Boston Executive Coaching

Dr. Brendel’s Radio Shows & Interviews

Microphone Radio Show

Listen to Dr. Brendel’s radio shows on Voice America and interviews with other hosts. Here are some recent radio programs featuring Dr. Brendel:

4/13/15 – Audio Boom Shop Floor with Nick Peters Talking to Dr. Brendel About Mindfulness

3/17/14 – Science in the Wild: Revealing the potential of choice and responsibility in mental health

7/15/13 – Voice America: SOAR Selling: How to Get Through to Almost Anyone—the Proven Method for Reaching Decision Makers

Certificate-Certified Executive Coach Associate

Welcome To The Leading Minds Executive Coaching Blog

02/24/2015 – Huffington Post: A Toolbox for Managing Email Overwhelm at Work

In this Huffington Post article, I describe some practical, realistic strategies to manage the problem of an overwhelming email inbox at work. (A Toolbox for Managing Email Overwhelm at Work)

02/11/2015 – Harvard Business Review: There Are Risks to Mindfulness at Work

In this HBR post, I address the risks and benefits of our culture’s growing focus on “mindfulness.”. (There Are Risks to Mindfulness at Work)

09/19/2014 – Harvard Business Review: How Philosophy Makes You a Better Leader

In this Harvard Business Review blog post, I talk about the ways our philosophical values can affect our behavior as leaders. (How Philosophy Makes You a Better Leader)

07/22/2014 – Harvard Business Review: Expressing Your Vulnerability Makes You Stronger

In this HBR post, I discuss the relationship between vulnerability and success. (Expressing Your Vulnerability Makes You Stronger)

05/05/2014 – Harvard Business Review: Stress Isn’t a Threat, It’s a Signal to Change

Read my Harvard Business Review post about how to use stress as a helpful cue, rather than something that should always be minimized. (Stress Isn’t a Threat, It’s a Signal to Change)

03/24/2014 – Harvard Business Review: The Heretic’s Guide To Getting More Done

Read my Harvard Business Review post with some unusual tips about getting more done. (The Heretic’s Guide To Getting More Done)

02/24/2014 – Attention Excess Disorder

Are you working endlessly but not accomplishing all that you want? Mystified that continuous attention to work tasks is not resulting in satisfactory progress toward your strategic goals? Distracted to the point that you’re not thinking, planning, or executing as well as you can?

Sounds like you might have attention deficit disorder (ADD), a diagnosis that countless millions of Americans will receive this year. Many of them will go on to take potentially toxic medications like Adderall, which might help with mental focus but also cause insomnia, agitation, drug dependency, and other adverse effects.

Now consider the possibility that we’ve got this all wrong. The “attention deficit” construct is driven largely by big Pharma interests and a compliant medical/psychiatric profession, whose interests also are served by lots of prescribing. The research on whether ADD deserves scientific status as a formal medical/psychiatric disorder is questionable. A major New York Times article in December 2013 explored the problem and the interests driving it.

My experience as an executive coach and psychiatrist has taught me how essential it is to question the received wisdom about ADD. In many (if not most) cases, I end up guiding my clients to call the “ADD” paradigm into question. The world is topsy-turvy in this area — and what appears to be “attention deficit” often turns out to be “attention excess.” An alternative paradigm addresses the attention difficulties in over two-thirds of the professionals and businesses leaders I see in my practice.

The syndrome, which I call “Attention Excess Disorder” (AED), captures the trend toward poor self-management that so many stressed out and overworked leaders experience. Much is written about ADD, but little heed is paid to its potentially more damaging counterpart. The AED construct reminds us that an individual may be perfectly capable of paying attention, but is misdirecting his or efforts — and paying excessive attention to the wrong things.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), ADD is diagnosed when an individual meets 6 of 9 criteria of inattentiveness. Analogously, AED is identified by observing at least 6 of 9 behavioral patterns in a client for 3 consecutive months. Adopting the language of DSM, the syndrome causes “social and occupational dysfunction.” In other words, excessive attention to narrow work tasks causes damage to social relationships and failure to thrive at work.

Here are the criteria: the client with AED….

1) works at least 70 hours per week, or at least 6 full days (10+ hours) per week on average.

2) checks email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media at least 10 times daily on average.

3) persistently avoids lunch breaks, naps, aimless walks, or other “down time” activities.

4) suffers chronic sleep deprivation, i.e. less than 7 hours per night of sleep on average (or at least 2 nights per month with less than 4 hours of sleep).

5) fails to delegate tasks that are more appropriate for employees, direct reports, or other colleagues.

6) spends at least one-third of work day multitasking rather than attending to a single task in depth.

7) neglects essential parts of life outside work, such as hobbies, exercise, friendships, volunteer work, cultural activities, or reading for pleasure.

8) fails to take a non-working vacation of a week or longer within each calendar year.

9) takes stimulant medication for attention deficit disorder (ADD) even if it causes adverse effects such as insomnia, anxiety, or drug dependency.

The AED paradigm incorporates important findings from current neuroscience. A growing body of research shows that optimal brain functioning depends on adequate “down time” and sleep.  A recent article in Scientific American entitled “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime” compellingly summarizes the evidence that “mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories, and encourage creativity” .

