Duet – Strength and Technique

Many weeks ago (before the world of physical distancing), I had the opportunity to attend a dress rehearsal for a group of young dancers. Late into the day, a young dance pair took the stage for the first time to perform a duet.

As is typical in such situations, the male dancer (let’s call him Jim) was taller and older than his partner. The female dancer (let’s call her Susan) was by all accounts the better dancer. They performed their dance carefully and we could sense the tentative nature of their partnership. Near the end, Jim was to lift Susan then spin her downwards gracefully onto her pointed toes. But this is not what happened… in a feat of strength he spun her too quickly and she landed instead on her knees.

What happened afterwards was interesting. The surprise from Susan was quite visible… but she stumbled up and kept dancing. Jim seemed unmoved by what happened in the moment. When the number was done, their teacher stepped up and spoke to them (and – indeed – to the audience of supportive parents and peer dancers).

Teacher: “Partnership is the balance between strength and technique. Jim, you could pick up two Susans with your strength – but that’s not what’s needed here – you must be able to yield to her technique and together (that includes you Susan) control what’s happening. Susan, are you ok?”

Susan nodded. Jim looked (for the first time) affected by the outcome of the fall.

Teacher: “Now, do it again. Together this time.”

They performed the spin – still too fast but, this time, Susan was prepared and planted her feet on the ground to prevent herself from falling.

Teacher: “Better. Jim, you need to yield to Susan. Susan good work finding your feet. Again.”

By the third time, they had struck a better – but still tentative – balance.

A few things came to mind as I watched them dance. The first is how I wish all of us could have the gift of a good teacher during such moments in our lives. The second is how important it is in life to find the right balance between strength and technique. Consider…

Strength on its own will “spin you out of control”.

Technique by itself cannot perform “great lifts”.

Neither – on its own – is beautiful or purposeful.

Beyond this, the balance between strength and technique is the ability of each dancer to hold this polarity in balance and to yield and trust each other moment by moment.

To see, feel, and appreciate what this is like… take some time to enjoy some truly beautiful duets, like this one from National Ballet of Canada…

Then consider where in your life is there an imbalance between strength and technique? How can the one yield to the other to find trust?

And when mistakes happen, why not try it again?

Go gently.

Unpacking Fear

Given the current state of things, I wanted to offer some thoughts about unpacking and putting a boundary around fear.

First, it’s important to understand fear. Fear asks (and at times demands!) that we focus, pay attention, and act. There is beauty in this emotion when we consider the truth that it seeks to reveal to us. It is fear that supports a parent who instinctually catches a child who is about to fall. It is fear that supports the teen to focus on her studies before a big test.

Secondly, understand that – like all good and healthy emotions – fear is intended to be a temporary state. A message from within our bodies, hearts, and minds that signals an internal truth for us in the moment.

Consider that when fear is triggered in an unhealthy way or is sustained for long periods of time, it can distract us from what’s actually happening around us. Like all emotions, it’s also important to unpack fear (rather than repress it or over express it) and ground it firmly in the present moment.

If fear arises for you for sustained periods of time, then take the time to get yourself grounded and ask yourself…

What is my fear asking me to pay attention to?

What action must be taken right now to address my fear?

If there is something to be done, then get to it. If there is nothing to be done (and for many of us right now, we are doing all that we can)… then thank your fear and let it go in whatever way works best for you.

I like taking deep breaths or going for a walk – preferably outside. Go gently.

New Decade – Personal Vision and Values Activity

If Agile has taught me anything, it’s that when you are faced with uncertainty – you need to be able to lean hard on your vision and your values.

But, to make that possible, you first need to be able to connect with what matters to you most.

For many of us, this is something that we may well take for granted. So that, with a new decade before us, I wanted to offer some thoughts and questions to inspire and support you in clarifying your own vision and values for what’s to come.

This activity should take at least 30 minutes to complete and requires that you be able to engage fully and be free of distractions. I like to bring my coaching journal with me and tend to write freely anything that arises during the activity. It makes for interesting reading in hindsight – so I try hard not to overthink it in the moment.

Cast yourself into the future, 10 years from now. Take a few minutes to visualize yourself 10 years older. Try to bring clarity of vision to different aspects with equal measure…

  1. How are you personally? How do you feel physically? How are you emotionally? Where is your attention, time, and energy focused?
  2. Who are the people who matter most in your life? How is your relationship with each?
  3. Where are you professionally? What is your relationship with your work and how does it connect you with what matters most to you?

Give yourself time to “see yourself” with each aspect of your life – take the time to fully visualize your future. Feel free to capture this in any way that makes sense for you – intuitive writing, narrative, poetry, sketching, painting, sculpting, movement – unleash your creativity!

Once you have clarity of your vision, step outside of yourself and ponder – what are the underlying values that support this way of being for your future self? What are the key words that you associate with your personal, relationship, and professional wellbeing? Try not to overthink these words – it’s more important that they resonate for you than they be the perfect words to express what you value.

