Coaching. It’s not all about YOU!

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, guys.  When you coach someone, it’s not all about YOU!

meWhat makes me say that?

I’m fresh back from running another Leadership course, where on the third day I invite folks to coach each other.

I ask them to use the simplest possible coaching framework:

1.  Create rapport

2.  Agree Objectives

3.  Listen and question.

4.  Agree next steps.

As they get into their triads (coach, “coachee”, observer) I float around and listen in.  Last time it was no different to any other.  Give business people who do not coach for a living a chance to coach, and they think that what is required of them is to provide people with answers.

With very few exceptions, they use the same coaching style:  Directing.

It doesn’t help that they also seem to find it virtually impossible to articulate an open question when they need it.

The effect is that it turns an Adult to Adult conversation into a Parent-Child transaction, in which the coachee has little ownership of the result, and ends up politely thanking the coach for their ideas at best.  It’s a missed opportunity for both parties to experience the power of helping other people to find the answers which invariably sit inside, if only someone would shut up long enough for them to be unlocked.

I so rarely hear any other of the other styles:  Enabling, Supporting, Informing, Confronting, Managing Emotions.  Why do you think this is?

I think there could be a number of reasons.  Here’s my list, in no particular order:

  • That’s the way they have been coached, so they know no other way
  • They think coaches are supposed to be experts
  • They confuse Mentoring with Coaching (Mentors are further down the same road as the coachee, Coaches are on a parallel road)
  • They think coaching is on-the-job training
  • Directing is their preferred leadership style, so it feels most comfortable
  • They do not like to not know where the conversation is going, so this helps to control it
  • They are in too much of a hurry.

What’s your experience of this?  And where do you think it might come from?  I’d love to know whether I am alone in this or whether it is a widespread condition.  Please share your thoughts.


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Posted in Coaching Skills, Leadership Skills | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Disengaged or disenchanted at work? Join the crowd.

Here’s a depressing statistic to make your weekend.  According to Gallup research of the American workplace (25 million respondents to date):

“Of the approximately 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs, 30 million (30%) are engaged and inspired at work, so we can assume they have a great boss.

At the other end of the spectrum are roughly 20 million (20%) employees who are actively disengaged. These employees, who have bosses from hell that make them miserable, roam the halls spreading discontent.

The other 50 million (50%) American workers are not engaged. They’re just kind of present, but not inspired by their work or their managers.”

Jim Clifton, CEO Gallup

Jim Clifton, CEO Gallup

Gallup’s CEO, Jim Clifton, goes on to say:

” ….the top 25% of teams — the best managed — versus the bottom 25% in any workplace — the worst managed — have nearly 50% fewer accidents and have 41% fewer quality defects. What’s more, teams in the top 25% versus the bottom 25% incur far less in healthcare costs. So having too few engaged employees means our workplaces are less safe, employees have more quality defects, and disengagement — which results from terrible managers — is driving up the country’s healthcare costs.”

Gulp.  Does this ring true for you in your workplace?  It’s no better outside the US, by the way:  globally only 13% of employees are actively engaged.

I certainly can relate to it.  The more people I meet on leadership training programmes, the more the pattern of attitudes seems to be hardening towards disenchantment, frustration, lethargy, amnesia and boredom.  I thought maybe my perception of this was a function of me getting older and more cynical, but this report has got me thinking again.

The employee engagement pill.  Not to be taken without supervision.

The employee engagement pill. Not to be taken without supervision.

If this research is correct (and personally I would trust Gallup to have validated it pretty well), this presents a massive opportunity.  Sorry if once again I am sounding like a deluded optimist.

If we could create a magic “employee engagement pill”, the results would spill through to the bottom line within minutes.

What would the symptoms be that this pill is working?  Here are a few of the most obvious things we’d notice:

  1. People would understand where their contribution fits and how it makes a difference
  2. They would work towards meaningful and motivating objectives which they had been involved in shaping
  3. They would have regular and authentic dialogue with their manager, on topics other than next week’s to do list
  4. There would be room on meeting agendas for human connections to be made
  5. Taking time to think would be a behaviour which was actively encouraged
  6. Managers would see coaching as a critical part of their role
  7. More questions would be asked, in particular “why?”
  8. Openness and honesty levels would increase, with consequent growth in Trust
  9. Failure would be seen as a part of the innovation process, and become an acceptable norm
  10. Arse-covering email would evaporate.

