Questions about friendship, parenting, and anxiety [new post]

Last week, I shared questions I’ve been wrestling/playing with as I coach executives, consult to organizations, and consider my impact on the larger world.

This week, I share questions I’m exploring in three other domains: friendship, parenting, and anxiety.

Friendship. What makes a friendship worth pursuing, and how can I recognize the presence or absence of these conditions?

Life offers a big spectrum of relationships. Between casual acquaintances on one end and best friends on the other is a wide variety of ways of relating. Since I was a kid, I’ve had at least one best friend and a variety of buddies. These friendships have offered me companionship, joy, learning, and solace—and occasionally disappointment and pain. In recent years, I’ve been noticing what makes a friendship worth pursuing or sustaining and how to recognize when these conditions are present or missing.

With this clarity has come greater boldness. I’ve started speaking up about what I need in friendship and to a lesser extent what I can offer. I’ve thanked some friends for what I appreciate about our friendship and told others what is lacking. These are hard things to describe, and society provides few teachings or role models, so I stumble along. I tend to overestimate others’ awareness of my needs and underestimate the level of specificity I need to give them. For each friend who has appreciated my candor and vulnerability is another who’s felt confused or hurt. All of these friends are men, so that adds another wrinkle. For many men, friendship is something you do after you’ve finished everything else, if at all. We are stumbling along together.

Parenting. What nourishments do my children need right now, and what can I do to provide them?

My five-year-old son, because of his stage of development, needs loving touch, a safe environment for sensory exploration, and a sense of rightful place. He is a snuggly little guy, so the loving touch comes easily. Due to his temperament and Montessori education, he’s good at playing on his own and with others, and takes delight in kinesthetic explorations.

Rightful place is a bit harder to provide. What boundaries, created with love and held with power, will help him feel like he is right where he belongs? How can I be “the mountain” for him, equal parts compassionate and firm?  Asking these questions matters most at the very moments I’m least likely to consider them: when he’s complaining I’ve made his oatmeal the wrong way, clamoring to go outside when it’s time for bed, or angry at his brother, my wife, or me.

My first instinct at these times is to do whatever most quickly quells the disturbance and pacifies the belligerent. These quick fixes may or may not create a short-term solution, but they are unlikely to foster his long-term development. So I catch myself, take a breath, and ask: what does he need right now?

Anxiety. Who am I when I’m not having anxious thoughts?

It’s no secret that my peers and I have our own “stuff.” Even the most mature leadership coaches have blind spots that, if unilluminated, can erode their clients’ trust in them and their ability to grow.  Even the most seasoned consultants have idiosyncrasies that, if unattended, can thwart their best designed interventions.

Earlier in my career, I assumed that if I hid my flaws from clients, they would trust me more. Needless to say, that didn’t work out well. It’s hard to trust someone who is hiding themselves from you, especially in a field like leadership development.

These days, I don’t spend a lot of time with leaders talking about myself, but I also don’t avoid it. One thing that I’ve begun speaking about is my own anxiety. No, I don’t tell long stories about my childhood or give detailed descriptions of how my mind catastrophizes. But I do mention, particularly when helping people understand themselves through the Enneagram, that my mind reflexively imagines worst case scenarios (Type Six), and that it takes presence and practice to tame this habit. On rarer occasions I reveal that I take medicine for anxiety; I do this to destigmatize mental illness.

My psychiatrist told me last year that of all of his patients, I’m the one he worries about the least. So he only needs to see me once a year. I told him that of all of his patients, I’m the one I worry about the most.

That’s the thing about anxiety—or any other condition or quality that can trip us up. When it is a subject of our awareness, when we cannot see it, it literally holds us in its grasp. Thus, we can see only what it lets us see, both about others and about ourselves. Nothing else.

What happens when anxiety becomes an object of my awareness, when I can recognize its presence, shape, and form? Instead of it holding me, I hold it. Who is this “I” that is big enough to hold anxiety?

That’s one heck of a fascinating question. I would tell you my latest answers, but I fear what you would think of them. 😉

 

Three questions on my mind today [new post]

It’s been over a month since I’ve shared a podcast episode or blog post. How are you doing? What questions are on your mind?

Here are three questions that I’ve been wrestling/playing with in different domains of my life:

Executive coaching. How can I support and challenge leaders to practice new conversations on the job?

