Archive for the ‘Coaching’ Category

The Real Self, the Other, and the Community – Are You Connected?

April 25, 2015

What early experiential learning can be good for …:
In the year 2000, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Nokia launched their global Community Involvement program, at the time called ‘Make a Connection – to yourself, your peers, and your community’. On the Nokia side, I had the privilege to operationally run this program and contribute to growing it to individual programs in more than 20 countries, directly having impacted more than 200,000 young people by the time I left six years later.

What did young program participants learn? The program worked in three concentric circles, from the inside out:

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– ‘Make a connection to yourself’ was about what Daniel Goleman calls ‘emotional intelligence’ – being in touch with yourself, understanding yourself and your needs, being capable of managing your own emotions, especially as a teenager

– ‘Make a connection to your peers’ was about what Daniel Goleman calls ‘social intelligence’ – having good and meaningful relationships with your family, your friends, people around you (rather than being in potential conflict and/or isolation)

– ‘Make a connection to your community’ was essentially about being a citizen – being part of and contributing to a community, also through volunteering, youth activism, social projects, social entrepreneurship.

I left Nokia at the end of 2005, and a wonderful colleague from Italy took over my role. Now, almost 10 years after I left, 15 years after we started, I have gained true appreciation for the meaningful depth of the concept IYF suggested we launch together at the time. Through my work as a consultant, coach and leadership trainer, and most recently through a research and book project, I have come to appreciate in myself these three concentric circles – and have noticed how, while the program for teenagers went from the inside out, over the past 10 years I personally have moved deeply from the outside in:

– ‘Make a connection to your community’ – those were my early years as an activist, being a member of Amnesty International, ‘doing the door to door’ for Greenpeace, working at the Canadian Center on Racism and Prejudice. Those were also my Nokia years, growing the Make a Connection program. Those were even the years of writing and publishing with my then-client Nick Lakin our book ‘Corporate Community Involvement’.

– ‘Make a connection to your peers’ – those were my years after leaving Nokia, studying to become a change consultant. My mentor Jane Linklater, who had already guided IYF and Nokia in our cross-sector collaboration, strongly recommended a book to me at the time, ‘Intimacy and Solitude‘ by Stephanie Dowrick, which taught me good awareness of how to be an ‘appropriate other’, really learning how to see and understand other people as individuals in themselves, in good inter-subjectivity, and offer them good mutuality in our relationships. (Making that a topic in my Master’s thesis, I also connected it to companies/organizations and their stakeholder relations.) I’ll forever be grateful to Jane for this and many other things.

– ‘Make a connection to yourself’ – while I had always assumed that I had that, it only really happened on a much deeper level over the last few years, amongst others through being introduced to some of the complex work of Prof. Dr. Julius Kuhl, a small part of which is a distinction between a person’s ‘expectation I’ and ‘real self’. The ‘expectation I’ is what might correspond to Freud’s ‘Über-Ich’ – a subconscious introjection of what other people and society want(ed) from us. Facets like ‘be strong’, ‘be fast’, ‘hurry up’, ‘try hard’, etc. Internalized drivers that can actually drive us too hard. (Based on insights from neuroscience, Kuhl actually connects it to left-brain activity.) In contrast, there is the ‘real self’ (accordingly situated in right-brain activity) to be discovered – and sometimes (most times?), that takes time (out), deep inner reflection, some grappling, some sitting with discomfort, some real inner ‘going through transition’. Yet it is a journey that is deeply worth it, finally finding out about aspects like ‘who is my real self?’, ‘what does my real self actually feel?’, ‘what is it that my real self wants?’, ‘what does my real self want to say no to?’. This is a journey that is not necessarily wedded to so-called ‘external success’ – it is not about status, power, money. It is about essence, it is about meaning, it is about being.

So there you go – years later, I find that the theme of ‘Make a connection – to yourself, your peers, and your community’ was so wisely chosen. It is a concept that I want to re-introduce into my own coaching and relational leadership training work, supporting people in getting in touch with their real selves, learning good inter-subjectivity and mutuality as ‘adequate others’ and relational leaders, and making a contribution as citizens, individually through voting, activism, volunteering, mentoring, and possibly pro bono work, and in their organizations through what used to be called ‘corporate responsibility’, and is by many nowadays called ‘organization sustainability‘.

