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Adaptive Leaders: Damian Goldvarg on Mastering Leadership in Current Times

Updated: Jul 2

Adaptive Leaders: Damian Goldvarg on Mastering Leadership in Current Times
Adaptive Leaders: Damian Goldvarg on Mastering Leadership in Current Times
“Leaders always serve as role models, so it's important to consider the type of role model you are. It's about your actions, your background, and your intentions ... We seek leaders who inspire us and treat us as individuals, not objects.” Dr. Damian Goldvarg

In the evolving post-COVID world, the leadership paradigm is changing to keep up with the requirements of new generations and fast-changing technology. In his latest book, Liderazgo Para Los Tiempos Actuales: Nuevos Paradigmas Y Habilidades De Coaching, soon available in English, Dr. Damian Goldvarg emphasizes the importance of leaders adapting to the evolving post-COVID world, highlighting the need for empathy, coaching skills, and collaborative approaches.

Stephen Matini: The post-COVID era seems just as challenging as the pandemic itself. You decided to write a book about this; how did the idea come about?

Damian Goldvarg: I started working on a book about leadership. I have been training leaders for more than 30 years and wanted to write one on coaching skills for leaders. I have already written eight books on coaching skills for coaches, mentor coaching, and supervision, in both English and Spanish. 

This time, I wanted to write a book on coaching skills that I could use in my trainings. When I train coaching skills, I can use that book as a manual, and my colleagues can also benefit from it. I thought they could use it with their clients when coaching leaders, as it includes exercises and activities.

I started writing the book, and then COVID hit. I continued working on it, thinking about how COVID was affecting work and leadership.

I began looking at working in a hybrid environment, working virtually, and discussing mental health, such as the levels of stress experienced during and after COVID. I believe there were many emotional experiences that leaders needed to address, both their own and those of their teams.

The idea with this book was to explore how leadership is changing and what leaders need to focus on. I believe leaders need to emphasize formative relationships and develop coaching skills, essentially becoming more like coaches. Some are already doing this, but those who are not need to consider it, or they risk falling behind in meeting the needs of the new generations.

Interestingly, when I was preparing to send the book to the publisher, I asked a few people for feedback. Several suggested not including the words COVID or post-COVID in the title because people are tired of it and burned out. They don't want to hear about it anymore.

So, we decided on a third title. Initially, it was "Leadership Coaching Skills for Leaders." The second title was "Post-COVID Leadership." The final title, translated into Spanish, is "Leadership in Current Times." It reflects what is required right now for leaders.

SM: So when you introduce these concepts to your clients, how do they usually react?

Dr. DG: It makes sense to them. I work globally, and since I'm originally from Argentina, I often work in Spanish. Latino cultures tend to be more authoritative compared to American or European cultures, with more power distance between leaders and their reports.

Often, these leaders are not very collaborative in their approach. They feel responsible and want to take care of things themselves, not engaging as much with colleagues or peers. There is a distance in hierarchies that is slowly diminishing, but some leaders still feel it's their responsibility to make decisions without including others. 

They have the hardest time listening to these ideas, and it's deeply ingrained in their system, making it hard to change their mindset. So I try not to force anything. As a coach, part of my job is to challenge mindsets and be patient because different people need different amounts of time to see things from different angles. 

At the end of the day, everyone has the right to view reality as they wish. I use a metaphor about glasses. I say, "Your sunglasses are blue, so you see everything blue. Are you willing to take off your sunglasses for a minute, put on green ones, and see things differently?" Sometimes people are willing, and sometimes they are not, but it's their decision.

SM: What usually works for those who shift and start wearing a different pair of sunglasses? What helps them make the shift?

Dr. DG: Sometimes, if everything is going very well and they are being very successful, they don't see any reason to change. They think, "Why should we change? We're very successful. We've always done things this way.”

However, if they face challenges and aren't as successful, such as not selling as much, receiving many complaints, or experiencing conflict or crisis, they realize they can't continue being successful with past practices. They need to find new ways of doing things. They are often forced by the market or circumstances, like the economy and changes.

For instance, some jobs are becoming redundant because of AI. I tell my colleagues, and they don't always like to hear it, but eventually, AI will replace some of the work of coaches. So, they need to be prepared. They can't just say, "No, I don't want to hear about it.”

