BREAKTHROUGH COACHING – improving the quality of your thinking

Almost every management or leadership publication you read highlights the fact that we live in a knowledge economy, where any process work that can be re-engineered, computerized or outsourced to a lower-cost economy has been or is in the process of transitioning. The reality is that over 40% of corporate workers are considered to be knowledge workers. For mid-level management and above that number is
close to 100%.

It is also a modern truism that the way people are managed and lead in most organisations has not kept up with the increasing education levels of employees, the different needs and values of later generations and the increasing pace of change. The key contribution of knowledge workers is not the sweat of their brow but the quality of their thinking. Knowledge workers and their leaders are not on the whole being developed in what should
be their core competency, namely improving the quality of their thinking and in turn improving the quality of the thinking of their people. When leaders try to improve performance they tend to focus on behaviours and results, very seldom addressing the drivers of these visible aspects namely feelings and emotions and almost never addressing the root cause which is the persons thinking. In our experience with clients
we have found that the most effective way to deal with improving results and behaviours is to “begin at the beginning” by improving their thinking.

For us Breakthrough Coaching is about assisting people to “frame” questions whose answers really matter and will deliver improved performance. It is about supporting our clients journey to improved performance firstly through focused questioning as no coach should direct or ladle out advice as learning comes primarily from within the coachee. However unlike most other commodity coaching at Sensei we have years of consultancy experience, forged in the heat of performance improvement and this equips us to advise when direction and advice is needed – this is one of our differentiators in the consulting market. It is a fine balance as we cannot think for our clients, but we can assist them to process their ideas better; making those ideas clearer and focused on getting results.

“One cannot teach a man anything.Galileo
One can only enable him to
learn from within himself”
Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)

An example of this is a recent coaching relationship with a senior executive who was struggling to deal with inappropriate almost “psychotic” behaviour being exhibited towards her by a key influencer in the business. Obviously due to the confidential nature of a coaching relationship I cannot detail the actual behaviour but let’s just say that it went beyond mere political gamesmanship with a “small p”. The individual would exhibit this behaviour openly and no one in the organisation was brave enough to tackle it, including the Chief Executive, who tried his best to merely keep the peace. The coachee was asked to “step out” of the cycle of interactions that happened with regular monotony and draw the scene on a piece of paper, imagining it playing out on a screen in front of her. She included herself in the drawing and included as much detail as she could remember. She was asked to watch and listen to the other person and describe their behaviour and to then try and form a view as to what the individual was trying to achieve with their clearly outrageous behaviour. She was then asked to observe herself and describe her own behaviour in as much detail as she could and was prompted to think about how the other person would describe her behaviour. Here her motives and objectives were also explored. She was then asked to identify the pattern that kept repeating itself and her expert role in maintaining it. At this point her body language and facial expression began to change as moved towards gaining real insight into the problem. She began to realise that her behaviour in trying to rationally and impersonally address the issue was merely egging the person on to repeat the pattern. We then moved into the area of exploring different influencing strategies, using an influencing style model to identify her default style and then identifying a more appropriate style. In her case it was a move from a persuading style based on logic, facts and debate to a bridging style based on drawing out, reflecting back feelings and emotions and expressing empathy. This proved to be a positive pattern interrupt and the end result of this change in approach was that the other person recently applied for a position to work in the executive’s core team and is proving to be a positive and effective team player.

Benjamin ZanderAs this example demonstrates our approach combines classical coaching skills added to our extensive consultancy experience to help improve the quality of our clients thinking and the thinking of their teams in order to deliver improved performance and make a significant difference to the strategic results of their organisations. If you experience our coaching approach first hand you will soon notice that we focus on finding solutions not on merely trying to find the cause of the problem. Our emphasis on gathering “feedforward” is an example of this. Here we gather “feed forward” comments, from those people the coachee works with and for, around what it will take for the coachee to be awarded an A* performance rating. This is based on the practice of Benjamin Zander, the much-loved conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. He has a concept of “Giving an A.” on the first day of class at the New England Conservatory of Music. He begins by announcing to his class, “Everybody gets an A.” There’s only one condition—students have to submit a letter, written on that first day but dated the following May, that begins: “Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because…” In other words, the students have to define at the beginning of the course who they will have become and what they would have achieved by the end that will justify the A grade. For us these “feedforward” comments form the basis for the areas we work on with the coachee, as we embark on their coaching journey. They also act as a benchmark to check progress during the journey and the process is revisited towards the end or our coaching relationship. This approach to “feed-forward” does not mean we do not assist our clients in addressing problems but we do this by helping them to focus on the way forward. This forward looking, solutions focus creates energy, motivation and positive action. Although our specific approach is tailored to suit the development needs of a particular coachee, typically these discussions explore their current behaviours and motivations; review impending challenges; agree and apply appropriate tools and techniques to make them more effective; and then agree how best to observe their new behaviours in action.

A key aspect of our approach is positive reinforcement. Coachees can often be their own worst critics and if this is not managed it can lead them to become less creative and solution focussed. The positive reinforcement we provide assists our clients to find innovative solutions and embed new behaviours. We believe coaches should live by the mantra: “Be profound, be funny or be quiet.”. We live this by providing clients with the targeted support they require to develop their own ability to think and we create the environment for you to do this vital thinking.

Please contact us if you have questions with regards to any aspect of Breakthrough Coaching.  We look forward to beginning the journey of improving your performance as well as that of your teams and organisation.