For Leaders It’s Always Show Time: Are You Up For It? by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

– It’s the Avenue, I’m taking you to 42nd Street! –

by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Redpoint Coaching

audienceimageMost of us understand the importance of  leading by example. Often, however, we forget, that we are constantly on stage. And I mean constantly: from the minute you walk into the office in the morning until you leave at night, you are sending signals to your people about what is desirable behavior and what is unacceptable.

Our colleague and leadership teacher Jim Hessler writes in his excellent book “Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face, “Just showing up as a leader can be hard work. Think of the thousands of interactions you’ll have with others in the days and months ahead. In the morning you’ll have to choose a parking space: even this is a form of interaction. Perhaps you’ll hold the front door open for a fellow employee-or not. You’ll walk to your desk or office a certain way-briskly or casually, smiling or frowning, greeting colleagues along the way or lost in your own thoughts …”

Leading executive coach Marshall Goldsmith compares leadership to Broadway theater, “I am inspired by great theater. Every night, great performers pour their hearts into each production. Some have headaches, some have family problems, but it doesn’t really matter. When it’s show time, they give it all they have. Although it might be the thousandth time an actor has performed the part, it might be the first time the customer sitting in the fourth row has seen the production. To the true performer, every night is opening night.

Like great actors, inspirational leaders sometimes need to be consummate performers. When they need to motivate and inspire people, they do it. It doesn’t matter if they have a headache. They do whatever it takes to help their organization succeed. When they need to be  ‘on’, like the Broadway stars, it’s show time.” Click here for Marshall’s  complete article.

Throughout the work day people in your organization will look for clues from you about how you the business is doing, how you are feeling and what it all means for them.

And it does not end there. Think business travel, office parties and semi-social gatherings. Remember: the show is always on and you are constantly on stage!

Have you ever thought out loud in front of your team about the pros and cons of launching a particular new service or product next year?

Later on, were you surprised to find rumors spreading throughout your business that you just decided to launch that very product next quarter? If so, you fell into the trap of underestimating how closely people are listening to every single word you are saying (and then not afraid to put their own spin on it and spread the word).

If you happen to be a leader who thinks through difficult issues by talking about them, you need to be particularly mindful about what, how and with whom you are sharing your ‘thinking out loud’. Remember, you are not thinking out loud from the 20th row but from up on the main stage!

Here are your two take-aways:

  1. Be self aware (maybe the most important leadership skill) that your people are observing you constantly and are picking up on every little thing you do or do not do. They see everything: the good, the bad and the ugly and are constantly asking themselves: what does this mean for me? You are the leader of the pack and NOT one of the pack!
  2. Even the most successful and experienced Broadway actors are nervous before every show. In fact, some argue the nervousness is a key ingredient to really be at their best during the show. Similarly, being on the leadership stage can be scary and uncomfortable. Accept and embrace the tension. It keeps you at your best!

Race Across America and Becoming a Better Leader: Do You Have What It Takes? by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD

Chris Ragsdale

by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD

Many of you might remember that I finished team Race Across America (RAAM) in 2002 and attempted solo RAAM in 2005 but had to withdraw due to serious medical challenges.

Now Redpoint Coaching is proud to sponsor Seattle based, ultra cycling legend Chris Ragsdale  in his 2013 Race Across America solo endeavor.

Why are we sponsoring Chris?

First, Chris is one of the most accomplished ultracyclists in the U.S. and ranks easily in the top 10 world-wide.  Among many other accomplishments, he holds the 1,000 km road world record, has won what is probably the most competitive ultra event (other than RAAM), the Furnace Creek 508, and has ridden more than 500 miles multiple times during the National 24 hour race.

Second, Chris is a great friend, an amazing racing and training partner and an incredibly humble human being.  Chris and I share many memories riding and racing together. Two that I will never forget: winning and setting the course record in the two man division of the Race Across Oregon and riding through the endless second night of the 1,200 km Boston-Montreal-Boston event.

Third, there are many similarities in mindset and character that are required to compete in an ultra endurance event such as RAAM and submitting yourself to our leadership coaching process and graduating a truly better leader.

Think that is a bit of a stretch? Read on. Early hint: neither RAAM nor our coaching is for the faint of heart!

Do you have what it takes? You do if you have plenty of guts, lots and lots of humility and great dose of discipline!