This article cites research by Harvard Business School researchers who conducted a 4-year study of the effects of scheduled down time on workers at Boston Consulting Group. The results included higher work productivity and increased capacity to envision a long-term career with the firm. The article also cites a Stanford study that showed that physicians and nurses who took naps during long overnight shifts outperformed colleagues who didn’t nap on measures of attention, a simulated medical procedure (inserting a catheter), and a simulation of driving a car home.

Other research shows that that mind wandering, rather than being a symptom of a disorder like ADD, may actually be a prerequisite for creativity, entrepreneurship, and visionary leadership. Meditation and other “mindfulness” techniques may have similar benefits. There is also growing research and media attention to the fact that good sleep is essential to adequate brain functioning. Since so many overworked professionals and executives don’t get good sleep on a regular basis, their attention difficulties may result from inability to “unplug” from work and restore their brains’ capacity to function optimally.

Cutting-edge research suggests that there are immeasurable opportunity costs to a continuous laser focus on work. Excessive attention to narrowly focused work tasks and chronic multitasking can preclude the development of an original idea, the implementation of that idea, or the conversations that can foster new partnerships, creative goals, and innovative strategies to achieve them.

A major risk to our having adequate “down time” is social media and other Internet technologies. In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr describes how careless use of these technologies may impair our ability to think deeply and perform critical intellectual tasks. Excessive attention to our smartphones and tablets also can interfere with the social engagement and connectedness that can foster creative human-to-human collaboration. Carr’s incisive commentary, rooted in emerging neuroscience and related research, supports the AED paradigm and the solutions to managing it.

The AED framework provides practical guidance in executive coaching. Here is a case from my own practice. The CEO of a large and successful family business came to me with a complaint that he couldn’t mentally focus at work, where he frittered away 20-30 hours per week of potentially productive time. He “surfed” the Internet and multitasked with multiple windows open on his computer throughout the day, rather than engage in deep, meaningful work. He was inputting employees’ 401(k) payments into an outdated computer system each month, rather than delegating this and other non-CEO tasks. His sleep schedule was unregulated and he had stopped exercising. He was obsessed with the company’s challenges and his perceived inability to lead the company effectively toward stability and growth.

My impression was that he didn’t have ADD, but rather AED – and we agreed to address his situation on this basis, rather than turn to medications for ADD. With intensive coaching over the coming months, he established a healthy sleep schedule and exercise regimen. He scheduled “down time” for himself (including a yoga class) and with his family, whom he realized he had neglected for some time. By hiring an executive assistant and delegating non-CEO tasks, he freed up time and energy to have networking breakfasts with potential investors in the company (which he aimed to expand outside the local market). As he began to have more face-to-face discussions with family and colleagues, he realized he was no longer multitasking or spending unfocused, unproductive time on his computer. His work satisfaction, productivity, and leadership capacity have skyrocketed and the benefits – financial, personal, and otherwise – have endured.

“Attention excess” is rampant among high-performing professionals and executives. The AED model prompts us to consider how to focus our efforts and achieve greater mental agility so that we can successfully manage our lives at work and at home. Consider a regular sleep schedule and exercise regimen, a vacation every once in a while, a renewed effort to delegate work, a decision to put your smartphone down for the afternoon. Take a nap, or a walk, or a yoga class.  Read that novel that’s been sitting unopened on your bedside table. Consider paying less attention – not more. Compelling new research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that the results may pleasantly astonish you.

12/16/2013 – Executive Coaching and Overcoming Attention Deficits

The front page of the Sunday New York Times on December 15, 2013 includes a feature article on The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder. Driven by pharmaceutical company advertising and other promotional strategies, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a leading long-term diagnosis in children (second only to asthma) and increasingly in adults as well. In 2012, nearly 16 million prescriptions were written in the United States for ADHD in young adults. Sales of prescription stimulants such as Adderall and Concerta exceeded 8 billion dollars that same year. It is no wonder that growing numbers of executive coaching clients are asking me if medication would be a helpful approach when they find themselves distracted and inattentive at work.

As both an executive coach and a psychiatrist, I am intrigued by this challenge and strongly committed to helping each individual client find the optimal solution in his or her own case. As noted in the NYT article, there is a growing tendency to diagnose ADHD too quickly, without careful medical evaluation and consideration of possible downsides to the medications (including addiction and side effects like insomnia, nervousness, loss of appetite, and agitation). Before starting medication, a comprehensive clinical evaluation is always warranted. Even if ADHD is suspected (or even diagnosed definitively), there are many behavioral strategies that can be implemented before and/or during the course of using stimulant medications.

There are many “attention deficit disorders” beside officially diagnosed ADHD. Executive coaches with some working knowledge of psychiatry and psychology are well positioned to help clients struggling with inattentiveness, poor concentration, procrastination, distractibility, difficulty starting or completing tasks, and a wide range of related complaints. Here are some common causes and potential remedies for these attentional problems, all of which can be incorporated into executive coaching instead of (or in addition to) use of prescribed stimulant medications.

1) STRESS. Regardless of the type of stress involved, stress hormones and other physiological factors can impair brain functioning and degrade executive functions such as attention, concentration, working memory, and strategic planning. Executive coaching can empower clients to understand the stress factors they face and to develop practical strategies to reduce the effects of those stress factors. For some clients, this may entail implementing such activities as regular exercise, yoga or meditation, and good nutrition. Some clients achieve stress reduction from better delegation of tasks to others, hiring of additional help, and enhanced communication skills to ensure that they get the most out of their employees. Frequently, these kinds of changes allow the executive to avoid prescribed medications. But these stress reduction strategies are equally important for those who decide to take medications, so that the medications are most likely to be effective.

