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?


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”:

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 8.45.20 AM

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.”?

Manager, Mentor, or Coach – What’s my leadership style?

Last week, a group of us gathered for our very first Leaders’ Circle Session – where we discussed and shared collectively our experiences with developing and growing our leadership style inside Agile organizations. The discussion was framed around three different leadership stances…

Armed with these different approaches, we each explored our “current way” as leaders in more detail. Throughout this exploration, we surfaced pressures (internal and external) that drew us as leaders more towards the left (Management). We also surfaced an invitation to shift to move towards the right (Coaching) from our Agile mindsets. This lead us to each defining our unique “new way” and to determine what actions we might wish to take to transition from the left towards the right skillfully.

While it is difficult to replicate the experience of our session, it’s worthwhile sharing the actions we surfaced during our coaching circle. For deeper exploration of your leadership style… please consider the practices proposed below and choose what serves you best.

Actions for exploring (and developing) your Agile leadership style:

  • Take a moment in your day to reflect on that day’s interactions. How much time did you spend managing, mentoring, and coaching today? What was the impact of those interactions?
  • Did you engage in a different approach depending on the situation? Depending on the person? What patterns do you observe stepping back? What assumptions underlie your approach?
  • Have you ever clarified for yourself AND with your colleagues / boss the expectations in your role? How do you know “what’s needed” in the moment?
  • If your colleagues / boss were to describe your leadership style in a few words, what words would they choose? What impact does your leadership style have within the team from their point of view?
  • Identify a situation where your desire is to establish more of a servant leadership approach (leaning more on coaching skills than mentorship and avoiding management approaches)… what conditions would need to exist to support? What can you do to create those conditions? Take the time to prepare yourself (and possibly others) before trying it out.
  • Become more aware of your approach “in the moment” by building awareness of what you offer in response moment to moment. Are you “instructing” (Managing)? Are you “suggesting” (Mentorship)? Are you “exploring with curiosity” (Coaching)? Note: Building this muscle of awareness doesn’t need to happen in the workplace – can just as well be applied to personal relationships like parenting and friendship.

To close, I would like to offer gratitude to those who participated in this inaugural Leaders’ Circle session… your engagement and courage to build upon the ideas presented improved the calibre of the topic for us all. I am looking forward to the next Leaders’ Circle session… stay tuned – coming in May!

Coaching from the Inside Out…

As coaches and leaders of change, we may well have worked very hard to establish our way of working. Our expertise, knowledge, and experiences are hard earned – spending time and money on improving ourselves – we have worked very hard to birth and share our ideas and knowledge with the world.

And yet, for all our effort and hard work, we continue to struggle. We think: “if only other people understood as we do”. And so we keep searching – the right metric, the best facilitation technique, the most advanced training (or certification) surely will show us the way. So that, when our expertise and experience has expanded enough, then everything will be ok.

And yet, for all our effort and hard work, we continue to struggle. We discover that some people think as we do – hallelujah! And so we gather at meet ups, attend retreats, and go to conferences. We hang out on social media – seeking to engage and test out our ideas with other like-minded (and not so like-minded) individuals. So that, when we are well connected and established in a community, then everything will be ok.

And, for all our effort and hard work, we continue to struggle. And so we wisely decide that we need to become more “zen”. We tell ourselves things like “it depends”, “context matters”, and “be patient”. We may download a meditation app, attend a yoga session, or schedule a massage. So that, when we are able to remain calm in the face of struggle, then everything will be ok.

And, for all our effort and hard work, we continue to struggle… 

In coaching, we take all of that effort and hard work – we honour it – and then work together to get connected with your center of gravity. We stop seeking answers outside and make space to seek answers inside – to understand how your way of being (way of seeing, doing, checking) might be getting in the way of addressing your struggles. We work together to include and transcend all that came before… making space for a new way of directing your effort and hard work – one that is energizing and better aligned with your own inner wisdom.

If this speaks to you (or sounds like someone you know might benefit) and you would be interested in exploring a coaching relationship for self-development as coach or leader of change – please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at InsideOutAgile.

Transcending a Culture of Independence

“Under poor leaders we feel like we work for the company.  With good leaders we feel like we work for each other.” – Simon Sinek

This quote by Simon Sinek (in combination with a re-read of Stephen Covey) inspired a train of thought… ok, a rather long train of thought… and inside it, surfaced an important underlying assumption for me.

We all work for each other – there is no other way.

In that light then, what happens when a culture of independence (I work for the company) meets a reality of interdependence (we work for each other)?

