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Transcript: Interview With Ann Deaton

May 6, 2020

This episode is part of our weekly series on how VSCPA members and partners are managing and even thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maureen talks with Ann Deaton, Ph.D., PCC, a leadership and team coach with The Bounce Collective, about mentoring vs coaching, thriving in today's world and how you can use the concept of VUCA with your teams. Listen to the full podcast here.


Maureen: Welcome to Leading Forward the Virginia Society of CPAs, podcast where we focus on innovation, leadership and the CPA profession. I'm your host Maureen Dingus and I invite thought leaders for casual conversations on topics and trends important to the success of the CPA profession. This episode is part of our series on how VSCPA members are managing and even thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks for listening and I wish you all could help. So thank you for joining us today. We have Ann Deaton with us. She is a leadership and team coach with the Bounce Collective. We've been lucky enough at the VSCPA to work with Ann on many different projects. So I thought she would be a great person to have on our podcast to talk about some, leadership topics, but really touching on some things that are very relevant in this disruptive time we're in right now. So, welcome Ann.

Ann: Thanks, Maureen. It's really great to be here.

Maureen: Right. Good, good. So before we dive into, um, some of the topics, could you just tell us a bit about your background and your journey to being a coach?

Ann: Yeah, absolutely. Um, I, you know, like most coaches, I started my career as something different, which, uh, was a clinical neuropsychologist. So I worked with people in hospital settings typically at some of the worst times in their lives when something had gone wrong, a car accident or a stroke or something had gone wrong and they really needed rehabilitation and care. And it happened at the hospital I was with merge with another health care facility and they brought in coaches. This was late 1990s, and they felt like coaching would help because of the transition. And it really ended up changing my life because I got really engaged in what coaching offered and felt like as a psychologist. People came basically saying, I don't want to feel like this or I don't want to be experiencing this. And as a coach it felt like people were saying, there's something else I want. We want to be a better team or you know, I want to be a more fulfilled business owner, whatever it might be. And so just really helped me decide to shift my path over a couple of years after that.

Maureen: So when you say a coach, a leadership and team coach, what just in basic terms, how is that different from a manager or a mentor in kind of, in terms of what you focus on?

Ann: Really good question. So I think the difference I would say between coaching and mentoring is that if you want a mentor, you really want someone who's been on the path that you're on, somebody who can give expert advice and tell you where the potholes are. When you work with a coach, you really just want a partner on the journey. Somebody that will ask you questions that help you think about what you're not thinking. Somebody that hold you accountable when you say you're going to take action that circles back and says, how did that go? Um, not with the expectation that you could do it wrong, but really so that you can learn from what you did. And, and that keeps moving you forward. Um, and then, you know, many managers, actually I think some of the best managers have some good coaching skills. And how I think about it in that context is they really, again, are partners and they're helping the people they work with, figure out their own path because when we were figuring out our own password, definitely motivated to take it. Um, so for managers, I think it's just more effective sometimes to coach than to tell people what to do.

Maureen: Right, right. Instead of that the directive type style. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So not only are you a coach, but you're an author and the book that you have that I'd like to talk about, I know you have a few, but it relates to the, um, the concept of, um, the VUCA, um, term terminology. And that is, uh, we have a traditional way of thinking about that, but you've also kind of turned it into, uh, uh, turn it on its heels to mean something different. So could you just tell us a little bit about first, what is that traditional VUCA?

Ann: Sure. Yeah. And I'm curious, Maureen, is that a term that you have heard about for a long time? Pooka or one that's newer to you?

Maureen: Well, you know, it's interesting because a couple of years ago when we were doing some, um, work with our members, we did talk about VUCA and it was part of our CEO, Stephanie Peter's presentation that, um, she would bring up and talk to our members about. And it was really in terms of the disruption as it related to, um, technology and, um, socioeconomics. But I think that in turn, I think when you take today's environment, it's, it's taken to the extreme. So,

Ann: yeah. Yeah, it definitely is. Well, um, you know, the term came from the army war college actually in 1990s. They started to call it VUCA because the way that we fought Wars had changed, you know, now we were using information and technologies and not so much troops on the ground. So, so they up with Luca and nobody takes credit for it. So it's one of those unusual terms that we don't know exactly who said it. Um, but it, it stands for, so it's an acronym and it stands for volatility. So the world just being at flux, like right now, we don't know what's coming next. And then the U is for uncertainty. Um, you know, things like what worked before isn't working now. Um, you know, for us in a time of Corona virus that thinks we could count on even a week ago, we can't count on today.