Why RAAM requires plenty of guts 

Imagine you and I are standing at the starting line of RAAM in California at the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Ahead of us are 3,000 non-stop miles across this vast country. We have 12 days to finish. Now here is a sobering statistic for us: half of us standing here will not finish on the East Coast but will have our dream shattered. Somewhere along the way we will dismount our bike and not finish the race. Statistically, it will be either you or me.

For some of us it will be early in the race. Maybe it will be on the first day in the 120 degree heat of the Mojave Desert when half the field will be puking or during the second night and third day in the thin air of the Rockies. Others will be beaten by the monotony of the never-ending plains with failing necks during the middle part of the race. And some of us, with less than a third of the way to go, will find ourselves getting peeled off the bike by our crew and being transferred directly to ICU with fluid-filled lungs, broken pelvises or worse. (This unfortunately is what happened to me in 2005.)

Despite knowledge of all of this, Chris Ragsdale will be at the RAAM starting line in June 2013. For eight months leading up to the start in June he will put the rest of his life on hold to live and breathe RAAM 24/7.

RAAM has more similarities with a mountaineering expedition than a bike race: recruiting and organizing the crew, ordering vehicles, shipping gear, designing the race plan and yes, of course, training (most riders clock between 4,000 and 10,000 miles in the six months leading up to the race).

And then there is the financial aspect. Chris’ RAAM budget is around $25,000, which is average for solo RAAM riders.  Know also that Chris is a husband and father of two young boys age 5 and 3, is on-and-off remodeling his house and is not independently wealthy. Both he and his wife Lara work full time.

Taking all this on with the knowledge that he statistically has only a 50% chance of finishing requires plenty of guts no doubt.

Why our leadership coaching process requires plenty of guts

While none of our coaching clients (to date) have either thrown up or ended up in the ICU, plenty of guts are required nevertheless to complete the coaching process.

Our coaching is significantly more transparent than any other leadership coaching we are aware of.  We do not believe in simply coaching our clients behind closed doors in their corner office. We take your coaching to your organization and involve your team heavily in your leadership development.

This starts after our initial 360 process in which we interview each of your stakeholders (your bosses, your peers and your direct reports) and then feed back the results to you in a very detailed report. As the leader being coached you will stand in front of your team of stakeholders and share the leadership development goals you are committing to based on the initial 360 results. Let me be even clearer: you will explicitly present to your team of stakeholders which weaknesses you will look at improving.  You will also ask them to help you improve.

For most of our clients, this is the scariest part of the engagement. And yet it is incredibly powerful. When is the last time you have seen a leader stand in front of his team acknowledging his/her weaknesses and specifically asking for the team’s help to get better?

Throughout the coaching engagement you will be asking your team of stakeholders for regular face-to-face feedback on your progress towards your goals.  You are specifically inviting the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly feedback.

Half-way through and at the end of our engagement, your stakeholders will assess your progress in a very short anonymous s survey.  Once again, you will ask them to be brutally honest.

Truly becoming a better leader requires that you put yourself out there. It might not seem as scary as attempting to ride your bike across the United States, however as any of our clients will tell you: Our leadership coaching does require guts. In the words of one of our current clients: ”I have to admit I did not sleep well the night before the stakeholder meeting where I had to present my coaching goals based on the initial 360. However, the feedback after the meeting from my team was so incredibly positive that it was worth the lost sleep. They expressed a true appreciation for my openness and willingness to dig deep in order to become a better boss.”

Over the course of the next few ezines I will share with you how lots of humility and great doses of discipline are required to both compete in RAAM as well as graduating from our leadership coaching process.

Don’t Just Do Something: Sit There! by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA of Redpoint Coaching

by Urs Koenig, PhD,  MBA , Redpoint Coaching

One of the default responses many of my clients, colleagues, friends and indeed family members give when asked how they are doing is “Very busy!” “Super busy”, “Totally slammed”.  More often than not I suspect it is a boast packaged as a complaint. And I often catch myself giving the implied congratulations response: “Well, better than the opposite.”

I love what Tim Kreider, NYT blogger, has to say about our addiction to busyness:

“Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence. Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

When I read the above it reminded me of what I sometimes tell my clients: Everyone is busy but not everyone achieves results. It sounds counterintuitive but just ‘sitting there’ is often a necessary prerequisite to achieving great results. There is a reason why we need to have off-site retreats to think strategically: we need to get away from the busyness to think about the important questions.

