Volker Frank – Holding Tension | Conversations with Coaches | Boxer Media

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Volker Frank

Volker supports leaders to create the circumstances in which collaboration flourishes. His clients discover how much their quality of presence, communication style, and ability to build trusted relationship networks shape their ability to effectively influence, resolve conflicts and respond to change.

His specialties include Agile software development, strategic planning, Systemic Coaching, meeting facilitation, NLP-based leadership coaching, business process analysis, systems analysis, and organizational development.

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Kevin Stafford 0:02
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the conversations with coaches podcast. I’m your host, Kevin and I have already had the pleasure of getting the chance to know Folker Frank, a little bit. I’m gonna I’m going to work on that pronunciation. But I already know I don’t have to work very hard to have a great conversation with this gentleman. He’s, he’s excellent. I feel my heart warmed already for knowing him excellent, excellent, warm demeanor. And I cannot wait selfishly, to talk to him a little bit about what really drives him what he’s passionate about. And to introduce you to him a little bit. I think he’s think it’s pretty special. So, before I go up a complimentary smokestack, let me introduce you a little bit. Folker supports leaders to create the circumstances in which collaboration flourishes and love that statement, his clients discover how much of their quality of presence communication style and ability to build a trusted relationship networks shape their ability to effectively influence resolve conflicts, and, importantly, responds to change. Folker, thank you so much for making the time today. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being such a, a warm, borderline inspiring presence, I feel so comfortable with you already. And I know this, you’re a coach, you’re great at this. But you stand back even amongst the crowd of coaches, I’ve gotten a chance to talk to you. So thank you for spending some time with me today.

Volker Frank 1:16
Thank you for the generous introduction. Of course,

Kevin Stafford 1:18
let’s go back to not the beginning, beginning. But let’s go back to your beginnings your superhero origin story, as a coach, how you got your superpowers, it’s often a very distinct and unique but also very like has very common points with with a coach where someone I’ve met key mentor at the right moment kind of gave you the vocabulary or the understanding that coaching was right for you. Or maybe that you already were a coach and just didn’t have the word for it yet. Or the opportunity arose for you to move into coaching to kind of discover the kind of impact you wanted to make in the world, the kind of the way you wanted to move into the world and why you wanted to serve people. So how did you first realize discover that you either were already or wanted to become a coach? Well, you can go backwards, it’s hard to it’s hard, it’s hard to identify one of them.

Volker Frank 2:10
Certainly, in a more tactical and practical way. It was the combination of going through a personal crisis, a divorce, that really had to sort of shine a light on myself. And recognizing that what I was learning about myself, was highly applicable to what I was doing in my job. And at the time I was working, designing software that helped midsize companies like two 300 People create a central data repository, a database that everybody can work against. So you stop sending around spreadsheets and an updated reports that by the time you actually look at them are already out to date, and are able to just get to your central database and find out what you need to know. And that involves getting a lot of different people within an organization around a table, and actually clarifying what worked and what didn’t work and what they want that software system to do. And I realized that I enjoyed the conversations about work and how they think about work way more than the process of actually building or supporting the building of a piece of software. So I looked for a way to make the conversation. So the central part of my job and not magic magic project.

Kevin Stafford 3:44
It’s a lovely way for that realization to emerge where it’s it’s it’s you’re trying to put together a mechanism through which people can collaborate. And then you realize that you just you like the people collaborating part. Exactly. I’m a recovering nerd. May you never recover? Fully, not fully.

Volker Frank 4:10
I definitely leave a lot of that expertise around process and having useful conversations about how we work

Kevin Stafford 4:19
is such an important foundation to and I think it’s one of the things that makes coaching so, so distinct from other types of training or teaching or mentorship or whatever other word you want to call it. I love the way that coaching really does combine the deeply systematic, where there’s there’s definitely there’s a framework there’s plan there’s, there is a path to clear and concise action that will lead you to where you want to go. And there’s that guidance, that discovery that that that coaching to an awareness of who you are, where you are, who you want to be where you want to be. And so there’s there’s a lot of, of that interpersonal relation shipbuilding in that interaction and that discovery that’s also paired very nicely with, you know, something you can really sink your teeth into, and really take action on, that’s something I find to be very, very powerful about coaching,

Volker Frank 5:11
I think of it often as, so that process of making our implicit knowledge more explicit. So there are certain things that guide me on, you know, my willingness to take risks, or my desire to want to stay safe and predictable. In these inner guidance systems are entirely implicit. And they are for ourselves and for everybody we’re talking to, and then helping to make those implicit mechanisms more explicit. So that we can actually include them in our, in our thinking and in the way we talk or describe the world that holds a lot of power, and a lot of potential for change and the potential for making adjustments, and really thinking about what makes us effective.

