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Leadership Development Is An Evolving Process

In both my professional and volunteer work the question of how to develop leadership skills often is one of the first topics that is suggested for discussion.

The first important idea about developing leadership skills is that it is an ongoing process. The need to continue to develop skills and be open to adapting what we learn over time is something that needs to be embedded in all leadership development learning opportunities.

Developing leadership and communication skills is a combination of learning about emotional intelligence, situational leadership, different aspects of communication methods, and trying out what you learn.


Key Concepts Are Creative


Learn By Discussing What You Read.

Look for resources that focus on leadership and communication and absorb what you learn. Create your own diverse collection of books, articles, seminars, webinars, and mentors. Be aware of when you may be narrowing your collection into one stream and purposely expand this.

Be curious about why different perspectives and styles may or may not work in different situations. Be creative when developing solutions.

Recognize that being a role model also means being open to including the ideas of the people you lead and where possible incorporating those ideas into practice. Too often new leaders learn a fixed set of rules about how to be a role model that becomes rigid and counter productive over time. Be open to asking others for their observations of your effectiveness over time.

Develop multiple problem solving skills that leave room for flexibility and adaptability to change.

Engage in discussions with other people about what you read and learn and listen carefully for their perspective on the material.

Seek out people whose leadership style you admire and learn from their experience. Avoid idolizing and copying someone else’s leadership style. Develop your unique style and apply what you learn from others in ways that make sense in the situation you are responsible for at any given time.

Diversity is important but it requires a focus on inclusion in order to see the benefits of truly respecting the value of diversity.

You will gain a broader understanding of how people think and decipher information when you make a point of seeking diverse opinions and ideas. This will serve you well over time.





Leadership Q & A

ProblemSolutionID-10082460I respond to many questions about leadership in different forums and the questions and answers below are representative of many of the questions asked.

Q. How do I gain leadership qualities?

KW. Leadership and communication skills evolve over time and we only develop options by learning, discussing and using what we learn.

Developing leadership and communication skills is a combination of learning about emotional intelligence, situational leadership, different aspects of communication methods and practicing what you learn.

  • Create a reading list on different perspectives on leadership and different methods of communication then set out to read them and discuss what you are reading with others.
  • Look for resources (books, articles, seminars, webinars) that focus on leadership and communication and absorb what you learn.
  • Be curious about why different perspectives and styles may or may not work in different situations.
  • Engage in discussions with other people about what you read and learn and listen carefully for their perspective on the material.
  • Seek out people whose leadership style you admire and learn from their experience.
  • You will gain a broader understanding of how people think and decipher information when you make a point of seeking diverse opinions and ideas. This will serve you well over time.


Q. What is the most important thing you learned about leadership?Image003

KW. There isn’t one thing that stands out as the most important. Learning about leadership has been an ongoing process. Maybe that is the answer, that there isn’t an endpoint.

My leadership priorities are:

  1. Values matter. Know what yours are and test them for sustainability.
  2. Resilience is non-negotiable. Be aware of what you need to do to keep yours intact and rebuild when depleted.
  3. Emotional Intelligence will be your best friend. Take the time and effort to strengthen yours.
  4. One size does not fit all. Remembering this fact is one way to improve communication skills.


Q. How do you convince a prospective employer to hire you in a leadership role when you don’t have leadership experience?

KW. It can be difficult to convince a prospective employer that doesn’t know much about us that we can deploy leadership skills when we haven’t the experience to support this. It is sometimes easier to do this when we already work in an organization and have proven ourselves and then apply for leadership roles in the organization.

New leaders in any organization have a steep learning curve and when coming into a leadership role from the outside this curve becomes steeper. Without experience to demonstrate that you have proven leadership skills your ability to present yourself as capable becomes critical.

