Understanding Leadership & Executive Presence

Leaders are faced with dealing with change and transition ahead in our workplace. For those folks who manage people and supervise others, how you show up and lead your teams impacts performance and outcomes in your organization. Regardless of where you work or who you lead, there comes a point in where you need to stop and evaluate if how you are leading is effective or if your leadership style needs to change.

Future success is rarely built on the same platform as one’s past accomplishments.”

Su & Wilkins, Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence.

As I begin to work with executive coaching clients, it’s been helpful to tap into coaching+leadership resources (Note: I recommend the Coaching Real Leaders podcast to coaches & leaders) to learn more about what it means to bring coaching skills to the workplace.

Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pixabay

In thinking about presence and voice, I was really struck by the value proposition concepts and finding your signature voice exercises Amy Jen Su and Muriel Wilkins share Own the Room. As a leader in any organization and at any level, I think this book looks at leadership as a supervisor, mentor, and/or a peer.

Do you know how to own a room?

This might involve the energy and viewpoint you bring, to the perceptions and realities of how others see you. Ownership of your own skills really show up in terms of how we think, act, and poise. Su and Wilkins (2013) identify ways to “own the room” by examining your own mindset, skills, and body language represented by a leader’s:

  • Assumptions
  • Communication Strategies
  • Energy

As a manager or supervisor, it is important to ask your team members questions as you listen and learn about their needs; however, it is also, critical that you ask yourself a few coaching questions to understand how you are showing up at work (Su & Wilkins, 2013):

  1. What message are you sending with your current presence?
  2. How can you improve your leadership presence in an authentic way?
  3. What should you do first?
  4. How do you deal with specific situations where (when) your presence is being challenged?
  5. How do you know if you are making any progress?

By assessing your own presence as a leader first, you are able to identify how your skills support others and get feedback for what might be missing with your approach. You are not “born with it” — as presence for any leader can and should be developed. In coaching leaders, we begin to unpack communication and understand more about how they show up to their team, supervisor, and within the organization. What is most critical for this reflection and introspection is to identify what a leader believes to be true in contrast to how others perceive the leader’s actions and attitudes — really to understand the balance between these two perspectives. What is good to know is, there is not a single way to show up as a leader. Executive presence should be defined and grown by each leader. It’s really about asking:

How are you assessing your own leadership style? In what ways are you developing and growing your executive presence? How do you want to “own the room” at work?

Reference: Su, A. J., & Wilkins, M. M. (2013). Own the room: Discover your signature voice to master your leadership presence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.


Return to the Office: How are you Supporting this Transition?

These four words are starting to enter into our working vernacular in the US, as we inch towards herd immunity. I know this brings up so many feelings and thoughts for those who transitioned their office job to a remote set up over a year ago. There is uncertainty and excitement with a dash of anxiety sprinkled in. Last week, I spent some time with an organization to think about and discuss what they would want to design for their future work life.

Transitions are…

In this workshop, I was very intentional to hold space for folks talk about their future transition, specifically to look at what they have accomplished this year at work and to design the work space they want to return on campus. Unlike change, that is situational; transitions are psychological (Bridges, 2017). For any transition we encounter, there is an opportunity for making meaning and identity development if there is a shared sense of agency, belonging, and cause (Feiler, 2020). We are not going to return the office life we once knew — as so much has changed. In this transition back to campus/office/physical workspace, I ask you:

What is the work life you want to lead? How do you want to work? What actions can you do to support transition back to the workplace?

