Coaching Skills Series
This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.
Here we consider how we can utilise the power of focus. In around two weeks I’ll post again on the matter of establishing trust.
The ability to achieve a state of focus is surely the greatest asset any employee could have in the chaos that pervades in the world of work these days. When someone is focused they work with a quiet concentration that seems almost eerie. When someone is focused they achieve results with half the effort of their huffing and puffing colleagues and become so conscious of what’s going on that every task becomes a learning experience. Athletes talk of being ‘in the zone’; actors talk of being ‘in flow’ but these are all just alternative expressions for being focused. For many people it is a state they have experienced only rarely and often fleetingly when they do. However, it is a state that can be cultivated and I aim to show how the coaching approach achieves just that, but first we need to ensure we’re clear about exactly what focus is.
Focus distracts us from being distracted. When we’re focused we’re almost oblivious to other things that are going on around us as anyone who has experienced the condition will readily testify. Watch a teenager absorbed in a new computer game and you’ll see exactly what effective focus is like.
Focus follows interest though which means that before we can expect anyone to focus on their work or critical aspects of certain tasks we must take time to ensure that they’ll be interested. Many will be, but with other team members we may need to firstly create interest by explaining the requirements of a given task, underlining its importance and underlining any key connections with other work activity.
Focus needs to be appropriate, which in a work context normally means focusing on what is to be achieved rather than what is to be avoided. At the Aims stage it’s therefore important to set goals in positive language; ‘Achieving quality standards’ is better than ‘Minimise wastage’. ‘Keep spending within budget’ is better than ‘No overspends’
Ideally we should allow people to focus on one thing at a time. However this is virtually impossible in any modern place of work and so we need to try to minimize the numerous different areas of focus that vie for most people’s attention. A member of your team may well have ten things to do, but there’ll do them better in sequence rather than in parallel. This may mean some changes in the way that the work of your team is organised and distributed but it would be well worth the effort.
Imagine you work in a customer relation type role and I say to you ‘What do you most notice about the tone of your customer’s voice?’ To answer my question you’ll need to focus on the customer’s voice, which is of course exactly what I want you to do! But asking you about customer tone rather than instructing you to concentrate upon it raises your awareness, encourages you to take responsibility and demonstrates that I trust you. Thus focus combines these three key coaching principles.