“I always wanted to become a leader and now I don’t.” That’s an eye-opening start to a conversation with a leadership development professional! We are discussing the path Lettie Dalton has taken on her way to becoming a coach, facilitator, and General Manager of Delivery at Adeption and JumpShift. Quite the paradox to explore!
The journey Lettie describes as a young woman in the UK who finished school on a Friday and started work the following Monday affirms the ambition of someone determined to make a difference and climb the career ladder. “When I interviewed for my first junior administration job I said I wanted to be a team leader within a year. A short time later I was raising issues such as why, at 16, was I not eligible to pay into a pension scheme like all other full time workers. From the start, I’d always been a bit of a crusader but also ridiculously and hilariously above my station in terms of what I could achieve.”
It will come as no surprise that career success followed, with rapid promotion in project management roles for organisations providing soft skills training (as leadership development was known in its infancy) to high profile, global companies. Lettie describes those years “It was so much fun, corporate life in its heyday with perks and opportunities. I loved it and when I moved to New Zealand, I was extremely confident about my career and skills as a leader”.
If Plan A fails, remember there are 24 other letters in the alphabet.
It took one bad experience to steer Lettie from wanting to lead to wanting to help others lead. “It was a truly bad work environment – toxic, micro-management, leading restructure without support. It was a massive confidence blow. I questioned everything about myself as a person, a leader, my ambitions, my decision to move halfway across the world.”
“For the first time in my life, I just resigned. At a loss, but still determined to forge a path ahead in New Zealand, I found a coach. That is when things started to fall into place in terms of who I am and what I value. It taught me that there are ways of having conversations, interacting and supporting that helps people to learn and grow. If coaching opened a door for discovering myself, imagine if I could facilitate that happening for someone else. I’d just uncovered my fascination with people.”
“Fundamentally my mission in life is to understand and enable psychological growth in people. You might say that the work we do is to help organisations to function better. It goes beyond that. It is about every single individual within an organisation and actually, all human beings. Leadership is a word that conjures up different images and meanings but at the heart of it aren’t we just talking about being the best versions of ourselves we can be? Everyone has the right and opportunity to grow, they often don’t realise that.”
“It sounds cliché but leaders so often want to be everything to everyone and they will sacrifice a lot to be seen as the person who does and drives everything. It involves letting go of ego and is not comfortable but amazing leaders try and embrace who they are, what they are good at, what they aren’t great at and trust that is enough. It’s important that people like their leaders but I think it is more important that the leaders like themselves. Companies will get their results if there are happy, fulfilled individuals who turn up with the best of intentions.”
Do the best you can
Positive psychology has been a passion throughout Lettie’s journey from being a coachee to training as a coach, coach trainer and facilitator. It is also an aspect of well-being that is becoming a critical focus point for L&D professionals as they navigate the balance of high-performance environments and supporting people to be at their best.
“Wellbeing is such a broad topic and I believe that positive psychology is underrepresented and undervalued. It’s an area where the smallest change can make a huge difference. An organisation openly acknowledging that it is okay to have good and bad days, that we are all humans, and subject to the myriad of ups and downs that comes along with that, is a starting point that can have a massive impact on individuals’.”
“Three very simple and often overlooked tools available are role modelling, permission and enabling. For example, don’t just tell people you want them to put their family first. As a leader, role model it, book that holiday or commit to work technology free evenings, and really give your people permission to do the same. If your team works from home at times, book a walking meeting and explain why. There are a lot of little changes we can make which don’t sacrifice work performance and benefits well being.”
Better a whoops than a what if
A master at reframing, Lettie is the first to look at professional disappointment through a different lens. “I know loads of development professionals who get flustered when the PowerPoint fails or they stuff up a sentence.” she says. “The best gift you can give when wanting to support people to learn and grow is the gift of showing that it is not about you, it is about the group. The minute you start reprimanding yourself or spinning out about a mistake, it becomes a thing, and about you, which is to your groups’ detriment. It’s the responsibility of facilitators, or anyone who wants to influence, to role model that you are human.”
