Updated: Mar 13
"You know you've lost him when he starts playing with his watch or when his eyes glaze over". This was the hallway conversation with a colleague after having a program design meeting to kick off a large, cross-organizational regulatory compliance initiative, sharing insights on communications with the Chief General Counsel who was the executive sponsor.
When it comes to leadership, there's an entire ocean of emotions, logic, best practices, frameworks, mandatory training, networking events, comparison to others, sticky notes, side comments and advice to sift through when attempting to find your own voice, your own custom, yet effective way for building rapport, getting great reviews and making things happen through others! Early on, you take whatever input you can get and shine when there is an opportunity to work with and learn from someone you admire. At some point along the journey, it may become evident that there are some inherent risks, or flat out issues that will begin to show up if you haven't learned who, exactly, to listen to and haven't honed your decision-making apparatus to be a step or two ahead of your growth.
So, the question is, how do you go
about nurturing your own decision-making apparatus, and curating trusted confidants who have your best interest in mind, then measure its effectiveness in maximizing your contributions and overall goal attainment?
I was a "boutique" consultant, meaning that I was hand selected to take the lead on any given initiative or to collaborate on a "pod" of other management consultants working a client. Once a mission was achieved or a transformation completed, I would pick up, and transition to the next problem, sometimes in the same client or at another company altogether. Working across IT and Business, from customer-facing to internal enterprise initiatives, regulatory compliance cost savings to new product revenue generating, the variety and complexity was tantalizing and scratched that intellectual "itch" hard-wired in me. As you can imagine, with each change in company and culture, there were always several layers of managers to keep in sync and various senior leadership teams (SLTs), each with their own reporting structure, preferences, quirks and various levels of trust needed to be developed across people who both, felt intimidated and unsure of why an "outsider" was brought in to lead as opposed to one of their own. It wasn't until I started my own journey of greater self understanding before I started to get a glimmer of what I wanted, needed to feel more satisfied at work and home before I started to take deliberate actions to integrate my personal and business identity. This took a bit of courage, commitment and a reworking of my beliefs, but once I did start to bridge that gap, "work" felt less stressful and I was less exhausted from managing two, slightly alternate, ways of being (and feeling) valued. I've always had "mentors", who wou
ld impart some wisdom over drinks or via phone, but never felt like I had any one person who didn't compartmentalize the "real" me from who showed up at work.
Navigating change effectively is really hard. Navigating change in large, cross-cultural, process-rich environments with several stakeholder audiences each with different characteristics, personalities and multiple levels of communication barriers with hidden agendas, is harder. Toss in a dash of systems complexity and leadership philosophical tensions over a remote environment is damn near impossible. Leading that change relying only on the 'authority' of a piece of paper (what John Maxwell might refer to as a lower level of leadership; Positional) to inspire other people's best work ethic and minimizing your blind spots on the fly, might be the next closest thing to mission impossible. Yet, some do it with flying colors and while developing the people, processes, systems and interactions to be in a better place both, with new skills and enjoyment that permeated who they were, that carried forward to their next major endeavor. What I learned was that the most persuasive people knew how to listen deeply for their first few months while simultaneously building strong relationships, they seemed to be more open, less defensive and exhibited a deeper understanding of themselves,
but were also responsive to the different styles and needs of others. Then, there was the piece of the puzzle that really catalyzed what separated the best leaders (consultants, executives, managers, teammates, etc.) from the herd...they were crystal clear of their personal Mission, Vision, and Values, knew who they were and where they were headed, and would strategically COMMUNICATE aspects of their vision to inspire those around them at three (3) levels often directly and indirectly; in 1:1 settings, in small groups/teams, and with hand selected masterminds (peers, supporters, therapist, coach, mentor).
Thematically recognizing this pattern across time woke me up to the different outcomes for those who don't find out soon enough that building their career by conforming to the "thousand cuts" of unsolicited and unvetted advice of others, would often end up "stuck" or frustrated, especially when compared to those who intentionally lead from the inside out and curate a trusted board of direct
ors who act as sounding boards across various domains of their lives. These experiences were the beginning of a series of reflections that led me assess where I was headed and the real value I was contributing to others by telling, advising, or solving problems in the short-term via "expertise" in various technical or business disciplines. I would conclude that, for me, moving towards a more holistic, supportive, and inquiry-based approach of executive and corporate life coaching as a sustainable approach to serving and growing others to achieve greater outcomes for themselves and their companies was where the magic was to be found. This had inadvertently changed my energy at home, in the community, and in my profession in terms of how it empowered a much higher degree ownership by inspiring greater clarity for each persons vision, values, confidence and strategic communications making each person far more mentally agile and coherent in their own decision-making who also felt supported to take motivated actions.
What I thought was the most important factors to effective leadership
Technical Skills i.e. Project/Program Management disciplines, Spreadsheet/MS Office mastery, SharePoint, etc.
Business acumen i.e. Knowledge about the industry of each client, it's market cap and industry/company news, Mission/Vision/Values of leadership team, etc.
Corporate jargon i.e. "culture" really just meant knowing how to speak the language of any company team or division, dropping in a few "best practices" from various certification bodes globally
Showing people and teams How to run meetings, build plans, align strategy, manage conflicts, estimate costs/sc
hedule/budgets, remain calm under pressure, etc. instead helping people find and express Why doing something would be beneficial for their goals.