I could go on.  My list reads like a diagnosis of a dysfunctional work culture, in which you’d expect employee engagement levels to be low.  No wonder so many people that I meet are so exhausted.  They are coasting at best, trying to find the easiest path to the end of the week.

So where’s the massive opportunity I mentioned?  In a change of behaviour of course.  There can’t be too many people over the age of 30 who don’t know the theory of how to manage and engage their staff.  What they may be missing is the belief that it’s ok to do it.  They might need to be given permission in some cultures, and in others they may need to see others applying it before they are willing to take the risk.

As ever, my call to action is to individuals like you to take the lead.  What could possibly go wrong?

My thanks to Greg Giuliano for alerting me to the research.  Greg works with leaders to help them unlock their potential, and feels as passionately about this as I do.   Here’s his take on the research.

How would you assess your engagement level?  What would it take to increase it?  Please share your view, particularly if you feel this research is wide of the mark.


Posted in Leadership Skills, Management Skills | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

What to do with poor performers

I’m not a golfer.  I’ve played a few times and never seemed to be able to connect properly.

This one was not my fault.

This one was not my fault.

I once teed off on the first hole and the ball went rocketing sideways and I am told ended up ricocheting around in the clubroom lobby.

We had a golf day at work once, where they paired us up not by ability but by simply who we knew well.  I found myself hacking around the course with an  expert, who took it all very seriously.  He pretended he was relaxed about us playing together, but I could tell he was really playing against himself.  As the morning wore on and I ripped more and more of the course out by its roots I could see him getting visibly frustrated.  Even I could tell he was not playing well, and whilst he was too polite to say so, it was evident that in some way my poor game was dragging his down.

Does poor performance rub off on others, and drag the good performers down?  I happen to think so.  Look at what a dreadful sporting summer we are having in Britain this year.   After the outstanding achievements of the Olympics in 2012, we appear to be having disaster after disaster, in tennis, cricket, football (particularly shameful performance), cycling and much else.

OlympicsAndy Murray said at the time that he felt his game had been lifted by his fellow competitors who were having so much success in the the Olympics, and this enabled him to pull out a Gold performance in the tennis.  It works both ways, this rubbing off thing.

I used to play second clarinet in the Symphony orchestra at University.  I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that I used to make a decent sound and was pretty competent.  When I went to my first rehearsal we started with Elgar’s Enigma Variations, which we played straight through without stopping.  When we did, the first clarinet, who was a virtuoso and went on to play professionally, turned to me and very generously said he thought my sound had lifted his and inspired him to play as well as he ever had.  It was the start of a very fruitful relationship.

So how do you go about placing your stars and your laggards at work?  The laggards are those energy sappers who do just enough not to get fired, but who seem to have a levelling down effect on others.  Do you stick them with the stars, and hope the stars can help them to lift their game?  This is probably the usual approach:  mix them in where they won’t make too much impact.

What about a different approach:  stick the laggards in with each other.  Ring fence them, so their negative energy is directed inwardly on themselves, and they can’t get at the top performers.  Very non politically correct, I know, and of course we will try other strategies like coaching etc. so they have a chance to lift their performance.  I’m just suggesting keeping your stars away from them a wee bit, so they can breathe the oxygen of success without any other noxious gasses to inhibit their performance.

What’s your experience of this been?  Do you agree we should keep them apart?  As ever, your comments are always welcome.

Posted in Management Skills | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What to do with Energy Sappers

When I was 15 I was told by my house captain of games (the school was made up of 26 houses of 50 boys: yes, it was a big school) that  I was to represent the house in the school Steeplechase.  This required us to run 15 miles or so over a cross country course, most of which as I recall involved  running over recently ploughed fields.  As someone who preferred sprinting to long distance, and who tended to throw up after any distance race over 200m, I knew this would be a gruelling run, and I was dreading it somewhat. However, I wanted to do my bit as the sole representative of the slightly unsporty house I was in, so I grudgingly donned my running kit and headed out on a wet June afternoon.

Runners racetrackWhen I turned up at the start line, I found myself standing next to a boy I knew of the same age, mainly from being in the school orchestra with him and being in the same class for French lessons.

He came from a very wealthy and well known family of bankers, so today let’s just call him Richard.

Richard:  “Have you been told to turn up, like I have?”

Me:  “Yes.”

Richard:  “Do you hate them for it?”

