Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

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.

Coaching and the Hawthorne Effect

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

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Isn't it nice to be noticed?

Isn't it nice to be noticed?

If you want to see an immediate boost in levels of motivation, fire up your word processor and create a quick questionnaire for each of your team members which asks:

  •  What aspect of your job do you most enjoy?
  • What aspect of your job do you least enjoy?
  • What aspect of your job would you most like to see stay the same?

Type up and issue one questionnaire for each member of your team. You may need to explain that you’re looking at ways to improve motivation and that the starting point is getting a better idea of what makes them tick.

You can get people to put their names on the sheets if you like or you can do it anonymously if you think you’ll get a more honest response.

If you think issuing questionnaires is a bit heavy-handed, pop the questions on a flip chart or white board and have an open team discussion around them. Alternatively if there’s a scheduled performance review or appraisal coming up, factor the questions into your one to one discussions.

In any event you’ll be gathering valuable information about levels and types of motivation in the team which you can use to develop a long-term approach.

However, I promised this tip would improve motivation straight away and it will. Here’s how it works: By asking people questions you’ll be paying them attention and you’ll benefit from the ‘Hawthorne effect’

Perhaps the most famous experiments in motivation were carried our by management researcher Elton Mayo and his team at the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne plant in Chicago. Between 1924 and 1932, five sets of tests were conducted in an attempt to understand what made workers assembling telephone equipment more productive.

To begin with the experiments concentrated on improvements to lighting. Productivity indeed improved, but it also improved when the lights were dimmed. This odd result was repeated in experiments which looked at pay, incentives, rest periods, hours of work, and supervision. Mayo advanced two theories.

He firstly suggested that the very fact of being involved in an experiment encouraged the workers to be more productive. It created interest and involvement in their repetitive work, and their managers began taking an interest in how they felt. Mayo’s second theory was that social interaction had a critical effect on motivation because the experiment meant bringing workers together in teams with a positive relationship with a supervisor. In any event it seemed the workers simply appreciated the change the experiments brought about, felt more valued and generally happier and thus their performance improved. So just by issuing your questionnaire you’re showing that you’re taking an interest in your people and that you value their contribution. You should see results improve even if you did nothing more.

This questioning approach lies at the heart of management by coaching. If you embrace the coaching role you’ll be paying this sort of quality attention to your staff every working day. The improvements that follow can be quite staggering. With coaching as the prevailing style you can ensure a constant level of motivation, not just the quick fillip provided by waving the carrot or the stick.

The link between coaching and learning

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

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And lunch will be at, er, lunchtime

And lunch will be at, er, lunchtime

Take a look at most of the learning and development activity in any organization and you’ll find a concentration on what I’ll call ‘events’. By this I mean training courses, special meetings, workshops, seminars, or even time set aside for on line or distance learning. All well and good but the problem with this concentration on ‘events’ is that it reinforces the limiting belief that learning and performing are separate and competing activities.

We worry about the ‘transfer’ of learning and we ponder how to take learning ‘back’ into the work situation. Coaching resolves the tension between learning and performing by making them part and parcel of the same thing.

With coaching support our people can learn whilst they perform and perform as they learn. Coaching can also provide a far more enjoyable and cost effective route into learning without the reliance on events.

There is a well known model that suggests that learning – or becoming competent – is a question of passing through four distinct phases. Let’s attempt to see how this applies in a typical work situation.

Meet Ed. Ed is a young man who works in a conference centre. Until very recently Ed’s job has been largely manual; putting the chairs in place, rearranging tables, setting up the IT equipment and sorting out flipcharts. One Friday afternoon Ed’s boss informs him that from the following Monday morning she would like Ed to also run through the domestic arrangements with groups of delegates once they have been escorted from the coffee area to the conference room.

 Unconscious incompetence

That Friday evening Ed becomes a bit worried; he starts to fret about Monday. He has listened to his colleagues make the announcements hundreds of times, but he has never addressed a group before. He thinks it might be very difficult, but doesn’t really know why he thinks that.

Conscious incompetence

On Monday morning Ed takes a deep breath and begins his address. Unfortunately he forgets to mention the fire alarm test and tells the group that they will have lunch in the restaurant when in fact they are going to have a buffet in the conference room. He is so nervous that his mouth becomes dry and this makes him even more uncertain in his speech. However he notices many of the people in the room smiling warmly at him and some even chuckle when he makes a couple of witty remarks.

Conscious competence

Over the next couple of week’s it gets easier, Ed has written the points he must cover on a prompt card and finds the whole notion of addressing a group less threatening. He takes a few deep breaths and has a quiet ‘chat with himself’ before entering the room and this all seems to help.

Unconscious competence

Some weeks later Ed barely thinks about announcing the domestic arrangements. He has other things to worry about and when the time comes, he pops into the conference room reels off the announcements and quickly moves on to other things. To the outsider Ed looks the picture of confidence, but he does have a tendency to forget bits of information and can look a bit distracted at times.

We can similarly apply this cycle to most tasks and activities at work. The main lesson for coaching managers is to recognize that learning can only take place in the conscious – or I might say aware – phases of the cycle. Thus coaching questions move people from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence but also from Unconscious Competence back to Conscious Competence to address any bad habits.

We normally let the cycle run its course, but coaching can dramatically accelerate the speed of our journey around it. We often think that we only go round the cycle once, but what would happen if we chose to repeat the cycle time and time again?