2) MULTITASKING: Executives these days are continually rushing and pressured by multiple demands in their businesses. Neuropsychology research reveals that concentration and other executive functions break down when we try to do too much at once. Who among us has not been on a conference call while also checking email and perhaps paying bills at the same time? The ongoing explosion of social media technologies makes us all vulnerable to this. While I sit at my desk, I often catch myself with multiple windows open that I’m trying to attend to at once: email, Twitter, LinkedIn, an article I’m writing. Many of my clients report doing exactly the same in their weak moments. Instead of rushing to take potentially dangerous and addictive stimulant medications for ADHD, many executives can improve their cognitive performance and work productivity by doing one thing at a time. With the “default” position these days being multitasking for many of us, executive coaching can help clients prioritize, focus, and succeed by doing each individual task well. Some clients also need to be urged to give themselves down time so their brain can rest and recover. A growing body of research suggests that many of us suffer from “attention excess disorder” and failure to “reboot” our brains for best performance (see article in Scientific American at

3) WORK ENVIRONMENT: Without environmental conditions like proper lighting and temperature control, none of us can function at peak levels. Yet many executives and professionals spend little time or effort creating the environment that will empower effective work habits. It’s hard to concentrate on work when these conditions are not in place. Does the executive have adequate privacy and a quiet, comfortable work station? Executive coaches can come into the client’s work space to assess the situation in this regard and make recommendations about adapting the work space to optimize attention, concentration, and work performance. These changes might make all the difference in solving the client’s “attention deficit disorder.” Prescribed stimulant medication, even if clinically appropriate for ADHD, is unlikely to have any significant impact without such changes. Psychiatrists are often too quick to prescribe stimulants before assessing this dimension of the executive’s work life. This is another way in which executive coaching can make a major difference.

4) SLEEP PROBLEMS. Few executives that I know get adequate sleep on a consistent basis. There has been growing attention recently to the necessity of good sleep for mental health, and a recent study revealed that treatment of disordered sleep in itself is effective for treating major depression ( Stimulant medications for ADHD are unlikely to work if the person doesn’t sleep well and sleep long enough on a regular nightly basis. What’s more, one of the major potential adverse effects of stimulant medications is insomnia — so stimulants can actually make ADHD worse if this common side effect occurs. Executives sleep poorly for so many reasons: long work hours, worries about business issues, frequent travel across time zones, etc. Executive coaching must attend to sleep issues to support clients in managing stress, avoiding attention deficit issues, and maintaining good physical and mental health.

5) PSYCHIATRIC CONDITIONS. Multiple psychiatric illnesses other than ADHD interfere with attention and other brain-based executive functions. Among those conditions are anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and eating disorders. When people are anxious or sad, they clearly cannot give all their focus and attention to work tasks. When their mind is racing or their thoughts are disorganized because of a mental health condition, they similarly cannot perform optimally at work. Eating disorders and substance abuse negatively affect parts of the brain that are responsible for concentration, working memory, and other executive functions. Executive coaches who are savvy about these kinds of psychiatric conditions can refer their clients for appropriate mental healthcare. In my own practice as both a coach and a psychiatrist, I am careful to define what role I’m playing and whether another professional needs to be involved. Rather than simply going on prescribed stimulant medication for ADHD, many executives with attention deficits can benefit from treatment for anxiety, mood disorder, or other psychiatric challenges.

6) PERSONAL ISSUES: Even in the absence of a diagnosable psychiatric illness, emotional and relationship problems can interfere with the executive’s work performance. Personal crisis such as divorce or illness of a loved one can be all-consuming. The executive may find himself or herself completely distracted and spending large chunks of the work day on dealing with these situations. Some executives and professionals also find themselves so unhappy with their career choice and current work role that they simply cannot concentrate on job tasks. Rather than jumping to a conclusion that medications for ADHD are warranted on the basis of the client’s complaint that “I can’t focus at work,” the executive coach pays heed to personal issues and concerns. This is where executive coaching and personal coaching may overlap. By helping the client identify pragmatic strategies for coping with such challenges, the coach can help to free him or her to get refocused on work performance. Some clients may benefit from prescription medications, but virtually all are likely to respond to coaching around personal issues — and without any of the downsides like addiction or potentially toxic side effects.

11/4/2013 – Helping CEOs in the Crucible of Mental Health Issues Part 2

In my previous post, I introduced the rationale for coaching specifically designed for executives and other professionals who are confronted by mental health challenges in themselves, in their colleagues or employees, or in their family members. Psychiatric conditions occurring in any of these contexts can increase stress levels and derail the optimal performance of executives who are charged with leading and growing their companies.

I introduced the ARCH acronym to call attention to the importance of finding the kind of support executives need to navigate these challenges. In architecture, an arch provides structural support for heavy materials bearing down from above which could otherwise cause the building to crumble. The ARCH of coaching provided by Leading Minds services are designed to provide similar support for dealing with mental health problems weighing down on the executive.

