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Transcript #27: How to Develop Yourself so that you Can Help Others – Self as Instrument, T-groups, and Leadership Coaching with David Shechtman

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Episode #27: How to Develop Yourself so that you Can Help Others – Self as Instrument, T-groups, and Leadership Coaching with David Shechtman

Caneel Joyce:

Welcome to Allowed. I’m your host Caneel Joyce and I’m joined today by David Shechtman, Senior Partner in Evolution, an Executive Coach and a teacher. We’re here today to talk about self as instrument. And self as instrument is an understanding of the role that each of our unique selves plays when we are engaging with others, leading others, and helping others. And in particular, that’s what we’re focused on today is how can we be helpful, David, why is this topic so relevant for leaders in all ways and right now?

David Shechtman:

My experience with this topic is that mastery comes from the journey of exploring self as instrument in a helping relationship, and the work in that space is what ultimately leads to people being great at what they do. I would say that normally in any kind of environment, but especially today, given what we are facing and dealing with in the current situation, it is absolutely essential at this point to be in full control of how we show up, how we engage others and the support that we’re willing to offer.

Caneel Joyce:

And the self being the instrument is the big flip here. So if you’re feeling like you need more tools, you need to read more, you need more models, frameworks. Today’s really going to take that assumption and flip it on its head. So I think you’re going to look forward to finding out that you yourself are the most important tool in your toolkit. Welcome to the show.

Today we have back on the show, one of your favorite guests. From everything that you’ve shared with me in iTunes reviews and in person, I know that you loved hearing from David Shechtman on episode 10 about the hero’s journey and I’m so excited to have my good friend David back here today on Zoom with me while we’re both sheltered in place at home. For those of you who don’t know, David, David is a Senior Partner at Evolution.

He’s a committed executive coach. He works with CEOs, high potential leaders, successful sales professionals, and really does a lot of work focusing on mastering deep change. And these are the changes that are deeply transformational to the self that throw your head and out of whack and have you really confront the big questions that have kept you in the guardrails by not answering and really blows open a lot of possibility that way.

I’ve really done a lot of work with him. I love working with him. He’s extremely intellectually stimulating guy to me and very, very funny and super smart. So a couple of clients he’s worked with, he’s worked with Slack, Electronic Arts, Coursera, Collective Health. Actually this is not a couple, there’s a lot. DeVita, Virtuoso, Elementary Robotics, Entrepreneurs Organization.

He also acts as an advisor, and besides his background in teaching at USC’s Marshall School of Business and being a presenter at the OD Network Annual Conference, he’s also a TEDx speaker and he has a masters of science in OD from Pepperdine Organizational Development. Finally he is at PPC Certified International Coach Federation Certified Coach. Very excited to have him here today. Hi David, welcome back.

David Shechtman:

Hello Caneel. It is great to be here.

Caneel Joyce:

So good. So we are catching up here on Friday, April 24th is when we’re recording today’s podcast for you. So whatever it is that has happened in the world between April 24th at 2:00 PM Pacific time and now when you are listening, we don’t know what that’s going to be yet.

I like to always preface it because recording anything ahead of time these days in this era of COVID-19, it means that we are disconnected a little bit from the day-to-day unfolding of one of the world’s most unifying crisis.

So I just say that as a bit of an acknowledgement, and listeners, I am hoping that you are well and learning from this all that you can and that you and your loved ones are safe and taking care of each other, however remotely that may be. So today, David, you’re here and you’re going to talk to us about a topic that emerged for us in a conversation as we were chatting around what it’s like to be sheltered in place COVID-19 something called self as instrument.

But before we get into that, I wonder if we could do a check in. And today’s check in I’d love to check in you and me, but also invite you listeners to take this as an opportunity to really listen to this question that I’m going to ask you and take stock for yourself. If you were here with us today, how might you respond to this check-in question?

You can even pause for a moment and give yourself the time to really reflect and answer this question for yourself. It’s nothing too profound, but simply getting present and doing a check in itself can be a pretty profound experience in my experience. So what I’m wondering, David, what’s it been like to be you for say the last six weeks?

David Shechtman:

Okay. So normally Caneel I have a pretty standard answer to that, that I’ve shared with the majority of people in my life, friends and colleagues and even clients. But in this scenario, especially given the topic, I want to go a little bit deeper and give you a stronger insight and take a little risk myself. So I think the best way to explain it is through a story. And it’s actually a story I have to give credit to Sam Harris for, I was listening to a podcast or maybe a teaching episode of his a couple of weeks ago, and it really encapsulated how I feel or how I have felt in the last six weeks.