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Sustainability, leadership, empathy, mindfulness – what have they all got to do with each other?

February 27, 2015

I have tried to really condense my thinking on this into a few short sentences. So here you go:

Sustainability must include sustainable leadership – and that means ethical, participatory leadership. Lead in a circle, consider the concerns of stakeholders and allow/hear/consider/think with their voices, starting with your employees.

We must accompany managers on their way to becoming leaders, not leave them alone with that, but offer them relevant learning. Too many managers are left alone in their transition from management to leadership, where suddenly they are no longer just responsible for themselves, but for furthering and developing people in a team.

Sustainable leadership is about inter-subjectivity and empathy – also towards employees, communities, the environment, and future generations.

The challenge is ignorance – people who keep playing the wrong game, the game of endless material growth and ego-centrism only.

What is inter-subjectivity? Really *seeing* other individuals, as subjects in themselves, with rights, needs and emotions – not as objects for you to treat any way you please, or to consider mere extensions of yourself. Or even worse, as objects to exploit.

That inter-subjectivity perception takes empathy – and empathy is an ability that in most people (except those with certain personality disorders) can be increased through awareness raising, learning and practice.

So here is our challenge as leadership trainers and coaches – help leaders with their levels of empathy, help them with their ability to see others rightfully as subjects in themselves, in good inter-subjectivity, and expand from there to help them understand the concept of sustainable leadership – acting in the best interest of all stakeholders concerned, long-term.

We must also help leaders especially with weighing the pressures of having to produce and present short-term profit with realizing and protecting long-term strategic interests. Example: If you ‘take the profit and run’, that might work for a few years – but what does it take to do and invest differently if you want your business to be around for 20 years or longer?

In the end, whether as an individual or an organization, what really matters in today’s world is that you yourself act and behave like an ‘adequate other’ towards the people around you/your stakeholders. And that attitude and behavior requires good mindfulness.

Action Learning is professional peer coaching

July 8, 2014

Why Action Learning?
“I’ve had more directly applicable job learning from this than from any conference I ever went to!” That’s what one Managing Director told me – and that is what professional peer consulting in a facilitated Action Learning group can do for you.

At conferences and workshops, colleagues and I have noticed again and again how participants seem most eager to have an exchange of experiences with each other and are looking for peer advice. Most of the time, however, little or no time is planned in around these events for such peer exchange to take place – at best, some Open Space Technology sessions will be offered. Here Action Learning, a facilitated and confidential peer consulting approach, can be a welcome solution.

What is Action Learning about?
Action Learning is all about bringing your current management or leadership issues into a trusting exchange of knowledge and experience, joint reflection, and hands-on feedback

 with five selected peers from other organizations. Complete confidentiality is assured!

Openness and trust, respect, joint co-creation of the coaching process and mutual learning are key elements of Action Learning.

How does it work?
An Action Learning group typically has six participants and a facilitator.


 Each session starts with a catch-up phase during which group members share their current news or just let the others know how they are currently doing.

The catch-up phase is followed by some members putting in own bids for help with issues they would like to talk through. In one Action Learning session, typically more than one person will bring her/his topic to the group.

 An issue holder then shares her or his issue, for about five minutes. After that, the other participants will ask questions for clarification only.

 Following issue clarification, group members can then:

o   Ask open questions

o   Offer feedback

o   Challenge and support

o   Offer suggestions

o   Offer theories and ideas

o   Offer advice

How long does it take?
Participants generally come together for a day, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm.
One Action Learning round typically lasts about one hour (sometimes a bit shorter, sometimes a bit longer). Several issue holders can each get an Action Learning ‘round’ during one day.

After an Action Learning day, group members go back into their organizations and experiment further with the topic they talked about, the consulting they received, and own new understanding and insights.

Participants meet again after six weeksaltogether about four to six times over a period of half a year –– to share learning experiences, and to start another round of talking through own learning and development issues around effective management and leadership.

Do you give feedback constructively? Here’s how …

June 18, 2014

Giving feedback is not always easy – or welcome. It can look like a tricky endeavor that involves many potential traps and could trigger defense, denial, rage or even tears. Yet, as learned from my mentor, the wise consultant and coach Jane Linklater, already years ago, there is a safe technique for both sides – a tried and tested seven-step formula you can follow for success.

