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…

 

The Gift of a Good Night’s Sleep

A few years ago I did something that I had not done in a very long time. I set a New Year’s resolution – getting a good night’s sleep regularly.

Sounds trivial, but this is something that I had struggled with for more years than I cared to count. I had all but dismissed the idea that sleeping well was even possible for a person with my responsibilities. I had settled that family stressors in combination with work stressors made restful sleep a necessary sacrifice. I talked with friends with similar struggles: Did they sleep well? Nope. “Oh good.”, I thought, “I can stop stressing about my lack of sleep, this is totally normal.”

So what changed for me on that fateful New Years? Over the Christmas break, I experienced deep restful sleep night after night after night. I rediscovered parts of myself that I liked. I had more energy, more patience, more awareness… and I experienced more joy. So that my New Year’s resolution surfaced from a deep desire to create the context where I could experience this more consistently. Restful sleep was key to unlocking that potential for me.

What followed was a lengthy set of experiments aimed at getting me there… I also did a whole lot of reading about sleep along the way. It took me 8 months to get a good night’s sleep again and even more work to get that experience more regularly – so there are no quick fixes here… that said, I wanted to share the top three principles that helped me based on all that I tried and learned:

  1. Sleep is about sending clear signals to your body that it’s ok to relax. After that, you can trust your body to do the right thing. You’ll need to figure out what’s right for your body (e.g. no screen time, aromatherapy, regular bed time, music, etc.) . That can take lots of experimenting to figure out – but stick with it and it will pay off.
  2. If you are in bed and “not sleeping”, you need to get up and do something calming outside of your bed. Return to your bed only when you are feeling sleepy. Creating an association between laying down in your bed and sleep is a powerful somatic* practice to cultivate over time – trust me on this one.
  3. Get your head, your heart, and your gut better aligned. For many, bedtime is the only time in our day where we are able to work through our candid thoughts and feelings. Our bodies are therefore unable to relax because there’s important work to be done before it can rest. We need to find a better place to work this out: take a walk at lunch; get to your yoga mat for a good stretch; meditate; journal; connect with a good friend… even work with a therapist, mentor, or coach… invest your time (outside of bedtime) to develop and support your internal health and integrity.

For me, this was a long and fruitful journey and the gift of a good night’s sleep made all the effort worthwhile… I learned a lot along the way – in many ways I’m still learning. If you are tapping into your own desire to have a restful night’s sleep, I hope that this post will be a signal of encouragement and support along the way. Go there… my fellow sleep seeker… and trust that your journey will be worth the effort.

*somatic – relating to the body, especially as distinct from the mind

The Cult of Busy-ness

Yesterday, a group of busy leaders gathered online for our Leaders’ Circle Session. Our worthy topic was our sincere desire to explore prioritization and workflow to support a sustainable pace in our day to day work. To support our exploration of prioritization, we made use of Stephen Covey’s – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – focusing on the 3rd Habit: “Put First Things First”:

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The group surfaced insights when exploring the model together and considering our current way of being in the Cult of Busy-ness. This is but a highlight reel of what we surfaced:

  1. Q4 activities are disruptions in our day and add no value – the question we need to ask ourselves here is “what’s drawing me away”? Time wasters are sometimes an attempt at fulfilling a need that we are unable to achieve in work. What would it take to get what we need there?
  2. Feelings of disappointment and sadness that some of our “ritual activities” (even the ones we enjoy) are fundamentally Q3. So that we either need to reconnect with the value (aka – bring them to Q1) or consider stopping such activities.
  3. Discovery that an overload of Q1 activities creates a non-stop sense of urgency. This leads to being overwhelmed, reactive firefighting, and potential burn out.

After deeper exploration of the model (with a quick trip through Personal Kanban to effectively manage workflow of our prioritized work) we established the following key take away…

The ability to shift away from Q3 and Q4 and then from Q1 into Q2 activities in our day to day work, performing in Q2 (as much as possible) in a sustainable way is the true expression Agile leadership capability.

The group then surfaced actions for their own next steps towards a new way of being – each to address their own specific set of needs. These included…

  1. Adapting existing Kanban boards to align with Personal Kanban in combination with prioritization using Covey’s model to better understand where time is spent.
  2. Including work, personal, and family activities on Personal Kanban board in order to visualize all work and bring attention to the priority of each – potentially establishing short term goals for for work, personal, and family.
  3. Exploration of how to move specific Q1 activities into Q2… what assumptions keep them in Q1? What would it take to shift them to Q2? Who can help with this?

Once again, I’m deeply grateful to those of you who prioritized a Q2 activity like our Leaders’ Circle into your day. Your contributions make the experience (and all the work it takes to prepare for these sessions) so worthwhile!!! Time is our most precious resource as leaders… thank you for spending it in our circle.

For June, I’m considering making a shift into talking about Strategy… in particular connecting it into Integral Model to support our view of how we can approach. Very open to feedback and ideas here for topics of interest to the group.

No Thanks, I’ll Walk

In my teens and twenties, I was a runner.

Never a great runner, but a runner nonetheless. I believed that running was a key element to my fitness and wellbeing. I got up early on my own, trained on my own, and entered races on my own. Each time I finished a race, I accepted my medal as a badge of honour for my training and hard work. I then stuffed these symbols of grit and effort into a shoebox that I dedicated to collecting such artifacts.

In my thirties, something wonderful happened… I realized that all my actions aimed at making me a better runner (the right training, the right shoe, the right weather, the right running partner, the right nutrition, the right running path)… none of that aligned with what I really cared about in my life. I finally accepted the signals from my body and from my heart – I no longer needed running in my life.

That’s when I became a walker.

The challenges of being a walker are different than those of being a runner. When you are a walker, you continually have encounters with the world of runners and most of these encounters highlight how walkers are second class citizens in the world of foot races. This happened to me so frequently, that I created an unspoken mantra every time I encountered such a situation. I would breathe deeply into my body and my heart and say to myself: “No thanks, I’ll walk.”

Walking proved a serious shift in wellbeing and fitness for me. Walking allowed me to train with my best friend regularly. Together we completed long walks and we connected in a way that wouldn’t have been possible for us to do if we had run instead of walked. I will never forget our half-marathon experience… enjoying a hot sunny May day, being in flow, connecting with fellow racers, and taking in the journey together. When we stopped to help a dehydrated and disoriented racer on the side of the course (other racers jetting by us without a second glance), we knew full well we wouldn’t make our best time and we didn’t give it a second thought.

I’m sure that must have been given a medal for my efforts at the finish line (we completed the race in more or less 3 hours), but I have no idea where it ended up. “Medals and best time” are no longer what I value in my fitness and wellbeing practice…

So what’s all this to do with Agile leadership?

In a world of high achievers and high performing leaders… it’s very much a runner’s world out there. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve even collected a few medals myself.

For Agile leaders, our craft is about creating a context whereby our teams are honoured for acts of collaboration, for caring about end users, for deeply connecting and acting with courage to meet the collective vision of our business. In essence, we are asking our teams to put these values ahead of racing as individuals to chase a prize. For many, this means intentionally slowing down to get things right.

Now, consider the impact to our teams when we as Agile leaders continue to chase medals and best time? What happens when we are unable to embody the very values we claim to hold dear?

Now, breathe deeply and consider, how can you slow down and genuinely connect with what matters to you most? In essence, what would it take for you to say (with the strength of your own convictions) – “No thanks, I’ll walk.”?

Pssst! – If you are interested in pursuing this discussion further, please join our next free Leaders’ Circle group coaching session where we will spend time exploring the “Cult of Busy-ness” together.