‘Life bombs’ & rhythms I’m noticing

By Nedra Chandler, 3-minute read (thanks for photo used with permission from Bob Wheeler’s recent visit to Poland.) I spent Thanksgiving at the small family farm run by my husband’s family in Eastern Montana. They have lots of critters running around: turkeys, chickens, goats, cats and dogs. With so much life, there’s always a story about how one or the other of the critters met their end. Coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls, snakes, raccoons are the critters and also eat the critters. Many of the critters end up on a table somewhere. We ate Wendy for Thanksgiving dinner. My husband Scott and I were talking politics, culture, global warming and such when he said, “We’re all just a bunch of critters running around.” Gulp. My man is so…grounded. I’ve shared his straightforward observation a few times in the past week in coach partner conversations. Because here we are right in the thick of our personal and shared critter reality. I hope this is useful to point out to those who read me. I find dwelling on this fact valuable in the same way I find poetry life giving. It’s remarkable how many of the leaders and teams I am coaching with right now are facing health or other crises themselves or have family, employees, friends or neighbors who, like all of us if we wait some more months or years, we we will know serious jeopardy of some kind.

Here’s a meditation on that theme

Joy, joy, dread, dread, dread. joy, joy, dread, dread joy. Like that. The cadence of life. That’s my sense of my own current, approximate proportion of joy and dread and everything in between, both/and. Not long ago I got a text message from one of us — could be any of us – saying, “I won’t be able to join you tonight at (event). We’ve had an unexpected ‘life bomb’ – a mass below (name’s) heart.” Cancer. Lively life, suddenly breath taking. The inevitability of adversity parades through and makes itself noticed. Another dear friend: same story, just many years younger, and trouble in slightly different locations in the body, but same narrative: life bomb. Then a phone call with a former work partner: “You know Nedra, my life has taken a big turn. I have brain cancer. I am in the sit-and-wait-mode after surgery and chemotherapy. I have a lot fatigue. That’s the worst of it right now. I really can’t work and I wish I could. I miss it you know.” Another phone call with a client from years back, letting me know he was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. I heard a surreal quality in his voice, strained across distance, saying with gallows humor, “yeah, you probably won’t see me alive again in this meat suit.” There, in an instant: oh! Well hello death. Aren’t you the biggest bummer? These moments exist right alongside the exhilaration of babies, wonderful relationships, music, great projects, mountains, poems, art, snow, bicycles, puppies and kittens. Today, I really mean today, death stopped by my friend’s home with just a brief wave and said, “hi, I’m coming for you sometime, and coming for every single human, every living thing. Oh, and while I’m at it, I will also come for your sun.” “Wait, what?! Our sun?!” “Yeah, it’s just a star. It happens to be the one that warms the earth you depend on. Eventually, inevitably, I’m coming for it too.”

Father Uncle Cousin Kid!

That is a sneaky way to swear. Thank you Sally Crabtree, my brother-in-law’s mom who learned it as a young girl just after World War II. I can still see the look of mild confusion on Bob’s face at last year’s company retreat just after he brought up the subject of our personal “bucket lists” and I threw a metaphorical bucket of cold water on the whole concept of having one at all. A bucket list, that is. I was the bummer in the group. Instead of inspired to future trip I more often get the creeps and resist. Sort of, “I don’t want a bucket list! How about we be here right now?” For some unknown reason I blurted out into the fun others were having, “we’re all going to die you know. Death will come for all of us.” Nervous laugh, oops. There was no thanks from Bob for my penetrating glimpse into the obvious. And, if you’re still reading here, maybe you aren’t thanking me either. That’s okay. I’m hellbent on expressing it anyway. See? It’s freeing to just notice the rhythm of life’s dance back and forth from one side of this bridge in Krakow to the other. Between all kinds of polar opposite states of being, feelings, situations arising from inside and outside ourselves. We walk that bridge, run it, dance it, sleep on it. Sometimes moving faster, sometimes slower. Back and forth between dread and joy, fear and courage, life and death, or deaths of innocence, marriages, and other smaller deaths before each of our individual last breath in the body. I can’t explain why I dwell here sometimes. It’s both disturbing AND so freeing. As a critter on this bridge I feel awake, a little extra awe. joy, joy, dread, dread joy. Dread, dread, joy, joy, joy. A rhythm I can appreciate. An insight I can use: stop forgetting we’re all just a bunch of critters too. A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach and third-party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Sometimes I just post what I’m musing about. Thank you for the gift of your valuable attention. I appreciate you and I enjoy hearing back from readers. Find me here once a month, more of my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and my colleagues at Elation. If you see something of value here for you or someone you know, please pass it along. Thank you.

So much happens in conversations…

By Nedra Chandler, 3-minute read

What conversations are you having today?

So many conversations miss the intended mark, don’t they? And yet so much happens through conversations if you’re present to the people you are relating with in that moment.

“Presence” & “practice”

By “present” I mean paying attention. Belonging to the conversation you’re having.

Presence takes practice, yet it can be as straightforward as noticing a few things in your immediate environment, as Ellen Langer, Harvard’s “Mother of Mindfulness,” points out in her compelling work. Search her on Google and you’ll find video clips and articles on this topic.

What we mean by practice is summed up by master coach and author Doug Silsbee below (thanks to Bebe Hansen’s post of this quote from Doug):

Coaching conversations, online/on demand content, team building and what else?

Triangle Associates and Elation Inc. teams work with leaders, groups and organizations in all kinds of settings. Those of us here who focus on organizational health work together to design a whole range of half-day to multiple-year engagements that support leadership growth and evolution.

I am a credentialed executive coach who works mostly with government leaders and teams. My practice is expanding through referral. I’ve noticed that many come to me with some version of a commitment: “I want better energy and stamina than I have now” or “I am committed to building greater trust in my team.”

