Coaching and developing individuals and teams

Coaching and developing individual and team performance are some of the most rewarding and yet most demanding roles which a leader fulfills. The ability to get the best out of people and help them to achieve astonishing performance requires a degree of patience and tolerance combined with mutual respect and understanding. 

A good coach – regardless of title – must be able (through controlled facilitation) to encourage an individual to do his or her own thinking and to create solutions to the inevitable challenges that that they are facing. It is not the role of the coach to give solutions to the problems (that’s not coaching), it is much better if the coach is able to lead the process whereby the individual or the team as a whole takes ownership of both the problem and the solution. In other words, the process is simply a series of thoughts: Where are we now? Where do we want to get to? By when? What is stopping us from doing that? What are all of the different ways we can overcome that? So, what are we going to do? What’s the plan?

I spoke recently with the Owner and Managing Director of a Dubai based company about the impact of Covid19 on his organisation’s business and the strategic decisions that have been taken as a result. His answer was interesting: he said,

“Colin, everybody looks to me for guidance and solutions, for me to tell them what to do. What they do not seem to appreciate is that this is also new ground for me. I have never dealt with a global pandemic before, none of us have. So, whilst I have many more years of experience than they do, my experience is not always relevant or applicable.  In many ways some of the younger members of the team are actually much better equipped to deal with the current situation than I am. My best way of dealing with current situation is to get everybody together on a Zoom call, brainstorm ideas together and decide collectively on what we are going to do.” 

By adopting this approach, he is taking on a coaching role and empowering the valued people in his organisation with the responsibility of deciding for themselves the way forward. This inspires his team and encourages them to take emotional ownership of (and belief in) the solutions that are developed and agreed. This in turn has a tremendously positive impact on their commitment, motivation and determination to execute and implement the strategies and tactics that have been agreed. In his case, new applications for the existing product portfolio are being developed, new markets are being developed, new industries are being explored. In short, new opportunities are been identified and pursued. 

There is a lovely quotation attributed to a very senior media mogul: “It took me 20 years to realise that every time I employed a new pair of hands; I got a brain thrown in for nothing”. 

Most people are very good at solving their own problems and coming up with great ways of overcoming the challenges that they are facing if only they are given the time and space to think of them. As leaders and as coaches we have to encourage them, create a safe environment and then listen to their ideas and suggestions without pre-judgement. 

Moving from Victim to Creator

Moving from Victim to Creator

Two of the coaching models that I find particularly relevant and useful at the moment are Stephen Karpman’s ‘Drama Triangle’ and David Emerald’s ‘The Empowerment Dynamic’.

The Karpman Drama Triangle:

The Karpman Drama Triangle explains how sometimes circumstances place us in the victim role. Something bad has happened and we believe it was not our fault. It was somebody or something else’s fault and now we look for somebody to save us; a rescuer. 

This is a game that has been played many times, especially during childhood. Imagine a father giving his child a hard time because of their unfinished schoolwork, and the child replying, “It’s not my fault that I don’t know how to do my homework, I’ve got a bad teacher.”  The mother then steps in and helps the child with their homework, essentially doing it for them (not scaffolding).  

In the above case we have multiple drama triangles at play. One in which the teacher is the persecutor and the other in which the father plays the role.  In both cases the mother is rescuing, and the child is the victim.  Another triangle may be that the father feels like a victim as he is potentially getting into trouble with his wife, placing the child in the persecutor role. The mother may also feel like a victim as from her viewpoint the father has failed to deal with the situation properly and as a result, she may seek the solace of a friend (playing the rescuer role) to talk to about it. Both parents may be annoyed at the ‘bad teacher’ and the school and see themselves as victims. If they raise a complaint, then they may be seen as persecutors by the bad teacher and so on….

From a coaching perspective, drama triangles offer a great opportunity for people to re-evaluate everyday events in their lives and recognise that ultimately everybody is responsible for their own outcomes.

‘It’s not my fault I was late, the alarm clock did not go off’

‘It’s not my fault that I can’t lose weight’ 

‘The crash was not my fault, the car just pulled out in front of me’ 

‘It’s not my fault that I didn’t get promoted, my boss doesn’t like me’

The challenge to anybody who has placed themselves into the victim role is that by doing so they avoid taking any responsibility for the situation that they find themselves in. As soon as people take on the belief that ‘It is not my fault’they give up control over the situation and look for somebody or something to blame and then look for somebody or something else to rescue them.

At the moment there are many millions of people who find themselves in the victim role due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And yes, it is not their fault. They have been impacted directly by something that is not in their control. They have been placed by life into the victim role. However; whether they choose to stay there or move into a more positive state is up to them, and this decision is very much within their control. 

