Long before Dan Lake was a lead facilitator and coach at Adeption, he was a bungy jump instructor and tour guide.  “It’s different but similar when you compare motivating people to leap off a bridge and taking a professional or personal leap of faith.  Most people facing these situations are of a mindset that “I think I can…. But I’m not sure”.  We tend to convince ourselves 70% of the way into having a crucial conversation or thinking that we can delegate or taking up an opportunity.  Then there is a moment of hesitation, where doubts and barriers surface.  It is our role as coaches, to prompt and encourage people to recognize what is the little bit more that it will take.  Which motivator makes their eyes light up and get them to lean into the conversation?  That is the one to dig into and will support them to have the confidence to 100% believe that they can step into the situation.”

“To use an example from my bungy jumping days, we had a big group and the process was always to jump the heaviest first, and lightest last.  We did five countdowns for the first guy and when you’ve done that many, the barriers are up, so it’s a case of saying relax, sit this one out, enjoy the time as a group and move on.  By watching the group jump, his motivator became apparent, it was a bruise to the ego to see the kids jump when he wouldn’t.  I’d honestly never have picked this up myself or thought of that when we were encouraging him to jump.  That situation was similar to coaching where sometimes you need to be comfortable to sit on a conversation because you can’t always find what might make someone lean into a heat zone experience.”

Feedback is everywhere

As the discussion progressed into areas like being comfortable with silence, letting others think it out, and awkward coaching moments, it provided a timely segway to asking Dan if there have been ‘insults’ he’s received that he is actually proud of.  Rather than being exclusively proud of this feedback, it has shaped his self-awareness and development as a coach over the last 20 years.

“The first is ‘you ask too many questions’” Dan says laughing.  “I do ask lots of questions!  It’s my nature, and it leads to great conversations with lots of people.  I’ve reframed that feedback and worked on ‘how can I ask really good questions’.  The second is ‘you talk too much’. Where I’ve taken that is to learn when it is appropriate to talk.  If I have been invited into a discussion, I will still have a voice at the table, I’ve been asked to contribute for a reason.  But that is where the skills we are talking about such as sitting with silence can become very powerful.”

Leadership development in a VUCA world

Industry professionals will be familiar with the term VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous), and the challenge of leading others and leading themselves in this environment.  When asked how he manages his response to VUCA situation and remains motivated to adapt, Dan paraphrases a comment by Patrick Lencioni in this podcast.

“No one ever left the company because they were clear on what they were trying to do.”

“It’s been said before, but I love the idea of counteracting Volatile with Vision, Uncertain with Understanding, Complex with Clarity and Ambiguous with Agility.  We need to continuously generate and communicate our purpose, what next steps we need to take to move towards our purpose goals and our position tracking in relation to these goals.  Having this clarity, in a VUCA environment, keeps us in our running lane.”

Opportunities in leadership development

The idea of simplification, transforming big ideas into meaningful and memorable ideas is a passion point for Dan.  To illustrate, he talks about his leadership development book due for release in 2023.  “Academia and traditional book publishers look for length, they want 40,000 to 60,000 words.  I say give it to me in 100.  That would go a long way to creating clarity out of complexity.”

In addition to the challenge of simplification, there are several areas of leadership development that Dan is curious about exploring.  Helping people with the application of their learning and breathing life into the bones of development is high on the agenda.  “We all fall prey to this, we get excited about the development, but when it comes to applying what we know to work, we shy away from stepping outside of our comfort zone.  Even when we know it is fundamental to growth and vertical development.  Thinking about a development program, we have the age-old problem of ensuring that the program does not become a paperweight.  I think the answer lies in being more specific about what we are asking people to do or try or experiment with.”

“There is also an opportunity in the growth of Group Coaching as a practice.” he continues. “If one leader in an organization receives 1-1 coaching, that person will inevitably benefit and grow from the experience.  But their situation is more complex than them as an individual, their situation is influenced by the people around them.  Think how much more the organization would benefit from coaching involving the whole team.”

What you didn’t expect starting out as a coach and facilitator

It is perhaps a further nod to Dan’s love of simplification that he has found the level of overburdened process a surprise over the years.  “People really want a bespoke solution!  Bespoke is good in terms of people’s context, but there is no need to reinvent the wheel, it’s not scalable.  For example, in an Adeption program, we can be confident in about 80% of what we know will be impactful – vertical development, the DIY process, and the way we partner and facilitate.  This process of learning doesn’t need to be bespoke, it’s proven, helpful and replicable.  The 20% tailoring leaves room for context and environment, for example, a deep dive into creating a coaching culture, or resilience or aligning a deep dive into an organization’s strategic focus.”

“It also came as a surprise that everything becomes an opportunity to put someone in a box.  Whether speaking of ourselves or others, we’re quick with absolute statements, especially about assessments, metrics and diagnostics.  It’s easy to say ‘I am, they are, we are, you are, ‘our business is dysfunctional because <insert pigeonholed box here>’.  We have so much complexity and range that there is more of a space for clarity, simplicity, and freedom in a framework.  That is why I like the VMI (Vertical Mindset Indicator), it focuses on your range, not your stage, something we can all do more of.”

Food for thought

As Dan is known in the team for his off-the-cuff recall of helpful, relevant resources and tools, we couldn’t resist asking for a few recommendations of must-read books.

To Sell is Human:  One in nine Americans works in sales. But so do the other eight.  To Sell Is Human offers a fresh look at the art and science of selling.  The author draws on a rich trove of social science for his counterintuitive insights.

QBQ! – The question behind the Question:  What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Complaining and Procrastination.  QBQ! provides a practical method for putting personal accountability into daily action: problems are solved, internal barriers come down, service improves, teamwork thrives and people adapt to change more quickly.

It is no surprise that the latter leans into Dan’s love of asking questions!  So we can’t resist asking, what is your favorite question? “How can I help you succeed?” is the quick answer, an apt response of someone passionate about coaching and development.