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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Soft Skills Matter in Business – Even if Not Measurable

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work alongside some brilliant co-workers and clients. Whether it has been inside a public accounting firm, or as an advisor to engineering and construction companies, I am often surrounded by folks with strong technical skills. Since my role has usually involved organizational development, strategy, or marketing and business development, I have heard time and again how “soft and fuzzy” topics such as relationships, emotional intelligence, and creativity and communication are less needful than the technical skills.

Susan Mazza, who writes a blog entitled Random Acts of Leadership, recognizes the dichotomy of “soft” versus “hard” skills in her recent post, “The Power of Soft.” She states in the post that, “the very need to distinguish “soft” vs. “hard” speaks to a paradigm that has long revered hard results as the only ones that really matter. Unless something can be quantified and measured the underlying belief is that it is somehow less valuable and hence of lesser importance.”Soft vs hard skills

Whether I have been in conversations with a CFO, a business owner, or a  VP of operations, I have heard over and again how that which cannot be measured must be insignificant and pale in priority. Mazza references a recent TED Talk by Dr. Brene’ Brown, “Leaning into Vulnerability” in which Brown shares how one of her research professors once stated, “If you cannot measure it, it doesn’t exist.” Mazza observes that many with advanced degrees subscribe to a scientific framework that assumes “measurable” is the only test for “real!”

Dr. Brown’s talk about vulnerability addressed the effort to view “soft” subjects with “hard” data. New insights have prevailed that challenge the long-held distinction within the business world of the value of each category of skills. Mazza’s view of the new awareness is that, “in our relentless pursuit to collect and analyze data, we all too often ignore the most important measure of all – our senses!”

The behavior we see and emotions we feel, according to Mazza, are the source of the most powerful tool we have as leaders and mangers – our ability to observe. She observes the following:

You have probably heard the phrase, “the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife.” Can’t you feel that tension? How much productive work gets done when that kind of tension is present? Yet we often grind through what we see and feel through simple observation, knowing both the experience and the result are going to be less than satisfying.

Would having a mood Geiger Counter to assign the tension a number really make any difference?

By simply observing the mood and the impact it is having on your ability to fulfill your commitments, you are able to take action to make a difference in any moment. How to take that action is, of course, another subject.

The point here is the real power of soft comes from our innate ability to observe. So perhaps it’s time to give up our attachment to measuring all things and the belief that, “If you can’t measure it it doesn’t exist.”  Why not start  learning to better use the tools we have been born with – our senses – as an access to improving relationships, enhancing performance and creating great places to work?

The ability to navigate through tensions, create win-win scenarios, and build esprit de corps comes not from technical, “hard” skills, but from those soft and fuzzy assets that many C-suite executives and business owners underestimate. Think about your own organization and how greater respect for soft skills could make it a better place to work, where senses are valued equally with data and relationships that build goodwill are put on a pedestal.

 

 

 

Innovation: Spurred By Introverts or Not?

introvert v extrovert

We are all familiar with the stereotypes surrounding introverts. Yet, Stefan Lindegaard at 15inno.com, in a blog post today, while acknowledging that he is an introvert and prefers to be alone, looks at the unique role introverts can play in innovation.  He projects that, in terms of innovation, more innovation will happen in communities either in the b2c form of crowdsourcing or in the b2b form of innovation networks, alliances and challenges. He sees the communities as not just virtual/online, but also in person. Some of Lindegaard’s observations about introversion as it relates to innovation are below (he doesn’t perceive the shift to synchronized collaboration to be one that will exclude introverts from innovation.)

Reflection is an important, but forgotten capability. It is often said that introverts get more energy through reflection and that it dwindles during interaction. Well, we need more reflection. There is too much action in this fast paced world and when it comes to ideas and innovation, the best results seem to come when you take a break and reflect on the problems you are trying to solve.

Organizational structures need to make room for introverts. With the exception of a few pockets such as R&D and accounting most functions within a company seem to be driven with an extrovert-like attitude. But not all people are social. Many are introverts and don’t necessarily want to socialize and focus on external matters. What about them?

Introverts must learn to turn on the switch. Far too many meetings either take too long or should never have taken place at all. The matters could have been dealt with in more effective ways than a meeting. Introvert or not. 

But when I need to interact with others in the physical world, I have trained myself to turn on a switch that allows me to be a good networker (ask questions, focus on the other person) and deliver good talks. I would actually argue that introverts are capable of becoming better networkers than most other people because we are more likely to define a purpose and execute on this before we interact like this.

We need to develop the softer skills. Yes, it is kind of a cliché that soft skills such as networking, communication and “people skills” are really the hard skills, but this does not change the fact that too many companies fail to educate their employees on this. More importantly; they don’t give the employees the time needed to develop these skills. Those who want to succeed in the social era need to change this.

Social media works well for introverts. You can “hide” and still have a strong voice in your community or industry. This is one reason that I spent so much time with social media. It is a great way to communicate and since there is so much input (some call this information overload), it gives you plenty of opportunities to reflect on what is happening and thus build further on your own thoughts and ideas. Social media makes it easier for introverts to become more social. It is a win for everyone.

Introverts can challenge the crowd. Since most introverts shy away from the crowd, they often see the crowd in a different perspective. We need all perspectives when we work with innovation and good innovation leader make an effort to recognize this and thus pay extra attention to listen to the more “quiet” introverts.

