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I use dialogue to help create change in individual coaching, with small groups, and in organizations.  On this page you see four case examples of my work in Executive Coaching, Organization Consulting, Leadership Coaching, and Dialogue Practices.

EXECUTIVE COACHING

The executive director (ED) of a young nonprofit was pressed with immediate cash needs.  His board was working very hard to fulfill their annual goal and to move ahead with the five-year plan. He avoided bringing the urgent need for cash to the board’s attention fearing that board members would be judgmental and blaming, seeing him as mismanaging the resources they were laboring so hard to attract.  He was pretty certain they would see his need as a personal failure or the result of poor leadership.

What I did. I saw that an underlying narrative in the ED’s account of his dilemma was his sense of responsibility for the organization’s financial security.  He believed that he should be better at fundraising and that he should be more skilled at engaging his board whatever the situation. The master narrative of capitalism and individualism was at work here, and everyone seemed to acquiesce to it.  I needed to shift the narrative to one based in the immediate context, and ground it in conditions that could affirm the values of this organization instead of those of the dominant culture.

What happened.  As a result of our conversations, the ED began describing to board members the kind of organizational culture that would allow him to inhabit an inspiring, visionary role.  He let them know that he could not be left to worry about money on his own and he began to shamelessly reach for support. He also began to speak explicitly and without apology about critical organizational needs in his donor appeals. These efforts helped him transform the board’s idea of itself, and they began to better embrace the role of collaboration in reaching the organization’s vision.

LEADERSHIP COACHING

One day I got a call from a woman I’ve always admired for her innovations and strong leadership.  She ran a section of a mental health center that prides itself on offering creative programming to highly marginalized client populations.  She was ideally suited for that role.  But her voice that day surprised me: she was completely demoralized.

A male colleague was attacking her leadership style.  Her way of working expressed and supported the values of the organization, it was parallel to the way her team works with clients, and it represented both the core of her contribution and her sense of competence.  Still worse, her boss was echoing the criticism, with both men saying her leadership wasn’t “strong” enough.  She was exhausted by the struggle and wanted to look for another job.

Across a number of conversations, we collaboratively developed an analysis and a strategy.  Early actions reduced the polarization and enabled her to have richer conversations with the two critics about her teams’ services and their performance.  Over time she developed a greater appreciation for the efforts and intentions of the other two.  In the end, all three came to understand their differences more complexly, taking them out of the arena of competition and into the arena of complementarity

DIALOGUE PRACTICES

The talented and previously motivated staff of a non-profit agency had descended into frustration and unhappiness.  Their staff meetings had become extremely unproductive, devolving into competitive conversations or routine and boring discussions of policy.

The director was new in his job and hadn’t been able to win the staff’s confidence.  He was trying to elicit collaborative decision making but couldn’t, and he believed the staff didn’t have enough to offer.

We decided on a staff retreat based on an Appreciative Inquiry model.  As a result, everyone understood one another’s jobs and aspirations better.  The director was better informed about what the agency was doing and how they were doing it.  He was able to voice his aspirations, and he and the staff identified where they were aligned and where they were not.  The areas of alignment allowed much stronger collaborations, and identifying the areas of non-alignment led to higher-level conversations about mission and vision and how to understand differences

ORGANIZATION COACHING

An organization committed to peace and social justice engages their skill in conflict resolution and community organizing at both the global scale and in local communities.  They are highly respected in both arenas.

However, they were finding it difficult to collaborate with each other, and were anguished at falling short of their non-violent dialogue standards.  The internal disagreements were undermining their sense of competence, and the fact that much of the conflict was multi-cultural added another layer of soul searching.

My work involved several stages.  The first was fundamental to moving forward, and yet it involved the heart of the problem:  we would all have to agree on the objectives for the facilitation.  Secondly, we would have to establish processes for having difficult conversations or again, we couldn’t move forward.  Third, with these in place, we would be in a position to address the agreed objectives.  And fourth, they would have to consolidate, institutionalize, and personally internalize the new practices.

And we succeeded.  We gained some very specific changes in supervision and reporting, and we healed some deep rifts well enough to create the ground for cooperation and respect.  We identified strengths in people who had come to be seen as “less than,” and this opened up new possibilities for role definitions and responsibilities.

The main process we used was adapted from the Public Conversations Project, which positions everyone to have conversations that generate shared understanding