Me: “Kind of.”

Richard:  “Stick with me, I have a plan.”

Me:  “Righto.”

Little did I know that he effectively he was about to undermine my performance that day.  Right from the start.

As the starting gun fired, he literally held me back.  “You’re not going to win, what’s the point in rushing?  Let the others rush ahead, they’ll soon drop back.”

3 miles later, running at little more than a jog, we found ourselves I imagine at the back of the pack (of maybe 75 runners).  Suddenly Richard stopped.  He looked behind to check no one could see us.

“Right, through this hedge, it’s a shortcut.  It’ll knock 6 miles off it.”

He had found my bottom line.  Without a word I sprinted off, and did my best to try and clamber back up to a respectable position.  Which I think by then was well nigh impossible.

Richard was an Energy Sapper.  I partnered with him because I was looking for a comrade in adversity, and I didn’t know him well enough to give him a wide berth.

The older I get the less I want to be near Energy Sappers.  I want to be with people who fuel me, and reciprocate energy.  They can do this in all sorts of ways.  It might be from their attitude, their inner energy, their lack of mental limits, their ability to improvise in the moment.  It doesn’t really matter how they do it, but as long as being with them leaves me higher than when we first meet, I want to be with them.

The people I definitely DON’T want to be with these fall into these broad energy-sapping categories:

The needy one.  The person who just wants to unload their problems onto you and thus share the load, without caring about what your load might be.

The lazy one.  The person who can’t be bothered to get up early enough or get off their arse enough to find out stuff for themselves.  The one who expects it to be a one way street in which they get the information they want without giving any back.  Mentally and physically lazy.

The “poor me” one.  The colleague (true story) who will willingly let you drive for 6 hours, during which she tells you the detail of all her woes, and when she has finished winds her seat back and goes to sleep.  And when we get to the hotel (eventually after getting lost for 30 mins because she couldn’t be arsed to map read) the first thing she wants to do before checking in so we can get some food is have a fag.

The fake.  The one who promises commitment and then under delivers.  At the last minute, so your options to plug the gap are severely reduced,  Rather than be straight and up front, fakes support until it’s too late.  Passive aggressive, basically.

Boss threatening employeeThe talker.  The one who sees himself as at the centre of the Cosmos, and thinks the most interesting subject on the planet is himself.  Exhausting to be with, and actually extremely boring.

Then there are the liars, cheats, frauds, fakes, none of whom you should spend time with if you can avoid it.

These people need to be given a wide berth.  Life is too short, why wouldn’t you surround yourself with the opposite, the ones who inspire, uplift, reciprocate, engage, create, stimulate you?  Make a list for yourself, how many fall into the toxic energy sapping variety?  When are you going to ditch them?

There are more types of Energy Sappers than I have listed, loads more.  Which variety do you dislike most?


Posted in Life Skills, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

How not to give bad news

20 years ago I was working in marketing for a large drinks company.  I worked closely with a marketing agency, and they invited me to an awards dinner in London during which they hoped we would be picking up an award.  It was a black tie affair, and I was looking forward to some intensive celebrations and an overnight stay in London.

Annoyingly, my new boss got his secretary to ring me that day to ask me to meet him for an important announcement.  I assume this would be the results of a restructure he had been planning, and was hopeful that it might lead to a new role and maybe even promotion.  It was annoying because it meant taking a detour to another hotel to meet him, and getting changed into my DJ in the car park.

How wrong I was.  After waiting for 30 minutes in reception and seeing one of my colleagues walk out of the hotel without stopping to chat (and looking somewhat stressed), I went into a windowless room in the basement to meet him.  I was surprised to see a guy from HR there, but thought nothing of it.  Both of their faces dropped when they saw I was in black tie and all excited.

He sat me down with the minimum of pleasantries and proceeded to read me a statement.  Paragraph two had the immortal words which I shall never forget:

“As a result of the recent review of the marketing function, the Board has decided that your services will no longer be required.”

I can’t remember much else because I had stopped listening.  Two important questions had overwhelmed me:

1.  How am I going to tell Charlotte?

2.  What about the kids and the mortgage?

Oh, and question three, what about the awards dinner?

I drove home in a trance, moving through the classic initial change responses of numbness, anger and denial, all within the (probably very risky) 2 hour drive home.  When I got home I was already deeply depressed and ready to fall on my own sword.

