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Bumps in the road.

By: Nicolette Kat

It sounds contradictory. In a time of crisis, in which every penny counts, rigid leadership programs are still standing strong. Costs may be cut here and there, with programs being stripped of frills (i.e. no more fun, foreign trips); however, the main principle remains:  doing everything possible in order to acquire and maintain good people. And why? Because we’re talking about our future leaders. There have been studies done on how to connect young talent or potentials to your organisation. What do they find important? What work values are important to them? Are they interested in money or meaning?  The “war for talent” seems nevertheless to be in full swing.

However, once you have acquired that talent, a troublesome dynamic begins to unfold.  As recognised talent you are able to partake in leadership development programs, along with that comes high expectations. Opportunities abound and the sky’s the limit. You are indeed regarded as “promising” by your organisation and they should support you in your efforts. Of course, you are responsible for the steps you take, known as personal leadership, but the organisation is responsible for facilitating this process. In the long run, the confident and assertive professional knows exactly what he/she wants.

At this point you learn all about higher management; the world of established order. For the most part, it is men in their fifties who find it difficult to understand this upcoming, confident generation. “Spoiled, not accustomed to working hard and making sacrifices”, “If things get a little tough, they want to change jobs or simply quit.” “They live in a world where more is better, where enough just isn’t ever enough.” How can these two different-minded worlds come together? How can we ensure that these worlds communicate and learn to understand each other’s motives?

In addition, as a recognised talent, other opportunities may come your way, as often happens in most well-run organisations with well-run development programs. Internal and sometimes external offers come along, causing a process of tug-of-war. Managers who would rather not see their good employees leave. Replacement hasn’t been arranged, the business continuity is threatened. Move further and grow? Of course! But then preferably in 6 months’ time.

The sigh of such a potential can certainly be heard. “I thought the sky was the limit. I thought my biggest obstacle would be dealing with a glass ceiling. Instead, reality shows that my biggest problem is being stuck with nowhere to go. My manager wants me to further develop, but in his own time!

Unfortunately, I don’t have a direct answer to the difficult obstacles I’m encountering on the way to the top. I believe one of the answers is: “a good conversation.” The most indispensable part of any leadership program. Really listen to each other without any judgment. For a potential that sometimes means eat your pride and remain patient, learn to carefully weigh your interests. And for the higher order, they need to realise that recognising talent within your organisation often means there is a possibility of losing him or her. Talent is owned by the company, not by the business is a statement which holds true.

Or how fear still reigns.

By: Nicolette Kat

There you are. You think you have the most beautiful garments on, a style that’s always worked for you, you turn around, you flaunt…you stand before your entire public. You, yourself, already have a feeling that what you are wearing is not quite right. You’ve already asked someone a few times if it looks nice and wonder if you should trust them. But even your most faithful advisers don’t dare to tell the truth, they don’t want to admit that they don’t see anything. Who knows? They may be seen as dumb and ignorant! For you, it’s already too late to turn back. Where would you go? That loss of face. To admit that you don’t understand something, don’t know, that’s the worst thing there is. And then a small child bursts your bubble. “He’s not wearing anything!” And finally everyone dares to say what they all thought in the first place: “He’s not wearing anything!” Thus the well-known fairy tale about the emperor’s new clothes by Hans Christian Andersen.

I was reminded of this story when I was talking to a couple of high-level managers in a particular organisation. They were both in a very visible position, people looked up to them and they set the example. I spoke to them about their fears of being in this position, a position in which they can feel a bit shaky at times and not undertake as much as they could. Keeping up appearances, nice clothes, fat pay-checks with great benefits. Showing off with good tricks, working hard long hours. But if you take a closer look…No one is allowed to see your fear. Your fear of falling off your pedestal. Because you have a lot to lose. Not able to admit that you don’t always have the answer. Not wanting to admit that this position isn’t always what it appears to be and that it sometimes feels pretty lonely.  You certainly don’t ask for any advice because to ask for advice is just “not done”. Additionally a kind of distrust develops in relation to the answers you get. Are people really being honest with me?

