Facilitator + Trainer + Creative Coach |
Based in Connecticut, Working Worldwide

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photo of a hand holding small green buds of the dahlia flower with dahlias booms in the background

What can you learn about leadership from gardening?

What can you learn about leadership from gardening?

What can you learn from the natural world about growth, transition, and transformation? That’s something I think about a lot.

You see, when I’m not designing and facilitating workshops for organizations and teams, I like to spend time in nature.

Getting my hands in the soil and caring for plants really grounds me. (See what I did there? 😉

Actually, if I’m honest – and what’s very obvious if you follow me on my socials or collect my art – is that I really love flowers. Come June you can find me oohing and aahing over my peonies. Ditto for the later summer and autumn beauty of dahlias.

And here’s the interesting thing about dahlias: They can grow to 14 inches in diameter!

But before that incredible blooming happens, the plants make one bud at the end of each branch with two or three side buds.

But here’s the thing: in exchange for those magnificent blooms, you need do something that I still find hard to do.

You need to practice disbudding. A simple process, disbudding is when you snip off some of the flower’s growth buds on each stem so that all the plant’s energy is directed to the central bud.

The result? You get larger and better flowers with longer stems.

If you don’t disbud a dahlia plant, the central bud and the two side buds will bloom, but the stems will be short, and the flower heads will be smaller.

Of course, you can choose to do what some gardeners do and leave all the buds and get more, but smaller flowers.

Or you can do what I do: say a silent “sorry” and “thank you” to those side buds as you remove them. That way you can give the main bloom the best chance of reaching its maximum size.

Your reward? You get to cherish fewer, but more spectacular blooms.

So, what does pinching out a dahlia bud have to do with you and leadership?

Essentially, disbudding is about harnessing energy. To be effective as a leader you need to be very intentional about the choices you make and about how you channel your energy.

Pouring your energy across multiple projects is probably what you do most of the time…and that approach may work for a while.

On the other hand, focusing on one organizational goal – launching a product, rolling out a new system, or onboarding a new team member, for example – may be the right decision for you and your team at this moment.

The most successful leaders – people who want to build their business, nurture a healthy work environment, and have an impact – excel at managing energy.

Again, it’s all about making intentional decisions that align with your professional goals.

What about you?

What are the “side buds” – inefficient habits or processes – that are draining energy from you? From your team?

What steps can you take today to direct more energy to the things that really matter to you, your business, or your team?

Where will your channel your energy today?

I design and facilitate transformational learning experiences for teams worldwide. Reach out to me to discuss how I can help your organization or team elevate performance, harness creative energy, and grow your business, together.

Justine Ickes workshop facilitator

Need to Know, Nice to Know

Need to Know, Nice to Know

Where do you do your best thinking?

In the shower? At the gym? In the checkout line at Whole Foods?

No matter when or where your creativity sparks, it’s important to capture your ideas so you can create engaging and effective learning programs.

When you’re an expert in your field, it can be tempting to pack your webinar and your course with everything you know. 

But smart course designers realize that it’s not enough to simply churn out a laundry list of topics. You need to be selective, too.

Identifying your core “need to know” content and prioritizing it over other information that’s merely “nice to know” is the first step in developing your signature learning program


Because in a live webinar or online course you can have too much of a good thing.

Cram too much information into your learning event, and you run the risk of giving students (and prospective clients) a serious case of information overload.

At the very least, they might exit the webinar or not complete the course.

Worse, learners might be so turned off that they don’t enroll in your other courses, buy your products or services, or hire you for other work.

Let’s say you’re developing a basic course for people new to photography. You’re passionate about the history of the art form and your bookshelves are bulging with biographies of Robert Capa, Annie Leibovitz and other legendary photographers. You can talk a blue streak about lens and editing apps and your Instagram account is ginormous.

Your ideal learner, however, still hasn’t taken her point-and-shoot camera out of the box. 

See what I mean?

When you’ve got oodles of ideas, scaling back on your curriculum is a good approach. But you need to make sure you trim the right content.

Skimp on the core learning and your students will leave feeling hungry and unsatisfied.

So, how do you serve up the right content?

The key is to select the essential information and skills practice and deliver it in a way that keeps your students sated. 

Ask yourself:

  • Does the learner need to know this?
  • Is this essential information?
  • How will this content help meet my course objectives?

Want some support figuring out your key content so you can develop, launch and sell a course that’s just right for your clients? I’ve spent decades designing courses for clients large and small and I’ve got a proven system to get you in the learning game. Check out “The Launch Pad”, my hybrid coaching + consulting program here. Or contact me for a consult to find out how I can help.


