Blog by Alan Seale, May 17, 2021 Transformational Leadership
A recurring theme in recent mentoring and coaching sessions with young leaders has been readiness and timing. More specifically, knowing when you are ready and when you’re not. And sensing when the time is right and when it isn’t. It’s made me reflect on some of my own choices and decisions over the last 40 years, and what I learned because of them.
Right away, I remembered a few times when I took bold steps that I wasn’t ready for. Things didn’t always turn out so well. However, I learned a lot, and I mostly didn’t make the same mistakes twice. So, all was not lost.
Yet there were other times when had I not been so naively confident, I might never have taken big steps that catapulted me forward. I admit that I stumbled more than once; there were messy moments. And if I had fully known what I was getting into when I first took some of those steps, I probably would not have taken them. Yet in the end, I was glad that I had.
Saying No When the Opportunities Aren’t Right Can Open New Possibilities
There were also moments when big opportunities arose, yet I knew they weren’t the right things. On two different occasions, I was offered enticing full-time positions as a Director of Music in churches. Both opportunities held exciting possibilities for what could be created in their music programs and would have furthered my career in church music. Both offered financial stability at times when that would have been helpful. The first opportunity came during my senior year in university. The second was early in my professional life.
Both times, a greater wisdom within me said no. Both times, I sensed that something else was waiting for me and that I had to leave the door open. I didn’t yet know what, yet I could sense that whatever was waiting wasn’t far away, and I was ready. I knew deep inside that if I accepted those church music positions, I would soon feel trapped in the security that they offered.
Thankfully, I listened to my greater wisdom. Both decisions altered the trajectory of my first career path.
Saying “no” to the first offer opened the door for me to go to a prestigious graduate music conservatory. However, that decision turned out to be about much more than just going to graduate school. It meant leaving Kentucky – leaving home and family and all I had known life to be. It meant moving far away to the Northeastern United States and what was for me a whole new world. It felt scary yet exciting. And through the next few years, I learned that Life was so much bigger than I ever imagined. I was naïve and wide open, and my learning curve was steep for a long time. Yet it was the right move. I never went back to Kentucky to live again.
Saying “no” to the second opportunity led to moving from New Jersey to New York City and the beginning of my voice teaching career there. I had a dream of teaching singers who sang on the biggest opera and concert stages of the world. My “small self” told me I was crazy – who was I to do such a thing? Yet I held onto that dream, and by my 40th birthday, it was happening. My students were singing leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and in many of the major opera houses in North America and Europe, as well as on Broadway.
At the same time, I was getting restless. Something was stirring deep inside. I sensed that something else was calling me and that this chapter was about to end.
Saying Yes to Coaching
In the late 1990s, I first heard about life coaching, first from one person, and then from an article, and then from someone else. I soon realized that “coaching” was trying to get my attention. So, in 2000 I enrolled in a three-day introductory course with the Coach Training Institute (CTI). By the end of those three days, my restlessness had turned to excitement. I knew that this was my next step. I knew I was ready. I committed to the full coaching education program and completed it in 2001. By summer 2003, I had successfully shifted my career from voice teacher to life coach, sold my apartment in New York City, and moved to the country.
This decision led to a new kind of pressure that I hadn’t anticipated – people pushing me towards career steps that I did not yet feel ready for. I knew that I needed a more secure footing. I knew that I needed more time to develop my coaching practice and hone my writing skills. I was working on my third book, and I had begun teaching multi-day workshops for groups of 15-25 participants throughout the northeastern United States. I needed more time to “develop my craft” as a personal development coach and workshop leader.
A couple of years later, I enrolled in a pilot evolutionary leadership and coaching program in Europe. Through connections I made in that program, I received invitations to teach workshops on intuitive living, soul mission, and manifestation in Sweden. Soon, more invitations started coming – The Netherlands, Scotland, and Switzerland. With each new country and culture, I questioned whether I was ready. Yet intuitively I knew that I had to go find out. Again, the learning curve was steep, yet I was learning fast, the programs were quite successful, and my international work kept expanding.
