You can focus on the problems you have. Or you can focus on the solutions. As big ideas go, they don’t get much simpler than solution focus. It’s simply a binary choice to focus on the future, rather than the past.
Solution focus has its origins in Solution Focused Brief Therapy. But therapy isn’t what we specialize in here at Management Pocketbooks. So, instead, we’ll turn our attention to what managers can learn from the ideas, and put to use in solution-focused problem solving and coaching.
There are few models that are as beloved of management trainers as Robert Dilts’ Logical Levels of Awareness.
It is popular among those who have learned it as part of formal NLP training, through reading books, or by osmosis. The logical levels model is pervasive and hard to miss if you are alert to these things.
So, in this article, I want to explain what it is, how it came about, and why it is a big idea that merits your attention as a manager.
What are you really capable of? And what holds you back from achieving it? Competing against your own mental obstacles is the ‘Inner Game’.
Although many people in the world of work have never heard of the Inner Game, nor of Timothy Gallwey, its founder, this big idea has been extremely influential.
Because Gallwey and the ideas behind the Inner Game are very much the immediate progenitors of modern performance coaching. It it is hard to over-estimate the impact that has had on management and organisational life.
What better way to start a new year than with a management thinker who showed us how to perform better in all walks of life: Timothy Gallwey, founder of the Inner Game.
A Happy New Year to all of our readers.
Timothy Gallwey is best known for his Inner Game books about tennis and golf. They transformed the approach of a million weekend sports enthusiasts. But these were no limp self-help manuals. They were equally lauded by sports performers at the pinnacle of their sports internationally. And they remain so today.
And it was not just sports people who found power in Gallwey’s advice. Quickly, business seized his ideas and called on Gallwey to show them how to play the inner game of work. In so doing, Gallwey became the progenitor of business coaching, and therefore of executive coaching and its domestic relative, life coaching.
Timothy Gallwey was born in 1938,in San Francisco. He attended Harvard Business School, majoring in English Literature. But his academic work sat alongside his tennis playing and in 1968, he was captain of the Harvard tennis team.
His direction remained academic until 1971, when he took a sabbatical, during which he acted as a tennis coach. It was on the court that he started to realise how impoverished were the traditional approaches he was using. Telling the sports person what to do would distract them from all else. And it would introduce new anxieties to their play.
Gallwey started experimenting with new ways improve tennis performance. Instead of telling a player to watch the ball, he asked them to vocalise sounds at the moments when the ball struck the ground or the racket. Of course, this required them to watch the ball too. Later, he shifted his instruction to noticing where the ball landed,or where it struck the racket face. Gradually, Gallwey developed the principles he still teaches, as do many coaches the world over*.
But it was not to be long before weekend tennis players and golfers in the upper ranks of business started to wonder if Gallwey’s coaching principles could apply to the workplace. By the late 1970s, he was a much in demand speaker and through the 1980s, he spent more time advising business on using inner game principles to boost management performance.
Also in the 1980s, Inner Game coaching was in full flow in the UK. There, Inner Game sports coaches like Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore started to see the wider application of the principles too. They articulated what is perhaps the best known management coaching model, the GROW model, and took their sports experience into business* too.
It was not until 1999 that Gallwey relieved business people of the need to read about tennis or golf, to gain business performance insights. The Inner Game of Work took inner game principles and all Gallwey had learned from his consulting experience, and consolidated it into a marvellous book.
The Principles of the Inner Game
At its heart, the ideas of the Inner Game are simple. I shall present what I consider to be the core:
One big idea
One important conclusion
One simple solution
Gallwey’s Big Idea
Gallwey’s big idea is this. When we are focused on achieving something that is important to us, there is a constant dialogue in our head. And, motivated by self doubt and fear of failure, one part of our mind provides a constant and undermining commentary. It issues instructions and deals out rebukes. It warns and it threatens. It praises (rarely) and chastises us for our failings.
Who is this part of us addressing? It’s the part of us that would otherwise get on and perform. Gallwey calls these to selves,
Self 1: which is logical, critical, fearful and dogmatic
Self 2: which is instinctive and contains your know-how
If this all sounds familiar, compare it to today’s psychological concept of System 1 and System 2, popularised so powerfully by Daniel Kahneman in his wonderful book, Thinking: Fast and Slow.
