Extreme Leadership Aug 17-19, 2012 San Diego, CA

On Leadership, Conversations and Getting Results


One of the most important aspects of leading people is the ability to effectively communicate with them. It is the kingpin attribute that will often determine the outcome of almost any initiative.

In fact, if you cannot communicate well, you really have very little chance of leading anyone to do anything!

Getting Results Through Conversations

Conversations: Actions That Make a Possible Future

So if communication is key to functional and rewarding leadership, then the most important type of communication is the interpersonal communication know as “conversations.”

Underlying principles

  • Conversations are actions and they make possible a future that otherwise would not exist. We coordinate action in language by making offers, promises, requests, as well as declining. All of these moves lead to creation of that which did not exist prior to the conversation.
  • Different kinds of conversations require different moves in language and in body.
  • Conversations have moods in them. Conversations evoke certain states or, you might say, require certain states for them to be effective or optimally effective.
Extreme Leadership Aug 17-19, 2012  San Diego, CA

Steve Farber’s Extreme Leadership Summit

Conversations for Relationship

This is the first conversation you ever have with someone.

“Hello, how are you? Who are you?”

In this conversation you ask questions, are curious: what do they do for a living, are they married, what matters to them, etc. In these conversations you are looking for common ground.

  • Are you in the same tribe or not?
  • Do they feel right?
  • Do you relax around them or not?
  • Do you feel good or wish to move away?

In these conversations. we are collecting TONS of data, absorbing tone and information, and usually judging like crazy.

All the while, we are usually pretending that we are not.

We walk away from these conversations saying things like “I like that person,” or “She is weird,” or whatever fundamental assessment we have already made about the person.

We either want more relatedness or less.

Then, once we are in relationship (or not), we continue to have conversations that deepen or move the relatedness forward. So we then use all the other kinds of conversations to keep the relationship intact, repaired, enriched, etc.


The body is alert and curious, and sitting back and taking in, receptive.

The mood is one of open curiosity, interest and genuineness.


Conversations for Possibility/Outcomes/Dreaming/Design

This is the conversation we had when we are determining whether to work or live together.

We are dreaming:

  • What do you want?
  • What matters to you?
  • What do I want?
  • What matters to me?
  • Can being together produce something we could not produce alone?
  • If we join forces can we create a shared future of which we both want to be part?

This is when we create outcomes and see whether partnership is possible. People do this in dating and business all the time.


The body is alert, wide, listening, relaxed and vision is in the distance.

The mood is one of ambition.


Conversations for Action

This is where people use requests, offers, promises, etc. to coordinate action.

A colleague requested that I give her some information about conversations. I accepted and promise to deliver that. All of a sudden I have a promise to fulfill.

If I fulfill, she and I get one future. If I break my promise, we get another.

I could have declined as well or counter offered. All moves that would lead us to some kind of action observable in the world. (See Leader’s Inventory for information about requests, offers and promises.)


The body is centered, fully present, aligned, and ready for movement, extended.

The mood is ambition and purpose.


Conversations for Evaluation/Completion/Accountability/Apology

This is where we take stock and do the work of maintaining health and workability in relating.

We may evaluate progress, declare satisfaction or dissatisfaction, determine where to take responsibility for ourselves, and we repair when trust is damaged in any way.

Being able to have these conversations effectively is critical to maintaining thriving, healthy, flowing, long-standing relationships both in business and personally.


The body is sitting back, relaxed, unwound and present.

The mood is love/gratitude/humility.


Conversations for Intimacy

These conversations are also part of maintaining relational health, and some may assert that the above set of conversations usually produce intimacy if done skillfully.

However, this conversation is specifically designed for intimacy building and usually happens more in the personal domain rather than in the professional domain.

This said, however, there are conversations for professional intimacy and team building that can happen.

This is usually when people share and the others listen and simply stay fully present, or “get you.” It is when we really sit back in our chair and receive another human being. It is where feelings can surface without losing face and people do not react, they just be.


The body is open, soft and receptive.

The mood is love/acceptance/generosity.



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Jennifer Cohen is Co-founder and Director at Seven Stones Leadership Group
She serves her clients as an Executive Transformational Leadership Coach
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog

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Leaders: 4 Simple Steps and 5 Easy Tips for Real Team Building

Team Building

In this article, we turn a true light on the process of “team building.” This is about team building from the leadership perspective.

Team building gets a lot of lip service in leadership circles. But practical steps sometimes get lost in a maze of details.

4 Steps and 5 Tips

When a team can look at itself honestly, and then regularly reflect on all four of the steps discussed below, they will have the makings of a top-performing team of leaders from every chair.

