A Coaching Power Tool Created by Anna Champion
(Career Coach, HONG KONG)
Future leaders are women and men who are preparing themselves not for the comfortable predictability of yesterday but also for the realities of today and all of those unknown possibilities of tomorrow Roselinde Torres, Tes @BCG San Francisco, October 2013
Alex had been identified as a future leader of his company at an early stage of his career. He was used to achieving highly. His peers and teachers had respected him at school: holding positions of responsibility, contributing on the sports field and other extra curricular activities. He scored highly in his exams, securing a place at one of the top universities. He worked hard but was also lucky that things came pretty easily to him. He did not disappoint anyone with his achievements at university either and off he went into the working world feeling prepared for further success.
He followed the firm’s development programme, taking relevant courses and volunteering to assist with projects. However, something was holding him back. He felt dissatisfied with the direction of his career and felt that although his appraisal grades were strong, he was not achieving everything he expected that he would. He knew he was being “prepared” for leadership but he did not feel he was achieving everything he thought he was capable of.
Helen had a similar background to Alex, she also had solid academic grades, was popular with her peers, seniors and juniors alike. She worked hard, followed the firm’s development programme and was well respected for delivering projects on time whilst being creative and friendly. She was seen to anticipate potential problems and opportunities before they arose. She also had been identified for her high leadership potential. She was often seen sharing new pieces of research she had read with her colleagues and welcoming their different opinions.
Helen felt excited about the opportunities that were in her future even if she did not know exactly what they would be yet. She knew that she had the capability, capacity and access to resources that would mean that she would be able to adapt to new environments and challenges.
I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.― Eleanor Roosevelt
As a young child we have limitless curiosity allowing us to explore our surroundings and question why things occur. Interest is a natural emotion that ensures we have a desire to be curious, which leads us to exploration and learning. Children want to understand why cause and effect happens and have the innate confidence that they have the resources to find the answer (through trial and error or knowing their parents will have the answer if they just ask enough questions) but often as we grow older we are conditioned to think our own preparation is the main key to our advancement.
It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education – Albert Einstein
The way we are schooled prepares us for the examinations we take; all too often pupils are only taught what they need to know to pass the exams rather than allowing their natural curiosity to flourish. The knowledge we develop is often only superficial as it sits in a part of our brain, which allows us to rehearse it enough to blurt it all out in examination conditions. Who has not heard a person exclaim that they are ready for their exam after hours of cramming the night before? Yet if I ask you now to recall some of the information you learnt at school I doubt you will remember it. Whereas something you have actively discovered through following your natural curiosity may come to you more easily.
Organisations’ delight in having strong development programmes which allow individuals to develop all the key skills they need to become a “leader”. Individuals are given all the “necessary” ingredients (courses, work experience and portfolios) and then shaped like cookie cutters (set career development paths and appraisals) so that when they come out of the “oven” they have all the preparation needed to be a success. However, all too often we find that those that are expected and expecting to have success fail to achieve.
Pay attention to those employees who respectfully ask why. They are demonstrating an interest in their jobs and exhibiting a curiosity that could eventually translate into leadership ability – Harvey Mackay
Have you ever felt prepared for success but then come away feeling disappointed? It may be that you still have achieved great exam results or been recognized at work but that there is a feeling of dissatisfaction that you wanted to do more but you just can not work out why? Perhaps it is because you have focused too much on the preparation without allowing your curiosity to take you places. Your focus on preparation has limited you.
Aviv Shahar labels the energy, focus and passion we use to power the coaching conversations we have as “energized curiosity”. Powerful questioning and active listening allows an intense curiosity to infiltrate not just the coaching session but also the client’s life – you become a role model showing the way to become more curious. Reawakening and understanding where your own curiosity lies is one large ingredient for you to be successful as a coach. You are directing your own energy, focus and passion into other people’s lives.
How many of us have waited until we have “prepared” ourselves by attending all the courses at ICA, reading everything we possibly can on the forum and collecting a library the size of a university’s, before diving in to the practical coaching because we feel too nervous to take the big step as instinctively we feel the need for more and more preparation? Yet how many have discovered that by engaging our own natural curiosity and presence in the session we are energised and empowered to know we can be a great coach!
So how can we re-build this natural curiosity into our lives? Todd Kashan states many different strategies we can use reawaken our natural curiosity but here are a few of my favourites:
Tune into your Curiosity:
- Reconnect with play – Kids play all the time and it is well known that by playing they really discover things that they didn’t know were possible. Can you think of a way to make a mundane task more fun? Watch children you know and see the lightbulb moment when something happens they weren’t expecting.
- Find the unfamiliar in the familiar - Often when we suspect that an outcome will happen we stop ourselves from doing an activity for fear it will be boring. Preconceived ideas can be limiting. Can you think of any times when you have had a preconceived idea of what something was going to be like and then the result surprised you?
- Awaken your inner Sherlock: Stretch yourself and teach yourself to be curious again by techniques such as - every day ask more questions, find something new about where you live, make new friends, try something “iffy” that you don’t like but focus on new things about that you didn’t realize before, keep a discovery blog
Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit – E. E. Cummings
Frequently like the example above the Alex’s of this world with all their preparation and talent find themselves in a situation of frustration and disappointment. They are stuck in the belief that they can prepare for every eventuality by using a text book or taking the same escalator to the top that their predecessors have done. They may well arrive at a leadership opportunity but may not necessarily achieve success as they are stuck in the preparation mindset. They believe that one more course will help them achieve success…
Those that are able to shift their mindset to understand and be ready for any eventuality like Helen have limitless curiosity like a child. They anticipate that they are going to need to prepare for the future but are not so focused on their own “prepared” path to reach leadership so they are able to think much wider. They understand that having the courage to believe that they have access to resources that will help them overcome any issue will give them their own success and their natural curiosity allows them to follow their interest so that they discover far more. They also find people attracted to their curiosity and wanting to be part of something exciting. Of course they will still prepare (by gaining connections, taking courses etc.) but it is the mindset with which they do this which gives them the empowerment to achieve.
When we find clients in “preparation” mode and it is not working for them we need to find ways to help them shift to re-establish their “curiosity”.
Firstly a client needs to identify that they need to be more curious and to do more than prepare. Here are some ideas of questions which might give them this insight:
- What structures do you have in place to get you to the top? Are they working for you?
- If I asked you to think through your day at work from someone else’s perspective what things do you notice that are novel or interesting that you would like to know more about?
- How do you feel about uncertainty?
- On a rating of 1 to 10 how comfortable are you with uncertainty? What would make you feel more comfortable?
- Tell me about a time when you had a positive outcome that began with an uncertainty?
- What is the worst thing that could happen right now?
- What would you do if you had your “curious” hat on?
- If your child came to work with you what do you think they would notice and question?
- Have you ever taken a big risk that threatened your security? (this could be financial, professional, personal etc.) . what motived you to take the risk? How did it make you feel?
- How could you make the situation more fun?
- When do you feel most alive – when you are doing something you do every day and you have prepared for, or when you are experiencing something for the first time?
Once your client has identified that they feel they need to reawaken their curiosity to move forward then as a coach you can help them put in place structures, which will allow them to be more curious in their lives.
- What are you curious about? What new learning did you assimilate this last month?
- What are the ways in which you can make things that are mundane more fun in your lives?
- Do you really need to do any more formal preparation to take a step forward?
To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect – Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband