Choice, Happiness and the Quarter-Life Crisis

Last month’s post ~ Does Choice make us Happy? ~ attracted a lot of attention. Thank you for your excellent feedback. Some of the comments I received prompted me to consider this issue further, but this time from the point of view of the younger generation, particularly Generation Y.

Alice Stapleton writes sensitively and authoritatively about the phenomenon of the Quarter-Life Crisis. Unlike the well-documented mid-life crisis, which afflicts people in their forties or fifties, and is linked to feelings of stagnancy and a desire for radical change, the quarter-life crisis stems from anxiety about change, expectations, instability and identity.

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Talismanic coaching: where science meets superstition

This Article was published originally in Coaching Psychology International, Volume 8, Issue 1 (Summer 2015) – ISSN 1758-7719 – pages 16-19. 

In Daniel Goleman’s (2013) Focus, he proposes that in a world of ever-increasing 24/7 distraction, we need to become better at focusing in the here and now. In this paper we propose the benefit of “superstitious conditioning” through the use of a Talisman to help
clients focus their attention in post-coaching situations.

Learning, at its most fundamental, is based upon the creation of neural connections which either strengthen or inhibit behaviour, facilitated by attending or not attending to stimuli. Learning can be said to happen when a new state (ie, a new connection) or a new association of existing connections occurs. The stronger the associations become, the more they become embedded, meaning the associated behaviour will be more readily enacted.

As coaches, we are in a highly privileged position, able to utilise this knowledge of how learning occurs for the benefit of our clients. We can share with them tools and techniques to create and strengthen associations. Once changes are fully embedded, then the tools may no longer be required, but, in the early days, having a proxy association to aid the formation of a neural association assists with sustenance of early progress.

However, all too often in coaching, after gaining insight, clients return to the everyday fray of work. Here, they lose conscious awareness of their coaching goal as it becomes displaced by more demanding pressures. Continue reading

How do you know when coaching has been successful?

As a professional coach, I regularly take coaching issues and dilemmas to supervision. These sessions are an essential part of every coach’s development, growth and emotional maintenance. I thought I’d share something important that came up for me in my most recent session with my coaching supervisor, in the hope that you may too get something from it.

courtesy: Maurizio Pesce, under Creative Commons, Flicker

courtesy: Maurizio Pesce, under Creative Commons, Flicker

The dilemma I expressed was around exploration of vision. Some of my clients move naturally towards vision. They are comfortable with the language and for them it is not a threatening or challenging conversation when we explore what it looks, feels or even smells like. Other clients struggle to talk in terms of vision. Even the concept of aspiration, dream or goal can be challenging. This is particularly true for some of my clients who find themselves in custody as young offenders. Many express the view that they do not like to think too much about dreams or visions as it only results in them becoming disappointed. They say that they do not want to build up their hopes only to be let down, and as a result they content themselves by living in a world of very low expectations.

When I put this issue on the table in my supervision session, the statement that my supervisor came back to me with was “It is not our job as coaches to breed optimism.”

I let this statement sink in, and my first instinct was to rail against it.  Some of the clients I work with have very low levels of hope or positivity, and I believe that people do their best work when positive neural circuits are switched on. My coaching often focuses on work around beliefs, particularly limiting beliefs, and how those give rise to thoughts, words and actions that generate negativity. Surely the work of the coach starts from the basis that people want to seek improvement, do ‘better’ than they are currently doing (whatever that means), and fulfil their potential? Why wouldn’t we encourage them to look toward alternative futures and choices?

Is The Appraisal System Dead?

If, as is reported, as many as one third of U.S. companies have abandoned the traditional appraisal system (ref:The Performance Management Revolution), and the signs are that more and more are joining the revolution, what is the future of performance management? How will companies ensure that people do what is expected of them in the future? How will managers know who’s good and who’s not? How will they advise on development, or decide who to sack and replace?

Major players such as Dell, Microsoft and IBM, as well as previous champions of the
forced ranking system such as GE, are at the vanguard of new approaches to retaining and developing talent.  These companies are responding to many issues and criticisms which have been levelled at traditional performance management systems. In some organisations they have become enormous consumers of people’s time. With  the move to
flatter organisational structures and virtual or globally dispersed teams, supervisors have had to contend with larger and larger teams. The answer to this problem in some companies has been to turn the job of performance management over to ‘specialist’ people creativitymanagers, who do little else other than manage the entire cycle, quarter after quarter. Ranking, levelling, forced distributions, identifying rising stars, identifying laggards, assessing delivery against stretch targets, calculating the distribution of the bonus pot, and starting the whole cycle again.  This has become an industry in its own right, and one that delivers no core benefit to the customer or the shareholder.