As a reminder, the ARCH acronym stands for:
A = Awareness
R = Recognition
C = Care
H = Health

AWARENESS of mental health issues is a prerequisite for managing their ill effects. Executives and other leaders of businesses and organizations must be tuned into the possibility that we are all vulnerable to developing psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety. Executives, who so often are under severe stress, may be particularly at risk for developing insomnia, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Long work hours and the constant need to multitask may bring out attention deficits. Under these circumstance, a subset of executives may develop even more severe symptoms like paranoid thinking or manic agitation. When that happens, the executive may need to take time off from work and even go into a residential or inpatient treatment facility.

Executives must also be attuned to the possibility that others can develop such conditions as well. What will the CEO do if a member of the executive team develops a psychiatric illness? Or if the sales manager becomes too anxious to perform his or her job, or so agitated or paranoid that he or she is inappropriate with potential customers? Executives must be aware of how common psychiatric disorders are in the general population and, by extension, among their colleagues and employees. The same goes for awareness of the potentially devastating impact of a mental health condition in a family member or someone else in the executive’s personal life.

RECOGNITION of mental illness is challenging across the board. In order to responsibly run a company, the executive needs to be self-aware and to recognize if he or she is being overtaken by stress, anxiety, insomnia, inattention, or some other behavioral abnormality. The executive also needs to be able to recognize warning signs in others, whether at home or at work. Overlooking the manifestation of such difficulties can be dangerous. On the other hand, recognizing the symptoms or behavioral changes associated with psychiatric disorders can empower the executive to intervene and direct colleagues, employees, family members, or others to the appropriate help.

CARE of the mental health condition is multifaceted. Depending on the nature and severity of the condition, the coach may need to help provide referrals for mental health treatment. With my dual training as a psychiatrist and executive coach, I have specialized experience in assessing these complex situations and designing individualized plans that may combine coaching and clinical treatment. In mild cases (like when an executive is struggling with anxiety or insomnia before an important presentation), I may coach my client on strategies to restore healthy functioning and may recommend “mindfulness” techniques like controlled breathing and meditation. In more severe cases, I may refer the executive for treatment with medications or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). My recommendations are always in accordance with state-of-the-art psychiatric science.

When a psychiatric disorder is occurring in someone close to the executive (e.g., a colleague or family member), the coaching is focused on how best to confront the situation in a caring yet firm way. Executives often need to provide leadership of their companies, or their families, to ensure that the mentally ill person receives good care. Since executives are not trained as mental health clinicians, they can benefit from guidance and coaching on how to manage these situations compassionately and effectively.

HEALTH is, of course, the desired state. But it is never a completely stable and reliable state, as new challenges and ongoing stress can again send things off the rails for the executive. My coaching engagements usually begin with intensive work to stabilize an unnerving, dangerous, and complicated crisis. As the situation comes under control and the executive is back to a more normal state of functioning, other coaching tasks become the primary focus: strategic planning, team alignment, leadership development, revenue growth, etc. But attention to the mental health issues must remain a key component of the work as well, even as the frequency and intensity of the coaching diminishes. What if the executive confronts new and unforeseen stress that could lead to a recurrence of sleep problems, anxiety, excessive alcohol use, or other such problem? Recognizing these patterns early can prevent relapse, and ongoing coaching can help to assure the goal of sustained mental health and wellness.

Even as the most intensive phase of the coaching engagement ends, Leading Minds Executive Coaching helps clients design a flexible, individualized plan for ongoing contact and more intensive services once again if and when the need arises.

10/29/2013 – Helping CEOs in the Crucible of Mental Health Issues Part 1

Like everyone in the general population, chief executives and other business leaders are at risk for developing psychiatric conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In fact, CEOs may be at higher risk because of the intense stress and pressures they face in their important leadership roles. There is clear scientific evidence that the kinds of stressful life events (SLEs) confronting CEOs can precipitate or exacerbate acute episodes of depression, anxiety, and related problems.

CEOs increasingly must perform in a fast-paced, globalized, turbulent, and uncertain business environment. Every economic downturn, disappointing quarterly report, intimidating board meeting, or guilt-ridden need for layoffs (just to name a few) can be a SLE. Intense worry and emotional trauma have become a routine part of the CEO experience. Mental health problems in CEOs can increase the perceived negative impact of these events. And these traumatic CEO experiences can cause or worsen a pre-existing psychiatric condition.

Even if the CEO doesn’t have a diagnosed condition, his or her performance can be affected by a psychiatric illness or personality disorder in someone else. A colleague or employee may be underperforming because of a psychiatric illness, such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD. How can the CEO confront this challenge in a compassionate, ethical, and business savvy fashion? One of my clients dealt with this question when the top performing marketing and sales manager in the firm developed an angry, demeaning, and destructive attitude in the context of a worsening of his bipolar disorder. The coaching here focused on how best to understand the health condition, direct the colleague to appropriate clinical care, and ensure the best interest of the firm as a whole.

Other CEOs may fail to reach their strategic goals because they are overwhelmed by a mental health problem in a close family member or friend. One of my clients has been severely distracted from important work on his family business because of his teenage daughter’s prolonged psychiatric hospitalization for suicidal thinking and self-injurious behavior. Our recent sessions have focused less on his strategic planning for his business and more on how to lead his family through a crisis. The coaching here is as much about how to handle mental health challenges as business challenges.