Kevin Stafford 6:02
I was talking to a coach earlier this week, about where we were having a conversation about this kind of this kind of stuff. And it occurred to me that there is a sort of default setting that we sort of step into when it comes to ourselves. And obviously, there’s so much development that happens underneath the surface when we’re children, babies, you know, young adults, preteen teenagers, all sorts of stuff going on, you’re getting all this formalized education and training, you’re getting all this parenting if you’re fortunate enough, and you’re moving out into the world, and then you move into the, into the, into the professional realm. And then you’re kind of quote unquote, done with formalized training. And with that in big air quotes, because you’re not finished yet, you’re not finished learning. But you end up with this, this sort of sense of your default settings, the implicit way in which you move through the world that feels to a lot of people I know, it feels like a black box, where it’s just like, Oh, it’s just, it is what it is. Or it’s not necessarily a sort of hopeful embrace of things being out of your control, and almost more of a, I don’t know, I don’t know what questions to ask, I don’t really know where to look. And that’s really a coach coming in, to really start asking you good questions, like not just questions in general, but really good questions that then lead to better questions about who you are, how you arrived at who you are today, and then kind of figure out like how that might move into the next thing. And the next version, the next set of settings, you know, maybe end up hurting up your leadership skills, from a five to a seven and to an eight that even though you didn’t even know, there was a dial there, I’m you, I’m kind of stretching the metaphor. There’s just so much more that we get to learn. And that’s I love, I love the way that coaching moves into that space, that sort of usually just occupied by solo explorers trying to figure things out in the dark feeling around looking for the light switch to turn on to figure out, you know,

Volker Frank 7:49
and the interesting part is, we can do it on our own. So usually, the external world is our feedback mechanism. So I mean, oftentimes, in my conversations with my clients, they bring some attention to how much our internal conversation is a direct mirror of our external conversations. So how I relate to the aspect of me that wants to be a risk taker and wants to gamble big, or be safe and maintain the status quo. How I relate to these aspects of myself, is a direct reflection to how I will encounter people out there that are more risk takers, or are more interested in safety and predictability. And the conversations and the gripes and the challenges I have with them, is a direct reflection of how I relate to that inside of me. And that’s, so it’s really not that mysterious or black boxy, we just need to look at our relationships and who drives us crazy. And who we get along with, to get a pretty good sense for what we value and what we’re comfortable with. And where we’re not very skilled yet at holding certain tensions within ourselves. And these are tensions. This is not there’s no right or wrong about it. But how I hold the tension between being a long term planner and making sure there’s food on the table for tomorrow. Those two legitimate interests play out in business all the time. And depending who’s sitting around the conference room table, the conversation will go differently. And so we have this, it’s a two way conversation at all times. And it’s actually not as mysterious as it looks in the beginning.

Kevin Stafford 9:37
It’s so funny how when you lay it out, and by the way I loved I love that phrase holding tension. I like the way it’s sort of like a very important cousin or even maybe a sibling of the term holding space that gets thrown around quite a bit and I think it still has a great deal of value as as a term. But I really really like holding tension because it does speak to it embraces the fact that There is tension there, and it is

Volker Frank 10:02
uncomfortable. The fact that it is uncomfortable is not a problem, or it’s not a fault of anything, really something we have to get comfortable with, in order to do it justice, otherwise, we’re rushing past the tension with the tension. And then we operate on a simplistic model of the world. And that usually doesn’t go well for long.

Kevin Stafford 10:25
No, it does not, and then it and then it gets complicated as it tries to work itself out. And then we think it’s too complicated. We either get lost in the overly simplistic or the overly complicated. And I think you I think you wisely point out that it is fairly simple to understand the basic relationship between how you who you surround yourself with and who you are, how you talk to yourself, and how you talk to others, there’s a, there’s a very simple, I almost said, easy, that’s the wrong way, it’s a very simple way to understand that. And once you lay it out, then the challenging work begins. Because then you have to, like sit with that uncomfortability and really cozy up to those tensions. And whole, again, I love holding tension, because it really is kind of like I am signing up to feel like I’m about to go over the cliff, you know, like when you’re about to jump off of a height and you can feel that like sort of topsy turvy pneus in your stomach and in your chest. That feeling that’s one version of it. And what if that’s what if that’s going to last? For a few hours? What if it’s going to last for a few days where that needs to lose very interesting

Volker Frank 11:22
to recognize that courage is not the absence of fear. It’s like, oh, yeah, of course. Like, it may look courageous on the outside. But I was so oblivious to the downside that I wasn’t there was no fear. And then it wasn’t a courageous move, but actually moving forward. And tolerating Oh, yeah, this is kind of frightening. I don’t know how this is gonna go. Or there’s no way of predicting how this playing out. And I’m going to move forward anyway. That’s yeah, so So the same was tension. If when we’re looking for when we’re too focused on being comfortable, we’re probably we’re probably lying to ourselves. We’re excluding a lot of stuff that would word some consideration.