For the past fifteen years, my work has been guided by a simple premise: all the leadership wisdom in the world matters little unless it shows up in how leaders speak and listen on the job.

How do you know you are a better leader? By shifting the conversations you have and quality of presence you bring to them.

The challenge is how to do this in organizations that devalue preparation, reflection, and feedback (three phases of what I call the “on-the-job practice cycle,” the fourth phase being action); with bosses who rarely had role models for this themselves; and in a culture that squeezes out the inner life.

It’s a big hairy challenge!

Here’s one experiment I’ve been inviting leaders to try:

  • Designate a specific meeting each day as a practice field. Mark it on your calendar.
  • Start that meeting by quickly grounding in the body.
  • Look for opportunities in that meeting to practice specific words, body movement, and breath.
  • Ask a trusted colleague to give you feedback shortly after the meeting about the specific actions you want them to observe. Ideally, ask them in advance so they are prepared.
  • Briefly reflect in writing after the meeting—or at the next brief break—about what happened and what you can learn from it.

What can I do to increase the frequency and quality of this practice? What visual, auditory or kinesthetic cues could help? Is there an iPhone app for this?

Organizational consulting. In working with an entire organization, where do my interventions have the greatest impact?

During my first ten professional years, I exclusively consulted. During the second ten years, I did mostly one-on-one executive coaching. The past few years have seen a mix of the two. I’ve worked with entire leadership teams, advised executives and HR about system-wide succession planning and leadership development, shadow coached teams in action, and simply hung around waiting for people to pull me over for a question or request.

I think of these less as services than as experiments in having impact.

Where is my time best spent—and who gets to decide this? How do I assess requests coming my way, and what guides me in making counteroffers and new offers? Since I have to make a living and like being respected, how do money and public identity play into all of this?

Public Calling. In the age of DJT (my abbreviation for the current U.S. president’s name), how might I redirect my energy toward a better global future?

I’ve made no secret of my opinion of the current President and the grave threat he brings each day he remains in office. A lot of my writing and podcasting has been devoted to this topic. And for years, I’ve felt dedicated to promoting clean energy, slowing global warming, and supporting community resilience. Yet with a few notable exceptions, these commitments have shown up more in my public voice than in my day-to-day client work, and my public participation itself has been sporadic and, by my assessment, of negligible impact.

So, looking at the next six months—and, beyond that, the next few years—what’s possible? How might these commitments find expression in my coaching and consulting? If I were to invest more time on my public voice, what forms might this take? How about a daily podcast devoted to high-quality interviews on topics of broad public interest (likely at the intersection of politics and leadership) to attract listeners and sponsors?

These are three questions on my mind today.

Next week: questions about three other domains: friendship, parenting, and presence

 

Executive coaches are normalizing a demagogue. It’s time to stop.


This will ruffle feathers.

The field in which I work, executive coaching, faces an identity crisis. We claim to stand for better leadership. It’s part of our core promise to clients. Yet we often get mired in mushy talk about style, treating people as one big horizontal typology. So we blind ourselves and others to what leadership is most deeply about: not how a person talks, but for whose benefit.

Unfortunately, the “style” view of leadership dominates the field. This blinds us to history: tyrants and demagogues have ruled human civilization for centuries. More importantly, by ignoring morality, we shirk our responsibility to clients and society by ignoring the tyrants and demagogues in our midst.

I know we can do better.

Let’s start with this year’s U.S. presidential race.

It’s not about “Feeler” versus “Doer”

Clinton is a “Feeler,” whereas Trump is a “Doer.” That’s the opinion of a seasoned executive coach quoted last year in Inc. “No style is better or worse than the others,” she says. “And Doers can be extremely effective leaders.”

Pause the tape. Is this the biggest distinction between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Feeler versus Doer. Is this what we want to say when given a public platform?

Really?

I glanced at this coach’s web site. Her team includes people I know and respect. Her company runs women’s leadership retreats. She undoubtedly is familiar with the history of men getting hired over better qualified women and the dangers of cruel, autocratic leaders of any sex. So, I’m curious: why did she choose to focus on differences in style? Perhaps she was quoted out of context. Or maybe she criticized Trump’s moral character, yet the writer chose to omit this.

Either way, I think this coach let herself be used to normalize a dangerous demagogue. Normalizing. That’s what happens when we place a person like Trump into soft, familiar categories. He’s not an egocentric, deceptive bully who aims to dominate and humiliate others. No, he’s a “Doer.” Just like many readers of Inc. Just like you and me.

