Dr. Constance Goodwin is the Founder of Goodwin Associates, a consulting practice, which specializes in Leadership as a Performing Art®. This is a design methodology that builds an executive leadership platform to succeed in today’s changing business environments. She provides executive coaching and consultation to business leaders in some of America’s leading corporations and emerging growth companies.
Her focus is on expanding -- and exceeding -- organizational goals and strategies through accelerating an executive’s growth and power as an Executive Performing Artist®. Working with executives and executive teams to leverage their leadership experience, Dr. Goodwin stages leadership development, cultural/leadership transitions, succession planning/implementation, senior executive coaching, and interactive workshops.
Constance appropriately opens the series of conversations with extraordinary people I have had the good fortune to meet and have in my life. My dialogues with Constance continue to teach me volumes about self and inquiry, how the deliberate use of language can move us forward and how the beauty of connecting is itself an overture expression. A transformative experience I treasure. Welcome Constance.
Q - So tell me, why leadership as a conversation?
CG - As human beings we spend a lot of time talking….are we having conversations? In my view, something that generates or engenders transformation or a transformative atmosphere is a conversation. We articulate our conversation through language; our thinking takes place in language. Yes, as a dancer/athlete/artist/businessperson, I am intimately familiar with non-verbal communication, and yet those inputs are made sense of through language, through their symbolic linguistic representations.
So, I would ask how could leadership not be a conversation since it is the medium within which we make a difference in business and in our lives. It is the conversational medium within which we create, produce, and connect. Leadership is a sense-making conversation that in its most distinguished form generates aliveness, newness, collaboration, and effectiveness.
Q – In your work you talk about leadership as a performing art. What do you mean by equating leadership to art?
CG - Art, not as product, but art as experience. Leadership is a performing art: ephemeral, powerful, lasting in impact, and even though it might be institutionalized, it is not literally reproducible. It calls us to be! It calls us to react! It causes! It causes us to become available to what is happening in the moment, be present to our circumstance, our audience, our thinking and feeling. It causes us to be true. (authenticity sometimes gets overused and misunderstood) True to our characters, and that is what translates to someone, regardless of whether or not they could distinguish it as such.
How many times have you heard a piece of music and been transported to a different place? Or seen a performance that opens you up, opens up your feeling? That is leadership at a very sophisticated level, a distinguished and connected level. It is what any of us could be capable of generating if we engage in the conversation.
Q – We have often heard the distinction being made between talking with someone and talking at someone. In some cases, it is tempting to be formulating a response to what a person is saying while that person is speaking to us. What do you think are the causes that take people away from focusing on the conversation they're in?
CG - We get attached. Fundamentally, we like our thinking, our reactions, our conversations with ourselves. It could range from a mere preference all the way to cognitive narcissism. And, People may not realize what the conversation is…
That is also a basic role of leadership. Leaders should be defining the conversation. First, do you know the conversation you are in, and secondly, what it the conversation that is necessary to forward a strategy, an initiative, a meeting, a proposition, a relationship? Are you talking symptomatically or are you conversing fundamentally?
Actually, people might consider defining the conversation and the content will follow. Generally, the content distracts the conversation. How many times do we actually ask: what is this a conversation for…before we start talking. Hmm….
Q – So maybe we could define listening as seeing. In fact, as we talked you posed the question: do you know what you're listening for? Can you take me through what that looks like in a conversation?
CG - Have you ever been in a conversation and found yourself counterpointing everything that is said? Whether you actually say anything is not the point, but you can hear yourself saying…” but don’t you think…or she didn’t do that as well as he did, or I did that as well as she.” I would say that you are seeing or listening from argument.
Could you consider listening/seeing from someplace else? Inquiry perhaps? Or have you ever heard yourself saying…”this is not what I expected”; consider that you might be listening from resentment waiting to be manifested. Fundamentally, do you know the conversation you are in inside any conversation?
CG - Begin to consider where you are going? How are you being? What conversations are you having? Are you paying attention? And, consider that every moment leading presents a perpetual vanishing point. You cannot as Heraclitus said “step into the same river twice.” Real time presencing is a profound leadership capacity.
Q – In your work, you talk about function vs. role. Can you tell me what the difference is and what their places are in the conversation?
CG - This is a great distinction. I think of role as the ‘what’ and function as the how. You are the CEO, are you leading the conversation? It is my meeting, am I leading the conversation? I am an invited guest, am I being source-full toward the leader of the conversation? Am I forwarding the conversation?
I liken it to role and characterization in theatre. You may be cast as Othello in Limon’s Moor’s Pavane, but what function does that character play? Is it to portray jealously or envy or is it to examine the underlying process of deterioration? There are distinct levels to look at and feel for, and I might add that leaders need to continue until they distinguish the most fundamental characterizations. Stopping short is the greatest danger and creates shallow functions or characterizations.
Q -- Knowledge vs. feeling.
CG - This is great! Most people think from vs. I think from “and.” It goes back to the product of art and the experience of art. There is the product we, a company produce and the content surrounding that product, and then there is the experience that product or company creates. Knowing provides us with a particular view. It is the commodity. Feeling is the experience residual. It is what grounds connection, loyalty, love. One is not good or bad, but worth distinguishing and applying inside one’s business.
And, in the new world order, I might suggest that the world of differentiation does not lie in knowing. Fundamentally, the argument and separation hierarchy is rooted in Decartes’ search for a secure foundation using thinking and knowledge. It set us up to separate knowing and feeling as an argument, which still exists today. Consider if we changed the conversation into a conversation for integration and did not place limits on what it could look like.
Q -- How do you design and cultivate leadership impact?
CG - Visualize. Integrate the transformational into the transactional. Distinguish, distinguish, distinguish. Apply rigor. Add a measure of discipline with a healthy dose of feeling. Mix with convening your conversations. And, then hold yourself to account for being the author of your experience. While “free playing.” Voila!
As one of my clients said recently: can I take a pill for this?!
UPDATE: Read the brief article written by Fast Company about our conversation with Constance in January 2004.