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What I learned with WOL


It's been a year since I left the company that I loved for over a decade. Transitions like this are always part of a bigger journey with many stops along the way, so hard to summarize in just one sentence. It's often two steps forward and one step back.


With lots of setbacks and inspirations along the way. One of my starting points and major source of support has been a so-called WOL circle with three other women from around the world. I captured my reflections, learnings and progress in a little red book which I just recently browsed through again when finishing up my second WOL down under. It has been powerful for my own journey of becoming a Life & Leadership Coach based in Australia. There are many ways to get support and move forward. Yet this simple, structured method created by @John Stepper - a New Yorker with strong German ties - has initiated multiple grassroots movements in corporations and beyond. It advocates self-efficacy, human connections and life-long learnings. In its core, it provides a self-organized group with guides and structure for twelve meetings around these elements: One of the hardest things about it, is to explain the experience and what it takes to make it useful for people. Why it skyrockets in some companies and not in others (like my old one...). Just yesterday through my professional coaching network (@isbwiesloch), I was asked to share my personal experiences with a wonderful talent manager from a medium-sized company. I initially joined a circle out of curiosity for John Stepper's story and also as a potential way to have a cost-efficient, agile method to offer the executive leadership team I served as a Global Head of HR. It ended up as an elevator for my bravest transition.





What did it do for me?

  • energy: in a challenging work environment, my WOL circle was a place of openness, creativity and hopefulness, thus, I felt energized after every meeting

  • shifts in perspectives: the elements of "Leading with generosity" and "being purposeful"were big topics for me - how do I want to show up in the work world and what sense can I make of my qualities and the type of work I want to engage in

  • reciprocity in the digital world: I actually changed the way I approach people in the digital world - with more appreciation, attention and specifying my ask

  • social networks: I re-discovered the power of social networks for my work life, showing myself more, engaging in conferences, learning new methods and being curious about the work world out there


What challenges did I experience?

  • self-organization: making the actual twelve meetings happen takes effort and prioritization by all circle members, it is NOT as convenient as just attending a seminar or consuming ready-to-serve type of personnel development measure often still available in big corporates

  • resonant goal-setting: we are often driven by external factors, thus defining the goal around an "ought-to" can easily happen especially in a corporate context. These goals often lack motivation/ passion, even purpose (for more research on this check out @Prof. Boyatzis et al.). Double-check what makes your heart jump, what do you really care about? For a WOL to become meaning full, it needs to circle around a goal that is related to your personal vision.

  • circle members: WOL ultimately is an opportunity to create new relationships. The more we met, the more inspiration I got, the more I wanted to make the meetings happen, it takes openness and curiosity to let that happen

  • ownership: even though I am a very much self-driven person, I was still cultivated in a company which tended to be over caring (in a good and bad way). Thus, admitting to myself that no one other than myself would have to drive my progress and honor it, was a big one. On the upside, the WOL guides helped to celebrate small wins, being kind to myself and taking one step at a time - as in many transformations, I had to put in the work, no one else did it for me and there was no external prize waiting. The guides for each meeting provided lots of little exercises and re-framing tools and how to nourish a sense of fulfillment through your own development.

Shortly after I had finished my circle, the chance arouse to leave the company I love and move to Australia, my husband's beautiful home country. It was down under that I just finished my second circle. Again, lots of learnings.

What are ways to find a circle if I am not tied to an organization that promotes WOL?

  • create your own one - I just started reaching out to friends from my personal and professional network, all resources can be found on the WOL website

  • post on social networks - for my second circle, I wanted to connect with Australians and reached out to the WOL LinkedIn group. It was incredible how many people offered help. Funnily enough, I ended up in a circle with other Germans from AUS and NZ

  • reach out to WOLies directly through social media - this is one idea I have for my next circle in 2021, thinking about a theme and browsing WOLies, inviting them directly to join a circle.


What are ideas to push WOL in organizations?

  • WOL has proven to be a grassroots-movement, so it does work! Focus your energy around people who need little convincing, who are curious and who want to step out of their comfort zone - one of the biggest mistakes I made in my corporate life was being too broad with my attention and energy, almost trying to please everyone. In any big company there are people who are ready to follow new ideas and try out unconventional methods.

  • match broader activities around your culture - have a close look at how it promotes self-organization, digitalization and purpose

  • find sponsors from the top - what does your Senior Management think about these topics? I found it very impressive that Bosch's works council promoted WOL together with the Executives, this can be such a powerful encouragement

  • connect it with other initiatives such as "women in leadership" or "new work"

  • work out loud - reach out to other internal corporate change makers for help

I have always been interested in moving forward and "systemic" approaches to figuring out a good life and work. That is why I trained as a systemic Coach in 2014. This is why I believe in self-efficacy, human connections and bias-to-action to live peacefully on this planet (and die gracefully ... a topic for another blog ). So, my WOL experience was sparking this foundation. It left a mark. And now, I find myself in the business of helping people to change. Thank you so much to my fellow WOL circle members @sonjakirschner, @peggytitmarsh, @estherschiltz, @lottekoenig, @astridvarchmin for all your support. And of course, a huge thank you to @John Stepper for your story, creating this method and sharing it so freely with the world. Our walk along Battery Park, NYC, a year ago seems like from another time. I also want to thank @Mara Tolja for promoting WOL in the APAC region. Though, currently not active in a WOL, I am happy to pay it forward and offer support in WOL initiatives in the APAC region. Reach out any time (+61491713288).

#WOL #workingoutloud #followyourflow #agileHR #bravetransitions ... A big thank you to Sonja Kirschner Esther Schiltz Peggy Titmarsh Lotte Koenig Astrid Varchmin Mara Tolja and of course John Stepper. ... Additionally, inspired by Richard Boyatzis book "Helping people change".

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