Is Coaching the Facial Tissue or the Kleenex?

 

Have you noticed how frequently the word ‘coaching’ is used these days? You don’t read an article, attend a leadership workshop, or even speak with managers without ‘coaching’ being generously referenced.  It’s used to describe the act of:

  • Helping someone do something
  • Chewing others out
  • Passing along information
  • Delegating a task
  • Recognizing what’s gone well
  • Giving feedback
  • Teaching a skill

It seems that for many, ‘coaching’ has grown to generically refer to any interaction a leader might initiate… much like Kleenex’s relationship to all other tissue. But, not all conversations are coaching; and coaching certainly is not Kleenex!

As leaders, many of us have gotten sloppy with our language. Maybe it’s because we know that coaching is a desirable behavior within most organizations. Or maybe we want to couch tougher conversations in constructive packaging. In any case, the lack of precision around our language translates to a lack of precision around our behavior… and that’s compromising the power of coaching.

Kleenex coachingThe above commentary on the demise of  “coaching” as a term and practice comes from a blog post last week from Julie Winkle Giulioni. I share in her lament that a perfectly good word has been misappropriated for a litany of weaker approaches. When I think of a coach, I envision someone who is making a difference in another’s life through one-ton-one impartation, challenging the other person to extract value out of one’s efforts for self-improvement and self-actualization. Giuloni continues with an excerpt below to tackle a more appropriate definition of coaching.

Defining Terms

“Facilitating an individual’s search within themselves for the answers and resources they require to be limitless.”
– Michael Duffy

“Coaching in its truest sense is giving the responsibility to the learner to come up with their own answers.”
– Vince Lombardi

“Coaching is a powerful relationship for people who are making important changes in their lives.”
– Laura Whitworth in Co-Active Coaching

“Coaching is the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another.”
– Myles Downey

When we think about coaching from the perspective of these sample definitions, it becomes clear that coaching is an intentional and deliberate process designed to systematically help others understand themselves and take responsibility for making choices to support their own growth.

Notice the key words: process, system, (self-)understanding, (personal) responsibility, and growth. If those who hold themselves out to be coaches were acutely focused on these words and their implications, the term would become valuable once again. Now that we have some clarity around terminology, the next challenge is to examine what coaching looks like in practice. Consider Giuloni’s additional comments below:

(coaches):

Ask great questions…. and lots of them. Coaching is about unlocking what the other person knows, feels, wants. Skillful coaches have a seemingly unending array of questions at their disposal. Easy ones. Challenging ones. Interesting ones. Impossible ones. But all designed to help others reflect on and deepen their understanding of themselves and their options.

Listen exquisitely. Since questions are the currency of coaching, the real payoff comes with listening. The best coaches are genuinely curious and interested. They listen beyond the words – to the emotions, hopes, possibilities, and concerns. They keep track of what they’ve heard, tuck it away, and use it to continually build a deeper understanding of the other person…and they reflect that understanding back to the other person.

Hold the space for possibilities. In the presence of good coaches, more is possible.  The best coaches inspire and challenge others to grow by fundamentally knowing that it’s possible. They promote optimism and a sense of capability as they make change and help others find new ways forward.

When this perspective is held, performance of those being coached is improved. The generic, bland approach to engaging others on issues that matter gives way to a very defined (branded) process that delivers predictable results–like Kleenex!

 

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Entrepreneurial Twists and Misfortune

Anyone who has read my blog for more than one sitting knows that I began my career doing turnarounds, mixed in some strategy added to marketing and nonprofit, started some businesses, and now help startups and SMEs. Invariably, some of the companies I run across or that you may read about in an epitaph simply do not pan out. Megan Kauffman posted a blog entry today that features the thoughts of Wen-Szu Lin, a Wharton grad whose entrepreneurial venture in China was unsuccessful. Lin’s thoughts are below:

When our business in China did not work out as hoped, I could not believe that I failed at something I set out to achieve.  Four years of my life were gone.  The emotional scars and physical ailments resulting from the stress were real enough.  I couldn’t believe that I had lost money for my investors (who were friends and family).

Few people discuss the details about such periods in their lives.  Most entrepreneurs that we hear about succeed.  Or else they fade into oblivion.  Older entrepreneurs occasionally discuss the multiple failures that they experienced to reach success.  Yet, those painful memories are long past.  The younger a successful entrepreneur is, the more he or she is featured and sought after in stories.Venture failure

So, what happens with the majority of the entrepreneurs who, like myself, have experienced a major setback?  By far, this period was the most challenging in my life, and I was the most unprepared for the moment.  All of the business cases that I had studied in school, read in books, and heard first hand from entrepreneurs focused on how to handle business success.  How would I deal with failure emotionally and mentally?

Range of Initial Reactions

In China, I saw a lot of failed businesses, both from local Chinese and foreign entrepreneurs.  Through my years in Beijing, I have met many entrepreneurs and witnessed their responses when their businesses fail.

Based on my un-scientific observations, initial reactions fall into a few categories:

  • Reflect and move on
  • Disappearing Act
  • Denial (negative energy)
  • Oblivious (optimistic)

There are probably many other common responses to a failed business venture, but these were the ones that I encountered most often.

