Coaching isn’t for people who need help…

If an Olympic figure skater doesn’t take to the ice without their coach, why should a senior exec (one of the “Olympic athletes” of his/her organization), someone who’s out on that figurative “ice” every day and whose performance is critical to business success?

I have a colleague who’s teaching in a coaching skills certificate program at a major university.  She recently told me that when she suggested to her students that they should each hire a coach so they could experience what it’s like to be coached (which in my opinion is as important as being trained), the class was taken aback, with the response being,  “Why would I need a coach?”

I’ve become aware over the last several years that coaching is increasingly being viewed as the tool you use for “people who need help,” with the obvious connotation that if you wind up working with a coach you’re somehow lacking or need “fixing.”  I’m not sure how we got to this perception because nothing could be further from the truth, and it’s an important distinction to understand.

Let’s look at areas like the performing arts, sports at the Olympic level and elite athletes like Tiger Woods.  Everyone who’s anyone in any discipline works with a coach to increase effectiveness.  These are people who are already great at what they do, and who they coach with is a source of pride. Olympic athletes never practice or compete without their coaches right there with them.  Tiger Woods has a swing coach.  Performing artists–actors, musicians, singers, dancers–work with coaches to learn roles/parts, refine technique and keep their talent honed and at the razor’s edge; Luciano Pavarotti, the late great operatic tenor, had a vocal coach, for example.  There’s no hint here about coaching being anything other than what it was conceived to be:  a means of attaining big goals in less time and with better results than you could have alone, of achieving and maintaining peak performance.  Believe me, in no organization I know of is money spent on “real” coaching except for those who are viewed as having the potential to contribute even more than they already have/are.  Smart organizations flatten the learning/performance curve by investing in coaching for key people, and reap the rewards for it!

So let’s make sure we position coaching the way it was meant to be:  as a tool to turn good performers into great ones, to develop potential and provide the objective point of view people need to maintain momentum and achieve greatness, and not as something we use to fix people.  A “coaching culture” in an organization is one that’s vibrant and alive with promise; it’s an interdevelopmental dynamic, where everyone grows together.  THAT’S what coaching was designed for and how it should be viewed.

Coaches, I’d love to know how you combat this misperception.

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When NOT to do a 360…

I was once asked about performing  a 360 assessment on an individual who was “having problems.”

This is a good reason NOT to do one – at least, not without more information on the situation.

Upon further questioning, it turned out that the organization had made a mistake in promoting this individual, who was now struggling in a supervisory role for which he was ill-suited mainly because he lacked the skills for it (which was all too obvious to the people he was trying to manage).  Compounding the situation was the fact that he was originally from a foreign country and didn’t have the nuances of English necessary to be effective in his new position.  As an individual contributor in the field for which he had trained he would be a valuable asset to the company, and an effort was being initiated to move him into such a position.

The bottom line is that assessments – particularly 360’s – should not be used as a substitute for good performance management or a means of trying to rectify errors in judgment.  If an employee needs corrective feedback and isn’t getting it, it isn’t just the employee who needs to be held accountable, it’s their manager as well.  Assessments are developmental tools, meant to be used to provide feedback to help those who are a fit (and who have the skill and the will) for the positions they hold to determine where to apply their efforts to increase effectiveness.  They can be diagnostic tools as well, but only within the context of talent management and/or career development.  The last thing we want to do with a 360 is inadvertently use it as a weapon, or apply it in situations where it isn’t called for or will do more harm than good.  When in doubt, don’t.

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Wisdom from a genius mentor of mine…

Thomas Leonard, who died at the age of 49 in 2003, was my coach, mentor and friend.  He was also a genius and one of the early founders and definers of the coaching profession. He founded the International Coach Federation and the organization now known as, where I got my training as a coach.

Anyone who spent any time around Thomas could never keep up with the flood of ideas, discoveries, realizations, learning and projects he was immersed in/discovering/sharing.  We always felt as though we were running to catch up as he charged ahead into possibility and experimented, wrote about and developed a body of knowledge about human development and human evolution that to this day I strive to do my best to live by.

