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Making Great Leaders: A Q&A with Christopher Avery

Christopher Avery is a keynote speaker at this year’s Path to Agility 2017 conference. He is an author, a speaker, and a CEO of Partnerwerks, Inc. Christopher is dedicated to helping people become great leaders. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing him and this is what he said:

You will be speaking at this year’s Path to Agility conference. What do you hope people will take away from your talk?

That they already have the power to overcome any problem or challenge, no matter how daunting it seems.

Who should come hear you speak?

Only people who want to take ownership of their life, to stop coping with problems and start growing.

What is The Responsibility Process?

The Responsibility Process® is a simple pattern in our mind that helps us process thoughts about taking and avoiding responsibility for our lives, actions, and situations (see attached jpg). As you learn about The Responsibility Process and how it works, you realize that we are each far more powerful and able than we usually give ourselves credit for.

How’d you come up with the idea of The Responsibility Process? 

It is not my original idea. The Responsibility Process® was derived from phenomenological research over many years. I was introduced to the research by one of the team members many years ago. I already had advanced degrees in social science so I had studied lots of models of normal psychology. This was the most powerful model I had seen. So, knowing that I was a speaker, he challenged me to never again speak to a group without teaching them about responsibility. I’ve been true to that pledge. That’s why my name is associated with The Responsibility Process.

You’ve written some books. What are they and what can you tell us about them? My latest title is The Responsibility Process: Unlocking Your Natural Ability to Live and Lead with Power. It offers three potent tools you can use to bring more freedom, power, and choice to your life. Some lucky attendees will get a copy of this book at the conference and I’ll be pleased to sign it if asked. My first book, Teamwork Is An Individual Skill: Getting your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility, is now a classic. It introduced industry-leading principles and practices for shared leadership and shared responsibility. FORTUNE magazine called it the only book on teamwork that you need to read.

How have you seen people take what you’ve taught and apply it to their lives?

I’m blessed to be associated with such great material. I’ve had the good fortune to witness hundreds of people take charge of their lives and produce such joy and freedom for themselves and others. Just today an agile coach who trained with me last month in Toronto told me how liberating it was when he noticed that he was in Quit (one of the mental positions of false responsibility) around a significant and longstanding problem in his life. He said the number of options that opened up for him was exciting. I often hear from very talented and outwardly successful professionals telling me that before learning The Responsibility Process they did not know that there was life beyond Obligation. And now they find tremendous joy in their work, and they shape their work to produce greater value for others and bring more joy to themselves. There are COHAA board members who have such stories. And thousands of teams around the globe practice ownership and freedom at high levels because they adopt The Responsibility Process as a shared language for sense-making.

How’d you become interested in leadership? 

I learned early in my career that leadership and management were not the same. You can be a leader without managing. And you can manage without leading. So I became interested in lower case “l” leadership. Leadership as a behavior. And what I learned was that leadership is a natural side-effect of being in motion toward a goal or purpose that is larger than you. When you embody a larger vision and purpose, one that you need help to achieve, then a part of your character turns into a leader — a natural leader. Not a title or an assignment, but a role dynamic. Everyone has this capability. It is innate. So, if I can help you identify what you care deeply about, and pursue it, then there is a good chance you will demonstrate leadership.

What is something that can hinder people from being good leaders? How can they overcome it?

You know, we all have dark sides or shadow sides of us, as well as light sides–bravado, arrogance, envy, scarcity-thinking, invalidating others, etc. I recommend that we learn to know and love those dark sides as well as the light sides. Use The Responsibility Process to face and overcome the dark sides. When we do this we can focus more and more on creating value and abundant opportunity for ourselves and others to step into.

Where can we go to find out more about what you do?

The most important website is Beyond that, I recommend searching on my name (Christopher Avery) and “responsibility”.

What else can you tell us?

Your life can be very different in three months, when you actively practice The Responsibility Process. Also, you may be able to attend a workshop with me in Columbus in the near future. Stay tuned.


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Building Great Teams: A Q&A with Richard Kasperowski

Richard Kasperowski is the guest speaker at our next COHAA event (2/23). He is an author, speaker, trainer and coach, and he teaches a class on Agile at Harvard. I interviewed him over e-mail this week, and this is what he said:

You are the guest speaker at out next COHAA evening event, what are some things you will be sharing?

