Episode 11: Coaching and Developing Serving Leaders

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Have you heard the term Serving Leader and wondered what that means? Have you wondered if you are engaging enough with your team? Would you like to learn more about how to increase engagement and motivation of your leaders and staff? What models and tips could I use to help co-create ideas with my team? If you are curious about any of these questions, please join us for our next Voltcast: Illuminating Leadership. Jeff Smith will host Cara Wilson for a discussion about how to develop and coach serving leaders. Cara and Jeff both led leadership programs for Cleveland Clinic across the globe and they will be sharing their insights. Cara is now a facilitator and coach at Tableau in Seattle, WA and will share her current thinking on leadership trends and how to apply them to your organization.


Cara Wilson, B.S., M.A., is a Senior Management Coach for Tableau Software in Seattle. Her passion is helping teams and leaders figure out how to leverage their strengths and identify their blindspots. She has over 18 years of experience coaching teams from diverse backgrounds and industries, from construction workers in a small business to physician leaders at a world-class hospital. Cara’s work focuses on increasing leadership capacity through experiential learning, developmental coaching and real-life application of tools and principles. Her approach to this work is grounded in her early background working with youth at YMCA summer camps, as an Outward Bound wilderness instructor, and professional ski patroller.



Jeff: Welcome. Boy it’s a great day. I’m so happy that you could be with us on Illuminating Leadership today. We’ve got a great show in store for you. In the past weeks we have been covering everything from culture to speaking with Jon Hagmaier last week about how to lead a company, he actually sold it built it up. Today’s topic is going to be about coaching and developing serving leaders.

We’re going to talk about how we go about developing them, coaching them up, awesome tools and tips and heck what is a serving leader? This is a program that I’ve been associated with and been able to do all around the world. My guest today will be Cara Wilson.

We have gone and facilitated this in many places and we’ll share our lessons learned with you. If you haven’t been with us in the past week, it may sound like I’ve got a bit of cold which I do. It doesn’t mean that it’s not still a wonderful time of year, it just means that all those leaves and change of weather has brought a little gravel to my voice.

Stick with me and I’ll make sure that we get some great highlights in for you today. I really appreciate everyone that’s been reaching out with emails and phone calls. I’m Jeff Smith, this is Voltcast: Illuminating Leadership. Our website is www.voltageleadership.com you can reach us during the program on email at jeff@voltageleadership.com .

By phone, it’s 1-866-472-5788. You can follow me on LinkedIn @Jeff Smith Voltage Leadership Consulting, follow me on twitter @VoltageLeaders and like me on Facebook @Voltage Leadership. We are really happy that you’re here with us today and let me go ahead and introduce Cara Wilson. Cara are you out there?

Cara: I’m here. Good morning friend.

Jeff: Hi Cara. Well we’ll talk about that in a second and some of our trials and tribulations and some things that happened to us over time. Cara Wilson has got a BS and an MA degree. She is currently an internal management coach for Tableau Software in Seattle. Her passion is really to help leaders figure out how to leverage their strengths and identify barriers to success.

She has over 20 years of experience coaching teams from diverse backgrounds and industries, from construction workers in a small business to positioned leaders at a world class organization called Cleveland Clinic. At Tableau, she works with managers in a 12-month cohort learning experience. More importantly, she’s just an outright awesome person.

I have traveled the world with Cara. She has done things like Outward Bound, Wilderness Venture, and she’s been a professional ski instructor. She’s in Dynamite Mountain things. So she’s got this varied and awesome background. Cara, it is so great to have you with us today.

Cara: Thank you Jeff! It is great to be with you as always.

Jeff: The back story is Cara was jumping on and Skype decided not work for her, regular phone was not working. The reason I was just laughing is that Cara and I used to get up for like 4AM, 5AM meetings with our friends over in Abu Dhabi with the Cleveland Clinic.

And we’d often be up at four, five in the morning trying to work out software, to work out our phone calls. So it just borrows back to a time where we were dancing around a little bit crazy right Cara?

Cara: Yeah I actually don’t think it would have been normal not to have had some kind of technical hitch. So all feels right with the world actually.

Jeff: Well I’m glad that we could set you up that way. Cara, I just want to give a shout out to a couple of our friends this week that I think are listening and just say hi to folks like Susan Ward who we partnered with. She’s out in Thailand. Faheem Khan who we coached in our program, he reached out and said good luck. Zaid Alardah, my birthday buddy, is in the UAE, but moving back to Cleveland. Becky Capudo and Chris Benford and Majid Khalif, they all said good luck knock them dead. Thanks to people from all around the world for weighing in. Let’s jump into this topic about serving leader.

