the becoming: March 30, 2023

Creating Space for Others to Think

A path through Mt Davidson park Early spring at Mt. Davidson Park, San Francisco

It's March, this is the becoming, and as far as I know I am still Andi. It's good to see you!

We are innately whole

The first cohort of Leader as Coach is in progress and I’m having a lot of fun seeing it all unfold in realtime. This is the first course I’ve designed and taught outside of an institutional environment and I’ve learned a lot in the process of putting it together. Everything from selecting the pedagogical approach (experiential learning with a touch of flipped classroom) creating course materials to figuring out how to make videos that are both short and informative (slowly getting the hang of it).

This is an archived version of the becoming. You can sign up to receive future editions using the form at the bottom of this page.

I’m working off the premise that the best way (maybe only way) to really “get” coaching is to do it. Books and frameworks will give you an understanding of the what, but the how only happens with practice. When coaching, leaders have to make a qualitative shift from being problem solvers to space enablers. To do this effectively requires a felt sense of the difference between the “doing” of coaching and the “doing” of leadership.

As leaders we fill our days with a lot of directive action; creating a vision, defining strategy, providing feedback, supporting our teams and direct reports, mentoring, and putting out fires (to name a few). Coaching, on the other hand, is non-directive. In these conversations a leader must let go of the reins and rely on curiosity and presence to guide the work. This isn’t a passive approach by any stretch of the imagination, but the activeness of coaching is focused on the person and how they are dealing with their issue and not on the actual issue itself. By assuming an optimistic stance and asking open and honest questions, the leader as coach creates space for the person they are working with to reflect, make meaning, shift awareness, see new possibilities, and take effective action.

Implicit in all of this is the assumption that it is a good idea to create space for someone else to think. That something beneficial happens when a person creates meaning and finds new ways forward without someone else, like their manager, doing it for them. And yet! This can feel really uncomfortable for leaders, especially leaders that want to help. Why not help by sharing what we already know and have learned through experience? By disseminating our own knowledge and ideas on how to resolve an issue or face a challenge? Why do we want someone to think through it themselves when we already have the answers?

Because helping isn’t really helpful. In Helping, Fixing, and Serving, Rachel Remen points to the inherent power imbalance in helping:

Helping is based on inequality, it's not a relationship between equals. When you help, you use your own strength to help someone with less strength. It's a one up, one down relationship, and people feel this inequality. When we help, we may inadvertently take away more than we give, diminishing the person's sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

And I think this is the nuance that I’ve been looking to pull out, the idea that the coaching approach is one that gives, that increases a person’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. And that is why it’s so important to create space for people to think in order to find their own path forward.

We all have our own capacity to sense into the challenges in front of us and figure out how to move through them. Sometimes we need another set of eyes and ears to see and listen for patterns that live in our blind spots, but once these patterns are made visible we can utilize our inherent creativity to find novel solutions to our own problems. And when we are the ones who do the meaning making, when we are the ones generating new possibilities, when we are the ones choosing what actions to take, then our self-worth, self-esteem, and personal power begin to grow. And the next time we face a challenge we have the memory of our innate resourcefulness in finding our way through. And this is so much more impactful for professional and personal growth than being given someone else’s answer.

And it goes beyond work as well. Helping, fixing, and serving aren’t just how we engage with others, they are how we see life. She writes, “When you help, you see life as weak; when you fix, you see life as broken; and when you serve, you see life as whole.”

And seeing people as innately whole is a pretty radical act.

Leader as Coach: Discount Code

Speaking of which, it’s time for some shameless self-promotion1: if you are interested in getting some hands-on experience coaching, the next cohort of Leader as Coach is open for enrollment. Specific dates and times:

Foundations, May 15, 9 - 10:30am PT
The Practicum, May 16, 9 - 12:30pm PT
Integration, May 22, 9 - 10:30am PT

You can use the discount code VANGUARD50 to get 50% of the course price, plus you’ll receive all future updates to the course manual, The Leader’s Little Book of Coaching, and you have the option of enrolling in any future cohort at no cost.

Getting to Know You

A few weeks ago I completed the first module of GISC’s Cape Cod Training Program, which I am sure I’ll write about more over the course of the year. The Cape Cod model is a Gestalt approach to working with individuals, dyads, and larger systems, though I have found the approach to be profoundly supportive of living life more generally. As a “get to know you” exercise we were invited to write a poem in the style of George Ella Lyon’s beautiful piece, I Am From. There is actually an entire project dedicated sharing poems like these as a response to rising xenophobia and isolationism.

I’ve done a fair number of trainings over the years and have participated in no less than five thousand “getting to know you” exercises, and none come close to what this poem can do. It’s such a beautiful way to get to know someone without the pomp of what you do and where you went to school and what company you work for. Which, I think we all know, don’t really help you get to know a person at all. So, I thought I’d share the template in case you feel called to write your own or use it in your own work, as well as the little poem that I wrote about my own fromness.

I Am From

I am from the bright green moss where toads burrow,
from the cold streams of crawdads
and the wall of purple lilacs at the edge of yard.

I’m from bean casserole pragmatists,
unexpected philosophers, and hidden magic.

I am from the bright colors of Mexican markets
and Tarot decks.
From purple heathered highlands
and pine needle baskets.

I am from choripan
and zabaione
and frosted Christmas cookies.

I am from the edge of an axe,
autumn leaves, and winter skies.

I am from quiet where we feel most deeply.

Worth noting:

Two days after I sent out my last newsletter, The ChatGPT edition, The Intelligencer published “You are Not a Parrot” which said a lot of what I wanted to say but much better. And Ted Chiang wrote a piece that offers a new metaphor by which to think about LLMs - a blurry jpeg of the internet. I’m deeply appreciative of new language to help us think about what these models are doing and how we understand them, because I think Big Tech has really run with the metaphor of intelligence. The language we use to describe what this technology is matters, to how we understand it, interact with it, and to how we understand ourselves.

I have several essays that I’ve been working on in starts and fits (one has been lurking around in some form or another for two years) but just can’t get them moving. I tooted about this and got some great replies, and then Rands wrote about Writing Hell and while it doesn’t necessarily help me get unstuck, boy howdy do I feel seen.

Speaking of the power of language, ‘stakeholder’ is a word with colonial roots that needs to be replaced. But not with just another word! What I appreciate about this article is the insight that by replacing one word with another we remain squarely in a universal orientation towards life, work, and research. We cannot use universal words, because the universal doesn’t exist.

I was on a podcast! Maykel Loomens invited me to be a guest on Full Stack Whatever, in which we explored my winding career path, looked at the links between coaching and design, and enjoyed some Big Sun Energy Grenache.

I’m a big fan of self-reflection, learning, and the role that journaling can play in supporting both. Stowe Boyd has a thoughtful article on using the What? So What? Now What? model in support of personal sense making, understanding, and integration.

  1. Who am I kidding. There is definitely shame in this promotion. I went back and forth like 10 times whether or not to include this.