Unexpected situations can also lead to opportunity as she recounts. “I had to facilitate a key client workshop in the back of my car in the hospital carpark with one of my children in a ward. It was the best session I have ever done, the group immediately opened up. I already had an established relationship with them, but they had never shared in the way that they did in that session. My observation was that striving for a standard of how a facilitator should facilitate is at odds with the importance of being present, connected and relatable to the group.”
Food for thought
Must reads according to Lettie include:
Mindfulness: Social psychologist Dr. Ellen J. Langer introduces a unique concept of contemporary western mindfulness, applied to fields including health, business, aging, social justice, and learning.
The Body Keeps the Score: One of the world’s foremost experts, transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring and offers proven alternatives to traditional healing
While not turning her hand to writing just yet, Lettie’s autobiography would be called ‘That’s not a black or white answer’, Why? “There is no right or wrong way to do most things. My job is to support individuals to be their best person and choose from the many right ways they can do something. I love what I do, it’s not about me, it’s about supporting amazing humans to be better”.
Lettie started our discussion with the statement that she no longer aspires to leadership positions in her career, it makes sense now, the drive is simply to understand and enable others. This author observes that Lettie is more of a leader than she thinks!
Thanks for the chat!
More coaching conversations
Long before Dan Lake was a lead facilitator and coach at JumpShift, he was a bungy jump instructor and tour guide. “It’s different but similar when you compare motivating people to leap off a bridge and taking a professional or personal leap of faith. Most people facing these situations are of a mindset that “I think I can…. But I’m not sure”. We tend to convince ourselves 70% of the way into having a crucial conversation or thinking that we can delegate or taking up an opportunity. Then there is a moment of hesitation, where doubts and barriers surface. It is our role as coaches, to prompt and encourage people to recognise what is the little bit more that it will take. Which motivator makes their eyes light up and get them to lean into the conversation? That is the one to dig into and will support them to have the confidence to 100% believe that they can step into the situation.”
“To use an example from my bungy jumping days, we had a big group and the process was always to jump the heaviest first, and lightest last. We did five countdowns for the first guy and when you’ve done that many, the barriers are up, so it’s a case of saying relax, sit this one out, enjoy the time as a group and move on. By watching the group jump, his motivator became apparent, it was a bruise to the ego to see the kids jump when he wouldn’t. I’d honestly never have picked this up myself or thought of that when we were encouraging him to jump. That situation was similar to coaching where sometimes you need to be comfortable to sit on a conversation because you can’t always find what might make someone lean into a heat zone experience.”
Feedback is everywhere
As the discussion progressed into areas like being comfortable with silence, letting others think it out, and awkward coaching moments, it provided a timely segway to asking Dan if there have been ‘insults’ he’s received that he is actually proud of. Rather than being exclusively proud of this feedback, it has shaped his self-awareness and development as a coach over the last 20 years.
“The first is ‘you ask too many questions’” Dan says laughing. “I do ask lots of questions! It’s my nature, and it leads to great conversations with lots of people. I’ve reframed that feedback and worked on ‘how can I ask really good questions’. The second is ‘you talk too much’. Where I’ve taken that is to learn when it is appropriate to talk. If I have been invited into a discussion, I will still have a voice at the table, I’ve been asked to contribute for a reason. But that is where the skills we are talking about such as sitting with silence can become very powerful.”
Leadership development in a VUCA world
Industry professionals will be familiar with the term VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous), and the challenge of leading others and leading themselves in this environment. When asked how he manages his response to VUCA situation and remains motivated to adapt, Dan paraphrases a comment by Patrick Lencioni in this podcast “No one ever left the company because they were clear on what they were trying to do.”
“It’s been said before, but I love the idea of counteracting Volatile with Vision, Uncertain with Understanding, Complex with Clarity and Ambiguous with Agility. We need to continuously generate and communicate our purpose, what next steps we need to take to move towards our purpose goals and our position tracking in relation to these goals. Having this clarity, in a VUCA environment, keeps us in our running lane.”
Opportunities in leadership development
The idea of simplification, transforming big ideas into meaningful and memorable ideas is a passion point for Dan. To illustrate, he talks about his leadership development book due for release in 2023. “Academia and traditional book publishers look for length, they want 40,000 to 60,000 words. I say give it to me in 100. That would go a long way to creating clarity out of complexity.”
