Sandi Stewart, an executive coach and consultant, moved to Forest Hills with her husband Michael Abrams in 2012. She’s been lending her expertise to Van Ness Main Street as a member of its board for the past few years. Stewart is also an instructor with American University’s executive coaching professional program.
In her time as an executive coach, she has worked with the leaders of many organizations, guiding them through times of change. She wanted to share her experiences and insights from more than 20 years of coaching hundreds of leaders and teams. So, around two years ago, Stewart started writing a book.
The result, Building the Core Competencies of Change: A Guide to Coaching In Organizations, was published in November.
“Change can be imposed on us or it can be proactively created by us, and in most cases it is not easy to confront and sustain,” Stewart told us. Yet, “[a]cross hundreds of clients in private, public and nonprofit organizations, I have seen the kind of changes people have made in both their personal and professional lives that have made huge shifts for them as well as their organizations.”
(The following Q&A with Sandi Stewart has been lightly edited for clarity.)
FHC: Could you give an example of how you as a coach catalyzed change in an organization?
Stewart: When you coach a single leader it can an exponential impact on a whole organization. For example, I have coached many leaders to reconnect with their purpose from acting as a director of tasks and solver of problems to a leader who sees their purpose as empowering and growing the people who do and solve. As a result the organization takes on a greater growth mindset that can innovate not just from the CEO chair but from all parts of the organization. The leader can then be freed up to have more energy to drive strategy and values for the organization.
It seems very timely since we have all had to deal with the abrupt changes that have come with the pandemic. Even though you coach organizations for change, we all have to change as individuals, members of families, and organizations. So why is change so difficult for us?
Change is hard regardless of whether you choose to change or it is forced upon you. It can create feelings of excitement and forward momentum but along with that is often some level of anxiety or fear. Often that fear can be from four areas: Concerns of competence (“I have never done this before and so will I be any good?”); or control (“How will a change in my lifestyle as a result of covid or economic changes impact my ability to do what I want to do?”); or security (“Do I feel less safe as a result of this change?); or belonging (“Will this change the web of relationships around me that I have come to depend upon and cherish?”).
I speak to this in my explanation of coaching in this video:
What lessons have you learned in coaching organizations that have helped you in your personal life?
Coaching itself has taught me so much and honestly continues to teach me. As a coach I learned how each individual has a different perspective and mindset that comes from their unique experiences. This has taught me that my definition or assumption I make about a situation, or even a word such as “fear,” or an expressed value such as “family,” will have a different meaning for someone else. So when we speak to each other we must keep an open mind, and hold our own assumptions loosely, if we want to understand someone else. I have learned to look beyond the words and to be curious about the person who is speaking them. I listen not just for what someone is saying and why it matters to me, but also for who the person is behind the words – what values are they expressing? What emotions are behind the way they speak?
What competencies do we as individuals need to nourish in order to utilize change for the positive instead of wasting our energy in preventing change?
These are the “Core Competencies of Change” that I discuss in my book and that we can all work on nourishing.
- The Curious Mind – the ability to challenge assumptions and the status quo and ask powerful questions
- The Optimistic Mind – the ability to think in terms of possibility and overcome hopelessness
- The Self-Aware Mind – the ability to explore and understand the self to better manage one’s choices and impact on others
- The Other-Aware Mind – the ability to understand others
- The Values-Driven Spirit – the ability to align with purpose consistent with one’s values
- The Open Mind – the ability to adapt new information and ideas
The ability to make change depends on mindset – that it be open, curious and optimistic – and awareness – of yourself and of others, your operating style, and connection to the values, or what is important about the change to you.
How as parents can we promote those core competencies in our children?
The best way to nourish these in our children is to demonstrate them ourselves. Another way is to not jump to providing answers or directives to our kids, but rather building their muscles of decision-making. Ask what they think about a decision they want to make, help them to build multiple options, and then explore those options with them. When emotions arise, accept them and help your child put a name to their emotions rather than labeling them yourself and/or suppressing them.
Think about the mindset you approach your children with. Do you enter into conversations thinking of them as resourceful or do you think of them as less competent? What would happen if you approached conversations believing that they have the power to come to a good solution for themselves? What if you don’t insist they adopt the assumptions you carry about how they should act or decide about their lives? This is hard work. I know it myself as a mom, and as my children have grown into young adults I have had to learn and re-learn how to be a parent to them. Talk about change!
Learn more about Sandi Stewart and Building the Core Competencies of Change at sandralstewart.com.