Gallwey’s Important Conclusion
If you have an instinctive self that is capable of doing stuff and figuring out how to do it well, then why do we take so long to learn and become excellent. Gallwey says that Self 1 gets in the way. Its constant directions, critiques and berating interfere with our performance. Gal;wey characterises this in a simple formulation:
Performance = Potential – Interference
Consequently, the Inner Game is all about removing that interference from Self 1, and allowing our performance to rise to the level of our potential.
Gallwey’s Simple Solution
Gallwey’s solution is simple and (I can say from experience) highly effective. If we can focus you awareness on what is happening, that focus will still Self 1’s voice long enough for Self 2 to gain insights into how to modify our behaviour.
Gallwey calls non-judgmental observation and the role of a coach is not to tell you what to do, but to direct your attention. This directed focus allows Self 2 to learn, and Self 1 to think it is occupied with the noticing.
Gallwey’s insight is to transform coaching to a process that centres on awareness raising. The skill of a coach is first, to direct attention to the most pertinent events, and second to reinforce Self 2 in its quest to act on what you learn.
The R of the GROW Model is Reality. Giving you enough time to fully understand what is going on is the single most valuable role of a coach. And when you have articulated your Options, a good coach will cycle back to Reality, to help you test those options out. Gallwey does not use the GROW model explicitly. It isn’t his model. But it grew from his thinking.
And, while we are on Gallwey’s legacy, let’s cycle back to his experience of the early 1970s – he learned to meditate. And I am convinced that this impacted on his practice by placing awareness at the centre of his approach to coaching.
Let’s just remember what the flavour of the year was two or three years ago, in the world of personal development: mindfulness. Emerging from meditative practices, what is mindfulness all about? Focused awareness.
Timothy Gallwey in his own Words
Here is a 12 minute interview with Timothy Gallwey, filmed in 2012
* Including me. I was privileged to be taught coaching by Sir John Whitmore and David Hemmery and to have attended a masterclass and an informal dinner with Timothy Gallwey.
The powerful belief behind coaching: whether life coaching, corporate coaching, performance coaching or any other sort is simple: If we fully understand the challenge or problem we face, then we can access our own solution to it. Nancy Kline puts it this way:
Usually the brain that contains the problem also contains the solution – often the best one.
Her contribution is to formalise a set of criteria for what she calls (and has trademarked as) a Thinking Environment. These ten conditions at once make sense: they are both obvious and insightful.
[Very] Brief Biography
There is not a lot of information around on Kline, save that she was born in New Mexico and served on the faculty of a Quaker School in Virginia, where she and her first husband set up a satellite institution in 1972. It was there that she started to think deeply about how to create the space to think. She went on, after twelve years, to be a director at the rightwing Leadership Institute. In 1990, she married her second husband, Christopher Spence, and moved to the UK. Shortly afterwards, she set up her consulting and coaching business and wrote her first book, Time to Think, published in 1999.
It seems to me that the entire burden of Kline’s ideas is supported by one statement:
The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.
This tracks back to her and her colleagues’ observations of teenage students trying to solve their own problems for themselves and it is the the core principle of her attitude to coaching – and of the attitude of many coaches. Her book, Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind and her concept of a Thinking EnvironmentⓇ set out ten conditions that create a good environment in which we can think. These conditions are:
You need to listen carefully, take an interest in everything you hear, and be respectful of the ideas, beliefs and values that are embedded.
In the coaching context, the questions you ask evoke awareness, so your goal is to shake up entrenched patterns of thinking that can create unwarranted limitations.
Speaker and listener deserve equal respect, attention, and time, and must maintain their commitments to one another.
This one reminds me of the Losada and Heaphy paper in 2004 that shows (and the methodology has been criticised) that five to one ratio of positive to negative comments drives stronger group performance.
Creating time, without a feeling of urgency or hurry. Kline sees urgency as a destructive force.
Beyond the positive sense of this work, Kline also means us to engender a collaborative rather than competitive mindset.
Letting the speaker express and experience their emotions, to release the speaker from their grip.
Drawing out a complete and, as far as possible, reliable statement of reality.
