September 2013                                         3.0




Thank you for opening the September edition of the Unfolding Leadership Newsletter!  This issue focuses on Personal Growth as a value and practice.
  • Reflective Leadership Practice -- "On Personal Growth"
  • Leadership Links -- a few related articles and links from across the web
  • Leadership Edge -- links to posts from the Unfolding Leadership weblog
  • Leadership Conversations -- Q & A with Joan Kofodimos, consultant and coach
  • My Leadership Binder -- More resources to foster reflective learning
If you would like to review earlier issues, you can find them in the archive. As always, I deeply appreciate your feedback, comments and suggestions. Feel free to email me anytime.


Wishing you the best for your reflective practice!









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On Personal Growth

There are as many ways to grow as there are people who want to grow, and as many ways to defend against growth as there are people scared of what it may mean! True to form, as human beings, we can hold both the desire and the reluctance simultaneously.

Think of this as two kinds of energy in a push-pull relationship with one another: one form opens us to the best possibilities we carry within ourselves, our gifts, talents, human possibilities; another form closes us down to worry about the risks and vulnerabilities, the chance we'll discover something we don't like about ourselves -- calling forward anxiety.

In the push-pull, let's give the possibilities side the edge over stuckness and self-diminishment, looking to discover what Parker Palmer called that "hidden wholeness" within.  Like a stream rushing through a green forest, let's go with the flow of beauty just now before us rather than fear what waterfalls might be ahead.

The salient point is in mastering that sense of personal risk, however we define the term, unsticking ourselves from worry in favor of embracing the experiments in thought and behavior that show us our true selves. 

A wonderful client interested in expanding his leadership capabilities -- someone with whom I've worked for some years and who considers himself temperamentally quite private -- has recently agreed to set up a personal development team. The team is a group of colleagues who can brainstorm with him on a regular basis, offer feedback, and support his efforts to open up and adjust some of his behavior. My client is anxious about what will happen with the group, but it is that very willingness to proceed in the face of anxiety that has already garnered expanded respect for him.  "Wow," one member of his support group said to me, "I'm so honored to be asked to be on his team. This is just unheard of around here -- a senior leader opening himself to personal growth in this way."

And so it is, the client has already grown in his own and others' eyes, already taken a risk and succeeded. 

May we all find our moment of courage to leave a known shore, pick up the oars given to us and begin navigating the stream ahead as we've always desired. 


Readings & Tools to Help You Lead  

* To Grow You Need Other People.  Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Give and Take, offers a fascinating, interactive way to reveal your assets in a Huffington article, "A Better Way to Discover Your Strengths."
* Do You Know What Your Purpose Is?  Shelley Provost, co-founder of a company that supports venture development, lucidly explains the value of self-discovery in an Inc. piece, "5 Reasons Why Most People Never Discover Their Purpose."

* "Brilliant" Behavior that Prevents Growth. Holly Brubach offers great examples of how we stand in our own way, based on a workshop by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. See "You Don't Need More Willpower..." -- a nice summary of some of Kegan and Lahey's "immunity to change" perspective on personal change, at oprah.com. (This month's Leadership Conversation with Joan Kofodimos also references Kegan's work.)

* What Simplicity. What Truth.  Acclaimed blogger, Jon Mertz, insightly asks, "You Are Born to Be Brave -- Can You Sustain It?" on his intergenerational site, Thin Difference.

* Good Advice for Creating a Good Life.  Marla Popova shares the humble, penetrating wisdom of Calvin and Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson, through excerpts from his Kenyon College commencement speech. Here is "May 20, 1990: Advice on Life and Creative Integrity" (cartoons included) from brainpickings.org.

Personal Essays from the Unfolding Leadership Weblog


  Leadership and Shame  Shame is that terrible emotion that isolates us in a particularly nasty way.  To experience shame is to be condemned and, in part at least, it is we who are doing the condemning.  In the end the experience just leaves us hurt.... Read More...

  On Emotional Freedom  For me, the most important work we need to do with the dominating, toxic aspects of shame is to consider how deeply they are build into our organizational systems and cultures.  Structurally there are voids that shame and shaming fill.  These are often unconscious, almost invisible applications. We see fear, anxiety, unassertiveness, lack of confidence and self-esteem. But what we don't notice is the role shame may play in all of it behind the scenes... Read More...
   The Woman Who Went to Work to Heal  Years ago I was invited to speak at a national company conference and it was stunning different from other conferences I'd attended...I was so excited about the structure of the conference and the emphasis on participant autonomy, choice and exchange that I sought out the organizer...Read More...