For those of you who are managing a new beginning and thinking about these transitions from your WFH (work from home) life to the office, I adopted some of Bridges (2017) questions to support your management and planning of transitions back to campus/office life:

  • What ways are you preparing your team(s) for the upcoming transition back to campus?
  • How are you bringing others into the organization process to support transition planning?
  • What issues do you need to address from this past year of remote work that might come up in the pending transition back to the office?
  • What ways have you clarified and given purpose to the upcoming changes at work?
  • How have you involved all stakeholders in the transition process, related to their role and function in your organization?
  • In what ways have you communicated your plan? What methods have you outlined and visualized the phases for transition?
  • Beyond change management plan, what issues or questions will you need to address as your team(s) transition back to campus/office life?
  • How will you reward and recognize your team(s) as they contribute to this transition?
  • What policies, procedures, and processes need to be in place as you make this transition to prevent any inconsistencies?
  • In what ways do you need to model transition as a leader within or for the team(s) you support?
  • How will you celebrate the transition back to the workplace to mark the journey and accomplishments?

The initial part of this session started by giving back a voice and getting input from individuals within the division, beyond their own teams. The insights and ideas shared by a number of folks across functions and roles helped to expand the possibilities of what future campus life might look like. By starting from a curious place of “what could my work life be?” instead of “we’re returning back to the office that was” — you are able to shift the mindset and be open to new ways to design your work life. Additionally, it takes more than just one team or one single leader to make any transition at work, actually work. It’s moving from individual, units, and departments, to thinking about the community you are building in your organization with this new transition. To establish a “community” and move beyond the team, Hoefling (2017) identified the following attributes you want members in a community to share:

  1. Kindred Purpose: Healthy communities are about something — not just getting together to get together. ASK: Why are we here? What’s our purpose.
  2. Meets Regularly: Gather frequently enough to sustain a consistent, ongoing conversation in which the members can pick up where they left off last time without starting all over again and again; participation in the community becomes a practice in and of itself. ASK: What are we doing when we meet or gather?
  3. Shared Ground: The values or point of view; explicit shared vision keeps the group together, keeps the conversation going, and acts as a means of establishing priorities and mediating issues as the group journeys together. ASK: What are our community values and focus?
  4. To Know and Be Known: It’s about the people — not the content or the process. There should be some level of personal connection and understanding of who people are, what they are working on, and building of personal rapport. ASK: What do you want your community to be known for? What’s your legacy?

What is it time to let go of? How will you spend time with your community to design a better workplace? What will this new way of working require of you and your organization?


Bridges, W. (2017). Managing transitions: Making the most of the change.  Boston, MA: Da Capo Press

Feiler, B. (2020). Life is in the transitions: Mastering change at any age. New York, NY: Penguin.

Hoefling, T. (2017). Working virtually: Transforming the mobile workplace, 2nd Edition. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.


#25YearsOfEdTech: Call for Audio Reflections

Call for Community Voices: BONUS “Between the Chapters” episode for the 25 Years of Ed Tech book

  1. READ a chapter (or the whole book) to find a topic/year/idea that interests you. You can also get meta to audio reflect on one of the “Between the Chapters” episodes too!
  2. REFLECT & SHARE YOUR AUDIO THOUGHTS via Vocaroo or your own recording device you can send us via a URL (e.g. blog post, website, Dropbox link, etc.)
  3. SEND us the link to your recording so we can add your voice to the podcast! You can do this via the website contact form or DM @YearsEd or laurapasquini on Twitter.

Audio reflection questions/prompts:

  • How are you involved with this ______ topic/chapter/year?
  • What were your reflections back to a particular year in the book?
  • Share your experience with this particular technology, practice, or ed tech topic. 
  • What ideas and concepts most interested you from a specific chapter?
  • What is missing from a specific chapter or the book that we should talk about now? 
  • What questions do you have for the author, Martin Weller? And/Or what questions or thoughts do you want to pose to the @YearsEd community?

Deadline: Open — but we wrap up the last of the chapters on May 6th — so reflections by or before May 1st should post to the feed shortly after. 🙂


Preview in new tab

So, I’ve been helping with a fun audio project to fill the gaps in my social schedule during the pandemic. #25YearsOfEdTech has been a fun way to connect, learn, and share with a community of brilliant professionals — so here’s our reflection as we get meta to podcast about the podcast.

