Three Lessons from Junior High School Students


Three Lessons from Junior High School Students

My son is nearing the end of Grade 9.  His junior high school years are coming to a close and soon he and his friends will disperse into a variety of high schools in our city.

I’m a big fan of this generation.  It seems a societal convention is to complain about teenagers, but I find I am constantly learning from them.

If you have young people in your life, too, perhaps you can relate to seeing their strengths: their awareness of global issues, their appreciation of diversity, and their ability to make a positive difference.

I’ve had the good fortune to volunteer with my son’s class this year and have attended a number of school events.  It doesn’t take much observation to glean wisdom from these students…


Go As Far As You Can See


Go As Far As You Can See

“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you'll be able to see further.”

Thomas Carlyle

This is one of my all-time favourite quotes, and never has it been more pertinent for me than the past 18 months writing a book.

When I started the Changemaker’s Project in 2011, I didn’t know it would become a book.  As far as I could see back then was interviewing as many successful changemakers as my schedule would allow.  When I presented my project’s findings at a global conference in August 2017, I received encouragement to write a book and publish the research. That sounded great and exciting and a logical next step, but I did not know how to write a book.  As far as I could see was to just get ‘bum in seat’ and start typing…

Photo by Mariano Colombotto on Unsplash


Why I Love the Olympics


Why I Love the Olympics

The Olympics are a big deal in our house. Every two years we scramble to figure out the time zone differences and when the events will be aired; we monitor the medal standings daily; and when the Olympic venue is on the other side of the world – as it is this year – we wake up and check the news for what happened with our athletes overnight...



Decide You Are Great

The first person I encountered at a recent holiday party was my friend and colleague, Andy Kinmonth. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and when I asked him how he was, he replied, “I’m great!” He asked about me and I replied with a much less enthusiastic, “I’m okay” and then I proceeded to tell him about some of my burdens and troubles.

Happy Holidays!

Andy listened intently and compassionately as he always does, and then he told me that he, too, could point to the things in his life that weren’t going so well, including serious health concerns with family members. And then he said that even though those things are happening, he has decided that he’s great.

I’ve thought a lot about that conversation, and how much I can learn from it. Andy is a wise man and I learn from him all the time, but this lesson hit hard. It’s not that life for me has been terrible of late – not at all. I am blessed with a beautiful family, warm home, enough food, meaningful work, and the list goes on. And I’ve also experienced some setbacks in the past few months and they’ve brought me down.

Now, I’m a positive person in general; I naturally find the good news even in negative situations, and I’m optimistic about the future (some would argue unrealistically so). So where along the way did I forget that I can choose my response to the situation around me? That’s what my conversation with Andy reminded me: that there is actually space between what happens to us and how we react to it. Sometimes we forget that, but we do have a choice. (If this sounds familiar, it may be because you recognize it as Stephen Covey’s Habit 1: Be Proactive, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He’s even got a diagram in there of stimulus --> freedom to choose --> response.)

To be clear, it’s not about denying or avoiding negative feelings; we’re human, we experience a wide range of emotions, and we ought to feel them. Rather, what Andy reminded me is that I don’t have to unpack and live in the negativity; I can choose a different response. (I also recognize that for people with depression or other mental illness, the choice may not be as apparent and sometimes help is needed to get back on track.)

The tradition in my family since I can remember is to end each year with each person sharing their “Highs and Lows”. (Years ago my sister-in-law recommended that we also look forward and share our hopes for the New Year, which has been a welcome addition.) It seems that every time we do this the Highs outnumber the Lows. Of course we always acknowledge the Lows thoughtfully, and the Highs are shared with smiles and excitement, storytelling and reminiscing.

I don’t know exactly what I’ll share in the coming week, but I do know that I have more Highs than Lows, and that one of my aims for 2018 is to do a better job of remembering that.

May you enjoy a wonderful Christmas and holiday season.

And when you take stock of 2017, I hope you find many happy memories to savor.

My warmest wishes for a healthy and rewarding New Year.



Are you a lone wolf or a collaborator?

9 Things I Learned About Moving from Lone Wolf to Collaborator


I’m not a natural collaborator.  When I develop something new, my default is to go it alone. I don’t like to impose on others for help. It seems like a lot of work to ask for input, arrange discussions, and synthesize all the feedback. And, if I’m honest, I’ve had a long-held belief that it’s weak to ask for assistance; I’m competent and capable and can do it on my own.