Mastering your own mindset is at the heart of both those desired results of our clients. We work together while you discover for yourself how you’re going to show up and own the skills you already have in these areas, or further develop them. If that’s your commitment and you practice, it’s a given: you will manage your energy. You will build greater trust. The work unfolds in a series of conversations and structured-yet-still-organic work with key elements of grounding, awareness, choices, and practice.

Returning to the example of managing your energy, you might decide to learn and apply relevant neuroscience. Along with many other public and private clients, a National Park Service team we have worked with for over a year is now using our online content here to support them.

Daily life itself has an uncanny knack for showing us what’s needed and what’s most important. So while life continues to be a great teacher no matter what, moving through the Elation’s self-paced content on your own or in groups is one effective way to expose yourself to, for example, key content on:

  • the unconscious brain
  • fast and slow thinking
  • cognitive bias
  • social brain
  • fixed & growth mindsets
  • personal accountability
  • quieting the mind, and
  • brain-body system.

Here is a playful-yet-challenging invitation to practice something today if you’d like

  1. When you converse today, notice your assumptions, listen, and dial those assumptions back.
  2. Maybe you don’t know what someone meant? Ask.
  3. Use your authentic strengths and skills while you listen to connect.
  4. Notice that you might feel different listening to connect than when you are listening to judge.

What are you learn and apply from this experience even one time through?

I’m so curious what you think about 2 things now

What do you see are the key features that will work best for you in a package of coaching services for government leaders and teams?

And what are your thoughts about artificial intelligence-based coaching? Is there a demand for that in your world? In a recent article from the Coach Federation, Matt Barney, Ph.D wrote,

Coaching AI is poised to dramatically grow the coaching industry by disrupting money people already spend with the training industry. I suspect this is likely because most trainers know that very little of training transfers to the job, whereas our coaching approaches are always grounded in helping clients achieve their goals and adapt as the engagement proceeds. Coaching AI allows a typical coach to improve the scope of impact and grow business without hurting current non-technology enabled coaching engagements.

Please send your perspectives to: cadence@montana.com. Thank you!

A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach and third-party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me here once a month, more of my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and my colleagues at Elation. If you see something of value here for you or someone you know, please pass it along. Thank you.

Are you triggered?

By Nedra Chandler, 5 minute read and practice

Thanks to friends and colleagues sharing heartfelt expressions, here are a few sentiments that especially stand out in the past 24 hours, some triggered by the vote in the Judiciary Committee, some just about ‘what is’:

“I am struggling under waves of lifetimes of what women navigate — the violence and the silencing.”

“Just rage. Weeping now. That’s all.”

“When do we start burning it down? Is that today?”

“The future of leadership will have more yin in it. feminine and masculine together both/and. Yin and yang.”

“I am casting a net now for all the wild beauty I can find.”

A practice for coaching yourself

If you are feeling triggered or transported to personal or collective trauma, here is your invitation to use this practice called above and below the line as much as you have an appetite for right now. I got it from the author Jim Dethmer who adapted work of  Michael Bernard Beckwith. Please share the work as far and wide in the service of conscious leadership.

You know I’ve been geeking out practicing the ins and outs of conflict prevention and coaching moves since 1990. I’m telling you “4 ways of leading in the world” is gold. This is a significant resource I want you to have and I’m betting you’ll use. Jim Dethmer, the author of it (with Kaley Warner Klemp) told us he is glad to have us share it far and wide. This post is primarily for coach clients and other coaches in my network who are practicing with their own states of awareness on purpose. 

The context for using the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation was just a door through which I wanted to share this post, because I experienced the flow of so much emotion into my own community life (and my inbox) about it. It seems to me it’s excessively triggering me and so many of us at this moment that I abandoned my other post about Lumina Learning and decided to share this instead for the September post.

Back to the practice. Yesterday Dethmer led a group of us (professional coaches I’m happy to be studying with for the next 3 months) through his 1-page visual he calls “4 ways of leading in the world” and related 1-pager called “above and below the line.” Both visuals need very little explanation and can take less than a minute to practice once you grok it. At the very end of my post here, if you want a sample, I’ve offered you a step-by-step version of how to use them. Easy.

“Remember, through practice we grow in our awareness and that’s the point,” he said, “shifting in our states of consciousness.” Jim is a master coach, author and founder of The Conscious Leadership Group.

You’ll find the links to Dethmer’s source documents at the bottom of the post.

States of Being — or “ways of leading in the world”

Dethmer says probably most of us will spend our lifetimes moving between and among 2 or 3 of these states all the time. Period. He calls the states (only showing 1 to 3 here, of 4 total):

“To me” (life happens to me);

“By me” (I make life happen);

“Through me” (I cooperate with life happening);

Summary: to me, by me, through me. Three states of being.

You are probably like most of us: scared and triggered at times. “To me” might sound like: “Someone should fix this.” “Whose fault is this?” “Why me?” That comes and goes and comes and goes through life. So, it makes sense to practice with all the moves, but especially the one between “to me” and “by me.”

“By me” might sound like, “I’m so curious!” “What can I learn here?” “What do I want?” The point is to start noticing ‘where you are’ between these two states at any given moment. Why notice? Because then you have a choice to stay there or shift your state on purpose.

Have I lost you? If so, I predict you’ll see his 1-page visual and say, “I get it now. I can use this.”

Dethmer asked us to play with this reality that we move all the time between acceptance/trust “above the line” and resistance/threat “below the line.” And he even made a guess that probably about 95% of us spend about 95% of our time below the line. That’s the line: managing threats below the line, surrendering to trust above the line. Stick with me now, this is going to get real.

These are not “stages” of adult development, they are states of being. It’s not like we move through and ascend. We move around back and forth all the time between these states of states of being.

Dethmer points out that when we are in fear/defense mode it’s often about survival and flight, fight or freeze. In that state, we are “not available” to stabilize ourselves and make a different, conscious choice about what we are learning, what we can create, and what ‘wants to happen’ through us. As in neurobiologically: not much available.

