Category Archives:In Practice

Empowering Through Empathy

Empathic Empowerment:  Feeding the Wolf

A Cherokee elder sat with his young grandson and explained “Son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all.  One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, despair, resentment, falsehood, ego and individualism.  The other is good.  It is compassion, understanding, love, kindness and community.”

The child thoughtfully considered his grandfather’s words before asking: “Grandfather, which wolf wins the battle?” to which the elder replied:  “The one we feed.”

Self Absorption & Empathetic Awareness

In “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships,” Emotional Intelligence guru Daniel Goleman writes:

Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathyWhen we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large.  But when we focus on others, our world expands…we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”

Empathy is that quality that allows us to walk in another’s shoes. It allows us not only to understand intellectually what they experience in their own circumstances and on their own terms; it allows us to feel what they are feeling as result of those circumstances.  Empathy differs from sympathy in that it is more than an extension of understanding toward another.

Where sympathy is feeling for, empathy is feeling with.  It imports an element of caring derived from our personal, emotional identification with another’s emotional experience.

Who among us hasn’t at least overheard the categorical claim that lawyers as a group are a self-absorbed lot?  If you’ve heard this– perhaps even leveled at yourself– you might ask: what does my practice style lend or take away from this perceptionWhy should I care?

The Sum of The PartsEmotions

Mr. Goleman explains the 3 varieties of empathy that presumably come together to form an empathetic whole.

Cognitive empathy” allows us to understand what another is thinking; the quality assists in functions like debate or negotiation, a lawyer’s stock in trade.

Emotional empathy” permits us to feel the emotions of another. This quality involves a neural dynamic in which we mirror the emotions, movements or intentions we observe in another.  This lets us feel with the other person– but not necessarily feel for them— a prerequisite for compassion.

“Compassionate empathy,” or “empathetic concern,” allows us not only to understand another’s plight and feel it along with them; but, as a response, we are moved to adopt their struggle as our own and to provide what care and assistance we are able.

Here, I’ll call one’s ability to understand, harness, and make effective use of these separate elements of empathy one’s “empathetic intelligence.”  Maybe one day, I’ll parlay this concept into a separate literary and business career!

bigstock-Judge-s-hold-hammer-on-wooden--46275952Meanwhile, legal scholarship routinely examines the intersection of empathy and law. [1] In the article cited below, Professor Gallacher argues empathy is a core lawyering skill that the process of educating and socializing law-students to “think like lawyers” systematically eliminates.  Interesting disconnects arise when newly minted lawyers collide head-on with a consuming public that does not “think like lawyers” and that engages in decision-making differently than lawyers.

Given Mr. Goleman’s triplex definition of empathy, lawyering can be an intensely empathetic activity.  Who can argue against the importance of placing ourselves in the minds of others— clients, investigators, defendants, witnesses, experts and, especially, members of juries?

Who can argue against the practical value of influencing the process by which such people arrive at their decisions in order to achieve our client’s desired outcomes?

OK– But Again, Why Should We Care?

One aspect of Professor Gallacher’s point is deceptively simple: empathetic competencies yield tactical strategies that ultimately empower lawyers with such qualities to achieve superior results.  However, legal education erodes empathetic intelligence and supplants it with a “logical” intelligence that eliminates this critical component of human understanding and connectivity.

When we return from the Ivory Tower of scholarly abstraction, both feet back on the soil of our daily practice routines, we find ourselves among a sea of legal consumers who, consciously or unconsciously, expect attorneys to act “morally” as well as empathetically.  

These consumers of legal services often have little or no notion of California’s Rules of Professional Responsibility or the ABA’s Model Rules.  If you miss the importance of the distinction between attorney ethics and popular morality, try sitting in on a conversation between a regular Jane or Joe and a criminal defense attorney as the attorney patiently explains how and why she is able to defend a child molester, rapist or murderer. 

What we find is that legal consumers tend to infuse the quality of empathy with elements of morality, generosity and altruistic behavior– with compassion, social cohesion and connectedness.  These latter qualities are demonstrably at odds with the characteristic self-absorption often displayed by or associated with contemporary legal practitioners.  Criticisms and complaints often come from consumers who have imported an expanded empathetic concept into the much narrower concept of “attorney ethics.”

The take away is that an attorney’s poor bedside manner may cause a client to complain to the State Bar, even when the attorney is acting within her ethical domain.

 Addiction’s Devastation of Empathic Intelligence

The erosion of empathetic intelligence by law schools may only be a theoretical concern. However, there is clear anecdotal evidence the concern is catching the attention of decision-makers within such institutions like a bad cold.  I won’t offer a citation.  Just google “empathy and law school” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Of greater concern are the alarming statistics showing attorneys suffer from alcoholism, chemical dependency and depression at rates significantly higher than the general population and other professions. [2]

Substance abuse and addiction can devastate an attorney’s ability to develop or maintain empathetic intelligence.  

Research confirms that addiction harms our ability to feel another’s emotional state and respond appropriately, even while it leaves our ability to understand these emotions intact.

Using Goleman’s model, we can say that addiction impairs emotional empathy while preserving cognitive empathy. [3]  This is true of alcoholism, even when co-occurring disorders such as depression for example are controlled for. [4]

Alcoholism demonstrably affects the perception and interpretation of the emotionalMimic expressions of others, including the ability to recognize social and emotional cues. [5]

These impairments affect an attorney’s ability to comprehend relevant emotional states.  This, in turn, affects the attorney’s ability to use empathetic intelligence to develop case plans and strategies and connect the emotional states of our clients with the expectations of juries.

However, the affected attorney doesn’t typically leave these deficits at the firm or at the courthouse.

Over time, unchecked addictions steal their way into our personal relationships— with our spouses, children, friends and other family members– gradually eroding the intimacy, trust and shared loyalties appropriate to these connections.

These emerging findings strongly suggest attorneys in recovery, and those working with them in clinical treatment or peer-support environments will greatly benefit– tangibly and intangibly– by enhancing their empathetic capacities.

