21st Century Skill Paradox – Part 6

The 21st Century highway of management is jammed with those speeding to solve as they exercise limiting judgment, fixes, and attempts to otherwise set another straight.

We manage process and we lead the individual. As a leader you are a facilitator. To Facilitate means “to make easy.” This doesn’t mean you ignore conflict or difficulty. Quite the opposite is true as you facilitate the necessary holding together of good process and desired outcomes.

“For peace and agitation are stitched together and, tugged on, they unravel a thread of Oneness.” −Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen

I was very fortunate in my corporate career to have opportunity to take advantage of good learning experiences. Such learning was in the balance of classroom and application; practicing knowledge into a skill. The skill I treasure is that of Listening. This skill has served me well in my coaching, and molded me into a facilitator who can create and navigate dialogue.

Listening is the foundation of 21st Century Skill 6: Collective Facilitation.

In my corporate experience I was given much opportunity to practice as a facilitator. Early on I knew enough to be moderately effective and dangerous at the same time. Let me illustrate.

My customer service manager and his team approached me and asked that I facilitate a session to assist them in working through an important issue with their service work. We scheduled everything, gathered together, and got to work. So there I was standing in front of them facilitating. The team came together around the information needed and I dismissed them to go and collectively implement what they thought best.

A week passed and I had not heard any follow-up or follow-thru on their decision. I called Bill, the manager, to my office and asked what they had decided to do. His response, “We did what you told us to do.”

I was stunned. I asked Bill to tell me what he had heard from me. He did. And I was stunned even further−not by him or the team. I was slapped with the reality of the lack of neutral focus in my brand of facilitation. As I supposedly facilitated, I had unconsciously also participated: participation at a level that was easily perceived as an order or a request from their division leader.

I had unintentionally held their loyalty in a manner that diminished their full creative abilities and individual and collective contribution.

Skill 6If left apart, good process and desired outcomes pull against one another.

If focused upon one at a time, as is usually the case, they are left in conflict causing us to ignore one or the other.

To expertly be with the skill of Collective Facilitation, you must hold the two circles together where they merge in support of the depth of listening required.

You then facilitate in the power of a neutral focus.


Read about the shadow strength related to Focus; Shadow Strengths – Chapter Six (Focus)

BCL Blog 4



Skill 1: A Generational Alliance

With this post I begin a series of seven that will work to bridge the desire of experienced leaders with the desire of those in earlier stages of experience. Each post will bridge one of the 7 Skills for 21st Century Leadership between the two.

For the experienced viewpoint, I will offer a summary representative of what I’ve learned coaching leaders in the 21st Century. For the earlier stages, I will offer the precise words of Jason, a young leader of impact.

Mentor as Teacher/Learner of Experience
(Skill 1: Personal/Professional Growth Management)

For the individual to be most powerful, they must be whole. The whole individual is the worker for the 21st Century. Whether within the hierarchy of a multi-national, Fortune 100 company or as a freelance consultant, the ultimate accountability for the development of the individual resides with the individual themselves. … only the individual can choose to explore and discover the wider world for those development opportunities that will help them achieve their life goals. −Ricardo Gonzalez

Mentee as Learner/Teacher in Experience
(Skill 1: Continual Learning and Committed Mentor Relationships)

We have spent over a decade in academic environments and only recently have the opportunity to gain true workplace insight. Be patient in assisting with the transition from the academic environment to the professional environment. Continually provide feedback−honest feedback−and let us know how to better serve before the annual performance review. We need the most guidance in determining where our focus should be; where do we focus our efforts?
−Jason Guinn

Further your reach. Stand firm, arms extended to the left and to the right, and reach across the generations with what you have learned while learning and unlearning with the excitement of a child.

A Purposeful Teacher (A Reflection on Leaders and Teachers)

We’re all teachers in one way or another. At times we’re the lighthouse guiding ships through dark and stormy times. At times we’re the majestic mountain, easily seen from a distance and a landmark for navigating life’s tricky paths. And at times we’re the grounded ocean freighter, leaking oil into the sea and rusting slowly atop one of life’s hidden but treacherous reefs. Lighthouse…mountain…freighter. We teach intentionally and unintentionally. Either way, we teach.

As leaders, we’re looked at through a slightly skewed lens. When we put ourselves out there and choose to lead, we immediately become targets. One of my first bosses told me that, while it isn’t necessarily fair, everything you do as a leader is scrutinized by everyone in the organization. It’s part of the job. That point holds true in formal and informal situations. The distinction between both those situations, formal and informal, probably warrants some additional consideration.

