Organizations worldwide have relied for years on team-based personnel structures to better solve complex issues and complete complex projects/tasks and achieve specific outcomes within and across organizations and business units.
Organizations, business leaders and personnel must learn to work effectively in today’s fast paced, highly volatile, complex and globalized business environment. Rapidly changing collaborative technologies, the shift from routine work to non-routine knowledge economies, the need to consider multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary approaches, along with the need for more nimble and adaptive business structures, have changed how we do business, our working environments and the way we work. In response, organizations worldwide have relied for years on team-based work structures to better solve complex issues and complete projects/tasks and achieve specific outcomes within and across organizations and business units.
This white paper uses a comprehensive and considered literature review to explore the concept of team coaching as it relates to supporting organizational teamwork in today’s complex and volatile business environment. The goals of this paper are to provide organizational leaders and business-coaching practitioners with an evidence-based guide to how and why team (business) coaching is important and to show how this model of practice can be used to support organizational team-oriented problem solving, complex-project/task completion and better achievement of organizational goals and outcomes.
Business organizations and business units often fail to realize the full potential of their teams because they apply outdated business management concepts and practices to evolving collective leadership processes and multi-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary issues.
Traditional business practices and problem solving, whether at the individual, work group or team level, is often hampered by personal, disciplinary and/or organizational culture boundaries that inhibit us from looking beyond our confines for new or better solutions. Many of the business issues we face today involve wicked problems that defy traditional solutions and can only be ameliorated or solved by collaborating with people who bring a diverse set of knowledge, skills and perspectives to the issue. Thus, we can no longer always rely on the wisdom of the people within one organization, let alone one discipline, to solve some of our more complex business issues.
Additionally, our traditional views of what teams are, what they need to operate and what supports them are no longer fit for purpose when considered against current business realities. Without knowing what the key drivers or essential and enabling elements for team successes are or how and when to apply them, business leaders will continue to make costly mistakes in terms of time, money, effort and the achievement of organizational goals and outcomes.
Research evidence has shown that successful teamwork within our complex and volatile global organizational environments depends on proper team design and structure, team launch and ongoing team coaching by qualified and competent team coaches—at the right points in time.
Academics and practitioners within fields such as, but not limited to, business, business coaching and organizational development have examined the successes and failures of teams within the business context for many years and have identified (1) team design and structure, (2) team launch and (3) ongoing team coaching as being the key drivers for improved team performance. Providing the foundation for this improved team performance are three essential and three enabling conditions respectively:
Creating a “real” team
Having a compelling purpose
Ensuring that the right people are on the team
Providing a solid team structure
Creating a supportive context
Providing team coaching at the right points in time
Lastly, qualifiedand competent team coaches have been shown to positively influence the success of team-based personnel systems and processes, and therefore play key roles within each of the business-team design, structure and support elements. Within this business context, the team coach has a dual focus: one that focuses on individual team members and allows them to discover how their personal characteristics, behaviors and perspectives impact the team and business processes; and one that focuses on the larger objectives and successes of the organization. It is this dual focus and discovery process that differentiates business coaching from other types of coaching. Thus, private and public organizations wishing to achieve successful team-based outcomes must consider incorporating qualified and competent team business coaches into all of their team-oriented work structures and processes.
Qualified and competent team coaches positively influence the success of teambased personnel systems and processes, and therefore play keys roles in supporting team-based personnel structures.
Full White Paper
Qualified and competent team coaches positively influence the success of team based personnel systems and processes, and therefore play keys roles in supporting team-based personnel structures.
Increased use of business coaching has created a greater need for accountability and clearer contracts.
In this white paper, we explore the limited research available on contracting—the setting up, use and monitoring of the business coaching relationship. We do not try to develop a standard coaching contract as that would be too constraining for the majority of business coaches—each contract must be customized to the client’s requirements. Instead we provide a list of factors that should be considered in developing an effective contract.
Poor contracting creates issues for all parties—business coaching contracts are much more than who, what, when and where.
What is contracting?
The business coaching interaction uses all the elements we associate with wholesome and effective human relationships such as dialog, reflection, enquiry and exploration of meaning. But this interaction takes place within a specific and unusual context—a learning conversation where the agenda for the interaction is determined by only one of the partners in the conversation. This mix of familiar and unique can lead to misunderstandings and dilemmas for both parties unless the implicit psychological contract that is operating is made explicit. The initial exploration of the terms of reference for the relationship and its continual monitoring are at the core of contracting.
Other disciplines and helping therapies such as counseling have a wealth of experience in the management of these areas. Our research identified good practice that recognizes clarity of mutual expectations as vital for a good working relationship. We describe three types of contracts that invariably operate in any helping arrangement:
Contract early using all three contract types—seek transparency for all—review the existing contract often.
The elements under each of these contracts are varied, and we have reviewed what communities of practice and professional associations have identified as critical. These groups include the International Coach Federation (ICF), the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC). The Executive Coaching Forum, for example, provides a valuable service with the Executive Coaching Handbook where they have a competency model that describes the requirements of a coach, including a specific section on contracting. The complexity of this section illustrates the dynamic nature of the contract. One area of particular interest is clear accountability. Negotiating the coaching contract can be an ideal opportunity to engage the sponsor fully with setting the coaching goals and designing the evaluation criteria. Real sensitivities are, however, involved in such three-way contracts, and we suggest the use of a no-fault exit clause for both sides if it becomes clear that things are not working. Some practitioners have identified issues with the three-cornered contract specifically and even the four-cornered contract, where the line manager is not the direct manager of coaching.