The anticipated dividends include the ability to intuit clients’ true needs and motivations quickly, fostering a more immediate and deeper measure of trust and connection.

Developing and enhancing one’s empathetic intelligence can also make one more effective in motivating and influencing others to adopt critical perspectives on the legal and factual issues that determine case outcomes– assuring greater client satisfaction over time.

And after all, don’t satisfied clients create satisfied lawyers?

[1] See e.g., Gallacher, Ian, Thinking Like Non-Lawyers: Why Empathy is a Core Lawyering Skill and Why Legal Education Should Change to Reflect its Importance, (September 25, 2011), at fn. 2 [citing articles] Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD, Vol. 8, 2011. Available at SSRN:

[2] Neuro. Sci. 2014 Jan 1, Addiction & Empathy: A Preliminary Analysis. Ferrari VSmeraldi EBottero GPoliti E.

[3] Wendy L. Patrick, Dealing With Substance Abuse, California Lawyer, July 2010; Carol M. Langford & Robert M. WellsThe Sobering Truth: Facing Substance Abuse in the Practice of Law, Contra Costa Lawyer, (Jan 26, 2012); Steven D. Wasserman, Mark Hancock & Kelley Van Aken, Addressing Substance Abuse, California Lawyer, (December, 2013.).

[4] 2011 by the Research Society on Alcoholism. Dissociation Between Affective & Cognitive Empathy in Alcoholism: A Specific Deficit for the Emotional Dimension. Maurage PGrynberg DNoël XJoassin FPhilippot PHanak CVerbanck PLuminet Ode Timary PCampanella S.

[5] Simona Amenta, Xavier Noël, Paul Verbanck, Salvatore Campanella. Decoding of Emotional Components in Complex Communicative Situations (Irony) and Its Relation to Empathic Abilities in Male Chronic Alcoholics: An Issue for Treatment. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2012.01909.x

Dealing with Denial: An Attorneys First Step Towards Recovery

Denial is not a river flowing through Africa!
Our conscious refusal to admit to an uncomfortable or painful truth about ourselves or a loved one—THAT’S denial!  Denial is a psychological defense we use to maintain our self-image, esteem, and feelings of security, well-being and control.

Denial allows us to avoid acknowledging facts that are utterly indisputable to those around us.  For the legal practitioner, denial allows us to persuasively disavow, distort and rationalize all of the indicators of substance abuse or addiction in our lives despite the evidence confronting us.

What’s YOUR Plan?
planning the caseAs a trial lawyer, you wouldn’t begin jury selection without first having developed your client’s case through a comprehensive and thorough success strategy.

After investigating your client’s version of the facts, you’ll likely perform any necessary research into potential claims and defenses.  You’ll create a discovery plan for uncovering helpful evidence and punching holes in what you anticipate will be the evidence and arguments of the opposition.

At each stage of the litigation, you’ll likely have a standard list of items to be completed in the short term, all of which are designed to achieve a definable long-term goal: success!


If you’re good at what you do, you’ll have layered plans and multiple backup strategies in the event any particular course fails to yield its intended outcome.  In short, you’ll plan meticulously for success, anticipate and address the strengths and weaknesses of each element of both sides of your case, and leave nothing to chance that can be manipulated with proper planning.

General Denials & Affirmative Defenses
When it comes to confronting the dragon of substance abuse, what is your plan?

Sadly, for many attorneys, the plan is to deny that there is a problem.  Just Google “attorneys and substance abuse” and review the results.  Some “sobering” statistics emerge.

  • As a profession, attorneys have an almost 50% higher rate of substance abuse than the general population.
  • 75% of attorneys seeking assistance with substance abuse in 2008 were also involved in disciplinary proceedings.

When we add factors such as depression or other mood, personality or anxiety disorders into the mix, practicing law can be a recipe for self-medicating against the quiet desperation we find among a significant subset of our colleagues.

Equally sobering are studies showing substance-abuse and denial go hand in hand.  Not only are substance abuse and addiction considered occupational hazards in the legal and medical professions; the accompanying stigma– the perception such behavior is somehow evidence of moral failing– encourages those affected to hold fast to the denial defense.  As a result, the majority of those with substance-abuse problems do NOT seek help through mutual aid or professional treatment.   When they do:

  • Less than 50% actually complete treatment;
  • more than 50% resume their old patterns within 30-90 days;
  • in severe cases, recovery doesn’t  stabilize until 4-5 years of continued abstinence. 

Let me ask you a couple questions:  when 50% of substance dependent folks resume former use patterns within 30-90 days of formal treatment, who’s out there “stabilized” 4-5 years later?  What are THEY doing differently? Where will YOU land along this continuum?

The Profession IS the Problem
One problem shared by attorneys and doctors alike is the sense of omnipotence, power and influence bred by our professions.  However, the research doesn’t lie.  We are not immune because of our professional and social standing, our material success or the sheer force of our personalities and professional aptitudes.  The disease of addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer.

Additionally, attorneys are at higher risk of developing substance-abuse problems because of the characteristics unique to our practice. You know them. They include workplace cultures, workloads, stress loads, conflict and adversalialism, incivility from practitioners and clients alike, pressures to market, pressures to bill, pressures to make rain and, ultimately, to win.

Only, for most of us, we don’t, can’t or won’t admit we’ve been lying to trapped in addictionourselves and to those around us, until a truly life or career altering event forces us into the uncompromising truth of our condition: one or more D.U.I.’s, malpractice, professional discipline, divorce, bankruptcy even thoughts and attempts of suicide.

At some point, denial is no longer a defense, but a quiet co-conspirator of the deadliest kind.

Recovering In Stages
As a process, litigation has its discreet phases.  It proceeds along a familiar continuum from intake and investigation, to filing, discovery and settlement efforts, though trial preparation, trial or some other method of dispute resolution, and post-verdict or judgment operations.  Each phase of the continuum has its own set of unique considerations.

Recovering from substance abuse and addiction is also a process that proceeds along a continuum. And each phase of that process similarly carries its own cluster of unique considerations.

