Posts Tagged ‘executive coaching’

Tips on how to choose a coach

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

I have been asked the question a couple of times recently, “How should I go about choosing a coach?” It’s not a question I have previously given too much thought to, but I have thought to myself in the past as to how I can choose the most appropriate mechanic, electrician, chimney sweep, dentist, etc.  And if two people ask me the question, perhaps I should think about it. So this is how I would recommend choosing a coach.

If at all possible, get some recommendations from friends or colleagues. Personal recommendations are generally the best. If that’s not possible, do some searches on the internet in your local area or perhaps contact your local Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) branch. Once you have the details of at least 3 potential coaches, consider the following approach with each of them.

Arrange to meet face to face with your prospective coach before you undertake any coaching. You need to feel comfortable with the person – and if you use your intuition, you should know within a few minutes as to whether there is the potential for the relationship to work. I say potential, as your selection process needs to be more thorough, but your intuition should tell you whether it’s worth progressing to that next stage. Trust your intuition.

Ask your prospective coach for some examples of people they have coached previously, or are coaching at the moment. If you are seeking something specific from the coaching – for example to improve your interview successes – ask what experience they have of coaching other individuals in such circumstances. And ask to speak to one of their current or past coachees. Not all coachees would be happy to do this, but any coach of any worth will have people they are coaching who will be more than happy to talk to other prospective coachees. If they are reluctant or unable to meet this request, I should be wary.

Enquire about their continuous professional development (CPD). In other words, how do they keep themselves up to date, how do they maintain and improve their skills? Good coaches will have a documented record of their CPD – ask to see a copy of it. Remember – it’s you who is in the driving seat as you are looking to employ this person’s services, so be as objectively intrusive as you need in order to satisfy yourself of the person’s coaching abilities. Some people ask coaches what their qualifications are – I think this is fairly pointless unless you are very well up to speed on coaching qualifications. There are some very good qualifications where there is much practical learning and there are others that are free to attend and last a day or less – both sets of attendees will call themselves ‘coaches’. Secondly, they may have gained their qualification this year, or 20 years ago – another reason to ask about their CPD.

Request a free coaching session – although the majority of good coaches will offer you this without you needing to ask for it. It could take place at your initial meeting or on a separate occasion. This will give you a better understanding of how well the two of you will be able to work together.

And what’s it all going to cost? Will the person charge per session, and if so how many sessions do you anticipate having? What will you get for your money? Is it just the session, or will the person make some notes for you? Will they offer you (free) email and phone support between sessions? Consider asking for an ‘outcome’ based fee as opposed to ‘output’ based. Let’s use the example I mentioned previously – wanting coaching in order to improve interview successes. If the person offers you six sessions at £Y each, suggest that you will pay them half that, but will give them a bonus (of more than 6 x £Y) if you are successful at interview within the next 12 months.  This would cost you slightly more if you are successful (which is what you want) or slightly less if you are not successful. It will also test how confident they are in their own skills, and possibly how confident they are that you have the potential.

You might think that this is a rather detailed and perhaps too thorough a process – I guess your views will depend on how much you value the potential benefits. If you do follow these tips, however, you will find yourself a very good quality coach.

Are there any tips I have missed?


Split your personality – improve your performance

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

One aspect of self-development that I have been working on with a number of individuals recently has been the aspect of how we do not always operate as ‘one’.  There are aspects of ourselves that we don’t always understand or access.  Failing to access such information stops us from being as effective as we could be.

This post develops the themes of Transactional Analysis (TA) and Emotional Intelligence (EI), so you may find it useful to access my previous blogs on these subjects prior to, during or after reading this post – links to which are through the theory titles above.

As a trainer, when facilitating a group, and someone (we will call them Sam) makes a comment, I sometimes think to myself, “What a daft thing to say”, or “Do you realise what you have just really said?” These are critical thoughts emanating from my Controlling (Critical) Parent ego-state – my beliefs and values. Up to that point I had been thinking and speaking from the Adult ego-state – my rational and objective thoughts. It is generally accepted that adults learn most effectively when the facilitator is non-judgemental (Malcolm Knowles, Andragogy), so I know that I’m best not to externalise my judgemental thoughts.  I also know that Sam has missed the point and so needs to consider their thoughts and other points of view. So, I say to the group, “What are anybody else’s thoughts on what Sam has just said?” This will then generate a conversation with other members of the group addressing the matter, with Sam being far more likely to openly listen to their peers rather than my views – be they from the Adult or Critical Parent ego-state. And I have maintained, and possibly improved, my relationship with Sam.

