Use your words!

How often do you share your thought process when you’re asked a question? If you’re like me, and in a permanent state of feeling pressed for time, you don’t do so nearly enough. What’s the downside? Your kids and your employees miss out on a chance to learn from you. And you might not discover that you missed key information when forming your decision. So, use your words at every opportunity!

A few weeks ago, my teenage son and I were in my car on our way to a nearby town. He was behind the wheel, taking advantage of the opportunity to practice driving. When he asked me if we had enough gas to get to our destination, I glanced over at the fuel gauge, saw that we had about 1/4 of a tank, and replied with a quick “Yes.”

I don’t know why, but I didn’t share my thought process with him. That I estimated it was 10-15 miles to the town. That my fuel gauge displays a warning when there is only one gallon left. And that, since my car gets about 25 miles to the gallon and we had more than a gallon left, we had plenty of gas for our trip. Instead, I just told him yes, we’d be fine.

A few minutes down the road, I started to think about what would happen if my son was driving by himself and was wondering if he had enough gas to get somewhere. Realizing I’d missed out on a teaching moment, I turned to him and explained my thought process. His response was a surprise: “But Mom, the reason I asked in the first place was because the fuel gauge warning light came on!” I had to laugh at myself; I hadn’t seen the light! Fortunately, we made our way to a gas station before hitting empty.

As you can tell from my story, sharing your thought process not only teaches others how you break down problems, but can also help avoid surprises. And it’s equally applicable to parenting as well as leadership.

Starting today, I’m making a personal pledge to share my thought process whenever I answer a question. How about you?


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Learning to recover from mistakes

I remember coaching a client who had accepted a new position at her company. As she told me about the role, she was clearly excited. She wanted to make a good first impression, showing up as confident and capable. The only problem? The Impostor Syndrome was alive and kicking. Yep, she was concerned about being qualified for her new role. She was doubting her abilities and letting her inner critic speak much too loudly.  

The Impostor Syndrome is getting a lot of press these days. Sheryl Sandberg writes about it in Lean In, and cites research showing that women tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it than men. Like Sheryl, I’ve felt it more than I care to admit. I definitely could relate to my client.

Outside of work, my client was a talented performer, often onstage in front of large crowds. When I asked her if she lacked confidence during her performances, she immediately answered, “Not any more, because I know I can cover any mistake I might make. The audience never knows if I sing a wrong note.”

Brilliant! As a performer, she identified her key to confidence: Recovering from mistakes so quickly and naturally that no one notices a thing.

We then talked about how to apply what she learned as a performer to her corporate job. We discussed how she’d been singing since she was a kid, and over the years, every time she sang a wrong note or lyric, she learned. She had trained herself to take responsibility for the mistake, learn from it quickly, and push it aside to continue with the piece of music. How empowering it would be to do the same thing at work!

As I drove home after the appointment with my client that day, I started thinking about my family. As a mom, I’m wired to protect my kids from making mistakes to save them from hurt, discomfort, or regrets. I ask them if they have their homework as they leave for school, I remind them to wear a raincoat when the skies are gray, and I tell them to check how much gas is in the car before pulling out of the driveway. Sure, they don’t always listen, but that doesn’t stop me. I want to intervene so they don’t make mistakes.

However, from mistakes comes learning. And, as I saw with my coaching client, knowing how to recover from mistakes can build confidence and combat the Impostor Syndrome.

Do you have other techniques to combat the Impostor Syndrome? I’d love to hear from you.


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

I haven’t learned that yet

When my son was about six years old, a family friend who was visiting us sat down to do math puzzles with him. At one point, our friend asked my son to multiply two numbers, and my son answered, “I haven’t learned that yet.” It was the perfect response! He owned the fact that he didn’t know something, yet he didn’t make any excuses. I was impressed.

I heard this phrase again this past weekend at the She++ Conference at Stanford University. The goal of She++ is to inspire women to embrace computer science. Given my daughter’s interest in studying CS, she and I decided to attend the event.

As part of the conference, a panel of Stanford Computer Science (CS) undergraduates, all of whom were women, shared their experiences. A recurring theme was that, while CS is a challenging degree program, it can lead to empowering, potentially world-changing, career opportunities. Many of the panelists shared stories of struggling with assignments and not getting great grades on an exam or two. Most of them had not done any programming until they entered Stanford, and understandably they felt intimidated by other students who had been programming since they were 9 or 10 years old. One of the panelists emphasized that it’s okay to say to yourself or others, “I haven’t learned that yet.” You can and will learn it! I couldn’t agree more.

As parents and as leaders, we can encourage others to be comfortable with the phrase “I haven’t learned that yet.” When we see someone looking perplexed, or struggling to get something done, we can ask, “Have you learned how to do that?” It’s our job to make it safe to ask for help and embrace learning new things, whether it’s simple multiplication or advanced computer algorithms.

I’d love to hear from readers about how they make it safe to ask for help or how they support others who might feel vulnerable because they don’t know something.  Please reply with a comment. I look forward to reading about your experience.


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

The Power of Imperfection

“Perfect parenting does not exist, and it is the imperfections that lead to resilient children.”  

The Most Reverend Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke these words at Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference in 2010. She was on a panel about leadership, and the conversation touched on the stress that working parents often feel.

When I heard Dr. Schori’s comment, I remember feeling an immediate sense of relief. I know I’m not perfect, but I had never before thought about the benefits of making mistakes. Every parent wants what is best for their child, to protect them from harm, and to unconditionally love them. However, we are humans and we make mistakes; we might forget to send our child to school with their lunch, we might drop them off at a soccer practice without making sure that the coach is there, we might forget that the fuel tank is approaching empty when we let our newly licensed child drive it for the first time, and so on. Each of these mistakes can provide learning opportunities for our children.

Just as perfect parenting does not exist, the same holds true for perfect leadership. As leaders, we strive to do our best, but we should accept the imperfections in our leadership. These shortcomings can help our team learn, become resilient, and develop their own leadership style.

I’m not advocating that parents or leaders should try to make mistakes; instead, I believe that we should be comfortable with the fact that we are not perfect. Chances are, our children and our staff are more resilient as a result.

Do you agree?


© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.