Our Ask the Coach series shares perspectives from experienced coaches and consultants working to build strong leaders, teams and organization. This week we’re sharing our conversation with leadership coach Andrew Della Rocca, who we’re thrilled to share recently joined RallyBright as our Head of Customer Success & Coaching. Andrew is also the founder of Manifestara. You can learn more about his work and services by connecting with him.
RB: Good morning, Andrew, and thanks for chatting with me! By way of introduction, can you tell me about the work you do and how you came to do it?
ADR: I work with individuals and leaders who want to make transformative changes in their lives and their organizations. I used to be an educator, and as a teacher I found myself focusing on how to develop in students a strong sense of agency, particularly in a school system that by its very nature tells students where to be and when. So, it was a tricky thing to pull off. There are contradictions baked in.
At the same time, I completed my master’s degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, where I was introduced to the field of professional coaching. A large part of my graduate work focused on not just how to develop a sense of personal agency, but on creating systems that promote agency and personal empowerment. Coaching and facilitation seemed to be the more natural complement to that interest. Next thing you know, I had my own business, Manifestara, where I coach leaders one-on-one, facilitate team meetings, and design and deliver workshops around a number of topics. Everything from creating a vision, to resolving conflict, to developing new approaches to leadership.
Additionally, working on the customer success side at RallyBright, I help us nurture both our relationships with customers and the success of those customers’ teams. I work directly with our customers to find creative and innovative systems to build their team resilience.
RB: Of course, I have to ask: What is it about the RallyBright platform that made you want to come work with us?
ADR: I am happy to speak to that – there is so much to say. First of all, the platform removes the veil from what is really going on with a team. Often, when coaching leadership, it can be challenging for a coach to know what’s actually happening on a client’s team. RallyBright’s tools help leaders see the dynamics of the team more clearly. And it helps coaches like me see them as well, so that we can better serve leaders and help them better serve their teams. There’s so much wonderful information that can be turned into meaningful action – it’s amazing. It’s a great tool for coaches, and it’s a great tool for leaders too because it gives them the feedback so many are hungry for.
RB: 2020 is about over, thank goodness. Most of us learned some new things during this unusual and painful year. Regarding your own 2020 learnings, what’s one new habit that has helped you stay sane and productive this year?
ADR: My new habit is to be intentional about taking small breaks throughout the day to get very, very present, particularly when I may sense a feeling of overwhelm or stress. It could be just 30 seconds here, or 2 minutes there, but I become deliberate about tuning in to the sensory experience of being in my body. I might tune into the feeling of my body in my chair, or listen closely and without judgment to the sounds in my environment. Much of our anxiety comes from projecting into the future. Becoming present wires our brains to live in the now, and I feel much more effective from that place.
RB: What advice would you give to leaders about how they can best support their employees during the holidays and into the new year?
ADR: The end of the year is a great time for leaders to think about telling the story of the year to their teams in a meaningful way. 2020 was full of ups-and-downs. Teams had to step up in little and big ways to respond to the year’s challenges. Year-end is a great time to honor everyone’s contributions to the larger story of the team’s 2020.
So, for example, a leader could convene a team with the sole purpose of acknowledging one small, but very specific, thing that each team member did to contribute to the successes of the year. As the leader acknowledges each team member, one at at time, a story forms that each one feels to be a protagonist in. This helps each person feel a greater sense of connection and meaning. We are meaning-making creatures after all, and we make meaning through storytelling and ceremony. I have seen leaders combine the two at the end of the year in very powerful ways.
For example, one client of mine made a big moment out of the distribution of annual bonuses. In the past, his employees would just see a bigger number on their final check stub of the year. What they didn’t know was how difficult it was for my client to deliver those bonuses some years; that he would worry about it, for example, as early as August. He absorbed that stress alone. Then, after he figured out how to deliver the bonuses, he would feel some resentment toward his employees who felt entitled to the bonuses but didn’t see what it took for the company to deliver them.
So, last year, he made a ceremony out of it. He surprised the team by giving them envelopes containing their bonuses. As he did this, he told a small story in front of everybody acknowledging a specific contribution the employee made to the organization’s health. It was really amazing. And he is doing it again this year.
Another welcome consequence of this for him is that it set the stage for more impactful performance reviews later on. It was easier to anchor individual performance to the greater, and very powerfully told, organizational story.
RB: That’s such a great idea for leaders who want to boost team morale and underscore shared purpose. What about leaders themselves? We know there’s a lot of overwhelm and burnout there. Do you have any tips for them to help reenergize/reinvigorate?
ADR: Leaders sometimes have to force themselves to slow down and step back. The events I just described only transpired because my client slowed down to think about it all. (In this case with me, his coach.) So, the advice I give to leaders is to be deliberate about how they spend their time and shut down from work. Especially now. We may feel busier because there is little separation between home and work lives. One easy tactic that helps slow down is to transition meaningfully from work life into personal life, and vice versa. Put on a different pair of shoes, go for a walk, shut your office door. Whatever way you do it, make that transition at the end of the working day conscious and deliberate.
RB: You mention less of a line between work and home lives. What other common themes or trends are you seeing from the organizations you work with?
I’ve seen a lot more empathy and compassion. Specifically, I think leaders are recognizing the human experience of the people on their teams in a much deeper way. For example, maybe an employee’s performance has dipped to a point that might have been grounds for a layoff previously. But now I’m seeing leaders looking for alternative ways to address that and other things that are happening with employees.
RB: Finally, Andrew, as we say goodbye to this year and reflect on 2020 learnings, I’m curious if you’ve learned anything that surprised you during this time of global upheaval and quarantine?
ADR: I’ve learned that we don’t need to do so much. We don’t all have to be so busy all the time. Busy does not mean productive or good. Busy is not better.