Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The curse of perfectionism - issues in coaching

I was recently called in to work with a team who by any objective measure could be described as ‘high-performing’. They were leaders in their industry, consistently produced great results and had the respect of their peers and customers alike. However, far from basking in the much justified praise they received from all quarters, this was one of the most miserable and least satisfied teams I have ever encountered. All they could see was how much they had yet to do, and worst still, they saw each other as rivals and competitors. They were in very real danger of fracturing as a group and destroying their hard won reputation.

None of this made too much sense until it occurred to me that this was a group cursed with perfectionism. They had impossibly high standards for themselves – nothing less than perfection was good enough them and even perfection probably didn’t cut it. Rather than motivating them, their self imposed expectations were leading to paralysis, inaction and in-fighting. What really made the difference for this group was discovering – to their huge surprise-  that they all carried a strong sense of failure and under-achievement, and assumed that their peers were more able/bright/together (fill in the blank) than they were. And strangely enough just by being able to see their assumptions they were able to start the conversation to fix the situation. 

So... where are you expecting of yourself? Progress or perfection?

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Killer Question

The Art and Architecture of the Powerful Question

You've heard about the ‘killer question’- it’s that one knock-out question that will unlock our coaching client, springing them neatly into expanded awareness, sustained behavioural change and purposeful action. Sadly I have yet to come across such a question – at least not one that is guaranteed to work on all occasions and with all clients -  so forgive me for a dollop of scepticism on this subject! My ‘best’ questions seem to arise in the moment from my own curiosity and are often the simplest. Having said this however, I do know that some questions are more powerful than others – asking ‘what are you doing at the weekend?’ is patentedly different from ‘what are you doing with your life?’.

I came across an interesting analysis of the 'architecture' of  powerful questions which suggests that we coaches should pay attention to three aspects of our questioning if we want them to be impactful:

·   Depth – do we tend to ask surface questions of fact or deeper questions of feeling, meaning and purpose? A ‘why’ questions is always going to be more powerful than a ‘when’ or ‘where’ question - even if you have to ask it more carefully.
· Breadth – do we ask big enough questions? Are we interested in just the 'weekend' or the 'life'? Do we ask questions just about the presenting issue or about the systemic context?
· Hidden assumption– if all questions contain an assumption (discuss!) do we help our clients to unpick the assumptions inherent in the questions they are asking themselves and perhaps find a better question

Would love to hear your favourite ‘killer question’...

Click here for a copy of ‘The art of powerful questions’ by Vogt, Brown and Isaacs (2003)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Knowing what to do and wanting to do it – Alignment and Engagement

A while ago I had the pleasure of hearing John McLeod, co-author of the governmental report ‘ Engaging for Success: enhancing performance through employee engagement’. John had spent more than a year researching the link between organisational performance and employee engagement and … surprise, surprise the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour. 

John feels that ‘engagement’ is a much misunderstood (and maligned) term. He believes that employees need to be both aligned – they know what to do, and engaged – they want to do it. Alignment without engagement results in ‘tin soldiers’ following the letter but not the spirit. Engagement without alignment results in ‘headless chickens’ enthusiastically rushing around but creating mayhem.

So... what are the people in your organisation like. Aligned and engaged or neither?
Here’s a link to the McLeod & Clarke report:

Monday, 7 November 2011

Healthy boundaries - issues in coaching

Boundaries seem to have a bit of a bad press - they suggest no go areas or 'thou shalt not's' - and are a bit anathema to conventional coaching which is often about dismantling personal limitations and self-imposed  restrictions.

Yet everyday life is made up of boundaries - the length of reasonable working day, driving on the left (in the UK), or even the time you expect the kids to go to bed. These sort of limitation are not experienced as onus or burdensome, in fact the opposite is often true...without boundaries we often get into trouble. Just think about people whose personal lives have been sacrificed to the job, or cause a crash by veering onto the wrong side of the road, or parents struggling with an impossible teenager

We all need boundaries to define healthy areas of operation and without them we can feel out of control and even powerless. Paradoxically we seem to need to set limits and boundaries for ourselves in order to find freedom to act.

Stressed coaching clients often present with boundary issues - too much work, not enough time, inability to say 'no'. Putting some limits and even 'no go' areas into their lives therefore can be enormously liberating. Now should they choose not to.. well that is a whole different conversation.