Barbara Rapaport of Leadership Advantage Discusses What Makes a Good Leader
Now in its 10th year, Leadership Advantage is the Grand Rapids Chamber’s intensive leadership coaching program designed to enhance the knowledge and critical thinking skills of emerging and established leaders. The unique aspect of this eight-session program is its focus on peer coaching and meaningful introspection. The fact that guest presenters are of national caliber doesn’t hurt either!
Barbara Rapaport has been the facilitator of the program for many years. After 20 years as an executive manager and leadership coach at Steelcase, she decided to start her own organization: Real-Time Perspectives. As its President and Founder, Barbara has coached hundreds of leaders and executives in real-time to reflect deeply on where they want to go and helped them break the barriers of what was getting in their way. With all of that under her belt, it’s no surprise that program graduates rave about their experience with Barbara and Leadership Advantage.
We decided to sit down with her and pick her brain about what makes the program unique and what good leadership means to her.
Interview with Barbara Rapaport
How does one coach and facilitate people into becoming better leaders?
There are two fundamental ways of learning: The first is learning what already exists from a body knowledge, like going on the Internet or going to school and acquiring knowledge on a subject. That’s technical learning. Then there’s adaptive or transformative learning: The knowledge doesn’t actually exist, but the person creates new knowledge based on their experience. That’s what I focus on in Leadership Advantage.
Can you expound more on transformative learning?
A concrete example I like to give is Captain Sully Sullenberger. Years ago in the New York City area, a flock of geese flew into his plane’s engines, but he was able to land it in the Hudson River, and everyone survived. Sullenberger had the technical expertise as a pilot and knew how to fly a plane – but if you read his book, he says that there was nothing in this world that would have taught him to land it in the Hudson River. In minutes, he had to make some tough decisions, and even though he had no idea how to land the plane, he was able to through adaptive learning. He created new knowledge of how to do it and trusted his instincts. I try to do that at Leadership Advantage.
What is the value of introspection as a leader?
Many executives will tell you that the higher up you go in an organization, the more time you need to spend in deep reflection. At the core, I help people identify how they get in their own way. Leadership Advantage lets you do that in a very safe environment. If you change how you think, you’ll change what you do.
What is the value of the peer coaching aspect of the program?
I’ve worked with close to 400 leaders, and most of them say they are pretty lonely in their roles. Peer coaching gives them a group to rely on who they can share their greatest anxieties and greatest joys. It moves from a bunch of strangers in the room to a cohort of people who coach one another. By the end of the program, they’re calling one another and having happy hours. Over the eight sessions, they learn to become amazing listeners and responders rather than fixers. A lot of people value it.
FUN FACT about you?
I love scuba diving! I haven’t gone in years, but I love it. It’s the most serene and beautiful thing. The rest of the world goes away and you’re in that real-time moment!
What are the common challenges and anxieties of the leaders you meet?
A lot of leaders, especially younger ones, are anxious about being their authentic selves. They’re worried that if they demonstrate their true selves, they’ll be stereotyped as millennials and written off. People want to be this integrated human being – at work, at home, and in the community. There’s a lot of struggle around getting past those anxieties and the limitations you impose upon yourself. We try to help people reach courageous authenticity and have the conviction to be strong and open-minded, but not walked all over.
The most rewarding aspect of what you do?
The work I love most is watching human beings have that transformative moment when they say: “The thing that got in my way is me. I can choose to change that and I don’t see it in a negative light anymore, but a positive one.” We call that reframing. You take the same set of circumstances, and the reality doesn’t change, but your understanding of that reality changes. By the end of the program, each person has that transformative moment. Multiple people have come up to me and said: “You changed my life.” And I always say that I didn’t change it. I just created a context for YOU to change it.
Top 3 traits of a good leader?
The first is patience – with yourself, with others, and how fast things can or can’t get done. You have to be a calming influence for yourselves and others, especially when things get overwhelming. The second is authenticity. Be someone who is true to themselves in all walks of life. Third, be humble in recognizing that you don’t know what you don’t know.
“Leadership Advantage was a life-changing experience for me, but it was really just the start. There was a specific part of the program where we address vulnerability. Admittedly, this is an area of weakness for me. During a break, I approached Barbara and opened up to her in a way that I had never done with anyone before in my life and, in turn, I was able to do the same with the group. The most powerful part was that everyone simply listened. No one offered up any immediate advice; they just listened and said, you know, it’s okay, we empathize.”
– Mike Lomonaco
Director of Marketing & Communications, Open System Technologies
“I will be forever thankful for the opportunity I was given to experience Leadership Advantage. Barbara’s insight, her programming, and the lessons she provided and created are absolutely priceless. I am forever a different person, employee, spouse, and leader because of this program, which has provided me the tools to see and experience the world, my profession and all relationships through a different and more constructive lens. This program is a growing process that I wish everyone could experience.”
– Shannon M. Cunningham,
Director of Marketing & Business Development, Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge
“I joined this program with an open mind and a willingness to learn. I hoped to pick up a few pearls of wisdom that I could live by on a daily basis. Little did I know, the relationships that I developed and the new perspectives I gained helped me leap over so many hurdles that I was not consciously aware of. How I make decisions and the way I view the world around me have forever been altered. This program helped me take that next step in my lifelong development journey and not a day goes by that I don’t use the tools from this experience.”