Branding: Who Am I?

I have recently updated The Coaching Project website.  I’ve put it off for a long while as I anticipated it would be an onerous task.  The difficulty is that to change the website, I had to ask myself: Who am I now as TCP’s leader?  And how can I best tell TCP’s story?  These are never easy questions.  Although we are in the business of change, none of us is immune to the resistance that inevitably accompanies it.

When I looked at the existing content, I realized that over the past few years I have expanded my concern to include both global and personal leadership perspectives along with our current Leader Coach focus.  For example, from a global perspective, I am engaged with the leaders of several small nonprofits working in the poorest countries of the world.  On the personal side, I am involved with a colleague facilitating individual leadership development using story to explore limiting beliefs.

This broader vision has unfolded gradually as these things often do, in my case through becoming inspired at a conference, attending a university program, writing, speaking, and now practicing from this new worldview.  TCP’s current work in coaching and developing leaders is ongoing and exciting.  However, it doesn’t include the larger context of my own emerging direction.   As the leader of the organization, I want to include our evolution and present offerings but embed them within a more expansive framework of opportunities.

It was not until I began working with the web designer that the extent of this shift became clear.  He asked some powerful coaching questions about who I was and how I wanted TCP to be portrayed publicly, not only on the website but linked to other social media.  He asked for the headings that would shape the main pages of the site.   What were the main themes of our story and how would they be represented and arranged to reflect who we are now?  I pondered these questions for several days while I worked with a collection of about 25 post-it notes each titled with an aspect of our current and emerging work.  I found the process a very challenging inquiry and invite every leader to try it, something akin to writing a corporate job description.

One of the hallmarks of leadership is the ability to authentically express who we are to others, whether it is a website, a blog, a speech, or a simple email.  Kevin Cashman actually defines leadership as “authentic self-expression that adds value”.   Clear and consistent communication generates trust and loyalty.  How often do we consider who we are as leaders and how we can best communicate about ourselves and our organizations in a way that adds value?   It was certainly time for me to take stock – you can judge the results at www.thecoachingproject.com.  It’s a work in progress and I continue to ask the questions:  Is this mirror a true reflection of who we are now?  Does it portray clearly how we want to be perceived in the world?

An Invitation to a Question

If you haven’t reflected on the question, “Who Am I?” lately, here’s an invitation to do so.  I know this sounds a little like existential navel-gazing but it is in fact a very practical process of aligning who you are with what you do and say, so your communication is powerful and clear.  You are your brand.  You shape it every day in every conversation and decision.  Walking the talk has long been a leadership injunction because it is a critical competency that most of us could do well to improve.

The first step is a backward one, to reflect on the elements that make up your life and decide what to hold onto or let go of and what new dimensions you would add.  It becomes a bit of a personal strategic plan for your best life.  Although you can purchase card decks that are either professional or personal in focus, you can also just sit down with a pad of sticky notes as I did and create your own so they represent you exactly as you are and wish to be.

Here are the instructions:

1.  Sit in a quiet place with a pad of post-it notes and a pen.  Be still for a few moments as you think about your life right now.  When you are ready, write down all the aspects of your life you can think of, each one on a separate note.

2.  Don’t forget the non-work aspects of your life – your friends and family, sports and recreation, fitness and health, travel, reading and hobbies you enjoy, even though you may not spend a lot of time on them.  Include everything that is part of your life.

3.  Spread your notes out on a large table or the floor so you can see them all at once, preferably in a place you can leave them for a few days.  Take a good look at what you’ve got.  You may want to add a few or change the headings as you look at the total picture.

4.  Begin to look for themes in the headlines you’ve written.  Your family might be a theme category, for example.  Arrange the notes into piles under no more than 5 or 6 themes.  The title of each theme may be one of your notes or a category you create to capture a set of activities.  The categories don’t need to be an activity – Meaning in Life may be one of your categories for example, and under it you might put the notes you created around volunteer work, spending time with elders, or travel abroad.

5.  Work on your themes over a period of days.  It’s best to arrange them to suit you and then leave them for a few hours or a day and come back to them to see what you feel about them.  As you work, consider eliminating the activities that don’t fit your values or purpose at the moment, and add any you feel are missing from your picture.  Play with the titles of your categories until you feel they express the person you want to be now.

6.  It’s a good idea to review your categories with a partner or close friend to give you an opportunity to talk about your choices and get feedback from someone who knows you.  Depending on the degree of change you anticipate from your current roles and activities, you may also want to test your choices for feasibility and timing.  If you’re going to do more reading, you can build that into your day.  If you’re renovating your home or changing jobs, that may take more discussion.