Once you establish your vision and values, be sure you find a time and place in your life where you can reflect and connect with them regularly. Periodically, take the time to ponder what steps you are taking to make your vision real and to live by your values.

Above all, try to remember that time isn’t out to get you. After all, you cast yourself 10 years into the future to establish your vision and values. Be patient, be open, be persistent and (above all) pay attention when your path misaligns with what matters to you most.

Reflections on Coaching Emotional Culture

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to connect with agilists and coaches at the GTA Agile Coach Retreat. Together, we spent the morning bouncing energy and ideas back and forth on approaches to coaching healthy expression of emotions within our organizations and teams.

For me, as a coach and facilitator, it’s a real gift whenever I get the opportunity to connect with people who genuinely want to partner creatively. I’m still buzzing with the energy of the group – so that, I felt drawn to offer some reflections on our shared experience over the weekend.

  1. If your experience of Amber music left you feeling constricted, I would invite you to spend some time listening to university and college marching bands. Especially if you are in need of an energy boost in your day… try to stay open and see what surfaces for you.
  2. The collective experience of listening to John Lennon’s Imagine together is one that I will never forget. Your Green is so beautiful… oh my heart.
  3. Our exploration healthy and unhealthy expressions of emotions through improv created discomfort in different ways… but you forged on with genuine curiosity. Keep holding that genuine curiosity through discomfort and it will serve you (and others) well.
  4. Remember that the coach’s goal isn’t to “push to teal”. Honouring and ensuring the healthy expression of emotions within the current culture is the coach’s goal. If you can enable that, then wake up calls may surface that will draw the culture into the next altitude. Be open but don’t expect that call to happen. Be at peace with this… don’t let it break your heart.

Thank you all for this wonderful experience and opportunity to connect with all of you in Toronto. Slides are available below. Until we meet again, deep peace to you.

The Artful Coach

Let me start by saying… knowledge is a very good thing. Practice is also a very good thing.

That said, there’s subtle work to be done beyond the realm of knowledge and practice… and that is a very very good thing indeed.

In coaching (and its sister discipline – facilitation), there’s no need or desire to see knowledge applied. There’s also no miraculous practice that will make change possible.

The subtle work of the coach is to develop herself as instrument – to become keenly aware of her ways – so that she can (in turn) be able to genuinely meet others with a higher level of awareness and skill. So the artful coach makes space for change in others by undertaking the hard work of changing herself. She does not inflict her needs on the world around her… on others… but takes up this path for herself with love, courage, and integrity.

Yes, knowledge and practice are good things.

But they are no substitute for the genuine embodiment of an artful coach.

Because I had to take the bus…

I checked my desires for time, ease, and comfort – curious and light.

I felt my dependence on the driver – trusting and vulnerable.

I noted the care of a mother towards her child – compassionate and good.

I accepted the changing daylight as summer leaned into fall – abiding and sweet.

I avoided the distractions that could have filled my mind – grateful and wholehearted.

Change starts with you…

The leader stood before her most senior team members. Shoulders rolled back, holding a tall and strong standing posture, her chin set and slightly elevated, her steady gaze looking downward with the tilt of her head, one eyebrow raised...

There had been plenty of data offered during the session. She had done an excellent job of relating the state of the business. Everything was clearly laid out and now was the time to rally everyone together. “We’re in this together.”, she thought, “And I’ve left plenty of time for discussion and questions.” She had received feedback about the lack of opportunity to engage in such meetings. So she intentionally left space for this time.

She gazed intensely at everyone in the room – excited and nervous…

Any questions?

Silence.

She moved from one leg to the other. The leader actively resisted crossing her arms – instead, she quickly rolled back her shoulders to stand firmly and strong again. She looked intently at people in the room – trying to make eye contact.

More silence.

Come on now. Surely there are questions? Or comments? We’ve just spent 2 hours reviewing the state of our business…” she tried to smile but decided not to...

Silence. People stared at their notebooks, were looking outside, or fiddled with their phones.

Well then. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable speaking in this group.” Surely someone would speak up nowwas that phrased as a question?

Pause. More silence.

“If that’s the case then you can come to my office later.

Even deeper silence from the room. Frustrated and disappointed, the leader ended the meeting to the relief of all. 

This scene* is one that I have seen played out many times before… speaking to leaders in this scenario who would seek to change how this interaction plays out, I would offer the following reflections…

Your team is a reflection of you.

While your team may hear your words, they also feel into your presence.

When there gap between “what you say” and “how your show up” as a person in power, others will intuitively adjust to ensure their own safety around you.

Aligning “what you say” with “how you show up” is hard work that requires awareness and a commitment to take actions that support genuine personal integrity.

You are worth it. Your team is worth it. It’s time to get to it.

Change starts with you…

*a work of fiction drawn on different life experiences – both as a participant in the room and as the leader – yes, I’ve been here before…