Before and After

Before and After


Could be good, could be bad…


Have you heard the one about the woman who was driving down the road minding her own business when she encounters a driver coming towards her, arms reaching out the window, fists shaking; and as she gets nearer, she hears him yell in her direction the word, “Cow!”  Naturally she feels quite indignant. How dare he? What has she done to deserve that?!  She continues down the road, fuming a bit and muttering to herself about the rudeness of drivers these days, when what does she encounter but a small herd of cows leisurely crossing the road in front of her. Ah, h, h… now she understands. In that moment, her thoughts, beliefs, and feelings all changed. Before she sees the cows, it’s all about her rightness and his wrongness. She feels indignant, angry, disbelieving, and irritated.  After she sees the cows and understands the man’s warning, she feels grateful, a bit embarrassed, and even humble.


There are all kinds of events in our development as people, moments in time that are marked with our memories of life before the event and after. Some are milestones like first paycheck, first kiss, passing the driver’s license test, getting your first medal, saying I Do, the birth of your first child.  We have a recognition that what just happened is big! Life will never be the same again. And these important moments can have a pretty big build up; the preparation we must make in order to do the things that impact the course of our lives. We have some control of the build up that gets us ready and we also have choices about where to show up to have the experiences.


But some things just happen and we don’t get a chance to “build up”. Bombs drop, literally and figuratively, and something comes that we aren’t a bit prepared for. Words get spoken or actions occur that change everything. Sometimes we wish hard for life to return to the way it was Before.  But instead we are faced with living in the After.


So have you heard the one about the farmer whose horse ran away? His neighbors came running into his yard asking him how in the world he was going to plant his crop without his horse? The farmer simply replied, “Could be good. Could be bad.” The next day the farmer awoke to the sound of horses, and he saw that not only had his horse returned, he had brought several friends with him. Now the farmer had several horses to make the job of planting much easier.


Later that summer, the farmer’s son was working in the hayloft of the barn when he slipped, fell and broke his leg. All of the farmer’s neighbors again came running to see how the son was feeling, asking the farmer, “How in the world are you going to get your crop harvested without the help of your son? What will you do?” The farmer calmly replied,” Could be good. Could be bad.” The farmer worked very hard, rising early in the morning and retiring late at night to harvest his crop while his son lay mending.


During that time, the civil war started. All of the boys of a certain age in the surrounding countryside were called to duty. His son, however, could not answer the call due to his broken leg. Many of those boys never returned home.


When you think of it, each moment is filled with potential beforeness and afterness. We never really know what is going to happen, and yet, we move through our lives. What kinds of evidence do you more often look for – could be good, or could be bad?

Share the Light or Hoard the Matches?

Share the light or hoard the matches?

We are coming into the time of light. Strange to say so considering days are getting shorter and our routines are shifting into hunker-down, winter mode. Seasonally it is a time when we focus on the light side of things rather than the dark.

We use the word light to refer to all kinds of attributes. We have all recognized the light in a person’s eye or smile as a signal that he or she is present to us and friendly or inviting. Light can also mean understanding, as in shedding light on a particular problem or challenging situation. We speak of reflecting on our past experiences, another light reference, in order to get clarity or learning. A feeling of lightness can refer to ease and peace, the opposite of burdened. I use the term light in connection with a person’s special talents or unique perspective.

How do your natural talents bring light to you and those you encounter? I believe we are all put on the earth to make a difference. The size or importance of our gifts doesn’t matter and really shouldn’t be judged because, truth is, we never really know the impact we have on others. Think of a time when you were in the presence of someone who shared a talent. It might have been your son kicking the winning field goal for his high school football team, a friend sharing a hand-made gift or from-scratch pastry, or Pavarotti singing La Boheme. What was the impact on you?

If you can bring to your mind a specific moment, chances are you remember feeling tingly, moved, teary, joyous, excited, proud. The common factor is that you felt present to what was going on in that very moment and alive – almost as though you knew something of great importance, perhaps life-changing significance, was happening.

How willing are you share your talents, in essence to share your light with the world? In what situations do you find it challenging to show up and share your light?