So the story actually comes from I think 2012, it was about an incident that happened in Iceland. There was a tour bus that went out with I think 50 or so people out to a remote area in the beautiful Icelandic countryside. The tour group pulled over and went on a pretty extensive hike that took them away from the bus for a long period of time, I think most of an afternoon. And during that time, one of the tourists changed clothes. She went into a restroom facility and completely changed her outfit, then went back to the bus and took her seat and they were all prepared and ready to go.

And then a couple of the other tourists on the bus alerted staff and said, “Hey, there’s a woman who is Asian, was wearing dark clothes and she was here with us earlier. I don’t see her, I don’t know where she is and I’m concerned. It seems like the numbers are about right, but we just don’t recognize someone who was here earlier.” And so word went around the bus and everyone expressed concern and some confusion, including the woman who had changed clothes and not recognizing that they were talking about her.

Caneel Joyce:

She was the missing woman.

David Shechtman:

She was the missing woman, but she was determined to find who she thought was the missing woman and not herself. So they organized a search party. They went out retracing all their footsteps where they’d been, looking for evidence, garments, footprints, anything that would reveal her.

Ended up calling the police. They brought in, I think the Icelandic coast guard, did this exhaustive search until about 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning. So they’d been at it for eight hours plus when she suddenly realized, “Oh, that’s me. I’m the one who changed clothes. I’m the one that we’re looking for.” So the reality about how I’ve been in the last six weeks is I’ve been myself and not myself. I’ve been looking for someone that is already here, and I’ve been pretty disoriented much of the time.

Caneel Joyce:

Wow. What a great illustration of how you’ve been. I guess it’s my turn to check in. Thank you David. Thank you.

David Shechtman:

My pleasure.

Caneel Joyce:

Welcome. Honestly, what I can say is I’m just blissful. I’ve just been so blissful. I love this version of my life that I’m getting to have right now. I love spending so much time working my little plot of land here in LA and we’re sprouting some… You can take the tip of a green onion or like the hairy bottom of a regular onion or if something grows, kind of grows green sprouts in your cupboard, like garlic, you can take all that and you can put it in water, in the sun and let it grow bigger and then you can plant it. And so this has been something that my kids and I have been doing.

And it’s these little projects that I have this, I don’t know, pioneer instinct right now I think is pretty widely shared and I know that I’m not going to get much food from this endeavor, and who knows, once it actually goes out into our sandy soil, I don’t know if any of it will live, but it’s this feeling of I can be effective if I just stay here on my land. If I just stay here in my home and I work with what I have. And I’m no longer doing this mental math that had become such a part of my day-to-day existence around, “Is this a smart thing for me to be doing with my time?”

My time is no longer my own in a certain sense because I am… My husband and I are both doing it, but I’m the primary person who’s homeschooling the kids and they’re home. And so it’s not as if I’m making all these big strategic decisions about how to spend my time anymore, it’s more like pick up after the dog, help the kids get their food, help them get through school, and then in the little interim period, my brain is fairly overloaded, but I can do simple little things that feel like this miracle because I’ve just turned a kitchen scrap into an onion.

And the physical exertion of it and just the constant motion is so calming to me. And when I start feeling anxious, which I have felt more anxiety these last few weeks, I think, like most people, but I just start doing little things like that and it feels very much like a home to me. Not my physical home, but in my body, that feels like home to me. So that’s where I am [crosstalk 00:10:51]

David Shechtman:

Thank you. Are you open to some feedback?

Caneel Joyce:

Always.

David Shechtman:

Yeah. I can certainly-

Caneel Joyce:

That’s a lie. Not always. But from you, yes. Right now, yes.

David Shechtman:

Perfect. Perfect. But who am I? Am I the person who changed clothes? Hearing you say that has also touched or it resonates with some things that have touched me as well in the last few weeks too. And that is like what’s real and what’s important. I can’t get the whole scene from the matrix out of my mind, the one where a Morpheus is offering Neo a choice of the red or the blue pill, and thinking that our situation in the last six weeks has been a version of that.