Growing Into Your New Life

Growing into Your New Life

We’re living in a time of tremendous upheaval — a global pandemic, widespread economic distress, and urgent calls for social justice and structural changes. 

With everything in flux these days and months, many of us are taking a good hard look at our lives. 

From where I sit, aligning your life, work and relationships with your true nature is much like creating a garden. It’s a worthy endeavor that takes patience, time, commitment, and a willingness to change with the seasons.

You may be feeling out of sync right now. Much like a plant that’s outgrown its container, perhaps you are yearning for the space to stretch and grow. You know the old way doesn’t feel right and, yet, you’re not sure what steps to take next.

Or maybe the shifts you’ve been experiencing lately have you feeling rootless. Like a sunflower seedling that slowly turns toward the sun, you may be wondering how to orient yourself to a new normal. 

Whatever you’re feeling, take heart – as Rilke wrote “No feeling is final”. Our feelings are simply cues to the places where we need to focus our attention.

Today I encourage you to heed the voice of your inner guide. You may hear it as a whisper, or a clamour. No matter the volume, ask yourself:

  • What is no longer working in my life?
  • Where do I feel hemmed in or confined to an old way of being?
  • What needs to change? 
  • What new habits will help me thrive?
  • Who in my circle of support can help me grow stronger and deeper?

I offer creative coaching, support and accountability to get you out of overwhelm and into action. Schedule a complimentary coaching session with me, and let’s get the seeds of your growth planted today.

Justine Ickes coach trainer instructional designer

Breaking and entering

This essay by Justine Ickes was first published in July 2014 by Aperiodical LLC. The Magazine’s online ISSN: 2334-4970.

Every Sunday during the early 1960s my family would tour Long Island’s construction sites. Dad — an English teacher and armchair architect — led his bride and me around developments with names like “Pine Barrens” and “Birchwood at Blue Ridge.” Looking, after all, was free.

Often the half-built houses were unlocked, so we’d walk right in and amble around. Brushing away the sawdust with his flip-flops, Dad would decipher the markings on the subfloors and the joists, and indulge his design dreams. Our piano could go here, his reading chair there, that nook should be mom’s sewing room.

We prowled the subdivisions, oblivious to laws and safety codes, like hermit crabs in search of the perfect shell. It took decades, in fact, and the birth of my own two sons, for me to wonder, “What kind of person not only teaches their toddler to trespass, but doesn’t even acknowledge the transgression?”

Occasionally, our illegal incursions would hit a snag. Once my dad boosted me through a window — smack into a bathroom sink. Unperturbed, he guided me from outside until I sprang open the front door. “I’m right here,” he coaxed. “Just follow my voice.”

Outside the realms of real estate, I didn’t always play the willing accomplice to my father’s capers, though. I remember one ill-fated Easter hunt. “Sweetheart, go find some eggs!” he urged while I scowled in silence, jabbing a clod of turf with my patent leather shoes.

“The egg affair,” as Dad dubbed it, came to encapsulate our dutiful daughter–fearless father dynamic. For while I never imagined our escapades as anything but ordinary, I often found my father’s boundary-pushing terrifying, and his insistence on bravery maddening. So at age seven I drew the line: I would enter other people’s future homes with others, but I balked at sallying forth alone.

The world is my oyster

By college, however, I had embraced solo forays. A semester in London stretched into two decades of wandering of my own. English teaching in Madrid. A stint training Peace Corps volunteers in Eritrea. A summer trekking around Anatolia with my Turkish fiancé.

Back home on Long Island, my dad continued to indulge his architectural fantasies. At Christmas I’d flit home and find him poring over This Old House magazine or stacks of house-plan books. Dad had always been an avid reader, thanks to a childhood bout of rheumatic fever that kept him bedridden for a year. “Listen to this,” he’d say, scanning the real estate listings in the Sunday New York Times. “‘Mint pre-war apartment with formal dining room and wood-burning fireplace.’ Wouldn’t it be lovely to live there?”

Eventually, health issues left our breaking-and-entering empire in ruins. When my father developed diabetes, the ensuing circulation problems made walking difficult and painful. So we did drive-by reconnaissance; we would motor the long route home from the library, the grocery store, or — with increasing frequency — the doctor’s office. Along the way we’d marvel at a renovated Cape, groan over the new vinyl siding on a Dutch Colonial, or stare in dismay at the latest McMansion.

When my fella (now husband) and I bought our first home — a fixer-upper brick townhouse — I emailed Dad hand-drawn floor plans, careful to add the architectural hieroglyphics he’d taught me years before: dashes for a window, the staircase a block of lines, a square with four circles for the stove.

