‘We want coaching’

A recent article in the FT by Maxime Boersma entitled ‘We want coaching,’ say high-fliers shows how perceptions of coaching have changed dramatically over recent years.

The Head of Learning and Development at a UK organisation describes how “Executive coaching is increasingly sought by senior leaders as a space where they can have reflective conversations about their work and be challenged on their thinking and approach.”

A unique leadership development opportunity

Picture1For those who follow my blog, you will know that my trip to Harvard in 2012 was significant for me and altered my views and approaches to leadership development. I also benefited from meeting an incredible international group of people with similar interests and aspirations. One such person is Annick Zinck (www.AZck.com).

I have the pleasure of collaborating Annick this June on ‘The Sail and Lead program 2014’ on Lake Geneva. It is a unique learning opportunity enabling participants to learn more about themselves and how they interact with others in situations where they are under pressure, with limited resources and in a changing environment. No sailing experience is needed as there will be two top-class sailing coaches working with the participants.

You can get more details on the programme by clicking here or contact me directly to chat through this unique learning experience.

‘Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves’ – Carl Jung

Looking at things through a different lens can often help us see a situation differently and learn. This was exactly what struck me when I came across this quote recently… except the lens in this case is more like a mirror  – so we can understand ourselves and our impact on others a little more.

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Image Source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2012/08/07/157743116/does-the-mirror-reflect-how-you-feel

Acknowledging our part of the mess!

Facing up to an adaptive challenge requires us to put the problem at the centre, depersonalise it and then look at the various the various stakeholders and where they sit in relation to the problem. That all sounds very logical and depersonalised, however it gets interesting when we look at the part that we ourselves have in creating the problem or as Linksy and Heifetz put acknowledging ‘our part of the mess’.

The benefits of doing this are (a) setting a good example for accountability and (b) we can then step up and fix part of the problem.  Fixing our part of the problem though will often require us to challenge our values and loyalties and might require behavioural change on our part which is easier said than done.

I recently watched a movie called ’12 o’ clock high’ which illustrated this challenge really well. The movie is about an American bomber pilot unit in World War II which at the start of the movie are taking heavy losses. The pilots are incredibly loyal to their commander and him to them, but this gets in the way of the mission (the adaptive challenge). He is replaced by Brigadier Savage who takes a firm hand on the pilot unit and starts clocking up successes. Ultimately however he gets so close to the men that he begins to develop the same loyalties as his predecessor and loses perspective.

The movie illustrates the challenges of ‘being in the action’ and ‘on the balcony’ at the same time and particularly the challenge of looking at the part that we play in proceedings from ‘the balcony’.  Commander General Pritchard brought the risk of ‘over-identifying with his men’ to Savages’s attention, but despite this he did not change his ways.  Knowing we need to change is necessary but insufficient if we are to effect change.

So how can we more successfully do this? Heifetz, Linksy and Grashow bring this to life in their book ‘The Practice of Adaptive Leadership’. They link their work on adaptive leadership with that of their colleagues Robert Keegan and Lisa Lahey on ‘immunity to change’.  It requires a diagnostic mind-set and an ability to step back from the action to reflect on deep-seated loyalties and values that we probably don’t advertise.

I will walk through this process with this movie in mind.  The first step is to identify the behaviours that we would like to see more or less of in order to make progress on the adaptive challenge (e.g. provide leadership opportunities to the pilots in the pilot unit so that they might ultimately lead their own successful missions and enable Savage to return to his role and increase chances of overall success against the enemy). Secondly we should identify the loyalties and values that underlie the need for this change (e.g. loyalty to country, commanding officer and own career path). Then we should identify things that we are doing or not doing that keeps us from honouring this commitment i.e. what behaviours are we demonstrating that fly in the face of the behaviours we identified in step 1? (e.g. continuing to personally lead bombing missions). What then are the conflicting values or loyalties that drive this behaviour? (e.g. loyalty to and over-identification with pilot unit that Savage is commanding). The question then is that by continuing these behaviours, what am I protecting myself against? (e.g. losses in the air which I would feel responsible for if I do not take a part in the action?).

By peeling back the layers of the onion we might start to challenge some of our assumptions and values that work against what we are ultimately trying to achieve. By taking some initial low-risk experiments we can hopefully bit by bit put aside some of the inhibiting loyalties and values we hold, in service of achieving our ultimate goal. Consider doing this with the support of a partner. They can provide insights we might ourselves miss and can challenge us to stay the course.

Harvard – The Art and Practice of Adaptive Leadership – A Debrief

Image‘Where do we begin?’. The week started with a question and ended with many, which was very appropriate considering we were there to learn how to tackle leadership development in the face of adaptive challenges.

We were a class of 62 from 20 different counties and 5 different continents. We were in a leadership laboratory where we were our very own guinea pigs! If an outsider stepped into our world last week, they might have seen a group engaged in heated debates (as might be expected) or they might have seen something less conventional e.g. a group engaged in a shared singing experience with everyone singing different tunes at the same time and importantly with not a consonant within ear-shot. There was not a dull day in the entire experience.

I will take many things away from the week. I will share just three of the themes here and I hope to elaborate on these and others in the coming weeks and months.

The first is one of leadership terminology. During the course of the week we became accustomed to talking about leadership as an activity rather than a position. Individuals can be in roles of authority and may or may not engage in acts of leadership from that position. Individuals equally may exercise leadership without any formal authority at all.

