Engagement ~ What future will you stand for?

Summit 2038 Catherine Bachy, Graphic Facilitator

I’ve been thinking a lot about engagement these days.  In the upcoming elections in the United States we are seeing a dramatic rise in new political candidates running for office and more voter participation than in the last 50 years.  We see more protests and demonstrations of free speech, freedom to assemble, freedom to dissent.  Citizens are engaging in the tools of a democratic system that are guaranteed them by a Constitution forged by the vision and principles of those who came before us.

On the flip side there is also a trend towards dis-engagement.  The 24/7 news cycle and social media channels produce a fire hose of information that is ever more provocative and overwhelming.  If you are like me, you might need to press the pause button or put yourself on a “media diet” from time to time.

It can be challenging to find balance between creative engagement that generates new solutions and connections, and a complete disengagement due to the overwhelming impact of the news cycle.

These days I find hope for the world in examples and models of constructive engagement: people engaged wholeheartedly in the creation of the future of our society, our country, and our world.

This week I witnessed a group of community members, about 150 in all, come together in a day long facilitated summit to vision the future of their region and their county.  I witnessed, in my role as graphic facilitator, a group of people turn reality upside down and shift the often heard refrain of:  “we don’t know what the future holds,” to something more like, “we create and envision our future together.”  In this gathering I saw a group of community members from different backgrounds, ages, occupations, genders and races come together and enact Margaret Mead’s call to action:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Engagement—it takes grit; it takes putting down our cell phones; it takes getting uncomfortable in important and challenging conversations.  The results of engagement can be an opening to new ways of thinking and seeing, and the creation of a world that we can stand up for and champion—against all odds.  Our collective future is ours to create.  What future will you stand up for? And what small first step can you take to create that future today in your community?

Facilitator's Corner: How do you begin meetings?

“How does your culture call out the best in you and your team so that you inspire excellence in each other?”

As an organizational consultant and meeting facilitator I notice how groups begin meetings.  What does the beginning look like?  When do the meeting participants know that the meeting has begun?  What signals or clues or rituals indicate:  “It’s time to stop chatting and talk about what care about.”
labirynthBeginnings set the tone and expectation of what we are going to talk about and how we are going to talk about it.
Sometimes meetings begin with an “ice breaker.”  And facilitators seem to have a number of those in their tool kit. When I think of ice, I think:  cold climate, ice skating, scraping my car, mittens.  It definitely creates the mood and tone of chilly!
I had the experience of facilitating two meetings last week where we didn’t begin with an “ice breaker.” There actually wasn’t any ice to break!  Each of the clients had requested to begin the meeting in the way that has meaning in their organizational culture.  In each case a meeting participant (not the boss) had been asked to start the meeting with a reflection, a moment of inspiration.  Inspiration contains the root of the word, “spirit”, and each of these beginnings invited the participants to reach for their best selves and for an aspiration that was bigger than themselves.
This moment was not about “breaking” but about “reaching and connecting” to bring out the best possible outcome.  The words chosen by the participants set the tone and set the expectation of shared ownership of excellence.
Time is a precious resource.  This has always been true.  Today’s experiences of buzzing and dinging mobile devices give us constant reminders of how little time there is to get to everything on our calendars.
So, how do you begin?  How does your culture call out the best in you and your team so that you inspire excellence in each other?

Seven Principles for Courageous Conversations

It’s an honor to hold the space for leaders to speak their truth in times of disagreement or conflict.  What seems to embolden and inspire courageous conversations is a shared higher purpose and vision for the work of the team.    Successful teams know that  without the courageous conversation their work will stall and stutter and lack authenticity.  They know they must traverse the choppy waters before they can get to the smooth sailing.
In the past couple of months I have facilitated courageous conversations with leadership teams.  And this is what I have learned as guidelines for having conversations that successfully move the team to solutions:

  1. Build trust by reaffirming common purpose.  What brings you to the conversation?  What do you care about in this conversation?
  2. Name the conversation, before you begin.  Agree on the topic of the conversation.  What is it we are speaking about?  Avoid euphemisms, jargon, or code words.  Give the conversation a direct name.  Begin with the phrase, “This is a conversation about….”
  3. Agree on norms or rules for the conversation. How will you be with one another in the conversation?  This usually involves statements about confidentiality.  It’s about owning one’s experience and using ”I statements” rather than being tempted to blame and point the finger.  This involves talking about civility and respect and how you as a group can protect these essential qualities.
  4. Write out your agreements for how you will be with one another so that everyone can see them and contribute to them.
  5. Allow everyone equal time to speak.  Sometimes not everyone will feel comfortable speaking.  Make sure even if people choose not to speak, they still have time for their voices to be heard.
  6. Leave silence in between statements.  There is such a temptation to fill the silence.  Yet this silence can serve as buffer and time to reflect so that people can reconnect to what they care about and stay present in the conversation.
  7. Check in periodically and invite people to take three deep breaths before continuing.  Again, it’s useful to pause and help people reassure the part of them that feels threatened so that they can access higher order thinking and problem solving.