Ann: Restaurants being opened, schools being open, things like that. Um, and then the C for complexity. And that's really just what it sounds like. That it's the volume of information, but also the fact that everything's interconnected. So when the schools closed for parents, of course that changes the way they work. So it's not just they're working from home, they're also working from home while trying to care for their children. So the sheer amount of complexity. Um, and then the last is ambiguity. Just the lack of clarity that we don't even actually always know what we're solving for, what we're dealing with. So if you thought about fog or clouds, just that kind of fuzziness, not knowing it. So it's hard to get a handle on. So, um, I, you know, when I ran across VUCA probably 10 years ago, um, it was because it was making its way into the business world and into nonprofit leadership. And I actually thought this is very, this is wonderful because now we have a name for it and just having a name actually does help people. And then the longer I experienced just having a name, I thought, yeah, that's sorta like going to the doctor and them saying you have an ulcer and then expecting that you leave and you're like, great, I have an ulcer. No, we all

Maureen: Want to know now that I know. Right?

Ann: Yeah. Yeah. So that was kind of how I came to feel like, okay, we need an alternative, but what, what is it, what's the antidote or what do we do now that we know about VUCA?

Maureen: So did you, um, when you started to think of that, uh, that antidote or what is that answer? Did you just come upon it over time or how, how did you even get to that? Uh, that new concept?

Ann: Yeah, I would say, yeah, you're exactly right. I came to it over time. But it's also kind of from that awareness of if, if we don't want to just survive VUCA if we really want to thrive, what does it take to thrive and, and what, uh, what do I already see people doing who are thriving? So, um, my sense was it wasn't going to be new information. It was just going to a different way to help us be aware of what we do when we, when we thrive in times of massive change and disruption. Um, so thinking about that, I also thought it'd be great if it were the same acronym right. Then it's easy to remember. So it happened that I was able to then shape it into an acronym that I called VUCA tools. So there's the original VUCA as you mentioned, and there's VUCA tools, what we do about it.

Maureen: Yeah. And what, what, what, what are those tools? What does it stand for? Your new VUCA?

Ann: Yeah. Yeah. Um, so there are four tools, right? For letters to VUCA. So it makes sense. The first two are really two approaches that I would say, let us feel like we're on stable ground in the midst of VUCA. So, so the V stands for values. Really looking at what do I really value, what's important to me? That's how all of us make our decisions really, and how we decide how to spend our time, how we decide what to do. Um, you know, how we decide what gives life meaning and values as something for most of us, they change of course over the course of a lifespan, but they're very enduring so they feel like a solid place to stand. Um, and then the, the second one that's more about a solid place to stand as us. So when we feel alone in dealing with the disruption or dealing with, as this has been just a crisis, then we already are kind of vigilant.

Ann: But now we're feeling like we're a little more socially distancing. So we're literally alone working from home. And if we don't lift our heads up and look at who else is on my team, who else can I count on? Whether it's vendors or friends or families or teammates, just knowing we're not alone and knowing that a lot of those other people will have strategies that are different from mine. Um, and then circling back to values, you know, our values also determine what's gonna get us upset. So if I value family and you value, let's say something like success at work, right? We both probably value what the other values also. But if you're not able anymore to feel successful at work with the crisis, you're really likely to be anxious. And maybe I'm less anxious cause now I get to spend more time with my family. So we get triggered by different things. And that makes that us part really important because it means when you're feeling out of whack, maybe I'm feeling okay and vice versa. So knowing who's part of your team, um, even if they're not identified as part of your team, who is your I,

Maureen: Yeah. And you, you have to I guess, learn that over time you don't learn that maybe in crisis mode. It's something that's been built up, um, to get you to this place so you can cope and, and Mmm appreciate each other.

Ann: Yeah, for sure. I think that us gets built over time and then maybe during crisis all of us realized we've added one or two people. Sometimes people we don't know to us, you know, sometimes somebody on TV who you find reassuring or clear that becomes part of your us just making you feel less alone.

Maureen: So what's the, where do we go next? Yeah. I mean it's just to know,

Ann: So for me, like that notion of having stable grounds that felt important, but obviously you don't want to just hang out in one place. So the C is, it's about curiosity. What do I need to ask? What do I need to learn? What do I need to know in order to move forward? Um, so there's so much we don't know about this new world that we're in and that's terrifying at times, but we're, we're born curious. And so really when we expand perspective, start to ask questions, start to think about, well, how am I going to find that out? I need to know that even something like technology, you know, I know you at the VSCPA had already mastered some of the working from home, um, because you needed to and a lot of places hadn't mastered that. And so just leaning into that curiosity, what's the best technology for us?

Ann: Who knows about that technology? How can we use it? And then the last one, the A stands for aspiration. So where, where is it that I've had it, where am I wanting to end up? Um, knowing what you're moving towards, what you're hoping for, what you want to accomplish, um, who you want to be, gives all of us hope and moves us forward. You know, obviously if we don't know where we're going, then any path will do as, as you've probably heard before. So knowing where we're headed gives us some direction as we're taking, taking action. And, you know, circling back to my background as a neuropsychologist, um, some of the things we know about the brain or, or when we are hopeful, then we can't simultaneously be anxious. Usually feeling hopeful causes that area of the brain that feels anxious to calm down. Um, so it's helpful in that way.