Executive coaching has become a billion dollar industry and helps many CEOs deal with important challenges such as strategic planning, business growth, leadership development, and management of employees across the organization. Some executive coaches focus on “wellness” and promotion of the healthy habits that can support CEOs in their day-to-day functioning, in the face of long work hours and chronic stress.

One of the things that has been missing from executive coaching, however, is adequate attention to psychiatric conditions and mental health. Some executives can benefit from working with a coach who understands how psychiatric conditions might affect their ability to lead their companies. Others may benefit from coaching on the most effective ways to deal with colleagues, employees, or loved ones whose psychiatric conditions may be affecting the health of the CEO and of the company as a whole. These situations are extremely common and at times can rise to crisis levels, threatening business stability and growth.

A growing number of executive coaches come from a background as mental health professionals, such as psychologists and psychiatrists. With dual training and professional experience in mental health and business coaching, they are well positioned to assist CEOs and other business leaders searching for solutions to the problems described above. These coaches are not functioning as mental health clinicians per se in these situations, but they are drawing on clinical experience and understanding of human psychology to coach their executive clients through some of most distressing, tricky problems they’ll ever face.

How does this kind executive coach get the job done? The approach can be conceived as an “ARCH” of support for the CEO. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an arch as “a usually curved part of a structure that is over an opening and that supports a wall or other weight above the opening.” The coaching process I’m describing provides support for the weight of mental illness bearing down on the company structure and the chief executive leading it. It is “curved” in the sense that there is a learning curve for the CEO that involves gaining awareness of mental health conditions, recognizing them in oneself or other, finding appropriate care, and restoring the health of the individual and the business.

In the context of coaching executives dealing with mental health challenges, the ARCH acronym stands for:

A = Awareness
R = Recognition
C = Care
H = Health
In my next blog post, I will discuss in detail the 4-pronged ARCH approach to coaching executives and business leaders confronting psychiatric illness in themselves, their colleagues/employees, and/or their loved ones. Stay tuned….

Call or email Dr. Brendel for a free initial telephone consultation to assess whether his Career Coaching services are a good fit for you. His office telephone number is (617) 932-1548 and email address is


CEOs and other executives are the titans and high flyers of the business world. To reach the very highest levels of peak performance, they primarily depend on their own talents and drive. They may also benefit from the help of an executive leadership coach. The model described below has a proven track record for helping executives reach these heights. It can help highly successful executives be even better than they already are.

The heights of executive-level success bring significant benefits and risks. When they fall, executives tend to fall hard. Setbacks happen to all of us – and when they do, getting back on track quickly is of paramount importance. What’s at stake is nothing less than our financial well-being, our leadership roles, our standing in the community, and our self-esteem.

Setbacks to executives can be ordinary or extraordinary. Ordinary setbacks may include failing to close a deal, being passed over for a promotion, or receiving less-than-perfect feedback from a Board of Directors. Although these kinds of setbacks are common, they can be stressful, scary, and even devastating when they happen. The executive can feel like he or she will never be successful again.

Extraordinary setbacks for executives can include serious work-related problems, such as being under investigation for professional misconduct or criminal activity. These setbacks can cause major damage to the executive’s reputation and bring a host of emotional and financial problems. Other extraordinary setbacks may involve a contentious divorce, other family problems, and worrisome health issues. In all of these cases, the executive is in a state of crisis.

After suffering a frightening and confusing life setback, the executive may be overwhelmed and unable to think clearly about how to get back on track. Where can he or she turn for reliable, structured guidance and safe, confidential discussion about an effective action plan? Who can the executive trust as a partner in the task of navigating a path toward success once again?

Good executive coaching is a powerful tool for quickly getting back on track following any of these kinds of setbacks. It cannot be “fluffy” or “light” coaching, however. Because of the importance and complexity of the lives of leading executives, the coaching process must be rigorous, powerful, and highly effective. In short, it requires a strong model for quickly overcoming setbacks and a strong coach who can implement that model along with the client.

Leading Minds Executive Coaching provides a clear and proven model for success. At its core, the model involves the coach’s using a process called Active Inquiry to assist the client along a clear path to being back on track. The coach asks the client a series of direct, powerful, thought provoking, and transformative questions. In the course of reflecting upon and responding to these questions, the client discovers that he or she has inner strengths and assets to solve the problem at hand.

When the client develops deeper insight and an action plan from within, the outcome can be astonishing. Genuine, lasting success is more likely to result when the client formulates his or her own solution, rather than being told what to do by someone else. The coach’s recommendations also help to reinforce the client’s own plan and to guide it toward successful implementation.

Active Inquiry and other coaching strategies must be used in a clear and effective model for executives. Leading Minds Executive Coaching provides this very model. Here is how it works and can help you overcome a setback so that you can get back on track:


The 12P Model is designed to help you reach the height of performance, personal satisfaction, and well-being. Why is it called the 12P Model?

12P is a brilliant, Halley’s-like comet that has inspired people for centuries. The comet is expected to come into view again in 2024. The 12P model will help you become a shooting star once again.

12P is a signifier for High Noon, the time of day (12:00 PM) when the sun is highest in the sky. The 12P model will help you rise to the top of your world once again as well.