Is this the best we can do as a profession? Have we spent so many hours staring at 360 assessment instruments that we’ve forgotten about human history and moral character?

I hope not.

It’s not about “Collaboration” versus “Inspiration”

Yet the signs continue to come. Yesterday, I got an email from friends of mine linking to an article they just published in a major business journal. It’s about the election. It focuses on…yes…style.

Ugh.

They draw a distinction between “collaboration” (Clinton) and “inspiration” (Trump). “An effective approach,” they write, “balances directive and inclusive traits.”

Friends, it’s six weeks before the election. A impulsive and vindictive man is in position to have his hands on the nuclear codes.  He will be talking with, and probably lobbing insults at, leaders of other nuclear weapons states. Is this all we leadership coaches have to say about Trump? That he is inspiring and directive?

Really?

When my friends see this post, I imagine what they’ll say: “Amiel, chill out. We’re not going to vote for him. And we noted his low score from PolitiFact for truthfulness. We’re just taking advantage of a great learning opportunity. People can’t stop talking about the election. Shouldn’t we shed some light on what it means?”

Yes, but not that meaning. The core leadership lessons here are about character, not style. Moral fiber, not verbal communication.

It’s about levels of moral development in a nuclear age

What is the fundamental difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? It’s not about horizontal typology–the way they roll. It’s about levels of vertical moral development: who they are willing and unwilling to roll over.

A quick primer on moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard first articulated the theory, and Carol Gilligan applied it to women. Both outline three broad levels of moral development. As kids, we are egocentric. Then, most of us progress to ethnocentric. We identify with people who are like us. Finally, a minority of us progress to worldcentric. We identify with everyone. The higher the level, the more people we include in our own self-interest. In other words, the very meaning of “self” broadens as we develop through these levels. To summarize:

  • Egocentrism is about me
  • Ethnocentrism is about us, i.e. my family, my tribe, my race, my country
  • Worldcentrism is about all of us, i.e. all families, tribes, races, and countries.

“Me” to “Us” to “All of us.”

Hillary Clinton is not just a smart, experienced, and hard-working person. She embodies a worldcentric view. This doesn’t mean she is without flaws. It means that she can do real leadership work in spite of her flaws. For example, she has a penchant for privacy/secrecy that has hardened over time. But did this keep her from succeeding as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State? Not if you listen to the views of Republicans when interviewed about her while she was in office. They gave her high marks on her performance and universally agreed on her capacity to listen.

Where would you put Donald Trump? He’s been widely criticized for racism, xenophobia, and misogyny, so he’s ethnocentric, right?

I don’t think so. Donald is all about Donald. He is egocentric. Most of his outrageous and offensive talk is for the sake of himself. His poll numbers. His adulation from crowds. And, God forbid, his victory in November.

Trump lives to dominate and humiliate others, even those, like Chris Christie, who are his allies. (Take note, Vladimir Putin). He can’t stop talking about himself: his buildings, his money, his crowds, even his genitals. He lies so often to appear dominant that many people no longer notice. He even interprets terrorist attacks through the lens of his own pride (“I predicted it! Now my poll numbers will go even higher.”)

Even the man’s charitable foundation isn’t about serving others. David Fahrenthold, a reporter for the Washington Post, has done tenacious reporting about the Trump Foundation. Every few days he turns up new evidence of Trump’s egocentric corruption. The latest: Trump used hundreds of thousands of “charitable” dollars to pay his legal bills.

So is Trump ethnocentric?

No, because he has not yet developed that far.

He is an egocentric demagogue in position to be Commander in Chief.

Nuclear weapons are not profit and loss statements

Why does this matter? Because the stakes are high.

The President’s most serious responsibility doesn’t involve profit and loss statements. It involves nuclear weapons. Losing your cool in diplomacy can have enormous implications. Forget the nuclear codes for a moment and consider the impact of words. What if the person Trump insults isn’t a reporter but the head of a nuclear weapons state?
Maybe my friends and the coach quoted in Inc weren’t thinking about this. We’ve gotten so used to seeing Trump on talk shows that we forget this is about the Oval Office.
The New Yorker just published a piece imagining Trump’s first term. Read it, and you’ll find all this talk about “style” to be trifling.

Take a smart stand

So, fellow leadership coaches, it’s time to stop describing Trump as a “Doer” who brings “Inspiration.” Please, no more of this tepid talk!

