5. Staff development: Championing vs. correcting

When I do workshops on managing staff, the first questions I get are about trouble and the people who cause it.

No one has ever asked this first...

How do I support my top performers better?

And isn't that interesting? How entrancing and demanding trouble is.

Meanwhile it's so easy to forget about our top performers. Many times I've heard a leader say something like...

"Jeannie? Oh, she's doing great and thank God for that. She's the one person I don't have to worry about. She doesn't need anything from me."

The Advocacy Stand says, "Reverse this!"

Give your top performers your prime time and attention.

Put them first.

Build your staff culture around them and what they need.

And they do have needs. Big ones because they're up to big things. For example...

They need a workplace that's free of rancor and strife so they can play at the top of their game.

They need to be witnessed.

They need to know they matter to you.

If you're going to give prime time to your top performers then you have to set limits on anyone who's causing trouble.

You don't have endless conversations with them. You don't chase them in the same old circles again and again. Instead you call the question...

Will you do what it takes to be on our team and make a significant contribution toward moving the mission forward?

Calling the question means you're asking them to make a decision...

To either get with the team or get out.

That's putting it bluntly, but that's what it comes down to.

We can ask someone to change their behavior, we can encourage them, but we can't make them do it. The person has to decide if they want to meet your standards or not.

And it's okay to take a stand for your standards, namely...

Being a great team, and

Doing great work together,

With the emphasis on together.

It's not okay for anyone to drag the team down. It's not okay for anyone to suck the life out of the organization. You don't have to put up with that.

This may sound like tough guy stuff, but when you take this stand you're really being an advocate...

For your top performers.

For your mission.

For yourself.

And for the troublesome staff person, too. It's not good for anyone to be able to get away with bad behavior. So when you put a stop to it, even if they don't like it, it's still an advocacy kind of thing to do.

On this page, I'm going to give you examples of...

Conversations with your staff about problems.

And examples of...

Conversations with your staff about possibilities.

The normal thing would be to start with the problems first and and spend most of our time there and get to the possibilities just at the end for dessert. But I'm going to do the reverse. I'm going to start with possibilities. And why?


Even when you're talking with a staff person about problems, possibilities are always the context.

We don't want people to get lost inside their problems. We want them to be bigger than their problems. Just as we take the Advocacy Stand for them, we want them to always be taking the Advocacy Stand for themselves, which means always paying attention to their talents and strengths, which is what opens them to their possibilities.

And staying focused on possibilities helps keep people from sinking into self-blame or shame when they are talking about problems.

Something else to consider...

If you always start your relationship with any staff by focusing on talents, strengths, possibilities, and their best ambitions for themselves and their work, then if you have to have a conversation about problems later on, you've already established a solid relationship of advocacy.

That being said, for some people, it's actually easier to get the essence of the Advocacy Stand when they see it at work in tough situations, especially intense correction conversations or firings. If you suspect that's true for you, feel free to jump ahead to the problem section and then come back. Or check out the firing page and then return here to possibilities.


Here's an example of a conversation that's an easy-going cruise in search of possibilities. Notice how Kimi, the ED, stays inside her mood of advocacy from beginning to end.

Kimi:  How's it going with your team?

Dell:  I love them. And we just keep doing better and better work. I'm so happy in this job. This is where I belong.

Kimi:  I'm really glad to hear that because I'm hoping you stay here for the long term. I was telling two of my friends last night how thankful I am for you.

Dell:  Wow.

Kimi:  May I ask you this? What's next for you here?

Dell:  I haven't really thought about that.

Kimi:  I'm just thinking about how far you've come since you became department head.

Dell:  Yes, well I like learning new things.

Kimi:  What would you like to learn next? What would you enjoy learning that would also make you stronger in your position?

Dell:  Oh, if that's the question then I'd say public speaking.

Kimi:  Tell me about that.

Dell:  I feel at home with a small group of people who I work closely with every day. I think that's one of my strengths.

Kimi:  Yes, I see that. I'd even say you've developed with your team a kind of intimacy and mutual support that's unusual in the workplace. People look out for each other. You even finish each others sentences.

Dell:  That's true. We went out last night to hear the Barbary Coast All Stars and were having so much fun, people were surprised to find out we were a work team rather than a group of old friends.

So I'm happy with how I'm doing here in the office, but it's when I go out in the world that my shyness kicks in. I'd like to do something about that.

Kimi:  What thoughts have you had about this so far?

Dell:  I haven't thought about it, except that I know I want to stop being so shy because it holds me back.

Kimi:  How?

Dell:  I think I could get more support for my program if I were out talking with people a lot more. I totally believe that if people knew the behind-the-scenes story of what we do every day, they'd want to volunteer with us and maybe write checks. I feel restless. I want a wider world for this work.

Kimi:  Cool. Let's make that happen.

Dell:  Okay. How?

Kimi:  Well, let's look at public speaking, but I'm hearing that the your goal is also to develop a public presence.

Dell:  Yes, that's true.

Kimi:  So let's play with ideas.

Dell:  I know about Toastmasters. Maybe I could try that.

Kimi:  I have a friend, Gayle, who's done Toastmasters. Want to talk with her about it's like?

Dell:  Definitely.

Kimi:  Okay, I'll get you her number. And then there's Speaking Circles which is about authentic speaking. Staying true to yourself rather than putting on a show. I can get you their website, if you want.

Dell:  Yes, I like the sound of that.

Kimi:  And then I know Nancy, an actress. She does public speaking training for authors, MDs, scientists, pretty much anyone. If you want some one-on-one work with her I could give you $400 from the training budget.

Dell:  That sounds a little scary.

Kimi:  Yes, it's intense, it's personal, but she's a sweetheart and really good at what she does. And you're dedicated to developing yourself, so I want you to have the best.

Dell:  How about if I try it once and then decide?

Kimi:  Perfect. Now what else? What are you going to talk about?

Dell:  All the things that happen with the kids in the classroom every day.

Kimi:  You know how I'm so intense about collecting success stories from all three of our departments?

Dell:  Yes.

Kimi:  How about if you take that over for your department? I find it very helpful to be the one who collects the stories and writes them up. Then when I go out to talk with funders or the public, they're on the tip of my tongue and I have lots of them. At this point no one can ask me a question I don't have a story for. I'm a bit shy about public speaking myself and I find this preparation helps a lot.

Dell:  I love writing, so that sounds good to me.

Kimi:  Okay, then as of now you're in charge of collecting all the stories from your department. And what about blogging? You could write up stories, talk about what they mean to you, add in quotes from your staff.

Dell:  Yes, I'd enjoy that. People tell me my writing voice is friendly. Sometimes they say warm and playful. Maybe if I write in that voice 3 or 4 times a week it would be more likely to show up for me when I do speaking.

Kimi:   Once you've got that going and are comfy with it, let me know, and then here's something we can do if you like. I get more speaking requests than I can handle, especially service clubs like Rotary and the Lionesses. I could hand those off to you. You could go practice. They're very friendly audiences.

Dell:  Okay, when I'm ready I'll tell you. But how do I fit this into my schedule?

Kimi:  I consider this to be of top importance. First, because I want this to be a place where staff grow and develop. Second, because if you were out speaking, maybe getting on radio and TV, I can easily see you bringing in volunteers and donations.

So it would be a win for the organization, too.

Let's go through your schedule and see what you can hand off to your staff. Give them a chance to grow as you grow.

Dell:  Great. I think they'll be up for it.

Kimi:  And I'd be glad to make a trade with you. You're handling the stories from your department and that saves me time. Pretty soon I might be handing off some of our priority speaking engagements to you. That means you're going to save me a bunch of time. What do you have that I could help with?

Dell:  What comes to mind is that I haven't planned the next three inservices for my staff. Those always take me a lot of time and they're not my favorite things. It would be great if you could handle those.

Kimi:  Deal. I want to be more connected to your staff. That would be perfect. Tell me what they want to work on and I'll plan the sessions.

Dell:  Thanks. I'm a little bit anxious about all this, but a lot jazzed. I think once I get started, this plan is going to be a lot of fun.

Now, does this sound too sweet? Too easy?

To some people it does. Especially if they're used to personnel management being a struggle. But please remember, when you use the advocacy stand to create an advocacy culture, life gets a whole lot sweeter for everyone.

You might have noticed that in this conversation...

Kimi didn't have to do anything tricky or cagey or strategic or difficult.

That's because she and Dell were in synch. Of course she was paying close attention to Dell, but her purpose was simply to support Dell in getting her needs met so she could continue to grow and develop.

Kimi brought her caring and her presence to the conversation. That's all she needed. It was smooth sailing from there.

Next, Winston, the ED, is talking with Adriana about a very big decision. But she's co-leading. They're working this through together. Winston is advocating for her to make a real decision. And she's with him on that. They're very much on the same team here.

Adriana:  Hey, Winston, do you have time to talk?

Winston:  Yes, I do. In fact, I was just about to come looking for you.

Adriana:  What's that?

Winston:  We were scheduled to send out the job announcement this morning, you know the one, director of the new peer coaching program. But when I proofed it again and and handed it back to Terri, I heard myself tell her, "Hold off on this for a bit."

I've been thinking you'd be the frontrunner for this spot, but today I realized I don't even want to look at anyone else. This job has your name written all over it. Would you be willing to talk about it?

Adriana:  Yes. Last night while I washing the dishes, my grandmother said to me, "What's wrong, Sweetie? Oh, it's about that job, isn't it?" She reads me better than I read myself.

My heart is telling me to go for it. This is my dream job. I want it more than anything. But my brain keeps coming up with objections. I want to apply but only if I know I can do it. It would kill me to screw up the program for those kids.

So can we have a due diligence conversation?

Winston:  Absolutely. Let's make a deal. On my side, I won't try to talk you into the job. I think it matters that you make a real decision for yourself.

And on your side, how about if you don't be modest. Let's just take a really accurate look at your strengths and see how they match up with the job, okay?

Adriana:  I think I can do that.

Winston:  So should we start with what you love about the job or with the objections?

Adriana:  The objections are pressing on me. Let's start there.

Winston:  Okay, first one.

Adriana:  I'm young. I'm 25. I've never supervised anyone before. My sister is in HR at a big corporation downtown and she's always complaining about how hard it is, how crazy and awful people can be. I told her it's different here. But she shook her head and said, "People are people," and then wouldn't talk with me about it any more.

It really is different here, isn't it? Tell me I'm not just imagining that.

Winston:  Let's look at the facts. In the five years you've been here, what have you seen?

Adriana:  This is a very happy place to work. My friend Flavia told me she'd be bored here. No personality battles to break up the day. I told her our work is so great that it keeps us cooking all on its own. We don't need any extra entertainments.

Winston:  How many firings have we had?

Adriana:  Just that one.

Winston:  And what was it like?

Adriana:  Quick and clean. We were all relieved to see him go because he was messing things up with the teens.

Winston:  So...

Adriana:  We are different. But why?

Winston:  Because we have a system for hiring people who are a match for us and a system for supporting people once we hire them. Supervision here is a pleasure.