We are about halfway through this audio book club project now that chapter 12 is out. In this bonus episode of “Between the Chapters” Martin, Clint, and I take a pause to get meta — it’s a podcast about the podcast. We share about our audio labour of love, specifically as we discover what it means to augment text to audio and how to share an aural history of ed tech through these episodic personal/professional reflections.

X-Ray Specs by @visualthinkery is licenced under CC-BY-SA & Remix by Laura Pasquini.

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Asking Powerful Questions: Using Coaching Skills in Learning Design

Here is my lightning talk presented at LXDCon 2021 conference last month. I often use “how” and “what” questions for the sticky problems I’m trying to solve with learning design. Besides asking short, direct questions — the key is to WAIT and listen as either someone or a team figures out the next best direction to take. Although this animation focuses on how coaching skills can be utilized for learning experience design, I know that powerful questions have the power to unlock meaningful answers and better solutions in a number of workplaces — so I hope you find this applicable to the work you do as well. Enjoy!

How will powerful questions show up in your work? What powerful questions will you ask next?
Created by Laura Pasquini


Asking Powerful Questions: Using Coaching Skills in Learning Design

What is your past experience with coaching? One of my early coaching memories was being part of a swim team. To be competitive, my coach was a guide on the side to:

  • Improve stroke techniques;
  • Offer feedback on flip turns and starts;
  • Motivate me to get into the pool at 5 am; and
  • Provide focus before each swim heat on race day.

partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

The International Coaching Federation (or ICF) definition of coaching

Now that I am beginning to coach professionals to find meaningful career pathways that align with their talents and skills, a number of these early coaching experiences and skills related to coaching show up in my daily work as a learning designer.

In LXD, we are always working to solve problems with learning solutions. Coaching skills are critical for training development because:

“How we solve the problem is just as important as the solution.”

One key coaching skill I bring to my own learning design work is – asking powerful questions. Powerful questions help us “Dive Deep” and empower “Ownership” as we find clarity around any issue, problem, or challenging topic.

Here are 5 elements that make up a Powerful Question:

  1. Short and Direct – to get to the point as quickly as possible with minimal context or rambling questions
  2. Open-ended– to encourage detailed, reflective responses on any issue; they often start with a “what?” or “how?” stem; avoid the “why” questions, as others might feel you’re challenging their motives
  3. Curious & Non-Judgmental – originating from a true place of inquiry; so, avoid any leading or interpretive questions that reflect your opinion or biases – show that you’re curious
  4. Focused – on the other person’s perspective and contributions; these questions are directed to reach a specific goal or outcome from the person you’re talking to
  5. Followed by Silence – avoid offering your solution – pause and WAIT to listen to the response. W.A.I.T. is also an acronym for “Why Am I Talking?”

In LX work we are asked to design and develop with and for our stakeholders. To truly partner and collaborate, it is important to address both the need and clarify the solution before starting any project. But remember NOT to ask a solution-oriented question – that is a piece of advice with a question mark pasted on the end of it – you know you’re heard or used these ones before: Should you; could you; will you; don’t you; can you; are you.

If the second word in the question is “YOU” you’re in trouble. Instead, think of these questions as an open door, that invites everyone into the conversation. Powerful questions can:

  • Kickstart a meeting, by asking “What’s on your mind?”
  • Unpack a root problem not shared, by asking “What’s the real challenge here?”
  • And reveal an idea that was never even considered, by asking “And what else?”

Powerful questions can help our teams reach our shared goals and surface issues or ideas early on in the project planning process. We often offer solutions, but perhaps a powerful question will unlock more answers and offer incredible insights to how we work backwards for learning design. When you ask others coaching questions first it:

  • Reveals all the information that is going on
  • Creates buy-in to get results
  • Develops leadership capacity and responsibility
  • Empowers others to take action and be accountable
  • Offers authentic ways to build trust and transparency between colleagues

Consider the next time you meet with someone on your team or involved in a learning design project to enter into a coaching conversation as an exploration adventure.

Identify the goal or purpose of the meeting, and then allow for exploration questions such as “Tell me more…” or “What’s behind that?”

