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.
Psychologists and, before them, philosophers have spent centuries trying to divide us into types. Whilst their attempts have had somewhat less of the hocus-pocus and downright prejudice to them than the racial typographies of some early ethnographers, many systems have advanced little beyond Hippocrates’ theory of four temperaments based on the bodily humours.
Rigour in Personality Testing
It wasn’t until the twentieth century that scientists had the statistical tools to analyse and understand personality with any rigour. Even so, the strongest, most widely used personality classification system – the so-called ‘Big Five’ Personality Factors – is still a matter of much research and debate as we reach approach the third decade of the twenty first century.
So perhaps the biggest change that the twentieth century wrought was not in reliability, but in accessibility and application. Personality assessment tools became widely popular and, through the second half of that century, widely used in workplaces to support selection, group development, team-building, personal development, marital counselling, and a range of other uses. Not all of the uses have been endorsed by the developers of these tools. And not all tools are widely supported by the more rigorously trained academic community of psychology.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
And so we come to Katherine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs-Myers. Their tool, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is very widely used. Every day, trainers and development professionals introduce it to new cohorts of staff and managers. These employees often take full self-evaluation questionnaire and are then told what this means about them and their colleagues.
The moments of insight are a joy to watch. The MBTI certainly seems to capture something of our personality, and explain something of our behaviours. But does it? This remarkably resilient and successful tool started through nothing less than a mother’s desire to understand her daughter’s choice of husband. What mother can’t empathise with that?
Katherine Cook Briggs
Katherine Cook was born in Michigan, in 1875 and was home schooled. Her father was an academic. She went to college to study agriculture and stayed on as a teacher and academic. She married prominent physicist and administrator, Lyman Briggs.
As her daughter grew up, Briggs became interested in children’s educational and social development. This led her to create a vocation test for children, which she thought could guide a child’s future well-being. This thinking focused on four personality types: meditative, spontaneous, executive, and sociable. These are still present among the wider set of 16 MBTI types.
Her quest was to find one unifying theory, and she considered ideas from many philosophers, scientists, and psychologists. Her own big breakthrough was when she discovered the work of Carl Jung. He advocated for four principal psychological functions by which we experience the world: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. This, along with our orientations to extroversion or introversion, give us the Jungian Personality Types, which Briggs and her daughter developed into their own type indicator model.
Isabel Briggs was born in 1897, and was home schooled by her mother. Following her mother’s discovery of Jung’s work, Briggs-Myers (now married) became interested in the work too, focusing on how character and personality influence the type of work we might thrive in. Together, they developed their framework and the questionnaire that goes with it. They began a long program of observation and discussion, refining their interpretation of Jung’s work.
During World War II, Briggs Myers wanted to help reduce conflict among people, but more pragmatically also to understand why some people hated their jobs in the military and others thrived.
It wasn’t until 1945 that they did some solid empirical research. With the help of Lyman Briggs, they ran their first MBTI assessment on around 5,500 George Washington Medical School students. Briggs Myers studied the results for years, searching for patterns among dropouts and successful students.
The Outcome of the Work
Briggs was the primary driving force and inspiration behind the creation of the MBTI from Jung’s original work. Briggs-Myers created the physical test itself, and did the work on validation and interpretation.
The result was one of the best-known and widely used personality tools, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Wikipedia reports that an estimated 50 million people have taken the MBTI. Whilst it is not widely endorsed by the academic community, and is based on largely desk-research and theorisation, rather than empirical trials, the MBTI remans popular. This is doubtless due to the ease of superficial understanding.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI
The MBTI classifies personality types along four pairs of categories. Briggs-Myers and Briggs claimed that we all fit into one of the 16 possible combinations of personality type, and that we have a dominant preference in each pair.
The Type Indicator is a test to assess which personality type offers the ‘best fit’ with the assertion that knowing your personality type that will help you succeed in life. The three original pairs of preferences from Jung’s typology (Extraversion and Introversion, Sensing and Intuition, Thinking and Feeling) are supplemented by a fourth pair (Judging and Perceiving), added by Briggs-Myers.
