It’s 2001 and I’m standing on an elevated ridge in the White Mountains of Maine in the United States. My map is laid out in front of me on a flat rock, and with compass in hand I’m triangulating our group’s location. We are about to immerse our team into a thick deciduous forest for about 15 miles. The orienting calculations we make now have everything to do with our success of getting to our extraction point before we run out of food and fuel. It’s these fine measurements here on this ridge that will allow us to be successful later on. And with the right understanding of our location right now, we can calibrate each bearing, shoot from tree to tree, and plot an accurate course through the forest. (more…)Read more
“Let’s have a working lunch so we can make sure to get through all the content.”
When a client says something like that to me, I experience contraction and agitation. Why? Because this frame places a premium on the “content” (or the “it”). I am now simply a “content” dispenser and the groups I’m working with are passive consumers. I momentarily imagine myself sitting in front of the group reading aloud from a large book. (more…)Read more
For those of us interested in adult development, too often we tend to focus on stages. In particular, we zoom in on those higher, more complex and seductive forms of maturity that presumably are waiting for us to discover their beauty, added power and desired relief. They reside “up there” in the heights of our preferred hierarchies.
For many of us, the experience of adulthood involves what I call “completion projects” in The Elegant Self. Completion projects are our unexamined drives to become (or appear) more whole and complete. Because they are unexamined, they are the unseen agendas that appear to have most of us. (more…)Read more
Twenty years ago, I made my debut as an organizational psychologist. Perhaps influenced by academics and my former life as an accountant, my envisioned ideal was a neutral, even stoic, helping professional. But I failed spectacularly; I have always had preferences and get very passionate around values, ethics and methods in organizations and leadership. I’m also sensitive to dynamics and emotions in the room, find myself contracting when conflict and stress arise, and become deeply touched by the lives of my clients. (more…)Read more
In my experience, any time we engage in a conversation about our differences with an intention to prove the other side wrong, we’re heading for a dead end. When we take a right-wrong stance to any conversation about difference — whether it’s about race or gender, politics or religion — it reveals that we’re more interested in affirming our positions (and our sense of self tied to those positions) than anything else.
Engaging this way also rests on a hidden belief: that the tension between our differences can be fixed. Even if by some miracle – by simply pointing out why “my” difference is right and “yours” is wrong – I do convert you to my side, this at best creates a false harmony. False, because it keeps our psyches untouched, our perspectives unchanged, and our ways of being with one another limited. The only real victory in this case is a shallow truce that avoids a greater complexity and, ultimately, a greater intimacy, in favor of a more complacent sense of safety.
As a facilitator, I’m interested in working with groups that are keen on developing themselves. I’ve found that one of the most essential ways we can foster growth is through engaging our differences. Consciously engaging our differences is transformational for our ability to learn and grow through relationships.
As I experiment with different ways to support curious, keen-to-grow groups, I’ve come to rely on some basic orienting frames for engaging differences in a way that has the greatest transformational impact.Read more
As a collaboration facilitator, the vast majority of the work I do is with software development teams, which are notoriously male dominated. In the last few years, the tech industry has become hungry for more women and is throwing a lot of money at “the problem.”
Intel announced that it is investing $300M to attract and retain more women. Facebook and Apple now offer $20k egg freezing as an employment benefit so women can delay having children for their careers. And Microsoft has committed to increasing Diversity and Inclusion Training. There are also more and more scholarships available for women and minorities in the hopes of developing a more diverse talent pipeline in the tech industry.
Yet in addition to tackling this gender disparity issue from the outside and increasing the number of women in the field, there’s an invisible interpersonal dimension which also needs attention—but is hardly ever addressed.
Here is the challenge: there are underlying dynamics of how gender differences play out in teams, and if they are poorly understood or not effectively addressed they impact team performance, creativity, and culture.Read more
For most of my career I’ve been involved in the Project and Program Management fields.
In 2002, I attended the first PMI Certified Project Management program at the University of British Columbia, and following that I earned numerous certifications in that discipline—from PMI, Agile, and Scrum to Queen’s University Project Leadership Certification and Negotiation and Leadership trainings.