Creative Destruction

fall foliageIt is hard to find anything friendly about the word “destruction.”   Yet the fall gives us colorful reminders of destruction in the natural world.  Leaves fall off trees and they do so marvelously, as if they were celebrating! 

I notice in organizations that there is a tendency to “pile on” projects, ideas, committees, goals—all great stuff, of course.  Yet, I wonder, how people find the time, the energy, the resources to do all this great work when their plates are already overflowing.

Creative Destruction is a term that comes from a Hindu principle represented by the god Shiva who is paradoxically both creator and destroyer.   Destruction is necessary for creation to happen. 

Intentionally letting go of what might be limiting you leaves room for the creation of new processes, ideas, products, and relationships.  This gives your innovation some breathing room—space to succeed.

What can you let go of in order to make space for the buds of creation to take hold?  And how can you celebrate the endings as you make space for new beginnings?

10 Reminders on Leadership Presence: What I learned from Bella—the red headed mare

cbandbellaA few weeks ago I experienced being coached on my leadership capacity with the powerful assistance of a horse.  My coach and guide for the day, Amanda Madorno, invited me to her farm to experience her equine facilitated coaching.   Amanda began by asking me to choose which horse to work with.  I could have chosen the noble, 30 year old (100+ years in human age) gelding, in whom I sensed a kindred spirit.  But I chose Bella, a spirited, red headed mare.  Or perhaps she chose me.   I found her more intimidating—so I knew she would be my teacher. 

My first task, much to my anxious surprise, was to put a bridle on the mare.  Despite my protests of being a city girl and never having done this before, Amanda gently and confidently coached me through the process.  Bella was feasting on lots of tasty grass, a far more enticing activity than me approaching her with a bridle.  There was no way I could force this horse, much larger than me, to do anything!  I discovered she responded to me when I connected and engaged with her.  “Connect and engage, connect and engage,” became my mantra.  That’s what helped me get the bridle on her.

Then there was the obstacle course!  I had a number of increasingly challenging activities to lead Bella through:  walking over barriers, walking over a small bridge, walking in particular patterns.   I took a deep breath—I had my work cut out for me.

The truth is I have had very little experience with horses.  In theory I love horses as I love all animals.  However, in a corral with the horses, I felt a little afraid.  Their size intimidates me.  Despite all of this, the anxiousness I felt at first melted away once I connected with Bella.  We proceeded through the obstacle course with relative ease.

This experience with Bella offered me a rich opportunity for reflection on the qualities of leadership presence.  Presence communicates leadership.  Leadership is not only about knowing in the technical sense (I know close to nothing about horses); leadership is also about being fully present in the moment and in connected partnership with others.

Here are ten reminders about leadership presence from my work with Bella:

  • Connect with graciousness, curiosity and respect and meet others where they are.
  • Check in graciously and frequently with your partners, allies, and stakeholders.
  •  Be curious, inviting, and inclusive with your presence.
  • Step easily and with care.
  • Remember to breathe deeply.
  • Notice nonverbal cues: the tilt of a head, the exhale of a breath, posture, body language.
  • Move with intention, clarity and focus towards your vision.
  • Include your partners: inclusion creates safety, belonging and coordinated action.
  • Set others up for success.
  • Accept that sometimes we lead without knowing and we experiment and course correct as necessary.

I am excited to announce that I will be partnering with Amanda Madorno in two of her upcoming Leadership and Horse Sense workshops (July 25th and September 27th):

 Leadership and Horse Sense  introduces you to the silent power of nonverbal communication.  This enlightening session with Catherine Bachy, Amanda Madorno and the Epona Meadows herd shows how leadership effectiveness is tightly linked to your use and knowledge of body language and physical presence  whether you know it or not.  You will learn how to accurately de-code the silent signals of others and use body language that is aligned with your verbal messages to increase your leadership credibility.

I will be offering aikido inspired somatic coaching on the non verbal dimensions of leadership presence.  We look forward to combining somatic awareness through foundational principles of aikido (Catherine) with the experience of equine facilitated coaching (Amanda).  Come play, learn, and be amazed by this unique partnership!


Got trust? –the essential ingredient to high performance in teams

Trust is the bandwidth of communication.
– Karl Erik Sveiby

Change, restructuring, and “re-org” are common buzz words these days.  The rapid rate of change in organizations requires a nimbleness to regroup into a variety of teams and work groups that often transcend established reporting structures.  This demands of team members an ability to become high performing in ever shortening cycles of work and productivity.

In a recent workshop with the senior management team of a mid size, 25 year old nonprofit organization in the Puget Sound, I introduced the Team Performance Model (Drexel & Sibbet) to this newly configured team of leaders.  They had just come off of an intense strategic planning phase and had had to jump into being a high performing team in a matter of days.  In this two hour team building workshop, this group was able to take a deep breath and assess where they were as a team.


