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Unified Front

Have you ever been part of a leadership team so aligned that they were able to maintain a unified front even in the face of complex challenges? Lucky you!

What a beautiful thing to behold. Sadly, it’s so rare that most of us have never experienced it.

It doesn’t have to be. The world of systems coaching gives us skills to build a unified front¹.

The most unified senior teams bring a collective weather.

While leaders have no control over Mother Nature, they can be intentional about the weather they bring to the overall culture, and from moment to moment. Moods are contagious, after all.

To achieve business results:

  • Does the culture need courage + safety or challenge + experimentation?
  • Does a team offsite need truth-telling or play to break through an impasse? Both?

The right cultural weather does not happen magically, but intentional weather can feel magical.

The most unified senior teams have each other’s back².

The primary skill to cultivate here is ‘finding each other right’. This looks like genuinely pointing out something that is right, even if it’s just a colleague’s intention versus competing or proving wrong.

The most effective teams will also rescue each other. Leaders are human and get triggered. When a senior colleague is distracted, goes too far, or gets hooked, it’s up to their leader colleagues to help them recover.  This could look like pausing for a break, suggesting the topic be shelved for a bit, or stepping in to redirect.

The most unified teams go down gracefully, together, to ride out the storm.

Even the most forward-looking teams encounter circumstances (e.g., market conditions) or people that derail plans. Keeping a unified front might mean apologizing for something another senior leader did to stay united as a senior team.  When things go wrong is not a time for finger pointing, taking sides or playing the victim despite that it can be so enticing to do just that.

The most unified teams stand on a foundation of trust.

A unified leadership front assumes strong ethical and moral behaviour in the team and lives on a foundation of trust. When individual behaviours trample on other leaders’ values, courageous and timely conversations are essential. Leaders who avoid dealing head on with the conflict that inevitably arises, will feel unsafe, drained and resentful.  In other words, they will suffer. Their people and company results will suffer too.

“All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.”
   ~ Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers

What will you do to unify your team? There is a lot at stake after all.


P.S. Here’s a fun take on creating a unified front:

¹ All of these skills require the leadership team to have a clear purpose and vision. For this post, I am assuming this is in place; I realize it’s a big assumption!
² Fun fact: I got grammar help via Facebook to properly write “each other’s back”.  There were over 40 replies from friends. Competitive grammar seems to be a hot topic among the 30-50+ set .


Don’t drink at the water’s edge, throw yourself in.
Become the water.
Only then will your thirst be quenched.

– Jeanette Berson

Sometimes we throw ourselves into the metaphorical water and get in over our heads, drowning in failure or loss. Sometimes, even from the water’s edge, circumstances beyond our control wreak havoc in our lives.

When faced with feelings of mistreatment, rejection, or loss, I’ve usually soldiered on.

With a kid care for and a business to run, who has time to lash out in anger or curl up and cry? I’ve sometimes done the same for big wins too, moving on quickly without celebration.

Can you relate? Have you done this in your life? What about in your leadership?

Sadly, when we soldier on, our feelings don’t magically dissolve.  This happens instead:

We repress a feeling→ our feeling hardens into a mood→ our anger becomes bitterness/our fear becomes anxiety/our sadness becomes apathy→ our beliefs about the world change without us realizing it (i.e. people are not trustworthy)→ we start living our lives according to our new (hidden) belief(s).

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s another path. It’s may seem completely foreign to most of you, as it did to me. This new path calls us to feel our feelings all the way through.

The next time something “bad” happens, take this path instead. Don’t forget to try it when you feel joyous too:

  1. Name the feeling: As soon as you catch yourself thinking about your situation, ask “What am I feeling right now?” Anger, Fear, Sadness, Joy, Creative Feelings? Don’t ask why you feel this way. Simply notice and name the feeling. 
  2. Locate the feeling in your body: My chest feels tight. There’s a lump in my throat. My heart is racing. My face is hot etc. 
  3. Breathe and allow the feeling: Instead of pushing it away, breathe in the feeling and appreciate yourself for being able to feel sensations and stay with them. 
  4. Move and make sounds: Get your body into the shape of the feeling. Maybe it’s fists up ready to fight, hunched over in grief or jumping up and down in excitement.  Now make whatever sound the feeling would make. Growl in anger. Cry in despair. Scream in delight. This part might feel the strangest; this is also the step that cannot be skipped in order to feel your feelings.

