CHAPTER 43 – Medical Judgment

Dan in the Doctor’s Office

Swimming through fluorescent illuminated water, the angel fish, guppies, and other fish Dan couldn’t identify, seemed serene enough.  And why not, thought Dan.  Dr. Stern made sure their meals were delivered, their tank cleaned, their water temperature regulated, and they had no predators.  No moray eels named Bob lurking in dark holes, ready to tear into their flesh. 

He would deal with Bob later.  Time now to relax, read a magazine, maybe People en Espanol.  Jesus, relentless media trash.  He reached for his Blackberry, but his hand returned without it.  No, not emails. Why was he so nervous?  He never liked doctors.  And this doctor scared him.  Dan had Googled metabolic syndrome and read about the complications of diabetes – the loss of sight, loss of limbs, heart attacks – and these images lingered now.  This line of thought was unproductive.  Better to relax.

He sat back in the chair and scanned his body.  His attention settled on his ribcage; it was frozen in place, and he was barely breathing.  He sensed the quality of energy locked in his ribs.  It was fear.  Fear of dying.  He could hear Michele’s voice from the mp3 she had sent him.  “Never mind what it’s about, just experience it as a constellation of sensations.”  He did.  “Now, let a sense of ease enter your body and breathing, as you smile into and dissolve any physical tension.”  He did.  “Now let yourself rest in the vast space – both inside you and outside.”  He felt his breath begin to take up more space in his ribs and back.  His chest and belly softened.  The website photos of gangrenous toes and amputees appeared and dissolved.  He opened his eyes and with a soft focus, took in more of the waiting room.  The magazines on the tables, the fish tank, the paintings on the walls, the other patients, and the receptionists were simply there, without comment or association from Dan’s mind.

“Mr. Shaeffer?”


“Will you come with me, please?”

The nurse was businesslike as she recorded his blood pressure and weight.  She led Dan down a hall to an exam room where he waited for the doctor.  Mercifully, she didn’t require him to disrobe and wrap himself in a blue paper gown.

Doctor Stern breezed through the door with Dan’s chart in hand. He shook Dan’s hand with a firm grip, just a millimeter short of crushing.  This guy’s fit, thought Dan.  Dr. Stern sat in a chair opposite him, looked squarely into his eyes, and asked how he’d been since his last appointment.

“No symptoms.  I’ve been exercising and for the most part, eating well.  What does the blood work show?”

“First, I’m glad to see that you’ve lost eight pounds.  That’s excellent for ten weeks.  Your blood pressure is down too, 132 over 80.  That’s very good.  And your blood work has moved in the right direction, as well.  Your triglycerides are 145, and your HDL, that’s the one that’s supposed to be high, is high enough at 45.  This is very good news.  What have you been doing?”

“I’ve been working out on an elliptical machine, cutting out the junk food and the beer.  I’m meditating and trying to work shorter, smarter hours.”  As he spoke, he wondered how much the doctor was listening.  As a test, he could have slipped into his report “eating muskrat halves in heavy syrup,” just to see if the doctor’s expression changed, but there seemed little fun to be had here.

“Well, whatever you’re doing, keep it up.  How do you feel?”

“I feel like I’m getting my life back.”

“Dan, you keep moving the numbers in this direction and you’ll live to a ripe old age.  Any questions or concerns?”

“No, Doctor.”

“Great.  I’d like to see you again in six months.  I’ll leave a form for your blood work at the front desk.  Get your blood drawn two weeks before your next appointment.”

The doctor rose, shook Dan’s hand, gathered the file, pivoted left, and vanished through the now closing door.

As he left the medical building, Dan, with apparently a lot more miles left in him, felt the sun warm his face.  Standing by his car, he paused for a few breaths and caught a trace of the sea on the breeze from the bay.

Click here to read Chapter 44.

Have you made life-style changes that have turned around a difficult medical condition? Have you coached people through life-style changes. Please comment.

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CHAPTER 36 – Half Moon Bay

Michele Teaches Dan About the Nature of His Mind

The morning fog had nearly burned off.  The sun warmed their backs and cast diamonds of light on the expanse of ocean below.  From their perch on the cliff, the sea appeared nearly flat, rhythmically extending waves and foam to the sand, then drawing back into itself.  Save for the sound of gulls and the sea, the morning was still.  The salt fragrance of seaweed and water settled on their skin and softened the air.

They sat this way for some time, not talking.

“Dan, look to the horizon and fix your gaze there.  Let your body feel the expanse of the sky.  You don’t need to breathe any special way.  The breath will take care of itself.  Feel the space of the universe outside you.”  Michele waited until Dan settled even more into stillness.  She continued to instruct him slowly, leaving a generous silence between her phrases, so he could follow and complete each step she offered.

