How Coaching Shifts “Me to We”

Recently I attended the Global Co-Active Summit in Napa, CA. Being in a space with 650 coaches for nearly three full days is a powerful experience in itself.  To add to that, talking about what we individually and collectively do to shift the world from “Me to We” was mind-bending at times.

We learned a lot from each other, a lot about ourselves and shared how the work that we do with individuals collectively makes the world a better place.

MeIsWeAreOne

I have always recognized that coaching is a powerful vehicle for leadership development but have not been able to articulate this transformation in a way that felt adequate or comprehensive. I would say, “Coaching helps individuals reach their full potential so they can contribute their greatest gifts in meaningful ways.”  That didn’t quite cut it.

So when Karen and Henry Kimsey-House unveiled a new paradigm of leadership, it finally felt like I had some language to express the power of coaching.  This new paradigm confirms what I always say when working with coaching clients and nonprofit leaders.  “Everyone is a Leader”. It is a matter of identifying and reaching that untapped potential.

This new Co-Active® Dimensional Leadership™ (CDL) model demonstrates how “Everyone is a Leader” in 5 dimensions.

CoActiveDimensional

Leader from Within:  It has to start with “you”, your core set of values and purpose in the world. We strive to always lead from within, aligning with our values, living authentically on purpose, with integrity. When a leader is not living in alignment with his/her values, energy that could be directed toward creating a better world is wasted.

Leader from Behind: This is the predominant dimension that coaches embody. In this dimension, your intention is to develop the leadership skills and competencies of others.  This dimension is also seen in mentoring.

Leader from Beside: This happens in true partnerships.  When you are in this dimension the focus is on how you form an alliance with your co-leader to make sure that you share a common intention.  This is the experience of mutuality, flowing with others.

Leader from the Front:  This is the dimension which traditionally is identified as “leader”. The person most visible, whose voice is heard, who stands front and center. However in this model, leader from the front has a collaborative element.  Leader from this dimension provides vision and inspires others to take action to move toward that vision.

Leader from the Whole:  This dimension was the hardest for me to grasp and I am still internalizing its meaning. This concept goes beyond vision, purpose and focuses on the BIG PICTURE, the meta-view, the energy, spirit and other elements that are in the space. It is tuning into the intuition, what else is present? Like a tuning fork, there are vibrations to tap into and fold into our awareness as leaders.

After hearing about this Co-Active Dimensional Leadership Model, we were placed in groups and had a task of a treasure hunt throughout the two days.  Through this team focused activity, ten of us moved around the dimensions of the model at different moments.  We learned from each other how each dimension presented itself.  We saw the dimensions in each other and ourselves. It was a powerful action learning experience.  Each of us learned about our natural tendencies and where we needed to stretch as leaders.

So what dimensions are natural for you? Where do you need to stretch to reach your full potential?

Developing a Sustainable Approach to Leadership

When I took my first job as an executive director at age 25, I didn’t really think about embarking on a career as a nonprofit leader. However, more than 20 years later, I have led five different organizations with annual budgets ranging from $150,000 to $13 million. As an executive director, I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership development program that confirmed some practices that allowed me to strengthen my leadership skills and create a path for sustaining my leadership.

Leadership

Today, serving the nonprofit sector as a consultant, I have the opportunity to be a facilitator of leadership development programs. I draw from my diversity of experiences as an executive director and the seven key themes that sustained me in those positions.

Start with fire in the belly.

You absolutely must be passionate about the work that you are doing. That energy is what will drive you in tough times and will motivate your staff to do their best work. When people are feeling down and struggling, they will look to you as a barometer of the organization’s health. If you can’t see the path to better times, they won’t either. This is not to say you should be wearing rose-colored glasses but, as suggested by Jim Collins in Good to Great, it reminds me of the “Stockdale paradox”: acknowledging the brutal facts, but never losing hope is essential to success.

Everyone is a leader; leadership is a team sport.

Leadership is not a commodity for sale to the highest bidder or a “star is born” phenomenon. I learned this when I started playing Little League in 1972. Everyone is a leader in some way, and the trick as an “anointed leader” is to identify the key to opening that leadership pathway in those around you. One tactic to avoid burnout is to spread the load of leadership throughout your organization. In his book, Leadership is an Art, Max De Pree, chairman emeritus of Herman Miller, Inc., calls this “roving leadership.” The only way to open that leadership pathway is to listen deeply to those around you to determine how their passion fits with the vision of the organization.

When staff feel that their thoughts actually do matter and that everyone is in the same boat trying to get to the same destination, there is a greater interest in paddling together. You must be genuine and authentic in your actions. When you say you want people’s input, it must be true, and your behavior must be in alignment with your statements. Leaders who are dictators in disguise will only achieve what they individually desire. There is greater success in collective power than in the power of one.