That stuff above the line where we sort of come undone and can see “see unlimited possibility,” wonder and awe comes at a price of “surrender.”

Think of intense gateways of pain you’ve already come through where you could not fight, collaborate, withdraw, or win. That’s surrender.

About birthing babies as one example…

One personal experience I don’t mind mentioning in a business blog (ha!) is the opening and dilation of my cervix to a full 10 centimeters to allow for the birth of my 9-pound babies. At the end it was total surrender.

It seems to me that not all “intense gateways of pain” seem to yield such obvious benefits (e.g., babies), yet that’s where trust comes in, cooperation: “where acceptance meets fear.” Ah, there we are. Now we’re learning. Now we’re asking, what’s life showing us? What wants to happen here?

Those of you who are my coach clients and partners, “where are you now?” Just notice. Once you notice, your choices open up, don’t they? They sure do for me.

Optional look at how I assessed a few moments for me

I checked out the quick list of  sample “statements, behaviors and beliefs” above and below the line and was asked, what one or two things in each column feels or sounds like me?

Below the line, my own self talk included:

Statements: most similar to my talk track: “they don’t get it.”

Behaviors that stood out for me: “get overwhelmed.”

Beliefs included: “there is a threat to me occurring out there.”

Finish playing this with me now by looking at  the list of sample statements in what sounded true above the line:

My Statements: “I feel worried about this Supreme Court nomination.”

My Behaviors: “breathe” and “take responsibility” and “appreciate my friends and community” (as well as organizers, and ultimately leaders in the Senate who will vote “no.”)

My Beliefs: “there are more than just one or two possibilities…” and “all people and circumstances are my allies.”

Go here to get the two 1-page visuals

  • Go to https://conscious.is/resources
  • Scroll down to “handouts”
  • Look at the one-pager “4 Ways of Leading” first
  • Now play with the one-pager “Locating yourself: Above or Below the Line”
  • Heightened awareness. Now what state do you choose? There is no “right” answer…really

Thank you Jim Dethmer and Conscious Leadership for your generous gift of this practice for us as we lead ourselves through yet another challenging moment, and the next, and the next.

A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach and third-party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me   at http://www.cadenceinc.us and more of my long-time work mates at http://www.triangleassociates.com. If you see something of value here for you or someone you know, I’ll appreciate it if you pass it along. 

By Liz Moore, on the Little Blackfoot by Avon

Stand in the river that flows through you

Scott on the Mighty Mo (Missouri) River near Craig, Montana, August 2018

By Nedra Chandler

Hi friends,
What I have for you this month is a link to a blog post that has been requested of me several times since I first wrote it some years ago. I was happy to have the University of Utah College of Law post it yesterday.

In my world, this ‘triangle of satisfaction’ is some of the best applied theory out there for group dynamics in any setting. For example when humans are either deciding to seek agreement or not, or actively collaborating, or not– especially in the realm of public decisions.

It might be relevant to apply to your individual self too. What constitutes a good day in your life right now? What are your main substantive, procedural and emotional needs in the life you are composing? Are some of your needs below the surface?

When they are underneath, do you maybe forget to notice or feel them sometimes? Welcome to the big club of humanity. Yet neuroscience (and poetry) tell us that access to our feelings is a big part of what makes us innovative, emotionally intelligent and resilient in these times. All times.

Here is encouragement to each of you paraphrased from Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s something I repeat to myself often: stand in the river of power & love that flows through you. Translation: remember, re-member for just one example, your body is more than a handy vehicle to take your head to meetings or your other work. Use all your resources. Feel your feelings and use them along with your brain power to swim in the complexity all around us. It seems we might all be better off that way, over the long term, for our generations and the ones coming next.

More wisdom from rivers from Norman Maclean:
All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren’t noticing which makes you see something that isn’t even visible.”
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach and third-party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me   at http://www.cadenceinc.us and more of my long-time work mates at http://www.triangleassociates.com.

Apply the Power of Vulnerability to Have a Better Day Today

by Nedra Chandler

About Letting Your Guard Down More Often, On Purpose…

If you’re walking through life with your armor on all the time, trying not to show you’re vulnerable, you’re missing a lot.  You’ll show up less skillfully and make fewer contributions to the good of the whole than you are capable of. Period.

I know for example when I am overextended (tired, hungry, haven’t slept well), I might get overly interested in being ‘right’ about things; I might try to save face rather than risk connecting with someone; or I might just shut down and hide out – too spent to listen or be heard, or both.

We the people seem especially triggered these days as our politics, health care, education, land management and other systems we rely on become more polarized. “Triggered” in this context means “to cause a strong emotional reaction of fear, shock, anger, or worry in some individual or group.” For example, I take this position, you take that position and those positions are polar opposites with a lot of blame assumed on each side.

Dr. Brene Brown has become famous, in part, for researching shame and vulnerability. She says that:

“vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.” 

Wow, what an invitation to take off one’s armor!

Brown looked for things she could predict about what causes people to live with a deep sense of worthiness – worthy of love and belonging. After 6 years of research and a ton of data, it turned out the courage to be imperfect, to “let go of who you think you should be in order to connect” is necessary. Willingness to be vulnerable helps move us out of a reactive mode and into a more resourceful way of being and belonging. Brown is a great storyteller by the way, and in one of her Ted Talks with over 8 million views, she tells the story of how her research led to a personal breakdown. She said she “hated vulnerability” and had to deal personally with her own findings.

See Rachel Caldwell’s Guest Blog at EDRblog.org

What got me back to this topic is that my friend Rachel Caldwell, a former Triangle Associate, wrote a compelling blogpost yesterday on the power of vulnerability in conflict resolution.