Often when we’re in this mindset, we don’t consider, and have no intention of changing, our use patterns. Consciously or unconsciously, we deny we have substance-use problems or that there is a linkage between our substance-use and any personal or professional issues that may give us or others close to us concerns.

Even when confronted by friends, family or colleagues, we may argue, rationalize, evade or even justify the circumstances giving rise to their concerns.

Since addiction is viewed as a “progressive” phenomenon, the issues of concern it creates gradually increase in frequency and gravity.  As the process unfolds, we acknowledge the possibility of a linkage between our using behavior and issues of concern in our lives.

We begin a process of investigating and weighing options for addressing these concerns, considering the benefits and consequences of various courses of action, including continuing use.  Because prolonged substance use and abuse changes our brain chemistry and thinking, we may still be denying critical elements of our using behavior as the source of our problems.

However, we admit to ourselves that an issue tied to using behavior exists. Our blinders are becoming transparent.  This simple admission forms the foundation of a deeply critical surrender of ego that for many lies at the heart of successful long term recovery.

As we become increasingly convinced of the linkage between our using behaviors and problems we’re experiencing, and having investigated and weighed the options we’ve been considering, we are convinced some kind of change is necessary and we commit to pursue it.

We may perform additional research and inquiry into specific, formal or informal self-help or professional support and treatment options.  We may begin to take stock of our own “recovery capital,” inventorying the personal, professional and community resources available to support and enhance our change agenda.

However, our initial acceptance of a use-related problem has facilitated a commitment to change those facets of our use behavior that create concern for us.

This is where the rubber hits the road.  Convinced change is necessary, and having weighed the options, taken inventory of our available internal and external resources and decided upon a particular path, we now take decisive action and move toward our personally selected recovery solution.

Whether in formal or informal treatment and support environments, it is here that our understanding of the nature of substance abuse and addiction couples with an understanding of how our using behavior has affected our life and the lives of those closest to us, including our careers.

This phase typically lasts from 3-6 months where professional discipline or a co-occurring disorder are not present– longer where discipline or clinical treatment of a co-occuring disorder is involved.

It is here we confront the task of honest and unflinching self-appraisal. We experience extremes of joy, elation and release– sometimes called “the pink cloud” or “honeymoon period,” alongside the physical and emotional discomfort of detoxification, withdrawal and the guilt, humiliation and sorrow that often accompanies surrendering to the truth of how our prior substance use has affected our lives, loved ones and careers.

Aftercare Support Group Aftercare is directed toward preventing a relapse and reversion into prior using behaviors and occurs in individual and group settings. 

Many who complete a recovery treatment program, including attorneys and other professionals, entertain the delusion their lives and practices will immediately transform for the better; frayed relationships will be repaired and their mea culpas will be met with immediate forgiveness.

However, as Rome was not built in a day, the long-term transformations occurring in recovery occur over significant periods of time.  We can’t expect the damage from years of substance abuse to right itself in 30 days, 6 months or even the first year following treatment. And when the “good life” doesn’t materialize quickly enough, many of us return to our old habits.  Aftercare is our post-treatment defense against backsliding.

Ongoing aftercare is a demonstrated means of increasing our odds of successfully recovering from substance abuse, addiction and it physical and psychological effects. Aftercare provides ongoing structure, support and accountability as needed.  Aftercare connects us to the elements of our recovery capital that sustain our steadily progressive mental and physical transformation for the long term.

Aftercare also assists us to develop strategies for recognizing and addressing the prior thoughts, behaviors, emotions and situations that once triggered our using patterns.  Recovery involves long-term psychological and behavioral adjustments, some of which also involve co-occurring disorders.

Therefore, aftercare provides the critical support we need to maintain our recovery agenda for a period sufficient to permit meaningful change to occur in our lives and careers.

Where To Begin:
The first step for anyone addressing a personal substance-use issuebigstock-Sobriety--Freeway-Exit-Sign-25281065 is to penetrate the barrier of denial and admit a problem exists.  This notion is embedded in the “first step” of many 12-step programs– including Alcoholics Anonymous– which states “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

As lawyers, we may have particular difficulty with this first step because of our inflated sense of our own power to manipulate people and the mechanisms of justice, and also because our material trappings may provide us the false sense that we are “managing” our lives, careers and substances of choice just fine.

We may need to be smacked over the head with substantial “competent” evidence.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Evidence Clearly Demonstrates…  
Perhaps the most telling indicators of substance dependence are the stated concerns of friends, family, loved ones and colleagues– and our subsequent dismissal or denial of such concerns.

Additionally,  the ABA notes several symptoms that are accepted indicators of chemical or alcohol dependence. This means any combination of these characteristics may objectively point to “use” that has matured to “abuse” that now poses a problem requiring a response:

Chemical Dependence

  • Heightened degrees of evasive or secretive behavior;
  • A loss of interest & association with activities & people that brought pleasure;
  • Recurring financial, social or legal problems;
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns;
  • Noticeable decline in workplace attendance, performance & work product;
  • Changes in personality, attitude, acquaintances & routines;
  • Appearing fearful, overly anxious or paranoid without basis;
  • Increased mood swings, irritability & outbursts of rage or frustration;
  • A declining interest in personal appearance, grooming or hygiene;
  • Sudden or extreme variations in weight;
  • Frequent & prolonged periods of lethargy, disorientation & detachment;
  • Noticeable shaking, tremors, slurring of speech & impaired coordination.

Alcohol Dependence

    • An inability to limit alcohol intake once drinking begins;
    • efforts to limit or control drinking;
    • Experiencing a strong compulsion to drink;
    • Requiring increasingly more alcohol to feel its effects;
    • Secretly drinking on the job or when alone;
    • Experiencing nausea, tremors & perspiration when not drinking;
    • Forgetting commitments, prior conversations & blacking out;
    • Drinking regularly at predetermined times;
    • Ensuring alcohol is always close, including at home, the office work or even in your car;
    • Gulping drinks, ordering doubles or drinking to intentionally become intoxicated;
    • Drinking to feel normal.


