My Story with the Leadership Circle Profile and Transformational Learning
More than two decades is a long time to be with one company, and as I moved past this milestone, I increasingly felt bone-tired and finished. “You can stick a fork in me, I’m so done,” I sometimes joked to describe the way I felt. Passion for my work and a sense of contribution to a larger purpose had waned and was replaced by feelings of futility. Serving in a leadership role, navigating one crisis after another had taken its toll on the company and on me. Year after year, I was part of a leadership team that worked through adaptive challenges (product recalls, acquisitions, deferred prosecution agreements, quality issues, budget crises, leadership changes, organizational restructurings) in controlling and complicated ways, never fully appreciating the nature of the increasing complexity that was overwhelming us all. I was ready to leave and give something else a try.
Little did I realize how all this would change for me as I signed up for The Leadership Circle certification process.
MY JOURNEY BEGAN…
…in 1990 when I joined a start-up company in the medical device manufacturing space. Over the course of my career, I made it through three major acquisitions and served six different Presidents, beginning as a Training and Organization Development specialist, eventually leading the entire global HR organization, and then returning to my roots to build leadership development programs as well as a global Learning and Development function.
By 2013, the culture of the company I had dedicated my professional career to had become toxic. Employees complained about their leaders, morale was at an all-time low, attrition was on the rise, and engagement scores on the annual employee survey remained at distressingly low levels year after year. For over 20 years, I had successfully led teams of 10 to 300, yet inexplicably I was feeling over my head. I was as burned out as the leaders and employees I was serving. It seemed that no matter what I did, my team was dissatisfied, the organizational issues remained intractable, leaders were contentious, and employees grew more cynical.
And so I decided to retire – to leave the dysfunction and become a consultant. Wasn’t that the way to go when I no longer had answers or stamina to maintain my own effectiveness and morale?
ENTER: THE LEADERSHIP CIRCLE
While I was making this decision, I was simultaneously pursuing certification as a leadership coach and was introduced to the Leadership Circle Profile (LCP). Eventually, we adopted the LCP as the 360-degree feedback tool for our high potential program and I arranged for certification of all the coaches for this program, including myself.
Throughout my career, I had taken a number of 360-degree feedback assessments and didn’t really expect the Leadership Circle Profile to be much different. But in fact, the process turned out to be transformative for me. I learned that while I’m a good person, loved by others for many of my qualities, I was not being an effective leader. I reflected the dysfunctional culture in which I was embedded. My core strength of being a loving person who maintained caring connections had coalesced into “complying” behaviors that undermined my ability to balance relationships and task and be an authentic, visionary leader capable of fostering healthy, high performing teams.
Transformative learning is not a linear process and my own was no exception. Many times I felt as though I was learning lessons I thought I had already mastered. Integrating the empowering as well as limiting qualities of my “shadow” into my identity was a back and forth process. Yet as I consciously “held” the tension between my reactive tendencies and my deeply held values and commitments, I experienced an internal shift inside myself to what really mattered – being an authentic, empowering leader of high performing teams. I realized I had been “protecting” my team from the dysfunctional culture in ways that disempowered them and undermined their effectiveness. I had been avoiding conflict for so long that I couldn’t see how far I had distanced myself from reality. And my own cynicism and judgment about the dysfunction of everyone else blinded me to my own complicity.
COMPASSION FOR MYSELF, COMPASSION FOR ALL LEADERS
Seek the truth and the truth shall set you free … or something like that. My own learning granted me greater compassion for my colleagues, other leaders who were struggling in their own unique ways. And in the end, the journey was not over.
To my surprise, the President and his team, guided by an insightful Board of Directors, embarked on their own journey to address the dysfunctional leadership shadow they were casting in the organization. I was asked to lead a well-funded, fully supported culture-shaping process to find our way to a healthier, more productive culture. To do this, I stepped out of my “official” leadership role to lead a cross-functional team of leaders facilitating 2-day culture-shaping workshops with over 3,500 leaders globally. Toward the end of this process, a very large merger with a competing company was announced and our focus on culture became more compelling than ever before.
Now, more than ever, I’m an evangelist for the power of timely, insightful 360-degree feedback and learning from this experience. From my own lessons learned, I’m able to authentically weave the following insights into all of my executive coaching:
To be part of the solution, we need to see ourselves as part of the problem.
As leaders, it is impossible for us to operate separately from the systems in which we lead. Leading transformational change, first requires us, as leaders, to transform ourselves. There are no exemptions or short cuts to be taken.
Get comfortable being present with tension – it is a life force.
Answers to complex, adaptive challenges emerge as we get comfortable with holding the tension of opposing polarities. From experience, we learn that there are very few simple solutions to the complexity of organizational life. Our challenge is to be fully present in the middle of these challenges so that we can notice new patterns of reality emerging before we take action.
Ease and grace are on the other side.
It’s always easier on the other side of a transformative learning process. The rigidity of right/wrong, good/bad judgements dissolves and we find ourselves moving through conflict, diversity, and ambiguity with a new-found sense of grace. I now tap into a deep reservoir of optimism and good will that I am able to share with others as we co-create a place of work we can believe in.
Now half-way into my third decade with the same company, I’m fully engaged with leaders at all levels in the work of building a healthy, high-performing, purpose-driven organization. I have no illusions about how hard this work is and how much persistence is required of all of us, yet I no longer feel overwhelmed. I now know when working through challenging situations, the only way out is through and I’m grateful for the lessons I continue to learn in my journey to authentically embody the change we all desire.
Culture, Leadership & Organization Development
Renee serves as the senior internal consultant on culture, leadership, and high potential development, designing and delivering workshops globally, coaching leaders, and developing programs for key talent.