Ann: And then aspirations also just help us to notice when we know where we're headed, to notice, Oh, that would help me get there. Whatever that is. Whether that's a blog or a podcast like this, um, or, or just something we read that it helps just grab that and say this is part of what's going to get you there. So VUCA tools, um, you know, both about stable ground and about moving forward. And in my mind, the more I thought about it, um, you know, a number of years ago now, the more I thought, yup, I see people do that and it feels like you need all four of those things actually to be successful to, to thrive when everything changes.

Maureen: Absolutely. It is, it is interesting how it brings together things that we might already know or have heard, but it is, um, it's a great framework just to put them together and to then, um, kind of contrast it with that, uh, the traditional VUCA will, you know, what, what can it be? And those are, those are just just perfect, perfect ways to think about it. Um, when you are working with an individual or a team, um, I'm assuming that you bring in the VUCA tools in the discussions. Um, if, if you do what, how do you frame those discussions? What do you do with that? How do you lead them through some thinking about this?

Ann: Yeah. Um, really good question and because I've gotten to work with you and your team before, you probably have some, uh, some recollection of some ways we did that. But, uh, I think values is a good example that when a team is clear about what are their common values, then they, they really know where they stand as a team. And probably just as important for teams a lot of times is to actually recognize each of us values different things. And to be conscious of that and find that common ground and the lens of values I think is a useful one because we're very unlikely to look at someone else's values and say those are bad. All values are good. They just might not be my values. Right? So somebody else who values, um, let's say predictability and order, I think those things are fine and useful, but it just doesn't have to be in my top five values. Growth and learning are much more in my top five. And yet I really looking at that person who values predictability and order. I really appreciate that and it makes me look at them and say, I'd like that person on my team cause they, they're gonna ground that much better than I will. Um, so often it's working with people to see what are our common values and, and shared ways of seeing the world, but also what makes us unique. So we're leveraging the diversity that you try to get on a team.

Maureen: And I know that I've, I'm not sure if we've done it with you, but I know that there are tools that help people. I don't know if the right word is figure out, but just, kind of, bring out the words for the values that they may have not been naturally able to say, Oh, I value predictability, but you know, you could use a tool that, um, asks questions about your preferences or, um, different ways that you might react. And it helps, like I said before, bring, bring the words to those values and then you look at them and you go, Oh yeah, that's, that's exactly how I am. How did they do that? And then be able to share those with others. And the others are probably saying, Oh, that's right. I wouldn't have been able to describe you like that, but that's exactly, that hits the Mark.

Ann: Yeah. And then of course, once you have the words, then that's, you know, then the next time you're in an interaction with that person then and if, if something doesn't go well with the interaction, a lot of times she could say, Oh wait a minute. That's that she likes predictability. And I was talking about all the things we could do differently that, that of course that would rub her the wrong way. Now I can say, and this may be comes to the us now I can say, you know, I know you love for things to be predictable. So what I want you to know is as we make these changes, we're not going to change any of these things. These are already working well, we're going to change these other things that aren't yet working the way we want. Um, so it gives us a lens then per be more effective with each other. Right, right.

Maureen: How do you, um, talk about or foster the curiosity?

Ann: Yeah. You know, and in a certain way that's probably hard for me cause it's, I, I'm so naturally curious that, um, it, I've had to think consciously how do I actually do that? Um, there are lots of ways to do it, but I, I would say one of the best ways is just to help people be in conversation with each other and ask questions. Um, sometimes questions like what's something unexpected that happened to you so that you just start to get a sense about that other person and what, how do they define unexpected? Um, or you know, in the case of the Corona virus, what's something that you just realized that you, you don't have a clue about? So one of the best tools is honestly just open-ended curious questions, um, that you don't know the answer to because you don't need to know the answer. You just need to ask the question

Maureen: and then listen.

Ann: Yes, yes. Listening is credible,

Maureen: which is, uh, sometimes a skill that, uh, is, uh, better in some folks than others. I'll just say, um, it's not just always the a level field.

Ann: Yeah. And not something that's easy to do either. You know, I think curiosity as hard as when we're confident that we know the answer because we're not looking for another answer and we're not likely to listen. In fact, sometimes we'd listen to confirm that what we think is right. So you're exactly right, being not just curious, but really willing to listen and to expand on what you see. So

Maureen: one of the things that just crossed my mind as we're talking that I'm thinking of listening especially, um, in our current work at home environments and our remote work, there are so many more distractions, um, that it maybe you were naturally, you were usually a good listener and able to focus, but maybe you have five people on the screen that you're staring at and something's buzzing over here and a kid, you know, that you hear in the background, it's, it's probably harder than ever and you're, you know, you can even see those people that maybe aren't listening as intently as you would hope. So a challenge for the time, I guess.