Adriana:  Okay, so I would need to get a deeper understanding of how that system works, so I can do my part in it, but this sounds good. One thing I won't do is spend my days fighting with people like my sister does.

Winston:  As long as I'm here that'll never happen.

Adriana:  Good. I'm settled on that one. Next objection: We're going to hire two experienced therapists who are also coaches to back up our teen peer coaches in each of our two high schools. I'm expecting that they will be a good bit older than me, maybe by ten years or even twenty or more.

Won't they resent being supervised by someone as young and inexperienced as me? I'm worried they will just blow me off and do their own thing and then the team won't be a team.

Winston:  Let's say one of the therapists is condescending to the teen coaches and is putting them down. Maybe calling them stupid when they make a mistake. How would you react?

Adriana:  Well, she can't do that! That's a violation of everything we stand for. That's harmful to the kids and that's not okay. There's nothing about that kind of behavior that's okay. She's going to have to fix that immediately or she's out of here.

Winston:  I just saw you take a stand for the kids and the program. That's something I want in a director. Something I have to have. And you've got it in spades. Did you see yourself do that? Remember, no modesty, accuracy.

Adriana:  Okay, I saw it. I'm intense when it comes to the teens.

Winston:  That's something I've seen in you for five years now. You know, I can always count on you. You always give 100%.  You're super responsible to the mission. That's something else that's a must-have for this position.

Adriana:  Okay, we'll check that off. But what about the age thing?

Winston:  What's our stand on age?

Adriana:  I've never seen anything written on that.

Winston  No, but how do we behave when it comes to age?

Adriana:  You hired me when I was just turning 20. I was really surprised because I had no experience then.

Winston:  Except you had life experience and quality of character. That's what I went with and you've proven me right.

What about the teens you work with? Do any of them ever outshine the adults around them?

Adriana:  Ohmigod, yes! The first six who I was planning to recommend to you for the peer coaching positions are dynamite. So much maturity. I know adults much older who don't have half what these kids have.

Winston:  So age...

Adriana:  Is not the determining factor for us. And that make sense since we're Youth Advocates. Of course we wouldn't discriminate based on age. Or get hung up on it. In fact, wouldn't it be fair to say that we're proactive about age? We help young people discover their strengths. We help them break through any limiting ideas they have about being young.

Winston:  That's exactly right.

Adriana:  So I guess I'd better not discriminate against myself based on age, either.

Winston:  Cool. Okay, now imagine a therapist working for you says, "You're not really my boss. You can't tell me what to do. You're too young." How do you respond?

Adriana:  I'd say, "You're too-missing-the-point, Sweetie." Well, I wouldn't say that. I'd be more professional.

Winston:  Good, but I like the attitude.

Adriana:  if someone said something like that she would obviously be a mismatch for us. So how could we check this out during the hiring process?

Winston:  What would you need to ask and what would you need to hear in order to feel solid about hiring a therapist?

Adriana:  I'd want to have a forthright conversation about age. I'd want her to convince us that she would not only put up with being supervised by someone as young as me, but she'd look forward to it. I'd want us to do due diligence on the age issue. Then I could put my fears to rest.

Winston:  Then let's make a deal that an in-depth age conversation is now part of the interview process.

Adriana:  Deal.

Winston: One more thing. Tell me about the work you're doing with the teen now. When things get tough then what? When there's a kid other staff are failing with what happens?

Adriana:  I step in.

Winston:  And is that a problem for you?

Adriana:  No, I love it.

Winston:  It doesn't drag you down?

Adriana:  No, it fires me up.

Winston:  Why?

Adriana:  I like the adventure of it. I like getting to ramp up to my very best. I like having to use all my moxie and all my smarts. It's bracing. And then you get the breakthrough, and suddenly this kid who's been all about trouble suddenly sees that he's creative and caring and amazing.

Winston:  Your face is all lit up as you're talking about this.

Adriana:  I guess it would be a good thing to have the person who loves taking on the toughest challenges be the one in the top spot of the program.

Winston:  Yes, it would. And how could you bring that talent over to supervising adults?

Adriana:  Oh, I hadn't thought about that. The adults can't be tougher than the kids. And as director I get to call the shots, like requiring 100% responsibility from them.

Winston:  Why not 95%. Aren't you asking too much?

Adriana:  No, if they're working with my teens, I'd want 100%. Not that they couldn't make mistakes, but I'd want to see them putting their whole heart into the work.

Winston:  Okay, it would be your department. I'd back you up on that.

Adriana:  So the age thing is checked off. One final item, I don't know what I don't know. Are there things about this job that might blindside me?

Winston:  Sure, I think we can count on surprises. But think back to the work we did as a committee to design this program and test it out. Lots of ups and downs. And you...

Adriana:  I loved very minute of it.

Winston:  We had some big problems to solve.

Adriana:  But we solved them. And it felt great.

Winston:  So what if you could direct the program with the same spirit you had during the design phase?

Adriana:  Oh, I get it. I can't see why I couldn't do that.

Winston:  And think back over this conversation we're in right now. We've been problem solving some serious objections and...

Adriana:  Working them through! Yes, we do good together!

Winston:  So here's something I want to say to you. Do you understand that you wouldn't be doing this alone?

Adriana:  No. I've been thinking that a director would have to handle everything herself. Especially because you're so busy. I wouldn't want to be coming to you with stuff all the time and bothering you.

Winston:  The thing is I like working closely with my directors. And I'm a big fan of yours and I'd enjoy working with you in the same way. This peer program is dear to my heart. It's taken two years to get the funders to back us on it and I really want it to be a success. I'll be with you every step of the way.

Adriana:  Now that you've said that, I realize that's what I most needed to hear. Now I'm okay.

Winston:  Then let's make this official. Adriana, I'm offering you the position of director of the Peer Coaching Project. Will you take it?

Adriana:  Yes! And I promise you I'll give it everything I've got.

Winston:  I know you will. So, how does it feel being the director, Director?

Adriana:  It takes my breath away. I feel like I'm just at the top of the first hill on a roller coaster.

Winston:  And?

Adriana:  I love roller coasters!

Winston could have pep-talked Adriana into the job: You're great I know you can do it. I believe in you. You just have to believe in yourself. That kind of thing.

But look how this conversation took their working relationship to a much deeper place. He took an advocacy stand—that he wanted her to make a real decision, a thoughtful decision, and the one that was right for her. She joined him in that stand, and now they're off to a great start with the new program.

In this next situation, the ED uses championing to happily prevent any need for correction. But there's definitely push to this conversation because Amber has something to push through.

Camila:  Amber, you've been with us for three weeks now, and I love having you here. I really do. And we have a problem.

Amber:  A problem?! What is it?

Camila:  Not to worry. I know we can fix this. And we're going to do it right now.

Amber:  Okay, What's it about?

Camila:  I've noticed in our weekly check-in's that when I ask about the number of calls you've made to possible major donors, the answer is zero. You haven't made a single call to a major prospect and you've haven't had a single meeting with a major prospect.

Amber:  Yes, that's true, but that's because I've been so busy preparing PR materials to give to the prospects and helping out with the grant writing, I just haven't had the time to make the calls. I promise I'll get to it soon.

Camila:  Every time I pass by your office, I see you hard at work, and I appreciate your diligence. I've also seen you working late, I'd say probably three nights a week I see you here till 6:30. And I appreciate how committed you are to our organization.

And there's something else we need even more. What we need in the development director position is someone who will go out and ask major donors for money. Actually go out and ask.

Amber:  I'm doing the best I can. There's just so much to prepare. And I'm thinking that maybe getting more grants is the way to go. Major donors are so uncertain.

Camila:  May I tell you what I'm seeing? I ask that because I'm seeing a big disconnect. And I'm thinking that you could be having a whole lot more satisfaction in this job and a whole lot more fun.

Amber:  Disconnect? What do you mean by that? Yes, tell me.

Camila:  On the one hand, I see you doing everything but asking for money. And you have an assistant who does a great job with the grant writing. We really have that down to a system. And we have materials coming out of our ears.

As I said in your job interview, our last two development directors, who we had to let go, stayed in the office and developed materials rather than going out and doing asks.

That's on the one hand. On the other, you have an amazing talent for connecting with people. Everyone on the staff is so happy to have you here. You're so quick at making friends with people.

I remember when you walked into the job interview, instead of us putting you at ease, you put us at ease. Last week when the staff all went out to lunch, I saw you make friends in the first five minutes with the host and two waiters. Then before we got our orders, you were in the back chatting with the owner like you were old friends.

Amber:  Well, that's just something I do.

Camila:  Yes, and I love it. And that's what I want you to do with the major donors.

Amber:  I don't know if I can.

Camila:  Remember in the interview when you said you only had a year of experience as a development assistant?

Amber:  Yes.

Camila:  And what did I say?

Amber:  You said you were glad that's all the experience I had. I guess I don't really get why you said that.

Camila:  That's because I'm tired of hiring development directors who have years of experience on paper, but who sit in the office all the time preparing to ask.

But I also don't want someone who does hardball fundraising either. The hard sell. I hate that. That's not who this organization is.

I like it that you don't have years of training and experience. I like that you're you.

What I want is someone who has the spirit. Someone who connects with people from her heart. Someone who will just go out and make a relationship ignite and tell our story and see it's it's a match. No tricks, no strategies, just lots of heart.

In the interview, I decided that was you. And after three weeks of seeing how you relate to people, I still believe that's you.

So here's what I want to ask. What do you need in order to believe that's you?  What do you need in order to prove to yourself that you can connect with these major donors like you connect with everyone else?

Amber:  Oh, God. I guess I just need to get out there and do it and either succeed or fail.

Camila:  Here's what I want you do do. I want you to fail.

Amber:  What!?

Camila:  Let's get the prospect list. I'll give you three names and you go out and talk to them about the organization and whatever you do, don't come back with a check.

Amber:  That's crazy!

Camila:  What will that give you?

Amber:  No pressure.

Camila:  Yes.

Amber:  Okay, let's do it right now. Let me make the calls right away before I get too scared. No money you said? Just get out there and get over myself?

Camila:  Yes, get over yourself and find yourself both. And you want to know something else?

Amber:  I guess.

Camila:  I really want a partner. I actually like fundraising. But see, one thing I know about myself is that I do way better when I have company on an ask than when I go out on my own.

I gave you our B list of prospects. I want you to get your feet under you working with that group first. Then I'd like us to go out together to the really big deal people on my A list.

I think you and I could be a great team together. I think we could build a remarkable group of supporters around this organization.

I want to go play with fundraising, but I don't have anybody to play with. I'm hoping that's going to be you. What do you think?

Amber:  Wow, I like that picture. I like it a lot. But I have to see if I can step into it. Let me go make my calls and get started.

Amber got nonstop advocacy from Camila. There wasn't one word of judgment. Yes, there were a few hard facts in the beginning, but no judgment.

As a reminder of the difference this makes, here's a short dialogue where the opposite happens:

Randy:  It seems to me that you're not doing very well with this job. You're not bringing in the kind of money we need.

Alicia:  I'm doing my part. It's you who's not doing his job. I need a lot more of your time. You should be going out on a lot of these asks with me.

