The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘coaching

As a coach, I have found that the number one thing that stops most people from pursuing their deepest and most meaningful heart’s desire is fear. Fear comes in a variety of forms, shapes and personas including ‘what will they think’, ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I’ll never make money doing what I love’, ‘I need more credentials’, and ‘what if they don’t like what I create’, etc.

None of us are immune from feeling fear, especially when we’re moving outside out comfort zone. The danger is that fear with its tricky (and sometimes believable) tunes of gloom will get the best of us and immobilize us for far too long. I’ve had my own run-ins with fear over the years. What follows below is an impromptu ‘talking back’ that I recently gave to fear.

When you’re in the grip of a fear attack, it might be fun to write a poem/letter/manifesto to your fear and finish the lines ‘I’ve lived through….’



I am looking you, FEAR, straight in the eye
How dare you try to intimidate me!
Do you know what I’ve lived through?

I’ve lived through being a battered woman’s child
I’ve lived through being an abused young woman
I’ve lived through poverty
I’ve lived through being almost homeless
I’ve lived through discrimination
I’ve through academe
I’ve lived through the vagaries of a creative life

What else do you think you can do to ME?

How dare you sit there!

How dare you, FEAR!

How DARE you, FEAR!

So what if they laugh? I’m supposed to be worried if the unspecified THEY laugh?

What do you mean?

THEY have laughed before, so I imagine that they’ll laugh again

How dare you trying to make me afraid!

for asking for more
for wanting more
for trying more
for talking more
for being seen more
for saying I deserve more
for desiring more

How are dare you, FEAR!

Here’s what I want you to know, FEAR

Your days are numbered

I’m cleaning house in 2014

You better get in line

Or, I will strip you down into the dysfunctional four letter thing that you are

And EAT you!



Everyone interested in leadership at my university told me that I needed to meet Rob Kramer. Rob is a well-known coach and facilitator. He co-facilitates a semester long academic leadership program that I attended in 2009. I also heard that he was a yoga practitioner and brought mindfulness practice into conversations about leadership. My interest was piqued. Last November I had the good fortune to sit in on a workshop, for academic leaders, that Rob facilitated. That was the first time I heard Rob’s term ‘stealth coaching’. Stealth coaching is about teaching people a process to have effective informal, everyday conversations that can be utilized in almost any context when a potential ‘coachee’ has a situation in which more than one solution is possible.

It was a great workshop and I was excited that Rob was making the elements of coaching more accessible. Recently, I got to meet Rob for lunch. By twenty minutes in, it was clear that we have mutual interests including mindfulness practice, yoga and a deep commitment to making the academy a more humane and effective place. With an MFA in theatre and an MA in psychology, he brings a multi-layered and creative approach to coaching and leadership work, as I do.


Rob has a long history in the field of coaching through his company Kramer Leadership, LLC. Since 1998, Kramer Leadership, LLC has provided executive coaching, consulting and business training for a variety of organizations including private corporations, Fortune 500 companies, non-profit and health care environments, government agencies and educational institutions. His company has consulted with organizations in the U.S., Europe, Central and South America, and Africa.  Clients include CEOs, executives in public and private sectors, higher education senior leadership and faculty, political appointees in the federal government, entrepreneurs and front line managers.

I’m happy to welcome Rob to ‘The Practice of Creativity’ to discuss his new book, Stealth Coaching: Everyday Conversations for Extraordinary Results.


Tell us about your new book, Stealth Coaching. What sparked your interest in writing this book?533918_521408921249863_614250394_a

Stealth Coaching was written as an easily accessible tool for leaders to begin incorporating coaching skills into their everyday conversations. Coaching can be tremendously helpful for developing others’ potential. Time is a common complaint leaders have, and Stealth Coaching provides easily digestible strategies to incorporate into their everyday routines. I was inspired to write the book after teaching coaching skills to executives and managers for 10 years. In looking for books to recommend on the topic, most had good pieces imbedded in lots of theory. So I wrote a book that cut to the chase. 

What called you into the field of coaching?

Having been a manager myself for fifteen years, a receiver of coaching (still work with a coach to this day), and a utilizer of coaching, I found no other tool that creates more sustained change for people than coaching. It is a remarkable process to unleash one’s potential, broaden and strengthen problem solving acumen, and develop as humans and as leaders. 

-How can someone practice ‘stealth coaching’ with a peer in a work environment?

With peers it can be an easier place to start, as there tends to be no power or positional differential that may inhibit the field of practice. My suggestion is to approach a trusted colleague, explain the nature of the request, and create a set of clarified expectations about how the coaching relationship will work. Oh, and maybe read my book before you start!

