Louie Anderson: Laughing in the Face of Pain

“I love to do standup comedy still. It still makes me really happy… I’ve worked so many hours to make sure that when you’re there, you are not burdened with this performance. You are hopefully forgetting every bit of your troubles. That’s my goal every night. Hopefully, at some point in my act, you have forgotten whatever trouble you had when you came in.”

That one statement, taken from an interview Louie Anderson did with Terry Gross in a 2016 episode of NPR’s Fresh Air, tells you all you want to know about what it takes to make people laugh.

One, you hone your craft. Two, you polish your act to make it seem natural and “unburdened.” And three, you make the audience feel special. All these things Anderson, who died recently at age 68, mastered.

One of eleven children, Anderson’s family was poor, and his father was an alcoholic. Louie suffered from obesity and depression. These conditions did not overwhelm him; he used them as material. As a performer, Louie saw himself as one who could alleviate it, if only for the audience’s time in the theater. 

Life as a comedy

As child number ten, Louie formed a close bond with his mother. So close that when Louie played the role of the mother to Chip (played by Zack Galifianakis) in the television series, Baskets, elements of his real-life mother seeped into the character.

As Anderson told Terry Gross, he would tell jokes, chiefly about his family as well as himself.

At Thanksgiving, my mom always makes too much food, especially one item, like 700 or 800 pounds of sweet potatoes. She’s got to push it during the meal. ‘Did you get some sweet potatoes? There’s sweet potatoes. They’re hot. There’s more in the oven, some more in the garage. The rest are at the Johnson’s.’” 

“My mom was a garage sale person, save money [to] save money. She’d get in that garage sale and point stuff out to you. ‘There’s a good fork for a nickel. Yeah, that’s beautiful. It’s a little high. If it were three cents, I’d snap it up.’”

“My mom ate every piece of butter in the Midwest, she lived till she was 90. And my dad, he smoked, he drank – we finally just had to kill him.” [“My dad quit drinking when he was 69,” Louie told Terry Gross, “and here was my mom’s response. She turned to me, and she said, ‘I told you he’d quit drinking.’”]

“My first words were ‘Seconds, please.’ Most kids in kindergarten napped on a little rug. I had a braided 9 x 12.”

“I’m a 7 o’clock act. My people want to go to a show, a dinner, and then go home and go to bed.” 

Keeping it real

Lessons managers can learn from Anderson is the commitment to work, continuous improvement over time, and a willingness to connect with others.

For all his stardom, Louie never lost the sense of himself. After his first appearance on the Tonight Show in 1983, he received a warm response from Johnny Carson, then the biggest arbiter of standup talent. Louie was on cloud nine, or as he says, “heaven.” 

The Comedy Cellar in Los Angeles held an after-glow party for Louie. “And a guy comes up to me and goes, are you, Louie Anderson? And I go, I am. And I put my hand out to meet him. And he goes, I don’t want to meet you. Could you move your car?”

First posted on Forbes.com 2.00.2022

How to Take Responsibility


That was the sentiment many people felt when Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellin’s admission about inflation. “I think I was wrong then about the path that inflation would take,” Ms. Yellin told CNN about her comments from a year ago that inflation would be “a small risk” and not “be a problem.”

Secretary Yellin added, “There have been unanticipated and large shocks to the economy that boosted energy and food prices, and supply bottlenecks, that have affected our economy badly that I, at the time, didn’t fully understand. But we recognize that now.”

Ms. Yellin was not alone in this belief, but as the Secretary of the Treasury, responsible for fiscal management, it was a stunning admission. Many citizens regard inflation as the nation’s number one problem. Every time they buy groceries or fill up at the pump, they pay more. As a result, anger and frustration with Ms. Yellin’s boss, President Biden, rises.

Therefore, it takes a person of solid character to admit when they are wrong, especially about a significant issue. The lesson for managers is to admit a mistake and find solutions. While it might be tempting to duck and hide – as many in our political class do regularly—doing so merely passes the buck, allowing the problem to fester and worsen.

What to do next

Everyone makes mistakes. Rather than deflect, the challenge becomes to own the problem and become part of the solution.

Admit the mistake. Address the issue straight on without making excuses. Take responsibility without prevarication.

Stake the consequences. Explain why the mistake occurred. Talk about the consequences of the error. Layout the case in full. 

Find solutions. Make yourself part of the solution. Invite others to join you. 

Own the issue

“When you make a mistake,” said legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, “there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.” Owning a mistake requires the capacity to demonstrate vulnerability and the commitment to learn from it. Learning requires the capacity to determine the root cause of the problem, listen to those closest to the program, and then mobilize for action.

There are exceptions. Mistakes due to incompetence or ethical transactions deserve consequences. Those mistakes require discipline and often removal. Doing so keeps the organization rooted in solid values.

Stepping forward

When employees see their managers own their mistakes, they see the “real person.” One of the traits that followers like to see in their leaders is vulnerability. A leader who can stand up and admit a mistake reveals his limitations. A leader who works to find solutions by enlisting the support of others demonstrates that the organization needs to move forward, and such movement can only occur when people coalesce and work together.

First posted on Forbes.com on 6.02.2022

How Executive Coaching Facilitates Positive Change

Executive coaching is a journey of self-discovery; the coach enables the individual to see themselves in a new light. It is the root of behavior-based coaching; it focuses on performance, the choices, and the actions the individual makes. The results can be both transactional as well as transformative. There is a caveat, however.

The results are measurable, but the coach is one step removed. 

However, it is practical to frame executive coaching in two different avenues. Transactional coaching is rooted in process—the how of what we do. Transformative coaching is anchored in discovery—learning the why of what we do. So let’s take them one at a time.

