Community//

Dianna Anderson: “Be compassionate.”

Be compassionate. You can reduce fear in your workplace simply by being compassionate in everything that you do. Whatever people are doing, it is their best effort, even when the outcome isn’t very good, helpful or successful.Many of the behaviors that we react to are just defensive maneuvers that frightened people engage in to protect themselves. […]

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Be compassionate. You can reduce fear in your workplace simply by being compassionate in everything that you do. Whatever people are doing, it is their best effort, even when the outcome isn’t very good, helpful or successful.Many of the behaviors that we react to are just defensive maneuvers that frightened people engage in to protect themselves. They are fearful because they feel they lack the skills and understanding to successfully keep themselves safe any other way. When you look at people through that lens, it is often easier to feel compassion for them. Compassion is contagious; when you’re compassionate towards another person, that person is likely to be compassionate to another. Begin the chain reaction with your own behavior to change the culture of your workplace.


As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dianna Anderson, MCC, CEO of Cylient, and the creator of Cylient’s unique approach for instilling Change-Able® coaching cultures. The Coaching in the Moment® approach that Dianna created has enabled thousands of people, worldwide, to integrate coaching approaches into any conversation with anyone, at any time, in order to build connections and co-create new ways of thinking and working together. Forbes calls Dianna a pioneer in the creation of coaching cultures. She recognized the transformational power of coaching as a leadership style in the early ’90s when she began her coaching career.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While living in Houston in 1993, I read what I believe is one of the first articles that was written about the emerging profession of coaching. As a result of reading the article, I enrolled in Coach University and was one of the first people to graduate from that training program and later became a founding member of the International Coach Federation. When I began coaching, I found that I was constantly coaching my clients to take a coaching approach to their day-to-day challenges, like resolving disagreements with peers or sharing ideas with their managers. I quickly realized that when people used coaching approaches, they could influence the change of any kind to happen much more quickly and smoothly. That inspired me to create our Coaching in the Moment workshop to scale coaching as a common language for facilitating change, globally.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The moments that touch my heart most deeply, and truly leave me in awe, are when people share their stories of how making coaching a way of life has impacted them and the people around them. I was in the room once when a vice president, who was a very early adopter of our work, was introducing a Coaching in the Moment workshop. She shared that the week before her daughter had posted, “I love my life — thank you Mom!” on her Facebook wall. The VP said that when she learned our Untying the Knot® approach to conversations she began taking a coaching approach to communicating with her daughter. She told the audience that the beautiful post was an outcome of making that change. That still brings a tear to my eye.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We just launched our Coaching in the Moment® digital learning experience, which is a robust, four-week, moderator-led program that leverages video and interactive technology to facilitate experiential learning. I love how cohorts connect socially through the platform to truly learn with and from each other as they practice and apply their new “in the moment” coaching skills.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

There can be so many contributing factors to this statistic. However, I believe the main driver is that our old, traditional, “direct and correct” approach to leadership is out of alignment with our current realities. With “direct and correct” leadership, leaders believe it is their job to keep everyone and everything under control, so they default to telling people what they think they should do. Often, this coincides with leaders punishing others if they think they did something wrong. Being managed in this way is disheartening for people who want to think for themselves and make a meaningful contribution through their work. Worse yet, as the challenges we face become more complex, it has become nearly impossible for managers to truly understand the nuances of many situations, so their directions are often off-base, and may even make situations worse. When this happens, everyone involved, including the managers, are left feeling frustrated. The more frustrated the managers get, the more they tell people what to do, and the cycle continues, leading to disappointment and disengagement on all fronts.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

COVID-19 has changed the game for everyone. I believe that the complexity of the challenges being initiated by the pandemic will require a shared, creative effort to address successfully. We’ve never experienced the dense tangle of competing, multilevel, interdependent challenges we currently face. And I think it’s going to get wilder as our responses and reactions compound and create outcomes that we simply can’t predict.

The companies that can tap into and harness the collective creative capabilities of their people will be the ones that turn these challenges into opportunities. Companies that cling to old, fear-based “direct and correct” leadership styles will likely fall behind or even go out of business, because people will not risk revealing their most creative ideas when they feel disenfranchised. People are happiest and most productive when they feel they are doing meaningful work. That’s exactly what companies need their people to be doing right now. Establishing cultures that encourage and support creative thinking and working on every level is essential for emerging from the pandemic stronger and ready to meet new realities of the post-pandemic world.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  1. Stay curious. This is one of the first things we teach in our workshops. When people are able to remain curious in conversations, rather than getting caught in their own emotions or judgment, there is a much more honest — and helpful — exchange of ideas. To stay curious, notice when you reflexively judge something — or someone — that is different and, instead, take a breath and ask an open-ended question to learn more.
  2. Ask insightful questions. Rather than fact-finding questions or “why” questions, insightful questions invite reflection and help people to discover how their limiting beliefs, and resulting behaviors, are keeping them from attaining what matters to them. Some of my favorites are: What’s bothering you the most about this? What would you do it if didn’t matter how things turned out?
  3. Be compassionate. You can reduce fear in your workplace simply by being compassionate in everything that you do. Whatever people are doing, it is their best effort, even when the outcome isn’t very good, helpful or successful.Many of the behaviors that we react to are just defensive maneuvers that frightened people engage in to protect themselves. They are fearful because they feel they lack the skills and understanding to successfully keep themselves safe any other way. When you look at people through that lens, it is often easier to feel compassion for them. Compassion is contagious; when you’re compassionate towards another person, that person is likely to be compassionate to another. Begin the chain reaction with your own behavior to change the culture of your workplace.
  4. Stay centered. When leaders lose their balance, so does everyone else. When you stay centered, the people around you will have an easier time doing the same. That will drain a lot of the drama out of your workplace. There are many ways to stay centered — explore what works for you. Even simple breathing techniques like box breathing or heart-centered breathing can be very helpful.
  5. Focus on learning. Workplace cultures that encourage iterative learning — trying something new, reflecting upon the outcome, and trying again — will excel in our uncertain world. Leaders can make it safe for people to learn by role modeling learning and using “in the moment” coaching to support others to do the same.

