“When I was a software developer, I would go spelunking into other parts of the code to figure things out. As a manager, and now as a coach, I come in and ask all the dumb questions, and the way that lands, the way that people react … it’s a really interesting shift. Once I open it up, I start digging in with more questions.”
• Michael Kaufman, Masters IT Management, Agile Coach, ORSCC
Whether he’s figuring out how computer code functions or what makes people tick, Michael Kaufman lets his curiosity lead the way. Having started out with a fascination for space and the sciences, he now helps organizations to enhance Agile practices by focusing on team dynamics and relationships. One of the primary tools he draws on is Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC™).
In addition to his ORSC certification, Mike is trained in Scrum Alliance, ICP-ACC, ICP-ENT, ICP-ATF, Dare to Lead and is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC). He holds a Masters in IT Management from Brandeis University, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science.
If Mike were to name a superpower, it would be:
Curiosity, with a close second being listening.
Curiosity fed my interest in math, science, computers and electronics from a very early age. Computers were brand new. I wanted to take things apart, I wanted to see how they worked and how they fit back together.
I like to think that I listen very well – that I hear the things that are not being said as well as the things that are said. I remember as a teenager, people telling me – “Mike, you’re just a really good listener.”
On his background
I was very much a science and math geek. I loved math and it came to me very easily, so I went into the sciences. I was fascinated by astronomy and I wanted to be an astrophysicist going into university. I changed my major two or three times until I landed on computer science.
I became a software developer, and as my career progressed, I started taking a wider view of the system in the context of software development. Instead of just writing code for whatever I was given, I’d ask – How does this interact with something else? Where are the connection points? How does this fit into the overall product? What are customers actually going to use this product to do? I started to get a wider and wider vision of how my little piece fit into the bigger picture.
Then I flipped the typical corporate career trajectory. There was no software development management position open in my company at the time, but a QA manager position was open. I crossed the floor between development and QA, and went from individual contributor to manager all in the blink of an eye. That was an interesting switch.
Now I needed to look at things from a different angle. It almost felt like I was starting over from scratch. As a first-time manager, I started to recognize that I didn’t know as much as the people I was leading. I had a whole team of QA engineers, some of whom had 20 years of experience. I had to learn how I could learn from my direct reports.
That’s what really started to shift me over to what I would call the people side. Being a computer science type of person, I was very binary, right and wrong – this is the right way to do it, this is the wrong way to do it. When I started getting to the people side, I realized that there’s a whole ocean of gray in between. That began my trajectory into leadership development, coaching, human dynamics, team dynamics, communication styles, and all the other wonderful fun stuff that I find myself doing now.
On what first piqued his interest in ORSC
I’d been in the Agile community for a number of years prior to taking the ORSC classes. There’s a really nice synergy between ORSC and the Agile community.
ORSC is about how to coach organizational systems. I had recently been hired as a director, and I felt that was going to be more useful to me. You take the classes, you start diving into it, and you’re Alice going down the rabbit hole. I realized that there’s so many more applications to ORSC than the narrow view that I took initially. For many different reasons, I’m happy that I ended up choosing this path.
On his favourite ORSC tool
I don’t know how you would pick! That’s like asking a parent to say which one of their three kids is their favourite – but I will give an example of one that was was pretty powerful.
I was coaching an Agile team comprised almost half and half of people who had been on this team for a couple of years, and people who had just recently joined. They just weren’t gelling as a unified team.
I came in and did Lands Work with them, and it was really amazing. In that first round, the original people visited the new people’s land. One of the original people crossed his arms and said, “I think your tool is working here, Mike.” I could see it in the questions that they were asking, I could see it in the looks on their faces, that they got an understanding of the other land. They said that they actually felt more like a team after that two-hour session than they had in the past six months.
On his biggest inspirations
First and foremost, The Responsibility Process and The Leadership Gift program created by Dr. Christopher Avery. When I was a QA manager, I wanted to be a good manager, so I found this program and enrolled in it. That began my journey into personal growth and development – really understanding how much of the world around me is created by me, how much I am personally involved in the creation and the attraction of the things that happen to and around me, in my immediate vicinity.
From there, I went in a few different directions. To name a few – Eckhart Tolle, I really got a lot of inspiration out of what he has to say. Brené Brown – I have read literally every single book that she has published, including some academic ones from early in her career. Of course, Simon Sinek because everybody reads Simon Sinek.
L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around is a book that talks about how a leader voluntarily gives up their positional power to the people underneath them, and engages the workforce. In David’s case, it’s the men on the submarine. By raising up their engagement and involvement, he improves the entire organization. It’s this whole philosophy or concept of servant leadership. It’s a buzzword nowadays, but I’ve been reading a lot about it and trying to dig into what it really means to embody servant leadership.
On what’s lighting him up
Along with two friends of mine, I recently become accredited through ICAgile to teach two particular courses – one on leadership and agility, and the second on adaptive organization design. We definitely bring a systems thinking viewpoint to both of these courses.
I have a pet project off to the side, a passion project on parenting well after divorce. I worked on it with a friend of mine. It’s a course, but more importantly it’s a community. We bring together other divorced parents in a community where we get to support each other. They can take the ideas and the concepts from the class, and it can also be – “Hey, this is what I’ve done, and this is what’s worked for me.” The idea is that they support each other with their own lived experiences.
Going through divorce is a shift in your identity of who you are. That takes some processing. It’s a shift in how you interact with your kids, and it’s absolutely a shift in how you interact with your ex. You’re always going to be linked to that person through your kids. If you have really young kids when you go through your divorce, you will continue to communicate and interact for many, many years to come. Even if your kids are older, if they’re grown and you’re an empty nester, you’re still going to be linked to your ex through your kids in one way or another. How do you deal with that? How do you manage that?
So that’s a little passion project that I’m working on.
Last year, I started on a path of mediation and conflict resolution. The current book that I’m reading is called Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. That’s all about negotiations, and how you get to yes in a conflict-type of scenario.
On his heroes
I have multiple heroes.
Stephen Hawking, because of his absolutely brilliant mind.
I really like Chris Hadfield. As a Canadian, I almost feel like I’m obligated to say that, but I really do like him because of my fascination with astronomy and space from a very, very young age. I did read his book, and he has some really cool stuff in there.
Daniel Pink, and you’ve got to throw Brené Brown in there too.
On when he is most on purpose
When I am fully in service of the people that I’m in front of, when I am truly there for them and for their growth, for their change, for the edge that they’re trying to cross, whatever it is that they need. When I am fully present, available and in service to their emerging need – that’s when I feel the most on purpose. It’s also where I feel the most fulfilled.
- Learn more about Mike.
- Learn more about Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching.
- Explore the links between Agile & ORSC.
Mike’s Resource List
Christopher Avery | The Leadership Gift program
Want to learn more about what RSI and ORSC can do for you?
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