In general, the business coach can effectively steer through the maze of who the client is in this relationship by maintaining transparency and appropriate ethics. For example, a mismatch between the career aims of the individual and the requirements of the organization is not unusual. The business coach must negotiate goals based on the common ground between these two perspectives and use the business coaching intervention as a method of bringing them together.
The WABC Professional Standards for Business Coaches are explicit in the need to hold the potential tension between organizational and client agendas: “I will put the client first while at the same time respecting the objectives of the client’s organization.”
The issue of confidentiality is particularly marked in this regard as sponsors/line managers often assume they will receive reports of the progress of the coaching. Clearly this is not at the business coach’s discretion and a contracting conversation must take place with the sponsor and the executive to agree on the frequency and extent of reporting.
Proper business coaching contracting protects all parties (e.g., client, business coach, organization)—efforts are rewarded.
We suggest including the following key elements in the business coaching contract. Additional elements are identified in the full paper.
The duration, number, frequency and venue of sessions
Fees, cancellation policy and the availability of the business coach both in person and for email/telephone discussions
The business coach’s area of practice and the mechanism for onward referral. This is critical when the coach is able to competently provide more than one type of service (e.g., consulting, training, mentoring). A contract should be limited to one type of service unless the client requires a “master” or “broad” contract, in which case each service must be explicitly covered.
Indication that the coach may be in professional supervision and will be discussing the intervention under the appropriate confidentiality agreement there
A limitation of liability clause, information about the business coach’s professional indemnity insurance and a no-fault exit clause and process
The goals of the business coaching, identifying the specific outputs and behavior changes required in a manner that is measurable and clear, including time, cost, quality and milestones
The model of practice to be used, including its limitations and strengths. Identify if real-time coaching is expected and if observation of the client is required. Identify with whom any assessments will be undertaken and who will see the results.
Full White Paper
The evidence shows that a business coaching contract should be negotiated early in the relationship and revisited often.
This case study provides critical insights into how coaching creates value in an organization.
Phillips, J. J. (2012) Coaching for Business Impact: Creating Value, Including ROI, Through Executive Coaching. In Phillips, P. P. and Phillips, J. J. Measuring the Success of Coaching. ATD Press, pp., 183 – 201.
One of the aims of the Japan Institute of Workers’ Evolution (JIWE) is to contribute to the industrial development of Japan by promoting opportunities for female workers to make full use of their vocational abilities and skills.
One of the joys of writing this column is that it gives me the excuse to pause and reflect upon my recent learning about research and practice and to consider how it may be of interest to you, my readers. Over the last month or so I have been particularly taken by what it means to be a master practitioner and how research can help us attain that level of practice. It started with my recent move to Middlesex University (England) as Director of Programs for their Professional Doctorate Program. The candidates in this program undertake a doctorate in and through their own practice. Unlike the conventional doctorate where the focus is on academic knowledge, this doctorate’s focus is on practice itself, including all the messiness of real life and context. Within my new role, I have the opportunity to work with senior practitioners from a range of professions and talk with their professors and senior academics. It is fascinating to note that we are all intrigued by the question, “What makes mastery?”
All of us are struck by the great similarities between different disciplines–it seems that the process is the same, although the technical knowledge may be vastly different. For example, I had the delight of working with Dr. Susan Melrose, a professor of the performing arts, and I loved her perspective–to quote: “Disciplinary mastery is always relational: it is undertaken somewhere, by and for someone, with reference to (and thereby rearticulating the terms of) one or another disciplinary tradition”–this has a resonance for me when thinking about coaching. As we meet with our clients we are co-constructing a ‘performance’ with them. As we seek to probe what mastery really looks like and how it can be acquired, we are in the same realm as the performer seeking to construct a depiction of Hamlet or Sleeping Beauty which communicates and explores anew some aspect of what it means to be human.
The question of mastery has real power for coaching when we consider where we are as a profession. If we are to construct the boundaries of what constitutes our body of knowledge and practice, we need to be able to articulate in a clear manner what it means to be a master practitioner in our field. Here we differ from a performance artist in that we need to differentiate ourselves from other related disciplines. The academic requirements, i.e., the amount of stuff we need to know, are relatively straightforward. They are not easy, but they are straightforward. There may be differences in the focus of some courses depending upon the preference of the professors teaching them–but the amount and depth of study are monitored by the university accreditation boards and audited against the standard of a current body of knowledge in the area. However, with all due respect, we know that passing a master’s degree is not indicative of mastery in a profession. A master’s degree identifies that you have the required technical knowledge, NOT that you have the required professional knowledge and skills. For this we need to develop–through practice–the professional know-how and ‘gut feel’ indicative of a seasoned practitioner. This is the elusive but necessary ingredient of mastery.
So what might it be? The literature shows us a variety of perspectives and comes up with ‘practice wisdom’ and ‘expert intuition,’ both of which try to identify the process by which a practitioner produces a decision or constructs a flexible innovative intervention within the context they find themselves, i.e., their particular client or situation. It is relational, as Susan Melrose says. Let us take a moment to reflect: When was the last time you surprised yourself in practice and thought, “I wonder where that came from? Why did I do that? It worked but where did I get it from?” Probably quite recently! Your expert intuition was in full flight. You probably rationalized your decision or design AFTER the event, but it arrived like magic at the time. As Schön1 would have said, you were ‘knowing in action.’