I’ve managed numerous projects, programs, and portfolios in financial and health sectors, worked with over 50 Project Managers, and interviewed over 200 of them. In addition, I’ve been privileged to have the opportunity to mentor and coach some excellent Project and Program Managers.
Throughout all of these experiences, I’ve witnessed the unique challenges that I and my fellow colleagues go through time after time in applying our systematic learning in complex situations—especially when we find ourselves in uncharted territory.
For seven years, while managing a portfolio of five programs and projects, some of the top challenges that would always show up were a lack of engagement with customers, sponsor(s), the project-team, and end-users. Sound familiar?
For the past ten years, my work as a facilitator has primarily focused on diverse groups where multiple stakeholders need to come together around a shared purpose—often large international non-profits or multiple organizations.
A year ago, I had a client situation where two people had an intense conflict during a gathering I was facilitating and I felt terribly unequipped how to deal with the situation. I knew I needed more training in order to fully serve my clients amidst these kinds of intense, unexpected conflict situations.Read more
I remember doing my first graduate lecture on the further reaches of adult development close to fifteen years ago. I stood up in front of a classroom of people, all whom were older than me, and began my lecture. It was an intense ride. I couldn’t feel much of anything that was going on in the students I was presenting to.
Me, I was too busy attending to the conceptual distinctions in my own mind. I was busy sharpening my intellect. Soon after finishing I could dimly see the aftermath. It was as if an intellectual gatling gun had gone off for the better part of three hours. Metaphorically, you could say I pulled the trigger and didn’t let go until the very end of class. Sure, I opened it up for questions, but my ability to be present and make heartfelt contact with the students in front of me was many years off in my own maturity.
Instead of feeling my own anxiety and uncertainty, I chose to attend rigorously to the sharp and nuanced distinctions in my conceptual world. Instead of acknowledging the nervousness in my hands and the fluttering in my gut, I turned my attention to the multilayered relationships between various theories of adult development. I wanted to deliver unparalleled resolution on the subject matter. And attending to my intellectual prowess was a lot easier than accepting and attending to my embodied sensations of inadequacy and uncertainty.
I share this brief flashback for one reason: I was profoundly wrong in one of my orientations. Then, I taught adult development from a purely conceptual vantage point. Now, I approach development entirely differently.Read more
In 2007 Accenture surveyed over 900 top executives in some of the world’s largest companies across North America and throughout Europe, China, and Japan about the need for more advanced management capabilities. Of those surveyed, nearly 50% of leaders said that their organization was not well suited to producing executives with the capability to manage and lead in the face of rapid change.
It’s clear that today’s professional environments demand greater sophistication of knowledge work; broader global perspectives, infrastructures, and multi-national systems; as well as leaders who are able to self-initiate, self-direct and self-manage. Yet at the same time, high performing leaders continue to be in short supply.
Whether we peer into big business, government, mature non-profits, mid-size companies or startups, the findings are similar: strong leadership is needed and the demand for it vastly outpaces our ability to ready the next generation of leaders to thrive in today’s business climates.
One of the few strategies that can help us to develop greater leadership aptitudes is the use of developmentally crafted curriculum, exercises and assessments. However (and unfortunately) most leaders in organizations are unaware of this body of research, and they aren’t using it to drive leader development in their organizations.Read more
There’s a substantial body of research that supports the idea that managers and leaders at higher stages of development are more effective than those at lower stages of development. This holds true for most meaningful measures of business and organizational effectiveness. Post-conventional or what we sometimes call “post-heroic” forms of leadership and management out-perform and out-maneuver less developed individuals.
Research into nearly 500 managers across a wide range of industries reveals the 80/80 principle. 80% of managers scoring near the bottom of the Leadership Development Profile were found in junior management positions. In contrast 80% of the individuals testing near the top of this developmental assessment were found in senior levels of management. (For those of you not familiar with the Leadership Development Profile, it was created by two of the most trustable names in adult development, Bill Torbert and Susann Cook-Greuter, and has over 40 years of research behind it.)
