A Humble Mindset: A Coaching Differentiator

 A Coaching DifferentiatorAs a leadership coach, I regularly reflect on the approaches which support the essential relationship between the client and coach. Something that allows these approaches to work more effectively is an overarching mindset of humility, a mindset that applies to both the client as well as the coach.

I do want to be clear that ‘humility’ for me does not imply weakness, nor is it the opposite of a tough-minded approach to supporting a client in his or her developmental goals. Rather, it implies a respectful environment that recognizes that the most appropriate coaching relationship is one in which client and coach work on strategies, plans and actions that will result in positive impact. Further, a mindset that comes from a humble stance can strengthen the essential base of trust which the most successful coaching partnerships require.

My understanding of humility within coaching and organization work is anchored in the thinking of Edgar Schein (who has more recently been joined by his son, Peter), who have explored a humble approach in support of learning and behavioral change through a series of books.

In this article, I will share some examples of the application of a humble mindset in coaching work from two different perspectives:

  1. The decision by a client to work with a coach and the coach’s decision to work with a client combined with honouring of the client’s expertise, experience and accomplishment throughout the coaching relationship; and
  2. The commitment to working with the reality of where the organization is today, rather than where client and/or coach would like it to be.

Strategy or Culture? What’s Your Leadership Challenge?

Strategy or Culture? What’s Your Leadership Challenge?Change was in the wind. As is true for many industries, the insurance industry was facing significant change. Making the shift from a regulated to a deregulated industry seemed a daunting challenge for the 100 year old RockSolid Insurance Company.

The question for the executive team was how to craft a strategy and initiate change in ways that would enable the company to compete successfully into the future. Despite facing potentially massive disruption, one department, the Tax Department, decided to use this as an opportunity to reflect on their values, strategic goals, and departmental culture.  In this article we present a case study and share some thoughts on one of the toughest challenges leaders face, the interplay between successful strategy implementation, and shifting organizational culture.

Leaders are typically quite adept at crafting strategy because of the direct relationship between strategy and results.  Strategy provides direction, clarity, and focus for collective action and decision making. Strategy connects people and what they do in their day to day work with the organization’s purpose and broader impact in the world. Without a strategy that is clear, relevant, and valid, it can be difficult to motivate and mobilize people to work toward and achieve, concrete goals.

From HR Practitioner to HR Leader: Competencies Required

 Competencies RequiredYou have your CHRP designation. Now as you begin to climb the ladder to success, what else must you learn to advance your career? One start is to develop the competencies you will need to become a true HR leader. But here the confusion begins. There are many different competencies and competency models proposed by various academics and associations. If you cannot determine with confidence which to trust, how can you decide where to invest your time, money and development efforts?

This article aims to reduce the confusion as much as possible in order to make your decisions easier. Let’s begin by sampling the most important academic research into HR competencies.

Active Curiosity in the Coaching Process

Active Curiosity in the Coaching ProcessCoaching skills are enhanced and potentially of greater value to the client if informed by an actively curious mindset. In turn, a curious client can increase self-awareness, discover areas in which they can be even more effective and try new approaches and behaviours which will align intention more closely with desired outcomes. Conversations between two curious individuals, client and coach, can raise discussions to becoming part of an exciting and valuable ‘learning community’.

A further positive outcome of an actively-curious approach is the opportunity it provides to both client and coach to see connections that might not otherwise be surfaced.  Clients will invariably know whether the connections are relevant and how they might inform their development and/or provide important insights where they are focused on better alignment between intention and actual impact.

Real examples of both the coach being curious and the client being actively curious are a key part of this piece along with some observations of when over-reliance on curiosity may be less-helpful to both client and coach.

Courage and Coaching

Courage and CoachingBackground and Context

For some time I have been curious about ‘courage’ and its relationship to leadership. I am specifically interested in the part that courage plays in a leader’s decision to work with a coach, but also in the courage it takes for a coach to help their clients become as effective as possible in their leadership roles.

Courage is not a new topic in serious conversations on leadership. It has been considered a significant attribute of the most effective leaders for many years. And it endures as revealed in many of the current discussions of leadership, including research and writing of such influential writers as Brene Brown, Kim Scott, Robert Kegan and Kim Lahey.

