A few years ago I came upon the formula for excellence defined by Alan Fine. He says that excellence (or we may also call it success or performance) is equal to focus plus faith, plus fire, plus knowledge, minus mental interference. Our 24/7 tempts us in terms of what we might focus on. Sometimes we are hard pressed to focus on ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and that can easily take us away from what we desire, from aspirations and bigger goals. This refers to aspirations and purpose in life, and in business. Quick fixes or other people’s agendas might prevail over the goals of strategic importance or such that require sustained attention. So, we might need assistance in defining our primary focus and in staying disciplined while moving towards the desired future. When we are consciously aware of the bigger impact of what we want, we are much more able to achieve it. Once our goals are aligned with what we value and our higher purpose, they are more likely to be met. In a coaching conversation one can also become more aware of how their goals take them closer to the legacy they want to leave behind. Imagine the impact on one’s motivation and commitment to move forward when they are aware of the stakes in what they want to create!
So, coaching is about defining what one wants and planning actions to move forward?
Coaching is about defining our focus and designing actions to get there. However, crossing the chasm is not usually that simple. There is the inner game that needs to be won. Both Tim Gallwey and Alan Fine speak about the mental interference, or the negative internal dialogue, that tends to diverge us from what is wanted. It is like having a gremlin on your shoulder shouting out criticism and commands. The result is self-judgment, loss of confidence and internal sabotaging. Noticing the interference and handling it are also within the power of a coaching conversation.
How do legacy and the bigger picture resonate with the pragmatism and the bottom-line orientation of businesses nowadays?
This is a fundamental question. What does make a business successful nowadays? Is it only about result-orientation and pragmatism, or have the rules of the game changed? Over the last century, the mature economies of the world have evolved from industrial to knowledge economies. Management gurus say we are now at another turning point transitioning to human economies, and this has a profound impact on leadership, as in the human economy the most valuable asset will be hired hearts (HBR, 2014). Our humanity – our passion, creativity, aspirations, our needs to connect and contribute – won’t and can’t be programmed in an intelligent machine. The question is, are the leaders nowadays capable of leveraging these strengths. Another way of asking the same question is – are they capable of leveraging what will be the source of an organization’s competitive advantage. I believe that helping people to find the connection between their goals here and now and their purpose, what they want to leave behind, is what will win their hearts.
Many companies talk about developing a coaching culture. What makes this topic so trendy?
Part of the reason is what I’ve just mentioned. There is more to it, though. I believe what businesses need now, more than ever, is people who are both self-reliant and inter-dependent. Associates who are capable of dealing with the unknown and the unpredictable by navigating their thinking and making conscious decisions. Coaching conversations at work help people to learn how to shift their thinking, nurture their self-confidence and function in a manner that is aligned with themselves, as well as with the bigger system – be it a team, the company, market niche, etc. Also, coaching conversations build the muscle of turning insights into actionable steps. There is a saying that the problem is not that we don’t know, but that we don’t do what we know. Coaching helps overcome that limitation.
What is your message, or answer, to those companies who want to hire a coach to “fix” their under-performing employee?
Whenever I have a similar request, I ask the sponsor of the coaching relationship two questions. The first one is ‘On a scale from 1 to 10, how motivated is this person to actively engage in improving their performance?’, and the second one is ‘How motivated is he/she to work with a coach?’. Individuals might recognize how necessary and urgent it is to make a change. If this is the case and they believe that coaching can help them stay focused and disciplined to achieve specific results, then I get interested in the chance of supporting them. Often though, coaching is seen as the ‘last thing’ the company will do to make the employee change. Whenever it is the manager’s agenda and the employee is neither recognizing the problem nor is interested in engaging with a coach, I honestly say that I don’t think I can be of any help to the business or the individual. My credo it that coaching is not something that we do ‘to people’, but it is ‘partnering them’.
What do you think about measuring the return on the investment in coaching by the increase of revenue?
I believe revenue might be a relevant indicator when it comes to coaching sales people for results, all other things being equal (i.e. the impact of the environment is somehow isolated). The impact on leadership positions is often measured by accomplishing a positive change in employees’ engagement. Another set of criteria for assessing coaching effectiveness are those reported by 360 surveys. Engagement surveys and 360 surveys, however, might provide relevant feedback on the impact of coaching if the coaching client is supported for more than 12 months.
How do you know whether coaching works or not?
In a self-initiated coaching relationship, the impact of the coaching relationship is to be assessed by the client. After each coaching session, the client might check with themselves whether they are closer to what they want to achieve. Coaching is also about tracking the progress between the coaching sessions. Actually, the conversation is only a catalyst for the change (the actions being taken) between the coaching sessions.
In a sponsored relationship, the sponsor can notice whether they see a change in the behavior of the coachee. The clients and sponsors will know sooner that the coach whether the coaching is working.
How has coaching helped you in defining your desired path?
What I love about coaching is that it teaches me (as a client) to reflect on my own experience without judgment, but with curiosity. Being curious in what makes me excited, ignites my fire, and nurtures my self-confidence. It is a mindset that allows me craft a life that is aligned with who I am as a person. It makes me conscious when I make my choices. It gives me freedom to say ‘no’. Coaching has a profound impact on me as it helps me stay flexible and resilient in a world that is unpredictable and ever-changing.