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

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

Getting back to Why

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” ~ Nelson Mandela

The current Scottish Independence campaign has highlighted many questions and parallels with the world of leadership and inspiration. Reading this post about the importance of Getting Back to Why, I was reminded of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. People are inspired by “Why” and not by “What” or “How”. To gain a greater understanding of how the golden circle model works, this TED talk is well worth watching.golden-circle

The independence campaign has almost exclusively been conducted on the question of How. “How will Scotland run its economy?” “How will it balance its books?” “How will it ensure its security?” How…! How…! How…! Questions that do not inspire, that do not contribute answers, and which, in the main, generate doubt, uncertainty and fear. It is little surprise, therefore, that a predominantly pro-union press and media have allowed the how question to dominate the campaign.

Simon Sinek has shown that the great companies, organisations, politicians and leaders inspire, generate energy and instil hope with “why”. Martin Luther King did not start his speeches by telling people how everything would work in a world after civil-rights was achieved, he started by telling people about his Dreams. Inspiration and hope comes not from having all the details known beforehand, but by being clear on the bigger vision, the grand purpose. No major change in history has ever been made where people have known clearly what lay ahead beforehand. They rarely know how things will work out, but they have known why they wanted to make the change. When purpose and vision is clear, then anything becomes possible. Being clear on the how is of less significance. Those details will emerge, they will evolve, driven by the energies of an inspired and optimistic people who know clearly why they want change to happen.

A Few Kind Words

Back in January I wrote about how it seemed to me that the question Why? is so much more fundamental to the independence referendum than the question How? Yet the mainstream of the debate has been framed almost entirely by How.

The reason’s not hard to see. It’s simpler to place practical obstacles – in this case mainly economic and political – in someone’s path than to convince them of the moral, philosophical or emotional benefits of the status quo. Yet whichever way you plan to vote you must surely be clear about why you do or don’t want independence before you start to consider how it might or might not come about.

I was reminded of that post this week by a friend at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It made me think that I myself have been too easily caught up in the How? of late, and that…

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Visualise your way to happiness

source: uppereastsideinformer.blogspot.com

source: uppereastsideinformer.blogspot.com

Among the many advantages that the evolution of the human brain has afforded us, is an often overlooked capability – the power to ‘simulate’ the future. Humans are able to visualise and dream about future events. When you think about this, it is a pretty amazing ability. Future thinking is key to planning, anticipating, speculating and visioning. Imagining how events might turn out in your head before trying them out in real life turns out to be a skill that provides us with tremendous advantages.The brain’s pre-frontal cortex acts like a psychological immune system, that helps us alter our views of the world so that we feel better about things. This is displayed most dramatically in the way that humans synthesise states of happiness, regardless of what is actually going on in their world.

But is synthetic happiness of the same quality as ‘natural’ happiness?  Do we ‘know’ the difference?  Dan Gilbert describes ‘natural’ happiness as Continue reading

How close are you to your ‘A’ game?

I was intrigued by something that Rory McIlroy said recently in an  interview following his widely-reported ‘early exit’ from the Honda Golf Classic in Florida.  Clearly he has been going through a troubled time, with speculation bouncing between whether it is down to his new clubs deal, his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniaki, or, as he claimed in Florida, a troublesome wisdom tooth.

source: sports.yahoo.com/blogs/golf-devil-ball-golf

source: sports.yahoo.com/blogs/golf-devil-ball-golf

He summed up how he feels when he is off his game in very simple terms.  “I always think when I’m playing bad that it’s further away than it is.” (meaning his best game). I sense this is true for many of us, in all walks of life.  Rory went on to say “….If I have a bad round, it’s sort of like the end of the world.”   This ‘catastrophizing’  form of thinking, is, I am sure, familiar to many of us. When some aspect of our life (not always one that is most critical) is not working as well as we’d like, it can become magnified and generalised, to the extent that it contaminates our thinking and self-perception of other aspects of what we do and who we are.   Continue reading

Dance under those Lights

George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have described a sick man as being unable to think of anything but his ailment”.  The general malaise and depression that swamps much of our news, both regionally and from around the world, is reminiscent of Shaw’s sick man. Get too close to a problem and you can’t see beyond it.

Our organisations and businesses are being driven by a management obsessed with ‘looking in the rear view mirror’. Think about it!  What goes on in meetings in organisations and businesses, day in day out? How much of the focus is on what has been going wrong, and why?  How much time is devoted to looking at trends, and graphs, and budget forecasts based on productivity over the last month, quarter or year? How much of the employee performance appraisal is devoted to the fine detail of relative value and contribution of people over the past quarter or year, and not about the development, potential and possibilities in the future?

When managers are obsessed by the problems of the here and now, the next decision, the next quarterly review, the next appraisal or the next monthly operational review data pack (… please save us from the dreaded review pack !!), then they are focused on the ailment.

Where is the vision in all of this?  Where are we going?   Continue reading

Don’t let Goals dilute your Purpose

There are many words used to describe the things we do and the reasons we do them.  Objectives, targets, vision, dreams, goals, purpose, KPIs (ugh!), and I’m sure you can think of more.

Let me simplify this down to just two on this list.  Purpose and Goals.  Goals can play an important role in ensuring we stay focused. They provide us with milestones on a longer journey. They help us maintain momentum during periods when we might otherwise be distracted or lose some sight of our purpose. Goals on their own, without a bigger purpose, however, can cause us to drift aimlessly. It is important to periodically ask yourself the question “What purpose does achieving this goal serve?”

Too many leaders, managers, and teams of people in our corporations, find themselves participating in the annual game of concocting targets, objectives and goals, which then dominate meeting agendas, reviews and reports, often taking on a life of their own, and a level of importance that detracts from what ought be the real ‘purpose’ of the business.

Let me use an example from Continue reading

New Year Resolutions – courtesy of Woody

I love the simplicity and humble nature of this New Year resolutions list by Woody Guthrie.
New Years Rulin’s
Although simple there are many profound and meaningful words of wisdom that would not look out of place in any good ‘self-help’ book….

“Dream Good”
“Stay Glad”
“Keep Hoping Machine Running”
“Love Everybody”

and my personal favourite,
“Learn People Better”