“As you look at the sky and the sea, relax your eyes…especially the area behind your eyes…let all tension in the eyes dissolve….  Now imagine that the entire brain, with its billions of cells, is mostly space…there are the cells, the neurons…the molecules that comprise the cells…the atoms that form the molecules…and at the subatomic level…it’s mostly space.  Feel the space inside the brain…and let its neural activity diminish…until you rest deeply in that space.  Grandfather says there is as much space inside you as there is outside.  Feel the space inside… and simultaneously feel it continue outside of you to the horizon…and behind you…above you…below you… around you in all directions.  Now rest in the continuity of space – inside and out…as though the apparent barrier of the skin itself is only space …just rest in the awareness of it…without having to say what is inside or outside… effortlessly rest there…is…only…space…all phenomena arise within it – your body…the ocean…the sky…

“Notice your breath as it comes in…and as it goes out…like waves extending and returning…like an undersea plant moved by ocean currents…the breath moves you…this breathing has no breather… it is stillness manifesting as breath. Let yourself rest in that stillness and in the expanse of space…from the deepest place inside you to the horizon…just rest, without adjusting your attention in any way…phenomena arise within this field…including thoughts.  They are like images appearing in a mirror…They come and go and the mirror remains clear…the true nature of your mind is like the mirror…pristine…just rest as the mirror and  whatever arises,  let it arise freely and dissolve on its own.

They sat quietly for another ten minutes.  Michele taught Dan how to rub his palms together, wash his face with the chi from his hands and with his palms moving in circles, spiral the energy at his navel.  When he looked settled she said, “How are you?”

Dan searched for a response and felt the strange absence of wit.

“It’s hard to describe,” he said.

“I know what you mean.”

After a few more moments of silence, Michele said, “Dan, since you have to drive home, let’s talk and move around a bit until I’m sure you’re ready to get behind the wheel.”

They stood, stretched and looked out over the bay.  “Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning,” he said.  Michele smiled and looked out over the water.  She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply.  “I agree.”

“Dan, ordinarily I wouldn’t explain what we just did.  I’d give you some time to be in silence with the experience.  But I need to be sure you’re grounded enough to drive, and since small talk doesn’t seem appropriate either, let’s talk about it now.”


They sat down again and Michele began, “This experience is more profound and fundamental than words can express.  But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to approximate it with words.  Lao Tsu says,

‘The source of life is as a mother,
Be fond of both mother and children,
But know the mother dearer,
And outlive death.”

Click here to hear poem set to music. 

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“‘The source of life,’ the mother, is the ground of all being, the space in which all thingsa arise.   These phenomena – oceans, cars, trees, thoughts, you and I – are the children.  When you ‘know the mother dearer,’ you cherish the space rather than cling to what arises in it. You can enjoy phenomena, the children, without attachment. Like a mirror that is not stained by images that appear in it, the true nature of your mind is this unchanging, pristine space.

“The Tibetan Buddhists describe the capacity of the mind to rest in and be nourished by this space as ‘the mind’s secret, too easy to believe.’  It is meditation without meditating.  Since this ground of all being is always present, there is no state to enter.  Just relaxing into awareness is the easiest and, in fact, the only way to get to know it.  They call it resting in awareness.

“But what about all the instructions you gave me?  Weren’t you talking me into a state?”

“Yes.  Some of that is necessary in the beginning to point out the awareness.  Remember when I instructed you to not do anything, but just rest in an open awareness?  At that moment there was no technique, only resting.  Techniques can orient you toward awareness, but then, you have to let them go. Resting in awareness is an acquired taste.  Once you get the scent of it, it becomes easier and easier to let go, drop the thinking mind, and simply exist in the present.

“Being around an experienced practitioner helps, too.  Just as worry is contagious, so is awareness.  I know this from being around my grandfather.  I’ve learned more about meditation by watching him in the garden than any other way.”

They sat silently.  Michele said, “How are you, Dan?  Can you drive?”

“I think so.”

“You might think that as soon as you engage in ordinary activities, you’ll lose the sense of awareness.  But gradually, you discover that you can fully function while your mind rests in awareness. It actually improves my driving.  I’m acutely aware of the space around me and my car.  I can easily anticipate the moves of other drivers, and I’m relaxed.  Once you get used to awareness, driving becomes more safe and pleasant. What do you think?”

“It sounds fine until some fucking moron cuts me off.”

“Ah, I see you’re quite yourself again.  Very good.  I trust you to drive home safely.”

Dan clasped her right hand in both of his and looked at her squarely.  “Michele.  Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

They walked together down the path to their cars.  Dan’s ride home was peaceful and moron free.

Click here to read Chapter 37. 

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CHAPTER 28 – Teaching Pigs to Sing

Dan and Carla have a 1-1 Meeting

Dan and Carla Meet

Dan waited for Carla in the conference room.  She arrived carrying a notebook and a thermos of coffee.

“Hi, Dan,” said Carla, taking a seat next to him.  She wore cotton slacks, a golf shirt, and leather running shoes to this and almost any meeting.  People said she carried her weight well, but Dan thought that missed the point.  He’d seen her on the tennis court.  With her stocky frame, she managed to cover the court efficiently, and she moved like a cat at the net.  But it was her serve that demonstrated how much power she could unleash.

“Hi, Carla,” he said, turning toward her.

Dan thanked her for having taken the time to give feedback to Michele.  He told her about the significant themes from the feedback and asked for her comments.

“Dan, we’ve known each other for a long time.  You don’t have to be so formal with me.  Why don’t you just tell me what you want to work on, and we’ll talk?”

“Sounds good, Carla.”  He pulled the chart from a folder, handed it to her and said, “These are the five key behaviors that I’m working on.”