12P refers to 12 words (or phrases) beginning with the letter “P” and representing 12 dimensions of getting back on track. All 12 are important, but some may be more important to certain individuals than others. Here they are:


  1. PASSION FOR SUCCESS: When in crisis or experiencing a setback, it is essential to reconnect with your core values and the passions that drive you forward. The coaching process helps you to identify your priorities and passions, so that you can leverage them to reestablish yourself as successful and in control.
  1. PRACTICAL GOALS: Getting back on track will only occur if there are concrete goals and strategies. Active Inquiry and other coaching techniques will help you make a laser-focused, practical plan for success.


  1. POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY: Setbacks often lead to negative thinking and a tendency to “pathologize.” The coaching model draws heavily on positive psychology, which emphasizes the importance of building on your strengths and assets to reestablish your success.
  1. PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTION: Only by reflecting on your inner values and sense of yourself can you figure out how to get back on track in your professional and personal life. Coaching needs to promote the kind of philosophical thinking that will empower you to take effective action.


  1. PROACTIVE STANCE: Setbacks tend to make people feel like passive victims of unfortunate circumstances beyond their control. You can only get back on track if you see yourself as an active agent driving your own destiny and if you make a proactive plan to move forward. Active Inquiry and other coaching strategies can help you get there.
  1. PERSONALIZED APPROACH: Every executive is a unique individual, so there is no “cookie cutter” solution to reestablishing control and success. The coaching process focuses in on the specifics of your individual situation and helps you work out a highly personalized plan. The 12P model provides an overall structure for developing your individualized plan of action.


  1. PARTICIPATION ON TEAMS: When overcoming a setback, it is essential not to “go it alone.” You may need to work closely with a team of colleagues in the workplace. Or with a team of attorneys, public relations specialists, or other professionals who can support your getting back on track. The executive coaching process will help you develop the right team to support your success.
  1. PEER TO PEER ORIENTATION: The executive and the coach must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with each other as peers. The executive may be feeling vulnerable, but the coach respects him or her as an equal. Conversely, the coach cannot be intimidated by the powerful status of the executive. The coach must say it like it is, using direct language and even confronting the executive with ideas that at first may be hard to hear.


  1. PROFESSIONALISM: The coach always acts as a consummate professional, respecting the privacy and confidentiality of the coaching relationship. Similarly, the coach helps the executive to draw on his or her professionalism and ethics to formulate the ideal plan for getting back on track.
  1. PROFITABLE ENDEAVOR: The coaching relationship will help you make a plan to focus on profitable activities. That means both financially profitable, but also profitable to your sense of well-being overall. A structured exercise regimen, more time with friends and family, or other improvements to your daily schedule can all be profitable in the more general sense.


  1. PROGRESSION UPWARD: The coach will continuously check in with you about the plan for upward progression toward establishing a state of peak performance. If progress stalls or goes off track, Active Inquiry can quickly identify the problem and correct the plan for getting back on track. The goal is always to rise toward 12P – the shooting star/comet and High Noon.
  1. PEAK PERFORMANCE: The ultimate goal of the coaching process is to reach peak performance, however the executive wishes to define it. For the executive who is already thriving, that means taking the next step toward further flourishing. For the executive who has suffered a setback, that means getting back to the point of highest functioning and success.




Andrew is the founder and CEO of a successful boutique advertising firm in the New York area. Although his firm was still generating sufficient income at the time he started working with me, he was no longer growing the business and he had started to feel a lack of enthusiasm for the work. He was struggling at home with a marriage that was “on the rocks” and not getting the attention that it needed because of his constant worries about the business.

A couple of years earlier, Andrew had been a high-level executive at a large Manhattan firm in which he had daily contact with colleagues and oversaw the work of a large team. He found it to be stimulating and it kept him “juiced,” but he ultimately felt “drained” by always having to “perform for others” and follow the strategic plan of the company rather than his own passion. These considerations had led him to leave the large firm and establish his own small company, with just a few employees and a short list of clients. Over 90% of his business in the last several months came from just one client. He was worried about the long-term financial viability of that set up. He also felt guilty about serving this client, because they had a long track record of outsourcing jobs from the United States and of making large contributions to a political party that he opposed.

Andrew felt like he had suffered a significant setback in his career as a result of these challenges to his work situation, financial well-being, moral sensibility, and family life. He wanted to get all aspects of his life back on track as soon as possible. He contacted me for executive coaching and we began a process of Active Inquiry, guided by the 12P Model, which in the first meeting helped to identify the main areas of concern. Andrew wanted to reconnect with his passion for working more collaboratively with others. He immediately set a practical goal of spending no fewer than 10 hours per week on developing new clients, so that he could wind down his engagement with the client who made him feel both guilty and financially insecure.

By the second and third meetings, Andrew had deepened his philosophical reflection on these circumstances to the point that he had developed a personalized approach to expanding his business and at the same time spending more time revitalizing his marriage. He came up with new ideas about how to delegate work to his employees, participate as a team player, work more efficiently in the office, and spend more time “dating” his wife. Instead of remaining stuck in the passive view that his life was happening to him, the coaching process empowered him to feel proactive. He stated that the coaching discussions helped him to feel “back in the driver’s seat.” Within the coming two months, he had two promising new clients and the company had entered a state of profitability. He was now in a position to consider whether to discontinue the client that had caused him discomfort. His marriage was still struggling, but both he and his wife agreed not to divorce and instead to spend the coming months working harder to save their marriage.