In that short scenario, in Transactional Analysis (TA) terms, Eric Berne (founder of TA and photographed above) would say that I had been operating in two different ego-states – the ‘Executive’ and the ‘Real Self’.  At the start of the scenario, my ‘Executive’ and ‘Real Self’ were at one, but when Sam made the comments that led to my Critical Parent thoughts, the two split. My Critical Parent ego-state was my ‘Real Self’, but my Adult ego state retained ‘Executive’ power. This enabled me to be as personally effective as possible, and to assist the delegate as effectively as possible – as my ‘Executive’ ensured that my Adult ego-state was used in my external transactions.

The challenge, often, when we are exercising both ‘Executive’ and ‘Real Self’ is that there can be incongruence in our gestures, behaviours, mannerisms, etc.  These can be confusing to people if we do not monitor them carefully. If, for example, I was shaking my head as I asked the question, “What are anybody else’s thoughts on what Sam has just said?”, my ‘Real Self’ would be being demonstrated through my body language – and the Adult ego-state would not have full ‘Executive’ power.

This also links with the Personal Competence aspect of Emotional Intelligence. In order to achieve this successfully, a person needs to be aware of their emotions and then use them in order to stay flexible and understand themselves more effectively. This entails experiencing and noting our Child ego states (feelings driven), and then considering – from our Adult ego-state – what we can learn from our Child.

Many people are unaware of this division in themselves, and so cannot take advantage of it. Hence why some people – not through choice – ‘wear their heart on their sleeve’

Have you ever written an email when you are angry or upset, and then put it in the Drafts box, returned to it later and then thought, “Did I really write that?”. Most people then ‘tone it down’ before sending it and thank or congratulate themselves on putting it in the Drafts box in the first place – internal discussions between the ego states.  This situation occurs when you have written the email in your Parent or Child ego-state, and when you have returned to it you have re-read it in your Adult ego-state.

What I have been working on with these individuals is enabling the two to occur simultaneously.  People who can identify the ‘Executive’ and the ‘Real Self’ develop a system which is a bit like gauze or a dam. They have the ability to alter the thickness or denier of the gauze to externalise to others more or less of the ‘Real Self’ dependent upon what is appropriate. Using the dam metaphor, they can open or close the dam to let as much or as little of their ‘Real Self’ into the outside world as they want. As it is practiced and mastered, the person can then achieve this in increasingly challenging and stressful situations.

How do you separate your ‘Executive’ from ‘Real Self’?

When have you used it to great effect?


Is it pointless trying (except in rugby)?

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

How often do you use the word ‘Try’ when you are telling yourself or others that you are going to do something? And just as importantly, what are you really saying? For such a small word, it can have hugely debilitating effects.

The use of the word comes up in many coaching sessions I undertake – and that’s because managers and leaders have a propensity to use it. Think of the last time you used it, and then think about what you were really saying.

Sometimes when people use it, and they say that they are going to ‘try’ and do something, they are really sharing that they don’t really have the confidence or belief that they can achieve whatever it is. They are already giving themselves a way out, telling themselves that it’s alright if they don’t achieve whatever it is they are going to ‘try’ to do.

On other occasions it can be used more dishonestly – and sadly I have to admit to using it in this way myself.  For example, if my wife asks me to do something, and I know there is little possibility of me doing it due to other – as far as I am concerned – more pressing or important activities, I will respond that I will ‘try’ to do it (I’m hoping and assuming that this is not too much of a revelation for her, but I also know I’m reasonably safe as she doesn’t read my blogs … well, I don’t think she does …). And guess what – it usually doesn’t get done.

The common denominator between the two examples is that the task or activity we are considering will probably not be achieved. As a rule of thumb or a default position, I find that the more a person uses the word ‘try’, the less they will accomplish.

There was some American research undertaken a number of years ago that supports my rule of thumb. It found that where a manager says that they are going to ‘try’ to undertake something, they are approximately 50% less likely to achieve it than when they leave out the word ‘try’. Unfortunately, I can’t re-find the source (but if anyone has it please let me know!).

You have probably heard the proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again”. According to Gregory Titelman’s book, “The Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings”, it has been traced back to a book called ‘Teacher’s Manual’ by the American educator Thomas H. Palmer, and it was designed to motivate American children to do their homework. Palmer (1782-1861) wrote in his ‘Teacher’s Manual’: ‘Tis a lesson you should heed, try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ I wonder whether it had the desired effect?

