9 Questions to Keep You at Your Best

At the end of every year, I encourage my coachees to answer the following nine questions as part of their reflection on the year that’s drawing to a close and planning for the year that’s about to start. It’s been so well received that I’m sharing it with you, in the hopes it will help you set and achieve your goals. The truth is, you don’t have to wait until December to make the most out of these questions. Change a word and they can be asked at the end of a quarter, a month, or week.


  1. What did you accomplish in 2014? How will you build on these accomplishments in 2015 in order to achieve greater success?

Satisfaction and Disappointment

  1. From what aspect of your work did you derive your greatest personal satisfaction this year? How will you maintain a high level of personal satisfaction in your work? What were your biggest disappointments in 2014? How will you avoid repeating those disappointments?

Lessons Learned

  1. What lessons did you learn in 2014? How will you apply what you learned in 2015?


  1. In 2014, how would you rate your leadership? In your field? (Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor) Explain. In 2015, how, specifically, will you invest in becoming a better leader in your position and/or field? What one leadership trait, behavior, or skill will you target for improvement in 2015? How will you achieve this professional development?


  1. How did you limit yourself in 2014? Your team? How will you stop limiting yourself and your team in 2015?

Just Say No

  1. What one thing did you do in 2014 that you’ll stop doing in 2015 in order to be more successful? How, specifically, will you do that?

2015 Wildly Important Goals

  1. Answer the following statement: Nothing else matters in 2015, unless we accomplish the following 1-3 wildly important goals. What are these goals? Did 2014 successes set us up to achieve these things? If so, how will we leverage these successes to achieve these goals?

Connecting to Purpose

  1. Above all else, I want to remember that the reason I started/joined ____________________ is:


  1. To increase my odds of achieving these key goals, I need the following from:

(I always prompt them to articulate what they need from me, their coach, in order to maximize their results.)

Drop me a line and let me know how these questions helped you!


Developing Your Nonprofit’s Vision Statement

The work of developing a vision statement is challenging. It is sometimes so difficult a task that organizations begin operating without them, only to find themselves lost without a North Star. Other times organizations develop their vision at the beginning, but find that the vision needs to be revised as the organization grows.

Opinions vary about how regularly you should visit your vision statement. Our view is that you should check in on both your mission and vision statements each time you engage in long-term strategic planning which, for most nonprofits, is generally every three years.

The following process is appropriate for organizations in need of developing a vision statement. If you already have a vision statement and need to revisit it, yourselves whether your vision statement continues to meet the criteria. If it does, you’re all set. If it doesn’t, you can use this process to revise the vision statement. 

Step One: Identify the Participants to the Process 

The two most common process variations for getting the vision statement written are: 1) A vision statement is developed by the staff and proposed to the board; 2) A vision statement is jointly written by board and staff members. The best process for your organization will be largely a function of your organization’s culture. Another question to ask yourself before getting underway is whether it is advisable to gather feedback from the entire workforce before beginning the drafting process. This can be accomplished by an online survey and is often helpful as a means to get buy-in from your full staff.

Step Two: Familiarize Yourself with the Definition of a Vision Statement. 

A vision statement is:

  • A statement of the desired future state of the organization
  • A statement of where the organization is headed, what it intends to be, or how it wishes to be perceived

Step Three: Familiarize Yourself with the Characteristics of an Effective Vision Statement. 

Six characteristics of an effective vision:

  1. Conjures up images and pictures of what it will be like to achieve the organization’s vision
  2. Exciting and compelling
  3. Clear and easy to grasp
  4. Measurable
  5. Has appeal to a wide audience
  6. Represents a big, hairy audacious goal

Step Four: Dream Big!

Reflect silently on the question below. After a few minutes of reflection, write whatever images come to mind. Discuss your ideas as a group.

When you allow yourself to dream on a large scale about what our nonprofit might accomplish over the next 25 years, what pictures come to mind?

Step Five: Brainwrite & Brainstormstorm

Reflect silently on the question below. After a few minutes of reflection write the words, phrases, or concepts that come to mind. Discuss your ideas as a group.

When you think of the desired future state for nonprofit, what words, phrases or sentences come to mind?