YOUR Call to Action
I am entering my 10th year to practice in a relatively small Northern California community.  In the short time I’ve practiced law, I’ve witnessed several of my colleagues succeed in recovery. I’ve also witnessed just as many continue to deny their own substance abuse problems.

I’ve smiled patiently as they’ve rejected the repeated entreaties of those of us– myself included– willing to extend the confidential support, encouragement, experience and personal examples that might have saved them the trials of professional suspension, disbarment, jail time, prison and even suicide.  But they resisted and rejected these efforts.

It’s my personal opinion, but one informed by personal experience and by personal observation, that the deadliest mistake YOU can make as an attorney dealing with YOUR personal substance abuse issues is to convince yourself that your professional standing and intellectual aptitudes are a sufficient defense to the progressive nature of addiction. Too many have been taken down by this belief.

As a Recovery Coach who practices law and is also recovering from the disease of substance dependence, I am available anytime for consultation and support to attorneys and others at any stage of the recovery process.   

If you are in recovery or would like to discuss recovery issues and how a Recovery Coach can benefit YOUR recovery efforts, contact me TODAY at (530) 515-5198.   Lets talk about what Recovery Coaching is and what it can help you achieve.  

You can also email me at  All contacts are safe, secure and strictly confidential.

I want to be YOUR Recovery Coach.Lawyer Recovery Coach Paul C. Meidus, Recovery Coach for Lawyers in Redding, California  

Diluting the Power of Habit: A Quick Burst of Insight into the Making & Breaking of our Best and Worst Routines

Why Do We Do These Things Anyway?
12609433I recently read Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” and recommend it enthusiastically.  You can find it on Amazon or at your local library.

For those of us that wonder why we cant seem to accomplish the great feats we dream of at home or at work, or to avoid the not so great blunders we return to time and again, the book is a God send.   Sure, it demystifies the task of accomplishment and avoidance. But more importantly, Duhigg provides a clear picture of how and why habits form, and an equally clear picture of how habits can be manipulated for transformative change.

Anatomy of Habit
Maybe it goes without saying: habits are our brain’s way of saving the effort of thinking. “Chunking” is the term that describes how the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine.

The sequence begins with a cue or a trigger, which, in turn, sets in motion a routine that yields an anticipated reward.  The trigger sends your brain into auto mode, where it searches for an appropriate routine to employ. The routine can be a physical, mental or emotional activity.  Emerging research shows a great deal of high level mental activity takes place below the level of our conscious awareness.  So, much of this connectivity occurs without “thoughtful” input from usbigstock-Electronic-circuit-faces-in-qu-34053746

Once the routine is triggered, a reward follows, forcing the brain to determine whether the routine is worth storing for future reference. Over time, the repetitive process of cue-routine-reward– becomes automatic, yielding an overpowering sense of anticipation.  Duhigg tells us that our habits are encoded structures that never really disappear. And our brains don’t differentiate between good and bad habits. The bad ones, Duhigg cautions, are always there, waiting to be actuated by the right cue and reward.

Experience (and perhaps Aristotle) informs our understanding that habits form when we engage in an activity repetitively over time. This is as true of mental activities as it is of physical activities.  Repetitive mental actions eventually yield hard wired mental habits.  Repetitive thoughts become ingrained attitudes and beliefs.  Attitudes and beliefs are repetitive mental habits “chunked” together, and over time influence our actions.  We bring this process to bear in each circumstance of our daily lives.

Mind over Matter and Habit over Will
How often have we heard or said “this is how I am and I’m too old to change…” or “…old habits die hard…” ?  Let me share an observational anecdote:

In my coaching and ministry activities, I often hear those in the 25 to 35 age group admit that change is possible, but unnecessary. “Yeah,” its proclaimed, “that’s an easy fix, but not one I need to make…”  Conversely, among the 55-and-above set, I’ll hear just the opposite: that change is necessary, but no longer possible. “I’m just too old and set in my ways.”

The underlying malady in both groups is usually nothing more than a toxic dose of denial, aggravated by a chronic case of apathy:  “I don’t need to; I’m too old to; I don’t care to. I’m fine.”  At bottom, the paralyzing agent is almost always fear.

There is an obvious tension between our need for stability, sameness and consistency, and the reality and constancy of change, reorganization and regrouping in our lives.  The implication is that many of us move through life blissfully convinced we are perfect just the way we are– until a major life event or circumstance forces us to soberly confront the need to adjust to a new reality.

In a world that demands success and emphasizes immediate gratification, we are paralyzed to inaction out of fear we’ll either fail entirely, progress too slowly, or come up short of what’s needed.  So we fib.  We tell ourselves we’re content to remain in our comfort zones.  And we remain in place, neither particularly comfortable nor particularly content, until such circumstantial confrontation forces us to accept new possibilities for ourselves.  It is these confrontations with life on its terms that we expand our respective reservoirs of ability, strength, trust, courage, honesty and humility.   

When ultimately confronted by the need to change habitual behavior in a critical way, Duhigg’s book is a goldmine of encouragement.  In fact, as noted in the book’s appendix, there isn’t a single formula for changing our habits; there are, Duhigg tells us, “thousands.

Turning his attention to the 12-Step crowd, Duhigg notes that programs like AA work (perhaps he should say “when they work…”) because, although our triggers and rewards always remain intact, alcoholics achieve permanent change when they substitute new routines that draw on their existing cue and reward framework.  Feeling lonely?  Where you might have gone to a bar previously, now you go to a meeting.  The reward of fellowship is found in the alternative routine, just as before.  The formula here is not to rewire the cue and reward system, but to “keep the cue, provide the same reward [and] insert a new routine.”   Eventually, a new “habit loop” is formed that incorporates a new, healthier routine.

bigstock-A-life-of-stress-illustrated-b-28229714Would thinking about the triggers that set certain routines in motion in your life be of value to you?  What about taking a look at the “rewards” you get from falling into those routines in your home or workplace?  Is there a habitual behavior that you would like to be rid of but don’t know how or where to begin?

