Thursday, 28 April 2016

Perfectionists Just Can't Measure Up

I’m sure you can think of someone you know who you would describe as a perfectionist.

While that person may justify or rationalise their behaviour by saying that they want “the best” or they want everything to be “right”, what they’re actually experiencing is a fear of failure, or more likely, a fear of being judged as a failure by a significant person in their lives, usually a parent, sometimes a teacher.
People learn to be perfectionists when their parents show disappointment, so as a child, the perfectionist learns that whatever they do, it’s not enough, or it’s not good enough.

The problem is that the child has no idea what would be good enough, so the child learns to keep trying in the hope that, one day, they will hear those magic words... “Well done”.

Those words never come, and they never will come. As the child becomes an adult, they internalise the sense of disappointment and the need to do more, to do better. If anyone else says, “Well done”, it doesn’t satisfy the need because it’s not coming from the significant person, and if the significant person says, “Well done”, then it doesn’t count because they’re only saying it, they don’t really mean it, and in any case, the perfectionist made them say it, so it wasn’t genuine.
For the rest of their life, the perfectionist is trapped in a constant cycle of trying to prove that they’re good enough to people who didn’t ask and don’t care, as a substitute for praise from the one person who matters most.

The most important point to bear in mind when coaching someone like this is that perfection is not a thing, and it is not an end state that can ever be achieved. Perfection is actually a process, one of perfecting, and the process has two main phases which form an ongoing, perpetual cycle.

The process of perfecting needs three things:

1. Something that you control and can change
2. A standard
3. A measure

Let’s say that you are an art forger, and you are creating a copy of the Mona Lisa for a customer. Would you attempt to do this from memory?

What if someone just described the Mona Lisa to you? Would that be good enough?

What if you painted what you thought the Mona Lisa should look like, and your customer just said, “no” when your attempt was not a perfect recreation?
Does that sound ridiculous? Yet I am certain you have done exactly this in your life. You have tried to improve yourself, you have tried to achieve a goal or standard that you couldn’t see, that someone had only vaguely described to you and which you received only negative feedback on. How many iterations would it take you to reproduce the Mona Lisa? How many iterations would it take you to become the person who your parents wanted you to be?

Ah. Your parents, and your teachers. That’s who you’re really trying to impress. They created a benchmark for your life, a standard to compare yourself to, but they never showed you what that actually is. They only told you that you didn’t match up.

If you came home from school with a report showing that you achieved 99% in a test, and your father said, “Why didn’t you get 100%?” then you know that anything less than 100% is not good enough. In fact, he doesn’t even have to say that, all he has to say is, “Hmm” and you know that you have failed to meet your father’s standards. He might even say, “What was the highest mark in your class?” and if it’s higher than your score, you didn’t work hard enough.
You want to please your father, don’t you? He is, after all, the alpha of your social group. Disapproval could lead to rejection, and rejection, for a member of a social species, leads to death. We all have a very strong desire to fit in, to conform, to belong. Loners get eaten by predators.

You learn to apply your 100% standard to everything in life, but the problem is that not everything can be marked or scored or assessed like a school test. Your career. Did you achieve 100%? Your marriage? Your children? The car you drive? The house you live in? Your friends? Are they all 100%?

You have no way of knowing because your father didn’t give you a complete checklist of every achievement in life, so you assume that you have not achieved 100%, so you keep on trying harder, and harder, and harder and working longer, and longer, and longer until one day, someone stands at your funeral and says that you worked very hard, but they wish you had taken time to appreciate life more.

A perfectionist sees themselves as the object to be perfected, so they keep on making changes and trying to improve themselves, but they don’t actually know what the standard is, or how to measure themselves against it. Their unconscious simulation of their parent or teacher holds the standard and the measure and, because those people aren’t really measuring and giving meaningful feedback, the perfectionist runs wildly off track, resulting in dissatisfaction with life, stress and a whole range of stress related illnesses.
Your true role in life, the realistic, in-control function in this process of perfecting is that of the measurer.

By comparing current reality to the standard and measuring the difference, feedback will be produced, and that feedback will be either positive or negative.
Positive feedback is not, “Well done!”, and negative feedback is not, “You did it wrong!”.

Positive feedback means, “Do more of this”.
Negative feedback means, “Do less of this”.

A system which achieves a goal through positive and negative feedback is called a closed-loop servo system. An air conditioning unit is a simple example, where a cooling system is switched on and off until a target temperature is achieved.

Negative feedback means that the room is too cold, so cool less.
Positive feedback means that the room is too hot, so cool more.

Imagine a toy car which has a very simply arrangement of a motor, two wheels and some kind of sensor to direct it towards a target. The car’s guidance system doesn’t need to be accurate, it only needs to keep focus on the target.

If the car heads to the left of the target, the left wheel’s motor will speed up. If the car heads to the right of the target, the left wheel’s motor will slow down.

The car’s path will look something like this:

The car is ‘off course’ for most of its journey, yet it still gets there. That’s what your behaviour is like as you direct yourself towards your goals. Sometimes, it will feel like you’re moving backwards, but that is OK; what matters is that you are moving.