Create an environment that rewards learning and innovation.

We live in a world that seems to be changing with greater speed with each generation. As a leader, you have to be a change agent, not an idea squelcher. Fostering the desire to learn and explore new ways to address challenges enhances your success. This will keep your work interesting and allow your organization to be more effective. Many of the leadership gurus — Peter Senge, James Kouzes, Barry Posner and John Kotter — all emphasize the importance of life-long learning as an attribute of effective leaders.

Recharge your battery.

It is very easy to get sucked into the constant barrage of communication, particularly email, and never lift your head. This trap will become a downward spiral to burnout if you don’t carve out some space on a regular basis that allows you to fully unplug. Whether it is doing something outside, reading something completely unrelated to work, cooking or playing music, you must protect a segment of time that is dedicated to clearing your head of everything that burdens you as a leader. You owe it to yourself and to the cause you are serving. Take Tony Schwartz’s Energy Audit to see how you are doing.

Celebrate.

The work that you do can be fraught with what seems to be insurmountable challenges on a regular basis. One approach to mitigating the effects of these difficulties is to create a culture of intentional celebration. It could be opening your staff meeting with a standing agenda item of “Thanks and Acknowledgements,” or creating the organization’s “Let the Fun Begin” committee that is responsible for maintaining a level of celebration in the organization. Social support networks enhance productivity, psychological well being and even physical health, so make your workplace such a network.

Build a network of support.

Being a leader, particularly in an executive director position, can be a lonely place. It is important to identify a support network, perhaps a breakfast club or monthly brown bag lunches with fellow executive directors who have the same struggles as you and who can offer insights and support in maintaining your sense of purpose and inspiration.

Preparing for nonprofits of the future.

Because my generation bridges the baby boomer and Gen X generations, I have been fortunate to see the world through glasses with both sets of lenses. A leader’s appreciation of generational work styles is critical to success. Boomers display a heightened sense of commitment, dedication and long-term loyalty to one organization and employ a more traditional leadership style, whereas Gen Xers approach leadership as a flexible, “open source” affair, a collaborative work style that conveys the sense that it is everyone’s business, and we all have to do our part to achieve success.

When approaching leadership with these key themes in mind, you are sustaining yourself and developing your bench strength. You are creating a pathway for the next generation of leaders who will be ready to take over when their time comes if it hasn’t already arrived.

This article was originally published at Causeplanet.org, February 27, 2009.

The Road Signs of Leadership in Action

I recently returned from a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. It is an incredible place rich in culture, natural beauty,  archeological history, delicious food and fantastic weather. But that isn’t what this blog post is about!

My partner Andy and I have spent a lot of time in Latin America during our lives.  I think it is fair to say that the “rules of the road” and common courtesies that we experience while in our vehicles in the United States generally don’t apply.  I would say that more often, it is every driver for him or herself.

As a pedestrian, you adjust and prepare for sprinting across the street when it appears the coast is clear, regardless of whether there is a light in your direction or not because that rule doesn’t often apply.  If you are a Californian and you are accustomed to stepping off a curb to see all vehicles jam on their brakes to allow you to cross, you need to hit the delete button because that behavior could result in a visit to the hospital.

This trip something changed. In fact we noticed as soon as we arrived, cars were following traffic laws, cars were stopping when we crossed the street. We looked at each other and both acknowledged something had changed.

We then spoke to an American who had been living in Oaxaca for 10 years and she said, “yes, the city has made a concerted effort to make driving more civilized and it is working.” We asked “How?”  She said, “They put up these Yield signs that said, ‘1 x 1, First you then me’.”

Oaxaca Traffic Sign
“First you then me.” – new traffic signs in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I saw this sign and watched drivers do just that…..”First you then me.”  I thought to myself, “This is leadership right here on the streets of Oaxaca City!”  I am a believer in the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. It is easy to remember and it is globally transferable.

Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

  1. Model the Way: Do what you say you will do and others will follow.
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision: Streets where traffic moves smoothly and cars share the road with pedestrians.
  3. Challenge the Process: Take initiative to do something innovative like put up new signs.
  4. Enable Others to Act: Trust that others will follow if you foster collaboration. This only worked because everyone collaborated.
  5. Encourage the Heart: Create the spirit of community, celebrate success. As pedestrians we were thrilled when drivers waved us across the street.

Have you seen leadership in action while walking down the street? Share your story!

Calling All Change Makers

Vista Global Coaching & Consulting, LLC (VGCC) partners with organizations and individuals to make meaningful change in the world. Whether you are navigating change on a personal, professional or organizational level, VGCC services will guide you to your vision.

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With over 20 years of experience, Certified Coach and Consultant Mary Stelletello will help you reach your goals. Contact Mary today to learn how Vista Global Coaching & Consulting is right for you.