What makes you an effective change (and OD) practitioner?
A Conversation About Character and Presence
Categories: A Conversation About Character and Presence
I asked several practitioners whom I respect to write guest posts about how they relate to two previously released series: Character/Presence and Cultivating Character. Sheila Legon, a seasoned professional in our field, is the second contributor to this series.
At many points in my life, I have asked myself the question, “Who am I?” Daryl’s recent series on Cultivating Character really caused me to pause and think about this, deeply and seriously. Although “who you are” evolves over time, when you take the time to reflect, you begin to see the origins of “sense of self,” and patterns emerge. So let me breathe life into Daryl’s metaphor and share my perspective with you in hopes that you, too, will find this a worthwhile exercise.
The sapling metaphor Daryl mentions in his Cultivating Character series is closely aligned to the SDI Motivational Value System (MVS) developed by Elias Porter. Who you really are and what brings satisfaction to you as an individual (i.e., what makes you feel good about yourself) is your life within—your “sapling”—that remains at the core of your being. When you can stay true to that, you are able to bring forth your best self and engage meaningfully with others. Understanding that about myself only became clear as an adult.
As a child, a teenager, and on into adulthood, I was often the go-between—the common friend between two friends, the arbiter between my parents and my brother, the negotiator between my classmates and the teachers, the bargainer between the nurses’ union and the local government. In every case, I had an opinion (often a strong one), but I could also clearly see the other points of view and their merits, as well as the conflicting issues, so that I could quite easily reframe them for someone else to understand. I often wondered why I was not like everyone else…how could I so easily shift from one direction to the next and end up accommodating them all? Why was I so “inconsistent?” Was I so easily influenced by others that I had no point of view of my own? It seemed to me that I was either at best, a chameleon, or at worst, an imposter.
I remember trying to explain to one of my professors at graduate school that I often felt I could stand outside of myself and witness what was going on from a very neutral spot; then, once it was clear, re-enter the situation.
How weird is that?
For me, the “trunk” Daryl refers to equates to the strengths/qualities you use to help you effectively realize what’s important to you. I realize he was using it as a metaphor for the defenses we sometimes develop to protect our sapling. I can relate to it that way but I also see a more positive interpretation. The trunk can represent the assets/abilities that you adopt and use fairly consistently because they work for you; the combination of these behaviors in action defines how people experience you…your presence…how you show up. It feels authentic, it feels good, and generally it works.
For instance, my top six strengths (as identified through the SDI Portrait of Personal Strengths) are Flexible, Tolerant, Persevering, Self-confident, Supportive, and Fair. The combination of these strengths in action represent my “presence” and are the external expression of my “sapling.” When you look at those six strengths, the “inconsistency” I experienced as a child and early adult becomes much clearer. There are a number of other strengths/qualities that you can choose under certain circumstances, when you perceive the situation calls for them. They may or may not be “comfortable,” but if they help get the job done and satisfy your inner self (sapling), then you will continue to use them.
For example, there are times when I might draw on a strength such as “quick to act”; other situations might call for “caring.” Using these strengths adds a smooth layer to my “trunk” because, while they are not my everyday choices, they work well. However, there are other strengths/qualities that I rarely draw on because they do not “fit” with my self-image (“competitive” and “forceful” come to mind), but these same strengths may be required under certain circumstances and an unwillingness to draw on them could leave me vulnerable. Using them might add a layer of very rough bark to my trunk, adding to my “strength of character.”
Certain situations at work (or at home) may require you to engage a strength/quality that you would not ordinarily choose because it doesn’t feel congruent with your character…it’s not a good match between your inner nature and your external expression, your presence. For a short time, you can exercise this strength/quality and even become quite accomplished at it. You may even find it, perhaps, somewhat “thrilling.” If the need to use it were prolonged, however, the thrill would no doubt wane. While it’s possible to engage a quality that is not a match with who you really are, if you have to exercise it for extended periods you will probably become stressed or burn out.
Of course, any of the strengths can be misused or overdone. What’s interesting in these situations is that you are often totally unaware that you are misapplying them…the feedback and reaction from others, which can be confusing or mystifying at best (and destructive at worst) contributes layer upon layer to your trunk. For example, the strength of being “flexible” works well for me as a change agent—I like being able to flow with the vagaries of change without being taxed by the uncertainty that accompanies it. However, I’ve learned that if I overdo it l, I can be perceived as being “wishy-washy.”
Being an effective change agent requires you to be able to apply a full repertoire of assets at the right time without losing sight of who you really are. Any tools of the trade that you have at your disposal can become enablers:
Clients get to know and embrace the presence that shows up. The same presence needs to be constant to build trust and credibility, so it’s important that it’s anchored to your true self…your “sapling.”
Being a change agent is hard work and I would be remiss if I did not confess to having many struggles in being true to the craft and true to myself. I was fortunate to learn a very effective “in-the-moment” technique called Quick Coherence (from HeartMath) to recalibrate myself and bring about an inner balance when I am faced with challenge. It has enabled me to stay true for the most part.
I’ve always believed that the most effective tool you have available is YOU, the you that shows up when your true character and the presence you convey to others is aligned. It’s the approach you take, the strengths/qualities you choose to employ, and the conversations you have or don’t have that contribute to your overall and lasting impact.
Sheila Legon, B.Sc.N., M. Ed.
Sheila Legon is the Senior Director, Personal, Team and Change Proficiency for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), one of North America’s leading financial institutions. She has been with CIBC for over 25 years and during this time has been providing “hands on” consultation and support with respect to strategic and business planning, organization development, team effectiveness, and change management.
