An Open Letter to My Fellow Executive Coaches

An Open Letter to My Fellow Executive Coaches


Dear Fellow Executive Coaches,

Today, I would like to discuss what should one do when a coach refers a client to you.

Before we dive into that, however, let me give you my backstory. I spent over three decades as a CEO for nonprofit organizations. Because of my extensive experience as a CEO, I often function as a “coaching consultant,” primarily coaching for professional development. However, when specific issues come up where my client asks for advice, I switch hats and offer the benefit of my training, knowledge, and experience. I serve in a variety of roles including thought partner, sounding board, feedback provider, supporter, and (most of all) a listener.While my approach is unusual

Female hand signing contract

, it provides a compelling opportunity for clients to improve as a leader.

It’s crucial to evaluate progress in the coaching process, to adjust when you need to, and to determine whether coaching is still needed. Sometimes the client (or the coach) needs a change. When it is time, I look to a small list of fellow coaches that I know and trust.

There are some duties involved when taking on a new client. You need to follow ICF best practices, e.g., advising the individual about the ethics in coaching; the role of the coach as different from a mentor, counselor or therapist; clarifying goals, etc. I have several additional requirements for this short list of fellow coaches:

  • They must be trained and certified by accredited institutions approved by the ICF (International Coach Federation.)
  • If they have strong religious beliefs, they never inject them into the coaching sessions unless they identify themselves as religion-based coaches.
  • They must have a stellar reputation for confidentiality.
  • They must also prove trustworthy and respectful.

Most of us also begin a coaching relationship by explaining the process includes some personality assessment, a priceless tool to aid the coaching process. Which brings me to my point, the core of this letter:

Any coach that I refer one of my clients to must be willing to use the assessments he or she has already participated in without insisting that they start from scratch with a whole new battery.

I use the Workplace Big 5 Profile 4.0. Out of the assessments that exist, the Big 5 was the only one that “spoke” to me. That is, it made sense; it didn’t use weird terms; it was non-threatening, non-labeling, and highly researched.

My clients experience the Big 5. Their involvement with it has been extensive. The assessment has become a significant tool in their ongoing journey towards better self- awareness and self-management. Many have told me how helpful it has been. They don’t want to start over with a new tool! What they want is help in how to use the information they’ve learned about themselves.

Many of us are on assessment overdose. That includes me. During my exceptional coaching training from the College of Executive Coaching, I took almost every major assessment out there. However, I would rebel at ever taking another assessment! I’ve been assessed to death.

So, fellow coaches, my message is this: Please ask the new client what assessments they’ve taken and whether they want to build on those or take a new battery to learn more.

Thank you for reading this #OpenLetter. I would love to hear your thoughts.


Judy Nelson, JD, MSW

Executive Leadership Coach

To Hug or Not to Hug in Business?

To Hug or Not to Hug in Business?

I wasn’t born a hugger and did not grow up in a huggy-kissy culture. Dominated by Norwegian immigrants and their families, our town and state are famous for a lack of demonstrative affection (and sense of humor). When it came to hugging in business, I learned as a grown up when it was and when it wasn’t appropriate.

I am happy to say I learned hugging has its time and place. Over the years, I also learned it takes emotional intelligence to know which time and what place.

When it comes to hugging in business, I have three rules:

  1. Know the culture.
  2. Pay attention to the other person’s vibes.
  3. Above all, avoid violating the other’s personal space.

Know the Culture

While mothers hugged children when I was growing up, I remember only one kiss on the cheek between my parents. It wasn’t until I moved to Virginia I learned I lacked a natural tendency to hug. Almost everybody hugged me–including total strangers! It didn’t matter if it was in a social situation or even at the office.

At first, my response was to back up. Eventually, I figured out hugging was the culture and began to hug back (a little). By the time I left Virginia, however, I was a certified hugger. Not deep hugs, you understand and never to total strangers, but a brief, warm show of affection turned out to be fairly painless.

