Research Paper By Natasha Vascic
(Life Coach, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
Developing Talent– Achieving High Performance At Work
Have you ever had the experience where you are so fully engaged in a certain activity that you become ecstatic; you lose the sense of time and space; you don’t feel pain; you are neither hungry nor thirsty & you don’t have any worries? This experience means that you have entered that altered state of consciousness.
We have all had that incredible experience at some point of our lives, however for a vast number of people in the workplace, these ecstatic moment don’t happen very often.
Being ecstatic brings with it the feelings of pure joy, happiness, lightness and great excitement. Ecstasy is an emotion as well as a mental state.
Ecstatic is defined as being in a trance-like state of great rapture or delight, showing or feeling great enthusiasm, a person who experiences periods of intense trance-like joy. Subjective or altered perception of time & space, and who they are as a person has completely changed and can even disappear.
There are various ways to achieve this trance-like state in your personal life, these include several methods such as using religious rituals, meditation activities or consuming psychotropic drugs, however in this paper will be focusing on how to reach that ecstatic state in the workplace using couching skills.
The week has total of 168 hours. In today’s world the average working individual spends between 40-50 hours per week at work. That’s a vast amount of time, considering that another 70 hours (approximately) is spent sleeping and relaxing. This calculation shows us that we have only a few hours per day to engage in non-work related activities. Therefore most of our productive time is spent at work.
In light of the fact that most of our productive time is spent in the workplace. If you are not fully engaged in your work & if you don’t feel passionate about your job, you run the risk of missing that opportunity of reaching your full potential and creativity.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi stated in his 1990 publication that
The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyiis a Hungarian psychologist and a pioneer in the theory of the Flow model, one of the theories as well as the application of positive psychology. Mihaly believes that people find genuine happiness and satisfaction when they are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves creativity. The Flow, which also means being in the zone, happens when one is so immersed in the activity that nothing else seems to matter. Although this activity could be, physically and mentally intense, one finds great pleasure and satisfaction in doing this, despite the challenges. This is in line with Maslow’s theory that the highest level of needs, self- actualization and the realizations of person’s full potential happen when the Flow is achieved.
In Rod Judkins’ book “The Art of Creative Thinking”, he describes the Flow as a person being in the present. Judkins explains that people should aim to live their lives in the moment and consciously immerse themselves in the activity. The focus should be on the “here and now” and not on past or future events. In the chapter “Make the present a present”, he tells us the story of the musician, Maurice Ravel. In the middle of the horrific World War One, while driving down the road, he came across a wrecked château. Inside he discovered an Erard piano in perfect condition and started playing pieces of music by Chopin like never before in his life. In that present moment, Ravel created an ecstatic, exhilarating moment for himself, where nothing else seemed to matter anymore. Despite the surrounding horror of the war and the pain he was experiencing by witnessing people being killed, he managed to eliminate the surrounding terror and by doing so, he experienced a memorable highlight in his life. He got lost in the moment by immersing himself in the pleasures of art.
I am not talented, I am obsessed
are the words of Conor McGregor given in an interview after he became a newly crowned UFC featherweight champion. He goes on to say:
There’s no talent here, this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equals as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top, and that’s that.
So, where does his obsession come from? Is this his personal motivation and satisfaction; a consuming passion that continually preoccupies his mind? How come he is so engaged in Mixed Martial Arts? Watching him perform in the ring and listening to his interview, it was easy to conclude that McGregor is passionate about his job and finds great pleasure in doing it. He reached the Flow as a martial artist in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). McGregor is in the zone, he is unstoppable!
Now that we have looked at the Flow and how beneficial is to attain. For the rest of this paper we will be focusing on the alignment of skills with challenges. When skills and challenges are misaligned the Flow cannot be achieved. We as individuals need to find the gap between skills and challenges and then work towards filling that gap.
Finding the Gap
How often do you examine your skills level versus the challenges you experience in your everyday work? How often do you take the time to ask yourself if you truly feel content and happy at work? These are some of the questions you may ask when faced with unknown situations, extra challenges and/ or a setback in life. You could spend years at work without even realizing or being aware that something was wrong or missing and that things could be better. If that excitement, fulfillment and satisfaction with your work is lacking and instead you feel various emotions such as boredom, apathy, worry and anxiety; you are most probably not happy and may start to wonder why?
In the chart below Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains how the state of Flow can be achieved, based on the amount of skills aligning with challenge complexity at work. Mihaly states that, when a person with a high amount of skills is engaged in a highly challenging activity, he or she will most likely experience the state of Flow. However if the person with a certain amount of skills (average) is not given the right amount of challenges to match their skills (challenge complexity is low as seen on the chart below) that person will most probably feel boredom. On the other hand, when the person’s skills are too low and the challenges are too high, the person may experience anxiety. Neither boredom nor anxiety are the mental states that one would like to be in at work. Both states are counter-productive and will lead to frustration and unhappiness at work. The states that one should aim for and are good to be in are: arousal and being in control, as both states are just one step away from reaching the Flow. Therefore the key to success and reaching high performance is to have increasing skills aligned with appropriate challenge complexities at work.
