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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anti-Innovation Sentiment and Intrapreneurship Collide

In order to stay current in a subject area that is constantly changing, one must be well read and, beyond that, follow the bets though leaders around. Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss intrapreneurship in person with one of my favorite innovation bloggers, Jeffrey Phillips. Tonight, I read a blog post by one of my other favorites, Gijs van Wulfen.

Gijs tackles the subject of anti-innovators in his recent post.  His writing echoes some of what Jeffrey and I discussed last week. As we  looked at different models for commercializing business ideas last week, we camped out for a while on what stultifies innovation. While many leaders acknowledge that innovation is a top priority, they would also be quick to add that implementation of innovative practices can be a challenge. The consequences, according to Phillips, include: 

 Poor execution of innovation goals
 Failure to achieve strategic goals
 Limited organizational design to sustain innovation
 The growth of disbelief or cynicism when innovation isn’t pursued.

Stubborn personvan Wulfen describes personnel as a main hindrance. He writes of employees who “are stuck in their habits.. ignorant the world is changing fast and (thinking) they have nothing to fear.” He goes on to describe the anti-innovator as a (negative) contributor to team culture:

There are often quite a few anti-innovators. Everybody knows this extravert guy or woman who is anti-everything. They have “the biggest mouth” at the lunch table in the company restaurant. Their influence on the company’s culture is often quite substantial. Don’t underestimate their impact. The herd goes as fast as the slowest animals. If the anti-innovators lean back nothing moves. So how do you get them up and running. That’s the question.

You can try to convince them. Unfortunately that often fails because they are experts in coming up with idea killers like: “We are too small for that… There is no budget… We need to do more research… We don’t have time… It’s too risky… That’s for the future. Everything is OK now.”

You can try to do it without them. But that won’t work either. You need an awful lot of colleagues and bosses to share your vision before a big change can truly take place. You need R&D engineers, production managers, IT staff, financial controllers, marketers, service people and salesmen to develop the product, produce it, get it on the market and service it. You can’t do it without them: you can’t innovate alone.

The way to get anti-innovators up and running is to respect them, to understand them, to connect with them and to let them experience change is necessary. They will only change their attitude if they get new insights themselves. So, you have to give them a chance to discover what’s happening out there. Invite them to join your innovation team and take them out on an expedition to discover how markets, customers, competitors and technology are changing.

If they, as the slowest animals of the herd, find out there’s a group of hungry lions following the herd they stop leaning backwards. They start running too as necessity is the mother of invention. They will spread the urgency to innovate among their colleagues. And that’s good news because If the slowest animals start running, your organization’s innovation power really gets up to speed.

Think about the anti-innovators in your organization. What motivates them? Do they travel in herds? How can innovators infiltrate their ranks yet respect them and build bridges for collaboration? As a mentor in an upcoming venture challenge competition, I will be working with teams that must have creatives and analysts. Often, including an anti-innovator on your launch team can bring helpful perspective. Stew on it!

 

Climbing Your Management Everest

Stretching oneself to the maximum can reveal what we are made of. Whether the subject matter is a test of mental strength or physical, it is exhilarating to overcome a daunting obstacle. Sir Edmund Hillary is celebrated for his perseverance in conquering Mount Everest. One of my LinkedIn contacts and an internationally known innovation resource is Gijs van Wulfen. Van Wulfen states that, in the 1950s, the route to Everest was closed by Chinese-controlled Tibet. Nepal allowed one expedition per year.

Sir Edmund Hillary had been part of a British reconnaissance expedition to the mountain  in 1951. The 1953 Everest expedition for which he is now famous consisted of a huge team of over 400 people. Expedition leader Hunt named two assault teams. Hillary and Norgay were the second assault team. The first team only reached the South Col, about 100 meters below the summit. Then Hillary and Norgay got their chance. They reached the 8,848-meter high summit, the highest point on Earth, at 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953.Mt Everest

Gijs says the following 10 management lessons came to mind as he read the Hillary accounts:

1. Passion. As a youngster, Hillary was a great dreamer, read many adventure books and walked many miles with his head in the clouds. He was unaware his passion for adventure would make him, together with Tenzing Norgay, the first man to set foot on the highest point on Earth.