A number of factors have played a part in driving the shift we are now seeing.  Continue reading

Who Do You Think You Are?

“Dad! Dad! Can I be an astronaut?”

“Don’t be stupid son. You come from Doncaster.” ~ Steve McDermott

 

Last month I published a post in the wake of the killings in Paris called Hands up if you’re scared. The thrust of the piece was about fear, and the natural (and adaptive) reactions we have to dangerous situations. It was also about the exploitation of that fear, by both terrorists and political hawks.

In addition to those external voices of doom, we also have to be on our guard against our own internal enemy. The voice from within plays into the hands of the arguments of external fear-mongers. Many people have studied and written about the many forms our internal voice takes. Sometimes we can think of it as our conscience, our guide, our fairy godmother, looking out for us and keeping us on the straight and narrow. Or it may manifest in more malevolent form, talking down your talent or competence, criticizing your ideas or dreams, mocking your attempts to break free from “who you are”.

Over many years of working with people as they seek to overcome internal obstacles, I have heard people describe their ‘inner critic’ or ‘gremlin’ in many different ways, but whatever form they take, they tend always to say the same sorts of things to us.

  • “What makes you think you can do that?”
  • “You’ll fail and look stupid.”
  • “You’ll never amount to anything.”
  • “Who’s going to listen to you?”
  • “Who do you think you are?”

Screenshot 2015-12-11 13.26.33I recommend watching this interview between Oprah Winfrey and Brene Brown. The whole interview is fascinating, but if you only have a few minutes to spare, Continue reading

Embrace Confusion

Stop and think!  How much of your waking hours do you spend being confused?  Or puzzled? Or maybe you prefer to use the the word ‘uncertain’?  If the answer is hardly at all, I would suggest you get yourself more confused, more often.

Being certain, being sure, having it all figured out, is not conducive to learning and growth. We are primed for learning when we are at the edge of of our knowledge. When our beliefs are challenged.  When the bubbles of our old certainties are popped. Continue reading

Selfless Leadership

Think back to an occasion when you earned yourself a new leadership position, perhaps a hard-earned promotion within an established corporate, or a great new opportunity with an ambitious go-getting young company. Maybe it was your first management role, maybe you had climbed the ladder and it was a C-suite position.

What was your first thought?  (I mean after your well-deserved celebrations had subsided).  When you first sat down and had a moment of quiet reflection on your own, perhaps in your new corner office, what went through your mind?

How many of you actually let your mind drift into the future and a time when you would be leaving this role; the day when your work would be done and time for you to move on? How long would that take, before you could leave the patch in a better state than when you joined, with better equipped people; new leaders who had developed themselves into your space?  How many of you actually set a target date for your own removal as one of your top measures of success?

source: billarends bit.ly/XYDsiG

source: billarends bit.ly/XYDsiG

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When will we stop just surviving?

We become what we focus on.  The surest way to create a habit (for good or for bad) is to focus relentlessly on repeating the same patterns of behaviour and thinking.  And that’s what worries me.  Our companies and organisations have been ploughing pretty much the same furrow for a long time now.

The malaise that has hung over the economy for several years has created a series of habits within our executive population that has seen them become ‘expert’ in running affairs in a very particular way.  Yes, houses needed to be put in order, cost reductions (probably overdue in some areas) were necessary, educating the entire workforce in seeking efficiencies was sensible, and asking tough questions about what was core business for the future, have all been necessary and useful exercises.

So, what’s my concern?  Well, let’s imagine fictitious Company A.  Here, people have stayed in this mindset for too long, to the exclusion of other ways of thinking, a habit has been formed, which has become harder and harder to break. The senior executives and middle managers have become obsessed by cost reduction spreadsheet reviews, incidental expenditure policy changes, efficiency targets that become embroiled in inter-department disputes about double-counting savings, and the policing of travel bans. Accompanying this ‘inward-looking’ focus they have been swamped by demands for more and more metrics, reports and updates to satisfy themselves, and every layer of management, that things are on track, and people are doing what is expected of them. Of course, this has generated an atmosphere which is lacking in trust, resulting in duplicated reporting, with departments wanting to make sure that their own house is in order before sharing numbers to the wider organisation where they may be exposed.

I make no apology, for painting such a depressing picture of what I suggest is the reality of  day to day life in companies, and government departments, up and down countries, in various parts of the world at this time. This all amounts to ‘Managing for Survival’, when what is called for is a mindset of ‘Leading to Grow’.

You may even recognise some of this in your own company or in your own behaviour?  It’s my guess that many executives and middle managers have lost focus and believe that how they are operating is ‘how things are meant to be’. It has taken everyone down in to the engine-room of the ship, leaving no-one on deck or on the bridge, looking out for new land, or blue skies. It has become Continue reading