Today and for the past nearly two decades, I have been privileged to coach a range of individuals, in both private and public sectors and at various levels of the organization from senior to mid-level roles. As well, I have engaged two business coaches over the years, each of whom brought a personal style different from my own and each of whom supported and challenged me as I worked on specific developmental points, which would make me more valuable to clients.

From the experience of being ‘on both sides of the desk’, I have learned that being courageous almost always has some risk attached, some willingness to leave a more comfortable situation and some need to test ourselves and the values we espouse. And when we choose to take a courageous step or action, it almost always results in the learning and satisfaction that come from stretching ourselves and being willing to live our values and principles.

I now want to talk about courage from two perspectives: that of the person who decides to work with a coach and the coach who is engaged to support that individual in his or her growth, learning and development.

For purposes of clarity, the coaching work that I am referring to is with clients who want to accelerate their growth and impact as leaders; my comments are focused on those who choose to engage with a business or leadership coach, not those whose organizations have directed them to work with a coach for remedial purposes. In my experience (and it is my very good fortune to be able to say this) the leaders I have the privilege to work with are already accomplished in their roles; their interest is in furthering and deepening their development, expanding their action options and having even greater positive impact on those they lead and their organizations.

Emotional Intelligence: How Leaders Can Use it to Their Advantage

 How Leaders Can Use it to Their AdvantageEver catch yourself thinking, “Why did I just say that?” or “I didn’t handle that discussion as well as I could have.”

We are all human and can make poor decisions in the heat of the moment. Afterwards, we are often left wondering how managing our emotions could have made a difference in the situation. But for leaders, reacting emotionally can have a negative impact that ripples through the organization. We can all become more effective by understanding emotional intelligence and learning how to strengthen our own emotional intelligence. This skill is particularly important for those in managerial and leadership roles.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is also referred to as EI or emotional quotient (EQ). EI is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way. (2012, Multi-Health Systems Inc.) EI is not the same as IQ, cognitive ability, aptitude, or personality.

More and more we are witnessing how emotional intelligence truly defines successful leaders, rather than their technical skills or IQ. Think about how often leaders need to use their EI at the organizational, team, and individual levels. Consider these examples:

  • Leaders of international brands who make public apologies for mistakes and how they got right out in front of the issue to admit their shortcomings;
  • Boards of Directors and teams who have had to lead their groups through challenging situations where the ambiguity and tension runs high;
  • Managers and leaders who have what it really takes to listen to someone, while managing their impulse control so that trust can be built.

In such situations, it is the emotional strength of leaders that can make – or break – the difference. The good news is that EI can be developed. Leaders can change their emotional intelligence to become more effective personally, professionally and socially.

Strengthening Your EI

Many leaders have grown in their emotional intelligence because they have made a purposeful effort to accomplish that growth.  A typical path is to participate in an EI leadership assessment, debrief the results with a certified EI practitioner, and then make an action plan to develop specific skills or behaviors.

While there are many emotional intelligence models and tests available, one of the most researched and statistically validated models is EQ-I 2.0 (from Multi-Health Systems Inc.). Let’s take a brief look at the five scales of EI followed by examples of EI in action:

  1. Self-Perception refers to the “inner-self” and is designed to assess feelings of inner strength and confidence, persistence in the pursuit of personally relevant and meaningful goals while understanding what, when, why and how different emotions impact thoughts and actions (The emotional intelligences associated with this are: Self-regard, Self-actualization, Emotional Self-Awareness);
  2. Self-Expression is an extension of Self-Perception and addresses the outward expression or the action component of one’s internal perception. Self-expression assesses one’s readiness to be self-directed and openly expressive of thoughts and feelings, while communicating these feelings in a constructive and socially acceptable way (The emotional intelligences associated with this are: Emotional Expression, Assertiveness, Independence);
  3. Interpersonal refers to the ability to develop and maintain relationships based on trust and compassion, articulate an understanding of another’s perspective and act responsibly while showing concern for others, their team or their greater community/organization (The emotional intelligences associated with this are: Interpersonal Relationships, Empathy, Social Responsibility);
  4. Decision Making refers to the way in which one uses emotional information and how well one understands the impact emotions have on decision making, including the ability to resist or delay impulses and remain objective so to avoid rash behaviors and ineffective problem solving (The emotional intelligences associated with this are: Problem Solving, Reality Testing, Impulse Control);
  5. Stress Management refers to how well one can cope with the emotions associated with change and unfamiliar and unpredictable circumstances while remaining hopeful about the future and resilient in the face of setback and obstacles (The emotional intelligences associated with this are: Flexibility, Stress Tolerance, Optimism).

