A Coaching Power Tool created by Ashu Khanna
(Transformational Coaching, INDIA)
Sam, a director of consulting organization was technically skilled and had high research and analytical skills. He had grown at an accelerated pace over the last few years. He was well respected in the organization. Sam was keen to grow in the organization and was frustrated at not being able to progress into senior management. He worked diligently and sincerely and had established good relationships with his clients and people at the organization.
Prior to joining this organization, he had been trained and worked at smaller organizations where there was limited competition or expectation for excellence. He was ambitious and keen to further himself professionally by working with high profile clients and team members. His mentor and head of the organization was a senior member of the profession and well respected amongst all. He held his mentor in high esteem, to the point of being overwhelmed by his accomplishments. To live up to expectations and standards, he strived to deliver the ‘best of the best’ and often delayed on deliverables. Having grown up in a simple middle class family, he had not been exposed to other interest areas. Sam was introverted and hard working and often remained absorbed in his work. He was not particularly regular about reading other than work related material. His networking and business development skills are low.
The above case study gives us an insight into the fear of failure and a deep drive to be successful. Often fear of failure grips us to the point of inaction and we attempt to hide or stay stuck until it is absolutely imperative we seek help. Even if we have been successful, we are unable to see it sometimes or acknowledge it and accept failure as much as part of the game. The client designed the following action plan to overcome issues of time management, people development, ability to take leadership and strategize:
- Focus on his personal contribution and unique skills and endeavor to communicate more freely with the head of the organization.
- Delegate and communicate clearly with his team and give clear instructions on time lines, client expectations, research required etc.
- Keep a calendar to reduce last minute stress within the team and his fear of not being able to deliver.
- Continue striving for being the “best of the best”, yet balance between quality and timing.
- To develop business opportunities, set aside time in his calendar for entertaining and meeting clients.
- Read newspapers and magazines to widen his exposure and knowledge.
The client was promoted to the next level of leadership after 2 years of consistent progress and performance.
Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily. Professor Thomas Szasz
During my years as a coach, my insights and shift in perspectives have occurred largely due the freedom to explore, experiment and grow; the freedom to curiously try and learn rather than be anxious about the outcome. Going beyond success or failure and playing in the zone of wonderment and curiosity has created miracles and shown me hidden attributes such as the ability to coach and write that I never knew existed deep within me.
I recall, when the desire to write and share my experiences had surfaced, I suffered from a limiting story of not being a writer. My head was exploding with thoughts but the nagging fears gripped me and prevented me from even attempting to write. My thoughts wandered from — what would my writing appear like, would my writing be accepted successfully, will it be relevant and so on. I believe failure is when you do not even try to do something, versus trying and not getting the desired outcome. One day I decided to attempt and just write without thinking of the outcome and to my utter surprise, the words just flowed. That was the day when I allowed myself to find expression without thinking of the outcome. To create I had to be courageous to shed my fears. To innovate externally, there was need to reinvent myself internally.
Last year, I excitedly completed the manuscript of my book and with full faith embarked on the journey of publishing it. The entire process though frustrating at times, was enjoyable and a learning experience. As the book neared completion, I started wondering how will I promote or publicize the book. My thought process gravitated more and more towards ‘how will I do this, will I be able to do it, I hope I do well’. Once again I was back in the loop of success and failure rather than simply living with the joy of the process. What happened this time was that I lost sight of my vision for life and forgot to just live.
We all go through moments when we feel paralyzed to act. It can be complete or partial depending on the perceived enormity of the task. Our mind has an infinite capacity to stretch and learn something new. We allow our imaginary perceptions about the future, the process and outcome to dominate my state of being. Wanting all the answers would take the thrill out of living and challenges help us grow and evolve as human beings.
We have to let go of this constant struggle between success and failure and learn to enjoy the ride of learning and growing, the joy of creating something new, the joy of contributing, the joy of being alive. Each time you believe you are not in a position to contribute, just call someone from your list of people who help you get back to your vision.
