Forty years later I can still remember how disappointed I felt when Joni Mitchell released her newest album, Hejira. I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t want jazz; I wanted another Blue, another Court and Spark. I wanted the Joni Mitchell I knew and loved. So we broke up. When she moved away from folk, while I begrudgingly admired her for evolving as an artist, I moved on too. I stopped following her into the future, and just stayed with her past, playing the old albums over and over again, following my Joni, the one I had in my mind.
So, minus the talent of Joni Mitchell, this comes to mind as I reflect on my own zigs and zags over the years, in particular this latest one. If you’ve read my newsletters or posts lately, you may have felt that my new focus on Coaching for Power Intelligence®, is, well, jazz to my traditional folk rock. You may even feel a bit like I did, wishing I would go back to what I’ve done before. What is this Power Intelligence® thing, you may ask? Is it Process Work? What an assessment? Why an assessment?
Basically, what the heck is Julie doing?
I’ve never been very good at explaining myself as I change. I don’t communicate new directions; I just pick up a new scent and follow it. So let me break a long established pattern and tell you what I am doing and why. As this year comes to a close, and next year will be primarily devoted to my new direction, it’s a great time to share what I’ve been up to and what you can expect to see me doing next year.
Let’s start with what hasn’t changed; power. Power, and how people use power, has been a chief focus for a long time. About 5 years ago, I began working on a new idea: would it be possible to create something for leaders that helps them develop into better “power users?” I wanted it to be practical, easy to use, easy to learn, something you didn’t need to spend weeks, months, or years to master. With this in mind, I began work on a multi-rater (360) instrument that measures both a leader’s own sense of personal power, and her use of power: how subordinates, peers, bosses, other superiors, and stakeholders evaluate her on her behaviors related to power. People will need to be certified to administer it, read and interpret scores and results, and make the information useful to leaders and to the organizations. Over the next year, I’ll be offering 3-day certifications—Certification in Power Intelligence®–in Warsaw, Melbourne, Sydney, California, and Toronto to start with, and more to follow.
For some of you, this isn’t new. In fact, many of you have helped me over the years, taking surveys, sharing your stories, giving me advice and guidance, and even pilot testing the assessment with your clients and in your organizations.
Thank you for your support, encouragement, and input. I wouldn’t have gotten this far without you.
There are a few things about this new direction which differ dramatically from my previous one. In particular, it’s an instrument—a psychometric test which measure individuals’ behaviors and characteristics.
For some of you—heck, for me—it’s a surprising pivot. Having spent 30+ years of my professional life in human and organizational development, I managed to get a PhD and this far into my career without ever taking a course that involved math. And here I am, developing a quantitative assessment.
It’s not something many people, and frankly, most of my readers here, are keen on or even interested in. For those immersed in a field that prizes the subjective, unique experience of individuality answering questions on a scale of 1-5 is akin to slipping into a girdle. And frankly, it is, to a degree. A common criticism about assessments is that they fail to capture individual uniqueness. “I can’t be pigeonholed,” people say. “The questions don’t really apply, and the answers don’t fit.” Even Angela Duckworth, social psychologist and author of the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance who created a “grit scale,” says, all measures suck, and they all suck in their own way.
(For those who want a little more: Here’s a good article about some of the common misconceptions of tests)
I’m not going to defend or explain why or how they work, that’s not the purpose of this blog (come to my training, however, and I will!). But I am interested in sharing why I’m doing it. And there’s only one reason of course. It’s the same reason that Joni turned to jazz. Because she was drawn to it. So, here are some of the reasons that draw me.
Patterns and data
I have always loved seeing patterns emerge out of data. That’s why I loved process structure, tracking patterns in signals, behavior and language. Those of you who have known me for a long time know me as a process structure geek. You may even remember my thesis that I wrote for my Diploma in Process-oriented Psychology in 1986, was called Patterns of Communication.
While it’s exciting to do with individuals, if you have large numbers of people, and can track things with data, even more significant patterns emerge. The more data points you have, the more clarity and accuracy of the patterns that emerge.