Pressures to Go Fast, Yet Sensing I Should Go Slow
In 2009, I felt called to stretch beyond personal development work into leadership development. I wrote Create a World That Works and launched the Transformational Presence Leadership and Coach Training (TPLC) program. Soon, I was receiving invitations to support teams and organizations. Once again, this felt like a big step. I had never spent a day in the business world, and it was way out of my comfort zone. I knew that there was big learning waiting for me, yet I knew that it was important to go at my own pace.
I was becoming increasingly comfortable with the TPLC, and that program soon expanded from The Netherlands into Belgium, England, Sweden, Poland, and Romania. Increasingly, each program attracted an international audience, no matter what country we were in. I felt incredibly blessed to do this work that I loved with such wonderful people from diverse cultures. It was a huge gift.
At the same time, some people didn’t understand why I wasn’t marketing myself in the corporate arena. While they were convinced that I was ready, I was hesitant. Transformational Presence still felt “on the edge” for the mainstream world, and I needed more confidence and self-assurance if I was going to take those steps with integrity and authenticity. Being true to myself, I also knew that “going after business” was not my style.
A few of the invitations felt like they could be stepping-stones. So, I said “yes” to those, and “no” to the rest. In hindsight, I am so grateful that I paid attention. My toe was now in the water. I was going at my own pace.
As my international teaching and speaking career continued to blossom through my late 50s and early 60s, momentum kept building. I was committed to serving conscious leadership development, and my mantra became, “Say Yes to the service you’re being asked for.” I didn’t always feel confident about everything that I said “Yes” to. Yet even in those moments, I was committed to learning and stretching myself. I knew that at this point in my development, I could only gain confidence and grow as a leader, coach, and teacher by taking that next step.
And so when IKEA asked me to create a Transformational Presence program for their high-potential leaders, I said “Yes.” After the initial success of that program, it quickly evolved into a program for the country CEOs and their deputies. From 2016 to 2019, I had the privilege of working with the IKEA leadership teams from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Learning to Dance in the Moment in Unsettling Times
There have been plenty of unsettling moments along the way. I’ve had my share of learning hard lessons in front of big audiences. Yet through those difficult times, I learned to “dance in the moment” in ways I never would have if I hadn’t said “Yes.” I learned to partner with what was happening in the moment and find the way forward, increasingly with elegance and grace.
Interestingly, part of what I love the most in my work now is, in fact, dancing with the unknown and riding the wave of what is happening in the moment, even when I have no idea where we are going. It’s taken me a long time, yet I’ve learned to trust that if I stay fully present with what is unfolding and keep all my sensory receptors on high alert, I will find my way. And somehow, something important will happen for the individual or group with whom I am working. We will all learn; we will all grow. Through it all, my capacities for awareness keep expanding and I keep refining my skills for being with what is.
Looking back, I am grateful that I allowed myself the space and time I needed to grow and mature into my work. I am grateful for the wisdom to sense what I was ready for and what I wasn’t. Have I missed some opportunities? Perhaps. Do I regret that? Not at all.
Knowing What Is Mine to Do and What Isn’t
Living into my sage years now, “knowing when I am ready and when I am not” has matured into “knowing what is mine to do and what isn’t.” I continue to become clearer about when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.” When requests or invitations come, I can usually sense deep in my belly whether this is something for me now. Most of the time, I pay attention. And when I don’t, I soon regret overriding my belly’s wisdom. The learning continues.
Life is a dance. It’s amazing and hard and fun and painful and rich and … well, it’s everything. Being honest with yourself about what you are ready for and what you aren’t makes the road less bumpy. Being clear about what is yours to do and what isn’t streamlines your focus so that you spend your time, energy, and resources where you can make the most difference.
What opportunity is in front of you right now? What are you ready for and what not yet? What is yours to do and what isn’t? Listen to your inner wisdom. Learn to read its signals. It will help you offer your greatest gifts to the world.