Again Tim Kreider: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body (…)The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections it is (…), paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

It is, in my mind, no coincidence that many of the greatest thinkers like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, C.G. Jung and the Dalai Lama spent ( in the case of the Dalai Lama are still spending) many hours alone in quiet meditation…just sitting there.

I am someone who used to keep himself notoriously busy and overcommitted (and no, I am not cured but I am making good progress J!). I have on countless occasions experienced the adrenaline rush of being constantly busy and in demand. It is addictive, no doubt!

What is helping me to combat the addictive need to be busy but rather to focus on what is really important? Here are four things

1. Awareness about what unfulfilled need I fulfill with my busyness.

I have to admit that at times my busyness helps me to not face what I should be facing. It’s often easier to plow rather mindlessly through the to do list rather than stepping back and asking the big, hard questions.

Busyness also provides comfort. The emptiness we face when we ‘just sit there’ can be a scary place. It’s just me facing me and….nothing…pretty scary uh?

Building awareness around what need you are fulfilling by being constantly busy will help you take steps to let go.

2.Regular (2-5x/week) meditation practice

Over the course of the last three years I have started to mediate regularly. There are dozens of studies demonstrating the physical, emotional and mental benefits of a regular meditative practice. And I can attest from my own experience: it is one of the purest ways of ‘just sitting there’.

3. Monthly retreat with self (pen and a note book only)

I take regular time by myself over a coffee or yes, a drink, in a comfortable place, armed only with an old fashioned pen and note book but by design without any wireless connections that would distract me from asking the big question: Am I spending my time and energy with the people and projects that are most important to me?  If no, what changes will I make?

4. Most of us keep To Do lists. However, instead of focusing on what “to do”, my “Stop Doing” List encourages me to think of activities I should not do anymore, things that I am doing out of habit, a (false) sense of obligation, and that are not really moving me to where I want to be.

Re-visit my stop doing list  for some pointers on how to accomplish this.

How Better Leaders Make for a Better World, By Urs Koenig PhD, MBA

Here is a bold claim for you:

I strongly believe that the world would be a better place if each leader would go through Redpoint’s stakeholder based coaching process (originally designed by Marshall Goldsmith).

Let me explain: Imagine every politician from Obama down, every corporate CEO from Messrs. Balmer and Branson down, every small business owner, community leader, doctor and teacher asking their direct reports, peers, clients, patients and students these two simple questions:

  1. What am I doing well?
  2. What do I need to improve?

And then picking one, and only one thing, to get better at, sharing this goal with these same people, asking for regular feedback (say every month) on their progress. After reflecting on this feedback ,the leaders then work towards changing their behavior. Then, after six and 12 months, asking each of the same people to anonymously assess their progress.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  Why aren’t more people doing this? In fact, why isn’t everyone doing this? Here are the top two reasons we find (and no, it’s not really the lack of money or time, it almost never is!):

  1. Leaders think they are already excellent and don’t believe they need to get better. They are notoriously overconfident and sometime even arrogant.
  2. Leaders are afraid to openly admit that they want and need to improve and are leery of the feedback they might get. They are afraid of the truth.

And that in my humble opinion is part of the reason why so many organizations and companies are in such a sorry state.

I believe that if we had only leaders who have (1) the humility to admit that they are not perfect and want and need to improve,  (2) had the guts and healthy self esteem to do so publicly to their teams and (3) the follow through to ask for regular feedback months after months, we would have better governments, better businesses and better organizations. In short: a better world. Hence: Better Leaders, Better World!

Now I am the first one to admit that what I am proposing here is not realistic. And yes, we would have some capacity issues at Redpoint :). In the meantime however, we are chipping away at making the world a better place one leadership coaching client at a time.

Here is what some of our current clients are working on:

  • Delegate more effectively
  • Treat others with respect
  • Become a better coach and mentor
  • Hold others accountable
  • Utilize emotions effectively/not use anger as a management tool
  • Listen to different points of view with an open mind before giving my opinion
  • Address conflict in a constructive and timely manner

And here is what I personally am working on this year:

  • Improve my ability to prioritize and to say ‘No’

What is it you want and need to improve this year to make you a stronger leader and ultimately make the world a better place? Better yet, what would your co-workers say is the one improvement you should make that would have the greatest impact on your organization’s health?

Give me a call (206.372.8626) or shoot me an email at urs@redpointcoaching.com and let’s chat!