Using the visual model and framework for team building from the Team Performance Model (see image), the group made several important discoveries.  What they discovered about themselves as a team was that they, like so many teams, had jumped right into implementation of projects and plans because the environment demanded this of them.  They realized that they had more foundational work to do in articulating their purpose as a team beyond attending to the fire drill du jour.  Although they affirmed a core level of trust already present within the group, they realized that in the fast paced days ahead, this trust could wear thin without some intentional trust building along the way.  They agreed that trust building isn’t something that we do once so we can check the box and move on! 

So how do we intentionally build trust in a team?  With much of our time spent in meetings rather than in ropes courses or trust fall exercises, how do we weave trust building on a regular basis? Here are a few of the ideas that came forward in my work with this group:

start meetings with a “check-in”—a brief report (1 minute) from each person that reveals the overall state of being of that person so that they can be heard and then fully present in the meeting

-clarify agreements – prior to the end of the meeting have each person acknowledge and articulate what agreements they made and/or have heard the team make

at the end of a meeting, “check-out”—each person has a chance to say where they are with the content of the meeting.  Raise the level of trust by raising the level of forthrightness in the group.

Essential to trust building is taking the time to connect with each other.  Our mile long to do lists seduce us into jumping to task.  Yet the whole of our human experience responds better when we connect first.  We know this from our interactions with animals and children; adults have often developed a habit of overriding the need to connect first before jumping into action.

As a leadership coach, my work with this group confirmed that the Team Performance Model supports the work of a group in making key discoveries that help move their work forward because of strengthened connection and trust.

Connect first; Ask questions later

hands-sandIn a recent team building workshop I led with a senior management team, I spontaneously introduced an activity which I called, “conference room aikido.”   Participants paired up, stood face to face, and reached across to lightly touch the tips of their partner’s index fingers with their own.  Eyes closed, they experimented with leading and following each other, guided exclusively by their fingertip connection.  They were asked to notice the flow of the rhythm with their partner.  One participant shared later, “when I go too fast, I risk losing the connection with my partner.”  In aikido, on and off the mat, we need to stay connected with our partner in order to coordinate skillful action. 

The bold visions that we have for our organizations and the lofty goals that we set can seduce us into speeding up.  By doing so, we risk losing our partners and allies along the way.   We know by now that we can’t do it alone, and that it’s a lot easier to steer the boat when others can help us row. 

How are you making space and taking time for powerful connection in your organization?

Revolutionary Thought: We came here to play!!

kids_playingVisualize this:  two young girls recognize each other across the playfield and run to greet each other.  One girl’s father says, “We only have thirty minutes before we need to go home for dinner.”  The girls hug each other and are filled with delight.  They talk fast and their voices lilt with giggles.  They run off to the swings and play: thirty hot minutes stretch before them into infinity.
Isn’t this what we are here for?  To delight in each other’s company and to play.
Becoming an adult often means chiseling away at play time in the name of “more serious” pursuits.  Here’s the thing.   In organizations we want to be innovative, creative, and resourceful.  We want high performance and great employee satisfaction scores.  But we have forgotten how to play!
Begin today.
Take a breath.  On your inhale allow your energy to expand up and out like the branches of a tree.  Exhale…follow your breath like a slowly circling light through you, to your center and into the earth.  Ask yourself, “What would it be like to have a little more playfulness in my being?” Notice your body’s response.

The Circle: A Liberating Structure of Leadership

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hill Elementary in Connecticut, I have been reflecting on the circle as a liberating structure in leadership.  It’s not a new structure yet it is so rarely practiced in “civil society.”   In the very old days we sat around a fire for warmth.  And in that circle we began to create our plan for solving a problem or for celebrating.   In a circle we see each other.  We aren’t talking to each other’s backs or over each other’s laptops but into the collective territory we are creating together in the center.
In pre school, children and the adults gather in circle time several times per day.  It is the structure for coming together and organizing, problem solving, getting started on a project, and so on.  The process always begins with a circle.  Then in kindergarten and older grades the desks and chairs get in the way. Gradually classrooms look like pyramids with the teacher at the top of the pyramid, and students in rows underneath it.  Pyramids are so familiar in organizations.  Organizational charts all look like pyramids: a few at the top and then rows of people underneath, with more populated rows at the bottom of the pyramid.  Our societies reflect the pyramid structure: a few at the top, lots at the bottom.
The circle liberates us to share leadership, to find solutions in the collective wisdom and knowledge of the whole.
The words of Marianne Williamson, which Nelson Mandela made famous in his inaugural address, remind us that leadership is not just for a few:
“It’s not just in some of us.  It’s in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fears our presence automatically liberates others.”
What would happen if we brought back the circle in our organizations, maybe not all at once, but little by little, a few minutes at a time?
Try this:  Meet in an open space, gather a few chairs around in a circle, or stand in a circle. Conference tables are great but they invite us to bring in all our stuff: our laptops, papers, cell phones—all tantalizing distractions from the important work of really seeing and listening to one another.