Yesterday I did my third in a series of five teleclasses about Appreciative Coaching. A friend and colleague put me onto vyew.com as a way to do webinars. Using this site with its free conference line has worked just fine until I had international participants. Static from the international connection in our second session made it impossible to hear each other. I went in search of a better option.
I assumed, as I have on each step of my learning journey about technology, that there was a neat solution–simple, elegant, obvious–but one I didn’t yet know about. I spent a week looking at free and fee-based conferencing sites on the internet. I talked to salespeople and customer service representatives. After a week of searching, a wonderful down-to-earth woman at the site I’m now using told me that there is no perfect solution to conferencing with international participants. Yesterday we used both the vyew.com site and a fee-based conferencing site (connection via internet and telephone conference line). The sound quality was much better and the connecting information was more complicated. In fact, I used the wrong number to connect initially!
Ultimately, the sound quality was much better. I suspect that some of this was true because my Peruvian colleagues were on mute for the entire hour. So, one more challenge of working into one’s older age. I assume that younger people know the solution to everything I have yet to discover. In a way it is a relief to know that that isn’t always true. In another way, I feel more mystified as to what I should know (about technology, mostly) and what isn’t yet known.
I sat listening to a creativity lecture yesterday and a light bulb lit up. I’ve been blogging–hesitantly, intermittently, kind of haphazardly–for a year or more. I grab a theme, then it kind of drifts off. I’m initially enthusiastic, and then not. As yesterday’s lecturer talked about finding what is real and true for each of us and then capitalizing on it, I knew almost immediately what is real and true for me now. But I have not wanted to write about it honestly.
I am 66. I work. I want to keep working until I either die or someone tells me it’s not a good idea for me to work any more. I still work mostly for pay and I might do more volunteer work someday, but not yet. Here’s what I do for work:
Teach in an online graduate program (both masters and doctoral level courses)
Coach managers, artists, and anyone in transition or transformation
Conduct webinars about my book Appreciative Coaching
Serve on the board of a religious community
Serve on the board of a local chapter of the International Coach Federation
Consult as part of a team to public agencies in San Francisco about leadership and conflict
I get paid to do all of these. Getting paid is part of what I want to write about, but not the deeply honest part. I want to write about my own challenges in continuing to work. Some of them are:
I get tired much more easily, and my brain is like glue when I’m tired.
My husband is 9 years older than I am. He has diabetes, a heart condition, and poor memory. Though this is mostly not a problem, sometimes it is.
I am taking medication for high blood pressure (hydochlorothyozide) and residual hot flashes (gabapentin/neurontin). Sometimes the medication makes me stupid (gabapentin).
I have arthritis in my feet which is mostly a nonstarter until I travel when my feet both look like basketballs and feel like I’m walking on nails inside my shoes.
I have carpal tunnel in my right hand, again mostly a nonstarter, except when I wake up in the morning and two fingers are numb, or I can’t hold a fountain pen because it is too heavy.
I want to be clear that I don’t want to write about my aches and pains. BO-RING. I do want to write about the joys and challenges of wanting to and continuing to work into my old age. There I wrote it. I will continue to write about this for as long as it is interesting to any audience. What do you think, audience?
I was losing my job as a training manager. The department for which I worked would be eliminated. I had to find another job inside the company or leave to find a job elsewhere. I found a job in another division that seemed to offer the opportunity to use my best talents. I got an interview with the head of the division. The first time I ever met Tim I knew that if I worked for him, my job and my relationship to a boss would be different. At the end of the interview, Tim asked, “Who needs to know that we’re talking about this job for you?”
He knew that our division was disappearing. Yet, he wanted anyone who would be affected by my leaving that division, or anyone else within the company who had offered me a job, to know that Tim and I were talking about my joining his division. Tim modeled political openness in a way I’d never seen before.
I took the job. I shared responsibility for a national salesforce with a product expert. My responsibility was to hire, train, motivate, and develop each of these sales people to sell the product. As part of my job, Tim asked me to make presentations to annual meetings of all of the division executives. After the first one, Tim came to my office. He complimented me on my presentation. Then he asked, “Could you help me be a better speaker?”
No boss I’d ever worked for had suggested that I did something they needed to do better. No boss had ever asked me for help in his or her development. Tim had no ego when it came to learning. He was an equal opportunity learner. If he couldn’t do something–strategy was his gift, not management–he either learned to do it, or hired someone to do it. He had hired and honored a very good manager to manage the day to day business of our division. Adam and Tim were of one mind. Adam ran the division. Tim developed and promoted the division.
