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?
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Committing to New Year Resolutions

So, another year is about to begin. Who knows what it may hold? For some, they approach it with trepidation. Others can’t wait to get started and to grab the opportunities that the new year will generate. It is a time when many people make plans and resolve to make changes, yet so many of those dreams will be but memories before January is out.

resolutionsEvery call to adventure is acted upon by two opposing forces.  In one direction we can choose to embark on the adventure, to take the journey into the unknown and face the uncomfortable challenges that will inevitably lie ahead.  In order to make this choice, the force of reward must be sufficiently strong to overcome the opposing force of inertia, the appeal of the status quo or the comfort zone we have become used to.

I spend a lot of time in workshops and working one on one with people who know that they are in a bind.  They know that their current world is less than satisfactory. They recognise that changes would be positive and could make life better in so many ways. And yet, there is no guarantee that people will make the necessary commitment to move away from the world they inhabit, to make the journey that is necessary to gain the reward, the change, the life that they would prefer.

People know they would be healthier if they gave up smoking, that they drink a bit too much alcohol, that they don’t exercise as much as perhaps they could, or that they are in a dead-end job and a change would breathe new life into their career. They may even make a resolution each New Year to do something about it.  Some may even get as far as joining a gym, giving up smoking or drinking for a while, or actively seeking job vacancies on the internet. And that does demonstrate some level of recognition that change may be attractive. So, why are so many of these attempts aborted so early?  What is missing when people embark on these annual failed excursions, which rarely mature into fully fledged adventures resulting in transformation? Continue reading

It’s Lonely at the Top

I have long been a fan and admirer of Andy Murray, so naturally I was delighted for him when he recently reached the pinnacle of his sport by being crowned the world’s number one-ranked male tennis player. Amazing!  Perhaps even more amazing when we reflect on the fact that he comes from a small town (Dunblane) in a country (Scotland) with practically no history to speak of in the game of tennis.  His journey to get to the top has been far from easy.  He has played in an era which has been dominated by three other great players, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, an era that most tennis experts agree has been the most highly contested period of excellence in the men’s game – ever!

And here he now stands. On top of the world.

So, what next?  Well, the only certain thing about being world number one is that the day
will come when you will no longer be world number one.
 Sorry to introduce such a note of pessimism to proceedings, but that is the stark reality.  It’s a lonely place being out on your own. Not everyone has enjoyed it, and not everyone has coped well with it.  Andre Agassi has described how miserable it made him, and John McEnroe found it lonely and exposed. He once said, “You’re out there on your own island, and you feel like you’re disengaged, not only with the rest of the world, but the rest of your competitors, some of them friends.”andy_murray_practice_27107035063

This is similar to how many CEOs, Business Owners and Leaders describe the feeling of being at the top, or out in front of their organisations and companies. It can be a lonely place.   Continue reading

Lazy Leadership

Is this the age of Lazy Leadership? Well, before you answer, perhaps I should explain a little more about what I mean by that term.

No-one ever said that leaders need to be popular. In fact we probably need to be wary of leaders who appear to be universally liked. Those who are, in my view, are either at the head of a very slick and dangerous brain-washing machine, or are simply not tackling the tough stuff that people don’t like to hear.  (See We get the Leaders we deserve).

Here in the UK we have experienced a number of major political episodes in the last couple of years, from a Scottish Referendum, to a General Election, and more recently, an EU Referendum, and both a Tory and Labour leadership battle.  And we are currently in the final lap of the US Presidential marathon (or Trumpathon).donald-trump-creative-commons-via-flickr_659823

Perhaps it is because so many of these events have been reduced to simplistic binary choices that the quality of political debate has deteriorated. Complex issues, that do not necessarily have straightforward solutions, have been reduced to simple soundbites, creating polarised debates, resulting in divided electorates and divided nations.

