Monday 27 July 2009

The Forgotten Art of Thinking

Since becoming a full-time Coach, it's become apparent to me that in Business the most critical ability we have is our thinking ability. Thinking is vital if we want to become skilled at solving problems. Yet so few people either realise that or have much skill in HOW to Think. Yet when you learn how to think, many things become easier. As F.Scott Fitzgerald once said: "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposite ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function".
These are spurs that must be earned. But like all muscles, our thinking muscles can also be developed and improved over time!
Here are some 'critical essentials' as I rate them and simple things you can do right away to get the ball rolling.

1. Separate yourself from the issue at hand. Create THINKING SPACE. Remember to MANAGE your EMOTIONS. (Are they helping or hindering?)
2. FRAME the problem. Ask yourself "What's the crux of this matter?"-What needs to be decided here? Am you solving the right problem? Separate issues from each other.
3. Start to DEFINE the problem/issue using all the available information. I challenge myself to 'refine to 1 line'.......Then I really understand the ESSENCE of things!!
4. Am I looking at the simple and obvious things FIRST?- Thomas Jefferson advised us to "grab the problem by the smooth handle"
5. Do I have enough INFORMATION or experience available to make an informed choice?
6. Are there different OPTIONS available? Am I being objective and balanced here?
7. Have I come across this before in another guise- What LESSONS can I draw from previous experience?

As a Coach you must excel at thinking. You of course are not doing the thinking on behalf of your Client, but, you have to be able to assimilate, distil, synthesise and associate quickly to be useful to busy Executives whose lives move and change very quickly. As a Coach, when I'm most effective is when I think clearly and frame accurately. This allows you trust your own judgement and feel confident you have your 'arms round the topic' under discussion.
People come to a Coach with complex problems they cannot resolve on their own. It may be in the form of a convoluted 'people issue', an Organisation Chart, a Strategy Document, a handed down Executive decision that they struggle to interpret clearly. You have to be comfortable in this space as a Coach and feel capable of what I call 'beating the problem while understand the person in it'. That's complex, but a great achievement when you finally achieve clarity. A coach is essentially as Plato said " a midwife to understanding". An enabler of clarity and someone who runs alongside you as an equal partner, co-creating the desired outcome. That's essentially how Coaching is different to other disciplines. I studied Six Sigma and Strategic Marketing academically and have those to thank for helping me HOW TO THINK. What helps you to think and gives you comfort you understand your issues properly???

Wednesday 22 July 2009

The Changing Role of the Professional Coach...

As this economy becomes tighter and the cycle continues to be unforgiving, the role of the 'Executive Coach' has changed and needs to evolve with the conditions.

Whether you're working with a Coach or thinking about it, here are a few reflective pointers I think are relevant to the discussion. For many of course what I'm advocating may well be the norm.

  • Coaching is about CHANGE and in a work context it usually involves being able to either acquire new skills or effect a step change in PERFORMANCE in some area of your work. .....ACTION is required!
  • A good Coach should be comfortable in holding 3 way conversations. (called tri-partite contracting) This involves you-the Coachee, the Organisation and the Coach. The essence of good Coaching is CLARITY- A good Coach must inspire confidence in all their dealings with you and the Business.
  • A Coach must be able to decipher the needs of the Organisation, understand where you are in that equation and with you, devise a Coaching Plan that allows you meet those expectations in a way that positively impacts your Performance. That's why Coaching is both Valued and Valuable (prized and priced) 1 to 1 Rolls -Royce treatment!

  • Coaching is usually 1 to 1. When effective, it can impact 30/40 others where more Senior people are involved. If this is not happening, you're probably NOT being Coached. You should challenge that. Effectiveness is not just in the 1 to 1 outcome but more so the wider organisational IMPACT of this quality work

  • Much of Coaching is about understanding you in a given situation or with others when you just don't 'play at your best'. Your Coach should be able to help you cross that divide from one side to the other. I call this 'partitioning' my work. We move from understanding you in a situation to HOW to play at your best with this situation/relationship in the future. It may require some SKILL BUILDING. Your Coach should have ideas of what may work and know how to tailor to best suit your needs.