Next time a sticky problem comes up, don’t let your advice monster appear before asking a few powerful questions, like:

  • What do you want?
  • What do you need?

This way you can moving into lets you brainstorm questions by asking “How do we remove this barrier?” or “What have you done in similar situations?” or “What options do you suggest?”

Before moving towards making a decision and the follow-up actions, you will want others to be accountable for their next steps:

  • What was most useful to you?
  • How can I help you achieve your goals?
  • What are you taking away from this conversation?

Now that you know this, my coaching challenge for you, and you’re learning design work:

  • How will powerful questions show up in your work?
  • What powerful questions will you ask next?

Learn more at:

This video features the song Drops of H20 (The Filtered Water Treatment) by J. Lang available under a Creative Commons Attribution license.


Learning in the Flow of Work

Over the last month, I have been thinking about learning, specifically what it means to be in a constant state or flow of learning. Not a new concept, nor has it been thought of by me, “Learning in the flow of work” recognizes that for learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to working days and working lives. Think about learning coming to us, rather it being a destination or event. This could be searching on Google, listening to a podcast, asking a peer for information, watching a “how to” video on YouTube, reading a blog, and more!

Learning in the flow of work: How are you staying curious and learning lately?

On a daily basis, I am learning. I can’t help it — sometimes it’s by choice and other times it’s due to a challenge. I want to learn a new skills, figure out a new process, work on a technical development, or understand a concept/idea further. What we do at work requires continual growth and learning, you may also call it:

  • just-in-time learning
  • “on demand” learning/training
  • micro-learning
  • open/digital badging
  • micro-credentials
  • upskilling
  • retooling
  • Or {insert some other creative title here}

How we learn formally (e.g. K-12, higher ed, and at work) and informally educate ourselves, impacts our professional lives. Regardless of the industry or sector, we are continually shifting what we need from our professionals and how we need to grow in our organizations. This evolution should and will require all of us to think about learning AS part of our professional life. A degree, certification, or credential will not be the end of your learning journey. Josh Bersin and Marc Zao-Sanders offer insights into how we all need to Make Learning a Part of Everyday Work. This “flow” of learning will not only drive engagement, but also improve employee moral, increases retention of staff, upskill and motivate employees, and raises productivity at work.

I am reconsidering what I think a training program or even a single course might look like. With “the new realities of work”, I think there are both challenges and opportunities to think about what our learner actually need at any given moment. What if we were to think more about the learner and placing the knowledge, skills, and ways to learn so it flows when they actually need ?

As we shift into a hybrid work and with learning being placed in the digital, maybe it’s time to move beyond a course, an event, or event a conference (says someone who just helped produce a virtual conference a couple weeks ago). I want to know how to better empower learners that learning IS part of their professional life, role, and responsibility. I would love to see organizations think about continuous learning approaches based on Deloitte’s Four Practices to Embed Learning in the Flow of Work to offer workers what they need to enable performance, outlined as:

  • Environment: the tools, resources, physical spaces, and virtual spaces workers inhabit
  • Exposure: interactions with people and groups of people, both formal and informal
  • Experience: special work projects, stretch assignments, developmental work
  • Education: classroom, self-paced, and blended learning familiar to learning professionals

Let’s not think of learning as something to get done, but framing learning as something we do in our role at work. Learning should flow in multiple directions and be available and relevant when it is required. The fifth “E” might be an expectation — that is a value, focus, or mission of your organization to state that learning is an ongoing practice and process for the work you do. Here are just some of the MANY questions I have swirling around in my head for learning and training design:

  • How can we be more intentional with learning from the start (e.g. orientation, onboarding, etc.)?
  • What would it look like to place learning as a value for all stakeholders in our organization?
  • How can we align learning experiences to the needs, skills, and abilities of our people we’re training/teaching?
  • What would it look like if we let our learners discover, experiment, and explore WHAT they need to learn WHEN they actually need it?