This is a phenomenally rich model and there are many excellent resources online. So here, we’ll only attempt a very superficial outline of the types.
Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
This axis refers to where where we get our energy from, and where we direct our attention. This can be on people and things in the outer world; extraversion. Or it can be on ourselves and our inner world; introversion.
Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
This axis refers to how we like to deal with information. People with a Sensing preference tend to focus on the basic information, whilst the Intuiting type prefers to interpret the information, and add meaning.
Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
This axis refers to how we like to make decisions. Thinkers like to make objective decisions, using logic and rationality. The feeling style is more subjective, considering special circumstances, and how people feel.
Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
This axis refers to how we like to dealt with experiences and circumstances. The judging style prefers to make a choice, and stick with it. The Perceiver likes to stay open to new information and options, and respond flexibly.
Assessment of the MBTI
The MBTI correlates poorly with more robustly researched psychological traits or types models, like the Big Five Personality factors. So why do so many people readily endorse their MBTI type? The answer, I think, lies in a combination of two factors.
Firstly, while not a strong correlation with rigorous typographies, it is derived from extensive observation and the factors that make up the MBTI undeniably exist – regardless of whether they are truly the ‘right’ fundamental elements of personality.
And secondly, we have our old friend, the Forer Effect. This is the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements are highly general and could apply to many people. If this sounds worrying, it is. The Forer Effect (sometimes known as the Barnum Effect (after showman and huckster PT Barnum) is also the basis of much mentalism and fraudulent cold reading.
The MBTI definitely has value as a personal and executive development tool. But if the trainers and specialists who deploy it do not make its limitations clear, they are doing your organisation a disservice.
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.
Robert Greenleaf was a successful corporate manager, who read a book that crystallised his thinking. But he only started to change the world once he retired. His thinking goes against the grain for many corporate and political leaders, who want to exert control. Instead, he argued, leaders need to be servants first.
Very Short Biography
Robert Greenleaf was born and grew up in rural Indiana, and studied mathematics at Carleton College in Minnesota. He graduated in 1926, and went straight into a career at the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T as it now is). He stayed there, playing a series of important managerial roles, until his early retirement in 1964.
From the earliest days, Greenleaf was aware that big corporations did not serve their employees well. He strove at AT&T to change that from within, and had some notable successes. But in 1958, reading Herman Hesse’s novella, Journey To The East, Greenleaf had a revelation. The pivotal character Leo, whilst seeming to only serve a group of travellers, is in fact, taking upon himself the role of motivator, teacher and guide. When he leaves, the group flounders. Leo has, in truth, been leading the group.
This led Greenleaf to form his concept of Servant Leadership.
He strived to live according to his philosophy of ethical leadership, and died in 1990. The Greenleaf Center continues to promote his work.
The Genesis of Servant Leadership
Arguably, Greenleaf’s work has been based on a mighty misinterpretation of Hesse’s message. For Leo tells the central character that, in abandoning their goal when he left, the group failed its test. Enlightened people need to sustain their own self-leadership.
However, Greenleaf’s interpretation is coherent and would, I believe, have found favour with Hesse. He argues that Leo, is, in serving the group, its leader. From this, Greenleaf goes on to deduce that leaders need to serve those who follow them, as Leo served the group in Hesse’s novella.
Why do I suggest Hesse may have favoured this interpretation? For two reasons:
In the book, Leo does indeed provide leadership to the group, though none recognise it at the time. (I shan’t say more – read the book)
Secondly, in Hesse’s finest work (in my view), the The Glass Bead Game, the central character, The Master of the Game, is called Joseph Knecht. In Hesse’s language, German, Knecht means ‘servant’. The master is servant. Curiously, Hesse is not alone in this insight: etymologically, the English word knight originates from the Old English, Cniht, meaning servant, rather than from the French, chevalier (horseman) or the Latin, eques, also meaning horseman. Knecht and knight are the same word!