What you can do right now is to look back over everything you have done so far in your education, work experience and volunteer work experience and identify the skills you used that relate to leadership. Ask people who worked with you and know you fairly well if they can identify what you have done that demonstrates leadership skills and add that to your own list. Then formulate how this can be implemented into a new environment and how you know those skills will work in the new environment. At the same time you are listing your developed skills you must also identify your development needs. What leadership skills have you used but can be strengthened? What leadership skills have you not used yet and what will you start doing now to develop those skills? All effective leaders are constantly in learning mode and this is a useful approach to adopt for yourself.

Be absolutely sure this is what you want to do if you obtain a leadership role with a prospective employer and that you are prepared to learn what you need to in order to be successful.


Q. Should I focus my attention more on authentic leadership rather than team leadership?

KW. Focus on developing leadership skills that apply regardless of what context you use them in.

Don’t get distracted by marketed theories on leadership.

There are skills that make good leadership possible and that is where you pay attention.

Understanding theories may be helpful in getting an overall sense of how leadership might show up in different situations but you don’t become a theory-you become a leader by having the appropriate skills.


Q. How important is training for ‘bottom tier’ employees?


KW. The question to ask about training is who needs what and why, then how is the best way to accomplish it. Rather than segregating employees by ‘tiers’ consider that succession planning requires that you identify and close gaps in available skills and that regardless of where in the organization en employee is right now they often have or are developing skills they may not be using in their current role. Peter Senge offers an interesting point of view on this that is worth reading.

Regardless of where in the organization one works training matters:

  • Quality of work output
  • Safety of co-workers and customers
  • Upgrade or expand skills to meet changing technology
  • Having a prepared workforce for succession needs
  • Ensuring a common understanding of policies and practices
  • Error reduction.


Q. With so many successful leadership books on the market why are so many companies poorly managed?

KW. Successful leadership books become successful through smart marketing efforts more than anything else.

Leaders or managers who run companies don’t necessarily read those books.

They may read them but disagree with them.

They may read them but not know how to apply what they read.

Books are necessarily somewhat generic in the advice. Companies are anything but therefore a book is not a source of leadership development beyond some basic ideas.


Q. Why do we talk about culture fit while recruiting people? Why does culture fit matter?

PeopleDialogueBubblesKW. Culture exists and is driven at different levels in any organization. Managers do drive culture to a significant degree. However, in each team a sub-culture exists which is essentially defined as “the way we do things around here” and this sub-culture should be recognized but not assumed to be the defining culture of the whole organization.

Changing a culture is quite challenging and can not happen in isolation or through one person. Culture change happens in phases and is partly caused by external factors such as technology advancements, globalization and shifting market realities. Culture change can be partly caused by internal factors as well. For example, a CEO may sees the need for change for the survival of the organization. Mergers and Acquisitions significantly alter cultures as well.

There are many different ways that cultures begin to shift and change and many are not obvious but nevertheless drive change.

Acknowledge that it takes collaboration, co-operation, communication and patience in abundance to effect sustainable change. Understand that the more flexibility you build into an organization the better able the organization is to adapt as needed and remain sustainable.

  • Can one person change the atmosphere in a team for a period of time? Yes.
  • Can one person effect true culture change in an organization in isolation? No.


Q. As an introvert, how do I become more inspiring to others?

KW. Some of these tips apply to people with a preference for extraversion as well.

  • Have a clear vision and be able to articulate it clearly.
  • Listen well and check assumptions.
  • Observe carefully.
  • Care about others as much as you care about results.
  • Offer the opportunity to others to learn and grow beyond their roles and know when this is appropriate and they are ready.
  • Learn to ask questions that inspire others to think, share, innovate, and create.
  • Be clear when you need quiet alone time to renew your energy and be clear when you are fully available to listen or to respond to others. Remind yourself that in the absence of information from you other people will assume based on guesswork.
  • Let others know who you are in regards to your communication style so that they can communicate with you more effectively and understand what to expect from you.
  • And be clear what you mean by ‘introvert’-there are some weird and misleading definitions floating around about what being an introvert means. You do have to define this for others to avoid assumptions.


Q. I am going from not having a leadership role to leading a team of 8 people, how do I do this?

KW. Incorporate reading about leadership and management as part of your ongoing learning process.