Step Six: Write a Vision Statement

Generate different combinations of the words, phrases, and concepts to form possible vision statements until you reach a consensus.

Step Seven: Submit Vision Statement to Board for Approval

The new or revised vision statement must be approved by the board of directors in order to be be adopted for use by the organization.


8 Tips for Achieving Your Goals

“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself.” ~Jim Rohn

Clients and others are always asking for tips on how to more effectively achieve their goals. Here are eight of Carolyn’s favorite tried and true strategies. We hope you’ll give one of them a try.

  1. Take responsibility. No one other than you is going to create the positive change you want to see in your life. Today can be the beginning of something extraordinary. It’s up to you.
  1. Go public. Dare to tell others about the positive change you’ve committed to creating here today.
  1. Partner up. Find someone you trust (friend, co-worker, mentor, coach) who can help you be accountable to your goal(s). Communicate or meet regularly with this person about your progress.
  1. Practice self-acceptance. Let go of the limiting self-beliefs and stories you’ve been telling yourself about what you can’t do.
  1. Use imagery. Imagine your end goal. See it. Smell it. Feel it. Make it as real as possible. Then you’ll be that much closer to making it a reality.
  1. Schedule priorities. Make time for your action items. Do what’s important to you first. The rest can wait.
  1. Keep track. Keep track of your goals and your progress towards them. Write your goals down and put them someplace visible. Refer to it regularly. Measuring your progress will help you make the course adjustments that are sometimes necessary along the way.
  1. Don’t stop. The question is not whether you’ll falter or fail. You’re human. Of course you will. The question is whether you’ll distinguish yourself by making sure you don’t stop when you do. As Zig Ziglar says, “Realize that failure is a detour not a dead end.” Practice persistence and stay positive.




Where the Magic Happens

Carolyn is a columnist for Columbia Home Magazine. This is her column from the March/April 2014 issue.



When is the last time you stepped outside your comfort zone?

If you’re thinking to yourself, “I like to be comfortable,” believe me, I get it. I like to be comfortable myself. If changing out of work clothes and into PJs and fuzzy slippers were an Olympic sport, I’d have a gold medal.

It isn’t just the appeal of fuzzy slippers that keeps us in our comfort zones. Sometimes, we fear change and instead yearn for the safety of what’s familiar. However, when you want to create meaningful change in your life, playing it safe is often the last thing you should do. As the saying goes, “Outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens.”

In 2008, I was a successful professional making a six-figure salary at a national nonprofit. However, I had come to hate my job so much that I found myself crying uncontrollably on my flights home from the Washington, D.C. office. As unhappy as I was, I felt profoundly stuck; despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to extricate myself from the job I hated.

One Friday afternoon, I was working in my office in Columbia when I received a phone call from the company’s president telling me what I had intuited from the moment I heard her voice.

For the first time in my career, I was laid off.

I hung up the phone and was filled with conflicting emotions. Both anxious and relieved, I felt as if the warden had just released me from prison, but I had nowhere to go.

After the shock wore off, the panic began to set in. I needed to find another job and fast. Then, I had a flash of insight that profoundly changed my professional life. I realized the universe had just helped me to do what I hadn’t been able to do for myself — get out of my comfort zone. If I wanted to transform my life, I needed to find the courage to stay outside that zone.

“I don’t even know what my soul work is,” I remember telling my good friend Michelle.

“That’s easy — helping people,” she replied. And there it was. The first big clue in what felt like a gigantic scavenger hunt for clues to my future.

During the next four months, I began to think about my life’s possibilities in new ways. “Just do it,” my friend Laura said, as I spoke anxiously about my dream of starting my own business.

“Easy for you to say,” I thought to myself because Laura was a successful business owner herself. But as I let my friend’s advice sink in, I knew she was right; it was just that simple. If not now, when?

As Jim Rohn says, “If you don’t change what you are doing today, all your tomorrows will look like yesterday.” Today, believe in yourself, and take your first step toward a better tomorrow. When you dare to step outside your comfort zone and move your dreams from the back burner, the transformation in your life can be truly magical.