Kevin Stafford 12:15
Come from might not be the enemy, but it’s not your friend either. Let’s, I could talk, I could talk about this conceptual stuff all day, I love and we kind of warned each other that we both really enjoy these sort of conceptual tangents. But I want to bring things back into both into the present and also into like the nitty gritty, the nuts and bolts of your coaching practice today. I like to ask this kind of as a two parter, because I feel like it really gets at what your coaching looks like, Who do you coach? And how do you coach them the WHO being if you have any particular industries that you have a lot of clients in or a particular demographic? People at particular levels of say, a corporate ladder or entrepreneurship or anything like that? So the who is there? And then the how is say, Do you primarily focus on one to one coaching, where it’s just you and another person kind of establishing a one to one relationship together? Do you do on top of that? Or alongside that? Do you also do any kind of like group coaching small group or medium Group team coaching? Any sort of masterminds? Or even like keynote, speaking, etc, all of the above? You know, so who do you coach and how do you coach them?

Volker Frank 13:20
So who I coach naturally falls a little closer to the industry I started my career in, and the fact that I’m located in the Bay Area, around San Francisco, so there are a lot of very tech heavy areas. So a lot of my clients come from the, in our in the technology field, and not necessarily a pure technology play. Like if we think of a bank, we mostly think about money, but really, they are giant, IT organizations. And so the industries, there are very few industries that are not touched by software these days. And, and so that’s where I naturally connect with people and where I have my professional connections. And within them, I enjoy senior middle management. They have they’re often overlooked in their in how important they are to work cross functionally. When they get up to the C suite everybody understands, okay, I cannot simply like I need to think of the organization as a whole and, and in, in sort of senior middle management, people are just getting at the cusp of making that transition from being primarily in accounting or primarily in it versus suddenly recognizing, oh, all the cool problems to solve, require cross functional coordination. This is no longer something I can just tell my team to do. Now I need to convince these people over there to go along and, and support the effort, contribute their expertise. And that’s where things quickly get messy. And incidentally, that’s kind of what I practiced early on in my career building software, resolving these cross functional tensions in sometimes cross purpose agendas in a way that really serves the greater whole, versus being too focused on what’s works for my team and my people. And nevermind, those people over there.

Kevin Stafford 15:53
No, I, I cannot express vehemently enough how much I love that that’s a point of focus for you, because I find so often, so many potentially great leaders in organizations of all sizes get lost in that particular transition, where they’re essentially excellent in their in their realm and where they come up, like whether it’s it or software design or engineering, they’re so good, they kept getting promoted and promoted to promote it until they’re essentially leading their entire team. And then that next promotion, that again, you start to get into that into that into that cross departmental interaction, and you start to have to, not just leaning on but develop skill sets that are outside of what got you to where you were in the first place, all the all of the attributes that got you to the top of your of your cell within the organization will still serve you. But now you need to develop different ones in order to not just interconnect and communicate with all the other different departments, but also to have a sense for how they best work together. And that’s that is a challenging transition. And we I think we lose a lot of good leaders in that sort of that messy area. I think like you say, there’s not a whole lot, at least historically, there has not been a whole lot of focus on developing people who have reached that level, there’s almost like an implicit assumption that, well, if they’ve gotten this far, they must know what they’re doing. It’s like, actually, this this, this is this is one place where we need some help, we need some guidance. And I, again, I can’t

Volker Frank 17:22
transition from being a functional expert, like I know how to write computer code, to the relational expertise and capacity, because now I need to convince other people who know nothing about code. And, and have a very different idea of how the world works, to go along with certain ideas or initiatives for us to sort of leverage these cross functional opportunities. And certainly in a world where, yes, software and technology starts to creep into just about every aspect of a work that is occurring. There’s a lot of room, a lot of room for improvement.

Kevin Stafford 18:05
I often think of it as I think of the analogy of just learning different languages and how there’s a, I’m saying something, it’s very plain, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it anyway, there’s a big difference between being able to ask where the nearest restroom is in a foreign country, and writing poetry in that language. That’s the understatement of the century is a big difference there. But there really is and getting closer to being able to really not just communicate facts, but connect. Yeah, cross across languages, across cultures, across teams across departments. That is that is a very special and very worth developing skill set and a very necessary skill set. And I just, I like shining as much light as possible on that, because there’s too much of people kind of hand waving, and it’s like, oh, they’ll figure it out. It’s like, this is really important. This is this is this. This is the this is the sinew and the ligaments and the tendons of the organism of your organization. If they’re not working properly, if they’re not holding the right kind of tension, everything falls apart.

