As a leader, you’re constantly faced with change, disruption, and growth. The question is, how do you navigate through that? Glain Roberts-McCabe joins Melanie Parish to share how her company is helping leaders build the skills and behaviors they need to be successful, not just now but down the road through their group coaching approach. Glain and her team at The Roundtable develop coaching programs that involve redefining change and disruption - things that can help build success. Listen in as Glain and Melanie talk about leadership and how coaching groups like The Roundtable can help leaders become better at what they do.
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Becoming Better Leaders Through Group Coaching With Glain Roberts-McCabe
Glain Roberts-McCabe and her team at The Roundtable help ambitious leaders and organizations navigate change, disruption and growth. Together, they build trusted relationships, troubleshoot real problems, accelerate opportunities, and develop the superior coaching skills that are needed to enable successful transformation collectively. She is the author of two books, The Grassroots Leadership Revolution, released in May of 2020 and Did I Really Sign Up for This? She's a guest columnist for the Globe and Mail, Realizing Leadership Magazine, and a former contributor to BizTV Canada. She shares her passion for what she learns through a monthly newsletter, The Roundtable Recap and her weekly #LeadershipTruths. She's a lifelong learner and completing her advanced coaching certificate through Royal Roads University.
In addition to possessing training and certifications with organizations like Team Coach International, Management Research Group, The Coaches Training Institute, The Centre for Right Relationships, and The School of Shadow Coaching. In addition, she also holds a diploma in Creative Advertising and completed Advanced Improv Training through Second City. She's an active volunteer and a mentor with the Institute for Performance and Learning. She lives in Toronto with her incredibly supportive husband and her highly engaging daughter. We're talking about leadership and how coaching and coaching groups or Roundtable groups can help leaders be better at what they do.
Glain, I'm excited to have you on my show.
I am excited to be here.
Tell me a little bit about what you're up to and your work.
I run a company here in Toronto called The Roundtable. We've been around for many years. We have been focused on helping leaders navigate change, disruption, and growth. That can come in many forms. That can come in the form of you've been promoted, you’re now taking on way bigger scope, you're in over your head, what do you do to navigate that change and disruption? It could come in the form of having a new boss or CEO who's going to start taking the company in another direction, or it could come in the form of a merger and acquisition or a global pandemic. Whatever change, disruption, and growth you're facing as a leader, how do we help you navigate through that? How do we help you build the skills and behaviors that you need to be successful, not just now but down the road? We do that through a group coaching approach. Traditionally people like you and I as coaches would meet with people one to one. In our approach, what we do is we work with leaders in smaller groups. Groups of eight, where they're coming together, they’re working on their development, and they spend about a year working on both their behaviors, but also different aspects of leadership and create more of a collective community around leadership.
Why groups of eight?
That's my sweet spot number. When you have eight people in a group, you have enough ideas to resonate. You get that diverse perspective. When we do it with companies or with organizations where we'll have a leader from finance, a leader from IT, a leader from marketing, you're also getting this cross-section of an organization coming together. When you're in a smaller group, you can do smaller peer groups of 4 to 5. That works as well, but the more you start scaling it up, the harder to get all the voices around the table unless you've got a lot of time to spend. Probably you're not going to get the depth and richness. I feel vulnerability is one of the ways that we deepen relationships fast. The bigger the group, the harder it is to get that vulnerability going. That’s why eight is my magic number.
I'm curious about how long people stay in these groups? How long do they work with each other?
When we do programs, they are yearlong. Those groups will for sure be together for that year. Many of them though will continue on the post-core program. We have a number of programs that are all based around this concept of group coaching. Sometimes they leave the core program and then they'll become leaders of smaller groups within their organization. They'll guide leaders at a couple of levels down. They'll start coaching other people within. It depends. We, as an organization and one of the things that make The Roundtable a bit unique, is I call us The Mafia. When you become a member of The Roundtable, when you sign up for one of our programs or when your organization enrolls you in one of our programs, you immediately become part of the family.
