“I always wanted to become a leader and now I don’t.”  That’s an eye-opening start to a conversation with a leadership development professional!  We are discussing the path Lettie Dalton has taken on her way to becoming a coach, facilitator, and General Manager of Delivery at Adeption and JumpShift.  Quite the paradox to explore!

The journey Lettie describes as a young woman in the UK who finished school on a Friday and started work the following Monday affirms the ambition of someone determined to make a difference and climb the career ladder.  “When I interviewed for my first junior administration job I said I wanted to be a team leader within a year.  A short time later I was raising issues such as why, at 16, was I not eligible to pay into a pension scheme like all other full time workers.  From the start, I’d always been a bit of a crusader but also ridiculously and hilariously above my station in terms of what I could achieve.”

It will come as no surprise that career success followed, with rapid promotion in project management roles for organisations providing soft skills training (as leadership development was known in its infancy) to high profile, global companies.  Lettie describes those years “It was so much fun, corporate life in its heyday with perks and opportunities.  I loved it and when I moved to New Zealand, I was extremely confident about my career and skills as a leader”.

If Plan A fails, remember there are 24 other letters in the alphabet.

It took one bad experience to steer Lettie from wanting to lead to wanting to help others lead.  “It was a truly bad work environment – toxic, micro-management, leading restructure without support.  It was a massive confidence blow.  I questioned everything about myself as a person, a leader, my ambitions, my decision to move halfway across the world.”

“For the first time in my life, I just resigned.  At a loss, but still determined to forge a path ahead in New Zealand, I found a coach.  That is when things started to fall into place in terms of who I am and what I value.  It taught me that there are ways of having conversations, interacting and supporting that helps people to learn and grow.  If coaching opened a door for discovering myself, imagine if I could facilitate that happening for someone else.  I’d just uncovered my fascination with people.”

“Fundamentally my mission in life is to understand and enable psychological growth in people.  You might say that the work we do is to help organisations to function better.  It goes beyond that.  It is about every single individual within an organisation and actually, all human beings. Leadership is a word that conjures up different images and meanings but at the heart of it aren’t we just talking about being the best versions of ourselves we can be?  Everyone has the right and opportunity to grow, they often don’t realise that.”

“It sounds cliché but leaders so often want to be everything to everyone and they will sacrifice a lot to be seen as the person who does and drives everything.  It involves letting go of ego and is not comfortable but amazing leaders try and embrace who they are, what they are good at, what they aren’t great at and trust that is enough.  It’s important that people like their leaders but I think it is more important that the leaders like themselves.  Companies will get their results if there are happy, fulfilled individuals who turn up with the best of intentions.”

Do the best you can

Positive psychology has been a passion throughout Lettie’s journey from being a coachee to training as a coach, coach trainer and facilitator.  It is also an aspect of well-being that is becoming a critical focus point for L&D professionals as they navigate the balance of high-performance environments and supporting people to be at their best.

“Wellbeing is such a broad topic and I believe that positive psychology is underrepresented and undervalued.  It’s an area where the smallest change can make a huge difference.  An organisation openly acknowledging that it is okay to have good and bad days, that we are all humans, and subject to the myriad of ups and downs that comes along with that, is a starting point that can have a massive impact on individuals’.”

“Three very simple and often overlooked tools available are role modelling, permission and enabling.  For example, don’t just tell people you want them to put their family first.  As a leader, role model it, book that holiday or commit to work technology free evenings, and really give your people permission to do the same.  If your team works from home at times, book a walking meeting and explain why.  There are a lot of little changes we can make which don’t sacrifice work performance and benefits well being.”

 Better a whoops than a what if

A master at reframing, Lettie is the first to look at professional disappointment through a different lens.  “I know loads of development professionals who get flustered when the PowerPoint fails or they stuff up a sentence.” she says.  “The best gift you can give when wanting to support people to learn and grow is the gift of showing that it is not about you, it is about the group.  The minute you start reprimanding yourself or spinning out about a mistake, it becomes a thing, and about you, which is to your groups’ detriment.  It’s the responsibility of facilitators, or anyone who wants to influence, to role model that you are human.”

Unexpected situations can also lead to opportunity as she recounts. “I had to facilitate a key client workshop in the back of my car in the hospital carpark with one of my children in a ward.  It was the best session I have ever done, the group immediately opened up.  I already had an established relationship with them, but they had never shared in the way that they did in that session.  My observation was that striving for a standard of how a facilitator should facilitate is at odds with the importance of being present, connected and relatable to the group.”

Food for thought

Must reads according to Lettie include:

Mindfulness: Social psychologist Dr. Ellen J. Langer introduces a unique concept of contemporary western mindfulness, applied to fields including health, business, aging, social justice, and learning.

The Body Keeps the Score: One of the world’s foremost experts, transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring and offers proven alternatives to traditional healing

While not turning her hand to writing just yet, Lettie’s autobiography would be called ‘That’s not a black or white answer’, Why? “There is no right or wrong way to do most things.  My job is to support individuals to be their best person and choose from the many right ways they can do something.  I love what I do, it’s not about me, it’s about supporting amazing humans to be better”.

Lettie started our discussion with the statement that she no longer aspires to leadership positions in her career, it makes sense now, the drive is simply to understand and enable others.   This author observes that Lettie is more of a leader than she thinks!

Thanks for the chat!

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