I can remember a time in my recent history when I had a conversation with my coach about a new venture that I was considering. I was both excited and terrified to try. The conversation in my head went something like this, “Who are you to think you can help people by __?” I will never forget what my coach said to me after listening.

“Do you want to share the light or hoard the matches?”

Her question immediately brought to mind being in a church on Christmas Eve as the lights in the room were extinguished except for the light of one small candle. The person with the lit candle leaned in to share the flame with another person who shared it with another until the once dark room was ablaze with multiple small lights.

I would never want to hoard the matches! And sometimes it takes real courage to share the light. But think of what the world could be like if we were all willing to share the light of our small candles.

The world needs you. Be brave. Answer the question for yourself.

Will you share the light or hoard the matches?


Need some help identifying your unique light? Want some help making a strategic plan for moving into the New Year? Contact Dina today at




It’s about time!


I’ve procrastinated long enough. It’s time to get my fingers going on the keyboard and write my blog post – it’s about time! No really, I mean this essay is all about time.  Time is one of those elusive things we love to hate. Because it is a finite resource, kind of like money, we have to use it wisely and many of us just don’t. We try to cram so much into 24 hours each day that we’re left breathless, stressed, and overwhelmed. Sometimes even guilty. We worked really hard, we did the best we could, but we still didn’t get to that one thing that always seems important but never makes it to the top of the list.


What do you have on your list that’s been there for a while, but you haven’t made time to do it? How does it feel to be carrying that burden around with you day in and day out? Do you recognize it as a burden? Are you aware of the energy it takes to keep that ball in the air, rather than hold it in your hands and attend to it?


Hey, you may be thinking, this essay is about time, not shoulds. But let’s take a look at your should list. January is a great time for thoughtful reflection. Remember, you get to decide which things you want on your personal priority list, and which ones need to get crossed off. I coach people about to do lists all the time and here’s one thing I’ve noticed. It’s easy to put something on a list, and we can learn from the list what’s most important by our very own actions. What gets done first is the most important thing to us at the time. How do we know? Because that’s the thing we acted on. It’s the old, actions speak louder than words. I can tell what people really want and value by watching what they do with their precious time.


So what will you do with your precious time in 2014? Is there something important that you’ve been meaning to get around to? Is this the year you will make that happen?


Annie Dillard said, How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. It’s about time we all realized that we can’t do everything. WE have to make choices based on what we really value and what we really want. And, truth is, that requires slowing down long enough to figure it out. No one else can or should do this thoughtful task for us. We are each responsible for our own time, and blessed with the power to choose how we will use it.


Give yourself the gift of time. It doesn’t have to be long, but calendar some time for you – some time to reflect, some time to consider, some time to notice. One hour or two or a whole day – the amount of time really doesn’t matter. What you do with it will.


How do I use my time? What fills up my days?


Stress Melt


It’s cold. So cold that you notice as soon as you get outside, your shoulders and upper body tighten against the wind and chill. You grasp your coat or scarf up close to your face, and your neck shrinks like a turtle into the warmth and safety of your collar. Your spine bends too and you hurry along to your destination with single-minded determination. Head down, thoughts cloudy with discomfort and irritation, you move like a robot, not looking to left or right.


Your stress level increases as you search your pocket or your purse for the keys to the car. Where did you park? Why do all cars suddenly look the same, like ancient animals rounded and luminescent with snow and ice crusting their forms into unrecognizable mounds?


Once inside you start the thing in a hurry, cranking up the heat even as you know that it will take awhile to generate anything other than a bone chilling blast. Tires crunch with complaint as you pull from your parking space, straining to see out the small oval of windshield that isn’t frozen.


Oh how you long for summer. Just thinking of the satisfying solar warmth of July teases your wind-chapped lips into a surprised smile. What you wouldn’t give for that feeling warmth brings to your body. Your muscles feel like warm taffy, relaxed and stretching with ease and satisfaction in a sleeveless tank. Your arm goes up to shield your eyes from the sun’s glare as you survey the green landscape in all directions.


Your shoulders loosen. You laugh as you feel your stress begin to melt, to dissolve and drain away – as though your muscles actually begin to let go and you sink down deeper into your car seat. Is it just your imagination, or is the car beginning to warm up?