EI in Action – How Raising EI Self-awareness Helps Leaders

Here are a few examples of how business leaders raised their self-awareness with an EI leadership assessment and, as a result, are improving in their leadership effectiveness:

  1. “Greta” caught herself immediately saying no to a new business line that her business partners suggested. Upon reflection, she realized that she often said no to new things, because new ideas challenge her and change her routine. Because her impulse control was low, she would react quickly and appear impatient in decision making. Now with her new awareness of low impulse control, she can better manage her emotional response to new business ideas that come forward from her business partners.  Rather than immediately declining the ideas, she listens and asks questions before offering her opinion.
  1. Working with a team of leaders in Canada, I observed the team having some candid conversations with each other regarding their Group EI Team Profile.  The team’s EI strengths in empathy and social responsibility are two reasons why they are so effective in delivering on their mission; however their collective EI weakness (decision-making when emotions are involved) interfered with their effectiveness and purpose as a team. It was very useful for them to see their top EI strengths and top EI weaknesses as a group, and to talk about how difficult it can be to approach emotionally charged situations with a more logical and factual mindset. Their collective willingness to explore the group EI and to take action is why this team increased their effectiveness.
  1. “Dillon”, a business leader I was coaching, has a high level of assertiveness and self-actualization, and is open to thinking about how he uses emotional information to make decisions. He said, “I like how you don’t solve my problems for me. You ask tough questions without giving me your opinion.” Even without participating in an EI assessment, leaders can raise their awareness of how they use their emotions in decision-making through the process of working with a business coach.

The “inner” work of improving your emotional intelligence isn’t for the faint of heart.  Choosing to improve your EI is about changing one’s behavior – and changing behavior is hard work. It takes time, energy and a commitment to becoming more emotionally effective overall. The EQ-I 2.0 leadership assessment, for example, compares a leader’s result with the scores of the top leaders in the sample across North America. This provides leaders with the unique opportunity to compare results to those exceptional leaders who demonstrate high EI.  If one wants to be on par with top leaders, then this can be one way to do that by giving them something to aim for and compare to; however, it can also be a humbling and surprising experience for leaders who may have expected to already be on par with the high performers – yet, taking time to self-reflect on the results proves to be invaluable to leaders. Many leaders would say that focusing on becoming more emotionally effective is one of the most rewarding journeys.

When was the last time you reflected on how emotionally effective you are?


About the Author

Linda Allen-HardistyLinda Allen-Hardisty is an ICF-certified executive coach, organizational development professional, and a chair at The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada. She’s built a reputation as a vibrant, contemporary voice in the business world by blending her grounding in organizational effectiveness with a practical approach to solving problems. She has extensive experience in executive development, organizational change and culture, team effectiveness, organizational design and strategy, and emotional intelligence (certified practitioner EQ-I 2.0 and EQ360). With a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Regina and a certificate in Organizational Development from Queen’s IRC, Linda’s corporate leadership experience includes the role of Director of Organizational Development in a company listed on the Hewitt Top 50 Employers in Canada, and becoming the first Manager of Strategy and Performance for a municipal government undertaking cultural transformation.

Linda is a facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Building Trust in the Workplace program.

The Paradox of Leadership: Cooperating to Compete, Following to Lead

 Cooperating to Compete, Following to Lead

For most of my adult life I lived at the foot of the Rocky Mountains (the Colorado ones), and I have frequently led family, children, and others on hiking, ski touring, and mountain biking trips. I wasn’t mostly the formal leader (and others in my family may dispute this characterization), but I often felt that it was my responsibility to make sure we got to where we intended to get to, when we intended to, safely. Almost always, the best position for me to take to make sure we stayed together, that those who needed help or encouragement received it, and that the needs of the group were attended to, was at the back of the pack.

“Leading from behind” is a natural approach in the outdoors. It is natural in organizations too. It may sound like a passive or ineffective way to approach the challenge of being an effective leader, but I found, both in the outdoors and in organizational leadership positions, that this is the most powerful way to guide a group. The idea of leading from behind is not a new one for organizations or for communities,(1) but learning how to do this, particularly in a hierarchical structure, is no easy matter. One key dimension of this is defined by our approach to conflict. How we set the stage for the effective use of conflict and how we respond to conflict is critical to our effectiveness as leaders and to our capacity to “lead from behind.”(2)

Network Mapping as a Tool for Uncovering Hidden Organizational Talent and Leadership

Network Mapping as a Tool for Uncovering Hidden Organizational Talent and LeadershipMany factors influence the way we experience our work today, regardless of the sector or industry in which we work. Funding pressures, constant organizational restructuring, demographic shifts and technology are fundamentally reorganizing our workplaces. In our attempts to address these changes through our traditional organizational structures we often encounter decision making bottlenecks and critical communication gaps that can affect our ability to achieve our business goals. Identifying expertise, talent and leadership amongst staff becomes crucial to succession planning initiatives to support this new work reality.

One way around this is to move from the traditional hierarchical organization chart to a more fluid and adaptive set of relationships and connections that more accurately reflect how our organizations work. This article will focus on the practice of social network mapping within organizations to deliberately leverage and engage these intra-organizational sets of informal connections that are less “hard-wired” than formal organizational working relationships.

Although it is often used when organizations are planning for a large change initiative, network mapping can also be used to quickly identify and visually map internal linkages that have been established informally across organizations. In particular, the article will highlight the applications of the tool to identify hidden talent and leadership within the organization to support succession planning initiatives and diagnose internal communication and decision making blockages.

Managing Under the Microscope: The Next Tsunami of Environmental Disasters in the Workplace

 The Next Tsunami of Environmental Disasters in the WorkplaceThere is a new wave of environmental disasters that are just beginning to splash onto our daily news feeds. Workplace cultures are the next targets that will be publicly examined and debated in excruciating detail – just ask the CBC, Amazon, or the Lance Armstrong “company machine.” All the dirty laundry of inappropriate behaviours and unacceptable people practices are flooding out in the wash, and every detail is being hung out on the public line to view. However, that’s just the trickle before the tsunami wave that will expose these environmental toxins that currently live in some form or another in vast numbers of organizations.

The human toll is difficult to tabulate, as the toxic waste manifests itself in polluted work environments and it lives and breeds where inefficient business practices, ineffective managers and bad employee attitudes are allowed to roam and run free. Where these toxins live and breed is a force to be reckoned with and containing or eliminating the poison is tricky business. However, not addressing this in a proactive manner has now become very risky business. Like the killer-force of the tsunami, it can destroy carefully crafted and nurtured company brands and can stop business dead in its wake.

Under the Microscope – Macro Management

Perhaps it’s the anti-bullying campaign that is bringing these issues to light, or we are finally connecting the dots to the skyrocketing claims of workplace stress. Unfortunately these toxins don’t just end in the workplace, they continue to multiply and seep into our homes, families, and communities. The result is a reactionary health care cost of monumental proportions that none of us can afford to pay.

Leadership Sustainability: A Framework to Sustain Culture Shifts

Sustainable Leadership Development FrameworkOrganizations that seek to create and sustain culture shifts must do more than train leaders to lead and manage in new ways. They must also be effective in developing people at all levels of the organization to sustain these culture shifts. Leading, developing and managing people in real time is critical for the long-term success of culture shifts.

This type of human development is complex. It must be aligned with the strategic priorities of the organization yet have meaning and relevance not just for leaders but for everyone if it is to be sustainable over time. Change must be adopted at all levels of the organization and incorporated into the core of thinking and behavior in the organization. As a result, we need to look at leadership development differently in terms of how we learn, transmit knowledge, develop skills and how we measure and evaluate it.

My company, Patwell Consulting, has been developing and implementing large scale, complex leadership development programs for over three decades. Based on years of research and practice in large organizations, I have created unique design elements in my programs aimed at sustainable leadership that focuses on helping leaders to play an active role in leading change, transmitting their knowledge, and dealing with business challenges. These elements that I will discuss, go far beyond the classroom to engage people at all levels and achieve results that embed and sustain culture shifts in organizations.

This article synthesizes my experiences in developing a Sustainable Leadership Development Framework. This framework moves through four stages that help build and ground the implementation of an organization’s leadership development strategy through a vision and strategic steps that result in lasting organizational culture shifts. Examples of wise practices will be given to highlight the key concepts of this framework so that you too can use these strategies to increase the potential of leadership sustainability in your organization.

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