Tuesday, December 2, 2014

1st Leadership Co.Llab learning and insights

After a brief introduction to set ground rules at the June Co.Llab  a dozen people came together specifically to explore the question "What leadership risk I'm not taking?"

A number of provocative challenges are shared within the group:

  • “Risk means balancing between fear and courage, I went out of balance and  that’s why I’m here today.”
  • “I struggle to manage my multiple identities: father, husband, employer and biker.”
  • “I spend every day taking care of my grandchildren and I’m not sure who’s leading whom.”
  • “I’m getting married this weekend and wonder how it will affect my identity.”
  • “At the moment my life is in transition and I realize that I don’t want to have to push to make      change happen anymore.”
  • "I’m at a crossroads and have lots of ideas about what’s next – the most difficult thing with this is the freedom to make the right choice.”

As the facilitator, I'm very conscious of navigating the tension between time and conversation – mindful of those who become frustrated by the exploration period of the discussion and jump to finding “solutions”.

We wrestle the diversity of issues down to three key topics and three groups who want to dive into them.
1. How do I Balance the tension between courage, fear and energy?
2. How do I exercise leadership by letting-go?
3. What drives my creative discovery and curiosity?

We all pick up on a sense of excitement, anticipation and inspiration unfolding.  ...I’m relieved to see my trusty assistant arrive exactly on cue pushing a trolley brimming with fresh nibbles and drinks. The next 45 minutes bubble with to-ing and fro-ing between working through ideas in various parts of the museum (munching sun kissed cherries, hummus dipped pita, cheese and nuts) discussion, collaboration and keys to new questions.

The learning each group propose surprise, enlighten and inspire us all:

  • Leadership is about knowing the boundaries of resilience and courage - it’s a fluid state of holding the equilibrium within the tension.
  • Improvisation or  learning through living and giving of one’s self, is an expression of leadership.
  • Moving away from the wanting mindset into a being one – means no longer “pushing” to make change happen.

Finding meaning
After the hearty good-bye’s and well wishes, I’m left to muse over the 1st pilot Co.Llab.  Finding common threads to create meaning was one of my expectations, all participants came into the Co.Llab with their own understanding of Leadership.  Perception is very personal, as each individuals expression of being relates to our identity, context and environment.  

During the Co.Llab each person was able to test their own ability to open to uncertainty, listen to and trust each other through dialogue and conversation. This expression is what makes Co.Llabs such unique spaces for learning and breakthrough thinking.

The more we practice, experience and test our understanding and embodiment of leadership, the greater the depth we create in our identity and its expression.
Work-in-progress takes on new meaning.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Leaders journey, from Dodo birds to explosive condoms - The Challenge of participation and decision making in teams

Learning has changed! As a university student I remember spending the majority of my time listening, reading and writing. All very passive, sedentary activities. Today as a teacher, if I use these same methods I have a group of students who sit glassy eyed in class snapping the occasional picture of the notes and diagrams I put on the whiteboard.  The Millennials are a different breed, they’ve grown up with technology, are hyper connected and their engagement and motivation is contingent upon continuous real-time in situ (on-the-job, in class) interaction. Knowing how these characteristics are challenging the way organizations operate, I was keen to see whether the same would be true in class.