7.  Finally, look at the plans or activities that are different than who you are and what you do now.  For each new or changed commitment, make a “what by when” statement.  For example, “I will get to the gym 3 times a week for a 30 minute workout.”  You may have more than one activity (or perhaps passivity if one of your categories is Stress Reduction) associated with a new direction; just be sure they are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely).

As adults, we continue to develop through life, very often without noticing the changes taking place.  Every few years, it is important to revisit who we have become and to make any changes necessary to living our best life.  Whether you are updating your website, writing your resume, or considering a change in some aspect of your life, this exercise will be of great benefit.

Spanish Edition Now Available

Leadership Alchemy in Spanish has just been published by UPC in Lima! See Carol and I talking about the book and its history. Thanks to our Lima Associate Oscar Osorio for making it happen.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXlnOw7WxFo&w=384&h=288]

Online Leadership Development

Susan Wright, TCP President

Sometimes revolutionary changes take place without us really paying attention. For me, this has happened with online education. A major transition has taken place over the past few years away from traditional classroom and face-to-face leadership training and development. The reasons are easy to see: lowered budgets for attending leadership development programs, fewer in-house resources to deliver the content, and generally less time and capacity to fit into the fixed schedules face-to-face learning requires. Enter online education, which has seen exponential growth over the last decade with insiders predicting the trend will continue and expand over the next. SRI International just completed a 12 year study from 1996 to 2008 and found participants engaged in some or all of their education online actually outperformed those using traditional classroom instruction. “The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing – it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction,” said Barbara Means, the study’s lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International.

Traditional universities are now clamoring to add online curriculum to their degree and non-degree programs, and online universities including doctoral programs have experienced tremendous growth. Private firms offering leadership development are moving to webinars, audio and video programming, and coach-supported learning modules as part of their services, and TCP is one of them. Social networking contributes to the viral marketing of interesting new offerings that are then evaluated by program participants in public domains for others to see. Education is becoming transparent, cheap and accessible, at least in the developed world. Google for example has decided they need no additional content – it’s all there and growing continuously.

Wow, that’s a revolution! Which begs the question, how do leaders and their organizations now choose from the wide array of development alternatives, and what makes online learning most effective? In my experience and from what I’ve researched, here are some of the benefits and best practices so far:

  • Asynchronous Access: One of the primary benefits to leaders of online education is that it can be accessed on their own time and with their favourite technology. Some listen to podcasts while working out, others access audio/video material through their mobile devices while on the go, still others spend a couple of hours in the evenings after the kids are in bed. The best practice here is to be creative in finding your own grooves, the way you work most effectively and flexibly to take advantage of the material. Most learning programs require reading, reflecting and posting responses within a limited timeframe. This structure can be helpful in keeping on track and preparing for the interactive aspects like a call or coaching session.
  • Learning by Doing: Most online education is designed to incorporate the new awareness or skills into your daily life and work. There are often assignments where you apply the content and share your learning with others. You can of course ‘fudge’ this aspect and probably no one will know or care, but you will be shortchanging yourself and your outcomes if you do. When time is short and you must choose where to put your energy, step into the friction. In other words, do what seems the most difficult rather than the least – that’s where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.
  • Technical Innovation: If you’re going to take the time to learn something new, be sure you get the most variety, complexity, challenge and support possible. Some online programs are simply reading and listening on your own, and perhaps asking a question or making a comment in a distance format – hard to see the transformative potential in that. Rather, look for a learning platform that includes audiovisual content, workbook support for making sense of it, a chat room to share your views with other learners, and a clearly structured process that moves you along within a given timeframe so you can see your accomplishment. Best practice is to have a coach guide the learning process and provide challenge and support as needed through routine calls and online contributions.
  • Built-in Discipline: A more sophisticated platform has other benefits for the learner and the organization as well. Using a structured agenda over a series of weeks means your individual contributions to the learning community are time and date stamped – each time you log on, or don’t, your coach and fellow learners know it. You can’t just sit at the back of the room, work on your blackberry and get credit for attending. Not only your level of participation but the quality of your reflection is evaluated by the group in your posts. For the organization sponsoring the program, this ongoing assessment provides an immediate ROI on investment. For the learner, it provides a structured discipline to motivate performance.
  • Learning in Community: There are times when being face-to-face is the best way to learn, particularly when personal behaviour is the subject matter. We need to practice in front of fellow learners and get feedback about how we show up and how we might be more effective. Online communities have many advantages and can become very strong teams. However, best practice here is to have some ability to connect in person from time to time. The combination of online and onsite learning is most powerful. Even a learning partner makes a significant difference, someone in your area with whom you can periodically share experience. Peer learning groups are also influential in sustaining commitment and embedding the learning into your organizational context and culture. It also just makes learning more fun. The truth about traditional classroom education, that it’s all about what happens after the event, is also true of online learning – we need a variety of communities to make it stick.