It was with this attitude that I began a research project a few years ago. I was curious to learn more about people who are successfully changing the world–or their piece of the world. I refer to them as change-makers, and I wanted to know what they have in common. To date, I have interviewed nearly 50 successful change-makers, and each interview was like attending a master class on how to be a better human.

Over a dozen themes emerged from that research; it was actually startling how similar the mindsets were of this diverse group of interviewees. One clear similarity is that successful change-makers actively seek to collaborate. For some, it means partnering with other people in an official capacity, and for other change-makers, it means asking for help from trusted colleagues.

So, when it came time for me to start making sense of my research data, I fought the impulse to do it myself and followed the changemakers’ advice: I engaged a small team of trusted allies to help me. I hired a new coach who specializes in being a thought partner, I spoke with friends, and I asked specific questions of colleagues to elicit their input.

Here’s what I learned from collaborating (and these are all the reasons why I’d do it again):

  1. People are incredibly willing to help. Whether I raised the topic informally over dinner or set up specific meetings and provided advance questions, my trusted allies were all willing to thoughtfully engage in conversation (even coming prepared with written notes).
  2. People enjoy helping. My trusted allies told me that they really enjoyed the conversations and that they’d be eager to engage in further discussions. Now I don’t intend to abuse their goodwill, but I was recently reminded that “by receiving we reveal to the givers that they have gifts to offer” (from “The Importance of Receiving” by Henri J.M. Nouwen).
  3. It’s more fun. Collaborating with others included brainy discussions, healthy debates, and lots of laughter. I don’t get those when I work alone.
  4. The end result is better. When more brain power is devoted to developing a topic, the topic becomes more refined, as it is subjected to increased rigour and filtered through multiple perspectives.
  5. It’s surprisingly affirming. I didn’t expect to feel validated through this process of inviting input and feedback, but I do. To listen as my ideas were given serious consideration and were built upon made me feel as though my thinking is worth something.
  6. I got clearer, earlier. In order to ask for help, I had to do advance thinking—about my thinking. What ARE my top three ideas? What do I specifically want help with? What am I looking for as outcomes from our discussions? My own creative process became more efficient.
  7. It’s good for my brain. My trusted allies are brilliant people. I found myself being challenged to keep up with their thinking, the connections they were making, and how they kept building upon the existing conversation. It was like another master class, and I loved it.
  8. I have more confidence and less doubt. Instead of feeling weak and ashamed for asking for help, I feel much more confident in my next steps. I remember some of the earlier programs I developed in isolation and how unsure I was whether I had something good on my hands. Of course I don’t know if this next work will be a success, but I am a lot more optimistic about its chances, thanks to the vetting of my trusted allies.
  9. The possibilities are endless. When I work alone, I have one way of thinking, and it can get pretty narrow. When I involve others, the conversations are generative, and the only limitation seems to be how much time we have for the discussion. I have so many more ideas to build on now, and I’m excited by how expansive that feels.

So what about you?

  • Where would you place yourself on a continuum from lone wolf to collaborator?
  • What have you learned about this current position? How is it serving you?  How is it holding you back?
  • Where are you curious to explore on the continuum?
  • What is one thing you can do this week to make even a slight shift?

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Join Kara at ICF Converge 2017, where she will be presenting the session “Lessons Learned from Those Who are Changing the World” on Friday, August 25.

ICF Converge 2017: The Intersection of Coaching & Potential is ICF’s first global event since 2012. It is taking place August 24-26, 2017 in Washington, D.C., USA at the Washington Marriot Wardman Park.

Connect with the conversation on Facebook and with the event hashtag #ICFConverge.

Kara Exner has a passion for developing potential in others. She has over 20 years of management and training experience, and has been working as a professional coach since 2005. Kara coaches leaders on both personal and professional goals, works with teams to help them operate more effectively together, and facilitates training that teaches leaders to be more coach-like in their approach. Kara is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute and she has earned the credential of Professional Certified Coach from the International Coach Federation. She has a master’s degree in adult and continuing education and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Saskatchewan. Serving in volunteer roles is important to Kara: She served a three-year term (2012-2014) on the ICF Global Board of Directors, and she currently serves on the board of directors for the Alumni Association of the University of Saskatchewan. 

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

This article appeared on the ICF Blog, you can see the original post here.