Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: If You Make a Mistake Keep Going

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What’s the difference between a beginner making a mistake and a master making the same mistake?

The beginner will notice the mistake, stop, blame himself for making the stupid mistake and maybe even stop altogether for the day in frustration. He might contemplate for a long while, why this mistake has happened and how embarrassing the situation was.

The master accepts the situation and keeps going without a blink. Later when there is time, she will reflect on what led to the mistake and how she might be able to prevent it in the future. She will practice the situation and be prepared to deal with it the next time it might occur. She will not waste energy to dwell in self-blame or pity.

I once saw this mindset live in perfect demonstration. Tsuguo Sakumoto, a 9th degree black belt and the leader of Ryuei-ryu karate, demonstrated a Kama kata. Kama are Okinawan sickles. They have razor-sharp blades and the kata consists of lightning fast movements swirling two of them through the air at the same time.

Master Sakumoto made a mistake while demonstrating this kata to a crowd of about hundred people, all highly ranked karate-kas. One of the blades came in contact with the handle of the other. it cut right through the wood and made the other blade fly high through the air. Master Sakumoto was lucky that he hadn’t cut off some fingers.

This was a scary moment, a pretty bad mistake and could have been embarrassing. Other athletes might have gone in frustration and maybe thrown their tennis rack on the ground, storming out of the court. Not the karate master. He kept going as if nothing had happened. Not a moment of hesitation, not a blink, not a flinch. He was a hundred percent committed and finished the form. After that he bowed, went, picked up the other blade and was ready for questions from the audience.

Be in the moment. Finish what you have started. Don’t get thrown off by what you didn’t expect. Don’t dwell in analysis and get stuck in something that has already happened and which you can’t influence anymore. Think about it when you have time and then move on.

When you make a mistake in your practice don’t miss a beat. Realize and acknowledge what has happened. Decide if you need to adjust and move on in the same instance. Don’t let it throw you off.

The same is true for life. When you hit a bump in the road you need to keep going. Practice this mindset in martial arts. Make it your second nature and then make sure you apply the same mindset in your daily life.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Where My Martial Arts and My Business Self Meets

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I have three big passions in my life: family, martial arts and growning people and teams. While following each of those passions I learned that common principles apply and each of those have cross-pollinated the other areas heavily.

I’ve been doing martial arts for over 25 years now. Here are some of my personal principles that came over from that area into my leadership toolbox. None of the following is breathtakingly net-new (yes, you can stop reading now if you were hoping for that) but it’s a framework that makes it easier for me to remember the key learnings.

Do it or don’t do it but don’t do it half-hearted

Be in the moment

Being in the moment is a key principle in martial arts, Zen and meditation. It’s about focusing on the now and not getting distracted by what has been or what might be in the future.

This is extremely powerful for being effective in business as well. Focus on the task at hand and nothing else. Turn off notifications, put away your phone, and hide your email inbox. And come back to enjoy those distractions once you’ve accomplished your task.

It’s also super important as you interact with people. Listening skills are a high valued skill today mostly because many people cannot focus on what the person sitting in front of them is trying to tell them. Stop playing with your phone or thinking about your smart answer that you will provide in response. Just listen to the person and show her that you do. Your partnership will improve tremendously!

It’s all or nothing

In martial arts if you engage you engage. No matter what the consequences are, you already decided that it is critical to engage. And you will pull it through.

I’ve learned that in business we’re often too afraid of losing to really do what it takes to succeed. I was most successful when we had no kids, two incomes and I really didn’t care whether I would lose my job over bold decisions.

I love my job and want to keep it and I need to feed a family now but I do try to remind myself that you need to be willing to lose (everything) in order to make the bold decisions that are required to be successful.

If you think it is important enough to do it, do it all the way. My teacher used to say “there is no being half pregnant”.

Things change, don’t miss the opportunity

Stay flexible

Be smart though. Things will change as you move along. Your initial plan that you want to badly follow through might not be appropriate anymore. Keep your focus on the goal but don’t get stubborn on your execution plan.

In martial arts your partner seldom tends to react the way you think she should have reacted. Stay flexible, stay on your toes, and shift your execution as your parameters change.

Avoid blind spots

In order to stay flexible you need to first know what’s going on and recognize if situations change. In martial arts we talk a lot about tunnel vision, the effect where you focus so much on one partner that you don’t even see as the other one approaches you from behind.