  Creating An Intergenerational Mindset (Guest Post on the Thin Difference website)  Many years ago I listened to the late Santiago Rodriguez, then Director of Multicultural Programs at Apple Computer. He was discussing trends at the time in training programs to broaden diversity awareness in organizations. He recounted how many organizations had developed sessions to elaborate the primary characteristics of various races and cultures. The goal was to help people be sensitive to differences in everything from language to dress to social norms and behavior. This led to a lot of note taking...Read More...


Joan Kofodimos Helps Us Get Past Our Stuck Points


JoanKofodimos Joan Kofodimos is a superb coach and consultant focused on helping client leaders accomplish significant personal and professional growth.  Over the course of her career she has worked as a behavioral scientist and trainer for the Center for Creative Leadership, served on the faculty of Duke University and the California School of Professional Psychology, and founded her own firm, Teleos Consulting.  Clients have included Pfizer, Dana Corporation, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, G.E. Power Systems and Capital, P&G, Merck, Hewlett Packard, AstraZeneca and many others.


In her own words she has been "tinkering" with individual development over the course of 30 years, constantly learning more about what helps people get over the humps and out of their stuck places in order to grow in exactly the ways they want (and need) to grow.  Along with her coaching, consulting and training practice, she is author of many articles and books, including Your Executive Coaching Solution: Getting Maximum Benefit from the Coaching Experience and Balancing Act: How Managers can Integrate Successful Careers and Fulfilling Personal Lives (link to these books).  She holds a B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Sociology from Stanford University, as well as a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Yale University. You can reach Joan via her email: joan@teleosconsulting.com.


Joan, can you tell us a little of your own history and learning about individual development?


When I first started working in this area at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) I was 25, a baby, one year out of college. I was unequipped to understand what was happening in organizations but my role instantly put me in touch with a great many managers and leaders who were facing their own growth challenges every day. I became part of a small research team devoted to understanding why senior executives sometimes resisted attending training programs.  We devised a method to research the character of our subjects, all accomplished people, by interviewing and sharing feedback data with them about their leadership. Although it was not our purpose, we discovered that subjects found the feedback we shared with them particularly useful in terms of their learning. Eventually, this process became the core of a major CCL program. 


Of course, just offering feedback is not enough to cause people to change.  I remember one of our research subjects, in particular.  We wrote up a great case study about him. He was highly perfectionistic and we had a wonderful window into his style, but we really could not talk to him about his style without him becoming quite defensive. Delivering data and insight alone don't necessarily result in growth. But, at the time, we didn't have tools to help him see how his style impeded the very outcomes he cared about.


So where did you go from there?


For a few years I didn't focus on individual development, per se. I was part of G.E.'s famous "Workout" program to streamline work processes and empower people. However, as a sideline, I began to coach the G.E. leaders in how not to destroy the energy of employees who were making proposals for change.  I could see that the people, say from the shop floor, would come forward enthusiastically with their ideas only to have that enthusiasm killed by leaders who seemed to be operating rather unconsciously in their habitual "power-over" mode, even as this mode contradicted the intent of the G.E. culture change.  I began to ask myself, how do you help leaders unpack the way they operate that is so unconsciously disempowering?


At the same time, I met another Workout consultant, Kyle Dover (who later became my business and marriage partner). He was interested in broad issues like shared purpose and alignment, and how these could influence the success or failure of change efforts such as Workout. Our macro and micro critiques came together, and we started figuring out ways to bring large scale change and individual development together - to meet in the middle, so to speak. We work on the range of roadblocks to organizations overcoming their challenges, from individual leaders' style all the way to systems and work processes.


The result of this is that we see how the system affects the personal work we do with leaders, and we see how individual beliefs and behaviors affect the culture change work we do with larger units. For example, I found myself working with a woman who had been sent to be coached.  She engaged and worked hard to change, but one day she did something that was an echo of her old self.  And that, in turn, confirmed to her boss that she had not changed at all. It was clear that the system needed to shift as much as the person; that we needed to do things to also help break through the perception of others around the client, so that people could become her allies in the change process, not her adversaries or her judges.


What is your thinking today about how personal breakthroughs and change actually occur?