What’s Your Story?

By Susan Wright, TCP President

This is the time of year when most people reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re headed.  It’s a time to ask, What’s My Story?  Stories have always been central to our lives but they seem to be enjoying a particular popularity these days.  For example, Fortune recently reported that there were an estimated 728 corporate storytellers in 2010.  These are experts who make their living by helping leaders create stories that are compelling visions for their organizations.  There are many books and workshops on story, what accounts for a good story, how it is structured to hold our interest and deliver a strong message.

From a personal point of view, our story is our current understanding of who we are, what we value, and how we see the world.  It is the authentic expression of our experience.  Our stories develop through fairly predictable stages just as we do.  When we are starting out, our stories are about establishing a career, a home, partnering and children, a mortgage.  As we mature, our stories change to reflect our degree of success at work and in relationships, our achievements and disappointments, our interests and causes.  As we age, we begin to tell stories about health and fitness, leisure and travel, grandchildren, a condo in the sun.  Have you noticed that conversations with friends center around these topics at different stages of life?  Robert McKee, a famous Hollywood screenwriter says, “Stories are a metaphor for life.” Story is how we make meaning out of life.  It is how we choose to see ourselves in our unfolding journeys.

The fact there are universal themes to our stories doesn’t mean we are passive participants in them.  We create our own stories, each a unique pattern within the whole cloth of society and culture.  We write our stories moment by moment through life, sometimes consciously enacting them but often just allowing them to drift by.  Think about New Year’s resolutions – they are often things of memory soon after they are voiced, stories lacking the passion and commitment required for change.  Which brings us back to the original question: What is your current story?  Is it one that excites you?  Are others interested in it?  Is it a familiar, same-old story or a new and vital expression of who you are now?  What wants to happen in your story right now?  What change, if you made it, would be a turning point in your life story?

  • What one story about you would reveal your essence as a leader right now?
  • What story would you tell about a major change you made and helped others make with you?
  • What story would reflect a turning point in your career and what you learned from it?
  • What story would you tell about a major challenge you are facing and how you intend to overcome it?
  • What themes would you say recur in your stories and what do they tell about you?

If these questions, or your answers to them, interest you in further exploration, I encourage you to consider a workshop on your story, how to tell it and how to change it if you wish.  Leader Coaches tell compelling stories to build trust with those around them, to build awareness of key values and experiences, and to build an engaging vision of the future.  As McKee says, “Stories are equipment for living.”

The Business of Story

An Interview with Dan Petersen, Life and Story Coach

How did you become interested in story?

I first got interested when I read Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, where he lists story as one of the three forces nudging us into what he calls ‘the conceptual age’. He describes how organizations like NASA, 3M, Xerox and the World Bank are using story to help understand and manage change for this coming age. He mentions another book by Robert McKee called Story. I was fascinated by what he said.  He confirms what I know through coaching which is that the most effective teacher or teaching always creates the conditions for people to learn rather than be taught. Stories are a powerful tool to boost this self-learning dynamic.

How do you see story as a catalyst for change?

I am an admirer of Robert Kegan’s Immunity to Change process. He proposes that we have a psychological immune system that is designed to protect us, a kind of committee in our heads that resists change. The problem is that it was created around fears in early life that no longer exist, such as the fear of being rejected by our peers. That can be a problem in adulthood since all creative leading edge thinking invites rejection. Through stories, we can help people bypass their limiting beliefs and interpret new ideas more objectively. This can make a huge difference in life and in organizations where new ideas are what keep us at the top of our game. With a psychological immune system as mature as we are, our new learning is optimized. I like the adage that says, “We see the world as we are, not as it is.” We see the world through the stories we tell about ourselves, so it is important to get our stories straight and up to date.

How have you used story in your own life to understand and make change?

I find using the principles of story I am able to make better choices in the moment because I am aware of my immunity, or resistance, to change in some areas of my life. Understanding my addictive tendencies, for example, allows me to choose how to act to generate the kind of story I want to be able to tell about myself. And beyond the personal, I am also applying the principles of story in the workshops we are doing together, creating the environment I spoke about where participants can accomplish sustainable change by freeing up their capacity to learn. One of my favorite philosophers, Eric Hoffer, sums it up pretty well when he says, “In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. Those who have finished learning find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

How might leaders use story to be more effective?

We know leadership is a practice, one of acting and reflecting at the same time as we go along, both generating our story and learning from it every day. Story is a tool leaders use to reveal hidden assumptions, both to themselves and to others. Telling stories engenders trust, expresses wisdom, and builds resonance among those we lead. By telling stories about ourselves, we also encourage others to reflect on their own stories and share them. So storytelling is a key leadership skill.

