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Anchors Away!


September always seems to be the time when I experience a big desire to get organized. Or as my dear departed Dad would say, to “pull yourself together”. I don’t know if it is the store shelves lined with back-to-school organizers, the deciduous trees shedding leaves they no longer need, or just the passing of the lazy, hazy days of summer, but I always feel a tug.

The onset of fall is also the time when I get eager to check in on where my anchor is set. A dear friend and mentor, Amy Burford, first told me about “checking my anchor” when I was struggling with some resistance in my business.

You see, my intention was to level up, to move my business ahead. I was aiming to pull ahead, like a boat captain staring through a spyglass at a distant shore. But I was going about the achievement of these goals as if I were still anchored in the past. I was dragging around old beliefs, old fears, and old ways of doing, and this was causing significant resistance as I tried to gain momentum toward a new destination.

Amy helped me see where I had to either cut away or let go of old behavior patterns to dislodge that anchor so my boat would cut through the water easily, gliding up and over any waves that appeared at my bow.

This image has become so valuable to me as I consult with businesses and organizations who have set their sights on growth and forward movement but are experiencing drag. I can see what they cannot – where their anchors are still dug in behind their forward-moving boat.

How New Ideas Create Anchors

A few years ago, I was riding in the car with a visionary CEO and his relatively new – and very overwhelmed – head of research. We were in the car for three hours, and as this CEO tended to do, he was expounding upon his vision for the company. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have time in the car with him, so I knew this was possible. I could also feel the new hire (for the newly-established research department) getting stressed.

With each new idea he shared, I could sense her wondering how she could possibly make that all happen when she hadn’t yet even learned her current job. Finally, she shared her questions about the “How”.

You see, her anchor was firmly set in the here and now, while his anchor was hauled in and his boat ready to set sail. Her “How” questions created some drag for his vision – and some friction to his opinion on whether she was a forward thinker.

When we stopped for a break, I let her know that what the CEO was sharing was actually for five or so years down the road – not imminent. And in his mind, they all seem simple to implement; he kept saying those words: “This will be so simple”. But because this was her first time hearing these ideas, there was a disconnect between where she was and where he was. That type of disconnect breeds tension, friction, and frustration; a drag that slows change and limits forward movement. I see it happen all the time.

Leaders are visionaries who move forward at full throttle with their eyes fixed on the next destination, frequently not realizing their team is dragging anchor because they’re caught in the details of how, when, where, and with what resources.

The more staff feel vulnerable or uncertain, the more they secure their anchor by seeking reasons why new ideas can’t work, or they create unnecessary drama just to prove their point.

Our anchors, and the stories they contain, hold us all in place.

How to Reset Their Anchors

The secret for leaders is to help staff raise and reset their anchors as the change process happens. They can do this by:

  • Sharing their vision often and making the plot map transparent through clear goals.

  • Engaging individuals and teams in dialogue to help them recognize landmarks by describing what milestone successes will look like, feel like, and sound like.

  • Discussing and collectively problem solving how to crest each wave before it hits their bow.

  • Holding progress sessions where people are free to ask tough questions, engage in healthy conflict, and then recommit to sailing forward.

  • Being patient and allowing space for people to falter and reset.

That is how you collectively hoist up anchors instead of being surprised by which ones are dragging your whole ship.

Is Your Organization Dragging Anchor?

Awareness of your anchors is critical to proceeding smoothly through the waters of change and growth.

Here are some classic signs that anchors are still dug in even after the boat has left port:

  • A new software system was implemented months ago but a few staff are still using the old system.

  • You constantly hear about snags but never hear any proactive solutions.

  • Some people have a “Told You So” mentality whenever there is a roadblock.

  • Your staff struggles with missed deadlines; people nod and agree but don’t follow through.

  • At the slightest sign of rough seas, people want to give up on the project.

  • There is a great deal of conflict, but not healthy conflict.

  • Some staff are still carrying the message or expectations of past leadership.

Do any (or all) of those sound familiar to you? Is your organization struggling with forward movement? It just may be time for an anchor check…

To talk about how I can help your organization with weighty issues that are slowing it down or keeping it stuck, send me an email or call me at (916) 480-1234.


P.S. Exciting news! Coming in early September, you will be able to access my blog both as a written document and as a podcast. Stay tuned for subscription details…

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Have you had to work with that person who is too valuable to fire, but whose communication and leadership style continually makes others cringe and puts the company at risk? Beth Wonson’s unique combination of experience as a business expert, non-profit leader, 20 years consulting on team development, organizational change, and coaching leadership make her the go-to person for transforming personnel liabilities into personnel assets. “In my experience, no one truly wants to be the company bully, they just aren’t self-aware enough climb out of it. Their increasing isolation causes more and more drama within the organization. Human Resource staff feel powerless and over time, team members and colleagues choose to leave the organization. The remedy is simply to get this person the right coach. The coach who knows how to give them the hard feedback and will stand in the fire with them through the change process”. Wonson’s unique methodology combines brain-based research, experiential education and coaching to engage and empower individuals and teams to overcome perceived barriers and gain success.

Beth and her team work with businesses, non-profits and individuals across the United States.


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