How To Make Better Decisions: Avoid The Hidden Traps! by Urs Koenig, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

Making decisions is the most important job of business owners and executives. It is also the toughest and the riskiest. Bad decisions can ruin your business or career.

So where do bad decisions come from?

In many cases they can be traced back to a flawed decision-making process – the alternatives were not clearly defined or the right information was not collected. However, more often than not, the fault lies not in the decision-making process but rather in our mind. The way the human brain works can sabotage decision-making.

Over the course of this and the next edition of ChangeAbility, I will examine four, well-documented psychological traps and tell you what you can do about them in order to make better decisions. These four traps are:

  • The Anchoring Trap
  • The Status Quo Trap
  • The Sunk Cost Trap
  • The Confirming Evidence Trap

The Anchoring Trap

How would you answer these two questions?

  • Is the population of Turkey greater than 35 million?
  • What is your best estimate of Turkey’s population?

If you are like most people, the figure of 35 million cited in the first question influenced your answer to the second question. Studies show that if you use, for example, “100 million” in the first question, the answer to the second question increases by many millions.

This simple test illustrates the common mental phenomena of anchoring: When considering a decision, the mind gives disproportional weight to the first information it receives. Initial impressions, estimates, or data anchor subsequent thoughts and judgments.

Because anchors can establish the terms on which a decision will be made, they are often used by savvy negotiators. The first offer in any negotiation will serve as an anchor. Therefore, it is important to really understand your position before any negotiation in order to avoid being anchored by the other party’s initial offer.

 What Can You Do About the Anchoring Trap?

No one can avoid the influence of anchors. They are too wide spread. However, by being aware of the dangers of anchors and using the following techniques, you can reduce their impact:

Think about the problem on your own before consulting others to avoid becoming anchored by their ideas. When consulting others, seek information and opinions from a wide variety of people.

Be careful to avoid anchoring advisors, consultants and others from whom you solicit counsel. Tell them as little as possible about your own ideas or tentative decisions. If you reveal too much, you might simply anchor their thinking.

Think through your position before any negotiation begins in order to avoid being anchored by the other party’s initial proposal. At the same time, use anchors to your own advantage. If you are a seller, for example, suggest a high but defendable price as a first offer.

The Status Quo Trap

When faced with a decision, we all display a strong bias towards the status quo. The source of the status-quo trap lies deep within our psyches, in our desire to protect our egos from damage. Breaking from the status quo means taking action. When we take action, we take responsibility; thus we open ourselves to criticism and regret.

Many experiments have shown the magnetic attraction of the status quo. In one, a group of people were randomly given one of two gifts of the same value: half received a mug, the other a Swiss chocolate bar. They were told they could easily exchange the gift they had received for the other. While you might expect that about half would have wanted to make the exchange, only one in ten actually did. The status quo exerted its power even though it had been arbitrarily established only minutes before.

In business, where the sins of doing something tend to be punished much more severely than the sins of doing nothing, the status quo holds a particularly strong attraction. In merger situations, for example, the acquiring company often fails to take swift action to impose a new, more appropriate management structure early on. “Let’s not rock the boat; let’s wait until things stabilize,” goes the reasoning. However, as time goes on, the existing structure becomes more entrenched and changing the structure becomes harder, not easier. The acquiring company has fallen into the Status-Quo Trap.

What Can You Do About the Status Quo Trap?

Remember that in any given decision, maintaining the status quo may indeed be the best choice, but you do not want to choose it just because it is comfortable. Once you are aware of the status quo trap, you can use the following techniques to mitigate its influence:

  • Ask yourself whether you would choose the status-quo alternative if, in fact, it weren’t the status quo.
  • Always remind yourself of your objectives and examine how they are served by the status quo. You might find that elements of the status quo are detrimental and prevent you from achieving your goals.
  • If you have several alternatives that are superior to the status-quo, don’t default to the status-quo simply because you’re having a hard time picking the best alternative. Force yourself to choose.

Your Take-Away:

When facing major decisions in your business or life, be sure to use the above techniques to avoid falling into the Anchoring Trap and the Status-Quo Trap. In the next ChangeAbility, I will discuss the Sunk Cost Trap and the Confirming Evidence Trap.

This article is based on: “Hammond, Ralph & Raiffa: The Hidden Traps in Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review, January 2006.

Dealing With A Co-Worker Who Drives You Crazy

The Only Boat You Ever Control Is Your Own

Intro by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA,  Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

Have you ever tried changing someone who drove you absolutely crazy but had no interest in changing? You? Of course not! I know, me neither!