Developing Others

By Susan Wright, TCP President

It is a perfect time of year to think about developing others, how we pass along the gifts given to us so that others can benefit.  When we become Leader Coaches, we make a fundamental transition from looking after ourselves to looking beyond ourselves to serve others, appreciating their unique strengths and development edges, and providing the support and challenge necessary for their continued growth.

We do this at work, of course, as we build high-engagement teams in the organization.  And we do it outside of work as well, in our families and communities in a variety of ways.  It is exciting and rewarding to see others learn and grow.  As Leader Coaches, we often find the more we give, the more we receive in terms of finding meaning and life satisfaction.

As we mature, we tend to extend our perspective on developing others beyond our immediate circle to include those whose growth we can serve in the broader environment, those who are disadvantaged or excluded within our wider communities or people who are struggling in other parts of the globe.  By sharing our gifts more expansively, we take a longer-term perspective on development, making an investment in the future of those we support, their families and communities, and the world in general.   We have seen this natural progression from self to others to the world in many Leader Coaches.  It seems a natural process of development in us that is the by-product of reaching out to develop others.

The Coaching Project and our Associates are involved in many of these efforts locally and internationally.  While they all speak to developing others, one clear example is SchoolBOX (www.schoolbox.ca), a small charitable organization dedicated to providing primary school education in Nicaragua, the poorest nation in the Americas, where less than half of all children complete Grade 5.  SchoolBOX was begun in 2006 by one young Canadian in search of a way to contribute.  One day he gave a little girl a pencil and notebook, and realized he had changed her life because she could now go to school.  With vision, dedicated leadership and single-minded persistence, the organization has grown to support 7,000 students in 30 communities around the country with new and renovated school buildings, dental hygiene and sports equipment, as well as those critical school supplies.

As SchoolBOX President Tom Affleck says, “It is so much more than educational supplies; it is instilling hope in children and their communities to have faith in themselves and a brighter future.”  And by using North American students as interns and project volunteers to build schools and raise funds to furnish and equip them, SchoolBOX also develops these young people as leaders with an awareness of the incredible difference they can make, working alongside members of the local community while learning about their country, culture, and language.

As a Leader Coach, how do you develop others?  In what ways do you contribute to the growth of your team, your organization, your family and your community?   How have you felt this pull toward the deep meaning and satisfaction that come from sharing your gifts more broadly in the world?  During this season of joy and connection, let’s take a moment to reflect on our many gifts and how we might use them in developing others.

Well-Being: The Ultimate Cross-Training

By Susan Wright, TCP President

Well-Being is not something that just happens for most of us. It takes a conscious intention and persistent effort, like most things that bring us joy and reward in life. Well-Being is not complicated.  It emerges simply from intentionally performing a set of integrated practices consisting of disciplined action, repeated custom or regular exercise. It is cross-training in life. By exercising the body, mind, heart and spirit routinely, we get tremendous synergistic benefits.

To begin, think about your current activities on the following dimensions:

Physical: healthy diet, cardiovascular and anabolic exercise, sleep, supplements, massage, chiropractic. The benefits of physical Well-Being are agility, coordination, flexibility, strength and speed. How would you rate your current physical Well-Being on a scale, say, of 1 to 10?

Mental: reading, critical reflection, perspective taking, creative writing, drawing, hobbies. The benefits of mental Well-Being are problem solving, information processing, critical thinking, and the ability to take multiple perspectives. How would you rate your current mental Well-Being on a scale of 1 to 10?

Emotional: relaxation, stretching, reflective dialogue, journaling, yoga, Tai Chi, therapy. The benefits of emotional Well-Being are composure, patience, the development of presence, the deepening of relationships, and learning to deal effectively with stress. How would you rate your current emotional Well-Being on a scale of 1 to 10?

Spiritual: meditation, contemplation, spending time in nature, devotions, centering, prayer. The benefits of spiritual Well-Being are calm strength, stronger connection to self and others and the world, deeper awareness, and moving beyond ego. How would you rate your current level of spiritual Well-Being on a scale of 1 to 10?

These are only a few examples of the thousands of practices that you can tailor to your unique Well-Being plan. The idea is to choose at least one practice in each of the four domains and practice them concurrently. Being dedicated to a few practices will create greater Well-Being than half-heartedly practicing more. Notice, too, that many practices benefit multiple domains, such as yoga or Tai Chi.

Before creating your Well-Being plan, there is one other assessment required. In order to achieve Well-Being, we need to engage in practices in three ways: alone, with others, and out in the world. So, for example, you might choose to read and reflect on your own but begin to attend a meditation group with an instructor. Or you might join a book club and set up a meditation area in your home. You might choose to visit the cathedrals of Europe and learn their history on your own or plan to act as tour guide for family or friends. How would you rate your current practices in relation to these three ways of practicing? For many of us, finding time alone where we can be intentional about practice is a challenge.

