At Steople we believe that leaders bring the weather, both sunshine and storms. In fact, a client I was recently coaching inadvertently brought the rain clouds to the office every time she walked in the room. Janet was an experienced manager, but new to her company. She came in eager to make a positive impression and quickly identified inefficiencies in her department.  She created a plan, and to ensure that it was implemented according to her vision, she spent several hours sitting with each of her employees, showing them how to work more efficiently.

It didn’t take long before she noticed a low pressure in the office atmosphere and stormy attitudes around every corner.Janet had good intentions but failed to consider how her actions could affect the drive and engagement of her employees. Dr. David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, created a model describing five social motivators that affect an employee’s perception of how psychologically safe they are in their workplace.

Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness are the characteristics that make up the SCARF model and when employees feel satisfied their needs are being met in each of these areas, dopamine is released and the part of the brain that recognizes rewards is activated. When employees find themselves in workplace situations that threaten their sense of security in these areas, they tend to retreat in an effort to find shelter from the storm.

Simply put, when we are in a mental state of security we tend to operate from the fontal cortex or the “thinking” part of our brain. When we are threatened, our reactions are dictated by the limbic system where our flight, fight, or freeze tendencies take over.

Janet and I talked about the SCARF model in relationship to her department, her employees, and her behavior. Janet took some time for self-reflection and considered which of the motivators were most important to her and how they might be different for her employees. She also had to step back and consider how her behavior might have threatened the psychological safety of her employees.

  1. Status – Janet decided that while it wasn’t her intention, her actions did not empower her team and could have threatened people’s need to be seen as valuable contributors.  Epidemiologist Michael Marmot’s research suggests that “status is the most significant determinant of human longevity and health, even when controlling for education and income.”  Long story short- everyone wants to feel important and by sweeping in and “solving” the problems without consulting others, several of the team members felt unimportant, devalued, and a diminished sense of self.
  1. Certainty – If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that the work environment is inherently volatile, complex, and full of ambiguity. Janet questioned how the immediate changes she implemented could have affected the security and stability team members felt over their own futures on the team and in the environment.
  1. Autonomy –Again,  Janet’s intention was good, but when she stepped back from the situation, she questioned whether some people might have felt micromanaged by her presence as she individually walked people through her vision of how the processes should work rather then getting their buy-in and trusting their technical competence.
  1. Relatedness –When we don’t know someone well enough to understand their motivations, our tendency as human beings is to assume negative intent. Janet asked herself, “Did I do enough in my individual interactions to build a sense of relatedness and rapport to ensure that people understand my intentions in facilitating rapid change?”
  1. Fairness – The perception that an event has been unfair, Rock writes, generates a strong response in the brain stirring hostility and undermining trust. According to his research, “People who perceive others as unfair don’t feel empathy for the pain of others.” What may feel fair to one person, may not feel fair to another person. Without asking Janet wasn’t sure, but she did begin to see how people could have perceived the changes, the timing, or the methods of implementation as unfair.

Using the SCARF model as a guide for self reflection, Janet was able to recognize and deliberately shape future interactions to provide a safe harbor in which her employees were able to relax, thrive, and do their best work.

If you are looking for opportunities to grow your leader’s skills or to create a psychologically safe work environment for your team, reach out. At Steople we equip your leaders to avoid stormy conditions and bring smooth-sailing weather.

My career has spanned three different decades and lots of things have changed. Everything from the formality of the office dress code to the way we communicate with our co-workers. (Think memorandums versus text message.) One thing that hasn’t changed is the number of people who have confessed to me that they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.

I have coached young professionals in their 20’s who haven’t picked a career because they don’t know where to start. I recently coached an accountant in her 30’s because while she was very good at her job, it left her tired and uninspired at the end of the day. After the pandemic, I coached a lot of professionals in their 40’s and 50’s who were ready to try something new. They didn’t know what they wanted to do for the next 20 years of their career, but they knew it wasn’t what they had been doing for the last 20 years!

Most of us need to work for a living. I would suggest that everyone I have ever met would like to find a way to do that while providing a valuable service that feeds their soul.

Maybe it isn’t possible for everyone to find that one thing, but as a business consultant, I take satisfaction from helping as many people as I can grow, learn, and develop in a way that’s meaningful to them. The Japanese culture embodies the belief that we can all find that thing. In fact, they have a word for it.


In its literal form, the term “iki” refers to the concept of life or being alive, while “kai,” (pronounced as “gai” in this case) can be translated as worthiness, fruitfulness, or effectiveness.
It’s the intersection of

  1. The thing you love to do
  2. The thing you are good at
  3. Something that the world needs
  4. Good/service that others will pay for

This is the place where you find your flow state and get energy from your endeavors. Excellence comes easily because you are working with your natural inclinations, talents, and gifts. And if, like many people, you need your job to support yourself financially, something that others value as well.