Those of us who have ever tried to change a co-worker, direct report, spouse or kid who drove us nuts but had no interest in changing know how futile that effort is.

Take it from someone who is highly passionate about helping people getting better: don’t waste your energy or time. As our teacher Marshal Goldsmith puts it well in our article this month: the only boat that you can ever control is your own!

Dealing with a Co-Worker Who Drives You Crazy

By Marshall Goldsmith

Almost all of us work with someone who drives us absolutely crazy — one person who consistently frustrates us or makes us feel guilty or angry. Dwelling on how much we hate these coworkers is never a great idea. If you believe, as I do, that it’s our own behavior that holds us back from achieving as much as we can, then one of the larger impediments to our progress is the time and energy we waste being upset with someone else — especially someone we can’t change.

Not sure what your behavior has to do with someone else’s craziness? An old Buddhist parable may help illuminate the issue. A young farmer was paddling his boat up the river to deliver his produce to the village. He was in a hurry. It was a hot day and the farmer, covered with sweat, wanted to make his delivery and get home before dark. Looking ahead, he spied another vessel moving rapidly downstream toward his boat. The vessel seemed to be trying desperately to hit him.

“Change direction, you idiot!” he yelled at the other boat. “You’re going to hit me!” But his cries were to no avail. Although the farmer rowed furiously to get out of the way, the other boat hit him with a sudden thud. Enraged, he stood up and shouted, “You moron! How could you manage to hit my boat in the middle of this wide river? What’s wrong with you?”

As he strained to see the pilot of the other vessel, he was surprised to realize that it was empty. He was screaming at an empty boat that had broken free of its moorings and was just floating downstream with the current.

The next time you get angry and get ready to blow up because of someone else, just remember: there is never anyone in the other boat. When we are screaming, we are always screaming at an empty vessel. Getting angry with other people for being who they are makes about as much sense as getting upset with your chair for being a chair. Your chair cannot help being a chair; that’s what it is. If you had that other person’s history, genes, family, and life, you would be that other person — and do exactly whatever it is they’re doing that you can’t stand.

You don’t have to agree with, like or even respect the other person; just don’t let him make you crazy. After all, he probably isn’t losing sleep over you. You’re the one being punished — and you’re also the person who’s doing the punishing.

The next time a coworker starts making you crazy, try redirecting your energy to change yourself. The only boat that you can ever control is your own.

Marshall Goldsmith is one of the world’s leading executive coaches and author of the bestselling book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” Lauren and I are certified Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaches. For more information on our results-oriented executive coaching process, visit http://www.redpointcoaching.com/services/leadership_coaching.aspx.

Leadership Insight: How to Have More Time and Energy for the Most Important Things in Your Life by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

Note: this article was inspired by a management blog posting by Frank Arnold in my favorite Swiss newspaper NZZ.

 

 

 

 

I love this time of year:

  • In the U.S., we just celebrated Thanksgiving, the best holiday ever: no presents, no cards just friends, family and plenty of good food
  • Our family spends the weekend split evenly between enjoying the first meter of snow in the Cascades and cultivating the age old Swiss tradition of baking Christmas cookies (or Guetzlis)
  • We have three solid months of skiing to look forward to; and
  • We are just about to head to my mother’s place in Davos in the Swiss Alps for the holidays

I also enjoy this time of year because, as it comes to a close, I find it a great time to reflect on what’s been working and what’s not been working this year.

Reflecting back on my 2011, I realize that I while I have done a lot of things well this year, I have continued to spread myself too thinly across too many activities and projects (both in my personal and my professional life). So instead of starting 2012 with a lot of “To Do” resolutions, I am committing myself to a rigorous “Stop Doing” resolution.

Let me explain:

All of our clients (myself included) love to start new and exciting projects. We enjoy thinking about, and yes, sometimes fantasizing about all the good that will come from our new projects. At the same time, most of us find it very difficult to make the hard decision to discontinue projects that do not either yield what they should or simply aren’t at the core of what we should be doing. In other words, not many of us are very good at cutting our losses.
As a result, we find ourselves and our organizations spread way too thinly across too many projects and activities. We lack focus and clarity.

