• October 2013

Leadership Rules: Amy Elizabeth Fox Helps Us Deepen Our Understanding of What It Means to Lead Well

Trainer, executive coach, and organizational strategist Amy Elizabeth Fox has experience in consulting for corporations and nonprofit organizations around the country and also around the world.

Since 2004, she has been running Mobius Executive Leadership, a boutique firm specializing in organization building and corporate training in leadership development.

Her consulting and training work focuses on issues of communication, team building, negotiation, and strategic planning. Over the past decade and a half she has spoken at numerous national industry gatherings and led workshops for corporate executives across the country. Her clients include American Management Systems, Standard and Poors, Merrill Lynch, and Capital One.

Scroll down to learn more about her insights.


Be Inkandescent: Let’s talk about Mobius. What exactly do you do?

Amy Elizabeth Fox: Organizations bring us in when typically they’re either in a period of large growth or some kind of performance transformation. These are times when there’s a lot of change, a lot of stress, and a need to help senior leaders and others who are going to be involved in the change management process cultivate qualities of discernment, collaboration, and an attitude and mindset of learning high performance. So we’re usually looking at the human capital dimension of large-scale change.

Be Inkandescent: Can you give us an example of someone you worked with recently and what you did for them?

Amy Elizabeth Fox: Sure! One of our clients was a global chemical company that was working on integrating a new operating system, a new way of conducting business. The client was very interested in having its people proactively learn from their mistakes and helping leaders within the organization to inspire employees to take ownership of the change process and also drive it to new heights. They brought us in to do our leadership programs, which has four key aspects.

  • Aspects of Leading Self: This includes cultivating emotional intelligence, being able to manage reactivity, and being able to bring an optimism and positivity to daily interactions, team meetings, and projects. Modules on managing yourself include everything from a centering practice of meditation or movement or yoga all the way to thinking about what gives you meaning, what your natural strengths are, and how to use opportunities to play to your strengths or amplify activities that give you energy.
  • Leading Others: The second dimension of the program focuses on interpersonal skills. A lot of the work we do was developed at the program on negotiation at Harvard Law school where Mobius cofounder Erica Ariel Fox has been a long-time lecturer. So we teach work related to negotiation skills, but also broader skills that have to do with how you create “follower-ship,” how you influence others, how do you build a network around you to support your vision and your ideas, and everything related to high-quality interpersonal interactions. Our goal is to help facilitate the business-critical conversations people have every day so that they happen as skillfully and productively as possible. We also strive to encourage curiosity and an openness to persuasion and a willingness to reveal some of what really matters to you.
  • Creating High-Performing Teams: In this third dimension, we look at what behaviors and team norms enable people to generate collective intelligence when they’re trying to work collaboratively with each other.
  • Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning: We focus in this last dimension of leadership on adaptive leadership—how to help people lead in the face of uncertainty. It’s important that leaders lead not just by their level of technical knowledge but with their ability to intuit, the ability to look for early signals, the ability to encourage a culture of imagination. We also work on managing organizational resistance, which is inevitable in a large change process.

Be Inkandescent: How did you get involved in this industry and what inspired you to start Mobius in 2004.

Amy Elizabeth Fox: I had the privilege of being trained by colleagues of Erica’s at Harvard Law School—Doug Stone, Shiela Heen, and Bruce Patton—when they produced their book, “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.”

We discovered that when people started talking about “Difficult Conversations,” there was clearly a business problem-solving focus, but there was also a very interpersonal, psychological dimension. During the nine years I taught that book, I saw many businessespeople discover how just a little bit of training and increased awareness could free them to have conversations that they had been avoiding for years or had been working around for long periods of time.

I got very excited by the changes that I saw people making in the classroom. But there was a very interesting trend in corporate training around the time that I started Mobius. Erica and I were both noticing that clients were asking for programs to be shorter in duration, less customized, delivered by less senior experts. I just couldn’t imagine a long-term career in which I was doing something where the content was really rich and incredibly significantly helpful but we were being asked to conduct it in a way that was going to dilute the power of the work.

Erica and I created Mobius in the hopes of creating longer programs that went deeper with clients, that pulled in not just psychology but everything we know about organizational development, organizational effectiveness, as well as the world of expressive art, as well as some of the extraordinary wisdom and practices that come out of the worlds of philosophy and religion and existential psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

Be Inkandescent: You must have known instinctively that not all clients wanted it short and cursory either.

Amy Elizabeth Fox: Actually I didn’t know whether we would find clients who valued something deeper and more transformational, and who had the courage and boldness to stretch outside their comfort zone in a learning environment. Fortunately, we discovered very quickly that many, many clients recognize that their people are their strongest assets and see the work that we do with them as an opportunity to really engage leaders at a whole other level. The work we do touches on character development, moral development, and psychological mindedness in a way that enables business leaders to be far far more effective in their business interactions internally within the company but also often externally with key stakeholders and customers and clients.

Be Inkandescent: You clearly hit that nail in the head, especially with Mobius’ new book, which just came out in September, called, “Winning From Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change.” Tell us a little bit about it.