I recommend it. Besides pointing to Brown’s research, Rachel includes a personal story herself that provides great backup for an approach I use with the government leaders and teams I coach too. Trust–remember that a big part of trust between people is rooted in vulnerability–is the most important foundation for leading yourself and leading teams.

Government is Like a Marriage…Best to Take A Learner’s Stance

In sickness and in health. ‘Til death do us part.

Democracy in this country, and all over the globe, is an ongoing experiment. It’s alive, shifting and changing with the influence and participation of each individual and the whole. The experience of self-governance is always evolving, slow-going, messy, uncertain. Because I’m a government geek, I continue to work on ways to express and put to use what we now know about the power of trust—in service to the living systems we use to govern ourselves.

DIY (Do it Yourself) Coaching

Here is a classic model you can apply to your own self and to the communities you work in. It comes from the coaching profession, the simple arc of:

  1. awareness
  2. choice
  3. action

Awareness, choice, action. Awareness, choice, action. See? It’s a repeating loop. How do you personally move through that loop hour to hour, day to day?

This is intensely dynamic process requiring commitment to keep practicing as we change, and conditions change.

To repeat:

  • we possess the ability to tap our awareness of our own state and that of others moment to moment in any hour, any day;
  • we discover what we can be and do, and then make choices;
  • we practice doing those things, being those things.

Then we go around the circle again…awareness, choices, practice; awareness….we do this alone. We do this together.

The thing is, being aware of our own state includes being aware of our current ability to trust and be vulnerable, which, as Brown says, is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. We can follow that awareness with choice and action that build those things.  It’s all within our own power to manifest these attributes, through awareness, choice and action.

Risk and uncertainty is ever present and will never go away. Trust is about being vulnerable and not knowing where it’s all going and still acting in service to what matters to us.

Trust in self, trust in others, and trust in flexible-yet-principled institutions of democratic governance and decision making have the same positive results.  So the message from Brene Brown, my friend Rachel Caldwell, and me today is to take off your armor and find the courage to be vulnerable. More love, belonging, joy and creativity await those who dare.

A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach and third-party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me   at http://www.cadenceinc.us and more of my long-time work mates at http://www.triangleassociates.com.

Some of my past posts on trust and trust in government were to point out it’s possible to operationalize and practice trust. Commitment trust, for one example, is especially practical in personal and workplace settings. See my friend Faith Ralston’s work on that topic here. Also a post I wrote a few years ago about trust in government using the Malheur situation as grist for the mill.

Power of Questions: Here are 7 from Stainier

by Nedra Chandler

Here’s the thing that says the most about the power of questions to transform crappy situations into better ones, maybe even MUCH better ones:

Questions elicit answers in their likeness“– Krista Tippet, in On Becoming Wise

Below are 7 great questions you can use with anybody you work or play with from Michael Bungay Stanier’s recent book on changing the way you lead forever.

This is my third decade of work in the conflict management and coaching field. I practice, practice and practice the art of asking better questions. Am I perfect at questions in the moment that help people magically discover where they are ready to go next and how they can show up? No way. But wow, does it ever pay back — more than any other single thing I practice.

This week’s post is short and sweet and immediately useable. It’s an excerpt from one of my National Park Service friends (thanks David) who shared these so-useful questions. Here the 7 questions from Stanier.

Hi Nedra,
I have enjoyed Michael Bungay Stanier’s 2016 book The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. It is a quick read. The focus is on working to develop a practice to shift behavior from advice giving to curiosity. I personally struggle with the “advice giving monster,” I think this is a very practical resource, here are the cliff notes:

Coaching is simple. Coaching can be done in 10 minutes or less. Coaching is a daily, informal act. You can build a coaching habit, “but only if you understand and use the proven mechanics of building and embedding new habits.”

Question 1: “What’s on your mind?”

A good opening line can make all the difference (just ask Charles Dickens, the Star Wars franchise, or any guy in a bar). The Kickstart Question starts fast and gets to the heart of the matter quickly. It cuts to what’s important while side stepping stale agendas and small talk.

Question 2: “And what else?”

The AWE Question keeps the flame of curiosity burning. “And what else?” may seem like three small words, but it’s actually the best coaching question in the world. That’s because someone’s first answer is never the only answer — and rarely the best answer. There are always more answers to be found and possibilities to be uncovered. Equally as important, it slows down the question asker’s “advice monster” — that part of every manager that wants to leap in, take over, and give advice/be an expert/solve the problem.

Question 3: “What’s the real challenge here for you?”

This is the Focus Question. It gets to the essence of the issue at hand. This question defuses the rush to action, which has many people in organizations busily and cleverly solving the wrong problems. This is the question to get you focused on solving the real problem, not just the first problem.

The first three questions combine to form a powerful script for any coaching conversation, performance-review formal, or water-cooler casual. Start fast and strong, provide the opportunity for the conversation to deepen, and then bring things into focus with the next questions.

Question 4: “What do you want?”

This is the Foundation Question. It’s trickier than you think to answer, and many disagreements or dysfunctional relationships will untangle with this simple but difficult exchange: “Here’s what I want. What do you want?” It’s a basis for an adult relationship with those you work with, and a powerful way to understand what’s at the heart of things.

Question 5: “How can I help?”

It might come as a surprise that sometimes managers’ desire to be helpful can actually have a disempowering effect on the person being helped. This question counteracts that in two ways. First, it forces the other person to make a clear request, by pressing them to get clear on what it is they want or need help with. Second, the question works as a self-management tool to keep you curious and keep you lazy — it prevents you from leaping in and beginning things you think people want you to do.

Question 6: “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”

If you’re someone who feels compelled to say “yes” to every request or challenge, then this question is for you. Many of us feel overwhelmed and overcommitted; we’ve lost our focus and spread ourselves too thin. That’s why you need to ask this Strategic Question. A “yes” without an attendant “no” is an empty promise.

Question 7: “What was most useful for you?”