What I learned was actually the most important conditions needed for sustainable leadership
Self Mastery; Understanding of all sides of myself and how I showed up (under pressure, remotely, at happy hours and outside of work). Awareness of the disconnect between my perception from reality.
People Mastery; Finding out what makes others tick, what motivates them and what's most important to them. Learning how to use "Active Constructive Responses", and to ask more relevant questions, at the right time, and in the right tone. Building a coalition of supporters, handling your detractors directly, yet carefully. Making space to listen, deeply to what is said and what is not said. Increasing the personal self care needed to stay sharp, while leveraging your strengths to improve interpersonal and structural aspects of leading.
Continuous Development/Improvement; Knowing which domains in my life to look for opportunities to grow without getting caught up in distractions, sometimes it was taking a class, inviting a leader I admired to grab a lunch, networking in different arenas, or unapologetically taking time to be with family and friends more fully. Not just for me, but also recog
nizing moments to promote and celebrate developmental milestones of others (peers, direct-reports, and especially senior leaders), be a confidant, a sounding board, or hold someone accountable to a standard they've set for themselves.
Healthy individuals are at the core of a healthy company; Imagine being a successful company with a growing constituent of overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated front line, middle management and senior leadership. All the talent development, train
ings, community events or happy hours may work in the short-term, but eventually you will see tell-tell signs of a breaking culture i.e. turnover, low accountability, passive vs active problem solving, backdoor communications, optimizing to rigid processes over innovation, conflicts or disconnects at various levels of leadership, management of messaging vs transparency & adaptability, etc.
So, what does it all boil down to in real terms? The future of leadership is changing to become highly responsive to companies who are finding ways to support more people within organizations who can be mentally agile and grounded in their decision-making through change. This can be achieved by creating the conditions for and investing in the development of strategic & personal vision, aligning their personal and team values, and who build their confidence and courage to take initiative that is mutually beneficial. It's no longer good enough to just think about it from a work perspective, but a recognition that leaders today need to effectively lead in both, the personal and professional domains in order to be energized, organized and ready to mobilize their workforce.
There's still a place for consultants, advisors, counsels, pastors, parents, friends, and the rest in each of our lives. However, the reason the coaching practice has boomed is in direct contrast to the idea that in the sea of expertise already available to us, getting a trained professional skilled at creating a
space for individuals to develop and share a deep reflection of their own decisions, motivations, values and what's most meaningful to them in an uninterrupted, objective structure, this was the BEST way for individuals to identify organic strategies for change, and fosters greater innovation, personal growth. Now imagine taking on your next challenge; career transition, promotion, new leader onboarding, relationship, business or personal health goals with greater clarity, perspective and actions. Imagine having a much larger percentage of your employees transition into "high performers", what impact might that have on the overall health of you and your company?
The very first moment where I felt the power of this coaching approach first-hand, was sitting in a operations tent on a hill in Kosovo, back in 2000. My then mentor, Sgt. Archie, was on his computer one late shift working through his analysis of investments in real estate back home. When I asked him, what he was doing, he said, "preparing for the future I want". It must've been how candid and clearly serious he was about it that woke me up enough to where I pulled up a chair and he begun to ask me a series of progressive questions about my own future. Ever since, I've organica
lly found myself being on the other end of a conversation being a sounding board for someone feeling stressed about some significant decision or transitional period. It's become apparent to me that I was coaching before I really knew what coaching was or how to do it properly.
20 years later, I found myself certified and with over 500 hours of professional coaching experience. My passion is helping entrepreneurs, consultants and seasoned or emerging leaders gain the confidence and clarity needed to be successful in their businesses, but also to be more integrated across all areas of life so they have the energy and awareness needed to win the long and the short game. It can be a challenge to not lead with solving or "to consult" and take on people's problem's for them, stealing their opportunity to grow, but one way I've proven my ability to truly be effective
as a coach has been confirmed with my deep work with Founders, senior executives and emerging leaders as an Independent Leadership Development coach at several industry-leading people development and coaching firms; check out Torch, ExecOnline, and Exec. Providing clients debriefs from 360's and a myriad of assessment tools, working in a structured format and measuring progress to report outcomes across leadership development portfolio's have been powerful informants of the real value to individuals and corporations at large. I have also had the honor to support independent leaders as part of my private practice, which I love because we can pull from all my tools in the bag to help them realize success, most often I find that senior consultants rarely have a chance to "get real" with someone outside their firm or client and benefit greatly from our sessions.
I've been on a mission to master my coaching to help more people with their own goals, while not throwing out my learnings from consulting, teaching, and training experiences. People love the structure, templates, individual and group exercises that we use for a host of common and unique challenges leaders face that I pull from positive psychology and science-based disciplines. It's amazing to see the growth and increased accountability in an organization that can happen when people become deliberate about nurturing their true authentic leadership and are empowered to take motivated actions in the areas of life most important for them without having to compartmentalize each domain from the other.
As change is the only constant, I've discovered a way of working, giving back and serving others that provides a deep sense of meaning for me, and is proven as one of the most effective ways for changing the quality of life and work for individuals and the companies that need and/or want to positively influence their own health.