Carolyn’s challenge: If you’re ready to examine the fears that keep you in your comfort zone and to live a life filled with more courage, check out Brene Brown’s latest book, Daring Greatly.

About Carolyn: At the height of the recession, Carolyn took her dreams off the back burner and started her own business, New Chapter Coaching. Crazy or confident, she’s never looked back. She’s dedicated to helping nonprofits get results that improve people’s lives and helping others make a difference along the way. Carolyn’s hit what she calls the career trifecta: She gets to do what she loves with clients she respects and earns a living doing it. She wishes the same for everyone.


Listen Up: You Have a Lot to Learn

Nonprofit organizations do amazing work. They are continually asked to do more with less and are rarely given the credit they deserve for making miracles happen. They move at the speed of light — and then strategic planning happens.

Once a year or perhaps every few years, nonprofit organizations slow down just long enough to take a look at themselves. And that’s when the opportunity presents itself; that’s when the organization has the opportunity to do what it’s not permitted to do during the rest of the year by virtue of its day-to-day pace. It is at this moment, that the board and staff members have this delicious opportunity not only to listen to each other, but also to the organization’s external stakeholders.

As a consultant who interviews stakeholders about the hopes, fears, views, and visions they have for organizations they care so passionately about, I can tell you this is one of the most powerful tools that exists for moving an organization forward.

There are many powerful outcomes from interviewing stakeholders; here are three. 

Quality Data:

Interviews of stakeholders are recommended in order to scan an organization’s environment to find out what key individuals think about the organization’s performance, priorities, and future. The data these interviews generate is as powerful as the questions posed, the process used in selecting stakeholders, and the consultant conducting the interviews and analyzing the data. When the entire process is done well, the data informs the board planning session and the development of long-term goals and objectives.

Deeper Thinking:

By virtue of being interviewed by an outside consultant, people raise their level of thinking; some will even prepare for their interview. They want to be thoughtful and thorough; they want to share smart ideas which are representative of their best thinking.  As a result, the quality of the feedback they provide in the interviews is generally high. In addition, they often report that they learned a lot from giving the interview, resulting in the internal stakeholders being better prepared going into the board planning session.

Positive Message:

Thirdly, there’s the message your organization communicates when it elects to have its stakeholders (especially its external stakeholders and staff members) interviewed for their opinions. Having interviewed stakeholders, I can tell you that, nearly universally, people appreciate being asked for their views and many even find the process fun; this is so even though the process takes their time (30-60 minutes). In my experience, most are only too happy to give the time.

It is alarmingly rare how often external stakeholders get their voices heard outside of a process like this. In my experience, they want their voices to be heard and, regardless of their level of modesty, believe they have something to offer. So ask! When you do, you will deepen the organizational bond with those stakeholders, raise the quality of the planning conversations, and develop a strategic plan based on the views of your organization’s most valuable players.


Strategic Planning: Starting With the End in Sight

It is through the strategic planning process that the board, in collaboration with the staff, sets the organization’s vision. Without this setting and resetting of the organization’s vision, the organization often finds that it has drifted from its mission, wasted the valuable resources entrusted to it, and failed to meet the real needs of its constituents.

So where to begin? With strategic planning, the end is a great place to start. How does your organization define success? What does success look like? Knowing the definition of success for your organization is essential to writing an effective strategic plan.

I am a big fan of a 2004 article by Stanford researchers Colby, Stone, and Carttar called “Zeroing in On Impact.” In this article, Colby, Stone, and Carttar discuss two concepts: intended impact and theory of change.

Intended impact and theory of change provide a bridge between a nonprofit’s mission and its programmatic activities. Intended impact is a statement or series of statements about what the organization is trying to achieve and will hold itself accountable for within some manageable period of time.  “Zeroing In On Impact” Colby, Stone & Carttar, Stanford Social Innovation Review (2004).

Using this framework, I recommend your board create an intended impact statement that specifies quantifiable outcomes it can realistically achieve within a set time frame (i.e. five years). This process is best accomplished with the assistance of a competent consultant who will facilitate the process. Properly engaging in this process will require your board to prioritize some desired outcomes over others. To be sure, prioritizing and reaching consensus about desired outcomes are not easy tasks. However, if you’re doing this, your board is engaging in the most important board-level work of the planning process.