I’m just curious Cara, what got you involved in coaching and caring about  leadership development first and then we’ll kind of make our way into serving leaders. So why executive coaching and management development and things like that?

Cara: Yeah. Well I got to say it started with 14 summers working at a summer camp in the San Juan Island in Washington and working with groups and being really curious about human behavior. As I got older, it got a little less socially acceptable to be a summer camp counsellor and I was pretty broke all the time. I got curious about how to translate what I was learning into other forms and into like that ‘grownup world’.

So I’m super curious about human behavior and how we can make ourselves more effective in getting the results that we’re looking for and getting the relationships that we’re looking for.

Jeff: That’s really cool. I think we kind of found our own way into it. Not everyone has the spent 14 years trying to regain their youth and retain it. And I think that you will have some great lessons even from there that you can share with us.

Cara, you and I have gotten the ability to travel from Cleveland Main campus, I know you’ve gone to Toronto and Abu Dhabi and lots of places to lead serving leaders. So when I say the words serving leader, maybe can you give us sort of a working definition of how you define that?

Cara: Yeah I think my definition serving or servant leadership is the type of leadership that leaves people in a better place than they started. It’s the kind of leadership where as a leader I get my ego out of the way, and I really work to be a servant to those that I’m leading. I think a lot about one thing we used to talk about at the clinic was: what is the wake that we leave behind us when we’re a leader?

We’ve all unfortunately probably worked for leaders that do not leave a great wake behind. We’ve hopefully also gotten to work for leaders that leave a pretty amazing wake. Servant leadership I think is really looking to pay attention to that wake that you’re leaving behind you.

Jeff: I like that analogy.

Cara: This is a quote that I love from Eisenhower, it’s maybe about the opposite of servant leadership. But I love it, he says: You don’t lead by hitting people over the head, that’s assault not leadership.

Jeff: I love it. Yeah I think that’s a great working definition. For me, it’s all of what you’ve said and I think I’d say general curiosity, about how you make the team, the world, the organization a better place.

Cara: Yeah.

Jeff: And that you’re really not trying to cram your ideas, I have this picture of like sometimes other types of leaders want to pop open someone’s head and pour all their information in and say, “Now go do it the way I did it.”

Cara: Right.

Jeff: And I think a serving leader is often curious and wants to be able to find the best in the person that they’re trying to lead and the team they’re trying to lead. And they’re going to flex their style to the need of the people that are on their team. Does that sound about right to you?

Cara: Yeah, yeah I love it. And it’s really about leveraging everything that is- it’s about leveraging all the brands that you’ve got going for you and not assuming that you’re the top or the pinnacle of what’s happening but figuring out all kinds of ways to involve and grow your people.

Jeff: Yeah that’s interesting. One of the things that is maybe a myth out there that I want to have a discussion about here, serving leaders and servant leadership. We’re going to kind of interchange those terms throughout, is that soft? Sometimes you hear people say, “Well that sounds like it’s kind of fufu or soft leadership.” What’s your opinion on whether serving leadership is a soft type of leadership?

Cara: Yeah. I would say we hear that question a lot and I think it’s not soft, it’s about being explicit around what you’re doing. And it’s around being able to balance getting results with having great relationships. It’s about being versatile and balanced, and it doesn’t mean that you’re not directive when it’s needed. It means that you’re making real conscious choices about when and how you’re going to lead.

Jeff: Well it’s interesting, I know we may hit some polarity thinking there, but even in your description you hit some things where it’s like an and, it’s not either/or. There are results. Relationships, right?

Cara: Yeah.

Jeff: There’s versatility and there is accountability. There’s process and there is innovation. So for me I think that’s a great running start, I often get though that people think, “Oh we’re talking soft stuff and all that.” And I picture some of the leaders we had the challenge and the ability to work with, someone like José Lopez in the emergency department for Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

This is a guy that runs a massive emergency department, and he has to make a lot of hard decisions each day and dictate and go and this way. But then at the end of the shift, he’s also taking time to do recognition as well as ask for feedback; what could have gone better today? And that ability to make hard decisions, give feedback and also be open to feedback, I think it’s one of hallmarks of a serving leader.

Cara: Yeah. I love that, that’s a great working definition.