Designing your Well-Being Plan

There are five steps involved in designing a Well-Being plan. The first you’ve already done: assessing your current practices. If you practice intentionally in each of the four domains in a variety of ways, and you gave yourself a 7 or more out of a possible 10,  congratulations! You may want to tinker for motivational purposes but you have the essence of Well-Being. If you missed one of the domains or ways of practicing, or gave yourself a lower score, read on. You can create or revitalize your practice with great benefits to your Well-Being.

Step #1:  Assess current Practice
What is your honest appraisal of your current practice status? Do you regularly touch base with all the domains and ways of engaging with your own Being? How effective is the connection with Well-Being?

Step #2: Identify Gaps
Once you have a sense of where you are, it is important to decide where you want to go. What does Well-Being look like to you? What is the quality of Being you are seeking? Think of a word or short phrase that would symbolize the quality of Well-Being that is ideal for you. Perhaps you would like to increase the quality of your Presence or Connection or Energy. What would that quality look like on your rating scale? Would some domains be a 10? Would others not change? Think about the size of the gap on each of the domains and in each of the ways of engaging in practice.

Step #3: Evaluate Commitment
Before moving into choosing practices, take a second look at the commitment you are making. Is it doable? Is it sustainable, at least for a period of time you choose, say 3 months as a start? It is better to commit to a realistic plan you will be successful in practicing than to reach too far or expect too much and fail. If your commitment is unrealistic, scale it back so you feel comfortable that you will be successful.

Step #4: Choose Practices
You probably already have some ideas about the practices you will choose in each domain and how you will engage with them. Some may be practices you have been routinely carrying out for years. For these, you may want to add some new cross-training element. For example, you may add a deep breathing practice to your stretching during your workout. Some practices may be new to you. For these, you may want to join a group to benefit from an instructor and the motivation of practicing in a community.

Step #5: Practice Diligently
Once you have your Well-Being cross-training plan in place, choose a period of time during which you commit to fully practicing all of the elements concurrently. It need not be long – a few weeks or months will reward you with observable change in the quality of Well-Being you have chosen. Feel free to make minor design changes as you practice. As long as you are intentional about your plan, you can adapt your practices to your life circumstances.

Good luck, and let me know how you’re doing!

Employee Engagement Today

By Susan Wright, TCP President

We all read and talk about engagement but what does it really involve?  It is known by many names – flow, motivation, involvement, effort, satisfaction.  It is a business imperative, resulting in improvements in profitability, quality, productivity, revenue, customer satisfaction, innovation, and retention.  It has been defined countless ways, among my favourites the following from Lominger Ltd:

Employee engagement is a mind-set in which individuals take personal responsibility for the success of the organization and apply discretionary efforts aligned with its goals.

This definition highlights the twin criteria for engagement: both desire to contribute to the organization’s success and personal satisfaction in the work role.  Blessing & White in their 2008 study of engagement say engaged employees are “enthused and in gear, using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success.”   However, their research indicates that less than one-third (29%) of employees are fully engaged and 19% are actually disengaged.  This data was generated over a year ago.  What do you think these figures look like today?  How would your organization compare?  Where would you place yourself in terms of your own engagement?

In an economic downturn, there are particular challenges with employee engagement.  One is the level of uncertainty – how are employees to take personal responsibility for the success of the organization when that success seems so far removed from their control?  And what motivates employees to spend discretionary effort in their work if they’re not sure they will have a job tomorrow?  One of the must-haves for engagement is trust.  Consistency, clarity, predictability – these are the characteristics of a high trust environment.  How do we create that trust in turbulent times?

In virtually every study of engagement, results show that the key relationship is that between the manager and the team.  Managers define the job, represent the culture, set expectations, provide recognition and feedback. In other words, they build the basic trust relationship and through it, create consistency, clarity and predictability for team members. Managers don’t necessarily have the answers and can’t control the broader circumstances, but they can communicate openly and honestly and often, be clear about what they know and don’t know, and give employees as much control over their choices as possible. In other words, they can be Leader Coaches.

Never has there been a better time to be a Leader Coach for your team, your peers, your boss, your colleagues.  The foundation of Leader Coaching is Building Trust, making the appreciative connection with others in every interaction, listening and clarifying using Unconditional Positive Regard, showing up with personal authenticity and vulnerability.  As a Leader Coach, you are a role model for others – your own ability to deal with ambiguity will be mirrored by your team. It’s OK to be nervous; everybody is.  What’s not OK is cutting yourself off from others because you don’t have the answers, or taking your anxiety out on others.  As a Leader Coach, here are five things you can do right now to build trust and engagement in your workplace.

