The Art of Leadership & Riding a Bicycle

(AKA – Helping the Organization Get Where It Needs To Go!)

Let’s demystify the art and practice of leadership. There are many parallels to the aspects of riding a bicycle and leading the team.

First of all, the purpose or usefulness of the bicycle is to get from point A to point B. Clearly, leadership is focused on forward movement toward a vision of a future desired state.

The bicycle has a framework or structure that allows it to transfer energy to serve a positive purpose. Leadership, truly is about energy management and how to focus the individual and collective energy on meaningful goals of the organization.

The bicycle below has been labeled to indicate the essential elements of the practice of effective leadership, so let’s see how they create a meaningful, metaphorical framework for understanding leadership.




Starting with the bicycle seat, this is from where leadership operates, steering and empowering the organization.

The structure that holds leaders in their seat is trust. This essential element represents the “currency” of leadership and gives leaders credibility to lead.

The essential (orange) bicycle frame represents the structured communication paths that must exist to connect all parts of the organization. One hand must know what the other is doing.

The handlebars symbolizing strategy are what leaders firmly grasp to provide clear direction to the team. This direction must also be clearly and compellingly communicated to the rest of the organization for the organization to get where it wants to go.

The back tire represents the people of the organization – where traction occurs if it is to occur. The internal structure of the back wheel represents the various applications for direct coaching conversations to connect people and provide valuable information for change. Coaching can (and should) flow Up, Down, and Sideways – in all directions.

The pedals are connected by the chain to the sprocket of the back wheel, and represent the energy transference and action delivery to the system. If the pedals are functioning well (as operated by Leadership), they create accountability which leads directly to empowerment. The mechanism for transfer is the feedback chain. Without that – the organization goes nowhere. If power is effectively transferred through coaching to the people of the organization, then engagement occurs and forward momentum is created.

We see the tire on the front wheel of the bicycle represents our focus on customers. Clearly, setting our Course (Vision, Mission, Core Values, Key objectives, and GRRATE Expectations) must anticipate customer’s needs and serve them well.

So there you have it – the essential pieces of contemporary leadership clearly connected to the structure and functioning of a bicycle.

You Need It All:

There is no part of this bicycle that you could do without. If any of the operating parts were damaged or broken, you see the direct negative impact upon the whole organizational system. All of these pieces are mutually-interdependent upon one another for the proper functioning. With a well-oiled machine, and effective leadership with their you-know-what in the saddle, the organization moves forward toward desired strategic objectives.

It is obvious that the key role that coaching plays in the practice of leadership. We are fond of saying that “If you can’t coach, you can’t lead.” They are inextricably connected in philosophy and practice.


So, let’s use this diagnostically to see what the implications are for organizational functioning and performance.

  1. If Leadership is ineffective, nothing much happens. The stronger and more effective the leaders become, the “ride” for the organization is enhanced…more speed, safety, service to customers, etc. Everything gets better.
  2. If Strategy is unclear or unexciting, and no one is able or willing to follow it, game over. The organization will flounder and certainly NOT end up getting where it might have.
  3. If Communications (in general) are untimely, inaccurate, or muddled, the framework breaks down and chaos ensues. Good structured, high integrity communications keeps everything flowing.
  4. If the front wheel representing Course (and all of its elements) is not focused on Customers and integrated and coherent, again, chaos occurs. You might end up in a ditch.
  5. Without effective Coaching and feedback between colleagues who work together, people and teams are severely inhibited in their ability to make good decisions, and course-correct as necessary. Problems take longer to solve too.
  6. As the chain suggests, without leaders being able to “transfer” energy, accountability, and empowerment to others, through the mechanism of Feedback, the bike goes nowhere.

PS – and oh by the way…when we learn to ride a bicycle, we never forget. Effective leadership practice, once learned, gets into your bones. Happy peddling!

The Engagement Cycle

Create the cultural conditions for engagement with The Engagement Cycle

Leaders today know that employee engagement is the key to high performance, so let’s look below the surface and see what’s really involved in creating an engaged workforce. One definition of engagement includes both the aspects of emotional involvement and commitment. You will want to keep those two aspects in mind as you continue to read my comments on this critical subject and understand why “heart” matters so much when it comes to engagement.

How Disengaged Are We as a Culture?
Study after study indicate that employees are dramatically disengaged. Published statistics show that somewhere between 50% and 80% of the current American workforce is just going through the motions of completing their work tasks. It is only by understanding the root causes of disengagement that we can begin to take action to create stronger engagement.