The toy car, and your brain and body, are closed-loop servo systems. You have at least 19 different senses for detecting changes in the world and generating feedback to keep yourself on course. The cold receptors in your skin let you know that it’s time to turn the heating up. The balance receptors in your ear let you know that you’re about to fall over.

When you set a goal for yourself, you must express it in terms of raw sensory data. “Success” is not something that you can see or hear or feel. It has no temperature, no pressure, no weight, no colour. Waiting to become successful, and striving to be successful, is a pointless, endless search. You will forever go round in circles, looking for success when you don’t really know what it is that you are looking for. For most perfectionists, what they really, really want is to hear one person say, “Well done, I’m proud of you” and their search would end.
You might think that such a search is a good thing because it makes you ‘driven’. That’s certainly true, but driven where? As you reach the end of your life, will you say, “Ah well, at least I was busy”? No, you will judge yourself by your achievements. Busy people achieve little.

You’re not supposed to meet your standards.

In 1791, after some debate in France, the metre was defined as one ten-millionth of the length of the meridian through Paris from pole to the equator. The scientists made a standard metre, a metal rod, that could be used as the standard, however it was short by 0.2 millimetres because researchers miscalculated the flattening of the earth due to its rotation. Even though the standard was ‘wrong’, it still became the standard.

In 1889, a new prototype was made of an alloy of platinum with 10 percent iridium, to within 0.0001mm measured at a temperature of the melting point of ice. In 1927, the metre was more precisely defined as the distance, at 0°C, between the axes of the two central lines marked on the bar of platinum-iridium kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.

In, 1960 a new definition was created, based upon a wavelength of krypton-86 radiation.

In 1983 the General Conference on Weights and Measures created a new definition: The metre is the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299792458 of a second.

How are you supposed to be perfect if we can’t even settle on a definition of a metre?

Standard units such as the metre, the second and the gram change over time because our measurement technologies become more accurate. However, there will always be a margin of error, always, and that is why you will never achieve perfection.

Whenever we create a copy of something, the copy will always be imperfect because we are limited by the margin of error of our measurement. If you use a ruler marked in millimetres to measure something that is 10mm long, your measurement could be anything from 9mm to 11mm because you can’t measure anything smaller than a millimetre. If you then use the 11mm measurement to create a copy, and then use that copy to create a copy, and then use that copy... and so on... you’ll quickly end up with a copy that bears no relation at all to the original.

Our copies are not supposed to be the same as the original, because there will always be a margin of error in our measurements. What we therefore aim for is for that margin to be as small as possible, and to be as consistent as possible so at least all of the copies are the same. Ish.

However, there is good news, and it should be the most obvious point of all.
You are not a copy.

There is no laboratory in France holding the reference standard of you. The reference standard, original, perfect you is reading these words, right now. There is no other.

We might therefore define a perfectionist as, “Someone who has forgotten that he or she is unique.” The next time you’re dealing with a perfectionist, ask them who they are comparing themselves to, and with what standard of measurement, and help them to see the breathtaking beauty in their originality.

This article is an extract from my forthcoming book 'Coaching Excellence' ISBN 978-0-9565358-6-3 CGW Publishing 2016

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Stop Using Coaching Models

A coaching model is not a coaching session. GROW, or whatever else you might use, is not a substitute for a coaching interaction any more than scaffolding is a substitute for a building.

Scaffolding provides a safe structure within which the building can be constructed, but once the building can stand on its own foundations, the scaffolding is taken away. It’s only put back when the building needs major work or expansion.

You are that building. The scaffolding is your coaching model.
The purpose of the coaching model is to teach you how to coach in a particular way. You’re not supposed to carry on using the model. You’re supposed to learn an approach and then forget the approach.

If you carry on using a coaching model, you are not paying attention to your client. Your primary focus is on your model, and fitting your client into it.
This isn’t what the creators of coaching models intended, but for most clients and most coaches, it’s good enough, so why change it?

A coaching model is a greatly simplified, generalised, limited description of a ‘typical’ coaching interaction. I’m sure you can see the problem here – you don’t have any ‘typical’ clients. However, that’s only a problem if you believe that the model is there to be followed after you’ve mastered the approach that it represents. If you stick to the model, you have to make your clients fit into the process that it defines, otherwise the model breaks down.

How can you coach someone using GROW if they don’t have a goal? You might say that if they don’t have a goal then they’re not a candidate for coaching and they should think about an alternative intervention. However, many coaches operate within a corporate environment, where coaching is selected as one of a range of development options for staff. A manager is appointed a coach, but he doesn’t have any goals that he wants to work on. The coach goes round in circles trying to explore the client’s goals, and the client is happy to take an hour’s break from his job. The coach gets paid, the manager gets a break and the HR department are satisfied that they are providing an innovative support service for their business.

However, does this offer the sponsor a good Return On Investment? Are they getting their money’s worth out of the coaching? Is it actually helping anyone? It’s helping the sponsor and the coach. The client is not getting any value from it, and isn’t the client’s value our main concern as coaches?

An excellent coach, free from the constraints of the coaching model, might take a different approach. She might ask the manager why he agreed to attend a coaching session even though he had no goals. After all, he must have known that coaching is goal-oriented, so he must want something...

