Curtis and Cheryl at Yosemite National Park
Part 4 of 4
Geoff: I know you as a master coach. I think the interesting thing about the pursuit of mastery is so different than the pursuit of being an expert in that, as Maricarmen Gwell says, staying in the “not knowing” is more important than getting to the answer quickly. What would you say is one thing that is your edge for learning right now? That you wish you knew or knew how to do? What’s a particular challenge you still face?
Curtis: Which one to pick? So many challenges; so little time. I would say patience and humility. I’m still working on those. And probably will be until I die.
Geoff: How do you stay fresh and energized? What practices do you have in place that keep you taking care of yourself better?
Curtis: Physical exercise, meditation, and being in nature. I recommend some form of meditation to every single client. They don’t always take me up on it, but I recommend it.
Geoff: What do you find valuable about it?
Curtis: It’s probably the greatest tool there is to generate self-awareness and change, in my opinion.
Geoff: So let’s just begin to talk a little bit about leadership. How do you define leadership?
Curtis: I would define leadership as having people follow a vision that is meaningful for them.
Geoff: With all the leaders you’ve worked with, what’s the most important thing you have learned about leading?
Curtis: I think Eisenhower said this (I’m not sure; it might have been MacArthur), “I need to be a good follower first.” I think a lot of people forget that.
Geoff: Drawing on your years of experience, would you have one piece of advice you’d give to every leader?
Geoff: What’s one thing you wish you would have known that would have helped leaders you worked with?
Curtis: I saw that question. Could you ask that differently? I had a hard time with that one.
Geoff: As you started out as a coach, I’m sure you ran into some challenges with the leaders you were coaching. I’m sure that as you went down the road, there were some things that emerged, some learning that you got, that would have been helpful to have known back in the beginning of the game. It’s like, what advice would you give to yourself during the early years of your coaching?
Curtis: During my early years, the advice I would give myself is stop thinking that you know something. It goes back to Covey. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. In my younger stages, I was more about proving how much I knew.
Geoff: How do you deal with leaders and, for me, my assessment is that most of us are emotionally incompetent, emotionally illiterate? How do you deal with leaders who are emotionally illiterate when we’re emotional beings and a lack of understanding will often sink us?
Curtis: As you know as a coach, the first thing is that they have to see that as a breakdown or an issue. If they don’t see it as an issue, then there’s really nothing I can do. So, the first thing is, how do I legitimize emotions as a valid territory of leadership exploration.
Once they see that, once they get that, then I can ask them, “Is this a territory that you think would be worthwhile for us to explore for you as a leader?”
Once they say “yes” to that, if they do, then we have a game. If they don’t, then I can’t go anywhere with them with that.
Geoff: How does that limit you then, if they don’t go that way?
Curtis: Severely, if that’s something that I see is a key issue for them. The cognitive realm is one that most leaders are pretty slick in—they’re very practiced in it.
The other domain that I can use is the somatic domain, which is the body, because they’re not so slick when it comes to that. So, if they’re hesitant. . . We’ve been conditioned around emotions, especially men, but also women in different ways. “Listen, leave your emotions at home” kind of thing.
Geoff: Except for the manly ones.
Curtis: Yeah, except for the aggressive ones. So another way in is through somatics. And somatics can also lead to emotions. I would use that route also. That can be a significant impact in a nanosecond, in a minute.
I have one managing director of an international bank I just said, “I want you to just close your eyes and be still for a minute.”
And after that minute he opened his eyes.
I said, “What’d you notice?”
He said, “I noticed how exhausted I am.”
Out of that, he took his first sabbatical in his career. He took three months off and then asked to be reassigned. One minute! Now, we’d been in a relationship for a while, so I could ask him. But not that long.
Geoff: It shows the power of powerful questions in the coaching profession.
Curtis: For me it was the power of somatics.
Geoff: You’ll be speaking at our upcoming conference, Meeting (Extra)Ordinary Leaders on October 29th. What’s one thing you would like people to know about your topic and why it’s important?
Curtis: How emotional literacy can help leaders lead.
Geoff: Why is that important?
Curtis: I think one of the criteria of being an effective leader, and I could be wrong on this but I’ve seen it more often than not, is a leader’s ability to generate the emotion that is appropriate for the task at hand. And if I am emotionally illiterate, that means I can’t even name whatever emotion I’m going to need, much less actually generate it.
Geoff: Curtis, this has certainly been an act of kindness on your part to spend an hour with me in the interview process. I want to thank you for that.
Curtis: It’s been a pleasure, Geoff. Thank you so much for inviting me.
© Geoff Davis 9/20/19