While trying to create your organization’s intended impact statement, you’ll explore questions such as:

  1. Who are our intended beneficiaries?
  2. What are their primary needs?
  3. What benefits do our programs/services create?
  4. Do the benefits match the needs?
  5. What work won’t we do in the coming year(s)?
  6. If we could create just three measurable changes in our outcomes over the next five years, what would those be?
  7. What work will we take off our plates in order to be more effective?

Once the desired outcomes are prioritized, the staff can more easily prioritize activities and programs based on the degree to which each can contribute to the organization’s desired ends. However, without a set of prioritized outcomes to guide it, an organization can spend a great deal of time, energy, and money on good ideas and well-designed programs and not significantly impact its targeted constituency.

With a well-conceived intended impact statement in place, a strong staff can often engage in critical thinking and planning about theory of change in order to make recommendations back to the board. This involves the staff considering the strategies it has been utilizing to achieve the desired outcomes and whether there might not be more effective ones. The staff is often in the best position to analyze how the organization’s programs might be changed or adjusted in order to more effectively get from resources to impact.

If an organization begins its strategic planning at the end–by defining the most important outcomes it seeks to achieve–it will then truly be able to be strategic with its precious resources, using them to serve its intended beneficiaries in ways that will yield the greatest impact for them and the organization.


January 4, 2010


Going, Going, Goal!

It’s that time of year. Everywhere you turn, people are talking about what they’re resolving to do differently in the new year. It’s a new year and new goals are in order for all aspects of your life, right? Well, not to so fast, I say. Ninety-four percent of people who make new year’s resolutions don’t end up achieving them. It’s because goal-setting is serious business and goal implementation is even more serious.

So how might you maximize your chances of achieving your new year’s resolutions? A healthy dose of realism and some specific, well-proven strategies will help you avoid being a new year’s statistic. Here are ten of my top tips to get you started and keep you on track towards success:

1.  Start with only one personal and one professional resolution/goal. Choose each wisely after scanning all the areas of your life and then prioritizing. Make sure each goal is your own (and not a goal someone else has for you) and is aligned with your core personal values.

2. State each resolution/goal in concrete, positive, motivating language. State each goal as though you’ve already achieved it. (“I am physically fit; my healthy body enables me to perform at my best in business and have an active, adventurous personal life.”)

3. Identify the reasons for each resolution/goal. Once you’ve identified each resolution or goal for 2010, list at least 10 reasons why you want to reach each of these goals. Then ask yourself: Do these reasons seem like compelling reasons? Will these reasons provide me the strong motivation I’ll need to achieve my goal? Compelling reasons (and, might I add, a reward/incentive system!) significantly increase one’s likelihood of achieving a goal. Post the reasons in a place where you’ll be able to review them regularly.

4. With every action or decision, ask yourself one question: Is this going to bring me closer or further away from my goal? My personal goal is to be more physically fit. Which action will bring me closer to my goal: running on my treadmill or laying around in my pajamas all day? When I ask that question, there’s no ambiguity about what my decision should be if I’m serious about achieving my goal. Try it! Of course, if you make a decision that brings you further away from your goal, ask yourself how much you really want to achieve the goal. Review the list of 10 reasons for renewed motivation.

5. Create a plan for each goal and allocate sufficient resources (time, energy, money) to the implementation of the plan. Most change initiatives fail at the implementation state. Create a step-by-step plan with manageable actions you can take to achieve your goal. One step at a time. Make sure it’s logical to you.

6. Visualize yourself achieving your goal. Close your eyes and try to imagine yourself achieving your goal. As I reflect on achieving my goal, I think about questions such as: What would I look and feel like if I were more physically fit? How would I feel in a stronger, healthier body? How might I feel if others noticed a change in my body and commented? How would it feel to have more energy? Utilize this visualization exercise in the beginning and thoughout the process as necessary to sustain your motivation.

7. Don’t go it alone. Share your goal with others. This serves both to create a support system for you and to create pressure on you to achieve your goal (or risk losing face). Find someone who is working on the same or similar goal who will be your accountability partner, pushing you when necessary along the way. Alternatively, create an accountability group. Social networking sites are great ways to find friends and others in your geographic area who are working on the same goal as you.

