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October 2015

When Your Pet Dies, Be Authentic at Work

By | Food for thought | No Comments

by Paul Gorrell on 07/18/12
As it appeared on Huffington Post

Last winter, I was discussing a coaching client’s challenge in communicating empathy with colleagues. He told me that there are times that his co-workers are too focused on personal matters that are not that interesting or important to him. The example he used to prove his point was with people who are emotional after their pet dies. He was really dismissive in his tone about the traumatic loss that a pet lover experiences. My response was to personalize the situation by telling him that I will be an absolute mess if anything ever happens to one of my cats.Three weeks later, I was away from home on a business trip when my partner told me on Skype that our 15-year-old cat, Virgil, had become very sick. Eventually we would come to understand that he had congestive heart failure. The vet let us know that he had “days, not months” to live and our intense mourning process began. We thought Virgil would not be with us for long.

Soon after, it was time to see my coaching client for another session. I was faced with the dilemma: Do I speak with him about my situation or do I keep quiet about it, not wanting to suffer from the indifference that he might show? Also, I wouldn’t want to embarrass him since I clearly knew his stand on this situation and, by bringing it up, I could make him feel guilty. It would be inappropriate to do that in terms of my role as an executive coach.

On the other hand, by bringing Virgil’s illness up, there was a chance that this situation could spark the empathy that my client was seeking to develop. The dilemma I experienced about telling my client that I had a sick and soon to be deceased pet is faced by people in all kinds of jobs, all the time. It is a challenging circumstance because you are never really sure of how people will react to the rawness of the emotion. Some will be supportive, having the same bond with a pet of their own or a complete understanding of the traumatic sense of this loss. Others will not get it and seem almost dumbfounded that you would raise the topic. This latter experience can feel humiliating at some level. It’s as if you should feel guilty about feeling so deeply for your pet.


But I am a firm believer that you be authentic at work. For instance, I facilitate a program on Authentic Leadership claiming that leaders need to own the purpose behind their actions and communicate this purpose to others. Being authentic means being clear in your communication about the passion that is behind the choices you make. And sometimes your passion is not related to a project or a business goal. Sometimes, it’s the passion that drives your life and your love. How could I not speak of my concern for Virgil in appropriate circumstances? People with whom I interact would clearly see that I might not be myself, why wouldn’t I tell them the reason behind my disposition? To not do so, is to have them “fill in” the reason for me.

Some people simply have more difficulty understanding the bond that a person can have with their pet. For 15 years, Virgil was an ever present part of our household. He didn’t simply show tremendous affection for us, he always wanted to know what we were doing and be part of the scene. This curious quality would make him a happy spectator when you were cooking or a friendly visitor as you sat at your computer. Virgil wanted to be with us all the time and that brought us great pleasure. The idea of him not being there, the permanence that only death can bring, creates a durable sense of loss and a painful gap that sweet memories can only partially satisfy.

What became interesting about the period after Virgil’s diagnosis was that I got to explore the dilemma of “coming out” as a grieving pet lover many times. This was due to the fact that Virgil was a bit of a miracle man. He responded well to some of the medicines and the nursing that we provided. He was supposed to live days but ended up living a bit over four months. For this extended time, I let my clients know about the struggle and opened up about the pain. With some, where I had an enduring relationship, I was able to discuss it more freely. With others, I was respectful of the newness or more superficial quality of our relationship, and avoided going too deeply into the issue. But, no matter what, I tried to be authentic at all times.

That includes with my coaching client who previously expressed a lack of empathy for pet lovers in bereavement. I made the decision to bring up my situation in that session that followed Virgil’s diagnosis. My client immediately wanted to demonstrate concern, perhaps there was some guilt there, or perhaps it was a need to please a coach who was becoming more important in his life. But the sympathy was there and it was real. The experience of sympathy can lead to the development of empathy. Interestingly, the bond around my impending loss became somewhat of a foundation for our work together. It was built on trust going forward. He had shared a darker side of himself. I shared information that made me feel vulnerable. I believe our work together was better off from confronting the topic openly and authentically.

My suggestion is that pet lovers will experience far more benefits from communicating their loss than they will by bottling it up. Not only will some understanding come our way, but our disposition will be absolutely understandable to others because we have shared the underlining reason. Our colleagues will not fill in some message about why we are the way we are during the mourning process. They will know the “why” behind how we are and have the opportunity to be compassionate. We can even help them to be better people through our loss.