Your closer is the Learning Question. It helps finish the conversation strong, rather than just fading away. Asking “What was most useful for you?” helps to reinforce learning and development. They identify the value in the conversation — something they’re likely to miss otherwise, and you get the bonus of useful feedback for your next conversation. You’re also framing every conversation with you as a useful one, something that will build and strengthen your reputation.

Try these out and I will so enjoy hearing how it goes for you, using these or your variation of these…please do send me a note to cadence@montana.com.

A bit about me: writer, Montanan, mediator and development coach for government leaders & teams. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and please sign up to receive my monthly posts in your inbox by typing in your email address here.

We help people listen and talk with each other with purpose and clarity. We find out what people are ready for and design custom collaborative or other opportunities. We serve as guides on the side to help participants find common ground and take action where they choose.

Leaders Get Your Non-Fussy 360 Degree Feedback to Move Forward

By Nedra Chandler, 5-minute read

I just had a heart-to-heart talk with a friend who is the leader of an organization in the middle of some extra churn. There have been departures of permanent staff, a busy season coming up, hiring for positions and a lot of competing priorities at the exact time when there is no slack in the system or schedule, least of all her schedule.

While her many years of experience and successes make her confident about what she brings to her leadership role, she’s feeling a troubling sense of isolation from her larger team. She said some days it feels like she has a shrinking number of people she can count on to speak their minds with her. For example, she said her board is not super engaged or active at the moment, her senior staff are out of the office a lot managing their own projects and staff, and she senses a pervasive attitude of “let’s just make it through this quarter and talk later…” Now what?

While it may seem a counterintuitive move, now may be a great time to amp up her resilient self-awareness, pick of posse of 7 or so people to get and give some fresh and focused feedback. Low-tech (not online) and clear about the purpose. I’ll start by giving you the take home points up front.

5 take-home points for leaders with that feeling of a little bit of lonely isolation right now…

  1. First the good news/bad news reminder that feedback is everywhere, all the time. Whether it’s invited or not, welcome or unwelcome, direct or subtle, verbal/nonverbal, written or implied, it’s everywhere. (See my post on this topic using insights from co-authors of Thanks for the Feedback, Sheila Heen and Doug Stone if you’re interested.) What’s hard is focusing on tangible or other feedback you’re ready to use.
  2. Everyone has self-limiting behaviors. No one is spared. Because we’re humans. You are already an accomplished leader. Focus on the habits that limit you now.
  3. This low tech 360 posse I describe below is not a one-shot deal. Expect it to take months, no, a lifetime (!) of small, daily commitments and practice with one thing, one habit at a time (not 12 or 15 things) you’ve chosen to grow yourself out of and into your next lively state of being.
  4. Frequent, regular check ins with a posse of people you trust (or at least respect) will be key. Probably one person at a time, but it could be a group on the phone or in person, every quarter or so.
  5. Briefly and simply listen to them and thank them for telling you whether or not they notice you making progress on the one habit you are attempting to shift. The hardest thing: no explanations and certainly no excuses: just “thank you.” Then you privately choose how you deal, or not, with what you hear.

Reminder of why online 360 degree feedback is valuable…and there is often a ‘too muchness’ at the same time

Frequent, regular feedback is crucial, transformative in some cases, to support your development and your capacity to be of service to what you care about most. If you like an evidence base for this, it’s already in the bag.

Also, when leaders set the example of working on their self-limiting habits for the good of themselves and the good of the whole, people notice and appreciate it. It gives your staff and partners extra permission and encouragement to keep learning and developing themselves as well.

As a credentialed coach facilitator who uses a range of online 360-degree feedback tools, especially the ones my government clients lean to, I’m not giving up on the online tools. But I am not recommending them for leaders at the top of organizations. The online tools have an important function, and especially for staff. But for top leaders in particular, I believe there is a too-muchness about many of these intensely-designed online tools — too many competencies, so much anonymous feedback, sanitized and over-systematized. Overwhelm too often ensues. Shut down may follow.

How do you get diverse-yet-pointed feedback more simply?

I am excited about a fresh approach to getting 360-degree (full circle) feedback for leaders. The heart of it is a small, frequently-consulted posse of colleagues such as direct reports, board members, and partners.

I owe Marshall Goldsmith a debt of gratitude for teaching his approach to me and the other Lead60 coaches — encouraging us to use it and share it widely for adapting and using. If you are one of my coach facilitator readers or colleagues please email me at cadence@montana.com and I can send you the basis to lead the process. In the meantime, the briefest explanation I’ve seen yet is contained in this disarming note from a leader. See how he made it possible to say no? See how he made it easy to say yes?

Hi (NAME),

I’m not sure if you are aware, but  (names of leadership team here) and I have been working with Nedra on our leadership team development and personal growth, with the aim of improving our organizational and leadership skills and styles.  As part of that, we are using a sort of 360 degree approach to get feedback from our “posse.”  I would like you to be a member of my posse.

Yes, you are allowed to say “no!”  But it’s pretty simple and won’t take much time.  If you are game, Nedra will contact you relatively soon to schedule a 10-15-minute phone conversation for some time before April 6. 

From those visits, she will provide each of us with thematic yet focused feedback that will not be attributed to any of our posse members. You don’t need to respond to me.  I’ve copied Nedra, and you replying to her will get things moving (or not!).

Thank you for considering my request, (name of leader)

Shouldn’t we focus on strengths? Why focus on habits they notice in us like frowning, sighing, not listening, or always being in a hurry?

Granted, it’s wonderful to hear genuine positive feedback about your strengths. Truly. And it’s important to solicit that. Granted too, it’s not fun for most of us to hear negative feedback about ourselves and how we’re coming across to a group of various humans. It’s important to solicit that too. Especially in this particular approach to full circle feedback. This way, you get right after the tangible, actionable things.