Maintain 360 degree vision. Obviously you need to stay on top of what’s going on in your industry and area of expertise as well as the broader initiatives in your company.

But you should extend your 360 degree awareness beyond business opportunities to your relationship with people. Are you deeply tuned into how people interact with you and how they react to you? Are you making it a point to reflect on how you appear to people, what your behavior and your style projects? Do you observe how team members perceive your posture and even your dress style when they interact with you (ie do you send the signal that you value them as a partner and thus care about the impression you make on them)? Do you behave in employee 1:1s the way you would in an interview or a board meeting?

Keep it simple

In martial arts the final mastery is to leave out everything that is not necessary. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. If you leave everything out that is not necessary then the remaining is 100% effective (and yes, no one ever gets there).

In your work, simplify to be able to adapt faster. Process and complexity keep creeping up. Entropy will finally win (so much I remember from my physics master) but your job in life is to fight it.

Keep the mindset to constantly improve what’s needed but don’t be afraid to cut the rest. Focus on a few things and do them right (reminder: by definition focus does mean you can’t do everything).

It’s a journey, not a destination

Always remember that you’re in for the long run. You better make sure you make it all the way to the finish line and won’t drop out before. In martial arts if you make an impressive first move but then go down badly you won’t get many cheers (or feel great about it afterwards).

Be balanced

If you’re the world’s greatest jump kicker someday a fellow will come along and wrestle you to the mat. And if you never thought about wrestling before you will feel really miserable down there.

Keep up your motivation by following and nurturing your passions (and by making sure that you have more than one passion). Sometimes things will go awesome in one area but sometimes it might be bumpy – in those situations it’s great to have a second source to pull motivation and energy from. It’s bad if the only thing that defined you goes through a slow patch.

Don’t be a one trick pony, they get burned out quickly. Don’t neglect the things that are important to you. Balance your time across work, relationships and hobbies. Have all three of them!

A healthy mind in a healthy body

There is a Latin proverb for that. But I didn’t take Latin in school and better not pretend to have any such skills.

The concept is easy though: you kind of live in your body. Every day. That makes it your most important tool of all, please don’t break it.

Get the sleep you need (find out how much that is and then be religious about it). Do sports. You don’t have to run a marathon. Find out what works for you and build a habit around it.

And pace yourself! At times you have to outperform everyone else. And it feels great to do so! But then there needs to be time where you turn it down a notch and recharge your batteries. Pace yourself to be ready when ready is required. Don’t burn all your energy before the race actually starts. Take your long and short breaks.

Never stop being a student

In martial arts you never stop being a student. In fact once you stop learning you start losing. It should be just the same in life.

Be humble but aspirational and keep a learning mindset. Keep learning and keep stretching yourself, that’s actually the most fun part of life!

If you draw a short and a long line on the ground there are two ways to make the long line shorter. Most people try to wash some away from the long line, to erase it. That’s hard and messy and generally a lot of work which more often than not fails. A lot of competitive strategies work that way today where one competitor tries to throw rocks in the other ones way. A much easier way is actually to extent the short line. Invest in your abilities and leave the competition behind.

Final thought

In martial arts, once it’s done it’s done. You can learn from the many mistakes you just made but you can’t change any of them anymore – they’re out the door. You also don’t wallow in the past since it’s meaningless.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: “Making daisy chains takes my mind off”

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We need to listen more to our kids, they are the true teachers.

I was making daisy chains with our daughter today – actually she taught me how to make daisy chains. Seeing her work quietly, I asked her what was going through her mind.

Her answer was worthy of a Zen master:

I don’t think anything when I make daisy chains. Making daisy chains takes my mind off.

Had I asked the same question to any adult, I would have gotten a long list of unrelated thoughts back.

There’s a lot to learn from our daughter.

  • Be in the moment. Focus on what you’re doing.
  • Don’t worry about other things while you’re doing what you like.
  • Find pleasure and passion in the things you’re doing right now.

Watch your kids closely, there’s a lot we can learn from them!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Don’t Sabotage Your Wins

Constant dropping wears away a stone

And paper cuts can kill you…

Most people are focused on the big, challenging and shiny projects, and that’s important. However, while we’re driving the big blocks and highly visible deliverables, we must not drop the ball on the more mundane promises we have made (e.g. project updates, the task we promised our co-worker, newsletter updates, that email from our boss,… – you name it).