This article is an extract from the course workbook for my brand new, SNLP certified Certificate in Advanced Coaching Practice. The workbook, entitled 'Coaching Excellence' will be available by itself by the end of April through all good bookstores, ISBN 978-0-9565358-6-3

Friday, 1 April 2016

You've Had a Bad Month? Tough...

So you've had a tough month? Or a bad quarter?

Awwww. Shame. Terrible state of the economy. Customers not signing their contracts on time. Not paying their invoices. Your best salesperson left.

How sad. Get over it.

Here's the bad news for you:


It's not just you. Everyone screwed up. But that's no excuse for you to make the same mistake as they will inevitably make.

Their mistake will be that they fail to learn from it, and here's why.

We're so obsessed with success that we become fixated on winning. We have to hit sales targets, close deals, sign contracts. And when we do, what happens?


Nothing happens because success was what you expected. And it's what you got. Big deal.

You learn nothing from success. Hitting your target only shows you that you were right. And we would all rather be right than be happy. We would rather be right about the terrible state of the world than be happy by changing it.

And because you are so focused on success, when you're faced with failure, your natural inclination is to make excuses. It wasn't your fault. It's a tough time. The economy. China. Steel. The EU referendum. The Presidential election.

As K said in the film Men in Black, "There's always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT! "

Missing your target is tough. But scrabbling around for 'low hanging fruit' means that you're actually at greater risk. Where do you think your competitors are looking? Where do you think the greatest threat is? And why do you think the fruit is 'low hanging'?

You're in this situation for one reason only: Because six months ago, you weren't prospecting enough. That's all there is to it. You can't recover from that by scratching around in the dirt. You have to start prospecting and tighten your belt for the next six months.

You will only learn from failure. When you step back from your desperation and realise what you're doing, you might learn enough to not repeat your mistakes next time.

Instead, you'll make a whole new bunch of as yet undiscovered mistakes.

Which is great news. More learning.

The Service Chain

I mentioned in a previous post that sales performance is not a measure of sales behaviour, it is a measure of customer service behaviour, however it is not a direct measure, because of the Service Chain.

Research from the Association for Consumer Research on “Market Orientation and Customer Service” found a very strong connection between five links in the chain of events that connect service to profit, as illustrated above.

However, other studies have found no significant connection between service and profit!
The answer to this might be found in another research study from the University of Maryland, entitled, “Linkages between customer service, customer satisfaction and performance in the airline industry”

This research found that the connection between service and profit is ‘non-linear’, in other words, it’s not a direct connection, where more customer service = more profit.

Better service leads to increased profits up to a certain point, and then it doesn’t matter how much better your service is, your profits decline because the customer doesn’t care and that extra service costs money.

Can you think of instances where a supplier did something that they thought was good for customer service, but which made absolutely no difference to you? Perhaps you were offered a discount when you didn’t ask for one? Or you were given free drinks in a restaurant because of a delay in serving you, when you were actually glad of not being rushed? Of course, you’re happy to take the discounts and free drinks, but they didn’t make you a more loyal customer.

Research in 2013 from the Miller Heiman Research Institute found that companies that measured customer-focused behaviours had an average increase in profitability of 13% compared with other companies.

This performance gap increased to 25% when combined with measurements of best practices in selling and sales management.

Examples of the customer-focused behaviours measured include:

  • We consistently use a formal process for measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty
  • Our salespeople have a solid understanding of our customers' business needs
  • We clearly understand our customers' issues before we propose a solution
  • We have relationships at the highest levels with all our most important accounts
  • In an average week, our sales force definitely spends sufficient time with customers

It’s very important to note that this is relative to the customer’s expectations of service. The ‘optimum service level’ depends on the company’s brand image which in turn creates those customer expectations. Clearly, Harrods’ customers expect something different than Lidl’s customers, but the same trade-off applies to both; once that optimum level is achieved, doing more for your customers adds no value at all, and may even be counter-productive on top of being a waste of time and money.

This connection between expectation and delivery could perhaps be summed up with:

Your customers are happiest when you do what you say you’re going to do

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Clients are Liars

There are many schools of coaching, many coaching models and many styles of coach. All, apparently, serve the same purpose, to “free up the client’s resources” and “enable growth”. In short, all coaches help the client to achieve the things that they want in their lives.

But why are there so many different styles of coaching? At one end of the spectrum, we have a person centred approach, akin to counselling, and at the other end we have a goal focused approach which is concerned primarily with the end result that the client desires.

I believe in simplicity and elegance as an operating principle. Even that regularly quoted genius, Albert Einstein, said, “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler”. Machines are at their most efficient when their motion is at its most simple. In the arts, we admire grace and elegance. In product design, we admire multifunctional objects which conserve energy and resources. And in the field of personal change, I personally admire simplicity.

Conversely, it would seem that much of the ‘self help’ industry does not admire simplicity. Coaching and personal change theories can become incredibly complex, drawing upon theories as diverse as Jungian psychology and quantum physics in order to justify ever more outlandish claims, including the idea that your thoughts can change the physical universe and manifest money and success into your life.