We are starting, as researchers, to get some sense of what is happening in practice wisdom so we can help practitioners attain the holy grail of mastery. It is not appropriate to call it ‘intuition’ –expert or not–as this is a catchall phrase suggesting it is innate and without rational basis. My own view is that we are working with a kaleidoscope (I thank one of my students, Steve Wigzell, for this metaphor), each color contributing to the pattern is one aspect of what we are bringing to the interaction. For instance, we will bring technical knowledge from various disciplines: learning theory, change management, etc., but also our knowledge of context, the pragmatics in operation, our own values and beliefs, our experience in similar situations, etc. All these and more are part of the color spectrum we have in our kaleidoscope. For each client and situation, we rotate the kaleidoscope again to produce a pattern unique and specific to that client and situation.
The creation of each new pattern has to happen fast and effortlessly ‘in the moment’ through ‘reflection in action,’ and, as such, is the result of using images, examples, and understandings achieved through practice. A person’s performance nearly always uses several kinds of knowledge (technical, experiential, etc.) in some integrated form and is influenced by both context and feelings.
What recent research has shown is that the transition from novice to competent practitioner can happen when one or two areas of work are mastered. The transition from competent to master practitioner needs the practitioner to not only be using a broad and deep knowledge base, but also to be actively creating knowledge by applying their expertise in new arenas. To create new knowledge, experts must be well versed in the problems and methodologies of the field in which they work and actively engaged in problem finding. These experts are posing questions and instituting investigations that push the boundaries of their work.
So there we have it–if you want to develop expertise and be a Master Practitioner, you must be a problem finder and hence a researcher!
Enjoy your problem finding!
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (October Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 3).
1 D. Schön, The Reflective Practitioner (Basic Books: New York, 1983) An old one but a good one and well worth a read
Dr. Annette Fillery-Travis
Dr. Annette Fillery-Travis is a senior researcher and education coach with the Professional Development Foundation. The author of more than 60 research articles and studies, her book. The Case for Coaching, presenting a literature review with research case studies and interviews from over 20 organizations on coaching efficacy, was published in 2006 by CIPD, UK.
Coaching can help business executives to fine-tune skills that are crucial within today’s economic and market constraints. These include, for example, the ability to exert influence across organizational boundaries, to manage conflicts, and to create and articulate a vision. Coaching has also been shown to help leaders develop a clearer understanding of their roles and responsibilities. But perhaps most importantly, coaching can help new leaders deal with the aspects of transition, transformation, and change (Stout Rostron, 2009:61).
In order to make this happen, it is important for coach and client to carefully set out the boundaries for how communication is to take place. Developing the habit of both formal and informal contracting is one of the first steps in beginning to understand the dynamics of forming a coaching relationship and setting boundaries. The coach and client agree to conditions of time, space, fees, confidentiality, and goals. In contracting, the business coach agrees to a specific set of conditions.
Contracting the Relationship
The purpose of the contract is to open up the potential for trust between coach and client that is essential if the client is to trust his or her own self-exploration. As the agreement lays the foundation for the relationship, it must be adhered to in action for trust to develop.
The contract between coach and client sets out which services have been agreed upon and delineates all fees as well as the outcomes and deliverables that can be expected. The contract sets out ground rules for the coaching relationship so that both parties are aware of their obligations. This helps prevent future misunderstandings and provides a firm basis to deal with disagreements. The contract describes the relationship between the coach and multiple parties, such as the individual client, the client organization, the HR unit, and line management.
Objectives for the individual executive and for the organization need to be clarified, with boundaries made explicit in terms of confidentiality, fees, cancellation, and termination of the contract. Often in coaching, the contracting process is linked to the generation and fulfillment of outcomes. Contracting usually deals with the management of the process, roles being played, evaluation of the process, learning and outcomes, and exit clauses.
Another important aspect of contracting is the review of the contract when necessary, including termination or renewal. In any business contracting process, it is important to draw up the “marriage” and the “divorce” papers at the beginning: a bit like a prenuptial contract. It is important to specify the boundaries and parameters of the entire coaching intervention, i.e., how the process will proceed from beginning to end and how to terminate the process, whether at the contracted termination point or sooner if required by either party.
For example, last year one of my clients terminated the contract prior to the agreed upon period for the coaching intervention suggested by her organization. She and I verbally re-contracted together how she could manage her exit from the coaching process, how she would defend this position to her line manager and sponsor, and how she could negotiate re-entering the coaching process in the future when she felt more ready. This was made very transparent to the sponsoring organization. It is important that your contracting allows for this type of flexibility, yet keeps you within the bounds of your agreement with the third party or sponsor.
Defining Coaching in Your Contract
It is useful to include a definition of coaching within your contract, specifying how coaching differs from other helping professions. For example, “the services to be provided by coach to client are designed jointly with the client. Coaching, which is not advice, therapy, or counselling, may address specific personal or professional projects, business issues, or general conditions in the client’s life or profession.”
In our organization we use the following clause in our coaching contracts:
Throughout the working relationship, the coach will engage with the client in direct conversation. The client can count on the coach to be honest and straightforward in asking questions, making interventions, and facilitating the setting of goals. The client understands that the power of coaching is in the relationship between client and coach. If the client or the coach believes the coaching is not working as desired, either client or coach will communicate this.