Don’t undermine your big wins by being sloppy on the small and mundane tasks.

The problem with (many) little misses

We all miss something every now and then. That’s normal and ok. The problem arises, when it happens repeatedly, so that people start assuming you will miss a promise with a high-enough probability. They will lose trust in you and your reputation will erode. Once it looks like a pattern, you have a problem that you must solve.

Bringing in the big wins and celebrations is awesome! Be proud of it! Others will see them and recognize you for the achievement.

However, if there are small misses sprinkled throughout the big wins, people will remember the constant small signal much more than the sporadic big signal. What would you remember more, if I brought you a nice hot latte every morning or a $100 bill once a month? No, sorry, I won’t do either, it’s just a thought experiment.

Visibility is in the small things. If they don’t create confidence, we have a problem. Little mistakes add up and can neutralize all the good stuff you worked so hard for.

As managers, coaches, or even parents, we all know the situation. We want the best for our employees, coachees and kids. We want them to stack up wins. As we watch them over the weeks we all too often go: “Nice, nice, nice – oh shit, WHY did they do this?”. Then we start back from square one.

Tactics to Avoid misses

On the highest level, there are three key strategies to avoid creating a pattern of little misses:

  • Accountability: Track your promises – This is the most basic and simplest one. If you sign up for an action item, write it down right away. Block time in your calendar. If you can’t do it, say ‘no’ right away (read that Friday musing). No excuses after that.
  • Quality: Slow down and double-check – Don’t just try to get rid of an annoying task. Chances are you will miss a key point or your numbers or answer won’t make sense. Usually one of two things will happen as a result: either you will look like you don’t know what you’re doing, or an escalation will happen further down the road. You don’t need either.
  • Comprehensiveness: Ask yourself ‘what am I missing’ – The most frustrating thing for a (senior) leader is to have a question or count on a deliverable and then getting something that doesn’t solve the actual problem or answer the core question. Now the leader has to spend time following up and chasing down what you need. Prevent that from happening. As yourself what you’re missing and what the logical next question would be.

A word about managing senior leaders

Senior leaders have to fight a hundred fires at any given time. They need to constantly switch context between vastly different problem spaces. In meetings that is every 30 mins, in their inbox it is from email to email (i.e. within seconds). They don’t have all the details you have, and they might have forgotten a detail you shared a few weeks ago. They need to compartmentalize problems, quickly switch their thinking, recreate the full context of a new problem, get issues solved on the spot, and move on. Hundred times a day.

If they are not super-efficient with getting into a new context, understanding the problem and proposed solution on the spot and moving on, they will drown. Because of that, they usually have a very allergic reaction to anything that lacks context, is not thought through, doesn’t add up or leaves key questions open. Unless specifically booked, they don’t have time to brainstorm with you.

Understanding these constraints, here are critical things to do when responding to senior leaders:

Provide context – Don’t make them have to follow-up with questions to understand what you mean.

Be concise and crisp – Don’t make them have to search the answers to their concern in vast deserts of random data and words.

Close all loops (or at least provide timelines for when they will be closed) – Don’t make them continue keeping the topic on their worry list.

Get it done in your first reply – Don’t make them have to continue context switch in an email brainstorming conversation over days.

Double-check – Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. Go over your answer and pretend to not have the context. Does is still make sense? Does everything add up?

Understand the intent

In order to achieve the above qualities in your response, specifically ‘getting it done in your fist reply’, it is key to not just answer the question at face value but to understand the intent.

Don’t just answer the immediate question or drop the data. Understand the intent! Ask yourself: “What is the requestor trying to achieve?”.

Once you understand the intent, what the requestor wants to achieve, you get a better sense of what additional information or context they might need. What additional questions were not asked but are required to achieve that intent? Provide the answers proactively!

Now make it consumable. Structure the data such that it serves the question and the underlying intent and the flow is easy to follow and understand.

Here’s an action for you

Spend a minute to reflect:

  • What action items and promises to others did you miss the last two weeks?
  • How may email threads with leadership did you have that required multiple inquiries and follow-ups from the leader?
  • How often was the quality of content not where it should have been for a review because you haven’t thought it through deeply enough?

What can you do to avoid and change that in the future!?

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Be Deliberate About Your Growth

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I wanted to share how I think about career development in general but also specifically at Amazon. Take is as what it is, my personal view. However, to go with Colin Powell: “It worked for me.”