My own experience in juggling competitive sports, career and family life has (at times painfully) taught me that I can really truly focus on only one thing at time. If, for example, I am making a major new business push, then I need to have athletics in no more than ‘maintenance mode’ and I know I might be asking for more support from my spouse on the family side. Similarly, when preparing for a big race, I cannot at the same time aggressively grow my business.

When it comes to deciding if we should ‘continue doing’ or ‘stop doing’ something, the great Peter Drucker hit the nail on the head when he challenges us to answer the two hard questions:

“If we were not in this already, would we now go into it?”
and if the answer is ‘no’, the next question should be:

“How do we get out and how fast?”

Two of the most effective ways to address our ‘spreading ourselves too thinly” challenge are ‘Stop Doing’ Lists and “Stop Doing” Meetings.

A “Stop Doing” List

Most of us keep To Do lists. However, instead of focusing on what “to do”, a “Stop Doing” List encourages you to think of activities you should not do anymore. One of the ways to actually implement a “stop doing things” list is to smartly exchange money for time. Even if this seems like a bit of a foreign concept to you, consider implementing it one a small scale. That’s right: Exchange time for money.

For example in the office: hiring a (virtual) assistant to take as many mindless, repetitive tasks off your plate as possible. At home: Pay someone to run errands for you: shopping, picking up the dry cleaning etc.

Over time, done right you will find that this concept will follow the compound interest rule: The more you can afford to buy time to focus on the things where you add most value (and hence make more money) the more you can afford to buy time to focus on the high value activities etc., etc.

Stop doing lists are not only valuable for individual leaders but also help departments and organizations focus on what they are truly great at.

Action Steps:
1. Put together a “Stop Doing List” for 2012 right now.
2. Come up with two small activities you will outsource in 2012 (Buy time)

A “Stop Doing” Meeting

Establish a regular meeting during which instead of talking about what to do, you only focus on what to stop doing will instill a new sense of discipline in your business. For example, some organizations monthly examine different areas of the business (e.g. products, services, distribution channels, markets, clients segments, processes etc.) inquiring of each area: What do we want to continue doing? What do we want to stop doing?

Again, Drucker’s questions, which former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch used to perfection to ensure that he was always at least number two or above in any industry, help focus the discussion:

If we weren’t in this business already, would we enter it today? And if no: How soon will we get out?

Action Steps
1. Start regular “Stop Doing” meetings in your organization
2. Communicate the action steps coming out of these meetings throughout the organization

For more information and resources, visit us at www.redpointcoaching.com.

 

Hiring A Executive Coach? 3 Questions to Ask Yourself (and Your Prospective Coach) First

By Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

If you (1) are a coach, (2) have worked with a coach or (3) are hiring a coach (for yourself or others) ask yourself these three questions (discussed in more detail below):

  1. What does success look like and who gets to decide?
  2. What are you paying for (or, if you are the coach, what are you getting paid for)?
  3. What is the process?

(Note, I believe that a lot of what I discuss here also applies to hiring and working with other consultants, not just coaches)

Let’s talk about what most coaching looks like today and what we believe it should look like. Consider the below two scenarios and ask yourself:

  • Which scenario is closer to my experience of coaching?
  • Which scenario is preferable and why?

Scenario I: A senior manager just finished his eight month $35k coaching engagement with a well known executive coach. Although the manager’s boss and the Vice President of Human Resources had a good idea what the manager was working on (he needed to be more assertive and build stronger relationship across departments) they did not participate in the actual coaching process. The coaching was a somewhat mysterious process as it happened behind closed doors. Even some of the coaching client’s close working colleagues did not know that he was working with a leadership coach. Over the duration of the engagement, there were two progress meetings during which the client and the coach reported their progress to his boss and the HR VP. At the end of the engagement, the coach submitted a report in which he outlined how the client progressed during the engagement. He presented primarily self-reported anecdotal evidence. The report included a (positive) self assessment by the client. The coach believed he had earned his $35k fee because he spent a lot of time with the client and strongly felt that the client got better.

Scenario II: A senior manager just finished his eight month $35k coaching engagement with a well known executive coach. The client involved her stakeholders (peers, direct reports, and bosses) from the very start in the coaching process. The client developed her coaching goals (she needed to be more assertive and build stronger relationship across departments) in collaboration her stakeholders and regularly solicited feedback on her progress from them. Halfway through and at the end of the engagement stakeholders rated the client on her progress against her coaching goals in an anonymous online survey online survey. The results of the first online survey were less than stellar and forced the client and her coach to make some changes. The second and final online stakeholder survey showed a significant improvement of the client’s targeted leadership behaviors. The coach collected his $35k fee because (and only because) he facilitated a process by which helped the client get better, as assessed by the client’s 3rd party stakeholders.