Your Model as a Contracting Structure
A model is a metaphor for the entire coaching journey, yet embodies a structured process. The Purpose, Perspectives, Process model developed by David Lane within the scientist-practitioner paradigm (Lane and Corrie, 2006) can help you in three ways: to contract with the client, to structure the entire coaching journey, and to guide your coaching conversation. Out of the specific conversation about process can emerge the client’s purpose; the way your perspectives fit together can help clients to achieve their purpose; and the process within which you will work helps you both to achieve the outcomes desired.
Essentially, to contract the overall journey, coach and client discuss the overall aim of coaching for the client (purpose) and what each brings to the relationship (perspectives). Coach and client then discuss and contract how the coaching will take place: timing, boundaries, fees, the tools and techniques to be used by the coach, and the way the client would prefer to work (process). They also discuss the overall results and outcomes the client hopes to achieve from the coaching intervention, results that need to be visible to the organization, including thinking, feeling, and behavior that the client would like to change (outcomes as a result of process).
As a rule, I start the coaching conversation with perspectives: “Where are you now?” “What’s happening with you?” “What’s informing your thinking?” “What are your reflections on your current (or specific) concrete experience?” We move on to identify purpose: what they want to talk about, what their needs are for today, and what key outcomes they want to achieve. Once we have identified what needs to be worked on, we agree on the process we will work with using whichever question frameworks, tools, or techniques are relevant to that process. At the end of the session we summarize actions, learning, and outcomes that have resulted from the coaching conversation.
Any model that you use for your regular coaching conversations can help you to define a structure and process and set boundaries for working with your client. However, the name of the game is flexibility and working to the client’s needs, so anything prescriptive will only be for your needs. Remember, the conversation is about them.
Often when things go wrong it is due to poor practice on the part of the coach, perhaps from not setting proper boundaries (Ting and Scisco, 2006:19). Contracting and relationship building are crucial to the outcomes of any coaching intervention. Contracting is complex as it determines in what areas, and how deeply, the coach can work with the individual client, the team, and the organization in a holistic, integrated, and systemic way.
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (October Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 3).
Lane, D.A., and Corrie, S. 2006. The Modern Scientist-Practitioner: A Guide to Practice in Psychology. Hove: Routledge.
Stout Rostron, S. 2009. Business Coaching International: Transforming Individuals and Organizations. London: Karnac.
Ting, S., and Scisco, P. 2006. The CCL Handbook of Coaching: A Guide for the Leader Coach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA
Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA, is an executive coach and consultant with a wide range of experience in leadership and management development, business strategy and executive coaching. The author of six books, including Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009), Sunny is Director of the Manthano Institute of Learning (Pty) Ltd and is President Emeritus of COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa).
Summary All of us are running faster and faster as technology shreds our attention. We have confused speed and urgency with impact and productivity. Information overload and fractured attention cost the US economy at least $900 billion a year.1
We desperately need to take back control by learning to stop, reflect, and focus. The discipline of paying attention has an immediate impact on performance and accelerates learning. In this article, I outline how and where to focus in order to learn critical leadership skills, and describe how reflection and mindfulness combine to form a powerful coaching model.
Mindshifting Linda is a senior executive who started her career as an administrative assistant. Her first role was in a branch office of a multinational financial services company. She was a fast learner with a great deal of energy and the ability to get things done. She was steadily given greater responsibility. She began managing the administrative staff in her office, and then took on the compliance and office management functions as well. Her drive and service orientation got the attention of the district manager, who picked her to run these functions for the region. After just a few years she was promoted to headquarters to run administration, compliance, and office management nationally.
I met Linda shortly after she started her role at headquarters. She was scattered during our conversation and would take phone calls and check email every few minutes. She told me she was frustrated and struggling with the huge volume of work. It seemed every employee and compliance issue in the field would bubble up to her because she knew the most and was the best at solving difficult problems. Her days were filled with back-to-back meetings because everyone wanted her time. She began falling behind on deadlines and would often be 20-30 minutes late for meetings. She would apologize profusely, but was not really aware of how destructive her behavior was becoming for her relationships and reputation. As much as she was drowning, she felt like the go-to expert. She enjoyed seeing her own impact and so it was hard for her to delegate real authority to her staff.
As Linda moved from each level to the next, she needed to change where she focused, what she valued, and how she defined her job. These changes can be described as a series of Mindshifts as you go from individual contributor to leader of a large organization. As I coached Linda to step back, reflect, and focus on her behavior, she was able to see how she had become a bottleneck because she was stuck on the first Mindshift, ‘Doing to Leading’ (see chart below). Ultimately she was able to shift her attention from getting things done on her own to developing her team and facilitating their work. Her job was no longer to assemble the budget and double-check it herself; it was to make sure the right people came together so the budget reflected her whole department’s needs and goals.
Linda also became more aware of her impact and better at setting boundaries, including saying ‘no’ to problems that were not hers to solve. This gave her more time to think about how to improve her department’s performance. After a few years she mastered several more Mindshifts and was ready for another opportunity. Linda is now running a rapidly growing business that is central to her company’s future.
Practice: Mindshifting Self-Assessment There are seven Mindshifts to make as you go from managing yourself to managing organizations.2 Moving from left to right along each dimension requires a change in how you prioritize and evaluate your success. First consider the Doing-to-Leading Mindshift:
Place an ‘X’ where you feel your skills and focus are currently on the continuum.
Place an ‘O’ where you would like to see yourself in the future given your current role as well as the requirements of future potential roles.
Assess where you are and where you would like to be for the rest of the Mindshifts.
Building a Foundation The Mindshifts can help you map out a development plan to shift along each dimension. However, you first need to take hold of your attention by learning to stop, reflect and focus.
Practice: Stopping the Action Our minds need regular rest and reflection. Vacations (from the Latin vacare, to empty) are times to put out our mind’s garbage so we can replenish. By temporarily putting aside our daily challenges and allowing ourselves to daydream, we are able to discover new ideas:
Daily: stop your action at least once and ask two questions: ‘What am I focused on?’ and ‘What am I learning?’ Keep a journal of your answers and look for patterns.
Weekly: make time for something creative or nurturing (e.g., take an art class, visit a museum, go to a concert, or take a walk in the woods).
Quarterly: schedule a vacation, even a long weekend, and make sure not to fill it with constant activity. Decide how often you need to check your office voice mail/email and communicate that decision to your colleagues.
Ongoing: notice how stopping the action positively affects your focus, mood, and energy.
Practice: Leveraging Others for Reflection We need to ask for help making time to think and taking tasks off our plate:
Assistants: If you have or can get an assistant, ask their help creating space between meetings to clear the decks and prepare for important conversations.
Delegate: Give away tasks that bog you down. Acknowledge that control only feels safer and let go of the belief that no one can do it as well as you.
Thinking partners: Ask colleagues and friends to be your thinking partners. Explain that their job is not to tell you what to do, but to listen and ask questions to help you think through issues. Make this a regular habit and offer to return the favor.
Personal Board of Directors: Contract with a select group of trusted coaches, mentors, and advisors you can rely on to give you counsel. Find individuals with diverse backgrounds so you get different perspectives. Mentors provide invaluable insider knowledge of companies, industries, and fields. Coaches offer outsider objectivity and expertise on learning new behaviors and leadership skills. Because it is so hard to see our own behavior clearly, we need objective feedback for our reflection to create accurate self-awareness.
“As a senior executive my time is no longer my own, yet I desperately need time to think. I get my assistant to schedule thinking time and then protect it. I also ask my colleagues to be thinking partners, because as an extravert, I talk to think and synthesize better out loud. It’s about being disciplined and creating choice. We have choice if we exercise it.”
– Nicoa Dunne, former SVP Human Resources, Misys Technology.
Mindfulness Mindfulness is both a state of mind and an attitude. The state of mind is present-focused awareness, open-mindedness, and acceptance. It takes great practice and willpower to live in the present, rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. In addition, staying open to new ideas can bring up significant anxiety, and accepting reality can challenge our sense of identity. It helps a great deal to cultivate a welcoming, curious, and gentle attitude towards ourselves and our experience. It is the combination of state of mind and attitude that makes mindfulness invaluable.
Studies show that techniques to develop mindfulness enhance a range of positive emotions, emotional stability, and our ability to read social cues. In addition, mindfulness training increases immunological functioning and life expectancy, and reduces depression and chronic pain. When we can accept reality as it is, we become less frustrated by our situation, less fearful it will change, and less depressed about not achieving our fantasies.
We are just starting to appreciate the power that reflection and mindfulness have to facilitate learning. Research by Ellen Langer at Harvard suggests that individuals who apply reflection and mindfulness are able to learn more quickly, problem solve more creatively, and extrapolate their learning more flexibly across settings.3 The more we can tolerate anxiety and discomfort, the more we can take the personal risks we need to learn.
For centuries, spiritual traditions have explored ways to develop reflection and focus. Techniques for cultivating concentration and contemplation are central to the mystical teachings of Judaism, Hinduism, Shamanism, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity. Buddhist teachers have developed a range of practices for developing mindfulness, often using breathing as an anchor.
Practice: Mindful Breathing
Your breathing is a built-in stress barometer and focusing tool. Take a minute and just watch your breathing. Notice your stomach rising and falling as you follow your breath all the way in and all the way out. See if your breathing slows and your muscles relax without any added effort. Notice if your mind begins to clear. Observe your attitude toward yourself. Try to replace self-criticism with acceptance and gentleness.
Next time the phone rings, become aware of how your breathing quickens. Emails and phone calls trigger a fight-or-flight stress response—increased heart rate, blood pressure spike, and shallow respiration. We can reprogram this trigger into a relaxation response. Next time the phone rings, stop what you are doing and turn away from your computer. On the second ring, take a breath. On the third ring, smile. Notice the effect on your attitude. Now pick up the phone.
Reflection and focus are fundamental to developing self-awareness, which is the starting point for developing all leadership competencies. Learning everything from communication and emotional intelligence to strategic thinking and team building depends on our ability to examine our behavior and focus our attention.
Once we can self-monitor and breathe mindfully, we open up the possibility of strategic thinking. Strategic thinking is the ability to see the big picture, collect information from disparate sources, and envision the future. Strategic thinking is one of the hardest skills for leaders to develop. It does not require genius, just focus. There are four overlapping elements:
Acquiring a wide range of information about global trends in human behavior, technology, and business;
Stopping to reflect in light of the new information (letting the ideas ‘percolate’);
Synthesizing the information into a creative vision of the future;
Communicating the vision in a clear and compelling form.
Leaders need to not only manage their own attention, but to capture others’ attention. An inspiring strategic vision does this by aligning us around an energizing set of ideals, and by tapping into our needs, hopes, and dreams.4
“One of the chief imperatives of leadership is to have vision. Vision requires a deep understanding of your business and is inspired by out-of-the-box thinking and imagination. Leaders need to make the time to reflect in peace to let their vision come together.”