We must be open to what's happening in the world and stay on top of technological advances and trends. I believe we can show these trends to leaders, and while they may choose not to pay attention, it's crucial to be aware of them.

SM: If someone is not empathetic, can they become more empathetic, which is one of the critical features of post-COVID leadership?

Dr. DG: I do believe it's possible, but the person needs to be willing. For example, in my work with clients, I start with a 360-degree feedback process, where they receive feedback from their boss, peers, direct reports, and sometimes customers or other third parties.

I collect data and share with them the perceptions others have about them. Sometimes, the perception is that they are not empathetic enough or not showing understanding. Some leaders will then commit to working on that and intentionally decide to improve. However, others might feel that it's not their problem if people think they lack empathy.

These leaders may still care deeply about others but struggle to put themselves in other people's shoes. They may not even realize they're doing this. When you point it out, not everyone is willing to accept and work on it. It's also about different levels of maturity. They aren't bad people; they just may not have developed these skills over their lives.

Generational issues also play a role. The older the person, the more difficult it can be for them to adapt to new trends and listen because they have a lot of experience and have been successful with what they know.

When I train coaches and supervisors, I use a model explaining that there are “things we know we know”, "things we know we don't know,” “and things we don't know we don't know.” For example, I have a PhD in Organizational Psychology, so I know a lot about organizations. I don't know Chinese, but I could learn it if I wanted to. However, there are areas in our lives where we don't know what we don't know. In these areas, we must ask ourselves what we might not know.

In coaching, I ask clients, "What do you think is going on?" They answer, and I follow up with, "What else?" They might say, "I don't know," but I encourage them to take their time and think deeper. This process helps them explore underlying beliefs and emotions, making new connections.

This model helps people become aware of what they don't know they don't know and invites them to see what they might be missing. For those struggling with empathy, it might reveal how much pain they may be causing others without realizing it.

SM: Can you share your thoughts on the impact of having mentors, be it coaches or psychotherapists, during times of transition?

Dr. DG: Yeah, that's why it's crucial to have someone in your life, like a therapist, coach, or professional, who can help you see what you might be missing and support you in your endeavors. 

While good friends and partners can provide support, they often have their own agendas. Working with a professional, whether it's a therapist, coach, or mentor, helps you develop well-being and gain clarity on your goals. Ultimately, it's about having a life you enjoy and love. 

I personally work with two supervisors and participate in a mastermind group with colleagues where we support each other with our goals and activities. I also have friends and a partner, but I value having dedicated spaces to focus on my work.

When you take the time to engage with a therapist or coach and reflect on your work and life, it allows you to pause, analyze, and make decisions that you might otherwise overlook in the hustle and bustle of daily life. 

I often discuss with coaches the tendency to live life mechanistically, following routines from morning to night, only to find time slipping away without truly experiencing the present moment. 

Through supervision, where you detach and evaluate your coaching work, I apply this idea to life coaching and other areas of work. It's about stepping back and asking yourself if you're content with what you see and if your actions align with your desires. Many people seek coaching because they're unhappy with their lives, feeling a disconnect between their values and their current situation.

I believe striving for a better world, though idealistic, involves increasing overall satisfaction and fulfillment. Beyond meeting basic needs, there's a need for belonging, self-realization, growth, learning, and pursuing dreams. It's essential to take the time to reflect on these aspects of life.

SM: How do you respond to people who acknowledge the importance of self-relationship but claim they don't have time due to their busy schedules?

Dr. DG: I always stress the importance of choices. I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who contracted COVID despite being vaccinated. He was quite ill, but his main concern was his workload. He felt if he didn't tackle it immediately, it would become overwhelming, leading to stress down the line. I didn't push back on his perspective; I respected his mindset. For him, managing his workload seemed more crucial than prioritizing his health.

When I had COVID, I made a conscious decision to pause everything and focus solely on recovery. I believed it was crucial to prioritize my well-being first. Later, when I was feeling better, I could address my responsibilities. 

I wanted to share this approach with him, but I sensed he wasn't receptive. It's important to listen and understand where others are coming from. I couldn't force my viewpoint on him, especially since he had expressed a preference not to be challenged in the past.