In The Roundtable community, we have a platform called The Roundtable Academy where we do monthly webinars. We talk to interesting people. We help you keep sharpen all of the tools that you've learned at The Roundtables, whether that's peer coaching or deepening your understanding of your core values. We also leverage the capability of people in our community. Leadership isn't just about working with a coach or a mentor sitting in a classroom. It's also about demonstrating certain behaviors. If you like to speak or write, or if you want to be part of organizing our annual conference that we run for graduates every year, there are other ways that you can flex your leadership approach to do that. It's almost like an association but we're a corporate company at the same time. It's the best of both worlds at The Roundtable.
As a leader, how are you experimenting?
One of the things that I'm experimenting with, and probably a lot of audience will resonate with this, is leading virtually at a distance. How do I maintain the engagement and connection of my team when we're all physically not able to be together? How do we keep communication high? How do we keep aligned as we work in a new world? I've had some practice at this because when I launched my business, we were fully virtual. A few years ago, we decided to get office space for a variety of reasons.
It does require a shift. As leaders, that’s where the passion for self-insight and understanding yourself, knowing what behaviors you need to dial up in different situations. Personally, I'm having to dial-up my structure a little bit more. I'm a pretty loose person. I'm getting clear with people about my expectations because I can't say it over the desk, “Can you do this for me? Can you do that for me?” What I'm experimenting with I suppose is leading in this new pandemic life that we're all living.
It's hard to get those visual feedback loops as to, “They're working hard at their desk. I haven't seen them all day.” We lose that and then we imagine things. The people I talk to, “Did they do any work at all?” You lose some visual cues on what’s happening.
I think we are all tired. The other thing too that I noticed as a leader in the emotional and intuitive on what's going on with my team. What I've noticed is it's been a real emotional roller coaster for many people. What I've found as a leader, I tend to be a little bit more task-oriented, “What do we have to do? What are we doing about our sales? What are we doing about our numbers? What are we doing about marketing activities?” I have had to be hyper-aware of where emotionally my team members are because everybody's at a different place at a different time. I heard a great expression where somebody said, “We're all in the same storm, but we're in different boats when it comes to this pandemic.” That's the challenge for us as leaders are your people are going to be in a different boat and how do you need to adjust? It can literally change day-to-day. That's the other layer of this.
I had two calls that usually would have been on Zoom, but they both elected to do phone calls. I had a third and I reached out and said, “Can we do phone? I was feeling so good not to be on Zoom for a day. It feels good. It's like that little break helped. It is interesting to think about how we change in any given week or any given time, and then everyone's changing around us as well.
We need to adjust. This Zoom fatigue thing that we're all feeling. It's hard work on Zoom. I was having this conversation and I’m facilitating an executive team and it was on Zoom. There were 34 people, team coaching work that I was doing. At the end of the session, I had another call two hours later with a colleague who's based in Seattle. She said, “I had a session this morning. I'm wiped right out.” I said, “I am too.” Usually, I find group sessions very energizing. I have the opposite because it's my zone and I love doing them. When we are on Zoom, we're having to play to the camera more, especially when we're doing group sessions.
As leaders, you can’t run a team meeting like you would in a normal office environment. How are you using vocal variety to keep people engaged? How are you using your body posture to keep people engaged when they're on a flat screen? To your point, we don't have the same cues. On top of that, our brains are having to work a lot harder to look at all these cues, these messages, and we're trying to see all people. Most of us are in this transition space and we’re trying to figure out what works for us. Like you, I've been trying to do more old-school phone calls. It’s also so that I can get up and walk around. I feel like we're all sitting quite a bit more too as a result. Whereas if you can put your earbuds in and go for a walk and talk. I'm noticing a lot of our clients too are starting to do walking meetings and things like that, where they can change up the scenery and mix it up a bit.
Those are great experiments. I love the idea of walking meetings. That's a good thing to try next. You wrote a book on leadership. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
After doing my Roundtable program for over a decade, you can only reach so many people. I'm fortunate. I work with organizations that they invest in their people and they bring our program in to help their levels of meters excel. What I wanted to do was help more leaders. I wrote a book called The Grassroots Leadership Revolution. My husband and I came up with a title as we were driving through the beautiful valleys from Kelowna down to Salmo, sitting in the car going, “What are they going to call this book?” I said, “It's a revolution. I want people to take control of their leadership careers.” Too often, we outsource where we want to go in life to other people.
