Do you know who you are? Do you know how you come across with other people? If your energy is filled with impatience or arrogance, if you are demanding or condescending, then your way of being does not measure up to the standards of great leadership. Great leaders maintain a presence marked by benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence • the five facets of trust. We also bring calm assurance, playfulness, and optimism into the mix so people can flourish and new ideas can emerge. Most all, perhaps, we are known for our listening, understanding, appreciating, and learning. These qualities are not inborn traits, but they are ways of being. And these ways can be learned. This Provision makes the case.
As most of you read this, I will be arriving and spending my first day in Hong Kong. We are on the first leg of a whirlwind trip through Asia, as I described in my Provision on the Power of Self-Belief. Unless we believe in what we are doing, and unless we believe we can be successful at it, we are not going to work especially hard and we are not going to take much initiative to get things done. Instead, we are going to work to the rule (the bare minimum) and do what we are told (compliance). That’s one way to live, and it may feel safe, but it’s not much fun and it doesn’t use our talents to the fullest.
We are in Asia to share our research on and methodology for coaching in schools. We believe in that cause and we are thrilled to have opportunities to share it with the world. It’s not just adrenaline that will get us through jet lag and a vigorous presentation schedule. It’s passion, enthusiasm, and curiosity. It’s engagement, perseverance, and zest. It’s also leadership, love, and hope • not to mention more than a little humor along the way.
Those are the qualities of being, along with many others, that this Provision is about. It’s not enough to believe in what we are doing. Great leaders also believe in who we are being. That is not the same thing as being puffed up or self-impressed. It is, in fact, the opposite of arrogance. It is a humble recognition of our strengths.
How we are with people is more important than what we do. It is a matter of presence, energy, and well-being. When our spirit is uplifting and life-giving, our leadership is far more likely to be successful than when we are consumed with getting things done. Such consumption can make us overbearing, demanding, and grumpy. We may have the best of intentions • to accomplish an important mission, for example • but we are sure to get in trouble when our attitudes and awareness rub people the wrong way.
In our book on coaching in schools, Evocative Coaching, we devote an entire chapter to the concept of coaching presence. Presence has to do with how we show up. In an earlier book that I wrote together with Margaret Moore of Wellcoaches, the Coaching Psychology Manual, we wrote of this in terms of a coach’s being skills. In order for coaches or leaders to be effective, our way of being must facilitate growth and change through connection.
Unfortunately, many leaders get impatient with the process. We know what we want and we think it will just be faster and better to push on through. So we crack the whip, either with ourselves or with others, until things get done. That approach, however, fails to appreciate the collateral damage of coercion.
In researching our book, we learned a lot about that collateral damage from Monty Roberts, who is perhaps the world’s most famous horse trainer. He is, in fact, often referred to as a horse whisperer because of his approach to starting (rather than breaking) wild horses to accept their first saddle, bridle, and rider. That approach is intentionally nonviolent and non-coercive. It works with the horse to build willingness rather than fearful compliance.
Although horse whisperer is not a term Monty shies away from, it is a term that he has sought to demystify. Horse whispering is not a mysterious gift or charisma that some people are born with while other people are not. Horse whispering is a way of being with horses that comes from choosing to be nonviolent (intention) and then learning to communicate in equus • the language of horse • through preparation, attention, and practice.
That is a most amazing and most important discovery when you stop to think about it. How we are with people is not an accident of birth or personality. How we are with people • our very being • is something we can choose and cultivate over time. In Monty’s case, as a boy and a young man, he spent many years watching mustangs in the wild. He wanted to learn their ways because he was distressed and traumatized by the imposing violence that his father and other horsemen were using to win compliance.
I suppose there is a certain ego gratification that comes from winning a power struggle. I can remember, once, getting into such a struggle with a young man who did not like what I was doing as the leader of an organization. It all caught me very much by surprise. He came up and shook my hand, voicing his opinion of discontent. As I listened, I could feel him tightening his grip on my hand. As he squeezed harder, I squeezed back. Soon, we were locked in a test of wills, strength, and pain. Back and forth it went, progressively tightening our grips. Who was going to be the first to let go?
Not me! My male ego kicked in, along with my senior status, and I was going to teach this young whippersnapper a lesson. Back and forth we went, squeezing harder and harder, until I finally triumphed over my adversary. He let go and walked away. Strangely enough and almost immediately, I felt regret rather than satisfaction. I knew that my overpowering presence had not won anything other than a stupid test of strength and endurance. It had certainly not persuaded him to trust me as a leader nor had it alleviated any of his concerns.
My lack of presence made matters worse. Even though I apologized to him later, our relationship never recovered from that encounter. Instead of winning him over it just made matters worse. Instead of helping me to get things done it added fuel to the fire of mistrust not only for him but also for those he may have talked to about the experience. Suffice it to say, this was not one of my better moments.
Violence is like that. It gets in the way. We think it is the fast way to an end, and perhaps the only way out of a conflict, but our forceful presence both prolongs the process and contaminates the outcome. One of my favorite sayings from Monty Roberts points out, “If you act like you’ve only got fifteen minutes, it’ll take all day. If you act like you’ve got all day, it’ll take fifteen minutes.”
In other words, the more impatient we are with people, the more demanding and forceful, the more obstinate and aggressive, the more likely it is that we will kick up dissatisfaction and resistance. That is not the kind of presence we want when it comes to leadership, whether we are working with horses or people. You can learn more about Monty’s philosophy, and watch his calming yet evocative presence in action, by checking out the following two YouTube videos:
After watching the videos, I encourage you to think about your own presence in leadership and life. How do you show up? What sensitivities do you bring to bear on situations? How would you describe your being skills of coaching and leadership presence?
I know what great leaders and coaches bring to the table: benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence. In other words, the five facets of trust. I know we also bring calm assurance, playfulness, and optimism • the qualities that create a space where people can flourish and new ideas can emerge. Most all, perhaps, we bring listening, understanding, appreciation, and learning. These are the dynamics behind the Story•Empathy•Inquiry•Design dance, described in Evocative Coaching, that make possible innovative change.
If we want to call out the greatness in people, then our way of being matters. It can make the difference between success and failure. It’s not just what we do that counts. It’s who we are and the stance we take in life. Fortunately, those qualities can be developed over time. They are not inborn traits over which we have no control. They are attributes of leadership that we can cultivate, harvest, and reap.
To plant the seed, set the intention. To water the soil, pay full attention. Then practice, practice, practice. Don’t settle for less than greatness in life. Make sure that you are growing into a life-giving presence. Find ways to make people happy, just by showing up. Avoid impatience and expand your awareness. Value both your own feelings and the feelings of others. See the big picture as well as the small details. Then dance in the leadership of life.
Coaching Inquiries: What is your intention in life? How does that intention get expressed? Where do you focus your attention when you are in positions of leadership? What would help you to be more present, caring, compassionate, playful, and courageous? How could you cultivate those qualities in your way of being? Who could be your coach as you move forward on the journey?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.
LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Enjoy your trip to Asia • live your adventures!
Your trip to Asia sounds like a wonderful and exciting opportunity! Be beautiful and true!
Kota Kinabalu is where my wife is from. I visit it annually and she visits every 6 months. She just got back 2 weeks ago! I know you•ll have a great time. Especially on the trek up the mountain • an easy trek for a marathon runner! Enjoy the people, the effort, and the view.
I need to start believing again. I think that’s what is missing these days.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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