Knowing that students are obliged to attend all classes as part of their Master’s program, four hours of pure lecture on a Monday morning is the equivalent of being held captive and inflicting punishment.  Not a good plan…. As a facilitator, I step away from the traditional “Professor” role and into one that considers the student takes responsibility for their learning.  I design each class with the purpose of engaging and challenging their thinking around specific learning objectives.  This is done in a variety of ways using techniques for creative teaching to encourage interaction, peer-to-peer thinking, creativity, individual reflection and learning.  Case studies, discussions, role-plays and simulations are used to highlight the context and the environment for each specific learning topic.
Recently I worked with a colleague to design a collaborative challenge to develop students thinking and leadership awareness skills, when working in teams. The pre-class assignment asked them each to assess when they were at their best, or worst in a team situation. Based on feedback groups were formed around two of the most prevalent themes; difficulty with decision making and lack of participation in a team.  Over the course of the next 70 minutes the teams needed to work together creating a piece of art that portrayed
  1. What exactly make these situations challenging, and
  2. Be able to clearly explain their painting, in a story.
The challenge was broken into 6 segments – brainstorming, design, prototyping, creation, storytelling and debriefing.
One team attributed the challenge of participation in a team to time constraints, diversion, lack of focus and waning communication abilities. Another team portrayed the same challenge with a completely different perspective explaining that one person usually has the best ideas and that they need to convince the others who lack ideas, what they are missing. The third team explored difficulties with decision making in teams, explaining that good ideas need to be cultivated and supported by the right people at the right time, otherwise the ideas fragment and disperse.
True to character, involving them in a learning activity that peaked their curiosity, guaranteed motivation. Engagement was at an all-time high and each teams’ outcome was spectacular! Their ideas were rich and they were able to use complex metaphors which they related to their challenge. The spectrum was vast– from dodo birds, to bursting condoms, blinding darkness and rainbow light bulbs.
Once the team challenge was completed and their stories shared, students received a take home questionnaire that required they reflect individually on their interaction throughout the process. The time they take to think through their answers will help them deepen their understanding and awareness of themselves. Learning and reflection is essential in their personal development and a key characteristic to becoming a future leader.
Nadene Canning, BSL Professor
Posted on November 14, 2014  on BSL blog 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Living and Learning Our Power

This morning while reflecting on how best to discuss the topic of power, this quote appeared on my tweet feed: “Learning too soon our limitations, we never learn our powers. ~ Mignon McLaughlin  

Intrigued, I immediately ran a search on Mignon McLaughlin - About 287,000 results appeared in a quarter of a second – She was an American journalist and author – born June 6, 1913, in Baltimore, Maryland. Over a century later, her words still ring true. 

As a facilitator and coach, this question occupies a lot of attention. When we get "stuck" and want insight,  I always ask the question: What are you doing today to learn about your power in order to improve your performance?

From these "stuck" conversations came a 60 minute workshop on “Abuse of Power in the workplace” that I developed and facilitated together with a colleague, for two consecutive years at the WIN Conference . 

At the conference, each participant had a story, each was looking to understand. To retain power we each need to understand these FOUR essential behaviors and attitudes.

1.  Turn self-doubt into intention

Doubting yourself or feeling sorry for yourself is one way to abuse your own power and weaken yourself. If you abuse your power to create self-doubt then you’ll be even more confused when you look to the external world for answers. The next time you catch yourself thinking, or believing, “I don’t know what to do,” let that thought go! Push that thought right out of your head.
Remember You are a naturally creative being – It makes no sense to turn your creative energies into self-destruction – LEARN how to use your power to create certainty.  Accept that uncertainty is a part of life; if you want certainty then you have to create it for yourself. You need to trust that deep down you do know what to do – pay attention to this clarity.

 2.  Face your fear

Use your power to face your fear. Courage can be defined as the willingness to face your fears. Stop spending your energy on what you don’t want and put your energy into what you do want. This energy will build into a motivation - a positive way to take action and turn your desire into your reality. Spend time imagining what you really want, use your power to  create what you want.


3.  It's not about Right and Wrong

Defending your point of view is not a good use of your power – each person has the freedom to choose their perspective. Don’t pour your energy into arguing right and wrong, ask yourself whether you can accept the others persons point of view and live with the consequences.

4.  Decide what’s best for you and move on it

Use your energy to plot your path clearly and then let your actions follow your intentions. Don’t ask permission. If someone else has an issue with your decisions, let the issue be theirs to worry about.

Accept what you have to deal with and focus the direction of your energy in a positive way.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Culture - A gift of sharing

To me, culture is a word of wonder because it opens windows to fresh perspectives and rich lifestyles. In our daily lives we navigate a multitude of cultures - from our home and family environment, to the professional organization we work it, our academic affiliations, interest groups and the list goes on. Our adherence to a certain number of common values and beliefs within each of these different groups creates a sense of sameness and in this way we share a common culture.

