As good luck would have it

A long time ago, I was at Living TV when they held an open audition for psychic mediums. More specifically to find one psychic medium who would be the star of a new show. The queue was very long and there were hundreds of applicants. What was striking was the confidence that each of them had that they would be chosen. Given that predicting the future is what psychic mediums are supposed to be able to do, it kind of made sense.

Now what struck me was that most of them would turn out to have made the wrong prediction. They’d foreseen that they’d get the job but instead someone else would. Clearly a sign that they weren’t such good psychics.

But one of them would be vindicated by virtue of winning the role, which would show that their powers of prediction where accurate. In a 500-1 gamble they alone had got it right. Which would be the proof that the selection process had worked, Living TV had found a medium who could see into the future . . .

—– Continue reading “As good luck would have it”

Coaching for performance: G.R.O.W.

“Let it grow, let it grow. Let it blossom, let it flow” Eric Clapton, 1974

While there are many models for coaching, they generally have a few things in common: active listening, open questioning and the creation of a reflective space in which to examine those assumptions and beliefs that are the foundations of courses of action. In conversations with other coaches, it’s also clear there is one problem solving model that is very widely used. This can also be used by managers looking to develop a coaching leadership style and the model is known by the acronym GROW.

GROW is a simple but effective way to direct thinking towards practical next steps and solutions and is equally as effective with straightforward tasks as with complex ones. Continue reading “Coaching for performance: G.R.O.W.”

A useful framework to understand anxiety

“Don’t they know, it is wrong. It makes me anxious”
The Housemartins, 1986

Anxiety exists above all as anticipation, our hopes and fears for events that we might see on the horizon but that haven’t arrived yet. Most of us have been living with greater uncertainty in 2020 than we have in the past; understanding our emotional response to this can be very useful.

Some key points that I’ll explore further:

  • Everyone experiences anxiety – this is “Normal”, and most people have an exaggerated sense that they are an exception when they aren’t
  • Anxiety encompasses stress and worry, but also ambition and happiness; indeed “a life that was anxiety-free would also be bereft of wonder, enthusiasm and excitement.”
  • Worrying about worrying is one of the most prevalent forms of non-useful anxiety in work. It distracts us from productive activity but many people see virtue in it because they equate it with caring

Continue reading “A useful framework to understand anxiety”

The top five questions that come up in coaching

Every coaching assignment is different and the ground covered varies a lot depending on each client and their needs. But there are themes and questions that come up again and again in various forms. Some are rooted in the existential dilemmas that we all face in life; others are born out of common frustrations.

I often describe coaching as working on two levels over time. The first level is explicit: the conscious pursuit of the goals and objectives set at the beginning of a coaching programme. This is what people have come to coaching to address and spend time on. The second level is implicit: it’s what occurs as a consequence of going through a process of self-examination. Sometimes the themes here shift and become the core of the contract, as new depth and complexity alters the premise behind the questions being asked by the client of themselves. Continue reading “The top five questions that come up in coaching”

Thinking the worst: awfulizing and catastrophic fantasies

It’s not just that. If I get it wrong, my boss will lose all faith in me and it’ll only be a matter of time until I get fired. And then nobody will ever give me a job again. Ever. I’ll run out of money and my wife will leave me. I’ll lose my home and end up on the streets. I’ll be in the tube with a one of those little signs and all my work colleagues will pass by and pretend not to recognise me . . .”

This all started with getting ready for a work thing and anxiety has spun out of control into a collapsing sequence of catastrophic fantasies. And the worst thing is you’re the only person ever to do this. Only you’re not actually, awfulizing is very common. Continue reading “Thinking the worst: awfulizing and catastrophic fantasies”

A leader is someone who other people follow: the six Hay Mcber leadership styles

“The biggest problem I have is getting the right people . . . I need people who can keep up with me and make their own decisions without needing me to hold their hand”. That may well be true, but it’s also possible that it’s just the wrong style of leadership for that situation.