 

Lindegaard’s comments should be challenging to traditional organizational development thought. He almost goes so far as to recommend diversity strategies to balance personality types in work groups. Furthermore, he portrays as valuable the tension between thinking and communication, solitary productivity vs group performance. Think about these concepts and your own organization. Consider how you may better organize yourselves to be more innovative. 

Sales Shifts Into 21st Century Mode

People wonder what will become of the sales profession in the new, creative economy. Some suppose that most transactions will be done online, without the interpersonal component that has existed since at least the Industrial Revolution. Few expect the demand, however, for sales folks to increase. Yet, in an article for Inc. magazine, Geoffrey James (the Sales Source columnist for the online magazine) shares some findings of a project he has conducted over a two year period with his peer, Howard Stevens. Reports on the project are available for free on the Chally website (HERE), so if you’re interested, you might want to download them (especially since there’s no guarantee they’ll be free forever.)

1. The Web will make salespeople MORE important.

Conventional wisdom says that the ability of customer to research products and buy them online should make salespeople less important. It turns out that the opposite is the case, and companies are hiring more salespeople than ever.

However, customers expect much more of the salespeople who contact and work with them. Customers now expect salespeople to have a expert’s view of the customer’s business, act as a manager of some crucial part of the customer’s business, and be effective at protecting the customer’s interests within the vendor organization.

2: Sales jobs will become further differentiated and specialized.

Conventional wisdom says that the best sales professionals are hard-driving mavericks who can drum up business, develop opportunities, and close deals like crazy. However,  according to Chally’s research, there is no “one size fits all” salesperson any longer.

While some sales jobs may demand the stereotypical “go-getter” behavior, other jobs favor employees with less showy strengths, like strong analytical skills, the ability to empathize with customer problems, or a deep understanding of complex business issues.

3. Universities and colleges will offer more courses on selling.

Conventional wisdom is that top sales professionals don’t need anything other than a high school diploma (if that) in order to sell. However, because selling is becoming more specialized, U.S. firms alone are spend $7.1 billion on sales training every year.

Given the demand, colleges are now ramping up dozens of sales-oriented business classes, many of which are producing exceptional graduates who “ramp up” 50% faster than the average candidate, and are 35% less likely to leave their employer.

4. Selling will be less of an art and more of a science.

Conventional wisdom says that sales is an art (aka “black magic”) that’s only measured by your financial results at the end of the quarter or fiscal year. However, sales-oriented technologies have now made it possible to use science to increase sales performance.

For example, using psychological assessment tests, it’s now possible to create an accurate map of a salesperson’s individual skills, competencies, motivational drivers, work habits and potential for developing new skills. Such metrics make selling (and forecasting sales) more predictable and therefore more manageable.

As you may be able to infer from the comments above, James sees the current flux in sales as monumental. He compares it, in fact, to a revolution, not unlike marketing advances in the 60s or computers in the 80s. The premise that online transactions will fuel the need for more sales is an exciting one. It will be interesting to see whether the need will be for technicians or consultants, or a hybrid. Enhanced consultative skills will be welcomed by purchasing professionals and consumers alike who cringe at the thought of having to interact with the stereotypical pushy salesperson. With a new sales training center, faculty dedicated to sales training, and a growing amount of resources being pledged to course offerings in sales topics, my MBA alma mater, Elon, is an example of a school that has picked up on the executive sales training movement.  Finally, the professionalization of sales through career development tools employed in other roles and fields is another encouraging development that should lead to smoother communication between sales teams and the remainder of corporate departments. What do you think about these trends as James has articulated them?

5 Ways Creativity Training Accelerates Innovation

“Creativity and innovation training is a highly effective accelerant for business results.”

-Gregg Fraley

Contrary to naysayers’ beliefs, creativity is a skill set for which training can be developed, delivered, and deployed.  In fact, brainstorming is enhanced by training! Those who tout research saying that brainstorming is ineffective are usually quoting studies that were conducted in situations wherein no training was provided in advance.

Another fallacy that people latch onto is the thought that some people are innovative and others are not. Inside larger companies that tend towards bureaucracy and group think, it can be hard to jump start creativity and innovation. Yet, most will acknowledge that analysis sans insight has severe limitations. Fraley advocates for the principle that training can make a big difference in bridging the gap between market knowledge and potential.

 

As you can see from the study, creativity training (when done well) can be instructive for employees who need to learn how to think and express ideas in a more positive, focused, and spontaneous way. Breakthrough results often occur when properly fueled by a rapid, flexible, and structured process at the front end of innovation.

Most R&D or innovation initiatives include no budget for training. Since creativity can aid with problem solving and problem finding, organizations need to be awakened to the potential missed from failure to pre-train.  Fraley feels  creativity and innovation training accelerates innovation in five strategic ways:

  1. Improved creative thinking leads to enhanced innovation capacity, and with action, results.
  2. Training helps instill structured creative thinking and innovation process as a cultural value and habit.
  3. Training provides innovation teams with a common language and framework to solve problems, improve communication, expedite complex problem resolution, and moving new business concepts forward.
  4. Training corrects many of the myths that surround creativity and innovation. There is a science to this that is largely ignored. For those that learn and practice the science — it’s a competitive advantage.
  5. Team efficiency improves because a lot of useless chatter, debate, and conflict are eliminated.

Creativity is intimately related to change, decision making, and problem solving — it’s not just artistic self-expression!