Life is a series of events and experiences. While acting in the present, our intentions are noble. We will never know whether our action will be a success or failure unless we attempt to act. Fears arise when we imagine ‘what-if’ scenarios and are overwhelmed by them. Such fears restrict us and cloud the noble intentions of actions. Inability to act or staying frozen can be considered as failure because there is no attempt to use the resources to resolve a situation or move ahead. Whereas, trying and not getting the desired result is a contrary outcome. Success is a tribute that life pays to excellence – so just do the best, and leave the rest to unfold as it should. Being driven by results alone saps and drains us. We are gifted with skills, and when we combine our skills with our higher vision of ‘I know I can’ attitude, we create opportunities for success.
This shift in perspective has given me the freedom to dance with clients in the moment and take them beyond success and failure into the zone of growth and learning.
Action + Anxiety = Stress
Outcome – Action = Learning
Everyone experiences fears and doubts and moments of inaction. Everyone is afraid of failure. It is a choice as to whether you are committed to your vision or the outcome. People often live their life within two major concepts – success and failure. The emphasis on performance index is indeed disproportionately high. The words success and failure can be limiting and create barriers to the power of curiosity and exploration.
Making your mark in the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere. President Barack Obama
The key word is ‘learn’. If we are willing to learn and adapt, we will move ahead in life. If we make no effort to understand or learn from recurring incidents in our lives, we get stuck and live life by chance rather than by design.
As a coach, one is constantly experiencing the impact of this anomaly. Successful people are coached on how to feel confident, how to feel successful, how to feel recognized and acknowledged. It is ironic that executives achieve success, sit at the helm of an organization and yet get so caught up in the limited perspective of success and failure and forget that the power to reinvent and recreate their life and the resources and learning are within them. Organizations like McKinsey conduct research to analyze the strategy of successful organizations. Executives focus at the organizational level and review strategies for the same; they sometimes miss the application of this analogy that human beings are like products or organizations and in a dynamic world, we too need to re-strategize our behavior, thoughts and actions.
Based on research on the Neuro Linguistic Programming (“NLP”) model, Dr Richard Bandler suggests a co-relation between successful patterns of behavior and the underlying pattern of thought. Dr Bandler realized that extraordinary performers had a better understanding of their gaps and effectively used their internal strengths (resources) to succeed.
Applying the Model
As we work with our client, we move them through the coaching process and our coaching model. There is need to understand their current reality or situation, their beliefs and above all the aspired vision of the client. This process takes time and must be driven by the client. For the coach this is an opportunity to explain the importance of having a vision, goals to work towards and to really supporting the client in being aware of their beliefs.
For instance, challenge their belief system to understand their perspective on success and failure and how does it impact them from achieving their vision. Success and failure are concepts defined by the mind as outcomes, reactions or consequences of an event that are ‘different’ from perceived expectations. When the outcome is higher than perceived expectations, we call it ‘success’. If lower, we term it ‘failure’.
Coaching is about working with a client to develop them. The coach needs to listen empathetically to understand the client and create self-awareness. When working with a client, be alert to their language. A client’s use of language will give great insight into how much courage they have to take action. Challenge the beliefs of the client and design an action plan. Follow up with the client to ensure commitment to action.
One way to support your client is to help them see if their actions are aligned with their path forward. If their actions are aligned with their goals, then they are moving towards their vision. To align the client with the vision, you need to adopt a process. For example, if Sam commits to taking action by engaging openly with the mentor to clarify doubts and learn, but when you follow up, the client has still not moved forward, you need to check what support does the client need or how can he support himself.
The choice of action plan and the responsibility of action rests with the client. The coach ensures that the client stays committed to the vision of success and follows up.
- Can you identify what are the 3 things where you are stuck with fear of failure?
- How can you overcome this fear ie. what personal strategy can you design to encourage action?
- What have been some of your learning that you could apply while taking action.
- As a coach, what questions will you ask to create awareness and make the client feel empowered to take action?
- Do you need any support to take action?