Disengagement causes, at best, a toxic and, at worst, a dangerous work environment. This toxic environment is riddled with fear: fear of losing something, fear of standing out, fear of losing reputation, and fear of making a mistake. Quite rationally, people do things to protect themselves from what they fear. Usually that is to pull back and disappear into the woodwork, not making waves and keeping their heads down.

How Did We Become So Disengaged?
Sure, there are external conditions and pressures that affect an organization’s culture, but in the end it is the way the leadership of an organization responds to these pressures that shapes an organizational culture by modeling the behaviors that employees will mimic.

Organizational wisdom instructs us that leadership sets the tone, pace, and expectations for the organization. So, it’s imperative to look first at the role that leaders are playing, consciously or unconsciously, in creating the internal conditions that lead to employee disengagement.

After reviewing the current literature on the subject of engagement, including various proposals for strategies and actions to promote engagement, what I still see missing is an exploration of the role of heart.

Why Does Heart Matter So Much When it Comes to Engagement?
Engagement is the individual and personal experience of feeling connected to another individual, team, or organization. Equally important is connection to whatever it is that the relationship exists to serve. In traditional business terminology, that could be a shared mission, goal, or objective.

People have four basic needs that must be met in order to create the cultural conditions where they are motivated and willing to engage, stay engaged or re-engage.

  1. ConnectionPeople have a need to connect with other people. We are social animals and our need for affiliation is primal. Employees want and need to feel connected to, and to trust, their colleagues, especially their direct supervisor.
  2. Expectations. Without clear and understandable expectations (vision, mission, strategy, key objectives, and core values), and a personal understanding of their individual role in creating success, employees are confused. When confused, they tend to flee or freeze rather than take action, and behave tentatively in everything they say or do. Clarity around expectations is a pre-requisite for inspired, positive action.

How do we get clarity around expectations? By answering these basic questions:

  • Who are we as an organization?
  • Who are we here to serve?
  • What products and services do we supply our clients?
  • How do our products and services impact our clients’ lives?
  • How do we best serve our customers?
  • What is my role in providing these products or services?

The thoughtful answers to these questions, when understood at a deep and personal level, create the context for positive feelings toward colleagues, teams, and organizations.

  1. Feedback and Coaching. For people to learn, grow, and optimize contribution, they need feedback: what’s working, what’s not and suggestions for change. Almost all coaching conversations address the dynamics of change. Consequently, a great coaching conversation must include discussion of what performance elements (beliefs, behaviors, or actions) need to be added, which need to reduced or eliminated, and which need to be sustained and continued. Including an appreciative inquiry approach to the coaching conversations is critical as well, in order for the Coach to discover what has worked successfully in the past for the individual being coached, and to explore how to expand those techniques to produce even more positive outcomes.
  2. Support. For people to take personal risks they need emotional support. i.e., they have to feel like someone has their back. Providing the necessary support requires the Coach to deliver an individually-tailored cluster of behaviors that can only be identified through a coaching conversation. Once that support is in place and felt by those taking individual and collective risks, trust, collaboration, and accountability are all bolstered.

The Engagement CycleTM  
All the concepts discussed so far are depicted in the following diagram of The Engagement CycleTM — the series of steps through which an organization can enhance engagement. Starting at the top of the cycle we presume that “I” want to engage with “You” to create an outcome of “inspired, passionate performance”. The “I” represents the supervisor, manager, or leader acting as coach and the “you” represents the colleague/coachee in the conversation.


The first thing “I” must do is to be present to in order to connect with “You” at an emotional level. That simply means that you and I need to feel positive rapport toward one another, a sense of connectedness, and some significant amount of trust and respect, and this is normally the outcome of a well-executed coaching conversation.

Rotating to the right around the cycle, we create connection when “I” bring my compassion and humility to our interactions – and “I” take care not to judge “You”. If I am understanding and accepting of you and your challenges, you will feel seen, heard, and respected. My tone and demeanor are critical.

This leads to the next step during which “I” demonstrate my compassion and respect for “You” by listening patiently. As you begin to feel seen and heard, you begin to develop trust and openness in our interactions because you feel safe. You experience me as accepting and compassionate.

With your newfound openness, you find your inspiration to express creatively your ideas, engagement, and passion for our work together. Our relationship has been transformed so that your work is then transformed.

So, it is a deeply interpersonal cycle – one that must be initiated and sustained by leaders of the organization.