Later, we decamped to an old mill town in Connecticut. Through the casement windows, Dad would watch his grandsons clambering over the fieldstone walls that lined our property. “I could sit here forever,” he sighed. “It’s such a lovely view.”

Once, while tooling around the neighborhood, we spied a weather-worn folly, its gray-green cupola overgrown with wild roses. Ever the dreamer — and architectural pirate — Dad suggested we cart the gazebo off. “Just picture it near the lilac,” he said. “You could pretend to be Charlotte Brontë.”

In 2010, William Henry Ickes died, not long after I had moved to New England. Flipping through his old sketchbook, I realized that he had spent a lifetime crafting palaces in his mind, but he’d hardly built any in reality. Apart from plywood for homemade valances and miles of crown molding, he had lavished his paycheck and affections on his five kids. But had he, I wondered, ever made peace with the layout of his life?

A month after his death, I stumbled across a child’s chalk drawing on the sidewalk. Next to a lopsided house I saw the words “bathroom” and an arrow pointing to a small rectangle labeled “door.” The blurred, foot-worn sketch could have been teleported straight from my early childhood, when I drew with architectural authority if not precision.

That night in bed I thought about our long-ago residential ramblings and their imprint on my life. From the sidelines, Dad had showed me his plumb-lines for living. Boundaries often fence us in. And fear can demolish dreams. But love will always shore you up. 

And I remembered, too, one of our last conversations. A few days before my father’s bypass surgery, I was taking makeshift measurements of our kitchen, pacing the floor heel-to-toe as we had always done. While Dad plotted the dimensions on his trusty graph paper, I asked if he was afraid of dying. “Actually,” he replied, “I’m looking forward to the rest of the adventure.”

What’s been your most eye-opening travel experience? I’d love to hear.

Justine Ickes online training trainer coach facilitator

Are you ready to create an online course?

Prospective clients often ask me, “Do I have what it takes to create an awesome online course?” 

My answer?

Of course you do!

With today’s user-friendly e-learning platforms, you can have a course up and running fairly quickly.

But don’t take my word for it. Read on to see if you’re ready to create your own online course.

You’re Able to Commit.

Let’s be honest. Developing an online course takes a large investment of energy, time and resources. 

From crafting your course outline to writing learning objectives and from sourcing images to editing videos, you’ll need to juggle a variety of tasks before your course goes live. 

Add all that to what you’re already doing to run your business and you might find your head spinning before you’ve even started on your course. 

Does that mean you should put off your course until the time is right?

No. But you’ll be much more effective if you’ve got realistic expectations and have a plan in place to keep your business running while you dive down the course creation rabbit hole.

You’ve Got Friends and You Know How to Use Them. 

Ringo Starr got it right when he sang about the importance of friends. In e-learning, too, things are easier when you’ve got support. 

Plus, as far as we know, no one’s figured out how to extend the day beyond 24 hours. That’s why it’s important to figure out your strengths and then seek help for everything else.

Are you great at writing copy but easily frustrated with technology?

While you don’t need to be a tech guru to create a successful online program you do need to have some basic technical skills and be comfortable navigating online. 

So if words like “jpeg”, “metatags” and “bandwidth” send you scurrying, consider hiring someone to help you with the tech-side of your course.

Do you have an eye for layout but stumble over spelling and grammar? Then delegate the copy-editing to your company’s resident grammar geek.

You Know Your Learners.

No doubt about it, online learning is an ever-changing environment. What’s popular today might not exist a year from now, or even a month from now. 

The good news is you don’t need to be up on the latest app or have the skinny on the newest technology coming down the pike.

When it comes to great e-courses what matters is that you know your target audience. What e-learning tools do they like to use? How do they prefer to learn? Will they be happy to follow along with a slideshow? Or do they love on-line chats and discussion boards?

How do you find out? Ask them! 

So, how’d you do? If you can answer yes to the three criteria I’ve outlined above, you’ve got a good foundation for creating a course that your clients will love.

Want some support to get your signature learning program up and running? Check out The Launch Pad, my hybrid coaching + consulting program here. Or contact me for a consult to find out how I can help.


What’s it like over there in Turkey?

What’s it like over there in Turkey?

People ask me that question a lot.

They ask when they find out that my husband is Turkish. Or when I talk about spending the summer with our kids in Turkey. Or when I mention that I’m going there for work.

Or when some Hollywood starlet says something like, “Oh, I thought Istanbul was a town.” (Yeah, I know, I winced too.)

And, you know what? I still don’t have a good answer.

Because, summing up Turkey, or any other country or culture, for that matter, is basically impossible.

