What to do when a team member is struggling

By NMMIMAJ – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14699652

Several years ago, I was asked to lead the teenaged girls in my church. When I polled them to find out what they wanted to do, they told me that they wanted to have high adventure activities similar to what the boys were doing in scouting. That made me really happy because I love to be outside and was definitely up for the adventure. During the three years that I oversaw the young women’s program, we went white-water rafting, cycling, camping, hiking, spelunking, and exploring.

During one of our camping trips near Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior, we decided that we wanted to run down the Grand Sable Dunes. The dunes went steeply down for about 300 feet to the water and we warned the girls that anyone who went down also had to climb back up. That warning was enough to stop a few of the girls, but several of the girls and leaders were excited about the adventure and we all ran down the sand together.

Exploring the beach was interesting and fun and the water was cold and refreshing. Then we had to climb back up. In addition to the hot sand and steep embankment, the black flies would start biting anyone who stopped moving. It was not easy or pleasant climbing back up.

The youngest girl in the group was really struggling. She was in full melt-down mode, convinced that a helicopter was going to have to be called to come and get her out. When I told her that the only way out was for her to climb and that a helicopter wasn’t coming, she was dismayed. I stayed with her the entire climb up the dune, encouraging her and helping her come up with strategies for her to make it up the dune.

I had her focus on short term goals. I would have her pick out a rock or patch of grass a few feet away and then we would climb together to that spot and rest. We had to experiment with different ways of walking. If you tried to walk straight up the sand, you would slide down, which was causing her great frustration. Wide steps allowed movement upward. I tried to make her laugh and tell her funny stories as we rested. I was firm letting her know that she was going to have to do this on her own and that was the only way out. We celebrated how far we had come, which gave her confidence she could make it to the top of the dune.

It took a very long time and she was not happy when we finally made it to the parking lot where the rest of the group was waiting. A good meal and a few hours of rest restored her spirits and she was proud that she had made it up the dune. It is an experience she will remember and will give her the confidence to tackle other hard things in her life.

Another adult who was not with our group was observing my interaction with this girl and asked if I was her mother. When I said that I wasn’t, she said that is what she guessed because I had been so patient. My take away as a leader from this experience is that being present, patient, supportive, and firm when those around us are struggling is really helpful to their growth, even when they are not happy about it.

In this case, I could not carry this girl up the dune. She had to walk up the dune herself. In our teams at work, this is often not the case. It may seem much easier to take away the struggle instead of helping someone through it. The question to ask ourselves when we are tempted to step in and rescue a struggling team member is “What is the long term impact on this person and the team when we have to do something else hard in the future?”


Reshaping Culture through Small Deliberate Decisions

CC2.0 – Photo by BK - https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/29420915701
CC2.0 – Photo by BK – https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/29420915701

Last week, we launched “A Wiser Way” leadership training program and almost 90 people started on the journey to create a learning culture that will fuel excellence and innovation. The objective of the leadership training is to develop self-managed leaders and teams who cultivate a sense of curiosity, foster a culture of positivity, build a collaborative environment, consistently execute, hold themselves and others accountable, and lead with integrity.

More than one person has talked to me about how the training was startling because it demonstrates so thoroughly how different my leadership style and expectations are than the previous leader. I don’t think I understood until I heard these comments how disorienting it has been for people to adjust to my very different expectations in how we will do our work and interact with each other.

The training is designed to help with that adjustment and give individuals skills and practice in becoming more autonomous. As we designed the program, we made small but important decisions to reinforce the objectives of the training,

The training is not required. Requiring the training would be top down and authoritarian, which is counter to the principle of self-management. So instead of mandating the training, I invited people to participate. I talked about how excited I was about the training and thanked everyone who signed up.

The training was offered to every team member, not just managers or “high potential” employees. This sends the message that leadership is not tied to position. We expect leaders at all levels and everyone contributes to building our culture and instilling excellence. It also clearly demonstrates that every person is worth the investment and we believe everyone is capable of learning and growing.

We paired participants with peer coaches. As we assigned pairs, we deliberately chose individuals from different groups and at different levels in the organization. This reinforces the message of collaboration and gives a safe place to practice accountability with a peer. And again, it reinforces the belief that leadership is independent of organizational position and hierarchy.

We asked the group to set their own rules for the coaching cohorts. We introduced the GROW coaching model, which teaches the coach how to ask open-ended questions that allows the person they are coaching to set Goals, understand their current Reality, explore Options, and determine what they Will do. This model teaches self-management and the role of a manager or peer in encouraging self-management in others.

We chose to train a large group of people to create a common language and set of expectations. We will offer the training enough times to give every person who wants to take the training the opportunity to participate.

The feedback from the first session was incredibly positive. As we have designed and started to deliver the training, it has challenged me to be very intentional about small decisions and word choices. Something to think about this week is whether your small decisions and actions are supporting a culture of learning and excellence.


