Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Changing Face of Leadership in the 21st Century: Part Four


How do you show up?
Using self with intention and choice.

We had been on Everest for two months, setting up a string of camps and fixed lines in order to provide a summit team with the best chance of making it up and down again. Many of our team were spenttheyd given everything to build the camps and fix the lines. 

Only four climbers were still healthy and ready for the summit challenge. We called a meeting. The four would chose amongst themselves who would make the summit bid.

One of the four healthy-and-ready climbers was Sharon Wood.

Unexpectedly, this was a golden opportunity: Sharon could be the first woman in the Western Hemisphere to summit Everest.

Before the meeting, Sharon and I talked. Sharon wanted to be on the summit team. She was confident she had the strength and skill to summit. However, she hated the first womantheme and was reluctant to put herself forward. She wanted us to be satisfied with getting there by a new route as a team and she felt that putting herself forward might jeopardize the good will of the others. Everything had been going smoothly. She didnt want to create friction. 

With all the compassion I could muster for her reticence, I patiently hung in the conversation with her pointing out the importance and meaning of the opportunity not just for her, but for the expedition as a whole. 

Then we went into the meeting with the understanding that Sharon had to speak up for herself. I couldnt do it for her. As the conversation went round, Sharon remained silent, and the group chose Barry and Dwayne.

After the meeting broke up, in Sharons words:

Jim was waiting for me outside.

Mute with self-defeat, I watched as I rearranged the snow with the toe of my boot.

Woody! Whats with you?he said. Why didn’t you speak up?

I stared at my boots and mumbled, When could I have said anything? Like I told you there was already a plan, and it was on its feet and running.

What do you mean? I gave you a perfect cue.”

What seemed like several minutes of silence passed as I reflected.

Then Jim suddenly shouted: Come on Woody! Quit being so nice so god dammed Canadian! Heres your chance to make history, for usand for Canada!

Sharon Wood and I discussing summit possibilities 
Sharon said she needed to go think. After talking it over with Jane, our camp manager and cook, she approached Dwayne and Barry and told them she wanted to be on the first summit team. Barry graciously conceded his place, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This is a classic example of presence at work. Sharon was torn, and I was able to use my selfwith intent to arouse a necessary action. Sharon needed encouragement to fulfill her want. I was able to encourage her deliberately by showing up. I selectively used my manner, appearance, values, knowledge and reputation all together in a transparent mix: a passionate manner, my value of bringing out the best in people, especially that which they might not see themselves, my knowledge from having observed Sharons climbing, and my reputation as a climber established me as a trusted leader.

All of this helped Sharon stop seeing her belief in her ability as just a selfish ambition but rather as ambition in alignment with opportunity for both her and the team.

Once Sharon made her decision she tackled the daunting climb with her usual grit and tenacity. She had a great climbing partner in Dwayne, and the team threw everything they had into support of their successful bid.


At its simplest, presence is simply the capacity to give our undivided selves with attention to a team member, a meeting, a conversation, a situation.

At a deeper level, presence is a leadership capacity that invests every moment with maximum potency, so that your presence is a resource for every member of your team, your presence enriches every encounter, and you are fully alive to the meaning and implications of every decision you make.

What do leaders with great presence look like?

They score high in Emotional Intelligence (EI), the ability to be aware of one's own and other people's emotions, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour; to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathically. This allows them to be assertive without aggression, to heal breaches arising from conflict.

They score high in conscientiousness/integrity. This goes beyond honesty; it is a capacity for self-respect and respect for others.

They have a well-developed internal locus of control they understand their actions have an effect in the world, they take responsibility for their actions, they have the confidence to acknowledge shortcomings and believe they can develop greater capacity and skill when needed.

They operate with awareness of others/awareness of impact: Closely implicated with emotional intelligence, this capacity for clarity about how others are responding to events and to their presence empowers them to build strong collaborative relationships based on mutual understanding, rapport and trust.

Lessons Learned: Use of Self

Presence is the central capacity in what my Gestalt coaching background calls Use of Self. We choose to act and influence events while being fully in the present because it is only in the present that any of us can act at all.

Understanding presence and the use of self gives a leader massive influence. They can be inspiring in a practical, connected way, not by standing on higher ground and pointing to the stars, but by being right there with the individual, dyad, team, or larger institutional context of the team, feet on the ground, finding common direction together.

Use of Self is an essential leadership capability for the higher level of engagement called for in the twenty-first century business organization.

You can learn more about Presence, Emotional Intelligence and Locus of Control through coaching. For more about my approach to Executive Coaching:

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