Category Archives: Developing others

Why Take a Vacation?

Many Americans don’t use all their vacation days because coming back to piles of work is so stressful—this according to a recent study. The understandable decision not to take a vacation has got me thinking.

  • As a leader, do you model taking time off?
  • Do you unplug or restrict email use when you are on vacation?
  • During the summer months, how can you make work time more seasonally appropriate—stretchier, sunnier—in some way more relaxed?

One of my clients surprised his staff when he stopped the practice of his CEO predecessor, who had sent emails to staff members day and night, year round. As the new CEO, Paul modeled work/life balance by attending his children’s school activities and going on vacation. Staff followed suit, and satisfaction with work/life balance quickly shot up.

Once when I told a client that I’d check email a couple of times a day while I was vacationing in France, my consulting partner spoke up and said, “oh no you don’t; I’m here and working; you are going on vacation.” I needed that curb on my control-freak tendencies.

Whether or not you take time off this summer, here are ways to model making summer stretchier and sunnier. I invite you to post more ideas in the comments section of this blog.

  • At least once a week, invite others to join you outdoors for a bag lunch.
  • Use staff meeting check-in time (5-10 minutes of an hour-long meeting) to share summer memories, like mine below. (Yours don’t have to be poems—but they CAN be. Try haiku!)
  • Bring the outdoors into the office—flowers, homegrown herbs, vegetables and fruits
  • Encourage folks to learn more about each other. What’s a summer activity they enjoy? When they were a kid, what did they most like about summer?

June 30 may be the mad end of your fiscal year. Or maybe it’s hard to divvy up work when people take time off in July and August. At the same time, just as our muscles work at full strength only if they can let go of holding, we have to learn how to relax.

First Fireflies

Early June, and I stare into dark
Wondering where and when they’ll come,
These delightful beacons of summer.

Was it a porch light through a quiver of birch
Or—over there–a trick of the eye?
Another flash, and then a third—

Ah–the tiny fellows have come
To celebrate their love and bring
Me back to nights in Arkansas

When we sat on our grownups’ laps, lulled
By the to and fro of rocking chairs,
The summer heat, and family voices

Lowing, like the cattle beyond the fence.
In the deeper dark, the lightning bugs
Arrive, and we cousins rush among

The stardust to cup them in our small
Hands, so they will make our fingers
Glow and we can feel them tickle

Gently, like my mother’s feathery
Eyelash brushing my kissed cheek.
Opening our hands, we let them go

And spreading my arms like wings, I tilt
My head skyward to the bigger lights
That spin around our haloed heads.

poem ©2013 Merryn Rutledge

How to Support Managers as Coaches

supporting others to climb-chalk drawingIf you believe coaching is a great way to approach supervision and develop people, great. But do you give your managers the know-how and time to coach? When I ask managers I work with whether their bosses support their talent development role, many say, no, or not much. Their performance is too often evaluated based only on their functional roles as program managers, sales team heads, etc.

If you expect managers to be coaches, you have to invest considerable organizational resources to create and sustain a culture that is consistent with a coaching approach. Culture building has to come from the very top—as an organizational strategy, with resources. Once you commit, there are many ways to start; I gave ideas in an earlier blog. In today’s blog post, I want to emphasize that after you teach managers coaching skills, you have to continue to give them resources that enrich their skills—forever!

There are lots of teachable ideas for skill building. Here, for instance, is a framework managers can use to bookend check-in meetings with supervisees. The acronym TOSS will help you remember how to start the meeting.

  • Topic. Some weeks you’ll bring the topic. Sometimes, though, begin the meeting with an open-ended question. Ask, what topic would you like to focus on today?
  • Objective. State or ask what the objective is for this meeting.
  • Success. When the meeting objective points to a specific action or plan, be sure to ask how both of you will know the coachee has been successful.
  • Support. Ask your coachee what you can do to support him/her during and after this conversation.

At the end of a meeting, the TAPAT questions invite the coachee to consolidate her/his learning and commit to action.

  • Take aways. Ask, what are your take aways from this meeting?
  • Actions and/or a Plan. What actions will you take, and/or what’s your plan?
  • Accountability. How will you make yourself accountable for your action or plan?
  • Thanks. Express appreciation for something specific that has happened during the meeting.

