Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The too helpful leader

We've all heard of the 'micro-manager' - the guy/gal who is always hovering on your shoulder and deep down doesn't really trust us to get on. However just as common, but less acknowledged, is the 'too helpful manager'. These are the well-intentioned folk who can't help taking other people's problems on themselves, and define leadership in terms of the number of issues they've managed to fix in the day. Throw in a soup├žon of control freakery and you've got a wonderful recipe for dis-empowerment.

For these managers coaching is often a struggle, as they see their role as the expert who has to provide all the answers. Coaching someone else to learn for themselves can therefore come as a bit of a shock, and more than the odd  leading question is known to creep into the dialogue. 

While of course problems must be fixed, the too helpful manager  deprives their team of the opportunity to find their own way and make their own mistakes ie. grow and develop. Net result - the too helpful boss perpetually has to keep helping out and becomes a bottleneck on their own team performance.

Perhaps time for a redefinition of what is helpful?

Thanks to Jock McNeish for the wonderful cartoon.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Selective hearing - issues in coaching

Having delivered a lot of 360 feedback to people over the years I've noticed how often people seem to selectively pick out the messages they want to hear and reject or rationalise away the rest. Not too surprising at one level, but given the intent of 360 feedback is (in part) to puncture our self-delusions not reinforce them, this form of selective hearing seems worth paying attention to.

William Swann*, US psychologist, talks about two competing motives that tend to preserve and reinforce our view of ourselves: the self-consistency and self-enhancement motives. Those with a stronger self-consistency drive need to see themselves as essentially unchanging - even if it means clinging to a poor self-image. So when faced with good feedback they will often diminish or minimise it, whilst lapping up the bad news. A stronger self-enhancement motive shows up as people wanting to enhance their view of themselves - so guess what - the good news gets heard and the bad news gets rejected. This makes it tough work for the coach trying to increase a client's self-awareness but understanding these motives does help.

So what do you find harder - the good new or the bad news?

* Swann,W.B. et al (1999) The cognitive-affective crossfire: when self-consistency confronts self-enhancement, in: Roy F. Baumeister (Ed.), The self in social psychology, Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press. Click here for a link

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Coaching vs Therapy - issues in coaching

When I'm asked by new coaches about the differences between coaching and therapy, I'm often tempted to ask them whether they want the two minute explanation or the two hour version. The two minute version goes something like this - coaching is about the future, its about work performance, its about people who are functioning well but who could function better, its about finding solutions not fixing history. Therapy isn't any of these.

The two hour version points out the generalisations in these statements, the impossibility of compartmentalising ourselves, and the similarity in skills. Experienced business coaches know that the whole human shows up for coaching - and that, often,  the roots of present day performance issues lies in the past. Like it or not we are dealing with human psychology when we coach... and that includes our own not just the client's.

Like learning to swim, we need to be clear about when we are getting into 'deep water' as a coach and either head for the 'shallows' or learn to improve our technique. We do our clients no service if we take them into waters where we are out of our depth. Equally perpetually swimming in the shallow end is unlikely to make a real difference in the lives of our clients.  OK enough watery metaphors.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Playing the 'Inner Game'

I was recently reminded of Tim Gallwey's  ** performance equation : Performance equals Potential minus Interference. 

Although a tad pseudo-scientific, Gallwey's equation succinctly expresses the notion that most of our battles are not 'out there' but in our own heads - how we play our 'Inner Game'. The issue is not what we can do, so much as what we talk ourselves out of doing. Just listen to your own self-talk next time you face a difficult or challenging task and you will probably hear self-doubt, negative forecasting and other forms of self-limiting beliefs - all examples of  'mental interference' in Gallwey's terms.

This simple equation has spawned a whole approach to coaching. Rather than building skills or knowledge (ie maximising the potential component of the equation), the 'Inner Game' coach works on 'interference' element by finding causes of low self-confidence, challenges self-limiting beliefs and assumptions and recasting self-defeating or destructive patterns of behaviour. This means the coach is more likely to ask questions and listen, rather than tell, instruct or teach.

"It's not what they can do, it's what they tell themselves they can't do, that brings them to coaching" said an old colleague of mine. Too true!

Here's a short clip of Tim Gallwey talking about how he stumbled on the 'Inner Game' approach. 

**Gallwey, T. (2000) The Inner Game of Work: overcoming mental obstacles for maximum performance. London: Orion Books, pp17