– Ramesh Singh, former Management Board Member, UBS Investment Bank
Practice: Eliminating Obstacles to Strategic Thinking The sheer volume of tasks and transactions we face (and take on) each day is the biggest obstacle to strategic thinking (think back-to-back meetings and never-ending email). The stream of alluring details in front of us pulls our attention and we zoom in. We need to break our attention away and zoom out in order to look ahead and anticipate. Anticipation means predicting the potential consequences of our actions, our impact on others, and changes in the business environment.
Look at your calendar for last week and think about how you went through your days.
How much thinking time did you create?
What were the principle obstacles to thinking strategically?
Look at your calendar for this coming week and plan how you will approach it.
What one or two changes could you make to clear space to think?
When we start to shift our attention and think strategically, we are able to make two critical Mindshifts. We can shift our attention from Personal Accountability (monitoring our own work processes, deadlines, and goals) to Organizational Accountability (measuring the whole organization’s success via profit, efficiency targets, etc.). We are also able to focus less on Task Analysis (figuring out the best way to get things done) and more on Market Analysis (looking at what business to be in and strategies to get there). Making these transitions depends on our refocusing our attention from narrow to wide. We need to open up our minds, leaving aside self-focused questions like, ‘Can I complete this task?’ and moving towards holistic questions like, ‘Where do I want to take my business?’
Emotional Intelligence Emotional Intelligence (or EI) is the ability to use the information in emotions to make decisions and reach goals. The components of EI are:5
Expressing & managing your emotions
Understanding others’ emotional signals.
These skills are tremendously important for leaders, and underlie the Mindshift from Self-Awareness (knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your style) to Interpersonal Awareness (managing your emotions and behaviors and their impact on others). Interpersonal Awareness allows you to communicate, negotiate, and influence effectively, as well as build strong relationships and create effective teams.
Practice: Empathy and Emotional Attunement Adopt the perspective of an anthropologist and study the culture of your organization as if it were an unknown tribe whose language you do not speak. Try to intuit what colleagues are feeling and intending by paying attention to their nonverbal signals. Focus on facial expressions, glances, eye contact, tone of voice, mannerisms, gestures, and posture. With people closer to you, take this a step further by asking them if you are right with your hunches. Though every person’s signals are to some extent unique, the facial and vocal expressions of most feelings are consistent across cultures.6
Notice the impact of your colleagues’ feelings on your own. Tune in to the subtle feelings in your body, particularly in your chest and gut. How do you feel the impact of a colleague’s frustration, expressed in a backhanded compliment or sarcastic comment? Can you feel a twinge in your stomach or do you have some other visceral reaction? Record your observations and hypotheses in a journal. Becoming more attuned in this way provides you with information that allows you to anticipate others’ needs and behavior.
We know that when we are under stress and emotionally raw we are more prone to be reactive, irritable, and insensitive. This is confirmed by research showing that the greater our stress, the less empathy we have.7So as stress goes up, EI goes down. Conversely, mindfulness training reduces stress and anxiety, and thus is able to counteract the negative effect of stress on EI.8,9
Mindfulness training increases empathy and the ability to read others’ emotions.10 In addition, mindfulness increases compassion and gratitude, along with activity in brain regions associated with positive emotion.11,12 Mindfulness may thus enhance EI via a direct effect on brain function, as well by facilitating our ability to self-monitor and course-correct through greater access to feedback.13,14 When we can accept and ride the waves of our feelings, we can make use of the information contained in emotions rather than avoiding them or overreacting to them.
Mindful Coaching Combining principles of focus and reflection suggests a model of mindful coaching.
At a macro level, there is a continuous cycle of assessment (seeking understanding) and goal-setting (planning action). This is a common feature of modern coaching and helps clients see pragmatic value because there is progress towards concrete objectives. However, over-focusing on goals and outcomes is a dangerous habit. It can lead clients out of the moment and into frustration and tension where they do not learn. Rather than always checking and worrying about the score, clients need to pay attention to and enjoy the game—in other words, they need to focus on process. Mindful coaching applies intention and attention to this process.
The coach creates a container, a holding environment of mindfulness, within which the client can think, feel, and experience without judgment, and which enables them to gradually reveal and accept themselves.15 The core of this container is silence—an underestimated source in itself, and vital because freedom from interruption and peace of mind are essential for clear and productive thought. The coach also makes the intention to get out of the way by putting aside his or her own ego in the interest of serving the client. This enables active listening where the coach goes beyond what is said to try to understand underlying themes. Focused questions direct the client’s attention toward specific cues inside and around them. These questions shift perspective, challenge assumptions, and open the client up to new possibilities.
“Silence used to make me uncomfortable. Now I welcome it and let it do the heavy lifting. Silence gives my client precious room to reflect. In addition, as I listen from silence and quiet my inner dialogue, I have faith the right questions will emerge. I relax into my body and hold any emotions that come up. I feel into the coaching and trust my gut to gauge what is really going on. I can take more risks and challenge my client. Being fully present with silence gets me to the real issues, to the heart of the matter.”