 Grow your equity

Invest in yourself!

In my mind, career growth is primarily about how you invest in yourself. It’s about what new skills you can learn, what new experiences you can gain. It’s about how you can expand the scope of your impact as you get better at what you do.

You can think about it through the lens of a job interview. We all do plenty of those as interviewers. What stories from candidates excite us? What stories can you tell and what do you need to do to expand the set of interesting stories about your professional life. Your career growth plan is how you build up the examples that will excite other people and yourself. As experienced interviewers, we know that it’s never about the title a candidate brings, but it’s always about how they solved complex problems and overcame challenging headwinds in creative and inclusive ways.

Promotion is a by-product of career growth

Career growth doesn’t equal promotion. Promotion is a by-product of career growth.

At Amazon, we deliberately only have a few levels. Therefore, the time between promotions is longer than in many other companies and the difference between levels is greater. However, the growth opportunities in a level are plenty and will allow you to build the anecdotes and data to prove that you are ready for the next step when you are ready.

Looking back to a previous life that seems far away, I remember that at Microsoft we plopped from level 63 to 64 to 65 every two years. There was lots of instant gratification, but it was also somehow meaningless, since in most cases the job title didn’t even change. At Amazon, we take big deliberate steps with longer personal growth periods in-between. The scope, responsibility, and impact we are given as individuals during those growth periods are mind-blowing in comparison to other companies.

Know where you want to go and start being that person today

Where do you want to be in 2-3 years?

Be clear in your mind what you want to do in 2 or 3 years. Understand how you will operate in that role. Look at people who are already performing in that role or at that level and understand what they do differently from you. Then look for opportunities to do the same. Work in the same way (the ‘how’ much more than the ‘what’). Talk to your manager and make sure she knows where you want to go, can provide you with proper opportunities and give you relevant coaching and feedback along the way.

Seek opportunities to learn how those role models do what they do and then find ways for yourself to show similar behaviors and outcomes (don’t just copy them, nothing is more depressing than a bad copy). Deliver at that quality bar consistently, and people will notice. Once enough people notice you will get promoted.

For example, at promotion Amazon is not a bet of leadership that you might eventually be able to grow into a new level. We don’t follow the Peter principle (i.e., you get promoted until you fail in your level). At Amazon, we promote people who already perform at the next level. We promote once people have consistently demonstrated that they are ready. Promotion at Amazon is an acknowledgment that you already have what it takes, not that we have high hopes that you might eventually get there.

Make personal growth goals

Make a plan, be clear, be deliberate, and understand what the bar is.

What is it that you want to work on? What scope do you want to expand in? Where can you help your organization? What things can you take to the next level to role-model for the rest of your team?

Understand where you want to go. Understand what the expectations are for that role and level. Understand where you need to add to your existing experiences (regular career discussion are a great tool for that). Make a plan!

Those plans don’t need to be tied to a next level though (in my mind in most cases they shouldn’t). I’m coming back to my first and most important point – it’s about how you grow your skills and equity. For example, for me, I wanted to widen my focus and impact beyond my direct PM team. I made it a goal for this year to find ways to help coach the broader org so that we can all be more effective and fulfilled. Will I learn a lot? For sure! Will that get me promoted to Director? No way. Do I worry much about that? Not a minute. It’s a ton of fun and I learn many new things along the way.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections from Tai Chi Class Today

I usually don’t share discussions and lessons from class here, but today we talked about one that I think is worth sharing outside of our little Tai Chi family.

Pushing hands – Like water, like wind

We did quite a bit of pushing hands in class today. We don’t do it very often in our regular Tai Chi classes, but when we do, it’s a great way to feel, practice and guide our energy, face external obstacles and get direct feedback on our own actions.

It helps us understand the form on a deeper level, and it also presents broader lessons that apply to all areas of life.

Here’s the key point:

Don’t have a preconceived plan. Listen and react to the situation. Feel the energy and respond to it.

Our as our teacher, Hilmar Fuchs, likes to say:

Keep your mind open for opportunities. When they present themselves, go for it.

With that, we learn to ‘listen’ in push hands, to ‘keep our eyes open’ for challenges (attacks) and opportunities (openings).