Managers, whether new or experienced benefit from learning how and when to use a coaching approach and when it is more effective to use other leadership styles. This is often referred to as ‘situational leadership’ as it helps to manage various challenges that arise for all leaders.

  1. Listen more. Talk less.
  2. Seek feedback from team members.
  3. Asking team members what they want/need from the team leader in order to do well at their jobs.
  4. Admit when you don’t have the answer and what you will do to get the answer.
  5. Admit when you make a mistake and what you will do to correct it.
  6. Clear, concise, informative, 360 communication is key.
  7. Be clear what your goals/mandate/vision is for the team.
  8. Be open and upfront about your expectations of team members and what team members can expect from your leadership.
  9. Act on performance issues quickly, fairly, compassionately, appropriately, and ensure clarity on what the issue is rather than what your perception may be.
  10. Offer positive feedback quickly, fairly, appropriately, regularly.
  11. Find a mentor and use the mentor wisely with well thought out questions.

Books, articles and blogs by any of the following authors will set you on the right track:

  • Daniel Goleman and Travis Bradberry-Emotional Intelligence.
  • Marshall Goldsmith-Coaching and Management.
  • Peter Senge-learning and team dynamics.

Really Important Books To Read:

Truly understanding the idea of systems in an organizational setting will make a significant difference to how well you are able to apply what you learn about leadership.

  1. The Art of Systems Thinking-O’Connor/McDermott (1997) but still relevant information.
  2. Seeing Systems, The Art of Unlocking Organizational Life-Barry Oshry



Expectations, Accountability & Change-Coaching Notes

Expectations & Accountability 

The rise of the use of 360 reviews, emotional intelligence coaching and values based organizational cultures is likely not surprising to most executive coaches and leadership skills trainers. In our work we often encounter some common themes around communication and expectations that may come wrapped in a story that starts with lack of accountability in others.

Unspoken or unclear expectations are an all too common communication failure that derails managers at any level. The discord created when assumptions are made but not verified leads to fractured teamwork and haphazard collaboration. This derailment happens to managers that are new to the role and managers with a successful track record. It often occurs because a set of assumptions is in play that is not effectively vetted.

These assumptions generally are based on the idea that a core set of skills is already well developed or the manager would not be in the role. It also assumes that the success a manager may have had in a different organization or a different role in the same organization is going to be equally effective in the new role or organization. This can also be a factor in problematic management when a manager is required to adapt to a changing industry or technological landscape with the same set of skills that worked in the past.

Expectations and Change

  1. Ensure expectations are clear– It doesn’t matter how much experience someone has or how long they have been in a particular role. Take the time to clarify the goal and objectives.
  2. State, discuss, and agree–clearly define the standard and the measurements by which performance is assessed. Just stating the expectations isn’t enough and this is the most common error I encounter in my coaching practice when a manager is telling the stories about what frustrates them in others performance. People define things differently and we don’t know what that is until we have the discussion that unearths the difference.
  3. Evaluate-Many managers also believe themselves to be clear communicators, they are concise, precise and say what they think needs to be said. Their communication is generally one-way. They accept a nodding head, a ‘yes, okay’, or the employee repeating verbatim what they said, as an indication that the employee has the same understanding as they do.Too often, this isn’t an accurate assessment of understanding.
  4. Build A Bridge- changing expectations may lead to confusion and erratic performance. People trust what they understand. They understand what aligns with their previous experience. Start there, where their previous experience has them, then link the new with the old as a way to bridge understanding. Be patient.
  5. Change-When you are implementing or requiring change, signal first what the intention is, a clear rationale, and a measurable standard. Managers sometimes balk at the idea of providing a rationale for the expectations they require mistaking justification for rationale. You are not justifying expectations. You are providing the employee with a way to better understand what they are required to do with some guidance on how they are expected to do this.
  6. Check your Bias-we all have them. The difference between emotionally intelligent leaders and reactive leaders is that emotionally intelligent leaders accept that they do have specific biases and are able to recognize when those biases may be driving their decision making or affecting their performance. Putting your bias in its place is a key factor in developing leadership skills that others can trust. Not easy but it is doable.