Now it is time to ask yourself how many of these steps are you using effectively, and how engaged your leadership team is with one another and the teams they have the privilege of leading. It all starts at the top.

How Crane Consulting Works With The Engagement CycleTM
Crane Consulting teaches The Engagement CycleTM and all its requisite skills in our Transformational Coaching workshops. While employees may be intellectually stimulated with ideas, challenges and opportunities, their human connection between people must be strong or people will eventually disengage. Without rapport, feedback is just noise. Once these skills are learned, the process becomes sustainable so that transparency, safety, and sincere gratitude become incorporated in the very human experience of participating in modern-day organizations.

Culture is not HOW WE DO THINGS!!!

How many times have you heard the phrase “Culture is how we do things around here.”? It seems to me that this catchphrase has evolved to provide us an easy way to think about culture. I invite you to think more deeply about the important topic of culture.

How we “do things” actually is more about policies, procedures and protocols that come from organizational structure. Handbooks and procedure manuals provide operational steps and guidance on how we go about getting things done.

Culture is made up of values that are part of our belief system, customs that are often steeped in organizational traditions, and norms that are widely accepted across the organization and have become habits. Culture clearly focuses on the nature of the relationships and the behaviors that people use in their interactions.

So I conclude that culture is not about doing things, it is about how we treat people.

The nature of the relationships that exist in the organizational culture provide the framework for high-performance. When they are characterized as high-trust, high rapport and mutual respect, they create the conditions for high degrees of collaboration and creativity, and lead to high levels of inspired performance.

Today, developing a high-performance culture is in the process of becoming a strategic imperative for organizational leaders. Progressive leaders understand that culture shapes and focuses all of the human energy that is available from all of its human resources. It provides alignment and traction for all strategic objectives. Culture change, when properly understood and modeled by senior leaders, becomes a strategic imperative for the organization. Indeed, a high-performance culture is the leading indicator of organizational performance.

So – the next time you hear the phrase that “Culture is how we do things around here,” you might share a deeper truth that captures what culture is truly about – it’s about treating people in ways that empower and engage them to provide inspired performance – short and simple.

Client Business Case for Coaching Culture

Farm Credit Mid-America
A Business Case for a Coaching Culture
January 2014

Executive Summary:

This business case is constructed to capture the essential journey that one client financial services organization chose to take with the express purpose of strengthening its culture to better support its strategic objectives. It chronologically describes the developmental process that was followed for approximately five years through 2013.

This business case effectively illustrates several aspects of culture change that make it lasting and sustainable:

  1. The executive team championed by the CEO put its full weight behind the initiative to create a coaching culture.
  2. The CEO became a visible, open, and transparent model of what it means to be a coach – and to be coachable.
  3. The executive team selected the process of creating a coaching culture as one of their top five strategic imperatives, thus elevating culture change to its appropriate level.
  4. A cross-functional team representing many levels and roles was selected to be the Coaching Culture Strategy Team to provide suggestions and recommendations on how the process unfolded.

Here is their story…

In 2009, Pelmetta Performance Solutions, Inc., a strategic partner with Crane Consulting, responded to a request from Farm Credit Mid-America to strengthen their coaching skills within the business development division. So, the business development division decided to “pilot” The Heart of Coaching skills process. It achieved very positive results in terms of creating more openness between people to receive and give performance feedback. These results were so encouraging that this division’s leaders recommended the entire company consider delivering these workshops across the business.

Early in 2010, they created their internal business case on why a coaching culture was critical to their ongoing success. This included defining what a coaching culture would be at FCMA and how it would help individuals and teams better meet their performance objectives. The impending retirements of many long-term and successful employees (translation – hard to replace with one or two new team members) and the beginning of a period of planned significant growth, also fueled the need for a culture that could grow talent across the entire organization. Structural issues were also examined to see how spans of control could be reduced to allow for more time for coaching and creating more leadership opportunities for up and coming leaders. Senior leaders studied the Transformational Coaching process crafted by Tom Crane and agreed that this model was the right fit, at the right time for Farm Credit Mid-America.

The executive and senior leaders selected a phased approach to do this work. The proposal described a first phase, to be completed by December, 2010, focused on integrating coaching into all leadership development practices. The second phase focused on sharing coaching skills where good relationships already existed, but could be enhanced. The last phase of this work, targeted for 2012 and 2013, extended into peer to peer coaching relationships, and provide ongoing organizational support for coaching as a way of life at FCMA.

