I hope you had a wonderful holiday season! I know I sure did. My time was spent with family and catching up with some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. One of the conversations I had over the holidays was with a friend from graduate school who is sensing some transition in his life. He asked a question during our coffee that I actually get asked by a lot by folks who are desiring a change in their life:
“Scott, when you first got started, what are 3 things you think allowed you to be successful?”
First, I want you to know that I am humbled to be put in a category where others see me as successful. It is truly an honor that the clients I work with (or have worked with in the past) would continue to hire me to develop the leadership in themselves or others within their organizations. I don’t take this responsibility lightly or for granted…ever!
Second, I think attempting to replicate another person's experience is dangerous. Models are built upon data and a number of assumptions. The assumptions I used and the situation I was in when I first started this business 15 years or so ago could not possibly be duplicated by others today. Although I can provide some information that is directionally helpful, trying to replicate my experience would be quite frustrating.
Clayton Christensen echo’s this point in his book Competing Against Luck. He tells the story of how Google attempted to use analytics to predict influenza outbreaks. By creating search engine algorithms, engineers tried to predict when people were searching for items related to influenza. It turns out that the link between specific search terms and the algorithm was too complex and the tool became unreliable as a predictive.
Reframe the Question
While it is always an honor and fun to share my story, I don’t think my story is really what people want to know! I get asked a lot about my experience, but what people are really asking has nothing to do with me!
So, what is the question the person is really asking?
Any “coach” (whether formal or informal, external or internal, paid or volunteer, executive or life or organizational) must have the skill of listening then reframing questions. Reframing a question provides a different perspective on the issue at hand.
Here is what I have come up with when I reframe the question my friend asked me initially:
Scott, based on your experience what are the 3 things I need to do to be successful?
Don’t you think this is what most people really want to know when they ask about translating your success into their story?
Consider these questions you might get asked within your role, and what is the question the people might really be asking:
Question: As an HR Vice President, what does leadership development look like? Real Question: What do I need to do to get promoted to my next role in the company?
Question: As a Sales Leader, how did you balance work and family? Real Question: If I sacrifice time with my family will it be worth it financially?
Question: As a Church Plant Pastor, what are you doing to grow your congregation? Real Question: What should I be doing to grow my church? I am doing everything the books say I should do, but it isn't working!
Please don’t misunderstand my point. I do think that people want to know how you approach things, how you set goals, how you solve problems, how you prioritize resources, how you assess risk.
But… mostly what they want to know is what about them!
Enter the world of what psychologist call self-efficacy.
Research On Self-Efficacy
Self-Efficacy is a fancy term for belief in yourself; confidence in the capabilities and talents you have been given and developed. Studies have shown that the confidence you have in your capabilities affects your performance and is linked to happiness, satisfaction, and well-being. All of these attributes in one way or another link to success.
In some fascinating new research published in the December 2016 issue of the Consulting Psychology Journal it turns out that you can help those you “coach” to be more successful by following 3 simple ideas:
- Invest the Time The confidence of the person increased as the coaching relationship evolved over time. As you coach others over the course of your conversation, notice how their confidence increases toward the coaching objective. When it does, make them aware that you are seeing this increase in confidence.
- Say it Out Loud Turns out that the more the client verbally articulates their confidence, the higher the achievement to the goal actually becomes. “I am going to do this” type statements show confidence in the client's ability. The more they make commitments out loud, the increased likelihood of belief in themselves.
- Ask the Right Question at the Right Time In this study questions coaches asked fell into three categories: Open-ended - “What do you want to do?" Proposing Solutions - “You could search for other companies that offer better possibilities.” Provide Support - “That sounds like a great idea."
Turns out that proposing solutions was only effective in triggering self-efficacy statements in the very first coaching session. While the other two methods enhanced the confidence of the other person throughout the coaching engagement.
2017 and Beyond
As you work with and coach others on your team, especially if you have more of a long-term relationship, focus on asking open-ended questions and providing support for the ideas they bring. Too many of us fall into the trap of proposing solutions because it makes us feel better about ourselves, like we added real value. I would argue that the value you bring is the investment of time and belief in the person you are coaching. The research says that the value of you proposing solutions beyond early in a coaching relationship does little to improve the confidence or belief in the mind of the person you are working with.
I predict if you focus on building the confidence of others in your organization, you will have a very successful 2017. Let me know throughout your year how this prediction is coming true for you!
When you are coaching others, resist the temptation to make the coaching about you by offering advice and providing them solutions. Really focus this year on practicing open-ended questions and providing your client the support they need.