In organizations, it’s easy to do that. You show up on day one, and then you expect that the company is going to know what to do with you. If you're miserable, you leave. There's a lot of leaving it to other people. For leaders, in particular, I often ask when I'm speaking at conferences, “How many of you have a leadership plan? How many of you are clear on the leadership legacy you want to leave?” Very few hands go up. I feel like this is such a missed opportunity. I feel leadership is such a privilege. If you are one of the fortunate people who get to be able to lead other people and help them find their best potential, what a great opportunity that is. Part of me was wanting to give people the tools that we use in our program to do this on their own.
The idea behind The Grassroots Leadership Revolution is you've got a roadmap for the core essentials for managing your leadership career. The second layer of this is this idea of doing it with other people. How can you surround yourself with other peers to hold you accountable, to coach you, to support you, to help you get through? I felt it before we hit a global pandemic, it's become amplified. One of the things that have happened to us is that we've gotten transactional when it comes to work. A lot of the things we used to have in place in organizations, whether that's the company picnic, the Christmas party, a lot of the things that we're about building community within organizations have gone by the wayside. When we started putting productivity things in the 1980s, that's accelerated.
What I notice is that a lot of people don't have a community. We don't know each other as people anymore. I might know you because you're the head of IT and I'm the director of marketing. Every once in a while we sit in a meeting together. I tell you what I need from you and you tell me what you need from me, but do I know you? Do I know what's going on in your life? We're so multilayered. Part of what we gain when we're in a community with other people is when we're surrounding ourselves with smart people who care, who are invested in the same things we're invested in, we can't help but level ourselves up.
This is an unbelievable way to keep challenging and pushing ourselves to get to whatever our next best thing is. Success is a measure that everybody has to define for themselves. It's not about title, it’s not about money, it’s not about climbing the ladder but how do you do that for yourself? How do you make the most of the role that you have as a leader to make a big impact? Looks at the roadmap and then also, how do you put a community around you to support you on that path.
I love the distinction that you are in charge of your own leadership path. I often task leaders with making sure they're in dialogue with the people that report to them about a leadership path. I still think that's a great conversation to be having as a leader to take that responsibility in both directions, but to have it for yourself, the idea that you can dream up and that you can share those dreams with the people that you report to, or the CEO. I have a daughter who's a chef, and I always say, “You should be talking to the owner of the company.” They have 250 employees and a series of restaurants and she should be sharing what her dreams are. He should know. He might think, “I've got that one chef who could go and run this restaurant.” We often don't think about how decisions are made based on the dreams of the people below. It's lovely to think about that.
One of the exercises in the book is getting people to think about what are their strengths. I love Gay Hendricks’ book, The Big Leap, where he talks about what's your zone of genius. One of the things that I encourage people to think about is don't think about titles and positions when you're talking about careers. Think about what do you want to do more of? What are the things that you know? You can make an amazing contribution to this company. You may not see a role. You may not see anything like it, but if you are going in and waiting for your boss to figure out what to do with you, the thing with your zone of genius is it's the magical place between what you love to do.
There's a passion there. You love it and you’re good at it, but we all have zones of excellence. We're good at it, but we have zero passion for it. I am awesome at seeing mistakes in PowerPoints. I have a high aesthetic. If your logo has been compromised on a page, I can see that. If you were to tell me, “You should be a great proofreader. You'd be good at that because you're so good at detail,” I literally would probably stick pins in my eyes to prevent me from having that job. There is no way I would want to do that for a living. Yet when I talked earlier about people releasing control of their career path, we do that by not sharing what we want to do more of.
That's the simple language I tell people to use. You don't need to be demanding. You could say, "I've noticed being on this project. One of the things that have come up for me is I'm enjoying having to rally a team together and do that kind of work and lead a team to results. If there's an opportunity to do more of that at a future state, I would love to be considered for that.” It's about saying. I've had teams since I was 24 years old. Every leader has too much on their plate already. All of us have way too much on our plate already. The last thing you need is a direct report coming to you going, “I'm not happy with my job. What should I do?”