A more positive quote, or way of looking at matters, can be found in the Star Wars film, “The Empire Strikes Back”. Yoda, the small and strange looking Jedi Master is training Luke Skywalker. Yoda sets him numerous challenges and tests to help build the boy into a Jedi. When Luke is given one particularly challenging task, he responds to Yoda that he will ‘try’.  ”No,” Yoda retorts, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

And Yoda is right. There really is no try. We do something or we don’t do something. And so many thousands, possibly millions, more goals would be achieved every day if we stopped talking to ourselves and others in terms of ‘trying’.  

There is, however, one situation where a ‘try’ is an achievement. This is in rugby. A ‘try’ is scored when a player touches the ball down behind the opponent’s goal line. Why was that word used? Well, a ‘try’ originally didn’t get any points. When it was first introduced, the only way to score points was by kicking a goal – and the ‘try’ simply gave the team the opportunity to kick for goal and for points. The game has moved on since then, but the terminology has not.

But do you need to move on with your terminology? How often do you ‘try’? Does it add to your successes or stop you from achieving? Listen out for the next time you say it. Reflect on it. If necessary, plan to use a different phrase in future and evaluate how it impacts on your performance.


Songs in the key of life

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

I have been doing a lot of coaching recently. In fact, I have done very little over the past year, and then about 15 coachees have all come along at once (whilst the content of the last sentence is accurate, my dad – if he’s still reading – will think it an exceedingly good joke! I suspect others may not …)

The coachees are all senior leaders and chief executives from both public and private sectors, and from across four different organisations. Having a number of coachees like this has enabled me to look at some of the themes and discriminators across the group as a whole. They are predominantly my own personal musings as it would be wrong to talk about the majority of my thoughts and conclusions here. One aspect that I do feel comfortable mentioning, however, is that of Emotional Intelligence (EI). I have been reminded of how effective people can be when they use it. 

I have seen EI explained in a number of ways, however, the one that works best for me is that contained in The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. They use a four-box model which I have always found easy to understand and explain.

The first two boxes relate to Personal Competence:

  • Self-Awareness – Do you understand your emotions, do you understand your tendencies in given situations and are you able to stay on top of your usual reactions?
  • Self-Management – Can you use the awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and deal positively with situations, are you able to explore your emotions to understand yourself better? (this also links to my last blog post on the Adult Learning Cycle).

The other boxes relate to Social Competence:

  • Social Awareness – Can you accurately pick up on the emotions of others, understand what’s happening for them and interpret others’ feeling even when you are experiencing different ones?
  • Relationship Management – Do you listen, do you use your emotions and those of others to manage interactions and do you value your relationships? 

One aspect of my musings was as to how I personally achieved the Self-Awareness aspect. It was prompted by one of those times when someone compliments you on something and asks you how you do it and you don’t really know that well. Does it happen to everyone, or is it just me? Anyway, it got me thinking.

And I spent a lot of time thinking about the songs I sing and hum to myself. I have worked out that they fall into four categories. 

  1. I think of a song I like, and sing it to myself
  2. It was the last song I heard on the radio, in the supermarket, on my MP3, etc.
  3. I sing a song because something non-emotions based has prompted it (i.e. when I turn the engine off in my Ford Ka having left the lights on, the car makes a warning noise exactly like the first note of the Beach Boys ‘Sloop John B’, and off I go! …)
  4. I am singing the song as my emotions have chosen to tell me to sing the song, and if I listen to it, it helps me understand where I’m at or what I’m feeling.

Regarding Point 4, for example, I know that when I find myself singing or humming Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, there is some situation that has been going on for a while and has sapped my energy – so much so that I have become almost oblivious to the situation. The song reminds me of this, I identify the situation and do something about it. The song reminds me of my responsibility. On my recent birthday, I heard myself singing the Robbie Williams lyrics, “I hope I’m old before I die” – not a song I can recall singing at other times – and when I came out of a recent coaching session where the person was doing everything too fast, I found myself singing the Simon and Garfunkel lyrics, “slow down, you move too fast”, over and over.

I believe it’s one part of me giving another part of me messages, through my emotions – and listening to and interpreting them increases my self-awareness.

I am, however, left with a question. Is Point 1 really a grouping, or should it be part of Group 4 – and it’s just that I haven’t found the meaning for anything that I put in Point 1?

Does this happen for you, or is it just me? What do you think?