2 weeks later of course I was over it and creating a new career in which I finally found a job (the one I do now) which flicked all my switches.  Looking back, thank goodness they pushed me, otherwise I might have wasted yet more years in that comparatively fruitless role (some of which would have involved having HIM as my boss).

All these years later what still gets me is the way it was done.  But how could it have been done better?  I’ve recreated the moment in this video.  Watch it and ask yourself how many crass errors are made within just a couple of minutes.  There can be no easy way to break this sort of news, but it has to be capable of being done so much better, surely?

Let me know what you think.


Posted in Communication, Conflict, Management Skills | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Can a human survive without a mobile phone and the internet?

Since moving house I have had the pleasure of meeting lots of new friends.  Amongst which I count a couple of young lads, early twenties, who have both rekindled my faith in the human race, whilst at the same time reminding me how doomed we all are.

They are twins.  Their father owns some lovely woodland near us, and they do all the physical stuff with the trees.  They have long hair, huge hands, whizz around in a tiny beaten up car, and wear gargantuan steel capped boots.  They are true gentlemen; well mannered, respectful, and interested in others no matter what their age or background.

Said tree is that green straggly thing on the left.  Not exactly in keeping, and blocks a lot of light.

Said tree is that green straggly thing on the left. Not exactly in keeping, and blocks a lot of light.

We bumped into them in the pub last night, and something remarkable happened.  I had sent them an email asking if they would like to pop round to cut down a tree in our garden (they have certain expertise in this field, and I thought might appreciate a cash boost to their earnings.)  We’d had no reply, so I presumed they were not interested, so went ahead yesterday and chopped most of it down myself.

As soon as we walked into the pub for a well earnt pint, Miles said: “A mate printed off your email for me yesterday about the tree.  Sorry I haven’t replied, only I don’t have a computer.”.

A conversation ensued, as you might imagine, during which it became clear that only one of the bothers possesses a mobile phone, and neither has a computer.  The other is considering it, but only so that they can communicate when one of them needs a lift back from some other part of the woods.  No other reason for having one.

Wow!  22 years old, no Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo accounts?  How do they get by?  Perfectly well, it seems.  They are two of the most well balanced, authentic, interesting and happy young people I have met in years.  Always laughing, full of energy, happy with their lot and totally at ease with themselves.

I find myself comparing this with the vast majority of the human race, whose fate I bemoan regularly on this Blog.  We are all doomed, I propose.  Let me give you some personal observations to substantiate my claim, all witnessed within the last week:

  • Go on then, eat that without putting down your phone!

    Go on then, eat that without putting down your phone!

    A guy in a restaurant in Brussels eating a bowl of spaghetti in its entirety with one hand whilst studying his iphone throughout.  He did not put the phone down once.

  • A day of training, 3 different groups of people, hardly any of which turned up with a pen so they could write things down
  • Sitting in an airport lounge and listening to the frenzied Skype calls and phone conversations.  So hard not to tune in, and so utterly inane when you do.
  • Watching two Californian (they made sure we knew that) girls showing off their purchases from London.  Glittery high heeled platform shoes (whatever they are called these days).  Moaning about the price of diamonds.  Loudly.

According to some research published in The Guardian this week, 49% of 14 and 15-year olds feel they are addicted to the internet, and 77% take a phone or computer to bed.  These numbers are never going to improve, are they.  As these kids grow up and have children, they will be passing on this behaviour, and it will become the norm.  We have travelled way past the point of no return.  Sadly I am still going to be around to see this stuff gain momentum.  It’s here to stay.

We are turning into dysfunctional freaks and weirdos, all of us.  Well, nearly all.  It is all about pressure to conform, keeping up with the pace, multitasking, not knowing when to stop, everything a million miles per hour.  And that’s just me, and I’m not half as bad as the rest, of that I am sure.

Thank goodness for the Miles’ and Jamies, who reminded me that the world does still spin without this crap.

They were disappointed to hear the tree had been chopped, because they wanted to come and dig it out (are you sure, this is a 10 foot high Yew Tree) because they don’t have any Yew in their woodland.  How green is that?  So fortunately it is still 4′ high, minus its branches, and probably ideal for transplanting.  They’ll be round next week to dig it out in their big clodhopping boots.  Thus saving a tree and saving me a lot of sweat.  Thank you boys!  In more ways than one.

© Igor Mojzes –

Posted in Life Skills | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments