“Everyone perceives the world he/she inhabits in his/her unique way. Appreciating perceptual differences leads to us recognizing that there are seven billion worlds! This is subjective.”
I wrote an article on communication and coaching in 2011 and thought of sharing it once again, with some added insights I have gained since.
We all have perspectives on different events and situations in life. Our respect for each other allows us to learn of another perspective on the same subject matter. For example, we all have an idea of what leadership is. Wouldn’t it be interesting to contrast your understanding with what the other would say?
Having conversations with people who think differently from you, leads to enrichment, but only when we suspend judgment and listen with an open mind. In the final analysis, we may not agree with what we hear, but we will at least become more aware of what others are thinking, thus becoming more able to empathize, lead and influence.
There is a manager and a leader within all of us and we deal with reality day in and day out. What is reality? It can be approached from the lens of facts and also from the lens of perception. When dealing with facts, we are managers, and when dealing with perceptions, we are leaders. For example, it is a fact that seven billion people inhabit one planet called earth. This is objective. Think of it another way. Each person lives in his or her own world. You in yours, and I in mine. Each one perceives the world he/she inhabits in his/her unique way. Appreciating perceptual differences leads to us recognizing that there are seven billion worlds! This is subjective.
Leadership begins by facing tough realities. I learned this from Prof Ron Heifetz while participating in a program entitled “Leadership for the 21st Century” at the JFK School of Government, Harvard University back in 1997. Within two weeks of registering on the course, I received a questionnaire. It asked two telling questions: 1) “What challenges are you facing in the next two to three years; and 2) What are your plans for dealing with these challenges? Answers to both questions were to be sent to Harvard by all participants one month prior to the commencement of the program.
What would your answers be to these questions? Take the trouble of writing your ‘top of mind’ responses. It will help you frame your agenda as a leader. It may also be a good idea to meet with your leadership team informally and learn how each member of your team views his/her challenge/s and what they are doing about it. My personal and organizational vision was born through such a process. This was followed by one other insight: How mindsets (or mental models) can mysteriously hold us back from accomplishing anything worthwhile!
At the beginning of a recent learning program on the subject of being a coach, I posed the following questions to the group of 15 managers. See their answers in bullets:
What are the benefits of coaching to the organization?
- Improvement in corporate culture
- Enhancing and improving of employees’ performance
- Working to achieve common goals
- Letting individuals feel empowered by their participation
- Adding value to the quality of work
- Developing common perceptions in employees
- Increasing communication amongst members
- Boosting the employee’s morale enabling them to give their best
- Reducing gaps in performance
- Enhancing the business value of the organization
- Leveraging existing resources in the achievement of common goal
What are the benefits of coaching to the coach?
- Opportunity to add value by improving employees’ performance
- Opportunity to make a good living
- Gaining experience and continuing personal development
- Opportunity to understand the psychological needs of different individuals
- Satisfaction of bringing improvement in the business of an organization e.g., productivity, profitability, quality etc…
- Opportunity to enhance ones own career
What are the benefits of coaching to the coachee?
- On-hand help
- Improved understanding of fit with the big picture, role and responsibilities
- Changed perception/paradigm
- Increased self-confidence
- Improving skills and competencies
- Opportunity to share concerns and issues
- Rapport building
- Empowerment through greater involvement
- Discovery of hidden potential and move towards self-actualization
By the end of the above Q&A, exercise managers not only saw how their contribution as a coach would help the organization and the coachee, but were also able to see “what’s in it for them”. To lend an air of practicality to the exercise, I encouraged participants to think of barriers in their working environment that might hinder their effectiveness as a coach. Here is a list of barriers they identified:
- Coach not given authority or clout
- No overall work plan to accommodate and facilitate the coaching process
- Time constraints
- Lack of acceptance of the status or role of coach
- Possibility of top management commitment going cold over time
- ‘Pull’ not created for coaching
- Non-acceptance of coaches by coachees
- Being coached viewed as admitting incompetence
- Non-acceptance of coach due to departmental barriers and functional rivalries
- Resistance to change
- E-mail culture helps avoid direct person to person interactions
- Lack of physical space for meaningful and relaxed dialogue
This brought me neatly to the subject of mindsets and how our attitudes determine outcomes. Consider four types of mindsets generally found in organizations of all shapes and sizes around the world, 1) Impossibility; 2) Survival; 3) Obligation; and 4) Desire. Later that day, I addressed the topic of mindsets and brainstormed on what kind of statements would be common place in corporate cultures where each of these mindsets were prevalent. Here is what the managers came up with:
- I cannot do this
- Over my dead body
- Not my job
- No way
- Are you out of your mind?!
- I can’t let it happen
- No change please
- This has never happened before
- Stop dreaming
- Do or die
- Love it or leave it
- Boss is always right
- Put up or shut up
- You better do what you are told
- Shape up or ship out
- My way or the high way
- This is what the customers want
- Boss is always right
- Your wish is my command
- This is my job requirement
- I agree, but this is all the process allows
- This is the need of the hour
- I have to do this
- This is the rule of the game
- Nothing is impossible!
- Sky is the limit!
- Where there is a will there is a way
- Just do it
- I want to
- I choose to do it
- Why not?
- Let’s go for stretch goals!
The moment was now ripe for the 15 managers in this learning program on coaching, to confront reality. I asked them to revisit the barriers to effective coaching they had mentioned! Their initial responses included, “this is not our job, top management must pave the way” etc. This reflected part of the first three mindsets that they had themselves described. They discovered that none of them was in the ‘desire’ mindset and concluded that the barriers to coaching listed earlier were not external to them, but within them!
Then I asked them whether they would like all future discussions and debates to be based on facts. They answered unanimously, “Yes!” My next question, “What are facts?” One said, “Reality!” This led me to enquire, “And what is reality?” And a manager spontaneously suggested, “Perception!” Interesting! How easy it is for us to be lulled by the notion of objectivity, which the word ‘fact’ conveys, in our attempt to simplify complexities of life.The tough realities we face are not outside of us, but within us. The sooner we realize this, the better.
“Every time you hear yourself saying something like, “why can’t he/she understand what I am trying to say?” …pause. At such moments, you are forgetting the fact that communication is not an objective process. It is subjective. And our mindsets or mental models reinforce our perception of reality.”