The simple steps to building and maintaining effective teams are:

  • Creating its Context
  • Engaging Insights and Values
  • Determining Outcomes
  • Aligning Best Practices

1: The Context

Everything Happens in a Context

Organizations have a context in which they exist, operate, and grow typically referred to as corporate or organizational culture. And every organization exists within a larger frame: our shared socio-economic context. The “team” is a context embedded within both of those larger contexts.

“Leaders create and invent the context in which their teams operate. It is one of their primary responsibility.”

This means that most teams exist within a context already created for them. So it is keenly important to understand the EACH team member has to operate effectively in the environment that you create, otherwise it becomes toxic to their productivity.

Team-Building Tip #1:

Support your team to be awake to the contexts within which they are embedded. Offer them the opportunity to shape context. This sets up the individuals of the team as powerful actors in their team culture.

2: Insights & Values

Engaging Team Members Directly

This allows the team to generate their own buy-in, building huge capital for the team and the organization. People like to feel connected to each other and purpose of the team of which they are a part.

If you simply feed values to the team and try to get by in, you will get some compliance and some obedience. But sadly you will not often get the real alignment that drives top performing teams to succeed.

Have team members speak about their values and core organizing principles.

By allowing team members to actually voice their values and have them register int the larger context of the team, this allows the team to do the work of aligning around a cluster of shared values. Remember that each person on the team is actually a real person. They want to help the goals of the team. So use their values as a starting point for their motivation, and grow them toward the values of the collective.

Ask questions such as:

  • What do we care about?
  • What matters?
  • What are our guiding principles?

Team-Building Tip #2:

Give people the opportunity to grapple with their individual values and team values and you get them in the business of culture creation. You will get them leading!

3: The Outcomes

“Where are you going? And what results are you playing for?”

Distinguishing outcomes seems obvious and many leaders and their teams spend the most time working in this domain. But that is like building the second floor of the house before pouring the foundation.

Every effective leader must write down  the expected outcomes for the team and communicate broadly, effectively, and continuously these expectations to the team. This defines the destination for the team. This will also help establish “mile markers” along the way to help gauge progress and relative results.

Team-Building Tip #3:

Establishing context and values first and you can play for big results with the wind at your back!

4: The Practices

“We are what we practice and we are always practicing something.” 

It’s just that so often we are practicing things that will not have us win the game we want to be playing. This is true individually, at the level of team, and at the larger socio-economic level too. After we established where we are going, we need to establish and document the practices and procedures that will get us to our destination.

If we fail to know the effective tools, procedures, and protocols for success, then we will surely fail.

Team-Building Tip #4:

Integrate regular reflection into the team culture using the practice of inquiry:

  • What habits do we have around communication, e.g. email, or other core practices?
  • What assumptions do we have about each other – our competencies, limitations, etc.?
  • What needs to be said to come back into re-alignment?

Anatomy of a Team Breakdown

Here’s a typical example of a team that has a stated goal of winning an award for excellence for their division (outcomes). It is clear that they have to coordinate action impeccably, meet their deadlines, and communicate across multiple departments (practices).

If they are not communicating effectively about breakdowns or not holding each other accountable for promises made (practices), they will be much less likely to perform at a level that will ensure their ability to produce their goal.

“Many teams have identities about how they operate, that are not actually accurate.

They say they are straight talkers, that they value clear communication and honesty (insights/values) and that their organization has a stated commitment to being award winning every year in their field (context).

They may think their context supports their outcomes and their values are aligned with the practices they would need to produce the result. But their theory in use – not communicating clearly and avoiding conflict – will not produce the intended result.

Final Team-Building Tip #5:

We are all leaders, even when we are part of teams.

Anyone can make an intervention in a team, not just the designated team leader. Subtle inquiry and group reflection can be the beginning to turning the tides of context in the direction of desired outcomes.

So what are you doing to insure that you are properly building effective teams? How are you establishing environmental context for your teams? Are you including personal and team insights and values in your mission statements? How are you building a road map with a clear destination and mile markers? And are you applying effective practices and procedures that will yield the expected results? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders


Jennifer Cohen is Co-founder and Director at Seven Stones Leadership Group
She serves her clients as an Executive Transformational Leadership Coach
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog

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Your Influence Inventory: 3 Practical Steps to Influence

Three Practical Steps of Influence

Cultivating influence is a practice all leaders must engage in inside of their organizations, throughout their communities, and within their families.

Though these three steps are simple, but they are not easy!