At first I chafed at this structure, a version of one used by the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, where I have been a mentor coach. You also may share the skepticism of one of my clients there, who wondered how she could use TOSS and TAPAT while guiding a gracefully fluid coaching session.

Then I started seeing how TOSS and TAPAT questions enriched my practice. The opening questions help the coachee focus and help the coach serve learners’ real needs and goals. At the end of a meeting, the TAPAT questions invite the coachee to consolidate her/his learning and commit to action. I ALWAYS learn from the coachees’ choice of take aways. These help me understand what is meaningful for them, how they see their own challenges, and how they learn.

Years ago, when I was a young teacher, my wise mentor Pam told a story that taught me a lot about a coach’s helping role. During an alumna/e weekend, a former student ran up to Pam, exclaiming that he had learned so much from her. Pam waited to hear confirmation of her classroom skills. Instead, the young man said that one day, as he and Pam had walked together across the snowy campus, she had wondered aloud at the lovely snowflakes swirling about. “You taught me to notice small things,” the young alumna said.

Coachees’ answers to some of the TOSS and TAPAT answers often surprise me, and that’s a good thing. The surprise reminds me to be present for this person, here, now.

Work Cultures–Not Like Amazon

fish jumpingWhen I read the recent New York Times piece on Amazon’s ferocious work culture, I felt sad– because it isn’t only Amazon. Americans are working harder, longer, and under fiercer pressures. Instead of being wowed by Amazon’s growth and dominance, let’s create workplaces where:

  • Work is creative and challenging AND
  • Values and practices support developing people
  • Policy and practice support balance.

Here’s a key: in organizations where work IS learning, work will be creative, and talent management will emphasize growth and development. What do I mean by “work IS learning?” Coming to work everyday, you tackle tasks that ask you to create, analyze, decide, plan, and act. If you intentionally think about how you will do a task, reflect on what you’ve done, and then ask questions like, “what can I do the same, differently, better, etc.?” that’s learning. And it doesn’t take extra time. If, as a supervisor, you are encouraging others’ learning, you help them work smarter and perform better.

David Kolb, the master of learning, says, “The process of experiencing with awareness to create meaning and make choices is what we call deliberate experiential learning. Deliberate learning requires…a personal understanding of one’s unique way of learning from experience and the ability to intentionally direct and control one’s learning. In short, one needs to be in charge of their learning to be in charge of their life.” (D. A. Kolb, 2015)

You take full charge of this learning by:

  • Understanding how learning happens
  • Knowing your unique way of learning
  • Tracking where you are on the Learning Cycle throughout the day
  • Making intentional choices about where on the Cycle to move to.

Understanding how learning happens
The Learning Cycle describes an orderly process for learning. To help our clients picture the Cycle, Kay Peterson and I show it as a compass.

Compass-4-Modes small image

The orderly process of learning goes like this. Moving clockwise, you:

  • Have experiences—due North on the Compass
  • Reflect on the experience, facing East
  • Step back, think, and reach conclusions, facing South
  • Decide what to do next and then initiate these actions, facing West.

To further illustrate how the Learning Cycle works, try this experiment. Re-read Kolb’s quote. Reading the quote is an example of what Kolb means by “experiencing with awareness.” We’ll use this mindful experience to prompt learning. Re-read Kolb’s quote now.

Ready to practice going around the Learning Cycle? Here is a guide:

  • What, if anything, struck you—both individual words or phrases in the quote, and also your own thoughts or feelings. You are now facing East on the Compass, where meaning-making begins with reflection.
  • Mentally sort through your reflections on the quote. What do they suggest? How do they relate to your work, to opportunities for your growth, and to yourself as a leader/role model? As you answer these questions, you are moving South, to “Thinking,” which involves analyzing and reaching conclusions.
  • Because Kolb is inviting us to be more intentional about learning, what is one thing you will do more of, less or, or differently? Now you are facing Compass West.