Randy:  Me?  I have so many urgent things I have to do every single day. There's no way I can go out on asks with you. I have to manage not only our local project, but the network of all these projects, and the political situation in Sacramento which is extremely challenging.

You know that I'm often here till 10 o'clock at night as it is. There's no way I'm going to add anything into my job description.

You should be taking Board members with you on those asks. I gave you their phone numbers. Why don't you call them? Or why don't we make time at the next Board meeting for you to come talk with them about the kind of help you need from them, and maybe get some of them scheduled in for your asks?

Alicia:  I knew you were going to say something like that. I knew you were going to take yourself off the hook and just dump it all back on me.

Randy:  Just stop it. Your job is a whole hell of a lot easier than mine. Why don't you stop blaming me and start taking responsibility for yourself?

When people are battering each other with judgments, what hope is there? When you take the Advocacy Stand for your staff, big things can happen. When they take the same stand for you, in return and in gratitude, then even bigger things can happen.

Next let's take a look at discovering strengths to make possibilities ignite. In our country, when a problem or a challenge comes up, the first question is usually, "What should I do?"

But it's jumping the gun to immediately leap into action. A better first question is this one...

"Who am I and what do I need?"

That's because you're your own person with your own unique constellation of natural talents and core strengths.

And what you need may be very different from what someone else needs.

For example, both a shy person and an extrovert can be great fundraisers, but they're each going to have to find their own approach designed around their own personal set of talents and strengths...

Cynthia told me, "I'm shy with people I don't know well. So I'm a failure with major donors, because I'm no good at glad-handing and schmoozing."

Instead of looking in the fundraising books for how-tos, we looked at her life. Just the facts. For example she said, "I have a circle of friends I've been close to for decades. Ever since college."

And we looked at her leadership. Again the facts: "My staff and I go camping together four times a year. A bunch of us take classes together during the week. We've all been here for years. It's really rare that we have any turnover.

"It feels like family. I know that's a cliché, but it's really true for us. And I mean the happy version of family."

So I asked her, "What if you started using your talent for intimacy and connection to bring your major donors into the family in some way? What if you did that instead of keeping them at arm's length?"

She said, "Oh, I get it. I could do that. I really could do that!"

And she did. She deepened her relationship with her donors and was surprised at the size of the checks they started writing. And how much they liked staying in touch with her. And how willing they were to take her to meet their friends.

It was the opposite with Tony.

He told me, "I love people, but frankly talking one on one gets boring pretty fast. I don't do it well."

I went with him to a Chamber of Commerce mixer to watch him in action and give him feedback. We walked in the door, I turned to say something to him, but he waved at someone across the room and was gone. It cracked me up.

For two hours I watched him moving from group to group and wherever he went there were bright bursts of laughter.

Tony loves being the center of attention. He's a great storyteller and people love to hear him talk. He thrives on the challenge of charming a bunch of different people all at the same time.

At the end of the evening, I told him what I had seen and asked him how he could turn his talent into fundraising.

He said, "I'd talk people into setting up house parties of 12-20 guests and then I'd show up and do my thing with them. Would that work?"

I said, "Why not run that experiment and find out?" So he did. Now he's in his element and the checks are rolling in fast enough to keep him happy.

So we're talking about personalized leadership. And why not? Why would we ever think that a single brand of leadership would be a match for everyone?

Carla called me and said, "I just got back from a workshop on team building and I realize I'm a total failure at this. Can you help me?"

I asked her a bunch of questions. I found out that Carla likes working independently. That's when she's at her best. She's not a team player in the conventional sense.

And guess what? She had hired seven staff, all of whom have a talent for solo work. Everyone follows the game plan of the mission, but they do their own projects.

And what's their work? They do assessments, evaluations, and reports for foundations and municipal governments. Their funders are happy with them. And they're happy with each other.

When Carla was done answering my questions, she sighed a big sigh. "So what works for us works for us and that's okay?"

"That's what I'm seeing here."

"And we've invented our own kind of team?"


"And all I need to do is relax?"

"Yes, and enjoy what you've created."

"I get it. Using the wrong how-to is like wearing someone else's shoes, it's like wearing someone else's glasses, it's like using someone else's toothbrush, and yuck to that, unless it's my sweetie's."

And one more example...

Jeffi went to a workshop on strategic planning. The trainer told her that if a plan was more than three years old, you had to start from scratch and do a complete formal process. And involve all the stakeholders. That's the best practice, so that's what you had to do, no exceptions.

Who makes up these rules?

When Jeffi called me her mood was so down it kind of took my breath away. She had been at her nonprofit for six months. She had gotten it back on its feet and they had a lot of momentum and morale going for them. But now she was freaked about having to put on the brakes and spend a year on strategic planning.

And I understood why. I knew the community she worked in. It was contentious and argumentative. A process involving all the stakeholders would have been a nightmare.

So I asked her if the organization already had any kind of strategic plan. She had never seen one, so she took her cell phone and, while we talked, went down into the basement, searched around, and dug out a plan that was five years old.

As she went through it, she decided that this ancient plan had a lot of life left in it. She saw she could just take each of the five key strategies to the next level, enhancing each one and bringing them up to date.

She, her staff, and her Board could do that in two hours, make it official, and they'd be cool. They'd have something accurate and inspiring for their funders, and something to show to the community if anyone ever asked.

She sounded like a different person when she finished the call. She told me as she signed off, "All gain with no pain. I like it!"

In my experience, starting with needs is so much kinder and more powerful than starting with shoulds. Starting with championing is so much more loving than starting with correction.

Above the line supervision
When you're managing staff, enforcement is always on the table. If it isn't then you're opening the doors to a free-for-all. You're saying there are no limits here so anything goes. We'll tolerate any amount of bad behavior. We might struggle with you and argue with you and judge you, but we won't actually stop you.

So enforcement is what I call the bottom line of supervision. It's essential for organizational health. You have to always be able to come back there as needed. As I said elsewhere, compassion might be unconditional, but employment is not. There is a basic contract involved that sets the conditions: We are paying you to make a constructive difference for this mission and to do it as a member of this team.

Now one of the things that's so neat about the advocacy approach to management is that you almost never have to come back down to the bottom line.

Instead you get to do what I call above-the-line supervision. And this means that with your staff you get to be...

A champion—You keep seeing what's possible for her, especially when she forgets.

A witness—You go backstage with her. Not only do you see the results of her work, but you see who see had to be and what it took to get those results.

An ally—You stand with her when she's on the edge of a breakthrough and so she stays the course when it would be so easy to give up.

An advocate—You are on her side. And she can feel it in her bones.

Imagine having a supervisor who is all these things to you. How that would make you reach for your best every day. And think about how satisfying it might be for you to be all these things to your staff.


Isn't it awfully cheeky to talk to someone about their behavior and ask them to change?

At the very least it's a challenging thing to do. And it can easily go wrong. Sometimes very wrong. The advocacy approach gives you your best chance to make conversations about problems go well.

How do people react when their supervisor comes to them to talk about a problem they're having at work? Most people pull back, maybe shrink a little, because they're thinking this is a correction, and correction so easily triggers feelings of...

Shame and blame.

Which are...

Relationship killers.

But you want...

Connection instead of correction.

And if you're demonstrative and unmistakable in taking the advocacy approach, that gives you your best chance of turning the interaction into...

A development conversation.

Which is a conversation...

About possibility even though it begins with a problem.

A staff person who feels herself to be the target of a correction is likely to put up her guard and resist.

But if she feels you to be her advocate, really feels it, then she's likely to drop her guard and engage. She's likely to work with you to make the conversation be a success.

The more you practice the advocacy stand, the more proficient you get, but what if right now, you're just starting out with it? What if having forthright conversations with staff about problem areas seems kind of daunting?

Here are some tips I hope will help...

1.  Use your advocacy talents.
As you read about the advocacy approach, please keep paying attention to how much you already know about this. Think about ways it already shows up in your life, maybe in relationships outside of work. Or maybe you're shy about direct conversations, but in your best moments you've had some that really worked. Remember those. Claim the strengths you have already and call on them as you move forward.

2.  Focus on your own needs first.
If you are preparing for a conversation, you come first. This means take whatever time you need to get yourself settled and clear. Sometimes by the time we get around to talking with someone about a problem, we're pretty frustrated with them. Or even angry.

But it doesn't help to carry those feelings into the conversation. They will undermine the mood of advocacy. So do what you need to do. Write in your journal. Talk to your HR person. Talk to a coach. Talk to a friend. Think about who can help you get clear.

And don't stint on the time. You may have a ton of things on your to-do list, but this is not just about a one-time conversation. What's at stake here is a relationship. It matters that you take the time you need to do it right.

There have been times when I've spent two hours or more preparing for a one-hour problem conversation, or have spent two hours helping a supervisor prepare to talk with her staff person. By no means does it always take that long. But don't cheat yourself out of the time you need.

Personally I think it's easily worth and extra hour or two if I can take a relationship up to the next level and make a deep advocacy connection with someone who was maybe headed for trouble.

3.  The stand comes first.
The advocacy stand is not something to do as a technique. If you're going to do it as a technique or a short cut or a finesse, then don't do it. The hallmark of the advocacy stand is authenticity. If it's not authentic, then it'll just make the staff person angry, and they'll be right to be angry.

So once you're clear about your feelings, you want to find the place in yourself where you can be a sincere advocate for this staff person in this conversation. If you can't find that, then don't try to have an advocacy conversation.

Either give yourself a couple more days. Or just go have a basic corrective conversation instead. Please don't pretend to feel what you don't really feel.

4.  Use mistakes to deepen your advocacy and connection
If the staff person can feel it in her bones that you are her advocate, then she'll likely forgive mistakes. Say you get triggered for a moment and use a judgmental phrase or two or three. If the context of advocacy is really strong, the staff person may well let those slide right by. Might not even notice them.

It's really important to do everything you can to keep judgment out of the conversation, but hey, we're human, and one of the good things about the advocacy approach is that it gives you some cushion.

And if you catch yourself saying something judgmental, stop and apologize.

Maybe you said something to the staff person like...

"During the planning for the event, you were being a jerk. And I think that's the primary reason it didn't raise much money this year."

Okay, so it might be true that he was being a jerk and there are times when a word like that communicates something that you want to get across. But unless you really know it's going to be okay to use such a word in this moment with this staff person, I'd really recommend that you be disciplined about sticking with non-judgmental language. And maybe what will work best is relational language.

So you might respond to your mistake like this...

"I'm sorry I said 'jerk.' That's not fair and that's not what I want to say at all. What's in my heart is this. You were operating on your own with the event. You didn't give me updates during the planning. You didn't bring any problems or concerns to me.

"And I really wish we had talked at every stage of the planning. First, because your decision to do the event on your own without the committee was the key reason attendance was down. In the past the committee has brought in 70% of the attendees.

"And second, because I want you to be a success, and just a little bit of coordination between us would have made a huge difference in the outcome.

"And third, because I genuinely enjoy working with you."