– Crista Salvatore, Learning & Development, New York Life Insurance Company
In brainstorming, the emphasis is on learning over teaching. The coach is active in providing new ideas, tools, models, and potential solutions. However, the coach is careful not to take over the client’s choice by telling the client what to do. The coach ensures outcomes and results by asking the client to commit to action and execute a plan. The intention needs to come from the client for momentum to continue. The coach helps the client find the motivation to change and the courage to hold themselves accountable.
In addition to Strategic Thinking and EI, Mindful Coaching facilitates the development of a broad range of leadership skills and related Mindshifts. For example:
Reflecting on our values and purpose helps us lead with integrity and authenticity.
Paying careful attention to how we listen (listening to ourselves listen) enables us to communicate effectively.
Actively changing our perspective and looking at challenges from multiple angles helps us uncover hidden assumptions and generate innovative ideas.
Managing team members’ attention so everyone is focused on achieving a shared goal is the heart of team building.
I find that coaching this way creates more sustainable change than do behavioral methods. One reason is that simply turning mindful attention to our thoughts, feelings, and behavior helps undo self-destructive habits. In addition to raising our awareness, giving ourselves and our symptoms “accepting attention” is healing in itself. Mindful Coaching also helps us reflect on our own process as coaches and manage the uncertainty and ambiguity of our role. Not being the expert and giving up control are anxiety producing and are central challenges for new coaches and leaders learning to coach.16
Linda’s sanity, and my own, depended on my staying mindful during our meetings. When she interrupted herself mid-sentence to check her email, I was tempted to do the same. Instead, I monitored my frustration and observed her without judging. Reflecting back to her what I saw and asking questions about its impact helped her pay greater attention and look at herself with more clarity. Over time, she began internalizing my accepting attention and started to cultivate greater mindfulness to contain her restless energy.
Staying focused and mindful is a tremendous challenge. The exercises are not hard to integrate into our daily routine but the skills take a lifetime of practice. It takes great self-discipline to pull out of our constant swirl of activity and information, and we need a high level of awareness to know when to Mindshift. However, once we sense the power of mindfulness, for both our clients and ourselves, we see there is no higher priority.
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (October Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 3).
2 R. Charan, S. Drotter, and J. Noel, The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership-Powered Company (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001).
3 Ellen J. Langer, The Power of Mindful Learning (New York: Perseus Books, 1997).
4 Warren Bennis, Why Leaders Can’t Lead: The Unconscious Conspiracy Continues (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997).
5 J. D. Mayer, P. Salovey, and D. R. Caruso, “Emotional Intelligence: New Ability or Eclectic Traits?” American Psychologist 63, no. 6 (2008): 503-17.
6 Paul Eckman, “SIOP 2008 Invited Address: Emotional Skills,” The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist 46 (2008): 21-24.
7 Jon Kabat-Zinn, “The Science of Mindfulness,” Speaking of Faith, NPR, New York, NY. 18 April 2009.
8 Ibid., Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (New York: Delacorte, 1990).
9 Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” Harvard Business Review 85 (2007).
10 Daniel Goleman, “Finding Happiness: Cajole Your Brain to Lean to the Left,” New York Times 4 Feb. 2003, New York edition, sec. F: 5.
11 Matthieu Ricard, “Change Your Mind Change Your Brain: The Inner Conditions for Authentic Happiness,” Google Tech Talks. Google Headquarters, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA. 15 Mar. 2007.
12 S. L. Shapiro, G. E. Schwartz, and G. Bonner, “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Medical and Premedical Students,” Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 21, no. 6 (1998): 581-599.
13 R. F. Baumeister and T. F. Heatherton, T. F., “Self-Regulation Failure: An Overview,” Psychological Inquiry 7, no. 1 (1996): 1-15.
14 B. Alan Wallace and Shauna L. Shapiro, “Mental Balance and Well-Being: Building Bridges Between Buddhism and Western Psychology,” American Psychologist 61 (2006): 690-701.
15 D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (New York: Routledge Classics, 2005).
16 David Hosmer, “Cascading Coaching: Building a Model of Peer Development,” OD Practitioner 38, no. 3 (2006): 17-20.
Joshua Ehrlich, PhD
Joshua Ehrlich, PhD, is the founder of the Global Leadership Council www.globalleadershipcouncil.com. He is a leading authority on managing in intense environments and advises CEOs on complex organizational challenges. He is an executive coach, supervisor and accreditor of coaches. Josh is the author of MindShifting: Focus for Performance (Steiner Books)
The focus of the coaching conversation is to help the client work toward achieving their desired outcomes. It is in this process, where coach and client reflect on the client’s experience, that the potential for learning and action emerges. Business coaching has been defined in many different ways, but is essentially a one-on-one collaborative partnership designed to develop the client’s performance and potential, personally and professionally, in alignment with the goals and values of the organization. Business coaching should be aligned strategically with the overall values and objectives of an organization.
However, an important question is raised for executives: if goals are to be motivationally achieved, are they also aligned with the individual’s values, beliefs, and feelings? Often organizations merely pay lip service to organizational values, and don’t necessarily create them as a synthesis of the core individual values that make up the culture of the organization. Ethical dilemmas can arise during the coaching process if the executive needs to make difficult choices that are incompatible with their own value system.
Goals, Motivation, and Performance
If you wish to help your clients improve their behavior and performance, it is useful to understand the psychology behind adult behavior, goals, and motivation. Alfred Adler, who worked with Sigmund Freud for ten years, reasoned that adult behavior is purposeful and goal-directed, and that life goals provide individual motivation. He focused on personal values, beliefs, attitudes, goals, and interests, and recommended that adults engage in the therapeutic process and reinvent their futures using techniques such as “acting as if,” role-playing, and goal setting. All these tools are utilized and recognized by well-qualified business coaches worldwide.