Recently I was one of ten participants that had the privilege to take part in the Acumen Leadership Essentials course. At the outset, the only visible thing we shared in common was the fact that we all live in Geneva. 

Some members of the Acumen Leadership Essentials Group, Geneva 04 2013

Over the next six weeks, we came together weekly to discuss specific issues related to global development, aid, social entrepreneurship and leadership. During these 2 hour discussions we learned from and about, each other’s perspectives. By sharing our experience and heritage we could sense how each one of us had crafted our perspective by weaving our faraway roots into our real-time aspirations.

At our second meeting the homework assigned related to a real case study about a health care start-up in India that would provide free ambulance service. 
Based on the four criteria below, we were asked to assess and explain whether or not to invest in the new venture:

  1. Whether there was strong leadership; do they have the required expertise and are the creators truly committed
  2. Whether the investment will truly make a difference to the low income community
  3. Will the business be able to become financially sustainable
  4. Will the business be able to scale on its own

We watched a video regarding the startup and had numerous questions assigned to us for discussion to help us understand the issues and take a decision regarding whether or not to invest.
On this particular evening seven people, (three men and four women), from six countries (Canada, Greece, Ivory Coast, Singapore, Russia, USA) attended the meeting. What was really very interesting to observe after all the discussion, questions and information had been exchanged was that the men chose not to invest and the women chose to invest, in the start up. The women all agreed that the social impact of such an investment would be huge, and were willing to mitigate the risk, while the men felt that the risk was too great for the estimated potential return.

I came away from the evening with numerous insights:

  1. From a cultural perspective, each sex came together around their social identity (in this case gender and generation) their shared beliefs and the perceived "value" that emergency medical assistance would provide.
  2. Culture is complex - ever changing it morphs depending upon a specific context and environment.
  3. Culture is “practiced” best by cultivating affinity and seeking to understand differences from a non-judgmental perspective.

On this specific occasion our decision reflected our social identity, on other occasions the entire group has agreed to taking the same decision based on a larger set of shared values. The richness of this cross-cultural exchange has undoubtedly helped each of us to listen, to remain open to other peoples opinions, to value what differences bring to the discussion and above all a sense of appreciation and gratitude towards each other.

Originally published in IWM May/June 2013 pgs. 30-1 Culture issue  http://bit.ly/12O77d8

Friday, May 4, 2012

Learning to lead

This year I’ve had the pleasure to help create the Spring semester’s learning module for a new Master level course on leadership, and have designed two assignments, as well as the reading and resource materials to support them.

It’s always exciting to explore new learning environments and especially to have the chance be with young adults. As the mother of two extraordinary young adults, I adore the way their minds surf a multitude of issues simultaneously and effortlessly in Technicolor yet slip quickly into black or white when processing under duress.

The first assignment has recently been completed with a paper and presentation that compares different forms of leadership and the teacher is pleased with the results exhibited in student motivation, expression and thought. Midway through the semester I got involved to facilitate 90 minute hands on experiential session with over 55 Masters students, from 21 countries. Engineering, Architecture and IT students all looking for concrete, logical answers to accomplish their tasks.

Before starting their exercise, each team received a sheet of instructions concerning the task at hand, and 10 minutes to define how they would accomplish it.
During that time, this is what happened within the majority of the 9 teams:

- Immediately all students got very involved in accomplishing the task,
- Instructions and indicators on what, when, why and how, were completely ignored
- Their primary focus was to finish first, and completing the task was their only focus
- External criteria that affected their output and focus: Stress, time and “winning”
- No Leader chosen

From a leadership perspective, the exercise was designed to be experiential and provide insight and learning around what happens to each of them individually and collectively when given; a task, a team, a clear set of instructions. What types of behaviors do they display? Are they able to speak their mind? Listen to others? Participate, innovate and collaborate?