We’ve all been there. Feedback is a gift, and you get to choose what you pay attention to. All feedback is not created equally worthy or ‘accurate,’ yet it’s information you can use to heighten your awareness and inform your own choices. That’s the gift of it. Admittedly, the whole deal is also fraught with a bunch of messy, irrational humans in it, and therefore the situation is ambiguous at times. That’s why you use a coach facilitator to guide it from the side.

The title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s books, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There says so much about what is at the heart of stalling out at the top. As Goldsmith points out that the higher you rise in your organization, the more likely your problems are likely to be behavioral. Marshall’s newest book with co-author Sally Helgesen, also covers some of this ground beautifully in How Women Rise

Remember you are here in this leadership role because you’re already smart, strategic, focused and probably a strong communicator. What that means is that what’s left to work on are behavioral things. Habits. 

You, like every other mortal on the planet, sometimes default to habitual responses or reactions — some that do and some that don’t serve you or your organization. The consequences of our leadership habits run the gamut from small to huge in these cases. We all do this unconscious thing — default, automated behavior called habits.

Habits are notoriously hard to recognize in yourself and difficult to shift once you do. Can adults change their behavioral habits? Emphatically: yes. It’s because of neuroplasticity and it’s some of the best news we humans have gotten from science during this decade. The best news of all: your behavior lies within your control–unlike toddlers, the global economy and other peoples’ choices.

Have you noticed people are less likely to risk telling you how your habits affect them since you rose closer to the top?

Have you considered that your power and influence has been growing? And along with that expansion, it got a lot harder than it used to be to have others feel safe telling you, for just one possible (yet common) example:

“Your way of consistently defaulting to being the first to talk in a meeting, is keeping the people around you from contributing for fear of being out of step with you and your views. They are censoring themselves, knowing you’ll speak first anyway…”

I listened to a former US Attorney General describe how, after he got some similar feedback to the above, he began to practice waiting to speak until everyone in the room had the chance to contribute. Why? He (and the country) needed the benefit of his staff’s diversity of views. Knowing that if he spoke first it would dampen the courage of others to disagree, he coached himself with the internal reminder:

“I will practice waiting until I’ve heard from everyone present before I chime in.”

Viola. With practice, he says he entered a new realm in leadership effectiveness with that one fundamental shift.

For another example:

“Your chief of (whatever) can’t find an opening to let you know that the way you sigh out loud and your mouth goes into a big frown when you’re thinking makes staff and other leaders avoid you. Some (inaccurately) perceive your sighs as a sure sign you don’t like or respect them.”

Can you see yourself or people you know in any part of these examples?

If you’re still reading, then maybe you’re ready for this! I invite you to find your own development partners and serve as a partner to your colleagues in the same way. When you choose it, it can be rewarding beyond measure.

A bit about me: writer, Montanan, mediator and development coach for government leaders & teams. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and please sign up to receive my monthly posts in your inbox by typing in your email address here.

We help people listen and talk with each other with purpose and clarity. We find out what people are ready for and design custom collaborative or other opportunities. We serve as guides on the side to help participants find common ground and take action where they choose.

See What Condition Your Condition Is In

By Nedra Chandler, 1-min read, 3 min listen to the tune see link below*

What condition is your condition in right here, right now?

Picture slumped shoulders, crossed arms, avoidant or flat facial expression, defended, closed.

Now envision what one leader I know calls her athletic stance. An athletic stance can be any size or physical strength, yet the shape gives a sense of being present, ready, aware, alert-yet-at-some ease at the same time. Open.

Now just look at you. How are you currently…arranged?

I am more and more frequently paying attention to the very shape of my own body, and my clients’ bodies.

I want to convince you this is useful, super relevant data to notice about yourself and others.

What if you run a little experiment for yourself: what happens when you tune into this information on purpose, even just a little more often? What tangible, visible effects follow?

Earlier this year, I facilitated an off-site retreat for a government agency senior management team. As they sat together, they confirmed the desired outcomes they had set for their time together.

I asked, “is there anything you need to count on from each other in order to accomplish these things together?”

(there was a longer-than-usual thoughtful pause here…)

“be open,” said one, “stay open.”

Genuine nodding of all heads and a brief conversation followed to interpret together what that might look like, sound like, feel like in action.

It turns out that to them, ‘stay open’  had to do with cultivating awareness of internal and external states on purpose, more deliberately staying receptive to possibilities a bit longer than might otherwise be typical for them. Sort of a:

“we don’t know exactly where this is going next…let’s create the best possible conditions for ourselves so that we can create the best possible outcomes, together.”

This team’s encouragement to each other was toward that. Stay open, they said.

To repeat, I’m dropping in to see what condition my condition is in, and I’m checking out the shape of my client bodies and teams at the same time. By that I mean my stance, their stance — individual and collective group shape.

Why? Because whether you are guiding from the side, or actively participating, or both/and at the same time, you get immediately-useable data. This information helps you make the most skillful choices you can about how to contribute, how best to engage, moment to moment in service to your purpose.

In the fine grain here, consider the connections you might notice between the shape you or someone else takes and how the verbal content of what they say out loud might come across to you.

For example, imagine a speaker in front of you who has her arms relaxed at her sides, maybe palms open toward you, asking,

“I want to hear what you think about this policy change.”

Now change her stance in your mind’s eye. She has her fists above her head, high in the air in the victorious ‘V” shape and feet planted apart — apparently a version of the universal, across-cultures power pose — and she’s still saying the same thing,

“I want to hear what you think about this policy change.”

Hmmmmm. Are the impacts of these two scenarios significantly different in your view? Or just a little? Or not much if any?

There is no ‘right’ answer here, yet certainly something to consider in your day-to-day leadership of you and your co-conspirators…

*If you can spare a few extra minutes for fun, listen to Kenny Rogers sing Just Dropped In to See the Condition My Condition Is In (1972), singing “Yeah, yeah, oh yeah…” right HERE exactly 46 years ago today.