In fact, the greatest search in physics for almost the past 100 years has been for a unified theory, a simple, elegant explanation of how everything works, from the biggest solar systems down to the smallest elementary particles.

Can we find a similar unified theory of coaching, one characteristic which is the essence of all coaching models? I believe that we can, and here is my logic.

Let’s say that I want to write a book. Well, it’s fair to say that I am writing a book, so my goal is achieved. I won’t be asking for a coach’s help with that.

But what happens if I lose direction half way through and give up on the book, as I have done in the past? On one hand, I want to complete my book. On the other hand, I’m not completing it. We have a dilemma, and our bodies tend to resolve dilemmas for us. I say that I’m “trying” to finish my book, or that I am “working on” my book, yet if you observe my behaviour, there is nothing to suggest that this is the case.

The dilemma only exists as a disconnect between what I say I want and what I am doing. If we were observing an alien species, we might do an experiment where we place an alien in a cage with an apple. The alien doesn’t eat the apple, and so we might deduce that the alien doesn’t like apples, or it doesn’t know that it can eat the apple, or perhaps that it’s just not hungry. There’s no way to be certain, because we can’t communicate with the alien to ask about its intentions. We could therefore conclude that, for whatever reason, the alien doesn’t want the apple.

Applying this same logic, if I’m not writing my book, it’s because I don’t want to. My dilemma is only that I have said that I’m working on it, therefore I have to at least make it look as if I’m trying. And to the people who care about me, I don’t look anything of the sort.

When you lie to yourself, you expect other people to believe the lie too. You expect other people to think that you’re hard at work on your book. But after a year of trying, and still no book, they could no longer care less about how hard you’re trying. Either you’ll produce a book or you won’t. So what? And if your ‘goal’ is to complete a task in a full time job, after a year, your manager would be quite justified in asking, “What have you been doing all year?”

If, after a year, my book is still not finished, I might give the following reasons:

I’ve been too busy
It was more time consuming than I had imagined
I had to do something else instead
I had a better idea and decided to work on something else
I needed to do more research

All of these reasons are lies. They are not reasons for failing to finish my book. There is only one reason why I haven’t finished my book:

I didn’t want to.

I’ll complicate it a little and say that of course I wanted to finish it, but I only have so many hours in the day and there are other things that I had to prioritise, other unforeseen calamities that I had to deal with and exciting opportunities that I couldn’t allow to pass me by.

This relegates my book into the category of “Things that I’d like to do if…”

…if I had more time
…if I had more money
…if I had fewer worries
… if I wasn’t so busy with other important things
… if I could just make the first chapter perfect
… if you’d get off my back and stop hassling me about it
… if you’d like to try writing a book instead of being critical of other people all the time

Desires and goals are expressed on a spectrum which ranges from a vague possibility to an absolute certainty:


We could therefore say that the aim of all coaching is to move a person’s expression of a goal towards the certainty end of this spectrum.

However, as an aim, this is pointless. It presupposes that a person can’t turn a desire into action without external support, and more importantly, it presupposes that a person’s lack of action is unintentional.

Many coaches get round this obstacle by saying that coaching accelerates a natural process. The client would have achieved their goal, sooner or later. With the help of the coach, it’s sooner.

I propose that the aim of all coaching should be to reveal the simple truth to a client:

A goal is something that you are not doing
If you have not yet achieved something, it is because you don’t want to
Your life already has everything in it that you want

But what about that time delay between first thinking of something that you want and actually getting it? Don’t you need a coach to help you plan that out? A coach to help you break down your big, ambitious goals into bite sized pieces?


People set big, adventurous goals so that they will have something to dream about without actually doing anything to get it.

I’m currently in the process of moving house. I don’t need a coach to help me to plan it. I have a house full of ‘stuff’ that needs to make its way to another house. It will take me a month, but I know that on a certain date, one house will be empty and the other will be full of stuff. Physical processes take time, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going to happen. One house will no longer be available to me, whether I move my ‘stuff’ out or not. I’m not “trying” to move. I’m not “planning” to move. I’m moving.

I will continue to return to my central premise; that if you truly want to achieve something, you are already working on it. If you’re just saying that you’re working on it then you are lying to yourself and to other people about the fact that you want it.

Some people, notably coaches, will argue that this is an extremely reductionist approach, creating a black and white world of coaching without all of the subtle nuances that define interpersonal relationships. They would argue that we cannot delineate our world into things we’re doing, things we’re not doing and with no space in between for our hopes and dreams. And yet it is in precisely this space that the client hides, safe in the knowledge that their engagement in the coaching process is itself a deception, proof that they are really, really working on their goals.

Thus, the coach enters the client’s deception and says, “Yes, your majesty, your new suit looks quite marvellous”. And why wouldn’t they? For whatever reason, the coach wants to coach. It’s what they do, and nothing is going to stop them, not even the small matter of a client who isn’t being honest about what they want.

Is there a role for a coach, then?