Jeff: Yeah good. Well I think for the audience, what we’re going to try to do is break this down a little bit further. We’re going to go into some ideas about what have we done to both coach and develop these leaders, sort of peel back the onion a little bit about some of the ideas that Cara and I have about creating serving leadership within your organization.

But also how can you as a leader start to develop yourself and be able to grow yourself? So what we’ll do is we’re going to get ready to take a break. And after the break Cara and I will come back and we’ll start to share some of the lessons that we learned while teaching the program and hoping that you’ll be able to take a few tips from this section. So we’ll be right back in two minutes after this break.


Jeff: Welcome back and thanks for being with us today. I’ve got Cara Wilson on the line, she’s an internal management coach for Tableau Software in Seattle and who’s previously worked at the Cleveland Clinic, where she and I met and did work together on serving leader program. So today we’ve been talking about so far what serving leaders are, what serving leadership means, debunking a few of the myths.

So Cara one of the things I would like to sort of talk about is, if I’m interested in to do this and maybe bring it into my culture, where would you start? What are some suggestions you might have for me to even learn a little bit more about this and then what should I start to do to become more of a servant leader?

Cara: Yeah. Well there’s lots of reading out there around the concept of servant leadership. And I would say there are all kinds of little miniscule sets that are helpful in starting to develop the kind of thinking that we’re talking about.

And one is just making sure that you’re focused on an outcome that you want in your work, whether it’s “I want to be this kind of leader” or whether it’s “I want to help my team move to X.” Being able to cultivate what we sometimes call asset based thinking which is thinking about the things that are working and that we can leverage to get us somewhere we want, versus thinking about a problem.

What I noticed with lots of the groups that I work with, is that when we’re focused on a problem and what’s wrong, our brains are not super creative in terms of solving problems. They’re not visualizing where it is that we want to go. So I think a great question to start with regardless of your goals is what’s the outcome that I’m looking for?

Jeff: I think you’re right. That was the first thing I wrote down Cara so in my own notes to cover was desired outcomes.

What is it that you want? What is your desired outcome? And it’s really shifting again that asset-based thinking is what we’re aiming for versus deficit. So many of the people I work with walk through this world serving this deficit-based thinking like, well the world’s doing things to me or I can’t believe what’s happened.

And we’re getting ready for Thanksgiving here in the US and this should be a time for gratitude and there’s all these people saying, “Oh I got to go see my family, oh it stinks,” and it’s like, “Hold on, you’re in control. What is it you’re trying to get out of these next four days off, or what memory can you create? So I really do think I love this what’s your desired outcome and what are you trying to get out of this? So that’s a great start.

Cara: I think what I’m kind of learning about how our brains work is that as humans we’re really good at being critical. And we kind of got that muscle down. It doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about those things, it means that we might need to work a little harder to balance that other muscle. I can remember being in group school and learning about theories like Appreciative Inquiry, which have to do with going into an organization and figuring out what’s working, so that you can leverage it. I remember the first time I heard it thinking that’s just a load of crap. Like that’s not going to work.

And I would say it because it took a number of years for me to mature in my thinking a little bit and to realize no we still get to talk about what the problems are, we just don’t lead read with that. That’s not the first thing that we talk about. The first thing we talk about what we want and what we’re striving towards.

Jeff: Yeah I’ve changed how I run my meetings and how I run when I facilitate. I really start from a spot of like I’ve got a couple hour sessions this afternoon with Carilion Clinic at the end of the day. The first thing I’m going to be asking about is, tell me about the last two weeks since we’ve been together, tell me about the things that went well.

And then what are your desired outcomes for our two hour timeslot together today? And I find it, then I’ll ask them what are your ahas? What are your takeaways?  They realize they have done a lot of great things and the mood is wonderful. And it’s that we’re not going to get to the really hard things and we’re missing on.

But to your point where I know to bring that into the conversation it’s flexing that other muscle called hey what’s going right and how do we recognize each other for went right?

Cara: Yeah, yeah. That’s a big one. It’s been a long journey personally I think.

Jeff: Well truthfully, some more information about this comes from the Power Of Ted with Dave Emerald and we talked about this with Lee Hubert a few weeks ago on there. So if you want to go back and listen to it or pick up that book, they’ve got a lot of really good tips. Speaking of Lee, sending in an email to us.

I wanted to just ask this question because I thought it was a pretty good question. Cara what do we say to those leaders who say, “Well this sounds good, but we live in the real world and this probably not work here.” Right, so even there, there’s a little bit of like, “Oh yeah it sounds good but you don’t know our place oh my gosh you should come see it.” Right.