It sounds like a lonely existence. “To ask for help is a weakness and as a result your prestige and status decline.” This is a short-sighted conviction I often come across.  It seems like such a stalemate,  with which I fortunately have also witnessed other managers who actually take a good look in the mirror and with healthy self-realisation, say to themselves: : “I decide myself what to wear, ask the people I trust how I look and let the rest of the organisation see me once I stand 100% behind my decision.” They admit that they didn’t know, that sometimes it can be lonely and that they sometimes dare to make other choices. Because if we are truly honest with ourselves, it’s pretty nice to be on time to pick the kids up from school, to cook dinner and have a family meal together. But that requires courage. Courage to stick your neck out, to let yourself be heard. Because in the long run, does it really suggest what I’m capable of and what I do? To confront this fear is an exciting challenge.

There’s a modern version of Andersen’s fairy tale from Roald Dahl. In his version, the emperor doesn’t look, doesn’t listen nor does he act out of intuition. As a result, nothing he does or says makes any sense. In fact, he ignores any and all comments and happily goes skiing in his birthday suit and eventually freezes to death. Well, I’m sure you can imagine the moral of this story.

Clear and expert coaching as a professional, guide and conscience.

By: Nicolette Kat

Who doesn’t coach these days? The book “Coaching with a clear head” is intended for everyone involved with coaching, despite their own level, background and experience. It offers a practical, result-orientated approach which provides structure and gives clear limits to beginning coaches as well as experienced ones.

What can this book offer you as a coach?

  • Once you’ve read this book, you will know the difference between the coach as expert, guide and conscience as well as knowing which coaching approach to use and when. In short, tailor-made coaching!
  • You’ll have been introduced to a proven step-by-step method  to coaching. You’ll have learned to coach in four steps: Connecting, Astonishing, Verifying and Moving forward.
  • Several practical examples and bloopers demonstrating how you should and shouldn’t tackle coaching.

Have a seat, relax and clear your head for new and additional coaching possibilities!

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by Nicolette Kat

A good conversation. That’s how Ralf looks back on a personal development session he just had with Anne, one of the advisers he oversees. He let her speak openly, he thoroughly asked about her development ideas and then immediately made them concrete. He is especially proud of how he showed interest in her private situation, in which Anne remained a bit vague at first. In spite thereof, he managed to get Anne to admit that she had to spend a lot of time taking care of her mother and that she was finding it difficult to find a balance between work and her private life. Listening well, asking thoroughly and immediately making concrete agreements. That’s how people managers should act, believes Ralf.  

Increasingly, managers are asked to be people managers, with all the associated skills such as: be a good listener, make joint decisions, don’t  come up with unilateral solutions and let the employee take responsibility for their own development. That sounds logical but on closer inspection, it’s really not.  As manager, you are not only responsible for your people, but often a team as well and department goals with matching KPI’s. And as manager, aren’t you often focused on results and the realisation of them?  In fact, you are often selected because of qualities such as result-orientated and solution-mindedness. These two qualities can create a dilemma for you during a coaching session with a colleague. Maybe even without you knowing it. Back to Anne and Ralf.

Anne leaves Ralf’s office with an uncomfortable feeling. She believes she probably told him too much. Did she actually ruin any chances she may have had by saying she didn’t have everything under control at home? She really wants to develop into the position of senior adviser according to the associated development plan! That’s what she would have liked to discuss with Ralf. Instead they spent more time talking about her mother and Anne’s role as care-taker. She’s really upset that she actually let her boss see her with tears in her eyes. But what bothers her most is that Ralf suggested that she should wait a year before making the step to senior adviser. Now, when she really feels ready for such a promotion. Granted, it is pretty busy with the responsibility of taking care of her mother, but in the meantime, the work-load has been divided evenly among all her brothers and sisters. She has the feeling that she really didn’t get the chance to come up with any solutions herself. Ralf was the only one who clearly took control of the situation. His solutions to her problem were a course in time-management and to look at the educational website for a course, Work-life balance. You can certainly always learn from these types of classes, but it’s not what Anne would have chosen. 

Two different versions of the same conversation. The “people-manager” at his best. Unfortunately, this example is illustrative of what I have often encountered when talking to managers and their employees. Managers imply that they have a good relationship with their employees, they know what’s going on with them and can act accordingly. They also seem to be able to combine that with the objectives and corresponding KPI’s required to meet as departmental manager. So far, so good. The resistance, however, comes from the staff. They find it difficult to talk about things that aren’t going that well, especially situations in which their personal development falters somewhat. My manager is also my assessor. And despite that managers say they listen and give us the space to come up with ideas, the most solutions end up coming from the manager anyway. The qualities, result-orientated and solution-mindedness, are apparently difficult to turn off!