-Let’s imagine that you were hosting a magnificent dinner party and got to invite three of the world’s top coaches. Who would you choose and why?

Marshall Goldsmith. He is a highly sought after practitioner in the field of executive coaching, as well as a successful author. What many people don’t know is that he is a Buddhist, which brings a fascinating lens to this work.

Julio Olalla, Founder of Newfield Network, an international coach training organization. Their mission sums it up for me: “to generate and nurture reflection and learning spaces that facilitate the emergence of a new conception of knowledge and experience of knowledge allowing us a good life in a planet that is socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually fulfilling.”

Dean Smith, former men’s basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. Dean represents, to me, superior excellence in coaching through a different metaphor – sports. His former players love and respect him; his philosophy is tough but supportive, soft spoken yet grounded; and he has exceedingly high integrity and trust. He is a model for true authentic leadership.

Besides promoting your current book, what’s next for you?

I am writing a recurring column for ADVANCE healthcare magazine, and formulating the topics for my next book.  I am traveling a lot these days for work, but look forward to a tropical getaway with my partner soon. 

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Write about topics for which you feel passionate. Otherwise you risk faking it or writing with a false voice. 


Rob Kramer  has worked for more than ten years in academia.  As the director of Training & Development at the University of North Carolina (UNC), he provided executive coaching and organizational development consulting, overseeing management, supervisory and leadership development curriculum for the University’s 12,000 faculty and staff. Additionally, he served as the founding director of the Center for Leadership & Organizational Excellence at NC A&T State University. He continues working in faculty leadership development at UNC’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities.

In his teaching and consulting, Rob brings a well-rounded, holistic approach to systems and leadership work, having studied with experts such as Meg Wheatley, Barry Oshry, Fred Kaufman, Peter Senge and Juanita Brown. Rob’s background is also steeped in his experience working at the Omega Institute, where he learned from the likes of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ram Dass, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, Babatunde Olatunji, Glenn Black, Bhante Wimala and others. He is a seasoned practitioner in meditation, yoga, cycling, performing art, healthy cooking and work/life balance.

Rob received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Delaware, his Masters degree from the University of North Carolina, and completed his studies in Organizational Development through UNC-Charlotte. Concentrating on Social Psychology, Rob’s primary focus was examining group behavior, dynamics and interaction.  He is a certified coach through the International Coach Federation (ICF).

Rob is an adjunct faculty member for the Federal Executive Institute, the premiere executive leadership training facility for the Federal government, where he teaches in both the residential and customized programs. He has lectured at Yale University, the University of Virginia, Duke University, NC State University, and the University of Colorado, among other academic institutions. He has served as a board member for “Chief Learning Officer” magazine’s Business Intelligence Board, and is a member of the International Coach Federation, the Organization Development Network, and the International Leadership Association.

Find out more about Rob and purchase his book here.


Why is it so easy to believe the awful and never believe the good?

—Carolyn See

The use of affirmations has come a long way. An affirmation is a short, simple, positive declarative phrase that as Eric Maisel says, in Coaching The Artist Within, “you say to yourself because you want to think a certain way…or because you want to aim yourself in a positive direction.” You can use them as ‘thought substitutes’ to dispute self-injurious thoughts (as a cognitive behavioral approach), or to provide incentive and encouragement when those seem to be in short supply. Now that many psychologists, mental health workers and coaches advocate the use of affirmations, they’ve become respectable. Gone are the days that affirmations made you think of Shirley MacLaine, flouncy scarves, and quartz crystals. (Though for the record, I’ve liked each of the above at different times in my life.)

Writers can benefit from using affirmations as our inner critics, judges, and evaluators are often uninvited guests during our writing sessions. Carolyn See is one of the few writers who writes about using affirmations, saying that they make “a nice counterpart to the other wretched noise that gets turned up in your brain when you write, or even think about writing: “Look at Mr. Big Man!” (in Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers)

She uses them to defeat the din of naysayers and to help her students think differently about their writing challenges. Here I’m quoting from two different passages in Making a Literary Life:

“Everybody’s seen it: nobody wants it,” my own very sweet editor said to me about the (then nonexistent) paperback of my memoir, Dreaming. “Everybody’s seen it; nobody wants it.” Yikes! Ow! The pain! It’s a good thing I remembered that I deserve the very best and now is the time for it” and thus got up the courage to call a friend of mine at a university press. The paperback is still in print, doing very nicely, thank God.”