The below is something I haven’t seen in a while, and I’d like to thank my colleague Suzee Ebeling for publishing it once again on the Masterpiece Thomas group on Facebook.  For some, the reaction to these 21 strategies will be “Of course.” For others, they’ll be hard to grasp or understand.  But I can assure you that Thomas always knew what he was talking about, and if our purpose here is to evolve (and I believe it is), then these are concepts to live by.  Enjoy.

21 Personal Evolution Strategies

Copyright 1999 by Thomas J. Leonard and CoachVille LLC 2006.

To evolve more quickly and easily… 

1. Surround yourself with new ideas instead of recycling your beliefs. Beliefs can limit your ability to experience life as it unfolds.

2. Make chaos your friend. The unexpected is a good thing as long as you’re open to it.

3. Let your environments do most of your evolutionary work for you. Evolution occurs as you adapt to such environments.

4. Use tolerations to your advantage. Every single thing you are putting up with is an opportunity waiting to be leveraged. 

5. Constantly experiment.  Synchronicity is the reward.

6. Spend more time in nature.  Nature nourishes and recalibrates our natural systems.

7. Become the host of a thriving network. Let your network evolve you as you serve them.

8. Continuously integrate all aspects of your life. Integration evolves you from being needlessly complicated to being richly complex.

9. Invest in your virtual environments, not just your physical environments. Life is becoming more virtual.

10. Design your sources of energy. You can then operate at a higher frequency.

11. Become superconductive. Reduce the energy you consume by 90% by reducing your resistance to life.

12. Master the evolving set of Cyber Skills. Extend your intelligence by connecting with everyone.

13. Surround yourself with people who are eagerly evolving. They spark you. You spark them. Evolution occurs effortlessly.

14. Stop resisting. Assimilate events the first time they occur.

15. Choose a goal that is bigger than you are. Be pulled forward by it, instead of pushing yourself.

16. Get over yourself in every possible way. Arrogance holds you back.

17. Learn how you naturally operate. Come to honor your personal dynamic.

18. Know your gifts. And design your life to fully express them.

19. Emotionally heal. Healing maximizes your emotional IQ.

20. Cause something and surprise yourself. Initiative is a muscle.

21. Make what you don’t know more interesting than what you do know. Enjoy learning more than teaching.

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The acorn on the countertop

The other morning I found an acorn on one of my kitchen countertops.

It wasn’t there the night before, and I have no idea where it came from.  There are no oak trees in my garden or even in my neighborhood.  I don’t think it could have somehow found its way in on my clothes, or I would have seen it (or heard it fall).  I suspect Bella, a young stray cat I took in last year, found it somewhere (although where?) and left it on the counter – she carries her toys around the house in her mouth, and must have thought the acorn would make a nice gift.  She knows not to be up on the kitchen counters when I’m around, but when I’m not (or when I’m asleep), I’m pretty sure all bets are off.

Now, I have been out of work for 13 months.  I’ve been somewhat busy doing contract work from several sources, but even that is slow right now, and it’s occurred to me that I need to be thinking about doing something else with my life.  I’m too young to retire and wouldn’t want to anyway, but I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever work full time again.

There are two key principles (among others) that I believe in:

1.  There are no mistakes and there are no coincidences.

2.  Everything happens for a reason.

Oh heck, there’s a third too:

3.  Everything in life is either a lesson or a test.

The acorn isn’t the first time something has just shown up in my life out of the blue with no way to explain it, so I tend to pay attention when these things happen.  The first thing I thought of was the old saw “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow,” and I pondered that for a while.  I thought about seeds, new ideas, growing something, starting.  If everything happens for a reason, then an acorn showing up on my countertop is a clue, perhaps to what’s next.

Growing something.  Starting something.  I wonder what.

More to come.

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Leaving a Legacy…

A while back, Marshall Goldsmith wrote on his blog about dealing with being a “lame duck” in an organization—those senior, influential leaders who are either retiring or moving on. As usual, he hit the nail on the head.  Rather than holding off on announcing a senior departure until the last minute (which can be operationally unnerving and is what tends to happen in a lot of organizations), he advised announcing with plenty of time for the exec to be a “happy and productive lame duck” – making decisions, aligning people around goals, coaching their successor, etc.  I posted a comment to the effect that, having coached a couple of “lame ducks” in my time (including the executive administrator of a large hospital), I’ve found that framing the conversation about leaving around the concept of leaving a legacy has been both useful and helpful in keeping the exec on track as they move towards the exit.