Below is the Flow chart as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. As you can see, when skills and challenges are matched, the journey towards achieving the Flow is initiated.
Achieving the Flow is easier said than done, as people struggle to achieve and constantly maintain their high performance at work. This is where high-performance coaches should step in and help the coachee acquire new skills and be confident with existing skills that they need to achieve their goals. Together with the coachee, the coach will use appropriate tools and techniques to match required skills to the assigned task, by setting goals that are challenging, however, that are possible to achieve.
Filling the Gap
High-performance coaching is all about guiding people in order for them to reach their full potential, in all areas of their lives. For the training instructor, this means seeking the highest standards of teaching and learning possible, working with people to boost individual as well as team creativity.
There is a profound quote by Dylan Wiliam, which clearly explains the need for constant learning and development:
Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.
This quote is very appropriate as personal development is an individual responsibility that has to be constantly challenged and evaluated.
In order for us to better understand coaching and its benefits in influencing high performance in people, let’s us first look at what is coaching and how it differs from mentoring.
- An assisting skill: Coaching is a partnership between the coach and the coachee. The coach doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert in the field and therefore might not have an answer for industry specific questions. However the coach must have the right questions that allow the coachee to find his/her own solutions.
- Non directive and non-judgmental: The coach will use different tools to help the coachee find his own direction. One of the main principals of coaching is that the coach is non-judgmental towards the coachee at any time. This is important as it demonstrates respect towards the coachee’s perspectives and therefore builds trust.
- Focuses on solutions: The main focus is on the positive solution and not the problem. Problem is reframed into an opportunity.
- Advice is not given: The coach is not there to give advice but rather focuses on the coachee and their ability to find his/her own solution.
- Focuses on the coachee’s strengths: The main focus is on the coachee’s strengths and not their weaknesses. This will boost confidence and commitment to thrive.
- Enable the coachee to specific actions: The coach will assist the coachee with setting attainable goals and specific actions within a certain timeframe.
- Enable the coachee to evaluate his/her progress: The coach requires commitment from the coachee and will constantly evaluate his/her progress.
- Promotes high degree of independence: The coachee walks alongside the coachee and creates a relationship where the coachee is the captain of the ship.
- Use the skills of questioning, clarifying, reflecting, observing and giving feedback: The coach uses various coaching techniques such as active listening, asking powerful questions to create awareness, clarifying any ambiguity, provides the coachee with time for reflection. At all times, the coach is carefully observing the coachee and gives feedback where necessary.
- A mentor has “expert” knowledge or experience. In general a mentor is more experienced in her/his field than the mentee.
- Specific advice and directions are given. Regardless of mentoring being formal or informal relationship, the mentee looks up to the mentor and seek guidance and advice.
- The mentor has the “real” answer. Most commonly mentoring involves passing on the benefits of a specific set of experiences and outcomes. This on the other hand, prevents the mentee from finding her/his own solutions therefore inhibiting creativity and innovation.
- The mentoring relationship may lead to a certain degree of dependence. The mentee may become reliant on the mentor to decide on ideas and solutions, where coaching on the other hand is a partnership whereby the coach walks alongside the coachee. The coach is there to support the coachee and encourages her/him to use their own wisdom, experience and knowledge to create change.
In order to achieve flow in the workplace, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, promotes three following principles: (psychology)
- Goals are clear
- Feedback is immediate
- A balance between opportunity and capacity
The importance of these three conditions are that one has to be involved in an activity that has a set of clear goals and projected progress. The feedback must be given immediately which allows the person to adjust their performance in order to maintain their flow state. One must have a good balance between opportunity and their perceived skills. In other words, one must believe that they are able to complete the task that they have been given.
The following is an effective way to structure a coaching session aligned with the Flow model, the coach should help the coachee: (from Powell, G. Chambers, M. and Baxter, G. 2001)
- Find the challenge
- Look at the reality
- Open to possibilities
- Win commitment
Whilst following the Flow model it is advisable to simultaneously use the STRIDE model, therefore a coaching session will always focus on:
- Strengths – Help the coachee to build awareness of her/his strengths
- Targets – Identify the targets, agree on them and pinpoint the challenges to work on
- Reality - Continue to reevaluate the current situation in order gain understanding of unforeseen constraints and challenges
- Ideas and options – Exploring different ideas and options to be used to successfully achieve the predefined targets.
- Decision – Selecting the most appropriate option and mutually committing to it.
- Evaluate – Reviewing progress, providing detailed feedback and evaluating the results thereafter.
In conclusion to this paper I would like to highlight a very powerful quote by Arthur C. Clark:
The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.
Therefore I invite you to discover your limits of the possible and challenge yourself to go beyond into the impossible. Embark on a personal life-long journey of discovery and personal transformation which requires a lots of courage, commitment and self-discipline. Don’t limit yourself but think about all the possibilities and rewards in store for being fully engaged in your life.
Live in the moment, challenge yourself, be passionate and above all believe in yourself!