Why Do We Want To Focus on Strengths? Is That Missing The Point?

Leaders who are recognized as getting the best results from those around them are referred to as Resonant Leaders in Emotional Intelligence language. Increasingly we are seeing evidence that focusing on the strengths of others garners better results in terms of real and sustainable change than looking to ‘fix’ perceived weaknesses.

Think about every performance review you have experienced, whether in your education or work worlds, and ask yourself what information stands out for you?P1020352

How did you feel after one of the reviews that mostly recognized the good stuff you accomplished but had one area to ‘improve’ for the next review period? The nature of almost every performance review system I have seen in my experience has that requirement to note an area for improvement.

Now, of everything that was written and discussed during your reviews, what became the thing you focused on? What left you with that feeling that you might never quite get ‘there’, wherever there may be? What detracted from the glow of a job well done in the days following that review? When I ask clients, friends and colleagues this question, inevitably it is the negative, need to fix this, data point that comes to mind. It evokes frustration, a sense of being unfairly evaluated, and a lingering sense that one might never reach their career goals. Alternatively it can also leave one feeling that it is the leader who just doesn’t recognize good performance or is incapable of sharing positive recognition. This applies in our lives outside of work and school as well so the implications are significant.


Focus on Strengths

If the research suggesting that negative emotions are stronger than positive emotions is accurate, and I believe it is, then it makes sense that we over emphasize the positive to balance the scales.  Yet, if one ‘improvement’ note on an otherwise positive review can overshadow the strengths recognized, how will a leader be a resonant leader, encourage sustainable change and still ensure they are reducing performance concerns? Sounds like a dilemma stated that way but like any such situation most of us can think of leaders in our lives that managed it.

Will you join me in looking at ways to create our own Resonant Leadership, find sustainable ways to create change we want to create, and begin to spend more time recognizing the strengths of others and less on the elusive ‘fix’?

Two questions related to this idea, one personal and one community based:

  1. How might we handle performance issues without losing the positive to the negative?
  2. What do we need to consider in the Digital Era, when ‘outing’ the negative can be both positive and negative?

EQ-I For You & Me

In July we looked at learning from this perspective: “What if you agreed to only take on learning something new if you identify it as something that you are genuinely curious about and that has not drawn you in by suggesting you have a flaw to fix? What if you paid attention to how great you already are and found new energy?”

Emotional Intelligence is something I have been genuinely curious about for a long time now and this summer I decided that it was time to add the EQ-i certification both to satisfy my own curiosity and to offer this assessment choice to my clients.I believe that adding the EQ-i to our services is very beneficial for individuals and teams in understanding how best to achieve our goals.

I am excited to be able to offer this to my clients both existing and new in late September 2014.

What are you considering for your new learning now? Is it true to the idea that it fits something you are genuinely curious about?

You are already great!


You Are Already Great!

The myth of the ‘quick-fix’ offerings can be left behind so we use our energy to maximize our capabilities.

Why we are drawn to these programs, articles and books?

What happens when we repeatedly indulge in this type of activity?

Click-bait, the titles designed to draw us in, often succeed even when we know the content is unlikely to live up to the title. Many digital social sites now resemble a cyclone of self-help mantras offering a quick fix to whatever we think we need. Many of these posts are designed to suggest that we have flaws we don’t even know about and others zero in on perceived problems with the suggestion that most of us are operating at sub-optimal levels.

Life-long learning is very beneficial to resilience and to helping us achieve what we want in life. However, this preponderance of quick fix, self-help information heavily trafficked with click-bait titles may be counter-productive to those goals.

Do you remember what it feels like to learn something new that created a sense of excitement for you? When we seek knowledge or help from the perspective of being excited about adding something new to our lives we gain benefits in many ways. When we seek knowledge or help because we believe we are not enough we tend to reduce the benefit gained. This is because we are using energy focused on what we are not rather than maximizing the truly great abilities we already have. Focussing on our existing skills and abilities helps us use our energy wisely and to focus on the priorities that matter.