Your brow softens as the wipers swish melting snow and ice out of the way, easing your task of navigation. You’re on the main road now where streetlights beckon and multiple tires have gone before you to transform ice to wet pavement. You pull out your scarf and slip off your hat as you let out a sigh. Wow, you’ve really been holding yourself back. Even your nose lets go with a little trickle. Dreary thoughts of dread and disgust give way to hope and anticipation. It won’t be long now and you’ll be home, where it’s warm, and your family awaits.


You are melting. Stress and worry be gone. All is well. All is well.


-Dina Emser is a Leadership Coach who partners with emerging and veteran leaders to grow and reach their goals.  Coming in April, Lead the Ones You’re With, a one-day Seminar at Embassy Suites in East Peoria. For more information visit

Everybody Leads…Grow Your Influence

Everybody Leads

Grow your influence…

It’s happened! Summer is officially over and fall is here. Are you, like me, feeling a bit sad that another summer is past?

The beginning of the school year is like another new year – separate from the one we mark in January, but with many similarities. It feels like a good time to get a fresh start, to rally and set some new intentions, to get serious about what I want to do with the last third of the year, 2013.

READ ON, if part of your ideal life includes leading. Truth is, everybody leads. You may not do it as an extrovert would – waving your baton energetically, a big feathery plume in your hat and a broad smile on your face. You may not even being doing it very purposefully or effectively, but you’re leading.

What’s your style?
I lead a group called, Transform Leadership, and it attracts many very soft spoken leaders who often forget their power.
They listen very well and they serve big time, but they often deny the impact of their influence.

In her book, Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain says, “I have seen firsthand how difficult it is for introverts to take stock of their own talents, and how powerful it is when finally they do. As adults many of us work for organizations that insist we work in teams, for supervisors who value “people skills” above all. To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly. If you are an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain.”

I believe strongly that influence is something all leaders can be more purposeful about and that there are definite ways to build influence. Knowing how you lead and recognizing your style is a very important part of using your influence to promote the work and service that are important to you.

Read on – 8 weekly messages!
For the next 8 weeks I’ll be writing to you with information about the 4 Leader Competencies that will provide a focus for your growth as a leader. I promise not to flood your inbox, but I will be sending a regular message weekly to give you a tidbit to contemplate, discuss over coffee, or practice.

Meanwhile, why not think about your style of leadership. Are you more extroverted or introverted? What’s the feedback you get from others – do they ask you to speak up, or pipe down? Do you refuel with alone time or by socializing with others? [Quietleaderchecklist]

Understanding yourself is one of the first opportunities you will have to grow your leadership.

It’s fall – get started!

Do you lead at school?
I do leadership work with the Positive Discipline Association, and I will be presenting a workshop called Positive Discipline in the Classroom at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago on September 20 and 21st. Those who attend both days will leave as Certified Positive Discipline Classroom Educators. For more information and to register go to this website .

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more tips about how to lead authentically and effectively. I’ll talk to you next week.



Dina Emser
Executive Leadership Coach

I’m New

I’m New!
Starbucks or Leadership – no difference.
Fall is definitely in the air in Central Illinois and in Michigan. We had the opportunity to travel to Grand Rapids last week so Bob could deliver a sculpture for the ArtPrize competition – the American Idol of the visual arts. The scenery on the way up and back was astoundingly beautiful. I totally get mountains and oceans and always enjoy visits to the coasts. I’m just saying that the Midwest is also uniquely beautiful, and fall is a season that I especially enjoy. Cool, crisp air and miles and miles of yellow beans and golden corn, the husks just beginning to turn brown. The sun is low in the sky so the shadows are long, and the light takes on that golden hue that just literally lights me up!

We got to visit some of our favorite haunts while on the road, stopping for meals and coffee when the time was right. At one point, we stopped at a Starbucks. I ordered hot and Bob wanted iced, which led to a bit of a challenge for our server. Evidently she didn’t know how to properly “ring up” an iced coffee so Bob also ended up with hot. “I’m so sorry, sir,” our server said. “I’m new,” and looking around for a nearby co-worker, she got the help she needed to make the necessary changes.

Just like that, she diffused the energy of the mistake by owning up to the fact that she had no idea how to translate his order into a reality. And the only thing that was really required was to make the statement and ask for some assistance. It was easy. All was well.