Pay Attention to the Other People’s Vibes

I left Virginia to attend law school in Kansas. By now, I was the one initiating the hugs, and it took me awhile to figure out these folks were backing up! Then, it dawned on me; I was back to more distance and less demonstrative affection. I was in law school in No Hugging, Kansas, three years, and the truth is there wasn’t time or energy leftover for hugging.

Then I moved to Southern California. Here was a culture where many people came from somewhere else, so anything goes. In many situations, it was hugging expected–and lots and lots of air kisses (Defined as lips puckered, leaning towards the other and saying, “mwaaaa!”; also known as the “Hollywood Hello”).

Oh yes, there was plenty of overkill. Too many “mwaaas!” when the air kisser’s roving eyes betrayed that they would have preferred to be with someone more important. In other situations, I could tell right away that hugs were not the order of the day. Instead, a handshake worked just fine. This situation notwithstanding, I was glad to land in a world where demonstrating affection could be okay in some cases. It is a kind of lovely reassurance of our humanness.

Avoid Violating People’s Personal Space

How one touches another in business is, of course, critical. Since individuals and cultures have different unspoken rules about personal space—especially how much comfort there is with physical closeness– caution is always a wise decision.

One of the standard protocols when caring for people in institutions is called the residential hug—off to the side, so there is no torso contact. I employed this hug-type many times in business.

However, not everyone knows the residential hug or even good sense about what is appropriate in business. A guy who hugs too long pulls me too close or lets his hand slip one inch below my waist doesn’t get hugged back. One highly annoying woman that I saw once a week always insisted on hugging me, and then holding me in place while she adjusted something with my collar or my hair or my jewelry. After the fourth or fifth time, I gently took her hands and put them back at her side. “You know,” I said, “I think it’s better if I dress myself, but thanks for your offer to help.” I was a bit concerned I’d offended her, but she took it in her stride, and never adjusted anything on me again.

There you have it, my quick guide on hugging that took me decades to figure out. If you know the culture and read the situation, you are likely to be fine–especially if you employ the workplace friendly residential hug that has little chance of invading personal space.

What are your guidelines for when to hug or not to hug in business?

My Fitness Trainer Is On My Encore Career Team!

gerry logo black sized

I’ve been writing about the fabulous team of people that help make my encore career successful.

Meet Gerry Dziub, My Physical Fitness Trainer and vital member of my Encore Career Team.

Up until now I’ve described the amazing talents of my “virtual” team—the highly skilled people I depend on to keep my business going and thriving—and people I only know online and/or by phone. They include my fabulous Virtual Assistant and thought partner, Kathy Hadzibajric; my talented cartoon buddy, John Junson; my lively, funny and highly skilled copy editor, Terri Lively; my enthusiastic, energetic publishing facilitator, Greg Faxon, and others.

Today I want to write about a non-virtual team member—one that, if the truth be known, I wish I didn’t know and did not need on my team. Sorry for being so blunt.

It’s not that he’s an unkind person or missing talents or hard to get along with. In fact, he’s become a great friend but I would do anything not to meet with him—or ever see him again.

gerry dziub picWho is this team member and why do I keep him on the team if I dislike being around him so much? He’s Gerry Dziub and his small, private workout gym, “Ironworks”, is a mile down the hill from my house. After realizing that if I didn’t sign up for personal training, my chances for serious health problems in my later years would sky rocket, I signed up. That was 13 years ago—and I’ve been dragging my body to this torture chamber twice a week ever since.

The truth? The ONLY reason I go to the gym is that if I don’t, I pay anyway—and he gets his feelings hurt. (Sometimes I blow it off in spite of the hefty penalty.)

