Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How I came to work in leadership development and why I love what I do

Originally published on the Owl, Fox & Dean Blog. 

People often ask me how I got into this work, here's how (and why I love it).

I've worked on many different kinds of projects throughout my career. Real estate, start-up business ventures, economic development initiatives, rural community building, collaborative story-telling... meaningful projects that I believed to be viable, and knew that if successful, would help to make the world a better place

Though so much time, energy and money was invested in these projects, many broke down, fell apart, or failed to launch.

One day, during a stakeholder meeting as I watched those involved argue and fail to understand each other, I realized that one reason these projects were breaking down was because of poor communication amongst those involved. People did not understand each other nor were they being understood. I saw them grow frustrated and resentful until they ultimately couldn't work together.

I was inspired to figure out what the issue was and how to solve it. I knew that is breakdown must be happening to meaningful projects and ventures all over the world.

What was lost? What opportunities were not seized? What potential was not actualized?

I set out to understand the science of communication. I studied and developed my own ability to communicate effectively both one-on-one and broadly to large groups of people by paying attention to the subtleties in my behavior, my energy, the language I used, how I told a story, what resonated, what influenced people and my ability to listen and be heard, to understand and be understood.

As I continued to focus on communication, I noticed that there was something special about the projects that did get off the ground, something unique about the people involved.  I realized that it had to be more than the variable of communication that caused some teams to succeed and some to breakdown and fail. I wanted to understand what allowed some teams to thrive, certain people to understand and be understood, and some people to resolve conflict and inspire those around them. There had to be something deeper going on. While communication is critical there was yet more to learn.

Was it something external? Was it the viability of what they were working on? Was it a natural chemistry between the people? Was it luck?  Was it that some people, some personalities, had the natural ability to succeed?

I found and studied the discipline of systems thinking and systems design as a way to illuminate all of the moving parts in a system, how to identify leverage points for change; how to get to the bottom of things and design better systems, projects, and businesses. I also studied my own behavior, beliefs, and emotions, becoming hyper aware of my own actions and abilities to communicate, understand and be understood. I learned to use my voice, resolve conflict, build teams, and inspire those around me. I experienced myself and the people around me stretch and grow as humans and develop as leaders.

All projects and organizations, at a human level, are manifestations of the good, the bad, and the ugly of all those involved. It became so obvious that more meaningful projects and businesses would be successful if people had the leadership ability to inspire and creatively lead those around them. More ideas and more potential would be realized if people understood that they always have the opportunity to grow and develop as leaders, and make the projects they touch and those they lead more successful.

Every system, however complex or simple, has a set of variables that if left unchanged will continue to allow the system to function. For better or for worse.

Humans are innately developmental. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually. We are not hard wired to handle every situation the same way every time we're faced with a challenge. We grow, we stretch, we learn, we adapt, and we evolve to become more skilled at survival, at being successful. We've been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s how we've changed the natural systems around us and the systems we've created.

Everyone... every single person, working on anything, in any aspect of their lives has the ability to develop their capacity to understand themselves better, use their voice, negotiate and resolve conflict, and inspire and creatively work with the people around them.

Everyone has the ability to increase their capacity to develop as leaders and because of this, leadership development is the ultimate leverage point to change a system.

Leadership is the ultimate leverage point for positive, productive, and creative change in the world and I have the privilege and the honor of helping people realize their leadership potential and create bad-ass ventures.

That's why I love what I do.