David C. Logan and John King believe that a real leader at any level is a coach. The key to problem solving is identifying the right problem from the beginning and saying what you'll do about it. In this two-part interview, they describe the values-driven approach they have used with their consulting clients, including Virgin Megastores, IBM, Genentech, Cisco, Intel, and many others. (Note: Part One of this interview ran in the March 2010 issue of ASTD Links.)
Q. Is coaching a never-ending process?
DL: Yes, as long as the person coached is engaging in what Tom Peters referred to as "The pursuit of excellence." If the person is no longer committed to excellence, then the game is effectively over.
JK: I would agree. Does Bill Gates still need to be coached? Absolutely.
DL: Bill Gates has a coach. Warren Buffet is his coach.
Q. The pursuit of excellence can be difficult to sustain. Many people get up to a certain point in their life, experience a certain amount of success, and then "coast" a bit.
JK: Yes. That's the nexus point - a critical point in everyone's career or life. One is inevitably forced to decide whether or not you opt for comfort and cruise control or excellence and growth. Am I going to make the choice for excellence? Am I going to re-choose excellence? Everyone must eventually deal with this dynamic. This is not an everyday occurrence. There are, however, significant times in the coaching process, in the J-curve of learning, where this actually occurs.
Q. Why do so many people not perceive the potential that they might have to excel? Why do so many people settle for what would seem to be so much less?
JK: Do you like your barbecue pit? Do you like your pool? Do you enjoy a comfortable lifestyle? They have what they want. If I perceive at some point in time just how much work it is going to take for me to be extraordinary, I may reconsider the cost and benefits. I might realize that I don't have to make that sacrifice to be happy. I can "sell out" and still be pretty darn good. If I can't have my dream, if I can't have my vision, I am more inclined to sell out. If I can get part of my dream but the price is that I'm not engaged in something that is calling me, like a vocation, or a noble cause, then I'm going to sell out for the goodies. Every time.
DL: This is exactly what happened to Enron and WorldCom and Tyco. Clearly, they were not engaged in the noble cause of making the world of energy incredibly effective or efficient.
Q. You write, "To listen like a coach, you have to gain awareness of your filters. It takes a certain amount of work even to start seeing our filters. Some filters are so old, so deeply ingrained, and so firmly in place that even when we're looking for them, we won't recognize them. After you gain awareness of your filters, you can decide to consciously change filters." Does a coach help you to take a personal inventory of your own filters, and do we constantly develop new filters to replace the old?
JK: Yes. Yes. Yes. Surrender to your coach. Almost exactly what you just said is what I would have said, too. A good coach will help people identify their filters. Some filters are so old that being able to identify them will take years and years and years. A coach's goal is effectiveness. A coach will go after the filters that get the person in trouble the fastest or that are the most limiting in his career.
Q. What specific active listening techniques do you recommend to those who coach?
JK: For me, it boils down to listening in a way that expects the client to be excellent at a level that honors humanity. If we get that going, the performance part is easy. In our book, we write about the specific management techniques involved. What it really comes down to is, you have to talk to the person in such a way that you get to know their values. The person you are coaching needs to know that you know them as their values, rather than know them for things that they might have done or their personal characteristics, like their intelligence. You just have to listen to and listen for their values.
Often, you have to reflect back the values you hear so that the person can say, "Wow, you really understand me." In many cases people will say, "Wow. Right. I never knew that about myself. You helped me to understand something about me." To engage people in these types of interactions, you actually have to be there. Most people, however, are checked out in their relationships. I'm here having a conversation with you, but I'm actually far away, checked out, and unavailable. To be an effective coach, you actually have to be there with the person, and that is a learned skill set.
Q. What types of people seek out the services of a coach?
DL: There was a Zen monk in the 12th century, Rojitakin, who said a very interesting thing that applies to coaching. To paraphrase, he said, "When you can learn from the garbage in the streets, then you are truly enlightened." What that points to is that people who get it are always learning. They learn from the garbage in the streets, which doesn't mean garbage like junk. It means, "I am learning from the most mundane things. I am learning from everything in my culture. Everything, coaches me." People who treasure learning that much will often seek out the best teacher. For example, John and I will give a speech about this topic to say, 100 people. We'll get 20 or 30 people coming up afterward and saying, "Wow. That was great. I learned a lot. It was really interesting." These comments are usually heartfelt and sincere. At the same time, we might find two or three people who say, "Can you be in my office next Monday at eight? I need your help with something." Those two are the ones who really get it. Typically, these people will want to talk to you over coffee. They want to engage you in conversation. Interestingly enough, the conversation is not about them, but about their issues and their people. They want to engage you from the standpoint of, How can I help these people? How can I support them? How can I actually have them be more effective?
Q. In your book, you mentioned, "Champions from all fields report that there was a single moment when someone else 'saw' their core values. In that moment, they saw themselves differently, and a new world of opportunity appeared before them." How does the validation of someone's core values by a coach empower that person to take action consistent with those values?
JK: It not only happens this way, but it is vital that it happens this way. In fact, if it doesn't happen this way, the level of excellence that makes a champion just doesn't materialize. Watch children performing outrageously and brilliantly to their parents. This is a clue. You ask, "How does it happen?" A good coach is always trained to look for values. It is not really that hard. Unfortunately, most people who are trained in psychology - and I have no quarrel with psychology - are trained to look for pain. Abraham Maslow, in contrast, was interesting because he said, "I wonder what it would be like to study people who are extraordinary." Great coaches often approach the coaching situation with the same open, curious attitude, "I think there is something extraordinary here. Let's discover what it is together."
ASTD Field Editor George Hall teaches in the College of Business Administration at the University of Phoenix; Georgechall@comcast.net.
Dave Logan is co-founder and senior partner of CultureSync, a management consulting firm
specializing in cultural change, strategy, and negotiation. Currently, he teaches leadership and
negotiation in the University of Southern California's Executive MBA program and is on faculty at the Center for Medical Excellence in Portland and the International Center for Leadership In Finance in Kuala Lumpur, endowed by the former prime minister of Malaysia; firstname.lastname@example.org.
John King is a founding partner and president of CultureSync. King is part of the leadership
development team at Sierra Health Foundation and is on faculty at Collier's University, CB Richard
Ellis University, and The California Leadership Institute. He is also a frequent guest lecturer in
the Marshall School of Business and the School of Public Policy, Planning, and Development at
the University of Southern California; email@example.com.
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