But what’s different is we didn’t choose to take the red pill, we were forced to take the red pill, and so we’re all dealing with a kind of enforced hyper reality of our current circumstances and situation. And I know I am really finding incredible beauty in simple things and just how unbelievably nourishing that is and freeing and liberating too at this [inaudible 00:12:00]

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah. And I feel like a lucky one, and I am wanting to name that. And there’s a little piece of, I don’t know, guilt about that maybe, just acknowledgement that there are definitely those who are struggling more right now than others, and I’m certainly one who’s feeling really fortunate right now.

David Shechtman:

Yeah.

Caneel Joyce:

Does any of this relate to our topic today? So often our check-ins naturally do. I’m wondering.

David Shechtman:

I think so. Self as instrument is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, partially because I have this masochistic attraction to esoteric topics no one else seems to understand very well. And partially because the enforced simplicity of our lives in the last six weeks for a lot of the population has forced us to really look in the mirror and see what’s there.

So a lot of what many of us do on a daily basis is engaged in busy-ness and tasks and running errands and working hard, and just doing and going. And in circumstances like that, it’s pretty easy to not have to look in the mirror or face what’s there or be alone with oneself and thought.

But if you’re like me, a lot of the last six weeks have been filled with many of those opportunities, and some of what I’ve seen or tried to see I plugged, and some of what I’ve seen and come across, I haven’t. And making sense out of that really requires a structured approach personally and professionally [crosstalk 00:13:43]

Caneel Joyce:

Making sense out of all of-

David Shechtman:

Yeah, what I see and [crosstalk 00:13:47]

Caneel Joyce:

Just we see in the world.

David Shechtman:

Yeah. Well, who am I, and what am I doing, and what’s the value I add, and what do I hope to accomplish? All of those. They’re kind of simple but very big questions that a lot of us and I know I am really being forced to confront right now, and my work and your work is about helping people even in that kind of relationship. And now is the time where I’m really looking close and examining what that means. What do I do? What do people need? How do I show up in a way that’s most effective? And that’s really the essence of the self as instrument idea.

Caneel Joyce:

So self as instrument, maybe you can define this for us.

David Shechtman:

Yeah. So I want to say at the outset there are two main labels for this body of work that’s existed over time. The first is use of self, and the second is self as instrument. To me they’re synonymous terms, so you might hear me refer to the same concept using different language, or you might come across literature that would refer to it different ways. But essentially the simplest definition is the conscious use of one’s whole self in a helping relationship for effectiveness.

Caneel Joyce:

Why does this matter to a leader or a manager?

David Shechtman:

That is a great question and there are a bunch of reasons why and dimensions to explore. But certainly at this point, I want to make sure that things are pretty straightforward. The first is that a lot of help that people look to offer is just not very helpful.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah.

David Shechtman:

I mean I’m sure everybody has had that experience of meeting with a therapist, working with a coach, seeing a doctor and walking away feeling like, “I don’t know what that person was doing. I’m not sure what that person was thinking. I’m not sure that person even knew I was in the room, yet they were [inaudible 00:15:54] advice, they were giving me instructions, they were asking me a thousand questions and it totally felt disconnected from what I-

Caneel Joyce:

From me. Yes.

David Shechtman:

So one, people who are in helping relationships, I think have an obligation and a duty to make sure that the help they’re offering is ultimately helpful.

Caneel Joyce:

Would you consider managers and leaders to be those in helping relationships?

David Shechtman:

Well, definitely, definitely. I mean, I think first off, they’re just entire vast industries of people who are directly in helping relationships. We talk about healthcare and equal work in psychology, mental health, other forms of healthcare, coaches. And then I think leaders in organizations, whether it’s direct help or sometimes just indirect help and service for people, play a crucial role in supporting other people in achieving large, big picture corporate objectives or business objectives, and then also helping to support people in developing themselves and advancing in their careers.

Caneel Joyce:

I hear a lot of my clients talking about, I just want to help this person.

David Shechtman:

Yep.

Caneel Joyce:

And sometimes it’s, “I just want to help this person to execute on their role.” And that’s what you do when you’re running out of time, is you try to help someone execute on their role. But then there’s the kind of leadership and management that is longterm development of an individual that is the one that pays off the most by far.

And that kind of help is really, really different, because it’s not trying to help someone get it done or do it for them, or show them how, it is helping them to uncover their own inner resources and resourcefulness and their own creativity and helping them to learn to navigate themselves. In your language I wonder if that kind of a coaching manager, leader, parent, teacher is actually helping others to get in touch with themselves as an instrument.