They require:

  • Specific Attention
  • Dedicated Time
  • Lot’s of Practice

But when you engage in the right processes that build strong foundations with people, you are cementing relationships and taking the needed steps to lay the ultimate cornerstone of success.

And this process is known as building trust. And trust is a big topic!

The Basics of Building Trust

Build Trust by Being Trustworthy

Keep promises you make and when promises are not met, deal with it appropriately. Apologize and repair when trust gets broken.

Do Not Pretend to be Perfect

Minimizing, denying or blaming others for our own failures only creates mistrust, division and suspicion. Instead facing our broken promises head on leaves people wanting to follow you, which sets you apart.

Be Courageous in the Face of Your Mistakes.

Be accountable for not only your good intentions but your impact on others. Everything we do impacts others. Dealing with the effects of our behaviors effectively sets you apart from the pack and creates a space for trust to thrive.

For more in-depth information on trust: Fernando Flores and A H Almas

Develop your Presence

Presence is an alignment of our mental, emotional, and physical selves. It is not about charisma or flash: it is about trust at the nonverbal level. We have all heard that 70% of communication is nonverbal – we automatically read people to see if we can trust them and discern if we are safe with that person, it is our animal instincts.

There are many ways to go about lining up your mental, emotional and physical selves.

Curiosity about where you are off in your alignment is the first step. Then there is the invisible work that people don’t see you to cultivating relationships that will go the extra mile. These supporting practices might include:

  • Meditation practices
  • Bodywork
  • Therapies
  • Coaching

Everyone Matters

If you truly wish to have influence you must treat each being with equal respect, presence, and care. Build your network understanding that our influence connects to others influence and the cultivation of relationships with others of influence.

It is more of the value and a way of being with people when you are with them.

Any time people feel that they are seen, valued, important and treated with real dignity, they respond by coming closer in relationship.

A word of caution though: It must be authentic and not simply a tactic.

Your Influence Inventory

Take this Influence Inventory to reflect on your current capacity to influence others:

  • Are you trustworthy? Ask your colleagues and friends to confirm your self-assessment.
  • Do you easily trust others? Why or why not?
  • What do you gain by trusting or not trusting?
  • How do you work with your mistakes?
  • How do you work with others’ mistakes?
  • Are you able to turn a breakdown into a breakthrough?
  • What regular practices do you keep to hone your presence, develop your inner “pause” button, and nurture a strong ability to listen?
  • What practices do you do when you feel “off” to get back “on?”
  • Is there a gap in your practices that you’d like to fill? Pick a practice and try it out!
  • How diverse is your network?
  • Do you put personalities above shared purpose? Try making connections with people you don’t necessarily like, but know would help develop your reach.
  • Are there things you know you need to clean up around any broken promises or mistakes? (Remember: There is no time like the present!)

Enjoy the journey to developing yourself and your network of people.

They are, after all, the heart of any influence you have to offer.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Jennifer Cohen

Jennifer Cohen is Co-founder and Director at Seven Stones Leadership Group
She serves her clients as an Executive Transformational Leadership Coach
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog

Edited by Jaclyn Schulte

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Leaders Telling the News: Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene coverage

How would I tell the story about Hurricane Irene if I were a reporter and standing in exquisite sufficiency?

In our consumer culture, news is crafted to sell and entertain as much as it is to inform. While listening to the hurricane reports I heard:

  • Reeling
  • Devastated
  • Washed away
  • Damaged
  • “It’s not worsening but it’s not getting better.

Hurricane Irene: Media’s Point-of-View

Other Points-of-View

Language is power

There is what happened, that a hurricane swept over the Northeast and caused measurable damage and affected many people.

And there is how we talk about it that creates our relationship to what happened. (To learn more about the power of language click here.) The effect the words above have on my body, my mood, and my relationship to life itself are feelings of overwhelm, loss and weakness.

A Friend’s Point-of-View

In contrast, I heard a version of the story from a friend in Vermont, one of the areas that was deeply affected by the storm.

  • She talked about losing beloved covered bridges and about flooded buildings that were ruined by the rising waters.
  • She also spoke about the gatherings of people coming to help; the free food being distributed; the communities coming together for support; and unwitting vacationers-turned-volunteers  working to help the community.
  • She reflected on an overall mood that left her feeling okay.

I would say she was  standing in the sufficiency – the “what is”-ness – of a situation labeled a “tragedy” by outside onlookers.

Our Internal-Point-of-View

There is way to speak about a story – to ourselves and to others – that allows us to hold the tragedy inside of the sufficiency that is actually present in how people respond to life’s challenges.

