Transformative Teaching With Lisa DeAngelis


We have to be aware and understand what our values and priorities are. We must exert effort to understand our experiences and see the world more positively. Join Tony Martignetti and the founder of Dragonfly Coaching, Lisa DeAngelis, as they delve into transformative teaching, knowledge, wisdom and leadership. Lisa is the Center for Collaborative Leadership director and is currently writing her first book, tentatively entitled Teaching for Transformation. In this episode, she shares her journey, particularly personal experiences and pivots she took to get to where she is now. She discusses the importance of living and experiencing life to the fullest, even if it means making certain changes in your goals. She talks about the importance of learning from your experiences and notes that embracing your gifts is a selfless act. She elaborates on the importance of changing from a microscopic perspective to a telescopic perspective.


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Transformative Teaching With Lisa DeAngelis

It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Lisa DeAngelis. She is the Founder of Dragonfly Coaching. She helps leaders at all levels move from knowledge to wisdom to action. Lisa has published several peer-reviewed articles on leadership, teamwork and transformation. Lisa is a frequent presenter for many organizations, including the Core Leadership Institute, Wharton, Novo Nordisk, West Point, Lego and Banco Popular. Lisa is a Director for the Center of Collaborative Leadership, which established a new paradigm for how organizations and individuals become successful through collaborative leadership, a process built on teamwork, trust and respect for diversity of thought. Lisa is writing her first book tentatively titled, Teaching for Transformation. Lisa, I want to enjoy welcome you to The Virtual Campfire.

Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

I'm thrilled to have you here. This is going to be nice to dig into your story and to see what brought you to this point in your life where you are making so much happen. Teaching for transformation, I love that. There's something about it that feels so right and perfect for what we do on the campfire. One of the things we do here on the show is we talk about flashpoints, points in people's stories that have ignited their gifts to the world. There might be one or many transformations that you have gone through. What I would love to have you do is share what you are called to share. Along the way, we will pause and see what's showing up. With that, I'm going to turn it over to you.

It's such a great question because none of us get through this life in the way that we imagined when we were wee little ones. It is never the straight arrow. It's always the twists and turns that teach us the most about ourselves. As I think about it, I will try and stick with three headlines that have happened throughout my lifetime that probably are the most definitive for me in terms of what they did. The first one brings me back not only to one of my earliest teachers that I recall but to the reason for the Teaching for Transformation book.

When I was between the 3rd and 4th grade, we moved from Massachusetts to Upstate New Hampshire. My father was a manager in retail. We went where the job was. We moved to this neighborhood. There were all these kids like, “Who do you have for teacher? Don't let it be so and so. Whatever you do, it can't be. He's mean and tough.” Lo and behold, a letter comes to the house and guess who I had as my teacher? I'm sobbing. Tears are streaming down my face. I go to my mom like, “Please, you’ve got to fix this. I can't do this. It's bad enough we had to move and now you are going to do this to me.” She looked at me and said, “I will make a deal with you. You take this class for one month. You come to me and tell me that this is not the teacher for you. I will advocate for you but you’ve got to go in first.”

All these years later, he remains one of my favorite teachers. I have told him in the foreword of my dissertation and it will be in the foreword of my book that he's the reason that all of these years later, I am still fascinated with teaching for transformation because that's what he did. He brought out the best in us. He challenged us to see ourselves and the world around us in ways that we may not have. I get the fact that that wouldn't work for everyone but the lesson I learned is you’ve got to have the experience for yourself. Don't take everyone else's view of the world as your own. It's great to have the information and foundation for you as you think about what you are entering but you’ve got to enter it yourself and experience it from your perspective.

I love the story. It’s amazing because two things come to mind almost immediately. We all can remember that teacher that had championed us but also challenged us because they see something in us that we don't see in ourselves. It's funny because you need somebody who can be that champion for you. That's why teachers are amazing in their own right because they are like the unsung heroes of our stories. They come in different forms. When you look back at your path and you say, “There were many teachers.”

Life is rarely a straight shot and is often full of unexpected twists that teach us the most about ourselves.

Not just in the classroom.

There was something else about this that came up for me that I love about your story. It has to do with this element of the teacher being this person who everyone else says like, “Stay away.” You have to take that choice for yourself. Follow your own guidance and path. Don't let other people push you away from something because every experience is unique in its own way. That has shown up in my life a lot but I know that you are going to get into this more as you go along your path. When do people say you can't or, “Don't do it,” what do you do?