Ikigai requires that you carve out some time to deepen your self- knowledge and challenge your assumptions about what is possible.  It requires that you create a plan based in something different than where you are today and then ground your plan in the reality of the world in which we live.

A great way to explore and uncover the possibilities of your Igikai is through the delicate balance of assessment-based data and a coach who will challenge you from a place of care and compassion.

I am grateful that at Steople we use a variety of scientifically validated assessments to help people learn more about their drive, their motivation, and their inherent gifts. Assessments can be helpful as you identify the areas of work that you truly enjoy and that you are naturally skilled in.  They will frequently put into words things you always knew about yourself but didn’t know how to explain.  Assessments are a great first step as you are looking for clarity around a vocation or profession that speaks to you. Through assessments you can begin to identify the work that allows you to most easily reach your place of excellence.

So, whether you are early in your career, experiencing a mid-career pivot, or just want to do something different for the last part of your career, using assessments to begin mapping your Ikigai may be the perfect way for you to discover the worthiness of being alive through your work.

Want to learn more about the concept of Ikigai?  Check out the book Ikigai by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. Want to start your journey into Ikigai? Give us a call. We are here to help.

Coaches help athletes hone their game, sharpen their skills, and leverage their natural strengths to reach their goals.  We wouldn’t ask a top athlete to train, practice, or compete without a coach yet when the playing field is the workplace, we frequently expect our players to go it alone.  Business coaches operate in much the same way as an athletic coach. We help professionals deepen self-awareness, strategize business plans, and reach their goals. Even after explaining this concept to business professionals, I am often met with blank stares.  In hopes of clearing up confusion as to why everybody needs a coach, I am sharing the top four reasons people hire me as their business coach.

1.  You just got promoted
This is exciting news. Congratulations!  After the celebration ends, it’s time to get busy and deliver results.  Unfortunately, what got you here won’t get you there.  You were probably promoted because you excelled in your last role and demonstrated the drive and determination to do more.  But, in every situation I have seen, the new role will require new skills, not the least of which is letting go of some of the things that made you awesome in the first place.
I had a client, Courtney, who was excited when she was promoted to her dream job because of excellent past performance.  She was surprised, however, to discover once she got the role, that she was going to be required to step outside of her comfort zone.   Since she was used to being the best, this was a bit unsettling and to make herself feel better she reverted to doing tasks that she knew she was good at. Although Courtney was well-intentioned her new reports saw her as a micro-manager and her new supervisor wasn’t getting the type of work, she really needed from her.
Courtney and I worked through a plan to master the new competencies she was expected to demonstrate. Then we worked on how to effectively delegate, motivate, and empower her team. Within a month Courtney was back on track and had reclaimed her title of “superstar.”

2.  You just got passed over for the promotion
There are lots of reasons that you might not get the job you had your sights set on.  Maybe it was within your control and maybe it wasn’t, but when the bad news strikes, it’s time to get a coach.  I have worked with people who were fortunate enough to be told why they didn’t get the job.  That gave us a head start on how to develop the skills and get ready for the next opportunity.
I have also worked with people who weren’t given a reason for being passed over for the role.  In that situation our strategy begins with digging deep and self-reflecting on how other people’s perceptions could be sabotaging their career options.  Either way, my clients have been able to step back and turn lemons into lemonade by taking an undesirable outcome and creating new strategies to get them where they want to go.

3.  You want to get ready for the next promotion
Cameron is one my “go getters.” She loves her work, she is driven, self-motivated, and wants to move up the corporate ladder as quickly as possible. Sometimes organizations will sponsor coaching engagements, but in Cameron’s case her company did not.  It didn’t matter to Cameron because she wasn’t going to let anyone limit her potential. She knew she was worth investing in and was willing to make that investment in developing herself.
In fact, according to a global coaching study conducted by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), 61% of coaching clients say they saw dramatic improvement in their management skills due to the work they did with their coach.  Over the 3 years we’ve worked together, Cameron has been promoted twice, more than paying for the investment she made in herself and is now leading and investing in others.

4.  You don’t want to be promoted
One of my clients, Brandon, told me that he wanted to start a coaching relationship because he wanted to go into management. However, once our coaching sessions started, he was able to look at his motivations and he discovered that he really didn’t want to get promoted, but he assumed that was the only way to be challenged and make more money.  He was a strong individual contributor and found a great deal of joy in his work.  Through coaching, Brandon was able to clarify his goals and create an action plan that allowed him to find a path, other than a promotion, which helped him meet his objectives.