Finally, when I l accepted another offer outside the company, only 14 months later, for what I hoped would be my dream job, Tim came to me and asked about the particulars of the job. When I answered his questions, he said, “You have to take this job. It is the job you should have had when your division collapsed.” No hard feelings. In fact, Tim and Adam gave me a going away party and lovely gift.
Tim was and is an appreciative leader. He always looked for the very best in everyone, including his competitors. He consistently sought ways to be a better and better leader. It has been no surprise to me that Tim has thrived within the company I left. He is the leader against whom I measure every other leader I meet.
I believe that true leadership is first chosen and then developed. Many people are chosen for and serve in leadership positions. In some cases, leadership is thrust upon the leader. Not all of these leaders have made their own thoughtful choice about whether and how they want to lead. They may want the trappings of leadership, or the perks. They may even want to lead, but have not considered what that means to them.
For those who have made a personal choice to lead, development opportunities such as courses, interactive experiential learning, coaching, and reading can be helpful and enhancing. The prerequisite for development is choice. This is probably true of all human change processes. I believe it is critical to leading. Do we ask whether a client or learner wants to lead? I think we assume that a good performer does want to lead and I think this assumption can waste our time (scholars, consultants, and coaches) and theirs. In order to be something we are not now, we need to want to journey to that place, to that way of being in the world.
If someone chooses to become a leader that decision should set off two paths of development. One is internal and requires self-reflection, action, self-monitoring and evaluation, and the other is external—action in the world—that others assess. These two directions are synergistic and require conversation. If the budding leader only self-assesses, she gets no real world confirmation that her growth is positive and expansive. If she only acts, she cannot build real self-reliance as all of her feedback comes from others (and can be affected by their own agendas). A coach can often facilitate this conversation between internal and external development.
Personal development of leadership capability requires self-evaluation, purposeful action, and “other” evaluation—from the organizational culture within which a leader develops. Coaching, because it can connect the internal and external development paths, is increasingly helpful to leaders who want to grow. Current research in both neuroscience and positive psychology indicates that the optimistic would-be leader develops more creativity, more connections with others, and more resilience on her path to leadership when positivity (strengths, successful experiences, and challenges overcome) is a focus of development.
Finally, a developing leader needs to coordinate his growth and development with others. Leadership is relational, not isolated. A leader cannot, and should not operate unilaterally. In my opinion, too much has been written about the leader, and not enough about leadership. The one elevates the individual; the other elevates the whole (organizational system). Although ego contributes significantly to a leader’s ability to learn, fail, try again, and ultimately succeed at various leadership strategies, it has no place in the actions of leadership. Leadership coordinates and integrates the ideas, feelings, strategies and experience of many good brains within and outside of any organization. Leadership requires individual leaders as facilitators, developers, and decision-makers, but is not limited to leaders. Leadership is equally dependent on colleagues, peers, followers, consultants, and customers. In the world in which we operate today, an increasingly borderless one, leadership requires the agreement and contributions of everyone, not just individual stars.
I just received my order of 4 new books on leadership. I was browsing through Lift when my adult daughter said to me, “Mom, you have so much experience and so much knowledge, how come you write about what other people think and not about what you think?” What a good question!
I’ve been in school my entire adult life (I’ve worked for pay at the same time, let me assure you). A few years ago I completed a doctorate. So now I really know that what I think is not nearly as important as what I can synthesize and integrate about what other people think. I used to know what I thought and used to write about what I thought and felt. But somehow in all this process of educating, I’ve lost my own voice.
I can tell you what David Cooperrider (business and positive psychology scholar) thinks or what Henri Nouwen (theologian) thinks, or what Barbara Frederickson (positive psychologist) thinks or even what Nora Ephron (screenwriter) thinks (she feels bad about her neck). But I can’t tell you for the life of me what I think.
I’ve never found a book about leadership, for instance, that is particularly helpful to those whose leadership it has been my role to enable. Yet, when asked what I think about leadership I instantly trot out various theories of leadership or, at best, what applications of those theories might work for real people. I’ve used every assessment that purports to help leaders challenge the process, execute strategy, or change their organizational culture. But I’ve never actually seen a leader who can do all of these things well (as the assessments seem to predict that one can).
My hope for this coming year (it’s September, after all, the beginning of the school year), is to find my authentic voice, my writing voice, what I think and what I find to be true about leadership and other things, even if I am an expert of one. So here begins Sara Orem’s leadership coaching blog.