In reality, it appears to be quite difficult to teach managers certain qualities such as: listening, connecting, observing, questioning thoroughly without having a solution already in mind and summarising a situation objectively.  Sure you possess natural talents which include patience, inherent calmness and good listening skills. These managers make time and give the space to their staff which is needed. The responsibility of making concrete decisions is given to the employees themselves. But leaving these qualities and responsibilities where they belong can be difficult for managers. Especially operational managers who often have to make on the spot decisions and solve problems quickly don’t possess these above-mentioned qualities. The focus and the problem-solving often take over, especially in conversations with employees who are “a bit difficult to get motivated”. The question is: Are these employees actually even capable of motivating? Or are the managers unable to push the right buttons in order to get them motivated? Moreover, it doesn’t help that employees often feel unsafe when confiding in their manager who also happens to be their assessor.

What now? Must managers stop completely with coaching and managing, in other words people-managing?  No, I don’t think so. But it wouldn’t hurt to hold a mirror in front of managers more often, so they can witness their own behaviour and see the effects it has on their staff. And maybe together, we need to take a step back and not make coaches out of our managers but leave that to the professionals and experts in the field. Look to see if employees can find other persons to confide in and make sure, as an organisation, these people are available (a manager from a different department, a mentor, an external coach).

And what next? Ensure that the managers who score a 5 on their report for coaching skills get the training and coaching they need on the job to raise their grade to a 6. As a company, focus your energy on the development of managers who have a real talent for coaching. Your chances of turning a 7 into a 9  are better with these prospects and most likely will cost less energy and effort.

What is the difference between a good coach and a hobbyist?

5 insights to find out

Nearly half of American managers have recently gone through some type of coaching, reported the office of CO2-partners. About 86% of the P&O’s use coaching as a development tool according to recent research from TNS Nipo. When asked by various parties, coaching has moved to the number one spot on the list of tools under effective development tools. Everyone wants to coach or be coached themselves and as a result managers often use a coaching method to manage. Experienced staff are trained to be mentors, P&O staff often gain an extra title such as talent manager or coach and before you know it, independent coaching offices start popping up everywhere.

And anyone can coach. You don’t need a special education or even need be certified to be allowed to coach. But can everyone coach? That’s where I have my doubts. In this article, I have given 5 insights in order to differentiate between a good coach and a hobbyist. Test yourself or your coach and do yourself a favour as “coachee”, buyer, coach colleague or as curious reader and work together with a good coach!

  1. A good coach knows their limits: the coach as professional, guide and conscience!

Nothing better for a coachee and maybe even a coach than to get carte blanche from the client, being able to offer help with any problems the coachee encounters in  his/her work.  A coach on-call, someone who comes whenever the coachee needs them. A kind of manager whisperer, offering solutions where no one else has looked and where others may have already given up. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often in practice.

Nowadays you often hear a demand to see the results of a coaching term. What can coaching provide what otherwise cannot be achieved?  How can you get measurable results better than what we are currently seeing? Companies expect transparency and clarity as much as possible.

A professional coaching relationship has five parts: a coach, coachee, a client, a coaching issue and a coaching contract. The roles of the first three and the limits of the latter two should be clearly defined in advance.

In particular, the coaching contract is the guide for the coaching sessions. Therefore, a  good coach always works within the limits of the coaching contract once the interview has been completed. I would even take it a step further. The coaching issue that is established in the coaching contract should determine the type of coach.

I distinguish three types of coaches: the coach as an expert, as a guide and as a conscience. The coach as expert focuses on coaching issues dealing with a task or specialty. The second type of coaching focuses on effectiveness in the workplace. And finally, the coach as conscience focuses on personal development. Several coaching issues that require a different approach at different levels.

Thus a good coach always works within the limits of the established coaching contract.

2. A coaching session with a good coach is voluntary but never without obligation!

“Had such a lovely talk, nice to finally be able to open up about everything.” If this is the reaction of a coachee after a coaching session with his coach, that’s nice. But if that’s all there is than you can’t really call it a coaching session at all. Every session has a different goal, but the structure is basically the same.

In my book, I distinguish 4 steps: connecting, astonishing, verifying and moving forward. And every conversation always ends with making practical agreements which fit within the contract previously agreed. So, commitment. With these agreements and assignments, progress can be made, as well as tracked, and homework is mandatory. Of course there is nothing wrong with opening up freely to someone, but you can do that by your colleagues and friends. Or as stated in a previous article, get a dog!

