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This week, my writing colleague Louise Campbell interviewed my coaching colleague, Tim Edris of the Emerging Leaders Institute, to get his view on leadership and how it is evolving.

 

“What got you here won’t get you there,” was coined by business leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith to underscore how leaders need to regularly update the way they lead to keep pace and be effective.

Tim Edris, Emerging Leaders Institute | Chandler Coaches

Tim Edris
Emerging Leaders Institute

 

Enter Tim Edris, of Emerging Leaders Institute in the U.S., who has built his reputation on helping senior leaders evolve their winning strategies by getting up close and personal with their blind spots and limiting tendencies. His approach to leadership development made him an excellent coach partner for Chandler Coaches.

“Not only have Lisa and I drunk the leadership development Kool-Aid, we’ve even drunk the same flavour in that we embrace the same model of leadership and coaching approach. And we put ourselves through leadership boot-camp continually, too, so that we grow as coaches and leaders to keep pace with the leaders we coach.”

At Lisa’s invitation, I had a chat with Tim to get his views on leadership and how leaders can evolve.

You could say that Tim was “roped into” this specialty.  In the mid-1990s, he was working at Geneva College in Pennsylvania, coaching students on leadership development.  One day, a group of corporate executives came to the college to tackle a ropes (challenge) course.  

“I was fascinated that education, transformation and development happened not only at the university level but also in the business world.  Suddenly, my next step became very clear,” says Tim. He registered for a Masters of Science in Organizational Leadership and, upon graduation in 2000, launched Emerging Leaders Institute with partners.

Effective leaders = successful businesses

Tim describes leadership as both art and science.  What makes businesses effective?  Well, data points to the idea that wherever you find effective leaders, you also find successful businesses.  The converse is also true.  As Bill Adams, co-founder of the Full Circle Group, says, “a company never outperforms its leadership.”

Older ways of leading are simply not able to keep pace with the newer ways of thinking and newer approaches critical to navigating the increasing complexity in the business world. In fact, leaders’ older ways of showing up will actually set up barriers to their effectiveness if they continue to employ them; hence the phrase, what got you here won’t get you there. In order to reach new levels of effectiveness, leaders need to surface their older assumptions about leading, and find new ways of showing-up that match the complexity of the challenge they are facing.  

Even when leaders recognize their old way of operating is no longer working, they are often stymied on how to move ahead.  That’s where Tim and Lisa come in.  

They are among the few hundred executive coaches in North America (there are fewer than 20 in Canada) certified to coach using The Leadership System™.  This best practice program takes an entire leadership team through a year long+ program of assessment, 1:1 coaching, follow-up measurement and team sessions to improve individual and collective leadership.  As leaders become more effective in their own right and as a collective team, business results improve.

These programs are intense! Being a coach means being supportive but it doesn’t always mean being gentle, as Tim will tell you.

“I don’t shy away from feedback, even if it is tough for leaders to hear.  Like the rest of us, they need to be challenged in order to grow.  Typically, the higher a leader is on the org chart , the less willing their direct reports or other employees are to give them any negative feedback.”

Tim says it is only when clients open up to giving and receiving honest feedback  with their boss, peers and teams that effective work and transformation can begin.

My conclusion, based on working with Lisa and interviewing Tim: Poor leadership can hurt people and the business bottom line. Effective leadership creates a distinct competitive advantage and a company people clamber to work for.

It sounds like a hard and worthwhile path to me.

You’re driving on a fast highway and a car swerves into your lane without any notice.  Your reaction might range from a gentle head shake (tsk, tsk) to jamming on the brakes to ending up in a car crash if you don’t have enough time to react. Signaling a lane change is the law on our roads.

Bad things can happen when we don’t signal.

“Signaling” when you are changing lanes in your leadership is up to you. No one will make you pay a fine if you don’t do it. There may be other repercussions, though. | Chandler Coaches“Signaling” when you are changing lanes in your leadership is up to you. No one will make you pay a fine if you don’t do it.  As your coach, though, I might give you a hard time. A case study from The Extraordinary Coach will help me explain.

Andy was a seasoned executive leading a highly profitable division of an insurance company. He and his colleagues went through a 360-degree feedback process to help them improve their overall leadership effectiveness.  Andy’s results showed that his direct reports experienced him as a highly autocratic leader, known to belittle people and often rub their nose in their errors.

While this result was a blow to Andy, fortunately, he was willing to work with his coach, Kathleen, and genuinely wanted to improve his leadership effectiveness.  Through coaching conversations, Andy and his coach zeroed in on a goal to become a more collaborative leader.  To move toward his goal, Andy would focus on:

  1. Stopping being so autocratic;
  2. Starting to build more personal relationships with his team; and
  3. Starting to share more background on his decisions (he had come from a military background).

Andy’s coach Kathleen encouraged him to let his entire team know about both his overall goal and his start and stop behaviours¹. Andy agreed he would.  What followed instead was a four-month dance of Kathleen doing her best to hold Andy accountable and Andy coming up with various reasons why he hadn’t shared his goal and change intentions with his team.

At the outset of coaching, Kathleen and Andy had designed that she would interview his direct reports at the six-month mark to assess his progress. Kathleen interviewed every direct report and uncovered some pretty interesting feedback. To Andy’s credit, some people had seen changes in Andy’s behaviour.  Sadly, while his direct reports knew he had done a 360-degree profile, they didn’t realize he had taken it seriously and they didn’t know he was working with a coach to improve his leadership.

Here’s what they said:

He’s been a bit more relaxed and distant — he wasn’t hounding me so much…I thought he was probably out looking for another job…

He’s been giving me more freedom to manage my projects, but I think he’s just setting me up for a fail.  I have come to him with issues and asked him what his point of view was, and he said, ‘You’re leading this area; I trust you to make good decisions.’ I’m sure he is just letting me take the rope—get far enough out, and then just hang myself.