Of course. The role of a coach is to prevent the client from lying to themselves.
A person’s behaviour becomes more complex and more indecipherable when they are hiding something. It is a natural reaction to hide a deceit behind confusion, and if challenged directly, to respond with confusion, denial or direct aggression. The person believes that they are getting away with their deceit when it goes unchallenged, never realising that their colleagues or friends don’t challenge them, not because they believe the deceit, but because they don’t care.

Let’s take a simple example; a colleague who claims to be on a diet yet doesn’t seem to be taking the necessary steps to losing weight. At the simplest level, she will either eat cake and chocolate or she won’t. The middle ground is where she overtly eats a healthy lunch and then covertly sneaks a few chocolate bars, just to keep her going until her evening meal. A recent British TV series used private detectives to follow people who couldn’t understand why they weren’t losing weight, and all were eating significantly more than they had reported to the dieticians.

To quote Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, speaking through possibly the best known solver of mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” So once we eliminate the possibility of a physical disorder, the improbable truth is that the person hasn’t been having just a salad for lunch. And that is the simple, elegant reason for their weight gain.

In the UK, a TV show called Secret Eaters follows people who are struggling to lose weight, despite being on strict diets. They swear that they never have takeaways, eat salad for lunch and drink alcohol sparingly. They then have cameras installed in their homes, and undercover detectives follow their every move for a week. At the end of the week, they are shown what they have actually eaten during the week, and the mystery of their unexplained weight gain is solved. The careful dieters actually had late night takeaway pizzas, chocolate bars, extra large portions and snacks galore. All of those extra calories just slipped their minds.

Truth is simple. Truth obeys the laws of physics and of cause and effect. The boy who claims not to have broken the window is the only person standing on a straight line which connects the hole in the window and the position of the fallen stone.

I spent two years coaching the up-and-coming managers of a global engineering business. While there was no obligation for them to pass their exams and become chartered engineers, it was definitely a positive career option for them and came with the company’s full support. So why did some engineers achieve chartered status within a few months while others were still “working on it” after two or even five years? They presented all kinds of complex and confusing reasons; difficult projects, lack of support, lack of time, a need for perfection. But the simplest reason was, however improbable, true. They just didn’t want to pass their exams. To become a chartered engineer meant a promotion and a pay rise, but they reasoned that this also meant greater responsibility and higher expectations of them. Why bother? But on the other hand, they couldn’t say, “I’ve decided not to become chartered, I’d rather just hide in the corner and hope you don’t notice how lazy I am”.

One of the coaching group was a financial manager. He had succeeded in hiring an assistant and was hoping to hire another. He spent his working day chatting to people around the office, and when they all went home, he stayed late to catch up on his work in order to accumulate lieu time. When I asked him to talk me through a typical day, minute by minute, it appeared that the sum total of his output for the day was two phone calls and a letter. He did defend this by saying that one of the phone calls was particularly difficult as the caller had a strong Scottish accent.

For at least five year’s the person’s employer has allowed him to get away with such behaviour. He thinks that it’s because his managers have believed his illusion. In truth, his managers have been far more concerned with their own career plans to worry about what he’s doing all day. As long as the job gets done, and as long as their managers don’t ask any questions, they don’t care.

At the time of writing, the Leveson enquiry into press standards is still in full flow in the UK. Celebrities and journalists file into the court room, taking it in turns to answer the judge’s questions about the true nature of journalists’ intrusions into the lives of public figures. The celebrities complain about their loss of privacy, the journalists complain about their loss of freedom of speech. It’s in the public interest, they claim, for the readers of tabloid newspapers to know which celebrities are having extra-marital affairs. Well, the public certainly are interested, that’s why they buy the tabloid newspapers and lap up one scandal after another. But is it in the public good?

An important point to emerge from the enquiry is that the illegal and immoral behaviours which led to the closure of one of the UK’s oldest newspapers, the News of the World, are not recent changes in press behaviour; it’s just that no-one really cared before. Out of court settlements were made, apologies were published and no-one got hurt. Much. Individual careers, families and lives were destroyed, but at least they sold a few copies.

We all get away with what we can. We leave the household chores a little longer. We ‘forget’ to complete the employee satisfaction survey. We ‘don’t have time’ to donate money to charity. And when no-one really cares whether we do those things or not, we think we’re getting away with it. But the only person you fool is yourself.

Imagine that you’re driving to an address in a town you’re unfamiliar with. After an hour of driving round in circles, you can’t deny that you’re lost. You know that you need to be near a certain restaurant, you know that you really should have been there by now and you know that the directions were very simple and you really should have been able to follow them. You’re also sure that you are absolutely nowhere near the restaurant. You call your friend. “Hi! I’m a bit held up, terrible traffic”. There’s the first lie. “And I just wanted to check the directions because I wasn’t sure whether you said the Indian restaurant or the Chinese restaurant”. Another lie. Your friend asks you where you are now so that they can give you the best directions. “I’m outside the restaurant”. You figure that you’re sure to find your way there very soon, and you don’t want your friend to think that you’re incapable of following such simple directions.

It does not matter how good, how clear and how succinct your friend’s directions are, they won’t help you because you are not actually where you say you are.
It also does not matter why you acted in this way. Whether it’s through a fear of looking stupid, a desire to appear perfect or plain arrogance, the fact is that you made a choice to lie.
“I’m sorry, I have absolutely no idea where I am. I thought your directions looked simple, but I’ve driven round in circles for ages. All I can see is a clothes shop next to a hairdresser.”
If your friend replies, “What the hell is wrong with you? Can’t you follow simple directions? You’re miles away!” then I suggest you turn round, go home and unfriend them from Facebook.
Wouldn’t a more realistic response be, “Never mind! OK, so keep those on your left and drive for about 2 miles until you see a….”?

Coaches will use this very same example to prove the ‘power’ of a coach. You knew where you wanted to be. You knew where you were. The coach provided the means to get there. This is absolutely untrue. What your friend provided in this instance was information which you did not have. That makes them a mentor, at best.

In this example, you didn’t need a coach. A coach would have said, “OK, great! So what options do you feel are available to you right now?”

My point is this; when you’re honest about where you are, you no longer need a coach. That’s not to say that you don’t need any help, it’s just that coaching isn’t the answer. Therefore the role of a coach should not be to help you get from where you are to where you want to be. The role of a coach should first be to get you to be honest about where you are. Once you know that, you can figure out the route for yourself.

Maybe the route is very long and complex, such as the route to starting your own business or making a big change in your lifestyle. You need a coach to help you plan your strategy, yes? No. Planning  a long term strategy tends to make people feel daunted by the amount of work ahead of them, which discourages them. All that you ever have to focus on is the next step, because once you’ve taken that next step, the landscape will change anyway. The things that you thought would be important turn out not to be.

OK then, maybe a coach can help you to create a vision of the end result you’re looking for? Help you to create a compelling multi-sensory representation of how wonderful life will be when you have achieved your dreams? Again, no. Research has shown that this is actually counter productive. Creating a compelling vision actually makes it less likely that you will achieve your dreams, for two reasons. Firstly, the warm glow that you get from thinking about your future gives you the payback now, so you don’t need to do any work. Secondly, there is such a big gap between that goal and where you feel you are now that you feel discouraged.

The best that a coach can do is support the client in taking just the next step. And the next step is always the most difficult.

I'll be running a Coaching Masterclass in Mumbai, 30 April to 3 May 2016, and that will be the first time that I'll be teaching you the art of performance in coaching. Beyond that, I'll be including it in NLP Trainer Training from late 2016 onwards, and in other Masterclasses.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Rituals and Incantations

When people have goals which are outside of their personal control, they often engage in rituals and incantations to restore a sense of control. Organisations turn these rituals and incantations into operating procedures, sales scripts and training programs. However, they are generally ineffective.

A ritual is a set of behaviours and an incantation is a script, both intended to lead to a result. For example, saying, “Would you like an apple pie with that?” does not, in itself, guarantee increased sales in a fast food outlet. A high performer changes what they do and say from one customer to the next, but with a ritual and incantation we pretend that the actions and words have magic in themselves, and the skill or creativity of the employee is irrelevant. The opposite is actually true.

I do a bit of mystery shopping in my spare time. I have to check that restaurant staff make me feel personally connected with by asking if I'm having a good day. Wow. I feel sooooo valued.

I have to check that the server is wearing their name badge, and that they make a personal recommendation for a dessert, and that they point out the customer survey on the back of the receipt with the prize draw.

There are two different things going on here. Standards are a good thing. If staff have name badges, wear them. All tables should be cleaned between customers. All tables should have clean menus.

The problem is that these standards are turned into rituals, and the result is that menus are only cleaned when they can no longer be unstuck from the table, and the server only recommends a wine when they think the customer is a mystery shopper. For anyone else, why should they care? If the customer wants wine, they'll ask for it. After all, I don't like being sold to, so why would anyone else like being sold to.

She's right. We don't like being sold to. And on the other hand, we have sales targets.

Sales results are not the measure of sales behaviour.

Sales results are the measure of customer service behaviour.

However, the connection is not a direct one. Making a customer happy does not increase sales revenue. In fact, it might well reduce profits, because making customers happy generally costs you something.

Staff and managers engage in rituals when they don't know what makes a customer buy, or they don't know what makes a computer start working again, or they don't know what makes the sun come up. In all cases, just sacrifice a goat and hope for the best. If it doesn't work, sacrifice another. Then try a cow. You can see how this gets out of hand.

"Oh, but we never do that in my company!"

Yes you do.

Your sales people don't really know why your customers buy from you, so when sales are slowing down, they do more of what they think is the reason. They buy more lunches. They go to more meetings. They deliver more presentations. Before you know it, they'll be claiming for goats on their expenses.

Let's take the common behaviour of 'upselling' that we see in retail and restaurants. You buy a nice new jumper. Do you want some socks too? No, just the jumper thank you. A shirt? No, just the jumper. Some new shoes? A coat? A hat? A scarf? PLEASE BUY SOMETHING FROM ME I BEG YOU. No thank you just the JUMPER WHICH IS THE ONE THING I CAME IN FOR WHICH IS A BIRTHDAY PRESENT AND NO I DON'T WANT A BAR OF CHOCOLATE FOR £1 EITHER.

Oh... wait... just £1? Oh, go on then.