Cara: Yeah. Well my first response in my head to that is, “Oh we’ve got another case of terminal uniqueness where everybody thinks that their organization is so different that contested theory and practices wouldn’t work.” That’s totally not what I would lead with, but that might be the first thing that I would think.

The thing I would probably go to is, “Well let’s think of something that’s real for you right now and let’s work on it. And let’s see. Don’t take my word for it, let’s actually try it. Are you willing to try it? If we came up with something that would actually get you towards your outcome, would you be up for it?

Jeff: Yeah and I don’t mind that people are actually a little skeptical.

Cara: Yeah.

Jeff: I get that. There’s a lot of flavor of the month and you know we’ve had long enough careers where we’ve done anything from re-engineering to customer service excellence to you name it. And lean six sigma, they’re all great things. But if you come too much of zealot about any of these, people will start to kind of roll their eyes and really wonder.

So I do think that understanding it and taking a step back and saying, “Okay don’t look at this as a management fad, look at saying, okay I’m a good leader but what can I add to my toolkit that will help me get maybe even better and able to connect and engage with my employees?” does that sound like reasonable advice?

Cara: It does. And there are these that I work with here at Tableau they’re agile coaches. And Agile is a certain methodology that they use to develop software I didn’t know that 10 months ago. So they exist just to coach software developers around the processes that they’re using. And one thing I have learned from them that I really appreciate is this idea of designing experiments.

So you’re skeptical about something but you’re also dissatisfied in some way with the current state so what’s an experiment that we could design that might be able to test something out? And it’s sort of like a low risk short-term time constrained experiment. And I love that idea of let’s design an experiment let’s try it.

Jeff: Yeah I think that’s great. And I was quite similar I did get to work with some Agile coaching here and similar, I love the work. I like this experiment idea, so one of my clients that I’m working with, they had their healthy skepticism. If we were sort of to go back and think about their disc assessment, they’re a strong C.

They’re going to be calculating, I’m so sure they’re going to buy in and then I think I don’t really want to talk to people. I’d really rather just send an email and get this stuff handled. So what I had this person do was I said, “Great let’s just try a different way. Let’s just go to your next staff meeting and start the meeting with what went well, what are the desired outcomes.

And then what I want you to do is I want you to find five people in that room to appreciate and give them specific feedback on what they’ve done well.” And he was like, “Oh my gosh.” I mean that was like asking him to jump 20ft in the air I know. But he did it.

Cara: Yeah.

Jeff: And he came back and said, “Wow there’s just a different mood and vibe.” And when it came time to really tackle into the problems and to start to say, “Okay why are we missing on X, Y or Z metric,” what he said was, there was a lack of defensiveness. There was this bridge we had somehow built to each other, and we weren’t nearly beating each other up as much. And that’s been the norm in that meeting was what he’d said.

Cara: Yeah I love that. I think it speaks to building psychological capital with each other right. If you and I have a history of calling out the things that we see that we appreciate in each other, then when it comes times for us to have a hard conversation, we are much more likely to have something to draw from. And keeping that emotional bank account, I think it’s a super simple thing and it’s a tough thing to do. We have to actually pay attention to doing it.

Jeff: Yeah. So one of the questions I got is that we sometimes think about opposite thinking. A serving leader is maybe co-creating and engaging the team. Often people think that command-and-control is the opposite. And does that make command-and-control bad? What would be your thinking on that? I’ve got some thoughts, but I’m curious about if serving leaders sort of seems like a good thing to run to, is command-and-control bad?

Cara: I don’t think so. No I think that circumstances dictate what kind of leadership is needed. If you and I are in a burning building, I don’t really want to try to get everybody to sit down and have a go around to say, “What do you guys think we should be doing?” Right, that would be a situation where somebody taking charge and be really directive is the best decision. So I think it really comes down to being situational.

Jeff: Yeah I think that’s great, we’re aligned. I’m thinking back to our mutual friend José Lopez. So he runs the emergency room department. If I come in with a busted up leg and I’m bleeding, I don’t want a rich person getting up for like a minute to discuss the ideas. And I don’t really want them taking 15 minutes to say, “Well what’s the best process?”

I want them triage me, to treat me and to make that go really well. So I think that’s an example were having a clear voice, take control and go do it is actually effective. Now here’s what we might suggest, one of the tools we would have is something called an After Action Review.

