Category: Leadership

Seeing Things Differently

I’ve worn contact lenses or glasses to see since I was 6 years old. During a visit to the doctor, my mother took great offense when the doctor said, “Maybe you should buy him a dog. He’s going to need one to help him get around in a few years.” She didn’t fully appreciate the doctor’s dry wit, but I love retelling this story.

Today, I still wear glasses. I rely on them to help me see clearly. I also use “putting on glasses” as a metaphor to help clients see things differently.


Lawrence Kohlberg, a Harvard researcher and professor, conducted extensive studies on human moral development. His studies were based on the premise that moral development was a cognitive function, and that the ethic of justice was the highest-order moral we develop. Carol Gilligan, a feminist and student of Dr. Kohlberg’s, noticed that women scored differently on some of the scales used in their research. She also noticed that most of the study participants were men and boys. She began to ask questions.

Gilligan’s perspective allowed her to see the results of their work in a way Dr. Kohlberg was unable to – as a woman and feminist. She noted that women had a different imperative when approaching a moral issue: “to solve the moral problem in such a way that no one is hurt.” (Wildflower, L. excerpt) Gilligan’s contributions showed the ethic of care as an equally high category as the ethic of justice. It was through Gilligan’s lens of feminism that Kohlberg was able to see his research and its implications differently, and he quickly added more women into his study groups. They achieved clarity through Gilligan’s perspective.

Practical application

All glasses, however, are not the same. In Palm Springs, the brightness of our mid-day sun can be harsh. Sunglasses, especially polarized lenses, give our eyes some relief from the brightness and allow us to see things clearly. Reading glasses help us see small print and bifocal lenses give us the advantage of correcting both near and distance vision. Recently, a lens company invented something that gives color-blind people the opportunity to see the colors they’ve not been able to detect before.

So how does this relate to coaching? Simple: in order to give my clients the benefit of seeing themselves differently, I have to have an array of glasses for them to choose from. Sometimes we’re looking at “blind spots,” the areas that we’re unaware of until something triggers a reflexive response. Sometimes we need to look at ourselves from a different perspective and need clearer distance vision. Sometimes we need to do some very delicate work with fine materials and have to magnify what’s in our view. And sometimes, we need sunglasses to filter out the harsh things and see with greater clarity.

Many people can relate to the physical act of putting on glasses. That’s why I find the metaphor so powerful in working with clients. It quite literally changes what we see!

Reference: Wildflower, L. (2013). The Hidden History of Coaching. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

Beyond the Brain: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

At the age of 35, I was hired as the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization. It was the realization of one of my highest professional goals, and it quickly taught me that I needed to strengthen my emotional intelligence to be an effective leader.

I began a journey that started with becoming aware of how I showed up with people. I’m an extrovert and thrive on engaging with the world around me. I’m also energetic and exude a “youthful energy” when I enter a room. As the newly appointed leader, I discovered those traits sometimes meant I came across as intense, sharp, and overbearing. I had never been in a position to look at myself as others see me, and it was enlightening.

Discovering emotional intelligence

I stumbled onto a Daniel Goleman article about emotional intelligence. He suggested this innate intelligence was categorized into four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill. I was immediately hooked and started learning about me.

In coaching leaders, I often start with emotional intelligence. I share what I learned as I integrated the concepts into life in a leadership role. It helps my clients see for themselves that this kind of growth is within reach, and it demystifies the process of self-mastery and social mastery.

Working with self

I decided I had to understand myself better. I started by finding tools to help me dissect the person I’d known all my life. My favorite was the Values in Action Survey of Character Strengths. It helped me frame traits in affirming statements and helped me see as strengths some things I had viewed as flaws. I had a new appreciation for self-awareness.

Then I reviewed the elements of self-management to determine where I should focus my efforts to improve. I saw exactly what I needed to tackle: adaptability. My Meyers-Briggs Type is ENTJ, so I’m a big fan of order and routine. I also have a keen focus on the goal, whatever task I’m doing. That sounds great until something comes along that disrupts or re-routes me. I’ve improved in this area, and find that the more I’m open to changes, the happier I am with the experience as a whole.

Working with others

The third domain, social awareness, is where I am most comfortable. When I’m in a position to meet the needs of the people around me, I’m happiest. I noticed that observing what happened around me – how people interacted, who helped influence decision making, and what responses people had to my appreciation of their work – allowed me to navigate my workplace relationships more easily. I had an innate talent for active involvement, but observation, followed by integrating what I saw gave me an edge.

The last and, I think, most important domain for leaders is social skill. It’s the realm of nuanced communication that influences and inspires without demanding. It’s the capacity to listen for resolution during conflict and swiftly resolving the problem without escalating it. And it’s nurturing relationships that allow people to flourish while cultivating new ones for the future. Those who have these skills innately are natural leaders. The rest of us have to work at it!

The intelligence of leadership goes far beyond the realms of emotional intelligence. But in my practice, this is the place where my clients see the greatest returns on our work together.

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

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