Further, they mapped the coaching culture initiative to align with other elements of the organizational strategy, its mission and vision, and importantly the core values of the organization.

This initial work was begun under former CEO Donald Winters, who retired in 2011. Early in 2011, the new CEO, Bill Johnson, liked what he saw and heard and decided to embrace coaching as a core strategic initiative. Indeed, Farm Credit Mid-America created five strategic objectives which included creating a coaching culture as one of them. In fact, this element foundationally supported the execution of the other four.

As the work unfolded, they deliberately followed the recommended protocols advised by Pelmetta. Those included: having all workshop participants paired with a learning partner, complete a self-assessment, and construct a personal coaching contract designed to change one’s behavior. And most importantly, participants were encouraged to go forward from the workshop and employ the tools taught in the workshop to have positive, constructive coaching conversations with their direct reports, team members, and leaders. Leadership teams began sharing success stories based upon their coaching experiences.

Farm Credit Mid-America worked to integrate coaching skills directly into how the roles and responsibilities were defined. They started with coaching being weighted as a 5% factor in performance reviews, and over the last couple of years FCMA has increased the weighting to a full 10% for all leaders and 5% for all team members.

In April 2013, FCMA conducted its first coaching culture assessment. An amazing 93% of the 1,100 employees participated in the voluntary survey. Here are some of the positive highlights from their assessment process:

  • people were very pleased with the progress of bringing coaching into the culture
  • this was seen as a huge positive change for the organization
  • people are feeling more comfortable giving and receiving feedback
  • the work environment has changed for the better
  • people believed that new heights, not possible before, will be achieved

Here are some of the constructive highlights:

  • people were reluctant to coach peers, perceived as your bosses job
  • coaching was deferred/avoided so as to not create tension
  • some people reported not feeling safe enough yet
  • trusting relationships were needed for coaching to occur
  • some performance issues were still not being addressed
  • some people who achieved remarkable results were perceived to not be coached on other performance issues
  • coaching to one’s boss was not comfortable
  • some felt “team members’ place should be to take orders”
  • some feedback was not accepted nor bosses seeming receptive
  • we need more trust and respect

As this journey has unfolded, it is important to note that Bill Johnson, in his highly visible role as CEO, not only made the decision to stay the course with The Heart of Coaching, but quickly became a powerful role model of coaching and coachability. From the beginning, Bill has made it a practice to share his coaching contract with others as a way to demonstrate his commitment to the learning process. This sends a powerful signal that, yes, even successful people can get better. He walks and talks the message of what it means to be a coach. He shows-up coachable!

During a 2013 leadership conference, Bill opened the session with all organizational leaders by sharing the new vision for coaching at Farm Credit Mid-America:

“Courageously seeking and sharing helpful coaching conversations, unrestricted by reporting relationships, for each other, our Association, and our customers.”

He reiterated how the strategic initiative of creating a coaching culture directly linked to the success of the other four strategic initiatives and the company as a whole.

At this meeting there was particular emphasis on three objectives:

  1. Set GRRATE expectations as a way to make sure people are clear on direction
  2. Become “coachable” as a way to model the way of the coach
  3. Recognize successes of people engaged in the coaching process because this encourages the people’s heart, passion, and commitment for the process

Importantly, at the conclusion of this leadership conference, the Pelmetta facilitator challenged the leaders in attendance on how they would continue to reinforce the development of a coaching culture and how they would continue to consciously tell success stories that continue the wonderful momentum.

Since beginning in 2009, over 1200 people have attended The Heart of Coaching workshops. This includes all leaders across the entire organization. During 2012-13, they conducted 46 workshops to make sure all employees received the coaching toolkit to use in their day-to-day interactions. In 2014, they plan on continuing coaching workshops for all new employees so that a common coaching language and shared skill set can be used in all interactions across the organization.

The Coaching Culture Strategy Team has recommended the following steps to continue this work in 2014:

  1. The results of the Coaching Culture Assessment will continue to be shared in all The Heart of Coaching training sessions
  2. Analysis of all feedback collected was completed by the Coaching Culture Strategy Team and ongoing steps were prioritized, recommended, and approved by the senior leadership team
  3. All leaders will lead Coaching refresher sessions for their own teams, starting with the CEO, which address their unique challenges and aligns coaching with other important leadership tools.
  4. All assigned coaching (learning) partners will be a rotated on a regular basis to keep the learning process alive
  5. All employees will complete their personal coaching contracts. And, they are all posted for the organization to see how they are working on developing their coaching skills.
  6. The performance weighting for coaching competency for leaders will continue to be 10%, and at least 5% for all team members.
  7. All employees across the entire organization are encouraged to become more proactive in soliciting feedback from their colleagues.
  8. Additional coaching resources and tools will be made available through the organizational intranet, including regular advice columns, and blog features provided by Pelmetta, addressing key topics and challenges.