Everything that I have described in this list is an element of “in the moment” coaching. To me, it’s almost magical to see how adopting this form of leadership changes people’s lives. Leaders who embrace coaching-based leadership report having more time because their people become more self-reliant, feeling less pressured because they don’t have to have the right answers all of the time, and experiencing more satisfaction because they have more time to dig into bigger projects and challenges that require more of their own creative initiative. This changes the workplace experience for everyone because people are supporting each other to do important, meaningful work. It’s a win-win-win.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

I think the most profound change we can make in our work culture is to stop treating people like they are resources and start honoring that they are human beings. Resources are essentially finite assets that are expended to make money. Humans, on the other hand, are complex, sentient beings gifted with the potential to create and contribute that defies the limits of their time, strength or collection of skills. The most debilitating cultures are based on the theme of viewing people as if they are expendable cogs in machines. I believe that organizations that establish cultures where people feel supported to contribute their best and brightest creative efforts to serve a higher good will win in our post-pandemic world. To do this, the first thing they need to do is co-create a work culture where people — regardless of any defining fact, feature, or perspective — feel invited to contribute their greatest gifts. I believe that the opportunity to make this essential, and long overdue, change is upon us.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

Most of the leading that I do is through presentations I give, videos that I create and coaching that I do to encourage people to embrace change. To that end, I do my best to be the change that I am encouraging people to try out so they can see and feel the difference it makes. I ask questions that invite people to look at themselves and situations from new perspectives. I reflect back to people what I can see is unique and special about them, and I encourage them to develop and share their capabilities to make a difference in whatever matters most to them. I tell stories about what I believe is possible when we collectively embrace change to encourage people to risk doing things differently. As a result, people often share with me that they feel encouraged and inspired by what I share. To me, that’s what leadership is: inspiring people to contribute the best that they have to offer to make a meaningful difference in the world.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The person that I am most grateful to is my mother. She wanted something very different for me than what she experienced as a woman coming of age in the late ’50s and early ’60s. She wanted me to feel and use my own power to do the things that matter to me. So, she raised me to believe in myself, to value creativity, to go for whatever mattered to me and to stick with it, even when things were tough.

When I created the coaching model and workshops that drive our company, I had no training in instructional design. I experimented for years until I found what worked to consistently ignite the insights I knew were needed for people to truly experience the power of taking a coaching approach to their communications. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to do that. It was later when instructional designers said that I had used approaches that they had not heard of before that I realized that I had created something different. That’s my mother’s love and belief in me running through my veins. I am grateful that she “made it up as she went along” as she raised me, so I am very comfortable doing the same in life. It’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe the services I’ve created themselves bring goodness into the world. In my experience, they wake people up to the realization that life can be very different — and so much better — than what they are currently experiencing. I like to say that you can judge someone, or you can coach them, but you can’t do both. When people really understand that they can be more effective, successful and less stressed when they embrace insight-based coaching as a way of life, they put the effort into changing. The more people do that, the more the goodness spreads. I think it’s so cool that people can transform the world around them just by transforming themselves.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love the Ram Dass quote, “We are all just walking each other home.” I believe that the path “home” that we are all walking is the process of realizing our potential, often by supporting others to realize theirs. That’s the path I’m walking. When I find people who are fearful or stuck, I don’t try to “fix” them or instruct them. I simply see if I can ignite insights that help them find their path “home” to themselves, by supporting them to develop and tap into their own strengths. The Ram Dass quote reminds me that, despite all of the craziness in the world, the essence of life is really quite simple, beautiful and profound.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It is my mission in life to make coaching a way of life for the world. I define coaching as the translation of insight into meaningful action in order to realize potential. Imagine for a moment a world where our conversations focused on igniting insights, rather than proving who is right and who is wrong. Imagine if our idea of success was whether we supported the highest realization of individual and shared potential; where we believe that we are stronger and more resilient when we connect with each other and creatively address the challenges that we face; where we view those challenges as opportunities to discover more of our individual and collective potential; where our shared goal is to establish sustaining and sustainable relationships, with everyone and everything, globally. I created Cylient’s Untying the Knot approach to conversations to facilitate the realization of that world — a world where I believe we will all thrive. That’s the movement I’m working to inspire. I hope that you will join me.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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