executive coaching

Quiz Yourself: Are You Using this Important Coaching Skill?

I am blessed in my coaching practice to be able to work with a lot of coaches. Everything from students who are learning the craft to executive leaders who use coaching as a leadership tool. 

I Have an Observation

The skill of observation is underdeveloped.  Here is what I mean.

This morning I am sitting having some quiet time of meditation and prayer.  As I was sitting in contemplation I noticed the breeze that was whisking through the trees in the conservation area behind my house at varying rates of force.  At times the leaves in the trees were hardly moving, and then, with no warning, the speed would increase to a gust force. After a minute or so the air would return to a more moderate flow.

This is the skill of observation. Blocking out all other inputs and paying attention to this one thing, and then not making any judgment about it. Don’t turn it into a metaphor, or think about how to explain it. Just observe it and practice describing it.  

This skill is harder to do than it is to read about, I can assure you. As leaders, we are constantly making cause and effect assumptions.  We become skilled at what is rewarded, making decisions or explaining things so that others can understand them.  All very important skills. I am not trying to say that your decision-making is not important, it for sure is. In fact, I often tell young leaders what they get paid to do is make judgments.  However, if we believe that quality inputs are critical to good judgment then perhaps observation trumps outcome.

Give It A Try

The next meeting you go to, or one-on-one interaction you have with a colleague, write down 10 things you observe from the interaction. Just make the observation and pay attention. Dial out all the distractions that might come your way and observe behavior. Notice things like tone of voice and inflection. Notice body language. Become aware of the “presence” the person exudes. 

The better we become at the skill of observation, the better coaches we will be.  We will notice things such as hurt or pain in people. We will notice when they are not on their “A” game. We might notice the exuberant joy that is written all over their face. The better we are at observing, the more skilled we will be at connecting with others emotionally.

Take a Quiz

One of the reasons I like to use assessments in my practice is that they help me, as a coach, make observations.  Sure, the person gets great feedback around important competencies. For example, in the EQi 2.0 assessment that I use, leaders get feedback on stress management. According to Dr. Henry Thompson, author of The Stress Effect, emotional intelligence is critical in determining the likelihood of the success of a leader. 

While the EQi 2.0 can give leaders feedback on competencies like stress management, often times it is the observation of the leader in the moment that can give the information that will allow the leader to make necessary judgments. If leaders don’t observe what their followers are feeling in the moment then they are more liable to react poorly. For example, an associate comes into your office and explains they have just made a mistake that could be costly in terms of dollars and customer satisfaction.  Are you able to manage your own emotion in the moment and observe what is going on with the person?  Are they anxious? Is there body language closed and distant?  Are they sweating? 

So let's play this out. What happens if:

A. You don't observe any of the associates “presence” in the moment

B. You do observe the stress the associate is under

Answer A: It is possible you will go right into fact-finding mode. Try to find out what happened, and then your natural next step is to go into problem-solving mode and to start giving orders you want the associate to execute with precision, clarity, and focus.

What is the problem with Answer A?  It isn’t physically possible when stress has hi-jacked the associate for them to focus on anything. In fact, there is a really good chance that they will walk out of your office and not remember a thing you said.

Answer B: You see the associate is stressed out, so you have them sit down. You go get them a bottle of water. You have them take a few deep breaths and perhaps you tell them a story that has a bit of self-deprecating humor. The goal here is to get the associate to relax so that you can trouble shoot and problem solve together.

What is the real skill in Answer B? You took the time to observe the situation. You notice the wind in the trees. You know the end result you need to get to but you also know you need your associate to have a clear mind when you need information.

Take Another Quiz

For this quiz, you are going to need to think about a recent interaction that you have had with an associate where there was some stress or tension in the situation. Keep this interaction in mind as you take this quiz. Use the quiz and your memory to reconstruct the events. 

This quiz is not meant at all to be diagnostic.  We are not trying to make you clinical psychologists. The purpose of this quiz is to help you dial in your skills of observation so that you notice more how your associates are showing up in your interactions.

I hope you enjoy the quiz. If you know others who might like to work on the skill of observation, why not forward this to them.