The beat goes on…Farm Credit Mid-America will reprise the Coaching Culture Assessment in late 2014, to measure progress and solicit feedback from all employees on how the culture is growing. Meanwhile, as growth, retirements, and new hires will continue to pose strategic opportunities to create an exceptional customer experience, the importance of a high-performance coaching culture will only increase in value.

The Heart of Coaching Certification Benefits

We are holding an Open Enrollment Certification in August. This is an opportunity for organizational consultants, group facilitators, and executive coaches – all of whom work in organizations of all kinds – to add a powerful toolkit to their personal skills and capabilities. Through the week-long experience, we provide all the consulting and facilitation tools necessary to be able to sell, deliver, and coach one’s client throug h the process of enhancing leader’s and team’s coaching skills. If you are an internal consultant or facilitator, then this process is delivered to your employer.

This is framed today as creating a High Performance Coaching Culture, where the common and driving skill set is one of coaching. For us, we call this process coaching, since it takes place in an organizational context, but it is truly a comprehensive, and systematic communications model.

We have consultants, facilitators and executive coaches around the world who utilize this consultative toolkit with their own clients. The only element required for those certified is to purchase workshop materials from Crane Consulting for the clients with whom you do this powerful work.

The certifications are kept to a small class size, usually under 10, so that lots of conversation and individual attention can occur with the group that is becoming certified. As a certified consultant, you join a large and growing community of facilitators with whom you can stay connected. Among other things, we peeriodically brain storm best practices for finding client opportunities, delivering this process, and then supporting your client implementation through your personal coaching. It adds up to YOU delivering more value.

The full week is in San Diego at the MARINA VILLAGE, from August 19-23, Please see more registration information at:

Event: What Does Collegial Coaching Look and Feel Like in a Coaching Culture?

The San Diego Professional Coaches Alliance (SDPCA) will be hosting Tom Crane on June 10, 2013. His presentation will be focused on how  “Collegial coaching” can  bring value to your coaching business and your clients.

Last year Tom presented information on how “coaching” cultures differ from “coached” cultures, and how Professional Coaches can offer more benefits to their clients if they get  this. This year you will experience a variety of different and unique skills that transfer learning from head “knowledge” to the hands-on “skills and competencies”.

Since strategic execution depends on culture to create organizational success, we have developed a “collegial” coaching toolkit for our clients that give them all that they need to orchestrate successful cultural change. In this presentation, we move directly into specific coaching skill applications that through experiential processes will show attendees HOW these conversations lead to transforming individual and organizational results.

By the end of this Collegial Coaching presentation you will:

  • Better understand collegial coaching and what it looks and feels like when used in conversations.
  • See more clearly see how to personally make use of the coaching tools that we practice.
  • Receive additional ways to increase value to your clients and create larger engagements for yourself and your team.

To find out details of this meeting please visit the San Diego Coaches Alliance website.


Human Practices that Connect Us III

7. Peace/serenity/acceptance. These ideas relate closely to number 4 above. The Christian bible offers the “serenity prayer” as a way to find peace by focusing on the things you might change in your life. How many among us are too often engaged in meddling where we don’t belong or in trying to change other people? In recovery circles that call that “working on the wrong side of the street.” Do you know anyone who got married and believed they could change their spouses? Odds are they are not married today.

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Human Practices that Connect Us II

4. Surrender/acceptance/embracing. Buddhists insightfully describe suffering as seeing how things are and wishing they were different. More time spent in surrendering and accepting things exactly how they are is exactly the path to ending suffering. That does not mean that we stop working for meaningful change. We suffer less along the way, and are better able to embrace fully what is. We end up being more clear-headed in the process.

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Human Practices that Connect Us

During extra-ordinary times like these, stronger than usual stresses and strains pull on us from all directions. It is easy to get caught up in the economic trauma of the day, and potentially lose sight of who we are, and what is truly important to us. These ideas below are a compilation of wisdom coming to us from all corners of this planet. They include spiritual awareness practices, states of mind, levels of thinking, and wellness and life balance practices that have been around for a long time. They represent “practices” – covering both the “beingness” and “doingness” side of our life experiences.

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