Just Tell Them What You See

So much of coaching and leadership is defined in those moments when our circumstances are most difficult.

When it comes to difficult circumstances, there are many schools of thought. There are no lack of well intentioned and thoughtful ideas, opinions, and frameworks to support us: crucial conversations, emotional intelligence, integral theory, radical candour, psychological safety, conscious leadership, systems thinking, spiral dynamics, etc.

While these are good things… they are, at the same time, also “a market”. And these markets are constantly calling on our time and energy on the topic of difficult circumstances. To say the market is overwhelming would be understating the case. So that I would humbly offer that when circumstances are difficult – the most impactful and compassionate way to approach is really quite simple.

Just tell them what you see.

Telling them what you see isn’t controlling, clever, or kind… it is purposeful and humble. It means holding the truth of what you see, while at the same time holding the truth of your partial sight with purpose and intention. In my experience, telling them what you see naturally invites others to offer what they see as well.

The hardest part for me in these moments is letting go. Letting go means freeing myself of all the beautiful ideas, opinions, and frameworks intended to support me. It means letting go that there is a “right way” or “best way” to address difficult circumstances.

Letting go also means digging deep within myself so that do not offer what I see from a place that seeks to feed my insecurities. It also means accepting myself when I realize (too late) that I did feed my insecurities. It also means accepting myself (and the other) when I realize that my offer surfaced an insecurity in the other person. The more I practice this, the more I find myself both apologizing and forgiving with genuine love and integrity. There’s love and forgiveness involved in this core practice.

And so, when I reflect on the difficult circumstances in my life… I now intentionally seek out the space to distill with simplicity: What is it that I see? Who do I need to tell? What do I need to let go?

And then… I tell them what I see.

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.