Your Leadership Shelf

Navigating the multiverse of leadership development

During the October 2019 Leadership Development workshop with SharpHeels career conference in Seattle, we talked about the need to calibrate our own leadership development efforts within the framework we have defined for ourselves as leaders.

Today, the range of contexts for "leading" is broad, but in terms of career management, we looked at three-

  1. Formal or Positional Leadership--within a role defined and scoped by the organization

  2. Influencer or Subject Guru--cued off of unique experience or tenure in a function, or area of expertise

  3. High Value Brand--known for personal mastery, extensive networked relationships, acknowledged "go-to" resource

 When I published my first book on leadership, Take Me To Your Leader, Taking The Lead In Our Lives, it was still the bricks-and-mortar distribution era. Just as the book was about to land in the bookstores, I remember walking through my local one and being profoundly intimidated by the thousands of books I was competing with. Then I realized, I was really competing with one shelf, Self Leadership. And only a couple of other authors were looking at self-leadership on a personal mastery level.

Fast forward to the universe of resources, perspectives, and conversations populating the digital environment now, and it is understandable when our eyes roll back in our heads at the thought of trying to find the guidance that will serve our own leadership journey.

There are three "inquiries" that can help us navigate to the career management tools that are aligned to our development goals--

What leadership context attracts you?

Not all leaders are sitting at the top of the organization chart. The complexity in the business environment today really does mean that everyone is a leader in some capacity. Clarifying your own intention in that effort is the first step to developing skills, acquiring experiences, and cultivating your network.

  • Formal/Positional Leadership

  • Influencer/Guru

  • High Value Brand/Personal Mastery

 What leader(s) do you resonate with?

"I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I knew the woman I wanted to become." Diane Von Furstenberg, The Woman I Wanted To Be

There are many, many ways to lead. I have always resonated with this quote from Diane Von Furstenberg. It articulates something of the way I have understood the path I was walking as a leader. I shared her perspective that my own leadership approach began with an internal journey, a personal sense of integrity and influence. An important part of deciding how we will lead is about finding our tribe. Being in conversation with other leaders who share our passion, who hear and see us as a leader.

What is the primary question you have right now about your own leadership journey?

This is your leadership shelf. The leadership question in front of me right now as a coach is, "how do I create an environment where people feel safe to take on the tough questions?"One brave woman leader at a recent workshop asked, "How do I lead from a place of inclusion and expertise without playing the gender game?"

After defining the landscape and conversation for your own leadership journey, the defining question becomes, "what am I here to do."

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. This world is but a canvas to our imagination. If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

Henry David Thoreau

Debra Talbert is a leadership and life coach based in the Seattle area. She is the author of "Take Me To Your Leader, Taking The Lead In Our Lives"

Our Love-Hate Relationship With Personality Profiles

Recently, an executive from a mid-sized organization decided that all personality profile-based classes would be eliminated from the schedule. The effect was that close to a thousand employees pitched a collective fit. As these things go, that leader moved on, the personality-profile classes were reinstated, and were filled to capacity every time they were offered.

So, what is all this yelling about?

In fairness to executive who banned the profile-based classes, I have to admit that poorly managed, these programs can go horribly wrong. Labeling. Name-calling. Using disclosed preferences to disqualify, diminish, or exclude. Interpreting motivation, performance, or capacity through the lens of “type.” And in a couple of truly terrifying examples, to screen candidates for employment.

As an executive coach and leadership development practitioner, I am certified to work with over a dozen models/profiles/assessments that inevitably seek to segment the recipients into tidy buckets of preference, behavior, motivation, and range of potential. At a surface level, I agree. It is not valid, practical or respectful to reduce humans to what amounts to a #tag.

But there is, undeniably, more to this argument. Folks have an instinctive sense that having a few reliable indicators about preference, style, approach, hot-buttons (their own and others) better equips them to navigate the increasingly complex corporate conversation.  With that in mind, a few lessons from experience.

It’s a data point                                                    

  • Many practitioners of personality/style-based instruments become zealots, extending the implication, and the application of these profiles almost to the point of religious fervor, and that’s a problem. I have yet to meet the human who stays in a box. We live in the white space.

  • The real power in this type of profile is to inform choices, influence approaches, and more effectively self-manage.

It’s a shared lexicon

  • Having a common framework of behavioral and motivational cues allows employees to mobilize their immediate environment around their strengths, and to move toward others for more effective collaboration.

  • It forms the baseline for organizational emotional intelligence, and the context for coaching to interpersonal mastery.

It must be managed

  • At the end of the day, this kind of tool—like every other tool—serves your intention. So, be explicit about the intention, the cultural and values alignment, and leadership point of view.

Equilibrium in Motion: The Mystique of the Balanced Life

Alaska Airlines Flight #2828 Seattle/San Francisco.  My morning started the way many of them do—logging off email. Gulping down a couple more ounces of French Roast.  Cramming an extra tee-shirt into a suit case. Racing down a freeway to yet another airport.  Zipping through a jumble of mental check-lists while maneuvering between SUV’s and eighteen-wheeler’s. 

Finally seat-belt-fastened into 23F, carry-on items securely stowed under the seat in front of me, that little voice that had been tapping on my awareness all morning finally got it’s message through—how about that “balanced life” thing you keep talking about in your keynotes?

“My personal best for work/life balance is about eight minutes,” reflects Nancy, a corporate meeting planner in Southern California. 

“Work/Life Balance,” has become the mythical Holy Grail of our time. Everybody, it seems, has something to say about how to get it, why we need it, the dangers of not having it.  However, I believe the balance we crave is best understood as equilibrium in response to the oscillations of life: work, family, health, relationships.  Coherence rather than control.  It is about making choices in motion that create the optimum alignment between what’s happening in the moment—and what you care about in the long term. 

“I met a women once who was the absolute embodiment of The Balanced Life.  She literally glided through Dallas Fort Worth airport with three babies in tow, Wednesday night before a Thanksgiving holiday, smiling serenely, taking it all in stride.  She has become something of an urban legend in my mind.”

 The folks I’ve met over the years who seem to be really good at this equilibrium phenomenon, possess a kind of ”inner compass,” that helps them keep track of where they are on their life path. Their internal mechanism is sensitive enough to keep them in touch with their inner wisdom, and rugged enough to be reliable in spite of life’s twists and turns. For those of us whose internal guidance systems are somewhat less sophisticated—we can look at some basic elements for creating our own world map.

 Mission—True North.  Defining theme for our actions: activities, decisions, resources, and relationships.  Key Question: What impact do I want to have? A strong sense of mission can help us determine those cross roads that are “mission critical,” and what crossed-wires just need to be ignored for now.  A mission can be very motivating—and it can also add performance stress unless it is balanced with its counterpart, Legacy, to help us gain perspective.

 Legacy—True South. What we leave behind: our gift to those who follow us.  Key Question: Who will follow in my footsteps?  When you picture the people who will be using you as the reference for their choices, what would you want them to understand as essential, lasting?

 Values—Compass Points.  Conclusions based on experience.  Values allow us to specify our direction.  Key Question: What degree of action do we take at this point? Is it time for an about-face, or just a ten-degree adjustment in our approach?  There are many ways to articulate your values, but there are a few keys area where what we really value shows up in our lives—

  1. Where does your time go?

  2. Where does your money go?

  3. Who are you in relationship with? Why?

  4. What would say are the three key events in your life?  Why do you consider them to be so?

 “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.”  Douglas Adams, author, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.