People who have been made redundant, fallen ill or lost loved ones and are experiencing negative emotions as a result will understandably blame the virus, their employer, the government or even the World Health Organisation for their bad luck. They will seek help.  Having emotional support is very important for their mental health and wellbeing as they transition through the grief cycle. The risk here though is that they may become reliant on this support and may even become ‘stuck’ in the victim role. Being ‘stuck’ is clearly not going to be helpful to them in the long term and the quicker they can become ‘unstuck’ the faster they can move forwards again and regain control. 

David Emeralds’ ‘The Empowerment Dynamic’ flips the drama triangle and provides a positive and constructive framework that leads towards solutions and decisions.

The Empowerment Dynamic:

In this model the persecutor is reframed as the challenger – it is not a personal vendetta against the victim, it is a challenge that needs to be overcome. What used to be seen as criticism from a persecutor can be reframed as feedback. When this reframing takes place, the rescuer can become the coach and help the victim become a creator. A creator of the solution, responsible for creating his or her own possible alternate approaches, deciding what to do and then executing their own course of action to overcome the challenge. This positive thought process forces a more adult and creative approach to the situation, as opposed to the self-pitying, disempowered and childish victim role. 

We all face setbacks and disappointments in life. Bad things happen. What is important is how and when we recover from them. That’s when we learn, grow and develop gritty resilience. 

It is important to note that the creation of available options and a plan of action must be generated by the ex-victim, not by the coach. The role of the coach is to help the other person think through the situation that they find themselves in and the various choices that are available to them. It is not the coach’s role to spoon feed their clients with what they see as being the right course of action. Ideally the coach has no opinion and that enables the process to be contamination free. Voicing opinions is much more the role of a mentor who has faced similar situations in the past, or an advisor who has relevant expertise.

The challenge with Covid19 is that mentoring is unlikely to work well as none of us has faced a global pandemic before and are therefore unable to draw on personal experience to recommend a suitable course of action. A coaching approach is a better option. One which focuses on the client’s own reality, their ‘map of the world’ and helps them create a plan.  A process that helps them review their options and then select what seems to be the best way forwards to enable them to move on purposefully.   

Individual coaching sessions, team coaching and facilitated workshops which focus on developing future strategy to overcome the current challenges are great examples of how ‘The Empowerment Dynamic’ can be used. In all of these cases the role of the coach is to encourage the exploration of new ideas and possibilities to move people and their organisations forward, not to give them advice or a personal opinion.

Sadly, when people are dealing with the turmoil of negative emotions and are well and truly ensconced in the victim role with the inertia and helplessness that accompanies it. They tend not to make empowering decisions, rather there is the possibility of reactive irrational behaviour and rushed, rash decisions, which may be regretted later. It is during the most challenging times that we most need coaching; to take the time to think through our options and create new alternate courses of action that were not previously in our awareness. It is difficult to arrive at positive alternatives when we have put ourselves into a negative state of mind. This is when we need a bit of help in recognising that we are holding ourselves back with our own limiting beliefs. There are numerous positive courses of action available to us if we are able to open ourselves up to their possibilities and empower ourselves with the courage, confidence and beliefs to pursue them.  

What an amazing place to live

I moved to Dubai on the 25th September 1994 and within my first week I was told “Colin, you are too late. The bubble is about to burst”. How many times have I heard that phrase repeated over the years? No matter what happens, Dubai and the U.A.E.  seem to have an ability to reinvent themselves and turn what others see as a crisis into a fantastic opportunity.

This ability to identify and then pursue opportunities with agility, speed and intelligence is astonishing. 

I often joke that the speed of change is the only thing that stays the same in Dubai and when I look back at my experiences here, I can only shake my head in wonder at the visualisations that were conceived and achieved.

I look back with amazement at the dredging of the Creek, The Dubai Dry Docks, Emirates Airlines, the Hotels, the Golf clubs in the desert, The Dubai World Trade Centre, Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone, The Burj Al Arab, The Burj Khalifa, The Frame, the Shopping Malls, the Metro, the Canal, the housing developments, Dubai Marina, The Palms, The World, Global Village, The Expo site and so on. The list of successes goes on and on, driven by extraordinary leadership and executed through Government and Semi Government organisations partnering with the business community. In the short time since I started writing this article, the U.A.E. has launched the Hope Orbiter and its mission to Mars – a project that was not even in my awareness a few short days ago. 