Volker Frank 19:11
Yeah, yeah. And you know, how I do it for the last for the last two years. That has been mostly one on one conversations over zoom. Like that most of the business just went that direction. And so a lot of the group work and trainings that have been done for 10 years before the pandemic hit. A lot of that has, at least at this point, sort of gone a little dormant. And it’s certainly one of the one of the ways of at the moment, looking at the world as it is unfolding. And seeing like where does it come back? How does it come back? And And you know, what’s the word like now. So there’s, there’s still, you know, I’m in the middle of that process with everybody else. And it’s a combination of one on one conversations, I use a lot of 360 feedback information to help people identify how they’re being perceived on the outside, or what impact they’re having different from their intention. I think I’m doing this and the people are telling me it’s not coming across, it’s like, okay, that’s good information. And it’s information that is hard to come by. So those are coaching conversations like we would expect and that our people might be familiar with, and combining that with experiential group exercises that helped us identify and tap into some of the underlying agendas, and the implicit knowledge of groups that makes ideas go well, or initiatives to falter. And you fall by the wayside, that we can sort of like a quaint little lab experiment for and explore in groups. What might be happening here, who’s who’s concerned about what how do we speak their language? How do we address their legitimate concerns and acknowledge, oh, yeah, this is gonna get harder, because it’s going to be so much easier over there. And in how benefit, risk and burden is redistributed in any kind of change is a really important conversation to have. And so it’s a combination of creating group experiences that allow us to that implicit knowing that we talked about earlier groups themselves have an implicit knowledge of their role in the world and how they function that is distinct from any one individual. Inside the group, it’s very much sort of a holistic perspective on what’s happening. And leaders who are who have a way of sensing that and acknowledging that are generally a lot more effective in reaching their goals or promoting their initiatives and ideas than people who rely too much on PowerPoints and spreadsheets. We often think that having the better argument wins. Unfortunately, that sort of ignores that humans are mostly emotional decision makers that rationalize their ideas later. And if we can tap into that emotional decision making part and address, like, truly addressed the concerns that are there, then we’re having much more luck with getting people on board getting support for ideas. And moving forward.

Kevin Stafford 23:16
Well said, well said then I, I warned you that my one my hardest job was going to be watching the Zoom clock I have, like 17 follow up questions and conversations I’d love to have with you. We’ve already been chatting for over a half an hour, this is fantastic. Again, I just want to express again, one more time how much I strongly appreciate and and passionate about your point of focus your area of focus, I love it. Not not to throw the L word out there. But I just think we need more people like you having these and facilitating these kinds of conversations. So thank you for thank you for being here and talking to me about this for a little while. But also thank you very much for doing what you do. I think it is so necessary. And I very much appreciate it. And I just couldn’t let you go without saying that.

Volker Frank 24:00
I really enjoy being here. And and yeah, it’s inspiring. Talking with other people, it’s always inspiring.

Kevin Stafford 24:08
It really is it really is before I let you go go. Where can people if they want to just learn more about you, who you are, how you came to be, who you are, what you do, what your coaching is like, etc. Where can they go to like just learn more? And if it’s different, where could they best connect with you if they wanted to send you a message, you have a preferred social media platform, you have a website you’d like people to like maybe sign up for a 20 minute chemistry call or whatever. So yeah, where can people find out more about you and connect with you when they’re ready?

Volker Frank 24:35
So the easiest way to get a hold of me is on LinkedIn. And the spelling of my first name will make all the difference. And of course my website which is just my first and last name.com Fokker frank.com where you can find that, that scheduling conversation with me button and got it on my calendar. I think those two are probably the obvious two places to start.

Kevin Stafford 25:07
Awesome. Well, one more time, thank you. And the Your name will be in the spelled correctly, it’ll be in the title the episode, it’ll be in the show notes. And I’ll make sure to include links to your LinkedIn profile and your websites and no one’s going to have to do any, any any soft googling to find. And do the audience out there. I think you know what to do next. I know I say this all the time. But do yourself the great pleasure of finding a little bit more about Volker and connect with him have this kind of conversation, I have had such a good time. There is such a warm spirit here. And also a sharp, sharp, sharp, sharp intellect. Be a part of this man’s life. And if you have the opportunity, if you’re in an organization that needs someone like him, you know what to do, click the links in the show notes, find out more, get into a Zoom Room, you will not be sorry. So and of course thank you for being here and listening to this episode. I’m always grateful for for all of you listening and for all of you responding and all the light, we get to shine on all the different coaches doing all the different kinds of work that needs to be done to make us all a little bit better. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Kevin, for having me. And thank you and I will talk to all of you, you especially but all of you again very soon

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