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.

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!

New Leaders Series – Part 1: Shift in Stance

After years of hard work as a software developer and high performing team member, you’ve found yourself facing a whole new set of challenges. You are a leader (architect, team lead, scrum master, mentor, manager) on your team.

Looking back, everything that you’ve done along the way has supported you to get to this point. You’ve never backed down from challenge and have embraced the uncertainty of solving problems in code. You love the focus that comes with being able to tackle these problems with confidence. You’ve enjoyed the satisfaction that comes each and every time you’ve transformed an idea into a solution.

However, all the skills you worked hard to hone in yourself reflect your stance as “expert practitioner” and while expert practitioner skills are foundational to your role, these are not the skills that you will need to grow in order to succeed as a leader.

And no one told you this. When you got the promotion, no doubt your manager told you of the confidence he had in your abilities; however, your leadership up to this point has been fundamentally built on your ability to hone your craft expertly.

Your new role requires a shift in stance. You are now responsible for supporting others to do what you did so well. There is a hidden assumption there; indeed, a fundamental change in how you perceive your value on the team.

Your work is less “about you” and more “about them”.

This shift from “me” to “we” isn’t a small change in thinking and being. It’s one that I’ve seen many new leaders struggle with as they are drawn instinctually back to the joy derived in expressing their craft…. the satisfaction and joy they experienced in being “the guy who solves the problems” rather than “the guy who enables others to solve problems”.

In this series, I plan to explore some of the new skills that young leaders might consider as part of their new practice – assisting them to make this shift from “me” to “we”. It is my sincere hope that my own lessons (sometimes learned the hard way) can be of service to others beginning on this journey.

Agile Coach Camp – Making Space

Last weekend, I was privileged to participate in Agile Coach Camp East. This is an event that I try very hard to attend every year… and every year, a theme emerges for me through the weekend.

This year’s theme for me was “making space” and it’s a theme that I want to keep exploring. However, in the interest of sharing, here are my first thoughts based on what happened at camp…

“Making space” means:

1. Creating an environment where things can happen.

Open Space and Unconference are wonderful examples of the power of making space. I’ve attended Coach Camp 3 times already… each time I am a little surprised at the depth and breadth of sessions that come out of such an event. It reminds me: this is the spirit of self organization; of trusting a group (in this case 70 individuals) to pull together and create something amazing collaboratively.

2. Leaving room to breathe between all the things that happen.

Some of the best group conversations I had during coach camp this year were during a jam session that went late into the night. I believe the quality of the conversations was directly connected to the ability of the group to disengage from these talks and do something else – something fun, something creative – in the space between the conversations. It reminds me that we are all better and happier people when we take time to connect with each other on a level that doesn’t directly relate to a specific or measurable outcome.

My intention then is to go forth and “make space” for myself and others. I look forward to seeing what else emerges from this theme in the days to come…

Thank you to the organizers and volunteers who make the space possible for Agile Coach Camp every year… and to all the participants who make space in their lives to connect. Looking forward to next year already!