Again, ask yourself:

  • Which scenario is closer to my experience of coaching?
  • Which scenario is preferable and why?

A lot of coaching in small business and corporate America is significantly closer to Scenario I than to Scenario II (I know because I have practiced it myself…). For those of you even vaguely familiar with our leadership coaching approach, it will come as no surprise that Lauren and I are strong proponents for moving coaching towards Scenario II.

Let me explain.

I have been coaching for more than 10 years and looking back over this period I am amazed how much the field of coaching and my practice has changed.

I started my coaching as a career coach, quickly transitioned into small business/entrepreneurial coaching and finally ended up finding my calling in leadership (executive) coaching.

I have worked with many wonderful clients (100+ of them) and I believe I have done a lot of good work and, on occasion, some great work. However, I often had the nagging feeling of uneasiness around the measurable impact of my coaching. Yes, the clients felt happy and gave me positive feedback. I did feel they were (for the most part) making good process and got things done they would not have done without our work together. Nevertheless: my outcome driven personality was not satisfied. Questions would linger: How did I really know if I made a difference? Who should be the judge? Did the results achieved justify my fee?

At about the same time I was pondering these questions, Lauren and I were certified in a methodology called Stakeholder Centered Coaching pioneered by executive coaching legend Marshall Goldsmith. In essence, the coach first identifies the client’s key stakeholders (peers, direct reports, and bosses.) Stakeholders are critical to the process as they are people best in a position to: 1) identify the client’s existing leadership shortcomings, 2) give specific and immediate suggestions for ways to improve and 3) assess progress towards desired change. The stakeholders, in essence, are turned into collaborative partners in the coaching process. (Scenario II describes a Stakeholder Centered Coaching engagement, which is the approach Lauren and I now use in our engagements.)

The result? A quantifiable assessment that is hard to “game” by either the coach or the client. (Another side benefit to the Stakeholder Centered approach is that it tends to greatly improve the quality of conversations across the organization, but that’s the subject of another article!)

Coaching represents a big investment in time, money and effort for the client and your organization. Make sure you get a fair return on your investment by asking the questions below before you hire a coach. Does their process look more like Scenario I or II? Does it provide good answers to each of the questions below?

1. What does success look like and who gets to decide?

    • How does the coach define success for the coaching engagement? What about the client? The boss? HR? How is failure defined?
    • How will progress be measured, along the way, and at the end? Is it quantifiable?
    • Who reports progress/results? Is it self-reported (client, coach) or by third parties (e.g. anonymous surveys, stakeholders)

2. What are you paying for (or, if you are the coach, what are you getting paid for)?

    • Are you paying for process/activities (e.g. billable hours spent) or measurable results?
    • Are you having to pay the coaching (consulting) fee no matter what the outcome of the engagement or is the coach’s fee at least partly dependant on the success of the engagement?

3. What is the process?

    • Is the coach able to clearly articulate the process (note: coaching is not (anymore) simply a series of conversations)?
    • Does the coaching only happen in private, behind closed doors, or is the process attempting at building leverage across the organization (e.g. by including various stakeholders)?
    • Is the coaching engagement clearly scoped? Does everyone agree what is being worked on and what is not being worked on? How do you prevent scope creep?
For a detail description of our coaching process, visit our website at Redpoint Coaching.

One-on-One Meetings: One of the Most Effective Leadership Tools by Urs Koenig

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

One on Ones for Better LeadershipDuring his tenure as CIO of Swissair (the former Swiss Airline) my dad applied for the top job at the Swiss Disaster Relief Agency. During the interview, he was asked to define leadership. He responded with a one liner (and was expected to present a thesis and as a result didn’t get the job…): “Being a leader means getting things done through your people.”

While I like his definition for its brevity, the question remains: how do you get stuff done through your people? You engage them, you inspire them, you listen to them, you set goals for them and you hold them accountable.
And what is one of the most effective and efficient ways to engage, inspire, listen, set goals and hold your people accountable?

You guessed it: Conducting regular and meaningful one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.
As with so many of the things we coach our clients on, conducting regular, productive and meaningful one-on-ones is a very simple concept but not always easy to pull off.