My automatic response is, “Wait.” The other thing that I will point out is not to be lost is the wisdom of my mom. In between 3rd and 4th grade, I didn't have the wherewithal to say, “Thanks for the information. Let me figure this out on my own,” but she did, whether it was voluntary, “My mother is wise and I will follow her lead,” or whether I went begrudgingly into that first day of class, I'm glad that I did. That changed my trajectory. When we talk about those pivot points, that was the pivot point for me.

I will fast forward quite a bit to the first time that I was laid off because there were two in my career. I'm not going to talk about the second because it was a non-event. I will lay the groundwork. First, I took a role when I was three months pregnant. The company knew that I was pregnant when I was offered the position. It was a startup. There were more than enough warning signs that I chose to ignore. We had my son and we were in the midst of relocating for the job. My husband had resigned from his role so that he could stay home and raise our son. I’ve got called into the office and was laid off with two weeks severance, no salary, no home, no benefits and a newborn. It’s a huge pivot point for me.

It took me a bit of time to rally back from that one. I will be honest. There were long walks with my baby in the stroller with me talking to this infant about how I had messed things up. What I figured out from that, and I will explain how, is that along the way, I had lost myself. I had defined my identity and worth by my role. When that was ripped out from underneath me, I was lost. I have something that I call my tribe. These are the people who are invested in who I'm becoming, not who they think I should become, not the version of who I was for them at some point in my life. It took that tribe rallying around me to remind me of who I was. The second pivot point for me is that my worth is not defined by anything other than my time on this planet and the gifts that I give. Everything else is just an accouterment to that.

First of all, coming from our point talking about a layoff of all layoffs, holy moly. I talked to a lot of people going through transition and some are real killers. It's a tough one to be in that situation, to be in that dark place and then to come to that realization. I know it's not easy rising up but to come to that clarity for you and know that the tribe is something you are relying on, it's important to see that there are people who believe in you and see you for who you are. You are showing up in that way that you don't see yourself fully until the people around you do. That theme has shown up a lot on the show and I love that because it's important to know that we are not alone in the journey that we are taking but we think we are.

We are social beings and somehow, we forget that. We don't understand the connectivity that exists between each of us. My energy could affect your energy. I hope that my energy is high enough and I am in a grounded enough place that the energy that I'm sharing with people raises them up too. That's a choice.

There’s always a choice as to how we bring ourselves to our day and show up. Know that things can get dark and tough but you always have a choice as to how you show up and bring yourself. It's empowering to know that you have a choice no matter what.

It’s like with your agency. All of a sudden, I can do something. I am not a victim but I have an opportunity to see things differently. I'm not being pollyannish about this at all. It was the layoff of all layoffs. It took a while for me to become human again. It’s because of that experience, I'm able to be with people who are going through those transitions differently.

Having a child is challenging in its own right so having to go through that moment is tough. I'm always helping people through that and thinking myself, “If you layer on top of that having to think about someone else at that early stage, it's tough.” You are coming to this point where you have been able to flip it around and see that you do have agency. What did you do with that? How did you transition from, “I was in this dark point? I see the light and able to create something for myself?” What did you end up going into? What was the next step in your path?

I will wrap that one with a bow and I will bring you to the next one. That one with a bow, what I found is that I chose to prioritize them in a less than optimal way. My choice of optimization was if I can get a better job with a higher salary, more visibility and benefits, better for our family. What I ignored was that voice in my gut. You realize the environment that you are entering and you realize that you were making deals with different people. The lesson I learned from that is to understand what my values and priorities are, and to listen to my gut. I have done some adventurous things but never been led wrong since.

Fast forward, quickly on the second layoff. I volunteered to be laid off. The CFO who was my business partner drive me and my stuff home that day. By the time I get out of the car and my CFO handed my package of belongings to my husband, I said, “We need a whiteboard because I have a business plan.” The CFO said, “You better get that whiteboard because she's ready to go.” The whole ride home, I was chirping his ear off about what it was I knew I was going to do. You learn from your experiences if you choose to.