What this means is that when your capacities develop or mature, you get more options. More choices become available. More diverse behaviors become viable responses. Vertical development yields greater response-ability. Vertical development yields greater command, and more influence.
So, following from that, it also means that if you’re interested in climbing the organizational ladder, one of the most essential tools you need to invest in is your development. And, there’s a good chance that in order for you to even thrive at your current position—let alone add complexity to your job description and responsibilities—you may need to develop.Read more
Most people won’t recommend disappointing the people you report to as a strategy for furthering your career. It’s simple: your boss or the board you report to are to be pleased by your work, not disappointed. Right? Not necessarily.
I want to share with you why disappointing the people you report to can be more efficient in garnering greater respect and demonstrating larger capacities. I call this The Art of Disappointment.
The first thing to understand is that supplying the people you report to with what they want is not a wise strategy. It communicates complacency. Yes, this strategy yields a particular kind of trust—but one that is rooted in dependability.
Merely executing on the expectations of others who hold organizational power over you demonstrates a lack of vision on your part. It means you can’t lead yourself.
Fulfilling the vision, agendas and desires fashioned by others demonstrates you’re a solid employee but not a worthy leader. Be too consistent in merely following your marching orders, and you’ll be communicating a message you might want to carefully reconsider before sharing it with the people who determine who gains new responsibility in your organization.
Now for those reading this who don’t have the ability to consistently execute on the demands handed to them, this isn’t for you. Don’t get ahead of yourself. This message is for those who’ve already spent many years delivering solid, predictable and valuable work day in and day out. While many people want to skip some steps along their professional development in the hopes of getting ahead faster, premature deployments of complex strategies can have undesirable outcomes. Consider this your warning.
But for those of you who know the heart of discipline, sacrifice and commitment and are ripe to take your professional development to the next level, this is for you:Read more
I took an interest in the clip that was all over the internet last week of an episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, the comedian-talk-show-host exchanging with Sam Harris, the atheist-turned-mindfulness author, and Ben Affleck, the actor. If you haven’t already seen it, here’s a link to view the clip of their heated discussion.
Bill Maher begins the discussion by asserting that both he and Sam Harris have been trying to make the case that “liberals need to stand up for liberal principles” like freedom of thought and speech, religious freedom, freedom to leave a religion, and equality for women, minorities, and homosexuals, but says you can’t say those things about Muslims.
Sam Harris responds by asserting that, as he said, “Liberals have failed when it comes to theocracy, and have been sold this meme of ‘Islamaphobia’,” which is the problem of conflating criticism of Islamic doctrine and with bigotry towards Muslims as people.Read more
The desire to impact and influence our world in lasting and meaningful ways is one of the most important maturations of adulthood.
Erik Erikson, the first developmental psychologist to propose a developmental model covering the entire lifespan from birth to death, called this drive for greater influence generativity. He contrasted this immensely generative, service-oriented stage of life with what he called stagnation. Instead of devoting life to serving the mosaic of humanity, when we are caught in stagnation we remain largely self-centered. Instead of focusing on the broader community, organizational and institutional well-being, we remain fixated on what’s good for “me,” “myself” and of course what’s “mine.”
Yet longitudinal developmental research conducted at Harvard University and spanning over 80 years reveals an interesting fact: If we do not remain selfish enough to take care of ourselves, we cannot be the generative human beings we are supposed to be as we mature into adulthood. The individuals who just give again and again burn out. Because they are not resourcing themselves in the essential ways, they often detract from the larger well-being of their communities, organizations and institutions. Instead of being a brighter exemplar of how to live, those who don’t take care of themselves become reminders of what not to do.Read more
One of the most basic constructions of identity is to locate your sense of self in opposition to one side of a polarity. An example in its most basic form: you like being warm and you hate being cold. You are attracted to this, and you are opposed to that.
This may seem to be a trivial stance, however it is anything but trivial.
A polarized way of organizing or structuring yourself is a persistent challenge that stunts leadership effectiveness, limits behavioral flexibility, and chops the amount of freedom you have in half. (And unfortunately for us, none of these limitations are the biggest problem.)