Change on the outside

Transaction coaching focuses on improving a skill. Michelle Tillis Lederman, executive coach and author of The Connector’s Advantage, says: “When there is a specific objective to accomplish such as, change an industry, get a new job,” transactional coaching is appropriate. 

Evelyn Rodstein, an executive coach with a background as a senior corporate executive, says, “The best coaching uses transactional skills as the foundation upon which to build the coachee’s transformational change into a leader performing at a whole new level.”

For example, a coach may discuss ways to become a better listener or avoid interrupting others. Listening is essential to effective leadership, so learning to do it better is valuable. In addition, listening forms the basis of connection. From that connection flows an ability to engage another’s interests as well as their aspirations. 

Change from within

Transformational coaching addresses behavior. Tillis Lederman says, “This is when we are seeking to make inner changes to how we think or act. Something is holding us back or not working for us, and we want to uncover the behaviors that are getting in the way.” 

Our perceptions of people are based upon their actions. Therefore, self-awareness is critical to personal growth and development. By gathering feedback from colleagues, the coach can present a picture of how they are viewed in the workplace. Using feedback can enable the individual to understand how their behavior affects others negatively or positively.

Fundamental to executive coaching, however, is the desire to change. No teaching or no feedback will change another. Instead, they must want to change and do the work necessary to make positive changes that facilitate more significant levels of engagement, performance, and self-understanding.

Transactional and transformational change

Many coaches mix both styles of coaching. Dean Miles, president of Bridgepoint Coaching & Strategy, says, “This idea of being either transactional or transformative I find to be limiting. If the goal is to motivate an unmotivated individual merely, you may need to acknowledge the limited amount of effort available. If, however, you have a motivated individual who needs inspiration with limitless effort available. Then use both in parallel.” 

Miles continues, “As an executive coach, and I must choose which path to journey I would take the client down the path of why (transformative). If there is a high willingness and the client needs to start fast, I feel confident to take a shortcut straight to the how (transactional).”

Rodstein also believes that transactional and transformational coaching can go hand in hand. She relates the story of a senior leader who was promoted to the C-suite. Early in his role, her client needed to learn to present to the board and negotiate with the CEO. Those skills are transactional. As the coaching progressed, Rodstein helped her client see himself in a new light to gain the confidence necessary for his expanded management role. That coaching is transformational.

“The best coaching helps the leader develop the transactional skill set to manage and deliver stellar business results,” says Rodstein.  “The best coaching also allows the coachee to expand his mindset, identity, and authenticity. It takes both to run a world-class business.”

First posted on CEOWorld magazine on 2/28/2022

Intuition in Coaching

My father, who practiced family medicine for more than 40 years, was a rigorous student of medical literature and was board certified multiple times. Yet Dad, who passed away in 2007, used to say that what he loved most about his practice was the “art of medicine.”

In medicine, the diagnosis may come from science, but it may also come from intuition. The same goes for executive coaching but first, let’s explore the role that intuition plays in medicine.

Art and practice

Anna Yusim, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist on the clinical faculty at Yale, believes that “intuition is important in the practice of medicine precisely because medicine is an art and a science. As physicians, our reason and rationality can help us delineate possible causes of a given illness based on our medical education, clinical experience, scientific data, and double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials.”

“Intuition,” says Dr. Yusim, is the still, quiet voice that can only be heard when the screaming voices of our thoughts and emotions temporarily cease.”

According to David Fessell, a retired physician, intuition in medicine “can show up when a patient looks sick’ even though their blood pressure, pulse, white blood counts are all within normal limits.” Yet, says Dr. Fessell, “An experienced nurse, physician, or other health care worker may have seen patients in the past who looked this way—before their numbers went downhill. So it can prompt a more thorough investigation that can save a life.”

Dr. Yusim adds, “Intuition can guide us when reason alone does not lead to a solution or cure. Intuition enables us to ask questions which may, at the outset, seem counterintuitive, but may ultimately lead to the proper diagnosis or treatment.”

Link to executive coaching

Intuition can play a role in executive coaching. Dr. Fessell, who is also an executive coach, author, and speaker on wellness, resilience, and humor, advises his clients to “develop deep domain expertise. Talk about issues and scenarios with people who have more experience.” Dr. Fessell adds, “Consider discussions with people who have different domain expertise. Track your intuitions over time and see if you can pinpoint the factor(s) that are impacting it. This [practice] can help you have an idea of your accuracy. It’s easy to forget the times you are incorrect.”

Dr. Yusim, who is also an executive coach and the author of Fulfilled: How the Science of Spirituality Can Help You Live a Happier, More Meaningful Life, says, “We help our [coaching} clients optimize their functionality in all aspects of life. A key component of this is enabling clients to become more comfortable trusting their intuition… The more attuned [clients] become to their inner world, the more their intuition will expand in ways they could never have anticipated.” Such practices “gives them greater clarity, confidence, and competence [when making] important decisions.”

Limits to intuition

However, there are limits, says Dr. Yusim, “When you make an important decision based on intuition,” says Dr. Yusim, “it may be difficult to justify to your colleagues if this decision is not also the most ‘reasonable’ decision. In this way, reason and intuition can sometimes be at odds with each other.”

Dr. Fessell agrees. “Data and analysis, when available, are fundamental and the backbone of most successful strategies. Intuition can be a spice to add sparingly. If you use it, know your limits. Be prepared to be wrong so that you, and others, don’t get hurt.”

Intuition, therefore, plays a role in executive coaching as it does in medicine, but it should be used in tandem with science and experience.

First posted on Forbes.com 00.00.2022