5.  Call on the strengths of the staff person
Remember, you're not doing this conversation all by yourself. Someone else is in it too. Call on their goodwill. Call on their ability to help solve whatever it is you're working on with them. Call them to play at the top of their game right here in this conversation. They're not helpless, they're not a victim, they have strengths, they can do their part to make this work.

6.  Start simple
If you're just starting to have direct conversations with staff, keep it simple in the beginning. Just go for one simple step forward in each conversation. As you develop your skills, you'll be able to do much more complex things with the advocacy approach.

7.  Find the fun.
The advocacy approach has such a good heart. It makes for very sweet conversations even when they are about problems. So keep that in mind. Push through the daunting parts into the fun of creating a nurturing and enduring relationship.

Let me conclude the tips section with a quick personal story...

Back in my younger days, I was a "rescuer." That was my way of saying I was driven to fix people, to save them from their problems, to rescue them from having to take personal responsibility. Not a good thing, but that's how I was.

I finally got myself into a group for rescuers, and one night, Michael, the leader, turned to me and started telling me some hard truths...

Michael:  You know, Rich, you're a liar.

Rich:  Me?! What?! No! I believe in telling the truth. It's one of my core values.

Michael:  Still, you're a liar. When you lead people to believe that they're less than they are or that they need you to save them or that they are in any way victims, you are not telling them the truth about themselves.

Rich:  What?! Oh, God. You're right. That stuff is a lie.

Michael:  And we're not done yet, because when you do those things to people you're hurting them.

Rich:  No! Oh, don't let that be true. I'm working so hard and doing so much because I care about people. I'm doing everything I can to help them.

Michael:  I believe you care about people. But something else has gotten in your way. You're furiously trying to earn love. You're trying to save people so they will like you. Give you approval. But that's not a good set up. Not for them. And guess what...

Rich:  Don't let there be more...

Michael:  It's not a good set up for you either. It hurts you. And the rescuer thing is a lie about who you are and who you want to be.

That was a very hard night. But it was also my awakening. It was the first time I really understood this core issue in my life. It still took me a lot of years to get the rescue stuff out of my system. But at least I was finally on the road.

Why was I able to let Michael say those things to me? And why did I listen to him and take his words to heart?

Because I knew he was my advocate. I knew it with pure 100% knowing. He didn't tell me in words that he was my advocate. But he had demonstrated it every night I had been in his group. And even as he said those uncompromising truths to me, I could feel it in his tone and attention and seriousness that he was absolutely on my side.

He said very hard words to me and yet every time I think of him, it's with great fondness.

And all of this is simply to say...

Advocacy is not a technique, it's a relationship.

Now for some more scenarios. And as you read the comments of the EDs, you might find yourself thinking, "I would never say it like that." Cool. When that happens, pause and ask yourself how you would say it.

You don't want to copy someone else. It matters that you find... 

Your own advocacy voice.


Getting personal, but work personal
Here's Chris, the ED, talking with Carol about a serious problem....

Chris:  You know, Carol, I've been noticing that there are times when, for whatever reason, you explode.

Carol:  Huh?

Chris:  That's no secret is it?

Carol:  No, that's not a secret. What do you mean? Of course everybody here sees it. It's just that sometimes I have to do that to get my point across.

Chris:  Well, that's what I want to talk with you about during this supervision meeting. But I want to do the opposite of supervision.

Carol:  That sounds scary.

Chris:  What I want to do is just understand. During this hour I promise you I won't ask you to do anything different than what you're doing.

I just want to ask you what it's like when you get triggered, what it's like when you're in the middle of an explosion, and then what it's like in the aftermath. Would you be willing to have that conversation with me?

Carol:  That's really weird.

Chris:  Yes.

Carol:  No one has ever asked me that before.

Chris:  And?

Carol:  Let me think about it for a minute.

Chris:  Okay.

Carol:  Why do you want to ask me those questions?

Chris:  Because when you have an explosion I turn cold and step back from you and feel distant and that's not me. That's not the kind of relationship I want to have with you.

So if you're willing, I want to get the back-stage view so I can understand what it's like to be you in those moments.

Carol:  What's the alternative?

Chris:  The alternative is that I give you a directive to not ever have anymore explosions ever again when you're here at work. It's too hard on the staff. It creates an atmosphere of fear. And it's contrary to the guidelines for our organizational culture.

Carol:  Wow, that sounds kind of hard...

Chris:  Wait a minute, the most important thing is that people really like you, or want to like you. But they're scared of you exploding with no warning. That makes it hard to be friends with you. But people really want that. Staff have told me how upset they are about the explosions, but not one person has trashed you.

Carol:  Wow. Well, that kind of pulls the rug out from under me. I didn't realize I was having that kind of impact on people.

Chris:  I kind of thought maybe you didn't.

Carol:  I really didn't. What should I do to fix this?

Chris:  You know I could just tell you to stop. Or you could tell yourself to stop. But I don't want to handle it that way.

Carol:  So what should we do?

Chris:  I would like for you to tell me what it's like being you before, during, and after an explosion. I'm betting that there's a simple answer to this and that we'll hear it if you just start talking and just say what's true for you.

Carol:  I feel embarrassed.

Chris:  I can understand that. I've got my own stuff that I get embarrassed about. But imagine, if you could get a handle on this, how would your days here be different?

Carol:  You and your questions. I think my explosions kind of scare me, too, because I never know when they're coming. Maybe I try to play tough because I don't want to look scared.

Chris:  It seems to me you're being gutsy right now stepping into this conversation with me. And thank you for that. Let's go back to the question about triggers. Like last week when you started yelling at Judy, do you know what triggered you?

Carol:  I usually feel like I'm in a fog when the trigger stuff happens.

Chris:  Take a moment, even close your eyes if you want, and feel your way back there.

Carol:  Hmmm. I was feeling stupid. I wrote up the report on diabetes prevention based on the data she gave me and she wasn't happy with it. There was an edge to her voice, like "You dummy." So I blasted her.

I wrote exactly what I thought she wanted and it turned out it wasn't what she wanted at all. I didn't want the problem put on me so I laid it on her. Hard.

Chris:  And how does that feel now?

Carol:  Terrible. Blasting someone over a report. Even I know that's dumb.

Chris:  Dumb?

Carol:  Dumb and helpless. If someone thinks I'm stupid it makes me feel helpless. Family stuff. Do we need to go into that.

Chris:  No. But think for a moment about who you are really, the Carol everyone around here wants to like, the Carol you want to be. How would she have handled this?

Carol:  Oh, God. She would have been.....really smart!

Chris:  Meaning?

Carol:  She would have asked a whole lot more questions right at the beginning of the assignment. Questions and more questions. We weren't clear with each other. I could have known what Judy wanted if I had just gotten her to stop long enough to go through it in detail. That wouldn't have been hard to do.

Chris:  So.....smart.

Carol:  I really do believe I have a lot of smarts. What if I could use my smarts to stop feeling stupid so I don't blow up?

Chris:  What if?

Carol:  Well, I really want that. But right now, I want to go find Judy and apologize and tell her what went wrong and make a deal with her on the report coming up next month that this time we'll set aside enough time to do our conversation right.

Chris:  Cool.

Carol:  And then can I come back on Friday and you can ask me more questions? Do you have the time?

Chris:  I'll make the time. This is important to me. You're important to me.

Carol:  Okay, I'm getting out of here. I'm feeling shy all of a sudden.


Untangling a mess
Cadan is the ED, and he sees Sierra screwing up but he's her fan and he knows this is just a matter of something she's not seeing, and once she gets it she's going to be golden again.

Sierra:  Arrrggh!

Cadan:  Arrrggh?

Sierra:  I'm so frustrated.

Cadan:  About...

Sierra:  About how my staff keep coming to you to get their questions answered. I want you to quit talking to them. How do you expect me to be their supervisor if they're always going over my head? Send them back to me.

Cadan:  I can do that, but what if that's not enough.

Sierra:  Okay, now I'm really frustrated. Why wouldn't that be enough?

Cadan:  Because I want you to win.

Sierra:  You sure don't act like it.

Cadan:  I'm going to act like it right now. Why don't they go directly to you?

Sierra:  I don't know.

Cadan:  I want you to know. It matters that you know that so you can win.

Sierra:  Okay, I know you want me to be a success. And I appreciate you giving me this promotion. But I really don't get what I need to do to make this work.

Cadan:  Not a problem.

Sierra:  Why do you say that?

Cadan:  Because I believe in you and I believe that if we relax and unwind and talk this through, we're going to find the answer.

Sierra:  Okay, I'd like to do that. Do you have time now?

Cadan:  Yes, I do.

Sierra:  Where do we start?

Cadan:  When you stepped up to your new position, your peers suddenly became people you supervise. So how is it going in terms of developing this new relationship with them?

Sierra:  Well, I'm letting things take their course.

Cadan:  Which means?

Sierra:  I don't want to pressure them. After their negative experience with Ralph being on their case all the time, I don't want to be bossy. I don't want to step into his shoes.

Cadan:  I appreciate that because we don't need another Ralph. What else?

Sierra:  That's it really. I figured I'd let them take whatever time they need to get used to me being their supervisor. I try my best not to bother them. They're good staff.

Cadan:  Not bothering them means...

Sierra:  I stay in my office a lot and cheer them on sometimes when there's a clear opening for that.

Cadan:  Do you know what they say when they come to me? They don't want to bother you. They never have one bad thing to say about you. They just don't want to bother you. But they don't mind bothering me.

Sierra:  Well, you're just like that. Everyone knows they can always talk to you.

Cadan:  That's something I've done on purpose, create that sense of welcome.

Sierra:  Oh. And I'm sitting in my office with the door closed. Uh-oh.

Cadan:  Uh-oh?

Sierra:  I think I'm screwing up.

Cadan:  I think you're learning. Stepping into leadership like you're doing is a big deal. You know, all of a sudden I'm thinking about how much you love salsa dancing.

Sierra:  What's that got to do with it?

Cadan:  What do you want in a leader when you're on the dance floor?

Sierra:  Oh, I see where you're going with this. I want someone who is clear and definite and direct and yet is very attentive to me. So are you say that's what my staff wants from me?

Cadan:  What's your best guess?

Sierra:  If anyone tried leading salsa like I'm running my department it would be a disaster. Oh, I'm so sorry. My staff are so eager and I'm abandoning them. That's not right. And I want to apologize to you. I'm failing the trust you put in me.

Cadan:  Want to know what I'm thinking?

Sierra:  Okay.

Cadan:  I'm thinking I'm so glad that I promoted you because you're the kind of person who takes her staff to heart like this. That's what I want in a department head.

Sierra:  So what do I do about this?

Cadan:  Are you going dancing this week?

Sierra:  Yes, Tuesday and Thursday, as always.

Cadan:  Are there any guys who will trade with you, be the follower so you can be the leader? Years ago when I took lessons, I used to switch like that. It was a trip to be the follower and get a feel for the other side of it.

What would it be like for you to get the feel of being the leader on the dance floor and the come back here do that with your staff?

Sierra:  Yes! I can do that. Actually a couple of my girl friends would be happy to help me out with this. They'll be glad to let me try out leading. And since they already know how to follow, it'll go better.

Cadan:  Cool.

