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Editor: Richard Winfield, rwinfield@brefigroup.co.uk

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Issue No. 2 April 2001

CONTENTS

  1. Editorial: An unintended disaster

  2. Coaching notes: Executive coaching competencies

  3. Tools notes: Taking different positions to make progress

  4. Book review: Get Everything Done – and still have time to play


1.     Editorial: An unintended disaster

This morning the cows across the valley were let out for the first time this year, streaming across the field, enjoying the fresh grass and their freedom. Last evening, having just finished reading our book of the month, I took a walk down to the bridge. Sheep quietly grazing and a total of four pairs of geese flying home up the river.

The British countryside is a joy to experience.

A few weeks ago I wondered why several huge earth movers on Brecon bypass were being escorted by police and why I then came upon more than 30 police standing on the roadside. I have since driven several times past Eppynt, where signs along the roadside proclaim 'The Valley of Death'. And driven along the Wye Valley near Hay, where huge fires raged in the distance.

There can be few industries where loss of stock can have such a deep emotional impact as in farming ? or where it can threaten the loss of tourist environments generated over hundreds of years.

I don't suppose that when politicians and civil servants in Europe and Westminster introduced regulations to control abattoirs or when they decided to make annual premium payments for sheep, which resulted in transporting animals on long journeys, they intended to create a disaster situation out of a potential local outbreak of foot and mouth.

We live in a system. Everything we do, whether in our travel, in our work or in our communications, takes place in systems. And increasingly these systems can be global. Systems react to change. And if we consider only the direct impact of our actions we can later be taken by surprise by the unintended consequences. But if we study the systems, perhaps we can anticipate the cumulative effect. Understanding of systems dynamics is one of the competencies required by the International Coach Federation for executive coaches.

What we do affects what our customers do. It also affects what our competitors do ? and this can affect what the market does. Classic consideration: what is the likely impact of a price cut ? winning customers, starting a lose-lose price war or expanding the total market?

I am becoming increasingly involved with clients' Internet strategies. On the face of it the Internet is wonderful news. Better communications lead to procurement savings, access to larger markets and faster development of new products. The Internet will bring major benefits to mankind by speeding and spreading learning. On the face of it we can expect more growth and better profits. But beware. Better communication and transparency means more competition and continuous pressure on prices ? and lower profits. Consumers will benefit, but the major companies whose shares provide for our pensions may suffer much lower returns in the future. An unexpected consequence?

Earlier this month I managed to attend a performance of the play 'Copenhagen', by Michael Frayn. In 1941 the German physicist Werner Heisenberg made a strange trip to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart, Niels Bohr. They were old friends, and their work together had opened the way into the atom. But now they were on opposite sides of a world war. During the meeting they went out for a walk and returned unexpectedly soon, after 15 minutes. Nobody knows what happened between them.

The play takes place in the after life, when they and Bohr's wife meet again to discuss their memories of what happened, and what it led to.

During the rest of the war Heisenberg led the failed German effort to achieve nuclear fission. After the war he was snubbed and rejected by other nuclear scientists. Bohr went to America to join the team that developed the atom bomb, and was celebrated.

The play runs through three interpretations of what might have happened. Gradually as possibilities are explored, it becomes clear that perhaps Heisenberg should have been celebrated because he was very successful a failing to develop a bomb for Germany. Did he or did he not understand the mathematics. And did Bohr or did he not explain the implication of the mathematics. Had Heisenberg not managed to maintain his lead in Germany he would have been replaced by a Nazi competitor who, quite possibly, might have succeeded with a bomb. So, intentionally or unintentionally, Heisenberg saved Europe from the atom bomb!

A dramatic demonstration of how things can be understood from different perspectives. Such a skill is essential in successful negotiations. In this issue we consider how to use 'perceptual positions'.


