fulfilling, and successful life. I am acutely aware that the client’s trust in me is the key to making that happen. So I listen from a Level 2 or 3.

But how do I listen to my colleagues, my friends, my family, myself? Do I ask questions from a place of genuine interest? Or am I only interested in how I am impacted by what they are saying? Do I care about what experiences and thoughts are behind their opinions, or do I only care about expressing my own?

What if our agenda for all of our relationships was that we grow our trust in one another? How would we listen then?

We would listen with laser focus. We would listen to what we see, and what is said and not said. Very few of us have relationships that listen to us in that way. Listening is a gift you can give. It nourishes trust that makes us all safe. Imagine such a world.

- Mary Beth King

This article previously appeared in Blue City Monthly.


Is Humble Confidence an Oxymoron?

I cringed the other day, when yet another friend told yet another story of an egotistical boss. I was relieved for her because she had been recruited away, leaving him alone with his arrogant attitude and inflated speeches. I actually feel sorry for the guy. He is blinded to how his behavior is ruining the culture of his business. In his mind, it’s always someone else’s fault and fires at will. Makes me sad.

In contrast, isn’t it refreshing when you see an organization and its leadership truly investing in their people? Whose leader truly wants to lead and care for his or her employees? If you find that person, you will find the makings of a unique company culture … one with little to no turnover, profit on the bottom line, and real joy in the workplace!

Focused and Flexible

I once worked with a start-up company to discover their core purpose and values. One of the values that made it to the top was the descriptive combo of words, “Humble Leadership.” Together those words sizzle with meaning. They also seem like an oxymoron.

Confidence is a strong word. Yet it is rooted in words like belief, trust, faith, reliance. It means that you have a strong belief that you (and others) will behave, act, respond in a way that is right, effective, and certain. That doesn’t sound humble, right?

Yet, the most refreshing leaders to be around are ones that embody humble confidence. I bet you can think of one now. Someone you respected and wanted to follow. They listened to you and sought your input as part of the team, yet had a strong sense of where they were going. You felt your opinion not only matter, it helped in a meaningful way to fulfill the organization’s mission. I often describe this trait in action as “Focused and Flexible.”

Pain and Inadequacy

What’s the opposite of humble confidence? I believe it is shame-based leadership. In my experience, most leaders wrestle with the normal nagging thoughts, “Do I have what it takes?” or “Will I be found out one day?” I write about that in my book, Clarity.

An epiphany came when I was studying for a talk on shame and looked it up on my iPhone, of all places. Apple succinctly defines shame as “A painful emotion resulting from an awareness of inadequacy or guilt.” Here’s the thing: When the questions above are not answered with humble confidence, then the leader (usually an entrepreneur) sets out to silence that voice by “proving” him or herself, leading to behavior that brings shame.

If you want to know if you suffer from shame, then sit down and make a list of the areas you have pain in because of a sense of inadequacy, or any area where you feel guilt. I know it can be a painful process. But it’s the first step to facing the truth to move toward the relief of humble confidence.

One other note: Do not isolate yourself in this process! Bring it to your community, whether that’s your coach, EO/YPO forum, trusted peers, or so on.

Personal Humility, Professional Will

Of course, all of this certainly isn’t a new concept. In fact, I remember when Jim Collins’s classic book Good to Great came out, I devoured it. I focused especially on the secret sauce of a Level 5 leader. These people “blend extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”

Let’s review Collins’s five attributes that epitomize the Level 5 Leader:

1. They are self-confident enough to set up their successors for success.
2. They are humble and modest.
3. They have “unwavering resolve.”
4. They display a “workmanlike diligence — more plow horse than show horse.”
5. They give credit to others for their success and take full responsibility for poor results.

I have to be real right now. I know very few people who truly desire to lead as Level 5 leaders. Many CEOs don’t have the needed patience, self-discipline and heart to lead with humility and confidence. Having said that, I am fully confident that with training and desire, it is more than possible for future Level 5 leaders to get to the top level if they invest in others around them. As an executive coach, I get to see change every day in people who truly want to make a difference in this world.

How about you? Are you leader who has resolve, displays diligence, gives credit and takes responsibility. Or are you one whose eye is on personal gain? The key is having an accurate view of yourself. Coaching can help with this, but whether or not you get assistance, realize you need a team to get you to the next level.

Then you are a part of an elite group who truly want to lead.

Be humble, be confident, be the best you can be today!

Your Coach,



STOP BEING BUSY IN 2014 – Life Coaching Tools for New Year Planning- Clarity #40

What if this year you were “intentional” about everything you did and left being “busy” to people who have no direction, discipline, or desire? Think of how fun your year could be if everything you did mattered…even your REST? I believe it would make a huge difference in your overall happiness and fulfillment. AND, don’t tell me you are too old or too young to live intentionally!

Each year, I share with my newsletter subscribers a new year planning tool. Let me know if you want the whole story (complete with pictures of my high school goal setting journals) but here is the gist to get started on your new year planning right now. 

The Coach’s Challenge:  Please, I beg you to take this week between Christmas and New Year’s and make it purposeful, meaningful, and intentional.


Unplug! Let yourself get “clear” and detoxed from all the stress and activity from the holidays. Sleep, exercise, relax, play with your kids, eat good healthy food, read a novel, do a brainless project, watch your favorite movie. Do not answer emails or read business books or anything else that makes you think too much. Just relax and let all the adrenaline leave your body — at least for THREE DAYS.

If your organization is not taking the week off, then take your lunch hours and evening time to engage in the R.E.S.T. process. Being intentional is the key!