Sierra:  But Ralph was so overbearing. I don't want to do that to my staff.

Cadan:  I know that's really important to you. It makes sense that you're worried about that. But I want you to have faith in yourself. Faith that you know how to find what the right touch is for each of your staff.

Sierra:  I've danced with so many guys, I know the difference between too much and not enough. I know what's just right for me. Okay. No excuses, then, I can figure out what each of my staff needs. I can get this.

Cadan:  Okay.

Sierra:  I'm going to start bothering my staff.

Cadan:  What does that mean?

Sierra:  I'm going to stick my nose in their business. I'm going to start checking in with each of them, at the beginning of the day and the end of the day. Make sure they're getting what they need. Since there are only five of them, so I can do that easily.

In the meantime, you have my permission to keep talking with them if they come to you.

Cadan:  Really?

Sierra:  Yes. Because in three weeks no one's going to be coming to you anymore. I'm going to win them over. I'm going to open my door. I'm going to figure out how to lead them with just the right touch. I'm going to make sure they know I'm interested in every one of their questions. Then they'll start coming to me because they want to. That's how I'm going to solve this.

Cadan:  What are you noticing about yourself as a leader right now?

Sierra:  For the first time I feel like I'm actually taking the reins of my department.

Cadan:  Yes, I'm looking at you and seeing a leader. That department has been through a very hard time and they need someone now who can bring them back from that and take them to greatness. They really can be great.

Sierra:  I see that. I know that.

Cadan:  So who are you really?

Sierra:  I'm a leader in disguise. And now I'm taking off the disguise.

Cadan:  I know you've got the gutsiness to lead.

Sierra:  You do?

Cadan:  Yes, just look at the way you blasted into this conversation. And then how you've stayed right with it even in the hardest part of it. And then how you jumped into finding a solution.

Sierra:  Thank you. I came in here to prove you wrong. Now I'm going to go prove you right.


And now for something a little more challenging
Here Pia, the ED, does something a little risky with Ted. She does a reverse. But because he can feel her advocacy for him, it works.

Pia:  Hey, Ted, we're not going to do supervision today.

Ted:  We're not? What's up?

Pia:  I want you to teach me.

Ted;  Teach you what?

Pia:  The bulldozer thing.

Ted:  Uh.....

Pia:  You know the president of our coalition?

Ted;  Oh, yeh, Jerry. I've been unhappy about him for the past two months. The gossip network is pinging and zinging. The people I've talked to are not happy either.

Pia:  Yeh, he's a bulldozer and guess who he's set his sights on?

Ted:  Uh-oh. Us? He's just jealous because we're so good at what we do. We're who everyone looks to for guidance.

Pia:  I'm feeling really urgent about learning how to deal with bulldozing. And you, when you're in one of your bulldozing moods, you're really, really good at it.

Ted:  I'm not sure that's a compliment.

Pia:  I don't quite know what it is. Maybe just a fact. And I do want it to stop. It's too hard on all of us. But that's a discussion for another day. Right now I want to know how to deal with Jerry. And you're the expert. I'm not. I'm always too far over on the side of being nice.

Ted:  That's for sure.

Pia:  So what do I do? And here's the thing. I don't want to play dueling dozers. I don't want to have to become Jerry to stop him. I want to know how to pull the rug out from under his tough guy behavior. I think he's got an awful lot to give the coalition, but if he doesn't make a change pretty fast, I'm worried people are going to start dropping out.

Ted:  Okay, well here's one way to look at bullies. Half of them are scared and just trying to make you more scared than they are. And the other half are testing you to see how much they can get away with. Which do you think it is with Jerry?

Pia:  My best guess is that it's the second one with a soupçon of the first. So let's pretend I've hired you as the coalition's consultant, what would you tell us?

Ted:  Oh, that's easy. The first gambit for a bully would be to dominate you one by onel ike divide and conquer. So you all need to go to him together and tell him what kind of behavior you expect from him or else he can't be your president this year.

Pia:  That seems to be the one thing people in our coalition don't want to do. They don't like confrontation.

Ted:  Well, what's at stake?

Pia:  A lot, an awful lot.

Ted:  Well, then, this is a chance for people to learn something new about standing up for their mission—and for themselves.

Pia:  It sure is. And that would be good for us even if we didn't have the Jerry problem. If I got people together would you be willing to come help us organize our strategy and then go with us to talk with Jerry?

Ted:  Yeh, I would. I like stuff like that.

Pia:  So here's what I need to know, though. How do you take a stand without bulldozing? What's the difference?

Ted:  Well, we'd have the power if we're all together so we wouldn't need to bulldoze. I can help you get people into that mindset.

Pia:  Okay, this is cool. I want you to work with me on this. And then sometime I'd like to have another conversation with you about you and this organization.

Ted:  I could see that coming. This is pretty darned slick of you to get me to help you with the very thing you want me to change in my behavior.

Pia:  I thought so, too. But you know what? I'm really serious about this. We do need your help. You really can make a difference for the coalition.

Ted:  I know you're sincere. And I appreciate you asking me for my help instead of just coming down on me. See, the thing is that I'm used to getting my way. That's how it's always been. If I'm not getting what I want I get impatient and then I get pushy. That's why Jillian broke up with me, because I did that kind of stuff to her.

Pia:  Oh, that's why. I thought the two of you were doing great together.

Ted;  We were, we still should be, but I blew it.

Pia:  I'm so sorry.

Ted:  So I guess maybe it's time for me to pull up my socks and get this thing figured out. I really like everyone here. And I do want to have a good relationship with people. If you're willing, I'll agree to start talking about this in supervision.

Pia:  I'm willing. I'd be glad to team up with you on this.

Ted:  And one more thing. Do you happen to have any tips on apologizing to someone you love? I mean the kind of deep apology that might win her back?

Pia:  Oh, yeh, I do know something about that...


Setting up a coaching agreement with someone who's reluctant
How do you introduce the idea of doing something more than typical supervision? Here's Coral, the ED, talking with her staff person Kevin.

Coral:  Hi, Kevin. I wanted to ask you today if you want to try the coaching that I'm offering to each of my direct reports. It's up to you.

Kevin:  I haven't made up my mind, but I'd probably rather not.

Coral:  May I ask what you've been thinking about it?

Kevin:  I don't think it's my kind of thing.

Coral:  Because...

Kevin:  Because when I'm in the lunch room with Gloria, Maddie, and Kate, and I hear them talking about the coaching they're doing with you, it sounds so intense and personal and I'm more of a private person. I only talk like that at night with Mary when I'm at home.

Coral:  The coaching is optional. You don't have to do it.

Kevin:  But do you really mean that?

Coral:  I do and here's why. Forced coaching isn't coaching. Coaching doesn't work that way. It can't. So yes, I really mean it. But I'm wondering if you'd be willing to talk with me for a few minutes about coaching anyway, because if it's something that would work for you, I don't want you to miss out on it.

Kevin:  I can spare a few minutes.

Coral:  The thing about coaching is that you can design it to be what you need it to be. It's not one set thing and everybody does it the same.

Kevin:  Okay. I know that if I have to do it the way Gloria does it I'm going to flunk and I really don't like failing.

Coral:  You absolutely don't have to do it Gloria's way. If you decided to try coaching with me, the first thing we'd do is find your way of doing it.

Kevin:  That sounds all right, but what's the difference between supervision and coaching? I don't understand why we can't do what we've been doing in these meetings all along.

Coral:  Coaching gives you something extra. I see it like this. Coaching is a way for people to claim their personal moxie and be more powerful in their work. And get more satisfaction because they're being more effective.

Kevin:  Well, I always like being effective. That's a big value of mine.

Coral:  I know it is. That's one of the reasons I'm so glad you're here on this team. Did you know that when I offer people coaching, it's not a corrective thing? It's a bonus.

Kevin:  So when you tell me I need coaching, it's not like I'm doing something wrong?

Coral:  Oh, no. Exactly the opposite. I really count on you. I know that in every part of your job you give it your all. I know if there are ever problems that you're going to come tell me about them right away. I really mean it, coaching is a bonus.

Kevin:  Well, I like how we use this supervision time.

Coral:  Yes, me, too. And maybe you've noticed that we mostly talk about how-tos.

Kevin:  Hmmm. Yes, that's true.

Coral:  Well, coaching gets a bit more personal, but not in a therapy way.

Kevin:  I definitely don't want to do therapy stuff. I tried that once and it just made me feel worse. The guy was obsessed with the abuse and all the bad stuff that happened when I was a kid. But I was ready to move forward. I wanted a life. Which is what I've got now with Mary. Well, and with the work I do here, too.

Coral:  I'm sorry that that therapist did not pay attention to what you needed. The idea of coaching is to match what you need so you can move forward in your work. And we don't go into the past. We don't get personal in that way at all.

Kevin:  What exactly do we do?

Coral:  We get personal in terms of your strengths and in terms of what's possible for you going forward.

Kevin:  Like how?

Coral:  Well, for example, what's a challenge that you're facing right now?

Kevin:  Oh, that's easy. It's our subcontract with Mack's program. He's always trying to get away with the minimum of work while claiming the maximum of credit. I've had five serious talks with him and nothing changes. Maybe you could coach him instead of me.

Coral:  Maybe it's time to call the question with Mack. The subcontract ends in four months. What if you told him that we're not renewing it unless things change.

Kevin:  That would be radical. I don't know if I'm ready to have that conversation. He's a pretty touch character.

Coral:  Say for a moment that we decided to call the question. Supervision would mean that I'd brainstorm how-tos with you. And coaching would mean that I'd do that and I'd talk with you about your personal strengths and which ones of them you could bring to a decisive conversation with Mack.

Kevin:  Like?

Coral:  I know you actually have a good basic ability to take a stand for yourself.

Kevin:  How do you see that?

Coral:   I see it right now in this conversation. You are not just agreeing to coaching because I'm proposing it. You're not being a nice guy tying to please me. You're paying attention to what you need and what's true for you. So we're having a genuine negotiation right now about coaching.

Kevin:  Okay, I see that.

Coral:  So we'd look at your strengths in this conversation and how you take those into a conversation with Mack.

Kevin:  I'd need to ramp up my strengths a good bit to deal with him.

Coral:  If that's what you wanted to do, then we could design your coaching to do that. You know, the couple times you've talked about what you went through as a kid, I've been so impressed with how you've put a life together for yourself.

Kevin:  Yeh, it's been quite a journey.

Coral:  And I wonder if there's something from that experience that's one of the reasons you have such instant empathy with our clients. You do know you work some kind of special magic with them, don't you?

Kevin:  Well, yeh, they seem to like me a lot.

Coral:  And they really listen to you. So coaching is like that. It's like being in the import business.

Kevin:  Import business?!

Coral:  Un-huh. You take strengths from one area of your life and bring them over to another area. And sometimes, yes, you ramp them up. When you think about the situation with Mack, and if you could have it work out any way you want, what would that be?

Kevin:  I'd really like to be done with him. I've been getting to know Janey and her organization. I was over there the other day for a meeting and I was impressed. Her staff are much younger, they have a lot less experience than Mack and his crew, but they've got heart. If I could just wave a magic wand I'd have them handling the subcontract, not Mack.