Life is full of storms and we have a choice about how we want to be in them. The manner in which we face those challenges will offer the opportunity for us to develop resilience and faith or for us to harden and turn our hearts to stone. This is true both personally and collectively.

Telling the Story

How the story is told matters

The language used to describe events around the globe for anyone not directly affected will either cultivate our faith and resilience or perpetuate our belief that the challenging events of life are catastrophic and we have no power in the face of them.

As listeners, we can bring this awareness and ask: What would be possible – personally, interpersonally and collectively – if we stood in sufficiency when listening to the news?

Having heard both sides of the story, I can see and hold the exquisite sufficiency present in the face of what appears like tremendous scarcity.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Jennifer Cohen is Co-founder and Director at Seven Stones Leadership Group
She serves her clients as an Executive Transformational Leadership Coach
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog

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How to Balance Work and Life

Work Life Balance

Does work/life balance exist?

I was interviewed about a week ago about  being a working mother and  received the infamous question about work life balance:

How do you juggle it all and have some sense of balance?

I soooo wanted to tell women what we all want to hear.

It is that:

I have found a formula for having it ‘all!’ It is that there IS such a thing called “work life balance.”

But alas… that is not the real answer…

Telling the Truth

Tight Rope WalkerTo be truthful, I have no idea what “having it all” actually means. Nor do I know by what means this “allness” is judged and determined.

From experience, I know that no one gets to have it all. Certainly no one gets to have it all at once.

I am reminded of a PBS show about a woman who walks a tight rope. She said there is no such thing as balance; there is only being present to shifting weight, adjusting for the imbalance that is always present.


Investigation into Balance

Though I do not have a panacea for the working-parent juggling act, I have developed a way of thinking about that side-to-side shifting action.

Consider these insights:

1. Keep Adjusting

Growing a business and a family is a dance, as well as an invention. There is no destination just a long road (hopefully) filled with micro adjustments and sometimes larger ones in the structural domain.

2. Think Long-Term

This allows me to have it all, over a long time horizon. Many successful women with families have passed down the wisdom that we can have it all, just not all at once. Thinking long-term allows for the space for this to wisdom to manifest.

For example, in my twenties and thirties, I spent a huge amount of time nurturing my friendships, cultivating deep abiding connections and building a personal community. Now raising a young child and building my company, Seven Stones Leadership, I am spending less time nurturing those friendship connections than I ever have.

With the lens of long-term, I look at the whole of my life and see that I have had times of building connections with friends and now I spend my time and resources building my family and my business community.

3. Let Go, Over and Over Again

There is what I think I can do, and then there is what I can actually do, the ‘what is,’ or reality, of the situation. Simple as that. My ideas about what works for me, my family, and my work do not often match with what actually works.

In those moments, I dig deep into my practices to walk the talk I teach, the truth of exquisite sufficiency – being enough already.

I let go of my expectations and assumptions, my resistance to reality. I keep declaring that what I have done that day or that week or that quarter is enough, not only because I say so and because everyone is actually ok, thriving even, but because this act of declaration aligns me with reality.

Ultimately this alignment opens up space and generates flow and what we might call balance.

4. More is Not Better

Lynne Twist calls the cultural credo, “More is Better,” a toxic myth of scarcity.

The wanting to have-it-all is often sourced from this myth and is considered by many of us as the pinnacle of self-realization, of having arrived somewhere, finally. Having it all from the perspective of exquisite sufficiency – the inquiry into enoughness – is the booby prize.

We have a client at the top of his game, crescendo of his industry. With all his wealth, fame and success, he is not satisfied, not happy he says. So, once you get it all, what do you do with it? Does it nourish you, support you, feed your self-worth or your self-loathing? When we pause for a moment, we begin to see that the very question of having it all is sourced from a conversation of scarcity.

5. Live Inside New Questions

Have questions that feed your soul and are truly sustainable.

Try these:

  • What is enough for me, my business, my family, my soul?
  • Where does my wanting stem from?
  • If it is scarcity, can I ask myself what I might want if I knew I were enough and that I had enough right now?
  • How do I define balance? How would I know I had it? How do I know when I don’t?
  • How can I create a support system wide and deep enough in which I can nurture all aspects of myself and experience all I want to experience?
  • If I stopped trying so hard to create balance in my life, what would be present and possible for me?

Set an Intention:

Today I am going to give up balance and go for creating what works for me in every moment.


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Jennifer Cohen is Co-founder and Director at Seven Stones Leadership Group
She can be reached at jen@meaningfulleadership.com
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