Hi, Joe! I’ll be talking about high-performance innovative work teams and how to get your team there on purpose. I’ll start by introducing the science and research behind high-performance teams. The research includes Google’s work with psychological safety, as well as other important work on team emotional intelligence. From there, we’ll do practical hands-on activities to learn some of the Core Protocols. We’ll practice a few of the behavior patterns that high-performance teams use. We’ll experience how they get your team into a state of high emotional intelligence and psychological safety, which causes high performance.

Who should come to this event?

Everyone should come to this event. Everyone is a member of a team of some kind—any group of two or more people with a shared goal is a team. It might be you and your partner, or you and your family, or you and the people you work with. Every group of people deserves to know how to be their best, and that’s what we’ll talk about.

What do you hope people will take away from this event?

I want people to appreciate the science and research on high-performance teams and know that it’s all about safety and emotional intelligence. And I want them to get a taste of the practical skills for getting to high performance quickly and on purpose.

How do you know if you have a low-performance team?

Well, we usually know in our gut when we’re on a low-performing team. It doesn’t feel good. The people on the team act like they’re not friends, they act in ways that are at odds with each other and their stated goal.

And they’ll have measurably low performance. When we work with teams in industry, we measure their performance. The best team performance metrics are objective, and they measure outcomes like revenue. If you have objective metrics, it’s easy for a team to gauge their performance. They can use that information to guide whatever changes they want to make for themselves.

Where have you seen low-performance teams transformed by applying your principles?

We’ve begun an original research program to test whether these principles are effective. Steven Wolff and I are collaborating on the research. Steve is co-author of the Harvard Business Review article on team emotional intelligence. In one of our studies, we track a group of teams over a six-month period. The teams and their leaders undergo training and coaching in agility and emotional intelligence. We observed significant improvements over the duration of the study—improvements in team emotional intelligence, agile fluency, and performance. It’s quite remarkable!

How long have you been in the industry and what positions have you held over the course of your career?

I’ve been working with innovative technology companies for almost 30 years. The companies range from tiny start-ups to some of the largest companies in the world. I’ve played pretty much every technical role as well as in various leadership roles. These days, I work primarily as a speaker, trainer, and coach, and I teach Agile at Harvard University’s summer and extension programs.

What’s an experience you had with a low-performance team? What have been some of you best team experiences? What made it good?

I typically work with lower performing teams that want to improve. The teams and their leaders are willing to study and practice ideas like the Core Protocols and Agile. It’s great to watch them transform from low performers to high performers. When they’re in that state of high performance, they can get anything done. They love each other, they love their work, they love their customers, and their customers love them. It’s awesome!

You have a book out titled The Core Protocols: A Guide to Greatness, tell us about it.

The book is a concise introduction to the Core Protocols. The Core Protocols are the work of Jim and Michele McCarthy. I’ve combined their material with the instructions for a short workshop that you can use to introduce your team to practical emotional intelligence skills that you need for high performance.

What led you to write this book?

I wanted a book that I could hand to a friend or a client. I wanted something you can keep in your back pocket as a reference on the Core Protocols, the behavior patterns for high-performance teams. It didn’t exist, so I created it. And I have another book in the works. Now that we have research results and a couple of years of practical experience guiding teams through these practices, we’ll be sharing that in an upcoming book.

What else would you like to say about your upcoming event?

I’m grateful to the folks at Central Ohio Agile for inviting me to visit this week. I’m excited to make some new friends and share with them the best of what we know about high-performance teams. And be on the lookout for a full-day class in Columbus on this material. If you want a high-performance innovative team, you’ll want to be there!

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My First Time at a COHAA Event

Have you been to a COHAA event? I attended my first one a few months ago. Before then, I’d occasionally visit their website, note an interesting upcoming event, and merely imagine going. Then one day, I actually went.

My first mistake was eating beforehand. They had grub there. For the first half hour, people ate and networked. There was a good crowd there, about 30 – 40 people. All were interested in everything Agile, as was I. I didn’t eat, but I met some folks who were eating.  

The presenter of the evening sat nearby, so we chatted a bit. He gave a good talk about the makings of a successful teams. He got those in attendance to share their experiences as well. People were eager to share. I bet almost a dozen people shared their own Agile stories.

After the presentation, I met a few more people. I met some COHAA volunteers, an Agile coach, a QA guy, and a Business Analyst whose team is adopting Agile. People were friendly and readily gave me their names and numbers. I appreciated the contacts, because I need all the help I can get.