Coral:  And what would it take for you to do that transfer? Who would you have to be?

Kevin:  I'd have to be me only double strength.

Coral:  And what would that be like for you?

Kevin:  I'd like it a lot. You know there are lots of times when I feel like I'm holding myself in check. I wish I didn't do that.

Coral:  If you wanted to do coaching, that's what your agenda could be. And I'd be glad to work on that with you. I'm a big fan of yours and I sometimes get the sense that there's much more to you than what we've seen so far. And what we've seen is really good. You don't have to do more than what you've been doing. But if you want to...

Kevin:  I want to. So I guess I just signed up for coaching.

Coral:  Worse than that. You've already been doing coaching in that this is a coaching kind of conversation we've been having.

Kevin:  Oh, well, then I guess it's not so bad.

Coral:  What about this? What if we decided to just continue having this conversation? I like your idea about transferring the subcontract. I've been hearing good things about Janey since she took over at the service center. Really good things. I would love for you to negotiate the transfer and actually have fun doing it.

Kevin:  Fun?!

Coral:  Yes, fun. Let's look at all the pros and cons, but I really don't want you to have to put up with crap from anyone. If we decide that Janey is the way to go, then what might the conversation with Mack sound like?

Kevin:  Like "Goodbye!" That would be kind of fun. No more struggle, just business. Like the simple fact that the contract is over and we've chosen not to renew. And then I'll tell him, "Your chickens have come home to roost, mister."

Coral:  I want to be there to see that!

Kevin:  Just joking. I won't say that, but I'll sure be thinking it. Okay, you're on. Let's do this. I really am done with Mack. And I'm done with being the guy who puts up with guys who I don't need to put up with.

Taking a stand with a whole team
The advocacy approach can work beautifully in the simplest situations and in the most incredibly complex situations.

In this final scenario, we're going to look at a situation that's got a medium level of complexity. Mark, the new ED, has got a mess on his hands, but a mess with possibilities. This story runs a little longer because there are more people involved.

Mark:  I called you because I've got a mess on my hands and I'm out of patience. I don't know what to do, but whatever I'm going to do I'm going to do now.

Rich:  Okay, give me some quick background and let's dig in.

Mark:  I'm a first-time ED. I've been here a month. During the hiring process, the Board told me I'd have to clean up some staff issues. They told me there was a problem, but they didn't quite tell me how bad the problem was.

Rich:  Given what you've uncovered, what's it like to be the leader of this nonprofit?

Mark:  It's embarrassing. I don't know why I just said that. I haven't used that word before. But it's exactly right. I wouldn't want any of my friends to drop by the office. It wouldn't take them more than a few minutes to see what a swamp this place is.

Maybe the most telling thing is when I get home at night and Marnie, my partner, asks me about my day, it's hard to meet her gaze. I adore this woman, and damn, I'm embarrassed in front of her. That's really not okay.

I want to be proud of how I spend my days. I want Marnie to be proud.

Rich:  Sounds like relationships are important to you.

Mark:  My friends brag about me, how impeccable I am at personal relationships. It wasn't always this way, but when I met Marnie, I was so crazy about her that I decided I'd do whatever it took to give her a relationship that was more than she ever imagined she could have.

I realized early on that I'd lose her if I didn't fix my fix-it thing I did with people. She didn't need any fixing. Wouldn't have stood for it.

I worked for a full year with a counselor, a practical gal with just the right touch of pushy to get me into my feelings and then into the stuff behind them. Marnie tells me all the time now how much she loves living with me.

As for my friends, some took the leap with me during that year. Others did a fade. They couldn't keep up. So now my circle is smaller but deeper.

Rich: What changes for you when you walk through the door of this nonprofit?

Mark:  In here it's like I come under a spell. I think I'm saying to myself that this is a nonprofit so I have to put up with goofy stuff. Like we're not paying the staff enough for professional behavior so we have to put up with acting out. Except what's going here on is not goofy, it's mean.

Rich:  How is that for you?

Mark:  It turns my stomach.

Rich:  How much do you care about this place and this work?

Mark:  I love the mission. I love the design of the program. And I can see a dozen different ways I can make it better, take it further, blossom new things out of the old. And I want to do that. I think I have it in me to become a great ED. But I can't go for great in a culture that's crap.

Rich:  Will you let the crap drive you out?

Mark:  No way!!

Rich:  Wow, you put a lot of energy behind those two words.

Mark:  I guess I did. And I really mean it. You know, the Board told me I had a free hand with the staff, that I could fire people if I needed to in order to get this place working right. I've never done a firing and I don't like the idea of it. But in this moment, I'm ready to do whatever it takes.

Rich:  So I hear you taking a stand. Putting a stake in the ground.

Mark:  Yes, I hear that, too. It gives me a shiver. It feels good. It makes me feel like me again.

Rich:  And about that spell...

Mark:  I'm going to break it. That's a promise.

Rich:  Here are two hopeful signs I'm seeing: First, you're really passionate about turning this place around.

Mark:  That's true.

Rich:  And second, you know what great relationships are like and you're committed to them. Some nonprofit leaders—I used to be one myself—do fix-it and rescuing and co-dependency stuff in their personal relationships as well as with their staff at work. So they've got double trouble. They've got more to work through.

But you...

Mark:  I know what I'm going for and I'm ready, willing, and able to go there. I just need to get this whatever it is that's in my way cleared out. How could I have lost touch with myself like this?

Rich:  Something about this job made you forget who you are for a bit.

Mark:  But now I'm remembering.

Rich:  And...

Mark:  I'm starting to believe you about hope.

Rich:  And what does that make possible for you?

Mark:  It charges me up. Let's take on the specifics.

Rich:  Okay.

Mark:  It kills me that I can't keep my staff safe.

Rich:  What do you mean?

Mark:  I've been here long enough now that I've been able to diagnose the problem. Two of the staff are doing bullying and intimidating. Kirk's the ring leader and Troy is his sidekick. He backs up whatever Kirk initiates.

The other five don't know how to handle the bullying so sometimes they yell and sometimes they suffer through it, but from what I've seen they keep getting their feelings hurt.

Rich:  And...

Mark:  I hate it. Here were are supposedly a social change organization going out every day to make the world a better place, but in the office things are bad. That's wrong. People getting hurt while they're trying to do good work, that's just wrong.

Rich:  What have you tried so far?

Mark:  I've had individual lunches with each of the staff. Three people dropped hints about how upset they are. But they're still checking me out so I know I'm not hearing the whole story yet. When I came in here, I figured I wouldn't shake things up right off. I wanted to treat their staff culture with respect. But I haven't found anything about it to respect.

Rich:  How do you know the staff are hurting?

Mark:  I've seen some of the women in tears. Sometimes I stand in the hall and eavesdrop on what happens in the lunchroom and I've heard hurtful stuff go down.

Samira had her head down on her desk yesterday when I went into her office. I noticed the paperwork was wet and the ink was blotched. Jackye gets in yelling fights with Kirk, but she always loses. Kirk outflanks her.

Rana was talkative about her work when I took her to lunch, in fact she was glowing. But in the office, she's quiet as a mouse. She stays in the shadows out of everybody's way.

Man, I hate this. What can I do? You know, I understand that it takes some time to get the gag on an organization, but I've got it. So now what's happening here is my responsibility. I can give myself a pass for the first month, but no more. Now this mess belongs to me.

Rich:  Do you notice yourself taking a stand again?

Mark:  Yeh, it keeps getting bigger.

Rich:  Tell me about Kirk and Troy.

Mark:  Troy is a non-entity. I know that's not a nice thing to say, to dismiss him like that, but it's like he has no backbone. He seems to be here just to go on Kirk's ride. Kirk attacks someone and then Troy runs in and pokes them with a twig like seconding a motion.

I guess I'm not really worried about dealing with him. By himself he's no threat. That's a good thing for me to realize.

Rich:  And Kirk?

Mark:  He can be very entertaining and persuasive. He's got a whole lot of personality. But with a cutting edge. I always make sure I have my guard up around him.

Rich:  What about when you took him to lunch?

Mark:  He could hardly look me in the eye. He kept taking the conversation off on tangents, away from anything important. He only ordered an appetizer and a cup of soup and when he was done he made an excuse about running an errand and left.

Rich:  Does he ever challenge you directly?

Mark:  No. That's interesting, never.

Rich:  What would you guess his goal is? For example, do you think he might be interested in pushing you out and taking the ED job for himself?

Mark:  God, no. First he couldn't handle it. He's too disorganized. He's useless at administration and details. Second, I think he must know the Board would never hire him. Third, I think he gets his kicks out of being the Cock of the Rock without any responsibility.

Rich:  The reason I'm asking these questions is to try to determine whether Kirk's an amateur bully or a professional bully.

Mark:  I'd say definitely an amateur. But why, what's the difference?

Rich:  A professional bully wouldn't hesitate to oppose you directly. Would look you in the eye to intimidate you. Wouldn't just oppose you but would try to take you all the way down.

An amateur bully just wants to keep on running his game. He gets away with his bullying only if people give up their power. There's a lot of bluff to an amateur bully. Determined resistance and limit setting will stop him. His bullying is more on the surface than at his core.

Mark:  Then Kirk's definitely an amateur. And Troy's not even that. He's more like a bully accessory.

So this give me more hope.

Rich:  My prediction is that you're going to be able to put a stop to the trouble in your nonprofit quickly.

Mark:  I'm really, really glad to hear that.

Rich:  Ready to start designing a plan?

Mark:  Yes. I notice that we did a lot of prep before getting to this point.

Rich:  On purpose. Here's the way I look at it: First you take your stand, then you take your steps. The stand you take determines the steps you'll take. And some of those steps might surprise you.

Mark:  I'm ready for anything. But I sure wish I had taken action sooner.

Rich:  I wonder if maybe your intuition was warning you, telling you there's potential here for a blow up. Maybe it was telling you to hold on until you could put together a serious plan to match the seriousness of the problem. Which you're now doing. Making sure that when you make your move you're going to win.

Mark:  I think that might actually be true.

Rich:  And what matters most?

Mark:  That my assessment time hasn't lasted more than a month. And that now I am taking action.

Oh, and here's one more piece of information. I've tried reasoning with Kirk twice, two long sessions, to see if I could win him over to better behavior. Persuade him. But it went nowhere, so I'm thinking I won't do that again. And I'm thinking this is going to take more than talking, isn't it?

Rich:  Yes. There will be talking but it will have power this time because it will be in the context of...

Mark:  The stand I'm taking.

Rich:  Yes!

Mark:  Kirk is a fast talker. If you try to back him into a corner he slips out easily.

Rich:  What does that slipperiness give him?

Mark:  He never gets pinned down so you can't hold him accountable. He keeps his game going and tap dances his way out of any real conversation.

Rich:  And your reaction?

Mark:  With both conversations I had with Kirk, he was happier at the end than he was at the beginning. And I was more bummed. It's not supposed to work like that, is it?

Rich:  No, but hooray for noticing that. It's a telltale sign. When someone is acting out, one key move you can make is to put the pressure back on him.

