The Tyranny of Experts…

The specifics of my request on that day are not really of consequence… be it resolved that I was in a store, looking for skin care products and that I had planned to “give myself over to an expert” to support my choices. I walked up to a friendly young woman and explained my request.

“Let’s do this!” was written in my face – or at least my eyes – as half my face was covered by a mask.

Her enthusiasm couldn’t have been more palpable. She guided me with a spring in her step to the right place and began explaining the different philosophies behind each product line. Having rationalized which line was most suitable for my needs, she then began plucking products off the shelf and handing them to me. Talking to me the whole time about the product and how to use it…. once a week here, twice a day there, this comes before that except on Wednesdays when you should never, etc.

Like kid in a candy store, I was soon overwhelmed by the different bottles and tonics around me. Taking in all this new information, I even began to ponder if getting up an extra 20 minutes early in my day would allow for my emerging skin care routine…!

I then began to regret my decision to seek out an expert. The more she spoke, the more I wanted to find a delicate way to drop all the bottles and dash out the store (“So sorry, it appears my house is on fire.”). After a moment of internal dialogue (in which I missed key details about the importance of toners vs exfoliants) – I settled myself more comfortably in my skin (pun very much intended) and interrupted her:

“Thank you for offering me so many possibilities. For now, I think that I would like to focus on 1 or 2 things that you believe would provide me the most benefits…” – I shrugged carefully the many bottles in my arms at her – “Can you pick which I should try first? When I’m ready, I promise to come back for more.”

She paused. I mean really paused. She paused in a manner that gave me confidence that her advice would be fruitful. She then picked two bottles and even prioritized them. Explained to me why these were the most important products for me. I took them both and left the store with a more easy feeling… I would not have to get up early – thank goodness for that.

Reflecting this experience made me wonder… how many times clients “run away” from our expertise – more because they are unable to address our well intentioned tyranny than because they don’t want our help?

I can happily say that one of those two products has been quite effective and that intend to return to this skin care expert for more in due course. This time; however, my request will be more specific – what is the next step (1-2 things) that I might try to get even better results?

What is embodied leadership?

Imagine me standing in a dance studio learning a new sequence of tap steps. There’s a lot going on internally – I am intensely looking at my teacher’s feet while simultaneously trying to command my own feet – all while keeping in tempo and rhythm with the music. I start off ok, then then start to lose the sequence – my feet are doing something I don’t yet understand but I keep at it.

At the same time, my teacher is performing the sequence perfectly all while keeping an eye on my feet and the feet of the other students. After repeating the sequence several times, she pauses – turns to me and says: “You have got the basic sequence Caroline – the first two times you do it. On the third, you are tapping with your left foot when you should be stomping, your weight is then still on your right foot and you lose all momentum for the next step. Try practicing the left side slowly a few times until your body figures it out.”

She then casually moves to the next student and offers equally gentle, precise, and thoughtful observations and support.

I’m blown away. How is it possible for her to do this?

Thinking about this over coffee the next day, I recognize that she must have gotten there through her practice… but it’s more than just repeating the steps technically. The steps have become part of her whole being… her arms move to support her shifts in weight, her feet hold emotion (I swear to you, her hops are “light and lively”) and the movements always sound and “feel right”. She can repeat the steps at any tempo with agility… it’s truly remarkable.

I realize (putting down my coffee Eureka! moment), she’s got it down so good that she no longer needs to really think about it – she has embodied the steps fully. This is what frees her up to focus her time and energy on what’s happening with her students! Where her intentional practice informs her on an instinctual level. It’s yet another beautiful example of what embodied leadership looks and feels like…! As her student – I trust her fully; her engagement and interactions couldn’t be more effective with her students; and the results are evident as we consistently make steady progress week after week in an ever increasing level of complexity of steps and sequences as a class.

In my leadership coaching practice, I always offer a customized foundational mind, heart, body practice to my clients that is aimed at helping them to master the basics of caring, authentic, purposeful leadership within themselves. We practice this together in our sessions and they are invited to take up this practice every day. For those who genuinely take up the practice – new possibilities for engaging as leaders slowly begins to emerge as they begin to embody the foundational steps of leadership in their own mind, body, and heart. As time goes on, their practice evolves and strengthens as it allows them to “keep tapping perfectly” – even under different levels of stress – freeing them up to focus their whole selves on their team, their clients, and their business. They develop new levels of trust with others who can feel into their embodied capabilities and appreciate their gentle but firm approach to leadership.

Gifts of Winter

There is every reason to despair due to all the present events that seem out of our control, but there is every reason to hope that with attention and discipline, we can bring ourselves and our societies, through a kind of seasonal disappearance, back into the realm of choice. – “Essentials” by David Whyte

Reflecting on the past year and holding it within the light of a lifetime’s journey… I am ever more appreciative of the gifts of Winter. Though my sense is that very few of us genuinely embrace the gifts of this season.

I see us struggle when we fall in and out of the traps of our relentless productivity. It seems as if the gifts of Spring and Summer are ever abundant… and there is an underlying anticipation – surely all of this work will create a boundless harvest for us someday?

In what space do we pause to truly savour the fruits of our labour? How do we in turn take in and accept the natural ebb and flow of the harvest? Where do we step back and take in the world around us to see – was there enough for us all?

And then, where do we genuinely allow ourselves to be covered by a thick blanket of snow and allow for what needs to be let go? Where do we make space to nourish ourselves deeply – creating the well grounded space where Spring will someday take shape?

So that I would seek (for all of us) the attention and discipline required to genuinely receive the gifts of Winter… ever inviting us back into the realm of choice.

Photograph of Resting Buddha in the Snow, by Caroline Sauve 🙂

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.

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 year before us, I wanted to offer some thoughts and questions to inspire and support you in clarifying your own vision and values.

Key to this activity is that we cast ourselves far enough in to the future. Most of us are currently living day to day and are maybe thinking of our lives a year or two from now. The best visions and values tend to outlast that time frame and require more time and integration than a year or two will allow for.

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…