In 2016 I had the joy of supporting Leadership Niagara as their Leadership Development Facilitator. Their CEO, at that time Molly Anderson, asked me to respond to a series of questions about leadership and executive coaching. Below are my responses, and some thoughts on how I offer Leadership through Difference.
What are three things that please you the most about your work with Leadership Niagara?
- A leadership to community development focus. I enjoy developing our current leaders to enhance the community and offer support for all Western New York.
- Partnership and learning through local experts.
- The diversity of industry leaders in the class. Every year LN supports 100’s of leaders within Western New York. The variety allows me the opportunity to hear, learn, understand and grow with every person we impact.
Can you point to one aspect of your approach that sets it apart from other leadership development strategies/tools?
Leadership is contextual interaction.
Many leadership development programs accept one person from an organization, and that person gains tools, experiences, and ideas. Sadly, very few of these individuals can apply what was learned when the return to their organization.
I believe in disrupting that model. Placing the focus on supporting the person to make an impact and implement the leadership development tools within the existing organizational systems. Developing the leader’s area of influence back at work enables the learning, application, and implementation to enhance the organization while developing leadership skills.
You work with a variety of leaders, what are a couple of the barriers to success?
- Time and the rapid pace of expected change within organizations.
- Many companies have moved to a leaner and flatter organizational structure. This shift has created more pressure plus work for managerial-leaders within organizations. This increased workload has removed some of the time for strategy and capacity building.
- Poorly built or defined organizational structure, accountability, and cross-functional role One of my favorite quotes “…organizational structure, accountability systems, and working relationships are somewhat boring. It is much more exciting to focus on influencing the hearts and minds of people (leadership?)…So the quest for magical charisma goes on. As a result of this thinking, the efforts at improving performance in today’s organizations are never going to be as successful as they could be.” – Stephen D. Clement
You think about leadership development in an unusual way – for some people, your process may seem counterintuitive – How do you help the leaders deal with that issue/opportunity?
My style is experiential, complex and purposely ambiguous. Ambiguous work environments are what managerial-leaders deal with regularly. My philosophy is that I know less than 1% of your day and work; you are the expert on your work. My job is to build a community that can offer support as needed.
The leaders themselves frame goals, objectives, and needs within their personal context of the organization, current need, and leadership capacity.
Some people do find that asking, “What do you need right now to find our time and work useful?” as a counterintuitive weird question coming from an organization development expert. I accept that and share with them that we are partners in this leadership process. We both will define common goals and work together to achieve the goal in the best way possible. Offering support, sharing tools, resources, and coaching as needed helps the leaders know we are in this together.
If I was a leader and successfully adopted what you share or develop to support my leadership role how would I have transitioned my learning into doing things differently / better (or more of) using what you have shared?
You would have a set of your own ‘Leadership-Skeleton-Keys’ that are useful in making progress on leadership challenges you are facing. With these keys, the change in perspective would be noticeable. In a meeting when the group began to go towards the direction of finding resistance and possibly falling into an asphyxiating doom loop, you would be able to use a Leadership-Skeleton-Key to listen, hold the group and make a slight shift to make progress.
For example, “Bill from finance will never go for this change. The whole finance team immediately rejects any idea we have.” You might use the Leadership-Skeleton-Key of Progress Focused Questioning;
- “What is it that we want from Bill in finance and what is it we want to have happen from this change?” and
- “When has Bill and the finance team worked well with us and what did we do to make that happen?” and
- “How could we design this change to be good enough for the team and those impacted? What about this is already going on? How did we do that?”
The Progress Focused Questioning would be a change in how you approach things and other people leading to your ability to make progress and be calmer while getting the work done. The idea is that you would be able to see someone else’s perspective and share your perspective in a way that is different enough to help change happen through your leadership capacity.
Some people are skeptical about leadership development programs. How do you help leaders overcome their skepticism?
I am very skeptical myself. To me, skepticism is a healthy reaction, and I would much rather have a group of ardent skeptics than pliant, apathetic people. My work begins with curiosity and reality testing. I ask questions and take people at their word to drive real actions of what they see, how they see it, and what will happen when what they see is absent – how will we recognize success when we see it, and when will we be done?
Small changes and more of what they are doing that is working becomes amplified. Change is inevitable, and while change is happening, they may not notice it until we reflect on what is working well and how it happened.
I highlight small successes, and changes and show them how they did what they did to move a team forward. Even the skeptics, while some remain skeptical, are making the changes happen.
What one story do you have about your time at that shows it has made a difference in someone’s leadership role?
Each month, between sessions, I send the class articles, tools, and a small fieldwork task. The field-field for April was completing ‘Action planning for short term visible goals.’ It is meant to build on what we have been co-constructed since January. One of the leaders sent me their field work with this response, “Thanks for all your work so far, I feel as though I am coming into my own in my current position from our meetings and this fieldwork.” That is leadership development … leaders coming into their own through a Leadership Development community of support.