1. Have an individual meeting with each of your team members to find out how they’re feeling, what they need to know, and how you can coach them about their engagement.  Use the three stages in the Leader Coach process for these conversations.

2. Do an assessment of your own level of engagement at the moment.  How personally responsible do you feel about the success of your organization?  How much discretionary effort are you bringing to your work?  What kind of an engagement role model are you for your staff?  If you’re not fully engaged, what is one thing you could do?  For example, who do you trust that you might you get some coaching from to develop an action plan?

3. At your next team meeting, engage your team in their own engagement.  Use an open space or dialogue or world café approach to get your team talking about engagement and creating a list of actions that you can work on together.

4. As Catherine the Great said, “Praise loudly; criticize softly.”  Everyone wants to know what they’re doing well and to be recognized for their efforts. Tough times are an opportunity to dial up the praise, recognize discretionary effort, show compassion and caring.  Take every opportunity to celebrate, and get senior management involved whenever appropriate.

5. Encourage peer coaching.  Peers are powerful coaches for each other – they provide buffers from stress and uncertainty, and create bonds that support both individuals in performing, learning and changing.  Be a matchmaker to help peers connect and support each other.

The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.

George Bernard Shaw

Leadership as Co-Creation

By Susan Wright, TCP President

Co-creation has become a buzz word in business in the last while, a term that gets thrown around in all kinds of contexts.  For many, it seems like a valuable concept but one that is not terribly useful from a practical point of view.  What does it actually mean to co-create?  Are we really to give everybody a say in decisions?  Let customers and employees set the agenda?

Well, in a word, yes!  Many writers have tackled this issue of co-creation, one of the most recent being C.K. Prahalad, arguably the strategic guru of our day.  His book, written with M.S. Krishnan, is called The New Age of Innovation: Driving Co-created Value Through Global Networks.  He advises that business needs to transform, not just strategically but in process and people too.  His two core principles for this transformation are:

1) the centrality of the individual – how to co-create unique value for each employee and customer, and

2) the access to (not ownership of) global resources – mediated by information and communications technology (ICT).

What Prahalad envisions is nothing less than changing the ‘dominant logic’ of business, the whole way we think about organizations and how they operate.  So what has Leader Coaching got to do with transforming the dominant logic to one of co-creation?

In many ways, it’s a natural fit.  Leader coaches begin by co-creating meaningful relationships with those around them, including employees, peer colleagues and customers, understanding each individual’s unique needs and contributions, working with them to ensure their full creativity and potential are incorporated.  They do this through the Leader Coach® communications process.

Similarly, one of the most successful applications of Leader Coach® co-creation has been in sales organizations where using the Leader Coach® process has resulted in more effective customer relationships and customer service based on a fuller understanding of distinctive customer needs and expectations.

Beyond the individual, Leader Coaches work to co-create teams, again appealing to the unique needs and aspirations of each member and blending them into the best overall performance.  As these teams develop, a Leader Coach® culture emerges which is holographic – each individual within each team within the organization, all individuals and all part of the whole of which they are part.

Co-creation is also one of the four alchemic principles of Leader Coaches – it is the initiating ‘dominant logic’ of both/and leadership.  It is where Leadership Alchemy begins, with each unique voice becoming part of the chorus, whether at the individual level, the team, the organization or beyond to include customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Co-creative opportunities abound in both work and life.  As Prahalad points out, information and communications technology (ICT) is the transformative vehicle that makes possible both a global reach and a personal touch.  Leader coaches increasingly work across the globe with dispersed multi-functional teams to co-create innovative solutions to business issues.  New video capabilities have made face-to-face interaction a reality anywhere in the world.  Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn co-create thousands of new connections each day.  Wikipedia has co-created an incredible dictionary database of available information, to name a few examples.  And there is much more to come.

So what’s next?  I invite you to think about one innovative way in which you might add value to your team and organization through a co-creative process.  What is one co-action you might take as a Leader Coach® to drive value?

Integrative Leadership

By Susan Wright, TCP President

In April, I was privileged to attend and speak on Integrative Leadership at the Integral Without Borders Conference in Istanbul, attended by organization and social sector leaders from around the world. The challenge:  how to bring an integrated perspective to the resolution of complex problems.

The philosopher Ken Wilber has written extensively about this integrated view (www.integralinstitute.com) and believes there are four necessary perspectives to seeing in a holistic or integrated way. The four perspectives include an Individual/Collective dimension and an INTERIOR(inside the person)/EXTERIOR(outside the person) dimension, as shown below. If we take his four perspectives from a leadership point of view, they might look like this:

INTERIOR Individual:

Who am I as a leader?

