Last December, even before COVID was a word, a thing known to all of us, I decided to add one more tool to my toolbelt. Life Coaching. One of the first steps in that learning process is to decide on your niche, your area of focus. I ‘tried on’ the idea of leadership coaching for a month or two. One day, another coach asked me what made me choose that focus. I couldn’t find an answer other than I had experience in it. I had done it in the past. I had generally enjoyed some aspects of corporate leader roles, but most of the jobs did not bring me pure joy. And I have no aspirations of being in corporate leader roles in the future. It brought me to tears. Why would I choose this niche if this niche did not bring me joy in the past, and would likely not bring me joy in the future???
I started exploring those things that I do enjoy. Being a part of a great team. Creativity. Collaboration. Creating great designs and great products within a team. Flexible planning. Adaptability. Lifelong learning. Studying and blending cultures as a way of learning from others. Considering alternate perspectives on a problem. Sustainable pace. A great debate around alternate design options. Self-organizing teams. And helping others find their voice, their confidence, their capabilities… helping others grow into the BEST version of themselves.
I’ve been in the IT world since the early 1980’s. I spent a good part of my career in large organizations that had the money and vision to provide a lot of great management training, and take on new management principles. Deming and Total Quality Management. The Learning Organization (The Fifth Discipline). Business Process Improvement. Continuous Improvement. Cross-functional Teams. Empowerment. Leadership vs. Management. Built to Last. Emotional Intelligence. Good to Great. Lateral Thinking. Change Management and Managing at the Speed of Change. Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead. Six Thinking Hats (the source of my Green Hat company name).
All of the ideas in these pivotal books formed the way that I led teams, first in a traditional management role, and later in project management roles. In 2001, leading a team of software developers in Nashville, one of my team members wanted to try the spiral model of development with its iterative prototypes based on addressing risks and trying alternative solutions via prototyping. It isn’t quite how we define ‘agile’ in software development today, but it was an early counterpoint to the existing pure waterfall engineering approach. I love the idea on paper, but was fairly sure it would not fly in that corporate setting at that time.
I did not (surprisingly) run into the world of Agile again until 2013. My first scrum master course was not so convincing. Great idea, but I could not imagine how any large company in my past or present could adapt to work this way. Fortunately, one can learn to ‘think agile’ over time by trying, adapting, and learning. And, I chose to dig in deep and studied many more concepts in and around agile over the next years. And those management theories from the 1990’s emerged from the back of my mind and blended, and I found a way to enjoy software development again without fighting about what was in the big requirements document or what was in the project plan created six months previously.
I found I could breathe. I found I could enjoy the conversation. I found I could help by listening to the customer’s needs today, not trying to respond what the customer said they wanted 6 months ago (and which I knew was no longer valid).
And so in early 2020, when choosing my niche for life coaching, I went back to consider all of that enjoyment. Joy in teams. Joy in self-actualization and self-governing teams. Joy in creation of something delightful and useful. Joy in helping each person find their voice and learn to listen. Respect for the diversity in teams. Mentoring for the young, new team members. Empowering team members and teams to be courageous and brave. Creating space for teams and team members to focus, get into the ‘flow zone’, and create their masterpiece. Engaging new and established leaders to consider the culture which they create and lead each day. Encouraging experimentation for learning and adaptation. Providing a safe space in which to fail fast and learn.
Two of my favorite books in recent years, books that build on those early 1990’s management concepts, are Dan Pink’s DRIVE and Simon Sinek’s START WITH WHY. I found that in Life Coaching I could incorporate all of these ideas. Purpose, autonomy and mastery create our drive and enjoyment at work… and in life. Start with ‘why’ gives us our central purpose, at work and in life. Adding to that, I loved JOY, INC., by Richard Sheridan, and his work culture at Menlo Innovations – creative teamwork, treating people as ‘whole’, the constant delivery of value… at work and in life.
A coach-friend recently asked how life coaching for Deep Joy and Agile Coaching align. To him, these two things seemed quite different. For me, the heart and soul is the same. Consider that the science of managing happiness includes a collection of daily practices – practices which keep you strong and supple in heart, mind, soul, and body. Daily standups (or however you now accomplish this in the days of the pandemic and remote work) have a similar purpose. A roadmap for the future, although flexible, provides a common vision for the teams. Ongoing re-prioritization of your backlog of work is useful in life as well as in software. Minimizing your work in progress – useful in life as in business. The Minimalist Movement is the epitome of ‘maximizing the amount of work not done’ and maximizing your focus on what’s most important.
I hope that when you see that I’m now doing life coaching focused in helping others find Deep Joy, you’ll see that this is just an extension of my prior self, my prior work. Coaching is a way to help others in BOTH their career/professional life, and/or in their personal life. With the new world of so many of us working from home, our professional and personal lives are so much closer together. Many of us have the option to create a new future for ourselves… to find a way to work with the consistent base of deep joy – a sustainable deep-seated happiness based on confidence, hopefulness, and resilience.
This post was original published as an article on LinkedIn on September 30, 2020.