8. Use images that inspire you. Surround yourself with images that remind you of your achievement of each goal. Perhaps it’s a picture of the reward you’ll provide yourself when you achieve your goal. Or perhaps you might post an image of someone with the focus and commitment to success you seek to emulate. Alternatively, you might post an image of someone who’s already achieved your goal against far greater odds than you might be facing.

9. Reward yourself. Whether you’ve set your goal for a short-term period (i.e. 90 days) or longer, you deserve a reward. And studies show that rewards do work to keep people motivated and moving towards their goals. Some folks incentivize the goal-setting process with betting. They bet their friend (or a third party company) that they will achieve their goal, with cash or a donation to an anticharity on the line. This too, studies show, works to keep people on track. Figure out what most will motivate you across your finish line and set it as your reward. If your goal is longer term, provide yourself rewards along the way.

10. Be patient with yourself. Don’t give up. Achieving your goal, no matter what it is, will take focus and commitment. But if you’ve selected wisely, you’ve set goals around the most important changes you’d like to make in your life and work in 2010. And certainly those are worth making happen!

January 2, 2010


Who’s Best for Your Organization: Superhero or Leader?

You don’t need to turn on Saturday cartoons to find a superhero. Today’s nonprofit organizations are filled with them.  Women and men who, time and time again, accomplish what the rest of us think isn’t possible with the resources at hand.

Webster’s describes a “superhero” as having “extraordinary or superhuman powers.” Nonprofit organizations everywhere are led by extraordinary women and men who work long hours and make great sacrifices for their organizations, staff members, and constituents. Their passion is amazing, their commitment to their causes is without end, and their results are truly superhuman.

But here are some questions I raise for our collective consideration: Is the existing model–one that encourages executive directors (and other staff members) to work at superhuman levels day in and day out–one that is in the best interests of any organization? Can this model be sustained for as long as the organization needs to exist in order to achieve its mission? Are we experiencing a greater number of executive transitions as a result of our use of this model? If so, at what cost?

I’m here to suggest we encourage and support today’s executive directors in cutting back on the “superhuman” part. Human, not superhuman, must be the standard that we as boards of directors and as a society accept–and appreciate–from our executive directors and the nonprofits they lead. This is especially true in times where resources are more scarce. Today, executive directors are commonly asked to do more–not less–on less. Say what? Isn’t this the very definition of superhuman?

In order to achieve the organizational change I suggest, the executive director needs the help of the board of directors. If an organization’s key priorities are to be changed–which priorities ultimately drive the allocation of resources, including staff time–the board must make this happen.  When the board of directors takes a proactive step towards realistically adjusting the organization’s priorities, it will move towards a healthier and more sustainable operating model with a leader, not a superhero, at the helm.

-July 18, 2009


Holding Yourself Accountable

At the close of coaching sessions, I ask clients what they would like to be held accountable for in the coming week. In response, they list those actions they commit to taking before we meet again that will advance them towards their end goal. They set the deadline and they reconfirm that they would like me to hold them accountable.  Though I play an active role in this process, the decisions about accountabiity ultimately rest with the client. This element of coaching–called accountability–is one of the most powerful aspects of the coaching process.

Some clients elect to take on significant responsibility and others less, but each client takes responsibility for doing something before we meet again.  Some clients outline what they will allow me to hold them accountable for out of a sense of obligation to the process and me. Afterall, they’ve signed a coaching agreement which states that they will make a good faith effort to continually work towards the achievement of their goals. Others ask me to hold them accountable because they wish, as Mirriam-Webster puts it “to accept responsibility for [their] actions.” Individuals who begin by acting out of a sense of obligation often transition to acting for themselves–not for me, or out of guilt or duty–after they begin to see the results from their own work.

I sometimes compare the accountability element of coaching to WeightWatchers meetings.  People around the world attend weekly WeightWatchers meetings at which they “weigh in.” These institutionalized check-ins enable people to accomplish goals–both small and life-changing–they haven’t been able to accomplish on their own. Though competition in the weight loss industry is fierce and changes have been plentiful, WeightWatchers continues to offer these weekly meetings. The formula and company have been an overwhelming success for 46 years.