2. Urgency. In 1952 the British heard that in 1954 the French had been given permission to attempt Everest. The British wanted more than anything to be first. The expedition just had to succeed.

3. Teamwork. Getting to the summit of Everest is all about teamwork. As Hillary wrote: “John Hunt and D Namgyal’s lift to the depot on the South-East Ridge; George Low, Alf Gregory and Ang Nyima with their superb support at Camp IX; and the pioneer effort by Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon to the South Summit. Their contribution had enabled us to make such good progress.”

4. Courage. The higher you get on Everest the more courage you need. At 7,800 meters Hillary wrote in his diary: “Even wearing all my down clothing I found the icy breath from outside penetrating through my bones. A terrible sense of fear and loneliness dominated my thoughts. What is the sense of this all? I asked myself.”

5. Test. On the 1951 reconnaissance expedition, team members tested oxygen equipment and did research on high-altitude physiology. The results of both studies were important in determining the right approach for Everest in 1953.

6. Initiative. While in India, Hillary read in a newspaper that the British were taking an expedition to the south side of Mount Everest in 1951. He contacted expedition leader Eric Shipton and suggested that a couple of New Zealanders could make a substantial contribution to the team. And they were invited!

7. Choices. The British Himalayan Committee replaced the 1951 expedition leader Eric Shipton with Colonel John Hunt, a climber. After eight failed attempts on Everest they needed someone to the top first, before the French would have their chance.

8. Overcome setbacks. Along the way there are always major setbacks. After finding a new route up Everest during the reconnaissance expedition of 1951, the British heard that the Swiss had obtained permission for two attempts on Everest the following year. The only thing the British could do was wait and see if the Swiss would succeed.

9. Competition. Hunt proposed that Evans and Bourdillon should use the closed-circuit oxygen equipment to reach the South Summit and Norgay and Hillary would push to the top with the open-circuit oxygen. The competition fueled the eventual success of Hillary’s team.

10. Luck. Hillary, a New Zealander, was lucky to qualify as a British subject and be invited to join the British team. Secondly, in 1952 the Swiss failed to climb Everest on their two attempts. 

How do you view these management lessons in light of your own organization’s efforts to be innovative and competitive?

 

 

My China Shop Needs No Bulls

Too many corporations put “bulls” in executive roles, and surprisingly hope for good things. Hard-nosed tactics may produce some short-term gains. Under the surface, employee engagement often suffers, which can spur greater turnover and undesirable business performance. Peter Friedes, founder of the management think tank Managing People Better, offers a parable to illustrate (below):

Roger the Bull

Roger always “tells,” rarely “asks.” He knows what he wants, demands it, and pushes everyone to adapt to his schedule and expectations. He believes that every second counts and does not view relationship-building as time well spent or a necessary activity for getting great work done.

He is not empathetic or understanding. He rarely changes his mind, even with new information. He operates solely on his own agenda, showing little or no interest in his employees’ opinions. He rejects suggestions quickly, as he knows others’ ideas won’t work. He easily confronts people, often using words that are harsh, strong, or judgmental. He can be arrogant, as if to say he has all the answers. He doesn’t trust his employees to do a good job, so he hovers and corrects them.

Roger doesn’t include others before making decisions. While he thinks he coaches his employees, his “coaching” comes across as demands. No one would call him nurturing or encouraging. His language and tone exude frustration and anger. He is extremely unpleasant to work for.

bull in china shopFriedes writes that, while Roger may have flourished as a department of one in the past, his lack of understanding of how to motivate others is a huge drawback to managerial effectiveness. What is recommended are two key skill sets:

  • Relating, which includes relationship-building activities such as asking, listening, including, coaching, and encouraging.
  • Requiring, which encompasses results-oriented activities such as setting expectations, focusing on goals, insisting on excellence, establishing appropriate controls, confronting performance issues, and asserting your views.

