"The best strategy is useless if executed by a dysfunctional team, and the best teaming / organizational practices can’t make a dent if key leaders are fundamentally driven by their fear or insecurities.”
Before going into business together, Dave and I ‘sat in circle’ in a men’s group dozens of times and shared hopes, fears, anxieties, and joys. Our good friend, Dan Doty, expert in men’s work and corporate consultant to leaders of all genders, was the architect of the group where Dave and I met.
In launching Volition Partners, we’ve woven threads of personal development into our client work. In fact, we believe our core differentiator is that we don’t divorce the act of making business decisions from the fact that humans are social and emotional creatures. We balance analytics with personal and team development approaches in all that we do. We see our client’s human connections as critical to their success, as much as the quality of the GTM strategy. As we said before, we know that trust matters for business.
To this day, we credit the work we’ve done with Dan Doty as a key ingredient in the success of Volition Partners.
We sat down with Dan recently, to discuss the role of personal development work in the world of business, and why it's important.
Q & A
DAVE: Dan and Sean - thrilled to take the time to reflect with the two of you. One thing I want to call out is how our unique interests wove together: my realization that my strategy consulting needed more focus on human dynamics, and Sean’s experience in the power of team performance on strategy execution, and Dan’s laser focus on deeper human work as a vital corporate performance tool. Dan, how did you get into the corporate coaching space?
DAN: When I was in my early twenties I was working with fathers and their sons doing wilderness guide work, which led me to sitting in men’s circles. When I had my first child, it FULLY kicked me into the ring and I started EVRYMAN and made this work my life’s path.
In the first weekend retreat that I led, I received my first request to come do corporate coaching work. I had supported people in many ways throughout my life as a therapeutic guide, wilderness guide, professional mentor and educator, but when EVRYMAN landed, overnight I became a coach and that quickly parlayed into the corporate space. It had never occurred to me to work with companies or teams, but I was open to this type of work and right away I found it to be extremely meaningful.
I started to see results right off the bat. Leaders were getting vulnerable with me, allowing me to understand their frustrations and worries, and in general engage from an emotional place from which big change can happen. Part of the reason this work was so immediately successful is that I didn’t have any extra corporate lenses. I had a skillset - helping people open up and connect - and I didn’t have any bureaucratic baggage whatsoever so I just showed up and did what I did and it f***ing worked.
SEAN: I love that Dan. That distinction that you just drew is so powerful - so many people who work in consulting and strategy come in with implicit or explicit boundaries about what is appropriate - and you blew right by that.
I’ve feel skilled in the waters of team dynamics and dispute resolution, but I never felt comfortable going deeper into the vulnerability space. I can often see that the presenting upset is just a trigger from a deeper wound or pattern from trauma, but I don’t probe on that. That has always been a line for me.
And yet, it’s ironic because the personal work I’ve done undoubtedly improved my own impacts as a leader and advisor by unwinding what was going at a deeper level for me. It helped illuminate that my upset with someone else was typically about my self-relationship, and I could do something about that.
DAN: Yes! Before coaching, the only corporate experience that I had prior was working my way up at a fancy production company in New York City and that was just the f***ing wild west, so it didn’t give me any bureaucratic or leadership lens whatsoever. So I came in treating leaders as the humans they are.
And the truth about men's work is that it’s not really “men’s” work. It’s human work. It’s a way of connecting and collaborating and creating. In my corporate coaching work for all genders, I use the same protocols from men’s groups - to help unlock and liberate and declutter our human reality. Based on my experience, this human approach drives abnormally positive results.
SEAN: It seems obvious to me that the more we bring our humanity to work, the better chance we have of creating truly brilliant organizations. Yet, there is still a hesitancy to do so. So my question is - what’s the way through? How do we normalize a deeper level of emotionality, vulnerability and humanity in organizations?
DAVE: Dan, what is your perspective - how do you get leaders to cross over from the preconception that this stuff doesn’t belong in the workplace, to being able to go deeply into these relationships?
DAN: I see two paths. Leaders who are willing to bring that extra deeper relationship layer into the workplace tend to have incredible growth and positive outcomes. That is self-reinforcing and those leaders embrace the kind of support I offer.
The other situation where I’ve seen success is the unfortunate scenario where the level of pain gets so intense that there is no other choice if the company is to survive. People come to me when they are in the 11th hour and things seem like they may be crumbling, but there’s still so much commitment and care. It gives them the willingness to step into this vulnerable work.
SEAN: And that is when we call you! When we see deep personal pain / trauma as the barrier to a client’s success. The recent example that comes to mind is one where two co-CEO’s, who were related, had deep, long-standing resentments against each other. We used standard coaching techniques, and resolved the presenting issues with the operating model and decision authorities. And that success wasn’t enough - the personal tensions, unspoken fears and deep longing for stronger, more trusting connection was the root.
DAN: And, that was obvious from my first interaction - the tension and withholds were palpable. Your work was within the container of the business - I took them out of the business and into their personal and familial relationship. We did a version of my ‘wilderness intensive’ where I take people away from what is familiar and I create a safe container to go deep into their own feelings. From there we revisit the tensions and the withheld communication - from a deeply vulnerable and personal place.
And, to their credit, both leaders were brave enough to go deep, let out the years of baggage and own that they carried it, and to some extent blamed the other for making them. It was beautiful. There were lots of tears and lots of laughs. They broke down massive walls.
SEAN: And, you helped get major decisions made in about 90 minutes - decisions we had been wrestling with for the better part of a year.
DAN: Yes! That’s why I see my work as a fundamental enabler of organizational performance. If this level of hurt and trauma is driving behavior, then it's really really hard to make f***ing progress on issues that might be triggering it. Once those two healed some deep wounds, the actual business problems were easy to resolve - ownership differences, org structure tugs of war, etc.
DAVE: It’s so amazing how all this work is so effective when intertwined together. To bring us back to the top - the best strategy is useless if executed by a dysfunctional team and the best teaming / organizational practices can’t make a dent if key leaders are being fundamentally driven by deeply held fear or insecurities.
If you find yourself facing a situation in which the interpersonal dynamics are stifling the business, get in touch. These can be hard issues to navigate, especially when the emotionality is high. We can help - whether it is a deep dive in the wilderness, or simply a structured dialogue - we have the tools to make a difference.