Instead, let’s take a stand that we are uniquely qualified to take. Let’s speak out as leadership coaches about the real difference between these candidates. How and where you do this is up to you. No need to sacrifice your career or friendships–most of the actions you can take will affect neither.

For an example, check out the open letter about the election that over 100 leadership coaches have signed. For many, it was a courageous act. One East Coast coach said, “NEVER would have done this via my professional network previously. MUST do so in this circumstance.”

We can do better.

Staycations, laughs, and previews

Hi everyone,

How is your week going? My wife and I are doing some staycationing this week. In honor of that, the podcast is on vacation this week.

A great chance to catch up on past episodes–or take a nap (highly advised!)

While I have your attention, I want to confirm the rumors: I am getting back into stand-up comedy this fall and will use it as a practice ground for a new public speaking offer. Stay tuned for more on that early next year.

Coming next on the podcast:

  • Geoff Bellman on The Consultants Calling
  • Charles Duhigg on his new book Smarter, Faster, Better
  • Charles Feltman on the four forms of trust
  • Ari Weinzweig on Zingerman’s Deli, servant leadership, and managing yourself

See you next week!

Episode 45: Deborah Helsing on Deliberately Developmental Organizations [The Amiel Show]

Let’s talk about how a DDO is different from CYA.

Most of us in the West know the term CYA. It means cover your, ahem, behind. As in: don’t give others any openings to attack you. Doing this is important to individual success in most organizations. So we watch what we say, hide our mistakes, and do whatever it takes to look good to the boss.

A DDO is different. DDO stands for deliberately developmental organization. It’s a place where you are expected to reveal your weaknesses and vulnerability rather than hide them. Really? Are you kidding me? Where giving and receiving feedback is part of everyday work and a path to personal growth and organizational success, rather than a dangerous landmine. Seriously? In a DDO, growing people is central rather than peripheral to the company’s strategy. Baloney. Your accountants must be high on something.

DDOs are different!

If you’re skeptical that it’s possible to work in a DDO, join the club.

If you’re curious what life is like in such a place, set aside an hour this week to listen to my conversation with Deborah Helsing.

Deborah is coauthor with Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Matthew Miller, and Andy Fleming of the brand-new book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. She also heads up Coach Learning Programs at Minds at Work, teaches at Harvard, and is a researcher at Way to Grow.

I’d never met Deb before this interview, yet we hit it off right away. Our conversation covered unusually powerful–and unusual–collective practices in three very different DDOs–and how these places contain relatively little CYA behavior.  (By the way, the term “CYA organization” doesn’t appear in the book, and I’m not sure it even exists).

Enjoy this provocative conversation!

Deb Helsing

Highlights

  • 9:30The second job nobody pays you for
  • 24:00 Getting feedback on your “backhand” at Boot Camp
  • 31:00 Talking Partners “meet, vent, and work” first thing every morning
  • 41:30 Using the Issues Log to express dissatisfaction—and respond
  • 45:15 The Dot Collector, a way to give real-time feedback to the person running a meeting
  • 51:00 DDOs feel really strange at first
  • 1:01:00 When employees aren’t a fit in a DDO
  • 1:03:30 A job for high school students unlike any other
  • 1:06:30 The pure business value of running a DDO

Listen to the Podcast

Tweet a Quote

In a typical organization, my second job is expending a lot of energy to look good.

–Deborah Helsing  Tweet this quote

 

Giving & receiving feedback is woven into the life of deliberately developmental organizations

–Deborah Helsing Tweet this quote

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Which Jedi Leadership Trick do you want to learn?

This week, instead of a podcast episode, I offer a penny for your thoughts.

Specifically about Jedi Leadership Tricks, the 5-10 minute podcast episodes where I give you the lowdown on a specific leadership skill, like Help Me Understand, The Triple Perspective Combo, Own Your Own Emotions, and Disown Others Emotions.

I’ll be recording a few for the summer and would like your input.

JediMindTrick

Which of these is most appealing to your palate?

  • Find Out What Your Boss Really Wants
  • Assess Your Political Capital
  • See People As They Really Are
  • Five Tips For Retaining Your Best People
  • How To Renegotiate Promises
  • How To Practice Optimism
  • Or…something else

Shoot me a quick email and let me know. Thanks!

p.s. Stay tuned for another interview next Tuesday