A bit about me: writer, Montanan, mediator and development coach for government leaders & teams. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and please sign up to receive my monthly posts in your inbox by typing in your email address here.

We help people listen and talk with each other with purpose and clarity. We find out what people are ready for and design custom collaborative or other opportunities. We serve as guides on the side to help participants find common ground and take action where they choose. 

Tune Into Power and Level Up Your Leadership

By Nedra Chandler, 3-minute read

Hi readers, I promise you insight into power here that you put into use right away. How is it that power dynamics are simple (see my slide above) and wickedly complex at the same time? Upping your awareness of how power moves around all the time can make a big, positive difference in your life, and that of your organization.

___

We were on Bainbridge Island in Washington, walking around the waterfront one autumn day. The sky was blue, the sun was out, and my husband Scott’s mood was glum. He was less than a day away from a work trip to China and was dreading it.

What fresh hell?

The source of Scott’s angst was that he had a new boss who treated his professional staff like kids under his thumb — wielding power over them in ways that left them wondering what fresh hell was coming next.

This new mode at work left Scott and his team hamstrung. They began to see, feel and realize how diminished their collective power was together.

Power Moves Around All the Time — How Many Kinds of Power? At Least 7…

For example, they began to walk on eggshells, ‘asking permission’ to show up as leaders in their own right and do their work to serve their international customers. Before the re-shuffle, each team member had taken initiative to be innovators and be of excellent service. Now they began to quietly complain and adopt a team culture of disempowerment. By the way, go see this short overview of 7 types of power to get you noticing power more expansively and usefully.

So there we were, strolling along past some small shops on Eagle Harbor. Something caught Scott’s attention. He stopped to look at a rack of sale T-shirts on the sidewalk. There was this t-shirt with a skull and crossbones on the back:

“The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

“This shirt is so mine”

Scott, typically not much of an impulse buyer, was immediately sold on the shirt. I chuckled, but honestly found the line disturbing. No wonder it was here on the sale rack.

Yet, there it was, a silly-yet-somehow-cathartic way to express his extreme frustration with the new mood at work – set by a leader who didn’t yet have the experience or discernment to use his positional power with, rather than over, his team.

Use your ‘power over’ like a bomb

Scott’s previous boss had confidently possessed the power to decide too, yet had used his unilateral power more like a bomb – as in almost never. That approach of fostering trust and a culture of stewardship had made Dale one of the most effective men in the company, but that’s another story.

Here’s the thing I want to offer today:

Unless you are in a field where strict chain of command and control is paramount (for example, the military or a fire crew), choosing to use power over, rather than power with, will most likely descend into team dysfunction characterized by low trust.

What using excessive power over people can do to organizational culture

When I come into an organization to help out as a third party, this is what the use of excessive ‘power over’ can look like: an unlively work culture where people don’t have the courage to take risks or work together for the good of the whole. Nor are they as inclined toward accountability to one another or to those they serve, especially when those qualities are not acknowledged or rewarded.

Slide above from Keith McCandless, adapted from Edgar Schein’s work.

Scott lasted 9 difficult months under the new boss. That kind of work stress kills people early, so now he’s with another global business where trust and courage to skillfully confront (inevitable) conflict is the norm rather than the exception. Where commitment and accountability to collective results is rewarded and celebrated. There’s an aliveness to their work.

But right then, those years ago, when he bought that “I give up” t-shirt, he was experiencing workplace dysfunction that most adults find themselves in at least once or more during a career. Sometimes this sets the default tone for an entire organization or administration. It’s a lose-lose deal all around. And it’s almost never about just one person, or just one new leader. Organizational culture is built and re-built everyday through habits of interaction.

I’m curious, two questions for you:

1) what are you learning as you notice these power dynamics — ‘power over people’ and ‘power with people’ in your own lives and organizations? Please share an insight, question or comment below.

and

2) As you consider your own leadership style, how does “use your unilateral power like a bomb*” resonate with you?

Ari Weinzweig mentioned this in an interview I heard. In the business he runs with thousands of employees, he said nearly always chooses to use a consensus-building kind of stewardship approach — and the effects on business are remarkable. Listen to him here with Amiel Handelsman.

A bit about me: My work is about organizational health and development, preventing conflict and/or managing it, and professional development coaching for individuals and teams. In this winter blog series I am exploring practical moves we can make to give ourselves and each other permission to keep learning. I focus on government because that’s where I do most of my work – yet these approaches are relevant across sectors. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and please sign up to receive my monthly posts in your inbox by typing in your email address here.

 

Which Parts of Your Work Are Ready to Burn?

By Nedra Chandler, 4-minute read

There is an end to everything, to good things as well. –attributed to Chaucer, probably about 1374

In every situation where humans are working with other humans there comes a time when the work that is being done becomes stale, overwrought, or otherwise finished.

Methods or strategies lose their edge after a while. Structures need to be torn down, rebuilt or otherwise transformed.  It takes great courage to let go of some of these things to the compost heap, the burn pile.

I was recently working with a large intergovernmental partnership, one with a complex agenda of almost 6 dozen projects — each of which was vying for limited staff and funding resources.  They needed to trim their burgeoning portfolio of projects back, but how?  They wanted to take a hard look at their big spreadsheet of a list and sort them out.  It wasn’t easy.

There are lots of ways to approach a task like this.  One obvious way is to slog through them one by one, take a power vote of some kind on each one, and move on.  But does it have to go like that?  Is there another way to move through a useful process that’s less of a grim death march?

There is.  It starts by adjusting your approach to take a learner’s stance, to dare to look with curiosity at the whole picture, not separating the do-ers from the deciders.

Letting go of structures and particular activites or tasks is made harder by our human tendencies to avoid looking at the big picture. This is true especially when the project portfolio has grown to a size and complexity from which most mere mortals would run and hide.