I couldn’t ask for any better situation. Gerry turns on my classical music station when I walk in. There’s fruit and water for breaks, hand cleaner, clean towels, excellent equipment—plus he’s very enjoyable company. Now, granted, that I’ve deliberately intimidated him with my height, age, loud voice and whatever else I could muster, so that he doesn’t constantly challenge me (like he does many others) when I’m worn out—or bug me when I arrive late and leave early—frequent occurrences. So folks, it’s the least painful pain I can imagine—plus he’s a college grad, B.A. in Physical Education and teaching. We’ve had some fun, engaging conversations but it’s still a super drag for me to even walk in the door.

What does this have to do with my Encore Career? Well, when I started going to Gerry’s gym, I was employed fulltime as a CEO of a major charity in Southern California. I had driven by multiple times in my daily 3 hour round trip commute and I kept thinking that I really should check it out. Then, I went for a medical appointment and the nurse announced my weight. What, I yelled, “that’s impossible. Weigh me again.” She did. Same result, only ½ pound more.

I signed up at Gerry’s gym the next day without even asking how much.

Then the slogging started. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning I was scheduled to be at the gym at 9:30am. Somehow I always found something I absolutely had to do that made me late. That’s not changed in all these years.

What did change is that I retired early, quit my day job and started my own business—or Encore Career as it’s now called.

Think about what person whose business is phone/computer customers does all day? Sit. Sit. And Sit. Endlessly.

Impact? Not only not good for you but very good for weight gain, stiffening joints and well, you know the story.

So, it was clear that I absolutely had to continue what my doc called “bare minimum” exercise—two hours per week at Gerry’s gym.

And I did, kicking and screaming every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

One day, after I’d been running my business for 6 months, he said something about a problem with a difficult client— no name or details. I listened—maybe for the first time—with total fascination. It sounded like he was talking about two or three of my clients.

Each day, I began asking him questions about how he ran his business—his successes and challenges, joys and sorrows. I learned some very interesting things. The first was that he and I were in essentially the same business: helping people achieve their goals—whether physical, emotional, interpersonal or leadership—i.e, coaching. The more we talked, the more clear it became that we had many similar tools in our coaching toolbox.

While I would rather have avoided the gym completely, I began to see this as a valuable resource. We talked about our frustrations, our celebrations and our dilemmas. We kept discovering how coaching people to become more physically strong and coaching people to become stronger in other areas like management and personal efficacy were so similar.

Leadership Lessons:

I won’t even pretend to say that going to the gym became fun. That would be a bold-faced lie. I still hate it but I still go—at least 90% of the time. But the dread is less because I turned what was a total drag into an opportunity to learn a new perspective—a priceless leadership lesson.

You can become a better leader by becoming a better listener, paying more attention to what is happening around you—how it’s working, how it could have been done better—what you might have done differently.

If I’d been more alert to what I could have learned at the gym, I might even have made better leadership decisions. Or at least, staying fit could have been less of a drag—or even an inspiration.

Crap. Tomorrow’s Tuesday and that means it’s gym day again. Oh, well—maybe I’ll learn something I can blog about!

Finding My Editor Helped Me Achieve My Goals

royal typewriter, 10-29-14

As a writer, I’ve searched for decades for the perfect “editor.” I needed someone willing to take my rough drafts, drastically edit, and give it back to me with honest feedback. I wanted someone who felt comfortable saying things like, “I’d file this for a while,” or, “This is good, but needs work,” or, “Love this! With a few edge trimmings, it’s ready to go!”

I have worked with many folks who edit over the years. The best was a woman who was my Director of Development in a charity where I was the director 30 years ago. Her job was to raise money, but she had a master’s and a mind like a steel trap. She was also fearless. Once she figured out that I meant it when I said, “You can’t hurt my feelings,” she took after my sloppy first drafts with a meat axe—even though technically I was her boss. Chop, slash, cut was her first draft response. Then, with a relatively new product in hand, I could sit down and edit it to its final state without dying of boredom.