What happens now?

My foolish pride was quickly replaced by an immediate concern:  I needed to support my family, as my wife had just given birth to our first child.  Perhaps this urgency snapped me out of a potential downward spiral into depression. I had to quickly figure out how to generate an income for my family.

I experienced many mixed emotions as I evaluated my options and next steps.  Here were some of my main take-aways:

  • Personal reflection:  I started writing anecdotes, detailing each of the memorable stories from our four years.  I relived them in my mind and tried my best to put them on paper with the same intensity as I experienced them.  That was how I learned to move on from my experience.

Bottom line, I wrote a book (The China Twist) that reflected my experience.  The book contains the most vulnerable moments in my career, so I am facing my fears and my ‘shame’ head-on.  I am proud of what I wrote and what I have experienced. 

  • Job opportunities:  I did not realize that my degrees and background experience in consulting and technology were such a strong security blanket.  My options were actually quite varied and better than I had expected when the business ended.  
  • Another shot at entrepreneurship:  Growing up, I could think of nothing else I wanted to do except start something from the ground up.  My priorities definitely have changed but my dreams have not. One thing I know for sure is that I will be back in the entrepreneurship game sooner or later.

Some great advice from someone else who has lived the highs and lows. Take it to heart…stick a copy of it in a file and read his book –“just in case” you ever need the encouragement!

Run Your Business Better With Games For the Mind

Owning a business is not a game. Seemingly, playing games is also irrelevant to running a business. Yet, there are skills requisite to entrepreneurship that may require development through practice. Whether one struggles with memory, focus, recall, or eliminating distractions, there may be a game to help you strengthen your mental capacity.

PositscienceThere is a growing number of “brain games” that help with decision making and memory improvement. Lumosity.com, which makes games for these needs, reached 35 million users earlier this year. Joe Hardy, PhD and Vice President of Research and Development for Lumosity, believes brain games are ideal for business owners. “Owning a business is one of the most cognitively challenging jobs,” Hardy says.

Lindsay LaVine, writing for Entrepreneur.com, says that, “Business owners have to process information accurately, balance projects, switch between tasks quickly and efficiently, divide their attention among tasks, and remember customers’ names. We took a look at three popular brain game providers to find out what the buzz is about:”

Lumosity.com

LumosityThe largest provider of brain games, the site works to train your brain in five categories: speed, memory, attention, flexibility and problem solving. “Each exercise is designed to train a different cognitive function of the brain,” Hardy explains. The games are based on neurological research performed by researchers from various institutions, including Columbia University and the University of California-Berkeley.

Lumosity’s in-house team of developers creates games based on what research shows exercises various parts of the brain. For example, Memory Matrix requires players to remember which tiles appear in a matrix and recall the pattern from memory, which helps improve spatial recall and working memory. “Think of it as a personal trainer for your brain,” Hardy says. He recommends that users spend 10-20 minutes every day playing brain games, as opposed to spending two hours one day and skipping out on the rest. “It’s like going to the gym,” Hardy says. “The more training you do, the better. The goal is to create a habit that’s sustainable and keeps you engaged.”

Lumosity offers a free limited membership that allows users to participate in some games, while the paid membership provides full access to the site and tracks your BPI (Brain Performance Index, a measure of cognitive performance) progress over time. Paid memberships range from monthly to lifetime options ranging from $15 a month to $80 a year.

Positscience.com

Positscience logoPositscience offers brain training in five categories: attention, brain speed, memory, people skills and intelligence. (A new category, navigation, will be available on the site soon.) Posit Science games include enhancing a user’s ability to read facial expressions, from easy (happy or sad) to the more difficult (puzzled or embarrassed). Its games also help users improve facial recognition as well as matching names with faces and remembering facts about people you meet, an important skill in networking and business.

Posit Science has developed games in collaboration with researchers from nearly a dozen universities, including Yale and Stanford. You can try some of the games out for free without having to sign up. Posit Science offers memberships at $14 a month or $96 a year.

Cogmed.com

CogmedCogmed is designed to improve working memory to allow users to learn new skills in academic or professional endeavors. Users are encouraged to spend up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week on training exercises over a five week period. Training is only available through programs offered by accredited coaches who monitor user results and provide motivation. Many programs are supervised by doctors or psychologists who specialize in attention problems.

Prices vary according to the program selected and the professional coach’s fees. The program is best for people who have working memory issues caused by ADHD, anxiety in social settings, or adjusting quickly to new tasks. 

 

Belief, Hereticism, and Innovative Leadership

 

“Tribes are about faith – about belief in an idea and in a community.” -Seth Godin

Mike Henry of the Lead Change Group chose to enter the social media world by focusing on leadership. He says that he  started reading what others wrote about leadership and he tweeted and re-tweeted their posts. Guy Kawasaki, according to Henry, suggested that your own content be 10% or less of what you plugged online. 