David Shechtman:

Well, totally, totally. That’s exactly right. And so if I’m going to be in a relationship of helping someone who’s important to me, or even on a personal level or professional level, I have to be a clean instrument in order to do that work, in order to actually be helpful and deliver on that intention. And the reality is that a lot of people in helping roles are not clear and clean in terms of how they show up.

Caneel Joyce:

Okay. So I could be a dirty instrument essentially.

David Shechtman:

Exactly. Exactly.

Caneel Joyce:

And is that if it’s a non-conscious use of myself?

David Shechtman:

That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve packed five back-to-back-to-back-to-back coaching calls in a day. By the fifth call, I’m bringing everything from the first four calls into the experience, and I’m not really listening to what the person’s saying and I’m struggling to remember if the issue is from the person I’m talking two or three calls before or what in the world is going on? That’s not helpful. And I’m not really showing up clean and clear in that state.

Caneel Joyce:

So if the definition of this is the conscious use of one’s whole being, I’d like to ask our listeners, how consciously are you using your beingness, not just doing your role but using your beingness, your whole being, when you execute on your role? Whether that’s at work or at home or out in the world or in your creative life. We can throw ourselves around and throw ourselves into stuff without consciously using our whole being or not using the whole being and leaving some parts out.

David Shechtman:

Exactly. And so what’s really essential that I want to add to the conversation right now is that part of the reason this is such a tricky and challenging concept for a lot of people when doing this sort of exploration, and I can tell more stories later about my own experiences with this, is that it requires the ability or at least the openness to see the seer.

Caneel Joyce:

To see the seer, the one who sees.

David Shechtman:

Yes, exactly. So when I am fully into an experience, it’s hard for me to see how I’m showing up and it’s difficult for me to know what I’m doing and what my choices are compared to what the other options are, literally while I’m in the moment. So this exploration is about taking a step out of being in the moment, operating fully while being plugged in, and then understanding what that is and how I’m showing up and what my choices are and how I could be doing that better or differently down the road.

Caneel Joyce:

This is such a great reason why we do check ins.

David Shechtman:

Yes.

Caneel Joyce:

It’s a practice of this, isn’t it? Taking stock of who am I being right now as I arrive?

David Shechtman:

That’s right. What am I bringing into this experience?

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah.

David Shechtman:

Is there anything from earlier in the day? And now, we’re all dealing with a very challenging and unprecedented time in our lives in world history. I don’t think we can help but bring some of those thoughts, feelings, concerns into the experience. Do we want to do that in a way that is helpful and additive to the experience, or do we want to do it in a way that’s modeled, confusing and disorganized? This is really an essential time to be as conscious and integrated as possible.

Caneel Joyce:

Can you give us some examples of different ways it might look if we were not being conscious, integrated, whole, using ourselves intentionally?

David Shechtman:

Yeah, certainly. I’m happy to share even some recent experiences of doing coaching work with people.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah. That’d be great.

David Shechtman:

I’m going to rewind the tape here to about five weeks ago, and so we’re maybe into the first full week or maybe it was the second week of shelter at home situation that we’re in and the challenges that were going on. And I woke up inspired one day and said that my greatest gift right now to my clients is to just let them process this experience. I want to just like shut down the business talk and let go of the agenda and all the different trappings that I typically bring to my coaching work. And I just want to be there on a human level for people.

So I remember I stepped into the first call and I was feeling almost like the sense of heroism, right? Like, “I’m here, I’m ready to be what you need me to be.” I’m ready to just provide some human support at this point. So I got into my first call and I said, “Hey, let’s get started. I feel very passionate at this point that I’ve got a calling and that I want to bring that calling into our work together.

So let’s take our agenda. Let’s throw that out of the window. I don’t want to worry about the notes from the last call, I don’t want to follow up on action items, I just want to be here for you.” And there was this long pause and my thought at that pause was like, “Wow, I just really struck a nerve.” And I’m like I can’t believe what I’ve just done here. This is like my moment of truth or something.

I’ve just gone to the next level of my coaching work. And after maybe 10 or 12 seconds the client replied like, “Oh, I was actually hoping we could follow up in the action items from the last call [crosstalk 00:23:54] chaos and craziness. I need something stable to hold on to.” I was like, “Oh, oops.” Sounds like I’m putting my agenda ahead of the client’s needs.

Caneel Joyce:

Yes.