Selecting an appropriate physical environment in which we feel fully respected.
Kline is clearly a master coach, and her organisation offers a range of training. Her book does not only offer a prescription for how to create an environment where people can think more clearly – and therefore solve problems more effectively. It also contains valuable insights of a range of organisational types. Along the way, what I found most useful, were some of the specific questions she suggests asking others… and ourselves. I would put Kline in a category with another asker of insightful questions, Susan Scott.
Any leader or manager can gain a lot by taking time to think about some of her questions, of which my two favourites are:
What do you really think?
What do we already know now that we are going to find out in a year?
When I read Susan Scott’s first book, Fierce Conversations, it blew me away. Scott is not as well known as the other thinkers we have covered so far, but her insights will be extraordinarily valuable to anyone who seeks to manage or lead in an organisation today.
‘Paying fierce attention to another, really asking, really listening, even during a brief conversation – can evoke a wholehearted response.’
‘In fierce conversations there is neither a struggle for approval nor an attempt to persuade.’
What is not to love in a book that is filled with practical and insightful guidance as to how we can truly draw success out of people, one conversation at a time?
Susan Scott grew up in Tennessee, and worked in training and executive search, before running executive think-tanks for fourteen years. In 2001, she founded Fierce Inc, to provide the kind of conversations and leadership training that are truly transformative.
In her second book, Fierce Leadership, Scott challenges business best practices in a bold, pragmatic and fierce way. It is a thought-provoking read in which you will find six established ‘best practices’ challenged by alternative ‘fierce practices’.
‘Best’ Practice: 360-Degree Anonymous Feedback
‘Fierce’ Practice: 360-Degree Face-to-Face Feedback
Let’s have the courage to have fierce conversations with our colleagues..
‘Best’ Practice: Hiring for Smarts
‘Fierce’ Practice: Hiring for Smart + Heart
Why settle for smart IQ, when you could get IQ and EQ (Emotional Intelligence) together. Cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence are not mutually-exclusive.
‘Best’ Practice: Holding People Accountable
‘Fierce’ Practice: Modelling Accountability and Hold People Able
Place expectations on people rather than set out to punish failings.
‘Best’ Practice: Employee Engagement Programs
‘Fierce’ Practice: Actually Engaging Employees
This is one of my hot topics (see The Influence Agenda) – we need to get out there and actually engage with all stakeholders.
‘Best’ Practice: Customer Centricity
‘Fierce’ Practice: Customer Connectivity
This is one of my hot topics (see The Influence Agenda) – we need to get out there and actually engage with all stakeholders. Oops – I think I already said that!
‘Best’ Practice: Legislated Optimism
‘Fierce’ Practice: Radical Transparency
This is a fierce exposure of the truth that allows people to recognise the need for solutions and quips them with the information they need to fully understand the problem.
Here is a short (4 min) video of Scott. She needs to get an invite to TED!
This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.
Your job, as a manager, is to coordinate people and resources to get work done. Important parts of that are:
getting the most from your people
getting things done ever-more effectively and efficiently
developing your team’s capacity and capabilities
motivating people to work at their best
and so on…
One management skill has emerged as the solution to all of this. It does not stand alone, but over the last twenty years, we have learned its power to enhance individual and organisational performance. That skill is coaching.
Coaching is not new
The best managers, leaders, and teachers have been doing coaching for years – hundreds and thousands of years. What is new, is that the process and techniques have been studied, systematised and turned into a thousand books, articles and training courses. This means that coaching is no longer the preserve of the few who figure it out for themselves and have a natural talent: anyone can learn it, practice it and master the skills.
At its best, coaching is a valuable conversation that lets one person figure out what they need to do to get the results they need.
The Principles of Coaching
The core principle of coaching is respect for the person you are coaching. As a coach, you need to assume that the other person can find the solution to the challenge they are working on, whether it is a workplace problem, improving under-performance, or preparing themselves for a promotion.