What if you agreed to only take on learning something new if you identify it as something that you are genuinely curious about and that has not drawn you in by suggesting you have a flaw to fix? What if you paid attention to how great you already are and found new energy?




Focus On Just How Great You Are!

Evolve picLinkedIn feels like a one-stop ‘self-help’ station lately. So many, “do this, don’t do this, why we do this” articles. I am thinking about a “we are pretty great just the way we are” post for this week. What do you think-does that sound like a good way to start the summer season? Our personal development is a good thing, it helps us in many aspects of our lives and comes about through different methods. Sometimes, we need to take a break from it all and simply enjoy how great we really are already.

Let’s take a look at just how great we already are and how focusing on our winning ways can help us learn more effectively.

What if you only focused on what is great about you and the people you interact with for the next week or month? Appreciating what we are already capable of, how well we manage our lives, participate in our communities and in general be a pretty amazing human is an important aspect of life.

These days we see plenty of prompts to ‘detox’ from technology, ‘detox’ our diets, and ‘detox’ our relationships. All this ‘detox’ advice could leave us feeling a little like we will never quite measure up. How about a ‘detox’ from negativity, from the relentless pursuit of perfection, from the stress of being surrounded by messages that suggest we are so flawed we must stay on the treadmill of ‘detox and improvement’? We can chat more about the idea of developing through a more positive and sustainable lens in future posts, today is all about recognizing how much we have already achieved.

Everyday in my work and in my community I meet really great people who contribute so much to my own capabilities and enjoyment of life. When I think about all the interactions that made a long lasting, measurable difference it is always when the focus is on the strengths each person brings and shares to any effort. In Flourish [2011, fP, A Division of Simon & Schuster], Martin Seligman offers insight into why focusing on character strengths help us bring “pleasure, engagement and meaning” to our lives. While we may not want or need to follow the prescribed method in the book simply agreeing to spend time focussing on our own and others strengths offers us the opportunity to explore what might happen.

Rather than an inventory of what we need to ‘improve’ for the summer season maybe we could do an inventory of what we are really good at. For several years I assisted people in creating resumes for job applications on a volunteer basis. When I think back to some of the conversations it still resonates with me how difficult many of us find it to speak about what we do well and what, about our interactions with others, is positive. The seemingly endless articles on sites such as LinkedIn telling us how we get so much wrong doesn’t really help us get more comfortable with seeing our strengths either.

Linda Chu, from Out of Chaos http://www.outofchaos.ca reminds her clients that saying ‘yes’ to something means saying ‘no’ to something else in her presentation Focussing on What Matters Most, how to get more out of your time, touching on an area many struggle with. I believe that if we are able to more often focus on our strengths that we may find the yes/no dilemma may start to become less of a struggle.

There is a significant if oft overlooked difference between learning in a developmental process and learning as a quick fix or self-help process. The former can leave you feeling more confident, resilient and satisfied in life. The latter can create a sense of ongoing anxiety, increase stress levels and leave us thinking that perhaps we are never going to quite be enough.

Will you join me this Summer in recognizing the positives in who we are and the positives in what others bring to our own enjoyment of life? Can we focus there for a while and see what happens? ID-10046941


News For 2014-You Want To Read This!

Today’s post is really about some changes and updates to the Evolve Executive Coaching services and affiliations. In the last quarter of 2013 I thought very deeply about what Evolve Executive Coaching will accomplish in the next several years and this led to the new items I am sharing today.