First of all, always start with something positive. No, I mean it: Always start with something positive about the person’s actions or behavior – no matter how impatient or worked up you might be in the moment! E.g., say “I really enjoy working with you”, or “Such and such piece of work was really great”.

Second, please don’t follow with a ’but’. The moment you start with ’but’, the other person is on their inner guard – and that’s not what you want, right? You want to keep the feedback doors open, don’t you? So use the trick: Say ’and’. That way, there are no defenses going up. Instead, the doors remain wide open.

Thirdly, use constructive wording, e.g. ’This has been great – and if you could still optimize that other thing …’ Or: ’This has been great – and at the same time, there is one other aspect that I personally find difficult … could we talk about that one?’

Now the most important part starts:
Rather than saying something like: ’Everybody thinks you always are …’, stay away from the three traps that are right in those 5 little words: stay away from
4) characterizing the person (“you are“)
5) generalizing (“you always …”)
6) from giving them the impression that people are talking about them behind their back (“everybody thinks …”, “everybody else says that, too …”)

Instead, please

4) focus on their behavior only
5) quote specific situations
6) that you observed, with the effect that had on you

E.g. ’When you do such and such, like in yesterday’s meeting, I find that difficult, because this is the effect it has on me …’

7) Then, please do not end this before having given the person a clear recommendation of what behavior you would rather see, e.g.: ’I personally would much prefer if you could …’, or ‘I would find it more helpful if you did …’

These seven steps should get you through safely, and hopefully make your feedback ‘land’ more constructively with the recipient.

Now, in case you need to give extended feedback or clarify a whole working relationship, there is also a tool that provides a ‘holding structure’ that can make both attending parties feel safe during a difficult conversation.

Ideally, for that purpose, you don’t have your conversation in the office, but the two of you go somewhere offsite, e.g. to a quiet café. (And put your laptops and mobile phones away and on silent, for full attention to each other. Plan between one and two hours for your session.)

Please note: If one of you has a preference for introversion, it can be advisable to actually book a small meeting room e.g. at a hotel, as they may feel exposed if they have to assume that other people could listen in on your conversation, even if you talk quietly.

The important thing now is to have a mutual feedback conversation.

For that, you can use the four quadrants below:

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Once again, please note: If one of you has a preference for introversion, it can be helpful to share the four quadrants sheet prior to meeting up, so each of you can prepare your answers to the four questions. People with a preference for introversion don’t like having to ‘shoot from the hip’ – they prefer to think and reflect for a while before they actually speak out.

Now take turns answering each quadrant – so both of you answer quadrant 1 first, and then move on to quadrant 2. And please stick to the order and stay with it. Don’t jump into quadrant 4 when you’re supposed to talk about quadrant 2 only (please point it out to each other in case one of you does). And please don’t interrupt each other – hear each other out. Then, if you are on the receiving end, maybe ask a couple of questions to clarify, like ’You mean if I do such and such, this is how it lands with you?’ or ’So you mean if I do such and such instead, that would help?’

Sticking to that discipline, you can have really constructive and safe conversations also about difficult topics that may previously have seemed off limits. Many of my clients have made that experience, and they worked more effectively together after their feedback session.

However, if you still find it challenging to have such a conversation, you can ask a qualified facilitator to come in, sit with you two and help you through the conversation. Your HR department should be able to help you with recommending such a person.

In summary, a constructive feedback process can help the two of you towards new soft contracting between you, as a solid foundation for how you want to go on together in your work relationship.

How do you deal with conflict?

May 30, 2014

Are you mainly assertive, competing to win, or cooperative, accommodating other people’s needs? How does that vary situationally? Where and when do you compromise?

There are different models on how people tend to deal with conflict, be it in the workplace or privately. One that is easy to understand is the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI):

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We often hear about win-win. If you only pursue assertiveness (left axis), you win and the other person loses. If you only accommodate (right axis), the other one wins and you lose. If you avoid conflict altogether, the issue remains essentially unresolved

A helpful question to ask is: ’How important is this particular issue of conflict to you?’ If it is of very high importance, you may choose to really push it through assertively. If, however, it is of less importance to you than to the other party, you might as well decide to accommodate them instead …

The Thomas Kilmann model suggests that the most effective way to deal with conflict is a combination of assertiveness and accommodation (situated in the top right corner of the graph), collaborating well for a win-win in which both a solid degree of assertiveness and a good degree of simultaneously paying attention to the quality of the relationship and accommodating the other person’s needs come to fruition to work out a mutually satisfying solution.