I do not believe that the ‘bubble is about to burst’, I do not see it as a bubble. I see it as a continuously changing, evolving and adapting environment which is able to flex itself rapidly and decisively as the world changes and new opportunities present themselves. I believe that the U.A.E. will continue to respond, adapt and recreate itself. Yes, there will be setbacks and re-adjustments, there always are.  There will also be repositioning, recovery and reinvention as has been the case since I was first lucky enough to move here. 

How exciting the future looks. Organic Salmon farms in Jebel Ali, the growth of AgTech across the whole country. Hydroponic developments and rice farms in Sharjah are already allowing the deserts to be harvested efficiently and vertically. We can already see that the country is no longer as reliant on imported food and that one-day self-sufficiency may be attained.  

The medical advancements across the whole country are world class. The role model leadership that has been demonstrated in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and the ground-breaking Stem Cell research initiatives in Abu Dhabi are staggering. Health care as a sector is already well established, and I am sure that it will not be too long before we see a growth of medical schools in the UAE.

The recent cabinet shuffle has seen the announcement of many new and exciting Ministries such as the Ministry for Industry and Advanced Technology and the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure. In addition, the appointment of a Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises as well as a Minister of State for Digital Economy and Artificial Intelligence are an indication of the future direction of the country. 

With an agile Government leading innovation and change within the region at the beginning of what is being described as 4.0 – The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the development of Quantum computing, the future has to be bright. 

Who knows what will be revealed during the Expo? I am so looking forward to seeing it. 

So, whilst I do not pretend to have any expertise in Farming, Medicine, 3D printing, Quantum Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Renewable Energy, Blockchain, The Hyperloop, Flying cars, Space exploration or any of the other mind blowing things which are being developed around us every day, I do have trust and faith in the leadership of this amazing country. 

I believe that we are already seeing the beginning of the next change cycle, where a wave of positivity, optimism and innovation combined with visionary leadership and intelligent strategy will astound simple people like myself with its genius.

While the World as a whole is suffering through the ravages of a global pandemic, perhaps we can all take a moment in this turmoil to reflect and remind ourselves that this is truly an amazing place to live.

Spare a thought for the person on the other side

I remember how my brother and I would wait eagerly for our father to get home from the hospital. We would listen for the crunch of the car tyres on the gravel driveway and then rush to go and see him. My mother listened for the same sounds and hurried to guard the back door. ‘No’ she would say, ‘Let him come in first. Wait till he is ready’. Usually he would come straight in; on other days he would sit in the car, sometimes for hours, listening to music. 

Years later I realised that it was on those days that a patient had died under his hands on the operating table. He was dealing with tragedy, with his own sense of failure that despite all of his expertise and efforts he was unable to save a young life and had to break the unbearable news to the grieving parents. It was always worse when the patient had been young.

That’s why doctors wear white coats. It doesn’t just protect their clothes from the blood and suffering, it also protects the Doctors’ psyche. At the end of the day, at the end of the shift, Doctors take off their white coats, the ones with the stains and pain on them, put them in the laundry basket… and go home – clean. On some days it was harder for my father to take off his mental ‘white coat’. It took longer and hurt more. Still, he needed to take it off before he brought that energy into the family home where it would affect his two young sons and his wife. Instead he chose to internalise.

Rather than talk about his feelings, he bottled them up and tried to do the ‘man thing’. He kept a ‘stiff upper lip’ and dealt with his feelings himself. At least he thought he did. I often wonder what it would have been like if he had been able to talk through his feelings with a professional and face them, deal with them, release them. Perhaps he wouldn’t have suffered from Psoriasis and Parkinson’s if he had been able to get rid of the burden of his feelings by expressing them instead of absorbing them. 

Whilst my earlier articles have focused on the person being made redundant; we must also consider the unfortunate professional whose duty it is to send the hundreds of emails or have the difficult redundancy conversation with numerous people. What toll does it take on them? How do they deal with their feelings? Who is helping them?

We need to applaud their bravery and courage. Delivering catastrophically bad news is very hard, especially when it is to people that we have grown close to as trusted friends, when we know the angst and worry that will follow. Often the decision to re-structure or downsize has been taken weeks or even months before any action is actually taken. Due to the understandable reasons of confidentiality and legality, the decision has been kept as a closely guarded secret. That is a heavy weight to carry; knowing that a tough decision has been made, that the day to execute it is coming and being unable to talk about it.

I remember working closely with leaders in the past, helping them to prepare for the redundancy discussions that they would have to conduct with valued members of their teams. We rehearsed for hours in order to make sure that the conversations were clear, straightforward and positive.  Make no mistake, these conversations are dreaded by both sides. Nobody wants them and yet they may be necessary for the survival of the business.