To support this, the fundamental skills are
Questioning – asking good questions that increase the other person’s awareness of their situation and help them perceive things in a new way
Listening – so that you can ask questions founded on exactly what they say
Patience – giving time for the other person to work out solutions for themselves
Trust – recognising that they will make mistakes, but that is a valuable part of learning
As a manager, you need to balance opportunities to learn (sometimes by making mistakes) with the need to manage risk. But the thing that surprises most new coaches is how often the coaching process finds a good solution first time – and often a better solution than the coach themself would have thought of.
The Process of Coaching
There are a lot of methodologies for coaching – many of them proprietary. Most of them offer an acronym to help remember the areas for questioning and exploration. These are:
One acronym is, in some ways, the obvious one: COACH
Regular readers will know that I am a sucker for acronyms – although I don’t always love them. This one, I particularly like, and it comes from the heart of a change management and coaching process, called Solution Focus.
What the authors, Paul Z Jackson and Mark McKergow, offer is a change of focus from the problem to the solution. A nice shift in perspective and one that chimes well with another interesting change management methodology, Appreciative Inquiry (AI).
The acronym encompasses the authors’ attitudes nicely:
– not problems
– the interaction between people is where to look
Make use of what’s there
– very much the AI approach
– look in the past, present and future
– keep it simple (and ‘clean’?)
Every case is different
– so don’t try stock solutions
The Solution Focus
In an exceptional book, the authors take us through a set of tools that will help you move from the present towards a future you design following these six principles. Another feature of the book is its introduction of the authors’ own coaching model, OSKAR Model. This makes a feature of the importance of getting a perspective on the scale of the problem, which the GROW and its many variants do not explicitly include (although Sir John Whitmore certainly uses the principle. Oskar was one of my ‘infinite number of coaching acronyms’ in an earlier blog.
So here’s the deal
If you are interested in either coaching or the management of change, and you are not familiar with The Solution Focus, it is a worthwhile read. The authors offer a distinctive and insightful take on the change process at a personal and group level.
This blog is published on a Bank Holiday, so we don’t expect many people to be at work, reading it. But a diamond jubilee is a big deal – and so is Queen Elizabeth II. Over the last sixty years, she has proved herself, among much else, a great manager. Let’s look at how.
The Queen is the consummate professional – putting in many hours of work every day (still) and, until recently, maintaining a work schedule that would make Apprentice candidates and Dragons shudder.
2. Chief Executive
She is Chief Executive of one of the nation’s oldest established, biggest and most successful family businesses. And she has run it pretty well. Whilst openly acknowledging the occasional wayward members of the family, and allowing the odd unsuccessful venture from some of them, she has ensured that the succession is assured with all of the major players showing signs of commitment to the business and high levels of professionalism themselves.
3. Mastering a Brief
The Queen prepares well for every engagement, famously knowing all about the people she meets, from Lord Lieutenant to Lunchtime Assistant (Dinner Lady in old money). And she also keeps up with her red boxes (literally, red boxes in which Government papers are sent to her daily), devoting many hours each week to assimilate everything the Government sends her.
4. Brand Management
Her identity and that of her family, the House of Windsor, remains clear and, despite some setbacks, currently has not only great name recognition (“The Royal Family”) but also high levels of brand approval. It has adapted well to modern media and the website is supplemented by YouTube, Flickr and Facebook pages, and a Twitter stream @TheBritishMonarchy. I doubt that the Queen herself tweets – but how many CEOs do?
5. Financial Control
No longer right at the top of the Sunday Times Rich List (now at 262, with £310m), this could be argued to be a weak area, but she has reduced the scale of the civil list and, unlike some of the higher fliers, is not running a global business.
The Queen’s regular meetings with her many Prime Ministers have, by many accounts, often taken the form of a non-judgemental conversation, in which she asks many probing and insightful questions. In management, there’s a word for that style of conversation.
7. Change Management
A lot is made of the continuity of the British monarchy, but the reality is one of constant change. The last sixty years have been no exception. And whilst she has avoided the pitfalls that led predecessors to far more rapid change (Magna Carta, Civil War like Stephen/Matilda, Charles/Parliament, Roses etc, or reformation), she has created a highly agile institution that, whilst in no way a creature of the twenty first century, at least looks fit to continue within it.
Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy
The Modern Monarch’s Pocketbook has been delayed, so in the meantime, if you are a UK resident and reading this on the Bank Holiday, enjoy the end of your break.