The last one I will give you is the adventure of going after my PhD. I came at the PhD with more than two decades of work experience. I was a practitioner coming into an academic world and I struggled mightily with academic reading and writing. I questioned often, whether I would survive this. The statistic is there are 3% of the population in the world who have their degree. There are about 10% of the world who go after it but never finish. Having been through it, I can see why. What I learned from that is that I needed to face my self-limiting beliefs. I needed to get over the fact that I had been telling myself for many years that I wasn't smart, a good writer and didn't have that kind of chops. I would have described myself as street smart.

You’ve maybe got lucky along the way.

It’s not selfish to own your gifts and your purpose. It’s actually the most selfless thing you can do for the world.

That's our way of keeping ourselves safe but also small. For me, I look at the fact that I would sit across the dining room table from my son and do our homework together. What was the example I was setting for my son if I was going to limit myself? I happen to write those stories. The cool thing about it is they are our stories. We have made them up or accepted them as true from someone else but they are stories. We have an opportunity to write a different script.

You hit a nerve with that in the sense that there's a power behind how you look back and create that narrative that you want to make your story into, especially when you have a child who's looking at you and seeing how you are talking to yourself and explaining your story. What do you want your story to be for them to see? I think about that for myself. If I'm not taking care of myself, then what do I expect of my son? It makes you change the way you bring yourself to your life so that you can set a good example.

They see more than you think.

Tell me more. What happened as life goes on? Now you've got yourself in the situation where you have gone back PhD. I’m amazingly proud of you for that. What did you do with it? What are you doing with it? What is your goal? What would you like to see happen in the world with it?

The topic that I researched was transformative teaching. This is what I am all about. How do we help individuals to understand their experiences and to see themselves and the world around them in a different way so that they can contribute more fully in their life, in their way? What have I done with it since? I am about halfway through the writing of the book, which is taking the work that I did in my dissertation and flipping it into something consumable. Dissertations are academic. For me, it's the teacher's guide. It's for the person who aspires to be a transformative teacher or wants to get better at it or struggles with aspects of it because you cannot be a transformative teacher without being on your own transformative journey.

There's an element of this that I love, which is taking the academic approach but also knowing that there's a lifetime of navigating this transformation that you bring to this. That is what sustains the energy and the passion around this. You wouldn't be able to do this if it was just an academic effort.

That's probably why many of the people who go for their PhD never finish. It wasn't something that was core to who they were if that research question or topic wasn't something that was the reason they were put on this Earth. You mentioned that teachers aren't just those people in the front of the classroom. This book isn't written for just those people in the front of the classroom. It's for the people who understand the impact that they can have on another human being. The other thing that I am doing from a publishing perspective is researching what I'm calling tentatively, the book title is The Leaders Legacy. These are looking at people who have had organizational leadership roles, who are further on in their careers and what have they learned about who they are as a leader and what do they want to impart about leadership to the next generation?

It's powerful because of the fact that there's an element of, as time goes on, many scars, wounds and high points. You have been able to amass this massive body of work as a leader. When you can reflect on that and say, “What am I leaving behind that I want to codify into something that I can pass on to other people and ensure that they don't make the mistakes that I have made or they can learn from the things that I have been able to create?” It is a creation. That's the beauty of a leader’s legacy. If you can unlock that and create that through your work, that's amazing.

I am honored by the people who are saying yes to being interviewed for this. It has been a fantastic opportunity. The last thing that I'm doing and you know this well is I am coaching leaders. I believe that each of us is a leader. For me, this is working with people who want to do the work and want to get out of their own way to accomplish more than they thought they could ever do in this lifetime.

You are the teacher in your own way and that's something powerful when you can turn the tables and say, “I have learned from many great teachers and I'm going to teach my own little way to people.”

The cool thing is that I am the teacher and the student. My clients teach me every day.

I do truly love the idea that you are always in the process of learning and that's cool because we are never quite done. This is a perfect time for us to switch gears and think about this. As you look back, what have been the biggest lessons that you want to pass on or share with people who are reading?

The biggest lesson that I would share with my younger self is don't wait so long to step into your own spotlight. Someone said to me, “You are the author of your own story.” Many of us don't realize it until later on in life. For me, running the Emerging Leaders Program allows me to do that lesson with people who are earlier on the runway on their journey and help them see that it's not selfish to own your gifts and purpose. It's the most selfless thing you can do for the world. You are the only you that is here. Being able to jump into that and have an impact from that place, there's nothing more powerful.

