Tag Archives: transformation

Finding Your Own Truer Leadership

shutterstock_2970933John comes to me saying he wants to work on a pressing dilemma in his job as CEO. As we work together, he resolves the dilemma. He also clarifies his own truer leadership, meaning both the values he leads by and the leadership capabilities that make him effective.

John’s initial dilemma sounded like this: “We’ve signed an MOU with another company, so now I’m leading two organizations. One is in crisis and the other is growing, so every day I’m in reactive mode. I just never get out in front. I signed on to this because I think there’s real potential for both companies. But the workload is crushing me, and I’m dizzy from reacting.”

Learning, which is the essence of coaching, begins with exploring. John and I start our exploration with his real, current experience. John feels crushed and dizzy, and I’m curious to know more about what that’s like for him. Well, he says, the stress is terrible. He feels terrible about reports and deadlines that are way past due. He’s been sick twice in four months. He hardly sees his family. He’s an athlete and he has no time to exercise.

“Wow, that’s a lot to bear,” I say sincerely. “Yeah, it is a lot,” John says, and I see him nodding as he thinks about it. Often in a coaching session (it happens to me when I’m working with my own coach) we say things we sort of already know. But things have more impact when we hear ourselves tell our story or piece together a pattern. At the end of this early session with John, he says one of his takeaways is that he saw more clearly the relationship between stress, little exercise, missing his family, and two bouts of flu.

Other “ah-ha’s” lead to deeper discoveries that are the heart of transformational coaching. John realizes that he’s not just trying to climb out of “reactive mode” or “get out in front.” He realizes that in his current situation he’s not being the leader he wants to be and has been in the past: a strategic thinker, relationally connected, a person with a passion for achieving the mission, and who knows how to work with others to get there.

Over many coaching sessions, John grows really clear about his own truer leadership. Clarity comes from John’s reflective process, my questions, recognition of patterns and themes that surface over time, trying out and then reflecting on new behaviors, planning, and taking action.

As coach and client, we are often working on multiple levels, for example: co-creating strategies for John to carve out “think time” at work; noticing the positive results of taking small steps toward John’s strategic vision; noticing how his senior managers respond to his warm and collaborative way of working; problem solving specific managerial challenges; discovering and “growing” new capabilities John didn’t know he has.

John is a hero. All my clients are, because it takes great courage to find and practice YOUR truer leadership. Here are some exercises to help.

  • Periodically ask yourself questions such as, What values do you try to follow in your work? What work is joyful? How do you lead?
  • Every day for a week (or more), use the last ten minutes of the work day to take stock. What (and who) did you enjoy today? Why? What “good work” did you do? (Define “good work” for yourself.) What is one thing you will do tomorrow that will be “good work?”
  • Do a thorough values clarification exercise. There is a really good one in Becoming a Resonant Leader, chapter 4.

Leadership IS Learning

Each of us can boost our leadership by making learning a way of being. As Peter Vaill said in his book by that title, when learning is a way of being, “leadership is not learned;” leadership IS learning.

Start by trying on the notion that everything you do at work is a platform for learning. When you make a decision, face a challenge, wonder how to work with an employee, create something new or solve a problem, you can learn something new. Ask questions like,

  • What do I notice about the work experience I just had? What do I notice in myself? In others?
  • What choices did I make—whether or not I saw them as choices at the time? Did I get stuck? If so, how?
  • What were the results of my actions and thought patterns?
  • What could I do more of, less of or differently?
  • What will I do now?

tiki_questions2Reread my blog post on the Learning Compass (c) and you’ll notice that these questions take you around the learning cycle: experience; reflect; analyze by finding the significance of what just happened; think of choices; make choices that lead to action.

I recently read Sonali Deraniyagala‘s memoir Wave, which is about losing her family to a tsunami. Sonali decided to write about her loss as learning. No, there are no lessons; to distill lessons from the tragedy would have cheapened it. Instead, as she experiences waves of grief, she learns a process. She slows herself down, asking how the grief shows up in body, mind, emotions and spirit. Then she reflects, observing herself from inside and outside. By “outside,” I mean she sees herself in relation to her context– colleagues, community and the family she lost.  Gradually, over a period of years and in the reflective, analytical and active practice of writing, Sonali literally remakes herself.

We could follow a similar process both to learn about specific experiences and to learn how to learn better. Try this experiment. A couple of times during your work day:

  1. Look up from your desk. Take several long, slow breaths.
  2. Notice your thoughts, feelings and your body. You are gathering information, like a researcher or artist.
  3. What contextual things are influencing your work and your experience of it right now? Examples might be deadlines, physical surroundings, the technology you are using and the time of day.

Notice that this little exercise does not take much time. You are creating awareness as a step in learning. Without trying to change anything, notice whether there are shifts just because you are paying attention.

More on learning as a way of being in future posts.  Meanwhile, let’s all breathe.