My cat Virgil, pictured above, died on July 13, 2012. I wrote this blog on July 14, 2012.

If You Build Trust, They Will Come

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by Paul Gorrell on 11/21/11

As it appeared on Huffington Post

It doesn’t take too long to come across a scandal when you scroll down a news website like the Huffington Post. We find these stories on the front page (just think Penn State) and on the business page with investment bankers stretching the rules or major media companies hacking private information of movie stars and politicians. We will also find plenty of stories about an increasingly unproductive Congress who can’t partner past ideological divides even if the nation might suffer. In an age when there are many reasons to be increasingly skeptical of the intentions of others, how do we get people to trust us? Charles Green believes it’s by first trusting them.

Green is the founder of Trusted Advisors Associates, a firm built upon a theory he wrote with colleagues in The Trusted Advisor, a book published in 2000, which argues that trust is the key to successful business relationships. He expanded on this idea with the 2011 co-authored book The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust. Recently, I had a chat with him about his theories.

Green told me trust happens when we offer it to others. “We are built to respond in a reciprocal way to people who trust us and, similarly, people who don’t trust us,” he says. If people allow fear and suspicion to rule their approach to business, he says, they will suffer from their own skepticism:

“What you fear is what you’re going to get. You empower what you fear. You are the cause of your own demise. If you start worrying about trusting people, guess what, they won’t trust you. But, if you do trust, they will trust back.”

This spirit of reciprocity creates the opportunity to build enduring business relationships with trust as a core foundation of interaction. Trusted advisors are those who:

  • Avoid self-centeredness by focusing on the needs of their clients,
  • Collaborate on solutions in partnership with others,
  • Engage in a transparent manner, and
  • Embrace a commitment to long term relationships rather than transactional wins.

While Green’s work has included teaching many consultants how to be trusted advisors, he has recently applied his model to help leaders become more effective in what they do. Green made this move because he believes that leadership has changed since he developed his theories 11 years ago.

“Leaders no longer have vertical command and control. Everything has become about influence and persuasion. No one is in charge of anybody. The things that get people to follow or get your attention or take your advice are all about things like trust. Suddenly, the way to become a leader these days really is to become good at being trustworthy.”

The key to being trustworthy is a unique combination Green calls the “trust quotient,” which is understood as credibility plus reliability plus intimacy, divided by self-orientation. Beyond the importance of moving to less ego-centered concerns in their leadership, Green feels intimacy is the real key for leaders to gain trust. This requires leaders to break down walls, increase transparency with their people, and disband any tendency towards aloofness.

While Green thinks leaders have increased their ability to expand networks, deepen connections and share information, they still need to be less shallow in the way they relate to others. They need to be willing to “have a real heart to heart, dive deep into what’s happening here” conversation with others.

He points out the technology keeps us more connected and informed, but it may create a world so focused on multi-tasking that “it makes us stupid” on the things which are really important. We can too easily become “broad and shallow” in a way which makes trust suffer. While our world continues to change because of technology, the need for intimacy stays the same. And, a willingness to demonstrate intimacy builds the trust that creates workable partnerships that reach high levels of success.

Trust, it turns out, is deeply emotional. “This cerebral stuff is a myth,” Green argues. He fully endorses the move toward valuing emotional intelligence over IQ that business has adopted in the last decade. He believes the evidence for this is the way people buy services from consultants. While they may value good ideas and a track record, they often want to choose to work with consultants that they like. It is the connection with the consultant that is truly valued.

While Green promotes trusting and being more trustworthy, he acknowledges that trust is often about risk. We limit ourselves from real opportunities if we are overly skeptical and unwilling to take the risks that trust involves. “The art of trust is partially to get rid of the instinct not to trust. You miss a lot of opportunities,” he says.

Most consultants have a variety of offerings to the market. Green is “all in” when it comes to trust demonstrating intense passion and emotional commitment to the topic. His consulting work is 100% focused on helping individuals and companies to develop the skills of a trusted advisor. In a real sense, Green challenges people to be “all in” as well believing that trust is the core to business success, if not human success.

As a leadership development professional, Green has helped me think through the ways I can help executives be more effective in managing their roles. I trust his ideas and concepts will help you as well.