We don't know why a customer, who came if for the thing they came in for, will be tempted to buy something else. Maybe they forgot that something else and you conveniently reminded them. Maybe they are a repressed shopaholic. Maybe it's your lucky day. That's the problem. You don't actually know. So if the customer says no, thank you, you have no choice but to escalate your ritual, to keep on throwing more and more options at them until they give in just to shut you up.

Alternatively, you could actually ask them.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Coaching as a Performance Art

Can a business book be a work of art?

We might say that great works of fiction are works of art, but what about throwaway airport romantic fiction, where the publisher churns out the same book every year with different names and a new cover? Is that art?

A design can have artistic merit, but if we mass produce that design, is the resulting product a work of art?

Art must be unique, and it must arise from a moment in time where ability, resource and inspiration come together. No artist can create by sitting in a dark room, thinking long and hard about what they will sculpt or paint or write next. Artists go out into the world and wait for the moment of inspiration to come to them.

I propose that a business book can be a work of art, and each copy of that book can be like a print you might buy from an art gallery. Not limited edition, but nonetheless a reproduction of the artistic process.

Performance arts include dance, theatre, music and more. Can we consider coaching as a performance art?

It's a performance, usually with an audience of one. If we extend the idea to training as a performance art, then I'm sure we've all seen trainers who are primarily performing for the audience, to impress them, to win their approval. But like a ham actor who knowingly looks at the audience while waiting for that dramatic ....................................... pause, the trainer who plays to the audience is not a performer at all.

Actors talk about the 'fourth wall' which separates the actors from the audience. The actors are engaged in their scenario, oblivious to the voyeurs who watch from the cheap seats.

A trainer might give a demonstration at the front of the class, and forget that the audience is watching. Personally I like the style of performers/characters such as Groucho Marx or Deadpool who break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience, as if sharing a secret that the other characters don't have access to.

When I perform a demonstration of a coaching process, for example, I frequently stop to tell the audience what I'm doing, so that they can pay attention to the most important points for their learning. If I simply perform the entire coaching process or technique, the audience doesn't know what to look for and they don't know what to practice, so their learning is impaired.

But this is a different, and more obvious kind of performance.

During a coaching session, is the client the audience? Or is there an imaginary audience, watching from the sidelines?

This is my proposal to you: The client is not paying for your time. They are not paying to be processed. They are not paying for your coaching model. They are not paying for your education. They are not even paying for results.

Your client is paying for a performance.

The techniques of coaching are irrelevant. If you think that the coaching model or the 6 step whatever are where the magic happens then consider an operation such as McDonalds. Would you like an apple pie with that? Their system is not designed to deliver excellence, it is designed to deliver conformity, consistency. The questions that you ask and the steps you take the client through to explore their goals are irrelevant. They are the baseline, the means, the props, the backdrop, the script.

The performance is what you add, over and above that script, and it is unique to you, crafted from your personality and, most importantly, unique to that moment and that client.

The client provides the fleeting moment of inspiration which transforms, transcends your work into an art form.

Learn to see yourself, not as a facilitator but as a performer.

I'll be running a Coaching Masterclass in Mumbai, 30 April to 3 May 2016, and that will be the first time that I'll be teaching you the art of performance in coaching. Beyond that, I'll be including it in NLP Trainer Training from late 2016 onwards, and in other Masterclasses.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Looking for a Stress-Free Life?

I bet you are. Stress is a nasty thing. It has been shown to shorten the 'telomeres' that protect the DNA in every cell in your body, leading to a measurable reduction in your body's cells ability to reproduce. That means an early death. Stress will kill you.

But how can you reduce stress, when it's not your fault? It's because of the economy, or your nasty boss, or your family, or your bank manager, or some other external pressure. Nothing you can do but grin and bear it.

Well, here's the bad news.

Stress is your fault.

Here's why. You're lying to yourself, and your lies create stress.

Your body is an electromechanical system, just like a washing machine. What would happen if your washing machine tried to wash and dry at the same time? It would probably break down. What would happen if you put your car into reverse while it was moving forwards? You'd probably break the gearbox.

The electrical part of your body, usually called the nervous system, activates the mechanical part i.e. your muscles, which act through a system of levers to convert small electrical inputs into various mechanical outputs.

What happens when you try to get your body to do two competing things at once?

Two complementary things; no problem. I can type this post and listen to Shrek 2 at the same time, because those tasks are not in conflict. I can pour hot water into my mug with one hand and put a teabag in with the other. Two hands, two tasks. Easy.

Part of your mechanical system reproduces what you know as emotions. Feelings. A combination of physical movement and the release of hormones into your bloodstream. As a result of a certain configuration of your nervous system, you feel a certain way.

So why is your stress caused by the lies that you tell yourself?

Because you say that you're going to do something that you know full well you have no intention of doing. You might want to do it. You might know that you really ought to do it. Someone else might really, really want you to do it. But in your heart, you know that it's not going to happen. So you say one thing and do another.

