Strong weaknesses or weak strengths?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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I read a report recently, and typically I can’t find it now, that looked at how much leadership coaching is focused on developing strengths versus addressing weaknesses.

As I recall there were some regional differences (and some of that may have been cultural) but for the most part coaching – certainly at the executive level – is an exercise in developing strengths.

There may be some obvious reasons for this. Coaches tend to be an optimistic bunch and may just be happier working in that context. External coaches are paid to get a result and that commercial reality may mean they see quicker and easier wins focusing on building strengths.

But the other point of view is perhaps best captured in the title of Marshall Goldsmith’s recent book “What got you here won’t get you there!” In other words it may be the individuals strengths which have delivered them to their position today but it may be their weaknesses that are now keeping them stuck.

On the subject of weaknesses, in my corporate days this was a word that HR seemed to want struck from the lexicon entirely. All sorts of other phrases were offered as substitutes: development areas, training needs, learning points, etc. Most people I think always recognised that there were things they weren’t very good at whatever we called them.

Personally, I don’t see it as an either or choice. I consider the people I coach best placed to determine what they need to do to solve problems or move towards their goals and this may mean addressing a ‘weakness’ or it may mean developing a ‘strength’.

But that’s just my view, what do you think?

• When you’re coaching are you conscious of addressing strengths or weaknesses?
• Does it matter?
• Is it different for Internal and External coaches?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

By the way, the most interesting answer I ever heard to the old cliché question of, “What do you consider your weaknesses?”, was “My strengths. If I over-play them!” How would you respond to that?

Oh, and if anyone can remind me where I may have seen this reported, can you let me know, so I can download it again.

Can I have that disciplinary meeting now please?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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A friend of mine is in sales. He sells high-end financial services products and is finding it hard going in the current market. The company’s main product has changed, making it much harder to sell and he has been given a new territory with very few of the affluent prospective clients he needs.

Whilst he’s a very experienced seller with a terrific track-record, his results and declining and his bosses are getting uptight. Knowing I have coached around such issues previously he got in contact looking for help.

I wanted to understand what would happen if things didn’t improve. My friend said, “Oh, they’ve told me in no uncertain terms that I’ll have to attend a disciplinary interview where we’ll examine ways my performance could improve; with a timetable and methods for tracking improvement.”

“And what did you say?” I asked.

“I said that sounds like it could be really helpful and could we do it now please!!”

I can see the point of a disciplinary interview for problems of willingness.By this I mean, recurring lateness, continual dubious sickness, being rude to colleagues or customers, etc.

But to discipline someone regarding their ability– struggling to use their knowledge, skills, experience and resources, seems to me to be daft.

In fairness, my friend works for a company that has grown very fast and which lacks a seasoned HR function and this could well be part of the problem, but the story also highlights a couple of crucial coaching principles:

  • Telling someone to be do something does not enable them to be able to do it

and

  • Waving sticks (or withdrawing carrots) may work a treat in motivating donkeys but it doesn’t do much for professional adults in a work situation

I’m reminded of the old saw of the company director who announced,

“Unless morale improves, sackings will continue”

 What do you think?

Getting ready for coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

Getting ready for coachingOver recent posts we’ve seen that in order to turn more potential into high performance we needed to minimise the sources of interference which work against that happening.

But this presupposes that people come to us wanting to produce high performance, and this isn’t necessarily so.

If you’ve been asked or employed to provide some one-to-one coaching to a member of the executive team you can probably assume that they will be motivated to undertake some coaching with you. It follows that they are likely to give honest answers to your questions, to listen to your ideas and suggestions and to act on the things you’ve discussed between meetings and phone calls.

But in trying to bring coaching into general play; to position it as a management approach rather than a discrete intervention, you might find conditions less favourable. In some ways coaching has become a term cheapened by misuse and because of this you may encounter a certain amount of resistance. This can range from the mildly apathetic to the downright hostile. It all seems bizarre, given that we’re simply trying to help people so let’s look at the common reasons for this resistance.

  • Management is up to something
  • Coaching is for poor performers
  • I’m okay where I am

Management is up to something

Okay, it’s a cynical view but is hardly surprising given the way some management teams behave. People have had change initiatives thrown at them for years now and most of them have amounted to very little. If this has been people’s experience then it’s small wonder that coaching is greeted with little enthusiasm. People can tell when you’ve been away on a course and been ‘got at’.  They also know that if they keep their heads down then after a few days you’ll probably go back to ‘normal’.

Coaching is for poor performers

Nobody likes to be thought of as needing special lessons, but all too often coaching is presented this way. A strong desire to improve performance in the organisation gets mutated into ‘I’m being coached, so I must be doing something wrong’ in the mind of the individual.

In my experience this particular worry is most easily countered by pointing to the worlds of entertainment and sport where coaching is a vital ingredient whatever the level of current performance, Great sportspeople and entertainers welcome regular and intensive coaching even though their level of performance is already astonishing by most standards.

By mindful though that sporting analogies and so on can seem a little tiresome for some.

I’m okay where I am

An overzealous approach to coaching can make it seem as if we want everybody to be Superman. Some people resist coaching because they’re quite content where they are and do not want to actively pursue a promotion or a change of role. Great! That’s fine but let’s make sure that people realise that coaching isn’t just about climbing the greasy pole. We can coach to help people feel less threatened by change. We can coach to help people get back to the parts of their job they once really enjoyed. We can coach to help people find a work-life balance. Coaching is a way of taking the next step and as such it has applications throughout working life and, I think, should be made available to all. However, let’s also respect people’s right not to be coached if that is what they would prefer. To do so goes a long way to establishing the credibility of coaching and building the trusting relationships so vital to its success. In time even the most reluctant of people will try coaching when they have something in mind they’d like to achieve.