It’s like asking a mom what labor’s like. (Okay, it’s not that extreme.)

Still, when you’re talking about a country as big, as diverse, and as old as Turkey, there aren’t any simple, succinct answers.

But that doesn’t stop people from having questions.

The Top 3 Questions I Get Asked about Turkey

Over the years I’ve field a lot of questions about traveling in Turkey. Here’s just a sample:

Do you wear a headscarf when you’re there?  

Nope. Sure, if I’m visiting a mosque, I’ll put on one out of respect. But, in my normal goings-about, I’ve never worn, or felt pressured, to don a headscarf. 

Is it safe?  

There’s something about Turkey that makes some people very nervous. And it’s not just Americans who get the willies. Back when I lived in Madrid and was heading out for my first trip to Turkey, a well-meaning Spanish friend tried to talk me out of going. “What if you’re kidnapped? Or tossed into a Turkish prison like that guy in that movie Midnight Express?”  Considering that I wasn’t a) a top model or b) a drug dealer, I wasn’t too worried. Twenty-years and two kids later, I’m even less so.  

Is it true you have to walk several paces behind your husband?

Heck, no! And I don’t see my Turkish female relatives plodding along behind their spouses either.

Curious about Turkey and want to learn more? Then consider joining me on a “Wander & Wonder Day Trip”. Contact me to learn about the custom walkabouts I offer in Istanbul and other locations in the U.S. and abroad. 


The # 1 Reason that Cultural Fluency Matters

Ever been to an aquarium?

It’s such a cool experience, watching the aquatic parade. 

The sharks glide by.

The sea anemones do their funky slow-mo dance.

Even the guy in the wetsuit fits right in — Okay, maybe not him.

But you know what I mean. The whole aquarium thing just, you know, works. 

What do fish have to do with culture?

Culture is like the water in an aquarium. And we humans are the fish.

As we paddle along, culture keeps us afloat. It’s the shared values and beliefs we live by, the rituals and traditions that say “this is how we do things here”, the taboos that tell us what behaviors are out of bounds.

For people born and raised in the U.S., culture is things like:

Just Do It © or “Been There, Done That” (values)

Always singing the “Star-spangled banner” before a ball game.  (traditions)

It’s rude to ask someone how much money they make. (etiquette and taboos)

For someone from Japan, culture might be expressed this way:

You always accept a business card with both hands and study it carefully. 

When you’re a guest in someone’s home, it’s rude not to eat all the food your host offers. 

Is either one of these cultures better than the other?

Nope. They’re just different ways of being in the world.

Are these differences ever cause for confusion?

You bet.

That’s because, like the fish in an aquarium, we’re all immersed in our own culture and that can make it hard to see, let alone, understand how the world might look to other fish, er, people who are from another culture. 

But, as long as you’re safe in your own cultural waters, life usually goes swimmingly.

Something Smells Fishy Around Here

But let’s say you have a change in life circumstances.

You decide to study abroad or you’re assigned to a global team at work.

Or maybe, like me, you fall in love with someone from another culture.

Now you’re in unfamiliar, maybe even murky, waters.

Out of the Fish Bowl and Into the Fire

Getting dumped out of your cultural fish bowl, whether by force or by choice, is shocking, to say the least.    

After all, you’ve got a whole new set of cultural behaviors and norms to sort out.

Which leads to lots of questions and maybe even some frustration.

Why can’t I get a straight answer from my Korean colleague? 

My Spanish girlfriend is never on time! 

This meeting with our Brazilian clients is really dragging on. What’s with all the chit-chat?! I mean, let’s get to the sales pitch, already! 

Ever felt this way? No worries, confusion, frustration and exhaustion are part of developing cultural awareness.

But, if you want to stay afloat — be happy in your new home overseas, get along with your colleagues or make your cross-cultural romance work —  you’re going to have to learn some new strokes. 

Three Tips for Staying Afloat in Cross-cultural Seas

  1. Resist the urge to succumb to stereotypes. Sure, it would be easier to just label the other culture as “lazy”, “crafty”, “just not like us” or any number of unflattering adjectives. But does that really make it easier to get along?
  2. Educate yourself about basic cultural differences. Read books. Ask questions. That way, you can anticipate where misunderstandings might arise and you can build on cultural traits that you and your new friend, colleague or soul mate might share.
  3. Remember to take off your own goggles. Pretend you’re an anthropologist and try seeing your own culture as someone from another culture might. 

Need support navigating your cross-cultural relationship? Could your team use some training in effectively communicating across cultures? I offer coaching and training for individual and groups. Schedule a consult with me and let’s explore how I can help.

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