The good news is that most feelings last 90 seconds at most as they move through the body. Of course, they may occur wave after wave and keep happening until they are felt and released.  

Sometimes we throw ourselves into the metaphorical water and get in over our heads, drowning in failure or loss. Sometimes, even from the water’s edge, circumstances beyond our control wreak havoc in our lives. | Chandler Coaches #leadershipdevelopment

As I learn to feel my feelings all the way through, I realize I won’t be insulated from future hurts. But I will have the courage to throw myself in the water again and know that I can feel my way through whatever comes my way in life or leadership.

After all, who wants to live life (or lead) drinking only from the water’s edge?


¹ “Feel your feelings all the way through” is Commitment #3 in The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Dethmer, Chapman and Warner Klemp.

²  Stat comes from Jill Bolte-Taylor, Harvard trained neuroanatomist and author of My Stroke of Insight.

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in¹

~ Leonard Cohen

Our imagined March Break plans cracked at the last minute. Forget our perfect offering…

And yet, we found moments of connection and delight in Montreal with cherished friends.

And I found some moments of provocation and pleasure at The Musée d’art contemporain (MAC).  In the exhibit A Crack in Everything many artists pay tribute to our man Leonard Cohen².

These two impatient seven-year-olds (pictured above) rushed my friend and I through the exhibit. Our rushed visit felt “imperfect” and it definitely was not how I had planned to take in the exhibit.  Yet, this beautiful photo is now a lasting reminder how the cracks of imperfection let the light in.

Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”

The Japanese fill cracks in broken pottery with gold dusted lacquer in the centuries-old art of Kintsugi. By adding beauty and uniqueness to what is broken, they emphasize the fractures instead of hiding them. And while Kintsugi blocks the light that could shine through the cracks, seeing beauty in the flawed (the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi) is what Leonard is also celebrating.

Source: Tumblr

I read that The Navajo, after weaving a perfect rug, interrupt one stitch to “let the world in”. 

And Chinese potters of some lost and ancient dynasty, having finally completed a flawless work, created a small chip to “let their soul out”.

Leonard Cohen. Rumi. Kintsugi. Navajo weavers. Chinese potters.

A crack is where the light comes in.

A wound is the place where the light enters.

A fracture allows beauty from brokenness.

A stitch of imperfection lets the world in.

A small chip lets the soul out.

It seems fitting to end in song.  I give you a bit more of Anthem:

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be

Ring the bells that still can ring (ring the bells that still can ring)
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in


¹ Full lyrics for Anthem here; or watch Leonard live in London, 2008.
² If you’re a fan, you have until September 2018 to take it in.

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You Cannot Change Until You Overcome Your Own Immunity

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Blame or Shift?

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Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast…¹

You’ve just hired Selma as your new controller. She has lunch in the staff room on Day 1 to quickly to get to know her new colleagues. She tells one of them that she’s excited to have found a company that develops and promotes their people. After all, she’s been told that by every leader… Read the full post here

Lead Like a Montessori Teacher

Imagine a workplace where all leaders respect their people, provide clear and consistent expectations, and encourage employees to be independent, intrinsically motivated critical thinkers. Such a workplace would look a lot like a Montessori school in fact. I read this post on the 7 phrases Montessori teachers use because my daughter goes to a Montessori… Read the full post here

The Promise of Leadership

My cousin Matt married his love Abby the weekend before last in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It was wonderful to witness their love and commitment in front of a large gathering of family and friends. Like them, many of you have walked down an aisle and pledged to be true in good times and in bad… Read the full post here

How $12,000 Turned Into $1,200,000

Leadership development is one of the highest levers a company has to improve business performance. There is a 38% probability that increasing leadership effectiveness will translate into higher business performance¹. Few other investments in companies can provide such lift potential. The following true story shows how one VP’s leadership development led directly to $1,200,000 in… Read the full post here