I have often noticed that newbies are easily identified in service situations. Often they can be found shadowing a more experienced server; watching, listening, or even doing a part as they build confidence with the procedures. Why, I wonder, do we not identify new leaders in such a way so that it is easy for them to ask for help and get support in making hard decisions and carrying forth organizational procedures?

What do you notice as soon as someone tells you they are new to something? Are you  more patient, empathetic, willing to help?

It’s another case study…
Last week, I wrote about a client who was leading her graduate students to pay attention to what they know, how they learn, and who they are when preparing to interview for new jobs and internships. Remember the power of paying attention?

Today I coached a couple who are both married and business partners. They have worked diligently over the course of their careers to build a thriving practice and in doing so have added 5 additional employees who also provide service for their clients. While my clients have more life and professional experience than the newbies they have hired, they are relative newbies to leadership.

They are dynamite individual contributors – outstanding therapists who know what they’re doing with their own clients. And yet, the skills required to do what they do well, do not directly correlate to the skills of a respectful, collaborative, inspiring leader.  Not to mention, the type of leadership they aspire to is also relatively new. While we all know the top down version that has been in place for thousands of years, a more democratic style is new to most of us and can look messy.

Again, what does being new to your leadership role invite from others and yourself? Could you offer yourself some gentleness, some room to learn and make mistakes without huge judgment, some patience?

[Small Logo jpeg]
I’m a New Leader…

Lead the Ones You’re With,  is taking place in Peoria, IL on November 14th. This is a workshop that I have been honing for some time now. It has grown out of my own experience of being promoted into a leader role that I didn’t have the skills to do. It is targeted to address the growing phenomenon that many are experiencing – individual contributors who do what they do so well, that they are asked to step into leader roles without the experience or leader skill set.

The early bird rate is available now until Oct. 14. This will be a great learning opportunity if you are a young professional who would like to be a more effective leader, or if you are a seasoned leader who is interested in a succession plan for the leadership of your organization.

Read more about it here and sign up now! Use the link to forward to colleagues who fit this profile! Thanks in advance!
Thanks for reading! Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions before you close this email.

In what situations are you a newbie?

What does being new bring to the situation that experience does not?

How is beginner’s mind valuable to you and to others?

Check out my Seminar and I’ll talk to you next week.



Dina Emser
Executive Leadership Coach

Opening Minds Conference Handout

The 6 Secrets to Giving Meaningful Feedback
Presented by Dina Emser, MA, CPDLT, CPCC
Opening Minds Conference
Chicago Metro AEYC
January 26-29, 2011

1) Get over your fear and focus on your gift.

2) Be a Human GPS and know where you’re heading.

3) Notice, notice, notice versus judge, judge, judge.

4) Communicate honestly and manage your non-verbals.
a. In formal settings
i. Be present. What will I be seeing today?
ii. Stay curious. What would you like me to watch for?
iii. Ask questions for clarity. What did you feel showed your strength today and what was a challenge?
iv. Affirm strength and passion where you see and feel it.
v. Affirm the growing edge, places where you see progress and want to see more.
vi. Honestly address a place where the person is unskilled and attempt to teach it then or make a plan with them to learn it later. I noticed you seemed pretty unsure when he…. What would help you in that situation?
b. In informal settings
i. Be present to what you are noticing and manage yourself . You can always ask for permission. May I share what I just noticed? Would you be interested in some feedback?
ii. Offer to share what you notice later and in private if that seems more comfortable and respectful.
iii. Use similar tools to those above by addressing strength before weakness.

5) Practice encouragement all of the time!

a. Descriptive: I notice.
b. Appreciative: I appreciate.
c. Empowering: I have faith in you.

6) Stay grounded in what your intuition is telling you. Check understanding of what s/he heard you say and how s/he is feeling. Remember your goal to connect, build relationship, recognize and empower growth.

Dina Emser is a Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer and Certified Professional Co-Active Coach with more than 30 years in the field of education. Currently she coaches parents, educators and business owners, presents seminars to national audiences, and is the author of Trusting the Fortune Within and Roadmap to Success. She can be reached at and 309-467-4429. Sign up for her monthly newsletter,
Work in Progress, at