Understanding How What Got You Here Won't Get You There | College of Executive Coaching
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Understanding How What Got You Here Won't Get You There

June 18, 2019
By Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., MCC

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Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith has described what causes the most talented, ambitious, and successful professional to hit a career roadblock. Almost all professionals have some interpersonal dynamics of one form or another which either didn't matter in the early phases of their career, or the professionals were so talented that they progressed despite some interpersonal issues.

Understanding How What Got You Here Won't Get You There

As a coach who has been working with leaders for over twenty years I continually observe that it is behavioral and interpersonal dynamics, not technical skills, which separate average performers from peak performers. Goldsmith points out that incredible results come from practicing basic behaviors like saying thank you, listening well, thinking before you speak, and apologizing for your mistakes. However, most managers and executives undervalue these key skills. They may seem like basic skills, but most people still haven't mastered them well enough to be at their best most of the time.

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Let's take a quiz. How many of these dynamics are often true in organizations?

  • The higher you go in an organization, the more your suggestions become interpreted as orders, even if that is not the intention.
  • Getting praise can be dangerous because it becomes easy to delude oneself when all you hear are positive things.
  • Most managers and leaders have delusional self-confidence which causes them to resist change.
  • People usually only do something when it is in their own best interest and aligns with their values.
  • The four drivers of self-interest are: money, power, status, and popularity.
  • Smart people know what to do but they need to know more what to stop.
  • It is helpful for most people you coach to create a To-Stop list in addition to a To-Do list.
  • The fallacy of adding too much value is that by "adding value" (adding your comments and suggestions to subordinates ideas) you water down the ownership of their ideas. When you add to their idea it often no longer feels like it is theirs, and employee motivation declines.
  • When getting feedback of any type, positive or negative, accept it from a neutral place and say, "Thank you." If you don't reply with a judgmental or defensive comment, you can't get into a debate or argument, which will make one sound defensive even if the person thinks they are just asking for clarity.
  • The best time to make positive changes is right now.

The answer is all of the above statements are true. But how can we use this information in coaching our clients?

Coaching Tips

We can make all of these true statements into a powerful coaching question by using these facts as coaching question stems. For example, note how each of the following powerful questions is created by adding the word "what" to the above statements.

  • In what way is your self-confidence possibly leading you to resist making a useful change?
  • What are the most important behaviors for you to stop? What's the most important one to stop? What will be the benefit of stopping that behavior?
  • What is a situation where you can curtail adding "more value" in a conversation with a subordinate that would have the impact of them taking more ownership of how they will proceed?
  • What is a situation coming up where it will be most helpful for you to listen to feedback and say thank you? What will the benefit be to you and others?

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