2.     Coaching notes: Executive coaching competencies

In the last issue we looked at basic coaching competencies. What does the International Coach Federation* say about the additional competencies needed by executive coaches? Executive coaches must possess a unique combination of maturity, professional skills and human qualities, such as:

  • A firm grounding in business knowledge and competencies

  • Thorough understanding of the world of the executive leader

  • A broad understanding of leadership and leadership development

  • Knowledge of systems dynamics (organisation and community)

  • Knowledge of the framework of adult development

  • High standards of personal and professional ethics

  • Highly developed communication proficiency allowing them to operate in the executive's environment

  • Advanced coaching skills and capabilities

  • Stature and reputation that gains respect

  • A commitment to lifelong learning similar to the leader him/herself

*source: "Summary findings from the executive coaching summit: A collaborative effort to distinguish the profession", compiled by Dr Lee Smith and Dr Jeannine Sandstrom, CoachWorks International, Dallas, Texas


3.     Tools notes: Perceptual Positions

This is a process you can rapidly learn to do naturally in your head. But for practice it is worth taking the trouble to physically step it out on the floor.

First take six sheets of paper (A4 or legal) and mark them Past, Present, Future and First Position (self), Second Position (other) and Third Position (coach or meta). These allow you to mark anchor positions for different times and different people. If you are using them all at once, there are only five positions ? you lay them out as a cross, with 'Self' and 'Present' in the centre.

This approach of taking physically different positions is also used in other systems such as de Bono's Thinking Hats and the Dreamer, Realist and Critic of the Disney Model. We shall return to those on another occasion.

The Perceptual Positions system helps you to play different roles. For example: in a negotiation, take the trouble to study your own position. Both emotional and strategic. Study the other participant from your own perspective.

Now step out of your position (off the Self sheet) and then into the other person's position (onto Other sheet). Now examine the situation form their perspective. Both emotional and strategic (especially emotional ? you might be surprised how much you actually know). Study your 'self' from this other person's perspective. What do you learn? How is the situation now different?

Now step right out of the situation into the meta position and study the interchange and relationship between the two parties. This time ? no emotion, you are away from the situation. Just cool analysis. Again, what do you learn? If you were coaching these two, what would you suggest?

You might wish to repeat the exercise, stepping into and out of positions until you have a full appreciation of the various perspectives. Then you can make the best choice of what to do next. With practice you can do this naturally in your head as a means of monitoring the situation and deciding what to do next. For example, when giving a presentation you need to be in the flow, to be aware of the audience reaction and evaluating how you are getting on.

As you might have guessed, there is a refinement that involves exploring where the parties came from and what they wish to achieve as an outcome ? in the future. Using the time perspectives.


4.     Book review: Get Everything Done ? and still have time to play

Management development does not need outside help. In the past I have recommended team leaders to buy Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" and then set aside some time every month for a group discussion of a chapter. Covey's fourth generation time management is a genuine leap forward from the techniques described in the myriad of time management books before and since.

Mark Forster, a life coach, makes a similar step forward in his book published by Hodder & Stoughton as a Help Yourself book. Widely praised in the coaching world it has a home spun style that might deter business readers. Do not be put off. There are real lessons and practical techniques to be found within.

Forster dispenses with 'time' management and preaches instead a focus on 'attention'. What gets your attention gets done. He deals with procrastination by looking for resistance and doing first the jobs against which he feels the most resistance. That way the day becomes easier as it progresses. He has exercises for helping you get into the habit of achieving your goals and making work easier by breaking it down into small packages. Keep halving them until you reach a piece that you can happily take on!

As for priorities ? he does away with them. The key is to dispense with everything that you cannot do ? and then do what is left according to his resistance principle.

Mark Forster's most novel recommendation is to work in short bursts on a number of different activities in rotation ? spending five minutes on each, then ten minutes on each, increasing the time by five minutes each time round with a maximum of 40 minutes until all jobs are completed. It may be counter intuitive to start another job before you have completed the last, but Forster claims that variety keeps us fresh and an 'end effect' means we work better as we near the end of a set time. So the shorter the time spent on each burst, the more end effects there will! And never take your breaks at the end of a job. Break during jobs and you subconscious will be calling you back get on with it.

This method of working in parallel rather than the method I have traditionally used of working in series, one job at a time, is a radical change. Since I have several major projects to start, as well as a database to build, I shall buy a timer and follow his advice.

Finally he discusses ways in which to get your life into shape with routines for exercise, meditation and writing.

Feedback from other readers is that this book has changed their lives. I start tomorrow!

Click here to buy "Get Everything Done".


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E-mail: rwinfield@brefigroup.co.uk