Maybe a Coaching encounter can move you toward your goal?  Duhigg offers a simple framework for modifying habits that provides a convenient jump off point for a coaching encounter:

1. Identify the routine

2. Experiment with rewards

3. Isolate the cue

4. Create a plan

Whether this, or any of the thousand transitional habit-changing frameworks is suited to your specific change agenda is something we can explore together.  Why don’t you call me for a short phone conversation and let me know what you’d like to work on and when you’d like to make it happen!

A phone call is simple. Your first coaching session is always FREE and there is never any further obligation.   I want to be your Coach.  You really have nothing to lose. Call and tell me what you want to gain!


Burning Brightly & Burning Out: Managing Tips for Maintaining Engaged Cohorts

Going with the “Flow

With some frequency I get so absorbed in an activity that I lose my sense of time and place.  All of my critical faculties are focused on the activity.  I look up after what I think is a moment only to discovery several hours have passed and I was all the while completely oblivious to the passage of time, hunger, fatigue and the like.Professor at work

Positive psychologists describe this phenomenon as “flow,” or the state of being completely immersed in activity for its own sake.  The concept of flow comes to us from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say that 10 times quickly and you are in the flow!)

The quality of flow is that it makes an activity, including workplace activity, seem… well, a lot less like work!   Flow not only makes work more enjoyable; flow increases personal performance and engenders further learning and personal development.  Why? Because the ability to experience flow indicates mastery.  Mastery, in turn, requires we seek out new and different challenges to recapture the experience of flow.

Thus, one aspect of being in the “flow” is that I am completely “engaged” in what I am doing.  The notion of “engagement” has become a popular expression among business consultants and like many such terms is amenable to numerous definitions, rendering meaningful knowledge about employee engagement difficult to come by.  At least one distinction lies between “Work engagement”— which signifies my relationship to my work itself– and “employee engagement”— which include my relationship with my professional or occupational role and firm.  The importance of this distinction, at least for me, is that the former focuses me on what I bring to the table, while the latter focuses me on the environment in which I am operating.  While I have control over what I personally bring into my work and workplace, my working environment is controlled to a large extent by managerial decisions occurring outside my domain of influence, as well as by the behavioral dynamics of my co-workers and colleagues.

A literature review suggests perceptions of meaning strongly influence levels of engagement and performance.  We tend to look for meaning more often in our day to day work than in our personal or non-work lives.  The literature also suggests engagement is on the decline and there is an active disengagement among workers today.  Some studies indicate less than 20% of employees fit into the “fully engaged” category. These are the folks that are consistently productive and task-effective, psychologically bonded to their work and loyal to their organization, and are intrinsically motivated by the work itself.  Let’s suppose that 20% figure represents one end of a continuum.

bigstock-Worried-businessman-in-dark-su-19499747On the opposite end of the continuum are those who are actively disengaged in their work, sometimes referred to as the “Quit and Stays.”  Quit and Stay folks are those who, for many different reasons, no longer meaningfully identify with their work or workplace, but continue to show up and occupy space.  They have quit participating mentally but stay in place physically. They are usually negative, uncooperative, or even hostile— quick to tell you everything that is wrong with the status quo in your organization.

Sandwiched between these two poles are the non-engaged. We might say they, like their actively disengaged cohorts, are outside the flow.  They contribute just enough time and effort to meet the minimum needs of their position or occupation, but they are no longer psychologically bonded to the organization.  They are extrinsically motivated and likely to respond to recruitment efforts, job vacancies or other external inducements.  They are also likely to turn a deaf ear to appeals of fidelity to loyalty to the firm or mission. Approximately 2/3 of workers today are understood to be non-engaged in their work and work settings.

In your firm or organization, you are probably familiar with some of these folks.  Fortunately, important connections are being drawn between the varied demands of the legal profession and the resulting emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced sense of personal accomplishment many of us experience.  Understanding these connections may help you avoid the personal and collateral damage resulting from entrenchment in our profession’s most destructive tendency– the workaholism that ultimately leads to career burnout.

The Long Road to Nowhere

Burnout is a progressive, all-encompassing process that builds momentum over time and destroys meaning, fulfillment, relationships and ultimately productivity and profits. Its early warnings signs include sustained malaise, generalized frustration, unresolved anger, and dissatisfaction. Its physical symptoms can include low energy, chronic fatigue, sleep difficulties, headaches, physical illness and weaknessdeep-thoughtCognitive symptoms of professional burnout may include categorizing and depersonalizing clients and their dilemmas, as well as generalized cynicism directed toward ourselves and our accomplishments.  Emotionally, we may experience prolonged feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, guilt, anxiety or the feeling we are trapped on the hamster-wheel.

Contributing to these varied pitfalls are the ever increasing levels of stress and insecurity, the absence of an objective metric for determining whether we are performing well, the absence of job security in an age of reconfiguration, mergers and acquisitions, redundancy and similar externalities.

In our legal and other professional careers, the workaholic’s constellation of symptoms yields increased absenteeism, aggression, job shifting, unemployment, underemployment and ultimately— either voluntary, or in many cases involuntary– departure from our professional milieu.  In our personal and social lives, we may experience fractured or broken relationships, substance abuse, divorce … even suicide.  In the spiritual dimension of our lives, the casualties of burnout include loss of faith and purpose, feelings of alienation and estrangement, despair, and debilitating changes in our spiritual values, beliefs and affiliations.

Bridging the Gap Between Burnout & Engagement

Without discounting the psychological, material and social rewards of our profession, the personal costs outlined above should move us to confront and address the obstacles that prevent us from living what we believe to be successful, passionate and meaningful lives.  Surprisingly, recent research suggests lawyer-burnout is not a result of heavy job demands, specialization, or the intense pressures.  Rather, the manner in which lawyers are trained to think and reason is the primary source of susceptibility to stress and burnout.  The claim is that legal education, in stressing precedent and doctrine above all, underestimates emotion, interpersonal relations, and social context— all factors from which we generally derive some sense of deeper meaning to our efforts.

