Being an effective manager right now requires a toolkit of sophisticated set of skills and behaviours. As well as needing to focus on their own mental health and changing circumstances, people managers are looking out for the well-being of their direct reports, adapting to changing strategic objectives and trying to get the most out of a dispersed and unsettled team.
Coaching is rising to the top of the list as a desirable skill to have during these tricky times. We spoke to Helen Martin, Professional Development Expert at Corndel about her view of coaching and how to build confidence, positivity and ultimately high performance among team members.
Taking the time to understand and discuss what a team member is going through at any given time, is the best place to start for any manager. When someone is feeling negative and on a downward spiral, dig a bit deeper into how they are feeling. Words to look out for include ‘I can’t’, ’never’, ‘always’.
These types of words are very definite and fixed. They are reluctant to ask questions, to collaborate, to get feedback. They don’t necessarily want to know they are no good at something because when they feel that when they fail they are actually no good.
As a manager and coach, you want to try to break what is a ‘fixed mindset’ and transform it into a ‘growth mindset’. Research shows that those who believe their intelligence can be developed outperform those who believe their intelligence is fixed and they are not going to do any better.
I’ll give you some examples of fixed versus growth mindset, as coined by Carol Dweck.
It’s about having those conversations with a coachee to find out what is stopping them from using the information they are getting from the people around them to understand that when they fail they actually do learn.
A common example of this might be a team member who is disappointed or annoyed that a colleague got a promotion and they didn’t. With a fixed mindset they may feel that ‘if you succeed, I feel threatened.’ With a positive mindset, the person will think ‘if you succeed I’m inspired because it gives me all the opportunity in the world knowing that I can do the same as you did. I can gather information from you, I can perhaps take courses like you’ve done and can succeed in the same way you have done.’
Yes it’s quite sad really that people will focus on the negative. For example, they might go into a meeting and find that 90% of it goes well. When they go home they have a sleepless night over the 10% that didn’t go so well.
Think of the parable of ‘The wolf that you feed is the one that grows big and strong.’ Inside every single one of us there are two wolves fighting to win. If we think that inside all of us there is a bad wolf and a good wolf, the bad wolf is all about arrogance, greed, self-pity, doubt and focusing on that 10% of the meeting that went wrong. The good wolf is about believing in ourselves, joy, empathy, peace, kindness to ourselves and focusing on the 90% of the meeting that went well. I often ask my coachees the question: Which wolf wins? Generally, they will choose one of them, the good or the bad wolf and give a reason for that. I reply to them ‘no, the wolf that you feed is the wolf that grows big and strong.’
This is especially useful for learners who are not that positive. It’s a way of catching them and stopping them in their tracks. If you are feeding the bad wolf all the time, the bad wolf will get bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger and it’s going to win over the good wolf. It’s reminding coachees that they have a choice. They will often ask themselves ‘why did that happen?’ or ‘Why did I say that?’. But I ask them, ‘why such a subjective, emotional question?’ When you ask yourself more factually ‘what happened?’, followed by ‘what could you have done differently?’ (not ‘better’ as that is also subjective), they are feeding the good wolf. Thinking it through and coming up with alternatives is key. They can then draw on that when they find themselves in a similar situation in the future.
This parable often makes the penny drop – more so than the theory of the fixed and growth mindset, which makes sense to them but doesn’t always speak to them in the same way.
Another common trait in those who are struggling to be positive, is the finger of blame. We all do it to a certain extent. ‘My colleague did this, my partner did that, my manager does this.’ The thing about pointing fingers, even figuratively, is that when we point a finger, there are three fingers point back at us. We must remember that when we cast blame, we do have to understand that we have some responsibility ourselves. As an individual and as a human being that is emotionally intelligent and knows we have choices, we can choose at any particular moment to make tweaks to the situation to get a different reaction. It’s those slight changes that start to make a difference.
I often use the wheel of life. For those that haven’t come across this, it’s an exercise that helps you understand what’s important to your team and what each of the areas means to them in practice. Ask them to rate each area of their life on the scale according to how well they feel they are satisfying it right now. Then ask them which area they would like to improve and what’s the easiest change they could make right now to move the line by one point. Then ask them if another area will need to shift to make this change possible? In what way will it need to change?
There are finite resources – both our time and effort. At any time in their career your coachees have choices. It’s about making people understand what their values are at any particular moment so they feel comfortable saying no to the things that are not valuable to them. This is particularly useful to think about during periods of change to gain control of their own choices. It’s nice way for them to understand themselves and for you to understand and help them.
I created a simple exercise that managers can use during appraisals, to understand their team members, get to know new team members, support an employee who’s struggling, or to build high performing, highly motivated teams.
It’s about determining a person’s passion or sweetspot. Here’s how to conduct it:
The sweet spots are the tasks that the coachee likes doing (their passion), they are good at doing and that other people recognise that they’re good at. This gives direction for development and a solid base from which to build confidence.
There is a technique I use successfully, based on NLP. There are some wonderful elements of NLP that can be used to make people shine. It’s called Circles of Excellence and it is used to build inner confidence. About 60-70% of the people I coached at a global bank last year, said this exercise had helped them develop confidence.
While the coachee is describing this situation, you may want to make notes so that you can quote this verbatim back to them. It helps them to know that you are listening to them and it also helps to embed the feeling they are experiencing into their memory.
Now tell the learner:
In your mind’s eye, draw a chalk circle on the floor; big enough for you to stand in; and with this new positive memory of how powerful you are, step into your Circle of Excellence.
This technique is even more powerful when it is linked to a future goal e.g. Visualising something that a learner may fear such as asking for a promotion; or presenting to a large group. By visualising the entire ‘fearful’ situation as one that can be very successful; the questions that may be asked in the meeting, the preparation that the learner will need to carry out prior to the meeting, etc. It allows a learner to completely visualise and plan a meeting in its totality in advance, drawing from the positivity of the past experience that they have relayed to you as their coach.
This technique needs to be practiced and by practicing every day, the learner can call on this positivity at any time.
Here are a number of questions gleaned from the Corndel team of Professional Development Experts/coaches. They are powerful questions that open up further reflection and discussion.
What’s interesting is that nine times out of ten, people say that they relate more to the growth mindset than the fixed mindset. They say they like to be challenged and will rise to that challenge. Yet the truth is that when faced with a difficult situation, many people need coaching through the situation in order to learn from it and improve.
In summary, I would recommend keeping the following in the mind of your coachee:
Do this, and your team members will realise they can become anything they put their minds to.