Maureen: Okay.

Ann: Yeah. And I think it's, it's one of those places that my clients had been pretty unique. I mean, most of my clients also have shifted their work to home and some of them are finding it's way easier to focus and listen cause they're, they don't have anyone on their door interrupting. Um, and other people as you're saying, fine, there's a lot more interruptions, whether it's kids or spouse, also working from home or you know, the laundry calling to you from down the hall. Um, so it really varies a lot across people just depending on their circumstance.

Maureen: Yeah. And I have to imagine I'm working from home a month ago is different from working from home today just with the, um, all the, all the extra stuff. Um, that's being thrown at the everyone, um, all the new new challenges, new stressors, uh, everything. So, a new day, new challenge. Yeah. You mentioned, go ahead.

Ann: Well I was going to say, one of the things that has really impressed me has been how creative people are. Like, I think we all were shell shocked at first and now they're starting to be a little bit of a new normal and starting to see how creative people are being. Um, you know, whether that's creating a, one of my clients shared using sticky notes, they've always used those at work to for the team to organize tasks and prioritize tasks. And now they're using that with their kids to structure their school day and letting their kids choose when they're going to do the tasks. But still they have to get all the tests done. Um, and so I've been struck by the creativity of some people making the most of something they wouldn't have chosen.

Maureen: Right, right. I, I'm, I'm interested to see next year at this time, how many of those things that um, maybe we're making adaptations because we have to, and we think we'll go back to the old way, but maybe we really won't. Maybe we'll, we'll have found that that was pretty good. Don't need to go back to the old way. I think it will certainly mix, but I think that we're being pushed to do things that we didn't want to do or didn't know we needed to do. And who knows what we'll discover.

Ann: Yeah. My hope is we'll hold on to the things that really, you know, we wouldn't have ever found had this not happened. Um, and that we'll hold on to them cause they work and they, we ended up really saying they have value.

Maureen: Cool. Yeah. So you mentioned, uh, a few of your clients. Um, how are your clients in general holding up? What are you seeing, um, kind of overall out there in the business community?

Ann: Mm. I would say most of my clients have, like most of my friends have at some point had some kind of mini breakdown, you know, different points. Um, but at some point I've had a little like, Oh my God kind of moment. Um, you know, one client has wondered whether he has Corona virus, has a lot of the symptoms and then that was scary not being able to get a test. Um, you know, many clients are of course worried about the business continuity, how long it's gonna take for their business to kind of rebound from all this. Um, I actually reached out to my CPA today who does my taxes to see how he's doing because I know for CPAs that, you know, you count on having a breather after April 15th and now the deadlines are different. And so I was a little worried about him and wondering, you know, are you going to get a breather or is it going to mean you have this prolonged period now of doing taxes instead of a little break? So thing, everybody's been different and I'm just trying to stay in touch with people and let them know, even though we have scheduled times that we meet, feel free to reach out at other times cause it's not always predictable when, when something's gonna strike you as overwhelming or when you just need a partner to talk something through with.

Maureen: Right. Well I know they appreciate that. So I want to thank you for the time that you, you've given us. It's really been, um, important, important topics and important things for people to think about. But before we wrap up, I just wondered, what are you doing to help with your stress during this time?

Ann: Um, well thank you for caring to ask that. Maureen. I, um, you know, one of the gifts of working from home is that I have a two year old Australian shepherd who I usually get to walk morning and evening, but now I can walk in whenever I take a break. He thinks that must be an opportunity for us to walk. So, so I'm getting a lot more walks and, and you know, that feels like even though we're trying to maintain social distance, that I'd live in a neighborhood that's pretty walkable. And, um, and I do notice that even if I'm stressed that I'd feel pretty good after a walk with him. And of course he doesn't know what's going on. He's just happy to have it. So, um, and then I watch, I don't know if you watch David Nuer at night, the national news on channel eight, but he always has the last five minutes. It's always something positive, a positive story. So I get a little vicarious resilience from watching him. And, and that story about usually some aspect of generosity or kindness or creativity that I find reassuring that we're still, we're still finding ways to thrive, even with all that's going on.

Maureen: You know, it's, um, it's interesting that the person that I talked to you right before you for the podcast, when I asked her this question, she said she finds the positive things out there in the world, either through social media or the news. Those positive stories really help. And she goes for walks. So I think we have a theme. You need to get outside

Ann: two things that we can do.

Maureen: Exactly. I guess maybe that maybe the, it's then we don't have a lot of options. So those are two that are free and available to everyone. Yeah. Well, and again, thank you. I always love talking to you and it's been fun to do it in this different mode, so I appreciate it. We'll, we'll be together soon. Hopefully.