Some of the principles we study in pushing hands:

  1. Have your mind on the end goal, on what you want to achieve. Don’t hold yourself back by overthinking the challenges in front of you, or thinking they are unsurmountable.
  2. Don’t try to force your way because you had a certain plan and want to stick to it.
  3. Don’t miss opportunities because you weren’t ready yet, or because they don’t fit in your plan and timeline.
  4. Be frugal, only move when you need to. Only react when you get energy. Don’t be mechanical, if there is no signal, there is no need for response.
  5. Don’t be stiff either, be flexible. The tree bends to the wind, the water flows around the rock, the wind reaches into every corner. On the other hand, the frozen branch breaks upon resistance.

When you get the principles right, you don’t need force

When we need to apply force, speed or trickery to overcome our partner (or obstacle), then we got the timing and the principles wrong. When we can be soft and calm, and still achieve our goals, then we did the right thing at the right time.

Strive to be soft (flexible) and calm, while maintaining course towards your goal.

When there is an opening, allow your energy to flow into it. When you pull a bolder out of the stream, the water will fill the void without hesitation.

When there is resistance, go around it. Every hard spot has a corresponding soft spot that is presented to you as a gift.

And in ‘real’ life?

After class we talked a little about the application of these principles to life and business.

It’s the same thing.

You want to have a general sense of where you want to go (we call it strategy), you want to simulate a few things that could happen to train your sensitivity (often referred to as business plan). But after that, you need to look and listen carefully to what is happening.

Keep your goal in mind, but lock your plan away where you can’t see it. Sense, listen, and react (we often call this experimentation and learning, or ‘little bets’). If an opening (an unexpected opportunity) presents itself, then go for it, whether the time is right or not (it usually never is). The goalpost is durable, the actual path to get there usually is unexpected.

Opportunities you didn’t predict will present themselves (openings), challenges you did’t anticipate will get in your way (resistance). Stay sensitive, flexible, and oriented towards forward momentum (project your energy to your goal, not to the obstacle in your way).

In the military they say:

No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Be attentive, be flexible, be nimble, and be open for the unexpected.

Strategy gradually evolves – tactics pivot on a dime.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Situational Leadership

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The “Situational Leadership” framework by Ken Blanchard, is by far my favorite framework for managing and coaching people, regardless of whether it’s formal or peer coaching, work or personal. You might have heard of it before. There are classes, books and of course a WikiPedia page.

Coaching applies to all of us. As managers, we coach direct reports as part of their career development. As leaders, we coach peers to help them be more effective, overcome temporary hurdles, and to make the team better by sharing best practices. As individuals, we receive coaching and want it to be as effective as possible.

The Situational Leadership framework applies to both sides of the equation – it’s a framework for leaders to give coaching but it’s also a framework for individuals to ask for more targeted support.

The framework

The basic idea of the framework is that we all go through four stages of proficiency for any given skill set. It is critical to call out that this is not about our seniority overall, it is specific to the task at hand. For example, I might be extremely experienced and self-sufficient in writing specifications but I have never done a strategy document before. I would be D4 for specifications but D1 for strategy (see below for more explanation).

For every new task or area of competency, we go through that lifecycle of learning, from beginner to master. If we are faced with a new area, we of course retain mastery in the areas we already command, but we start as a rookie in the new area. Life-long learning at its best!

Situational Leadership asserts, that we need different kinds of direction, coaching and support, depending on what stage we’re in for that specific area and task. Coaching is not one-size-fits-all but specific to the person and the situation.

As we make our way through new challenges, we go through four phases. See the below chart for an illustration. The lower chart is the coaching style, the upper chart is the stage an individual is in for that specific task (I keep underlining ‘that specific task’ because you screw up coaching completely if you assess at the scope of the person, not the task).

situational

For the following discussion, I will make up my own attributes for the stages just for fun and emphasis; you can see the ‘official’ ones in the chart. The flow in the chart is from right to left, don’t ask me why that would make any sense. You see the inverse-U shaped flow. You can see it as a hill that you have to overcome as your motivation goes down in D2 and D3.

Stage 1: Clueless, a little scared but really motivated

“This is awesome. But please tell me what I should do, I’m lost.”

As an individual, I just got a big new area assigned. It’s awesome and I’m excited. However, to be honest I’m also deeply scared because I don’t really know where to start. I feel like there is a great chance to fail, and left on my own devices, I will need to put in many hours to figure out how to approach this.