After a few days of intentional rest where you are full of peace and clarity of mind, heart and soul, begin to let your new year unfold before you in a passionate but relaxed manner, using the R.E.S.T. Model = Reflect, Evaluate, Stratagize, Think

Reflect on the Past

Get a notepad or journal and reflect on the year. Think, write, feel, and truly reflect on your year. Don’t just look at the outcomes; look around in a 360 holistic way and see the good, the bad, the wins, the pain and the progress. If you want some good questions to help in this process let us know in the comments section.

Evaluate the Present

Armed with insight, it is now time to evaluate and recalibrate where you want to be at that end of 2014 based on where you currently are today.

  • Revisit your 5 core values and grade yourself 1-10 on how you are honoring those values.baton
  • At what percentage are you living your personal mission and fulfilling your ultimate purpose?
  • What needs to be shored up this year to make sure you are focused on what matters, not just the bottom line or short gain wins.

Like my daddy always told me: “Sis, you’ll keep gettin’ whatcher gettin’ if you keep doin’ whatcher doin’.” Evaluate your story, challenge your self-talk, and prepare to script a new story that will get you where you want to be. Write it out! If you are stuck, try writing your holiday letter a year in advance!

Strategize the Future

With proper reflection and evaluation, you are now ready to construct the strategic plan for your best year yet. Keep your top 5 values, purpose and mission statement at the forefront of your mind as you strategize the best way to get there.

What are the top 3 things you want for 2014 to move the ball down the field toward accomplishing your strategic life plan?

With this level of clarity, you are ready to put the pieces together and set your 2014 goals —or intentions, as I prefer to call them. Make sure that every intention you create for the 2014 is based on one of your core values, fits strategically into your long-term life plan, and is truly meaningful to you.

State the outcomes you are looking for, write them out as if they have already happened, include why it matters to you. Then create S. M. A. R. T. action steps.

I suggest that you make it simple. In fact, maybe it is just ONE thing you need to concentrate on all year. Every year, it will look a little different if you go through this process correctly.

Now, take your intentions and put them where you can see them. One of my clients laminates his goals and puts them in the shower. At the very least, paste your plan into your calendar on a weekly, monthly and quarterly rhythm for review.

Think Long Term

This is the hardest step by far for most of us control freaks. After all that hard work of careful reflection, evaluating and strategizing clear and measurable goals —now you must surrender the outcomes. Let go.

WHAT? Yes, let go. Here’s why I prefer the term intention, rather than goal. This is what I intend to do. I will put my entire effort into fulfilling this plan, however, not at the expense of “life.”

Life happens. Humans are messy. Curve balls are thrown. You are ultimately not in control. With all our great planning and proactive living, some of your plans will not come true. Not only that, you will change and be eternally grateful some of your goals didn’t come to fruition, I sure was after seeing my long-term goals from 1981.

I believe we need to . . .


Be Focused and Flexible

Be focused fiercely on what you have set out to accomplish. Be flexible to realize the plan may need to change. I had a client say, “Hey, I always have a plan, but I am always ready to “trade-up” for a better plan.” That is the key — stay flexible in your focused plan.

Practice What We Preach

To practice what we preach, our offices are closed through January 5th but you can continue to find great end of year help via our social media and our blog next week.  Please like our Facebook page or follow us on twitter for more tips and tricks. 

REST in the fact that you are loved!

Your Coach,


F.O.C.U.S. On What Matters. Clarity #2

One of the greatest things we can do in life is to set our eyes and focus on what matters most.  There is a lot of content that we will be drilling down on this week to discover what it means to get clear. As we center on things that truly matter, we become more impactful, beyond what just seem efficient and practical.

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I just got back from my morning workout where the trainer had us balance on one foot and do some kind of bicep exercise.  My left ankle is weak and so I was getting really frustrated that I could not stop wobbling about.  It only got worse as I got mad at myself for not getting my ankle fixed, then blamed the teacher for such a long drawn out exercise, and finally was distracted by all the other wobbly people in front of me.  Then seriously, I remembered this week’s theme.

FOCUS!  Oh yes!  With that kick in the behind, I stopped the negative chatter in my brain, found a spot on the floor and focused on it intently.  BINGO – I was as steady as a rock!  I was able to complete the exercise with perfection and as we moved on to the other leg, I found a spot right in front of me and YEP the strategy worked perfectly.  It wasn’t until I focused on one thing and changed my inner dialogue that I was able to be strong and steady.

FOCUS allowed me to actually work on the problem and start strengthening that weak part instead of blaming others and blasting myself.

What are the areas that distract you and keep you from focusing on what truly matters to you?

We are only on week #2, so if you don’t have the book yet you can order it from us or get in on Amazon – I love it on Kindle.  Follow us on twitter and like us on facebook for even more useful information on this week’s subject!

Your Coach,

Simplify Everything! Summer of Clarity Weekend Challenge.

It is rainy here on Lake Washington which opens up a great opportunity to take the S in the week 2 challenge – F.O.C.U.S. on What Matters seriously.

Here is a great resource to help you clear the clutter out of your life. The challenge is to go into every room or area of your house and throw away 100 things.  Record your wins on the sheet and report back to us on your progress.  Don't be legalistic but try to simplify every area of life.

If you don't simplify, you will be distracted by clutter and noise – therefore you wont' be set up to maximize your efforts and live a purposeful fulfilled life.  You can't focus on what matters if you do not have clarity.

If not now, when?  No seriously, put the date on the calendar and please share your story on what you simplified today!

Your Coach For Life,