To Any Leader Who Has Ever Had a Struggle

I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine, Drew Wilkerson, on some interesting leadership ideas. I was excited because since Drew was my last call of the day and it was Tuesday, which meant Taco Tuesday at the Livingston home. My wife, Kim, and I were getting out all the ingredients so we could assemble our own tacos: tortillas, ground beef, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, etc. I noticed my wife, Kim, struggling to take the lid off of the salsa jar, so I gently gestured for her to give me the jar and proudly assumed the position to heroically twist the lid off the jar. It wouldn't budge. I put forth a little more effort, twisting harder this time. Nothing. I resorted to running it under hot water for a while, then took a towel to dry it before I tried again. Sure enough, the lid finally gave way and the jar was open for salsa to be enjoyed that evening.

Then it hit me. Drew and I had been talking about leadership LIDS as a part of our time together. During our conversation, the idea of the lid intrigued me. Yes, the lid is there as a cover or protection for what's inside, but could it also be a cover or barrier keeping you from what needs to be shared or utilized? Many times it's our own emotions and mentality that is holding us back.

In this blog, we are going to focus on four of these potential barriers: Loneliness, Indecisiveness, Defensiveness, and Selfishness.

Let's define the LIDS and consider how we remove them. As you read, think about your own leadership and which LIDS you need to take off of yourself. Which of these LIDS is holding you back from sharing what you have to offer?

Loneliness This could be something you are experiencing in the work place or in your personal life. It can creep up when you've physically spent too much time on your own or you feel as if no one can relate to what you are going through or processing. Feeling alone is difficult, and doing alone is even more challenging. As humans, we are meant for relationships. Although alone time can be rejuvenating, we aren't meant to remain there in order to progress or thrive.

Remove this lid: Invite people into your world. Whether it's including them on a project you are working on or asking someone to get coffee. If the loneliness doesn't subside and you are having trouble processing or expressing your thoughts, consider talking to a mentor, counselor, or coach that can help you.

Indecisiveness You may say that being indecisive comes from the inability to make a decision either because there's seems to be no wrong or right way to go. While that's true, I also see a lot of fear behind decision making. What if the decision I make is the wrong one? Yet making a decision is going to keep you moving while indecisiveness keeps you stagnant. How can you lead people if you aren't really going anywhere yourself?

Remove this Lid: Make a decision. As the familiar Nike brand claims, "Just Do It." Don't let the fear of failure keep you from moving forward. Making a mistake or taking a wrong turn doesn't mean you failed, instead, it's an opportunity to learn and grow.

Defensiveness In the great American sport of football, the defensive line has a responsibility to keep the other team's offense and quarterback from advancing the field with the ball. They push. They fight. This creates struggle and tension, not to mention it is exhausting as they keep it up until the other team scores or it is their turn to play offense. I bring up this example because we tend to think of defense as protecting, yet the defensive line isn't protecting anything. They are pushing back and preventing advancement. We can be defensive in our own lives thinking we are protecting something. This could be our job, our reputation, or more often than not, our pride. In this case, protection is a fallacy and our defensiveness creates a barrier and tension that prevents the advancement of our goals or our team.

Remove this lid: It takes some intentional awareness of your emotions to see when you may be acting defensively. Your heart might start beating faster, your body temperature rises, and you may feel your lips tighten or unconsciously cross your arms. Try to identify what happens when you start to feel defensive, why you are feeling it, and what you might think you're "protecting." How is your defensiveness hold your own team back?

Selfishness Putting your needs and desires before others is the easiest way to explain selfishness. It's even easier, unfortunately, to get caught up in selfishness if we don't stop to think about what we are doing or behaving. Consider what your priorities are right now. Are you focusing on your own advancements and needs? What about those of your team and followers? Don't get me wrong, self-care is important, as long as it's not at the expense of another person.

Remove this lid: Think about your goals, priorities, and needs. What would it look like if you included your team in those goals, changing "I" statements to "we." Even call on your team and followers to find our what their goals and priorities are, then think about how you can help them achieve their goals. Practice humility by stepping back, letting them take lead on a project, and praising them for a job well done publicly. Trust me, their success will be your success.

There may be other things you struggle with as a leader besides these four. I would love to hear from you and to have you describe your struggle. I promise two things: not to name you in any posting without permission, and to provide some perspective on overcoming your struggle in a subsequent post. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but as a community, I know we can all be better when we lean on each other.

Homework: Think about our LIDS analogy above and identify one of them that you need to remove. What action steps or conversations do you need to have in order to remove them? What benefits will come to you and your followers when you remove the lid?