One consequence of this claim is that while lawyers as a group may not be as dissatisfied with their careers as many believe, strengthening our emotional capacities and interpersonal skills, managing occupational stress, and adopting or redeveloping positive dispositions should facilitate a greater number of fully-engaged practitioners.  bigstock-Leadership-6829983In fact, the cluster of emotional competencies labeled “Emotional Intelligence” has emerged as a predictor of both occupational satisfaction and performance among lawyers, just as it has in industry.

Emerging research shows burnout, engagement and workaholism to be distinct concepts, rather than 3 ways of viewing the general concept of well-being.   Workaholism is understood as an uncontrollable need to work incessantly.  Like the alcoholic, the workaholic is literally obsessed with work and perform beyond all reasonable measures of what is expected to meet organizational and financial needs.  While there are positive aspects to such an orientation, its harmful consequences generally derive from the workaholic’s neglect of other aspects of her personal life, including health or marital consequences, for example.

Engagement includes the dimensions of energy, involvement and efficacy, while the dimensions of burnout  include exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. Thus, the workaholic may or may not eventually burn out.  The critical factor in distinguishing the workaholic from the burned out colleague is the latter displays demonstrably higher degrees of exhaustion and cynicism, coupled with lower degrees of perceived professional efficacy. Also, while burnout and engagement act as opposites to one another, workaholism shares features of both.

The implications of these claims, of which I’ve admittedly only scratched the surface, are meaningful for managing partners, supervisors, HR professionals, and rank file folks alike.  Firm and organizational managers have a real stake in promoting work environments that foster engagement– including engagement among workaholic staff– while reducing the dangers of burnout and the inefficiencies that result from a cadre of Quit and Stays who are no longer emotionally committed and, therefore, unproductive or grossly underproductive.

Ideas for Further Consideration

For firms and organizations seeking the blue sky of increased individual performance, and organizational productivity and profits, here are a few ideas to discuss at the next round table or weekend retreat:

1. Promote & Foster Individual Engagement & Take the Construct Seriously

Managing engagement focuses on career development, leadership, empowerment and organizational image. Employees give their all and do so willingly and over the long haul when they are provided with opportunities to develop and utilize their abilities and potential, acquire and learn new skills and exercise significant discretion and autonomy in the performance of their tasks.  The construct should be taken seriously because engaged employees foster loyal customers, business growth and profitability. Also, higher workplace engagement correlates positively with higher earnings per share in publicly trades companies.  Thus, while engagement is an individual level construct, it has critical implications for business-level outcomes.

 2. Manage Workaholism to Achieve Sustained Outcomes

“Burned-out” colleagues are generally recognized by their poor health, impaired social functioning, poor performance and task effectiveness, absence from the workplace and heightened cynicism.  They are too tired to work hard and too cynical to any longer commit to their work, organization or mission.  However, the workaholic, while sharing some of these negative features with his burned out cohort manages to work hard whole at the same time remaining committed to his organization and his work.   In short, the workaholic demonstrates a drive, commitment and excess of performance that can be identified and, with appropriate interventions, managed toward outcomes that promote the long-term health of the individual while capturing the benefits of his excessive drive.

 3. Lead By Example

Engaged workers across professions and industries surveyed are a function of engaged managers. When managers view their primary function as supporting and serving those in their management spheres, the work environment become highly engaged.  Thus, managers must themselves be in the engaged or highly engaged categories if employees are expected to respond to engagement efforts.  Simply put, you can’t transmit something you haven’t got. The origin of employee disengagement often lies in management’s disengagement with its workforce.  Behavior linked to engagement include: belief in the organization, desire to work and improve conditions, an understanding of the big picture, a willingness to work with and support other and stay current on relevant developments and trends. Links were also found between engagement levels and employees’ sense of how they are valued in an organization. Drivers of these characteristics include: effective leadership, open communication, emphasis on employee development and well-being, and clear and well defined polices and practices.

4. Look Into Programs Tailored To Your Specific Needs & Circumstances

Be mindful that individual and organizational differences means there is no “one size fits all” approach to the implementation of engagement efforts.  On the macro level of the organization, the absence of a standard measure means what has worked for one company may not be right for your company.   On the micro level of the individual, studies show, not surprisingly, personal variances in psychology, perception, emotion and how we process our experiences all strongly influence individual levels of engagement.  At the macro level, before implementing new engagement programs it may be prudent to determine what is already working in your organization, what model of “engagement” you are operating on and what results you are achieving and expect to improve upon. At both the macro and micro levels, individual personality differences coupled with our fast-paced global footprints force us to accept there is no single “silver bullet” approach.  Any engagement effort must be flexible enough to account for variations among individual personalities, must have a long term focus emphasizing on-going interactions over time.  Such processes should at minimum aim to create mutual obligations of trust, value and reciprocal interdependence.


I.D.E.A.L. Coaching partners with individuals and organizations wishing to explore and implement engagement strategies responsive to identified needs.  When we recapture personal and organizational values, or clarify the values we act upon when we are at choice, we live with and project integrity and authenticity. We gain the trust and loyalty of our colleagues, clients, and stakeholders; and, we distinguish the momentary and ultimately fleeting satisfactions of individual jobs well done, from the lasting and sustained fulfillment of individual lives well lived.

I.D.E.A.L. Coaching provides a means for each of us to examine individual and organizational states of being and, where we deem it necessary, to make appropriate adjustments toward the achievement of sustained well-being in ourselves and our work environments.

Chasing Our Values: Steps for Clarifying What We Act On


bigstock-Self-Motivation-Golden-Dollar-2032781How do you experience value? How does your experience of value unfold in your daily life?  Many dilemmas arise from conflicting values as well as from conflicting perceptions of value.  Such conflicts are subtle because the differences in what we value and the reasons we value what we do are subtle. These subtleties may escape our notice.  But the conflicts themselves invariably command our attention. The common interface between home-life and work-life provides a nice and simple illustration.