As someone who coaches, motivation is not the issue (your coachee can’t yet anticipate the potential challenges ahead). There is plenty of motivation, but there also is plenty of worry as to the pure mechanics of solving the problem. In this stage, leaders need to give clear guidance on how the problem should be solved and what the specific steps and quality gates should look like. In short provide the cook book for solving the problem and explain what success should look like.

“Here is what you need to do. Let’s meet weekly and talk about progress.”

Stage 2: Got some ideas, facing early challenges

“Alright, I see what you want me to do. This is harder than I thought.”

As an individual, I have made first progress on the task. I have a plan, but things are harder than I anticipated. This starts to suck just a little bit. How can I make this easier?

This is the valley of frustration. As a leader, you need to give both moral support, but also clear guidance on how specific hurdles and blockers can be overcome. The coachee is still learning their ropes and needs guidance that they can transform into their own solutions and frameworks.

“How are things going? What’s challenging? Here is what I would do in that situation.”

Stage 3: Got a handle on it (mostly), not quite smooth sailing yet

“I think I have a plan, but let me double check with you. Things are getting a little easier.”

As an individual, your confidence is increasing. You are facing problems that you have seen before, and you start having frameworks to solve them. It feels like things are becoming just a little easier lately.

The coachee is coming out of their valley of frustration. Slowly. You still need to help and support them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They will have their own plan and solutions, which will be spot on many times, but not always. Your job becomes much more a reviewing and tweaking role. You become a sounding board.

“Show me what you got, what’s your plan? Interesting challenge, how do you plan to solve it?”

Stage 4: I know what to do, all is under control

“I got it. Get out of my way, you’re slowing me down.”

As an individual, you know what you need to do. You have successfully faced similar situations before. You feel confident and since you have the frameworks in place, things now go much easier and with less effort.

As a coach, your main job is to get out of the way and only stay informed what’s going on. Give space and freedom, but be there when needed. Things are flowing for your coachee and they are highly effective at the specific task. The thing you should spend time on now is to understand what the next growth area, learning opportunity and challenge for that coachee can be and to work with them to figure out how to align new growth areas with their long-term plans. The biggest risk at this stage is for the coachee is to eventually get bored.

“Anything I should know about the project? Let’s talk about what new opportunities we can prepare for you.”

Key principles

These are the things I believe a crucial to keep in mind. It’s not an official list:

  1. Always make it specific to the task – The experience model is specific to a task, not the person as a whole! Don’t put the whole person into a specific bucket. If a person gets a new area they never faced before, they will likely drop back to stage 1.
  2. Identifying the right stage matters – You need to find the right level. Giving too little and too high level coaching (directionless) is just as bad as giving too much coaching (micromanagement).
  3. People move through the stages – Watch! As you coach, people will move through levels. That’s the whole point. Don’t put someone in a box and leave them there. Adjust your style as the experience evolves.
  4. If you’re not sure, ask – If you’re not sure how much coaching someone needs, check back. Ask them “How confident are you that you know what you need to do? Do you need any help?”
  5. Get feedback – Check in explicitly as to whether you are giving the right level of feedback. “Does that help? Is there anything else that I can help with? Do you know what to do next or do you want me to step in more?”

When you give coaching

We all have our own leadership style. Few people naturally coach at all levels, but most of us have a preferred style that comes more natural to us. Some of us tend to be more directive and always present solutions, while others tend to be more hands-off and ask for (or assume) plans. If we don’t make a conscious decision, we will fall into that style and it will not always be the right style for the person and situation (there’s a 3:1 chance it will be the wrong style).

Understand what your coachee needs for the specific task. Consciously try to identify the stage and then check back with the coachee if you’re not sure. Make a mental check after the coaching session if you gave the right type of feedback and correct quickly if you didn’t.

It’s not about what you like to do, it’s about what they need!

When you receive coaching

You can either hope that your manager, coach or mentor knows what you need, or you can tell them. I would do the latter. See where they go, but if you feel you’re still unclear what to do or you feel over-managed, tell them! “Can you give me a little more guidance, I really don’t know where to start on this?” or in the other case “I think I have a plan. Let me work on it and we’ll review it together in two days.”

Don’t leave it to the coach, be specific. If your coach makes the right assessment, awesome. If not, clarify and help them. Likewise, if you feel you have moved on to the next stage, let your coach know that you would like the type of feedback to change.

Needing more direction for a new challenge is not a bad thing at all. Not articulating it and then falling behind is.

Situational Leadership requires a little more work. However, the impact is astounding.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

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