Overall, a more positive psychology had emerged in Andrew. For example, he could now see his worries about the questionable client as evidence not of his own personal failing, but instead as positive evidence of his financial savvy and morally justified world-view. He stated that he had regained his self-respect in a number of different ways. He noted that he felt respected by the peer-to-peer orientation of the coach, even at a time when he was “down in the dumps” and very unsure of himself. He was glad and hopeful about the newly emerging profitable state of the company and its continued progression upward. Andrew and I continue to work collaboratively toward getting him back on his previously successful track – and ultimately toward an enhanced form of peak performance in all aspects of his professional and personal lives. We both remain deeply committed to this important, ongoing work together.


The 12P model is a rapidly effective, client-centered coaching model that helps executives to achieve peak performance and overcome whatever setbacks may occur. Using Active Inquiry and other key coaching conversations and tools, Leading Minds Executive Coaching provides a distinctive set of services within a powerful and proven framework. Whether you are striving to be even more successful than you already are, or are struggling to overcome a troubling setback in your personal or professional life, consider the possibilities of executive coaching using the 12P Model. For more information about the services provided by Leading Minds Executive Coaching, contact David Brendel at (617) 932-1548 or

10/1/2013 – The Rise of Positive Psychology

The “helping professions” of the 21st century are increasingly diverse
and in flux. The recent emergence of “positive psychology,” a compelling model
focused on development of the human individual’s strengths and assets,
underlies some of the most exciting new tools for enhancing human happiness and
potential.1 There is a growing body of empirical literature
demonstrating that positive thinking helps to promote mental health and optimal

Cognitive therapy, for example, draws
on positive psychology to help people rework their thoughts about themselves in
a more hopeful and healthy way. It has been shown to be reliably effective for
treating people with a host of psychiatric conditions, including anxiety and
mood disorders.3 When anxious and depressed people learn to be less
self-critical and pessimistic, and choose instead to focus on realistic yet
hopeful parts of their lives, they feel and function better in daily life.

Psychologists and other mental
health clinicians are the usual providers of cognitive therapy, but novel
approaches to delivering cognitive therapy effectively via the Internet have emerged
in the last few years.4   These
newer modalities for delivering cognitive therapy and the principles of
positive psychology appear to be equally effective, and they have the
advantages of being inexpensive and highly accessible to large populations.5

Positive psychology is an essential counterpoint
to the negativistic and pessimistic focus of psychiatry and related mental
health disciplines. In the 20th-century Western world,
psychoanalysis and psychiatry were the predominant paradigms for helping people
manage emotional distress. Both approaches are underpinned by a philosophy of disease
and defect. Their starting point is the biological determination of human
experience and behavior, with a primary focus on diagnosing and treating mental

In psychoanalysis, the human being
from earliest infancy is understood as a bundle of biological drives. When
development of drives is arrested or goes awry, the individual develops a “neurosis”
(e.g., anxiety) that requires psychoanalytic therapy. From the time of Freud until
the rise of biological psychiatry in the latter half of the 20th century,
psychoanalysis was dominant. Treatment in this model usually entailed several clinical
sessions per week, focused on unearthing and “working through” traumatic
experiences of the past.

Biological psychiatry and
psychopharmacology attend to brain chemicals and neurotransmitters, but they share
with psychoanalysis a dark view of the human condition. In this world-view,
people are constrained by their genetics and how their genes express themselves
as “chemical imbalances.” Psychotropic medications can improve neurobiological
functioning, but they do not in themselves help people attain their full potential.
When psychiatrists only prescribe medications to patients (as so many nowadays do),
they limit what they can help patients achieve on a more global and holistic

Many people look to professional
help to achieve more than psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and related mental health
disciplines can provide. They seek help which builds on their personal
strengths and assets to propel them toward greater self-understanding, better
interpersonal relationships, success in work and career, and ultimately peak experience
and performance in all areas of life. Emotionally healthy and stable
individuals also can benefit from professional assistance to improve their
quality of life and overall functioning.

We already have seen that positive
psychology forms the basis for evidence-based cognitive therapy for many psychiatric
disorders. But it also serves as the basis for professions that help healthy,
rational, and successful individuals striving toward their highest potential in
all dimensions of their lives. A prime example of a field being shaped by
positive psychology is professional coaching in its various manifestations,
such as executive coaching, career coaching, and life coaching.

What is the nature of professional
coaching? An effective coach is a careful listener and trusted confidante who forms
a professional relationship with a client who is seeking to change or improve
important elements of his or her life. Toward this end, the coach uses many
conversational strategies with the client. Many coaches use structured assessments
to help clients identify the strengths they can use to enhance their lives. At
all times, the coach maintains a positive psychology orientation by respecting
the client’s individual strengths and ability to think in a healthy, rational

The core coaching conversation is Active Inquiry, in which the coach asks
the client open-ended, thought provoking, and transformative questions. In the
course of reflecting upon and responding to these questions, the client discovers
that he or she has strengths and assets to address the challenge at hand. The
professional coach helps the client develop insight and a hopeful action plan.
An essential tenet of professional coaching is that genuine, lasting success is
more likely to result when a client formulates his or her own positive
solution, rather than being critiqued or told what to do by the coach or
anybody else.

