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

 

Episode 10: Jeannie Coyle on Lou Gerstner, AmEx, and Developing Leaders through Experience [The Amiel Show]

What happens when CEOs of large organizations make leadership development a central part of their business strategy? What becomes possible when they personally spearhead this pivotal work rather than delegating it to HR or ignoring it entirely?

In episode 10 of The Amiel Show, talent strategist Jeannie Coyle and I talk about her experience at American Express in the early 1980s, helping Lou Gerstner (who later “saved IBM”) build a powerful pipeline for developing leaders internally. We discuss:

  • The unusual approach that Americal Express took of developing leaders through focused experiences rather than training and complex tools
  • Jeannie’s big risk that paid off: giving Gerstner a one-page summary of high potential leaders instead of the customary big binders
  • How Gerstner created a new culture involving honest, transparent conversations that had never happened before
  • How Gerstner took personal responsibility for developing leaders at the company
  • What it was like to be a woman in leadership at American Express in the early 1980s

Jeannie-Coyle

Listen to the Podcast

Politics Is Not Optional: The Case of the Weakened Boss

The three biggest mistakes I’ve made as an executive coach in the past decade have one thing in common: organizational politics. In each case, I failed to sufficiently prepare the leaders I was coaching for power moves at senior levels that could—and did—affect them.

Here’s the thing. Few people would call me naive. I’m biologically wired to see what could go wrong and warn people about it. I’m also fascinated by the darkest guides to power and influence (e.g. Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power). However, with these three leaders, I missed key dynamics to which they were also blind, and it ended up costing them.

In this post, I share one of those stories. My intent is two-fold: first, to demonstrate that in organizations politics is not optional; and, second, to illustrate the level of acumen required to navigate politics skillfully.

Deer wounded in road

Case 1: The Weakened Boss

Linda was a highly successful senior manager with an amazing network at her company. When I met her, she had recently been brought onto a senior team in order to introduce a new business model, one more suited to the radically new market dynamics. Many of her colleagues were not enthusiastic about this business model. Some, in fact, were bitterly opposed to it. They had earned their stripes and had success in the prior business model. What did this new person think she was doing trying to change things?