Reading aloud, she said,

Context: in meetings with senior executives, where Dan’s direct reports are presenting data…

Dan…A: (Old Behavior) interrupts his report and takes over the presentation.  Result: The direct report feels publicly humiliated in front of his or her superiors, unmotivated to make future presentations, and perceives the working environment as oppressive.

Or, B: (New Behavior) Dan allows his direct report to present the data and handle all follow-up questions.  Dan only comments if his direct report truly needs help and in that case he is both supportive and honest.”

“I’ll take B any day,” said Carla.  “I know Peter would, too.”

“That’s what I’m shooting for.”

“This sounds good on paper, here in our private, calm conversation.  We’ve had a lot of beers at Dempsey’s a few days after you’ve blown it.  You were nice and rational then.  Do you think you can pull it off when you’re in a critical meeting and you see data that is wrong or a slide that makes you want to scream?”

“That’s the only time it counts,” he said.

“You know that one about why you shouldn’t try to teach a pig to sing?”

“I have a feeling I’m going to hear it.”

“Well, that’s why I’m working with Michele.  She makes her living teaching pigs to sing. Carla, take another look at the chart and see what else pertains to you.”

Carla began reading.  At first, she skimmed.  Then, she slowed down and mouthed the words as she read.

“I like this one,” she said.

In meetings with his staff, Dan adopts the following leadership style…

A: (Old Behavior) listens to status reports, one at a time, processes the data, and tells each individual staff member how to proceed

B: (New Behavior) Dan states the frame and the rationale for the meeting.  When appropriate, he helps team members understand the project more broadly, beyond their own contributions and concerns.  He encourages the group to collectively look at their interdependencies and how they might help each other.   He invites the team to brainstorm and build on each other’s ideas.  Dan encourages the contributions of others before he states his own opinions.  As much as possible, he relies on the emerging wisdom of the team.  If he needs to make a decision contrary to their ideas, he says so and gives the rationale.  He may be open to discussion on these decisions.  In this way, he builds the team’s capacity to function at a higher level of autonomy and develops team members into future leaders.

“Now, that’s good,” said Carla.  “That would make my life much better.”

“According to Michele, it would make everyone’s life better, including mine.  How would it affect you?”

“I see things that you don’t, Dan.  I could’ve told you that the milestones you set for this project were way too aggressive.  You over-promised and we, predictably, under-delivered.  We ended up feeling oppressed by unreachable goals.  I tried to say something about the deadlines, but you brushed it aside.”

“I know, I remember that.”

“If you’d engaged us in the decision making we would have had more realistic goals and we would have been more committed to them.”

“Yes, that would have saved us a lot of grief.  Let’s see if we can operate,in the new way going forward.”

“Dan, I feel like you’re sincere in wanting to change, but even if you pull it off, it may take a little while before people come out of their defensive crouches.”

“I’m planning to have a two-day off site meeting where we redesign how our team functions.  Hopefully, that will help us all reset.”

“We could use a reset right about now.  By the way, I think Peter could use some TLC.  He’s not a happy camper.”

“Is there anything specific I should know?”

“Nothing that you can’t get from talking with him directly.  But if you want to keep him, a little appreciation from you will go a long way.”

“Thanks, Carla.”

“One more thing.  Whatever you and Michele are doing, in spite of what I said before, I see a difference.”

“As the lead singing pig, I appreciate that.”

Click here to read Chapter 29.

 How is Dan progressing? Do you think he can change? Let us know in the comments.

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CHAPTER 27 – Out with Old, In with the New Behaviors

In a single two and a half hour meeting, Michele and Dan had gleaned the most important messages in the feedback report.  Among the many stories illustrating the ways Dan needed to change, they chose to concentrate on five key behaviors.  Attempting to change more than that, she said, would dilute results.  He could only do so much, and she preferred he focus on the differences that would have the greatest impact.

They agreed on what new behaviors would replace the old ones.  These new behaviors were designed to create better working relationships among internal customers and develop more highly functioning teams.  The behaviors brought a more strategic approach to his leadership, one that not only accomplished goals, but also developed people and his organization in the process.

Michele reminded him that even if he radically changed his behavior, some people might be slow to notice or reticent to accept the changes.  She suggested he use the one-on-one meetings to share exactly what he was working on.  Asking for support and feedback from others would engage them in his progress.  She said she would email him a chart that summarized the targeted behaviors, so he could use it in his one-on-one meetings.

The night before his first one-on-one, he found Michele’s e-mail waiting for him.  He printed out the chart and read it many times.  The left column listed his old behaviors, while his new best practices stood opposite them in the right column.  This should be simple.   He and Michele had discussed the logic for each best practice, and on paper they looked reasonable and preferable.  But memories of shouting at meetings reminded him that logic did not always carry the day.  To adopt and sustain his new behaviors, he would need to dissolve the emotions that were driving the old ones.  That way he’d be able to relax and trust his spontaneous actions to reflect his intentions.

Tomorrow, in his meeting with Carla, he would take this new strategy for a test run.

Click here to read Chapter 28.