I can’t tell you how many times my writing students have said to me, “I can’t do dialogue.” Or, “I have so much trouble with plot!” Or, “I don’t know what to put into this story and what to cut. I can’t seem to figure out what’s important.”

I say to them, “How about if you could do dialogue?” Or, “You have the perfect plot, right there in your brain.” Or, “You’re a perfect editor; you just don’t know it yet.”

They don’t buy it; they can’t buy it. So I suggest they say, out loud, in the car, at home, “Up until now, I couldn’t do dialogue, but now I love it I can’t wait to type in those quotation marks and see what my characters have to say!” And, “Up until now, I had some trouble with plot, but now it’s my greatest strength. I’m a fiend for plot.” And, “My natural good taste and fine subconscious mind naturally know what to put in and what to cut out of a story.”

Using affirmations about writing (and creativity) have helped me over the years. I sometimes write a few affirmations as a warm-up to a writing session.  I also keep a few posted in key places in my home office. I’m currently reviewing some of my stock ones and seeing if I want to keep them for 2013.

What’s your experience with using affirmations to support your writing? Do you already use affirmations? Do you write them down and/or say them aloud? I’d love to hear what has worked for you.

If not, can you use some affirmations for your writing life for 2013?

I’ve provided some affirmations below culled from Julia Cameron, Eric Maisel, Carolyn See and myself:

My heart is a garden for creative ideas.

My ideas come faster than I can write, and they’re all good ideas.

Revising is the best part of writing.

My writing dreams are worthy ones.

Anxiety comes with the territory. I can manage and even embrace my anxiety.

If I grow quiet, the writing will happen.

To write is to improvise. I will become jazz.

My creative work is highly valued.

I trust my resources.

I honor my writing by keeping the right words and setting the rest free for another day.

For books that combine writing prompts with affirmations, see Susan Shaughnessy’s Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers. Julia Cameron’s Heart Steps (Prayers and Declarations for a Creative Life) is a small but potent book that comforts and uplifts.

Photo Credit: Belinda Witzenhausen (see her site for more great photos of writing affirmations)

It’s six weeks into the year and we might feel that our creative impulses are in deep freeze and that we’ve lost focus. It’s the time that we look incredulously at our lofty goals, resolutions and intentions that were drawn up with such enthusiasm in late December where everything seemed doable and delightful.

It’s usually in February that I get a flood of calls requesting coaching. A client begins by saying, “Help, it’s FEBRUARY and I’m way off track on my goals. I’m stuck and I don’t know what’s happened. I don’t feel like doing anything.”

We tend to lose focus and steam in February. Why? In February, we’re still catching up from the effects of the lack of rest and overindulgence (due to holiday frolicking), a possible cold, and the challenges of winter. Also, a sense of the mundane has had an opportunity to settle back into our lives. The mundane voice says to us: Who cares that you want to get your novel done by August? Taking a big step to set up that non-profit organization that you want can wait until June, can’t it? Why did you think you could teach yourself how to write a screenplay, anyway?

Although we dream of spring with its promise of renewal, we surely can’t put our creative projects on hold until then, can we? What can we do?

February is a great month to stock your creativity comfort kit. What is a creativity comfort kit? It’s the 2-3 essential items that you stock somewhere (drawer, gym bag, altar, etc), that are mood shifters, dream re-vivifiers and self-love boosters. You use the kit as a jumpstart for your creative engine. Your creativity comfort kit’s goal is to literally and symbolically remind you of the following:

1) Creativity ebbs and flows, but we must still make a daily or weekly contribution, so that we do not become too distant from its rhythm.
2) We must ‘create in the middle of things’, because that is the nature of being alive. If we wait for the perfect mood or ideal time, we will not fully develop our creative life and become resentful of our everyday lives. And, if we view creativity as a type of practice, then perfect moods or perfect timing is less important than consistency and connection to our creative impulses.
3) Self-affection and self-affirmation support our creative efforts.

My creativity comfort kit contains: 1 audiotape of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ The Creative Fire and 1 audiotape of Estes’ Women Who Run With The Wolves (abridged), a doodle pad with markers, several sheets of positive statements about myself and my creative work (commonly called affirmations).

For me, listening to the soothing voice of Estes, a master storyteller, transports me from the mundane world back into the inner world of ideas and imagination. In winter, we want food and décor that soothes and comforts. During winter, our creative lives need symbolic soothing and comforting as well.

Tip: Spend a few minutes journaling what items you might stock in your creative comfort kit. You might have everything already at hand and just need to gather the items together in one place.

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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