Yes, there are ways in which redundancy discussions can be conducted which lead to a more positive outcome. They can be honest, compassionate, fair and impartial. The offer of help, provision of counselling, coaching and support can be included in the severance package. Flexibility can be built into the final agreement in terms of schooling, housing, timing etc. Assistance can be given in finding new jobs for people to move to as well as time for the search and interviews. The focus can be placed on the future, on what will happened next and when, rather than debating the reasons for the necessity of the decision. Care and respect can be shown, and leaders can ‘own’ the redundancy decisions they have made and take upon themselves the responsibility to action them instead of shying away and delegating the task to the H.R. department. 

The skills of communicating with dignity, respect and compassion are some of the most admirable strengths a leader can possess. These skills can cement relationships, not damage them. I respect so many of the leaders that I have coached in the past. They have many admirable beliefs and behaviours in common. All of them prepare themselves meticulously before they let a dedicated colleague go. They manage the process with care and consideration for the feelings of the other person. They empathise. They focus the conversation towards the future and do everything they can to help the person find an alternative and meaningful position elsewhere. They have also all re-hired people they have laid off in the past, sometimes months, sometimes years later because they valued them so much. 

So, spare a thought for the person sitting on the other side of the table and appreciate their professionalism and resilience in being able to carry out such a horrible, miserable task with dignity and respect. Remember that they also wish it was not necessary, that it was not happening and that it takes a terrible toll on them as well. 

Helping people through the tough times

One of the models I use in my own practice with clients who are facing life-changing events such as being made redundant, is something called R.A.G.E.

There are many comparisons made between dealing with redundancy and the grieving process; I see them as being very similar. People pass through a series of emotional stages that can be summarised as: Rejection, Anger, Grief and Enlightenment.

Rejection: People who have been made redundant often feel shocked and enter a period of denial and say to themselves: 

“This can’t be true” 

“It’s not happening to me”

“There must be some mistake” 

It is important to recognise painful emotions and to express and acknowledge them. In order to deal with emotions, they have to be faced. People may feel disappointed, embarrassed and confused as well as rejected. 

If one of your own job responsibilities involves making redundancy decisions, I encourage you to have the difficult conversation yourself. Everybody loses respect for the leader who has made the decision on who will be axed and then shies away from breaking the bad news him or herself, delegating it to the HR department to deliver the bad news instead.  My next article will address how best to approach these difficult and yet important conversations.

The more positive and professional the redundancy meeting, the less the person feels rejected, the less angry they will be afterwards and the better the outcome for everybody. 

Anger: As discussed in my previous articles there may be strong feelings of outrage and unfairness. The emotion of anger may be expressed in many different ways; and it’s always negative. There may be temper tantrums, petty outbursts, sulking, sabotage and other irrational behaviour. Because the person feels like an angry victim, they behave like an angry child. Different strategies may be used to attempt to reverse the decision, these can include threats, bargaining and even begging. People will often cycle many times between Rejection and Anger until they move on to Grief.

In my experience, the best approach to deal with irrational outbursts of anger is to slow them down. It is really hard to be angry slowly. As the person slows down, they calm down and then they can begin to think more clearly. The objective here is to move away from anger and into determination or motivation to move forwards. 

Grief: In this stage, the realisation that the decision is not going to change happens; the flood gates open and the loss of the job is mourned. People may become depressed and detached from those who care about them. They may become isolated, withdraw from their normal life and spiral downwards into depression and the grief cycle. 

Again, people often move forwards and backwards through the three stages of Rejection, Anger and Grief for some time before they finally empower themselves and start to move forwards.

When they are in the grief stage, they are very much in a survival mode, they may be wallowing in self-pity and literally shut down. Trying to get them to focus on the long-term future is not helpful, instead baby steps work best; what is the next best step they can take or the most positive thing that they can do? Gradually they will start to pick themselves up and then we can start moving forwards. 

Enlightenment: In this stage, people let go of the heavy negativity and accept. This is when they are ready to start moving, growing and healing. There may be significant personal learnings as they go through this stage, re-inventing themselves and their own sense of identity through a process known as Post Traumatic Growth. 

This is where the magic happens, and the epiphanies take place. 

Dealing with negative emotions

In my last article I talked about turning redundancy into opportunity and some simple things people can do to regain control of their lives, rather than succumbing to despair. In this article I want to explore some of the negative emotions associated with being made redundant and some thoughts on how to deal with them. 

The world of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) talks about the ‘Big Five” negative emotions: Anger, Sadness, Fear, Hurt and Guilt, and in the case of redundancies all five of these can hit people in one giant blow to the system. Imagine if you have just been made redundant; you may feel the following emotions.