He’s been acting strange…talking about his personal life more and asking me about mine. I actually wondered if he had cancer.

So Andy was working diligently to change his autocratic approach and his team members assumed he was checked out, looking for another job, setting people up to fail, or dying of cancer!

The alternative is to signal people so they can more easily recognize changes, provide reinforcing feedback and feel encouraged to give direct course corrections when their leader falls down. This approach can be vulnerability AND it is the best way to accelerate development and lead by example.

Well-known coaching expert Marshall Goldsmith and partner Howard Morgan researched this very topic of signaling a lane change in leadership.  Bottom-line findings: Leaders who discussed their priorities with their co-workers and did regular follow-up showed striking improvement. Those who didn’t have ongoing dialogue barely exceeded random chance when rated on their improvements.  Read more in Leadership is a Contact Sport.

Will you choose to drive in the fast lane and leave your team to wonder when you will zig or zag? Or will you welcome them into your trusted circle of advisors and let them help you grow as a person and a leader? You know how I feel.



¹ When I work with clients, I have them identify an Accountability Circle—a group of five to eight people they trust will give them honest feedback. We sometimes formalize the feedback process by using little mini surveys called Pulse™ Surveys.


 

dancing-stars-2P.S. Our concert, Jill Chandler at the Ballroom Barn, was a great night. My sister, Jill, put on a great show. My dance partner, Rejean, and I practiced our mambo in front of a very supportive crowd. Thank you! We raised close to $2000 for Hospice PEI on concert night. If you didn’t make it, please cast your votes now ($1/vote) for Dancing with the Stars.  You have until Oct 22nd to support me in my fundraising efforts for the important work of Hospice PEI.

Is feedback important?  We’d all say a resounding, “Yes!” Yet how many of us ever ask for feedback on our leadership? Or ask what’s expected of us, both the spoken and unspoken? And how many of us make giving/getting feedback part of our everyday?

Feedback is merely information that helps us know whether we are on track. Sounds so simple. Sadly, we’ve all been on the receiving end of the feedback sandwich (sometimes called something less pleasant). You know the one.  It’s feedback where the criticism is nicely buried between two compliments.  Similarly, we’ve been invited into what seemed like a feedback conversation only to realize that the seemingly open-ended questions were leading to a foregone conclusion.

Whether we know it or not, our very identity is threatened by the idea of giving and receiving feedback.  Will I offend? Will I look stupid/be wrong? Will I fail?

It’s not much wonder we avoid asking for and giving feedback or at least procrastinate greatly.

When my colleague Tim Edris and I work together with a whole leadership team to improve their individual and collective effectiveness, we make feedback THE central issue for the entire year! That’s how challenging it can be to get good at giving and receiving honest feedback. And this emphasis shows how vital feedback is to improving leadership effectiveness.  

A reframe from “people as problems” to “people as sense-makers¹ is one way to embrace giving feedback and become effective. Genuine curiosity about the other person gets us out of our own hang-ups and can make for a great conversation.  

What if this person weren’t a problem for me to solve but a key knowledge holder for me to understand?

Let’s say your Chief Financial Officer, Regina, slammed her fist on the table in your senior management meeting this morning.  You feel scared to address it head on but it was so derailing to the meeting that you know you must. In your head, you’ve already assigned some meaning to the outburst and you’re racing ahead to how you can make this issue go away. Whether you realized it or not, you’re racing up your Ladder of Inference.²  It’s a pretty shaky spot for a leader to stand on.

Ladder of InferenceThankfully, a few adjustments can put you on solid footing for your feedback conversation. In Simple Habits for Complex Times, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston offer a simple formula that will help you approach feedback anew, stripped of inferences that lead to trouble:

Data + Feeling + Impact= Effective Feedback

  1. Data: What actually happened in the boardroom? What is the evidence everyone would agree on?
  2. Feeling: How am I feeling about this? How strongly? Am I willing to be honest about how I feel?  
  3. Impact: What is the impact of her behavior? How do I know this? Am I prepared to be honest about the impact on me? And do I truly know the impact on others without assuming things?

“Regina, I noticed you slammed your fist down. I was personally startled, and I must say that is was hard for me to concentrate on what you were saying after that happened.”³

This is simply the Data + Feeling + Impact formula at work. When done cleanly, it enables us to open a real conversation without assigning meaning, assumptions and beliefs that could clutter the issue and cause defensiveness.  

Combine this formula with a healthy dose of curiosity and open-ended questions and I feel certain your feedback conversation will take you to very meaningful places.  

Oh. And if you are a leader who doesn’t know what your people really expect of you, that’s a good place to start!


In the spirit of reinforcing the feedback formula, I’m going to use it here in a different way.

Data: Jill Chandler at the Ballroom Barn is this Saturday, September 24th. My sister Jill will headline and sing her amazing songs. I’ll be stepping out of my comfort zone by a mile to practice my mambo for Dancing with the Stars (which takes place Oct 22).

Feeling: I feel nervous and excited and VERY eager for you to buy your tickets in advance ($20).

Impact: Your presence will make our event great. Your ticket money will support the important work of Hospice PEI.

Jill Chandler | Fundraiser for Hospice PEI

I can promise one mambo with my partner and that Jill will put on a terrific show… Buy tickets here.

 


1 – From Simple Habits for Complex Times by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston.
2 – “Ladder of Inference” comes from Harvard organizational psychologist Chris Argyris and was used in Peter Senge’s work.
3 – Example comes from The Extraordinary Coach by John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett. Chapters 12+ provide much greater depth to the feedback conversation.

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