When clients say to me that they will do something, they know that I expect them to do it or to be able to explain the obstacles they encountered in trying to do so. They know that I will support them with resources and, as appropriate, check in on them during the week. I’ll make myself available for a brief “power call” to get them through a tough spot and moving forwards to action. But in the end, I can’t and won’t do the work that is theirs to do. To do so would undermine the entire coaching process.

More often than not, the element of accountability creates action where there was inaction. Like the process of the WeightWatchers “weigh in,” accountability works in coaching because it provides individuals with an opportunity not only to make progress, but also to show it off. In sharing the week’s progress with me, their coach, clients get immediate feedback about their work. This sharing enhances the clients’ ability to see and feel the genuine progress they’re making and more progress that is possible; this makes visible what was invisible and, in doing so, brings forth transformation.


Create Opportunities With Your Attitude

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity –
An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty

~ Winston Churchill

So many of us are being tested these days. Hiring freezes. Layoffs. Careers interrupted. Salary reductions. Big belt tightening. Double income families down to single income. Plans changed. Stress.

With all that’s going on today, it’s easy to have a negative, pessimistic, or fatalistic attitude. It’s easy to think that you just can’t get ahead until the economy turns around. Or until the hiring freeze lifts. Or until your husband gets a new job. Or…. The fact of the matter is that you can start moving forward with your life as soon as you determine to do so. And that’s regardless of the state of the economy. I don’t care what the stock market says or how high the unemployment rate is: if you set your intention on a particular goal, you will achieve it.

That’s because everything you do starts with your state of mind. Your greatest asset is your attitude, if it’s positive, that is. Positive thinking can even make you healthier, according to the Mayo Clinic. The health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:

  • Decreased negative stress
  • Greater resistance to catching the common cold
  • A sense of well-being and improved health
  • Reduced risk of coronary artery disease
  • Easier breathing if you have certain lung diseases, such as emphysema
  • Improved coping ability for women with high-risk pregnancies
  • Better coping skills during hardships

No one understood the power of positive thinking better than Christopher Reeve. He lived it. But we aren’t all models for the example of how Mr. Reeve lived his life. The majority of us wrestle with negative self-talk that sabotages our advancement and growth.

Below is a chart from the Mayo Clinic with (on the left) common negative self-talk and how you might apply a positive thinking twist.

Negative self-talk Positive spin
I’ve never done it before. It’s an opportunity to learn something new.
It’s too complicated. I’ll tackle it from a different angle.
I don’t have the resources. Necessity is the mother of invention.
There’s not enough time. Let’s re-evaluate some priorities.
There’s no way it will work. I can try to make it work.
It’s too radical a change. Let’s take a chance.
No one bothers to communicate with me. I’ll see if I can open the channels of communication.
I’m not going to get any better at this. I’ll give it another try.

If Mr. Reeve were still alive and were here, I’m rather confident he’d remind us that you don’t have to be Superman to rid yourself of the gremlins in your head! It does, however, take daily practice and lots of regular reinforcement. And, of course, a good coach can always help. Whether you’ve decided to stay the course or create change during these challenging times, doing so with your most positive attitude is a key to success!

Suggested Action Items

  1. When a negative thought comes into your head, make a note of it, and send it on its way. The more aware of what you’re saying you are the more control you’ll have over stopping the talk. Tell yourself that you no longer have any use for such thoughts in your life. Remember that they are only thoughts. They are not facts. Repeat: They are only thoughts.
  2. Make a record of your negative self-talk. Once written down, I have options for you. (Of course, you can identify others that feel right for you.) Having reduced the thought to writing, one option is to immediately discard it. In other words, file the negative thought where it belongs. See # 3 for a second option.
  3. Analze the negative self-talk for patterns. After writing a week’s worth of negative self-talk in a special diary or notebook, review it for patterns that might be helpful to you. For example, are you more negative about yourself or others? Would your friends agree with what you’ve said about yourself? Is there objectively, any factual basis for what you’ve said? This process will help you further let go of the negative thoughts and hasten the process of ending the negative self-talk.