An approach to leadership challenges: we each arrived on the programme with a leadership challenge which we faced. We worked in teams over three days to tackle each leadership challenge. Day by day we were equipped with new thinking which dramatically increased our effectiveness in real time. The approach involved putting the problem at the centre, identifying factions/ interest groups relating to the issue at hand, what motivates them and what potential losses they would face should the challenge be resolved. This approach is something which I can see as beneficial to my coaching practice immediately.

The third big concept which I took away was  necessity to manage the heat in the system: I had read the book Leadership on the Line in advance of the programme (written by 2 of the faculty Marty Linsky and Ronald Heifetz) and I had become familiar with the notion of there being a ‘productive zone of disequilibrium’ in order to make change happen. Reading the theory however was very different to experiencing it first-hand. We encountered the challenges of  both too much and too little heat in the different groups and whilst both yielded the same result (a lack of progress), both felt very different and different strategies were required to move the group forward  in each case.

This programme used many different pedagogies in order to maximise the learning experience. It has been finely tuned over 14 years to deliver as they term it ‘above and below the neck learning’. We were warned to make a quiet re-entry into our work environments. I have some concrete ideas of how to take the experience forward but I have many other thoughts and areas to explore over the longer term. Watch this space!

Image 1: The library.

Image 2: Eadine touching the foot of John Harvard (which apparently brings good luck!).

Leadership and Lifelong Learning

I have just finished reading John Kotter’s book ‘Leading Change’. After finishing the book, I went back to the start to see when it was written and was amazed to see the year 1996 mentioned. Many business books are written and remain relevant for a year… this one is as relevant now as it was in 1996.

The chapter that captured my attention most was the final one entitled ‘Leadership and Lifelong Learning’. It is clear that as complexity increases, the need for learning increases. Furthermore, in order to deal with adaptive challenges we can no longer rely on off-the-shelf solutions to problems but rather need to learn to make connections and come up with creative solutions to the new challenges we face.

I have always been stimulated by change and the learning associated with it. In my corporate life I constantly sought challenging assignments at home and abroad. I remember a manager asking me once ‘Eadine, what is going to happen when you have to keep the same role for more than a couple of years?’ Well, I guess for the first time that has now happened as I am running my own business and interestingly it is in the ‘learning’ space. On the surface level I am doing the same thing as 3 or 4 years ago, but the variety and challenges I am presented with reflect the marketplace and the opportunity for learning and personal growth for both myself and client’s is immense.

Kotter suggests some mental habits that support lifelong learning:

  • Risk-taking
  • Humble self-reflection
  • Solicitation of opinions
  • Careful listening
  • Openness to new ideas.

I have a wonderful opportunity in May to attend a Leadership programme in Harvard. I have no doubt that this experience will be uncomfortable and include all of the above elements but I am confident that it will be a worth-while experience. If you wish to hear about this experience in due course, feel free to sign up to my blog.

Image Source: http://artnews.org/artist.php?i=5491

Learning Agility

A few months back I wrote an article about the value ‘stretch assignments’ in developing our leadership capabilities. An article in the recent CIPD magazine (People Management) entitled Deepening the talent pool through learning agility struck a chord with me along the same vein. It speaks of learning agility (our ability to learn and adapt to new situations) as being a key predictor of future success. Of particular interest is the graphic in the article (chart 2) which  shows the step up required through each of the transitions. What makes us successful at one level may actually impede our success at the next level. The skill is to be able to learn from past experiences and adapt our approach to new situations as opposed to finding a so called ‘winning formula’ and sticking with it.

This article is well worth reading!

Young Social Innovators in the news – Missing Persons project

Young Social Innovators is an initiative I am passionate about, not just because of the value of the projects transition year students work on, but also because  of the opportunity provided to the students to develop themselves. Yesterday one of the projects from Davis College was in the news as it is launching a 2012 calendar to raise awareness of missing person’s. Many of us will remember the time when Trevor Deely disappeared in December 11 years ago. His father Michael Deely is supporting this campaign and appears in the clip.

TV3 clip of the ‘Forget Me Not’ campaign

Having attended the national showcase earlier this year, I was struck by the momentum behind YSI. I watched many presentations delivered by transition year students and was impressed not just by what they had achieved but by the availability of such a platform for them to develop as individuals. I believe it supports their development in three key ways:

(1) Communications and confidence building: having presented their projects at local and national level, this initiative provides a fantastic opportunity for students to gain confidence presenting in a supportive environment. The first presentation I ever gave was to a client in the corporate world and I am thrilled to see that the educational system provides more opportunities to practice now at an earlier age.

(2) Leadership and team-building: many of the questions posed by the judges at the show-case related to how the students worked as a team and how they overcame challenges. The challenges of team-working will be faced by all into the future and being able to deal with such challenges at an early age is superb.

(3) Emotional Intelligence: one definition of emotional intelligence is:

“a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.”

YSI allows the students to develop their emotional intelligence in many ways. One area of particular importance is empathy as each of the students has the opportunity to walk in the shoes of those they are supporting through their projects and feel what they are feeling. At the end of the day leadership is about relationships as we can’t lead without followers. By developing emotional intelligence, these students are better preparing themselves for future leadership roles.

On a concrete level, many past-participants of YSI have spoken of how YSI helped them secure their first job. YSI provided them a platform at interview to speak about what they were capable of beyond academic grades. I wish all the current participants the best of luck!

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