Motivational theories primarily focus on the individual’s needs and motivations. I have typically worked with coaching clients to help them understand more fully their intrinsic motivators (internal drivers such as values, beliefs, and feelings), and how to use extrinsic motivators (external drivers such as relationships, bonuses, environment, and titles) to motivate their teams. If an individual’s goals are not in alignment with their own internal, intrinsic drivers, there will be difficulties for them in achieving those goals.
In an International Coach Federation study (ICF, 2008a), Campbell confirmed that coaches often assume clients are aware of their values, but within the confines of the study this appeared to be incorrect. The clients interviewed indicated they were not aware of their values, and that acquiring a process of awareness and reflection led them to become more aware of their emotions, their values, and the need to clarify their goals. Whitmore (2002) supports this and states that the goal of the coach is to build awareness, responsibility, and self-belief.
The coach’s intervention and questions help the client to discover their own intrinsic drivers or motivators, and allow both coach and client to identify whether the client’s personal, professional, and organizational goals are in alignment.
Adult and Experiential Learning
Adult learning theory has influenced coaching from the start: the goal of adult learning is to achieve a balance between work and personal life. In the same way, most business coach-client relationships involve an integration of personal and systems work. Personal work is intended to help the client develop the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual competence to achieve their desired goals; systems work may be found within a partnership, marriage, family, organizational team, or matrix structure.
Another powerful influence on goal-setting in coaching is experiential learning because it emphasizes a client’s individual, subjective experience. In this process, coach and client probe the essence of an experience to understand its significance and to determine any learning that can be gained from it. The importance of experiential learning is that coach and client use the business coaching conversation to actively reconstruct the client’s experience, with a focus on setting goals that are aligned with the client’s intrinsic drivers, i.e., values, beliefs, and feelings.
Other considerations may be language, social class, gender, ethnic background, and the individual’s style of learning. In learning from experience, it is useful to understand which barriers prevent the client from learning. Often it is a matter of developing self-reflective skills as much as self-management skills. What clients learn from their experience can transform their perceptions, their limiting and liberating assumptions, their way of interpreting the world – and their ability to achieve results.
Types of Goals
The coach is responsible for ensuring that goal-setting conversations get the best results. O’Neill (2000) differentiates between two kinds of client goals, business and personal, and links the coaching effort to a business result, highlighting and prioritizing the business areas that need attention. Business goals are about achieving external results; personal goals are what the leader has to do differently in the way they conduct themselves in order to get the business results they envision.
Yalom (1980) talks about two types of goals: content (what is to be accomplished) and process (how the coach wants to be in a session). However, he also describes the importance of setting concrete attainable goals – goals that the client has personally defined, and which increase their sense of responsibility for their own individual change.
If the client is to learn how to learn, they need to cultivate self-awareness through reflection on their experience, values, intrinsic drivers, the impact of these on others, the environment, and their own future goals. This process is often implicit in the coaching relationship through the process of questions and actions that develop critical reflection and practice. As a coach, you will be asking questions to help clients reflect, review, and gain useable knowledge from their experience. A useful structure for your work with business executives is along the continuum of a development pipeline developed by David Peterson (2009). Your questions and challenges in your coaching sessions can help your clients reflect in five areas:
Insight: How are you continually developing insight into areas where you need to develop?
Motivation: What are your levels of motivation based on the time and energy you’re willing to invest in yourself?
Capabilities: What are your leadership capabilities; what skills, knowledge, and competencies do you still need to develop?
Real-world practice: How are you continually applying your new skills at work?
Accountability: How are you creating, defining, and taking accountability?
Business coaching places great emphasis on clarifying and achieving goals. Often within the complexity of the organizational environment, the client’s overarching goals may be set by a more senior power; where that senior individual may have different worldviews, paradigms, and limiting or empowering assumptions. It is crucial that the client have a “living sense” of what their goal may be. In other words, goals must be aligned with the values of the individual as much as with those of the organization if they are to be achieved. This article is adapted from “Goals and Goal-Setting” by Sunny Stout Rostron (COMENSANews, February 2010 (www.comensa.org.za).
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 2).
Griffiths, K. E, and Campbell, M. A. (2008). Regulating the Regulators: Paving the Way for International, Evidence-Based Coaching Standards. International Journal of Evidence-Based Coaching and Mentoring, 6(1):19-31.
International Coach Federation (ICF). (2008a). Core Competencies. Lexington, KY: ICF.
International Coach Federation (ICF). (2008b). ICF Code of Ethics. Lexington, KY: ICF.
O’Neill, M. B. (2000). Coaching with Backbone and Heart: A Systems Approach to Engaging Leaders with Their Challenges. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Peterson, D. (2009). Executive Coaching, A Critical Review and Recommendation for Advancing the Practice (in S. Zedeck (Ed.) Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching International, Transforming Individuals and Organizations. London: Karnac.
Whitmore, J. (2002). Coaching for Performance: Growing People, Performance and Purpose. London: Nicholas Brealey.
Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.
Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA
Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA is an executive coach and consultant with a wide range of experience in leadership and management development, business strategy and executive coaching. The author of six books, including Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009), Sunny is Director of the Manthano Institute of Learning (Pty) Ltd and founding president of COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa).
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