In addition to the challenge of simplification, there are several areas of leadership development that Dan is curious about exploring. Helping people with the application of their learning and breathing life into the bones of development is high on the agenda. “We all fall prey to this, we get excited about the development, but when it comes to applying what we know to work, we shy away from stepping outside of our comfort zone. Even when we know it is fundamental to growth and vertical development. Thinking about a development programme, we have the age-old problem of ensuring that the programme does not become a paperweight. I think the answer lies in being more specific about what we are asking people to do or try or experiment with.”
“There is also an opportunity in the growth of Group Coaching as a practice.” he continues. “If one leader in an organisation receives 1-1 coaching, that person will inevitably benefit and grow from the experience. But their situation is more complex than them as an individual, their situation is influenced by the people around them. Think how much more the organisation would benefit from coaching involving the whole team.”
I wouldn’t have guessed that!
It is perhaps a further nod to Dan’s love of simplification that he has found the level of overburdened process a surprise over the years. “People really want a bespoke solution! Bespoke is good in terms of people’s context, but there is no need to reinvent the wheel, it’s not scalable. For example, in a JumpShift programme, we can be confident in about 80% of what we know will be impactful – vertical development, the DIY process, and the way we partner and facilitate. This process of learning doesn’t need to be bespoke, it’s proven, helpful and replicable. The 20% tailoring leaves room for context and environment, for example, a deep dive into creating a coaching culture, or resilience or aligning a deep dive into an organisation’s strategic focus.”
“It also came as a surprise that everything becomes an opportunity to put someone in a box. Whether speaking of ourselves or others, we’re quick with absolute statements, especially about assessments, metrics and diagnostics. It’s easy to say ‘I am, they are, we are, you are, ‘our business is dysfunctional because ’. We have so much complexity and range that there is more of a space for clarity, simplicity, and freedom in a framework. That is why I like the VMI (Vertical Mindset Indicator), it focuses on your range, not your stage, something we can all do more of.”
Food for thought
As Dan is known in the JumpShift team for his off-the-cuff recall of helpful, relevant resources and tools, we couldn’t resist asking for a few recommendations of must-read books.
To Sell is Human: One in nine Americans works in sales. But so do the other eight. To Sell Is Human offers a fresh look at the art and science of selling. The author draws on a rich trove of social science for his counterintuitive insights.
QBQ!: The question behind the Question: What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Complaining and Procrastination. QBQ! provides a practical method for putting personal accountability into daily action: problems are solved, internal barriers come down, service improves, teamwork thrives and people adapt to change more quickly.
It is no surprise that the latter leans into Dan’s love of asking questions! So we can’t resist asking, what is your favourite question? “How can I help you succeed” is the quick answer, an apt response of someone passionate about coaching and development.
Thanks for the chat Dan!
More coaching conversations
Carl Sanders Edwards
I’ve been reflecting on my child learning to ride a bike. In true Dad fashion, I walked with them nudging and holding them up. Even with good natural balance, it wasn’t pretty. So, I helped more; I nudged, I held, I made it worse. After a quick break and a regroup (read into this what you will) we tried again, but this time I just got them started and then stood back. Two crashes later and they’re away! I’d just learnt something very important. True development is self-directed, all we can provide is a little scaffolding.
Let me go deeper in terms of vertical development. As adults develop vertically, we move through some big shifts. First, we start with a dependent (or socialized) mindset. We take our cues, sense of worth and identity from others – we are dependent. Then we grow to be independent (or self-authoring). Here we have a sense of our own identity and can assess things against an internal compass and values. Beyond this, we then grow to integrate the two and become interdependent – part of something bigger. The big shift most of us (need to) make is from dependent to independent. It’s not easy, humans are social animals and care deeply about how others perceive us, it’s a good thing but the need to fit in can hold our growth back. Add social media and the impact is magnified 100-fold, effectively anchoring us in a dependent state as we seek affirmation and follow the ‘perfection’ of others.
Now the crux of all of this for us as Leadership Development professionals is an interesting paradox. Leaders want clarity and want to know how to be better. They want the bike to be held and nudged. However, this doesn’t grow people. Giving in to these requests and telling a leader how to ‘be better’ just anchors the people we are serving in a dependent state, robbing them of the chance to truly grow. Tricky right? It’s a balance we are always seeking, but we do see the results of making vertical development core to our programme design. With the right support of reflective questions, self-awareness, gentle inspiration, and safe places to have some crashes most people get started and love the process of true self-directed development.