Anger: You have just lost your job and it doesn’t feel fair. Although the redundancy decision was not personal, it certainly feels that way. A decision was been taken for you, against your will, that impacts your life and that of your loved ones. Of course, you’re angry, and how does being angry help you? It doesn’t. What needs to happen here is that you need to take responsibility for your own feelings of anger and turn them into something more positive such as drive, motivation and a determination to succeed. 

Sadness: You have invested a lot of yourself into your work and into building relationships with the rest of the team and other people around you, and this is now ending. Letting go of things that are important to you can be painful, however, it can also be a pre-cursor to a new beginning. Relationships do not have to end; they can last. Keep your doors open and the bridges intact – use this as an opportunity to grow your network even more. 

Fear: This is a big one, especially when times are tough there are likely to be huge anxieties about the future. 

What will I do? ………

Where will I go? …….

How will I earn money? ……..

How will I manage my debts?……

 What if……? 

Suddenly your personal vision for the future has changed and what used to be clear isn’t. That can be scary. Let’s face it though, in times of uncertainty the future is unclear for everybody and an amazingly adaptive person like yourself is about to enter into an intensive personal learning journey. As Claus Obermeyer said, “When a problem comes, be nice to it, because it tries to teach you something”

Reframe your fear as excitement and you will see things differently. 

Hurt: There are often strong feelings of rejection associated with being laid off. This is where people ask themselves the questions: ‘Why me’ question,  ‘Wasn’t I good enough?’ and ‘What did I do wrong?’ 

Be careful with these as they indicate a belief that it was your fault and that leads quickly to the last of the big five emotions, Guilt. Instead, recognise that the redundancy decision was not of your making, express and accept how you feel about it, because it is painful, and when you are ready let it go, release it and learn from it. 

Guilt: Is an emotion people often experience when they feel that they have done something wrong, something that is against their own moral code. For example, not being able to provide for the family, not being able to pay the mortgage or regretting decisions that they made in the past that have put them into the position they are in today.  

The reality is that Covid-19 is not your fault and nor are the repercussions from it. You are not responsible for the global economy or travel restrictions. You have to stop looking back at things and events that you are not able to change and instead look forward with excitement, knowing that you will get through this. 

In my next article I will look at the R.A.G.E. model and how it can be used to help people get through the tough times.

Turning redundancy into opportunity

There is no doubt that being made redundant – especially when you are not expecting it – can be a massive emotional trauma; a deeply disturbing and distressing experience.

It can be a total shock to your system and sense of identity. For your entire working life, you had seen yourself as having a label of identity that helped you and others place you in society: I am a hotelier, I am a pilot, I am an engineer, I am an estate agent and so on. Suddenly this is no longer true and your whole identity – your ‘map of the world’ – comes crashing down. The sense of loss can be absolutely devastating, and you might be overwrought with powerful negative emotions of shame, denial, rejection, anger and grief. You do not feel in control of your own destiny or that of your loved ones. The redundancy decision (made by others) has placed everything in your life at risk and it was not because you did anything wrong. Even though you may understand and agree with the business decision that was made, you still ask yourself the “why me” question. The overwhelming feeling of unfairness that it was your name on the list and not one of your colleagues who has been underperforming, may drive you into a spiral of despair.

And yet, we as humans are incredibly resilient, adaptive and creative. I have worked with people who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves to be jobless, homeless refugees fleeing for their lives. A few short years later and they have set up their own companies or found new roles in new countries and started new lives which are better than the ones that they have left behind. When they look back, they see that their life experiences helped them to reinvent themselves and move on to bigger and better things.

We are at our best when life has pushed us off a metaphorical cliff! That’s when we really learn to fly.

Here are some simple things that you can do to get started:

  1. Get some help. Whether you work with a professional coach, career counsellor or your own network of friends – surround yourself with people who are rooting for you and will support you. Reach out to them, they will welcome the opportunity to help.
  2. Identity. You are not your work. The job that you have done in the past does not define who you are or who you choose to be. What you choose to do to earn money does not make you who you are. 
  3. Take some time out. Now is the time to focus on yourself and consider what your options are. Deal with your negative emotions and remember times in your life when you have overcome disappointments and how you overcame them. It is very rare that a negative emotion leads to a positive result. 
  4. Project positivity. People like to be with people who are upbeat and positive; they tend to shy away from people who make them feel bad.
  5. Focus on the things that you can control in your life instead of things that are not in your control; create a simple plan and just keep taking the next most positive step. 
  6. Remember that you have overcome huge challenges in your life before and you will get through this one too and grow as a result.