What often happens is that we lead using the way that comes naturally to us, or that we have seen being used by key role models from the past. The quote above is from someone who uses a Pacesetting leadership style. This can be the natural home for experts who lead by example, setting their own high standards which they then expect others to meet. It can be by far the most effective way to lead a small and capable team, with mutual trust and a clear sense of what they’re trying to achieve. When people talk of the Golden Years at work, often there was a Pacesetting leader, making very rapid and creative progress with a small team of trusted followers. It’s a sink or swim mentality where those that thrive have great responsibility and opportunities to learn. Continue reading “A leader is someone who other people follow: the six Hay Mcber leadership styles”

Hell is other people: Transaction Analysis

Why is it that professional, adult people find themselves talking at cross-purposes? The substance of what you’re trying to say can seem ignored, almost as if there’s another script in the background. Well often there is another script. Making this explicit is the goal of the metaphors and models provided by Transaction Analysis (TA).

Many people who seek coaching are very good at their job and need little if any help with the nuts and bolts of that. But something they often want, especially in the early stages of an assignment, is to improve the way they get along with other people: colleagues, managers, staff, suppliers, and clients.

A typical complaint could be “They become defensive when I’m just wanting to understand what’s going on . . . we get into pointless arguments and as a result avoid discussing operational matters that then suffer due to lack of attention”. The TA framework can illuminate the premises that give rise to this sort of problem. Continue reading “Hell is other people: Transaction Analysis”

L’esprit d’escalier: when you think of the perfect reply too late

We’ve all been there: after a dissatisfactory disagreement or argument, the right thing to have said or done becomes crystal clear just as it’s too late. The perfect riposte occurs to us as we’re on the staircase on the way out. But the chance has gone even though we might run it over and over again in our mind or conversation afterwards.

Variations of this frustration and dilemma come up often in coaching. Often, it’s compounded by a sense that it happens during the most important moments. I once worked with someone who was highly confident most of the time and able to speak their mind fluently and effectively without this phenomenon occurring, except when he was in a room with famous people. Another found they would freeze up when the tone of a negotiation became confrontational or aggressive. And others have found that when they’re put on the spot in board meetings, their normal eloquence falls away.

It’s when we’ve been able to identify particular circumstances that cause this problem that we’re often able to work out a fix that works by using CBT. Continue reading “L’esprit d’escalier: when you think of the perfect reply too late”

Elephant and rider: why don’t I do what I want me to do?

We often have a model of ourselves that has the brain in control as the executive centre. Information comes in, is considered and decisions are made. If I scratch my ear it’s because I’ve detected an itch and chosen an appropriate response. It’s almost like we have an army of specialists in lots of departments looking after each of our mind and body functions. There used to be a cartoon where they all wore white coats.

There is though another model, which I find people often recognise as more realistic: the elephant and the rider. You can see this pair lumbering through the jungle and hear an incessant chatter coming from the rather officious rider who thinks he’s in control.

“I’ll keep on walking this way for a bit, oh no, maybe not, I’ll head off right towards this water and [whoa!] knock over this tree and have a drink, no have a bathe and [oops!] fall down and roll over in the mud . . .” Continue reading “Elephant and rider: why don’t I do what I want me to do?”

What not why: going to the heart of the matter

© Andrew Watt

I once spoke with a client who was frustrated that a proposal he had put forward was being treated sceptically by his boss. He was doubly frustrated and hurt as the scepticism seemed to come from a suspicion that he was motivated by personal reasons rather than the best interests of the company. The focus of the conversation had switched from what he was proposing to why he was proposing it.

As a result, things were degenerating into a passive aggressive exchange about motives. He was also now doubting his boss’s motives and was developing theories that these resulted from a combination of personal weakness and a landgrab for further power. He’d discussed and refined these theories in conversations with others and had even begun to invest rather heavily in them as a validation of a number of other grievances he had about the relationship. Continue reading “What not why: going to the heart of the matter”

What is Developmental Coaching?

At the start of any coaching engagement I always begin by establishing the goals and expectations of the client. A little while ago I started work with a new client who had a short-term priority that he wanted to tackle first. Christmas was coming, so in our first session, he wanted my ideas on quick wins to boost his sales. I told him I’d do my best to give him some ideas but also that they probably wouldn’t be very good.

He wanted to do it nonetheless so we spent an hour brainstorming some ideas.

Next time I saw him was after Christmas and I asked how his sales had gone and whether the quick wins we’d worked on last time around had made a difference. Sales had been great but he reluctantly admitted that the new ideas hadn’t really made any difference. I was very pleased as he looked at me and smiled saying “It doesn’t really work like that does it?” Continue reading “What is Developmental Coaching?”