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Bill Joiner’s Interview on Leadership Agility Coaching

Bill Joiner Interview Dragons At WorkBill Joiner, MBA, EdD is a seasoned leadership expert and organizational change consultant, with 32 years experience completing successful leadership development, team development, and organizational change projects for companies in a wide variety of industries. He and Stephen Josephs co-authored the award-winning book Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change. Bill speaks about leadership agility, partners with senior leaders in developing high performing teams, creating breakthrough strategies, leading organizational change, and redesigning business processes.

SJ: Bill, why don’t you tell us about what you’re interested in currently. What’s got your attention these days?

Bill: I’m doing a range of things all drawing on the leadership agility framework, from speaking at events around the world to working with companies on changing their leadership culture. I’m working with teams to help them become more agile. I’m doing one-on-one coaching interventions and also putting together groups who do leadership agility coaching.

SJ: What got you to write about leadership agility in the first place?

Bill: Well, as you know, Stephen, it was meeting you and discovering the commonality of our personal and professional interests that got me interested in writing this book with you.

SJ: Yes, and before we met you had studied the relationship between stage development psychology and effective leadership for twenty-five years. What is it about this topic that made it so compelling for you for that many years?

Bill: Initially, my interest in stages of adult development, which is the core framework behind leadership agility, came from meeting Bill Torbert when I was twenty-one and at a time when I was trying to figure out where I was going in my life. I had already been through several years of intense personal growth. At that point, I had read a number of things that helped me understand what personal growth was all about, mainly in the field of humanistic psychology. But what really intrigued me was the stage development approach, because it had the potential of synthesizing a variety of psychological perspectives into one holistic framework.

My interest started out as personal and gradually grew to What is this good for in the world? And the immediate connection was around leadership. I continued to read about it for several decades while I worked as an organizational development consultant; using it implicitly. I picked OD methodologies to use with clients – methods that I felt were essentially designed to help them develop to the next level, whether it was an individual, group or organizational methodology.

Then it was meeting you and feeling your infectious energy around this framework that led me to make a commitment to working on the book that I’d always thought I would write but never had.

SJ: For my part, talking to you about stages of development filled in a missing piece for me, which was: Why was it that some of the leaders I coached would latch onto the more transformational methods (or more advanced ways of thinking about leadership) when others were only interested in whatever they had to do to tactically hit the next milestone?

Learning about adult stage development opened up a whole way of understanding where somebody’s consciousness was on the continuum. And that allowed me to, in a much more precise way, stay right with them. That’s the beauty of it, and that’s why our collaboration was so important for me.

Bill: One thing that I really liked about what we did with the book and what you did with this chapter (10), is to clearly identify the mental and emotional capacities that are characteristic of these different stages and how that translates into leadership behavior.

In Dragons at Work, you’ve written about it so that the reader not only sees Dan’s behavior, but when Michele is talking with Dan after the team meeting, they get insight into what is driving that behavior. In coaching, or other kinds of leadership development, it’s extremely useful to understand both dimensions, the inner and the outer, for each stage.

SJ: What’s the first thing that struck you along those lines in this chapter?

Bill: The first thing that struck me was how Dan introduces his coach, Michele, to the team. Basically, he tells them “she’s here to observe how we work together”. If we put ourselves in the team’s place at this point and think for a minute about what concerns and questions they might have about Michele’s presence, I can easily imagine them thinking things like “Well, okay. And then are they going to sit together afterwards and critique everybody? Decide who are the stars and who aren’t; who needs to be promoted and who needs to be fired? Is that why she’s here?” Because he tells them that she’s his executive coach, but he doesn’t say this is all about “my” development. He just leaves it vague.

What I imagine is behind this is that – and we see this later in the chapter, too -he doesn’t have a well developed sense of empathy yet, and his ability to put himself in other people’s shoes is not well tuned. If he had more empathy I think he likely would have introduced her differently.

SJ: So then Dan starts the meeting and goes ahead with business as usual, and when he finds a flaw in Peter’s presentation he jumps on Peter “with a barrage of questions”. So what does that tell you?

Bill: What I see in Dan are a lot of the characteristics of the Expert orientation of development. The Expert tends to be very judgmental and perfectionistic toward others and toward themselves (in this case, toward others). We also see the lack of empathy that we just mentioned.

And, Dan isn’t questioning Peter in depth. He’s not trying to find out anything beyond what’s right on the surface – he has an issue with Peter’s reasoning about data on a slide he’s presenting. But if there’s a larger problem underlying that or there’s something about the project that’s actually off because of it, Dan doesn’t express any curiosity about it. He doesn’t expand or deepen the conversation.

SJ: Yes, and it’s interesting when people say, “What were you thinking?” because they’re not really asking a question.

Bill: They’re making a judgmental statement.

SJ: Right. If Dan were operating at a later stage, for instance the Catalyst, he might actually be interested in the answer to “What were you thinking?”.

Bill: Yes. And he would ask the question with a tone that invites an exploration instead of beating somebody over the head.

Also, Dan’s tone and behavior are bound to create defensiveness in Peter or any other direct report. Even if Dan wasn’t their boss, it’s going to create defensiveness, but here he’s in a senior position of power, so it’s even more likely.

In previous chapters we’ve seen Dan behaving in similar ways in other areas of his life. Often, this leads people to withdraw a sense of ownership or commitment to a shared endeavor. In the context of Dan’s team, the members hunker down and are in survival mode. That’s going to bounce back to Dan and increase his burden to figure out everything himself, because the team isn’t engaged.