The focus of her work for a number of years has been on the people aspects associated with the effective implementation of business strategy. People Change Management (or PCM) is recognized throughout CIBC as one of the critical elements required to effectively manage the “human risk” inherent in the execution of any business change initiative. It is also a critical component of a number of mandatory business processes, including the New Initiative Risk Assessment, The Enterprise Delivery Framework, Project and Program Management methodologies, and Process Engineering.
Sheila is a graduate of the School of Nursing at Queen’s University, Kingston and the Nightingale School of Nursing in Toronto. She received her M.Ed at OISE, University of Toronto.
I was honored to host a conversation recently with Mel Toomey, Brent Robertson, Wendy Appel, and Al Bhatt about their reactions to two of my recent blog series, Character and Presence and Cultivating Character. Given that each is a seasoned change practitioner, I was sure the exchange would be intriguing and thought provoking, and that proved to be the case. I was also confident the dialogue would be compelling because these are colleagues and friends, so I’m used to the kind of lively discussions that ensue whenever there is an excuse for us to converge around a topic of mutual interest. The five of us have a common frame of reference in that we are all associates at the Center for Leadership Studies (CLS)*. You can read their respective bios below.
Following are the links to both parts of our recorded conversation. In them, you’ll hear about “safety” issues related to change practitioners bringing forth their authenticity. What contributes to our “awakeness” or mindfulness as we practice our craft? What part does curiosity play? Do we genuinely care about clients as human beings going through change-related struggle? Is that part of the character and presence relationship? And what about compassion? Is that different from curiosity or a caring attitude?
I hope you find the exchange both enjoyable and informative.
Please click here to listen.
Mel's work centers on the development of people who are preparing to engage in breakthrough levels of leadership on an organizational scale—people who will lead change from the view that it is a condition to be mastered, not a problem to be solved. These leaders are committed to building “change ready” organizations that can transform their relationship to change.
Holding an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for his contributions to establishing leadership as a profession, Mel is an educator, executive advisor, and organizational consultant. He founded the Center for Leadership Studies and Generative Leadership Group. He is the principal designer for one of the first Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership programs ever offered at the university level. Mel serves as Scholar in Residence at the Graduate Institute in Bethany, Connecticut, and teaches at the University of Arkansas.
Leaders who work with Brent begin to see their organization's future as a network of relationships...those relationships that exist, those that will come to be, and those that are needed to realize the future. His talents help leaders see the future as possibility, and as something relevant and achievable. His work points to what needs to change, what needs re-calibration, and how to manifest those relationships. Brent works with leaders to identify the registers for accomplishment that mark the progress to ensure a future that is sustainable by the organization itself.
Brent has helped organizations find their unique voice and expression for two decades. He is a co-founder of Fathom, an internationally recognized transformational branding firm. His work clarifies purpose for organizations that experience remarkable growth. Degreed in design and sculpture, he lectures on design thinking and organizational legacy.
Wendy works at the intersection of individual and organizational change. She's lived in three countries, holds a master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology, and she's masterful at meeting cross-cultural challenges, evidenced by her international work. She is uniquely qualified to work with transformation and change at a global scale and offers a depth and breadth of experience that forwards understanding of cross-cultural change.
Wendy is particularly astute at working with the dynamics of individual and team behavior. She is a gifted participating-observer—one who travels with you on your journey while providing valuable insight—someone who understands leadership from both the inside (the individual experience) and the outside (how one is seen in the world). She is also known for her ability to quickly build trust with individuals and teams, thus accelerating their development.
Descriptive titles for her work include coach for leaders and teams, consultant, thought partner, facilitator and author. When you work with Wendy, you get the wisdom born of her years of experience as a leader in business operations (product development), as an internal consultant and external advisor.
Among her many accomplishments, Wendy has written a five-star rated book for leaders and teams. InsideOut Enneagram: The Game-Changing Guide for Leaders, takes complex theories of personality and behavior and puts them into action in ways that open and accelerate access to effective leadership and team interactions. InsideOut is practical, reliable, and immediately applicable. This is a book you'll keep within arm's reach.
Alpesh M. Bhatt
Al is a walking provocation. His observations make you uncomfortable…but you want to hear more. He disrupts what you thought was “real”…and invites you to create a new reality. He hears who you are…and calls forward who you could be.
Al works as a deep and trusted advisor to senior executives as they navigate the paradoxes of running a business in the 21st century. From the formulation of business and marketplace strategies to the work of organizational development to the exploration of one’s own potential, Al provides leaders with the frameworks, tools, and provocations that fundamentally reframe their understanding of their world and open up new avenues of growth and value creation.
Al has led businesses—including turn-around situations—as an internal manager. He has also been an external advisor to senior executives in Fortune 100 companies as well as privately held businesses and entrepreneurial start-ups in the US, Europe, and Asia. He holds a master’s degree in organizational psychology and is on the faculty of the Graduate Psychology department at UNH. He is a regular public speaker, having delivered over 150 speeches at national conferences and private association events. Al has also published a small book, The Triple-Soy Decaf-Latte Era, that has been called a “mini-MBA for the 21st Century.” He hopes to write bigger things in the future.
*The Center for Leadership Studies (CLS) is in service to organizations seeking new levels of effectiveness & impact through transformational endeavors. By way of its offerings, CLS provides leaders and change agents with the means to realize their aspiration’s full potential to make a real and lasting difference in the world.