  • A good executive Coach should have an extensive business background to draw from and be able to accelerate you acquiring these new skills. A good coach should be able to talk about models, frameworks approaches for your problem. If not there and then, they should be able to find useful information for you

  • Because you're busy, a good Coach will have more time than you (that's part of what you pay for) and should be able to do some work for you between sessions. This can be researching, thinking, designing, structuring. Coaching is about 'Adult to Adult' relationships and in that way your Coach should be 'shoulder to shoulder' with you in their desire for you to succeed in true partnership fashion

  • When you come to giving Feedback to the organisation/your boss, a Coach should be able to see how to structure that in a way that will work best and lead and shape that discussion with you so it's a successful outcome.

  • Many Coaches feel they should not express an opinion on topics because 'the coachee has all the answers'. I say yes and no to that. Coaching is not Consulting or Mentoring, but, you too have a voice in this relationship. With that comes responsibility. Therefore, how you position what you say and being clear your role is to balance the welfare of your Client with the requirements of the business your skill here is not just desirable but essential. In my experience, if the Coach manages themselves well and their intent is honourable. this generally results in a positive outcome. In a 3 way relationship this is really just a 'win/win/win'
  • Go on rate your own Coach out of 10 and let me know what your experiences are!

Thursday 16 July 2009

Creativity...just another name for Innovation you know?!

I have a Dilbert cartoon which has Dilbert looking at his PC and becoming distracted by more exciting activities. The caption reads "I have met the enemy, it is ourselves" In effect it means we defeat ourselves. In a creativity sense we often just 'leave that to the bright sparks'. This is both foolish and an incorrect perspective.
Sure some people have more ideas and find this process easier. Here's a simple thinking tool to get you started. Many of us have heard of the '3rd Way' or, a third/new alternative. Many of us are too linear (your way, or my win or I win) In fact, the idea of 'win/win' is in itself creative. It's a 3rd way that's better than we can achieve on our own.
Look for more win-wins, it will free up your thinking and that flexibility will allow new ideas and possibilities enter your consciousness. The rest is practice and learning!
Our egos and fear of making a mistake confine our thinking unnecessarily. As our own Beckett famously once said; "Fail, fail again, fail better". This encourages us to take some risks but we must also take the time to learn from what's happened..........Have fun, small wonder young kids are so creative! Try asking for forgiveness instead of permission and see what happens! Got to be at least worth a try! Let me know how you get on.

Friday 3 July 2009

Motivation........Inside out, not outside in

Another building block you must understand if you want to succeed in life, at work at home or in your community is motivation. People dance around motivation like it's some big mystery. It's quite simple. Here are some facts you may know but if you're like me you won't always have used them properly!

  1. You cannot Motivate another person. All you can do is put in place conditions which encourage them to want to do things for themselves (Their Journey is different to yours!!)
  2. It's important to differentiate between MOTIVATORS and SATISFIERS. We often get them confused. Your salary, working conditions, and benefits package do not motivate. Why? People believe they are entitled to these anyway and they just get absorbed over time into people's lifestyles. What Motivates me may only barely Satisfy you etc...
  3. The Golden Rule of people management is to park your own assumptions and ASK other people what's important to THEM? Those who aren't shocked will be amazed!!
  4. Motivation is in my opinion a 3 way axis: (a) Skill, can I do that which I want to? (b) Will- am I willing to learn, follow through or continue to do something irrespective of the challenges and finally (c) Readiness, this is often overlooked. Maturity is a personal thing. Think of how many times you told someone (esp your parents!) you realised it's time to start saving, give up smoking, build a career etc, they often say...'We've been telling you that for years...!' You just were not ready. Engage with this as a 3D model and you'll do much better. in and out of work.........