If this article resonated, check out these free Adeption tools to inspire your thinking into action!
Zone of Proximal Development
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Carl Sanders Edwards
My Dad was a primary school teacher. Unlike most teachers in those days, he was popular with the kids. I remember as a 6-year-old that everyone in our town seemed to know Dad and want to stop and chat and engage. So I asked him why. “Oh, they were a student”, was always the reply. I learnt that Dad was a kind, likeable teacher who taught well. This has embedded itself as a story for me.
“Be kind, likeable and do your job well to have a good impact (and feel good)”.
We all have our ‘stories’. The stories are scripts that run so much of our lives, some for better, some for worse. They drive most of our behaviour. Some are from childhood, some from recent times. They are powerful. They are also malleable. They aren’t invisible forces resistant to change. You can reflect to discover them and then if you wish, edit them.
Huh? Here is a simple example.
I flunked the presentation.
My story could be “I’m not good enough, that’s why I flunked it”. What happens when I next prepare a presentation?
Take that story and edit it, “I flunked it because I didn’t prepare well enough“. Now, what happens when I prepare for the next presentation?
It can be like magic.
The developmental reflect-act-reflect cycles triggered through methodologies such as D-I-Y and Be conscious, Be curious, Be better are also a form of story editing.
Why is this idea important right now? Stories are formed during times of intense emotion and change. Do we have that at the moment! Whether referring to the pandemic, weather, wars, political or economic unrest, the word ‘unprecedented’ leads headlines constantly. Our challenge is to shape our reality consciously and positively through the stories we tell.
If this concept resonates, think of a situation that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped. If your story of that situation doesn’t aid your understanding of realistically why it didn’t go well, you might need to get editing!
Enjoy this free to access Adeption tool to get you started! What story are you telling yourself?
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Carl Sanders Edwards
I took a deep breath. I gulped the bitter green tea, squeezing the caffeine placebo as much as I could. “Two more”, I said to myself hoping for a mantra like boost. I was exhausted but still needed to do more.
I wasn’t finishing an adventure race; I wasn’t surviving in the wild. I wasn’t navigating a night with a new-born. Nope, it was just my MBA. It was a Wednesday night, and I was preparing for Thursday’s classes. Hmmm, that sounds a little dramatic Carl! Probably, but that was my experience at the time!
We were a couple of months into the program and I was sinking. Completely overwhelmed and paddling hard to keep my nose above the water. I wasn’t even the duck moving calmly on the surface while its feet paddle furiously below, I was all arms and legs flailing and splashing wildly while slowly sinking.
That experience has proved to be one of the most developmental I can recall. Not one bit of this development had anything to do with the content we were learning. It turns out that our particular MBA school had a philosophy that went.
“If your company grows, or if you get promoted into more and more influential roles (managing people or not), then your ability to do everything you should do, or that you want to do, or even worse, that you know you should do, is insufficient. Your constraint isn’t what you know, or what to do, but simply how to decide what to do out of a bunch of very important things (meaning some won’t get done). You will have to come to terms with your to-do list never being done, or even close to it.”
In the space of a few months, I was forced to have a new relationship with my to-do list. It would never get done, ever. Eventually, I learned that the MBA school was very deliberate about this. They never expected us to do everything asked and required – that was impossible. They wanted us to learn this point in a safe environment, one where, honestly, it didn’t really matter that much. Such a thing couldn’t be taught, but it could be experienced and therefore learnt from.
My to-do list transformed into an invitation to decide what I will do next. A quality to-do list with lots of things on it stopped being a tool that created overwhelm and started being a tool to help me make better decisions. It’s still very important, but it’s not a list I’m trying to finish, it is a pipeline of activities that help me focus and stay motivated. Now, when I start feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list, I try to reflect on how it would be worse if there was nothing to do. Shock horror, that might mean I’ve made myself surplus to requirements!
Ready to put the insight into action? Check out these free to access Adeption tools to get you started doing more, faster and smarter.
Do like things together
Manage your energy not your time
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