First, you will notice that our services pages have changed, some services are no longer offered [short term coaching] and a new retainer option has been added. Our three, four and five month contracts offer various options to our clients so be sure to ask about those if you are testing the waters of coaching. Our new retainer packages also have various options within them which allows customization including the ability to roll Evolve Solutions programs into a retainer package. I am confident these changes will offer better results for our clients as well as cost effective solutions. I am very excited to announce these changes.
Second, Evolve Executive Coaching has joined the Vancouver Board of Trade and very much look forward to the benefits to my clients, my own learning opportunities and my business. The Vancouver Board of Trade has also been busy adding new events and opportunities for members over the past few years and I can already tell you it is improving my ability to offer my clients better options!
Third, Evolve Executive Coaching officially joined Denovati Solutions Network as a solutions provider. I personally have been involved with Denovati since it’s early days, gradually evolving from a LinkedIn connection to today’s fully fledged Digital Era service provider. The development of this business has been a carefully thought out process and I am very pleased to be able to include Evolve Executive Coaching as a solutions provider and as an occasional contributor to the blog and as a volunteer for other aspects of the business. Do yourself and your organization a favour and check out the value of the Denovati Group today.
I look forward to working with existing clients and new clients this year with our new service offerings and new affiliations. Your results are my goals.

Choosing An Executive Coach

This article by John Reed, Ph.D, MBA was in this months Caliber Leadership Systems newsletter. I am posting it here as it offers some great criteria to consider when you want to find the right Executive Coach for your needs.



Coaching and The Digital Era-Part Three

What We Debate

In “Coaching and The Digital Era, Part One and Two, we discussed some thoughts on how executive coaches can prepare their clients for the Digital Era. In this last of the series we take a look at competencies and skills.

Determining what competencies and skills may need to be added or further developed for people in leadership roles to be successful in the Digital Era has been a topic of debate for several years now. The responses from various sources range from “no change necessary” to moving abilities higher on the scale of importance to leadership success. Some seem obvious, such as communication skills being further developed and conflict management skills moving higher in importance. Some seem counter productive, such as “ability to do extreme multitasking” and others suggest that one can be a great leader in the Digital Era without being technical or needing a degree in computer science. Another line of thought stated that a Digital Era leader would need to know which of the digital strategies and tools are relevant to their business model.

What We Know-Act Now

We need to increase our awareness and skills, while being able to appropriately filter information. Ultimately it may be the ability to delegate, to push responsibility, accountability and decision-making further out in the organization. How quickly this happens will depend on the current culture and the willingness of the senior decision makers to commit to the change.

Preparing For The Future

What are the implications for coaches in all of this? We need to best serve our clients by focusing on the skills that will carry them through most situations and remain resilient. Creating a framework for behavioural and interpersonal skill development that can be customized according to a clients need is perhaps more helpful than working with a set product or method. A set product or method can be helpful at certain times to quickly resolve some immediate issues. For long-term benefit pay attention to what this client needs for the future. Products and methods eventually saturate the market and lose their effectiveness as a competitive advantage. Flexible skill development offers agility, adaptability, alignment and laughability [Eileen McDargh defines resilience this way] and resilience is both an individual and organizational imperative.

Is Resilience That Important?

Yes! Resilience is important as it is widely recognized as being critical to remaining able to handle change. One note from working and researching in the change field for a long time is that people transition through change at different speeds and often may appear to move to new beginnings. Then suddenly slide back to the neutral zone or to the behaviours prior to the change. This may be because more change happens when they are still figuring out how to handle existing change. The effort required to learn something new or the glitches that come along with a new system or process is frustrating and demotivating. Additionally, the influence of those around us affects how we view the current state. A state of confusion, feeling anxious, unsure and frustrated can only be tolerated for so long. The stronger our resilience, the better able we are to handle what comes along.

Filters and Focus

Connecting the dots between coaching, technology, and leadership asks that we look beyond the obvious, that we look outside a narrow focus of attention, but that we do so using appropriate filters and the ability to know when to move ahead given the information on hand. Connecting the dots in general helps us look forward to prepare for what will challenge us next, for the opportunities that may not be obvious right now, and as a coach, to help us offer longer term benefits to our clients. Focus on what will create the longest lasting results, the ripple effect, rather than the quick fix. Your clients deserve this and so do you as a coach.

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