A Strategy for Life
Not everyone has a strategy for their own development. Some people are quite happy to see where they end up as events naturally unfold. However, if you wish to use your energy, and the energy which you are able to extract from your environment, as efficiently and effectively as possible, then having a life strategy, and/or a personal plan, may prove to be a sensible idea, maybe your best idea. Some people are able to achieve this on their own and do not need much help, but others need guidance in the form of coaching.
However, coaching is only useful if the person in question (and his family) sees the possible advantages. On the other hand, the person who is considering coaching may believe that nobody is likely to be able to help, given the nature of the perceived problems. Or he may not wish to entrust his thoughts with somebody from outside the close community. He may forget, at that moment, how difficult it can sometimes be to share (personal and/or changed) thoughts with somebody from the ‘inner circle’. Personal environments have the tendency to be both too subjective and too constricting, preferring actually little or no change.
But what is coaching then? In short, coaching acts as a support for self-development. If carried out effectively, it does not seek to impose but helps an individual find and release what is inside him, by helping to build a better internal understanding of the capacities which are actually available. We are referring here to the discovery of strengths which arise by the combining of skills and ability in the context of the passion which may be generated. This can lead to the formulation of desirable but realistic personal objectives. Coaching helps with establishing these and discovering a way to reach them, providing encouragement for a start to be made on the (long, but worthwhile) road to achievement.
Self 1 and Self 2
Timothy Gallwey was a professional Irish tennis coach. His experiences from the tennis court enabled him to develop a model for visualising the coaching process. For this he created two mutually co-operating parts of a person, Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 embodies knowledge and conscience. Self 2 is the capacity to perform without help. Self 1 has the steering capacity to release Self 2, who normally knows what to do.
In normal circumstances Self 1 and Self 2 work in tandem. Self 1 ensures that Self 2 has a reliable basis for operation, knowing the rules and being practised in adhering to them, and will always warn Self 2 of approaching pitfalls. Self 2 operates automatically and needs to do this if Self 1 is to retain sufficient mental resources for further development.
My son, who is now a professional golf teacher, once asked me when he was still learning the game why, that every time he reached a new level, there appeared to be a period when golf was no longer as enjoyable as it had been, in fact it was suddenly very difficult again. ‘Golf is still the same game and I am still the same person, so why does performance dip?’ My answer was that he had been reliant on Self 2 who knew how to perform at the previous level without being asked. This saves a lot of energy as 80% is then automatic, and this is the necessary level and condition for success. Further, the ability of Self 2 is not doubted, it has been demonstrated so many times. At the new higher level, the demands imposed by Self 1 go up and Self 1 is more involved in an operational sense while a new basis is created for Self 2 to carry out its tasks. Self 2 is then no longer operating automatically. On the other hand, if Self 1 does not insist that the player aims for a higher level then Self 2 tends to operate by ‘going through the motions’, that is more than 80% is carried out automatically. In this situation, boredom will set in, attention drops and performances will fall anyway.
The question is, of course, how do you draw up the motivation and the encouragement to build every time to a new level of proficiency. And this is where coaching comes in, either by self-teaching (Self 1) or with the help of an external coach. The coach can help with the objective analysis of where you are now, where you would like to get to, whether your resources are strong enough and your attitude positive enough for taking the first steps, and what may be the way ahead.
My own coach
I realised at an early stage in my career that extensive knowledge, I was an Oxford mathematician who had become an actuary at an early age, was not enough for future success in a career, unless it was purely academic. From my brief experiences with leading others, I was doubtful. I was curious how knowledge was used to assist in promoting the functioning of people, what they needed in addition to this to get to where they wanted to go to, and how they were motivated to start the journey. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my general manager acted as my coach. Also a mathematician and actuary, he had had enough experience to realise that I would only quickly get answers to my questions if I were transferred to the Human Resources department. I was required to recruit in London at the height of the racial tensions in the City of London in the early 1970’s, just when many people had decided that it would be a better idea to seek work outside London. I soon realised that Self 1 had a lot of work to do. I don’t suppose that any coach would recommend this now, but I have always been grateful that I had help to realise what was, in fact, a career change, albeit within the same company. I spent a time in various human resources functions before wending my way in a more general management direction. Every time Self 1 had to prepare Self 2, but I now no longer doubted that Self 1 would succeed in this.
It was at a certain stage in my development that I began to see that what was happening to me could happen to anybody else. As I acquired experience, I became more sure that I could assist in this process and would enjoy doing this. For a while I turned my back on the more technical world (Self 1 insisted ultimately on returning to it!). Fortunately, within my company, there were opportunities to gradually adopt a coaching role and to provide help with both career and personal matters. I combined this with general management just as my former coach had done. I also conducted an introduction for new employees and taught on management courses.
At a particular point in time, I started making my own notes regarding what I found was important in my own personal development. This was not only to assist my own learning process but to provide guidance when I was coaching others. I also felt it was only fair to subject myself to anything which I was expecting from others. I knew then, at first hand, what it was like. Since then, at least a part of every week, if not every day, has been dedicated to my own manual, ‘Developing Yourself’, expanding and improving it in the light of new experiences, relevant reading and the opinions of others, but substantially strengthened by a degree in psychology from the Open University in the Netherlands. This manual also provides directions for me when coaching others.
The coaching process consists normally of a number of conversations with somebody who wishes to give more substance to his own personal development, sometimes for personal reasons, sometimes for career reasons, sometimes when starting a new job or sometimes before commencing a new course of education.
I tend to concentrate first on ensuring that the person being coached gets to know himself more clearly, his strengths and weaknesses but also his passions. This leads ultimately to the drawing up of a personal profile and the setting of personal objectives. We then look at some of the qualities and skills which might be needed to achieve these objectives (more easily). Lastly, if desired, we reflect on the wider concept of self-development. Every course (series of conversations) can be made to fit the person in question. This is determined at outset, and if necessary as the discussions progress.
Recent trends in career/personal development
According to Charles Handy, a long-time business consultant and author, who is reaching the end of his working life (he is over eighty!) people now need to think continually during their career about ‘the second curve’. By this he was referring to the fact that careers these days tend to be shorter while the total working life is only getting longer. So this is completely new. He constructed a series of interlocking S’s lying on their backs to illustrate the initial investment in a new venture, the harvesting of the returns from this investment, but then just before the crest representing maximum exploitation, just before the curve moves downward, to start a new investment period, the second curve, and then the third etc. This is independent of whether this is within the same company or not. And incidentally, this doesn’t only apply to careers, but also to companies and institutions. You can picture this better by noticing how successful sports teams bring on new players before the existing stars have reached their peak, and this takes place earlier and earlier. Coaches can play an important role here, not least by being able to draw parallels with their own careers.
How to start?
If you are interested why not invest in an initial conversation, which will enable both parties to decide if a programme of coaching would be a worthwhile exercise; for example, four monthly sessions of 2 hours at €150 per hour followed by an evaluation. It is recommended, in the in-between periods, to prepare for coming conversations by conducting specified reflections on current qualities and performances. This will also help to determine what, if any, follow up would be productive.