Knowing your unique way of learning
Thanks to Kolb, everybody in your workplace can “understand one’s unique way of learning.” The Kolb Learning Style Inventory 4.0 (KLSI 4.0) tells you about your learning style. The nine style preferences are habitual places we start from—like default modes on a computer. Unlike the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, for example, which uses complicated terms and four-letter Type codes that take awhile to understand, or Emergenetics, which uses color codes that users have to memorize, KLSI 4.0 is both profound and accessible. You can readily see how you typically operate in relation to other people. You can also learn to use the capabilities of every style. To use the compass metaphor, you can orient from any direction on the Compass, depending upon what a particular work situation calls for.

Tracking where you are on the Learning Cycle
Kolb is asking us to be explorers, noticing ourselves as both the subject of our experiences and an intriguing object of study. Understanding your learning style immediately helps you recognize the way you habitually operate. Once you notice how you operate, you can, following the the Learning Cycle, see and make better choices.

Nellie’s preferred style (called “Imagining”) accounts for the ease with which she thinks of possibilities and opportunities in almost every kind of situation. In a coaching session, Nellie uses her style to explore a frequent work challenge: When she faces a high stakes decision in her work as Director of Development, she easily imagines a hundred possible paths, and then has trouble deciding and acting. In my coaching sessions with Nellie, we co-create ways for her to practice deciding and acting.

Making intentional choices about where on the Cycle to move to

When Atul’s KLSI shows that he prefers quick and sure decision making (called the “Deciding” style), he understands why he gets so impatient when, as he tells me, “a meeting has too much process.” As teammates on an IT project, COO Nellie and Atul learn that they prefer styles that are exactly opposite. Now they see why they get impatient with each other in meetings. Acknowledging that there are times when he knows his decisions are rash, Atul gets curious about Nellie’s strong suit– Imagining. As for Nellie, she realizes she could use Atul as a resource when she gets stuck in a popcorn popper of possibilities.

Use the Learning Cycle and learning styles to help people take charge of their work. Doing so will energize them and expand the power of work–throughout your organization.

Coaching Cultures

Organizations where coaching skills are infused in day-to-day practice have “higher employee engagement and stronger financial performance.” So says a 2014 International Coaching Federation (ICF) research report.

As I see it, more traditional approaches to leadership development involve three components: leader training programs, formal mentoring, and/or coaching offered to senior leaders (and sometimes to a select group of rising stars.) Comparing these three components highlights special features of coaching.

  • Coaching is a partnership in which the coachee sets or, even where HR or Talent Management is involved, co-creates her/his goals. The coach, using skills and frameworks he/she has learned, co-creates paths for learning
  • In contrast, “training” means that the program developer—not the learner—determines the learning objectives and creates a course of study.
  • Although mentoring is more organic than training, it is still teaching. The mentor guides learning from her/his own experience and expertise in a particular area.

pink tree blossomsIt’s great when organizations offer training programs, formal mentoring, and/or some coaching. I wish more organizations had all three! Fundamentally, though, I would like all managers to be able to use a coaching approach to supervising employees. And I would like to see more employees have the experience of coaching.

Why? Beliefs that underlie coaching cultures build resilient organizations.

  • People’s strengths, resources, and experiences are the wellsprings of growth.
  • Inquiry and exploration are important both for employee growth and business outcomes.
  • Both coach and coachee are learners. Everybody is a learner; work is about learning every day.
  • Supervision is collaborative.

According to the ICF report, organizations with strong coaching cultures share several attributes.

  • Coach training and coaching skills training are dedicated line items in the corporate budget.
  • Leaders and managers use a coaching approach to supervision.
  • They have coaching skill training that has been approved by an an accrediting organization (such as ICF).
  • Both internal and external coaches are certified. Certification entails completion of a course of study approved by a certifying organization, adherence to ethical standards, verification of coaching experience, and ongoing continuing education.

Especially if your resources are limited, you may not think a coaching culture is within reach. Don’t give up; here are ways to get started.