So maybe at the end of the shift or end of the week, maybe that emergency room department can come together with some key people and review, “Hey what went right this week? Where would we like to improve? Did we hit our desired outcomes or not? And if not what can we do to do better next week?” That seems to be like a good combination. Hey we handled the crisis, but we’re also looking for better ways to improve. That seem to jive with you?

Cara: Yeah absolutely. Anything that encourages a team or a group to be able to have a conversation about how they’re doing, that’s building a learning culture. So it’s helping to build the kind of culture where we talk about all kinds of things. We don’t only talk about things that are good, we don’t only talk about the things that are bad. We talk about everything so that we can actually continuously up our game with each other.

Jeff: Yeah. Another one that I think is in there is this decision-making. So a couple of things that I’d like to hit on, we’re getting to come up against the break so I’ll start into a new topic. But maybe Cara for you to be thinking about during break is some clear decision-making like how do we go about aligning that, and then maybe that dreaded team meeting.

Are there some tools and tips we can start to incorporate into team meetings? Because I know that’s often one of the places where there’s a lot of drama and we end up with challenges right?

Cara: Yeah.

Jeff: Okay good.

Cara: Great.

Jeff: Well Cara it’s been great conversation so far, we’re about halfway through. So listeners out there thanks for already some of the questions that you’ve sent in. And thanks for being with us each and every week. So when we come back in two minutes we’ll continue this conversation around serving leaders. See you in two.


Jeff: Welcome back. I’m here today with Cara Wilson. We’re having an awesome conversation and reconnecting it’s just great to talk to my friend Cara. So Cara thanks again for being here. So when we go through this program called Serving Leader, a lot of times people think it’s all about how they’re going to get their team to be more effective.

I want to talk about that in one second, but I also just want to let you know that often what people find as they’ve gone through this is how much better of a person they come. As you start work with these tools and you start to do the reading, I think what you find is that you’re going to become a better listener and better able to connect with people.

As well as just able to see things from a different perspective. And I think the crux where this really comes into play is that team meeting, where you’ve got all these personalities put in the same room together. And I can know that I’ve led team meetings Cara where I’ve got the person I’ve labeled sort of like a Sidebar Sally.

The one that’s always having that little talk on the side I’m like, “What’re they doing?” and then there’s Negative Ned over there that’s always going to put some bad on my idea. And then there’s somebody who’s outrageously optimistic. We got all this cast of characters. So as you think about the team meeting, what are some of the tools or tips that you might suggest for our listeners out there?

Cara: Well the first one is one that I would say I was a skeptic about at the Cleveland Clinic when we started using it. It’s this idea of doing a thinking round of going around the room, posing a question and giving everybody a time box time to speak uninterrupted before anybody else speaks. And it is pretty amazing what happens when you actually open up enough space for everybody to get to talk.

You start to hear ideas from people who wouldn’t talk otherwise. You offer a structure that kind of contains the people who would suck all the air out of the room and take all of the talking up. And it’s this structure and framework that you can insert any kind of topic and it teaches folks to slow their thinking down.

Because usually when you’re talking I’m thinking about what it is that I want to say next or why you’re wrong. And I’m not listening really at a deep level, I’m just listening so that can counteract what you’re saying or agree or disagree. But doing these exercises around actually listening to everybody is one of the most transformative things I have noticed in working with groups.

Jeff: Yeah I’m picturing. And you’ll remember this time we talked about our strengths, that was probably about 18 months in Abu Dhabi. At the end of day we had our first round with Cara and I were co-facilitating, it was pretty quiet we were a little nervous. And we had a whole mix of physicians to nurse administrators to other folks and they did not know each other well.

So it was very quiet. Well by the end of the day, you could just feel how the room had just shifted, because they had listened to each other and given each other attention. And I just know in this sort of caffeinated world, and there are six emails coming in and all that, it’s hard to just slow down and listen. So I love that tool.

Another that I’ll just throw out there for folks is that the ability to sort of set a good agenda but not have it so like concrete that you can’t have space for creativity. And what I mean by that is asking people what is their desired outcome? So if maybe after you’ve listened to what’s happening in the room you think, okay do we have a different desired outcome? Is there something else that we need to get to? That really to me is about being a serving leader.

You could come in with your agenda and go bit by bit by bit and get all the updates that you need, and get it out there in a clean and crisp 57 minutes never have connected. So I think if you’re willing to take a moment and really see what’s happening in the room, you may throw that whole agenda out but you hit the most important topics.