As Henry went into the Twitterverse, he found many leadership gurus working as individuals. Consequently, he perceived there to be an opportunity to create a model that could actually move the global leadership needle through collaboration. He felt that real change would take “a movement; an army of leaders willing to address the need for a new leadership model.” Henry founded the Lead Change Group as a means of addressing the need to amass an army:

On Twitter, I could find a small army of people committed to making a difference about leadership. Sure, there are people who are more interested in promoting themselves, and there have been many who tried Twitter but couldn’t remain engaged.  But there were (and continues to be) a growing number of people sincere about addressing a global leadership problem; and one that Godin was writing about.

“So here we are. We live in a world where we have the leverage to make things happen, the desire to do work we believe in and a marketplace that is begging us to be remarkable. And yet, in the middle of these changes, we still get stuck.” -Seth Godin, Tribes

He goes on to say that the status quo and our systems and habits make us stuck. We’re stuck in a “factory” which he describes as any system that forces us to reinforce the status quo. The antidote is people who believe in what they’re doing. He calls them heretics.Pioneer

“Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.” -Seth Godin, Tribes

I don’t want to simply be a heretic. I want to encourage leadership heretics.

Lead Change would be something different; not your mama’s leadership group. We went so far as to claim the intention “instigating a leadership revolution.” We didn’t start the revolution, but many of us recognized we were all in it. So we decided to band together.

Lead Change Group is based on the ideas:

  1. Anyone can lead. Leadership is an attitude, a decision.
  2. You don’t need permission. You simply need to start.
  3. Your greatest influence comes from who you are, not what title you have.
  4. The world needs you to bring your best self and make a positive difference.
  5. Others believe in your leadership if you start with yourself.
  6. If you’re going to do something, do it with everything you have.

What Godin advocates and Henry describes resonates very deeply with me. Being heretical just for the sake of drawing attention is a misguided notion. However, taking initiative to inspire others, having the courage to pursue a dream, and embracing the perseverance requisite to see results is a kind of heresy that captures my heart!

When I describe my business model for Hippotential, I describe it as helping business owners get unstuck. This is congruent with Godin’s challenges to be remarkable and make things happen while we do that which beckons us. Every entrepreneur should feel so moved–or stop being an entrepreneur! Every intrapreneur should feel the same way:)

 

Are You Aggressive Innovators, or Defenders of Status Quo?

Our world has sped up. The demand for faster, “instant,” responsive products and services drives business competition for customers. A computer, for instance, with a faster processor is worth more than one with a slower one because faster page loads mean either a more enjoyable gaming experience or work productivity. Consequently, a higher price can be charged for a faster computer. In many markets, people are willing to pay a rush charge for added convenience or quicker availability. Why is the need for speed, then, missing in typical product development efforts? My friend, Jeffrey Phillips, addressed this issue with a recent blog post:

Three innovation clockspeeds

The pervasive lack of enthusiasm or even awareness of time in regards to innovation is a constant source of amazement for me.  In organizations transfixed by time, speed and efficiency, innovation and product development are often the slowest out of the gate, the longest efforts to accomplish and seem completely unrelated to the real world. There are, of course, reasons why innovation is slow:
  1. Innovation is uncertain and risky, so organizations try to move slowly to reduce risk
  2. Innovation (if done well) is often ahead of the market, so organizations try to time innovation to market needs and demands
  3. Innovation requires tools and techniques that are unfamiliar, which slows the process
  4. Innovation and subsequent product development processes are sclerotic, like blood vessels full of plaque, stuffed with unimportant but time consuming activities.

My stipulation is that you should do innovation as fast as humanly possible, even at the risk of skipping steps or bypassing checkpoints, because your internal clockspeed is almost certainly out of synch with the market’s clockspeed.

Your internal clockspeed

Your clockspeed (how fast your organization works) was set by management – this means that your clockspeed is relatively high when working on (the) familiar … and very slow otherwise.  Your operating models slow innovation down at exactly the time that they should be speeding up.  The strange thing about internal clockspeed is that it is similar to the weather – everyone complains about it but few do much about it.  

Clockspeed

External market clockspeed

Your markets are likely moving faster than your internal processes, since the markets are subject to competition, new entrants, substitutions and other factors that Porter and others made famous.  The real problem is innovation clockspeed.

Innovation clockspeed

If you compete in a lucrative market, there are a host of firms innovating right now, seeking to disrupt your market, create substitutes for your product or to simply replace the need for your product or potentially your market.  Clockspeed isn’t simply about bringing a new product to market faster, but about making the product or market obsolete or unnecessary.  

Getting obsolete faster 

Nobody cares about how efficient or fast your existing processes are to provide existing products and services.  What will differentiate firms in the future is an accelerated ability to innovate, at least as a fast follower if not an innovation leader, carefully tracking the external market clockspeed and anticipating innovation clockspeed.  

The challenge — should you choose to accept this mission, is to synchronize the clocks! Within your organization, take a long hard look at impediments to rapid prototyping. Examine systems that disincentivize risk taking and experimentation. Determine how to reject more ideas faster so that your organization is known for the rate of idea generation and implementation rather than the amount of time taken to vet one idea at a time.