Below is a summary of my conversation with Claire DeCarteret and Jim Collison.
Guest host Claire DeCarteret: Tell us about yourself, your back story.
Andrew Sloan: My Top 5 come into the room as soon I enter it, when I meet you. But it’s my “Back 5” (the next 5) are the engine room that allow me to offer my gifts to people. Those Back 5 are Belief, Connectedness, Responsibility, Empathy, and Arranger. Arranger really influences a lot of my Top 10.
My journey with strengths started about 4 years ago. I was angry and frustrated with life; my Top 5 weren’t being served, even though I didn’t know them yet. I found a strengths-based coach and therapist who I still work with today and we started to explore what my frustration might mean in light of my top capabilities.
I then discovered that maybe I could use my talents in a different way; not just in one job that was pretty fixed. I started seeing myself in a different way in the world. How could I take this new knowledge and my technical skills and help the startup community?
So I developed a model around approaching teams with just technology thinking; how do we use technology to extend and create a sustainable system around a business’ purpose? I wove strengths into that.
To properly use a technological system we need to use an aware human system able to balance and express itself about what it’s become aware of. So I started to use strengths before getting certified. I used it intuitively in those teams. Getting certified allowed me to go deeper with strengths.
CD: Where has getting certified led you in terms of your business today?
AS: While working in technology and sales, and trying to understand how technology could be used for human endeavors, I was completing my psychotherapy degree. I worked in therapeutic dialogue -- understanding how people show up in the present moment, reflect on their past, and how that might influence and inform our future. The week when I took the accelerated strengths course, I discovered that the natural patterns in the triad of thinking, feeling, and behavior is incredibly powerful.
Gallup gave me a snapshot of how you can transport that from the private practice space and working one-on-one with a client to actually engaging with massive numbers of people, doing things like facilitating a group dialogue.
People are putting their hand out for actionable tools -- to know the how, not just the what. We’ve done a lot of what in the past (my personality, where do I fit among my peers) but the strengths movement is translating the what into how (how do I regulate some of my talents, how do I express that in a leadership philosophy that might change the DNA of our ways of working in our teams?).
There are two core sections on my site (https://andrewsloan.com.au/): one for individuals (uniting the best parts of therapy and strengths-based coaching) and one for teams.
- My focus around teams is for future-proofing; supporting them to be ready for our faster future.
- To embed a leadership culture where we may ask more questions than give answers
- To inspire people with our questions so they can do what they do best every day
- To show up plugged in to the purpose of the organization because their life purpose is integrated into the ways that they work
CD: I love the title “human futurist,” especially in a world where technology is taking the lead rather than enabling what we do. What thinking have you done and what is the shift that you’ve seen around the faster future, specifically as a human futurist?
AS: It changes every 6 months because of how fast things are changing. There was a time when we allowed technology to lead. But now we are shifting to being more authentic in online platforms. We’re waking up to the power of technology and how it’s being used to buy our time and attention in ways that are more along the lines of the addictive pathways of the brain than not. You represented it well: It’s humanity first. If we’re using it to connect human to human, it is a tool we’re using it instead of it using us.
In terms of the future of technology, we need to ask, Who are we as humans and Who do we want to be in the new normal of technology? A lot of my thinking around becoming a human futurist is reflecting on just the last 11 years, since we’ve had smartphones and the ability to do what we’re doing right now with this webcast. When I think about the “dials” of complexity, they’ve been dialed up from “3” to “10” in the last 10 years.
I don’t know the impact that complexity has had on our biology, what impact it might be having on our human systems or our cultural fabric; we’re seeing it in global politics right now, in depression and suicide rates. We’re seeing an impact and we need to get clearer on how do we want to move forward with this new normal of complexity.
The “dials” have gone so high that the level of uncertainty, anxiousness around the future is ramping up. It comes back to being really OK in the here and now, in the present moment -- not too blocked by our past and not too anxious or hopeless about our future and really being able to anchor and ground ourselves with a sense of presence and connection.
A huge part of my journey in this space has been work in the “presence movement” or the “you theory.” Reducing complexity down to its simple truth (including the here and now) and then being able to immerse yourself into what might be coming up and prototyping and acting out what might happen.
And at work, how do we become really aware of our team? Not just in a purpose and values perspective, but how do I really know how my talents show up? Where do I need to partner with you or step aside? How can we express that type of communication that ripples through an internal culture and bleeds out into our client value proposition?
And then more and more, we see pockets of tension and friction in the workplace; how can we balance these with becoming more self-aware and team-aware, in a way that anchors us back to our purpose and focuses us on what’s important (e.g., productivity, profitability, wellness). That sense of being “plugged in” is what I call “engagement,” which is a huge part of the future of work.
CD: What are you seeing the implications are for both individuals and teams, and how do you use the principles of strengths-based development, strengths coaching and psychotherapy to help them? Can you give us examples where you’ve seen impact?
AS: A team example of the implications of change in a recent client that has a lot of young people. This is an age group that has been marinating in technology their entire lives; it’s how they identify themselves and others. So their ability to show they are listening and engaged is kind of not needed in their world. When they do talk, they cut through what is unnecessary and zero in on what’s important. But how do they connect with others, and with clients of all ages, showing they can transform their ways of with their clients of all ages? How do they show that they understand and can transform their ways of working with their product if they don’t have the basics of active listening?