So maybe they’re really concerned about there was a layoff in another part of business or there’s something that was a conflict on the team that needs to be processed so I think it’s also the ability to see what’s happening in the team and asking questions and being curious, that will also help you to be effective. You agree with that Cara or do you have anything else to add there?

Cara: I do really. And I think it’s a real interesting balance between structure and flexibility. It’s coming into a meeting with a structure in mind but knowing you have the ability to flex it based on the data that that you’re getting right there in the moment and balancing those two I think I really leads to versatility in our leadership.

Jeff: Oh Cara that’s such a good segue into our next topic. So I love how you just did that. So one of the things that we’re going to talk about.

Cara: You’re welcome.

Jeff: Yeah you rock the house, is this thing called polarity thinking. And with all these tools what I would I say about it is don’t get overly hang up in titles, just use the tool. Don’t feel like you got to quote polarity thinking or asset based thinking. This is hey this seems like a good idea how do we apply it?  one of the things I heard just to wrap up on the team is, be prepares for your team meeting.

Spend some time being prepared but also be open to some flexibility about what does the team need. So that sounds like a polarity. You want us to kind of walk through your definition of a polarity and why you’re so interested in it Cara?

Cara: Yeah. This is one of my favorite topics for sure. So I would define polarity as a set of interdependent characteristics that are both needed over time for a successful or healthy human or team or organization. It’s this idea that we take as a leader that we’re often having to solve problems, and we’re also often asked to be coaching other people to solve problems.

And those two things we need both of them. I can’t be a leader who only solves problems for other people. And I can’t be a leader who only coaches people to solve their own problem. I actually need to do both. So a polarity is any set of two characteristics that are actually needed. And the real art comes in when we realized that we usually privilege one or another.

So maybe I actually really like to solve problems because it makes me feel important and helpful, and I’m taking care of people. I kind of over privilege problem solving side and I under privilege the coaching size. Polarity is something that helps us recognize whichever muscles we might not be using, and how to dial one back and dial the other one up.

Jeff: I love that. I think for some folks that are out there and like, “Oh my gosh I can’t even picture this.” I go in simpler; inhale, exhale. We need both.

Cara: Yes.

Jeff: In our world we need inhale we need to exhale.

Cara: Yeah.

Jeff: We also need to be able to be in activity.

Cara: Talking and listening.

Jeff: Right, talking and listening right. And there’s activity and there’s rest. So in this really crazy world, I see a lot of our leaders that are all activity, activity, and how can I cram one more thing and maybe at 11:52 at night I have to send out that one last email or text and get back up at 5:47. And what’s the first thing I do? I check into something else.

But if you don’t rest, your team also gets sort of out of balance as well. So I love that its polarity. Help me understand like on polarity do we tend to have a preference for like one pole or the other? Is that how it works?

Cara: That is how it works yeah. We usually have a strong preference for one. And let’s say like if for example we talked about, like one conversation I was just in recently with a leader was about how comfortable am I in my current role, and then how I sometimes start to feel complacent and I’m not actually growing.

So growth and comfort; you don’t want to be growing and doing a new thing every other second because our brains can’t really handle that. But you also don’t want to be complacent and super comfortable in what you’re doing. So being able to recognize for this manager that I sometimes hang out in comfort a lot longer than is helpful to me. So what would it look like for me to bring that other side in?

Jeff: Yeah.

Cara: And our tolerance, the one thing I might add onto that is that our tolerance for things that we privilege is usually pretty high. So like for me I have a real strong tolerance if we look at taking responsibility for things or letting other people take responsibility for things.

Jeff: What?

Cara: I know you might not know this about me, but I have an energy to take responsibility for more than even what’s mine right. And my tolerance for doing that because I have such a strong value around it is really high.

Jeff: Yes and having travelled on plane flights of 12, 14, 15 hours with Cara and watching her take responsibility for other people it’s like, “Oh my gosh I think they set down their passport, or they did this,” and she helps pick that up just for others. So yes it’s absolutely true. This is a pretty complex thought process.

Cara: Yeah.

Jeff: What are some ways that maybe I can put it into practical practice if let’s say most of our listeners are leaders, how do you recommend us putting this into in the practice? I think I understand the concept but how do I actually use this tool?

Cara: Yeah so one thing that I’ve found useful, think about people that you’re managing, people on your team who have a behavior that you might be interested in correcting. And think about it in terms of what’s the strength that they’re overusing? So what is it that they’re overdoing? Oh they’re overdoing talking and they’re under doing listening.