However, development directors are supposed to raise money, not edit the CEO’s meanderings. They also come and go. This one left after five years for an opportunity I couldn’t give her, and for months I was bereft. No one within miles had the patience, talent, or courage to handle my undisciplined but creative writing. Moreover, I had more personal writing projects I wanted to do…just no partner.

Then, 20 years ago I found another editor who agreed to edit personal essays and stories that I wrote. Some of these essays were written to handle enormous grief. Others, well, frankly, were rants about the evils in society, my life or backyard. Good as she was, however, she mostly made corrections in grammar, punctuation, typos and the like, with occasional suggestions for how I might rewrite a paragraph or a page.

I didn’t want suggestions. I wanted someone who understood me enough to do a total rewrite. I wanted someone to make sense of my useful thoughts, throw out the others and organize the remaining words into a rational whole. I continued to search for that right editor for my work; someone who was extremely bright, incredibly creative, unbelievably courageous, whose writing skills were as good as mine, and whose editing skills were out of the park. I began to wonder if this type of editor even existed.

They Do Exist

I learned they did exist. I know exactly the moment it happened. I was doing my usual flip through the posts on one of my social media sites when I had to stop and backup. Something grabbed at my eyeballs. It was this image and this headline:

Green Eggs and Ham: The Only Sales Manual You’ll Ever Need

The author? Terri Lively who describes herself as a Ghostwriter and Author. Her tagline? Lively copy starts with Lively Copywriting.

I liked her even before I finished reading the spunky, sprightly and creative post. Here was a talented professional who shared my love of writing, of organizational challenges, and of the absurd. The photo showing her warm, caring smile just put frosting on the cake I was baking in my head.

My impulsiveness paid off. I dashed off an email saying I’d like to chat…and chat we did, barely allowing the other to take a breath. I could feel her energy, her creativity, and her humor even though she was calling from over 200 miles away.

“What exactly do you do?” I asked.

“I’m a freelance copywriter and a ghostwriter,” she said.

Truthfully, that answer left me a little baffled. What does that mean? Undaunted, however, I asked Terri if she’d be willing to take a look at some of the writing I have done and take a crack at some edits. I neglected to tell her that I had about 100,000 words or more in my archives just itching for someone’s magic editing skills.

The first piece she sent back made my jaw drop. Terri did exactly what I was hoping she would do, but didn’t really believe that anyone could or would. She took out what didn’t work, saved and elaborated on what did. She suggested better titles and rearranged my erratic thoughts into a rational, engaging and fun-to-read whole. I held my breath as I sent a second piece. There was a repeat performance.

After that second success, I had the courage to show Terri a good part of what I had waiting in the wings of countless articles on countless subjects. She not only suggested an EBook on Intentional Leadership but also said that she knew a publisher who would be interested. The publisher was interested, but wanted to see at least 45 to 50,000 words. When I sent her everything I could find that I’d written on leadership, teamwork, etc., we were at 33,799 words.

Over the next month or two, the challenge of producing more words on leadership propelled me into writing a minimum of 1,000 words a day, every day. When I finish what for me is a basic brain dump, I forward the copy to Terri. Within minutes, an email comes back saying, “Got it! I put it on the schedule.”

Soon, an email comes back with incredible edits. I get the ultimate: a brilliant, courageous editor and virtually instantaneous, honest feedback. How cool is that? In writing this post, I checked out her blog and then discovered her website. They are delightful and even more affirming of the kindred spiritedness I feel between us.

That was three months ago. I have now sent her countless drafts, edits, reedits, and more re-edits. I’ve had four articles published on national websites, including and, with more in the works. I’m now regularly publishing on LinkedIn, Facebook, and my blog, goals I’ve had for ten years but could never achieve. I’m building my followers, my readers, and my likes. Most importantly, I am having a ball.

My Virtual Assistant Is Always By My Side–From Across the Country!