David Shechtman:

Sounds like I’m really into being a super hero today for my reasons and not for the client’s. Now none of that was done with any maliciousness or ill will or desire to confuse anybody, but at the same time I was not being very helpful because I didn’t even bother to discover what the client was looking for. I projected my own desires onto their needs.

Caneel Joyce:

I’m thinking about times where as parents, I think my husband and I have both done this trying to “help” a child. “I’m trying to help you.” And here’s this helping monster and the child is just sad and frustrated and terrified and feels judged and is like, “Why are you freaking out on me so much?” “I’m trying to help you.”

David Shechtman:

“Stop helping me.” That’s right. That’s exactly right.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah. Because we do get really attached to this idea we can be helpful. And that’s a very intoxicating idea for many of us. And just to connect this to some of the other content that’s foundational to this podcast. That’s when we’re going into hero mode and we’re trying to avoid our own feelings by fixing and saving and solving and helping. And this is actually a way that we get temporary relief from our own beingness, and we call this being on the drama triangle.

It’s one of the three flavors of being on the drama triangle. We could be in victim mode, we could be in a villain mode or a blaming, or we could be in this hero mode, which is so common. It’s really good to pay attention to that. But I wonder, luckily you had a relationship, you’d established a relationship with your clients where you were able to get that feedback clearly, and it sounds like in a very actually supportive way of you getting back on track with attuning to their needs.

But I’m wondering if you didn’t know them, or let’s say that you are a manager and you’ve got a brand new employee or one who’s shy and doesn’t want to speak up, when would you know that you had gone off track, and was there some moment where now you’re tracing back, you can remember when you started going off track?

David Shechtman:

Yeah. That’s a great question. It’s a tough one to answer with any kind of clarity or definition because if the individual… I guess the point of this is I think it’s incumbent on people who are in leadership or primary helping roles. So it can include coaches and therapists and all of those sorts of folks to ensure that there’s a regular discipline around self inquiry and check ins with other people about the effectiveness of any sort of leadership, managerial or helping work.

Because if I didn’t receive that response from my client, I’m not sure I would have ever known that. And the person might have even scaled back the engagement or let me go or something like that. And short of me directly asking and hoping that they were candid with me, that would be very difficult to know. I would also say the 360s, just as a practical tool are often really great ways of understanding the efficacy of leadership and helpfulness, because they give a myriad of people and array of people a chance to provide structured feedback about the impact of work.

Caneel Joyce:

This is a 360 degree review process you’re talking about?

David Shechtman:

Exactly.

Caneel Joyce:

Where you get feedback and usually from a… A coach would gather that feedback for you or you do it anonymously some way or interviews.

David Shechtman:

Yeah, right.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah, very helpful and challenging to get feedback sometimes when you don’t set it up ahead of time.

David Shechtman:

It is, it is. But the other thing too is like I or anyone else in that sort of role has to be open to that and has to see themselves or see him or herself as the primary instrument of health. And this is also-

Caneel Joyce:

As opposed to what?

David Shechtman:

This is a really key point. I’m glad it came up in the conversation right now because it’s a philosophical notion, but to me, one that is really the most helpful or important to glean from this. And that is in a helping relationship, I believe it is the individual who exists as the primary instrument of the work, not the content, not the exercises, not the materials and not even the process steps. This is a statement to make and I know not everyone agrees with it, but both my personal experience and my study of this topic really do underscore that point. So what I have learned through my two decades of coaching work is that most people are out there looking for an external tool or system to make them a great coach.

Caneel Joyce:

Such as frameworks or trainings. [crosstalk 00:29:28]

David Shechtman:

Exactly. Like buying into a system. There are lots of franchisees, types of models and programs that people can buy into and resell or bring into their process, their personality profile instruments, I think all or most of which are really good and useful and meaningful. There are just coaching tools and resources that almost anybody could find just doing a basic search of questions to ask and processes to deploy. And my experiences have told me that someone can go gain all of that, get a coaching certification, spend time shadowing masters in doing this work, and be a terrible coach.

Now, it doesn’t mean the material’s not good. It doesn’t mean that the mentors and resources aren’t wise or knowledgeable, but it means that the external material is really secondary to the individual. So in my case, I have found that unless I know how to show up, engage in intimacy and connection, push forward in a way that I think is helpful and additive to the client, be open to feedback and evolve and iterate as I go, it doesn’t matter what personality profile I use, it doesn’t matter what question set I deploy and it doesn’t matter how much I charge or don’t charge in my work. It starts with me and everything that’s going to work or not work is going to be because of the choices I make in terms of how to deploy myself as a resource.