Self-awareness

EXTERIOR Individual:

How do I behave as a leader?

Competency

INTERIOR Collective:

How do we relate to each other as leaders?

Culture

EXTERIOR Collective:

How do we serve our constituents as leaders?

Customers,
Environment, etc.

As I thought about this diagram, I noticed a few things:

1.  We know much more about the right side (EXTERIOR), the world of tangible objects than we do the left side (INTERIOR), the world we experience but can’t see.  For example, we as organizational leaders are most focused on serving our constituents, whether that means, customers, stockholders, employees, or the community and environment in which we do business (Lower Right).  When we think about leadership and its development, we tend to move toward measurable competencies that can be demonstrated through behaviour (Upper Right).  Much less time is spent on leader self-awareness or ‘consciousness’ (Upper Left) or on the relationships and culture that form the invisible subjective contexts in which the organization functions (Lower Left).  These are secondary priorities, we say, because after all, business is business.  Or is it?

2.  If we take this one step further and ask which of the four quadrants receive the bulk of leaders’ attention, we find similarly that the Lower Right (Organizational Systems) is where we focus on strategy in the marketplace, the structure that best meets those needs, and all the functions and activities supporting success.  In progressive organizations, time is also spent to a lesser extent on how success is achieved through leadership culture and behaviour, the Upper Right (Demonstrated Behaviour) and Lower Left (Cultural Values), including how leaders are assessed and developed and how we enact the cultural norms in our leadership style.  Much less attention is given to Upper Left (Consciousness), leaders’ attitudes and motivations, the way we actually experience the world and how that is translated into our every thought and action.

3.  The interesting point about this Upper Left missing piece of the puzzle is that we now know from recent research (Goleman, Schwarmer, Senge, etc.) that our awareness of ourselves as leaders and our impact on others, our level of consciousness about the complex global web of interests and perspectives, is exactly what is required for long term success.  It is the aspect of leadership development that has been under-valued and is therefore under-developed when critically needed.  And more, although there is a growing recognition of the importance of the leader’s interior maturity and worldview, there are very few practical approaches to developing ‘consciousness’.  In fact, some would say it’s a maturation process that takes its own time and can’t be influenced.

So what do we do about it?

As with all development, awareness of the issue is the starting point.  Just being aware that our own level of consciousness or self-awareness determines what we see and how we interpret our own and others’ actions is a great start.

Using the four quadrants as a holistic diagnostic tool in problem solving is another way. What are the components of the issue?  What behaviour is getting in the way?  How might the culture be an inhibitor?  How are my own beliefs influencing my perspective and what other interpretations are possible? How can I stretch and test my assumptions against each of these four perspectives?

A personal reflective practice routine is another necessary element in developing self-aware consciousness.  For example, meditating regularly, walking in nature, any spiritual practice, or some creative expression like art, dance, etc. that allow for reflection are all effective forms of development.

Whatever practice appeals to you, I encourage you to ask “Who Am I as a Leader?” and to spend some time reflecting on how you answer the question.

Positivity: The Power of Positive Intention

By Susan Wright, TCP President

There is a lot of focus on intention these days as a concept and practice. New science has shown that what we think about actually creates physical matter. For example, the structure and activity of the brain can change in response to experience, an ability called neuroplasticity. We have known that we construct our reality through our own perceptions and beliefs for a long time but now we know that we also construct the actual physical world around us through our thoughts. For example, Darrell Daybre writes in his book, “The Greatest Secret”:

“Creation of anything in the physical universe is determined by what kind of attention you place on it. In other words, what you think about the most, you bring about. What you focus on, good or bad, you begin to create.”

This has tremendous implication for coaches. We are after all in the intention business. We work with our clients to clarify what they want and then help them to work through their resistance, be it doubt or fear, to focus their intention and action on achieving their goals. In short, we work with the client’s intention to be all that they can be. And we as coaches work from our own intention to bring all that we are to our clients. This article explores both sides of this coin of intention and how our effectiveness in supporting our clients depends on our ability to create and sustain “positivity”.

Positivity in the Client Relationship

So what is positivity? Well, to begin, it is the opposite of negativity. We all have tapes running in our heads all the time. These inner ‘voices’ are sometimes called gremlins or judges or nay-sayers. Whatever your name for them, they are the negative self-talk that keeps us from living at our full potential. They are the self-limiting beliefs that we play over and over in our thoughts. “I can’t do that – I’m not smart enough.” “If I do what I want, others will suffer.” “If I take that job, I’ll fail.” We all have times in our lives when this negative self-talk gets the better of us. The role of a coach is to help us work through it to create a more positive vision of a different future. As coaches, we know that helping clients get their self-limiting beliefs, their negativity, out in the open so they can examine their sources and work on reframing the gremlins into self-fulfilling beliefs is the hard work of transformation. It is changing the client’s story from what Hargrove calls “rut stories” into “river stories”. Rut stories are the negative stuck positions where there appears to be no way out; river stories on the other hand flow from our intentions to our reality – virtually anything is possible.