Mark:  What pressure?

Rich:  The pressure to take responsibility for his behavior. If you're taking responsibility for him, then he's free to be irresponsible.

Mark:  How so?

Rich:  When you were reasoning with Kirk, did you put any pressure on yourself to get him to agree with you and change, did you feel it was up to you to make the difference, and if only you could come up with good enough reasons, then he would be convinced and come around?

Mark:  That's exactly how I felt. So I bailed him out?

Rich:  That's a good way to put it.

Mark:  I don't like that.

Rich:  Which is something else you've got going for you.

Given how Kirk is behaving, the goal is to put the burden of responsibility back on him. You want him to feel it. A nice guy carries responsibility for others. When you take your stand, you give the full weight of responsibility back to the person who should be carrying it.

Reasoning with a bully just encourages him and keeps him in business. Taking a stand is what shifts the power relationship.

Mark:  Got it. No more reasoning.

Rich:  Cool. Now here's a question: Do you want to just fire Kirk and Troy and be done with them?

Mark:  I'd like to say yes, but the answer is no. Isn't that interesting? No, I want to give each of them a chance to change. That's the kind of leader I want to be.

Rich:  You'd be totally justified in firing them right now.

Mark:  Yes, they really are a destructive presence. But that's not how I want to handle it.

Rich:  Right now I'm hearing you add a strong dose of advocacy into your stand. Which is why I call what we're doing the advocacy approach or the Advocacy Stand.

You're actually advocating for the troublemakers. Not for them to make trouble, but for giving them a chance to clean up their act and get on the team.

Mark:  I don't believe for a minute they're going to have a change of heart. But I want to hold that possibility.

Rich:  There again, you're advocating for the best in them in. You're taking a stand for possibility while taking a stand against crap.

Mark:  I get that. That's part of breaking the spell, then?

Rich:  Yes. Instead of passively resigning yourself to the worst, you're actively advocating for the best.

Mark:  So if I can't reason with them, does that mean I have to fight with them?

Rich:  Do you want a fight?

Mark:  I sure don't.

Rich:  What if you were to decide: No fights. No battles. Not ever. Not on your watch.

Mark:  That's really possible?

Rich:  Yes. And you'll get to watch yourself make it come true.

Mark:  Neat.

Rich:  So if you don't reason or fight, what's open to you?

Mark:  That's a stumper.

Rich:  What do you know about organizing?

Mark:  Lots. In my first job I was a community organizer.

Rich:  How'd you like it?

Mark:  I loved it. And I was really good at it. I'm not bragging. My ED told me that all the time.

Rich:  What if you look at this situation from an organizing perspective? This is not just a simple personnel issue. There are power issues in play. So that makes it political.

Let's say you had a bookkeeper in the back office who was not competent with the accounting, but was not causing any other kind of trouble in the organization, that would be a simple personnel problem, and if you decided to fire him, that would be a simple firing.

But Kirk is hurting people. He's controlling the culture of the office. So this is what I call a political problem, meaning a number of people are involved and power plays are involved.

Mark:  Yes, this staff culture is definitely a coherent system. Coherently dysfunctional, but it's a system. The whole organization has been enabling Kirk and Troy by refusing to take a stand against them. I understand people being scared of them, but together we easily have the power to stop their abuse.

Rich:  Did you notice what you just said?

Mark:  I did. Another sign of hope.

Rich:  As an organizer, then, what do you do first?

Mark:  I assess the system and pick strategies that address the whole system. That's the powerful way to do this. Okay, this is going to be fun!

Rich:  Fun?! Did you expect to hear yourself say that?

Mark:  Not at all, but I'm there now.

Rich:  One of the things I like about the Advocacy Stand is that it gives you all kinds of positive energy to work with even in a negative situation.

So let me recommend that we start with a Board check. How sure are you that they meant it when they said you could fire people if you needed to?

Mark:  Sort of sure, but not sure enough.

Rich:  When's your next Board meeting?

Mark:  We had one last night, so next month. That's too bad. That's too long.

Rich:  What do you want to ask of your Board so you're sure they're standing behind you when you make your move?

Mark:  I'd like to tell them....

You've given me a mandate to fix the staff problems. I've been here a month and I've made a thorough assessment and put together a game plan and I'm ready to go. I can handle this situation myself, but there's one thing I need from you to make the plan work. That's all, just one thing.

I'm about to put some serious pressure on Kirk and Troy to clean up their behavior. I'm not going to let them hurt people or this nonprofit anymore. They might have a big reaction. They might call some of you at home to start an uproar and to try to get you to back me off.

If they do call, I'd like to ask that you not engage. You don't have to do any back and forth with them. Just tell them...

"I'm not going to talk with you about this. You have to go back to Mark. The Board is 100% behind him and any decisions he makes. And now this conversation is over and I'm hanging up."

Would you be willing to do that? Just say no?

Rich:  Anything more? Do you want them to take a vote and make that an official Board policy.

Mark: I'll read their reactions. If they're the least bit iffy then I just might ask them to make it a policy. That would be a good way to show them how serious I am about my request.

Rich:  Sometimes in the safety of a meeting Board members agree to stand strong, but then crunch time comes and it turns out to be harder than they thought it would be.

Mark:  Exactly. Kirk's a good talker, he's got a lot of practice at intimidating people. He could try that with the Board members.

Oh, I see what I need. I need to know that my Board is taking this stand with me. Not just watching all this go down. I need very little from them. But I do need to see them own this stand.

Rich:  Why?

Mark:  Because if they don't back me up, Kirk will figure he has a free hand, and then we're into a protracted battle and this situation could take a very long time to resolve. And you know what? I'm not going to stick around for a battle.

Rich:  So you need to tell the Board...

Mark:  What's at stake here. I like this Board, I think they'll be with me, but I need that commitment.

Rich:  You need that.

Mark:  Yes, I do need that. And I want them to know how big a difference they'll make if they just refuse to engage in any phone calls.

But damn, a month till the next meeting.

Rich:  How critical is this situation?

Mark:  Aha. I'm deciding right now that it's critical enough for an emergency meeting. I'm going to ask for that asap.

Rich:  And what will that communicate to the Board?

Mark:  Again, just how serious this is. And that the whole organization has to be involved.

Rich:  Which brings us back to the five women on staff.

Mark:  Yes. What can I do with them? Let me see. What do I know? I know that all of them are unhappy and hurting to some degree.

Rich:  So an organizer would...

Mark:  Meet with each of them off site and find out where they stand. There's that word again.

Rich:  Okay, and why would they open up to you? What do they need?

Mark:  They need to know that I'm in motion, that my plan is starting. But how much should I tell them?

Rich:  How big is it what you're doing?

Mark:  I'm fixing this problem, but I'm also changing the staff culture of this organization and changing it forever, well, at least for as long as I'm here. So it's big.

Rich:  Is there any reason to hold anything back from these five?

Mark:  I can't think of any.

Rich:  So then you can do what I call "preaching your gospel." Give them the big picture. And do it with your full passion, because this is a stand you're taking with every bit of yourself and you're inviting them to take it with you in the same way. We're guessing that they're scared and so they'll need to see that you really mean it about making changes.

Mark:  I like that approach. I do want to tell them the whole thing. I'm ready. Here's how I'm going say it...

I'm meeting with you to bring you up to date and give you an invitation.

I've been here a month now. It's taken me that amount of time to diagnose what's going wrong in this organization. And what I'm seeing is bullying and intimidation, and lots and lots of hurt feelings. And I want you to know that I'm done with my diagnosis, I've made my plan, the Board is standing 100% behind me, and it's time to execute.

From now on there's going to be no more relational aggression in this organization. None. I hate that stuff and I'm putting a stop to it. I'm going to make this a safe place for staff to work.

And I'd like to invite you to join me in making this change. What do you think?

And then I'll hear them out.

Rich:  What do you expect you'll hear?

Mark:  I'm 99% sure they're going to be incredibly relieved to see me taking charge.

Rich:  And once you've heard from them one by one...

Mark:  I'll get the six of us together and take whatever time we need so we can gel as a team. Agree to be each other's allies. No one stands alone anymore. 

Rich:  And what specifically do you want to ask them to do?

Mark:  Join me in taking this stand. Join me in making a much, much better future for this nonprofit. I want to hear that commitment from them.

Rich:  And what actions can they take?

Mark:  I want to ask them to walk away from Kirk if he bullies them. I don't want them to engage. I want them to come to me so I can confront Kirk directly myself since I've got the authority to discipline him. And besides it's hard to bully somebody if they're not there.

And something more. If they'd join up with each other that would be very powerful. If Kirk starts going after someone in the lunch room, it would be great if, with one voice, they'd all tell him to stop. Just that, stop. And then come get me.

Rich:  So another reason you need the Board to stand strong is that you're going to be making a big promise to the five women that you'll protect them.

Mark:  Yes, I need to walk the Board through my whole plan so they'll see how much it matters that they do their part.

All right, I'm doing a bang up job of organizing here. Time to focus in on the lead characters.

Rich:  Lead characters?

Mark:  Whoops. Right, me and my five allies and my Board are the lead characters. We're the ones doing the leading.

Rich:  Let's take one more moment with the five women. When have you seen them at their best?

Mark:  That's easy. I went out and observed each of them leading workshops with the teens and they were dynamite. Every one of them. These are strong, bright women.

Yet back here at the office they give up their power...just like me.

Rich:  What do you know about the past ED?

Mark:  The Board let him go, and this is a together Board, so I'd guess he was failing in some way. Oh, but you know what? The Chair told me the past ED was best buddies with Kirk.

Rich:  So then what's your guess?

Mark:  I'd guess that the three guys ran the culture. And I'd guess that the five women love the work so much that they suffered through their time in the office in order to be able to lead their workshops in the schools where they get to shine.

Rich:  And if you're right...

Mark:  Which I'll bet I am, then that means they have a lot of hidden moxie. They don't know yet which way the cat is going to jump. They haven't seen me set a new direction with a strong hand. They don't know if I'm going to be like the last ED and side with Kirk and Troy and keep the old culture going.

Rich:  So if these guesses are right, there could be a simple explanation for the split in their behavior. A dysfunctional culture can disempower even great people. As I said, it can make you forget who you are. Culture can be such a force for good but also for ill.

Mark:  So If I show them that I'm making a radical, immediate, unmistakable change in the culture, I might see them become powerful back in the office?

Rich:  How would that be for you?

Mark:  I'd love it. I'd feel like I actually had a team. And if the six of us stand together, we'll be unstoppable.

Rich:  So...

Mark:  That's the picture I want to paint for them.

Rich:  And how are you being their advocate?

Mark:  Two ways. I'm making sure I'm giving them protection. But then I'm calling on them to claim their power and giving them a place where they can do that.

Rich:  Which means that the same Advocacy Stand that you're using to resolve the trouble is the stand you're using to create the future you want.

Mark:  Two for the price of one. My kind of deal.

Rich:  It's like you and your team of five are already starting your new story before getting the old one wrapped up.