I was happy I went. My goals in attending the event were to learn something new, to meet some fellow Agilists, and to take some first steps in getting involved in the Agile community. I believe I met those goals. I left that night excited about COHAA’s next events and opportunities.

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Talking the Talk with Faye

At a recent COHAA event, Faye Thompson talked about speaking at Agile events. In her 20 years of industry experience, she has done several speaking engagements, so it was nice to hear some of her stories. For example, once Faye and our very own Jennifer Bleen drove through a snowstorm to deliver a talk on retrospectives to an enthusiastic audience, who, I suppose, powered through the same nasty weather to attend. The event was a hit, and the discussion so good it ran past its scheduled time.

But back to retrospectives. Hasn’t everything already been said about retrospectives? Well, no, not everyone’s unique experience with them has. Plus, you might be surprised how many people don’t know much about them, or the recipe for how to do them well. That’s the thing. Just because you might be super familiar with a topic doesn’t mean others are. And just because books have been written about something doesn’t mean you can’t speak on it and add value too.

Faye asked us to think of a topic that we might like to speak on some day. Crickets. I must admit. Some topics came to mind, but I rejected them out of hand, thinking, everyone already knows about this. Thankfully, one brave fellow in the room who put up an assumingly tired topic voiced what I was thinking. “What’s that?” I said about his topic. “Yeah, what’s that?” someone else said with equal interest. We’d never heard of it. See?

There are all sorts of speaking styles out there. There’s your traditional presentation, where you speak and the audience listens, with some Q & A at the end. But this isn’t the only way. Rather, you could facilitate an open discussion with the room, get them to do the heavy lifting. Who knows, if you do your job well, they might forget you’re the one presenting and you can slip out for a bite.

You don’t have to always roll with the initial room set-up, either. Faye said she likes to rearrange the chairs sometimes to serve her purposes. You might want to, too, as long as it’s OK with the event coordinator.  

Oh, and this is cool. Have you ever heard of a fishbowl? It’s where you set up four chairs in the center of the room, one chair left empty. Only those in the hot seats can discuss the topic at hand, while everyone else watches. It’s better than Survivor. Anyone can join the discussion, but here’s the catch: to do so, you must sit in the empty chair. When you jump in, someone else jumps out, effectively opening an empty chair for the next brave soul.   

Speaking at local (and non-local) events and conferences is a good way to get your name out there. And the platforms are many. Besides COHAA, there are tons of local user groups in existence. Just check out TechLife Columbus, and if you want, you could “eat pizza every night of the week.” By the way, a good way to pack the house for your speaking engagements is to accumulate a following beforehand by blogging and doing podcasts.

Faye gave us some tips on how to submit a presentation proposal for an event – what to include, what not to include. Tip #14: Make sure your bio pic reflects how you want to be viewed. Some are all business, while others could be straight from last summer’s karaoke night. You decide. 

Faye gave us other tips as well. I’m not there yet, but if you’re ever slated to speak at the end of an all-day event, like the Agile 2017 International Conference, say, take time to enjoy the conference. Don’t coop yourself up in your hotel room all day fretting over the details of your presentation. You might psych yourself out and have to leave on a stretcher. I added that last part.

In fact, I got an email from Agile Alliance the other day calling for speaker submissions for their Agile 2017 International Conference. That might be a little too big league for me right now. However, after hearing Faye speak, I could more easily see myself speaking at a COHAA event in the future. What about you?


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We Have Two COHAA Events this Week and You’re Invited!

Hey, if you’ve ever been interested in speaking at a COHAA event, come Thursday night to learn how. Those who typically speak at events are local Agile practitioners, like you. You don’t have to be an established speaker or anything like that, just willing to share your Agile experiences and expertise. Many professionals in the area could greatly benefit from what you know or have picked up along the way. So, if you’re interested come and learn the ropes. 

If speaking is not your thing, come anyway. COHAA events are always a good opportunity to network with like-minded Agilists and find out what they’re up to. And who knows, maybe at the end of the evening, you’ll decide that, actually, you would like to speak someday. 

Can’t make Thursday night? That’s OK. If you’re more of a morning person, this Friday a.m., COHAA is kicking off the Agile Coaching Circle. This is the first of ongoing monthly meetings where Agile coaches and those interested in Agile coaching can meet and talk about… well, Agile coaching. It’s a great way to hang out with people who do what you do (or want to do) and learn from each other. See you there!