Joe McDonald argues that each day many of us work away in a productive way but nonetheless to a level far below that which we are capable of and it is critically important to increase our self-awareness

How many of us can say with any degree of honesty that we worked at our optimum level of performance today? At a recent workshop for Engineers Ireland, I put that very question to the audience and, unsurprisingly, only one person raised their hand. All other attendees, by their own admission, did not achieve the level of performance that they know that they are capable of and this is not unusual.

Self-awareness and responsibility are key

Remarkably, this applies equally to individuals, teams and organisations. Each day, many of us work away in a productive way but nonetheless to a level far below that which we are capable of.
Whether you are in a leadership position at present or aspire to move into a management role, self-awareness and responsibility are key. Before you can effectively lead others, you must first be capable of leading yourself.

Ineffective managers and leaders focus exclusively on results and when those results aren’t achieved, they focus upon them even more. This, unsurprisingly, doesn’t work. Our individual and collective results are a consequence of our actions and our actions are a consequence of our thinking.

If our thinking improves, then so too will our actions. The improved results happen almost as a byproduct of this, automatically. Effective leaders, of course, understand the desired results, but focus more on individual and collective thinking and actions.

Before you can effectively improve your thinking and actions you will need increased self-awareness. To begin this, try these two simple scaling exercises. First, think about your own role at present. Draw a circle and divide it into eight segments. Around the perimeter of the circle write the most important aspects of your job. Below are two examples. Some may be technical/practical skills, for example, IT skills, while others may be more intrinsically character based, for example, self-motivation.

You then score each of these with your current level of satisfaction from ‘0’ meaning totally unsatisfied through to a ‘10’ being fully satisfied. Please see the example below for illustrative purposes.

Navigate around those obstacles that are preventing you from becoming a ‘10’

The objective of this is to improve self-awareness in terms of your level of satisfaction with each component of your role. Where you want to improve one or more aspects, you could adopt different approaches. For example, you could remove or navigate around those obstacles that are preventing you from becoming a ‘10’.

Another approach, is to look at those positive aspects of your performance that have gotten you to a ‘seven’ in terms of communication, right, for example, and do more of that. Alternatively, you could adopt both approaches, that is, do more of what is working well while simultaneously working to remove obstacles.

At a wider team level, here is another useful simple scaling exercise that can be used. Ask a team that you manage or are part of to list six or seven of the most important characteristics of a highly productive functional team. Typically, characteristics such as rapport, goal attainment or collaboration are mentioned.

With the next stage of the exercise, ask them to scale how they are doing in terms of these valued characteristics, rating themselves between one and five, ‘one’ being very poor and ‘five’ being excellent.

Now, for those teams that perceive themselves to be highly effective, they will typically score themselves between ‘four’ or ‘five’ across most of the characteristics and, let us assume for a moment, that they are being genuine in terms of their self-analysis.

In these cases, it can be very useful to ask them to consider the alternatives. So, what does that high score mean exactly? Let us use an example for illustrative purposes. If a team has scored itself as ‘five’ for ‘rapport’, then an alternative view is that they value friendship or comradeship far more than they do questioning or challenging.

Where colleagues fail to question or challenge one another

We know that where colleagues fail to question or challenge one another it can lead to groupthink or unhelpful shared assumptions. It may also lead to defensiveness and the exclusion of others that are considered to be ‘outsiders’. This can be a disaster in the long run for organisations and companies.

So, where does all of this lead us? Am I saying that good team rapport is inappropriate in modern organisations or companies? Absolutely not. This is a useful characteristic and one that should be encouraged. However, it is a worthwhile and valuable exercise to periodically consider the other side of the coin. Try it and you might be pleasantly surprised with how your collective performance improves.

Both exercises that are outlined above are used frequently when adopting a coaching style to leadership. Coaching is now one of the most widely used and popular approaches to improving performance, with 87 per cent of global companies now running coaching programmes (CIPD, 2017).

The new CPD policy for Engineers Ireland specifically highlights competencies such as bringing about change/problem solving; strategic ability; leading and motivating; managing performance and communicating effectively; resilience; and personal wellbeing and personal motivation. All of these attributes are closely associated with a coaching approach to leadership, which is why so many companies are adopting it.

Business environment too fast-paced and complex

The reasons for its popularity are that there is now a recognition that the business environment is too fast-paced and complex for any one individual to have all of the answers. In fact, senior managers are often furthest from the front line, which can lead to poor decisions. Traditional models of management lead to time delays with decision making, which is also costly. It proves disempowering for other employees and absolves them from taking responsibility. This negatively affects workplace culture, leading to a ‘pass the buck’ attitude.

Today, employees are often highly qualified, motivated and interested in their work. With a coaching approach to leadership, you recognise the resourcefulness of those reporting to you and support them in finding solutions to challenges as they arrive.

Remember, that truly effective leaders create other leaders. This results in cost saving, innovation, real-time decision making and improved organisational performance. So, how is it achieved, you may ask, and one simple example that you can use from today is to adopt a coaching style to your day-to-day interactions and conversations.

Identify the clear goal

The next time somebody reporting to you comes to you asking for a solution to a problem, use the GROW model outlined (see the main feature image). You can also use this approach when chairing meetings. First, ask the person or team what they specifically want? This can be done by asking a variety of questions such as what would you like to take away from this meeting/conversation? How could you get the best use of our time together? This is done to identify the clear goal.

Second, ask the person or team what is the current reality for them? This can be carried out by asking questions such as what is your current understanding of the situation? What have you already tried? How might you have contributed to the present situation? What are the consequences of not changing this situation? How is that working for you? In answering this question, you will achieve a clear sense of the actual reality right now for the person or team.

Third, you ask the person or team what options are available to them? Questions such as what options do you have going forward? What would you do if you could start again? If you had no limits, what would you do? What has worked for others in similar situations? This creates the potential to discover innovation options.

Finally, you ask the person or team what they are willing to commit to or what is the way forward? Questions such as how will you measure your success? What will you do before we next meet? Are you happy with the direction we are going in? Identify the specific task to be completed for the next meeting/conversation.

This approach can be a challenge initially. You will be tempted to ‘jump in’ with an offered answer or solution. Don’t be afraid to ask a question and sit with the silence. Creating such a space encourages real engagement and reflection from the other person (s). One final tip is to not automatically accept the first answer. By simply asking ‘what else’, it can unearth some really powerful solutions and actions.

Author: Joe McDonald is a registered professional coach and trainer. Based in Cork, he works with individual professionals, teams and organisations throughout Ireland and across a wide variety of industries including engineering. This includes one-to-one coaching, interactive workshops on leadership development, team performance and innovation creation as well providing affordable, flexible online courses. See for further information or email to discuss options. O'RiordanCivilCPD,project management,training
How many of us can say with any degree of honesty that we worked at our optimum level of performance today? At a recent workshop for Engineers Ireland, I put that very question to the audience and, unsurprisingly, only one person raised their hand. All other attendees, by their...