Positivity is also critical because, as Daybre says, we attract what we focus on, good or bad. I have a colleague who spent two years focusing her intention on being “debt free”. The more she focused on it, the more debt she attracted to herself. Finally, when she realized she had been focused on a negative intention and reframed it to “living in abundance”, she immediately began to attract the kind of work and income that she desired. So part of our role as coaches, as we focus client’s intentions, is to ensure that they are positive and will attract the kind of energy the individual desires.

Positivity is the power that comes from positive thinking, from positive intention. I often tell clients to take 5 minutes at the beginning of each day to set their intentions for the day. How do they intend to behave positively in that important meeting to establish a collaborative climate for negotiation? What positive intention do they have for that difficult conversation with an underperforming employee? It is amazing how setting the intention creates the desired outcome. At the end of the day, I suggest they take another 5 minutes to reflect on their behavior – did they achieve their intention, if not, why not and what do they intend to do differently tomorrow? This simple technique can help clients to begin to change their outlook, to transform their stories from failure, or fear of it, to success in whatever areas they want to address. I also know a coach who calls his clients every morning for a month to set their intentions – only 2 minutes a day helps to change the pattern.

Positivity in the Coach

Positivity is, then, what coaches create in their clients as a transformative agent of change. And it is also the stance that coaches themselves take with their clients. It is the ‘can do’ attitude that helps someone who is stuck to get moving, to see the possibilities, to be excited about a better alternative. Coaches are role models of positivity – they bring their positive energy and intention to the coaching relationship and hold out the possibility for their clients by living a positive life themselves. It is in fact the ability of the coach to embody positivity that allows clients to trust that they too can achieve their best potential.

When working with our clients, we use the term “unconditional positive regard”, a phrase coined by Carl Rogers, one of the grandfathers of the human potential movement. “UPR” is the way the coach shows up for the client, ready to listen, not to judge, to be unconditional in support of the client’s story. It is the intention of the coach to hold the client in unconditional positive regard that gives clients the safety, the trust, to confront the problems or issues they face. The coach does not have to accept or agree with everything in the client’s story – in fact, it is important that the coach be able to see the discontinuities in the story and challenge the client at the appropriate time. The critical point is that the coach is able, despite resistance and setbacks, to consistently hold this appreciative perspective throughout the relationship, and to repair and rebuild it if it is temporarily lost.

Here is a brief exercise in intention you can use with your clients, or by yourself, to reframe your negativity into positivity.

1. Surface the negative voices – get those gremlins out into the open by saying them out loud. Hear how they sound and feel how they make you feel. You may feel defeated, sad or angry at the statements when you say them aloud.

2. Reframe the voices – now take each negative statement in turn and reframe it positively. If you’re the coach, say the negative statement to the client using exactly the same tone of voice. Then ask the client to turn it around and say it positively aloud. Hear how the positive voice sounds and feel the difference in how it makes you feel. You may want to sing it, or dance it, or shout it – be expressive!

3. Make a commitment – to reframing the negative voices each time you hear them into the positive statements you have just made. Monitor your thoughts and know that your positive intentions will attract what you want to you, just as your negative gremlins will keep you stuck in unwanted patterns. And remember, as a coach you can only work with healthy, self-responsible adults. If your clients cannot imagine themselves out of their rut, they may be candidates for therapy instead of or in addition to coaching.

Although the word positivity may be new, the concept is as old as time. As coaches, we can take advantage of this ancient wisdom as well as the new science to support our clients in achieving their dreams, and to live ourselves as models of positive intention.

Begley, S. Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Power to Transform Ourselves. Ballantine, 2007.

Daybre, D. The Greatest Secret: The Secret to having all you’ve ever wanted. The Center for Extraordinary Living, 2004.

Hargrove, R. Masterful Coaching. Pfeiffer, 1995.

Rogers, C. On Becoming a Person. Houghton Mifflin, 1961.

Breakfast Seminar: Senior Leaders Discuss Critical Issues

For each of the four critical issues we present a brief statement of the challenge, a summary of the need and a description of offerings – processes and programs – from The Coaching Project. Finally, we conclude with excerpts from our table conversations with leaders; they describe their current experience of each of the issues and their views on how they are or could be responding.

  • The Challenge of Employee Engagement
  • The Bursting Boomer Bubble
  • Creating Social Action Linkages
  • The Necessity of Nurturing The Global Mosaic