And a really kind and gracious way that we can coach and work with others would be to say, “Hey I know you have this value around having your voice heard and I think sometimes that leads to other people not having a chance to talk. What if we worked dialing up these other muscles around listening? I think it’s a really kind way to offer people feedback.

Jeff: Was that directed at me? That sounded reasonably close to home here.

Cara: We could call this an intervention actually.

Jeff: Yeah well thank you. I’m sure that Lee or Jennifer or Marisa, Beth, Heather are probably laughing as they listen to this and sending some feedback this way. So anyway. I think that’s an awesome example where this isn’t serving leadership, servant leadership is not soft. This is about helping people identify and giving them honest feedback.

But you’re doing it in a way that they can hear it. You’re not kind of hitting them on the head and saying, “You got to change.” This is noticing, hey I see your reference, I see the way you like to do it, and then you send them over and say, “What if we consider this other side?”

So I think this has been a fantastic tool for me in my coaching practice of having people to be able to get feedback and not get so defensive about it. How about for you in your coaching? Is that a similar feeling?

Cara: Oh yeah. It’s one of my favorite tools to use actually because you’re not telling somebody to stop what they’re doing. You’re just talking about dialing it back so that they actually get the results that they’re looking for. It’s interesting, another one that I think about a lot is people talk about this in the Pacific North West that we’re very polite.

People call it Yellow Mice. So we have a high privilege for being kind and diplomatic and the muscle that we under use sometimes is having the conversations that are really important, or conversations that are harder to have. So that would be a polarity, would be being kind and being honest potentially.

So for leaders to be able to recognize oh I worry more about being kind and I almost never think about being honest, or the other way around. Or the other way around, oh I’m brutally honest all the time and I’m really thinking about am I being kind and cultivating a relationship?

Jeff: Well we’re going to wrap up there. I the Southern part of the United States as long as we say bless your heart we’re allowed to talk any way we want to. So we tend to have that same problem of not being quite so direct. But we’re up against a break here, so when we come back we will pick up our talk on serving leadership.

So thanks for being with us and we’ll talk to you in about two minutes.


Jeff: Welcome back and thanks again for being here. This is Jeff Smith and I’m with Cara Wilson and we’ve been having an awesome conversation around lots of topics from serving leadership to polarity thinking. And we’re going to sort of wrap up the show today with our next topic. It involves sort of an emerging trend.

We’re illuminating leadership where we’re trying to bring some cutting-edge thoughts and thinking. There’s this concept out there called Ego Development, Vertical Development that Cara and I have been studying. And we think it would be really helpful for you to be able to hear it and to start to understand it a little bit.

So I’m going to turn the floor over to Cara first let her give you a little sense of why she’s intrigued by this and what she’s seen at her workplace. So Cara the floor is yours.

Cara: Yeah. Well this is a framework or some principles that I actually learned about in my time at the clinic that I feel like have been some of the most impactful things I’ve learned since I went to Grad School which is like in the last 20 years. And it’s this idea that we face different kinds of challenges in our lives.

And some of them they’re called maybe a technical challenge which is like oh I don’t know how to use Excel and we can solve it by going and taking a class. And the other kind of challenges are called Adaptive Challenges. And those are challenges where I’m really bumping up against my own thinking.

I’m really kind of starting to get in my own way because I’m not self-reflecting or maybe I don’t have the ability to see things from multiple perspectives, or maybe I’m not looking at things systemically. This idea of vertical development is wrapped around how do we mature our own thinking in a way that helps us solve challenges in a unique and more effective way.

Jeff: Wow that’s rich. It’s deep. I’ve loved this topic. It’s helped me understand and see the world just a little differently and you start to see where people maybe get stuck in patterns and they try to use the same tools over and over to get out. So this adaptive thinking I think is a really great way of framing it.

And you kind of hit a ceiling and you can’t figure out the way to get through this. Maybe a classic example is you’re that technical expert that everyone has come to for a long time. So the only way that you know how to really lead is you’re always the answer guy.

So you kind of get your self-worth from being the one that everyone comes to but the problem now is that you manage a team of 12 people all of a sudden and you become the bottleneck. Your only answer is to spend more time at work and being the answer guy. So how do I go about changing that Cara?

Cara: Yeah. I mean I might go back to our conversation about designing experiences, or getting roof starting to ask hopefully that person has someone that’s going to ask them relay their questions about what it is they’re hoping to get, why that worked for them. And I got to go back to polarities because that is when we can help people see, oh that might be an overused strength.