It's the fuel behind that. When you are ready to give up or you feel like you are ready to give up, you can think back and say, “It's not about me. It's about the people I need to serve.”

You cannot be a transformative teacher without being on your own transformative journey.  

It's generative fuel. It's like the pebble in the water. When you do it, other people see you doing it, and then they dare to step in.

Any other lessons that you would love to share from your journey?

This is about the microscope versus the telescope. If we go back to the story of me being laid off, in the moment of me being laid off, I was looking through the microscope. The only thing I could see was having been laid off. Decades later, I can look at it from the telescope and see that it is one point in my story. I survived it, thrived because of it and became a different human being in a different universe for having lived through that experience. One of the things that I try and remind myself, my family and clients are, “Are you looking through the microscope or a telescope?”

I'm going to be thinking about that all day. It's such a beautiful way to think about it. It's all about putting perspective in the lens. The lens itself is well to that metaphor. That's cool. There are many great insights so far. I don't know where to begin. I have one last question. We always ask about books on this show because I love books and most of my guests do too. What is one book that has had an impact on your life or your perspective? It can be two books. I know people usually cheat.

I'm going to cheat even bigger than that because you know me, I'm going to rewrite the rules. It is less about books than it is about an author. I am driven by Brené Brown’s works for a couple of reasons. She is an incredible storyteller. She has done what I aspire to do in taking data, research and making it accessible and meaningful. I have not seen anyone do it as well as she has. Look at her topic, it is about showing up, being vulnerable and seen so that you can do that for others.

I love that you brought her into the room because she's amazing. She's got a gift and it's not just about she's brilliant. It’s the way she brings herself into the room. She's approachable and easy to love.

It's because she has, as much as any of us can because we are all still human, shed herself of the armor. We all think we need to have this persona that we show up with that we are not allowed to make mistakes or show our humanity. What she's doing through her example is saying, “We are better when we can relate to each other as human beings.”

There's also something about that that I wanted to hit on, which is about not being attached to being liked. A lot of people don't see that. There's this element of like, “Are people going to like me? How do I show the right face so that people show up and see me in the right light?” Brené models that she's not attached to people liking her. In fact, she would be fine if people didn't like her but the people who love her, loves her.

She learned that. She had to build that practice. She tells the story of when her first TED Talk came out and went viral. Everyone told her, “Please don't read the comments.” The first thing she did was went in and read the comments and she was destroyed. She realized that this wasn't their lived experience. This was them throwing daggers and arrows from the bushes. She quotes, “If you are not in the ring, you don't have a right.” For me, that's the lesson. It’s who deserves to hear your story, whose opinion matters. To give power to somebody who sits behind a computer and anonymously shoots nasty things at you, who is that person in your life? Here we go with the microscope or the telescope. Is that person going to make a difference 5 or 10 years from now? Will you even remember?

Lisa, this has been amazing. I'm thrilled that you came on the show, shared your story and insights. I can't wait until your book is ready because I'm going to devour it. It has been such a pleasure. I want to allow you to share where people can find you if they want to know more.

The easiest way to do that is through the website, which is I am also all over LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Anywhere that you would typically find cool people, that's where I am. It is about being accessible. I would love nothing more, Tony, than for you to give me some fantastic feedback when you do read the book.

I would be more than happy to. Thank you for coming on. I also want to thank the readers for coming on the journey with us. I know you are leaving with some amazing insights. I hope that you chat with Lisa and have some great conversations with her because she's an amazing individual. Thank you.

We are on the dialogue. Take care, Tony.

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About Lisa DeAngelis

Specialties: Consulting, coaching, leadership development, career or life transition, speaker

Ready to create clarity and alignment for yourself or your organization? Reach out to me today.

Moving you from knowledge to wisdom to action.

Leadership is an inside job - it’s about influence not authority. I help individuals understand who they are (are becoming) as a leader and how to bring that to each aspect of their life.

As the director for the Center of Collaborative Leadership at UMass Boston, I bring 30 years of divisional and corporate leadership experience to the center's work of preparing leaders to excel in the twenty-first century.

Through my work, I have helped facilitate programs such as a high-potential executive education program at Wharton, the Women’s Leadership Summit at Novo Nordisk, key faculty and staff at West Point, the leadership team at Astra-Zeneca, HR leadership at LEGO, key staff at MIT Lincoln Labs.


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