When I miss my daughter’s soccer game or my son’s weekend hike with the Scouts so that I can complete a work project, I send my kids, perhaps my wife as well, a message concerning how I value each of them.  The message received may not be an accurate message. It may not be the message I intended to convey and it may not be received well.

Also, I may be conditioned to think the message received is not something for which I am exclusively responsible. Passing as such things do from my verbal activity though the filtering processes of my children’s mental machinery, I may say: “I can’t help that you took what I said the way you did.”

Whatever the cognitive mechanics, perceptions of my role and responsibility as a loving, nurturing and involved father have run headlong into perceptions of my role and responsibility to my firm and our clients.  I may be more inclined to place my “reputational” interests before my interest in being a “good parent” and unwittingly sacrifice my children’s emotional needs. The reasons I actually give for doing what I do may or may not bring me to an awareness of what I am valuing in the exchange.

For example, I may say: “I have to earn a living,” or “I need to demonstrate my dedication to the firm,” even when my dedication is not at issue and my ability to earn and provide is not in jeopardy. I may say “my client is depending on me for the success of this summary judgment motion” when taking time with my kids will do nothing to upset the trust upon which my client’s dependence rests.

In truth, I may simply desire to do something else with the time because the soccer game or a weekend hike doesn’t strike my fancy at the moment the opportunity is presented. While I value each moment spent with my children, I may value the intellectual challenge presented by resolving a pressing issue.  The choice is not truly one of deciding between being a reliable professional and a good parent. Rather, what is at work is the conflict between how I value time spent in one manner versus time spent in another at the moment of choice.

Regardless, my children do not process my absence as a dislike for soccer or hiking. They see it as my preferring my work over spending time in their lives.  They see me valuing work over participation in events of importance to them. This message is certainly not one any thoughtful parent would intentionally send to their child.

This simple illustration is especially helpful in showing how perceptions of “role” can add to conflicts arising from competing values.  Clearly, perceptions of the duties and obligations arising within our professional roles can butt heads with those arising within our parental roles.

This isn’t Earth-shattering news by any means. However, penetrating the various layers of such conflicts invites a deeper examination of what we value, why we value what we do, and whether the results we seek in our various life domains are congruent with the values we hold.bigstock-The-words-When-in-Doubt-Change-32121158

As time goes by, my children may devise other means of commanding my attention. My daughter may act out in progressively disconcerting ways or my son may become increasingly detached so that I am required to engage with each of them.  However, an amazing cognitive phenomenon occurs: I interpret their behavior as something for which they are exclusively responsible and view my task as one of correction. I do not make the connection between their behavior and the messages I have sent them concerning how I value my time.  I don’t view the situation as an opportunity for self-reflection or transactional dialogue with my kids.  I instead interpret the situation as one requiring parental intervention to correct troubling teen-aged behavior.

While I’ve shared a small detail of a “role” and “value” driven dilemma arising in the life-work context, intertwined role/value conflicts arise across all our life domains, at home, in the workplace, and in our social relationships.


Values can be loosely thought of as “intrinsic” and “extrinsic.”    Intrinsic values are those values that are not dependent on any other thing because the are complete in and of themselves;  Extrinsic values either depend or are dependent upon some other end for their vitality. They are typically a means  to achieving that other end.  For example, the quest for money may be viewed as an “extrinsic” value because money is viewed as a means to accomplishing some other end– perhaps the security of our family or the ability to act in a charitable way in our communities.  Security or charity, on the other hand, may be viewed as “intrinsic” because they are ends in and of themselves, independent of other considerations.

When we act upon, or are driven by, extrinsic values, we may be unaware of the underlying intrinsic mechanisms that are really at work in motivating our actions and behavior.  Below is an easy exercise for uncovering values at work in your daily life and reflecting upon whether the values that motivate your behavior align with your self-image and how you would like to be perceived and understood by others.

Step One–  Laying Your Values Bare

Ask yourself, “what do I value the most?”  Write your answers down.  Remember, values are intangible and unconscious.  Listing your values is an opportunity to bring them into your consciousness.  Don’t think about or rank your answers.  Just write down a short list of 10-20 words or phrases that occur to you when you ask yourself “what do I value?”

Focus on specific areas of your life: marriage, workplace, Family, Community.  Here’s an example of what your list might look like:

Marriage      Work                Family              Community
Equality          Security           Togetherness      Reputation
Sharing          Achievement    Unity                    Equality
Friendship      Loyalty             Cooperation       Justice & fairness
Trust                                       Respect              Compassion

Step Two– Find Your Values in Operation

For each value you have listed, think about how this value is expressed in each of the areas of your life you have categorized.  Write down a few brief examples.  Does one area of your life require you to exercise a particular value in manner different than you would exercise that same value in another area of your life?   If so, ask yourself why the difference?  Then, ask yourself whether you are comfortable with the difference?

Step Three- Connect the Dots

When you encounter differences in how your values motivate your behavior in your respective domains of influence, you have likely uncovered differences between deeply held “intrinsic” values that derive from your identity as a person, and often equally compelling “extrinsic” values that derive from the role(s) you have adopted in one or more areas of your personal or professional life.   Circle those values that seem to you to be intrinsic rather than extrinsic.  Notice how often your actions and behavior are motivated by extrinsic rather than intrinsic values.

Step Four– Acting from Depth

Because intrinsic values are those values that uniquely define us as individuals– are constitutive of our special character and personality– we should expect to experience greater sustained personal satisfaction when we act authentically from our deeply held values.  When we are motivated instead by extrinsic values only, we may anticipate the opportunities for  value driven conflicts and dilemmas to arise with some frequency because of the transitory nature of extrinsic values and their involvement in our behavior.

Coaching can help YOU clarify the values that motivate role-driven behaviors, can help YOU identify YOUR authentic values and motivations so that YOU can avoid debilitating conflicts and inefficiencies and act with intentionality, purpose and precision.  Coaching can help YOU create strong, intimate and nurturing relationships in each of your domains of influence by allowing you to connect with and act from a place of authenticity and integrity.