It reminds me of Chapter 2 in Leadership Agility. “The Five Eds” illustrates how the same person would deal with the same leadership challenge, but from five different levels of agility. In that chapter, the “Expert” Ed feels like he has to pull teeth to get his team to really engage, and he doesn’t see (just as Dan doesn’t see) how his own behavior shapes the behavior of his team members.

One thing I’d like to add: I don’t want people to get the impression that all Experts act just like this, because what we’re seeing in Dan here is a mix of the Expert level and what we call in Leadership Agility the assertive “power style”; an assertive way of dealing with differences as opposed to a more accommodative approach where the manager would deal with differences by asking questions and being more inclusive.

For example, I’ve worked with some Experts who are really good at listening and in making their departments feel like “one big family”. What they’re not good at is confronting the tough issues. So they’re the opposite Dan in their style. In Experts with a more accommodative style, there is the same kind of judgmental, perfectionistic, surface level, problem solving orientation, but it’s not expressed assertively. So you can get either of these two opposite modes at the Expert level, and sometimes managers at the Expert level flip back and forth between the two.

SJ: Yes, and even when an Expert creates a “big family” atmosphere in their department you still can have the same “hub-and-spoke” approach to leading the team… it just feels nicer.

What else got your attention in this chapter?

Bill: Michele does a skillful job when she and Dan debrief the team meeting. She asks Dan what outcomes he was going for and how well he achieved them. That’s more of an Achiever level question, which is the next stage or level of agility from where he is (Expert). It puts the question of how the meeting went into a larger context of the outcomes he’s trying to achieve; not just looking at specific things he did in isolation. Dan’s response is more of an Expert level answer, because that’s his current state. When a skillful coach senses need and readiness to begin shifting to the next level, he or she can ask questions that start broadening the context of the conversation into the next stage of leadership development.

SJ: Yes, and Michele’s question also presupposes that meetings, to be effective, have outcomes to think about and plan for. And even if he’s never thought about that before, the question itself begins to influence him to adopt an outcome oriented approach.

Bill: And in Dan’s answer we get a clear window into his thought process. He talks about putting together all the puzzle pieces that he’s managing in his head, and Michele acknowledges that this is a great ability. But he implicitly assumes that he has the sole responsibility for doing this, and therefore he doesn’t need to develop the group into a team that can do some of this on their own, or who can share in what he currently sees as solely his responsibility.

Another nice thing about Michele’s question is that it leads Dan to speak out loud a thought process that’s driving much of the way he operates with his team, and so it becomes visible to him. He gets some distance on it, and he can see it more objectively. That’s another important step in expanding his awareness – the ability to step back and look at it.

SJ: And what do you want to comment on next?

Bill: A little further along in the debrief Michele invites him to think about what both he and the team contribute. Because he has the perfectionist attitude that we often see at the Expert level, Dan probably doesn’t spend a lot of time appreciating his strengths or those of his team. He’s always running on to fix the next problem. Michele doesn’t overdo the acknowledgement of his contributions. She does just enough that it can slip in. It’s another skillful coaching moment that’s worth noting.

SJ: When people are used to brushing off the positive feedback because they don’t think it’s useful, it’s good to keep the subject alive. Even though they have a repellent film against it, eventually, the message seeps through.

Bill: Right. And she’s not saying to herself Oh, gee, I should say something positive here. Let me see. What in the world could I say? She’s being very genuine. And I’m sure that emotionally Dan gets it. They’re in the process of building trust at the beginning of a coaching relationship, and this helps create the trust.

SJ: Yes. And next she challenges him when she says, “…and there’s a more efficient way of fixing things that better leverages what you know and enlists more of your teams intelligence. Right now, even though you’ve pushed them hard, you’re not getting enough out of them, and they’re certainly not getting enough out of you.” From the Expert’s point of view, how would that be a challenging statement?

Bill: She’s using the language of the Expert as she talks about efficiency, fixing things and getting enough out of people. But there’s an ironic twist to it, because she’s clearly not talking about, as Dan says, “pushing them harder…” To paraphrase Einstein, she’s inviting him to consider the idea that, “You can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it.” That is, you need to look at the team from another level in order to change and improve it, while at the same time she’s connecting with him by using Expert level language.

SJ: And then Dan says, “How would I get more? I don’t think I can push them any harder.” And instead of answering the question, Michele keeps exploring the team meeting so that Dan has the opportunity to look at it in new ways.

Bill: Yes. She describes what happened in a way that brings a conceptual framework to it. She takes what he said about his thought process and the hub-and-spoke style of the meeting and uses this metaphor to describe how he’s running his organization. Then they discuss the consequences and clear limitations of this way of operating. She’s hinting that to get more out of people, you need to examine whether this hub-and-spoke approach is really the way to go.

SJ: And she asks Dan, “While Peter was presenting his status update, what was everyone else doing?”

Bill: We’ve all seen this in meetings, right?

SJ: Yes, definitely. So he’s given them all permission to not pay attention to each other’s reports and to be separate spokes. And in this case, to not listen to or think about what Peter is working on and how it fits into the whole.

Bill: Yes, she’s challenging him there, too.

