John had been stuck in mid-management for several years. A year ago his New Year’s resolution was to learn how to become a leader who could ascend to the top tier in his organization. He’d tried improving his executive skills by reading business books that describe how to achieve the highest levels of success and satisfaction. But translating ideas into actions proved to be difficult.
John decided to work with a performance psychologist. He was hopeful that coaching would help him turn the theories he’d been reading into outstanding outcomes. He selected a specialist who had spent many years teaching top level executives to successfully use their strengths to consistently perform at their best.
An important ingredient in choosing a coach is to find someone who you sense has your best interests at heart. You’ll need this reassurance as your coach assesses your current job performance, and provides crucial feedback on how to improve your effectiveness. Within the supportive context of a confidential coaching relationship, you can be open to discussing what’s working well and where you’re struggling. The best coaches have both a formal education in business psychology and the practical experience of having worked with executives who’ve achieved outstanding results.
A coach can help you become aware of the leadership style you’ve developed. As you moved up through the ranks of management, many people and situations helped build your leadership skills. But what if some of the key people who influenced you were dysfunctional or some of the situations turned out to be disasters? Then you may have unwittingly acquired some negative beliefs and behaviors. But you’re probably not seeing what you’re doing to hold yourself back.
Think of your mind as being like the opening screen on your computer. You can select the program you want to use, but with no awareness of the operating system running in the background. You may be trying to communicate information through a word document or an excel spreadsheet – but if your operating system has been corrupted, then your computer will malfunction. It could freeze up and stop working, or it could spew forth bad information.
A coach is like the computer geek who’s trained to understand the computer’s operating system by identifying the programs that are running in background to support what’s on the screen at any given moment. Most people are so focused on resolving current problems that they don’t take time to think about the underlying process they’re using. They lose sight of how they’re operating in the present and where that’s will take them in the future.
A coach observes the effectiveness of your previously installed programs. By highlighting those that work well, the coach helps you to use your strengths more consistently and more broadly. If there are areas where you’re not producing the results you want, the coach can help you upgrade those programs that are out of date or have become dysfunctional.
A coach provides an island of sanity where you can escape for a few moments to reflect on the outcomes that are most important to you and what you’ll need to do in order to get there.
John’s coach observed that he was at his best when working with employees who were motivated to do well. John loved combining his strengths with those of his top performers to figure out how to get great results. However, the coach also noticed that John spent 80% of his time dealing with problems and the employees who were creating them. John frequently found himself feeling frustrated and angry because he was spending so much time and energy contending with the poor performers that he wasn’t able to collaborate with his best people to optimize outcomes.
As the first step in being able to manage the negative dynamics that were limiting the performance of his department, the coach taught John to control his own negative feelings. Because John was perpetually responding to problems with fear-based emotions such as blaming, withdrawal, or over control, his team’s reactions were often paralyzed, contentious, detached, or passive-aggressive.
This self-defeating pattern of interactions among John’s employees was causing them to think pessimistically about the prospects of their becoming a high-performing team. The coach taught John optimistic thinking skills so he could learn how to explain challenges as temporary and situational. Then when employees approached John with a problem, he reminded them that together they could work out a solution.
John will be celebrating his recent promotion this New Year’s Eve.