An assessment is like wine; it appreciates over time. The more people use it, the more valuable and accurate it becomes. And eventually, over time, it will provide us with extremely valuable information about power. Large scale studies of how people in positions of power use their power have not really been done before. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to dig into the data, to see what power behaviors are most difficult to master, precisely where and how things go awry? Or to discover connections between how people use power and things like age, gender, nationality, length of time in their role, industry or sector? What makes some people better at using power than others? Why do some use it better with subordinates than with bosses or peers? What is the connection between our personal power characteristics and how we use power with others? What trends will we see? What can we learn? And how can we use this data to improve how power is used, shared, and taught?
Knowing your impact
I’ve noticed over the past several decades in my work that no matter how self-aware you are you still don’t know the impact you make on others. For leaders, especially, this is crucial. If your work gets done with and through others, it’s absolutely vital to have an accurate picture of how others experience you. Your impact and influence is everything. Most self-aware leader can state their strengths and weaknesses. But how those strengths and weakness impact others, how others perceive them, and most especially, what others have to do to work with and around a leader’s strengths and weaknesses—these are the blind spots, the “unknown unknowns” that leaders, that all of us, stumble upon.
I can hear nay-sayers say, “Oh, but I am very self-aware.” True, but so is this: self-awareness and having an accurate perception of yourself as others see you, are not only different, they are sometimes profoundly so. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the only way, but using a system of assessment to evaluate specific behaviors is one way to help us become aware of the impact we make.
I’ve always been an ideas person, but as I get older, I have become more pragmatic. I find myself more interested in what works, in defining the tools that are most effective and easiest to teach and transfer.
It’s funny, because growing up, I was always an idealist, interested in the big sweep of ideas, while my Dad was a hard boiled pragmatist. We butted heads all the time. His political activism involved revising Section 3.1 (d) ii. of the County Charter. Mine was analyzing Marcuse’s theory of the commodification of dissent. But now I’m drawn to the gnarly problems of Section 3.1.(d) ii of the County Charter. And that means, as an educator, in defining the essential tools needed for change, and making them easy to learn, distribute, and apply.
Creativity of constraints
When I studied sociolinguistics in graduate school, I came across the work of William Labov. It rocked my world. Up until then, I had thought of myself as a die-hard Chomskyite linguist, focused on the cognitive structures of language. Labov was more concerned with language in use and his work illuminated for me the profound creativity of culture. Language grows out of cultural constraints. It isn’t just learned, but grows wild, like weeds in the cracks of sidewalks, sprouting up in the interstices between cultures.
Culture has always been my passion. When I say “culture” I don’t just mean variety, I mean the ways of doing things that are simultaneously limiting and generating. I love the challenge of working within the limits, structures, goals, and demands of organizations, of having to adapt to lingo and norms, and work with people on their terms. And this new direction provides me with the creative challenge of adapting learning and growth—profoundly immeasurable and limitless endeavors—to the tight confines of organizational life.
And finally, at the end of the day, it’s about power. There really is very little in leadership that zeroes in on power use exclusively.
So that’s a bit about my new focus. Some of you have asked if I’ll still be doing public workshops. Perhaps a few, yes. But always focused, in one way or another, on power. My main focus in 2017-2018 will be on getting Power Intelligence® certification and the assessment up and running.
About 5 years ago, right about this time, I wrote a new year’s post called The Year of Living Selectively. In it I talked about the dilemma of choice, and of the limited amount of time and energy I have:
What is core to our purpose on earth is a terribly hard question. Many things can satisfy us, many things are fun and interesting, and many paths can be pursued, even successfully so. When so many possibilities are spread out before us, how do we know what is core, and what is tangential?
I’ve been so darn lucky to have been able to follow my passion in my work. It’s a huge privilege to have choice in what I can pursue. To close down some avenues in order to have the time and energy to go down others has not been without struggle. But I am motivated (terrified?) by the closing window of time I feel.
For those of you who like my new directions, I’m honored to have your interest. For those who liked my earlier direction better, I am grateful to have had your support. As always, thanks for stopping by, for reading and being part of the conversation.
May your new year find you doing what you love.