SJ: Then Michele says, “…it discourages the spokes from trying or even wanting to apprehend the whole system, and it almost guarantees you’ll have no able candidates to succeed you.” Because he doesn’t have multiple outcomes for meetings (like using his meetings to help develop his team), he ends up with no one who seems to be very capable.

Bill: Yes. And most likely he’s beginning this coaching relationship with the assumption that, to the extent that the performance of his people is disappointing; it’s all because of them. She’s pointing out that it may be partly them, but it’s also partly Dan, the guy who happens to be the most powerful person in the room organizationally. So, she’s connecting some dots for him, giving him some feedback, and in a sense making a prediction as to what would happen if he kept doing it the way he’s been doing it.

SJ: It’s a coaching technique that helps people to see and come to terms with the fact that they’re creating the very dilemma they complain about.

Bill: Exactly.

SJ: And then Michele moves into a discussion about stages of adult development. She begins by asking Dan, “How old is your daughter? Remember what it was like when she was two…” So this is the stuff that both of us are interested in and that led us to write Leadership Agility. Michele says to Dan that in the book “The authors Joiner and Josephs explore five progressive stages of leadership and how being at one or another affects a leader’s capacity to lead.”

Then she gives a little lecturette on the first level, the Expert.

Bill: Yes, just a snippet.

SJ: If readers want to explore this material in more depth they can read Leadership Agility. The first two chapters, along with the charts, present a good overview.

Bill: In the book we not only identify the characteristics of an Expert leader when they’re leading a team; but also when they are having tough face-to-face conversations, and you see both of those in Dragons at Work.

The other area that we identify is the way that Experts go about trying to change or improve their organization. Experts have a real passion not only for problem solving but also for improving things. The approach they take in leading change tends to be tactical and incremental rather than strategic.

Experts usually focus on improvements within the areas where they have authority, because there’s an implicit assumption that leadership is really about having authority and expertise. So they feel very confident and empowered there – it’s their domain. But if they are trying to do something cross-functional, like influencing people they don’t have authority over, that’s more of a challenge for the Expert.

The other thing I would add is that Experts don’t get how important it is to motivate their team or their stakeholders. So they’re not well tuned into the whole. They’re certainly aware of their stakeholders but it’s not that compelling to the Expert to engage with them or to build the support for their change efforts. The importance of motivating others becomes a huge focus at the next stage, the Achiever level.

SJ: Yes, and in Dragons at Work we see how that plays out. But let’s step back from the story for a minute. Could you say something about stage-development psychology?

Bill: Let’s see. In Leadership Agility we brought in many different kinds of research, but the backbone was this field called stage-development psychology. Some people may have heard of the work of Bob Kegan, Jane Loevinger, Bill Torbert or Susanne Cook-Greuter. They are some of the leading lights in the field, and they have each created fairly similar research-based frameworks about how people develop.

Stage-development psychology started early in the last century and focused on how children develop; how their thinking develops and how they develop socially and emotionally. In the last several decades there been a real explosion of research on stages of adult development, and that was part of what stimulated us to write our book.

I want to add here that when people hear about developmental stages, they often assume we’re talking about the stages of development that occur naturally because of age. The developmental stages we’re talking about here correlate fairly closely with age during childhood. However, as we become adults, a person’s developmental stage gets harder and harder to predict just from knowing their age. Our development may plateau during one period of our lives and then resume later; or we may just plateau, period; or we may keep going through the stages. It depends on what kinds of environments we’re in, and what our interests and motivations are.

SJ: Coaching has always been one of my favorite media for guiding adult development. And in this chapter we see how a coach’s questions can move a manager forward in this process.

So at the end of this chapter, when Dan and Michele are wrapping up, she asks him, “How could you run your meetings if you truly wanted your team to think like you …” which is one of his big criteria “… or better so that you could take a vacation…” which is a totally foreign but desired goal “…and return to a project that’s humming along nicely…” That’s a big challenge: could he go away and come back, and find the project running fine? In some sense, he wouldn’t like that. One part of him would love it, and another part of him would think Oh, gee, I’m not needed.

And Dan responds, “It’s an interesting question.” This is where their meeting ends and it’s the end of Chapter Ten. Do you want to add any thoughts at this point?

Bill: Here at the end, I think Michele is implicitly saying, “What if you had a different objective from the one you have now for your team?” She’s painting the possibility of the next step in his development as a team leader. To seriously contemplate moving to a new level of leadership agility is a big question. It’s a great place for them to end their meeting, because it’s understandable that he’d want to think about it. Even if he doesn’t have an introverted thinking style, he’s probably going to want to think about it.

It also reminds me of situations where leaders intuitively sense that they need to delegate more. They need to let go more. They need to create an environment where the people on the team are much more engaged and feel more responsible and empowered.

In this kind of situation, one part of them says Okay, yes, I need to do this and there’s another part that’s like Why would I want to do that, because it feels so empty when I imagine myself doing it.… What value am I going to be adding? What’s my life going to be like if that happens?

Those feelings can stall things out in terms of making that shift, so it’s really helpful to have (as I know Dan will have as his coaching continues) a clear picture of what that next level of leadership looks like, how fulfilling it can be and what a big job it is. It’s not just letting go of things; it’s taking on bigger things. That’s an important part of the developmental shift, because a lot of people get told, “Let go. Let go.” Well, what do you expect somebody to do when that’s all you’re telling them? They’re going to keep holding on.