Sometimes, it's about gaining perspective. I often ask my clients to consider how they'll view the situation five years from now. This helps them see beyond the immediate pressures and focus on long-term fulfillment.

I once had a partner who was unwaveringly dedicated to his job as a teacher. He never took a sick day, fearing he'd let his students down. Despite my encouragement to prioritize his health when he wasn't feeling well, he remained committed to showing up every day. However, when budget cuts hit the district, his dedication didn't matter. He was let go, despite being one of the best teachers.

This experience taught me the importance of reassessing priorities. Sometimes, what seems crucial in the moment may not hold the same significance in the future. It's a personal decision whether to stick to one's values or reevaluate based on new information.

Have you observed similar situations, especially in large corporations where employees dedicate themselves tirelessly only to be let go unexpectedly? It's not just a matter of generational differences; it also speaks to evolving dynamics in the employer-employee relationship and workplace culture.

SM: With your extensive experience in leadership, what do you predict the future of leadership will be like in five years and beyond?

Dr. DG: I predict that there will be much more technology integrated into leadership. Leaders will need to learn how to incorporate technology and AI into their work more effectively, which is becoming increasingly necessary and will continue to be so in the future.

Some tasks will be automated by artificial intelligence, requiring leaders to adapt and collaborate more. I foresee organizations becoming more horizontally structured, with fewer hierarchies. Leaders will work as collaborators, with shifting authority.

Additionally, networking and collaborating with people across different locations and levels will become more common. Leaders will need to learn how to integrate diverse groups of colleagues. Throughout all of this, building relationships and empathy will be crucial. If leaders cannot collaborate effectively, they will face challenges.

SM: It would be really challenging to survive in the long run.

Dr. DG: Yes, and inspiration is crucial. Leaders always serve as role models, so it's important to consider the type of role model you are. It's about your actions, your background, and your intentions.

I strongly believe that people value leaders who genuinely care about others. Sometimes, individuals are perceived as mere means to an end, which can seem somewhat philosophical and harsh. Some view others as tools for their own success. However, effective leadership is about empowering your team to be effective.

The effectiveness of a leader is closely tied to the effectiveness of their team. Leaders should inspire their team to do their best, as it has always been and will continue to be important. We seek leaders who inspire us and treat us as individuals, not objects.

When we discuss viewing people as objects, it's about seeing them solely as means to achieve goals, rather than recognizing their humanity and varied needs. Leaders must balance this with aligning the company's vision with that of the team and their own personal vision.

SM: Out of everything we've discussed, is there anything you would emphasize as important for our readers to focus on as they begin to consider this new approach to leadership?

Dr. DG: There's a field of study called “foresight,” which delves into anticipating the future. During my years working with leaders in various organizations, I conducted assessment centers where I evaluated leaders' strengths and development areas. I traveled globally for this purpose.

My role involved identifying strengths and weaknesses and coaching leaders to leverage their strengths while addressing development areas. Two areas emerged as common weaknesses among leaders worldwide: coaching and strategic thinking, particularly in terms of foresight.

Strategic thinking involves not only addressing the present but also preparing for the future, which aligns with your question about what to pay attention to in the future. So, it's a skill set.

I became increasingly interested in this aspect and started offering more coaching skills training to meet this need. Foresight, studying future trends, became a focus. It's about understanding what lies ahead and not just focusing on immediate success but also preparing for the future.

While we can't predict the future, we can pay attention to emerging trends to better prepare ourselves. I pursued foresight training through two different certifications to enhance my ability to work with leaders in this area.

For individuals interested in foresight, there are resources available. For instance, the Wall Street Journal discusses emerging trends every week. Additionally, publications like the Harvard Business Review offer valuable insights. 

Furthermore, one can sign up for newsletters from organizations like McKinsey or attend seminars at universities. It's about actively seeking out sources to stay informed about trends shaping the future.

🎧  Listen on your favorite platform: Listen to the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform.

Please check Dr. Damian Goldvarg’s Liderazgo Para Los Tiempos Actuales: Nuevos Paradigmas Y Habilidades De Coaching, soon available in English. Use the affiliate links to support Pity Party Over at no additional cost to you.


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