More recently I've been thinking about collaborative action science based on the work of Chris Argyris. It's clear when we go into organizations to teach skills like influencing, expectation management and conflict resolution, these skills make people anxious.  This is because we are teaching various kinds of "self-authoring" behaviors - a word created by psychologist, Robert Kegan. These behaviors cut through the prevailing culture and norms of the hierarchy, such as pleasing others and deferring to those in authority, and they also push on personal assumptions about what will lead to 'good' and 'bad' consequences. Most leaders I encounter are in transition toward being truly self-authoring. So, trying out these behaviors can be a door into shifting mindset.


For example, I think of a client who was not talking with his boss about some important matters.  I coached him and he did it. We worked in advance to script a conversation and anticipate responses, and we then later debriefed the whole experience for him.  It was like an experiment. In the process of taking action in the face of his anxiety he was forced to unpack his assumptions and gain deeper insight into what was causing him to shrink back.  Doing so in this case enabled him to break through the norms of how he felt he should engage with a boss, what his boss expected from him, and what the outcome would be if he engaged openly.  The question became could he engage his boss with the same openness he might engage someone who worked for him?  Could he engage by holding his power with another person even if he didn't have power over that person?  The process of giving people tasks that cause some anxiety and then coaching them through those tasks becomes the breakthrough leadership learning experience. 


What happens to the anxiety, exactly?  How, in fact, is it overcome?


The key is to help the person re-define the situation, because it's the meaning they are attaching to the situation that provokes the anxiety, not some objective property of the situation itself. Without that context shift, people will resist or avoid.  


I think of a small bank that invited us to assist with a performance management challenge. They wanted to  shift the way their employees engaged with retail customers, so that customers would see them as an important partner in their life decisions. We offered them a new way to think about "selling" which was based on understanding the customer's goals and challenges, and offering products or services in the context of those goals and challenges. This was a big contrast to the traditional selling model, in which employees focused on whatever product was supposed to be promoted that quarter. Once we dug into it, their resistance to adopting the new selling behaviors had a lot to do with their assumptions that customers (who were often their own neighbors and friends) would see them as prying into their personal business, or their fears about hearing "no." To invite a shift in perspective, we began working with the bankers on how they could actually deepen, not threaten, the relationship with their customers by trying to understand their viewpoints and needs. "Wow, Connie, I heard that your husband, Bob, has finally retired. I'm so happy for the two of you. I imagine you may be thinking about how your life will be changing - perhaps you're downsizing your house, or doing more traveling. Is that correct? We have some ways to help you think about making those things possible." So, the bankers began to re-frame their assumptions. For example, they could be thankful when a customer said "no," and probe into the reason, because this would help them get a finer understanding of the customer's needs. And trying the "action experiment" of the new selling approach gave further evidence that customers appreciated, rather than resented, the bankers' desire to engage at this level.  


One last question, Joan. Do you believe there are some predictable places where people tend to get stuck in their own development, particularly their development as organizational leaders?


For me, the predictable places parallel the developmental transitions that Robert Kegan discussed in constructive-developmental theory:


The first is recognizing that one's own definition of "right" and "good" is subjective, and learning to honor others' viewpoints and priorities.


The second is moving past the desire to please important others, and developing the fortitude and skill to face difficult conversations and political scenarios constructively.


The third is letting go of the rewards of being a "hero-manager" who can tackle the complex and thorny issues better than anyone else, and learn to develop others' capability to do those things.


These are places any of us as leaders can get stuck -- and they are therefore also prime opportunities to awaken meaningful personal and professional growth.




More Resources to Foster Reflective Learning


* We're All Okay -- We Just Have to Work at It.  Actor Tom Skerritt shares a one minute lesson in the work of choosing your own life -- beautifully done at this Youtube link

* Essential Lessons.  Leadership coach and speaker, Tanveer Naseer uses a teen award acceptance speech by Ashton Kutcher as a platform for sharing four wise observations in "How to Succeed At Leadership -- Inspiration From An Unlikely Source." (Perhaps #4 is the most important one of all...)

* It's Time To Rise Above. Consultant and trainer, Kate Nasser debunks our excuses and assumptions in "12 Most Absurd Debates Between Extroverts and Introverts."

* On the Value of "Showing Up." Louise Altman clarifies large impacts that come from subtle influences in her engaging article, "The Power of Your Presence."
* Speaks for Itself. Okay, I admit it, I'm a total sucker for this stuff -- lest we forgot, from BuzzFeed, here are "21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity."
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