SJ: Yes. It’s a great question to ask at the end of the session because he has to go deeply into it. There’s no quick answer.

Bill: Right. And it will be a dance between them in terms of Dan developing the curiosity and the interest, and Michele feeding him these snippets. That’s where I’m imagining it’s going to go. We’ll see. We’ll let it incubate.

SJ: We will. Another thing I’ve noticed in coaching Experts is that when, instead of always trying to drive things to happen (especially in the focused way that they do), they finally realize a lighter touch gets more to happen, they find out that they’re actually underutilized. At some point, they change from being a supervisor to a leader and that allows them to handle more complexity.

Bill: You might hear someone say, “And I just have no time, and I especially don’t have time to step back and think strategically about things.” The intervention here with Dan helps him connect the dots and see why that is, and it hints at a pot of gold that might be waiting at the end of the rainbow.

SJ: In closing, any comments in terms of what Michele did as Dan’s coach?

Bill: What strikes me about Michele is that she stays very present with him throughout the conversation. She frequently challenges him but in a way that keeps them connected. And the other thing that strikes me is that she has obviously internalized the Leadership Agility framework. Although she can be didactic with it in short snippets when it’s useful, she’s incorporated it in her repertoire of coaching skills, and she uses it like she’s playing an instrument.

SJ: Thanks, Bill. You’ve given us a great introduction into the Leadership Agility framework and the Expert stage with a peek into the Achiever.

To learn more about Bill Joiner and his work go to his website.

Readers: To download your free chapter (Chapter 2 – The Five Eds) from Leadership Agility click here.

Stephen Comments On How To Design the Coaching Relationship

Dragons At Work Weekly Wrap UpIn Chapters 4-6 Dan decides to hire a coach and he interviews three coaches before he makes his choice.

There are multiple outcomes for a first meeting with a potential client. Most important is to provide the richest set of experiences possible, so the client can make an informed decision. Many executives haven’t worked with a coach, so they’re unfamiliar with the interview process. But they are familiar with job interviews, and they may want to interview the coach the way they would a prospective employee. Although they may feel comfortable and in control doing it this way, it won’t give them the information they need to make a good choice.

I believe a coach needs to persuasively invite the client to, as Michele says, roll up his or her sleeves and have a brief working session. There is no substitute for the direct experience of working together.

Of the three coaches, Michele succeeds in engaging Dan. She sidesteps his request for a theoretical conversation and using humor, she gently confronts him: Does he want to work or not?

The first coach makes the mistake of acting like a consultant. It’s helpful to have pertinent technical knowledge, but the real job of the coach is to develop the client. Simply offering technical advice, especially to someone who’s already an expert, is a losing proposition.

The second coach loses control of the meeting. She falls into the trap of answering Dan’s questions. His behavior unmistakably tells her that he doesn’t care about the questions or the answers. Instead of addressing that head on, she talks about what holds interest for neither of them.

To begin their coaching, Michele asks Dan what questions about the project are on his mind. He floods her with questions. Dan becomes frustrated with her when she says, “Those are all good questions.” He wants answers. Of course, Michele would be foolish to provide answers for two reasons. First, she has no answers. Second, even if she had great answers, Dan, who has yet to begin any self reflection, wouldn’t be able to understand or assimilate them. Michele’s job is to provide the framework and act as a catalyst for
Dan’s inquiry so the coaching reveals what he needs to know.

Michele also uses the interview to test if Dan can follow her breathing instructions and calm down. His response tells her that he may be able to take advantage of her expertise in mind-body disciplines.

After a sleepless night, he chooses her over the other two coaches.


For Executives: To choose the best coach for yourself…

  1. Be transparent and hold nothing back in an initial working session. That will allow you to check out the coach’s real competencies.
  2. If you have questions about the process, ask the coach directly, rather than making private assumptions and judgments. The coach’s responses will help you decide whether or not to hire that coach.
  3. Chemistry is important. Trust your gut. You’ll spend a good amount of time together, and the coach has to be someone you can respect and collaborate with.

For Human Resource Executives: In choosing coaches for your executives…

  1. Coaching is a profession without entry barriers and few recognized credentials. Check the coach’s background and experience.
  2. Make sure that your coach knows how to deliver results so that evidence of success is apparent to key stakeholders. It’s even better if the coach is schooled in how to quantify results and offer a business rationale that speaks to your company’s strategic goals.
  3. Make sure there is a true ROI for coaching. Coaching should deliver a return that is worth 10 to 20 times your investment. If that is not the case, consider alternatives.

For Coaches: In choosing clients… (it’s much the same as for the executive choosing you)

  1. Be transparent and hold nothing back in a working session. That will allow you to check out how the client responds to your approach, and it will deepen your connection with them.
  2. If you have questions about the client’s responses, ask the client directly. Your job is to make sure the client gets the best coach, and it may not be you. So, inquire and be ready to refer.
  3. Chemistry is important. Trust your gut. If you don’t think this client is a good fit for how you work, be honest and offer alternatives. You need to coach people who are a great match for you. If you give that value primacy it will best serve your clients and your business.
  4. Make sure you have a strong working partnership with your internal HR partner. S/he can provide you with background and onsite observations you can’t get any other way.