Are there projects in the list that are demanding ongoing investment even though they may no longer be delivering what you hoped for or now require?  Maybe these are the ones that need to go to the compost heap in order to free up resources to enable some other activities that are  more effective.

Last month, in Permission to Learn, I said I’d offer you at least one practical move you could make to get yourself into a “learner’s stance.”

In that November post I mentioned a lot of agency leaders and teams are finding themselves in “pile on and pedal harder” as they are increasingly overwhelmed with demands.

Those teams report feeling chronically overextended, less resilient. Yet still, so many of us resist letting go of anything. Sound familiar?

 “Let’s stay calm,” said a branch chief encouraging her staff in a similar situation in another part of the country as they moved through their own ecocycle mapping last fall. “There is victory in having the courage to look at it. If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. Awareness leads to conscious choices.”

What is an Ecocycle Map and How Can I Use One?

Ecocycle mapping is systems theory applied to your context, your projects, your relationships. You choose.

Picture an old growth forest or any natural system moving through the infinity loop from birth (see lower left) up the front loop of growth to maturity (upper right) then moving into creative destruction (lower left), then moving up the back loop toward renewal.

On either side of the model you have the scarcity trap on the left where things may be formed but stalled out maybe because they haven’t attracted the resources necessary to launch them. There you have the crowded bunch of saplings, each being stunted by the others in their scramble for moisture, nutrients, sun.

On the right is the rigidity trap where projects or investments slide that are requiring ongoing investment even though they are no longer delivering what is needed.  There are the barely-standing trees taking up space and sunshine, while holding on to resources that could be used elsewhere.

Any project or activity that is in either of these traps needs to be looked at deliberately.

Here’s my personal ode to the always-moving ecocycle dance: the facts of all life cycles/systems can seem existentially bleak and amazingly wonderous at the exact same time. Birth, growth, death, renewal.

Even the sun will die eventually. Rather than choose grim all the time though, maybe it’s challenging and enjoyable enough to just be fully present more often. I owe this full-body knowing partly to the eclipse of August 2017: standing on a ridge in Idaho watching it go dark and feeling the chill…

As I just heard one of my new heroes, Joanna Macy, say in an interview last month, “we’re here now. Let’s not make our love of the world dependent on whether we think the earth will last forever. That’s just a thought anyway. We’re here now.”

 

Apply the Wisdom of Ecosystems to Your Portfolio of Projects

To recap using different labels for the quadrants:

Birth is entrepreneurial, you’re growing it and shaping it.

Maturity is managerial, a bureaucratic stance in the best sense of that word, managing effectively, producing quality results (nice ripe tomatoes!)

In creative destruction, you’re taking a heretical stance – burn it, put it into the compost, you get the picture.

Then, moving up the back loop of renewal, you’re linking people and ideas together networking into the next initiative.

Confused? Bravo!

Looking at all the things we’ve committed to is messy. If you feel irritable, afraid, confused, overwhelmed: bravo! You are bravely taking a learner’s stance.

Why? I see so many of you leading and dealing with what’s real in these weird times. In the face of disheartening evidence of so much extra bleakness in our American government and broader ecosystems, we’re still here now. You are somehow making room for the commitments that matter most.

Successfully confronting difficult times, and navigating increasingly complex and conflictual partnerships requires taking a learner’s stance.

I heard from one of the leaders who is part of that aforementioned intergovernmental partnership as she was looking at the results of the ecocycle map the group created together:

“It’s going to be hard to keep adjusting our view of the big picture as things keep changing…yet by looking at it all together and having some conversations we had been avoiding, we saw our choices better, and left just a little less overwhelmed…”

Here’s a standing ovation for all of you willing to keep wading into the mess day to day, week to week. Thank you for daring to look and make even one more doable move, and then another, in the direction you know is right for now.

Here is encouragement to stick with the mess, all the ways you keep focusing on what is working, and have the patience to generate clarity. Together.

A bit about me: I work with government clients as partners in professional and team development, navigating conflict and learning opportunities of all kinds. For the past several years I’ve been writing on this theme of how our collective trust in government is linked to trust in ourselves. In the coming few months in I am continuing to write about practical moves we can make to give ourselves and each other permission to keep learning. I focus on the government space because that’s where we do most of our work. Find me and my long-time work mates at http://www.triangleassociates.com and/or sign up to receive my monthly posts into your inbox on the right side of the page at Cadence.

Extra fun for process mavens:

Ecocycle is one of many micro, ‘learner stance’ moves. Go see 30+ more of them on the free app on your smartphone called Liberating Structures. These are immediately useable by novices and process experts alike.

If you have 15 minutes to do a personal ecosystem map for your personal life see instructions below. If you have 60-90 minutes you can effectively do this with your group and your whole shared portfolio.

Map Your Stuff: 5 personal ecocycle steps. Ready to make your own ecocycle map now?

  1. Choose activities OR relationships for the first one. Don’t try to map both at the same time.
  2. Make a list of all the activities you are spending your time on now. I suggest you set your timer for no more than 10-15 minutes as a way to avoid overthinking.
  3. Done? Set your numbered list aside briefly while you draw your version of the ecocycle as above, on a sheet of paper.
  4. Place each of your numbered activities where you decide it is now. Is it right in the middle of one of the 4 quadrants? Is it moving up the front or back loop? Is it right inside the scarcity or rigidity trap on either side of the infinity loop?
  5. Step back and look at the big picture of all your activities as you placed them in this first round. Ask: are the items distributed across the different phases of ecocycle or clumped up in one or two of the quadrants? What’s happening? What do you see? So, what does it mean to you? Now what do you choose to do next with these insights? Things shift, move and change fast sometimes. Don’t hesitate to do this repeatedly and often. Quarterly?

final quote on endings:

I’m not trying to make this a downer, understand. I mean, I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, next to cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.
― William GoldmanThe Princess Bride