  • Help managers and organizational leaders learn more about coaching. For example, there are important differences between leadership coaching, consulting, mentoring, training, and sports/wellness/voice coaching.
  • Host brown bag lunch discussions where leaders compare their mental models of coaching.
  • Invite a panel of coaches to explain and demonstrate aspects of their practice.
  • Discuss the supervision practices you now use, such as performance reviews. What assumptions about supervising, teaching, employee motivation, and correcting underlie your current practices? What would be different if managers adopted a coaching stance as the norm?
  • Offer a coaching skills course so managers can learn to use a coaching approach to supervision.
  • Support one or a few employees at a time to enroll in an accredited coaching program. (I’m happy to offer recommendations.)
  • Create a multi-year plan for building a coaching culture, and welcome small steps. Some experts think that with large scale change, it may actually be better to implement the change over a period of time.

As organizations grow more complex, people at all levels need the very skill sets that coaching encourages and teaches: the capability to heighten self-awareness, cultivate critical and strategic thinking, see from multiple points of view, and communicate with people who are very different from oneself.

For Sustainability, Develop People

shutterstock_282591626“Stark underinvestment in leadership development undermines nonprofit leaders” and weakens their organizations, a new report by Third Sector New England warns.

 

The over 1,000 leaders and board members surveyed strongly support the need for sustained professional development for staff.

  • Leaders “who do invest in professional development were significantly more likely to think their organizations have enough bench strength” for sustainability and leadership transitions.
  • But staff professional development is a budgeted line item in just over half the organizations surveyed in New England.
  • Although acknowledging the value of coaching, just over half of leaders have invested in coaching.

What can you do in your organization? Here are some approaches I use.

  • Create a culture based on learning, embedding learning in every work process. The Learning Compass, based on David Kolb’s Learning Cycle and the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory 4.0, provides an excellent basis because you can use the Compass in business process improvement, problem solving, decision making, innovation, planning, team development, and communication.
  • Create a performance management system based upon facilitating growth, not evaluating or “appraising.” Teach managers to approach supervision as coaches. Of course, all managers need a firm understanding of what a coaching approach is and is not, and they must be supported with skill development.
  • Build bench strength by targeting rising leaders for formal mentoring and coaching. Peer problem solving, using methods such as the tuning protocol (adapted for using in the business sector) or the GROW coaching model, teaches coaching skills and fosters creative solutions to day-to-day work challenges. These problem-solving processes are especially powerful when facilitated by a certified coach who helps the group deepen its awareness and be more intentional about skill-building.

The Third Sector (TSNE) report points out that with baby boomer Executive Directors retiring, nonprofits’ lack of succession planning is a serious problem.

  • Nearly two thirds (63%) of the 877 internal leaders surveyed said they intend to leave the organization in one to five years.
  • Almost two thirds (64%) do not believe there is an internal leader who can succeed them.
  • The report calls for preparing for leaders’ departures by developing “deep sustainability,” including strong leadership systems. No organization should be dependent upon individual leaders.

Here are steps to strengthen your leadership system.

  • Imagine what would you be missing if the Executive Director or CEO were to leave next month? What if your top four or five leaders were to suddenly leave? This exercise will focus your attention on the need to identify the capabilities and skills that your organization must have in order to thrive. You and your board will likely also experience a sense of urgency about developing people and creating systems that are not individual-dependent.
  • Create a plan for developing leaders. It is all right if it is not a comprehensive plan. When change is complex, sometimes more incremental approaches are even preferable (Senge et al, 1999).

These examples may help you see what I mean.

  • Recognizing that she would leave before long, one CEO worked with her senior staff to consensually re-configure job responsibilities so that one team member became COO. Over the next year, that person grew in her ability to lead all aspects of the organization. In addition, all senior team members identified and trained direct reports to step into new responsibilities.
  • Another organization created distributed leadership by first training about 10% of staff, including some supervisors, some managers and two senior leaders, in Culture of Quality Improvement (CQI) methods. Once these folks became certified, they further “seeded” shared leadership by heading up CQI project teams with manager and non-manager members, some of whom became the next cohort to receive training in CQI.

The TSNE report decries “the paucity of resources to support the success of nonprofits” in the Northeast and throughout the country. It challenges the long-held belief that low overhead for nonprofits is good management. Starving leadership development is, in fact, shortsighted, inefficient, and ineffective. In order to serve others, you have to take care of yourself and your staff.

Managers and Leaders are Different?