I think about shared success. You have a responsibility in your career to be coming up and being a partner with your employer. Your employer has a responsibility to listen. The thing about that is if the employer is not listening and not paying attention, at least you tried your best. If you do decide to leave, you know what you're looking for. You can go to something as opposed to running away from something, which is what a lot of people make the mistake of doing. They're unhappy. I certainly did that in my career. I didn't have the career conversations I want. I’ve been in places that I enjoyed working but I didn't know how to have the conversation. I ended up running away to something else. Fortunately for me, everything mostly worked out.
Looking back, I can see a couple of roles in particular where I could have probably done a few more years with that company. If I had known how to have a conversation because my manager wasn't equipped to do that at the time. That's what we have to recognize is you could have stuck out and had a great manager who's great at career conversations. The number one reason people leave jobs continues to be a relationship with their manager. It's not about money. Let's face it. The odds are pretty high that you probably have a manager that could use some help. Be the helper, but make sure you're advocating for yourself as much as you can.
You and I coached lots of high potentials. One of the things that set my clients apart is often they're the ones who go to their boss and say, “I want to do this project and work on this. I see this gap and I'm worried about it. It makes me nervous that we have no security in our tech company. I'd like to dive into that. What do you think?” They go, “You see something?” They write their own ticket.
Hypers are great at doing that. The people that get that quickly and they're the ones that if the organization doesn't respond, they'll walk. They know they're marketable and they can do it somewhere else. That's why anybody could take a page out of that book. The downside for high-potentials is they often bite off more than they can chew and then feel like they can't ask for help. As we're talking about, we run group programs. I'm bringing groups of high potentials together. It always cracks me up because it happens in every single new group. They get together. They're meeting each other and then all of a sudden they realize, “I thought all of you had your crap together. I thought I was the only one who didn't know what I was doing.”
They realized, “No, we all feel this way.” Suddenly, it's this big cathartic thing. We'll hear a lot from people that go through our programs, but it felt like corporate therapy. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we are so transactional. We're doing all this stuff in a transactional basis, not getting to know each other. There are messages within organizations that are like, “Don't let them see you sweat. You need to keep your emotions out of the boardroom.”
We're given all of this BS, which is not true. We all have things that we struggle with. If you can allow yourself to be a little bit vulnerable, you'll live way further faster by getting all of that stuff out of the way. That's the part that I love if I compare coaching individually versus when I coach a group. The power when you coach a group is you get that layer of experience. It becomes less about the one-to-one and more about them saying, “Okay,” and we can support each other which is super helpful.
How would someone know it's the right time to hire an individual coach?
I hire coaches and I'm in peer programs. I think they're both phenomenal tools. I will tell you how I make the decision on whether I want to work with a coach versus whether I want to be in a peer group. A few years ago, I started working with a coach. I was explicit and specific. I was doing a lot of team coaching with executive teams which is complex. I've done a lot of courses and everything else, but I felt like what I wanted to be some supervision around my team coaching. I hired a coach who was extremely deep in team coaching. I used a lot of it to talk to her about the client situations that I was facing, how I was approaching those as a coach and got coaching on my coaching. That was that purpose. Life happens and my business was morphing and I was dealing with issues with people in my business. Coaching as we both know, the relationship is more. I always think, when you want to engage a coach, I think you need to have a specific goal that you're looking to fulfill.
I think it's important that you come in. It doesn't have to be crystal clear in your mind, but you know you're struggling. In the past, I've hired coaches when I've been feeling unhappy in my job. I haven't known what it is that I want to do. I haven't quite been able to put my finger on why I'm unhappy. Anytime when you're feeling stuck, I find individual coaching great, it makes you move forward fast. When I go into peer groups, it's because I want supportive peers to hold me accountable for things I'm going to work on. Coaches do that too. In the peer group, what I'm also looking for is experience. I want to be with people who know what it's like. Coaches don't have to have experience in your background.
I don't need to work with a coach who's an entrepreneur to get a ton of value from the coaching relationship. The peer groups I'm in are entrepreneurial peer groups because I'm in with people because I'm looking at my business. I want to be with people who are in a different state of the business. I'm in two peer groups. One that is diverse entrepreneurs, totally different backgrounds than my own. The other is all people that work in my industry. I get different things from different experiences, but in both cases, I initiated both of those as a result of COVID because I was feeling, “Where do I take my business? What's going to happen?”