What is Servant Leadership?
Servant Leadership is a model of leadership based on the ethical principle that leaders must first of all serve those who follow them. They have a moral responsibility to help the people they serve grow and thrive, as people. There are therefore a number of behaviours that are characteristic of a servant leader. Thus, Greenleaf’s concept is a behaviours, or roles-based, model of leadership. He argued that we can all become servant leaders by making these behaviours the centre of our practice.
Some of the behaviours a servant leader needs to exhibit are: listening, empathy and healing relationships, awareness, foresight and conceptualising the world, building communities and stewarding resources, influencing through persuasion, rather than control, and finally, a commitment to the growth and wellbeing of the people they serve.
… seems disappointingly slight in the upper echelons of modern business, public service (yes, I know) and politics. Whilst a former British Prime Minister referred to servant leadership, I doubt he will be remembered for it. The current crop of world leaders hardly exhibit any signs of it (and neither do some of the prominent candidates for future roles).
Where I see servant leadership in my work, is in many of the small business entrepreneurs and among middle managers. These people are where deep care for colleagues and staff are most manifest in my experience. It would be lovely if our culture allowed these qualities to thrive as those people rise to top leadership roles on national and global platforms.
Robert Greenleaf in his own Words
I can only find one video of Greenleaf himself. Here he is, in later years, talking about the role of institutions.
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.
As a manager, you will experience pressure to send your people on training from at least three sources:
Your HR, Learning or Training Department colleagues, who believe in training and maybe even have it as their corporate raison d’etre. (This, by the way, is not to suggest that training is not something to believe in, nor that it is not a good reason to be in an organisation)
External training and development providers, ranging from the huge mega-corporations of training to the one man or woman training bands (can a band be one person – or is that a soloist?)
Your staff who may variously want to develop their skills, build their career, stretch their mind, or have a day out of the business doing something different.
[Declaration of interest: the author is one of those training provider soloists – training is a good thing – buy more]
Qn 1: How to decide what training to procure for your staff, and whether to procure it
This is the first of two critical questions on this topic that a manager faces. The answer is that you need to think in business case terms:
What are the costs
What are the benefits
On the costs side, you need to weigh:
cash cost recharged to your budget (and to the business as a whole)
time out and disruption to work
costs of any cover
time to manage the process of making best use of the training (see question 2)
On the benefits side, you have:
potential for enhanced skills, behaviours and performance
This one is critical and linked to the ‘what training’ part of the question
morale, motivation and confidence boost
effect on staff retention
This can work both ways, but if you are worried about the cost of losing a trained staff member, consider the cost of keeping an untrained staff member!
informal networking and thinking time can generate creativity and new solutions or ideas
So, what training? The best approach is to commission the training you need, rather than procure the training that is offered. Sit down and list out the performance and behaviour changes you most want and most believe will deliver the results your team is required to produce. That is your training brief.
If you are unable to commission to a brief, then do the same, and compare what you have with what is offered. If the match is good, then move on to consider the other aspects of your business case: if not, say no.
Qn 2: How to get the best value from training you have procured for your staff
Training has most value when it is applied mindfully as soon as possible and as frequently as possible, once the trainee returns to their workplace. So:
Before the training, sit down with the trainee and discuss with them what they want to get from it and what you want them to get from it. This will prime them to spot what is relevant.
Put in place a plan to use that knowledge as soon as the training is complete – or even during the training if it is an on-going programme.
Once the training is over, meet up again. Ask what the trainee experienced, what they learned and how they propose to apply it. Discuss this with them and then review the plan you set up in advance.
Provide support for making the opportunities and frequently review how the trainee is applying their new knowledge or skills. Continually stretch them and give praise and recognition for valuable changes.
Development: it is more than just training
When thinking about developing your staff, there are literally dozens of interventions beyond ‘sending them on a course’. Yet that is always the default in many organisations. Here are a dozen to start with.