High quality leaders navigate complexity and ambiguity, and do not allow themselves to be drawn into the downward spiral that is satisfied merely by securing a simple majority to fulfil a political end. Instead they are prepared to tackle thorny issues that may not be popular, they recognise that alienating half of the electorate (or workforce) is not a good foundation to build from, and they understand the danger of chasing populist opinion.

Here in the UK,

Continue reading

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

The Quiet Power of Selflessness

To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless ~ Mike Krzyzewski

Much continues to be written about what marks out successful teams from those that fail. Most of us can think about our own experiences of both, and, no doubt, recall factors that contributed to both positive and negative experiences.

source: thevalleys.co.uk/

source: thevalleys.co.uk/

The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have been providing us with thrilling achievements, but while they shine a light on athletic stars and big names such as Usain Bolt, Simone Biles and Laura Trott, I am fascinated by the armies of unsung heroes. Team members who are vital parts of the success but who do not receive the same media attention. This can be coaches, trainers, physios and sometimes fellow athletes, who sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They may not receive the Olympic medal or the adulation, but their contribution is vital, often displaying a level of selflessness that appears extraordinary. I have touched upon the role of the ‘domestique’ in team cycling in previous posts, which illustrate this point further.

But, let’s take a closer look at this. The mental state required to achieve this is one of ‘selflessness’. And, to exist happily in this state, one must be more concerned about achieving the eventual outcome than about personal recognition for it being achieved. In other words, the outcome is the most important thing, not your own psychological state.

Let’s think Continue reading

Mining for Treasure

You could be excused for wondering whether leadership has gone out of fashion right now. Whether it be politics, business or sport, wherever you look, there appears to be a vacuum at the top, and much discrediting of those leaders who remain.

What could be going on?  Well, I think one of the problems is that we are mixed up about
what we want from our leaders. Perhaps we expect too much of them. Should they have all the answers? Should they be all-seeing and all-hearing? Is it reasonable to expect them to set strategy, direction, plan, implement, review, report and make key decisions, as well as dispense wisdom to all who seek it?   Of course not.  But, despite recognising this as impractical, and even unhealthy, as a society we are still encouraged to demand unequivocal and unwavering surety from our leaders.

Pirate_map

At this time, perhaps more than at any time in the past, we need a different set of skills from our leaders. We live in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world where knowledge is distributed more widely than ever, where more information is instantly available than at any time in history, yet despite all that information, decision-making has never been more difficult. Those who come out of the charismatic ‘all-knowing’ school of leadership present us with dangers. Continue reading

The Dumbing Down of Knowledge

The world is faced with enormous challenges, and we need creativity and innovation more than ever. Whether today’s focus is on climate change, terrorism, economic collapse or disease, the ‘old-world’ thinking that got us here will not be good enough to lead us to where we need to get to.

www.searchinfluence.com/No one can dispute that the growth of the internet and the explosion of personal device ownership has made available more data to more people in the space of just a few short years than was ever available in the history of humanity. The trouble is that knowledge search algorithms generally assume that volume is good. The more something is searched for, the more privileged it becomes. The information at the top of the list does not reflect quality, it reflects desirability. And, it fosters laziness. Personalisation ensures that we are presented with our ‘favourites’, the things we have ‘said we enjoy’ in the past.  Despite the diversity of knowledge that is potentially available, the interfaces through which we access information, ironically, narrows our universe.

Even in the corridors Continue reading

The Case for Humble Inquiry

“Humble Inquiry is the skill & art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity & interest in the other person.”  ~ Edgar H. Schein

                               

Doing and telling are valued more in western, industrialised societies than asking and relationship building.  We hire and promote people who can get the job done. Asking for help and admitting that you don’t know are considered taboos to striving and ambitious people.

However, one quality of great leaders that comes out consistently close to the top in studies of leadership is the ability to master ‘humble inquiry’. Leaders who ask questions, who do not pretend to know answers, and who recognise that their people are the real experts, inevitably command greater respect and are considered to be more effective leaders.