Caneel Joyce:

This is probably some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. I think we’ve all had the experience of being model humped. A manager will come at you with like 16 ways to do your OKRs and like, “This is supposed to align us.” And yet they’re not aligned and so we’re not aligned. In parenting you can get really busy trying to apply a bunch of models. I remember even in dating, I read a couple of dating books and I was like, “I’m going to live this out to the letter.”

And I was really into the rules. And then it was Women are from Venus, men are from Mars. We get so attached because we’re scared of what if actually at the end of the day my impact is based on me? there’s no tool at the end of the day that can actually get me away from that fundamental reality. Even in acting, I got really caught up in the specific techniques of method acting and theory and it divorced me from my own, in-the-moment present aliveliness that was the thing that made me a good actress. Ad I killed it. I killed that piece of my expression by getting all attached to the models.

A lot of people reach out to us, David, for mentorship or advice. “How can I be coach? How can I follow after you?” Or, “What advice would you have for me in this turnaround situation I’m working on with my startup?” And it is so much of that grasping for, “What’s the one… can I write down three steps, three things, three books to buy that are going to give me the answers?” Which isn’t to say that there’s not really good guidance in those books, but you can feel it. When you’re being model humped feels really different from when there is a fully present being whose intention is to be attuned with you and is applying their knowledge as a piece of who they are as a whole person.

David Shechtman:

Yes. As you know, I lead a coach training program through evolution, and I’ve done this a handful of times now with some different cohort groups and we inevitably and invariably hit this challenge a few weeks in. So when people sign up and I’m talking about coaching and the ability to be effective and how to do all that, I talk about self as instrument and most people are like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah that sounds good.”

And then we move to the place where they’re going to start actually coaching people, and I give them a list of five questions and say, “Okay here, go coach.” And typically at least half the class sends me these five alarm messages saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing. You’re not teaching me how to coach. You’re not giving me the resources I need to be… I have no idea what I’m doing. This is overwhelming. I can’t believe I’m paying money for this. What in the world is wrong with you? Don’t you know it?”

It takes me to remain grounded in those circumstances and not be too reactive to it. But I normally respond by saying, “Well, do you know how to have a conversation with someone? Do you know how to ask them how they’re doing? Do you know how to ask them what they need help with?” And they get frustrated even by those simplistic questions. And they’ll say, “Yes, yes.” And I say, “Well, guess what? You know how to begin.”

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah.

David Shechtman:

Coaching is two humans talking. Focus on two humans talking and go from there. And then a couple of sessions in, they gain some confidence and start to feel more at ease in the process and have their own voice in the experience and not my voice or someone wrote a book’s voice coming through them, and they know very early on how to do good coaching work and then the materials and the resources and the instruments all rest on top of that platform of individual strength and inaction, and they work. But what they want from the beginning is the formula and the paint by numbers instructions, and that’s completely the cart before the horse.

Caneel Joyce:

Completely. And if you have that too early, then you actually hide behind it and you never get to find out who you are as a coach and it is that uncomfortable space, that uncomfortable empty space that you need to sit in where you really have nothing to rely on aside from, “I’m going to as attuned as I possibly can, and as present as I possibly can and see how I can be helpful.”

David Shechtman:

Yes.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah.

David Shechtman:

That’s exactly right.

Caneel Joyce:

A lot of this thing about emptiness and spaciousness is reminding me of the T-group format.

David Shechtman:

Yes.

Caneel Joyce:

You’ve done a T-group, haven’t you?

David Shechtman:

I have, I have. That was one of my first direct experiences with this concept of self as instrument.

Caneel Joyce:

What is a T-group?

David Shechtman:

A little bit of quick history about the field of organization development. OD was really started by a group of researchers who got out of the lab coats and into an interactive process with a group of people to not only talk about what they were discussing, but to discuss and examine how they were discussing. How are we doing what we’re doing? Double loop learning is the technical term for that. So ever since that first T-group formed in the late ’40s, it’s been a really a defining part and structure in the OD world, and I think it’s maybe less invoked now than it was number of years ago.