If professional coaching is to flourish
as a bona fide helping profession in the twenty-first century, it will need to
establish a strong theoretical basis, evaluate scientifically the services it
provides, and continually improve the quality of those services. A growing
literature suggests that positive psychology provides a strong theoretical
foundation for the field of coaching6 and a growing body of
empirical data reveal the efficacy of various forms of coaching.7,8

One set of studies has shown that
business teams achieve peak performance, customer satisfaction, and profitability
when they achieve an optimal ratio of positive to negative affect.9,10,11 In one of these studies, strategy sessions of
60 business teams were observed and statements team members made to each other were
coded as either positive (supportive or approving) or as negative (critical or
disapproving). The ratio of positive to negative differentiated high performing
from low performing teams.

When positive to negative
statements among team members occurred in a 3 to 1 ratio, the business team
performed at its best. Teams demonstrating a lower ratio, or a very high ratio
(above 11 to 1), were less flexible and successful. These data suggest that business
teams should pay careful attention to the ratio of positive to negative statements
among their members. This is an example of how positive psychology research can
obtain empirical data that have real-world implications. Executive coaches can
draw on these data to educate business leaders about positive psychology and
help business teams become more successful by developing strategies to achieve
a favorable positivity ratio. Other coaches can draw on similar research about
positivity ratios to help clients improve their lives and interpersonal

Ongoing research and quality
improvement can help the field of coaching to thrive. A growing number of
organizations, such as the Institute of Coaching, are funding this kind of
research and providing educational services for coaches and the broader public.
Professional coaches can implement the findings of positive psychology to help
a diverse array of clients seeking to improve and optimize their lives at work,
at home, and across all areas of their lives. An essential complement to
psychiatry and other mental health disciplines, positive psychology continues
to establish itself as a bona fide discipline and the foundation of professional
coaching in the 21st century.


1)    Seligman ME, Csikszentmihalyi M. Positive psychology: An introduction.
Am Psychol 2000; Jan;55(1):5-14.
An overview of positive psychology by two of the scientific leaders in the
field. From the abstract: “The authors
outline a framework for a science of positive psychology, point to gaps in our knowledge, and predict
that the next century will see a science and profession that will come to
understand and build the factors that allow individuals, communities, and
societies to flourish.”

2)    Seligman ME, Steen TA, Park N, Peterson C. Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. Am Psychol 2005; Jul-Aug;60(5):410-21. From the abstract: “In a 6-group, random-assignment, placebo-controlled
Internet study, the authors tested 5 purported happiness interventions and 1
plausible control exercise. They found that 3 of the interventions lastingly
increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms.”

3)    Hofmann SG, Smits JA. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for adult anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis of
randomized placebo-controlled trials. J Clin Psychiatry. 2008 Apr;69(4):621-32. From the abstract: “Our review of randomized placebo-controlled trials indicates
that CBT is efficacious for adult anxiety disorders.”

4)    Johansson R, Sjöberg E, Sjögren M, Johnsson E, Carlbring P, Andersson T, Rousseau A, Andersson G. Tailored vs. standardized
internet-based cognitive behavior therapy for depression and
comorbid symptoms: a randomized controlled trial. PLoS One 2012;7(5):e36905. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036905. Epub 2012 May 15. From
the abstract: “Major depression can be treated by
means of cognitive behavior therapy,
delivered via the Internet as guided self-help. Individually tailored guided
self-help treatments have shown promising results in the treatment of anxiety
disorders. This randomized controlled trial tested the efficacy of an Internet-based individually tailored guided self-help treatment which
specifically targeted depression with comorbid symptoms…This
study shows that tailored Internet-based treatment for depression is effective and that addressing comorbidity by tailoring may be one way of
making guided self-help treatments more effective than standardized approaches
in the treatment of more severe depression.”

5)    Powell J, Hamborg T, Stallard N, Burls A, McSorley J, Bennett K, Griffiths KM, Christensen H. Effectiveness of a web-based
cognitive-behavioral tool to improve mental well-being in the general
population: randomized controlled trial. J Med Internet Res. 2012
Dec 31;15(1):e2. doi:

6)    Kauffman C. Positive psychology: The science at
the heart of coaching. In: Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting best
practices to work for your clients, eds. DR Stober and AM Grant. Wiley (2006).

7)    Grant AM. The impact of
life coaching on goal attainment, metacognition, and mental health. Social
Behavior and Personality 2003;31(3):253-64. This study has indicated that
solution-focused, cognitive-behavioral life
coaching can facilitate goal attainment, improve mental health and
general life experience.”

8)    Orenstein RL. Measuring executive coaching efficacy? The answer was right here all the
time. Consulting
Psychology Journal: Practice and Research
10/2012; 58(2):106-116.
From the abstract: “This article
demonstrates that executive coaching efficacy can be measured empirically.”

9)    Losada M. The complex
dynamics of high performance teams. Mathematical and Computer Modeling 1999;30(9-10):179-92.

10) Losada M, Heaphy E. The role of positivity and connectivity
in the performance of business teams: A nonlinear dynamics model. American
Behavioral Scientist 2004;47(6):740-65.

11) Frederickson BL, Losada M. Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human
flourishing. American Psychologist 2005;60(7):678-86.


David H. Brendel, MD, PhD is a certified executive coach and
Harvard-trained physician in the Boston area. His coaching firm, Leading Minds
Executive Coaching, provides a wide array of personal and executive coaching
services. More information is available at