The biggest problem is that these polar constructions of identity (as I call them) happen without you even knowing about it.Read more
Like most kids, when I was a little girl I eagerly anticipated the transition from school to the freedom of summer. But the real highlight for me was the opportunity to travel up the hill to the public library (much more mysterious and shadowy than our protestant elementary school library) once a week to select new reading material. I climbed the hill, pulling my red wagon behind me; I was allowed to borrow only as many books as filled my wagon, providing I returned them all by week’s end.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little greedy.
I became adept at making spatially savvy selections. I strategically selected non-slip covers and optimized book size and packing techniques so that I could maximize my ‘haul’.
Oh, how I loved pouring through those treasures…and the anticipation of what might be in the next wagon.
Fast forward to today, and my tables are stacked with books. Long lists of bookmarked sites. A contact list full of people with ideas, expertise, connections. RSS feeds, Twitter, Stumbleupon, MashUp, Pinterest etc. An almost insatiable interest in what is new, what is relevant, what is trending, and what is necessary and important for me to know—for me to be adequate to the task, to be relevant and on trend.Read more
The biggest problems facing leaders today will also be some of the most perplexing challenges our future generations will confront. Why? It’s simple: we have built-in challenges. Just as human beings are hardwired to handle certain problems with ease, there are shortcomings in our design. While in many ways we are walking and talking miracles of complexity, we have also been built with gaps. These gaps are where we struggle in our own personal and professional lives, as well as from one generation to the next.
So, while you have been built to learn and change in important ways, there are also limits to your adaptability. Now if you’re like many people you may be assuming that adults all share the same limitations. In some ways this is correct. For example, our eyes can’t see infrared light without the help of technology. Yet, adults also have different measures of adaptive capability. Some of us are more adaptive, responsive and capable than others. The fields of leadership development, cognitive development, identity development and many others study these changes in adaptability.Read more
Facilitative leadership is one of the emerging leadership paradigms making its way into more and more organizations, governments and institutions. It is a co-creative leadership model asserting that leaders should effectively facilitate deep collaboration. Deep collaboration means the parties involved—all of them, including the leader—undergo transformations through the work they are engaging. In short, groups undergo what Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government lecturer and founder of the Center for Public Leadership, Ronald Heifez, calls “adaptive changes.” This means development is a central part of leadership.
To be clear here, Facilitative Leadership does not get rid of hierarchical forms of leadership and management. Contrary to popular opinion, it does the opposite. Hierarchy thrives within facilitative leadership. It thrives because pre-existing hierarchies are no longer rigidly in command. As leadership capacity develops beyond traditional hierarchies resting upon position, a new form of hierarchy emerges. A more effective form. Organic and responsive hierarchies come forth—they emerge—and are subservient to the most proficient and creative outcomes. Role and position no longer exclusively distribute power. Now, capability does. And as any seasoned leader will tell you, innovation and productivity have powerful agendas that challenge us to transform ourselves into more adaptive and responsive human beings. Rest assured, if you’re working with leadership models that have abandoned top-down hierarchical models of management, you are going in the wrong direction.Read more
Ten Directions programs are designed to serve the unique personal and professional development needs of exceptional individuals who seek to bring more consciousness to their work in the world.
Our deliberately developmental learning programs orient to each individual as an embodied instrument of change. This means that throughout our programs, we emphasize personal transformative practice to support the development of embodied presence, skillful perspective taking, masterful communication, compassionate engagement and fluid responsiveness to complexity.
We focus primarily on creating programs that address the domains of leadership performance, facilitation mastery, facilitative leadership, and personal development.
We attract participants who:
Ten Directions learners are mature and purpose-driven individuals who are committed to engaging complex issues, diverse worldviews and value systems in service of creating emergent, creative and elegant organizations.
By collaborating with uncommonly insightful and gifted teachers, Ten Directions is cultivating an ecosystem of consciously developmental offerings that will contribute to closing the gap between our human condition and our human potential.Read more