I go back to basics as a trainer and coach and bring awareness to this issue. I go through basic skill development training on how to ask impactful and effective questions, how to actively listen. I also use talents in action -- what talents help you do these things (e.g., keep you curious and discovering, or deliver something of value to someone)?
Their leaders must move from telling to asking, from being a boss to asking questions we don’t know the answer to. Move people from just being a cog in a machine to being anchored in purpose, anchored in what they do best every day. For that, we need to get leaders out of their own way so they can show up and be vulnerable. For me, vulnerability is about decluttering ideas I have about myself and myself in the world (via a conversation about the past, present and future). We don’t have all of the answers.
The tools we have are changing, the terrain is changing, we no longer have a map, things are changing so rapidly. We must ask more questions and become more coach-like. How can I arm you with the tools to have coaching conversations? How do we get the wisdom out of our teams and get them to share? By asking really great questions. And CliftonStrengths is a “hack” to self-awareness.
CD: The shift from being a boss to being a coach is relevant to every industry, not just technology-based industries. We are finding that even in top-down, process-driven organizations, they are making a big shift toward the asking rather than the telling, and are humanizing their interactions. What you’re saying is relevant to everyone.
AS: A lot of my work right now involves not just focusing on the philosophy, but embedding it into the process. I believe this is not just a performance management model but a leadership model. The heartbeat of leadership is creating collaborative expectations; continually coaching and asking really great questions; focusing on achievement of goals; and creating a sense of accountability. A lot of my clients go straight to accountability and have a harsh, top-down approach. I ask them, Have you actually prepared those you lead to be accountable and achieve the goal; have you and they collaborated on the goals; have you coached them along the way to know if their talents are helping or maybe actually hindering them from achieving those goals?
Accountability will naturally happen from this process. For me, it’s taking that philosophy into tangible processes. I would ask of front-line organizations, How do you get a philosophy firmly founded in a strengths focus? Then document it in a way that is flexible and dynamic, yet enough to guide behavior into the future (is that an interview process, an onboarding process, a one-to-one coaching process with leaders, etc.?). And then what do you do when things aren’t going well? How do you challenge people to do better? That is how we support organizations in our faster future.
CD: The composite of what you’re talking about is employee experience, engagement. There is an application for this, for strengths, for engagement, for future-proofing teams, at every juncture in the employee life cycle.
AS: And we put that back from a team-based to an individual perspective. Culture in the faster future is about individualized attention, about uniqueness. We need to find that attention in our workplaces, but if we don’t find it there, we can get an individual coach. I’m on a mission on how to crack the code of therapy so it’s seen as not just for people who are seen as broken. In many ways we’re all struggling, all trying to figure out what it means to be human. So I want to combine therapy and coaching on an individual scale, not just on the team scale.
CD: Tell us about bringing the two practices of therapy and strengths coaching together.
AS: I have the flexibility and toolkit to explore many different areas to help move us forward if that’s where a client wishes to go in exploring themselves. I do that in teams as well. Many of my clients in my private practice have challenges with past trauma; I define trauma as a no-exit situation that we could not get out of. Using somatic (= “in the body”) therapy, we can explore the body’s neurological and biological response to those no-exit situations. And these are sometimes the reason why certain talents are quite high; some talents might be adaptations to those situations.
I try to anchor all of my clients to the here and now (anchoring). Integration of gut, heart and head (physiologically this happens in the Vagus nerve) is emotional regulation; when we tap into this (the connection of our gut, our heart and our head) we find that fear of the future dissipates and we become more self-aware.
CD: What is the implication for an organization and how do you approach this, mapping out the culture journey for a team?
AS: The individual process is created in the moment, while the team process is more structured, it always starts with measuring engagement. I use Q12 for the benchmark and knowing where we need to focus. I see Q12 as 12 steps toward engagement. A lot of my clients are focusing on Q01 -- do I know what is expected of me at work? We’re missing that core clarity piece. We begin with engagement and then do a strengths-based foundational rollout -- so we’ve got a way of showing up around uniqueness and capability (rather than negative ideas about a person or the person’s performance).
Then I go straight to leadership -- my heartbeat is to create sustainability in an organization. But I also do a lot of skill development around those three areas of the leadership model. I think that’s in your [Leading High-Performance Teams] course.
CD: We also have the Re-Engineering Performance Management course. There is such a cascading effect of leadership vitality. A lot of these concepts around shifting from boss to coach fit into that.
AS: If I’m a leader and I haven’t addressed the peak challenges in my life, they may be in front of me as I speak to my employee; they may be in the room as I’m trying to impact cultural change; how does a leader not allow “their stuff” to get in the way of truly connecting with others?
CS: Tell us more about the Australian and New Zealand strengths community, what your vision is for it, activities people can expect and how they can plug into it?
AS: I am one of the people inspiring this grass-roots initiative. For me, a real community is when we show up, lean in and give more of ourselves generously. Our approach is showing up and supporting a group of strengths-minded people. Sharing how we’re succeeding and also struggling.
We have an in-person meetup every 6 weeks in Sydney (including a weekend of strengths in September), also have meetups in Brisbane and Melbourne. Our vision is that we show up with a strengths-minded and strengths lens approach with each other, not competitively. We have to honor and value the people who have been in this community longer than I have, for example, Deon Rademeyer, who is incredibly generous.
Gallup Coaching Blog: http://coaching.gallup.com/2018/08/coaching-individuals-and-teams-in.html