Read about Friedes’ experiences in trying to coach Roger-types:

Bulls are the hardest managers to coach. They typically don’t listen well. They often think they have the answers already. Over the years, I’ve tried the following messages, with limited success:

  1. “You are a results-oriented manager. But you would get far better results by asking, listening, including, coaching, and encouraging your people more often, and lowering the volume on how you demand and require of your people.”

  2. “You were an excellent, hard-working individual achiever. But now your success is measured by how well you let others achieve. This takes a different set of skills. Unless you develop these skills, you cannot be effective as a manager.”

  3. “Your goal is fine…to do a lot of excellent work and meet productivity objectives. But the manner you use to get results is damaging our business and sabotaging your career.”

  4. “Our top employees will not work for an over-Requiring, under-Relating manager very long. They will seek a more reasonable manager and leave or transfer. That will require you to start over with new people, lowering your productivity. Over time, the company will not want to give you any new people.”

  5. “You have taught your people to give you exactly what you want, but they no longer give you new ideas or suggestions for how to do things better. You have demotivated them, which is why you see them lacking.”

  6. “I know you don’t need to be liked. But you do need people to appreciate and respect being managed by you. You are not on track to get that respect.”

Since Bulls feel justified in their treatment of others, none of these statements are likely to produce changed behavior. However, being straightforward, according to Friedes, and saying “You are failing as a manager” or “You will be fired if this over-Requiring, under-Relating behavior continues.” may have the desired impact.

(Want to see how Bullish you are? Take a free assessment !)

 

When Less Polish is Better

 

The week before last, I stopped by one of my satellite offices to visit with my team mates. Unfortunately, none of them were there as all had outside appointments. What I did encounter, however, was a leftover Christmas gift. A referral partner of mine had dropped an envelope off for me and I hadn’t been by since he did. Inside the envelope was a book and a very kind note. The book’s title, Getting Naked, caught me off guard, but the contents were a very pleasant surprise.

The author is Patrick Lencioni, famous for his previous work, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni is well known for teamwork, leadership, and organizational health expertise on the speaking circuit. The book is told as a type of fable, with narrative mixed in with didactic lessons. First person narrative is used to show a change of heart from a traditional approach to client service to one that is very vulnerable, transparent, and self effacing. Excerpts from the book are provided below to give you an overview of its themes and principles.Young consultants

Lencioni writes that most service providers are susceptible to three fears that prevent them from building trust and loyalty with clients:

1. Fear of Losing the Business

No service provider wants to lose clients, business opportunities, or revenue. Ironically, though, this fear of losing the business actually hurts our ability to keep and increase business, because it causes us to avoid doing the difficult things that engender greater loyalty and trust with the people we’re trying to serve.

2. Fear of Being Embarrassed

No one likes making mistakes in public and having to endure the scrutiny of spectators, especially when those spectators are paying us for advice or counsel. And yet, like a fifth-grader, we know that the only thing worse than raising our hand and having the wrong answer is failing to put our hand up at all (and realizing that more often than not, we did indeed have the right answer). This fear, then, is rooted in pride, and it is ultimately about avoiding the appearance of ignorance, wanting to be seen as smart or competent.

3. Fear of Feeling Inferior

Like the previous fear, this one has its roots in ego, but there is an important difference between the two. Fear of feeling inferior is not about our intellectual pride, but rather about preserving our sense of importance and social standing relative to a client. 

Lencioni makes several great points.  It is so easy in a client facing role to withhold information that we sense the client may perceive to be bad news. There is almost a subconscious thought that the client will think less of us because we can’t control the outcome. Instead, we are exhorted to be frank and sincere because in so doing we will win confidence and trust. In the long run, we are more believable for having let our guard down–not less! In addition to being willing to say tough things, the thought of asking crazy questions without worry about how we will be perceived is very freeing. When a service provider is not afraid to make the client look good at her own expense, she has the right view of how the relationship should be structured. We ar to be there for the client’s needs–not the reverse.