Cartoon by Judy Nelson with Virtual Cartoon Partner, John Junson

When I launched my coaching business, I wasn’t looking for a team. I didn’t know I needed one. I knew I might have some stress about things like billing, taxes, etc., but until I started, I had no clue just how much help I would need. To make this venture fun, profitable and worth doing, I needed an assistant. Enter Kathy Hadzibaijric.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning for the last six years, my executive assistant, Kathy and I spend an hour and a half focusing on the projects we work on together. The work she does depends on the needs of my business as a coach, public speaker, leadership trainer, and author—as well as the duties of a wife, mother, and grandmother.

What I didn’t tell you is that I’ve only seen Kathy in person once over these six years. All of our work is by phone and computer. Kathy is a Virtual Assistant, a growing field of talented people skilled in providing business support services, but who prefer to work at home. Most executives never meet their V.A.s but find, as I have, it would be next to impossible to run a business without them.

How did I find Kathy? Partly by total accident. We met when I sat next to her at a meeting with 800 other professionals in Baltimore. The speaker introduced her to the audience.

“I live in New York,” said the speaker. “Kathy lives in Florida and she assists me virtually by phone, fax and computer with preparing for conferences like these. She is one of 3 V.A.’s on my virtual team.”

This sounded too good to be true. A full complement of business support services for projects and business development with flexible hours based on my needs? No pay for breaks, vacations, sick time? No costs normally associated with an administrative assistant such as computers, phone, electricity or rent? And all of that for a reasonable fee?

Kathy takes care of my administrative matters. From invoicing to tracking deadlines, ordering supplies, and managing my schedule. She drafts correspondence for me. She designed and maintains my website, my blog, and at least once a week, fixes something I’ve messed up on my computer. When it’s time for a presentation, she becomes my thinking partner, not only producing PowerPoint presentations, but also rehearsing with me as the drafts take shape.

To my great fortune, Kathy is also a skilled travel agent. She manages all of my travel needs. She’s also helped me track children’s, grandchildren’s, and great grand children’s birthdays, ordering gifts and sending cards.

Here’s a list of her services from her website:

  • Infusionsoft Strategy, Training and Implementation 
Marketing Campaign strategies and development, Data Transition services from other systems, Setup of Ecommerce, Affiliates, Templates. Training on effective use of Infusionsoft.
  • Technology and Online Marketing Consulting 
Autoresponder and shopping cart setup and management, website maintenance, audio editing and posting, online video marketing
  • Social Media Management 
Set up of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn accounts and management of posts, Blog setup, management and support, YouTube setup and video editing and posting
  • Information and Data Processing
, Contact management, transitions of contact data between online marketing systems.
  • Travel Services 
Research on destinations, travel arrangements, group bookings

Without Kathy figuratively by my side, I could not have a successful business. You see, I have nearly all the traits good leaders need, such as resilience, extraversion, creativity, and assertiveness. It’s the fifth trait, however, that is my greatest challenge: Organization. I am not naturally focused, organized or a planner. I can do those things, but the time and energy it takes is daunting, stressful, and even painful. Organizing detracts from the energizing and creative things I prefer to do.

Kathy sells me “focused time”. She keeps me on task. We accomplish more together in one session that alone might take me two to three days. I’ve given her permission to ride hard on my creative mental and verbal wanderings during our sessions. She does, always using her delightful personality and sense of humor. That is not to say that all we do is pure work. I frequently have new hardware or software that I’m trying to learn. Occasionally we’ll play with it together, learning as we go. In addition, since I am alone in my home office six days a week and many nights, Kathy provides a friendship and companionship. We keep learning more about how the other thinks and how we are both stronger in our roles because of the other. Our personalities, talents, and joys are complimentary. What’s great, we can both avoid commuting, office expenses or even getting fully dressed. We use Skype’s screen sharing function but rarely use the video capacity!

I have a philosophy for working with people: find their talents, play to what challenges and energizes them, compensate them fairly, value them and give the work they don’t like to someone else! There are areas where neither of us has expertise. I’ve brought on other virtual team members to address specialty needs such as branding and publishing. We now have the greatest team anywhere—virtual or real.

