- Perspective shifting. Another participant established initial goals around being a great coach, becoming more self-aware, more emotionally intelligent and more influential. The wording attached to the goals didn’t shift over the course of the program, but once again, the meaning behind the words changed significantly. Her perspective had changed, her way of thinking:
“These are still goals, but … now it’s not about have I got better emotional intelligence than someone else. Now it’s about showing up as me, more. Both personally and professionally I want to continue being more authentic.”
- Unconscious to conscious. One participant struggled to name goals at the beginning of the assignment. Not long after the assignment began, some things happened in his personal life that demanded all his energies. When things calmed down, and he focused again on his work-life, he formed a whole set of new goals that appeared to have become clear to him while working on more personal issues.
I asked people what factors played a role in the ongoing evolution of their goals. Not surprisingly, people talked about changes in the workplace, such as new roles, structural change and shifting priorities. They talked about factors outside the workplace too, and linked changes at home to shifts in mindset that showed up at work. And they talked about their relationships with others, including – but not only – the coach. When external factors changed, they turned to others to make sense of those changes, and from those interactions emerged new intentions.
A systemic perspective
These findings make perfect sense when viewed through a systemic lens. Leadership theory has traditionally been dominated by the idea of the ‘heroic’ leader, an individualistic perspective that fails to acknowledge the function of relationships in the evolution of change. As Ralph Stacey(3) put it:
“Each individual is simultaneously evoking and provoking responses from others, so that … particular … themes emerging for any one of them will depend as much on the others as on the individual concerned. Put like this, it becomes clear that no one individual can be organizing his or her experience in isolation because they are all simultaneously evoking and provoking responses in each other.”
In other words, whilst we (at least ‘we’ in the western world) may see ourselves as wholly autonomous beings, managing our own thoughts and making our own decisions, the reality may be different. When Archimedes cried out ‘eureka!’ in his bath, he may have taken all the credit for coming up with volumetric theory. But was it all his doing? Likely the insight emerged from conversations with lots of other ancient Greeks. From this perspective leadership emerges from the interactions between people. So, what implications does this have for the way that we coach?
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Sometimes being SMART may be appropriate, but before you push in with your SMART agenda, notice where the coachee’s energy is. Are they as keen as you are to get into the detail at this stage?