Mark:  Yes! And I see why that's a good thing. Instead of struggling with the old story, instead of doing battle, our new story will simply and deftly and gracefully eclipse the old story. A judo move. Playing offense as a way of playing defense.

Rich:  And how will that be for you?

Mark:  Better for me, and better for everyone, including the two guys.

Rich:  Okay, now let's get to them.

Mark:  It feels good to get to them last. To not let them be the context, but to place them in a context. One that I've designed.

Rich:  Yes, you are much more powerful than they are—once you've claimed your power. So do you want to deal with Troy first or Kirk or both at once?

Mark:  I don't know. Lots of ways to go with this. Here's what I think. Troy is such a nobody, I think I don't need to put a big focus on him. I have to say, though, it worries me, given his behavior around the office, that he's leading programs for our teens.

Okay, here's a new piece to the puzzle. As I said, I've seen the woman in action, but the guys keep coming up with excuses to put me off. And it's worked.

So tomorrow afternoon, I'm going to show up at their programs unannounced, because if their work is as bad as their behavior around the office, if they're condescending toward the kids, or doing put downs, or if things are out of control in any way, that's another reason to let them go.

I can imagine Kirk entertaining the hell out of the teens, but I can't imagine what Troy is doing.

Once I've seen Troy in action, then I'll confront him about his behavior and lay down the law. I'm very ready to do that.

Rich:  Which leaves you with Kirk.

Mark:  I'll have my big meeting with him as soon as I know I have all my ducks in a row. I just want to deliver my message to him. I'm not seeking a conversation. I don't want to sit there and listen to him try to fast talk his way out of my limit setting.

Rich:  If he does start his fast talking?

Mark:  I'll tell him to stop. I'll put an end to the meeting. Whatever. I don't need one more syllable of crap from him. I mean if I'm going to set limits, I need to start right there in the meeting. I want to show him how serious this is for me. And for him, too.

Rich:  What about him?

Mark:  You know, all of a sudden, I'm not worried anymore. I know I can handle this situation and handle it well. I know this place is going to have a great future. I know I can lead us there.

Rich:  So you've already won.

Mark:  What do you mean?

Rich:  Right now, in this moment, the struggle is over. You've won. This nonprofit is now yours instead of Kirk's. You're going to create a future that will make the Board happy and the five women happy and the mission happy.

Mark:  Say more about winning.

Rich:  What options does Kirk have at this point?

Mark:  Two. He can pull up his socks and get on the team, and I mean really, really get on the team. Or he can get out.

Rich:  Nothing else?

Mark:  No.

Rich:  No middle ground?

Mark:  None.

Rich:  And either way, stay or go...

Mark:  Oh, I see. Either way this organization is moving forward to better days. Either way, we're done with bad behavior. Either way Kirk is no longer in control of this organization. It's already decided. Just in taking my stand I've put an end to the struggle. Very cool.

Rich:  You know about matter and anti-matter? Well, Kirk has been like the anti-leader of this organization. He's been the tail wagging the dog. He's been controlling the place, but now...

Mark:  I'm really taking over as leader. A month ago I became leader in name, and as of right now, I'm the leader in fact.

Rich:  And that means...

Mark:  Kirk can't be the anti-leader anymore because I'm not the kind of leader who tolerates that. That position is now closed. For good.

Rich:  So the problem is no longer a problem.

Mark:  No, it's not.

Rich:  You know that saying about dissolving problems instead of solving them?

Mark:  Yeh, and I've never really understood it, but that's what I just did, isn't it?

Rich:  I'd say so.

Mark:  Fun.

Rich:  And now let's take a deeper look at Kirk.

Mark:  Because?

Rich:  Because I'm guessing there's something more in you about this. Remember you said you wanted to give Kirk a chance before firing him?

Mark:  Yes.

Rich:  Tell me more about why you're taking that stand.

Mark:  Because I want to believe in possibility. I don't want to be stupid about probability. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for Kirk to change. But I do want to be the kind of person who keeps the possibility open.

I want to invite him to change, even if I have to kick his butt with the invitation. So, I guess that means, I need to add another part into my talk with him. Along with the limit setting message, I do want to have a change conversation with him. On my terms, but I want to have it.

Rich:  So, again, you're his advocate.

Mark:  Part of me doesn't want to say that, because I'm sick of him and mad at him. But now that I know this is all over and that I've won,I feel so much lighter about him.

Rich:  What's the actual feeling?

Mark:  I feel compassion for Kirk. I mean, what kind of life is it when you go around hurting people all the time? That's got to be lonely. He's got to be in some kind of pain.

Rich:  Doesn't he get his jollies this way?

Mark:  Yeh, there are lots of days when he seems to be in a great mood, while everyone else is clouded over. But at a deeper level it's got to be awful living like that. I mean Troy does his bidding, but what kind of company can Troy be? He's another sad one.

Rich:  So, compassion...

Mark:  Yeh, that struck me, too.

Rich:  How does it feel to use that word with these guys?

Mark:  Good. Really good.

Rich:  I'm noticing how you've made a kind of declaration of independence.

Mark:  That's right. I'm not at the effect of these two guys any more. No matter what they do, I stick with my plan. No matter what they do, I'm ready for them. I don't have to stress over this.

So, if I'm independent of them now, was I dependent on them before? What does that even mean?

But there's a way that was true. I was trying to figure how to change them. To the extent I felt like I had to fix them, I was stuck in the mess with them.

Rich:  And now you're claiming your power...

Mark:  And the power of compassion.

Rich:  And you're doing it by calling the question, which is a key part of the Advocacy Stand. You're asking Kirk to make a decision. You're insisting on it. This is not a request, it's actually a demand.

Mark:  Demand as stand. When I was trying to reason with him, I was trying to get him to make the particular decision I wanted him to make.

Now I'm demanding that he make a decision, but I don't care which way he goes with it. I really don't. That's such a relief. Either way I'm good. What's not good is continuing to stay engaged in a struggle that's entirely on his terms. What's not good is to have my mood and my future depend in any way on him.

I feel a sense of freedom right now.

Rich:  Okay, let me toss you a curve ball. What if you go to observe Kirk tomorrow and you find out his work is excellent.

Mark:  I haven't thought about that possibility because I don't expect if, but if that's true, does that mean I have to back off from him? No wait, I'll answer that.

I don't back off because his behavior in the office is so bad. It doesn't matter how great he might be at his work.

Rich:  And if he were great at his work, how could you use that?

Mark:  I'd call him to greatness while calling the question.

Rich:  Which would sound like?

Mark:  Like this...

Kirk, I just saw you do great work with those teens. You're a major talent. Now I want to challenge you to bring your talent for making people happy back here to the office. I wasn't sure you had it in you to clean up your act and stop hurting people, but now I'm a believer. I've seen a very different side of you.

That's the side I want to see in the office. I believe you can be a ton happier in this organization. You can have a future here. Why not? Come on, talk to me. Tell me what's wrong with what I'm saying? Why not make amends and start a new life here?

I feel this. I can say it and be absolutely sincere.

Rich:  And what if he says yes?

Mark:  Okay, it won't help him at all for me to settle for an easy yes. I'd want to lock this in. So then I'd say something like...

I'm so happy to hear that. But here's something I want you to know. I'm really serious about this. When you say yes, that you want to be on the team with the rest of us, I'm going to need to see that yes in your behavior. Every single day I need to see that yes in action.

So let me ask you, How serious are you about this yes? If you're really serious, I'll stand by you and help you.

It's your decision whether you get on the team or whether you go. It's my decision that you have to choose one or the other. It's my decision that you will not be allowed to hurt people anymore.

But as you make your decision, I want to tell you I hope you'll decide to step up and claim a new life. And that you'll put your whole heart into it. That's my preference.

But if you say no, I'm fine with you leaving. I'm ready for that.

And please bear in mind, this decision you're making is as big as your life.

Rich:  Wow.

Mark:  I didn't expect to say that last line. That's quite a stand I'm taking for him.

Rich:  What if he doesn't get it what you're doing? What if he just gets mad?

Mark:  Doesn't matter.

Rich:  What could budge you from this stand?

Mark:  Not a thing.

Rich:  But what if you're wrong about how you see things?

Mark:  This has nothing to do with right or wrong. This is about me. My stand is who I am. It's so deep in me that if I budged, I wouldn't be myself anymore. This is my life. So just like I'm telling Kirk this decision is as big as his life, that's true for me, too. My stand is as big as my life.

Rich:  Here's something that might happen. He might think you've got things all wrong, but still hear the advocacy in you. At least unconsciously. Some part of him might get it that you feel yourself to be an advocate for him even if he doesn't like the way you're advocating. And sometimes that makes a difference. Softens the interaction.

Mark:  I won't hold my breath, but I'll watch for that.

Rich:  You can't make Kirk behave better. You don't have that power. But you can call him to his best. And you can protect him from hurting people at your nonprofit.

Mark:  Protect him. That's interesting.

Rich:  And maybe he makes a grumpy, grungy, unhappy exit. But maybe he also thinks about how respectfully you treated him. And maybe that opens up something in him later on.

Mark:  Another possibility to hold.

Rich:  Yes, and sometimes it does happen but we don't get to see it.

Mark:  So, I'm the advocate for the bad guy. More of an advocate for him than he is for himself. Trippy.

Rich:  I think calling the question is such a kindness.

Mark:  It feels clean and crisp and right. For me to let him go on hurting people is not doing him any favors. I don't believe it's good for anyone to hurt other people.

Rich:  But you can make a lot of money by hurting people, can't you? You can become powerful in this society by hurting people. And aren't those benefits?

Mark:  Yes. But no. But why?

Rich:  Do you ever use the word "soul?"

Mark:  Yes, in my own way. I don't think of it as something eternal and ethereal, but I use it as a metaphor, a way of talking about what matters to me most.

Rich:  So how would you use that word in this situation?

Mark:  I don't believe it's good for anyone's soul to hurt people. Okay, that feels solid. That works for me.

Rich:  To me, calling the question and taking the Advocacy Stand is soul work. Like part of a spiritual practice.

Mark:  So this is all much bigger than just a way to manage staff.

Rich:  I think it is. I think it's about the quality of relationships. Which determines the quality of our lives. And in turn the quality of our communities.

Mark:  I see that. It totally works for me. And you know how I'm feeling right now?

Rich:  How?

Mark:  Proud. When I go home tonight and Marnie asks me about my day, I'll give her a big smile and take her in my arms and tell her, "Everything's going to be okay now. It's all going to be okay."

And then if she wants to hear more, which she will, we'll have a hell of a lot to talk about.


A treat
Advocacy is not the same thing as coaching, but the two share the same core spirit. And the more you learn about coaching, the richer your advocacy conversations become.

So here's a book I recommend...

Coaching for Nonprofit Managers and Leaders
by Judith Wilson and Michelle Gislason

You can order it directly from Wiley by clicking here:


I know both Judith and Michelle, and they've used four of the conversations from my staff pages, so I might be a bit biased, but I think they've written the best book on coaching to date. I think it's the easiest one to learn from. I like that they have lots of sample conversations, so you not only get to understand coaching intellectually, but you also get a practical feel for it.


© 2008 Rich Snowdon