Kathy’s motto for her business is “Above and Beyond” and does she ever do that and more! She provides me “with a long-term partner in the success of my business” and so much more. Kathy will always be at the core of why I have a successful business—and have never been happier or more fulfilled.

Thank you, Kathy! You are the best!

Open Letter To My Technology

computer lady head sm

Dear iMac, HP TouchSmart, MacBook Pro, HPEnvy,* HP Pavilion, my original Mac from 1984, iPads 2, 4 and 5; iPhones 4 and 5; Acer and HP monitors, all PCs in my various offices over the years; and countless routers,

RE: Our working relationship

My friends, and I do hope we’re friends actually, it’s time we all had a talk.

Why? Because if I have my way, we’re going to continue to spend a great deal of time together for the next many years—and we HAVE to get along. You see, I have a full-time business in my home that I plan to continue until at least 2025 and, among other jobs, I am the CEO, the CFO and the IT Director.

If I were to tell you the total truth at the moment, things are not going well to say the least. Frankly, there have always been some big problems.

Oh, I’m not saying I could ever do without you. That’s not even on the table here because I can’t. What I am saying, however, is that you don’t seem to understand your role, or the fact that you and I are not equals.

Let me explain. You see I own you. I bought you to make my life easier and more efficient not to frustrate the socks off me. So for starters do not ever send me another message telling me I can’t do something and to check with my System Administrator. Ever. I AM the System Administrator. In the future, work this out yourself, between you, among you…just do it. Don’t ask me for another friggin’ password.

Now, there are a few other things that we need to get straight between us. I don’t care, Mac and PC, whether you like each other or whether you choose to be compatible. GET OVER IT! Either you will be compatible, or you will be replaced.

You know, Mac, I was among the first in line when you came out in that funny little box in the 1980’s—and, in case you’ve forgotten, we had a great love affair. You seemed to speak to my soul. However, I did replace you 10 years later when you wouldn’t cooperate with my office computer system. I abandoned you and switched to PC. However, I apologize and FYI…I never fully let you go. In fact, I kept that iBook to play with if you remember.

Now I’m back. My 27’ iMac is my main computer, the impetus for which was that HP Pavilion you crashed and burned, again! Then I bought another PC, this one with Windows 8. I love anything innovative except when it doesn’t work. I can’t even begin to say how frustrating that system was. No, thank you! So PC as you can see, I also abandoned you as my primary computer but I am open to negotiation.

The fact is that I like it back in your arms, Mac. That is not to say, however that it is not without its frustrations either. For example, Office for Mac is…well, less than wonderful.

Although in all fairness to Mac I‘ve heard that Microsoft is responsible for this, intentionally under-delivering to get us to switch back to PC. Microsoft, this is not going to work. Slowly, I’m relearning how to get along with Mac’s Pages, Keypoint, etc. While they are all missing something, Pages and Keypoint also have several advantages over Word and PowerPoint.

So here’s a classic issue unrelated to brands. I live in a very long house. I have great WiFi coverage from Verizon, but even Verizon can’t reach over 100 feet upstairs and downstairs. To compensate, I bought an excellent router. What’s the problem? I can’t recall the password, even though I try to use the same one every time—which, of course, will land me in debtor’s prison if (or when) I get hacked.

But there’s more. Why in the world can’t I connect my iMac with my new Macbook Pro? Because I can’t remember the password. Come on, guys! Remember who bought you? You are getting dangerously close to being shut down and replaced.

So I ask you, technology, who can make sense of this nonsense?

I suppose I owe you an apology if you were hoping for a more positive and supportive letter. Sorry. But you need to take a hard look at what you are doing, how you are doing it—and especially, who your audience is. If you want me to stay a member of your audience, get it together!

Thank you for listening.



(*Whoever thought of that name?)