3. A good coach digs deep and finds where there’s movement but makes sure the roots stay intact!

Suppose you have a coachee with a very practical issue, one which you believe demands the perfect solution, a practical answer. Some coaches look for that perfect solution together with the coachee and then that finishes the coaching session. But what is the added value of such a coach? The coachee could have just as easily asked an experienced colleague for an answer. Right? The added value of a coach is found when they dig a little deeper and scrape further than just the surface. Provoking, surprising, sometimes confrontational, maybe provocative. Everything needed to get the coachee out of their comfort zone and on to an even deeper layer.

If you notice as a coach that your coachee needs more time to answer your questions or starts to even feel a bit uncomfortable, then you’ve reached that layer. And that’s where change takes place. If you as coach are able to reach that next layer, you often get the coachee moving, literally. As coachee, you may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable but you also feel that you’ve reached the core of your issue and you’ll probably start thinking: Wasn’t I, myself, also capable of finding this perfect solution? You, yourself, move into action.

It can only go wrong if you, as coach, dig too deep. Too many novice coaches have discovered psychoanalysis as a second hobby. As coachee you come in with a practical and substantive question, and if you aren’t careful, leave with a psychological problem. You notice that your coach digs deeper and deeper for a reason as to why you have this issue but the only thing you are feeling is uncomfortable and you just want a solution to your problem. Maybe you get quiet, stop answering questions and remain uncomfortable.

A good coach determines on the basis of the coaching issue and the agreements made in the coaching contract, at what level the issue should be addressed and doesn’t dig too deep if it’s not necessary.

4. A good coach coaches with a clear head!

Everyone has their own radio playing in their head, often with a variety of favorite stations. The one frequency sends out the newest hits, the other is a talk program and maybe you have another sending out nice lounge music. Your own favorite programs and music that you’d also like to share with others.

The art of coaching during a session is to be able to turn off your own radio and tune into that of your coachee’s. To which music is he listening? What’s his favorite DJ? Or does he prefer listening to soothing jazz music? If you have the same taste in music and the same ideas about the volume and no interruptions in between, then no problem. You can simply turn your own radio off and listen to that of your coachee. You make contact, listen, tune-in and ask questions.

It gets difficult when your music tastes differ from your coachee. Or that you suddenly hear an amazing number from your own radio and your coachee in spite of everything needs to hear it. You aren’t really listening to your coachee’s music anymore, you don’t hear what he’s saying and you are tuned back  in to your own radio frequency.

As a coach your own judgment, opinions and ideas can certainly be of valuable information. But as a coachee, you may not be interested in hearing it. After all, as coachee, you’ve been thinking about your issue for quite some time now and then all of a sudden a coach comes along with some immediate answers. Apparently it wasn’t so difficult. It can even be seen as offensive.

A real coach listens to the music played by his coachee. He really listens and lets himself be amazed. As coach you may even discover that house music is even better than you thought.

5. A good coach knows himself!

Last but definitely not least: A good coach has sufficient self-insight. Emotions that come up during a coaching session need to be recognised. Maybe a response toward your coachee or an emotion you recognise strongly in yourself. You need to know your own blind spots and which buttons push which of your own emotions. You have no need for a coach who continually tells the same theories because he/she likes them so much or trying out new methods which provoke a lot of action because he/she likes that manner of working. A coachee is best served by a coach who is in line with the needs of the coachee, in theory as well as coaching methods. Sometimes it is reflection and consideration, other times it’s turning clear goals into action.

A good coach knows himself and his own radio stations. The better he knows himself, the better he knows his own radio frequencies and can tune them in accordingly. But he can also turn them down or off if that’s better for the development of the coachee.

How do knowledge-intensive organisations deal with the career planning of their professionals? One of my projects as  policy adviser MD at the Dutch Bank. Click here for an interesting  article from HR Strategy from March 2011.

For more, see:

  • Up in the Air: George Clooney understands the art of coaching in the form of delivering bad news and at the same time giving career advice. Go ahead and try!
  • As good as it gets: Jack Nicholson in a starring role as a neurotic whose life is based on habits and compulsions. You’ll watch with a smile while quickly realising how “normal” you really are.
  • As it is in Heaven: A conductor returns to his home town and allows himself to be persuaded to become the new conductor for the village choir. Daniel’s approach stirs up quite a bit in the villagers: jealousy, love and a quest for what they all really stand for.
  • BBC-series 7-up: A group of people are followed throughout their lives and are filmed every 7 years. Different people from different backgrounds with very different career choices.