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.


Leadership Presence in a Lightning Speed World

earth as ally.cbachy2What is leadership exactly?  What does it mean to lead? To be a leader?  Who leads? Do you have to have a title to lead?  To have letters that begin with a C next to your name to lead? 

In the past few years I have had the opportunity to learn from Harvard Kennedy School Professor, Hugh O’Doherty about what leadership means in our times.  I paraphrase the definition that Dr. O’Doherty offered in a graduate seminar I took with him:

“Leadership is the capacity to mobilize others to face the repertoire of problems for which we don’t have enough information or the skills to solve.  Authority alone doesn’t cut it. 

The dilemma of leadership is that there are multiple interpretations of what the problem is and what we should be doing.”

I find this definition so refreshing in its “realness.”  There is no fluff or fanfare.  In my work with clients, I find that this definition most aligns with their experience of leadership.    

Our problems are complex.  At times we don’t agree on how to define the problems, let alone agree on what the solutions are.  When we look to our usual technical solutions, we don’t find a shelf full of tools for an easy fix.  The solutions we are looking for come from the ability to sit in the uncertainty and discomfort of the unknown, to form partnerships and alliances, to deal with conflict, and to adapt to new realities that we have yet to conceive.   These adaptive solutions call for deeper, inner capacities and strength to be steadfast and patient for the long run.  It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.  And yet we feel like we have to run faster than ever in this lightning speed information world.

So, how do we pace ourselves?  How do we find renewal in leadership?  Here is a primer gathered from a few areas that Hugh O’Doherty and other leaders in the field of adaptive leadership focus on:

1)     Connect to your purpose.  Why do you do what you do? Your fire, not the, polished mission statement of your organization.  What gets you out of bed in the morning?

2)     Get on the balcony to observe the dance floor.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day activity of our worlds.  Be an observer once in a while. Step up on the balcony and get another view of what is happening on the dance floor.  What’s the music underneath the action?  Who is dancing? Who is not?  Who’s dancing with who and how?

3)     Find sanctuary:  space to know yourself, to be quiet, to come back to your center.  It would be great if we could go on more retreats up to the mountain tops and return the wise sage.  The reality is that these special “retreats” away are few and far between.  In the meantime,  how do we find sanctuary, inner space to come back to our center, to what we care about, to our purpose.

4)     Find and connect to confidants and allies.  “The days of the lone wolf are over,” say the Elders of the Hopi Nation.  Adaptive challenges call for new partnerships and alliances:  coaches, mentors, confidants to support and challenge us, to remind us of what really matters.

Leadership and Horse Sense: Save the Date!

horse_dog_184ssbj-184ssdmIn Horse Sense, Martha Beck reports on the profound experience of working with horses as coaches to better understand how we show up in relationship with others in our world.  (See Horse Sense in the August, 2013 issue of O Magazine.)

Horses are innately gifted teachers for us.  “They communicate what they feel, straight up, all the time,” writes Martha Beck.  “Which means that to gain their trust, humans must be genuine, clear, and honest.”  Genuine, clear, honest sound like great qualities in a leader.

My experience working with a horse as teacher offered me a rich opportunity to practice the qualities of leadership presence.  Presence communicates leadership.  Leadership is not about knowing in the technical sense; leadership is about being fully present in the moment and in connected partnership with others.

Join Amanda Madorno, the herd at Epona Meadows, and I on September 27th to experience this gift for yourself.  Amanda will masterfully guide you through an equine facilitated experience. And I will offer aikido inspired somatic coaching on the non verbal dimensions of leadership presence.  Come play, learn, and be amazed by this unique partnership!

For more information, and to register please visit us here.  We are happy to answer any questions you may have as you consider this powerful opportunity.

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.