Self-Mastery is a Journey

CC-BY-2.0 image copyrights Moyan Brenn – https://moyanbrenn.wordpress.com/

Self-mastery is a journey, not a destination and although I am passionate about sharing what I have learned, I am still practicing. I attended the Pennsylvania Area Banner Users Group (PABUG) conference last week and presented a session describing the Fear to Freedom coaching program that I co-developed with Kim Knapp at the University of Michigan Medical School. I enjoyed sharing my experience and reflected again how transformational the coaching has been for me personally.

fearfreedommodelThe Fear to Freedom model is quite simple and powerful. The model is that when you are focused on yourself and worried about being good enough, you are operating in fear. However, when you are focused on others and the positive difference you can make, you can operate in freedom, which is fun and creative.

In order to shift from fear toward freedom, you can write a positive intention. A positive intention is written in past tense and describes the most positive outcome you can imagine. A big clue that you are residing in fear, is when your intention requires someone else to change. Because an intention is always a draft, you can rewrite your intention until you have shifted from wanting to look good to wanting others to feel good. Writing intentions helps me to self-manage my reactions and gives me a concrete way to understand and purify my motives so I can shift toward freedom.

Immediately following my presentation, I had a chance to practice and coach myself using the Fear to Freedom model and writing a positive intention.

I still get regular coaching from Kim and we have been thinking about how we could bring the coaching program to Temple University. I had some pretty concrete ideas about how I wanted to do this and when I presented it to Kim, she did not like my plan at all. We ended up having a heated conversation and agreed to a plan that I was not happy with, especially as I reflected about it over the long holiday weekend.

I had never had that strong of a disagreement with Kim and I was upset. I spent a lot of time in self-reflection and wrote an intention that clarified what I wanted and helped me manage myself out of fear. This week, Kim and I talked again about what had happened and renegotiated our approach. She expressed how she was grateful that we had the conflict because it meant we could create something together and that conflict is at the heart of creativity. I certainly felt better after our conversation.

Be kind to yourself as you travel down your own path toward self-mastery, knowing that there will be both conflict and joy in the journey.


Spreading Freedom

I just finished my last week at the University of Michigan. As I contemplated what would be the most valuable thing that I could do as I was leaving, I decided to offer an intensive class that would cover concepts from the Fear to Freedom coaching that has been so impactful for me and many others who went through the program. The actual coaching program is six weeks long and that time commitment can limit the number of participants.

I had developed a one-hour class for a women’s conference at the request of a friend and taught two sessions that allowed me to refine the content. The responses from the conference participants were incredible. One of the women who attended told me it was life-changing and had fundamentally changed the way she thought of taking care of herself. She said that even her unconscious choices were now more aligned with who she wanted to be. That feedback gave me the confidence and motivation to teach the concepts more broadly. I had evidence that a one-hour investment could change someone’s life for the better.

I sent out the invitation broadly to IT professionals at the medical school, hospital, and across campus. The response was enthusiastic and we had to add an additional class to accommodate the demand. Since we wanted this to continue after I leave, April Jefferson, our culture coach, taught the classes with me.

We crammed a lot into an hour. After introducing the Fear to Freedom model, we brought in Brene Brown’s work about shame and suggested that much of our fear is about “not being enough”. We talked about Jim Loehr‘s research on the power of story and how we needed to increase our positive energy to change.

Then the real work began. We asked each participant to take seven minutes to write their current story about something they wanted to make substantial progress on in four weeks. They were instructed to write without filters. Brene Brown calls this the s*****y first draft. After the writing was finished, each participant rated their story from 0 to 10, with 0 being in complete fear and 10 being in complete freedom. We talked about what we observed and learned. Many people commented on how much they were in fear. I could relate. I used to live on the fear side. Now I visit, but have learned how to recognize that I am choosing fear and I do my best to move to freedom.

After talking about building shame resilience, we introduced the rules of writing a positive written intention and asked each person to take seven minutes to rewrite their story in past tense with the best outcome they can imagine. In every session, this was incredibly powerful. The shift in energy in the room is noticeable. The participants rated their new story on the fear to freedom scale. Almost everyone in the class moved toward freedom. Some participants described the new feeling of confidence that they could meet their challenge and were motivated to take concrete steps toward improvement.

The feedback from the class has been very positive. One incredibly talented and competent young professional told me that the timing and information were critical for her. She had always struggled with self-doubt and assumed she could “achieve” her way out of it. The class made her realize that many seemingly successful people struggle with those same feelings. She would offer evidence to the contrary when her colleagues expressed self-doubt but she wasn’t as generous with herself and kept perpetuating her own negative self story. She expressed how much the class meant to her. She and her friend were starting “The Gifts of Imperfection“ by Brene Brown to build their shame resistance and move toward freedom. This made me very happy.

My challenge for you this week is to choose something you want to change and write two stories; your current story and your new story as a positive written intention. I would love to hear about your experiences.

Here are the references from the class in case you want to read more.
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
Brene Brown, Rising Strong
Jim Loehr, The Power of Story
Desmond and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World
Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life