Leadership in Action: Aaron Austin



Aaron Austin is the GIS manager at the Utah Division of Water Resources. Aaron and two colleagues at the Utah Division of Water Resources participated in Crafted Leadership’s Lead by Design course in July 2019.


The Return on Investment of a Lead by Design Course

The Lead by Design training has been valuable for our division as a whole. Some direct applied benefits are having tools. Having shared language. Having multiple people start to understand the same concepts. Those things help get people over the hurdle of not wanting to talk.


What helps is having a framework, and shared language, and permission to have difficult conversations, and starting to trust that the person you’re having a conversation with is wanting and able to resolve it, as well.


Before the training, we had so many unresolved conflicts. There was an environment of, “I can’t talk. I can’t even bring up this subject with people because I don’t know that they’re going to be on board for resolving it, and I don’t have any of the skills or framework to know what that conversation should look like.” And so the conversations would go unsaid, undone, and the problems would fester.


On Taking the Skills Back to the Workplace

We have taken those skills and assigned them out among the three of us [who took the course], and we’ve been presenting them at manager meetings. Teaching the conflict resolutions skills to others in the division is valuable. So that the interactions can become, “Hey we have the shared language, here we go. Let’s talk this over.”


I had one staff member that was not able to attend the training. I brought him in for a one-on-one and reviewed some of [the training skills]. He later had an encounter with another employee and came back to me and said, “Hey, you were telling me about these skills and this concept, could you have a talk with me and this other person? I’m not really sure what to do about what just happened.”


So I mediated that conversation with Crafted Leadership’s conflict resolution skills. That was a really positive experience.


The Art of the Toss

I’ve taught the Art of the Toss from Lead by Design and found it very valuable. At a meeting I might say, “Let’s pick a person and talk with them about what they’re passionate about and practice asking questions, not just preparing to respond, but to ask the person for more. We practice listening and asking questions that further the conversation.


People are asking more questions. They are [saying] “tell me more.” They are recognizing that they could listen better and not take over conversations or reflect the conversation back to themselves or their own interests. They are listening and furthering conversations better.

That’s helpful for us. We’ve got a group of engineers, and people can be pretty introverted and siloed. Learning the Art of the Toss has been helpful in our communication with each other.


Injecting Fun into the Workplace with Lead by Design Skills

Teaching the Art of the Toss is a way to inject some fun into a meeting. I want to inject

fun. With the Art of the Toss, I have a skill that people will learn from, but it is also fun, right?

Instead of our mundane, sitting down for a regular meeting, the first item of a meeting might now be, “we’re going to learn about the Art of the Toss, and we’re going to break off into pairs, and we’re going to find out about each other’s passions.” It’s a very valuable component of bringing fun into the meeting, and getting people talking, and learning to listen.


On What Differentiates Crafted Leadership from Other Professional Development Trainings

There’s a lot to be said about our experience with Julianna and great interactions with a great teacher. When you have a great teacher, like Julianna, it’s not just the material, right? You have someone who conveys the material, but also someone who shows you they care about you and who notices the nuances of what’s being said.


Julianna did a great job of always drawing more out of people when it seemed appropriate. There’s definitely a few examples of what I thought were quite — I don’t know what words I’d use to describe them — controversial or powerful moments. For example, one of my staff in her last training really went at her. I think he argued his point well and was pretty forceful about it, and I loved that he said it — and I also loved how Julianna handled it. She could pull it apart into its pieces and know what parts to toss back at him and say, “Is this really the truth or is this part of a story?” Having a great teacher adds to the great material.


Personal Applications of Lead by Design Skills

My wife didn’t go through the training, but I can now say to her, “Let’s talk this through. This is what a story is, and this is the drama triangle.”


I’ve used the skills for conflicts I’m in myself. I worked through something pretty controversial with these skills. I’ve also mediated conversations for other people with the skills.

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