You can divide leaders into two groups for the purposes of this discussion: those who are given the authority to lead and those who choose to lead because…well…a leader is desperately needed. Formal leaders are chosen. They are politicians, managers, executives, police chiefs, and school superintendents. All are given permission and authority by an organization to manage and to lead. All leaders do both, by the way: manage and lead. The ratio varies and is largely a function of personal philosophy. I often hear people distinguishing between leadership and management as if they are different functions and are themselves ways to categories leaders. In organizations, leaders are required to perform both functions. If you have to receive permission to lead, then you have to manage, too. Corporations, political parties, governments, fraternities…all require leaders to manage things like staff, budgets, strategies, and deliverables. Management remains the primary way in which leaders are graded within the traditional organization. It’s the default and will remain the default for the foreseeable future.

The informal leader chooses themselves. Once they choose to lead, their followers gather. This kind of leadership is more tribal. Informal leaders become the “official” leaders of their movements, but I will refer to them as “informal” because they do not wait to be granted authority or permission. They earn their authority. They earn credibility. They do and do and do, and they attract followers who believe in the work being done. Informal leaders can exist within formal organizations, but they tend to exist in the ether. They may not be products of Social Media and Web 2.0, per se, but they thrive today because of them. Read “Tribes” by Seth Godin. He’ll give you the 411.

Students in a classroom have little choice but to “learn”, be it by rote or genuine interest in the material. Regardless, the student is in the classroom, the classroom is the domain of the teacher, and the teacher has the power. It’s the same model as the conventional world of work. A manager and a teacher are very similar. Whether or not leadership is involved depends largely on the individual. The degree to which leadership plays into that leader-to-manager ratio is always optional in these kinds of institutionalized situation. So, let me shed some light on this kind of teaching: it’s not teaching at all, but instructing. The teacher who chooses to manage also instructs. The bio-chemical, cognitive, and emotional components required for true learning are largely absent in instruction. You do steps 1, 2, and 3 in order. No discussion. You do precisely as you are told.

A leader now…that’s a totally different situation. A leader is a teacher and a mentor and a role model. They have to do the hard work of connecting with the student and then lead them down the path to real learning. When momentum is created, they do the very surprising thing that all great leaders do: they get out of the way. Maria Montessori maintained that an adult who does for a child that which they can do for themselves is not helping but becoming an obstacle to growth.

How harsh! What adult hasn’t taken joy from helping a child? Did you get that? Adults take joy when helping a child. Take joy. Every time? Maybe not. But it gives you something to think about, doesn’t it? The same applies to leaders and managers. Leaders and managers who do for those they lead that which they can do for themselves are not helping but becoming an obstacle to…to what? To growth. To excellence. To innovation. To everything good that we say we want for the people we lead.

Here’s my advice for avoiding the situation: provide direction, then get out of the way.

Minimize management, maximize leadership. Minimize obstacles, maximize potential. Minimize instructing, maximize teaching. Get out of the way, and watch great things happen. Along the way, through your example, your articulated vision, your leadership voice, you will teach those who choose to follow you and choose to learn. Subtle, gentle leadership is the way.

Confident Structure

The fear of failure is always connected to a negative filament of the unknown. This fear is in a lack of presence – a pouring out of power, a drawing down by an unnecessary visit to the future.

Arriving at my writing place, Pam was walking to her car. Pam is the artist who masterfully created the cover of my book. She told me of her search for a learning experience. She is seeking an experience that supports a faithful movement to the next level in her purposing (what Pam calls work). She is not looking to attain to this level of purposing via someone’s canned process, but by energizing performance as she courses a structure congruent with her authentic self.

Pam’s journey has been about her commitment to her vision. On this journey, she has opened the desire of focus; a desire unleashed to drive purpose forward on the tracks of focus. She is envisioning her future with courage in order to facilitate progress in the present.

By assisting others in finding the creative self, Pam is facilitating her purpose and that of those she serves. As she artfully states, “It’s about the vision …” Purpose (or purposing) frees us to confidently focus – without apology – on what is most important in the power of the present.

Confident Growth

But it wasn’t the format that made the act great. It was the fact that somehow while playing around with something new, suddenly they found they were able to put their entire selves into it. … Put your whole self into it, and you will find your true voice. –Hugh MacLeod of gapingvoid.com in Ignore Everybody

When learning is an act of intention, we find freedom in something new; fresh knowledge, deeper awareness, or a new way of seeing something ancient.

Leaders are learners. An intentional search for newness is most likely to flow toward a tangible and observable application – an energetic employment of learning that builds a leader’s credibility. As a 21st Century leader, it is important for you to be skillful in deconstructing certain learning, constructing this learning in a new light, and sharing this freely and consistently. Learning is a gateway for sharing your gift in the world.

You don’t search for the confidence to share your gift in the world. You share your gift and providentially find yourself rewarded with the confidence of voice. Your gift is both source and summary of personal impact.

Commit to learning and those you lead, influence, and serve will grow in individual confidence and then give their gift to others as encouragement for them to do the same thing.

(see Skill 1 for 21st Century Leadership)