Question for Reflection: If you had the opportunity to work with a wise and skillful coach, what would you tell the coach about yourself and your goals that would lead you to the core of what your coaching would be about?

In the next chapters we’ll see Michele and Dan dive into their coaching work. Intrigue, more tools and useful stories are to come.

Stay tuned.

Did you miss the previous chapter?

CHAPTER 6 – Dan’s Choice

Dragons At Work Chapter 6 - Dans ChoiceBetween brief bouts of exhausted sleep, Dan contemplated hiring a coach.

Could he afford the time? He was over scheduled as it was. He imagined Janice and Maggie visiting him in the hospital, worried and trying not to let it show. In the darkness of their bedroom, Janice sleeping soundly beside him, he ran future scenarios.

By the time he abandoned the idea of sleep and began his day, he decided to hire Michele.

Click here to read Chapter 7.

Dragons at Work
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CHAPTER 1 – IT Executive Loses it Over Love Seat in Driveway

Dragons At Work CHAPTER 1 - IT Executive Loses it Over Love Seat in DrivewayDan slammed on his brakes. He stopped just inches from the front end of the truck leaving his driveway. Three Krispy Kreme donuts and the remains of a large coffee mingled on the floor of the front seat of his new BMW 335i.

Dan got out and stormed to the driver’s side of the truck.  Helping Hand, Inc. was painted on the door.

“I thought you were here to pick up the furniture,” Dan barked.

The driver rolled down his window.

“Say again?”

“The furniture. You were supposed to pick it up,” said Dan.

“Yeah, I was, but I can’t take that piece.”

“Why not?” he demanded.

“Because it doesn’t meet our standards.”

Dan looked in the direction of the love seat.  “What are you talking about?”

The driver climbed out of his truck and walked toward the love seat, motioning for Dan to follow. Running his hand along the frayed upholstery on the back he said, “You got a cat or something?”

“What I’ve got is a piece of furniture that’s in perfectly good condition.  I called your office.  I described it.  I scheduled a pick up, and now it’s your turn to do your job, so we can both get on with our lives.”

“Sir, would you please move your vehicle so I can exit your driveway?”

“Would I what?” said Dan.

“I think you heard me,” said the driver.

“Yeah, I heard you.  My car stays right there until you load that piece onto your truck.”

Looking at Dan, the driver sized him up.  Five-nine, maybe 200 pounds, a big gut on him.  I could take him out, ten seconds tops. But what about the cops and assault charges?  I’ve been down that road.   Maybe I could get him to take the first shot.  No.  Better get in the truck and let him cool off.

“Did you ever think of taking an anger management course?” the driver said through the half-closed window of his cab.

Dan lurched back to his car, pulled the door shut with rattling force, and grabbed his cell phone.  He gnashed through numbers and menus until a receptionist at Helping Hand Incorporated cheerfully responded.

“Helping Hand. This is Deborah.  How may I help you?”

“I scheduled a pick-up for today,” said Dan.  “Your driver is here and refuses to take a perfectly good love seat.  I want to talk to someone who can order him to load the goddamn piece onto his goddamn truck.”

“I wish I could help you sir, but the manager is the only one who can do that and he isn’t in on Saturdays.  You know, our drivers are trained to make these kinds of decisions.”

“Well, he’s making the wrong decision.”

“Excuse me, Sir.  I have another call coming in.  Can you hold please?”

Looming in his rearview mirror, Dan saw a police car glide to a stop.  The officer stepped out of his cruiser and walked toward Dan’s car. Dan got out to meet him.

“Is there a problem, Sir?” the officer asked Dan.

“I’m the one who called, Officer,” said the driver, climbing out of his truck.

Dan took a step toward the officer. “I’m trying to get this guy from Helping Hand to take that love seat, but it doesn’t seem to meet his high aesthetic standards.”

The policeman looked at the driver, then at Dan.

“I’ll show you, Officer,” the driver said.

The three of them walked over to the love seat and the driver pointed to the frayed fabric.

“I’m not supposed to take furniture in this condition,” said the driver.

“Look,” said Dan, “it’s a perfectly good love seat.  We kept its back against the wall.  I just took it from our living room this morning.”

The driver turned toward Dan and said, “I’m sorry you had to live that way.”

For a moment no one spoke.

Addressing Dan, the officer said, “Sir, I’m sorry, but it’s his decision to make. Move your car, please, and let him drive away.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Dan.

“No, I’m not. Move your car.”

The officer turned toward his cruiser just as a smile broke across his face.

Dan mashed his tire rim into the curb as he backed up.  When the truck and cruiser vanished, he stood alone in his driveway, looking at the love seat.  Against the black asphalt, it looked forlorn and hideously pink.

He wrestled it from the ground and balanced it on his thighs, his knees bent. Lifting it higher, he hobbled to the side of the garage and dropped it under the eave.  His hands trembled, his chest felt tight, and he wanted more air than he could get into his lungs.

Click here to read Chapter 2.

Click here to read the interview with Redford Williams Interview about How Anger Hurts the Heart.

 Dragons at Work
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