The tired claim that managers and leaders are different has serious consequences for the way we treat people and run organizations.

First, what is the alleged difference between a manager’s and a leader’s roles and capabilities? Guru Warren Bennis put it this way,

The manager administers; the leader innovates.
The manager maintains; the leader develops.
The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it. (Bennis, 2003)

In other words, a manager sees that projects and programs get done. A leader has strategic vision, originality and the ability to inspire.

Bennis went on to make the case that managers can become leaders—but the either/or distinction stuck—and not just in business schools. Haven’t you heard a supervisor say something like, “she’s a competent manager, but not a leader” or, “he’s just not leader material?”

Such beliefs, whether voiced or not, put blinders on our own vision, constrain other people and limit our organizations. Here is how.

  • Because an employee’s job duties focus on managing programs or projects, we imagine she/he does not possess or cannot learn strategic thinking.
  • We make hiring and promotion decisions based on rigid ideas about what management vs. leadership competence involves.
  • We inadvertently compromise our ability to retain valuable employees.

shutterstock_134350289I propose that we see every employee as a leader—actually and potentially. This view activates the Pygmalion Effect wherein you, as a leader, are like the mythic artist Pygmalion. The human figure he sculpted became real when he fell in love with her. Similarly, your belief in our employees’ leadership potential activates that potential.

Here is a true story about leaders who encouraged leadership behavior in an employee: Even after several improvement cycles, a hospital Quality Improvement team could not bring the post-operative infection rate down to the target. After they invited more levels of staff onto the team, a custodian noticed the small pile of scrubs in the dirty laundry bin and wondered aloud if changing scrubs more often would make a difference. When providers began to change their cover-ups unerringly, the infection rate declined. The custodian’s careful observations, critical thinking and initiative showed leadership in action.

I invite you to explore your assumptions about leadership—what it is and who shows it. Then, analyze the way you develop leaders in your organization. For example:

  • Take a hard look at how you manage performance. “Appraisal” practices are often judgmental and punitive. Recreate a system that focuses on learning and appreciative leadership.
  • Create an organization-wide mentoring system.
  • Provide an external, credentialed coach for all executives (for example, all VP’s; all C-suite executives.)
  • Make sure every person promoted into a supervisor role learns how to supervise with a focus on learning. Provide a variety of ways to learn—with a mentor; with a coach who is not in the chain of coachee supervision and not from HR; by reading and reflective writing/discussion; through communities of practice; through courses.
  • When you form project teams, include staff at all levels so they learn to collaborate, identify problems, find root causes, and design and implement solutions.

Leaders as Catalysts

lighthouse_0968The term “Executive catalyst” catches my attention.  Who are they, and where do their capacities come from?  A study  of such leaders says they,

  • Are highly self-aware as continuous learners and seekers.
  • Encourage others to act from their real selves.
  • Sparkle with ideas and spark them in others.
  • See potential everywhere in ideas, people, and partnerships.
  • Inspire others with their passions and through their values. (Akrivou and Brandbury-Huang, 2011)

The study about Executive catalysts found that self-understanding and continual self-learning are predictors of a leader’s ability to be a catalyst in the organizations they lead.

Wow. Such predictors have striking implications.

It suggests that we have to PRACTICE taking time to reflect, analyze situations and dilemmas, and carefully think through how to lead and influence. Executive catalysts are present to themselves as agents of action and as disciplined observers–including taking the time to observe themselves.  My client Cheryl has this ability in spades.  She senses that when a work dilemma stumps her, it is because there is something “out of awareness” about herself that she needs to explore.

Getting better at self-understanding implies that we have to take time to know and work with our inner “self-system.”  Like so many of us, my clients often come to me saying that they lack for time.  And yet, in their coaching sessions, they have decided to commit to reflection and discovery.

Because I love reading history, I think of how Abraham Lincoln was able to assess his strengths and limitations, as related in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.  Another catalyst who is a hero of mine is Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, whom you can read about in Kirstin Downey’s biography, The Woman Behind the New Deal.

Executive catalysts are able to watch themselves learning–they know how to learn how to learn.  What does that mean?  I’ll talk about this capacity in another article.