Amy Elizabeth Fox: The book is a consolidation of 15 years of Erica’s teaching and coaching in Harvard Law School, but also her work in the public and private sectors with clients at very senior levels. The book builds on the seminal perspective of how to negotiate with a win-win approach. One of the central ideas in getting to yes is that you have to separate the people from the problem. In other words, the job of two parties in conflict is to see themselves as allies in solving the problem, which is the conflict between them.

But in teaching that negotiating tactic, Erica kept hearing, “That’s great, but sometimes, the people are the problem.” People were getting stuck not just on the substance but also on the qualities of the relationship, level of communication, level of trust, and the level of good will, and the willingness of people to disclose their interest.

Over time in Erica’s coaching she started to have people ask themselves, “What happens if I’m the problem? The reason that we are getting stuck is because I’m behaving in a way that doesn’t actually best represent my intrinsic skills or even necessarily my best intentions.”

*Be Inkandescent: Tell us more about the genesis of Erica’s book, “Winning From Within,” which was our book of the month in the July issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.

Amy Elizabeth Fox: The first part of “Winning From Within” looks at what we can do to get out of our own way. The second part of the book maps what Erica calls the inner negotiators, the big four aspects of each of us: the Lover, the Thinker, the Warrior, and the Dreamer. Her contention is that most of us have one or two of the big four that were very good at, one that we don’t use quite as often but we could if we had to, and one that we largely don’t use at all and that is the weak link in our big four.

The developmental opportunity for everyone who engages in the book is to figure out how to get the full range of leadership capabilities—all the muscles, all the capacities, all the skills embodied in the big four—to be at your disposal. Erica creates a pathway, a methodology, for helping people not just understand where they’re stuck but actually get moving.

The final part of the book is a very deep, wise, reflection on the dimension of all us that’s underneath any aspect of our personality, the part of us that has deep equanimity and peace and a sense of center.

Be Inkandescent: It is an amazing book and not one that I was able to sit down in one swoop to absorb, but I find myself going back to it again and again. You and I talked at the Professional BusinessWomen of California Conference about the importance of being generous. What does that mean in terms of your business, and what advice do you have for others about being generous?

Amy Elizabeth Fox: Well, I would say that generosity is probably one of the central tributaries to the success of Mobius, because I consider it an absolute business essential that each of us understands our success is interdependent with other people’s success. Everything that has come to me as a CEO of a company has come because at the same time that I’ve been building my dream I’ve been actively looking for opportunities to have that dream intersect and lift up other people’s dreams.

A lot of what we do is about serving our clients, and we spend the rest of our time caring for one another. And I think often it’s the quality of intimacy and kindness and grit of our relationship with one another that enable us to do such unique things with our clients that really touch their cores of fear and aspiration. I think if we weren’t as intimate with each other and as generous with each other we wouldn’t be able to go as deeply into our clients as we do.

Next summer a group of us will be founding something called the Next Practice Institute, through which we hope to make a body of work that’s we’ve developed over 15 to 20 years available to practitioners, executive coaches, facilitators, and trainers who have an interest in what I think of as the nexus between best practice next practice.

Be Inkandescent: Excellent, well we’ll be interested in seeing what evolves around that. So when it comes to being generous, what are some ideas that an entrepreneur can take away? I call it “Pay It Forward.”

Amy Elizabeth Fox:

  1. Publish a quarterly newsletter. Some of the pages of our newsletter are used to promote Mobius faculty and our client offerings, but I also make the space available to the 20 alliance partners, asking them what they would like to feature, and giving them free advertising space. The newsletter has really as a result has been seen as a collective resource for lifting up our work and making it more visible.
  2. Build a body of work. I think part of being generous is taking a stance that you’re not just building an organization or a company or a bottom line, you’re building a body of work. So look for places to mentor other people and to invite practitioners from other disciplines. Really look for ways that whatever it is you’re doing can help others learn and grow and stretch.
  3. Perform small acts of kindness. These can be very personal. For example, whenever it’s someone’s birthday in my community, the day before I make sure to send out notes to people who are close to that person to alert them of that person’s birthday because I’m trying to plant seeds. Micro and macro acts of generosity are how you create community, and so mindfully noting when there’s a milestone in someone’s life—be it a birth or a death, a new home or new book, or a loss of some kind—are part of the critical way you weave the fabric of generosity inside an organization.

Be Inkandescent: And why do you think that is so important?

Amy Elizabeth Fox: I really believe the universe works on a principle of reciprocity. I think if you give out generously in openhanded faith that there really isn’t a scarcity of resource and there isn’t a scarcity of love, there’s an enormity of love, then you live and walk in a world which is loving and that’s certainly the kind of world I want to live in.

I feel that part of the stance of generosity is very closely related to the stance of gratitude. I think having a lot of gratitude for small things and large gifts enables you then to be openhanded rather than grasping, and the stance of openhandedness then enables you then to look constantly for opportunities to serve, opportunities to be of help, opportunities to include others, opportunities to leverage what you’ve created, to create more impact.

Be Inkandescent: We look forward to reading many many things about what Mobius’ leadership is doing. Thank you again, Amy.


Check out Mobius at www.mobiusleadership.com, and click here for our podcast with Erica Ariel Fox on her book, “Winning From Within.”

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