The Professional's All Encompassing Dilemma

The Enemy Within

As an attorney or similar professional, you know the importance of identifying and addressing hurdles to peak performance. Like many of us, you may already function at maximum capacity but still fall far short of delivering your highest and best sustained potential.bigstock-Ebusiness-Competition-2782154

Perhaps more than any other, the highly secularized Legal profession imposes this sustained demand on each of us. A typical benefit/burden summary may look something like this:

The Benefits:

  • Tremendous Altruistic Outlets
  • Superior Incomes & Perks
  • Local/Global Recognition & Prestige
  • Intellectual Challenges
  • Vertical as well as Horizontal Mobility
  • Wide diversity of practice & environment

The Burdens:

  • Obscenely long hours
  • Crushing Educational Costs & Debt
  • Endless Tedium, Conflict & Incivility
  • Diminishing Autonomy
  • Personal & Professional Disenchantment/Burnout
  • Spiritual Bankruptcy & Amoral or Relativistic Thinking
  • Increased potential for substance abuse, reliance & dependence

Many of us have become slaves to our occupations– at the cost of an equal and committed emphasis on our own enjoyment of life and living. Consciously or unconsciously, many of us have traded our long term dreams of personal fulfillment, growth and development for a future security that never materializes.  In the early years, our hard work and long hours, may seemingly pay off with bonuses, raises, awards and advancement within our organizations.  However, in the struggle to “achieve,” we may also distance ourselves from those closest to us: our spouses, children, extended family, neighbors and friends.

Laboring under today’s “New Workaholism”— working harder, working longer, expending your energies so that little is left for yourself and your family– you may feel emotionally disengaged not only from your work, but from those people, dreams and values that once sustained and inspired your efforts. Have you noticed, the higher up the ladder you ascend, in the Firm or the Board Room, the less likely your colleagues care whether you are genuinely fulfilled?

Personal fulfillment– that enduring internal sense that what you do has greater meaning beyond the effort that goes into it— is rarely a benefit for which employment bargains are struck, partnerships established, or mergers and acquisitions completed.  Only recently, in a minority of firms and organizations, are people-managers beginning to comprehend the inherent value of work-life balance.

Whether you are a Managing Partner or a C-Suite Executive, an Associate with partnership or other executive aspirations, or the newest member of the professional support or operational staff, you know we each must perform to the fullest of our abilities consistently throughout our careers.

Compounding the relentless, full-court press of the new workaholism is the dehumanizing objectivity our profession and those closely aligned with it demands. If we are people of faith, our professional objectivity is usually at odds with or simply deaf to the deeper moral mandates of our individual faith traditions.

The scriptural mandates to which we once subscribed are now subordinated to the secularized objectivity the “zealous” advocacy of our clients’ interests’ demands. And our “legal personalities” — those qualities that make us effective or highly regarded in our respective specialties– often fail to translate well into our personal lives and relationships. Paraphrasing the Apostle Paul, how is it we consistently fail to accomplish the good we wish to accomplish but succeed in repeatedly accomplishing the bad we seek to avoid?

In addition to adapting ourselves to our ever changing professional landscapes, we must also identify, nurture and develop the raw talent of those hoping to succeed to higher positions within our organizations. Often called “succession planning,” this is how we sustain our organizational visions– and by extension, our continuing livelihoods– over time.

Coaching is a demonstrated means of surmounting the pitfalls of the new workaholism. Coaching produces invaluable insights into our own hidden attitudes, beliefs and emotions — what I call the “silent motivators” — that create the foundations for workaholism and career burnout to occur.  In the absence of clarity and awareness, our own silent motivators rob us of a meaningful compass and a plan for regaining our direction. In response to your own silent motivators, Coaching can help to:

  • determine whether you’re a victim of the new workaholism & understand its effects on your long term happiness, performance, productivity and profitability;
  • clarify the signals– the silent motivators– that are often symptomatic of the new workaholism and decide whether these motivators reflect your true values and authentic self;
  • identify those habitual behaviors– mental or physical– that influence your actions but which are not products of your thoughtful and deliberate choices.
  • define or refine those deeply held values that are constitutive of your true identity and character;
  • develop an action plan to regain the high ground of sustained personal and professional fulfillment by achieving the life balance that is right for you across all your active domains.

Ours is a culture that worships the work ethic, overachievement and material success. However, workaholism and burnout are the too-frequently ignored byproducts of our cultural preoccupation with these characteristics.

Thinking about workaholism, we should be mindful that even the God of Scripture rested on the seventh day.  Whatever else this may have meant to its writer and his intended audience, rest, balance and relaxation are necessary ingredients for a joyful and purposeful existence.

When we work to the point of excluding our family, friends, social connections and other relationships, our life is off balance and we court disaster.

Some signs of workaholism include:

A) trouble delegating;

B) neglecting or ignoring non-work-related connections;

C) joining non-work-related tasks with your occupation or profession;

D) linking your self worth exclusively to occupational accomplishments;

E) an inability to treat non work related time as non work related time.

These characteristics create concerns for one’s life quality because, like the alcoholic or addict, the workaholic can be either blind or in denial toward the signs and signals that differential unhealthy workaholism from diligence and hard work.  Failing to take needed rest periods– mental-health days or well earned vacations– continually taking on more than you can effectively manage instead of simply delegating tasks appropriately, ultimately yields poor performance, disorganization and an array of cognitive and health related issues.

Coaching is a demonstrated intervention strategy for unearthing signs of workaholism in your life and addressing the onset of its peculiar influence in each of your active domains of influence.  If you think you might be a workaholic, having a Coach may be of value in development a self-care plan.  Reflecting on the quality and value you assign yourself, your life’s work and your workplace, your recreational pursuits, your relationships with family and friends and your spirituality, Coaching may yield valuable insights concerning the deeper connections between your preoccupation with work and your ultimate experience of deep meaning and sustained personal fulfillment.