That's why I got into those at that time. I will step in and out of peer groups and coaches. We were talking about this. You have a lot of clients that you work with overtime for a long time. My approach to coaching has been a little bit more, “I need this. Whether I work with you for 2, 3 years or I'm in a group for 5 years, and then I drop off, it is about the life cycles for me and how it fits with my own objectives.” As I'm evolving, I might need something else.” That's how I would compare the two and do it from my own perspective.
It's interesting that you mentioned accountability because I never think accountability is the best thing to hire a coach for. I have people who have hired me for that. We have to have a good structure because it's not my sweet spot. It's helpful around writing books to have somebody that has accountability. Accountability is never the thing I say to hire a coach. It's in that place of, “I don't know something about myself that I want to dig into deeper.”
It's like an iceberg with people. Whatever you’re wrestling with that, that's just the tip of the iceberg. The benefit of a coach is they help you get underneath the cover and they help you get down there.
Whereas I do find with peer accountability groups, it is more about accountability. I'm not going to go into my group. I set a goal. One of the things I'll procrastinate on is business development calls. With my peer accountability group, I said, “I'm going to make twenty outgoing calls. I've got to do it. I've been procrastinating.” The Monday before my Tuesday call with them, I had only done ten. Do you want to bet your bottom dollar? I did my other ten before Tuesday. I’m not going to my peer having not done that.
That's what I find when we do group coaching. The peer-to-peer pressure, especially when you're trying to shift the behavior or you've been putting something off that you say you're going to get doing, you are not going to come in front of seven peers in organization and say, “I haven't done this.” It's powerful for getting momentum fast for people. The other thing which is probably the space we claim with leaders is because we're so heavy on you've got to shift your behavior, there's something about your approach that isn't allowing you to be as successful as you could be. When it comes to helping people shift behavior, then doing the work is only one piece of the equation. People around them seeing them doing the work is a huge part of it.
If you and I were peers in the program, I would say to you, “I'm working on not interrupting people because I'm a big interrupter and I've got to work on that. Can you watch me when we're in our next meeting together and give me some feedback after the meeting on how I did with that in the session?” You and I have this partnership relationship. If you think of me as an interrupter, I'm forcing you to look for the non-interrupting behavior. What I'm doing is I'm getting you to change your impression of me because I'm going to circle back to you to go, “How did I do in that meeting?”
You have to think and say, “You're pretty good. You did a great job.” If I do that consistently enough, a few months down the road, you're going to send me like, “You don't interrupt. You're fine. You're good. Move on. I now want you to work on this.” There's probably going to be something else I'm going to need to work on. That's where the power of surrounding yourself with like-minded peers who are supportive who get what you're trying to do and see you in action.
As coaches, we don't get to see that. When we're working typically one-to-one, we don't necessarily see the person in the organization doing those behaviors. We hear about it after. We might see the behaviors, the more we work with somebody. Over time, you get to see things come out. Day-to-day when they're in the organization, having that support system exponentially helps you move the needle way faster than a traditional external coach trying to coach you on a behavior. It’s a little bit trickier has been my experience.
Where can people find you and your book?
The book is available on all of the big retailers, Amazon and Indigo. My company website is GoRoundTable.com. You can find us there.
Thank you so much for coming on the show. It's been such a pleasure to chat with you and to hear your thoughts about the accountability and roundtables of people and how they can support each other.
It's been great being here. I feel like I could chat with you all day. It's always lovely to talk to a kindred spirit in the world of leadership.
I feel the same.
I got off with Glain Roberts-McCabe. I love how her deep dive into leadership has helped her create The Roundtable. It's an interesting experiment to try bringing eight people together to help with accountability and to understand more deeply the leadership process. Its feedback loops in deep relationship. I love the idea of a year-long program, where you get to hear what other leaders are thinking and how they might not have it altogether all the time. That's one of the glimpses behind the curtains that we get as coaches is to see that imposter syndrome, and the feeling of juggling lots of balls in the air, and the imperfection are how high-performance people operate. It's been fantastic talking with Glain. Go, experiment.
A public speaker, consultant, workshop leader, author, and Master Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation, from whom she received the Prism Award, Melanie is an expert in problem-solving, constraints management, operations, strategic hiring, and brand development.