Why have yet another meeting and what if I don’t have time?

If you are like 90 % of the managers out there, most of your interactions with your people occur in an ad hoc manner — during team meetings (even if many of the people present don’t need to be part of the conversation), in hurried emails and voicemails, in passing in the hallway, or when a big problem desperately needs attention.

While all of these often interrupted, incomplete and hurried interactions are one-on-ones, they are seldom the most effective ones. Often there is no logic to the timing of these conversations. In fact, they are usually random, incomplete, and often too late to head off a problem or solve it before it grows large.

Regular one-on-one meetings will get you ahead of this curve. Not only will your people prepare for the time they have your undivided attention, they will discuss issues they won’t bring up in a group meeting or in impromptu discussions: their dissatisfaction with part of their current role, interpersonal challenges or other problems that could keep them from succeeding at work.

One on OnesIf your direct report is falling short, the one-on-one setting enables you to communicate in no uncertain terms what changes you need to see happening. Following the principal of praising in public and criticizing in private, you can be firmer and sterner during a one-on-one than during a team meeting. Think of the perfect one-on-one meeting as hybrid of an information gathering, planning, coaching and accountability meeting.

Like any meaningful meeting, not having it will cost you an expensive multiple of the time you would have spent in the meeting. Having it will save you time and headaches in the long run. There is one more important, not often talked about benefit to regular, meaningful on-on-ones. By sitting down with your direct reports and demonstrating true interest and concern not only for their productivity but also for their input, opinions and development, you build a more committed and engaged team which leads to all sorts of well documented soft benefits (e.g. increased job satisfaction) and hard benefits (e.g. lower turn-over, lower recruiting and training costs).

But how do I best do them?

Schedule 30 minute one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports at least every other week, better every week. Make it a regular, re-occurring meeting. Don’t use travel as an excuse not to have it; conduct a phone meeting instead.

Keep a file for each of your direct reports where you gather all the none-time sensitive questions and issues you need to discuss with them. So rather than interrupting your folks constantly whenever you think of something, drop it in the file for discussion during the one-on-one. Take notes of issues raised in the one-on-one and agreed upon courses of action.

Here is my suggestion for a standing agenda for your one on one meeting:

1. Update on action items/commitments from last time
2. What is going well?
3. What are the obstacles and how can I (the manager) help?
4. Action items going forward

Once a quarter, I recommend you go ‘bigger’ and cover the following:

1. Where are we going (the organization)?
2. Where are you going?
3. What are you and your part of the biz doing well? What are you proud of?
4. What are your suggestions for improvements for the future (for the organization, for your part of the biz, for yourself)?
5. How can I help?
6. What suggestions for improvement do you have for me?

Have the one-on-one meeting primarily driven by your direct report. Make this a coaching conversation by asking lots of questions and listening well. Provide guidance if it’s needed but do not fall into the trap of filling the time with your own talk. If you are taking up more than 30 % of air time, you are talking too much.

Effective Managers Say the Same Thing Twice (or More) by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

“If you want something done you need to say it 150 times, seven different ways.”

I must have said this so many times (maybe 150 times) that some of my clients have quoted me back.

I am proud to announce that empirical research (quoted in the 2011 May issue of the Harvard Business Review) is now backing my statement:

”A team lead by Professor Tsedal Neeley (from Harvard) and Professor Paul Leonardi (from Northwestern University) shadowed 13 managers in six companies for more than 250 hours, recording every communication the managers sent and received. The research discovered that one of every seven communication by the mangers was completely redundant with a previous communication using a different technology. They also saw that the managers who were deliberately redundant moved their projects forward faster and more smoothly.”

When the researchers asked the managers if they were surprised about their redundant communication the reaction was this: “Seriously, you think this is interesting? This is how it works. Of course I follow up with yet another message.”

Two key take-aways from this research for you:

  • If you want something done, plan deliberately to communicate the same message several times using different techniques such as instant communication (face to face meetings, calls, Instant messaging) or delayed communication (emails, voice mails).
  • The most powerful way to move the needle on a project or a task is to start with an instant communication (preferable a face-to-face meeting, second best a call) and then follow up with a delayed message (such as an email). The instant communication ensures motivation and buy-in. But the follow up via email is to remind people of their commitments so that it does not fall off the radar screen.
  • Do not use email first (delayed message) and then follow up with a face to face (instant).
For more leadership tips and resources, visit www.redpointcoaching.com.