During my 30-year career, I have been in every one of these positions myself.   Early in my career, I wanted to get promoted and was able to use a coach to help me clarify my values and grow my skills so that it was possible.  Once I got promoted, I learned that I didn’t know what I needed in the new role and had a great coach help me work through challenges and navigate potential barriers I had never seen coming.
I have experienced the bewilderment that many people face when the promotion they are sure is coming their way doesn’t materialize.  Assisting me to be able to objectively evaluate my strengths and weaknesses was a powerful gift that a coach helped me with.  Ultimately, I realized that I didn’t want greater responsibility in the organization. I just wanted more variety in my work assignments.
Two years later, when I was promoted into a role I didn’t ask for, I enlisted another coach who helped me find the courage to leave the organization and find a better fit so that I could continue making deliberate choices as to how I spend my time.
The value I received from each one of these situations and each one of these coaches was truly life altering and helped get me to where I am today. Apparently, I am not alone with that feeling because “The International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring” recently reported that 75% of business leaders who received coaching said that the value of the coaching was “considerably greater” or “far greater” than the money and time invested.

So, wherever you are in your career, now is the right time to find a coach. Your coach will support and challenge you to create a plan, sharpen your skills, and reach your goals. Remember, Everybody Needs a Coach!

Many of us believe that once our work slows down or once our team is running smoothly, then we will have time to be happy. But research shows the opposite to be true. When we embrace happiness first, despite our circumstances, we strengthen our ability to think creatively and solve problems more efficiently.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it is important to understand that our mental health is on a fluctuating continuum. At any given time, any of us could be struggling, flourishing, or somewhere in between. There will always be external circumstances that make our work challenging and affect our feeling of well-being, but deciding to be happy is something we do have some control over. Below are three science-supported activities that can help you focus on the positive – which in turn can increase your resilience, improve your problem-solving abilities, and allow you to become a more impactful leader. Pick one of the activities below, try it yourself, and then for even greater impact, take it to your team.


1. Gratitude
Research shows that expressing gratitude allows you to notice the good things that already exist. Not only does this mindset increase positive emotions, but recent studies on gratitude also demonstrate that people displaying high levels of gratitude, have lower heart rate variability, (McCraty, Atkinson & Tiller, 1995) less inflammation (Celano 2016), and are less likely to develop chronic illness. (Krause 2017)

Action Item: There are many ways of expressing gratitude, but an easy way to start is writing down five things a week that you are truly grateful for. Think about your “why” behind your feelings of gratitude and focus on that as you are writing about them. Make sure you truly feel grateful for the items you write down and avoid the temptation to write what you think you should be grateful for.

Take It to Your Team: Share this practice with your team and ask people to take turns at the beginning of team meetings highlighting something for which they are grateful.


2. Cultivate Optimism
No matter how rough a day was, every day holds the opportunity for something great to happen. Optimism is the generalized sense of confidence about the future, characterized by broad expectancy that outcomes are likely to be positive. (Boniwell, 2006) Optimism is a skill that can be learned and is highly correlated to someone’s thoughts, beliefs, and actions. So, learning how to reframe or shift your thoughts can strengthen your optimism.

Action Item: Spend 15-30 minutes thinking about what you would like your team to look like six months from now. Write a description of what that goal looks like: describe the interactions that take place, your daily tasks, and your team’s outcomes. Hold onto your description, read it daily, and think about how good it will feel to reach that goal. Then, plan small action steps to help you get there.

Take it to Your Team: Have your team do the same exercise on their own and ask them to bring in a picture of something that symbolizes their vision. Have the team members share their pictures or post them in a community area for everyone to see.


3. Avoid Overthinking
Overthinking a difficult situation drains our mental resources. Additionally, the more we think about something, the more engrained the thoughts become, and the more difficult it is to stop thinking about it. Learning to control our thoughts and quiet our mind chatter, however, allows us to reclaim cognitive control of our lives.

Action Item: Schedule 30 minutes a day that you will allow yourself to worry or ruminate over difficult situations. When your mind starts to chatter outside of the scheduled time, gently remind yourself that you have some time set aside for that later, but now is the time to re-focus on the task at hand.

Take It to Your Team: Challenge your team to “not sweat the small stuff.”  You may want to start this activity by having them brainstorm a list of the “Big Stuff.” That could include the organization’s mission, the most important team objectives, and their own values. Then when the team finds themselves spending time and energy on challenges, have them circle back and decide if this is time well spent or if they are just sweating the small stuff.


Practicing these interventions will allow you to begin taking control of your mindset. As you continue to grow and develop this skill you will create an upward spiral of feeling physically better, thinking more clearly, and solving problems at work with more ease. These outcomes then create new positive emotions which start the upward cycle all over again allowing you to reach new heights of efficiency and productivity in your work.