  • Production (ship it) is consistently prioritized over production capacity (enablement & capability to ship). The impact of ignoring production capacity is most keenly felt when production invariably slows down. This slowing down is internalized as shame (it’s our fault, we need to do better) or blame (they never give us time to work on this important stuff). Which leads to the following…
  • Heroes are celebrated and rewarded for the pain they endure, as it takes increasing amounts of effort and time to compensate for the production over production capacity imbalance. Heroic efforts are the real measure of professional growth within the independent cultured organization. Meanwhile, more complex acts of collaboration, learning, and growth go unrewarded and unrecognized.
  • Leaders are compliant, protective, and siloed. A culture of independence tends to build trusting relationships through loyalty. Implicitly, looking good is more important than being good. Constructive and healthy conflict is disabled within the organization’s culture – creating an echo chamber. This behaviour inherently supports the following….
  • Information is a form of currency and power.  One-on-one discussions and decision making are favoured over collective discussion and decision making. In general, healthy team dynamics are considered a delivery team thing, not a leadership team thing – creating inner circles of power within these peer groups.
  • Dissonance between leadership intention (what I say) and action (what I do). Consequently, people stop hearing these leaders and miss important messages from them over time. This lack of clarity in turn motivates employees to tell their own stories. These stories are rarely positive and create a self-reinforcing cycle of miscommunication and fear… which in turn feeds the culture of independence even further. I must protect myself and look out for #1.
  • Disengagement is the only way employees feel that they can safely express their emotions in a manner that restores balance for them. Not happy? Feel frustrated? Feeling sad? Take a sick day, work from home, or take a vacation. Whatever you do, don’t tell your boss because that would expose a flaw (see “Heroes are celebrated” above) that could prove career limiting.

All in all, it’s really hard to work together. To compensate, staffing functions are created to implement measures of control. More discipline is applied in a wasteful attempt to align in the reality of interdependence with a culture of independence.

Transcending a culture of independence requires strategic investment in the development of leaders both as individuals and as a team to support genuine embodied behaviours aimed at meeting the complex reality of interdependence. There is no other way…

Embracing the Mess

I was cleaning our mud room closet the other day – a big mess of coats, snow pants, toques, mismatched mittens… not to mention mud, salt, sand, and a thriving population of dust bunnies.

I’d been avoiding it.

And as I looked at the mess all around me, I realized the part that I had been avoiding was the inevitable mess making that is involved in sorting it all out. There I stood, amongst the piles of laundry, boots, and various odd things that somehow called our mudroom closet home over the past year – feeling uncomfortable and annoyed about it all.

It was in the mess that I had created that I realized that this feeling of aversion is natural – the yang to the yin of our the desire to see the outcome.

It’s hard to wade into a mess and to knowingly make it more messy. To just be with the pain of it and embrace it as part of the process. And yet, messiness is part of every event where change takes place – whether we chose to embrace the pain of it or not.

When I see all the angst expressed in the workplace as teams adopt new ways of working, I wonder how accepting we all are – as coaches and leaders of change – with embracing this messiness? How can we help others to dive into it all, knowing that it will only get more messy before it gets better?

The closet is now btw – looking fabulous – and while I enjoy this fresh state of things (new beginnings are so full of promise), I do so knowing that I will be encountering dust bunnies and new odd things that will have somehow ventured into our mudroom closet again in a few months time… but maybe this time, I won’t actively avoid what it takes to get it where it needs to be for me and my family.

New Leaders Series – Part 3: Manager vs Coach Stance

Let’s start with a key assumption: Managers and coaches are different roles.

Blending manager with coach can be a source of frustration and confusion for the people you are seeking to help and support as a new leader. As a leader in an Agile organization, it’s important that you clearly understand the difference between manager and coach and clarify for yourself and others your own embodiment of these different roles in the moment. Consider the different roles:

Manager – focused on ensuring balanced investment – focusing the growth of the individual in service to the growth of the business. The manager provides the necessary one-on-one support and work context necessary to meet the needs of the business.

Coach – focused on providing the framework and growing capabilities of the coached individual by meeting them “where they are at”. A coach provides a one-on-one interaction aimed at skills growth based on what is required and important for the coached individual.

Now, consider the impact of confusing coach and manager stance:

  1. As a manager, your reports may view your “coaching stance” as suggestion rather than direction – in which case, you risk being unclear about expectations.
  2. As a coach, coachees may see your “manager stance” as controlling. Your instructions may not resonate with the coachee and they may not choose to challenge this with you.

The danger here is made worse if you interpret the report / coachee behaviour as a challenge to your role when the truth is that your helpful – but unclear – approach has failed.

The only way that I know to remove ambiguity is to be very clear as to the mode you are engaging in. As a manager, I strive to be very clear when I engage as a coach – quite literally framing my questions and suggestions as “coach”. When I do this, I’m checking-in, inviting feedback, and am very open to reframing the suggestion. When I’m engaging as a manager and being more directive – I aim to be equally direct and transparent – in this case framing as “management \ business expectations”. When I do this, I emphasize clarity of expectations, inviting questions, and am not open to reframing the suggestion.

Ultimately, regardless of role / stance, what’s important is how this is received and heard by the other person. Knowing when to coach and when to manage is the next level of this but not truly possible unless the leader is able first to clarify their own stance in the moment.