I got a nice comment back from Dr. Goldsmith, and thought no more about it until I got an email from a colleague who was very much struck by the idea of “focusing on one’s legacy” (she called it an “amazing point”)—and encouraged me to blog about it.

Legacy is at the top of the pyramid of accomplishment that any of us can draw about our own lives, either personal or professional.  Often we think in terms of legacy as being something for the wealthy and famous, and something that’s planned for towards the “end,” if you will, as in Bill Gates will leave an enormous legacy, while Joan Cook not so much.  Bill’s legacy will be important to millions because he’s famous, and famous for his foundation and the money he can put towards global endeavors.  I’m not famous (or wealthy!), but in my circle of family, friends and colleagues, my legacy matters to me as much as Bill’s does to him.

No matter who you are, the idea bears thinking about now:  looking back from the “end” (retirement, the end of life, moving on from your current position, when your kids leave the house for good, when you sell the company or turn it over to a new generation), what legacy would you like to have created in your professional and/or personal life, and what steps taken now will get you there in the future?  What do you want to be remembered for?  A good coach can help those who are intrigued by or interested in the concept of legacy figure out what that means to them, and how to position themselves, and take the actions, to have it become a reality.

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Making training an evidence-based profession

At the beginning of the year a while back, someone on the Learning Circuits blog asked about challenges, plans and predictions for the upcoming year in terms of the training profession. In response, Bill Brantley from Design of Knowledge posted this: “My answer is both a challenge, plan, and prediction: To help make training an evidence-based profession so that there is no question about its value in making a difference to people and organizations.

What I wrote back then bears repeating now:

Funny how all these years into “corporate training” we still don’t have a lot of solid, empirical evidence that proves its effectiveness.  Anecdotal evidence, yes; “smile sheet” evidence, yes.  But what evidence do we have that points unequivocally to training as a contributor to positive organizational change, better productivity, increased bottom line results, whatever measure floats your boat (and certainly that last is one that we as training professionals would love to be able to draw a direct line to)?  Precious little, if any.

I sometimes wonder if:

a.    We’re measuring the right things
b.    Our measures themselves, such as they are, are right
c.    We’re not doing enough in advance to establish parameters or metrics to train against; learning objectives alone aren’t enough, or learning objectives themselves need measures
Intuitively we know training works, otherwise organizations wouldn’t keep funding it. How can we measure what we gather that says training works?

I’ve also been bothering myself with the idea of sustainability and the issue of skill and/or experience integration over the long term, as an extension of the above.  As a consultant and trainer myself, my ultimate goal is that my clients become self-sufficient in the areas I’ve helped them develop skills in – also known as working myself out of a job :-).  More on this topic another time.

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Does a 360 enhance or harm the relationship between a manager and a direct report?

I’d suggest that the right answer is, it depends – on the organization’s culture, on how the 360 is positioned, on how bought in senior leadership is on the use of the tool, and indeed, what the organization’s expectations are after the 360 is completed.

I’ve had nothing but positive experiences using 360’s and I’ve administered and debriefed hundreds of them. However, I’ve been fortunate to work with senior leaders who have been assessed themselves and believe in the value of the 360, and we also never use the tool without a commitment on the part of those being rated that they will craft and implement a developmental plan based on the feedback they receive. In situations where we’ve assessed a team (and its leader) or group of peers (and their manager), we do a group session on interpreting the scoring and we get people to begin sharing their results with each other at that session. Then each person is responsible for sharing their results with their manager and with the people who rated them, and reporting out on progress on their developmental plan once a month at their regularly scheduled staff or team meeting. When handled like this, the 360 creates camaraderie and will foster a sense of team in a work group. People realize that everyone has things they need to work on and no one’s perfect, and they’re encouraged to support one another as they work on their developmental areas.

The 360’s we use separate the self score and the management score out on each item so that fruitful discussions can take place between the person and their manager on any glaring discrepancies in their scores. When handled properly on the part of both participants, this opens the lines of communication and becomes another avenue for the frank exchange of feedback apart from the performance review.

Properly positioned and championed within the organization, a 360 will enhance the leader/direct report relationship as long as senior leadership is bought in and expectations are made clear regarding the tool and its use.

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