Who’s There? A Leader’s Inner Journey
by Diane Seymour

Who'sThereMy coaching clients often use what they practice at TAI to successfully navigate significant transitions in their careers and lives. For one, it might be an opportunity to move up within his or her organization. For another, it might mean a downsizing situation and a search for a new position. And for yet another, it may mean launching a totally new endeavor to accomplish something personally meaningful.

These “critical juncture” moments are the ones that test whether or not what I am teaching “sticks.” I ask them to dig deep and find out what motivates them. Then I ask them to see the impact they are having with the people around them. And to decide whether or not that is the impact they want to have, based on what they’ve learned about themselves. If it isn’t, we practice changing behaviors and trying out new approaches, using principles based in the performing arts. When they apply what we’ve practiced to real-life situations and report their successes back to me, they give me my “proud mama” moments.

I remember one manager in his late 30’s who was producing great results for his group but was struggling to advance in his career. Senior leadership was considering moving him into a larger role; but, because he was known as brusque and surly, they were hesitant to promote him. His own team knew that underneath his gruff exterior, he was a committed leader who really cared about achieving excellence, so they were loyal. But when he had to engage with other divisions in his firm, he had a reputation for putting people off. Leaders of other groups were reluctant to collaborate with him and his team. He was told that if he wanted to move up, something had to shift in his interactions with all his constituents. He had to change not only their perception of him, but also how he interacted with them every day.

In our one-on-one sessions, we explored what was important to him in the workplace and beyond. With the care taken on an archaeological dig, we unearthed the themes running through all aspects of his life. He got to see and appreciate what drives him. He realized that those motivations had been evident from the time he was young. And, now that he was aware of his inner operating principles or “Essential Drivers” as we call them, he could more quickly understand what was happening when things were out of kilter and take steps to fix them.

Somehow, bringing to light these truths about who he was and the impact he wanted to make in the world gave him a new sense of himself. Soon people were noticing that he was facing life with a lighter, more open attitude. He seemed more approachable.

Although the business problems he faced daily didn’t magically disappear, his ability to maneuver through them and communicate to others became easier. Now that he had clarity about how he wanted to influence those around him, he could see his impact and adjust in the moment. He became a more flexible leader. He was able to more quickly stop himself from defaulting to old, unproductive behaviors. He could take creative control and get others on board to help him make progress. This “coming home to himself” made him feel happier; and it showed. Senior leaders took notice too; and moved him into a more senior position.

Another long-term client of mine used the self-discovery process at a critical juncture in her career as well. Layoffs were common in the financial industry during the turmoil from 2008-2010. Fortunately, she and I were just completing her self-discovery work when she was fired by a company she’d worked at for years. As she says, she used this event as an opportunity for personal development and growth.

“Forced reflection,” she says, “is important because it’s easy to get caught up on the track of career progression without pausing to check in with yourself about if it’s what you really want. While I have to tell you that I didn’t plan to get fired one day when I graduated from Columbia, and it certainly wasn’t on my bucket list, it did create an opportunity to reflect on what I wanted to do next without the influence of my manager and/or firm and their wants and needs. I can’t say that I am unhappy that it happened because it gave me the freedom, the space, the permission to do what I really wanted to do.”

She and several other clients hold a special place in my heart. We have gone through long-term leadership journeys lasting from several months to several years or more. Many have gone on to positions of more authority within their organizations. Some have taken on the mantle of leadership at other companies. Some have started their own businesses. Some have become advocates for important philanthropic causes.

Wherever they landed, the first step of the Personal Leadership Development journey with them all began with the primary TAI question, “Who’s there? Who am I as a leader? What do I care about? How do I want to influence things? What is my impact on others? And how do I adjust if my impact on others is not what I want it to be?”

And, “Who’s out there? Who are my audiences – the people I want to influence? What do they care about? How do I want to affect them? What actions do I want them to take? And what do they need from me in order to have that happen?”

I feel like a privileged guide on these journeys of self-discovery. I admire and thank all my clients for their perseverance, their desire to grow and learn, and, most especially, for their courage. It is a choice to change our behavior and step up in ways we haven’t had to before. The risks are great. Happily, though, for me and for my clients, so are the rewards!


About the Author: Diane Seymour, a founding member, director, and senior coach at The TAI Group, helps clients to develop their leadership skills, express their unique point of view and see their personal impact. Visit The TAI Group, like us on Facebook, and follow along on Twitter (@TheTAIGroup and @TAIDiane).

To hear an excerpt of Rehana Farrell speaking about TAI during her recent Keynote Address at the 23rd Annual Columbia University Women in Business Conference in New York, click below:

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