It gets tricky when only one mode of conflict gets consistently overused – i.e. when someone always has to win, or someone else always avoids conflict, or yet another one always accommodates the other party, thus sacrificing own needs. (Ask yourself: In which of your work relationships might you be currently experiencing that?)

You may be strong on either the assertiveness or the accommodation side (or an avoider?) – it is worth it in the long run to practice the over-used mode less and instead practice the side that is less familiar to you more. It’s like learning to write with your other hand – the more you practice, the better you get at it eventually … and that makes you a more well-rounded individual also in conflict situations.

If you’d like to find out for yourself which conflict style you currently favor most, you can take the TKI online and receive your detailed personalized report via pdf immediately. You can also order this for your team. (It will cost you US$40 on your credit card – add to your cart at the very BOTTOM of the page). 

What makes you a mature leader?

May 21, 2014

A mature leader invites constructive feedback, also from own employees, to self-reflect on it, adapt and evolve. Only an immature, self-absorbed manager will reject such feedback.

Look at the ’30/40/50 Rule’: the same behaviors that made you successful in your thirties can make you stagnate, ’derail’, even lose your career in your fourties and fifties. In your thirties, you experienced success through yourself and got ahead through qualities like:

– ambition
– strength through specialization
– pushing own points of view through
– direct control of your own objectives

In your fourties and fifties, as a Director, Vice President or higher, your success is realized through others, i.e. the people who report to you – so now you get ahead through:

– appreciating, motivating and developing others
– creating a sense of collaboration and unity
– being secure and well-grounded enough in yourself to both give and receive feedback from anybody around you constructively
– being a role model for your team, modeling the behavior you want to see from them

That is quite a commitment – are you up to it? Are you willing to engage in and take time for the self-development that it takes? For that self-development, it all starts with feedback. Not just from your superior and perhaps a coach, but from the very people who observe you most astutely: your employees. And not just through an anonymous 360-degree feedback tool, but face to face, in real conversation.

Take this team leader who blurted out: “Anyone who criticizes me will be fired!“ – Do you think that is the solution? He may have to fire one team after another … Or take this newly promoted Director with international responsibility who, in a leadership training, came to me after a session and asked, all concerned: “You seriously mean I need to become more relational and invest in my soft skills?“ When I confirmed, he looked rather concerned …

You know, I used to not be that good at taking feedback myself, still in my late thirties; I had my sensitivities … and I’ll be eternally grateful to my U.S. colleague Vannessa, who made me notice. When she offered me a comment on my team behavior, and I went straight into a defensive answer, she said: „“Hellooooo – I just kindly offered you constructive feedback, which means I just made you a gift. Shut up with your defense and reflect on what I said.“ I never forgot that – she was so right: Feedback is a gift, generously offered to us so we can notice our own ’blind spots’ and get a chance at evolving towards being a more ’adequate other’.

Later on in my training as a consultant and coach, learning how to receive feedback, reflect on it and evolve from that was a crucial part of my education, and I cannot recommend it enough.

One first thing to consider is whether you respect your own employees enough to give them their annual or bi-annual development session, and whether you prepare for that well. It is not just for their objectives and for determining whether they get their bonus – it is also about how they want to develop, both in terms of hard and soft skills, and where they want to be in three to five years. And it is about the often uncomfortable question: ’What do you, employee, want me, team leader, to improve on in my own management or leadership behavior?’

If you dare ask that question, and if you have made your employees comfortable enough around you for them to trust you and dare answer you honestly, then the feedback you receive will be a gift indeed. If you can receive it without anger and defensiveness. If you can reflect on it, see your possible blind spot, and practice a different approach in the future. That is (amongst others) what is required of a mature leader.

In case you are interested in taking a leadership development course or getting some personal coaching, feel free to get in touch – I’ll be happy to recommend both courses and/or coaches to you.