Change Work October 2008

I think I'm getting better

The ideas I put forward in these articles are intended to stimulate you to think about improving personal performance - your own as well as your team members'.  And the constraints of one-way communication force me to take a "teaching" or "persuading" stance rather than the preferred "coaching" approach.

Now, you may not be aware that many of the techniques that I practise in coaching are also used in therapy.  And you might think that therapy has no place in the business environment - not least because hardly anyone there is qualified to practise it.

So what's the difference between therapy and coaching?

If you imagine human behaviours and capabilities plotted on a line running from left to right.  The extreme left-hand end of the line is labelled "dysfunctional" and the right-hand end is labelled "exceptional".  Then the middle of the line represents "normal" or "average".

Therapy is aimed at moving someone from the left, "dysfunctional" end towards "normal".  Coaching aims to move someone from the middle (or anywhere from right of centre) towards "exceptional".

For therapy, the job's done when the client/patient has been made "normal".  In coaching, the job's never done because the more you excel, the more you'll want to be even better.

Most of the people who find themselves in managerial or supervisory positions have advanced by virtue of being very good, or at least better than average, at "the job" - the function that their company or team exists to perform.  So they're already to the right on the capabilities line and probably know that they are.

All the more reason then for them to assume that they'll excel at management.  And indeed, many do. For some though, it can be obvious that they are very limited in their management, leadership or communication skills.

Perhaps the left-to-right line should really be many parallel lines, each representing a different skill or behaviour.  And we all have different levels of accomplishment on each of the scales of measurement.  Then it's perfectly possible for a manager to be way above average in terms of strategic thinking or problem solving and yet to be so afraid of their own and others' emotions as to be ineffective, or downright damaging, as a leader.

These parallel aspects of your skills and behaviours are also associated with quite different beliefs. So, you might accept without question that you can (or even expect to) learn something new within your professional discipline and yet also accept without question that you're "not the kind of person" who can inspire a team or give honest feedback on someone's performance - or ever learn how to.  One line is characterised by continuous development while another is completely blocked by a limiting belief.

That phrase "not the kind of person" is an interesting example of hidden presuppositions.  First, it presupposes that there can exist "kinds" of people who share certain characteristics.  Second, it presupposes that these characteristics can't be changed.  And third, it presupposes that you aren't one of those people!

There are probably others buried in those 5 words.

(As mentioned in earlier articles, Neuro-Linguistic Programming rests upon certain explicit presuppositions: see, for example, Change Work August 2006.

If you do think of your capabilities as being represented by a multitude of measures, rather than just one that represents the sum total of your accomplishments, then you can take satisfaction from those things you excel at while allowing yourself to recognise that there are other areas that need work. And then (another presupposition coming!) you accept that anything can be learned and that skills aren't in-born.

Maybe even more important is the idea that skills and behaviours aren't the person.  (The pitfalls of getting capability mixed up with identity were discussed in the article about "neurological levels", Change Work December 2007: Are you on the right level?).

Can you honestly appraise your own skills?  Recognising the things that you don't usually do very well, even if you don't know (yet) how to improve them?

Give it a try. You might find it therapeutic!