But I, I certainly know in a lot of training programs, people end up in T-groups. So I’m going to take you to, I think it was maybe our third session in my grad school program, we got divided into groups of about seven. We had a faculty facilitator and we were then put into these separate rooms to begin our T-group process. And none of us really knew what this was, and there wasn’t much explanation at all given to us. So we all sat down, were arrayed, like around the sofas and loveseats and we’re all sitting there nervous and curious and a little bit of excited, and our faculty member looks around and says welcome, leans forward, I remember this distinctly, claps his hands and says, “Begin.” And we’re all like, “Yeah, begin what?”

Caneel Joyce:

No instructions at this point, you’re just sitting in a room with strangers.

David Shechtman:

Yeah. I mean, I knew these people a little bit, but we certainly didn’t have a lot of deep relationships yet. And so a bunch of us said, “Begin what?” And he’s saying, “Begin.” And it was like just refusing to budge off that position. So fast forward about 15 minutes, a handful of us are like kind of trying to wrangle the process and introduce a format and a structure, and then a couple of other people are resisting that process and pushing back. Fast forward about another hour.

Caneel Joyce:

Sounds like a lot of executive team meetings actually.

David Shechtman:

It gets worse. So fast forward about another hour, hour and a half, certain people including me are screaming, punching a pillow, demonstrating visceral frustration and even anger. Other people are checked out. Somebody went to the bathroom. This lasted for three days. Now, not all those experiences were inconsistent for three days, but this ambiguous unarticulated vacuum of instructions experience lasted for three days.

Caneel Joyce:

I can picture some of our listeners right now who’ve been dedicated, loyal listeners up to this point being like, “This is a bunch of baloney. This is pointless. There’s no material here. How is this useful?” Keep going.

David Shechtman:

So all of that and more. I experienced being in that. So when it gets to the very end, we had this amazing experience or just some of the deepest connections I’d ever made. Intimacy bounded personal learnings everywhere. But of course, everyone wants to know what’s the point of doing that? What’s the value of no clear instruction? What’s the value of massive ambiguity? And the point was who are you when everything around you is stripped away? Who are you when there is no context? Who are you in total ambiguity? And what I was describing were almost like demonic reactions that people had to no clues, to no context, to no direction.

Caneel Joyce:

So angry.

David Shechtman:

Angry, confusing, terrifying, hilarious at times, inspirational in moments. But the point is most of us look to the environment to tell us who to be and what to do and how to show up. And when that’s taken away, it’s overwhelming. But what I would say is that helping a human system has no clear definition. People are not simplistic organisms, they’re multifaceted and multidimensional. So how in the world could I show up with a prescribed method for being helpful?

I need to get into the ambiguity. I need to clay in the unknown, need to go with the flow and experience of what’s in front of me in order to do that. But I cannot effectively do that work unless I’ve essentially looked into the abyss and realized who I am in that emptiness. And so what I have taken away and what’s been helpful for me in this time of challenge and confusion and unprecedented restrictions that we’re all dealing with, are some memories back to the T-group. I don’t know about you, I didn’t get a pamphlet that said here’s how to do coaching work in a pandemic. I don’t know, if anyone have one of those, I’d like to see it, but I don’t know what that is.

Caneel Joyce:

And it really changed day by day. There were patterns, but what was needed was it evolved so quickly, which is why I’ve been doing the practice of naming the date every time we record because I know tomorrow is different. The only thing that we all know is that we don’t understand what’s going on right now. We don’t know what we’re dealing with.

And there were those points of just utter breakdown for me and feeling like is everything that I’ve built, and I was really thinking a lot about this show, was that going to go away? Talk about grasping at straws when homeschool began, you know, it was like “homeschool”, but there was nothing. It was like, here’s some handouts that you had to download, but it was all out of order, and I organized this really complex school day with my kids.

All these post-its, all the different activities and we were doing our morning exercises and there was like Google timer was going off and you should’ve seen it. I mean, you’d laugh at how hard I was making it for myself and everybody else. I was fully committed, like I’m going to… But then by the end of that day, I was, I hate to admit it, I was a monster.

I was so frustrated with my kids not letting me teach them. “Let me help you.” And now, we’ve all learned, but what I found out is the less I do, the better it works. And my son gets up and he goes to his computer and he gets through his work and the less I mess with him, the better he does with that. And it’s like having him find his self as an instrument here instead of sitting there waiting for me to be the teacher, which was what was happening then.

David Shechtman:

I want to chime in here on that story because one, it sounds like a story. Well, I know it’s a story that has played out in our family and in some similar ways with this radical new format to life and trying to push forward with a way to do it, realize that it hasn’t worked and then to pivot from there. But even if we move out of the context of today, it’s an experience that people have all the time when they’re trying to accomplish something meaningful. Is it showing up a certain way and then getting a set of results?