But it's not as simple as just saying you're going to do it. The action of thinking about it and saying it creates a configuration in part of your brain that we could call a 'desire map'. Your brain contains two maps. One is a map that shows what every incoming nerve ending is doing. The other is a map of what those incoming nerve endings need to be doing. The first is a map of how the world is. The second is a map of how you want the world to be.

It's the start of another New Year, and you fancy a change. You look around your living room, and with the Christmas decorations gone, the decor looks a bit tired. So you imagine what a new colour scheme would be like. You imagine some new furniture. That book case in a different place. A new rug. And as you imagine that, a desire map is configured which guides you to the January sales and in no time at all, your living room is all fresh and shiny again. In short, all you had to do was imagine what you wanted, and your unconscious mind automatically resolved the difference between what you saw and what you wanted to see. It's what your brain does, naturally, all by itself.

When you are unable to resolve the conflict between these maps because of some external constraint, you feel frustration. You want a promotion, but your boss won't recommend you. You get angry, impatient. You look for another way, perhaps even find another job. Your feelings of frustration and motivation all arise from your mind's natural process of moving Heaven and Earth to resolve the difference between your desire map and your reality map. If there's one thing you're good at, it's getting what you really want.

Back to stress - what happens when the reason that you can't resolve those two maps isn't something on the outside, it's something on the inside? What if the cause of the conflict isn't some other person or force or barrier that prevents you from taking action, it's the lie that you told yourself in the first place, the lie that you were ever going to do what you said?

Someone asks you to do something, so you say "yes" because it's easy to say. Later, you realise you can't do that thing. Do you stay true to your word, because it's what you promised, or do you change your mind because your commitment is no longer convenient for you?

Do you say what you think someone else wants to hear? Even though it's not what you really mean?

You want people to see you a certain way, so you say that you're going to do something impressive. Start your own business, join a gym, whatever. But in reality, you haven't already done those things because they're not going to happen. People who are good at getting things done don't announce the fact that they're going to do them, they just do them.So you say you're going to do something, creating a desire map, but in fact your real intention is the opposite. You create a conflicting desire map.

Your desire map now represents two different configurations of your system and forces that system - your body - into a state of conflict or stress. You have told your body to do two conflicting, competing things at the same time.

That's the source of your stress.

You want to stop taking your frustration out on your loved ones? You want to stop being short tempered? You want to stop beating yourself up and avoiding people?

Stop lying to yourself.

You want to stop having superficial, shallow relationships that prevent people from discovering what an unpleasant person you are? You want to get off the tiring merry-go-round of being nicey-nicey to everyone to show how fantastic and capable you are?

Stop lying to yourself.

You want to live longer? Live healthier? Sleep better?

Stop lying to yourself.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Coaching Masterclass

Coaching models are great, but they don't really tell you how to coach. If you stick to the model, you risk processing the client through a coaching process, instead of engaging with the client and letting the process inform the next step in the conversation. Therefore, coaching models and coaching training that is tied to a particular model is only part of what a coach needs to really excel and deliver genuine, permanent and satisfying change for a client. Some people say that coaching doesn't necessarily require change; of course it does. Progress is change.

I'm running a masterclass on this in Mumbai, India at the end of April, and I'm currently writing the workbook, which I am going to publish as a book.

My question to you is: What title do you suggest for the book?

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Let Go

Throughout your career, you have been rewarded for certain behaviours. Maybe you were a technical expert. Maybe you hit every target that you were given. Maybe you knew how to push other people to get them to comply. Maybe you let people walk all over you, as you laboured long into the night while they went home to their families. Whatever it was, you were repeatedly rewarded for it. Sometimes, you were rewarded explicitly with bonuses and certificates. Usually, and more importantly, you were rewarded implicitly, with vague nods of approval and acceptance by the boss. You felt part of the gang. You belonged.

The very behaviours, and we could equally use the word skills or capabilities, which got you to where you are right now, sitting there, reading this article, are now precisely the behaviours which hold you back, which tie you to that chair, those working hours, that lifestyle. If you see your colleagues being promoted ahead of you, you can be sure you're stuck behind the second glass ceiling.

If you're a technician, your technical skills will get you so far, until you reach the point that technical skills are easy to teach. Technicians are not hard to find. However, people with the ability to integrate technical and commercial acumen and lead teams are harder to find. It's people with those skills that get promoted. At this stage, we don't need any more technicians. What we need is people who can lead technicians. And I don't mean software programmers; technicians can be lawyers, accountants, teachers, anyone whose value is based in their technical knowledge of a subject. Even a sales person can be a technician.

For you to break through the second glass ceiling means that you have to let go of the very capabilities that got you here. You have to let go of the qualities that you most value in yourself, because those are the qualities that others have rewarded you for.

Herein lies the key: You have been valued by others, because you cannot value yourself. You have been rewarded as a way of shaping you to the will of others. You have not followed your own path.

Breaking through the second glass ceiling means letting go of the illusion of self-worth and instead, doing something unthinkable, something uncomfortable, even scary. For some people, even terrifying.

You have to do what makes you happy.

I'll be running a workshop on this subject at the TIAS Business School in Tilburg, Netherlands on March 11th. Maybe you'd like me to run it for your team. Alternatively, maybe you'd like to wait for another few years and see if things change.