And if we can help them see what might be the other side of problem solving, they might be letting other people solve their own problems. And being able to recognize what are the upsides of doing that, what happens if I overdo it, how do I catch myself when I’m starting to fall into these older habits? Those can be really effective conversations.

Jeff: Yeah I’ve built on an earlier conversation and I know it’s a tool you and I both use, it’s also sort of that dreaded drama triangle of you find yourself often in that rescuer space. And what would it be like instead of being the hero that always answers the question, what it would be like to coach people up, and asking them questions.

Let’s try that maybe the next time you have a one on one, go with an aim of asking two questions before you give advice. You’re not going to from zero to perfect to this, but practically try it. Try to ask two questions.

Cara: There was an amazing director I worked with at the clinic that I do, and she had the best story about how early in her days as a nursing manager she would solve everybody’s problems for them. And what she inadvertently did was teach everybody, come to me and I will solve your problems. And before she knew it she had a line of nurses outside her office.

And she was trying and working as fast as she could to offer solutions and she had this epiphany one day and she started to say to anyone who came to her, “what are two things you could try?” and eventually the nurses started coming to her and saying, “I have this problem and here are two things I could try.”

Jeff: I love it.

Cara: And in the longer term they actually started solving their own problems. But for her it was this pivotal learning about upping her own game to become a coach to those people instead of just the problem solver. Which I would say is also about her kind of getting her own ego out of the way because our egos sometimes want us to be the person that can save everybody and solve everybody’s problems. So kind of recognizing that that can be a seductive feeling but not always the most effective.

Jeff: Absolutely and that takes a moment. I don’t think I was ready for that maybe in my 20s and early 30s. One thing I’d recognize is that I’d said we’d hit maybe some things around decision making in team meetings, I’m going to let that one go. We’ll get to that in future Voltcast. What I would like to do though is Cara you’ve just been such a wealth of wisdom.

For our listeners, can you boil it down what are maybe one, two things out of this conversation that you would recommend to our listeners that if they want to learn more about this or maybe something to try, what advice or suggestions would you give to our audience?

Cara: Well so number one I think wherever you can, ask the question, what is the outcome that we’re looking for here? Whether it’s when you’re starting a meeting or whether it’s when you’re starting a conversation with someone else. I think being able to identify the outcome that you want, before you think about framing a problem even can be really helpful.

Another one that we both mentioned was this idea of using a structure around where you have people speak one at a time uninterrupted and get a chance to talk, and just kind of play with that. And see how that changes the dynamics in your team. Another one that I would say that I really appreciate is always knowing that I have a do-over.

So if I’m willing to experiment with things, they’re not always going to go well the first time. So if something goes sideways or something that I say lands sideways, knowing that, I can always come back to that person or to that group and say, “Hey you know, I would have like to turn that differently, can I have a do-over?”

And nothing that we do we hope is super permanent in terms of our impact. And that sometimes even a recognition or apology around that can go further to mend relationships.

Jeff: Wow Cara, what awesome wisdom. I’d add in you and I having worked together the After Action Review, just the ability to sit down at the end and say, “Hey what went right, what would we like to do differently?” and if you start from a place of what went right, I find that I’m not nearly as defensive. So ask that question more often.

What went right, who do we need to recognize? So Cara it has been just an honor and privilege to get to work with you again today. And let me just give a preview for next week. We will have Amy Ankrum the President or Qualtrax Compliant Software, on with us next week. She is an expert in setting strategy for a company, driving a great culture and being able to achieve amazing results.

So it’s just been an awesome honor to be with you this week, so thanks again for listening. You can reach me at jeff@voltageleadership.com our website is www.voltageleadership.com. You can like me on Facebook @Voltage Leadership, connect with me on LinkedIn @Jeff Smith Voltage Leadership Consulting, follow me on Twitter @VoltageLeaders.

Again you’ve been listening to Illuminating Leadership, we’re be back on next week Amy Ankrum at 1 PM. Cara, any final words here before we log off for the week?

Cara: No I’m just happy you’re getting your voice out there Jeff. I think you’re one of the better coaches that I’ve ever worked with. So I appreciate getting the time even to talk with you today.

Jeff: Well Cara it’s been a real honor and a privilege, you’re awesome, a rock star in the world of leadership development and coaching. So job well done. Everyone here in the US have a great Thanksgiving around the world, please make it a great week and we look forward to talking to you next week. Until then have an awesome time. Bye now.