Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The distorted self - issues in coaching

Given we walk around all day with ourselves for company you would think we would know ourselves pretty well . However the evidence would suggest otherwise - most of us seem to distort how we see ourselves, either inflating or deflating our capabilities and capacities out of line with how others see us.

Getting to know our real self is more than a bit tricky. Even systems such as 360 feedback are not infallible - we often present to different people in very variable ways and it is not uncommon for our bosses to view us differently from our peers or teams. Which one is the 'true' self? We are also skilled a selectively hearing messages from feedback, picking out those that confirm our self image and rejecting those that don't

If this were not difficult enough, many of us are disconnected from our view of our ideal self - the self we would like to be - the reputation we would like, or the difference we want to make. However, according to leadership author Richard Boyatzis, this is the self view that can drive and propel change . Boyatzis believes that the more we are connected to our ideal self the more we are likely to accurately self-assess. Tackling our weaknesses (aka development needs) therefore become palatable when the ideal self provides the imperative.

Important stuff to remember if you work in the business of developing people.

Goleman, D, Boyatzis, R and McKee, A. (2001) Primal Leadership: the hidden driver of performance, Harvard Business Review

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Defensiveness - issues in coaching

Understanding defensiveness is stock in trade for any coach who is worth their salt - being able spot  how the client can deny/ rationalise/ justify/ minimise their behaviour and impact is essential. Defensiveness keeps the conversation closed and limits the possibilities that can be discussed or discovered. It would not therefore  be unreasonable to see the defensive client as a problem... a bit of an issue.

However a more compassionate view is that the client is always doing the best they can, given the context, resources and knowledge they have. Defensiveness is therefore potentially a legitimate response given their circumstances.

This was borne when I was recently introduced to a new client. They had been told to come for coaching because they needed to fix some stuff. Not too surprisingly they entered the room bristling with indignation and highly suspicious of me and this coaching malarkey. It has taken several session to build up trust and for him to lower the barricades enough to talk about a change agenda that he is willing to buy into. The work continues...

"Defensiveness is usually someone silently screaming that they need you to value and respect them in disguise."

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Abdication, delegation, interference

How do leaders know if what they are giving their people is right?

This was the question that was exercising a leader I met last week. He was very aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his team and the challenges they had on . He was also very clear about his own management style and was well aware that he loved 'doing the doing'  and was in danger of getting overly involved and potentially becoming an interference and a nuisance to his team

He'd also experimented with more delegation and talked fondly of a happy couple of weeks when he'd been able to go home at 5pm after off loading his project backlog. This had backfired slightly when he discovered his team straining to complete tasks and he'd  concluded that his 'delegation' had actually become abdication.

This delicate balance is of course the stuff of 'situational leadership' - the fine art of judging the right degree of empowerment and autonomy. And art is is ... if there was rule book on how to do this perfectly it would be a best seller. My leader was more than half way there as he understood that getting it wrong was normal and was willing to have conversations with his team about what he needed to provide them. How refreshing!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The elephant and the rider

I've recently finished reading Jonathan Haidt's fascinating book the 'happiness hypothesis'. Don't let the title put you off - this is not pop self-help psychology but a well crafted and stimulating book about who we are and what makes us tick based on a mound of sound research.

Throughout the book Haidt uses an intriguing metaphor - the 'elephant and the rider' - making the case that we are not as rationally determined as we might like to think.  Haidt argues that most of our functioning is governed by our instinctual, habituated and largely unconscious self (the elephant). Our rational conscious self is just like the rider on a elephant - allegedly in control but ultimately not ... if our elephant wants to go a particular direction that is the way we go.

This has some interesting potential implications for change and personal development. If the elephant and the rider both want the same thing change is likely to be rapid and sustained. However if the two are at odds then change might be resisted or at best temporary. Think about all the times you (rider) have promised yourself (elephant) that you are going to get fitter/loose weight/cut back on red wine but failed to do so ... that is the rider/elephant in action.

Some interesting implications for coaching ... to be discussed!