RelationshipBlogImage1

And why should this be so? Well, consider the charismatic, know-it-all boss who operates by telling. They may command a type of respect, possibly grounded in fear or concerns of inadequacy.  But, will people be prepared to approach them with problems, issues or concerns?  If relationships have not been established that make it easy for people to share problems, there is a danger that critical information could be withheld, even safety critical or life-and-death information may be held back.

Continue reading

Self-Awareness: The Gateway to Leadership

This article was originally published in The e.MILE People Development Magazine in Feb 2015.

Few would argue with the notion that self-awareness is a vital prerequisite for any effective leader.  It is, after all, a key building block for emotional intelligence (EQ), providing the foundation for greater self-regulation, which in turn lends itself to more astute social awareness and finely tuned social skills, including leadership.

Be careful of false promises however.  Many books and articles have been written promising great things on the back of EQ mastery.  Unfortunately, many of these words of wisdom miss the point.  EQ is not just a set of skills to be learned and used, as simply as switching on a light. True EQ embodies a mind-set and a ‘way of being’ that is imbued with honourable intentions.Unhappy Girl Looking At Her Reflection On The Mirror

It is fashionable, indeed expected, for leaders to be in tune with their emotions, to understand themselves deeply, and to be equipped with the skills to know and read others’ emotions and motivations.  There is a danger in this, however.  A danger that lies at the very heart of how we expect our leaders to be.

Leaders are expected to know stuff. To know the strategy, to provide the direction, to comfort people during periods of uncertainty, to motivate, and have answers to difficult questions about expected future changes in the market. In short, the buck stops with the leader. It’s what they are paid top dollar for, isn’t it?

And how do leaders typically respond to these expectations?  By playing the same elaborate  game of course.  By giving people what they expect.  They put on a brave face (“for the sake of morale!”) even when they are unsure. They feel pressure to come up with answers when put on the spot for fear of looking out of their depth (“you never know – you might eventually be ‘found out’ as being a fraud or over-promoted!”).  All the while, they stay outwardly calm, self-assured and in control.  In other words, they put all of their hard-learned EQ skills into practice.  The veneer of self-assuredness, and being completely in tune with people’s fears and uncertainties, proves the value of the hours spent on the books and courses to master these essential ‘people’ skills.  But, wait a minute!  Didn’t I suggest that this was all a game?

The truth is that this is playing EQ by numbers and not from the heart.   The best leaders trust themselves – warts and all – to operate from a place of openness and honesty. This means displaying vulnerability. Yes, even at the risk of scaring the workforce, by having them know you don’t have all the answers.  Leaders who can share insecurities, hand responsibility back to others, ask questions rather than provide answers, and use EQ to learn rather than persuade and manipulate, will earn greater respect and trust in the longer term.

People will sense very quickly if your words and actions have a ‘hollow’, transactional and manipulative tone, even if they are dressed up with the EQ language you have learned. Furthermore, you will be modelling the type of behaviour that will become part of the organisation’s culture and be repeated at every level.   After all, being a leader is not about you. It is about the people being led.  Are you helping to enhance their capacity and creativity? Are you empowering them to have ideas and to influence strategy?   Are they growing and developing as people under your leadership?

Self-awareness is the gateway to great leadership, a prerequisite but not, in itself, sufficient.  It is not enough that leaders use emotional intelligence; it is vital that they live it.

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About the author: Louis Collins enables people to operate more successfully. You may be struggling to implement corporate strategy, you may want to get more productivity out of yourself or your teams but don’t know where to start, or you may not be having as effective conversations as you could be. I will work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of leading, to raise awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately to help you and your managers to lead more successfully.

Could your organisation benefit from raising the leadership skills of its people? Would you, or members of your management team, benefit from exploring ways to make significant improvements in personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity? Coaching around the rich field of leadership will help provide the edge that you are seeking in 2015. Coaching has been proven to directly impact the bottom line. Simply drop me your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to speak with you.