And I think what you just modeled in that story was the ability to step back from a situation and observe how you were showing up, what the reaction was from people in the other people involved. And then to really ask yourself, is this helpful? Is this helpful help? Is this the type of work that I want to continue doing? And as maybe straightforward as this process sounds, right now in our conversation, my experience is most people really struggle to engage even that kind of minimal amount of self examination in an experience.

And so what they do is they try harder. So instead of mini monster. it becomes a bigger monster. And when that doesn’t happen then it’s somebody else’s fault or I need to find a new book on how to be a better monster or something similar to that. But the ability to know that like how you show up is playing a critical role in how others are experiencing those efforts, and how they relate to the ultimate results is a gigantic gift to you, gift to others.

Caneel Joyce:

I know that you have a lot more to teach on this subject and we have a lot of leaders who listen to this show who are really committed to conscious leadership and this is such an important piece of it. I know that you can give some concrete details about what you need to be competent in, how to seek that competency, what are the kind of pitfalls? Would you be willing to put some of that material together as a training to offer our listeners, David?

David Shechtman:

Of course, of course. Very happy to do that. I’ve definitely got some materials and some good thinking on that topic and would be happy to make it available.

Caneel Joyce:

And listeners, you can get David’s workbook at caneel.com/podcast where you can find many other free resources as well. But David, before you go, I wonder if you could give some direct advice, some tips for those who want to maximize self as instrument and really come in as a clean instrument in their helping.

David Shechtman:

Absolutely Caneel. Three things really stand out to me and that I’ve been looking to practice over the course of the last six weeks. The first is to reorient to purpose. When the environment is scrambled and we don’t really know what’s up and what’s down and what to do and how to show up, looking within and remembering who I am, what I’m here to do and why it’s important is an incredible grounding experience that I think is helpful all the time, but especially in a moment like this.

I’m spending a lot of time reviewing things I already know because I need to embody them this chaotic time. The second is to be fanatical about self care. I don’t know if everyone out there is like me, but I’ve got quite a plan I’ve developed to do this and a shaky execution track record with it. I am working so hard now to ensure that I’m putting my own oxygen mask on first before helping others, and remembering that I cannot pour from an empty cup.

So I have to have my cup filled first if I’m going to be a resource to anyone else. Journaling, my exercise, my meditation, those really have to be a top priority in this time. And then the third, and this goes back to the story I was telling earlier about engaging with my client and wanting to be a superhero, is I think it’s critical now to prioritize inquiry over advocacy. I need to spend more time asking people what it’s like to be them right now, and what they truly need to be supported rather than assuming it’s one thing or another, or even worse, projecting my own needs and desires onto theirs. So I’m spending a lot of time asking questions and less time giving direct advice.

Caneel Joyce:

That’s great advice, and what’s coming up for me is that I want to do that for myself as well. I want to be in that space of asking myself questions about what I need rather than shooting on myself and giving myself a bunch of advice and judgment of… My morning routine needs to look like how much exercise I should be getting, any host of things I could easily start judging myself on right now. I love that. Thank you David.

David Shechtman:

Absolutely.

Caneel Joyce:

We will include a lot of deeper learning material for you in a workbook that David has provided. Again, that’s at caneel.com/podcast, and that is a free resource for you. So please go and check that out. And this would actually be a really cool workshop to do live one day. So listeners if you’re interested in that, please leave a note for us on iTunes and in a review and we’ll check there and see if you guys want David and I to hop on and do a live training on this. I think we’d really have a lot of fun doing that. David, it’s been so amazing having you here today. Our listeners are going to go to caneel.com/podcast to access the materials that you’re offering. Thank you so much. If they want to get in touch with you directly, what’s the best way to do that?

David Shechtman:

Yeah, I think the best way is through email at david@evolution.team.

Caneel Joyce:

Great, and we will post that in the show notes as well at caneel.com/podcast. Listeners, I hope that you have found some appreciation for yourself today in taking some space to show up for something that really wants your momentum, and that is the development and examination of you. And in this crazy time, if you can be confronted with nothing else but who you are at your essence, then you have the most of this time. And David, thank you for teaching us about why that uncomfortability of this time is actually of service to us. Listeners looking forward to hearing from you and we’ll see you next week.

 

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