Here’s what happened: Two of the nine groups took the allocated time to discuss and organize their team, choose people to take the lead, decide on a process. Only when these elements were agreed upon within the team, did they begin to brainstorm on how they would accomplish the actual task.

The majority of the other seven groups chose NOT to have a leader, because the term itself created disdain. When a leader was nominated it was done only because the group perceived a specific person possessed the relevant hard skill set, in relation to the task at hand.
The majority of students were relatively disconcerted by
- The fact that the exercise was not a competition
- There was not a “winner” or a “looser”
- The fact that the exercise was not about speed

They were literally surprised to hear they had spent their time to gain personal awareness and insight about themselves, as leaders.

Their understanding of leadership until that point related only to function and hierarchy- to someone in a specific hierarchical function, the function gives the person “the power” to assert leadership.

They left with new perspective and insight on leadership
- as an individual quality that they can develop by expressing themselves, listening, daring, caring and sharing,
- as an integral part of the process when working together on the completion of a task,
- is a personal experiential dynamic iterative process.

I hope they choose to build the confidence and self-awareness required to detach from the black and white vision and experiment with the Technicolor that exists within them, as a leader.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Let the change BEgin!

Day 4 of a 10 day course on Leadership – or on How to come into BEing your authentic self, step up as a person, BE a Human BEing. Collectively and individually daring to lift off the lid, look inside, ponder, practice, feel, learn, observe, integrate over and over again. Iteration brings a new appreciation of our ever more awakened self. The group offers the lens of collective perception; peer to peer feedback is an effective means to see ourselves from different angles, a prism providing insight and pushing us to open ourselves.

Starlog – To date, 32 hours of wondering through a labyrinth, daring to jump through flaming hoops, gazing into the petri dish of life and undressing our emotional self in this new age nudist camp - are some of the metaphors that spring to mind to explain the theoretical and practical activities and exercises over the past 4 days - Experiential learning at its finest. So far I have chosen my animal totem…or it has chosen me. I represent Vitality, I read that I have laid the foundation to greatness, all preliminary work is complete, it’s all going to happen, I will reap the harvest. I can sit back, BE confident.

Second personal sound bite of the day, wonder struck, I realize after completing one of the cringe worthy exercises, that one of my core values is change, I need it, in everything.
I’m surprised!?... Why? This is what I do for a living?
Because, repeatedly I witness each one of us experiencing our “Ah-ha” moment, when a chunk of wisdom materializes and offers guidance with astounding clarity around our uniqueness, illuminating our mind and empowering our potential to BE. So astounding is this revelation to self, it may be blinding. Our inability to see and accept the insight is our blind spot to greater personal awareness and leadership. Is it a question of timing? A hearing disability? While we profess to hear that which is being suggested, we are completely convinced of our own idea of self, the taste and smell of these new ideas seem too foreign, they shake up the order of things, so instead of embracing and opening a space to the new, we resist, over rationalize, deny, waffle or ignore… and the insight blows right by.

What are the conditions that enable our ability to learn - when it comes to seeing ourselves? Time and again I hear people say they are willing and able. I think of the saying – You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink – Why do we resist quenching our thirst? We squirm when we hear truth, deny, make excuses, wriggle a little more, rationalize, and refuse to integrate newness. Yet we know that we suffer from the consequences of the behavior that creates the circle of repeated choices that brought us here in the first place. Oozy, creepy, queasy, sticky, fluttery weirdness displayed in Nano body language signals- eyes averted, fluttering lids, head nodding in the opposite direction of the words being spoken, sighs, dry mouth sounds, long pauses, creased foreheads and way to many deep breaths.

So we go through another exercise and another and the issues being avoided keep coming up in a variety of shapes and shades, iteration until we face them, until we create the space to embrace them, only then can we begin to learn. Only then will our layers of coping behaviors fall away like velvet rose petals, with delicate discernment. Let the change begin!  

I look forward to Six more thoroughly challenging days with my fellow groupies and guides.

Nadene Canning        https://twitter.com/#!/Madnadness